It is good to be back. Due to some administrative difficulties the previous three or four WI columns have been absorbed into the Vortex of Doom, never to return, so I am starting afresh with this one. A big hello to my fans – their name is legion – and a smart raspberry and two fingers to my many detractors. You know who you are! If you dont like it, get off your bums and provide an alternative.
Blue Remembered Hills
My main gripe with the internet, in common with many other people, is that it is full of awful oiks who dont appreciate my huge talent. Sorry, that it is difficult to hold a civilised conversation on a public forum without some monosyllabic skateboarder or cynical troll ruining it for everyone. There is no such problem on The Old School Wargamers group, where I have been spending a fair bit of my time recently. Apart from knowing when to say Please and Thank You, and how to use all those pesky spare forks, there are some excellent discussions, very few flare ups and plenty of enthusiasm for the hobby. What is discussed? The title says it all. Please take a seat in the small, somewhat unusual, car, lower the safety bar, and keep your hands and clothing inside at all times as we prepare for a journey into the unknown!
<Male Disneyland Voice> Gentlemen, we are going back in time and space to a different era, to a time when crusty old buffers met in the late afternoon for crumpets, alcohol, leapfrog and a jolly good game of toy soldiers. [FX: Huzzah! I say old sport, my dragoons have routed!, rattling teacups, clicking billiard balls etc.] Quite often these games would take several days, interspersed with binge drinking of port [FX: wafted smells of cigar smoke], picnics, maid tupping, and the odd pheasant shoot. History was a theoretical aim; often mentioned, rarely attained. There were no complicated rules back then, nor any mention of simulation; quite often they made it all up as they went along. Usage of bent coat hangers and plastic trees was mandatory. All houses could be lifted to reveal a (somehow slightly smaller) ruin, as if the howitzer cleverly blew off a layer of bricks. Under no circumstances was any display of artistic or terrain building skill permitted. No matt paints were allowed. Sadly for treadheads, the only popular period was Seven Years War or, just possibly, Ancients if you were of the Whig persuasion or a little light in the loafers. Some played Fantasy, but they were rightly blackballed from most clubs.
The most marked different to todays games was in figure scale. 1:20 was used for small battles such as Leipzig, but usually 1:10 or 1:5 was the strict rule for gentlemen. Dallying in 1:33 was actually an arrestable offence, and 1:50 regarded as perverted behaviour. Jethro Gill, a Dorset squire, was tarred and feathered in 1973 for fielding a 1:100 unit of Austrian Grenze. Thus, in all respectable salons, units (30mm, identical pose, plain green base) had a legal minimum of 120 figures, often many more, and every man was allocated a silly, and often German, name. Moustaches were individually waxed. Horses were to be unrecognisable as such. Interestingly, the richer gamers used Surens or Staddens while the middle classes stamped on their Minifigs and used them flat, thus acknowledging their social inferiority. Were any under stairs staff inclined to game, at night, Airfix plastics alone would be suitable. This servants tradition incidentally gave rise to the anti-plastic snobbery present to this day.
This type of lifestyle was, understandably, only available to the extremely rich, dilettantes or retired colonels with an 8 Litre Bentley in the garage. This kept the market small, and suitably elite. As there were only fourteen known wargamers on the planet, everyone had nicknames: Bunty Toffingham, Binky Cholmondley-Warner, Tony Bidet Bath, Brigadier Bufton-Tufton-Young, Nosher Hyde, Mean Joe Hackenbacker III (the only American who could find England on a map at the time) and, of course, Don Featherstone, Lord Lawford and Sir Terence Wise, KCB. Incredibly, there were no less than five Charles Grants in circulation at any one time.
The main idea then is a return to the basics. Family Values for wargaming, but without the sleaze revelations. Too much fun has been lost, and grief accrued, by trying to make the hobby more complicated, accurate or politically correct. For the true adherents, their world ended with WRG, national characteristics, and the demise of food rationing. They retired to their gothic country piles, sleeping on their sand tables, only now to re-awake, zombie fashion, empowered by the wails of disillusioned gamers everywhere. The aim is to spread the word – not too aggressively (that would be dreadfully common) – and put the fun back into gaming. Theirs is a call for simple rules, simple figures and simple gamers pleasures. All figures will be painted, all rules will be one page, all dice will be six sided and all ranges will be estimated. They ask no more.
