Thursday, August 9, 2012

A skirmish in the making, a painting test

A couple of months ago, I tired of organizing the large units for my campaign's army-level games, and instead shifted gears.  I looked through the individual "character" figures in my collection, and decided to paint a few of them first.

I had three reasons for this change.  First, I wanted to get something painted for this project.  I wasn't quite ready to commit on the sizes and composition of the units for my mass battles.  I was still fiddling with basing, number of figures, how many command figures, etc.  Second, the character figures I possessed immediately suggested a mini-campaign of small skirmish games, and I was keen to play them.  Finally, this small project gave me a chance to test an assumption I'd been making.

One of the things that got this project started at all was an interest in recreating the toy soldier look and feel that was so attractive when I first read about this hobby.  I'd decided on 15mm figures, because they paint quickly and take up so much less storage space than the more traditional 25mm and 40mm figures so common for 18th century Imagi-Nation projects.  But would the toy soldier painting style translate onto the smaller figures?

So, I gathered up a small collection of figures, primed them all black, and started painting.

My eyes aren't what they used to be.  I found that, though I planned to paint these figures in simple, unshaded, unhighlighted block colors, I couldn't see the detail on the figures well enough when they were solid black.  So, a very sparse, very light drybrushing of white went onto the figures.  That helped a great deal.  The block painting covered up all the white, but I could see what I was doing.

Block painting goes very, very quickly.  Especially when painting a few (or many) figures in the same uniforms and in just a few poses.  I quickly banged out the Formulgalan militia in their greys and their better-uniformed Regulars.  Basing, in particular, is normally very time consuming and tedious for me.  I found tremendous freedom in being able to just paint the bases green.

Formulgalan Regulars (front) and Militia (rear)

Regulars from Jeff Valent/Washington's Wars
Militia from Old Glory

Before I go on, a word of apology about these pictures.  They were quickly taken in poor light.  I'll replace them with better ones as I have time.

Next up, I tried my hand at yellow coats.  This was a real test.  Painting yellow vexes me.  But the GW Foundation paint I used covered well, and quickly, and looked good when I was done.  The Baden-Hundsheim Regulars were quickly completed.

When I painted the two female characters, I tried using block colors again.  But I found that these unique figures really needed more detail to look good.  I tried hard to keep the highlighting subtle, and I retained the black lined borders between blocks, all in an attempt to make them pop while retaining their fit with the block-painted infantry.

The Ambassador's wife, daughter and guard of
Baden-Hundsheim Regulars

All figures from Blue Moon Manufacturing

I'm of two minds about this block-painting style, still.  On the one hand, it's fast.  And I think it evokes the toy soldier feel to an extent.  But part of the toy soldier feel also comes from the relative simplicity in detail characteristic of most of the figures from those early books.  I think the simple figures lend themselves to clean, simple painting styles.  These figures, though smaller, are much more intricate than those from Prince August molds, for example.  And so the block painting looks too simple.  More like I didn't know how to paint the detail in the figures than an intentional choice.

It seems likely to me that in large units of twenty-four or thirty figures, the mass effect will be important to the look.  The simple painting style will bring a certain orderliness to the unit.  I think it'll look better.  I wish these smaller experiments had helped me decide one way or the other, however.

A word about the characters, and the skirmish campaign.  Blue Moon Manufacturing makes outstanding eighteenth-century character figures.  Look to their Sleepy Hollow set, their FIW Colonial Civilians and the civilians in their Pirates line for some gems.  Among them are a portly man in spectacles, carrying a case, a younger page with scrolls beneath his arm, a bookish lad and several women from various classes.  Immediately upon seeing them, I imagined an Ambassador, his family and staff, attempting to flee a brewing diplomatic incident.  They would be escorted by their armed retainers and a bodyguard of regulars, and pursued by the local militia and regulars.

Work in progress: The Ambassador, his son, secretary,
servants and personal bodyguard

Guards from Old Glory
All other from Blue Moon Manufacturing

I set the scene in Formulgala, where a member of the Baden-Hundsheim Ambassadorial mission is suspected (rightly?) of providing arms to rebellious factions within a port city.  The opening scene has him fleeing his mansion with his family.  They must escape the tightening circle of Formulgalan troops, come to arrest him.  They may be relieved by guards from the Baden-Hundsheim brig Victoire in the harbor.  Where will that first encounter lead?  Much depends on the outcome.  Should they escape the closing noose, my minds eye pictures a sea battle between Victoire and pursuing privateers or Formulgalan naval forces.  We shall see.

Captain of the Victoire, and three able seamen

All figures from Blue Moon Manufacturing

Painting these first figures was great fun.  I'm looking forward to finishing off this small collection.

More as the project progresses.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

On Stability and Flexibility

Lately, in between the periodic interruptions of real life, I've taken a break from paper miniatures and uniform machinations, to think about basing. There are several sets of rules I plan to use for my large battles. The candidates include Ross Macfarlane's "Hearts of Tin," Bob Cordery's "The Portable Wargame," and "Volley and Bayonet" by Chadwick and Novak.

I chose these rule sets because they focus on battalion- or brigade-scale games, and I love the look of large units on the table. All three use figures based on multi-figure bases, in various sizes. Here's what I've come up with.

Taking the direction set by the scenarios in Grants "Scenarios for Wargames," I'll distinguish between regular infantry and light infantry. Grant suggests that the number of figures in light infantry units should be about half those in regular units. While the number of figures per stand makes no difference in any of these rules, I figured the guidance was still a good one to follow, to let me easily tell line units from their supporting skirmisher units.

The standard line unit will include twenty-two infantry figures and a mounted officer, mounted on 30mm x 30mm stands. This configuration is in the middle of the picture below. Light infantry will include twelve infantry figures, chosen and arranged to represent skirmishers, also mounted on 30mm x 30mm stands. A typical light infantry unit is at the bottom of the picture.

