Friday, 4 September 2020

In The Cold Season of the Year : A miniature campaign version of Laarden, 1688



One of the things I've been doing in Lockdown is working through a list of projects I've wanted to finish for some time.  This has included creating a very miniature version, of the old Games Workshop "Mighty Empires", set in the cold, winter-bound countryside of 17th Century Flanders.

I've always been fascinated by games which reduce military campaigning to a manageable, miniature scale.  Reading the accounts of soldiers through history, campaigning seems to have been anything but manageable, and 17th Century campaigning was no exception.  Yet there is something which really appeals to a world-building wargamer in trying to reduce a messy, chaotic, sprawling experience - moving armies across a potential battlefield - into a coherent, neatly manageable, tabletop experience.


“Mighty Empires” had the same feel about it, although the scope of that game was far greater – it created both a campaigning and battle game, as opposed to just a wargames campaigning tool.  I wanted to take my inspiration from the look and framework of “Mighty Empires”, but leave the project as a campaign tool only – being an attractive way of setting the scene before the action moves to the wargaming tabletop.

Projects often take some time to come to fruition, and this was no exception.  I’d had the 40mm hexagon tiles, in 3mm MDF, from Warbases, for some time.  I was also left with a fairly large amount of 2mm terrain pieces from Irregular Miniatures, a surplus from my Thirty Years War project in 2mm a few years back.  My first decision was whether to continue the winter-terrain theme from the 2mm Thirty Years War collection, or create something for summer or autumn to match my 28mm Laarden figures.  In the end, I went for the former, really because I thought winter campaigning offered some interesting challenges as a game environment.



Creating the small terrain tiles was quite fun, and not too difficult.  I had thirty hexagon tiles, and I wanted a variety of terrain types, mainly reflecting northern France and Flanders.  Woods, low hills, windmills, a river, some bad roads, several small villages and a small walled town all seemed to fit with the theme I wanted.  Much of this was scratchbuilt – with hills being scraps of extruded Styrofoam covered with Polyfilla, woods being clump foliage and the river banks being built up with green-stuff putty.  The Irregular terrain items made good-looking villages and farms.  The town was carved and cut out with a very sharp scalpel, using a stencil, and with Brigade Models’ 2mm buildings adding the ‘look’ of a Flemish town of late-17th Century.




As you can see, most of the items were basically scrap or left-over items from other projects.  I always like to try and get some use from leftovers like this, rather than consigning them into a spares-box for a decade or so!

What I was trying to create was something which looked like a reasonable approximation of a campaign map – showing major features, albeit major features which were somewhat out-of-scale and exaggerated.  I wasn’t keen on creating anything like a properly scaled model of a late-17th Century fortified town for the project.  Rather, I wanted to create something which had the feel of such a place.

I painted the hex tiles with a light grey emulsion paint, with a dry brush of white emulsion.  The woods I soaked in PVA, and then painted them black, and dry brushed brown, then light grey.  The cold, slow-running river was painted in a dark blue, with a couple of coats of varnish.  And some “1mm snow”, essentially cotton dust, finished the look I was aiming for.

Hopefully this will be a portable, and very versatile, campaigning tool, adaptable not just for the 17th Century, but for just about anything from 1550 to 1815.  Maybe it can even fit an earlier period if I add a medieval-walled town instead of the trace italienne version.  The tiles should be versatile enough to be picked out by the players at the start of a club night game, or selected before a tabletop battle and turned into a suitable paper map through a few photographs and maybe a little photo-shopping.

I’ll have a look in the next blog post at some possible rules to use with the tiles, again with a grateful nod in the direction of “Mighty Empires”.  

Also, while on the subject of acknowledgements, I’d like to thank fellow-Twitter user, Adam Clark, for his own posts of his “Mighty Empire” tiles from a recent Kickstarter, which were very inspirational and prompted me to rescue this project from the ‘pending’ pile.  Thanks Adam!




Friday, 19 June 2020

And yet more "Characters of Laarden, 1688"

The final five “Characters of Laarden” were painted in late March and early April 2020. They feature a glittering favourite (who may turn out to be a fraud), a tulip cultivator who may turn out to be a hero, an indecisive but dangerous adversary, two sisters and five Brothers, plus a collection of Laarden chickens. 

So, now is the time to pour yourself a glass of the golden ale from one of Laarden’s breweries, or enjoy a cup of coffee illicitly brought to the city through the French blockade, and drift back to my alt-historical nonsense from the year of 1688….

