Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Tembe in 15mm

As promised in my previous post, here is the tembe I made last week.  For those of you who don't know, and I didn't until last week, a tembe is a square African building used by nineteenth century Zanzibar slavers and such like.
Apparently the name indicates its intrinsic squareness as opposed to the normal round huts that everyone lived in during that period (and still do, in some places, as I have seen for myself in Uganda).  Such buildings were used to keep the slaves in (and to stop other slavers stealing them) before shipping them off to wherever they were sold to.

The inspiration for building this (in 15mm scale) was the recent article in Wargames Illustrated magazine (No. 356), where a 28mm building was showcased.  The version featured was made of mdf and had a thatched roof.
However, it struck me that a tembe could have a variety of uses in various periods and locations including ancient near east (as a villa), nineteenth century Mexico (a hacienda) and of course modern Africa, to complement my Peter Pig AK47 armies (as a police station, customs post, or similar).

From the African angle my reasoning was that the building may have been an old tembe that had had a new roof added, which is why I changed the roof to what could be interpreted as tiles (or corrugated iron) instead of thatch. 
Construction was my usual pizza-base polystyrene 'foamboard' stuck to a cardboard base.  The roof was made from corrugated cardboard; actually the cardboard insulating sleeves that you can pick up with take-away coffee.
Around the doors I stuck on matches to represent a timber finish and bars were put on the windows.  These were actually cut from some thick wire - the low 'E' string I'd removed from my electric guitar (a beautiful 'Artists' Series' Ibanez AR420-VLS) when I changed the strings recently.

Ibanez AR420-VLS
For this model (the tembe, not the guitar) I made the roof removable.  This was then undercoated in black and roughly painted with a rusty terracotta colour.  All of the walls were painted in the chocolatey brown colour I normaly use and then coated in PVA glue and covered in fine sand. The floor of the courtyard and the surrounding ground were done in a coarser shelly sand I use for basing figures.
The sanded walls were then painted off-white with smoother areas left the undercoat colour, as though the plaster had fallen off in places. Walls were dirtied up with various washes of dark earth.  Interior rooms were painted black.
The ground was painted a sand colour with some static grass (recently acquired from WWS) added.  Overall, I was pleased how this turned out, as well as its potential versatility for various periods as mentioned earlier.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Step Right Up

As always seems to be the case, I have multiple projects on the go at the same time, hardly ever finishing any of them completely.  This usually happens when I have figures to paint and then I come up with a displacement activity instead.  I don't know why because when I get going I actually enjoy painting figures.  Anyway, this week it has been making/ refurbishing buildings for various things.
This post is about the 'Indian Mutiny' buildings that I have been working on.  This has been in response to dangerous talk with Geoff about him getting his old Foundry figures out again for some skirmish games using the WRG's Fire and Steel rules.
To contribute to this initiative, I dug out the old buildings I had in the box and repaired, refurbished and touched up the paint on them a bit.
I don't have any Indian Mutiny figures so have illustrated them with some 28mm Copplestone explorers instead.
In addition, I added a new building, made in my usual way from polystyrene foam pizza base (poor man's foamboard) and cardboard.  I just stick everything together with wood glue (PVA), scoring the polystyrene edges as neccesary to enhance adhesion.
The idea was to make a slightly larger building with some steps up the side and flat roofs for figures to stand on.  As with most of the buildings I make these days I don't make them enterable, which means they are more robust as I can just glue everything together (and don't have to paint the inside).
As you can see, the offcuts of cardboard I stuck on the outside make the walls more uneven, implying some extra strengthening, rather than being the flat slabs they would be otherwise.
After construction was finished I painted all surfaces with some tester-pot emulsion paint I'd picked up years ago.  It's called 'Fired Earth' and is a sort of milk chocolate colour (used here for example).  After that I coated everything with wood glue and dipped the building in a large tin of fine sand I have.  I undercoat first and then do the sand texturing afterwards because the wood glue sometimes doesn't spread evenly over the smooth polystyrene.
Walls were then roughly painted in some off-white emulsion and then dirtied up with various washes of Revell Dark Earth.
Finally some static grass and small bits of my home-made clump foliage were added.
The thing about buildings though is that I never seem to make them one at a time, preferring a sort of batch process.  A back-up displacement activity perhaps.

In this case I made some similar 15mm structures intended for ancient (DBM), modern Africa (AK47) and/or possibly mid-nineteenth century Mexico for the Maximilian Adventure (not that I have any figures for that, yet).
I'll post about that lot when I've actually finished them, plus today I saw an interesting article about building a Zanzibar slavers' tembe in this month's edition of Wargames Illustrated (No.356), which I am finding difficult to resist...

Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Weather Where You Are

Geoff got me an ex-library copy of Charlie Wesencraft's classic Practical Wargaming a few years ago.  It was one of those books we used to take out of Edinburgh Central Library on a regular basis (my copy is from the Lancashire County Library, first borrowed in March 1975, with the last date stamp being 27 Feb 2008.  Nobody needs to know that but I thought I'd record it anyway).
However, not just being a trip down memory lane the book does actually have some interesting ideas in it, not to mention some arresting expressions.  The one I always remember in the discussion about missile fire is that we are not supposed to be interested in whether a particular infantryman 'successfully stops an arrow with his chest', a phrase which I still find funny, if a little macabre.
Fun with hardboard and paint
Anyway, in the Preparation for Battle chapter, there is a discussion of the effects of weather on battles and instructions on how to make and use a weather 'barometer'.

The illustration from the book explains how it is used, which is basically to throw 2D6 at the start of the game to find a starting point between '2' at the top (fog) and '12' (storm) at the bottom and then move the red peg up or down (or not move it at all) depending on die throws each move.
Weather barometers and funk boards: the epitome of 1970s wargaming
As you can see I added an extra section at the top, which is not actually part of the barometer but where the string goes so I can hang it up.

So it will be interesting using this in our next game.  However, I would like to add that, based on a Scandinavian book I had as a child (I still have it), the word 'barometer' is inextricably linked with the word 'foreboding'...

Monday, 17 April 2017

Another Barn Conversion

My previous post was about making a (15-20mm scale) covered structure to go over a bridge I'd constructed even earlier.   However, looking for a small project in between my various trips this year I decided to use the 'barn' for another purpose.
In this case I made a base for it so that the 'barn' could be used as a free-standing structure.  The base includes internal walls and doors at either end.  The objective was to make a ruined substructure that would be revealed when the barn was supposed to be damaged due to shell fire or arson (or inclement weather?) during a game, a suggestion taken from various old-time wargame books.
As you can see, removing the barn would therefore reveal the remains of the ruined barn beneath it, but with enough space and absence of clutter to place troops as necessary.
Construction used the usual mixture of matches, wooden stirring sticks and cardboard.  The sub-structure was designed so that the barn would be held securely in place until it had to be removed.

After putting it together, everything was undercoated in black and then heavily dry-brushed in dark earth, with sand highlights and various coats of thin black wash for shadows and emphasis.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Barn Conversion

Wargaming is a life-long hobby (at least in my case) and there are often things that we've planned to do at some point but have never managed to get around to, until much later.
I am as guilty of that as anyone.  However, the good news is that I have recently managed to complete one of those little projects that was first jotted down some considerable time ago.  In 1987 to be exact.
This is a sketch I made in my wargame journal when I was still at university and we were in the middle of an ACW campaign, partially conducted by mail (the old fashioned kind with envelopes and stamps and things like that).  It was my idea for a covered bridge, or barn bridge as I referred to it.
After making some wooden bridges as recently as 2015, I realised I could use one of them as the basis of my long-planned barn bridge.  Construction (in approximately 20mm scale) comprised a basic internal sheet-polystyrene structure with cardboard roof and walls.  To the walls I glued matches and on the roof I put cut sections of those wooden stirrers you get in coffee shops these days (presumably because the public can't be trusted with teaspoons).
Once the glue was dry, everything was undercoated in black and then liberally dry-brushed in Revell Dark Earth.  Highlights were added with a rapid dry-brushing of Revell Afrikabraun (sand colour).  After that was done I finished off with few coats of thin black wash in selected places to intensify edge contrasts and shadows.
As you can see I made the 'barn' section so that it would fit neatly over the bridge I had made previously, so I now have two bridges for the price of one.  It's only taken me thirty years but some things with a long gestation period are worth waiting for.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

ACW Positional Defence (2)

