Befreiungskriege 1813-14

Painting and modelling 28mm Napoleonic wargaming miniatures

Archive for the ‘Clubs and Shows’ Category

Excuses for days out.

Coming out of hibernation

Posted by Martin on April 20, 2014

Newark Irregulars' incredible scenic  display game of the Battle of Keren.

Newark Irregulars’ incredible scenic display game of the Battle of Keren.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the definition of hibernate in my little dictionary. It said: “to pass the winter in sleep or seclusion”. That seems about right!

Sometimes a winter isn’t just literal, in the sense of pertaining to only those months of the year when hours of daylight are in short supply. In my case, it was hours of free time for hobby activities that have been in extremely short supply since last September. It can all easily be summed up as real life getting in the way. Those of you with partners, children, other animals and full-time jobs will know precisely what I mean. In my case, this has been exasperated by the fact that my day job has involved a lengthy project working with a software development company based in Ukraine. I spent a week visiting and working with them back in October when all was quiet on the Eastern front. Needless to say that, since then, things have become somewhat more, er, interesting!

So what better way to herald hobby spring time than with the annual pilgrimage to our nation’s fair capital to attend Salute? The organisers have a happy knack of almost always scheduling sunny weather for the day, and last weekend was no exception as I enjoyed my front window view of the last stage of the journey from the comfort of a seat on the Docklands Light Railway.

My cursory reading of other reports about Salute 2014 are peppered with whining about the queue to get in. As a veteran of every Salute at the current venue, I have evolved a relaxing and yet simple tactic to cope with the queue: don’t join it! Instead, I joined a far shorter queue to buy a decent cup of coffee and a Danish pastry, parked my behind on a chair near the entrance to the exhibition hall and waited for all the fuss to die down. I did, I confess, succumb to timing how long it took for the queue to fully file it from the moment the doors opened promptly at 10am. And, yes, it was about 90 minutes before the last knockings. At that point, I gathered myself and dived into the throng. I don’t really understand why people subject themselves to the queue – everything was still there despite getting in a little late and the supposedly limited edition goody bags with the Salute 2014 figure were still in plentiful supply.

C-Day: Caesar's invasion of Britain by WSS Magazine and Simon Miller.

C-Day: Caesar’s invasion of Britain by WSS Magazine and Simon Miller.

And what of the show itself? Yes, I know people struggle with the atmosphere – though you can make your own really by getting involved and talking to people – but I appreciate the nice wide aisles where you don’t get reversed into by a certain sort of notorious backpack wielding gamer. For me, there were only two disappointments with the show itself (and a third but slightly different disappointment that’ll I’ll come to in due course). Number one, there was a distinct shortage of Napoleonic demo games. That’s not to say there weren’t any, just that you had to really work hard to find them and allow yourself a little flexibility with the definition. Number two, the painting competition left me cold this year. The inexorable drift away from historical figures to fantasy, sci-fi, horror and other genres continues apace and I didn’t feel the quality of previous years was there. Maybe more varied and better entries materialized in the display cases later in the day?

15mm armour on a rolling Russian landscape by Loughton Strike Force.

15mm armour on a rolling Russian landscape by Loughton Strike Force.

Instead of dwelling on a couple of minor gripes, let’s celebrate all that was good about this year’s Salute. And for me, more than any previous year, my overwhelming positive memory is the standard on the terrain on the demo games. Quite often one game per year will stand out in this regard but, this year, game after game drew my attention for their imaginative tables that broke away East Anglian flatness with the odd building or misshapen hill plonked on top. Honourable mentions to to chalk cliffs on WSS Magazine’s Roman invasion of Britain game, rolling steppes on Loughton Strike Force’s WWII Eastern Front Game and a wooded ridge on South London Warlord’s Carlist War game (more of that one later).

