Tuesday 31 May 2011

Glasgow Copse

I had a very enjoyable Bank Holiday weekend finishing off the wooded terrain board and free-standing trench board I’d blogged about a week or so back. I also made a couple of inserts for the wooded board, of which more in a later Blog post.

In case you were interested in the finished wooded terrain board, here it is...

The paints used were mainly household emulsion and some acrylic craft paints called “Louvre”. For the fine detail painting – the corrugated iron, the trench boards and the fallen leaves, I just used Vallejo acrylics. I don’t normally bother varnishing scratch-built terrain, but I ran a quick coat of matt varnish over the plastic-card corrugated iron.

Here’s some more photos, all “staged” as I’ve not yet run a game on the board yet.

I thought the destroyed heavy machine gun based looked quite authentic.... a reassuring sight for any British, French or American player!

And some less reassuring sights for British, French or American players....

Eingreiftruppen advancing

Nemesis of the British subaltern....

German NCOs organising the defence

German field commanders watching and waiting...

A German sniper stalking his prey...

Hope you enjoyed these....next up the finished free-standing trench board.

Thursday 26 May 2011

A Thank You and a small, stylish celebration...

I thought I would take the chance to catch up with a few things in what’s been a busy week.

Hundred Up!

First, I noticed on Monday that the “followers” counter on this blog had ticked around to 100. And kept on ticking round to 110 during this week. And then the Visitor counter clicked around to 25,000...

WOW! I don’t know what to say apart from a very sincere, very warm and huge THANK YOU and WELCOME to everyone who has followed, old and new, commented or just read this Blog. I’ve really enjoyed making it. It’s been a focus for my hobby activities whether painting modelling or researching, it’s kept me working to a plan (however vague) and it’s enabled me to get in touch with so many friends all over the world. Your comments have really inspired me, just as much as the work on your own blogs has shown me the way to go. And above all, the sense of community has really widened the scope of my hobby, and for all of that, again, thank you!

And for anyone reading this who may be thinking about starting a blog, may I point you to the post which inspired me to start. It’s on Col Corbaine’s wonderful blog, and it’s a very simple message. I hope that Mel won’t mind me re-posting that part of his blogpost here, as it was the spark which lit the blue touch-paper for this blog:

But my stuff ain't good enough ....
Don't ever, ever, ever think that, and if you do, I'll give you a cyber smack around the head. The hobby is about the journey and it doesn't matter what aspect of the hobby it is, we all have something to learn and something to share. Also, remember blogging is actually a two way thing, we've got a great supportive community going, so if you don't think your stuff is good, just ask how you can improve it, the community will be only too glad to help

I simply can’t improve on that, and won’t even try. Thank you Mel, and thanks again everyone!

Stylish Blogger Award

I have also been nominated for the Stylish Blogger Award by a three great bloggers – Ashley, Big Lee and Airhead. They each have awesome blogs which have certainly inspired me. I was really chuffed to be nominated. I think the “Stylish Blogger” wave across the Blogosphere has probably calmed a bit during May, but I felt bad not reciprocating and joining in - so I waited until I had a few things to say thanks for.

Ashley is a wonderful lady who met me and the other TooFatLardies crew at Salute and spent an afternoon with “Jebediah in the Valley”, our Terrible Sharp Sword participation game. Her blog, Paint it Pink, is a wonderful meandering journey though wargaming, boardgames and RPGs.

Big Lee needs no introduction. Although we’ve never met (hey, fancy a beer at a show, mate?) his blog is tribute to a true wargamer, dedicated, eclectic, wide-ranging and brimming with energy. Above all, I love the snippets from the past which turn up from time to time – photos from the 70s and 80s, a childhood and mis-spent youth which looks a lot like mine.

Airhead’s nomination was deeply flattering from someone who is himself a wonderful terrain builder. He’s a natural scratch-builder and scavenger, and another of those people who inspire me to try something new.

OK....so, I understand that I now need to share 7 things about myself which you don’t know and select a few blogs who you think deserve the award as well. Here goes:

1. As a number of other people posting on lists like this have similarly mentioned, my two best miniatures are my two children, Eleanor and William. Ahhhhhhh. Both of them are currently being apprenticed in the art of terrain making – which usually means making a terrific mess in the garage.

2. It took me significantly longer to paint a small 28mm wooden hut last year than to paint my garden shed the following day.

