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.