I have enough figures to allow me to field one or two units per side at a larger muster. These units will consist of thirty infantry figures and one mounted commander, on 40mm x 30mm stands. I haven't decided what, if any, game effect these larger units will have compared to their smaller line infantry units.

These figures are temporarily mounted on card stock bases, using putty normally used to mount posters on walls. This allows me to experiment with base sizes quickly. I should say that I tried several other schemes, but settled on this approach because it fit my collection of figures very well, gave me nice, chunky, "heavy" looking units, and allowed me to use these based units for all three rule sets of interest. More on that in a moment.

Below are the same three units, in profile. Those thirty figure units are particularly impressive, to my eye.

A little more detail now. The picture below shows a typical line infantry unit, in line formation. The standard bearers and mounted commander are central to the unit. Drummers are to the rear, and an NCO flanks each end of the rear rank.

The same unit, in square. The two flank stands have been withdrawn behind the middle stands, and faced to the rear.

Attack column. I made a small mistake when taking this picture. If I were to swap the rear rank stands, the NCOs would still flank the rear rank, as I'd intended. This configuration of stands will also be used when playing Volley and Bayonet, which uses square unit stands.

The same stands, but arranged as two infantry units for The Portable Wargame. I intend to play The Portable Wargame on a 3" hex map, which will fit two stands very nicely in each hex. Notice that the arrangement of the command figures allows me to configure each such that the standards or officer still form the center of each sub-unit. Each has a single NCO, still flanking the rear rank.

Basing up my figures temporarily has three more advantages. First, I can make deliberate choices about precisely which figures of each type I'll use for each unit. I have a few more figures of each type than I need, and this lets me separate the figures I'll use from the spares. Second, it lets me assemble the armies, possibly play games with them, and then quickly take them off their temporary bases for painting, a unit at a time. Finally, and very importantly, this approach allows me to play with storage options.

I have some hard, separate-top boxes that I plan to line with magnetic sheet, allowing me to place the permanent metal based units in safely and securely. This experiment shows me that I can fit just over half of the infantry I plan for this collection into the bottom of one box. One more box, or possibly a second level built into this one, will be enough to store the remainder of the collection: remaining infantry, cavalry, artillery and commanders.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Experiments in Uniformology, Brown and Yellow

Two more uniform experiments, whipped up on a break. The first is the yellow uniform suggested by Ross and Abdul.

I like this very much. It's colorful, unusual, and will make the entire Baden-Hundsheim army quite vibrant, alongside the red and blue "Turks" and the purple Ducal Guards. I decided to color the small clothes and the banner in the facing color, along the lines of the Hanoverian practice. And because I didn't want to rework the script on the flag, which would have faded away into a yellow banner.

Here's the BIG downside, however: I find yellow a monstrous pain to paint. And there would be a lot of yellow in an army painted this way.

Next, brown uniforms similar to the ones I prototyped originally. These, too, are very smart. I intentionally used a very dark shade of brown, to lend a more "intentional" feel, as opposed to uniforms that appeared to be made of whatever common cloth was at hand. I'm not thrilled with an army full of brown standards, however. I'd choose something else if I went with this uniform color.

I have some thinking to do. I think I'll just let these designs marinate in my noggin for a while, and see what I think after that.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Experiments in Uniformology

Experiment #1: darker purple uniforms.

Between the white gaiters (thanks Abdul), the darker purple and changing the facing to the complementary yellow, I'm liking these. I changed the small clothes to blue as well, in order to tie them more closely to their "Turkish" allies. I'm happy enough with this color scheme to be pretty sure I'll be painting up a unit this way, to see how they look in metal. Worst case scenario: you're looking at a battalion of the Ducal Guard.

Experiment #2: black uniforms.

Another sharp design. I changed out the banner to white, and made the small clothes red because I liked the red, black and white together. The downside is this: the Formulgalan infantry will be in grey, with red small-clothes. The identical small-clothes aside, I'd have one army in (more or less) black, and the other in grey. Not colorful enough, I think.

So, the experiments continue. I'll try Ross' suggestion of yellow uniforms next. I do like the look of the drummer from the "black" experiment very much, and that's close to what they'll look like.

More as I play around.

Friday, March 2, 2012

On Uniforms and the Military Mind

As followers of the blog will know, I'd settled on uniform coats of purple and grey for the infantry of my two imagi-nations. I was quite pleased with them. Or so I thought.

Lately, however, I've been looking, and re-looking, at those colored paper soldier mockups and the colored templates from Not By Appointment I made up. In particular, I was less happy with the purple uniforms, especially when beside their red-coated Turkish allies, the more I looked at them.

Now I do like the purple because it's regal, and because it's novel. There were no purple-uniformed troops during the real world 18th century that I'm aware of. But therein lies part of the problem. They look a little too fanciful, as I look at them now.

And so I've started tinkering with uniform colors again.

I am happy with the dove grey Formulgalan uniforms. I think they will look smart, and the militia can be painted in a darker (presumably coarser) grey cloth to make them seem cheaply outfitted and still fit the army style well.

As an experiment, I started with the red and blue "Turkish" uniforms I like so much and decided to have a try with red uniforms, along a sort of Hanoverian line, for the Baden-Hundsheim infantry. I darkened the red for the Turkish jackets, but perhaps not enough to be really noticeably different from the new line infantry jackets. I've changed the standards to red as well, for now. I suspect some lighter color (white, yellow, etc.) may look better, or I may keep the purple standards.

I've also been thinking about the size of my miniature units, and more on that later, but I put together a couple of quick mock-ups at twenty-four figures per unit, and another showing a Baden-Hundsheim and Turkish unit on the field together, to see how they struck me.

First, the newly crimson Baden-Hundsheim line infantry.

Next, their "Turkish" provincial troops.

And finally, the two units advancing together.

