Thursday, 9 June 2016

Thirty Years War in 2mm - Update

One of the things about taking on board a new hobby project is that it takes on a life it its own. Especially if you have a deadline. And things (like this blog for example) get forgotten - at least for a short while. Can it really be late March since I last posted here?

Although I promised to keep you all updated on the progress of my 2mm Thirty Years War project, actually undertaking the project has taken a great deal of my available hobby time over the last couple of months. The weeks since the end of March have been a whirlwind of figure and block basing, painting, terrain making and rule designing. Oh, and of course actually putting on the game and playing it.

But, I’m pleased to report that I got there. I took the Lützen 1632 game over to Evesham for the Operation Marker Larden get-together last Saturday (4th June). Now that the dust has settled, it's time to blog more about where the 2mm project has headed to, and where it might be going in the future.

Before I start, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who's helped so far. You know who you are, but particularly to Curt, Mark, Simon, Paul, Ed, Kieran, Nick and Rich. Thanks guys!


Where I left things in March was the bare-bones of an idea of staging one of the iconic battles of the Thirty Years War in 2mm scale. I blogged about the idea HERE, but as a reminder I had the focus of trying to recreate the “look” of a Thirty Years War battlefield as contemporaries had painted, or engraved, it. Over the past two months, filled with painting, modelling and terrain-building, I have tried to keep that aim in mind in creating the Lützen 1632 game.

Alongside this aim has been the intention to try and create a wargame which was focused on re-creating iconic battles in a modern (2016), manageable, compressed time period. I remember the 1980s, when every game took about four or five hours to fight to a conclusion. I want to try and avoid that, fitting in the 2mm battles in a period of at most three hours, from deployment to conclusion. This is going to take some play-testing and experimenting – the Lützen 1632 game we played last weekend was a little way off that timing aim, but its early days yet.

Although the figures and terrain are finished, at least for the Lützen 1632 game, the next challenge is the rules themselves. Curt Campbell (from Analogue Hobbies) and myself have been working on a 2mm set of rules for the Thirty Years War (which should be eminently suitable for extension to the English Civil War), of which more in a later blog post. There is a lot of work to be done, although I hope we’re heading in the right direction. The intention is to make the rules emphasise the themes we’re looking for: grand tactical iconic battles, famous commanders, and a definite 17th Century “feel”. As far as possible, we’re hoping that the rule mechanics support and reinforce these themes.

In the next blog posts, I'll be looking at the things I've learned from creating and delivering the Thirty Years War 2mm project from scratch. I’ll be blogging about basing and painting 2mm armies, and the colour schemes I’ve used. I’ll cover terrain making for 2mm battles. I’m also hoping to blog about the rules we are writing, and how play-testing is going, including a look at the Lützen 1632 game we played last weekend. 

Its been a busy couple of months, but it’s going to be fun coming back to blog about what’s been happening. I hope you all can forgive my absence, and join me for what’s coming soon.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Roundwood Recommends - Number 5: Daylight Magnifying Lamp

If you've been following my series of posts on my 2mm Thirty Years War project, you might have spotted a number of thoughful commenters worrying about the impact on eyesight when painting 2mm figures.

There's quite a bit of very helpful information about painting and eyesight online, both for wargamers and modellers in general.  Quite a lot of the information discusses good quality lighting as being helpful, with other articles and forums dicussing the merits of magnifying lamps.

In painting 2mm figures and figure blocks, Ihave found using a couple of daylight lamps invaluable. In particular, I've been using a large magnifying lamp from The Daylight Company for almost all of the 2mm figure painting (although the snowy/frosty groundwork I've been painting normally).

The magnifying lamp lends (15cm across) is large enough to easily view the whole of the bases I have been using for my 2mm figures (being either 60mm x 30mm for pike and shot foot or croat cavalry, or 30mm x 30mm bases for other cavalry and commanded shot).  The magnfication is pretty significant, and there's little eyestrain. The main challenge is then brush control and a steady hand.

The Daylight Magnifying Lamp I purchased wasn't cheap.  I ordered mine mail-order about 5 years ago for just under £100.  I also have a large Daylight Company desk lamp (with two Daylight tube bulbs) which cost me about £85 in 2007.  While expensive, both have, in my view, repaid my initial expense and I can't imgine painting without either.  Both lamps have also been very reliable.  I have had to replace the tube bulbs on the 2007 lamp once since 2007 (for £32).  Considering the great pleasure painting and modelling have given me over the years, I think both lamps were money well spent.

So, The Daylight Magnifying Lamp has more than earned its place in my "Roundwood Recommends" list of things which make our hobby even better.  Very warmly recommended.  Great for any figure painting, but almost indispensible for 2mm figures.  

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Thirty Years War – 2mm Imperial formations

Following on from my last post, I thought I’d set out how I’ve been getting on with painting the 2mm battalions, batteries and squadrons for the Thirty Years War.

