Friday, 28 January 2005

Dust on the horizon

Alan, Kurt and myself played a WWII Desert game, using my recently reacquired 6mm figures (hi, Maarten :) ) under our [recent favourite](, [Blitzkrieg Commander]( rules.

I aimed for a slightly larger game this time, featuring about a healthy regiment sized formation on both sides. The scenario involved the British trying to force a passage through a narrowing feature on the open desert flank (not that there were many of those, hence my somewhat hazy definition of the terrain :) ).

The table was dominated by a largish gently sloping hill in the centre and featured two rocky outcroppings at the edge of the table, one on either side of the hill. There was also a small village located in the open desert some distance away from the hill. The rest of the table (90%) was featureless desert, only broken up by a few bits of rocky rough going here and there.

Both sides were around 2500 points in size, with the Germans having a bit less than that, and the British a bit more. The German force consisted of a rifle battalion with some AT and artillery attached (the former included one of the feared 88mm AA/AT guns), and what amounted to most of the Afrika Korps' armour at the time (the game was set some time around Operation Crusader, i.e. August 1941) -- about a strong battalion's worth (a PzIV company, three PzIII companies and a PzII company, if you must know). The Germans started the game with the infantry and attachments deployed on table, with the panzers expected to arrive _some time soon_. Kurt took on the role of Lt. Colonel Heinz Stacheldraht, commander of this motley collection.

The British had a Motor Infantry Battalion, a battalion of Crusader II's and a battalion of M3 Honeys to tackle Germans with, plus the odd attachment. Alan played the British, with me driving the tanks when they had arrived and I no longer needed to be umpire, and was allowed to choose the entry point for these three battalions and the order in which he wanted them to arrive (though not the exact turn). His orders were to clear a path through the German defense of this pass.

The game started with the German rifle battalion deployed in a wide arc around the central hill, which itself was occupied by some odds and ends and the 88. A detached company with some support found itself deployed in the village, a position they would come to regret the moment the British player started his first turn: the three scheduled artillery missions of the British were all plotted to land on the village, so the troops in it had to endure three rounds of fire from three 25pdr batteries -- not a good place to be, that village. Consequently, the German troops in the village never featured in the game, loosing some of their number to artillery fire and, more importantly, having the HQ with them knocked out by artillery fire in turn 2 meant that they could not be ordered throughout the game. 1-0 to the British.

Alan chose to bring on his infantry first, followed by the battalion of Crusaders and finally that of Honeys. The infantry duly came on in turn 1, with two companies dismounted and the rest in trucks and carriers. They were welcomed by a storm of fire from the Germans, who had nothing else (yet) to shoot at so could concentrate all fire on the advancing infantry. Alan quickly found out that it is not a good idea to leave infantry sitting in their trucks when they are likely to come under fire. The British advance never got very far, with most of the battalion knocked out by the end of the game, not having advanced more than 10cm or so.

Things started to look _really_ bad for the British (as opposed to only moderately inauspicious, what with the loss of only an infantry battalion so far), when the German armour came on table before any of the British tank boys did (well, technically, the battalion of Crusaders was already on table, but its commander could not be bothered to move them down range to where they could be useful - damn command rolls :) ). Luckily, Kurt made the mistake of getting over eager with the armour and advancing to attack the Crusaders (of which he knocked out a few), in the process presenting his flank to the battalion of Honeys that chose that particular turn to make an appearance.

The game ended soon thereafter, when the Honeys proceeded to make short work of the pride of the German armour, leaving over half of the panzers as burning wrecks on the desert while the Germans high tailed it back to the coast (lesson learned: flank shots are deadly). A British victory!

I think all players had fun with this game, and it has proven to us that Blitzkrieg Commander works well at this scale (scale both in miniatures and size of forces). It also produced an interesting (I hesitate to use the word _realistic_, as I really have no idea of the nature of WWII desert warfare in reality) rendition of fighting in the Western Desert theatre, with the forces and the game balance seesawing across the table: one moment the British seemed to be winning, the next the Germans seemed about to wipe out all opposition. The sweeping tank movements were also quite impressive, as was the dust they kicked up.

Which brings me to a house rule I introduced, that also inspired the title of this entry: dust clouds. I had the players roll randomly for wind direction, and placed a big blob of cotton wool to represent dust down wind from any vehicles that moved during their turn (the dust was placed at the end of the turn). To give an idea as to size, the dust cloud produced by a battalion sized formation of armour was about a foot to a foot and a half square - not to be laughed at (well, sneezed at perhaps). The effect of the dust was the same as that of smoke.

