Friday 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas everyone

And a Happy Life Day to those who would prefer that:
Ahhh, the Star Wars Xmas special - still had a better plot than The Force Awakens.

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Welcome home.

As a consequence of my disillusionment with the Force Awakens I began toying with the idea of moving on my rather large collection of Star Wars miniatures. When I mentioned it to John he said that he was interested, and I suggested a swap. In return for the Star Wars collection, I could have the Arab-Israeli, Crimean War and Great Northern War figures returned to their place of origin. He seemed to think that was fair, so in the last week this deal has been duly done. John dropped them all around today (minus the Arab-Israeli jets which I'll get later) and I felt I needed to take a few photos of my prodigal sons before they are returned to the cabinets.
From left to right: Great Northern War, Arab Israelis, Crimean War
The Great Northern War Pocket Project. This might be expanded in 2016 as I have a few extra regiments to paint
The Israeli army, originally built for the Yom Kippur War but kitted out to work for 1967 as well.
The Egyptians (UAR) which has the same back story.
The Crimean War pocket project. I may yet expand this a bit further as well - particularly artillery and cavalry
It is great to have these guys back. The latest Flames of War book for Fate of a Nation is on my shopping list, and expect a few battle reports in 2016 involving these chaps.


Tuesday 22 December 2015

This year's reading list

Normally I don't read a lot of fiction, but 2015 has seen a bit of a shift in that stance. This year I've managed to read (that I can remember) 11 novels - all historical fiction. That is probably not much for some people, but I do tend to spend most of my reading time reading books about true stuff, rather than made up stuff.
The change in focus has come about largely thanks to two authors and their series - Conn Iggulden and Ben Kane. Most readers are probably familiar with Iggulden, he has been around for a while and wrote the 'Emperor' series about Julius Caesar (who wasn't an Emperor, but more on that soon) and the Conqueror series about Genghis Khan - who was definitely a conqueror. In the last couple of years he released a new series which focuses on the Wars of the Roses, and it is a stunner. I've devoured all three books this year: Stormbird, Trinity and Bloodline, and can't wait for the next installment. The series has made the Wars of the Roses, a bit of a confusing period in many ways, very accessible. Admittedly there is some license taken with some of the events and the characters develop the way that the author wants them too, but in general, if you are intending to play WotR using Lion Rampant then this series is for you!

I enjoyed these books so much I went back to his series about one of my favourite historical personages of all time - Julius Caesar. I read two chapters of Death of Kings and threw it down. Historical fiction can twist and tweak history, but there is stuff that you just don't muck around with, and it was mucked with pretty badly. In case it was just that book, I then picked up the last book in the series, The Gods of War. This time I only got through one chapter. To be fair, no-one is going to write about this period better than Colleen McCullough did in her First Man of Rome series, but honestly - Pompey as dictator and Julia still alive in 49BC?
Despite this, I decided that I would try out the Conqueror series, starting out with Lords of the Bow, the second book in the series. The reasons for ignoring the first book were twofold. First, I wasn't that interested in reading about Temujin before he became Genghis Khan; and secondly, I picked it up cheap at a second hand sale. I have to say, this book was more like it. I have no idea about the historical accuracy of the book's background, and this is probably a good thing, because inaccuracies did not stop me enjoying a well delivered story. I have the rest of the Conqueror series lined up for next year.

At a conference of Classical Studies teachers I was told by a colleague that if I was interested in Hannibal (which I am), that I might enjoy Ben Kane's books. So I tried the first one last year and found it quite slow to get into. I am not good at persevering through fiction, and I put it down for a couple of months. Then the Christmas break came along and I took it to the beach where I had time on my hands. The more I read, the more I couldn't put it down. Needless to say this year I have read the next two books in the series, Fields of Blood and Clouds of War, and thoroughly enjoyed them. The story has developed the characters to the point where the reader really cares about them, which doesn't always happen in historical novel (I wouldn't be upset if Richard Sharpe was killed in a book, but was very annoyed with the death of a supporting character in Clouds of War). One of the important things to note is that Hannibal and other top commanders are not the people followed in the book. The main characters are soldiers in the armies, but they have a well-connected back-story. The series is highly recommended, and Kane's first Spartacus novel is on my reading list for the holidays.