But the biscuit was taken and well and truly crumbled by a terrific layout for a WWII East African battle. I speak of Newark Irregulars’ amazing mountainous 1941 Battle of Keren which pitched Italians and their colonial allies against the forces of the Commonwealth. Not only was the terrain fantastic but I really enjoyed perusing the accompanying “making of” table which showed the group’s research and how the scenery was put together. I’ve always had a soft spot for WWII Italians in the African theatre. I think it’s something to do with that British empathy for the underdog plus the selection of unusual vehicles the Italians fielded in the desert. Don’t worry, though, my resolve to stick to one period has not been broken regardless of this inspiring display!

An artillery base from the South London Warlord's Carlist War game.

An artillery battery from the South London Warlord’s Carlist War game.

A second artillery base from the same game. Both show careful use of both Carlist and Napoleonic figure from the Perry ranges.

A second artillery battery from the same game. Both show careful use of both Carlist and Napoleonic figure from the Perry ranges.

Finding a genuine 28mm Napoleonic display was tough. Yes, there was a 1798 game set in Ireland – not quite right. And yes, there was a Battle of Albuera – but in 18mm, so still not quite right for me. So my vote had to go to the aforementioned South London Warlords Battle of Barbastro. I know, it’s a Carlist War battle and thus 20 years too late. But I was taken by the well-thought out modular terrain, especially a ridge that subtly dominated one side of the battlefield. And the quality of the figure painting and basing was superb and remarkably consistent. Of course, the vast majority of the figures were from the Perry Carlist War range but imaginative use had also been made of figures from the same manufacturer’s Napoleonic range.

In terms of new products, I didn’t find much to get excited about – but, then, I wasn’t really expecting to for my period. I think if you were into other periods, things like the Perrys’ plastic American War of Independence figures (with nice samples painted by Andrew Taylor on display) or the new Italeri 1/56th WWII plastic armour kits tie-in with Bolt Action/Warlord Games could easily prove tempting. I did find, however, some items of interest in the Warlord Games display cabinet: alongside their French infantry casualties pack (four figures for a tenner), there was a nice-looking group of skirmishing voltigeurs and a very energetic party of French engineers. These haven’t yet been released and I couldn’t inspect the figures that closely through the glass, so I’ll have to remember to check again at another show later in the year. I have my fingers crossed that these figures show a dramatic improvement of the woeful Prussian Landwehr they produced a couple of years back.

Through a glass darkly: these Warlord French engineers look full of energy but it was hard to validate the quality.

Through a glass darkly: these Warlord French engineers look full of energy but it was hard to validate the quality.

I’ve saved the third disappointment for last: it is traditional for Peter F. and I to meet up at Salute. Indeed, that had been the plan right up to the very last minute. However, the fates took control and Peter had to cry off so that he could deal with a marquee related emergency that was part of the preparations for his son’s 18th birthday party. An ironic example of real life getting in the way of hobby time yet again! So, the bad news is that I don’t have any insider updates from Calpe Towers at present. The good news is that it gives me the ideal excuse to pester Peter for an exclusive report on behalf of all you BfKers. So watch this pace, because I’m on the case!

In the coming weeks, I hope to offer you a variety of posting topics including finishing up some overdue items on the painting bench, a proper review of Vallejo’s acrylic surface primer (clue: I love it!), examination of a different approach to varnishing and my early adventures with airbrushing.

Posted in Clubs and Shows | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

All talk and no pictures

Posted by Martin on April 22, 2012

Phew – what a day! Yesterday was one of the busiest I’ve ever had at a Salute even though it didn’t follow the path I expected. Things began very smoothly with a peaceful and punctual train journey from the secret BfK HQ in the heart of Wiltshire to London Paddington. And that was followed by a quiet and uneventful journey across London by Tube and Docklands Light Railway – perhaps too quiet. I normally expect to encounter other hobbyists on their way to Salute as I get closer to ExCel and I sometimes pass the time by trying to guess if the people on the other seats are going my way. Yesterday, though, there was hardly a rucksack, beard or ponytail (male) in sight 🙂

So I got a shock when I entered ExCel’s doors and made my way down the wide boulevard that bisects the exhibition halls. The queue was immense. It’s clear that everybody else had made a much earlier start than me. I have never seen the queue so long and it continued to grow even after the stewards had started letting people into the hall. So much for economic hard times – I hope all the traders had a good day! Peter F’s comment on the length of the queue was to wistfully muse that if only he could sell just one figure to each person there!