While I absolutely love the group, and much of what they stand for, I dont think I am entirely aligned with the ethos (which is probably why I cant describe it!). I am guessing I am more Middle School than Old School I suspect Quarrie, Gilder and elegant modern game systems have left too much of an impression for me to recover now. Plus, I value my history too much. So I doubt it will be for everyone (Empire players need not apply) but it is a broad church (GW and WAB are, after all, quite Old School at heart) and I find myself inexorably drawn towards recreating the old days, and pleasures anew. Whatever, an excellent initiative and one that is gaining support daily. There will be a demo game at Partizan in May. Join us, if you can.
Spencer Smith Miniatures
On a related topic, many of you will remember Spencer Smith figures. Some of you may even have owned some in the Seventies. They were the large, gangly plastic figures that you could buy in bulk bags and which are inextricably linked with photos of single-pose massed battalions in Charles Grants ground breaking wargames books. They are, in essence, Old School personified. Well I for one though they had long since bitten the dust; but no, they live on. Well, lets say they have been reborn. In metal, but still at bargain prices. All the old moulds are available, and new ones are appearing there was much celebrating thanks to the mitre capped grenadier recently launched, only 30 years overdue. Well worth a look, and absolutely essential for that retro gaming project. The company also sell Jacklex, and the Suren Willies and Tradition (steady, Mike). Spencer Smith are at The Old Rectory, Wortham, Diss, Norfolk IP22 1SL. Telephone: 01379 650021
It is actually becoming difficult to argue with the trend. The September shows, for the past few years, have been noticeably weaker (game wise) than their May equivalent. My theory would be that hobbyists have the whole winter to prepare something special for Partizan I, but version II, coming just a few weeks later, and after the school holiday doldrums, suffers accordingly. As usual though, everything is relative and there were enough games to make me look forward to the Spring incarnation, which seems to be the whole point.
The best game at the show was an ACW game presented by The Generals Review (aka grognards Ian Smith and Shaun Bryant). Siggins enjoying an ACW game? Surely an error has been made? Well, as you know, these guys can paint a bit, and they had applied themselves to a decent number of 40mm figures a mixture of Sash & Sabre and discontinued Perries, imported back to the UK from a festering warehouse in the States. The results, set out on some first class terrain (Smithy is the guvnor for terrain boards) were very impressive. Well, stunning actually. The game took me back to Partizans of old, and as I have said many times before, this game alone made the trip worthwhile.
Dave Ryan at Caliver is importing a new range of specially developed paints from the Antipodes under the Derivan Minis brand. The range of colours is good at around 50, plus metallics and specials. This is not as large a selection as Vallejo (what is?), but they score on three other important points. They come in large pots (36ml), I found the coverage truly excellent, and they have that same silky smoothness that characterises the Vallejo black and others, but which is not replicated across the entire Vallejo range. They also seem much more together, not suffering from that pigment/medium split that requires extensive shaking of Vallejos. Perhaps they just had a bumpy flight over These paints are highly pigmented, apparently more so than even Foundry, and come out very close to my beloved Chromacolour in intensity and I can offer no higher praise. The inks are also very intense in colour, and can be considerably reduced to the point of an ultra thin wash or glaze. They also pool very nicely without anything more exotic than distilled water as a medium. We are truly spoilt for paints at the moment, with Vallejo, Andrea, Citadel, Coat dArms, Miniature Paints, Howards Hues and many more. I even have a few Foundry now for flesh tones. Derivan stand well against all of these and I recommend them highly.
A New Dawn
I have written much about Redoubt in the columns over the years. One theme, oft repeated: lots of potential, occasionally some good figures, but ultimately disappointing ranges overall. Hopefully that is about to change thanks to talented new sculptor Sean Judd, who is working both on Redoubt product as well as his own Trident Designs. The latter has nothing to do with missiles, but is another company joining the 40mm bandwagon in the shape of Robin Hood, medievals and gladiators. These, again, are right up my street. They are also, without doubt, some of the nicest I have seen in this or any other small scale. On the downside we pay a tidy sum for a pack of three (£8.50), yet we may not want two of those figures at this scale and price, Id really like to buy singles. On the upside, the Bishop is perfect, Maid Marian is a brilliant rendition, and the knights just have to be painted up, in volume, for skirmish or tourney. Sean is a relative newcomer, but he has been sculpting in stealth mode for a while amongst others, he did WWII 28mm figures for Battle Honours, including those wonderful Finns. I had a long chat with him at Redoubt and at Euro Militaire and he certainly has some interesting plans. I asked him to consider supplying head swaps for the knights, which would give us some needed variety, and this should be underway soon. One to watch.
