Thursday, February 24, 2011

A question of scale

The Black Powder rules were written for 28mm miniatures, with an infantry battalion represented by 24 to 36 guys. So how do I represent them in 6mm scale? It's certainly not as simple as multiplying everything by ~0.2...

The first thing to consider is the scale of the battlefield. The authors state that they play on a 12'x6' (3.6mx1.8m) table and the rules are designed for something similar. Also all measurements in the book (range, movement, etc.) are based on multiples of 12". To save myself unnecessary maths when playing the game I wanted to use the straightforward conversion of inches to centimetres - i.e. 12" is read as 12cm. This changes the battlefield size from 12'x6' to 1.44mx0.72m, something that easily fits on the regulation 6'x4' (1.8mx1.2m) table and gives scope for nice large games.

The ratio of converting numeric inches to numeric centimetres is 1:2.54, or about two-fifths. So if we use that ratio to convert the battlefield we should use the same ratio to convert other measurements... like unit frontages. Take the 36-man battalion mentioned above. In two ranks it would have a unit frontage of 360mm. When converted with the 0.4 ratio that becomes 144mm (the 24-man battalion would have a frontage of 96mm after the same conversion). Similarly a cavalry unit of 16 models in two ranks would have a frontage of 200mm, which becomes 80mm after conversion.

With those figures in mind, what sort of basing scheme should I use for my 6mm miniatures? After much consideration I have decided on 40mmx20mm bases, each holding 16 infantry figures or 6 cavalry. A standard battalion of infantry or squadron of cavalry will be four such bases modelled along the long edge for infantry and the short edge for cavalry. This gives a standard infantry battalion in line a frontage of 160mm (11% wider than the calculated 144mm) and a standard cavalry squadron in line a frontage of 80mm (bang on). Artillery will probably be based with two guns to a single base along the long edge with range etc. measured from the centre-front of the base.

Formations on the table then look like this:

When my bases finally arrive from Litko Aero I'll do some mock-ups and take some photos. Until then... Adieu!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Make your own textured paint

If only there were some cheap way to make up large amounts of textured paint in exactly the right colour for your terrain... Well there is!

I recently made a bunch of 6mm-scale hills and I didn't want to have to glue sand on them and then spray undercoat them; too much effort and too much risk that the spray would dissolve the foam. But I also didn't want to pay $60 for a 4L tin of textured paint.

The solution? Berger True Grip.

This is the stuff you mix into outdoor paint for use around pools and it gives a rough surface to stop you from slipping over. It comes in 300g jars that cost about $8 and gives you enough to make up 4L of paint (i.e. heaps and heaps). Now all I needed was a reasonably-sized tin of paint to mix it into.

Me: "Do you guys sell sample pots?"
Bunnings Guy: "Yup."
Me: "What sort of finish do they have?"
Bunnings Guy: "They're all low-sheen for interior walls."
Me: "How much?"
Bunnings Guy: "$8 for 250ml."
Me (handing over my carefully-selected colour-matched paint chip): "Brilliant. Give me a pot of this colour."

All that was left to do was mix them together. The ratio is 75g per litre of paint, so for my little pot I needed 18.75g. There was no way I could ever measure that accurately so I decided to just keep adding spoonfuls and stirring them in until I got the consistency I wanted. This worked really well although it took more than I thought to get there (about ten spoonfuls), and I had to stir each one in thoroughly before I added the next. I also ignored the instruction which said "remove 10% of the paint while you mix it up and add it back in afterwards." This is just to prevent spillage and there was enough space in the sample pot that I didn't need to worry about it.

The final result was awesome - one coat was enough for each hill and gave them a lovely textured surface. You could definitely vary the amount of texture in the pot by adding more or less of the True Grip.

