Sunday, 31 January 2016

Roundwood Recommends Number 4: "Wargames Illustrated Paints"

I've been enjoying a consistent run with the paint brushes this January, trying to spend at least 15 minutes each day painting up some late 17th Century figures as part of my “new” (actually older and now resurrected) wargaming period. Lots of things have helped me achieve of a rare purple patch of painting consistency.

Remembering each evening to sit down and pick up a paintbrush when getting home from work has helped a lot. The more I’ve done, the more I’ve wanted to do – regular painting creating a bit of a momentum as I see the results very slowly building up over time.

Curt’s Painting Challenge has really helped, sharing the experience of winter painting with a great collection of other hobbyists, painters and wargamers throughout the world.

And also, I’ve been reading painting guides. I blogged about “Painting Wargames Figures”, a great little book from Javier Gomez, “El Mercenario” last Autumn, which I find really useful. This post, I’d like to recommend “Wargames Illustrated Paints”, a super little magazine supplement from the publisher of Wargames Illustrated, and available from North Star Miniatures and from some newsagents in the UK such as W.H. Smiths.

Written by the very talented Matt Parkes and Dave Taylor, “Wargames Illustrated Paints” takes the reader through a complete guide to painting wargames figures. At 74 pages, it’s a shorter publication than “Painting Wargames Figures”, but it covers everything you could really want from a painting guide. Preparation, undercoating, basic techniques, and face and skin painting are all covered before Matt and Dave move offer some very interesting sections dealing with more advanced techniques.

There is an exceptionally good, but quite advanced, section on painting different fabric textures. The section on painting faces is excellent, giving several different methods of painting skin textures and features such as scars, freckles and black eyes! There's a lovely section on painting wood, which I have never seen addressed before in such detail, or so well.  And there’s a great section on metallic, illustrated with the example of a plate armored nobleman, which includes a stunning black-plate decorated Tudor armour painting guide. Sections on horses (always useful) and bring end up the booklet, each of which gives some very useful advice.

“Wargames Illustrated Paints” is very well illustrated in colour throughout, with lots of photographs and sidebar sections setting out “how to” guides. I would have added more images to this blog post, but as the publication is only short I didn’t want to “give the game away” or infringe copyright. 

Therefore, I’d simply say that “Wargames Illustrated Paints” is an excellent booklet, full of sound advice for all wargames painters. I think that the booklet is more focused on the intermediate, improving, or experienced painter than the total beginner, with some of the techniques being quite advanced. However, for anyone having painted a couple of dozen figures and who wants to improve their brushmanship or brushwomanship, it should definitely have a place on your bookshelf.

One of the best things about the booklet is that it is also very reasonably priced – only £5.95 in the UK, and in my view worth every penny. I’ve been using it on a near-daily basis to try and refine my painting techniques, and I’ve really had fun try to recreate some of Matt and Dave’s effects. If you fancy doing the same, give “Wargames Illustrated Paints” a try, with my firm recommendation!

Monday, 18 January 2016

Curt's Painting Challenge - Themed Entry No.2 "The Artist Chance Card"

The second of Curt’s “Themed Rounds” in the Analogue Hobbies Sixth Painting Challenge is entitled “Epic Fail”. You may already have seen the wonderful entries HERE, on the Painting Challenge blog, and I am sure you will agree that the Challenge's participants have been incredibly inventive in what they’ve come up with.

I wanted to try and follow not only Curt’s theme of “Epic Fail”, but also make my second themed entry consistent with the first one I posted a couple of weeks ago. Here’s what I came up with … which is somewhat of a tribute to the vicissitudes of the Chance Card in wargaming.


"Chance Card #20: One of your regiments is delayed arriving in the field owing to their commander's portrait being painted by the famous artist, Laarden van Rijn.