Searching around on the internet, I found a number of very useful guides to painting 2mm figures. Quite a lot of these focused on dry-brushing or washing the figure blocks. I’ve tried something a little different, which is more of a selective “impression” of how the massed troop formations would have looked. 

Taking as my guide the paintings (of Pieter Snayers and Sebastian Vrancx, mentioned last time), I have tried to et he impression of a lot of troops, keeping the contrasts – between black shade and highlight – very pronounced.

I kept with a solid black undercoat for all of the figure blocks, touching up the undercoat where my frost/ snow groundwork had strayed onto the figures. It’s almost impossible to dry-brush the groundwork in this scale precisely, so I found some degree of going over the figures with a second, selective undercoat after the groundwork was painted in snow/frosty tones to be essential.

I added a few 2mm scaled flags to some of the pike blocks. This was mainly a bit of an experiment, and to just vary up the pike blocks a little. I cut the flags from the thin foil of a wine bottle – a reasonably decent Rioja, for that Spanish/Imperial feel, if you’re curious! 

After cutting the flags, I glued each of them with epoxy resin to the back of the pike blocks. Probably a little unrealistic, as I think the flags were often, for the Imperials, carried in the centre of the pike block, but they add a bit of depth and colour when painted. You don’t need much glue – just enough to fix the flag on. If you choose foil, you can bend the flag to fit or fold with tweezers later.

For painting I chose a neutral palette. I’ll post the paints in a “2mm Painting Table” in the Resources side-bar of this blog shortly, but generally what I was looking for was a contrasting set of grey, brown and deep red. I added the occasional lighter ochre for cavalry buff-coats, and some deeper dark grey occasionally for the odd pikeman. Again, I was trying to replicate the Snayers and Vrancx paintings, and trying to get a feel for the look of a massed army. I tried to paint a face on most of the figures with a tiny drop of medium flesh, and added a grey or brown hat (or hair) covering on the infantry. For the cavalry, I’ve added a dab of dark gunmetal for a helmet (the more authentic blackened armour I want to save for the Imperial cuirassier regiments).

The 2mm infantry blocks are a little fiddly to even see the heads on all the figures to paint the face and hat on, but look nice once done. By contrast, the cavalry are lovely (if tiny) figures. Painting the horses, and then the riders, was the way I tackled the dense blocks of Imperial pistoleers.

The last stage was to add the silver for the pike points, and then a fine brush to try and approximate some details for the Imperial standards, I struggled to do anything more than a Hapsburg crossed wood staves, stripes or an Imperial eagle on yellow. Any thought of an elaborate Virgin Mary of the Catholic League is going to be just impossible in this scale. Stick to 28mm for that kind of thing!

A thin coat of varnish on the top, and you’re done. Each block takes about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how far one wants to detail the figures and their flags. One of the nice things about the scale is having a feel of assembling a force without trying too hard. Oh, and storage. Storage is pretty easy as well …

Next time, I’ll be tackling the Imperial cavalry, some cuirassier regiments and Croats. After that, I’ll be doing the artillery, the Swedes, and then some terrain for a re-fight of the battle of Lützen, 1632 in early June. 

Thanks very much to everyone who has comments or been intrigued so far! I hope you can join me as I blog the run up to the game; I’ll be blogging more on the rules and a mini-campaign as the big day approaches.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Easter Project 2016 - The Thirty Years War in 2mm

I’m not much of a philosopher. My “Seventeen Secrets of Happy Wargaming” and the “Book of Wargaming Mindfulness” are never likely to be best-sellers. But in my view, one of the secrets of a great wargame is where there is a really good interaction and blend of figure scale, history and rules. These are games when the ideas behind the rules, or the rule-writer’s purpose, is reinforced by the figure scale chosen.

Keep that rambling thought in mind, dear readers, while I tell you about a project I’ve wanted to work on for some time. I’ve always been very interested in the Thirty Years War between 1618-1648. It’s a turbulent, violent, battle-strewn period of European history with some memorable and dramatic commanders. Some of the key engagements are huge, iconic battles which rattle like a drum roll through the 17th Century – Lützen, Brietenfeld, Rocroi, Lutter am Bamberg, Jankau and Nordlingen. 

It’s also a fascinating period of military transition, both tactically and strategically. We have fascinating tactical differences between the opposing forces – the different battle-drills of the Swedish, German and Dutch Schools; caracoling pistol-armed reiters against looser, more aggressive cavalry formations; the decline of deeper ranked Spanish Tercios against smaller, more manoeuvrable French and Swedish battalions. The commanders include some of the Great Captains of history: Tilly, Gustavus Adophus, Turenne, Wallenstein, the Cardinal Infante, Pappenheim, the Great Condé, often with characteristics which are dramatic, colourful, occasionally terrifying and often mercurial. 

And for those interested in how armies were raised and sustained, this is the age of the military enterpriser in all his guises - looter, mercenary, entrepreneur, proto-capitalist, and (infrequently) loyal subject.

It’s a fantastically rich, vivid period. Perfect for wargaming. Which leads back to my question – where to get started?