Next time, the Italians make an appearance!

Wednesday, 26 January 2005

Is the Net hazardous to wargame magazines?

In the latest issue of [Wargames Illustrated]( Ray Lucas makes an interesting observation in his _A view from the trenches_ column. Basically, he states that the increased publication quality of recent rulesets (flashy pages and photographs versus copied or -- god forbid -- stenciled black and white pages of dense text) has led to the article content of WI being reduced to nothing more than thinly disguised adverts for the various new rulesets.

I have recently resubscribed to WI, after having given up on it on account of the lack of decent articles in it (this was around the period when WI was turning into a Foundry catalog, written by Chris Peers). I had heard it said, however, that the publication was picking up again, so I resubbed a few months ago.

I have found, however, that I enjoy reading the magazine a lot less than I did before. Of course, part of this can be the rosy veil of the past remembrance smoothing over the flaws of yesteryear, but Ray's comment has set me thinking that he may, in fact, have a point, and that his point is the reason I enjoy the magazine less than I did before.

I do not agree with the whole of his comment, though. I think he is right in saying, and he has certainly opened my eyes to the fact that, the vast majority of the articles in the current crop of WI issues are indeed only thinly veiled adverts for various rulesets or figure ranges. This is probably the reason why I enjoy the mag less these days, despite the cornucopia of increasingly attractive [miniature photography]( that seems to have become be a major selling point for the publication (at least for the publisher).

What I disagree with, or at least want to nuance a bit, is Ray's reasoning wrg to the cause of this: he argues that the increased publication costs of the new crop of rulesets is the direct cause for this style of article-slash-advert. While there might well be a kernel of truth in this, I do not think that this is the entire story. As often stated when yet another thread on magazine quality erupts on some mailing list or discussion group somewhere, WI's editor can only publish what he is sent in the way of articles. If it turns out that Duncan McFarlane only gets sent this kind of article, then that is all he will be able to publish.

My point (_what, there is a point to this?_) is that while there are indeed ruleset authors and members of their inner circle (_alpha friends_ as Phil would call them :) ) that send in adverticles for their rulesets, this was happening in the past too. What has changed though, is that there are less and less _other_ articles being sent in to the magazines (with the odd exception to prove the rule, of course -- _viz_ Barry Hilton's of [League of Augsburg]( truly excellent series on WWII rulesets), thus diluting their non-adverticle content.

And I think we do not have the look very far for the reason behind that particular development: you're reading it. Of course, I am not arguing that [Tiny Tin Men]( is the reason for the decline of article quality in WI, but the Internet might well be. In an age where every club, wargames group, ruleset author and miniature manufacturer has its own website with information and -- occasionally -- good articles, there is no more incentive for most people to go through the rigmarole of writing a true to god paper article and getting it published. Only people with an interest in promoting their ruleset or whatever have an incentive to still use this channel

And while I am not quite the raving _blogs are the future of journalism, the universe and everything_ fanboy that many in the blogosphere are, I do believe that wargames blogs such as TTM will only increase this tendency. This very post is an example of this: back in the old days, this would have been a letter to the editor. Now, it lives on the Net only.

Is this the future knocking on our door?

Sunday, 23 January 2005

The HIPPIE series - part 1

Welcome to part one of a new article series: How I Painstakingly Paint Individual Effigies, a series of articles in which I describe the way I paint miniatures, the results of which you can see on the left in the sidebar and on my [Flickr]( [account]( The idea is that this will become a series of posts, much like my earlier series on [miniature photography]( If I'm feeling really industrious, I might even combine the seperate postings in a single document to put on the [club website]( later.

This is very much an _I did it my way_ article series -- I will describe how I paint miniatures, and I will only treat my normal 'wargame' painting style. In other words, this guide will be about my way of painting my miniatures for the tabletop, not for display quality. This is about [army painting](, not [display painting](

I'll finish this first article with an introduction of the miniature I'll be painting: I'll work on the army standard bearer for my [WAB]( Celtic army. The figure is a [Foundry]( Celtic standard bearer, which I will convert slightly -- I'll replace the cast standard with a florist's wire one, add a shield to the figure (slung across his back) and replace the animal standard itself with a duck (all my generals have a duck as shield motif or standard). That's all for a next article, but here's the figure as purchased -- the blank canvas, so to speak:

![Celtic standard bearer](/snv/pics/minphoto/hippie1.jpg)

* [Part 1 - Introduction]( -- You are here
* [Part 2 - Cleaning and Conversion](
* [Part 3 - Priming](

Tuesday, 18 January 2005

Oh my god, I stepped on the Tiny Tin Man!