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The first of the “Characters” is Hannes van Breughel, Count of Ieper and Lord Commander of Laarden. Hannes is a converted Wargames Foundry figure, with a sword arm swapped for his originally cast-on ineffectually-waving arm, and with some green-stuff feathers and lace added. The trumpeter is Wargames Foundry, with just some added brass fret oak leaves on his hat – which is my field-sign for Imperial troops.



The two soldiers are Dixon Miniatures, with more oak field-signs added, and painted in suitably earthy Flemish browns and ochres – to fit the colour scheme of the other Flemish regiments in my Laarden collection. The Imperial standard, in Hapsburg scarlet and yellow, is from Iain at “Flags of War” – whose website and flags I can heartily recommend. The base is 60mm MDF, 3mm depth, from Warbases. 

Here’s the Lord Commander’s Character Card. I had in mind that the Flemish commanders for Laarden would be somewhat untried and untested when faced by an assault of the ferocity of the French army of 1688, led by the Marshals of "Louis Le Grand". So, I tried to conjure something which suggested finery, but tinged with some slight nervousness about the Lord Commander's "credentials" for command in the Field.


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From one nobleman born to lead (with uncertain abilities but from the right side of the Laarden highway), to another from the other side of the cart-tracks.  Every crisis brings unusual heroes to the fore, and allows us all to be astonished by the quiet tales of sacrifice and determination. And this would be true in the alt-historical world of 1688, as well as our own.


Much remains to be written of Laarden’s powerful guild-system. To some, it might be a medieval hangover of restrictive trade practices; to others, it might be a reinforcement of community in the face of economic change. Whatever the academics might say, it’s true that the Laarden Guilded Company of Tulip Cultivators contributed significantly to the defence of the city in 1688, not least in the form of Captain Jan de Vroot, one of the redoubtable and irascible Guildsmen who has found his moment to shine as the French army threatens his City.



I tried to depict Jan and his civic militia comrades in earthy browns and ochres, but added a drummer in yellow – a colour which I’ve been using for Laarden drummers and characters since the start of the project a few years back.

Captain de Vroot is a Wargames Foundry ECW dismounted cavalryman, with a converted arm and green-stuff additions. Other civic militiamen have green-stuffed feathers on their hats, and the standard bearers are carrying more flags from Warbases. The chickens, wandering the Grote Markt, where the Company of Tulip Cultivators is assembling, are from Warbases. The cobblestone groundwork is more brass fret from Scalelink. I bought it a few years back – it’s very expensive, but gives a great depiction of continental European paving. Since then, a couple of companies have produced rollers for green-stuff with the same pattern, so one of those is on my list to purchase. The “straw” is…well, straw from a floor mat. Finials on the standards are from Bicorne Miniatures.


And, here's Captain de Vroot's card for the collection of the Characters of Laarden:


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And, now for a view of yet more "Adversaries of Laarden", in the form of two French engineers, a French grenadier and a Captain of Engineers - Pierre Duval, "The Mole of Versailles" - steadily advancing a sap towards the walls of one of the fortified villages close to Laarden.


I've always had a sneaky love for the spade-wielders of the seventeenth century, either besieging a town with lines of circumvallation or, less commonly, digging defending saps to challenge the besiegers. I think that groups of engineers, miners and sappers always make a great addition to seventeenth century tabletop battles, so often providing the target for an attacking force in the game.







The figures here are a mix of manufacturers, being Dixon Miniatures and Wargames Foundry. I tried to add some extra greenstuff features to one of the engineers, just to give that soldier a defiant, jaunty look with greenstuff feathers in his hat. For the "Mole of Versailles" himself, I used a Wargames Foundry figure, depicted in robust siege armour, supervising the siege workings.



The gabions are from Front Line Wargaming and Colonel Bills, and paint up very well in a variety of earthen shades to match the uniform of the engineers. And, since this is part of the set of the "Characters of Laarden", they have their own collectible card to add to your collection!




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As you know, my journey in the hidden bye-ways of 1688 Flanders is not just about the soldiers and commanders. Warfare in the late seventeenth century affected non-combatants, often in surprising ways, as I wrote about here on my blog a couple of years back. I wanted to add a couple of sisters to the collection of Characters. So here are Agnes and Margriete van Rompaey, and their children....


I loved painting these old Redoubt sculpts – at least once I’d managed to undercoat them. They’re chunky, look very un-prepossessing out of the plastic bag when they arrived, but painted up really well. You can cover any of the slightly clunky facial casting by a careful paint job, and by adding some basing to take the eyes off the slightly mis-sculpted children’s faces!




