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.