Yup, that's right - I stepped on this blog's mascot. The little guy's head that features in our title graphic is a picture of an actual miniature I painted. The Tiny Tin Man is a [Foundry]( Saxon civilian, and looks like this in full:

![Tiny Tin Man](/snv/pics/minphoto/da_civilian.jpg)

Those of you who know me personally know that we'll be moving house soon. Moving implies packing stuff into boxes, so I've slowly been starting to put some of my non-essential modelling and painting stuff into boxes in the cellar. One of the reasons we're moving is that our current house is quite literally bursting at the seams with all of the stuff we've packed into it, and in the cellar that means that moving around in it is a business that requires careful deliberation and coordination, lest one knocks things off of shelves or the modelling desk.

Needless to say, I did knock something off the modelling desk, and only noticed it when I felt something crunch under my foot when I passed by it. It turned out to be the TTM figure. Sniff. Luckily, closer inspection has shown that there are only two areas where the paint job has been damaged -- one on the edge of his cloak and one on his hat. Both should be fairly easy to touch up.

This brings me to an interesting point. I am fairly relaxed about all of this, and I've seen this extend to things like packing miniatures for transport as well. Back when I started in this hobby, I would have freaked out at this incident, but now I accept it as a fact of life with miniatures. Perhaps I'm getting mellow with age? Or is this a natural evolution?

Monday, 17 January 2005

Remember: lighting is everything

Andy over at [Little Lead Heroes]( [found]( a great [article]( on building light tents for photography of jewelry items -- luckily the tricks described in the article can also be used in miniature photography.

As I mentioned in [part one of the miniature photograpy series](, lighting is _everything_ in photography of tiny tin men, and this kind of light tent setup is invaluable in achieving good results that don't require much post processing in an image editing program. I'm going see if I can build one!

Thursday, 13 January 2005

The point of points systems

Many rulesets of various periods and genres provide not only army lists but often a points system as well, where each troop type in the army list is accorded a certain points value, with a higher value generally indicating a 'better' troop type.

Points systems, as many things in life, have their advantages and disadvantages, and their champions and detractors. In this entry, I'll try to present some of these views and issues. I expect quite a lot of reaction to this post, since I know that Phil, for instance, has quite firm views wrg points systems. That is of course a good thing, and one of the reasons we started this blog in the first place.

So, what is the advantage of a points system? Superficially, one would say that a well thought out points system would enable players to select balanced armies so they can expect a fair game. However, when one looks deeper into this, it appears that is a bit of a flawed assumption. Firstly, experience has shown that it is very hard to design a well balanced points system (the many, many threads concerning the latest _killer troop type_ on various mailing lists bear witness to this fact), so having two equal points armies does not guarantee a balanced or fair game. Secondly, games between equal points armies, while probably the most appropriate for tournament situations, are often somewhat sterile at best and genuinely uninteresting at worst. A scenario, possibly because those feature a skewed force distribution more often than not, generally leads to a more interesting and exciting game.

So that's an advantage that turned out to be if not a disadvantage, then at least neutral in character. There is however an advantage to points systems that is related to the above and is a true advantage. Points systems make it possible to play against anyone and anywhere and (within the limits stated above) know what to expect; they enhance the portability of rules. To provide the archetypical example, someone from Belgium can easily travel to the UK (and many do) armed with a 400 points army and be assured to find a gamer or two on the other side of the channel with a compatible army, and can also expect to play against this army with little in the way of problems (not related to tactics on the tabletop, that is :) ).

The disadvantages of points systems are twofold: they promote a 'shopping list' mentality, and they seem to attract the type of player that enjoys tweaking army lists and squeezing the last possible advantage out of the various lists, regardless of what kind of weird or downright silly army results from this process.

