Sunday, October 29, 2017

Crystalline Winter Terrain Project

The one thing I find kind of odd about most sci-fi games is that they take place on terrain that looks JUST. LIKE. EARTH. Even back in the RT days the lads used to spiff up their (admittedly rudimentary by today's standards) tables with at least some odd-coloured lichen, to give a minimal impression that we weren't battling over Kansas anymore; but nowadays it seems like green grass and leafy trees are pretty much the norm.

I admit that I am a prime offender! Our tables generally look very good indeed (if I do say so myself) but they mostly look like temperate Earth. Fine if you're playing an historical wargame (great even!) but when you're in a galaxy far, far away or out among the Ghoul Stars and the like, is the terrain you're battling over really gonna look like, say, rural France?

The original idea was to pick up some crystalline shard terrain to spiff up my winter terrain mat for Horus Heresy duty. Gale Force 9 made a good-looking set for their Battlefield in a Box range, but sadly these appear to be out of production and unavailable even on the secondary market.

However, poking around on eBay, I found numerous vendors in China selling real quartz crystal shards, for use in jewelry, magic wands (!) and the like. And they are CHEAP - like about $4 shipped for a handful. Once they arrived, execution was straightforward - cut plasticard bases to the desired shape, superglue crystals to the base, apply texture gel, paint it your desired earth colour, paint the snowy bits white, apply snow flakes, static grass and tufts, and DONE.

Here are the crystal bases with some Games Workshop Genestealers for scale. Scary!

I purchased three 100g packs of crystals and used pretty much all of them in this project.

The terrain works great for 15mm too - maybe even better than 28mm. I reckon they would look pretty cool in a 6mm game as well.

It's not as if I don't have figures to paint, oh no. So the time and energy spent on this terrain mini-project certainly could have been put to use in painting a couple more Iron Warriors, or Adeptus Mechanicus guys, or WW2 Germans, or Indian braves, or... or... but the simple fact is that sometimes when I get an idea, I just want to run with it. Can't wait to get these out in an actual game!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Scattering of Mahdist Skirmishers

Mahdist riflemen - 28mm plastic figures from Perry Miniatures
Since I finally dug out my 28mm Sudan collection earlier this month and finished re-basing these models (a project I started back in 2013), I find I am inspired to add to the collection while I'm working with it.  With that in mind, this post features a small group of Mahdist skirmishers I painted up recently. The warriors are armed with rifles. They are 28mm plastic models from Perry Miniatures. 

Another view of the Mahdist riflemen
During their revolt in the Sudan the Mahdists made extensive (if not altogether effective) use of rifles captured from the diverse Egyptian garrisons they overwhelmed and punitive expeditions they obliterated during the course of their uprising. They turned these rifles on the final Egyptian garrison in Khartoum and on the diverse British relief forces which went into action in a vain attempt to relieve General Gordon in that garrison.  While the rifles were not decisive in any encounters with British and allied forces, accounts from the period consistently mention harassing fire from Mahdist skirmishers - sometimes coming around the clock, through the night, into the zareba encampments.  This small group of riflemen will represent one of those harassing-style forces on the table.

I tried to give some variety to the cloth on the Mahdist fighters
While these plastic Mahdist figures from the Perrys have been available for several years now, these figures were still new to me and it is the first time I worked with them.  The box has enough parts for 40 miniatures inside (a great value).  While most of these figures are to be built carrying spears as their armament (and I'm pretty mixed on plastic spears), there are enough extra figures to put together a few riflemen, so I thought I would make them into a skirmishing unit.

These plastic figures are pretty easy to assemble, and paint up very quickly! These were the first Mahdist figures I had painted in many years, so I was a little rusty, but once I figured out the colour palette again the old experience came back to the brush quickly, and they painted up pretty fast.

Ready to fight the British oppressors
When it comes to colonial gaming, I don't think you can ever have enough Mahdist figures available - especially for Black Powder games!  I have more Mahdist warriors on the painting table right now, and hope to add another unit (or even two!) to my 28mm Mahdist collection before moving on to other painting subjects.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Crusading Clash - First Game of SAGA

A Syrian Emir prepares to lead his host to glorious victory over the Frankish invaders

Last week the Conscripts tried "SAGA: Crescent and The Cross" on the table for the first time.  I had completed a four-point warband of Crusaders back in the late winter of this year, and finished a four-point warband of Saracens to oppose them this fall.  It was time to get them on to the table for a showdown in the Holy Land, and last Thursday was the day!