Your thoughts and opinions are most welcome.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Portable proxies on parade

Over the past few days, I've had the opportunity to use an hour here and an hour there to complete my paper Napoleonic Allied and French armies. These armies will stand in for the armies of Baden-Hundsheim and Formulgala in battles until the traveling/portable paper armies and metal standing armies for these two nations can be completed.

The mustering of these two finished armies marks quite a milestone for me. These are the first matched armies I've ever finished, in many, many years in this hobby. While working on these armies, I learned a lot about how to organize my time, how to break down a project into small, discrete steps, and how to keep my energy focused on completion. The temptation toward distraction was strong. Several times I nearly put these aside in order to start working on the metal armies for this imagi-nation campaign.

Without further mumbling, here are the two armies, mustered for your enjoyment and comment.

The armies, together, fit into a single plastic tray, with only minimal stacking of one unit atop another. To the fore we have the French army, with the Allies to their rear. The long compartment on the right holds the tools of paper miniature making: double-sided tape (much handier and friendlier to water-soluable printer inks than glue), a good pair of nail scissors, a straight-edge for folding, and a razor knife. Both of these latter are hidden beneath a bag of spare artillery figures and some unassembled command figures.

Also in there are some as-yet unfinished infantry units. These armies are now (almost...see below) large enough to fight any of the scenarios in Grant's "Scenarios for Wargames," and, therefore, are plenty large enough. The unfinished units may be added later, to allow me build the armies large enough to refight Quatre Bras, should the Napoleonics bug bite in the future.

The plan is to buy a compartmented, hinge-topped, plastic storage tray in which these two armies will be stored, and safely travel with me on business trips. The plastic tray you see here is one of my "project in progress" trays, used to keep a project organized and easily un-shelved for work as time permits.

The Allied army. The British and one brigade of the KGL are in the foreground, the British Guards behind them. Behind the Guards is the Brunswick Corps. On the right flank are the Dutch (front) and Hanoverian (rear) complements. As you can see, there are only two brigades of cavalry (one Dutch, one Brunswicker). So, OK, the army isn't quite large enough to play all of the Grant scenarios yet. I'll need to create, print and assemble three more Allied cavalry units to really be done, but these are all I had, as these units were originally made for the Napoleonic Quatre Bras project.

The British Corps. Line infantry, including one brigade of the KGL and one of Highlanders, supported by their artillery. The Guards are in line behind. The Duke of Wellington, commander of the Allied army, with his aide, can be seen behind the front line. The Brunswick Corps is formed up to the rear of the Guards.

The Brunswickers, in a bit more detail. For some reason, when I created these units, I neglected to give the 2nd (line) Brigade a standard. An oversight, to be sure, as every other unit has one. Some day, I may correct this.

The massed French army. The Grand Battery formed to the front, Ligne and Legere infantry behind, and the Cavalry formed at the rear.

French Ligne (Line) infantry, with two brigades of Legere (Light) infantry behind. The French didn't form brigades exclusively of Legere battalions. I chose to use Legere figures for those brigades dominated by light infantry battalions (the 1st Brigade, 5th Division, and the 1st Brigade, 6th Division, at Quatre Bras). I may choose to represent Grant's Light Infantry units with these brigades.

The massed guns of the French Grand Battery. It's almost impossible to tell, in this picture or in person, but the last battery in the line has a heavy 12# cannon. I need to find a way to quickly distinguish heavy batteries from field batteries from horse batteries. I toyed with using the number of crew figures to distinguish them (5 = heavy, 4 = field, 3 = horse), but three figures and a cannon on the base looked puny, especially as the light 6# cannon are noticeably smaller. I may simply mark the back of each stand with the battery type.

The French Cavalry. Carabiniers, two Brigades of Cuirassiers, Dragoons, Chasseurs and Lanciers. Which is an odd mix for Quatre Bras. Frankly, I don't remember what I was thinking when I made these units up. But, they'll work very nicely for the purposes of these battles.

Coming soon, some shots of these units upon the hexagonal Chessex field of battle given so generously to me by a friend. And then, with luck, a game!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A lull in the movements of the armies

I was supposed to travel last night, and spend a fruitful night in a hotel room trying out my new portable wargame, but unfortunately the trip was cancelled. It may be just as well, really, as spare time has been very hard to come by, and my armies are completely absent of artillery at this moment.

Tonight I may have time to finish the guns, however. If fortune smiles on me, this will mark quite a milestone. This will be, as odd as this may sound, the first time I've completed a matched pair of wargaming armies.

The armies will have units sufficient to fight almost all of the scenarios in Charles Grants "Scenarios for Wargamers," except for a few cavalry units on the British side. This lack stems from the origin of these figures. I created them in order to refight the battle of Quatre Bras, using one stand to represent each brigade of infantry or cavalry, and one stand per battery of artillery. The British and Allied army had only two cavalry brigades at Quatre Bras, the cavalry of the Brunswick Corps, and the Dutch 3rd Light Brigade. I plan to add a few more units of cavalry once I have time to create them. Some British Light Dragoons and Hussars, and perhaps a unit of Horse Guards, would be nice additions.

I hope to have pictures of these armies up on the blog here in the next few days. And perhaps, spare time providing, a battle between the mock-forces of Baden-Hundsheim and Formulgala, before long. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The 18th century, in paper

Work continues to assemble by British and French Napoleonic paper miniatures, for use during my upcoming business trip. They will stand in for the forces of Formulgala and Baden-Hundsheim in a border skirmish scenario of some kind. An affair of little importance in the political situation between the two powers. Or is it? Might it instead be the tipping point, plunging the two nations into open warfare?

In the meantime, I spent a little time this weekend beginning some 18th century paper miniatures, so that future traveling games will look much closer to my vision for these armies. And, these figures make nice color studies, informing my choices about the paint I'll eventually put on their little metal counterparts. As a starting point, I used the line drawings available on the Prince August website. These illustrations form part of the catalog for their Holger Eriksson line of molds for 40mm semi-flat miniatures. With their kind permission, I thought I'd share the work-in-progress so far.