At the beginning of the year, as I was rifling through the bargain bins after Xmas, I came across a book by Patrick Mercer, whom I know as the author of the Osprey Campaign book on Inkerman. It seems that he has also turned his hand to novel writing, and, no surprises, the first one is set in the Crimean War. As I was in the middle of the 15mm Crimean pocket project at the time, I picked it up. I'm really glad that I did. Mercer is thoroughly well researched and his main character, Anthony Morgan, is an identifiable hero. It gave me a fantastic feel for the Crimea from a soldier's perspective, and for the mid-nineteenth century in general. The only thing that I didn't like was I felt that the novel finished too quickly, I could have done with another 50 pages of denouement. I see he has released a second novel with Anthony Morgan turning up for the Indian Mutiny, so I'll definitely give that a go.

In the afterward of Clouds of War, Ben Kane acknowledged Harry Sidebottom's hero, Ballista, as inspiration for a quirk of one of his characters. So I checked out whether the local library had any of his books. Of the two on the shelf at the time, I picked up the earliest one in the series, King of Kings, second in the Warrior of Rome series. In short, I liked it. It isn't a period of Roman history that I'm particularly familiar with, being set in the mid third century AD, and I learned a lot. His research is impeccable (he is a classics professor, so it should be!) and he has created a solid hero who has to deal with more danger from the politics of the Imperial Court than the enemy. I'm very keen to read the next book in the series, especially as this one ended with our hero's future up in the air!

Finally, we have Bernard Cornwell. I read Sharpe's Escape, for completeness as much as anything, although the formula is really starting to wear thin with this series. 1356 which came out several years ago, but I hadn't got around to reading. I enjoyed it, but I can't say that Thomas of Hookton needed any more adventures after the Grail quest, which, like the Arthur series, always seemed to be a self contained trilogy. Currently I am reading The Pagan Lord and I have the Empty Throne to start straight afterward. I wasn't originally that taken with Uhtred of Bebbanburg and his story, wading my way through the first book. But then as the story began to grow around him, I've found the series much more entertaining. I still don't really care for Uhtred himself, but I really enjoy the series, which builds on itself and doesn't just become formulaic adventure every novel like Sharpe.

So that has been my historical reading this year. Hopefully some people will see something that they haven't read before and think that they will give it a try. As for me, I'm going to try and make it at least 12 novels in 2016.


Saturday 19 December 2015

Last Irregulars games night of the year

The Irregulars had their last games night for 2015 around at John's house, where we ate ham, drank beer and payed games. The games were a 600 point Flames of War tournament. which was won by the Allies in general, and John in particular. My little tank force got beaten up pretty badly in almost every game, but I did do some silly things (you shouldn't charge Panzer IIIs into 6 pounders? Who'd have thought?), so no complaints there.
Adam and John fight across a heavily built up area.
I face off against Chris in a less crowded arena.
The food was great - John and his wife Rose are both chefs and they provided a fantastic meal and beverages. It was a fun night and a good way to catch up with everyone just before Christmas. Apologies that there aren't any battle reports or many photos - I was too busy getting my butt whipped (figuratively speaking of course) to take photos.


Friday 18 December 2015

Not a review, more a tiny rant

This post contains no spoilers about The Force Awakens. I was going to do an in-depth review early next year when people have seen it and the key elements of plot were well-known. But I doubt I'll be revisiting it. So this rant will avoid giving away anything but my personal reaction to the movie.
I'll start by stating that a lot of people have enjoyed Star Wars Episode VII. You probably will too. If you are someone that felt betrayed by the prequels and hated them, then this probably is the movie you have been waiting for. But not me.
For Episode VII, dream up a better plot I shall.
I've made no secret of the fact that I liked the prequels. Was there stuff I thought could have been different? Yes - mostly Jar Jar and some of the wooden dialogue and 'yippee'. But what George Lucas did do was tell a story. We knew Anakin would fall, but Lucas created a situation that made sense for that to happen. The background to the collapse of the Republic was explored in a way that advanced the story and gave a message to us at the same time. Star Wars under Lucas explored the diversity of human experience and created a modern myth. 
Episode VII does not do that. It is derivative and dull. The plot twists are few and telegraphed. There is no wonder in this movie for me. It gives me nothing new. In fact it has taken something away from me. Star Wars was a pivotal influence on me growing up, shaping my sense of wonderment and perception of the universe. The prequels built on this, even though I was an adult when I saw them. Episode VII has had the opposite effect. It is a missed opportunity to do wonderful things with characters we all loved. It has no soul. It has no myth. It has killed a little bit of my childhood. I found it nothing short of depressing. I am now seriously considering selling all of my Star Wars miniatures and moving on. Over-reaction? Possibly, but my reaction nonetheless.
I said in my eariler post this week that Star Wars is a very personal journey for many of us. I'm sure a lot of people will disagree with what I have written. That does not make it any less true for me.