Among our gaming group Byron is the only one who had any significant experience playing the unique "SAGA" rules, although he had not yet tried the "Crescent and The Cross". I was the next most-senior SAGA player - and I had tried it once, four or five years ago, with a game of Vikings vs. Saxons that my good friend Curt had hosted for me in Regina.  So safe to say that overall our group was still very new to the SAGA experience.

A view of the board at the beginning of the game - nobody wanted to touch the uneven ground in the wadi...the Saracens are on the left, and the Crusaders on the right.
And it is a unique gaming experience. SAGA fuses a basic and easy skirmishing system with an at-times-complex system of abilities and activations derived from a faction's "battle board".  Dice are rolled and allocated by players who must balance the use of the dice to activate the different elements of their warband with the use of special abilities that will help their warband succeed.  The "battle board" serves as a sort of dash board to command the warband.

Christian Knights move out...

Crossbows on the flank in cover, while stout spearmen hold the centre of the Crusader lines...

We lined up a very basic starting scenario, imagining a clash somewhere east of Jerusalem in the early 12th century. The victors would be the warband who gained more "slaughtering victory points" than the other. Sounds about right to me! Bill, Byron and Frederick played the Saracen warband, while Dallas, Mike and Dave V took up the Crusaders' cause.

Mounted archers ride forward on the Saracen flank.
While new to our group, I know SAGA is enormously popular in the gaming world, so folks reading this might chuckle that a pair of four-point warbands managed to occupy six gamers and one guy with charts. But given how new we were to the SAGA system, it worked out pretty well.  I certainly enjoyed watching the group planning discussions as the SAGA dice were rolled and decisions were made about which groups to activate, or which abilities needed to be used. Those decisions are the core of the game, and are where a lot of the fun lies.

Ghulams prepare to charge the Crusaders...

The Crusaders prepare to respond...
Bang! Lances are splintered, shields shattered etc...
The opponents opted for some careful missile fire early on, while maneuvering their Knights and Ghulams for charges to come later.  And charge they did! The Christian Knights crashed into the Ghulams on a couple of consecutive turns.  Blood spilled to the sand of the Holy Land as Knights and Ghulams fell in battle.  The Saracen horse archers, meanwhile, got the better of the Crusader crossbowmen, and the Crusader spearmen were not able to make much of an impression on the Saracen horse archers.

The forces clash! More fatigue tokens and fewer Knights are the result...

Ghulams holding the line...
The Warlord steadies his lines of Ghulams...
The Saracen players made the best of their battle board abilities, which seemed to me to be, in many cases, gambles of fate, which didn't always work out for them.  The Crusaders, for their part, tried to leverage their own powerful battle board, but found themselves restricted at times by the need to roll for "virtues" before getting access to some of the stronger capabilities.

Crossbows emerge to shower the Saracens with bolts...
But it doesn't seem to have an effect...
The Saracen spearmen stand ready, but were not required at the end of the matter...

In the end it was a narrow victory for the Saracen warband, and God was left to sort out the souls of the departed warriors...

I'm pretty sure we still screwed up some rules, but overall SAGA is a lot of fun. It is not (and does not try to be) an exacting or careful historical simulation.  It is more of a dramatic, story-driven clash. As I told the group last week, I have been wanting to play a miniatures game set in the Crusades for a long, long time, as the period is so fascinating for me. So it was a real thrill to finally see one happen! 

My terrier Spencer is exhausted from all of the gaming action, so he takes a nap on the floor :)

Hopefully we can try SAGA again in the future. In the interim, I'll try and bulk out the warbands a little bit, as six-point warbands would fill the table up a little more, and give the players some different options in terms of structuring their warband units differently (like a 12-model unit of warriors, for example).

Thanks again to everyone for coming out to play and try the new (to us) rules!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The British Arrive - Sudan Re-Basing Part 2

"Steady lads!" The 28mm British forces ready to fight the Mahdists in the Sudan...or in my kitchen...

This is part two of the long, long, long-delayed completion of the re-basing of my 28mm Mahdist Revolt collection. Here are the British infantry forces and commanders on their new bases.

For the British infantry I wanted to go with a very narrow frontage for the figures.  They were generally in squares for actions in the Sudanese theatre, and were greatly outnumbered in the battles. Your firing line is going to be compact, the men close together, firing volley after volley, hoping the enemy will break...I hoped the figures would represent that, so the frontage is narrow - 15mm per foot model.   With 24 models per infantry unit that works out to a frontage of 180mm in line, which is very reasonable for battles on 6' x 4' tables.

