Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Trek to Fahtah

The Barsetshire company began the march to the river before dawn. Unlike the previous trek into the hinterland the countryside they passed over now undulated. The soil turned into a mixture of silt, sand and dried loam which kicked up a trail of dust beneath the soldiers' boots. Patel the bhisti-wallah was kept busy, dashing up and down the line to supply water from his chaggal to the thirsty men. Captain Fred Pike watched him, and never failed to be heartened by the man's perpetual good cheer.

As for his soldiers, they had about them a solid air of determination. The Barsetshire Regiment was not accustomed to defeat. The reverse of a few days' previous had upset the men for a while, but now they had a gleam in their eyes that spoke of trouble for any who dared to get in their way.

As the day shifted into afternoon the head of the column topped a rise. Pike peered into the distance and saw rooftops shimmering through the heat haze above a fortified wall. Atop the little hill the southerly wind seemed fresher, and held the rich scent of flowing water and vegetation. Pike could just see the gleam of the river beyond the town. He turned his head and called back to the column. "Sarn't-Major? Halt the men and come up here."

The company stopped, and the dust cloud began to settle out of the air. CSM Harrington strode up the slope and came to a halt beside Fred. "Sir?"

Fred pointed to the distant settlement. "Unless I miss my guess, that's Fahtah." Pike allowed a smile to touch his dry lips. "We're nearly home."

Harrington tipped his pith helmet back and mopped his sweating brow with a grubby handkerchief as he surveyed the distant town and the immediate area. "It's right good to know, sir. Even so, we'd best keep sharp." He looked thoughtful as he gestured to the thick belt of scrub that edged the ridge crossing their front. "I don't like the look of that lot, sir."

Pike rubbed his jaw with a rasp of stubble. "I think you're right. Very well, we'll stay sharp. Bring the chaps up in line, and we'll advance when we know what's what."

Harrington saluted and trotted back down the slope. He barked orders and the company shook into line. Farther back the wounded and the bearers waited along with the civilian component of the expedition, District Commissioner Carstairs, his friend Dr. Emil Beckenbaur of Hetzenberg University, and Dr. Lance Armstrong of the Royal Geographic Society. The gentlemen had proved stalwart in the face of adversity, and unlike some civilians Pike had known they'd not caused any kind of fuss. He appreciated it, just as he was fully aware of how his own actions would appear when it came time for DC Carstairs to report to his superiors in government. But that lay in the future. For now, he had to get his command to safety.

The company marched up the slope and over the crest. "Sir?" Harrington pointed ahead. "We've got visitors."

Pike followed the direction he pointed and sighed inwardly. They'd succeeded in evading the Gwunda tribal warrior bands, but now it seemed they had caught up. The scrub looked alive with dark bodies, flitting in and out of the shadows. "Form firing line," Pike barked. Harrington gave the orders, and the company shook out into the classic double rank of the British Line.

As the warband gathered to spring from below, Pike couldn't help but reflect wryly on the formation change forced on him by battle casualties, which themselves had occurred due to the new unit organization handed down from on high. With most of the company formed up in mass instead of by sections, he now had a much beefed-up firing line - which would've saved them in the previous encounter. He glanced speculatively at the warband. It remains to be seen how it'll affect those fellows.

Even as he watched the warriors screamed their war-cry and charged across the little valley. They poured from the undergrowth, and looked to number at least as many as the men from Barsetshire. Harrington nodded in satisfaction and hefted his rifle. "Company-y-y..!" he roared. "Present! Fire!"

The rifles blazed as one and the little valley began to fill with gun smoke. Screams and yells cut through the air, but still the native horde rushed on. Pike drew his sword and pistol moments before the warband crashed into his company.

From the first he saw the native charge lacked impetus. Three of his men fell beneath savage blows, but the rest gave better than they got, plying bayonet and clubbed rifles with fierce determination. After what seemed mere seconds the warband drew off, leaving plenty of dead and dying.

