Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Card shoe

A card shoe is a game accessory I've meant to make for some time. Too Fat Lardies rules sets mostly use event and order cards for game play. When placed in the slick plastic card sleeves these tend to slip and slide all over the place if brushed accidentally during a game. That's why I got to work with my Hirst Arts molds and made a card shoe to keep them neatly stacked and ready for use.

Pulp Alley also uses a card activation method. PA games run for a maximum of seven turns (it's normally six, but the game is extended by one turn if an extra turn card comes up). I fixed a row of holed blocks along the centre row with a bead for a peg to keep track of the turns during a game. There are nine holes in all should another set of rules require the players keep track of more turns.

The photo below shows the shoe in use with turn cards (left) and special event cars for my home brew Colonial variant of Sharpe Practice.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Steamboats, Launches and Dhows, and how to sink them.

So, the Ozark-class Monitor is now part of my small squadron of steamboats, launches and dhows. The question now is:- what rules do I use when they come into violent conflict?

Back in the day my club in England had the occasional game of ACW Ironclad encounters using the very nice 15mm models from Old Glory. I think the 'beer & pretzels' style rules were called 'Hammerin' Iron,' but may be mistaken.

The rules work well for ACW actions but I wanted something more in keeping with warfare on the vast rivers and lakes of my Colonial-era Hidden Continent. A search of the internet came up with a set of rules by Anton Ryzbak which looked the business. A few tweaks here and there has given me a set to try out - although I've yet to decide whether to include options for early Whitehead-type torpedoes.

For ship-to-shore naval support actions I'll use the TFL Sharpe Practice rules with my home-brew modifications. In SP, artillery divides into small or large guns, which will need a bit of tweaking when it comes to the heavy hitters aboard the Monitor. One or two shots from those mighty 9.2" pieces would flatten most Colonial forces in the field. A restriction on line of sight, and the amount of ammunition fired would do the trick, with so many shots allowed per game as the careful captain would need to husband his supply. After all, 9.2" HE shells aren't usually available off the shelf at that flyblown trading station on the river...

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Being in all respects ready for sea...

The Monitor is finished. The chocks were knocked away and she slid down the slipway into the river as easy as you please.

The vessel offshore from some islands (using the hill pieces I made a couple of years ago). The river is a blue plastic tablecloth.
She has the 'fierce face' aspect so beloved of French naval architects of this period. If a ship looks fierce, it'll have a dampening effect on the morale of her enemies - assuming they'll see it at big gun range through the mist, spray and smoke of battle.

The business end.
Moving slowly upriver, seen against a dusty sky. What adventures lie before her?

I may make another one to sell on eBay if the interest is there. In the meantime I've finished a small side project - more on that later - and have plans for a couple of other bits and pieces to dress the scene in future games. I have a scenario in mind for the vessel's first outing, but for now, I'm trying to think of a name for her. Any suggestions?

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Monitor - almost there

Real life got in the way a bit this past week, but I managed to make a little more progress on the Monitor. First up, I made a coffer out of scrap wood to hold the deck house in place and painted the guns and turret gun ports flat black.

Seen head-on the guns have given it a menacing aspect, like it's looking for trouble. The only other bits and pieces I've done to date are the navigation lanterns - port, starboard and masthead. These are plaster components from the Hirst Arts inn accessories mold. I did hope my inks would turn up, but no joy, so I used Testors enamels to make the coloured glass for the lanterns. I also fitted a short length of tubing to take the flag.

I'm going to work on a Congo Free State flag to fly from the upper deck then give the mast some rigging. Once that's all done I'll take some photos of the finished vessel.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Monitor - slow but steady

A busy weekend for me and my Better Half, but I found some time to work on the monitor. The bulk of construction is now done and dusted. All that's left are the twiddly bits for the upper deck - smokestack, mast and skylight.

For the railings I use the plastic mesh found in craft shops. I think it's used for embroidery. It's cheap, easy to cut, and works well for modelling purposes. It is quite flexible and in my experience doesn't take ordinary acrylic paints well, so in this case I sprayed it with Krylon flat white which works nicely. Six lengths of mini-dowel make the posts. The only other addition to the deck house so far is to paint the conning tower vision slot black.

The railings are now glued on with E6000 adhesive, again because it works with this kind of plastic. The currently empty stretch of deck either side of the conning tower will mount navigation lights once I get around to casting them.

Bits to be sprayed white - The bamboo kebab skewer and mini-dowel mast, component parts of the skylight, and the smokestack. I lightly sanded the exterior of the smokestack to prep it for the spray paint, and painted the inside sooty black. The skylight is more plastic mesh, with wood filler spread across it to fill the square holes leaving the mesh surface proud.

Once the paint dried on the skylight, I painted the piece light blue to represent glass then went over the raised grid work with white for the window frames. Once dry I gave the glass a coat of gloss varnish I think it came out okay.