Baden-Hundheim infantry

The regulars are simply the Prince August line drawings, with layers of color added. The Grenadier command figures are simple digital "head swops" using the marching grenadier's head. The "Turkish" infantry use the drawings as a base, but have been heavily modified by myself. The drum comes from the cavalry drummer drawing. Note that I plan to use the infantry office figure, with different colors applied of course, for the officer of Grenadier battalions. I may use him as the officer for the "Turkish" battalions as well (I really MUST come up with a name for the "Turkish" province to the south of Baden-Hundsheim), or create a more characteristically Turkish officer figure, depending on how the story of these Southern borderlands plays out. Are they well integrated into the Baden-Hundsheim political machine, and therefore lead by their own loyal officers? Or are they provincial troops, led by officers of the Baden-Hundsheim nobility? I haven't decided yet.

Baden-Hundheim cavalry, from a Prince August line drawing.

Formulgalan Artillery. All figures based on Prince August line drawings.

Baden-Hundsheim Artillery.

I'm not too keen on the lavender gun carriages. I'll probably change those. I may add an officer to each battery as well, from the Prince August standing officer drawing.

Feedback very welcome indeed. Oh, and I should mention that I'm not dead set on the purple uniforms. I'm going to make up a set of these in the brown scheme as well, and see which I prefer.

Friday, February 10, 2012

"I have always depended on the kindness..."

of good friends (to paraphrase Mae West).

A very close friend gave me a really amazing gift, after reading my post on creating a portable wargame: a large vinyl Chessex game mat, with hexes on one side and squares on the other, a set of dry-erase markers, and a set of game dice in purple to match the uniform coats of Baden-Hundsheim.

I'm deeply touched. This gift was thoughtful and supporting and very, very much appreciated.

And, the timing was perfect. I just learned that I'll be heading out on an overnight business trip in a couple of weeks. An excellent opportunity to bring the new mat and try a game on the go.

To that end, what little gaming time I have has been put toward finishing my paper Napoleonic figures. They're already printed and ready to be assembled, which puts them well ahead of the 18th century paper miniatures I'm working on (more on that soon). So, for now, Baden-Hundsheim and Formulgala will take to the field in red and blue.

Thank you, my dear friend. I appreciate this gift more than I can say.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Formations, revisited

In a comment on my recent post about unit sizes, Ross mentioned that most of the time his units average three stands, for his Hearts of Tin games. Something about that comment got me thinking, and I believe I've struck on a revelation.

For infantry, at least, I'd like to be able to keep a consistent unit size throughout a game. Removing stands, with its resulting reduction in frontage, just feels and looks strange to me. I mentioned in that previous post that I might form my units as four stands of six, and place individuals at the back in order to indicate unit strength. For Heart of Tin, this would be 1-5 figures. For The Portable Wargame (using Ross's mod for unit quality) it would be 1-3 figures.

I had planned to use units of thirty figures, in five stands, including a command stand. For most of my units that command stand featured a mounted commander, a standard bearer or two, and a drummer or two. So suppose I did something like this:

Reduce the command stand to the standard bearer(s) and perhaps the drummer(s), filling in the other spots on the stand with musketeers. Form each unit in four stands of six figures, including this command stand. Mount the commander and four musketeers on individual stands.

The mounted commander and up to four musketeers would be placed behind the four main stands of the unit, denoting unit strength. As strength points are lost, individual musketeers are removed.

In the end, the unit will still consist of 25-29 figures on the table (this is the realization that suddenly struck me as I read Ross' comment, for some reason), and will only shrink minutely as morale degrades and casualties are taken. For The Portable Wargame, I can still field the figures as two units of two stands each, and use the individuals to represent unit strength (though I'd need an additional musketeer if, by chance, both units were rated as elite, with three strength points each). And, I can use the individually mounted musketeers of skirmish games.

I'm going to have to attempt to put a unit like this on the table next to the other options and see which I prefer. And, I'll need to decide what to do about cavalry and artillery. But this sounds promising.

Friday, February 3, 2012


I have only just discovered that, not only are there real towns named Baden and Hundsheim, but they are only thirty-three miles apart.

I thought I was being funny. It was intended as a (not particularly witty) play on "bad dog," and here I find that I've gone and named one of my two countries after a real place.

Oh, for Pete's sake.

On creating a truly portable wargame

Last year (2011), Bob Cordery spent considerable effort developing his rules for The Portable Wargame. The genesis of these rules was the desire to create a set of figures, terrain and rules that would let him bring an entertaining game along wherever he went.

In the course of my job, I have reason to travel now and then. Not much, but occasionally. And, I have three children whom I love dearly, and who are the focus on my time and attention, but who leave me little spare time to set up a game and play it out. So, when Bob starting working through various designs, I paid close attention with an eye toward leveraging those rare evenings in a hotel room.

Bob's work has created a set of rules that are flexible, deliver a fun game, and are malleable to suite one's own tastes and preferred time period. Ross MacFarlane has spent a great deal of virtual ink writing about his experiments and modifications to these rules. Within the list of labels on his blog, click on "portable game" to find yourself several evenings' worth of entertaining rules experimentation. Bob's own blog has his own thoughts on the development of the rules, of course. I've tried these rules out on paper, using printed maps and "counters" made from cut up Post-It notes. But even without a proper tabletop test or two, I'm convinced that these rules will work quite nicely for games on the road.

So, there remain the questions of terrain and toy soldiers. Miniatures would seem to be problematic. They can be heavy and, of course, are prone to damage. My solution won't be for everyone.

For some time, I've been collecting and occasionally designing paper miniatures. Most often these are two-dimensional "figures" consisting of two printed images (front and back) glued together. Sometimes these are mirror images of each other, showing a figure from the side.