The wind came from the south, bearing wails of pain and fear. It also served to disperse the smoke from the little valley. After some minutes the scene became clear. Harrington stepped up beside him. Pike glanced at the tough CSM and saw he looked annoyed. "What's wrong, Sarn't-Major?"

"I'm going to have to work on our musketry, sir." Harrington pointed into the valley. "The men didn't allow for the downward slope. They fired high and only caught the rear of that band. We should've stopped them cold down there."

Pike smiled. "It wasn't so bad, Albert." He indicated the body of a well-dressed native. "If you look, it seems we did kill their leader. These fellows looked nervous from the first, so that fellow must've been whipping them in from behind. It's just his bad luck that's where our fire struck hardest."

Harrington looked thoughtful then gave a sour grin. "I suppose you're right sir. I'll still have to tighten up our drill, though."

"As you wish, Albert." Pike looked around. "I think enemy's gone far deeper into the bush. Check our men. Those who're dead will have to abide here until we come back. We'll get a move on now."

Harrington nodded and sketched a salute. Under command, the company descended into the valley. They'd scarce reached the bottom before another war-cry split the air. Surprised, Pike shot a look over to the left flank where another war band charged out of the scrub. "Action left!" he shouted, but Harrington had already headed that way.

The fight took even less time than the first, although the men had been unable to fire. Their fighting spirit and the bayonet won out again over the natives, who withdrew sullenly. Harrington turned half the platoon to face them then got on with doing what he did best, directing rapid aimed fire into an enemy. The warband melted under three stinging volleys of Martini-Henry fire. Pike saw Marksman Lewis take careful aim at a prancing figure much like the dead leader lying close by. The man jumped and staggered as Lewis' bullet struck, but he got up and ran away, his fellows close behind him. Lewis shook his head ruefully as the men stood-down and chafed him in good-natured fashion over his poor aim. Lewis still wore a bandage from the wound suffered in the last encounter with the Gwunda tribe, and held this up as mitigation for his poor aim.   

The immediate threat over, Pike gave orders for the company to reform. At that moment a movement on the hill in front drew his attention. "Who on Earth's that?"
The figure raised a hand in friendly greeting and called out something. "What did he say?" Pike asked.

"It sounded like Arabic, sir." Pike held up his hand to the fellow and uttered a brief phrase in the same language, hesitating over some of the words. The fellow nodded and began to walk toward them.

Pike shot an admiring glance at Harrington. "That's rather good, Sarn't-Major. I didn't know you spoke the lingo."

"Just enough to get by in the marketplace, sir. If this fellow wants to talk, I'd suggest Mr. Carstairs should take over. He speaks fluent Arabic." Harrington hesitated. "I do believe the fellow has a monkey on his shoulder."

"So he does! How odd."

Pike sent a runner back to the civilian group, and DC Carstairs came forward as the Arab fellow reached Pike. Greetings were exchanged. Carstairs and the Arab began to converse at a rapid rate. Pike watched the monkey, who picked its nose and gazed back with mild interest.

Eventually Carstairs turned to Pike. "This is Mustapha ibn Daud, the Al-qadi, or mayor, of Fahtah. He wishes to surrender the town to us if we agree to good treatment of his people. I've assured him we have no hostile intent there."

"I should think not," Pike said, but ibn Daud had begun speaking again. Carstairs listened for a few moments then began a simultaneous translation. "Mr. ibn Daud tells me a band of Zanzibari slavers passed through but yesterday. Their leader ordered ibn Daud to muster his men and refuse us entrance, and to fire upon us should we attempt to enter the town." He frowned. "He says they took his youngest daughter Fatima hostage against his cooperation."

"The hounds!" Pike exclaimed.

"Quite." Carstairs listened some more and nodded. "The gentleman thinks a slaver spy is still in the town, so he disguised himself and came out to contact us before we reached there."

"I see. The eye-patch speaks for itself, but the monkey's a nice touch." Pike smiled. "Who'd suspect a fellow with a monkey of being up to no good?"

"Just so. He tells me he'd happily lead the way with us, and his men will keep watch from the walls to ensure the natives don't molest us during the approach."