I stuck with the queue for about 15 minutes before I spotted Peter F. along with our friends from overseas: Peter Bunde (Germany), Buddy Hoch (USA), Paul Meganck (Belgium) quietly seated with coffee while waiting for the crush to abate. So I bailed out of the queue to wait with them and take the opportunity to put the next stage of my carefully crafted Salute plan into action. I’ve recently acquired an Android tablet and I was intending to connect up to the ExCel free wifi network as a means of posting to BfK as the day unfolded. The tablet includes a basic camera, so I would have been able to add pictures as a I went along too.

The good news is that there is indeed a free wifi network in the main boulevard (but not in the exhibition halls) and I was able to connect to it. What I’d overlooked is that Internet access beyond the wifi network is restricted and I needed a username and password. By this time, we were all too busy catching up on each others’ news and I didn’t really have the motivation to go off looking for some information point where I might have been able to get help with full Internet access. Still, at least I know what to expect next year!

Meeting and chatting turned out to be the theme of the day, so I didn’t get too much time to look at all the traders and games. Looking at other fora this morning, it’s clear that other people have done a much more thorough job of those sorts of things than me. So I’m going to focus the rest of this report on some personal observations.

Firstly, let’s get the news from Calpe Towers dealt with. Peter F. has completed the last couple of packs for the French infantry route-march set. The main item here the “cherry on the icing” pack which includes a casualty figure, two “enthusiastic” figures and a voltigeur cornetist. Next Peter will be adding a couple of light infantry command packs so that you can build legere units using most of the same figures. All the figures in greatcoats that have already been released can be used for legere as well as line infantry. However, the current officer figures are unsuitable because of detailed uniform differences like the profile of the cuffs. After that, work begins on the march-attack set which I know will be popular with several regular readers here who are desperate to have standard bearer figures with unfurled flags. Peter has already sculpted an eagle in readiness boys!

Possibly the biggest news (and, by the sound of the reactions I’ve seen and heard, the most disappointing for many) was the unveiling of the new period that the Perry twins are targetting. There were “3-up” greens on their stand of Afrika Korps and Eighth Army figures. From my point of view, these figures are sculpted to the usual high standards for the Perrys plastics work but, of course, it’s a period that doesn’t tempt me. And, judging by what I’ve heard, it may not tempt too many others in 28mm. Mainly, I think, because most observers see the North African campaign as better suited to smaller scales.

The other plastic and scale-related item that stuck out for me was the simply beautiful 54mm demonstration game put on by Victrix using their own figures. The figures themselves were well-painted, you can see a definite progression in the quality of figure design and sculpting in the more recent boxes (notably the French line grenadiers) and the buildings on the table were terrific. I’d love to know if they were scratch-built or not. However, the item that really grabbed our attention was the single French artillery gun crewed by five figures. The figures stood out for their natural poses and accurately reproduced campaign uniforms. When we asked about them at the Victrix stand, it transpired that this base had been put together from parts and figures from another plastics manufacturer but Victrix do have plans for 54mm French artillery. I’d love to know who’s figures they used – perhaps they were old Historex ones or maybe there are some buried away in the Andrea range. Either way, though, 54mm scale isn’t really practical for big battalions. Instead, I can see the figures being used for skirmish games or as display case models.