Patrick Crusiau has a wonderful collection of paper miniatures, useful primarily for skirmish wargames and role playing games. He also makes 15mm Napoleonic paper soldiers geared toward mass battles. I've taken his images, which are available for free from his web site, and some derived from these by others, then modified them to create units of Napoleonic infantry, cavalry and artillery. These units are very durable. Throw them loose into a plastic, lidded storage box and you can carry them on board your plane or put them in your checked luggage without worry.

These are, as I've said, Napoleonic figures. But I like the look of these massed units well enough to try my hand at creating Baden-Hunsheim and Formulgala armies. Sometime soon, perhaps. If I do, I'll find a way to post the files here, in case you're interested in using them yourself. Meanwhile, if I travel before finding time to create those more appropriate armies, don't be surprised to find my British and French Napoleonics proxied for the noble armies of my two imagi-nations.

As for terrain, Ross has played a few games on Hotz game mats, printed with 3" hexes. These look quite good, and can be folded and tucked into a suitcase easily. I rather like the look of Ross' own painted game boards, onto which he's marked the vertices of hexes. I imagine I could make my own game mat using suitable fabric, spray paint, and a paint pen or something. Either will work well for a travel game.

I plan to denote woods by filling hexes with 2.5D paper model trees. Built-up areas will be marked with paper model buildings. Or, these hexes may be surrounded with flat profiles of buildings (like these), allowing the units to be placed inside. This is attractive, as these profile pieces can be folded flat for storage. Representing elevation is tricky, and a problem I haven't solved yet. I could create elevation by bunching up bedding or placing books beneath the game mat, or I could find a way to create portable "hills" to bring with me. Any suggestions you might have would be very welcome.

So, with a few dice, a folded game mat, a plastic storage box full of paper miniature units and terrain, a copy of The Portable Wargame and a scenario from Charles Grant's "Scenarios for Wargames," "Programmed War Games Scenarios" or his Table Top Teasers in my suitcase, I should be able to get a game set up, played and torn down between checkin and bed time.

I'll keep you posted.

On formations

Before long, the paint will start flying. The piles of bare lead (and pewter) will be transformed into serviceable soldiers. And I'll have to make final decisions about how to base them up.

The decision starts with rules, and the kinds of games I want to play in this campaign setting. The look and feel I am after, primarily, is a table full of large, ranked and uniformed infantry battalions, cavalry regiments and artillery batteries. Massed battles. Yes, I'm interested in skirmish (1 figure = 1 combatant) wargaming as well. But it's a secondary goal within this campaign. At least for now.

Three sets of rules are contending for my gaming attention at the moment. The first is Hearts of Tin, from Ross MacFarlane (for much more, please see his excellent blog, in my list of links). These rules call for infantry and cavalry units consisting of three to five bases, of consistent but not restricted size. The second is The Portable Wargame, by Bob Cordery. His rules allow units to be organized in any way at all, so long as a unit fits within a hex on the Morschausen-inspired game table. Finally, I'd like to give Volley and Bayonet a try. For these rules, units are formed on large, square bases.

In order to be able to play any of these rules with my collection, I plan to assemble my units as follows.

Infantry battalions will be formed in units of thirty figures, based on five stands of six figures each. The figures will be based in two lines of three, on 30mm square bases. For Hearts of Tin, the units will be fielded as they are. For The Portable Wargame, units will consist of two of these bases (so, twelve figures). Two Portable Wargame units can be fielded from each Hearts of Tin unit, with an eye toward taking advantage of some alternative rules Ross MacFarlane experimented with for keeping units from the same parent formation together. For Volley and Bayonet, four of the five stands will be placed in a deep column, two by two.

Cavalry regiments will be formed in units of ten figures, again based on five 30mm square bases, with two figures per base. Units for The Portable Wargame and Volley and Bayonet will be fielded as for the infantry.

Artillery batteries will be formed in units of two guns, each on a 30mm square base (assuming they fit...I need to experiment with this). Each battery of two stands will form a single unit for both Hearts of Tin and The Portable Wargame, and will be placed on a 60mm square sabot base for Volley and Bayonet.

That's the plan, as it stands now. However, I am considering reducing the number of infantry stands and cavalry stands per unit from five to four. I hesitate, because I don't have enough experience with Hearts of Tin to know whether I will regret being able to field five-strong units. And because I want my units to be quite large and formidable on the table. Thirty figures just look better than twenty-four.

However, using twenty-four infantry per battalion has two advantages. I have several units for which I have only twenty-four figures anyway. And, for those for which I have thirty, this will free up figures for use in skirmish wargaming, based singly. Finally, I may wish to reflect casualties by placing individual figures behind my massed ranks and removing them (one per "base" lost in Hearts of Tin, or per strength point if using an alternate rule for unit quality in The Portable Wargame) instead of whole stands. This would preserve the look of the unit until it routs away in disgrace, rather than seeing it dwindle strangely in size and frontage.

More experimentation is required to come to final approach.

New recruits have arrived

Thanks to a friendly Bartertown trader, the ranks of both the Baden-Hundsheim and Formulgalan armies are beginning to swell.

This afternoon I took possession of enough unpainted 15mm figures to field five new battalions of infantry, including two of grenadiers and one of pandours (who may be painted as "turkish" recruits from Baden-Hundsheim's Southern reaches...they do look a fair bit like the Ottoman Nizam-e-Cedid already in the ranks). Also in the box were enough horsemen to field three regiments of cavalry (after doing a few head-swops) and enough guns and crew to add eight pieces of artillery to the collection (four to each army). Four of the five infantry battalions will be somewhat short-handed, consisting of four stands of six figures each rather than the usual five stands, but they will serve well. And I have no doubt that what the grenadiers lack in numbers they will make up in stature and bravado.

As an added bonus, some of these new figures were, unexpectedly, Jeff Valent "Washington's Wars" infantry in an advancing pose. As noted in a previous post, these figures already make up the bulk of my Formulgalan army. What a nice surprise it was to find myself in position to add another battalion.