I'm pleased with how it turned out - narrow enough to give the solid look to the battle line, but still large enough to take up a decent amount of space on the table, and not too large in contrast of the Mahdist warbands.

Screw gun and crew hold the flank near the stout members of the KRRC.
My original effort had centered around painting the units involved with General Graham's forces who were based at the port of Suakin on the Red Sea coast.  These units engaged Mahdist forces in the battles of El Teb and Tamai in the spring of 1884.  My first British infantry were a group of Yorks & Lancs (who could probably represent one of several units present, as several battalions had similar-looking uniforms and kit issued to them), then a group of Cameron Highlanders (at least, I think they were Camerons...I tried my best with the tartan.  Maybe they are Gordons? But they are not the Black Watch) and associated support.  This would include the notorious Gatling and Gardner guns, and a screw gun.

General Graham and assorted supporting officers to represent the overall command and brigade commanders in "Black Powder"

In 2013 I worked to expand the British side of my collection.  I painted up a group to represent the King's Royal Rifle Corps, who had black leather belts and pouches.  I also added some cavalry - figures representing the 10th Hussars. There is a mix of figures with sabres and with improvised lances in that unit. The British cavalry found themselves turning to these lances in order to deal with terrain that, while nominally "flat" and "open", could often be very broken and difficult for cavalry troopers trained to operate under European battle conditions.  The Madhist warriors would make things tricky, lying low and lying down and making it hard for the mounted troopers to hit them. Lances were a solution...

One of the iconic pieces of this setting - a Gardner gun - deadly for Mahdists until it jams! Some naval ratings are present to the left and behind the gun.

Gatling gun in position at the corner of a brigade square.

In 2013 I also wanted to work toward some games set on the Gordon Relief Expedition, particularly the engagements at Abu Klea and Abu Kru involving the British Camel Corps. To this end I painted a group of figures to represent one of the Camel Regiments present in that column. These are some of my favourite figures from the setting, as they sport things like neck curtains, goggles, ammunition bandoleers and sword bayonets that offer a unique look.

The Yorks & Lancs (and potentially a number of other units) on their new bases.
Highlanders prepare to deliver a volley!

As "Black Powder" is a pretty easy-going set of rules, I didn't need to re-base the gun teams right now.  I might do that at some point, but as a blog visitor Murdock pointed out in the comment section of the previous post, the round base kind of lines up with the map symbol for artillery - I like that! At any rate, everything is measured easily from the barrel so these pieces will be fine, and they stay as originally painted back in 2007!

The 10th Hussars, sporting an assortment of weapons.

Another view of the Hussars...turns out I had painted 13 models, which is kind of...odd...anyway, one extra lad at the back.

This force is not totally coherent...the Camel Corps figures would not have seen action around Suakin for example, while the Highlanders and Hussars would not have been present with the Desert Column.  I don't think the Rifles were there either...but I'm not sure - the elements of the Desert Column are always a little confusing as the Regiments in question were pulled from volunteers from various units, including cavalry regiments and the Guards regiments.

But anyway, coherence aside, it will do for "Black Powder" games! Hopefully these lads will see action in the sands of the Sudan on the gaming table sometime this fall. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

From The Dust Of The Sudan...New Life For An Old Project

Re-based and ready for mayhem in the Sudan - my 28mm Mahdist collection has - FINALLY - been re-based for "Black Powder"

Over the past couple of years, friends in the gaming group would, during in a break in the gaming action at the Fawcett Conscript gaming table, periodically ask me "Hey, what ever happened to your Sudan collection?"

What did happen?

Well, in this hobby, re-basing your figures is one of the worst things you will ever do, right...?


So, first to backup. About ten years ago I started a collection of figures to game the Mahdist Revolt in the Sudan in 28mm. The figures, by the Perry Twins, are a total joy to paint and I was very excited to dive into (what was then for me) a new period.  Of course, a critical decision you make when you start a new project is the basing.  At that time, I made a fateful decision - I based all of the models individually, thinking I would do skirmish games (even very large ones) where each figure represented one warrior/soldier.  Back at the time I couldn't figure out or find any decent rules to represent the massed encounters that occurred during the Mahdist Revolt on the gaming table, so I based all the models on surplus round GW bases.