So for $16 I got a tin of water-based textured paint in exactly the right colour. I only used half of it in doing all ten of my hills, and I've got enough True Grip left to make up at least another ten sample pots worth of paint. This is the technique I will use on all of my terrain projects in future.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Roads Tutorial and Woods

While I was waiting for my 6mm models to arrive I put my time to good use making some 6mm scale terrain. This was very important because my terrain collection is all 40K based and completely out of scale for the tiny miniatures I am determined to employ. First up I made some trees:

These were done using foamcore for the bases, home-made twisted wire armatures, Woodland Scenics clump foliage for the leaves, Citadel static grass to cover the bases and Woodland Scenics bushes and underbrush for the underbrush. I am particularly pleased with how they turned out and will do a detailed tutorial in full course.

The other thing I made was a set of roads. These were a bit of an experiment and I could improve on them for next time, but I am still very happy with them. I used foamcore for the road itself, cut to shape 20mm wide and sanded into a mound. This forms the actual road. I then based the roads on 1.5mm thick balsa wood. The roads were covered in sand glued on with PVA and set aside to dry. Once the excess material had been shaken off I undercoated everything with Citadel Black Spray Undercoat. Make sure you blu-tak the individual pieces down or they will be blown away by the spray - they are very light.

I base coated them in artist's paint ("Raw Umber" is the colour, something like GW's Scorched Brown) thinned down with 2 parts paint to 1 part water. Once this was thoroughly dry I drybrushed the roads with Graveyard Earth, then Bleached Bone and finally Skull White. I glued flock along the sides of the road and voilà! 6mm scale roads.

John of course immediately pointed out that I needed a crossroads (damn!) and I will knock one up shortly. Overall I have made about 3 linear metres of road which should be enough to start with. As I said they are quite light but they are very flexible - I was able to twist out any warping due to drying glue.

For next time I will pay closer attention to the width of the bases; while the roads all line up nicely the bases don't. It won't matter much once they are on a flocked gaming mat but it is definitely scope for improvement.

So there we go, trees and roads!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Introducing Tool Chick

So... I figured it was only reasonable to introduce my wife, who goes by the assumed sobriquet "Tool Chick". It is due to her that I have all the awesome power tools to play with (I didn't even know what a compound mitre saw was until she asked for one for her birthday). Her dad is a builder and she knows a hell of a lot about building stuff. She is also amazingly capable at all sorts of crafts - she makes the most amazing quilts and dresses for our daughter.

She tolerates my wargaming rather well, all things considered. I often leave the garage an absolute mess, working on the philosophy that one cleans up after a project rather than at the end of each day of the project. I regularly commandeer the dining table for games and, more frequently, for painting and modelling projects. I insist on having my models on display in the same glass cabinet as our wedding memorabilia. And I spend a sizeable portion of my discretionary income on metal and plastic ;-) Aside from the occasional good-natured jibe she puts up with an awful lot for the sake of my hobby and I love her for it.

So fellow travellers, when you see comments from Tool Chick on this blog you know that the Household Minister of War and Finance is paying attention. I can only humbly request that you use your utmost diplomacy in responding to her comments, otherwise I may end up spending the night encamped with my soldiers in the garage!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Extruded Polystyrene

For as long as I've been reading "How to" books for wargames terrain they've been referring to a mythical substance called "insulation tiles". These foam tiles apparently make the best foundation for terrain as they are light, high-density (hence strong and impact-resistant) and they can be shaped really well.

The problem was, nobody I ever spoke to seemed to know where to get them in Australia. I couldn't find them at Bunnings, model shops, anywhere. A bit of Google-fu revealed that the substance is extruded polystyrene but the only supplier I could find was in Melbourne and they don't ship it. And I really wanted it to make hills for my 6mm terrain set...

Well, I now have a whole bunch of it thanks to a red-hot tip from the Esteemable John H. Steed, Esq. He had also tried and failed at Bunnings but had "heard you might be able to get it at Just Rite in Fyshwick." Mate, you were spot on. When I went out there today the girl behind the counter knew exactly what I wanted it for - "Modelling, right?" Turns out it's called Blueboard or Isoboard in the trade and you buy it in 2400mm x 600mm x 25mm sheets.