The shopping list mentality is the antithesis of historical wargaming: no historical general ever gathered an army based on point based systems. They never went _"oh, I seem to have some points left over, let's see ... ah yes, some Iberian slingers will do just fine, and that leaves me with enough points to get one of them elephants that Macedonian fellow was raving about earlier."_ Instead, historical generals fought with what they were provided with (OK, to be fair, there were mercenaries which could be hired, but I'd argue that the vast majority of ones troops were not of this kind -- you fought with what you had available). Building armies from shopping lists is skewing history quite a bit.

The second disadvantage is probably among the top three of Most Annoying Qualities in Wargamers: the munchkin attitude. You know the type of player -- try to find the loopholes in the points system (and there inevitably are loopholes) and build an army around them, no matter what that army might be. This is the oft mentioned quest for the _killer army_ or the _killer troop type_. While this exists outside of points systems as well, the existence of points systems is a force multiplier for this behaviour. Nobody likes this kind of behaviour, I should think.

In conclusion, I'd consider points systems as a necessary evil. While they encourage some of the most abrasing behaviour in the hobby, they do facilitate the portability of the games and armies, which in a hobby which is as insular and distributed as ours, is worth its weight in gold - or points :).

Let the commenting begin.

_Update_: it seems that minutes after I posted this item, we got a whole slew of comment spam (advertising various _contact services_ in Germany, if you're curious) -- that's not _quite_ what I meant with 'let the commenting begin' :)

Sunday, 9 January 2005

WW2 Choices

Readers will know that we Bart and I are very keen on Blitzkrieg Commander, after two successful games. Both were tactically interesting, fast to play and with some funny moments. What more do you want?

The problem is that it seems to work best in a small scale. This is not a problem, actually, but good sense. For the price of one tank in 15mm (5 pounds or 8 euros) you can buy about 15 little 1:300 beasts. I'm quite fond of my 15mm 1940 material, so I'll hang onto them and play PBI 2 or something with them.

I will sell my 1944 British (anyone interested? 40 or so infantry, 6 Cromwells, 2 Challengers, 2 Stuarts, 1 17iber with tow, 2 6lbers, 1 Daimler a/c). Nicely painted and based (of course ;)

So for 6mm or 1:300. Kurt has gone berserk and ordered some GHQ Yanks. A slightly eccentric choice (sorry, Dave). But interesting. He will have, of course, to be encouraged to get some 1944 Boche as well as an opponent.

Bart has reclaimed his desert stuff and is desperate to do 1940.

I am torn between all these things and also Russia 1941-43...

So, thoughts?

- It seems a bit daft to do 1940 in both 6mm and 15mm.

- The desert war is an interesting theatre, could maybe do O'Connor and the Italians, ie the fun before the beastly Rommel came along and spoiled things

- If I sell my 15mm 1944, then that might also be an option, as the Brit stuff is quite fun at this stage and there are plenty of interesting actions. And in 6mm we can play in a big scale

Comments? Inspiration?

Thursday, 6 January 2005

Rebasing: Just Like Divorce and Re-Marriage

Ok, so why the weird title? Well, I just sat down this week and completely rebased an entire army from its old WRG DBx style basing over to Warhammer Ancients Battles (WAB). As I sat there prying little 25mm figures off of perfectly good bases my mind began to wander, until the X-acto knife promptly brought me back to reality! However, in those few seconds of free association the kernel of an idea began to flow (before the blood did as well) and take shape about rebasing, and how it is really a metaphor for wargaming divorce and re-marriage from one set of rules to another.

Now, what I mean is that how we base our figures often makes a statement of our committment to one particular rules set or basing standard. For example, I would say that since WRG 6th/7th edition ancients, that style of a basing had become a standard. Very few new sets of ancients rules in the past 15 years or so took the bold step to propose an alternate basing system. Well, that changed in the late 90's with WAB. Now, WAB very explicitly states you can use any basing method to play, but definitely advocates their own basing (and this is evident from following the Yahoo groups forum).

Well, after playing the rules a few times I came to the conclusion that I liked them. In fact, I liked them a lot more than DBM. Now this is not a bash at DBM, I played WRG ancients from around 1985 and helped playtest the original versions of DBA and DBM. I just came to the conclusion that DBM no longer looked or felt like the descriptions of ancient battles I read in primary or secondary sources. So, this brings us to the divorce part.

By taking the dramatic step of rebasing my army to WAB, it is no longer useable for DBx. I've basically divorced myself from that set of rules permanently (in regards to my own armies, I'd still happily play it if someone else wanted to) and I find that a pretty radical step in a wargamer's life. Also, by adopting the WAB basing convention, I've essentially wedded myself to that set of rules (at least temporarily and until the next rebasing).