3. My earliest memory of wargaming with rules (rather than marbles) was at the school wargames club in a game set in the American Civil War using painted Airfix figures. My first RPG session was The Village of Hommlet. OK, hands up those of you who’ve played in that module ...... hmmm, quite a few!

4. One of my favourite wargaming stories involves a great friend from the Humberside club, Keith Gendle, who once painted a 15mm Napoleonic French army for a tournament an hour before starting playing using a car spray from Halfords. Apparently, the figures were still tacky as they moved around the table....

5. One of my first dates with my lovely wife was to take her to Flodden Field on a freezing February day when the ground was as hard as cast iron and the wind cut you in half as you walked up Branxton Hill. I knew she was a keeper at that point.

6. I have occasionally used hobby brushes for DIY decorating in the house (around coving, ceiling roses, window frames). The smallest I have used is a size “1”. My wife thinks I am mad.

7. Peter Greenaway’s wonderful film, “The Draftsman’s Contract”, was solely responsible for me starting to collect armies for the Nine Years War in 1988. I’m planning to get the Williamites and French armies out for a game later this year when my chum, Richard Clarke, has finished work on his ECW rules – “In the Buff”.

Ok, now to the fun part, nominating the blogs I enjoy reading. In no particular order, and with a very brief explanation of why, I hereby nominate:

A Gentleman's Ones – a wonderful blog by a man with phenomenal modelling and terrain skills and a whole heap of energy. I only wish Chicago was a lot nearer.

Porky’s Expanse: an expanse of gaming links, intersections and ideas, and a veritable beating heart of games design.

The Mad Padre – Mike Petersen’s non-wargaming site. Thoughtful, incisive, subtle and well worth reading whatever your religious views.

My Lardy Games – Benito’s fantastic archive of TooFatLardies’ game reports and very generous archive of game material.

News from the Front – some great modelling and games from the architect of the awesome "Die Rattenkeller"

Tears of Envy – eclectic, wacky and visual, Tears of Envy’s mesmerising graphic art and photos site. And another person who clearly enjoys being in London!

Sadoukad 16 - Colonel Hessler’s great site showing how far you can take the Imperial Guard (40K, not the chaps with the golden eagles)

Captain Richard's Miniature Civil War – The Captain’s site is a wonderful treasure trove of ACW goodness. The night-time and illuminated photos are wonderful, but the best photos are of his games room and in particular of his very fine tribute to his relatives who served in World War 2

Dinium's Loft – another of those wonderful jewels of a blog out there. Quiet, dignified, understated and full of incredible painting. Almost solely responsible for me wanting to start a collection for the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune.

Don't Roll a One – one of Gravesend’s finest, a blog which always informs and makes me smile, with some fantastic terrain and modelling on display.

Well, there we have it. My Stylish Blogger duties completed, I thought I'd share some of my favourite images from the Blog so far...

Wednesday 25 May 2011

"Only the Dead Have Seen the End of War"

Lard Island was plunged into pitch darkness last night as we play-tested some new night fighting rules for “Through the Mud and the Blood”. I’m very keen to try and add a couple of night actions to the Mud and Blood supplement I’m writing and while the night fighting section in the main rules is a great start, I feel they’re the start of the journey and not the final word.

I was also keen to try out some ideas which have been floating around on the Blogosphere for a few months, courtesy of the hugely prolific Porky. I was particularly interested in his post from 22 February 2011 in which he discussed adding uncertainty and random elements into a wargame.

In that (really excellent) post, he wrote : “What we need is more shock, more horror, more blind terror. I'll bet you haven't felt much of that rolling dice. I haven't. It might do us all good.” His idea of a challenging game is a focus on an “almost total random determination of set-ups and appearances, with a lack of information on as much as possible.”

This sounded about the right tone for a frantic, desperate night fight in the Ypres Salient. There were a number of elements in his blogpost that I felt came close to the chaos of night actions in the Great War - the uncertainty of where the enemy was (or even where your own side was), the difficulty of rallying troops and locating your objective in darkness and while under fire (random or otherwise). A random, chaotic, disorientating environment in which the participant’s nerves were on edge.
With that in mind, here’s what I came up with......