Wednesday 16 December 2015


While I await the figures I've ordered for 1588 I thought I'd get another skirmish project underway. This is the first buntai for Ronin and represents men from the clan of Tomuchisake Dan.
The Buntai assembles under a Torii gate.
The Samurai leader.

The companion Samurai.

Ashigaru with yari.

Asigaru with Yumi

Ashigaru with teppo

Note that they all bear the mon of the Tomuchisake clan - a stylised half empty sake bottle.
All figures are from the Perry Samurai range. Although I've now painted plenty of this range for Geoff, this is my first time dealing with Japanese armour with all of its laces. I've learned a few things that I'll keep in mind for when I paint up the opposition to this group, the buntai for Yumisushi Nate. First and foremost is the top of the do (cuirass) and how it connects at the shoulders. Second, it would be a good idea to leave the area under the laces that connect the kusazuri (tassets) black in order for the laces to stand out more. This clan has gone to the expense of lacquering all of the armour red, but the next one will be in metallic black, so the laces and clothing will provide all of the colour.
In the meantime, I have some fallshirmjager to paint for Craig, so I'll get cracking on a few of them next.


The Force Awakens - tonight!

Reviews from the premier are overwhelmingly positive and thankfully spoiler free.  I have my ticket for the one minute past Midnight screening of the Force Awakens so there are no more sleeps and I'm getting pretty excited about it. Given that this blog is overwhelmingly about wargaming, it can be easy to miss what a Star Wars geek I am and what an impact those movies had on my life as a youngling. Growing up in the middle of nowhere I felt like the only true Star Wars fan in the universe, and I still get a little jealous when other people demonstrate that they are just as if not more influenced by the films. It's a weird emotion to have, but I think it speaks to the very personal journey each Star Wars fan takes. As such, I think I'd like to mention ten of the things I'm hoping for from this film that not everyone will necessarily agree with, but, meh, it's not their list.

1. Fun. Even in the darkest films - Revenge of the Sith and Empire, there have been elements of fun. There's always chases, explosions and quips. I think everyone wants this.
2. A memorable moment. For me every film has at least one scene that stands out in my mind and is the first thing I think of when I recall them. For Empire it is Han Solo being frozen in carbonite. For Clones, it is Yoda duelling with Dooku. Give me more of these.
3. Han Solo. No, he's MY favourite character - you're not allowed to like him too! He is my favourite fictional personality of all time. Only Cyclops of the X-Men comes close, but there is still quite a distance between them. The trailer seems to indicate that he will have a big role in this film, and I couldn't be happier.
'How come you don't have any grey in your fur Chewie?'
4. Chewbacca. Often seen as a supporting character, but not by me. Chewie is a fantastic character in his own right and I'm looking forward to watching the fuzzball laugh it up again tonight. Chewie has been treated abysmally in the expanded universe - from having a speech defect in Zahn's novels to being killed in the Yuzhaan Vong invasion. And on that note:
5. Shattering the Expanded Universe. Aside from Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy, most of the post- RotJ expanded universe has been dreck. Bringing back Palpatine? Really? So that whole Anakin Skywalker saga - you know, his fall and redemption that the movies were supposed to be all about - was for nothing? The less said about the Yuzhaan Vong the better. If ever you could take a winning franchise and screw it up, it would not be George Lucas who did it, but the New Jedi Order books.
'The stupid - it burns!'
6. Midichlorians. Despite the wails and gnashing of teeth from hippies and fanboys who desperately want to be Jedi, midichlorians were an inspired idea. If the criteria for being able to wield the force was being cool, then Han and Chewie would be Jedi. If it was just believing in the force, then everyone who says 'May the Force be with you' would be a Jedi. I'm sorry, but a genetic predisposition to the force, passed on through bloodlines makes sense. Go team midichlorian!
'Don't hate on us because we got midichlorians and you don't, bitch!'
7. (Some) politics. The prequels may have overdid it a bit, but they did provide a lot of chrome and depth to the Star Wars universe. I don't want a Senatorial talkfest, but it doesn't look like the New Republic is doing that great in the trailers, so a bit of background as to why will be really handy.
8. A good baddie. Can Kylo Ren live up to the legacy of Darth Vader and Darth Sidious?
Cowl. Check. Red lightsaber. Check. Masked visage. Check. First name is Darth... errr
9. The Millenium Falcon. I know it is there - I've seen the trailers. I'm just really looking forward to seeing it in action again.
10. Jar Jar Binks.
Just Kidding.