I can’t complete this round of plastic figure stands without a mention for the Warlord Games stand. You’ll recall that their figures – particularly their Prussian Landwehr – have come in for short shrift on this blog. And rightly so: these figures are poorly researched, inaccurately portrayed and clumsily sculpted. However, here too, I detect signs of improvement. The Warlord Games Russian figures are a step in the right direction and they’re now working on French. Also, yesterday was the first opportunity I’ve had to see some of their prone Prussian Landwehr casualty figures painted, based and in the display case. I still see lots of weaknesses (the huge hands make me judder) but whoever they’ve got doing their painting is making the very best of his raw material. If I were Warlord Games, I’d make sure of continuing to use that painter!

One slightly tongue-in-cheek parting shot for Warlord Games though: I’d recommend a bit more sanity checking of figure poses and a quiet word with your designer. The Russian command pack includes an er… “interestingly” posed drummmer. He’s drumming with one hand while using the other hand to hold his kiwer tucked under his arm. Now, people, just try doing that yourselves for a few moment and see how you get on. I know it might seem like a picturesque pose for a command vignette but it just isn’t humanly feasible.

As usual, we bumped into many friends from across the country and beyond. It was a pleasure to see Barry Hilton hosting the Wargames Illustrated Crimean War game. The terrain for this games was superbly put together by Dave Bodley, the chap who runs Grand Manner Buildings. I always like to see terrain that gets away from the flat topology of the tabletop to the contours of the real world. A lovely job which you can expect to see featured heavily in an imminent edition of Wargames Illustrated.

I also popped by David Imrie and Andrew Taylor’s Romans vs Celts demo game. They looked really busy with interested viewers so I didn’t get time to chat but I admired the very high quality of the figure painting and was reminded how small can be beautiful. The terrain would have comfortably fitted into many a living room and the number of figures, mostly individually based, required for an absorbing evening’s gaming wasn’t too prohibitive. I’m always going to be a fan of “big battalions” for Napoleonics but this game did set me wondering about a small skirmish side-project. Maybe I’ll have to look at those Sharp Practice rules…

Finally, a few words about shopping. Given the length of the queue, I strongly suspect that many traders are feeling the warm afterglow of financial success. And that’s absolutely fine by me. It’s just that two of the things I was hoping to be able to buy on the day eluded me. Once again, I couldn’t find a single trader that stocked Andrea paints. Now I know I can buy them online but there’s nothing like shaking the bottles and holding them up to the light before you part with you cash. Secondly, much as I like Litko laser-cut bases, I was hoping to find a UK retailer that would be cheaper and quicker to deal with. Maybe my standards are too exacting: ideally I want 1.5 mm or 2mm thick plywood, laser-cut and I want particular dimensions. Warbases was the closest I came: their bases are 2mm thick but I’d have to specially order the sizes I want and they specialise in MDF. Now, before you all start suggesting suppliers (oh, go on then), I just want to point out that I do already have a lead – apparently Fenris Games does 1.5mm thick lasercut plywood bases.

So that’s it for another year – I seem to have been so busy on the day that I didn’t even give the painting competition more than a cursory glance. If you know where I can see photos of the entries and winners, let me know.

Posted in Calpe Towers, Clubs and Shows, Forward Patrol | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments »

Party’s end for Partizan?

Posted by Martin on June 2, 2011

Red lancer by Clive Farmer from The Waterloo Companion.

Red lancer by Clive Farmer from The Waterloo Companion.

Like many others, Peter F., Paul Hammond (of Alban Miniatures) and I ventured to Kelham Hall, Newark last Sunday to attend Partizan. I say “many others” but, in truth, it was a smaller number than I’ve ever previously seen at this show.

I don’t quite know what to make of the reduced attendance. On the one hand, the extra space made the whole experience more enjoyable. I only got rucksacked once by an apologetic indvidual who reversed into me at a bookstand and there was plenty of room to work round the traders and demo games not to mention have a good chat with people. However, reduced attendances can’t be economically viable for Partizan in the long term and could be harbingers of its ultimate demise – which would be a sad thing.