I’m enjoying 25/28mm wargaming at present – gaming when I can (sadly not often), and painting when possible (a bit more frequently than last year).  As some of you might know, I've been doing quite a bit of 28mm painting since New Year as part of Curt's Sixth Painting Challenge.  This has just finished (thanks again, Curt!) and while I want to keep painting my late seventeenth century armies, I really don’t want to start another period in 28mm.  The time it would take me collect armies for the Thirty Years War would mean that I’d risk losing interest before I finally have enough troops for a game.

I did think seriously about 10mm for a while. There are some amazing 10mm pike & shot armies out there, painted by hands far more skilful and patient than mine. Although I love the Pendraken figures for the period, my brushwork on 10mm figures seems to take me almost as long as painting 15mm figures does. And to have the kind of scale I’m looking for, I would have to do a great deal of painting in 10mm (which, being honest, I would prefer to spend on painting 25mm figures).

That leaves me with 6mm – or with 2mm. I am sure that 6mm would work well for what I have in mind, although there is one problem. I like to see pike-blocks with straight wire pikes. And my experiences with many 6mm pikemen is that their cast-on pikes can bend, sometimes looking a little spaghetti-like. It’s simple enough to drill out a dozen of the pikes and replace with wire, but try doing that with hundreds….? Not very appealing. So, I’m left with 2mm.

And the more I’ve thought about the 2mm-scale for the Thirty Years War, the more I’ve wondered if this actually might be a perfect scale for the period. Here’s some of the thoughts I had when deciding to give this most micro of scales a try for the period:
  • I want to capture the “look” of a Thirty Years War battlefield. My target in this respect is the wonderful “battle paintings” of Sebastian Vrancx and his pupil, Pieter Snayers. In these painting, which were very much in vogue in the 1630s and 1640s, the battlefield is laid out before the viewer. Units are clearly seen, and their formations, but individual details are often sketched in. The impression is of the formations in the field, not of individual soldiers. This is definitely the image I want to create for a tabletop game.

  • I also love the black and white prints of battles in books such as Theatrum Europaenum. These are works of art in themselves, depicting the actions fought, and stylising the combatants on the field.

  • I want to be able to collect armies quickly. I’d like an alternative to spending 30 minutes or more on a single figure, and I would welcome the feel of painting a full unit at a time. The scale and affordability of 2mm armies make this aim a real possibility.
  • I’d also like to see what I can do with the tiny 2mm blocks. Ian Kay and the great team at Irregular Miniatures have been producing these miniatures for decades, but I’ve not often seen them on the table at a wargames club. Is that because they’re too small? Or have they been overshadowed (literally, and metaphorically) by their larger (and equally lovely) 6mm cousins? I’d like to try and give the 2mm fellows a chance on my wargaming table to find out. 
  • For a long time I’ve wanted to create a dedicated winter terrain landscape, complete with frosted snowy fields, frozen rivers, snow-bound towns, and silent winter woods. The painting below by Pieter Snayers is very much the scene I’d like to try and create. I’ve seen a few such tables around the shows, and I want to try and create one myself. 2mm terrain seems as good a place to start and do this on a grand scale. When I painted up a few test figures last year on verdant grassy bases, the details of the 2mm figures were a little lost. With a plain light grey, frosted, snow covered base for 2mm figures, I’m hoping the details of the 2mm figures might “pop” a little more (or at least as far as a 2mm unit can “pop”).

  • Like so many of you, part of the joy of the hobby comes from recreating historical tactics in miniature. Creating 2mm armies gives me the chance to test out Spanish tercios against Swedish brigades, allows me to add commanded musketeers into the line, and lets me deploy multiple lines of infantry and horse on each side (as at Lützen, Rocroi and many other battles). I’d like to focus on tactical contrasts, and far less on company formations. If I was to try building armies on this scale in 28mm, I’d never finish all the troop types, and even if I did the table would need to be huge and the game would last days. In 2mm, I can create a couple of armies, and test out the tactics on a table of manageable size.
  • Finally, “always stand in the shoes of Giants”. It’s a great motto, and it works for wargaming as well as any other activity. In 2mm, there are already two great pioneers of the scale for all kinds of super-campaigns. If you don’t already know Kieran (from “Do You Have a Flag”) and Ed (from “Colonel Scipio’s Paladian Guard”), you should do. Ed and Kieran have staged many wonderful Super-Campaigns, one of which was set in the English Civil War. Ed has also been incredibly generous in providing me with a host of great information on 2mm campaigning, showing the way forward and inspiring me.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I’ve invested in some Irregular Miniature armies, some 2mm MDF bases and I’ve already started on basing and painting the Imperialists. Here’s the first results, with hopefully more to following over the Easter break. 

I’m hoping you’ll join me for a short series of blog posts about how I get on, from painting to terrain making, from rules development to the actual games themselves. 

And, if anyone has walked the dusty, or ice-bound, 2mm roads of Thirty Years War Germany themselves, be sure to let me know in the comments or by email. I’d love to hear your stories.

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 ... 

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