Sunday 13 December 2015

1588 - phase one

The first phase of this project is to get two posses up and running. The two that I am focusing on are an English posse and a Spanish one. This makes sense considering the background to 1588.  You've already been introduced to a couple of the characters, but here is a little more info about them.

The Seething Lane Special Agency
Recruited by Francis Walsingham, these men are chosen as field operatives in defence of the realm against the most insidious threats to Her Majesty. They are tough, brutal, intelligent and utterly loyal, ready to do their master's bidding. They have no official titles or status, operating in the shadows.
The man responsible for the recruitment of the Special Agency
The Captain of these men is Henry 'Harry' Charlton. The last of five sons born to a relatively impoverished border family, he was the scapegoat when the March Warden needed to deal with two families after a raid ended in bloodshed. Some rumours say that he wasn't actually a scapegoat, but was indeed the culprit. Either way, he was shipped off in 1572 to be a 'volunteer' with the English in the Netherlands at the tender age of 16. There are those that say that he became involved with a Flemish girl, and that her murder by Spanish troops left him with a lifelong hatred of Spain and the Counter-reformation.
The Spanish at work in the Netherlands
He also caught the eye of Sir Philip Sidney, whom he saved from an assassination attempt. It is believed that it was Sidney who brought Charlton to the attention of Francis Walsingham.

Alongside Charlton is his friend, Owain Williams, who came to be in the Netherlands through very similar circumstances to Harry. A small man, Williams is incredibly skillful with a main-gauche, and there are few who can survive a duel with him.

Amongst the party is also Jeremiah Godley, a big, dour Puritan, dressed in black and given to talking only in recited Biblical verse. Fervent, powerful and utterly loyal, he is also a total killjoy during drinking sessions. This means that no-one in the agency likes him very much, but they do respect him.

There are times when a female operative is absolutely imperative. The agency can call on the talents of Alice Ryddell. This auburn beauty is deadly with a rapier or dagger, happily dispatching any enemy she comes across. She is also highly intelligent and a superb undercover operative.

Nicholas Stark-Raven is not as formidable as his colleagues in hand to hand combat, but his knowledge of the occult and alchemy make him invaluable.

Alongside these personalities are a number of Men of the Shadows, tough brawlers and wily operatives.

His most Catholic Majesty's Avanzada
Infiltrated into England to stir up local resistance to Queen Elizabeth; carry out sabotage, espionage and assassination missions; and protect the Jesuit Priests operating throughout the land, the Avanzada are some of Spain's most trusted and skillful operatives.
The enemy!
Their leader is Hernando Garcia Ferrero de Leon, a veteran of Lepanto and the Army of Flanders. Although of humble birth, Garcia was made a commander of men. The promise of nobility upon his return from a successful mission in England is a key driver for the man, as is his insistence that God is on his side. It is said that there is no finer swordsman in all of Europe.
Lepanto 1571 - Garcia is on the third galley from the right at the rear of the picture
With Garcia is Jose Lopez, a big brutal man who swings a halberd as though it were a fine rapier. He exudes an air of menace.

Gonzalez Esperito is a man of great charm. The archetypal spy, Esperito's suave tongue hides the fact that he is just as swift with a rapier.

Padre Ignacio is a Jesuit Priest who has also been known to be quite handy with a dagger when necessary. His presence can spur on the Avanzada in combat.

Accompanying these characters is a mixture of Spanish veterans and Catholic English supporters.