I've always loved introducing "Chance Cards" into my wargames. I think this is some deep-rooted memory from avidly reading Donald Featherstone's "Wargames Campaigns" and "Solo Wargaming" when I was a teenager. I loved the way that Chance Cards can dislocate even the best laid plans. A few years ago, we fought a seventeenth century battle and I added a Chance Card to the deck which forced one side to have a unit delayed reaching the battlefield as a result of the commander having his portrait painted by the famous Flemish painter, Laarden Van Rijn (a lesser known brushman than his more illustrious Dutch cousin).

I liked that card. It wasn't game breaking. It was a bit of fun. And it was clearly an “epic fail” in keeping with Curt’s theme, albeit quite in character for the "professionalism" of some historic Flemish commanders of the seventeenth century.

So, for this themed round, I planned on bringing that Chance Card to life.

We have the local civic militia, delayed in the Grote Markt while Mijnheer van Rijn prepares to paint his masterpiece. The cobblestones match the basing of the first Themed Round, and yes - the chickens pecking around the base of the statue of the Satyr have spread to this entry as well, clucking around the soldiers as they pose dramatically for the paintbrush. 

As befits a local militia, the soldiers have every variety of arms and armour, from classical helmets to flintlocks, from matchlocks and the Twelve Apostles to Flemish steel rapiers. Some are dressed in sober grey, others less conservatively.  And one, in the front rank, is dressed in a frankly gaudy costume – perhaps an ambitious younger son of a Flemish nobleman, out to impress his fellow citizens.

As for the inspiration, well I am sure you might have guessed that it is Rembrandt van Rijn’s incredible painting of “The Nightwatch”, featuring Captain Banning Cocq’s militia company passing out of the Amsterdam city walls in the 1650s. 

My late seventeenth century figures are too late to match Rembrandt’s, but I tried to capture the essence of movement and chaos in Rembrandt's incredible masterpiece. A jumble of soldiers, armed with all types of weapons, some carrying out the mechanisms of foot, some obviously preening in their flashy bright buff or red jackets.

Nothing I could do with a paintbrush could ever remotely rival Rembrandt, so I didn’t try. I did think of creating a tiny photo-shop version of Rembrandt's "The Nightwatch" on Laarden van Rijn’s easel, but I decided the barely-started sketch he's drawn is more in keeping with the theme of “Epic Fail”!

As I wanted to try and recreate a mixture of colours, I also did a plan of which figures were wearing what. This was pretty simple to do, but helped me a lot to keep track of the 12 different figures as I painted them last week.

The cobblestones are made from brass etch, available from Scalelink. They’re a little pricey, but arrived very quickly by post and are a lovely representation of North European paving. You can see paving like this in any Flemish of Dutch town. The figures are Wargames Foundry and Dixons, and the wonderful chickens are from Warbases. Laarden van Rijn, a Wargames Foundry figure, started life as a sedan chair passenger, but only last week did I find a perfect use for him. 

The flag is hand painted, and I thought that the Pelican (slightly comical, avaricious, but quite vicious when roused) would be a perfect civic symbol for this imaginary Flemish town in the final Indian summer of the Spanish Netherlands in the 1680s.  I love the flags being produced by various companies (such as GMB and Flags of War) at the moment, and they certainly save time. However, they sometimes are (to my mind) a little on the small side for what I want flying alongside my foot regiments.

I like making my own flags out of artist’s paper, and then gluing the two sides of the flag together (using Araldite expoy resin) and then folding the flag into shape before dry. A wash with PVA then seals the flag, making it robust enough for the wargames table and ready for undercoating and painting. The results are never as perfect as laser printing, but you do get the size of flag you want. And of course, if the flag is conjectural, or simply downright made up, you’re in a good place, rather than having to persuade the good people at GMB that “ ... there’s a flag I would really like, can you please help ..?” ! 

I scratch-built the easel and the pot of brushes which van Rijn is leaning for as he starts the painting. I didn't need to add much conversion work to the soldiers, but I did add a few greenstuff feathers and created the militia Captain’s ceremonial civic goblet (which came out more like a vase, if I’m honest!) from modelling putty.

