Friday, December 24, 2010

As the expedition boards the steamboat, I'll wish everyone a peaceful holiday season. May all your projects - gaming and otherwise - come to fruition in the New Year too!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Someone's rockin' my steamboat - 4

Work on the steamboat progressed steadily this week, but as I had other projects running concurrently I only had time to take one photo of the model as it took shape. The photo below shows the basic construction complete. The upper deck is in place, the paddle-box is finished. Mini-dowels make useful supports for decks and awnings, and strips of wood bought from Michael's hobby store give the right effect for the wooden-sided paddle-box.

More splints were used to build the pilot house. I diverged from the historical prototype here as I didn't want the pilot house to stand higher than the upper deck. The short length of tube on the pilot house roof is for interchangable flagpoles.

One thing this build has taught me - basswood is prone to warping when it gets wet, such as from any paint. The only recourse I found is to weigh it down with something until it gets over the nonsense.

The completed vessel is shown below. Her funnel is made from a mascara vial my wife was throwing out. I sanded the smooth plastic surface down to remove all the lettering and to prepare it to take paint, and used increasingly fine grades of paper before washing it. Once dry it took acrylic paint well. I fashioned a steam whistle from a length of wire and a bit of plastic tube, attaching it to the funnel with impact adhesive and adding the brass band for looks. It should have a cord leading from whistle to pilot house, but this is a gaming model, not a faithful replica.

The glazing in the pilot house is clear packaging material, and the detachable roof is of basswood. Just visible alongside the structure on the corner of the upper deck is a green starboard navigation lamp. A red port side lamp is fixed on the other side of the pilot house, and a clear spotlight attached to the roof just in front of the flag holder. The flag is that of the Force Publique, but can be swapped-out for one of any nationality.

The passengers gaze at the passing scenery as Captain Conrad guides his vessel.

The deck railings are made of thin string painted white and glued into place. A photo of the Roi des Belges shows a very thin strand of wire serving the purpose, 'elf & safety not being a particularly high priority back then.

Judging from photos taken of steamboats in this era the flat tops of the paddle-boxes were used as additional deck storage space. The deck cargo seen here is cast from the Hirst Arts dungeon accessories mold. This includes all kinds of useful crates, boxes, sacks and pots.

So there we have it, a late-Victorian paddlesteamer, suitable for navigating the waters of any of the world's great rivers.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Someone's rockin' my steamboat - 3

Onwards and upwards with the steamboat project. While everything else dried or set, I began work on the upper deck. At this point I decided to deviate from the prototype which had a fixed upper deck configuration. As I want to place figures on the upper deck I opted instead for a removable canopy idea.

First off I cut the deck from basswood, making it five inches long by three wide. The underside edges were lined with basswood strip to form a shallow tray, open at what will be the bows end. Half-inch sections cut from plastic tube coffee stirrers served to make the receptacles for the canopy posts, and these I glued at set intervals of just over an inch apart. Since the middle post at the stern end isn't going to have an upright fitted I used a plain section of mini-dowel. While the glued dried I made up the basic frame for the canopy, again from mini-dowel with crossbars made from split bamboo kebob skewers. The photos below show the general idea, with a 25mm figure to scale.

Once the main deck was dry I returned to the paddlewheel. As mentioned earlier I only constructed a segment of the wheel itself as most of it would be hidden inside the paddle box. The next photo shows the wheel finished and painted.

I made the paddle box using two side sections of 3/16th" foamcore with a card back nearest the deckhouse and a basswood roof. Once this is done I'll panel the sides and part of the open rear with strips of wood. The photo below shows the general state of construction at this stage, with the upper deck held in place by the basswood sides.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Someone's rockin' my steamboat - 2

On to the next stage, assembling the paddle wheel. The Roi des Belges and other steamboats of this era often had large rectangular paddle-boxes over the stern wheels, which simplifies things from a modelling perspective. Everything within the box doesn't have to be constructed; only the pertinent parts that show.

The picture below shows the deckhouses in place and the start of the paddle wheel assembly. I took a thick card spool that once held carton sealing tape, cut a half inch piece from it then divided it into two half-inch segments. Two short lengths of wooden strip form the main spokes with a length of dowel between them as the axle.

The whole was glued between the two lengths of basswood projecting from the main deck. Note the upward bias of the wheel segments to the stern.

Short lengths of wood strip made the paddles themselves. I used a strong impact adhesive to glue these in place.

The shot below shows the general effect, with District Commissioner Carstairs providing a sense of scale.

Tomorrow should see me onto the next stage - constructing the paddle box and the upper deck.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Someone's rockin' my steamboat - 1

On now to a model of a quintessential feature of most Colonial-era gaming - the steamboat. I've long had plans in mind for a vessel based on the Roi des Belges, a Congo River steamer of the 1880's-early 1900's. Typical of her type, she was a stern-wheeler and had a main deck, upper deck and a pilot house. In the early 1890's she was commanded by Joseph Conrad, who used his experiences aboard to write the novel Heart of Darkness, a book which later served as the basis for the movie Apocalypse Now.

I began by making a template from cereal box card, which served to get consistent shapes for the hull and main deck. The hull is 7" long by 3" wide, and cut from .5" foamcore, giving the model a good freeboard. The deck is cut from 1/16th inch basswood which gives a durable playing surface for figures to stand upon. Planning ahead always helps. In this case the overall length of the basswood deck is 9", but I cut out a 2" rectangle from the stern portion as shown, leaving a .5" wide strip on either side. This is where the paddlewheel will sit.

I wanted a smooth finish to the sides of the hull, as well as a slight lip above deck level. For this I used more cereal box card, since it's thin and flexible, gluing it to the bows and sides and wrapping it around the stern. Ordinary pins served to keep it in place while the glue dried.