So, my relationship with one set of rules that lasted almost two decades is over. A new one is beginning and I wonder if WAB will last as long as WRG did.

Please never mind the man behind the curtain

Just a few quick blog technical notes:

* Our [RSS Feed]( now feeds complete articles instead of excerpts only
* There is now an [RSS feed for comments]( too
* We have a new author on the blog: David Black, whom you might have encountered in the comments before. Welcome David!

That's it - back to your regular schedule.

Wednesday, 5 January 2005

Getting More Painting Done

Quite a while ago, when this blog was still young and fresh, I wrote about [what motivates me to paint](/snv/ttm/archives/000002.html), and followed it up with a post on my [painting station](/snv/ttm/archives/000006.html). I have since come to realise that the two posts are related. Moving from a fixed place to paint to a mobile painting station has contributed more than anything else to increasing my painting output of late.

This is somewhat counter to intuition. In many painting guides on the Net, you will find the advice that a fixed place in the house to paint at is quintessential, for a couple of reasons, one being that otherwise there is too much setup time before painting, raising the lethargic inertia barrier one has to overcome to start painting. A second reason is that in a household involving small children and pets (we qualify on both accounts) you need a place apart for your painting and miniature stuff, so that you can keep it out of harm's way (this works both ways: your miniatures will not be mangled and you will save yourself trips to the ER with a child having eaten one or more of paints, brushes or miniatures).

Obviously, having a mobile painting station you need to set up before starting to paint is anathema to the above two points. So why do I paint more frequently now that I have mobilised my painting situation?

On the one hand, the second reason stated above is void in my case; I still have a space in the house -- in the cellar -- where I keep all of my stuff, and where I do the "dirty" work like flocking bases or cleaning up figures before priming them. On the other hand, the setup argument is still valid: to paint, I have to go into the cellar, bring up the painting station (precariously balanced on one hand -- this is bound to go wrong someday, sending my paints and figures tumbling across the stairs) and set it up in the kitchen (which in winter involves running an extension cord from the veranda to get power for the daylight lamp I use). This takes time. I nevertheless find that this does not bother me at all, for some reason.

So, again, why do I paint more since I've set up the mobile station? I think it has to do with the fact that there is less of an urge to paint non stop. When you paint at a fixed location, getting up to do something else is more of an interruption than my current situation, and you feel an obligation to sit there and continue painting. In a hobby activity, any obligation to do something is a bad thing, and subconsciously, one starts to avoid that situation (or I do so, at least). In this case, one starts to avoid going up to the wargames room / painting closet / whatever to paint. Not a good thing.

With the mobile station setup in the main living room / kitchen area, I do not feel bound to it, and I can easily get up, and do so regularly, to go check something out on TV, or talk to my wife, or do whatever else strikes my fancy, often even while still holding figure and brush in my hands. I think it is this feeling of 'liberty', combined with the two factors I stated in the [earlier article](/snv/ttm/archives/000002.html), that has resulted in my increased painting output over the last couple of months.

To quantify this: my [Flickr account]( gives me a nice way of gauging my figure output -- in the period July 2004 - December 2004 I have painted 42 figures (more or less), which comes to about 7 per month, or one figure every 5 days or so. This is my highest output since I started painting back in 1996-1997, and I was a single Ph.D. student with lots of time on my hands then.

As a quick aside, I'm having a week off work now, and I find that, paradoxically, I do less painting these days than during a normal work week. There must be an element of decompressing after work by painting that's playing here.

Anyway, that's it for now. Comments are, as always, welcome.

PS: the title of this post is a play on [Getting Things Done](, the umpteenth book on productivity and time managment that nevertheless is generating quite a buzz on the Net.

Sunday, 2 January 2005

Two zero zero five

Now that we're all (hopefully) safely on the other side of New Year's Eve (by whatever name you may call it -- I particularly like the sound of _Hogmanay_), allow me to open a new year's worth of posting with a predictable set of best wishes to all our readers: may your dice roll sixes and your brushes always be wet (in the words of fellow wargamer Willie Bogaerts) in 2005.

That's it for festivities and well wishing for now. The next festive moment will be one year of [TTM](/snv/ttm) or 100 posts, whichever comes first (to give you an idea, this post is number 62).

Happy New Year, all.