So these are the two posses I've come up with so far. As I paint them and tool them up for whichever rules I decide to use I'm sure their stories will develop and change, but I have a foundation.

Phase Two will see the introduction of a supernatural warband - witches are a definite, and probably a necromancer or vampire lord. But that is for the future. I'll get Phase One complete first.


Saturday 12 December 2015

1588 - the rules

At present the rules for this project are still in consideration. I could write my own, but I'd rather not reinvent the wheel if I can find what I want off the shelf. A few options are the following:

Flashing Steel by Andrew Boswell and Greg Hallam - Ganesha Games

This set of rules is written for swashbuckling and derring-do. Using the standard Ganesha Games engine from Song of Blades and Heroes it gives a simple, quick and fun game. Chrome is added with special rules rather than tooling around with the basic character stats. Game play is 8-15 figures a side, so perfect for what I'm looking at. The chance turnover of the active player from failed activation rolls is an attractive feature for solo games.
At the moment this is the leader in my considerations.

En Garde by Craig Woodfield - Osprey Wargames

This is brand spanking new this month, and one the shopping list for post-Xmas purchases. Apparently based on the same system as Craig's Ronin skirmish game, this promises to be more granular than Flashing Steel. It looks like it would use a similar number of figures and there is supposed to be an appendix looking at adding in supernatural characters, which works well for where I'm thinking this project will head.

Lord of the Rings by Games Workshop

The reason that this is in here is because of  Tim Eagling from the Spirit of the Game club. Tim has been working on his 1588 and all that project for some time, which looks at an alternative history where England is invaded by the Spanish in 1588. The website is inspirational, as are the 3 articles that he published in Wargames Illustrated a couple of years back. Tim came up with stats for the LotR rules for his project and has done the hard work already, although my characters will need some work. The beauty of using this rules set would be that I'm also using it for Star Wars and for... errr... Lord of the Rings.

Galleys and Galleons from Ganesha Games

These are the only rules that have been decided on. There may be some sea fights required in certain scenarios, and this is the set I will use to fight them out. Using the Song of Blades system but heavily modified, I've only read through these the once, but they seem perfect for what I want.

So there we have it. Have I missed something obvious? I like simple and I like quick and I like suitability for solo play, so if you can think of anything else that fits, let me know.


Friday 11 December 2015

1588 - the figures

Having decided to put this project together the first question that came to mind was what figures to use. Well that one was easy - the Vendel Miniatures Border Reivers that I sold a couple of years ago. OK, so I would need to replace them. It turns out that there is no Vendel Miniatures any more. The range has been sold to Sergeant Major Miniatures. This is annoying because postage from the US is always more than the equivalent from Royal Mail. Never mind, I have duly ordered the Maxwell clan. It could just as well have been the Johnstones - the name isn't as important as the quantity of figures - 16 foot and 4 cavalry, all in various poses. This will give me the guts of the posses that I need (I've used the word posse rather than faction or unit for a bit of period flavour).
An example of the SMM (ex Vendel) figures.
OK, so that is the rank and file taken care of. Now, the characters. No contest here. These three packs from Wargames Foundry:

The only thing about Foundry is that they are like buying gold figures, not white metal ones. Nonetheless, I'm committed to this project and so NZ$100 for 18 figures sounds entirely reasonable...
But I'd like some civilians too, just for a bit of window dressing and NPCs who might need rescuing. 
Foundry don't do these, but their sister company Casting Room Miniatures does:
These chaps (and chapess) have duly been ordered. But are five civvies enough? I don't think so. This is where the Assault Group can come to the rescue. Now unfortunatley I can't post photos of their figures, but I can link to them here:
The Assault Group also has Gloriana herself, in armour astride her warhorse.
So that is the figure sourcing for the humans. If anyone has any other suggestions, please let me know.
The other figures have already been bought - the ships for Galleys and Galleons in 1/2400 scale, just in case I get the mood to take to the seas for a full on naval battle.
The entire project so far
Above you can see my one completed galleon and a feisty female with obligatory ripped dress. She was part of a pirates haul I got a number of years back and she's just been sitting around ever since. I splotched some paint on her last night. I think she works quite well for the period.

The second phase will be to start expanding into some supernatural posses - undead and witches are the two definites for the future.