Somewhere in the Ypres Salient, Night (9pm), September 1917

An attack across No Man’s Land by “A” Company of the 17th (County of London) Battalion of the London Regiment (Poplar & Stepney Rifles) 30 minutes ago to capture Glasgow Copse has broken down. German defenders on the outskirts of the Copse have held on despite heavy casualties. The initial British barrage on the German wire and trench saps has not fully neutralised German defenders. “A” Company’s attack has stalled, and the surviving troops of the 17th (County of London) Battalion of the London Regiment (Poplar & Stepney Rifles) have fallen back in disarray. Several sections are rumoured to be pinned down under fire in No Man’s Land. Here’s the view from the German saps just in front of Glasgow Copse...

The commander of “A” Company, Captain Jasper Limehouse, is missing after leading the attack. Most of the junior officers and NCOs in “A” Company have been killed or wounded in the action. Making this difficult situation far worse has been the shelling of the area in front of Glasgow Copse by gas munitions fired from both sides. As the rain starts to fall again over a sodden Flanders, the unmistakeable smell of mustard and fresh hay (from mustard and phosgene gas) lingers over the shattered battlefield.
This was the situation confronting the British players (Rob, Elton and Panda). Each player controlled a junior officer or NCO and would use that figure to move forward in the darkness to locate pinned down British soldiers, collecting any stragglers along the way, and attempt to lead those troops forward in a night attack on two German saps leading out of Glasgow Copse. Rather than knowing what troops they commanded, each player had to locate troops on the battlefield, rally them, form a coherent plan of attack and lead his men forward. From my reading of “Six Weeks” and a few other Great War books, this sort of chaotic battlefield – where officers had to rally troops and lead them forwards - was far from unknown.

As a secondary mission, the British players needed to find Captain Limehouse, who had been lightly wounded and (unknown to them) was pinned down somewhere in No Man’s Land by a German sniper.

The German players (BA and Biffo) had the task of defending their saps and also repairing the barbed wire in front of their positions during what they were (falsely) told was a lull in the fighting. The Germans had fewer troops than the British, but they did at least have the luxury of knowing where those troops were to start with.

How random is “random”?

All units, regardless of being British or German, were rolled up randomly (producing between 6 to 8 figures, with varying weapons and ammunition, and with varying amounts of “shock”). Officers on both sides had a variable number of flares for a flare pistol (1D4) and the German Fahnrich had two large flare rockets which could be fired. Each of the three British Big Men (Second Lieutenant Charles Whitechapel, Sergeant Alf Blackwall and Corporal Vincent Shadwell) needed to search for their troops in No Man’s Land. The precise location of the leaderless British units in No Man’s Land was entirely randomised. Each crater searched would yield a card (randomly drawn). The cards stated the contents of each crater – these totalled four leaderless British units in various states of “shock”, a variety of wounded British and German soldiers, the lightly wounded Captain Limehouse, a variety of abandoned weaponry (some useable – determined randomly), a lingering cloud of phosgene or mustard gas resting in the crater (determined randomly), some very large rats and some hideous corpses (the last two of no effect).

I was hoping what while the players would construct a rough plan of attack, the random element of the game would add a lot of unpredictability. For example, here Second Lieutenant Whitechapel leads two sections forward, a far larger formation than he would normally personally command himself in “Through the Mud and the Blood”...

During the game we also worked on some specific night fighting modifications to “Through the Mud and the Blood”, which I shall post later this week on this Blog. Huge thanks here for all of the players and particularly our great friend, Rob, who was visiting for the evening from his local club and supplied some first-class suggestions.

The Game

In many ways the game was a successful recreation of night fighting. It was a fumbling, unpredictable, frustrating stumble though gas drenched craters coupled with a series of incredibly savage close assaults between the two sides in which the opposing sides’ bombers were clearly in the ascendance. Any co-ordination of the British side was very difficult owing to British players battling to find their troops (I rationalised that the multiple officers’ whistles up and down No Man’s Land were confusing the location of the officer’s for the leaderless groups of stragglers to find). The Germans attempted, logically, to funnel the British into the centre of the table and protect their own flanks – a tactic which was proved possible on one side where the Germans were more numerous but not the other (where the British were stronger by pure happenstance).

There were a number of very cinematic moments – British troops stumbling into craters filled with mustard gas; Captain Limehouse being first found and then wounded again leading an assault against the Germans and eventually captured, a lone German sniper calmly picking off British troops illuminated in the white ghostly light from a flare pistol....

Here are some more of the images from the action:

A ligtly wounded Captain Limehouse is located and brings forward a group of stragglers...

German sections prepare to ambush Captain Limehouse in a crater...

Germans stalking, a sniper on their left flank ...