We chewed over the possible reasons for the lower body count on the journey back to Calpe Towers and came up with several plausible explanations: the occurence of Sheffield Triples the previous weekend, the current economic climate, the fact that it was a Bank Holiday weekend and the absence of big names from Partizan such as Elite, Front Rank and the Perrys all came to mind. I suspect that no one factor was solely responsible but rather a combination of circumstances conspired together. However, since that discussion with Peter and Paul, a darker thought has crossed my mind which I almost dare not whisper. Is it just possible that time has caught up with Partizan? Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my favourite shows and I always think of it as a day where our hobby gets together to socialize more than, say, Salute which is much more of a product-led commercial opportunity (nothing worng with that, mind). And I do love Kelham Hall’s quirky atmosphere.

Yet, now that we’re well into the 21st Century, can Partizan really have a healthy future if it carries on as it is? How much longer will paying attendees put up with the confusing rabbit warren of rooms, the dismal lighting and the woeful catering? I’m not convinced that the predictability of the traders’ stands is still outweighed by Partizan’s reputation for attracting the nation’s best demo games. Reluctantly, I’m edging towards the Darwinian conclusion that Partizan must adapt or die.

Enough philosophising, what of our day out itself? There were a number of positives. Notably, the chance to meet up with fellow hobbyists who I rarely see during the rest of the year. As ever, it was a delight to chat with the likes of Bill Gaskin, Peter Royle and Barry Hilton and catch up on their projects. Barry, in particular, has several irons in the fire. His Lace Wars demo game provided him with the ideal opportunity to display the proofs of the forthcoming new edition of his Beneath the Lily Banners rules and his new range of figures for the period. Of more relevance to BfK, we also had a chat about his plans for Republic to Empire and one development in particular has piqued my curiosity. Barry has plans to record short video clips of played through sections of the rules as an aid for newbies. So, if you’re not sure how to handle a cavalry charge or use manouevre points for an exploitation, then these video tutorials could be just what you’re waiting for. I think we may have to be a little patient though because Barry confided that he’s waiting to get a new camera before leaping into the director’s chair.

Peter F. remains convinced that “it’s all my fault” that he placed an order for a series of painted resin buildings with Grand Manner. We had a fascinating discussion with the proprietor Dave Bodley (you can see a photo of him in the recent Wargames Illustrated article about the stunning Gallipoli terrain he created for Battlefront at this year’s Salute). Of course, it’s not really my fault that Grand Manner has produced a limited edition range of buildings just perfect for the Autumn 1813 campaign in Saxony. Just like it’s not my fault that the next addition to the range will be a particularly tasty farmhouse complex. For now, I resisted that purchase but I did succumb at one of the second hand book dealers and acquired a copy of Mark Adkin’s The Waterloo Companion (Aurum Press, 2001). This is a book I’ve been tracking for a number of years since its initial publication but I’ve always avoided actually buying it because of its hefty retail price. So I’m rather delighted to have picked up this “pre-owned” copy in good condition at a reasonable price. All the more so because I’ve long admired the 16 pages of full colour uniform plates by Clive Farmer that adorn the middle of this volume.

The observant among you will have surmised that this outing to Partizan included a stop-over at Calpe Towers. Once I’ve gathered my thoughts, I’ll relay the latest gleanings about the French figures and, if everything goes to plan, share some new photos with you. In the meantime, I’ll sign off on a personal note. I was sorry to hear that young Simon, the “son and heir” of the von Peter estate was recently taken seriously ill with appendicitis. He’s well on the way to recovery now but I just want to wish him well from his friends up here in the Northern Hemisphere. But don’t feel too sorry for young Simon – after all, not many young lads have the Perrys travel halfway round the world to wargame with them!