I liked the idea of recurring themes and echoes running through the themed rounds.  Perhaps there'll be more chickens, discarded hats, pelicans and cobblestones in later submissions!  And who knows, perhaps that gaudily dressed nobleman's younger son might also re-appear ... 

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

After a quiet 2015 on this blog, I’m hoping to offer you all a little bit more in 2016. No hugely ambitious plans (I’ve been there before!), but hopefully some more regular blogging.

After a long period of time wargaming the First World War (almost to the exclusion of other periods), one of the decisions I made in late Autumn last year was to move on to a different period for building up armies and terrain. I say “different” as the period is not really new to me – it’s more a case of returning to one of the periods of my wargaming roots, namely the late seventeenth century in Flanders, France and Germany.

With this in mind, I’ve had fun digging out units and figures over the past month or so, becoming reunited with some battalions I had forgotten about, and re-discovering a seventeenth century lead mountain which has not been added to since 2007!

Getting “back into” a wargaming period is also, I’ve found, a slightly strange experience.

I’ve found a couple of hundred unpainted figures, some old notebooks containing a half-finished campaign, lots of ideas written own and even a set of rules I had written and used just a couple of times.  A bit like walking into a house with the furniture covered in dust-sheets.  Everything is exactly where you left it – good memories, half-finished projects, jewels-in-the-crown, warts and all. 

Looking through what I have for the period is as if everything came to an abrupt stop in 2008, and was simply put away (which is pretty near the truth, as I moved onto other periods).

Picking up the reins again and taking stock of an old period is an interesting process. My main thoughts are - “how can I do it differently this time around”.  More to come on this in due course.

Alongside this transition (from an old period to a newer old period), there’s also the excitement of Curt’s Sixth Painting Challenge. Here’s my first entry, which Curt has entitled “The Satyr”, and is the for the "Nostalgia" themed-round. It looks back to the wonderful times of the 1980s and the “Talisman” board game, but you’ll perhaps also spot just a few hints of the seventeenth century creeping in …

Monday, 21 December 2015

The Analogue Hobbies Sixth Painting Challenge

For the past three years, this time of year has always been a little frantic. Christmas shopping? Last minute work panic?  Getting Roundwood Towers ready for the arrival of the In-Laws, friends and family guests? Yes, all of those, but also the start of Curt’s Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge

And this year is no exception, with the Sixth Painting Challenge beginning yesterday at 6am in the UK, and already producing some very fine submissions.

I’ve been enormously privileged to take part in the Challenge in 2013 and 2014, and I’ve signed up again this year.  It’s one of the hobby activities which I do which has a real sense of community. This year, there are 88 painters in the Challenge – and between us we cover the globe, and paint wargaming figures of every type, period, shape and size. It’s a truly international challenge, made even more wonderful by the fact that the real winner is the hobby, our gaming friends, and our beloved wargaming and painting community.

My Challenge last year was heart-felt but not very successful, as I really failed to get going as a result of all kinds of things (nothing serious, just family and work - no doubt a story so many of you can relate to).  This year, I’m a little bit nervous as a result, reducing my targeted points total to 500 points over three months – which for me is pretty challenging. But, with a fair breeze behind me, and some application of will, I feel I can make it.

I also love Curt's theme - of risk takers, daredevils and gamblers...

I’ll be painting for a new period, and a new army, completely different to anything on my blog so far - but actually a period which I know fairly well and which goes back to my wargaming youth.  Here's just a small hint, with hopefully a lot more to come:

I’m very excited. The figures are prepared and (mostly) undercoated. My Christmas holidays are almost here. And I have the company of some of the finest hobbyists one could ever meet for the Challenge.  

So here’s to the Sixth Painting Challenge.  The die is cast! Good luck everyone!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Vive la Republique! Vive la Liberte! Vive La France!

