Wargamer’s Notebook Issue 61

A long time away. Sorry. It was a combination of finally buying a house and, to be honest, having far too much to comment on in the hobby. In that odd way, it meant I didn’t ever really get started on the column. That rolled into procrastination and a ton of ‘proper’ work. Combined with some major house issues and unpacking, which seems to have taken months, it has not been a productive Winter and Spring, hobby wise. But at least I have a workbench again, with room to set up a game, and projects are slowly starting to roll off the line. Hopefully I can now get to looking at the various rule sets that have accumulated in recent months. Apologies to all who have been awaiting a mention, or show reports, emails, or even a phone call.

Sales of War

A recent trip to the States (Columbus, Ohio) saw me re-adjust my hobby view somewhat. As usual, we toured the hobby stores in the area (there were a fair number in this university city) and it was a real eye-opener. Okay, there was the normal cool stuff we expect from the US hobby, some of which we still never see over here, and Games Workshop were as usual much in evidence. But rivalling the GW shelf space were Rackham and, ahem, Battlefront. I couldn’t believe it. There, with its own huge wall of blisters, was a ton of Flames of War product, complete with tailored Vallejo paint packs, racks of books and enthusiastic sales staff ready to sing its praises. I really had no idea it was that big.

I spoke to the manager of the largest shop (which would make some UK shows look weedy) and he said that FoW sales were very strong, it was pulling in people of all ages, there are lots of GW converts, and that he expected to give even more space over to the range in time. Just that day he had sold a ‘starter package’ (over $200) to someone who liked WWII desert movies and had heard about the game!

This is a remarkable achievement for a company from ‘our’ part of the hobby, and it shows that it can be done. I know Battlefront provide excellent support, inspirational visuals, and even I have been tempted by some of the supplements – the Italian book for starters. Of course they also provide an apparent ‘one stop shop’ of rules, expansions, tailored figures and even paint which rivals, such as Rapid Fire, Crossfire, Blitzkrieg Commander or similar, don’t do. It seems they have also hit on the key factor of availability. Either way, clearly, they have hit on a winning formula. Barry Hilton (another FoW convert) confirmed as much at Partizan. I really must get round to trying the rules to see what the fuss is all about – I am just hoping it isn’t another WAB playability over history deal.

Partizan

Partizan was, as ever, a superb show. Overall, based on game quality across the board, it may well have been the best I’ve seen. I had hoped there would be a lot of pictures arriving on the web because, four weeks later, sadly I can’t remember all the good games – there were so many. The 40mm Peninsula game was amazing, and probably my favourite, as was the 1946 ‘what if?’ tank game (never thought I’d see a game with a Tortoise), and the Old School rendition of Charles Grant’s Sittangbad turned many a spectator to understanding. I loved Mollwitz, the ECW game, North Hull’s and Barry Hilton’s impressive WWII games and, an unusual topic extremely well done, Freikorps 1919 – an event in history I knew nothing about. The trade presence was also notable for a slew of new, and therefore tempting, product. In one small stretch of tables, one could find Old Glory, TM Terrain, Bolt Action and Anglian Miniatures. Every one of them relieved me of money…

Old Glory are the importers of Drabant Miniatures which are, at 40mm, really meant to be model soldiers. Even judged on that basis they are truly beautiful figures, covering some unusual and appealing subjects but with an emphasis on the War of the Spanish Succession and Great Northern War. I purchased half a dozen, but would have been happy with just the beautiful 1701 French Officer (ref 1020). As Phil Olley told me immediately after I’d paid up (!), they are indeed a pig to paint  – like Rackhams, there is just a bit too much detail to attend to – and I doubt one would realistically build an army with them, even for skirmish, but I am very happy with my purchases nevertheless. The company painter is a Mr Kanaev, who may well be the same gentleman who regularly turns in Golden Demon winners. Nice to see all that practice on Space Marines paying off.