Mahdist army command base, combining two figures which had been previously been based separately.  It occurs to me that it would probably make a fine command stand for a game of "Hail Caesar" or even be a fun warlord stand for a "Saracen" warband in "SAGA"
We ran a number of fun games using, of all things, the "Lord of The Rings" skirmish rules.  This was before we started maintaining this blog, but I think the games were generally well-received by the group.  One game has even managed to achieve a rare level of infamy among veteran Fawcett Avenue gamers, an infamous circumstance in which the faith and devotion inspired by a Mahdist religious leader allowed a lone Beja warrior to overcome a whole group of Yorks & Lancs...

Mahdist warriors assembled in a "warband" formation - note the bendy spear holding the standard...won't be long till that finally gives out but I hope to get a couple more games in before that happens

Sometime in 2009-ish (smarter people will correct me if I have the wrong date) Warlord Games released "Black Powder", an excellent rule set covering battles from the 18th and 19th centuries.  This included the Mahdist Revolt, and in fact the beautiful rulebook included a set-piece game featuring the Battle of El-Teb. Since it was the Perry Brothers and company, the figures and game of course looked amazing - and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of using these 28mm figures to represent a larger mass-type battle...I was torn.  My figures were already based individually, but "Black Powder" looked so fun...what to do?

In 2013, Dallas hosted a game where we managed to try it out.  We used sabot trays as a bodge for the British, while the Mahdist figures just moved around in hordes. It was fun - see it here on the blog.

Mahdist cavalry...can probably bust this down into two different units for a game

That game really stuck with me.  And while at the time I thought I would just use sabot trays so I would not have to re-base my figures, that notion didn't get very far. I dislike the look of the trays - it's just not my preference.  In particular the British Troops should be very close together - after all you are shoulder to shoulder in the face of a vast enemy, so you are going to bunch up! And while the individual horde of Mahdist models looked the part, it was time-consuming to move 30 figures one-at-a-time and realize you have only moved one unit...

The "horde" effect of these large warbands is fun - the warband in front is armed with captured rifles; generally I will add future rifle units as individually-based skirmishers but I thought one big rifle unit would be fun for the Sudanese players, just as something of a counterpoint to the massive (and deadly) musketry of the British forces
So while I had painted another batch of figures for the Sudan period in the Spring of 2013 (part of the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge that year) I resolved I would re-base the models. I measured out the basing plan I would used and placed a big order. Grimly, I took to the hobby knife out and got started digging the approximately 200+ 28mm figures out of their bases...


And so four years passed.  Re-basing is a tough slog, and of course I was always diving into, and painting other periods and settings, especially 30k.  Painting is always more fun, and this took priority in my hobby time.  Re-basing was just...the worst...and this big notion of mine languished...I finished one Mahdist unit right away, but NOTHING happened with the rest of the collection...and once you have started, you kind of should not stop...but I did...

Oh man, one of my all-time favourite models, the captured Egyptian Krupp gun with Egyptian "volunteer" crew being "encouraged" by their Mahdist overseer...the artillery pieces in my collection didn't actually require re-basing, as "Black Powder" is pretty flexible and you can measure everything from the gun barrel. The round base didn't matter in this case, which is nice, although I may put the weapons on a square base one day...

As I re-based, I noticed several downsides to this new "Black Powder" plan.  First of all, a lot of the paint jobs on the figures, which are pretty old and have moved to two different new houses with me, and have also traveled to Regina a couple of times, are showing damage here and there, as spears begin to bend and paint rubs off. Re-basing increased the rate of damage, requiring a lot of touch up paint as I went along.

Spear-armed warband - going forward I will try and work a few guys with captured Remington rifles into each unit, but for now these groups are fairly uniform in their armament

Finally, while I absolutely love the mass effect, at the end of the day a collection of what felt, to me, like SO many models when I started out on the re-basing only works out to a few Mahdist units for the table.  As you can see in the photo, the whole effort turns a sprawling force into three formed units of warband infantry and one cavalry unit (there is also a group of camels which is not in the photo - I'm leaving them on their big round bases as mounted skirmishers for now).  It's a bit depressing, especially when you see how the real Sudan gamers like Dave D do their super-amazing Sudan collection (check it out at this link - prepare for your mind to be BLOWN).  It was super hard to be motivated to re-base what suddenly seemed to be an inadequate collection...

And so these figures, once one of the proudest parts of my painted miniature collection, sat in a closet...and years went by! When the guys would ask about it, I would mumble something about re-basing and move along...I would occasionally make a commitment, sometimes out loud to others (always unwise when it comes to the hobby) to get them finished "in a couple weeks".  But NOTHING happened for years...