And it's every bit as good as the books say - better to carve, better to sand, and as strong as anything. Stand by for piccies and a tutorial on the hills in the coming days!

Painting Strips

Using painting strips for small-scale infantry is hardly a new invention (I remember using it decades ago when working on my Epic infantry) and it certainly isn't my idea, but I still thought I would share the painting strips I have made up for my 6mm Napoleonics. In the past I have used offcuts of sprue but they had some limitations, primarily stability (I had to lie them on their side while drying) but also having to find lengths long enough. So this time around I decided to purpose-build my painting strips.

I had three design goals:
1. Stand up nicely while the paint dries (allowing me to paint both sides at once);
2. Be light (so I can paint for extended periods without straining my wrists); and
3. Be thin (so they won't interfere with my access to the miniature).

The rough design in my head was for some strips about 200mm long and 6mm across, with feet of some description. I decided on 6mm square Tasmanian oak stripping to form the main strips, with 20mm x 8mm pine cut into 40mm lengths for the feet. I got more than enough of both from Bunnings (my favourite hardware superstore) for less than $10 and cut them to length with my compound mitre saw (although you could just as easily use a handsaw). I then glued the feet lengthwise onto the strips using PVA - definitely no need to use nails or tacks for this one.

They ended up looking something like this:

I ended up with ten in total, easily enough to have several different battalions on the go at once. An important consideration with the length is how many strips of infantry you want to fit on at once. I wanted eight at about 20mm each, so I made the strips 200mm leaving room to spare for my hands. In the background you can see a battalion of British Line Infantry awaiting undercoat - this gives you an idea of how big the strips are and how the models are spaced out.

So there we go, purpose-built painting strips. I'll let you know how they go and whether I end up changing the design in any way.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Black Powder has arrived!!

My copy of Black Powder arrived in the mail today - Huzzah!! I am yet to read it in detail and will post several reviews of different aspects of the book as I do, but for now let me say that I am hugely impressed with the production quality and the tone of the book. Stand by for more info over the coming days.

Book Review: Trafalgar by John Terraine

Title: Trafalgar
Author: John Terraine
First Published: 1976
ISBN: 1853266868

This book was both more and less than I expected. More, in that it gave a detailed overview of the lead-up to the battle, following the activities of the French, British and Spanish fleets from late-1803. Less, in that the battle itself was covered in only 30 pages focusing on a few significant actions. A better title would be "The Trafalgar Campaign" or similar.

Don't get me wrong, this is a very good book. The analysis is thoughtful and unbiased with no hero worship on either side. The successes and failings of all the major players (with the expected focus on Nelson) are spelt out in detail with no punches pulled, and the tactical analysis of the battle itself is scathing while paying credit to the consideration of seamanship and gunnery in determining the tactical approach.

Terraine ties the naval actions in nicely with the concurrent land actions and movements of Napoleon's armies. He also does a good job of showing the broader implications of the British naval strategy and why it was so successful against the French.

Overall this was a good book, but I think I will look for something that gives more detail as to the battle itself. I will certainly keep it in my collection as a reference work.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book Review: Waterloo - The Hundred Days by David Chandler

Title: Waterloo - The Hundred Days
Author: David Chandler
First Published: 1980
ISBN: 1855327163

It's very hard to not start with the Battle of Waterloo when learning about the Napoleonic Wars purely because it was such a pivotal moment in human history. I will be the first to admit that the Napoleonic Period represents an enormous hole in my knowledge of history, so I headed out to my favourite second-hand bookshop Canty's and raided the shelves of their excellent military history section. I needed a book that would give me a good overview of Waterloo without assuming I already knew all the relevant background material, and that is exactly what Chandler's book delivered.