Crater fighting as two opposing sections fight it out. The British make their advantage in bombers count....

On their right flank, Germans drive some of the British back to their lines, carrying the position and capturing Captain Limehouse...

...while on the German’s left flank, the British advance...

In fact the action was so chaotic and uncoordinated that creating a logical narrative out of the game would be very difficult. In that regard I’ve come to the conclusion that the game was a success – even if it lacked the grand narrative sweep of some of the other games.

What next for Glasgow Copse?

I’ll post the scenario and play-test night fighting rules over the next few days. The new terrain for Glasgow Copse is almost finished....

....so you can all expect to see another game of “Through the Mud and the Blood” here in June as the British attempt to push into the Copse during the night.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

No Man's Land terrain and a few loose ends

Just a quick couple of updates of what I’ve been up to this week, and to start to tie up a couple of loose ends on this blog.

First, I’ve really being enjoying “Six Weeks”, which I mentioned in my post here. I’m about two-thirds through, and I shall let your have a proper review later this week. For a wargamer, there’s a great many insights and ideas which come from the book. It’s certainly worth the price for that reason alone. Perhaps far more importantly, though, in addition to being an excellent historical account of junior British officers in the Great War, the book is a deeply moving, sometimes harrowing and very respectful tribute to the sacrifice of those officers.

Second, and on a terrain making note, I’ve been finishing off the wooded terrain for No Man’s Land which I started in March. After a period of painting figures, it’s been great to come back to some terrain making.

You might remember I got to this point by late March ...

As always, I started with a plan of what needed to be done to carry the project forward. I always think that this helps me get over the “Oh Lord, it’s all too difficult stage” when going back to a half-finished project.

One of the first thing I wanted to do was to make the trees look a little more varied and less “stick-like”. I bought some plastic, bendy tree armatures a while back and these are great for bending into various shapes. They were perfect for the smaller branches which may not have been removed by the shelling, and made the trees slightly more varied.

I drilled the sticks with a fine hand drill and then glued in some small armature branches with epoxy resin (less brittle than superglue, as the trees may have a fair bit of handling at our local club).

Next, I wanted to make sure that the wood locating battens into which the wooded squares can be slotted were not too obvious and pronounced. I like using Milliput for this sort of thing - its pretty cheap, very hard when dry and easy to mould into shape. Although Milliput is a rough epoxy putty, as it was going to be covered in PVA and gravel scatter, that didn’t matter in this use of the material.

I wanted some variety on the “woodland” floor as well as in the trees. I cut some tufts from an old piece of rubber-backed floor matting and cut some suitable grass patches from an old set of towelling which I had dyed dark brown.

Then I rustled up a disgusting mixture of dark brown paint, polyfilla and PVA glue in an old contained which I spread onto the terrain board, wood sections and foam inserts with an old brush. I tend to do this pretty liberally, as the polyfilla adds a slight contour.

The, as with the other terrain boards, I scattered loose gravel and sand over, and pressed the brown towelling patches into, the brown PVA sludge. That got me to this point....

I was reasonably pleased with this interim step and felt that things were coming together. As you can see, the idea is to get a double use out of the woods – so they can be used on a normal non-modular terrain table, as well as each having a custom place slotted onto their home on the terrain board.

With the prototype shell-shattered woods I’ve made before, I’ve coated them liberally in PVA glue to prolong their lifespan and rough handling at the club. I did the same with the wood squares, mixing up some PVA, a little polyfilla and black paint in order to paint the trees. (For obvious reasons, this is best done after you have finished scattering gravel around!)

So, at this stage, things were coming together....

......which means that the last stage before painting is some detailing. I’d made a couple of interchangeable machine gun/ mortar/ command pits in the terrain board, and wanted these to have some sandbags around. There are loads of great tutorials on the internet telling you how to make these, so I won’t repeat the advice here. Suffice to say I made the sandbags with Miliput, pressing them out using a cloth (to indent a fabric pattern on the putty) and finished the detailing using a sculpting tool and a pin.....

OK, I’ll accept that the pin might have been going over the top a little ! That being said, I thought that adding the sandbag stitching was a fun thing to do on a couple of the sandbags. Finally, I wanted to have some of the trees with longer roots, again trying to make them seem more natural. I’d tried to do this on the Bourlon Wood test-piece I made a year or so back. Here’s where I got to this time....

So, there we are. Building done, with just the painting to do and then some micro-detailing. Hope you can join me for that this coming weekend.

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