A visit to the excellent MAFVA show at Duxford brought a pleasant surprise in the shape of ABs stand. Like Gripping Beast, Front Rank and Thomas’s Revolving Temptarium, the key with AB is to see them painted in the flesh. You already know they are really good, but superbly painted goodies just set the seal – your hand is going for the chequebook before you know it. I had bought some tank crew, British officers and British Paras before I regained consciousness. Thankfully I did, as focussing on the top shelf I could see a motley crew of masters and greens. Squinting in the gloom of the marquee, I made out German paras (woohoo!), Feldgendarmes and motorcycle combinations. One of the latters crew has got off his bike, in his characteristic big leather coat, and is stretching his aching back. Needless to say, they are all wonderful sculpts and should, all being well, be available by the time you read this.
Vendel have some excellent new releases in their fantasy ranges, including some almost generic dark ages figures that would suit many applications (admittedly mostly in Middle-earth) but my favourite is the pack of five mastiffs, easily the best dogs available in 28mm and truly vicious looking beasts. There are more canines to come apparently. Artizan have yet more figures in the Old West line, including the Earps, some excellent Mexican banditos, bank robbers and hired guns and the first of what promises to be a substantial 7th Cavalry line. Personally I am still waiting for Buffalo Soldiers in this scale. It is worth mentioning again that Artizan sell both unit packs (bigger and cheaper) and collector packs (where the figures are all different) a positive move to be applauded. Eureka have launched a fantastic new range of 18mms that may finally (yes, really) tip me over the edge into the Seven Years War. Also spurred by Old School pictures and the remarkable Project Leuthen game, I am pretty much convinced that this period is for me. More on this fantastic company next time. The only possible rival to that definite plan would be Black Hat Miniatures 18mms of Napoleon in Egypt. Decisions, decisions. Falcata Miniaturas is a new name to me, but they have launched with a superb range of 20mm Spanish Napoleonics. Tall, willowy and elegant, these are truly New School figures that will sit well anywhere.
And finally, and by no means least, Tom Meier at Thunderbolt is consistently producing 30mm figures that are arguably the best ever made in the smaller scales. Like Rackham, and Stadden and Suren in their time, these sculpts are remarkable imaginative clothes and look, exquisite facial detail, elegant limbs, believable and interesting poses and incredibly fine detail. So fine that aside from wondering how it is done, one quickly realises that painting them is well beyond my ageing eyes. Some of you may not relate to the style, or like the fact they are 30mm, but it is hard to question the supreme talent on display the images on the website are instantly taken for 54mm or larger; only a ruler placed nearby indicates the true scale. The best news of all is that while he started out with fantasy subjects beautiful elves, dogs, and humans Tom has now made greens of a Zulu, a Byzantine infantryman, and a quite amazing Woodland Indian. Lost for words for once, I will let the web pictures do the talking.
Little Big Man
More than anything else (and I can’t really explain this), I remain excited about Steve Hales’s crusade to decorate every shield on every manufacturers figures. It is a very simple and laudable idea, and of course is a slant on a product that has been around for years from Veni, Vidi, Vici and others. But they must now be feeling like market traders with a large pile of VHS tapes to shift while the bloke next door is selling DVDs, with commentary disks, and undercutting them in the process. To cut a long story short, these shield transfers are truly superb and new releases appear by the week. The latest include beautiful Greek and Carthaginian designs, Numidian animal skins and a sheet of Islamic flags and shields that beggar belief. Starting to appear are medievals, and I for one am looking forward to a riot of heraldic devices Steve promises huge variety, as well as larger transfers for caparisons and surcoats. Can’t wait. As the man said, it doesn’t get any better than this.