Two weeks ago I came across these models in the storage and got really mad at myself.    It's been over four-and-a-half years since I had played or run a Sudan game, and it's been even longer since I painted any of the wonderful figures from this Perry range.  I finally snapped my own crayons, buckled down, dug out the Liquitex and f****ing got to work.

Another view of the re-based commanders...the mounted Imam has great notoriety among veterans of our gaming group
So the Mahdists have - finally - been re-based!!! After four and a half years!!! I am planning to line up another couple of units in the painting queue to enhance the force. It will never match Dave D's collection, but it will allow for "Black Powder" fun, which is all that matters!

Stay tuned for a follow-up post on the newly re-based British forces...and hopefully the Fawcett guys will be up for another Sudan "Black Powder" game this really has been too long!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Saracen Flag Bearer for SAGA

"Saracen" war banner bearer for my SAGA warband

This is a bit of an extra for my Saracen warband in "SAGA: Crescent and the Cross".  This is a flag bearer, which I believe can be swapped in among the hearthguard to help lower fatigue levels of the warriors in the game.  My Crusader warband has a battleflag bearer, so I thought it would be good to do one up as well for the Saracen warriors.

Beautiful, fluid feeling of movement to these incredible Perry sculpts
As with the other figures, this is a 28mm sculpt from the Perry twins' First Crusade range. I will again rave about just how gorgeous these sculpts are.  They are just lovely and a lot of fun to paint. I even enjoyed hand-painting the shield this time - perhaps a sign that I am getting into a bit of a groove when it comes to painting historical warriors.

The flag itself is a banner from Maverick Models.  I believe, strictly speaking, it is actually a Mahdist banner from the uprising in Sudan, 800 years or so after the First Crusade, which is a fairly significant historical whiff on my part, but I needed an arabic-looking, basic banner and this seemed to work, so I'm going with it for now...I can always cut it off and replace it later.

As with the other "Saracen" figurs, I tried to work some bold and brighter colours into the mix
In addition to some bonuses for his fellow Saracen warriors in SAGA, this figure will also be able to join a command group in a game such as "Hail Caesar", which I still harbour dreams/notions/delusions of playing in 28mm some day.  With nine arab heavy cavalry models already painted for the SAGA warband, it would not be a stretch to add a musician and a few more warriors to make a heavy cavalry unit for "Hail Caesar" (or a couple of more "points" for SAGA, for that matter).

So the two rival warbands are ready for SAGA action. Considering I ordered the figures back in January that isn't a totally terrible turnaround time.  Hope to put them into action on the Fawcett gaming table this fall!

In terms of what's next for painting (because I must always be painting something, or I'll lose my mind), I will be turning next to another historical subject, one that has been absent from my painting table for quite a while...stay tuned!

Friday, October 6, 2017

From Strength, Cometh Will - Heresy-Era Iron Warriors - Part 2

After the pounding the boys took on Paramar V a few weeks back, there is only one rational response... ESCALATION! And what says "escalation" more loudly or clearly than ten Cataphractii Terminators with giant f***-off missile racks strapped to them. Enter the Tyrant Siege Terminators.

These lads are constructed from the plastic Cataphractii Terminators included in the excellent Betrayal at Calth box. You get five models in the box, so this ten-man squad is two boxes' worth.

I ruminated long and hard about the bits to use for the missile racks, finally settling on Anvil Industry's Missile Racks. At three of your English pounds and 50 pence each they are not cheap, but neither are Tyrants from Forge World... plus it seems I got a five-pound discount for ordering ten - not bad.

The Cataphractii are mean and moody for sure, and pretty easy to paint in my standard scheme.

Heavy flamer just for fun... good view of the shoulder pad stripes as well. I have to admit I was kind of lost with these at first, until I determined that I could draw them out using the rivets on the pad for reference. I was able to get a pretty uniform width for them as a result.

Rear view. I was pretty lazy with the pteruges, just painted them straight Doombull Brown with a wash. I suppose they look OK.

Here's the Terminator squad!

The other addition seen in the Paramar V game was this Deredeo dreadnought.

Giant f***-off missile rack here too - are you sensing a pattern?

Model assembly was straightforward, except that the cannons were horribly warped and wouldn't fully respond to the hot water treatment. Solution: fabricate some small braces out of plasticard to hold them straight. U-shaped cuts in the top and bottom of the piece secure them to the barrels. I should really finish them around the tops with some greenstuff I guess.

How'd you like to see this coming at you?

Great looking model. Stand tall Mr. Deredeo...

Next up I think I should do some more tactical marines. I also have some vehicles to paint as well, certainly enough stuff to keep me going for awhile... Winter is coming...