This is the after action report (AAR) from an American Civil War (ACW) wargame we played near the end of 2016 before various business trips, Christmas and so on intervened (hence the long gap since I last posted here).
The aim was to playtest the Principles of War 2nd edition rules (POW2) I'd had on the shelf for about 10 years.  From reading through the rules I liked their apparent simplicity as well as the interesting command and control mechanism, so I wanted to see how they would play out under stress of battle.  I'd also wanted to find an alternative to Neil Thomas' nineteenth century rules we'd tried earlier in the year which we found too simple.
Positional Defence (2).  Confederate attack.
Alert readers will know that this scenario comes from Charles S Grant's excellent book "Scenarios for Wargames", which we have used a few times in recent years. In fact the first AAR I ever posted on this blog was Positional Defence (1), which coincidentally was also an ACW game.  In the intervening years all of our ACW figures have been rebased (as recounted in detail elsewhere on this blog).  As you will see these are the classic 20mm Airfix figures that we've had for nearly forty years, and still going strong.
Union starting positions
The scenario has the "Red Force", in this case the Confederates, attacking a smaller Union force in a defensive position on high ground with a village at the centre. The forces were adapted from the scenario in the book so the Confederates had seven infantry regiments and three guns, with the Union side having four regiments and two guns.  As you can see from the map, the Union forces were spread thinly with one regiment and gun on each hill, one in the village and one regiment out of sight in reserve behind the village.
Confederate attack on left flank develops
The Confederate plan was quite simple: to wear down the defenders with artillery fire whilst the infantry advanced on both flanks across the open ground towards the objectives.  Initial bombardment was on the infantry in the village, which despite being in hard cover, were rapidly forced out of the houses by incessant artillery fire (and rubbish die throwing).  This allowed the rebels to move forward quickly with few casualties.
Confederate attack on Union right
The lack of effective defence in the centre meant that the rebels could bring up their guns and after a short exchange the Union regiment on the right-hand hill started to withdraw.
Right flank falling back, artillery about to be destroyed
Furthermore, despite some spirited firing, the artillery on the right was worn down rapidly and destroyed, leaving the right flank practically open.
Union forces pushed off hill on the right with reserves trying to move up
Meanwhile, on the left, the rebels were using the woods as cover and were moving up rapidly.
Situation on the left
The battery on the left was mainly engaged in long range counter battery fire but was quickly weakened.
Rebels in the woods
The rebels continued to push hard on the left and the incessant bombardment meant that the Union's last remaining battery's strength was reduced to zero.
Not looking good for the Union
The rebels then moved into the contact against the isolated Union regiment on the left whilst the Confederates climbed the hill on the right.
Confederates capture hill on right, attack hill on left
On the left the sole remaining Union regiment was attacked frontally whilst another rebel regiment contacted it in the flank.
Union regiment outnumbered
However, the Union regiment was able to defeat the rebels to the front and then turn its attention to the flanking force.
Rebels run away.  Right, who's next?
Union regiment combats flanking force
Amazingly the flanking rebel regiment was also repulsed.
Ha!  Take that!
Unfortunately this success was only temporary as the rebels in the woods moved up and attacked again.
Persistent Rebels
However, by now it was all over for the Union as the Confederates controlled the right hand hill and the scenario's main objective, the village.
Rebels to the right of me, Confederates on the left... here I am...
So at that point we called it a day.  The Union side was comprehensively beaten and it appeared that very little could be done to stop the Confederates advancing to contact, sweeping the weaker Union forces away.

As with all of CS Grant's ideas, the scenario was pretty good but perhaps the forces could have been slightly better balanced to make more of a fight of it, although that might have been more to do with how we chose forces rather than the scenario itself.

As for the POW2 rules they worked fine and were easy to follow.  Unlike some sets of rules they don't bother with a lot of 'fluff' but get straight to the point in a structured way, even laying out the rules in the same order as the move sequence, which some well known sets of rules don't seem to bother with.

However, there was something slightly 'flat' about them and I certainly felt that the rules did not give the defenders the expected tactical advantages from cover or elevation that would enable them to even slow the enemy, let alone stop them as they advanced inexorably in the open to contact.

That said the POW2 rules certainly performed better than the very simple nineteenth century Neil Thomas rules so I haven't given up on them just yet.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016


I've still got the painting bug and am currently working on my 20mm French Napoleonic collection (see earlier posts this year).  Having completed various infantry units and some excellent Italeri dragoons, I thought I should really paint those Esci cuirassiers that have been under the bed since about 1990.  In fact I'd been in two minds about painting them at all because the figures aren't as good as the dragoons by a long chalk and I was thinking maybe I should just get some Italeri carabiniers instead.
Deliberating on all this I was of course distracted along the way and impulse-bought and painted some HäT Industrie Württemberg cavalry (Jägers) in the two weeks it took me to decide what to do.  These were the first HäT figures I'd painted and I found them quite nice with a lot of well defined detail.  The plastic, although a bit flexible, takes the paint very well.
There are only four poses (12 figures altogether) on three identical sprues in the box (and only two types of horse), but one man on each sprue comes with a choice of arms that you have to glue on.  I made one of them a trumpeter in the vivid yellow coat.  I think the troopers look quite good in their black gauntlets, dark green tunics and yellow trim.
Based up for the WRG 1685-1845 rules on 60mm x 40mm bases, with my usual concoction of coarse sand, painted dark earth then dry brushed in a sandy colour and then flocked, I consider that they've turned out very well.  And I think I'm really getting the hang of painting horses now after my initial hesitations. 
Oh, and finally, here are the cuirassiers. I had two ancient packets of them stashed away and was able to make quite a few bases although whether they'll all get an outing at the same time remains to be seen.

So that's it then, apart from six bases of Italeri French hussars to finish and perhaps one or two more Italeri line infantry regiments (possibly to be painted as Saxons or Swiss, just for a change).

However, I'd really like to get some HäT Württemberg infantry now, as well as the HäT French Guard Chasseurs a Pied, but neither seem to be available in the UK at present.  Still, I could always acquire and paint up some carabiniers in the meantime...