I thought they’d be perfect to grace either the streets of Laarden, or one of the cluster of satellite villages around the city. The chickens are again from Warbases (as is the base) and the geese are (I think) from Magister Militum.

I experimented with a softer brown edging on the figures - which I thought worked quite well. It's less harsh than the black edging - perhaps more suitable for non-combatants, maybe?


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And finally, as a painting treat for Easter Week 2020, I thought I’d add a small group of monks from the Laarden-based Brotherhood of Sint Jacobus. 


More from the Brotherhood of Sint Jacobus in later Blog posts, dear readers. Men and women of religious orders hold a real interest for me, and I think the Blog would benefit from a description of (at least one of) the miracles of Sint Jacobus at some point. 

Anyway, for now, here are the Brothers worshiping and praying. I’m not sure whether their prayers are being offered for the safe delivery of Laarden from the French attackers, or for the safe delivery of this morning’s chicken eggs from the hens in the Abbey gardens – but you’ll have your own views on that, I’m sure.




The Brothers are a mix of Redoubt (the brother with the hat) and Perry Miniatures, the latter being from the Perry’s First Crusade range but which make good monks in any period.

Looking through the lead pile, I seem to have collected far too many monks over the years, so I’m sure that more of the Brothers of Sint Jacobus will appear in Blog posts in the future. Blessed Be!!

Here’s their Character Card, complete with the Brothers’ cryptic possessions to be explained at a later date….


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And here, finally, is the completed “Characters of Laarden” collectible-collection of cards for Challenge X. Did you get the whole set?


I've loved doing them.  Totally indulgent, frivolous, and sometimes downright silly.  Or, if you prefer, "quintessentially Roundwood", as a good friend once tweeted to me! 

I did, however, enjoy them so much that I’ve thought of doing another set. Perhaps (in Old-School WRG fashion) “Enemies and Adversaries of Laarden”, or maybe “Allies of Laarden”. Let me know what you think. 

I wonder if I could expand the current 13 Collectible Character cards to 26. Or even to 52. What’s that - making a 52 card deck of such nonsense?  No… no, surely I’m not THAT frivolous …. hmmm..

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Thursday, 18 June 2020

More "Characters of Laarden", 1688

Yet more of the rather self-indulgent “Characters of Laarden” on the Blog, for your enjoyment today, painted in the first three months of 2020.


First up, we have Gerrit Vermuelen. Every town, regardless of scale and period, needs a rat-catcher, accompanied by a small but vicious dog.  He’s the sort of person you would never look too closely at if you saw him across the cobblestones of the Grote Markt.  A man from a class, or a world, beneath yours. Part of the background to the city in which you live, invisible to the eye in daylight and even less noticeable once the evening darkness falls. A man who can see very well, but who cannot be seen. Someone to know things, but not be known. What better background for a French spy?




Gerrit is an old sculpt from the famous Citadel C46 Villagers range. He’s been hanging around my spares box for half a lifetime, waiting for a moment to creep out of the shadows and get painted. He had a wonderful medieval-style head cap on, to which a middling-sized rat was clinging. 


I’ve updated his “look” to the seventeenth century by swapping his head for a Redoubt head with a large but stained and rat-claw-scratched floppy hat.  I think that updates him, to the late seventeenth century at least.

His character card was fun to do.  I faded his Character card, mirroring the tainted morality of his treacherous calling.


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For the second "Character", we move from the villainous to the virtuous - in the shape of the villagers of the Flemish hamlet of Sint Vaalben. This small, but strategically useful, Flemish village is on my list to scratch-build later this summer, mainly to give the villagers somewhere to defend!



The six villagers are Foundry 28mm figures, this time from the Foundry ECW range, equipped with wickedly sharp Bicorne Miniatures farm implements. I’ve no idea how I’ll use these figures. 

Maybe they will be surly, monosyllabic, unwelcoming locals from every traveller’s nightmare, blocking the road north to the Free-City of Laarden?  Or maybe they’ll be mercenary enough to see a handsome profit in supplying the highly-entitled French nobility with delicacies such as Hoetveld capons, Ghent eels and local woodland-reared wild boar?



Who knows, but here’s one of their many possible character cards for the “Characters of Laarden” collection....


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Visitors to this Blog will know that I enjoy trying to recreate the most disastrous episodes of late seventeenth century history.  What contemporaries called, somewhat picturesquely, the “shipwreck of our hopes”, being that time when an army starts to fragment, fracture, rout and melt away in clusters of soldiers straggling from the field of battle.  