Posted in Clubs and Shows, Forward Patrol | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

Salute: after the dust has settled

Posted by Martin on April 26, 2011

Now a week has passed and I feel as though I’ve had sufficient time to digest the big day. So what sticks in my memory? In no particular order I recall:

  • The queue: it felt the longest I’ve ever seen it but, as with last year, it seemed to move smoothly under the experienced control of the South London Warloards marshals. The one thing that I did notice was that the advance purchase “queue buster” queue was as long as the pay-on-the-door queue and seemed to progress more slowly. I’ve never been a fan of the “queue buster” approach and I think this year has justified my standpoint.
  • David Imrie, Paul Darnell and Andy Taylor’s ECW demo game: a circular set-up which I think worked surprisingly well. It was a great combination of Paul’s excellent terrain making skills and David and Andy’s terrific figure painting. Plus, the bonus for me is that any game these guys put on at a show gives me a handy place to rest my weary feet and have a friendly chat for a while.
  • Barry Hilton’s Peninsular War Republic to Empire demo game: yes, I’ve seen this scenery before but it’s great to see the Barry out there promoting his rules and to see the continuing high level of interest in them. We now seem to be past the TMP-style whinging phase and more rational heads are prepared to give the rules a try rather than letting unsubstantiated prejudice gain the upper hand. I had a good chat with Barry and he informs me that he and Clarence have almost completed the new edition of the Beneath the Lily Banners ruleset (for the Grand Alliance period), which means Clarence will soon start work on producing a beautified PDF version of my Prussian guide for Republic to Empire. The plan is for this to be made available as a free download, so watch out for news of that later in the year.
  • Gallipoli scenery: easily the best terrain set-up I’ve seen in recent years was this cliff-face and trench combination that appears to have been put together by a combination of different traders and talents. I’m ashamed to admit that I failed to note the names of those who deserve credit for this eye-catcher.
  • The painting competition: it sticks in my mind but not for the best of reasons. Sure, the quality of entries seems as good as ever but the excitement of peering into the display cases has waned for me. Partly, it’s the decline of historical entries (and the fact that some of those seem to get relegated to the bottom shelf) but mainly it’s the increasingly unpleasant jostling that goes on – I just couldn’t enjoy a period of detailed study of the entries, despite making several attempts during the course of the day. Perhaps I’m just turning into a curmudgeon or is it too controversial of me to imagine a link between this situation and the increasing amount of fantasy figures in the competition?
  • Warlord Prussian Napoleonics: nope, they’re just not for me. That applies the both the metal and the plastic figures and that’s as much as I think I should say on the subject It’s a pity really, because some of the ideas for the metal command packs and casualty figures are clever but the execution simply doesn’t do the concepts justice.
  • Victrix Plastic Napoleonics: actually, these are quite good. However, the subjects they’ve chosen (British and now Austrian and Russian) don’t fit my plans. I do like the sculpting work on their French Imperial Guard figures though.
  • Perry Miniatures: there’s been a lot of hype about the six new plastic sets for which 3-ups were to be unveiled at Salute. I’ll pass over the medieval, ACW and American War of Independences sets – I’m sure others with specific interest in those will have lots to say (Giles?). The three new Napoleonic sets were Austrian (German) line infantry, Russian line infantry and Prussian reserve infantry. The first two sets are sure to put the cat among the pigeons and demonstrate the Perrys’ long term plans to break out of the 1815 campaign. They’ll come with a range of head options so, with the Russians for example, you’ll be able to do pre-1807 shakos, 1812 kiwer shakos and other options for grenadiers. The Prussian reserve infantry 3-ups seemed a little dull to me and come with only minimal kit options.
  • Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy: hmmm, high production values, entirely in English (at least the edition I inspected) but a little thin. Perhaps such leanness is to be expected from a recently ressurected corpse, though. I wish them well!

And to close, a couple of things that passed me by unnoticed: this year’s ACW theme, a really top quality selection of books (none of the traders seemed to have brought their best stock) and somebody (anybody?) stocking Andrea paints. Yes, I know I can order them online but, for a paint addict like me, there’s no substitute for sniffing the acrylic and squeezing the dropper bottles.

Posted in Clubs and Shows, Forward Patrol | Tagged: | 28 Comments »