In the next stage I added two narrow strips of card along the sides, since the Roi des Belges featured something very similar. Holes were then drilled through the card, basswood and foamcore, giving a good solid foundation for mini-dowels which will support the upper deck. Five each side is quite enough for this job, and allows room to stand five or so 25-28mm figures on 2 pence piece bases.

Once all was dry I painted the deck a basic tan color and built two small deckhouses from foamcore. Thin card cut to shape and painted form the doors and windows. I cut louvers in the windows since these were a feature of steamboats of this time. The deckhouses will be glued onto the areas of bare basswood.

Although the Roi des Belges seems to be painted quite a dark color (indeterminate in black and white photos of course), I chose a spinach and cream color scheme, as it was one fairly typical of Victorian times.

Next up, constructing the paddlewheel and on to the upper deck.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gaming foliage 2

And so to the final stages of making the foliage. I did mention the need for fresh-ground coffee in the previous post. This is where it comes into play! Clarence Harrison of Quindia Studios uses coffee grounds for ground coverage to good effect. I follow his example, as shown below.

This picture shows the spackle spread on the metal disks, the sand applied earlier giving it a keyed surface to grip. I gave the spackle a light spray of water from a plant mister then sprinkled the coffee grounds heavily on top and allowed the lot to dry. As some of the grounds were still loose after this, I followed up by giving the whole another spray, this time with diluted PVA with some yellow and tan acrylic paint mixed in. This fixes the loose grounds in place, covers any white patches of spackle showing through, and adds a more natural shading to the basic green color of the plastic plant strands. The edges of the disks were then painted a dun earth color to match my gaming surface.

Of course, plants in the wild don't exist in a vacuum: Other plants tend to compete for the same space. Once all was dry, I added bits and pieces of Spanish and reindeer mosses to the bases, along with small stones. The ferns were then bent outward to give a more natural pose.

The picture below shows scale compared to a Wargames Foundry figure. Even four bases of the foliage creates enough cover to hide a nasty surprise or two for gamers. On the whole I'm rather pleased with the result. It's miles better than my earlier attempt, and even with drying speed factored in, still took little time to make.

Next up, my steamboat project gets under way.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gaming foliage 1

Some weeks ago I made some terrain pieces taken from a dollar store buy. Floral Garden is a rather unprepossessing range of interior decor, typical of the "Made in China" crap flooding the markets these days. Even so, it does have merits.

Typically it comes as a kind of plastic houseplant with several strands attached to a central stalk by a simple plug-in method. Remove the strands and glue to a suitable base and hey presto - scale vegetation for the wargames table.

The term suitable base is the key here; the first batch of herbage I made I set on card, and it didn't come up to scratch. The card warped after the spackle basing was applied. So, back to the drawing board, and I think I've cracked the problem.

Pictured are the component parts of this new project. The metal disks are the end caps from a type of frozen fruit juice concentrate that comes in card tubes. I saw these ages ago and thought they'd come in handy one day. Of course, I didn't quite know what they would prove useful for, but since when has that stopped a model-maker from accumulating bits and bobs on the off chance?

The victim - er, basis for the foliage will be the potted plant, which caught my eye as it has fern-like leaves suitable for tropical/equatorial Africa. The main tool for the transformation will be the hot glue gun.

Once all the strands are removed, I wound up with a pile of thirteen pieces.

Getting to work with the hot glue gun, within a few minutes I had the result shown above. One thing to note (and you may already know this); hot glue isn't the strongest adhesive around. It does have the advantage of setting quickly, especially if the surface the glue is squirted on is cold, like the disks. The trick here is to poke the plastic stalks into the blob of glue and work quickly before it hardens.

A side-on view, showing how effective these pieces are already at blocking line-of-sight.

And on to the next stage, applying a layer of sand to the disks to give a keyed surface for the spackle to grip to. I use the interior decor sand available at most hobby stores. It comes in thin plastic bags, so to avoid splits and spills I transfer it to old peanut jars, like that shown. Use old newspaper or plastic sheets to cover the work area. This stage can get very messy!

I spread a good dollop of PVA/Gorilla glue around the disks and up the stalks a little ways, using a wet fingertip to help work it into position. Usually I'd dilute the PVA with water, but as the hot glue forms a relatively weak bond I wanted to be sure of a stronger hold on the strands. Be sure to cover the edges of the discs. Allow everything to set before moving on to the next stage. Have a cup of fresh ground coffee - you'll need it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New recruits!

Thanks to a purchase on eBay, I now have a few new recruits for my Africa Station campaign setting.

Now, we know there's something in there...

The stalwart fellows shown above are Wargames Foundry from their Darkest Africa range, mostly from pack DA 3/8 - Allied tribal musketmen equipped with obsolete firearms, and are fresh off the painting block. These are versatile figures which can serve as tribesmen, poorly-equipped askari, escorts for exploration or hunting parties, guards for a civilian commercial concern, deserters from a Colonizing power's askari force, bandits, and many things besides.

I'm going to use them as a band of native mercenaries, headed by Sunny N'sher (the mean-looking guy in red). Guns for hire, they serve any who can pay - or could work on their own agenda...

I also picked up a military medical team and a number of camp cookhouse figures from the same lot. While not fighting troops per se, they will add color to the tabletop scene. Some rules sets allow for medical attention on wounded troops. A glance at the Sharp Practice rules from Too Fat Lardies shows that "Big Men" can be saved by medical attention to serve and fight again another day. Having an actual aid station on the table gives an objective to be reached - or blocked by an enemy.


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