The book covers the period from Napoleon's escape from Elba through to the four battles over the course of the Belgian campaign from 15-18 June. It starts with Napoleon's escape and the political implications for the Allies and goes on to cover the biography and nature of the three commanders (Napoleon, Wellington and Blücher), the composition and state of their armies, the preparations undertaken by both sides, the four battles of Quatre-Bras, Livre, Wavre and of course Waterloo, and concludes with two chapters dealing with the immediate and longer-term legacy of the campaign.

I found the level of detail to be perfect. All of the significant facts impacting on the decisions made and the campaign outcomes were covered in good detail without becoming bogged down in minutiae. The stories of the battles themselves were well-organised, tightly written and deeply engrossing. There is a good mix of individual experiences and large-scale actions. The chronology of events across multiple locations are managed well with appropriate forward references to explain the impact of critical decisions or mistakes. The maps were well drawn (including contour lines) and the period paintings included were very evocative. And the length of the book was spot on - 200 pages with plenty of maps and illustrations. Perhaps best of all (for me anyway) the grammar is absolutely perfect.

The author is clearly British and this seeps through occasionally in the odd remark celebrating the failures of the French or the successes of the British, but the overwhelming view of the book is well-balanced and fair. I would have liked an Appendix covering the Orders of Battle in greater detail rather than just a chart showing the forces down to the Divisional level but this is a minor thing as such Orbats are widely available elsewhere.

On the whole this exceeded my expectations and left me much wiser about the battle and hungry to read more. I don't really believe in rating books (too subjective) but I will definitely recommend it to anyone who is starting out in the period. I greatly enjoyed it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

To War

Welcome to my blog!

My intention is to record my journey as I explore the rich history of the Napoleonic Wars through 6mm miniatures and the Black Powder rules. By way of background I grew up playing the Milton Bradley games Hero Quest and Space Crusade (based on the Games Workshop worlds), which naturally led to playing Warhammer Fantasy and 40K. My favourite game out them all was Epic (variously called "Space Marine", "Titan Legions" or "Epic 40K") which was 40K played with 6mm miniatures on a grand scale: Hundreds of infantry, dozens of tanks, and giant war machines. I also loved Warmaster (the epic version of Fantasy). But they weren't GW's most profitable games so they dropped them...

Fast-forward ten years and I'm a burned-out 40K player who, besides irregular dabbling in Blood Bowl, hasn't really played a whole lot else and is struggling to maintain his enthusiasm. I hadn't painted anything for many months and had only played a handful of recent games - I was over it.

Enter my excellent friend John who had signed up to play Black Powder at CanCon and wanted to get in some more practice games. Now Black Powder was put together by the aptly-named "Nottingham Mafia", being Rick Priestley and friends, and draws on the Warmaster system among others. It emphasises scenarios over tournament play and can be used with whatever scale miniatures you like.

Neither of us had appropriate miniatures so John had cut out some cardboard bases to represent the units. We didn't really have a scenario in mind so we agreed to play until someone lost a brigade. We then embarked on three hours of the most exciting, challenging, intense, and above all fun wargaming I have experienced in decades. I made an absolute mess of the deployment on my left flank which was compounded by the fact that the Brigade Commander on that flank repeatedly failed to issue any successful orders, leaving my line badly exposed to John's advancing cavalry. John's first battalion charged heroically into my massed guns and was duly massacred. One of his other battalions got caught on the march in some woods, but I couldn't capitalise because the damn commander (yup, the same numpty who couldn't get the flank organised) couldn't get organised to issue the necessary engagement orders.

When we called it quits the battle was in the balance, although I'd say John would have gone on to win. We had completely lost track of time which shows just how much fun we were having. I came home buzzing and spent the next two hours coming down off this gaming high by researching everything I could about the Napoleonic Wars online. I honestly can't remember the last time I had so much fun playing a tabletop wargame.

So here we are. I've had my watershed moment and I am about to embark on a major change in my wargaming career. This blog will record the journey and hopefully end up chock full of battle reports, book reviews, tutorials and photos. I hope you find something useful here.