TM Terrain had their usual array of excellent scenery and buildings, which I still think are far better in quality than a certain high profile company, already putting out books to explain how to make distinctly sub-par terrain. Anyway, they are now importing John Jenkins’ 28mm Samurai building range, and I have to say this is some of the best resin I have seen in years. I bought the stunning torii immediately, and can see myself springing for the wall sets and the various buildings over time. Lovely work, and essential if you are into this period. Set them up with a few Perry samurai, and you will be in gaming heaven.

Even though I have sworn an Oath not to get into 28mm WWII in any way, even minor skirmishes, I really like Bolt Action’s figures. I am taken with the decent proportions, thoughtful posing, and the slightly quirky style – I am much reminded of Mark Copplestone’s figures for these reasons. Mostly though I go with their persuasive choice of subjects, and having seen the ultra new British Paras and the superb mine detector man, I am weakening by the day. The previous show saw me purchase the entire range of partisans, on the basis I could easily use them for 20’s/30’s pulp games, but at Partizan I broke The Oath. Well, at least until I come up with a decent justification for Italian Paratroopers. Very cool figures; exotic unit; unusual uniforms: deadly combination. I didn’t buy many. Just a squad. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Next door, working an evil pincer move (they share a sculptor with Bolt Action, so are stylistically similar), Anglian Miniatures managed to stop me in my tracks. The range is Spanish Civil War 28mm, a period I am fascinated by, after many indoctrinating chats with John Bruce at Force of Arms, but have no real interest in gaming. However, there are so many good figures here that I had to own some of them, lamely justifying the expense. I came away with two packs of their more generic types and characters who, again, will suit my pulp project admirably. They have many more coming, including packs of alternate heads – something I wish more 28mm companies would offer. I may yet crack, which would doubtless make John Bruce a happy man. Nigel Higgins, the man behind Anglian, is also threatening a T-26 and trucks for this Autumn. Great to see a new company covering an obscure period in style, and I wish them the best of luck.

Round the corner, Sean Pereira at Newline Designs was telling us about his forthcoming 20mm Samurai range, and thank goodness, they are early period. I will find it hard to resist at least some of these. If they mix happily with Zvezda’s beauties, then I am doomed. Fortunately for my rather delicate, house-depleted budget, these are delayed until September so that all twenty odd packs (that’s packs, not figures) can be released at once. Comprehensive. Complete. Compulsive. We ask no more.

Eureka

I don’t want to be in the least bit patronising here, because I dearly love this company, but I can’t help feeling that if Eureka was based in the UK (see below) or US, or perhaps had a slightly higher profile, we would be talking about them more than almost any other manufacturer. They do everything right, and their output is phenomenal – in volume, price and quality. So quick is the turnover, that rivals the heady days of Foundry at their peak, that I often lose track.

Eureka have a mind bogglingly wide range of figures, but there is one section of the catalogue that always appeals: the civilians. These are rendered as slight caricatures, and so never fail to raise a smile. The latest batch, in 28mm, covers the Indian sub-continent, featuring rather timeless figures that suit many centuries. There are twenty in all, of which sixteen are civilians. Cleverly, they are grouped into four set pieces, but you can also buy the stock figures – adults and kids – separately. So, we have a snake charmer, yogi, bed of nails, and, of course, the Indian Rope Trick. These are lovely, characterful figures that will look great standing in a group, or scattered. I am not an expert on headwear or clothing, but it strikes me that most of these could be pressed into service in other parts of the world, and will certainly feature in my Arabian Nights project.

Also in 28mm we have Powhatan and Tupi Indians. I have to say I don’t know what these can be used for, apart from the Pocahontas angle, so a websearch will follow shortly! Suffice to say the figures are excellent. Spot on anatomically, they would not look out of place with Perry or Conquest.  Finally, if you haven’t seen them, have a look at the Rugged Continentals who pretty much capture the AWI look for me.