More as the raw recruits become properly uniformed and taught to stand in their ranks.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dressing the Troops

As I mentioned in a prior post, one of the primary reasons for setting my campaign in the 18th century is the opportunity to paint my toy soldiers in bold, colorful uniforms. But, and this is an essential point, which colors?

I wanted colors that looked martial. But not colors immediately associated with a certain nationality. Prussian blue, British red and French white, for instance. I wanted colors that would work with a fairly wide variety of facing/cuff colors as well.

As it happens, I've been down this path before. Some years ago, I had a try at a campaign set in a fictional colonial land created by Donald Bailey. I chose the small country of Nerdistan for my adventures and games, and proceeded to paint up some 20mm WWI Serbian figures from HaT for my games. The army consisted of Nerdistani regulars, and more war-worn mercenaries from their border provinces (sound familiar?). The regulars worn purple and white, with red accents. The mercenaries worn middle brown and tan, again with red accents.

Nerdistani Regulars
Mercenary Infantry - Nerdistan campaign
My apologies for the quality of these pictures. I've learned a lot about photographing miniatures since then. Suffice to say the real miniatures weren't nearly so high contrast, and the purple tunics on the regular were a fair bit richer, the red quite a lot stronger too.

I was quite happy with the blend of martial and unique that these color choices gave me then, so I thought I'd give them a try in the 18th century as well. I was more confident with the chances of purple working well, so I tried that first.

I think those look rather smart, really. My long prior experience and study of Napoleonic uniforms makes that first set look more martial than the second, but it's clear that the armies of the mid-18th century could be found wearing all manner of colors on their cuffs. So, given than I need infantry battalions from more than three regiments in the Baden-Hundsheim army, these will see the field as well. I'm quite happy with these uniforms (though I may well change the facing-color cockades for a more uniform white or purple throughout).

Next up were some experiments with the brown scheme I'd used for the Nerdistan mercenaries.

I do like these well enough. In particular, I like the use of the brown tricorns to underline the brown theme, and the buff pants for the same reason. My main complaint, and it's a serious one, is that these uniforms look a bit too much like those of some American Continental units of the American Revolution. Especially the first row.

And so, I cast my net wider. I opened the color palette in my favorite graphics (which, of course, just happened to be open while I was coloring these uniforms in) and started poking around in it. Middle gray seemed a likely uniform color. Darker than the Swedes of the Great Northern War, but light enough to be clearly gray in 15mm, not read by eye as highlighted black.

I love these. Once I'd done the coats and turnbacks, I was already certain I'd found the colors for my Formulgala units. So, in a nod to the Seven Years War Russian uniforms, and because it looked quite nice, I colored the waistcoats and breeches red. I like these very, very much.

So there you have it. The Baden-Hundsheim regulars will be dressed in royal purple, while the Formulgala standing army will wear middle gray. At least for the infantry. Well, for most of the infantry. Regulars, that is.

You see one of the wonderful things about inventing your own nations is that anything goes. The artillery may well wear a different color than the infantry. The cavalry, or at least some units of the cavalry, may well be dressed more in accordance with the whim and personal style of their commanding officers than in any sense of national dress. And then there are the irregulars.

More on all of these, as things develop. For now, however, it's time to start painting infantry.

Sidenote: the templates for these uniform plates were found on the wonderful website "Not By Appointment," a vast and rich collection of Seven Years War uniform information and templates like these.

On Toy Soldiers

So, having decided to create two imagi-nations, and to fight a campaign (or more than one? Time will tell) between them, what about the toy soldiers that will fight these battles?

One could describe the recruitment of soldiers for this campaign and the creation of the states of Baden-Hundsheim and Formulgala as a chicken-and-the-egg story. Which came first? Well, both.

First came the project idea itself. The decision to embark on this wargaming adventure. Then, with an eye toward the project, I started examining the piles of miniatures I've amassed over the years in this hobby. Many years ago, I chanced upon a real find at a local game store. This game store has a "bits bin" and buys your old miniatures cheap, then dumps them in the bin and sells them less cheap, but still very inexpensively. And, should you happen to find anything in the bin that doesn't come from one of the most popular games in our hobby, you may well be lucky enough to strike a blind patch in the clerk's knowledge of going rates. Sometimes this works in your favor, as it did for me in this case, and sometimes they'll quote you a price above retail out of ignorance. That's ok. They're good people and willing to listen.

So, one afternoon, I poked my head into the store and looked into the bins, discovering a plastic baggie chock full of American Revolutionary War figures in 15mm from a vendor I didn't recognize. I took a few up to the counter and asked the price, not knowing what to expect. "How about $0.05 each," the clerk said. I tried not to grin too large, and returned to grab the bag and hunt for all of the loose figures that had escaped into deeper recesses of the bin.

I left the store that afternoon with a large collection of figures from Jeff Valent's "Washington's Wars" line (sadly unavailable anymore, so far as I can tell), including line infantry, light infantry, artillery and officers, for about $30. Score.

About a year later, I toyed with the idea of running an American Revolution campaign, and traded for some more of these figures on Bartertown, adding a few packs of Musket Miniatures Continentals to round out the gaps. I had enough, then, for two good sized armies, as well as supporting units of Hessians and French.

And then the project languished. I don't call my other blog "Ramblings of a Distracted Wargamer" for nothing.

Then along came this idea. I dug through the collection, and found that a number of the figures had, rather than the usual "two-and-a-half cornered hat" so common during the American Revolution, more useful proper tricorns. I pulled them out, along with the Hessian grenadiers, because they look great and properly Germanic, and added to this pile the various officers and some tricorned artillery crew with their guns.