Next I'll rig the mast and glue a short length of tube to the stern railing on the upper deck to take an interchangeable flagpole. That way I can swap out the vessel's nationality when needed. At the moment I'm debating whether to make the whole deck house assembly removable for ease of storage/transport. I have a couple of small bar magnets left, or I can make a rectangular coffer for the deck house to sit over. We'll see.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

More Monitor

Having a few minutes to spare these last couple of days I worked on the Ozark-style Monitor model. Joppy's idea of running a bolt through the turret to mount it on the hull is good, and I like the idea of using the bolt-head for a director cupola on top of the turret. Trouble is, I don't currently have a drill bit capable of boring through the metal plate serving as the turret trunk. An experiment on a spare lid aimed at piercing a hole using a hammer and nail was hurriedly abandoned when the plate began to buckle with no appreciable sign of a hole forming.

So, back to Plan A: a magnet.

This turned out to be easy enough to make. A couple of wooden pieces glued either side to support the cross truss, a small bar magnet, and Bob's your uncle. I positioned the truss so the magnet is almost touching the base plate. That way it reduces friction and so avoids the magnet becoming detached from the truss. It's easy to turn the turret yet it has still got plenty of magnetic adhesion to hold it in place.

Moving on, I painted the deck with the first undercoat, aiming at the kind of bleached wood effect seen on old sailing ships. I'm going to mix a little Spackle/Tetrion filler into the next coat to fill the gaps in the planking which are a bit too obvious for this scale.

Now a trial run to see how everything fits together.

I'm not 100% happy with the decking on top of the deck house, and may yet cover the lot with thin card scored to resemble planking. For convenience I'll fit a single smokestack abaft the conning tower instead of the prototype Ozark's twin stacks as it'll take up a bit less space. I'm thinking of putting a skylight in the centre of the upper deck just for looks. The philosophy behind the model is that it's a gunboat, pure and simple, here to carry big guns to a place where they can do a lot of damage and not act as a personnel carrier. It won't carry more than six or so figures, tops. 

So, next steps will be to apply the final coat of paint to the main deck, and work out what to do with the upper deck. More to follow.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Ram in the making

It's baking hot outside so no fun and frolics gardening today. Instead I made progress on the Mighty Monitor, featuring the installation of that curiousity of Victorian naval architecture - the ram.

Back in the 1870's naval architects read accounts of the historical sea battles of Salamis and Lepanto, and came over all unnecessary at the thought of what a good, solid ram - especially one backed up by steam power - could do to enemy ships. As a belt-and-braces weapon it came cheap, didn't require ammunition, didn't do that much to affect handling at sea, and would always provide an option for the more aggressive captains to use in battle. Since my hypothetical Ozark-class Monitor would see service slap in the middle of this period, I thought my equally-hypothetical Stanley would see to it she had a ram fitted.

In this case I fitted a wedge-shaped Hirst Arts component to the bows, reinforcing it with coffee stirrer decking on top and bottom. These coffee stirrers are some of the nastiest bits of wood I've come across, inclined to warp, split and splinter. I wouldn't want them anywhere near my beverage, but they work just fine for cheap decking installed over armour plating in some colonial shipyard.

With the ram in place I worked on the sides around the after half of the hull. The taller pieces amidships will carry part of the upper deck.
A bit of wood filler spread around the turret mounting filled gaps and smoothed everything off. The turret sits on the mounting to check it rotates freely.

Time to work on the turret itself. First, I used a sophisticated method of ensuring the turret breeches are lined up parallel to each other...

One final check on the exterior appearance of the mighty cannon.

The Dahlgren gun was an important piece of naval artillery during the Civil War, but advances in gun design made it obsolete within a few years. One type of upgrade came from the US Navy fitting a rifled sleeve within the barrel of 11-inch guns to convert the pieces to 8-inch calibre muzzle-loaders. I've decided Stanley followed a similar route and had the Dahlgrens converted to 9.2-inch rifled breechloaders, as these were coming into use on battleships at that time.

Whilst the glue holding the guns dried, I continued work on the deck house/conning tower combination. Tongue depressors make up the deck which will shade and shelter the walkways on the main deck beneath. I sanded the edges for neatness, but will probably need to work on the surface since it's a bit uneven. I do need to add a narrow bit of decking to the conning tower end. Once that's done I'll score the wood to represent planking.

A stage further, and it's time for the first coat of paint. My initial choice was for light grey, but the spray can refused to work. The fallback was battleship-grey Rustoleum - appropriate, I thought.

At this stage the hull and turret are essentially complete, although I have an idea in mind for giving the turret a better hold on the hull mounting. It might prove frightfully clever, or just frightful. We'll see.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Shipyard - The Monitor Begins

Having a spot of spare time at the moment I made a start on the USS Ozark project. As there's a lot of interest in it I'll post photos as the build progresses.