I felt that a group of such Characters might make a good vignette.  So here’s a small collection of defiant, but defeated, Flemish stragglers.  They’re leaving the scene of one of the glorious defeats for the army of Laarden, trudging along the dusty summer roads of the Spanish Netherlands away from chasing French horse, dragoons and - Lord help them - Baron von Kroneberg’s rapacious “hussars”.




I had fun assembling the figures from a variety of manufacturers.  There's a mix of Dixon Miniatures, Perry Miniatures, Wargames Foundry, and Colonel Bills - a variety of defiant, wounded, straggling and fallen figures.  I made the battle-ragged standard out of some art paper, suitably cut with a scalpel, glued together with Bostik (a very rubbery contact adhesive which is perfect for fixing flags), and fixed in place with a PVA wash.  The stragglers are completing a task of heroic defiance, taking the regimental flag away to be repaired and re-embroidered by a Laarden seamstress.


Here's the Stragglers' collective collectible-card for the “Characters of Laarden” collection:


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One of the things I like about the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge - where these figures first appeared - is the chance to finish off older figures which have been lingering in a box for years.  These figures are from Reiver Castings, and I've wanted to do something with them for some time.  I had the idea of cutting them in half and painting them up as making a river crossing - or, in the case of the Laarden campaign of 1688, wading through a flooded inundation created by the increasingly desperate Laarden high command.



At this point, I should offer a huge “hat tip” to Barry Hilton, famed wargamer and member of the League of Augsberg.  Barry wrote a great article in Henry Hyde’s (most excellent) “Battlegames” magazine ‘back in the day’ (perhaps 2008) in which Barry carved his way through several figures in a like fashion to make a unit of Danish or Dutch soldiers for his Battle of the Boyne game at one of the big shows.  I loved the idea, and resolved to give it a go one day.  So, thanks Barry, and thanks Henry for publishing that article.  Inspiration - what comes around goes around, I hope!





I painted the suitably carved up figures as French enfants perdus, leading the line against the obdurate, stubborn Flemish defenders.  The Reiver castings looked slightly rough when I got them out of their long forgotten zip-locked bag.  The metal was fairly shiny, and the figures looked to be overly-lumpy.  I’ve had this experience with a lot of figures over the years.  It’s so tempting to just put such figures back in a box for another five years or so.  I always think its worth persevering, even if just for a figure or two - just to see how they look when undercoated.

And, once undercoated, the Reiver Castings started to look a lot better.  Their slightly exaggerated style of casting takes paint very nicely indeed, and I thought they looked - as castings - rather good from a distance.   They were also very reasonably priced - so a good result all round - perhaps the rest of the 15 figures I bought might find their way into a future Challenge. 

I also created a "Characters of Laarden" card - although identifying them more as a 'Nemesis of Laarden' might be more appropriate:


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In the seventeenth century, "Field Deputies" were Dutch civil representatives appointed to shadow important field commanders on campaign, ensuring - among other things - that the wishes of the Dutch Stadtholder and the States-General were represented in the councils of war.  In such positions, the Field Deputies could be a potential brake on aggressive action by allied commanders such as the Duke of Marlborough.


And here is the Laarden equivalent - two Field Deputies surveying the battlefield, no doubt concerned by any attempt from the commanders of the Laarden forces to counter-attack or challenge the opposing French army in open battle.  I rather rushed the painting of these figures, and I admit my mind was not really on the brushwork when I was painting them.




I painted them in the second week of March, 2020, just after I had started working from home in quarantine - which was a challenging time for all of us.  They were a welcome distraction from real-world concerns.  I tried to complete them in sombre tones of black, browns and grey.  As would, of course, befit gentlemen of probity, caution and (no doubt) property interests.  I imagined that the last thing the Field Deputies would welcome would be a destructive war, property damage, and expensive blockades.  More from these shadowy movers-and-shakers of seventeenth century Flanders in other Blog posts to come, later this year....


As for the figures, both Field Deputies are Old Glory 28mm figures, from the pirate range!  The accompanying grenadier is from Dixon Miniatures.  I swapped the head of one of the Field Deputies for a Bicorne head, making him look "more seventeenth century".   For these modest and conservative figures, no greenstuff, or fancy feathers needed to be added.

I picked up the gabions at Colours, last year.  I think they were pointed out by “Wargame, Soldiers and Strategy”-superstar Mark "Peaches" Backhouse.  I can't remember the manufacturer I bought the gabions from, but they painted up a treat.  The small drum, with accompanying campaigning map is, I think, from Wargames Foundry - rescued from an ECW command set.

And here's their Character card, placed with the other new cards, in the centre of the "Characters of Laarden" collection, so far.




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