Others will no doubt say it more eloquently, but here are some of my favourite French things:

Paris, in all it’s glory

French summers

French food and wine

French films

Louis XIV

French armies

French courage, now and always

Nous sommes unis - Nous sommes Paris

Monday, 2 November 2015

Roundwood Recommends - Number 3: One Stop Campaign Guides

One of the great things about our hobby is being able to develop the setting and background of our wargames, immersing the players in a particular historical period. Sometimes the creation of that world takes on a dimension of its own. We research uniforms, flags, tactical deployments and historic battles. We spend time thinking about the terrain of the conflict, the buildings, the landscape, even the animals which would have been present in Roman Britain, Napoleonic Russia or wherever our armies take us. And, in the process, we read a lot. I think every wargamer I have met has been a great reader, often many amassing fine collections of books which any public or university library would be delighted to hold.

It often seems hard just to find one book for a particular period which tells you, the wargamer, what you need to know.

Modern periods such as the Second World War have an embarrassing wealth of publications, with every possible detail of the combatants described and catalogued in depth. More distant periods, such as the early Middle Ages, sometimes appear to lack any definitive text which contains everything you’d need to start a wargames campaign – instead, more general historical books need to be trawled for the jewels of military history tucked away in obscure paragraphs on Pictish standing stones, Viking longboat building (or whatever).

Whatever the period, the hunt for an elusive single guide to a wargames period or a campaign can be difficult.

With this in mind, I thought another post for my Roundwood Recommends series could be One Stop Campaign Guides. These are single books (if possible) which give a really sound and comprehensive coverage of armies and tactics for a particular period, and which are still fairly readily available.

The idea would be for a newcomer to a historical wargames period to pick up the book and, after reading through, to have a good idea of how the respective armies were organised, fought tactically and strategically, some insight into the major battles and the terrain on which they were fought, and some understanding of the key elements required for victory by the commanders in the particular conflict. Also, if possible, the book should contrast the forces on either side – their organisation, their tactics, their leadership and their methods of fighting.

Looking through the books I have at home, and thinking about the wargames I’ve played in, I’ve narrowed down my list to five books. There were quite a few which almost made it, but each of them fell at one of the hurdles. Some focused too much on one side of the battle. Others paid little attention to the terrain over which battles were fought. Others neglected the strategic aspect of the conflict being discussed.

I should add that my list is very personal. You are very free to disagree with the books I’ve chosen! I am sure you have your own titles which you think do the job as well, or better, than the ones I’ve listed. If so, please do add them into the comments below.

So, in no particular order, here’s my list of the Roundwood Recommends One Stop Campaign Guides.

First up is a relatively new book, “Waging War in Waziristan”, by Andrew Roe. The book features the campaigns staged and policies adopted by the British in Waziristan during the late 19th and early 20th century. Particular attention is played to the role of diplomacy employed by the British and Indian army in controlling the wild tribal highland areas in what is now the frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although it’s not a wargaming book, it provides a wonderful summary of the different motivations of the relevant combatants in the area’s conflicts for almost 100 years. Rooted in the analysis of the fighting is an understanding of why the hill tribes of Waziristan were so hostile, uncontrollable and resilient – through understanding the motivation of the hill tribes to fight, and the particular terrain on which campaigns were staged, the British and Indian political officers and commanders in the area were eventually able to calm, control and sometimes suppress this challenging part of the Raj.

Like the other One Stop Campaign Guides, there is a wealth of information in the book to stage skirmishes, set-piece actions or campaigns. Reading through it, the possible scenarios just tumble out from the history of the region (one of my favorite being a mule train of rifle smugglers, whose locally produced rifles were concealed in the false bottoms of a dozen wooden coffins).

It’s a wonderful book, and it’s still in print. If you’re tempted to campaign in “The Grim”, or North India especially in the early 20th Century, it’s a book you can start with and use through a host of games.