First up, I have a couple of these...

Snuff. It fits the general Victorian theme of the build, I suppose. I don't use the stuff, but I got hold of two empty containers from somewhere back when we lived in Missouri. Just goes to show, never throw anything out - you never know when it'll come in handy. This pot will make the classic Erikson-type turret. The label was stuck on with an exceptionally sticky glue, but I managed to scrape it off and remove most of the glue residue using a drop of vinegar mixed with dish detergent. Some still remains, but since the whole thing is going to be clad in card it's not a problem.

Next up, the hull. A piece of half-inch thick foamcore, cut to ship-shape using a card template. The overall length is 9 1/2 inches by three inches wide. Any longer than this and it becomes problematic to maneuver the model around the table. The turret to be is shown below, with the metal base it'll rotate on. This base is the bottom of a frozen orange juice container, and is the perfect size for the snuff can to fit into.

A test run to see where the turret will work best. The original Ozark's turret was sited further back along her hull, but the constraints of scale modelling means this one will have to sit here.

Ozark had a distinctive armoured conning tower situated on top of her turret. Quite how it worked in action I don't know. The location combined with the concussion of two massive Dahlgren guns going off under their feet must have made it difficult for the captain and officers to do their work and communicate with the rest of the ship. I'm going to say for the sake of the narrative the rebuild saw the tower relocated almost in the centre of the hull. A length of thick-walled cardboard tube makes the basis for the tower. More on this later. The white tube below the hull is a plastic candy/lollipop stick, one of a batch from the hoard of stuff left behind by the previous occupant of our house. It'll make up the mighty guns for the turret. Waste not, want not...

Ozark's deck house offered better accommodation than the conventional Monitor class. Of course, it went to the officers, but it must have offered more comfort in the sweaty climes of the Mississippi and Red Rivers. I've made a basic deck house out of 3/16th inch foamcore.

Next to be done is the planking. I found a packet of coffee stirrers in a Goodwill store a while back, and now they're getting used to plank the deck. All together now, Deck the hull with coffee stirrers, fala lala laaa...

The circle shows where the turret mounting will go. I'm cutting the stirrers to make a rough opening for it. That long spell in storage turned my Aileen's glue into a kind of thick paste, but it actually works better that way when it comes to sticking down the deck planking.

The black rectangle aft is a small bar magnet on which a gun will be mounted. The magnet allows the gun model to point in any direction, and it can be swapped out for another type of weapon if needed. Once the deck planking is thoroughly stuck in place, I'll Dremel the bejasus out of the circle so the mounting plate will fit.

That's it for now - more to come.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Monitor Oddity

Way back in the day I scratch-built a model of an American Civil War oddity - USS Ozark. A hybrid between the turreted Monitor-class ironclad and a conventional Mississippi steamboat, this odd duck was commissioned in 1864 and served in campaigns and actions along the Mississippi and Red Rivers.

Rather under-powered, Ozark often had to be taken in tow by other vessels when the river currents were stronger than her own engines could cope with. Even so, she packed a heck of a wallop. Her turret mounted two 11-inch Dahlgren guns, with a 10-inch Dahlgren aft chaser and three 9-inch Dahlgrens covering her beams. The turret itself sported six inches of armour plating, and more armour covered the first forty feet of her hull and the deck.

Ozark was sold after the end of the war, but she was still in service and based in New Orleans as late as 1874 when she took part in a police action against white supremacists. Her subsequent fate isn't known - which is where my alternate history idea comes in...

A European power wishing to expand operations in the Hidden Continent (my version of Darkest Africa) purchased the Ozark and refitted her for operations on the mighty rivers and lakes of that world. Such a 'ship of force' would be something to contend with, and would make even the mighty Royal Navy squint thoughtfully.

My original model is back in the UK, along with a lot of other gaming stuff I hope to retrieve some day. In the meantime I have the materials at hand to build a new version. When I have a bit of time I'll break out the hot glue gun and commence building it. Photos to follow when I do.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Putting the Table back in A J's Wargames table

So, with the exception of one more piece of hardware, the table's finished. I need another hook and eye combo to ensure the folding legs don't collapse while it's in use. It's one of those cases where I could've sworn I had two of the things but no...

The casters work a treat, but now I've got everything back together after our move, I can see how stained the surface is in places. It's a souvenir of water spilling from the plants we had over-wintering on the table at our previous house. I also miscalculated where the screws holding the leg mountings would go, which required a few touches of plastic wood to fill in the holes I drilled. The result's not pretty, so I'm thinking of applying a good coat of blue paint to the surface to hide the marks and make the table suitable for naval gaming, but I'm unsure how the paint would affect the particle board. Will it or won't it warp, in spite of the battening below? Inquiring minds would like to know...


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