And here's where the chicken-and-the-egg part comes in. I'd also collected, at one time or another, Napoleonic Ottoman Turks. I remembered those figures now (actually, I woke up in the middle of the night with this in my mind) and went through that collection looking for likely additions to my budding collection. I have a weakness for adding character to collections through the inclusion of irregular formations. I had two units' worth of Minifigs Nizam-e-Cedid infantry and three cavalry regiments' worth of Spahi and Mamluke cavalry. This made the inclusion of a "Turkish" neighbor country and "Germano-Turkish" border provinces a natural fit within the campaign.

About this time, I sent an inquiry out into the gaming community by posting a request on Bartertown, and by emailing the members of my local gaming group. Surprise, surprise, serendipity struck. One Bartertownian had SYW Russian infantry, cavalry and artillery to sell at a friendly price. A local friend let me know that he had some cossack cavalry and possible infantry he'd be willing to part with. And so the inspirational notes behind the Formulgalan army's battle hymn were struck.

So, as you seen I hope, the miniatures inspired the national character of the two imagi-nations who will contest for honor and territory in my little self-made world. And the character of these two countries will further influence the purchase of additional figures to fill out the ranks of the armies. For instance, I plan to add some Napoleonic Moscow Militia, with their tall hats, pikes and muskets to the Formulgalan army before long. I do so like irregular formations. But then I've mentioned that.

More to come soon, discussing the painting style I plan to use, and the particulars of unit formation and basing that will turn this pile of lead and pewter into standing armies.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mapping the countries

After re-reading the chapter on campaign maps in Tony Bath's excellent "Setting Up a Wargame Campaign," I tried my hand a few times at sketching a map of Baden-Hundsheim and Formulgala. And some of them weren't bad.

But then I remembered Hexographer, a free Java app that, among other things, will generate a hex-based map for you, using terrain types you specify. It does this semi-randomly, using a random sprinkling of the various terrain types to seed the map, then filling in surrounding hexes based on what's already been decided, and how likely one terrain type is to be next to another.

After generating half a dozen maps and tweaking some of the parameters, I was left with something interesting and characterful, that divided nicely along geographic boundaries into two halves, with surrounding countries hinted at.

The next step was to use some logic to lay in river systems flowing out of the hills and mountains and down to the sea, then deciding on the locations of settlements and connecting them with a network of roads.

Naming the settlements was a challenge. I wanted puns and funny town names, but names deeply rooted in the culture of the country my own states draw inspiration from. So, Baden-Hundsheim should feel Germanic, with strong Turkish influences to the South (more on that later). Formulgala should have a vivid Russian streak. I zoomed in tight on the Austrian-Hungarian border, and on southern Russia using Google Maps to soak up some examples, and started playing with words that sounded right.

The results are shown here. When you're pronouncing the names of the towns and cities, try adopting a stereotypical Russian or German accent. I suspect they're funnier that way.

On creating a nation (or two) of my own

Ever since reading those early books about war gaming (see my previous post), I've had it rattling around in my mind to run a wargaming campaign set in an imaginary country, the defense and interests of which were maintained by large formations of toy soldiers in fanciful uniforms, like those of Peter Young, Charles Grant and Tony Bath.

I could have run such a campaign by setting it at any point in time, I suppose. Donald Featherstone and Donald Bailey both created rich imaginary worlds set contemporarily with the height of the British Colonial period. Tony Bath ran many, many campaigns over the course of several decades in his famous Hyboria fantasy world. But for me, the 18th century is, undeniably, the best choice for this escapade.

Brightly colored uniforms attract my eye and my imagination. I spent many happy hours as a child reading and re-reading well worn copies of the Britains and Prince August catalogs. One of my earliest wargaming purchases was the two-volume Funken uniform guide, "Arms and Uniforms of the Napoleonic War." I've painted many Napoleonic and American Revolution figures over the years, and still enjoy the sight of them on the table. So, choosing a period replete with dashing uniforms was a must.

When it comes to large wargames between embattled armies, I have a strong preference for the three-cornered stool of infantry, cavalry and artillery. I enjoy the interplay of unit tactics between the three arms. The rock/paper/scissors point and counterpoint of three arms (if you'll pardon the deliberate oversimplification). Infantry are numerous and must choose between the more effective firepower of a long, thin line, the advantages of mass and maneuver obtained by forming into dense columns, or the protection from cavalry afforded by square, knowing that either of the latter formations leave them far more vulnerable to the bouncing, spinning iron of cannon fire.

I could have gone back in time, and set my campaign during the Thirty Years War. But the artillery of the day was nearly immobile, and infantry tactics were too much about the push of pikes and too little about maneuver (again, painting with a VERY broad brush). I could have set my campaign further forward in time, during the Crimean or American Civil Wars. But the advent of rapid fire rifles and rifled artillery were changing the character of battle dramatically again and, while interesting in themselves, these changes were too far from what I was seeking.

Which narrowed my choices to the mid- to late-eighteenteenth century (roughly speaking, the Seven Years War and War of Austrian Succession) or the very early nineteenth century (the Napoleonic Wars).

The final considerations I used to narrow my choice were the dual and related needs for an invented land, and armies wearing invented uniforms. A nation unheard of before, but that could fit into the larger historical context without asking too much of the readers' (or my) willing suspension of disbelief. The nation had to be plausible. The uniforms should reflect the period, but avoid being easily identified as belonging to any particular real world nation of the time.

And that ruled out the Napoleonic Wars, for me. All that reading about those wars, over all those years, have left me very, very familiar with the period and cast of national characters. Adding another player to the mix of nations would have been possible...perhaps in the Balkans or a corner of the German states...but harder to swallow than the addition of one more Duchy amid the many, many nation states that made up 18th century Europe. A certain amount of anonymity is possible, that I found lacking in the Napoleonic period.

And the uniforms! I can tell, at a glance, a French shako from a British Stovepipe, and a Russian wide-topped shako from a Spanish grenadier's mitre. Yes, many nations adopted French or British uniforms in their own colors. Yes, I could have gone that route. But to me, my battalions would always evoke a reaction of "Oh, I see, those a French figures painted purple."