Second is an old favourite – Bruce Quarrie’s “Napoleon’s Campaigns in Miniature”. I am not a Napoleonic buff by any means, but I’ve loved this book for well over 20 years since I first saw a copy in one of the Humberside public libraries in the 1980s. For its time, it was a great attempt to fit everything a wargamer needed to know about the Napoleonic Wars into a single book. Battles, commanders, uniforms, march distances per day, organisation of artillery trains – if it was in the Napoleonic Wars, I imagine that there’s a reference (however brief) in Bruce’s book. 

Of course there are probably dozens of mistakes, over-abbreviations, confused misreadings of historical events. But the scale of the attempt to condense everything a wargamer needs into a small volume is deeply impressive. A grand, even Napoleonic, book. It is sadly out of print, but the internet is a wonderful resource for tracking such titles down.

From Napoleon, to America – and a couple of books which could well be brothers in arms. Both are by Paddy Griffith. The third of my chosen One Stop Campaign Guides is, if various reviews are to be judged, very controversial – being Dr. Grffith’s “Battle Tactics of the Civil War”. Those far better qualified than me can judge whether the book’s thesis (that the ACW was the last “Napoleonic war”) is accurate or not, and to what extent. For me, I greatly enjoyed the way in which the book provided a coherent argument as to how the ACW was fought at a strategic and tactical level. I personally found the late Dr. Griffth’s arguments persuasive, and was impressed by the way in which the tactical and grand-tactical battlefield events were referenced to the location and terrain of the battlefield, and to logistics. 

If nothing else, the book serves as a wonderful introduction for the fourth of my One Stop Campaign Guides – which is Dr. Griffith’s “Battle in the Civil War”. This is a slim, lovingly illustrated guide to the Civil War which sets out in a summary form many of the arguments made by Dr. Griffith in “Battle Tactics of the Civil War”. The illustrations, by Peter Dennis, are simply magnificent. The book is a model of clarity, describing organisation and tactics from the army level of campaigning, to brigade actions, and down to the regimental level. Tactics and terrain are well covered, as are the contrasts between the opposing forces. The two books, taken together, form a great introduction to the ACW, and I would guess that many of you will have them already on your bookshelves. If not, “Battle Tactics of the Civil War” is in print, and there are copies of the illustrated “Battle in the Civil War” available online from time to time.

And finally, to the fifth of my One Stop Campaign Guides. “The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough” is Dr. David Chandler’s book about how warfare was staged in the late 17th and the early 18th centuries. 

While many of you will no doubt love his “Campaigns of Napoleon” (an undoubtedly brilliant book), for me, I feel “The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough” is his magnum opus. At the time the book was written, probably less was available to Dr. Chandler about how Marlborough, Villars, Eugene of Savoy and Bouffleurs fought their battles, compared to Napoleon. The book is therefore a great volume of historical detective work. How did firefights take place? How many men were in action at any one time? How did armies manouevre, lay siege, fight? I doubt that many of these questions had been addressed in so comprehensive a way before “The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough” was published.

It describes the workings of the respective armies, their organisation, tactical handling, deployment, and campaign methods. It focuses on terrain – rivers, roads, strategic theatres. It considers the role of the chief commanders of the age, and of the great engineers. In short, you can start Marlburian wargaming having this book and needing very little else. After many years of playing that period, I found it as useful a guide to how Marlburian armies fought as I had done at the point I started. I was not always sure that Dr. Chandler’s conclusions were the last word on the subject (mainly because he had inspired so many other writers to add to his learning on that period), but they always needed to be borne in mind, and measured carefully before disagreeing. It is also beautifully written, in a clear, careful style which is a model of precision and brevity. Simply, one of my favourite books.

Well, there you have my five One Stop Campaign Guides. I know you’ll have many more. Please feel very free to add yours in the comments.

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