As good as the above figures are, I have kept my powder (and adjectives) dry for the latest 18mm releases for Crimean War and Prussian SYW. In the same way that AB Figures achieve, I first saw these staged in a photograph and assumed they were 28mm. And good 28mms at that. But not only is the detail, presence and sculpt quality there, they also score highly on animation. The horses are, quite simply, superb. They put most horse sculpts to shame, whatever the scale. To see the Light and Heavy Brigade figures, inevitably in charging poses, is to imagine a unit that will look nothing less than convincing. They have all the troop types covered, and even have a Captain Nolan command figure straight off the front of The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) DVD, which happens to be one of my all time favourite films. Perhaps these figures will rejuvenate a curiously under gamed, but colourful and fascinating, period.

Fightin’ 15’s

You can get many of Eureka’s figures from Ian Marsh at Fightin’ 15’s, who is working hard to raise the abovementioned profile by increasing show presence. Ian is based on the Isle of Wight, which I think is still part of the UK. 1950’s UK, but still the UK. They have proper stuff like full size Mars bars, antimacassars, Whig councillors and more than one postal delivery per day. As well as being first stop for Eureka product, and AB 15mms, Ian has been building a small import portfolio of, it is fair to say, obscure companies. Until they appeared on his website I had never even heard of most of the brands, but that will change when you see what he is offering.

Typical are Oddzial Osmy (snappy, eh?), a Polish firm selling 15mm, 20mm WWII and 1/600th armour. Yes, 1/600th. Currently the latter is modern period only, but WWII ranges are promised – including Polish and French. Now that can’t be bad. These models are, as you’d expect, tiny but perfectly recognisable. If you are playing really large scale tank games, these may fit the bill. The smallish 15mms are also very nicely done – especially the horses. I have a pack of knights from the Teutonic range which are excellent, but they also have a growing range of Napoleonics. They are best known however for their 20mms, of which the US Paratroops are my favourites, but I think the US tank crew set may be very useful to many. Other ranges include Aude, who offer the Italian Wars of Independence, Scale Creep who do ACW (both of these in 15mm), Shadowforge with their 28mm-35mm fantasy and manga models and, a tempting prospect, Flashing Blades who are building towards every troop type for Waterloo in 10mm… Quite a selection. Ian is one of the nicest blokes in the hobby, and I recommend his service highly – 01983 752014.

Battlegames

It is always good to hear about a new magazine appearing within the hobby, especially one published on good old fashioned paper. Battlegames, the brainchild of Henry Hyde, appeared this spring in an attempt to restore some of the individualism and flair typical of Wargamer’s Newsletter and Battle magazine. It is bi-monthly, full colour and looks set to fill the enthusiastic hobbyist gap left by the demise of MWAN and Practical Wargamer. While the editor is one of the leading lights of the Old School Movement, you can expect a wide range of articles covering new and old, big and small, in all periods. The first couple of issues have been excellent reads. Like me, Henry has catholic taste and a fervent passion for the hobby, and definitely unlike me has professional design and photography skills.  www.battlegames.co.uk for sample issues and subs.

And Finally

Many of us, including me in this column, have long discussed the absence of hard plastic figures in the historical hobby. They offer numerous advantages over metal and indeed soft plastic, not least the ease with which you can swap heads and components, and execute conversions. Of course they also take paints easily, with minimum preparation. The downside is tooling up to produce them and the large bank balance that requires… But we are finally almost there, with the announcement that Valiant Miniatures, the brainchild of well known faces Julian Blakeney-Edwards and Colin Rumford, will soon be producing a range of 20mm WWII British and Germans. I have seen pictures of the Tommy masters and everything is looking good, so I am awaiting news of the first packs with great interest. They should be with us by early Autumn. There is talk of further ranges to follow, possibly even in 28mm – what price those long awaited hard plastic interchangeable horse halves, and, ooooh, Dark Ages or ancients?

Mike Siggins

Advertisements