By way of contrast, the 18th century armies looked, for the most part, nearly identical. Nearly all wore tricorns of a cut so similar I can't tell them apart in 15mm. Nearly all worn long-tailed coats with turnbacks. Nearly all fielded cuirassiers and hussars and dragoons undistinguishable from each other until the colors of their uniforms could be discerned (and frequently even then!). Which left me with a blank canvas, when it came to uniforms. Choose a uniform coat color, design a national or regimental flag, and the army of the new nation is born.

So, for all of those reasons, my little nation state of Baden-Hundsheim, and their ancestral enemies to the North, the Principality of Formulgala, will reside firmly in the mid-18th century. I can't wait to get started painting the armies of these two new lands.

Monday, January 30, 2012


or, "what's all this about then?"

Years ago, while a student at the University of California at San Diego, I discovered that the campus library had a small number of books on something called "wargaming." These books, which I recall to be Donald Featherstone's "War Games Through the Ages" and "Advanced Wargames," Charles Grant's "The War Game," and H. G. Wells "Little Wars," introduced me to a delightful hobby that has kept me entertained and out of trouble (more or less) for well over two decades now.

My first foray into war gaming featured double handfuls of unpainted 1/72 soft plastic figures, hastily called into service and using simple rules cobbled together from a mix of ideas from those august tomes as well as a few of my own ideas. I dearly wish I still had the hand-written notes that made up that set of rules.

Between then and now I've collected miniatures and played games in just about every period and every scale, using many, many sets of rules. 10mm American Civil War through 54mm Three Musketeers skirmish. Ancient Persians through Vietnam. Fantasy and Science Fiction, too. And most points in between, beyond and in the creases. Any readers of my other blog will be well familiar with those travels of mine.

But there has always been something very magical about those first books and the world they introduced me too. Simple rules, without pretense, designed to give a reasonable blend of historicity and fun. Simply, brightly painted soldiers from kingdoms both real and imagined, wheeling and firing across a clear, bright green sward. Toy soldiers. Played for fun. Magic.

Recently, I've been examining my hobbies, in the context of the life I lead these days. A father of three who does his best to put family first. And a job I love, but which demands my full attention when I'm there and sometimes when I'm not. These things are important to me, but leave little time for my various hobbies. And, with three children, I'm quite pressed for space in which to store my toy soldiers.

So, I've been taking a critical look at the massive mountains of unpainted lead, pewter and plastic in my garage. And thinking hard about how much time I really have to paint and play games. And how much space all those armies, and all the terrain they imply (I would say require, but most of these armies are, as I said, unpainted and unplayed with as of yet). And I've made some decisions.

First of all, as to figure scale. While I would very dearly love to play all of my games with 40mm or 54mm figures, ranked in their hundreds, on huge tables full of lovingly built terrain, I simple cannot. I must economize. In space, in time required, and monetarily. And so, I've settled on 15mm figures and terrain for all of my games, whether they be 1:1 skirmishes or the affairs of massive armies.

Second, as to the style of game I prefer. Much of my wargaming, for some years, has been conducted solo. There is a very active, very friendly club that meets less than three miles from my house weekly. And I would love to attend. But family commitments make that a rare treat rather than a regular event. So, I content myself with painting and modeling, and with playing the occasional solo game on the dining room table when time permits.

And this focus on solo games has taught me to love games that help me tell a story. Much more on that in a later post. On reaction-driven games that take much of the decision making out of my hands and lead to scenarios and actions I could never have dreamed up myself. But what I want to focus on here is the genres I choose to game in.

Any period could be rich fodder for these kinds of games. But I prefer game settings with large heapings of creativity and narrative potential. And games supported by vendors providing figures I enjoy painting. So, here is the short list. Hopefully you'll see the theme that I presume is present, even if I can't easily describe it.

  • Science Fiction skirmish and small armed force battles. These are, lately, the subject of my blog "Ramblings of a Distracted Wargamer." The 15mm science fiction miniature market is positively thriving right now. It's never been this healthy. I'm spoiled for choices when it comes to characterful miniatures suitable for 1:1 skirmish games and platoon-level games featuring the odd mech or hover tank.
  • Old West skirmish games, fed and inspired by the terrific 18mm range from Blue Moon, and the excellent gunfight and character-based campaign rules "Six Gun Sound" from Two Hour Wargames.
  • Superhero skirmish games, inspired by my love of comic books when I was young, endless entertaining games of Champions in high school, and the terrific fun I derive from scouring 15mm figure lines for miniatures to use and convert. The fact that there are so very few dedicated 15mm superhero figures available is actually an attraction all its own to me, in this case. I do enjoy the hunt, and the challenge of converting and adapting existing figures for use as heroes, villains, henchmen and world-threatening giant robots. I haven't settled on rules for these yet, but I am a big fan of Scott Pyle's GoalSystem rules. SuperSystem looks to be a strong contender.
  • World War II company-level games, using a set of rules called "Sturm!" from Don Bailey. I don't know whether Don has ever made these rules available publicly. I learned about them from an excellent article in Historical Miniature Gamer #1, in which he laid out the reaction-based system behind the rules through a long and story-filled battle report.
  • Colonial wargames, particularly on the Northwest Frontier, using another of Don's rule sets, Pith Helmet 2. This one is, fortunately, available easily on the web. Don wrote an article called "Skirmish at Utla" for Historical Miniature Gamer #5, in which he describes the use of these rules very nicely.
  • And finally, the subject of this blog.
That is, 18th Century battles, large and small, set in a fictional imagi-nation of my own devising, following in the illustrious and pathfinding footsteps of Charles Grant, Peter Young, and their contemporaries.

This post has gone on very much long enough, however. So, until next time, when I will begin to describe this project in more detail.