"That seems fair enough." Pike rubbed his jaw, well aware they still stood on a battlefield. "But what of his daughter? Would the slavers not harm her if ibn Daud breaks his word?"

Carstairs put this question to the Al-qadi, who shook his head in lugubrious fashion and said something. Carstairs shook his head too. "He says his daughter will cease to be of value to them if he demonstrates he will not be swayed. They will not harm her in that case. I only hope he's right, for the poor girl's sake."

Pike sighed. "I see. Can we trust him?"

Carstairs nodded. "I'm sure we can."

"So be it. Let's get moving. The sooner we're in the shelter of the walls the better for the wounded."

Pike ordered the company into a column two men wide and led the way up and over the hill. The column could turn to face either side and be in firing formation at a moment's notice. Stirrings in the bush told of natives still present, so Pike knew his precaution to be sound. "Keep watch, men! Those fellows look ready to make more trouble."

But as they passed, the eerie shriek of a steamboat's whistle reverberated across the land from the direction of the river, and Pike gladly recognized the whistle as that of the steamboat Lady Cynthia. After a moment of shocked silence a terrified wailing rose from the scrub and dark figures could be seen heading away at speed. He gaped at the enemy's rapid flight until ibn Daud grinned a gap-toothed grin and uttered something. Carstairs supplied the translation. "It seems the natives haven't heard a steamboat's whistle before now. They think it an evil spirit rising from the river waters."

"If it saves us and them from more needless casualties, then I'm glad of it!" Pike retorted.

A file of militiamen lined the parapet as the company marched in. Pike stopped by the gate and watched the surrounding area until the wounded and the bearers had passed, but could see no further danger offered. Finally the last man passed and Pike walked through the shadow cast by the gatehouse. In spite of his resolve he couldn't help a shudder of relief passing down his spine as the gates closed, shutting the wilds of Africa safely outside the walls.   
* * * *
And so ends the Barsetshire's Trek to Fahtah. I'll post a few notes on the game at a later date, time and work permitting.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

The best laid plans... The run-up to the holidays has meant a delay in playing the next Colonial game, but I hope to get some gaming time in the next couple of days. In the meantime, Merry Christmas to all my readers!

Friday, December 20, 2013

A new field

Not an awful lot going on in the run-up to Xmas, so I'm turning my hand to making a bit more scenery for my Darkest Africa set-up. 
First on the stocks is a millet field. This is basically a rectangle of corrugated card from a pizza box, with one side of paper stripped off and the other reinforced with more card. I painted it a khaki brown then ran strips of diluted PVA along the top of the ridges. The crop itself is dried chamomile tea. I don't drink the herbal stuff, but my wife does so she's a useful source. Since this stuff is prone to warp I placed a heavy book on top of a sheet of plastic to keep it in place as it dries.

I plan to add a couple of trees since the current trio look rather inadequate. Once they're done I aim to run a game on Sunday. Fingers crossed... 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

It's been a while...

...but I'm still around. Work has kept me busy filling orders for the Christmas period and my gaming table is otherwise occupied. When things settle down nearer the holiday I'll seize the chance to game. In the meantime, check out the items in my Etsy store. I'm happy to take commissions and make custom pieces, but be aware the time for mailing Christmas packages to the UK has passed and time for US deliveries is getting tight.
* * * *
Back to gaming... I've reviewed the casualty list from the Barsetshire's deadly encounter with the G'wunda tribe. It doesn't make happy reading for Captain 'Fearless Fred' Pike.

1st section: Pvt. Rose, Henry.
2nd section: Pvt. Jones, Victor. 
3rd section: Pvt. Hooper, Henry; Pvt. Braithwaite, George.
4th section: Pvt. Clark, Henry; Pvt. Brown, William; Pvt. Nichols, Charles.

Seriously wounded:
1st section: Pvt. Wilson, Harold.
3rd section: Pvt. Finnegan, Liam; Pvt. Wilkinson, Alfred.

Private Brown died of his wounds in the night following the engagement. Three other men including Marksman Jack Lewis were lightly wounded and are able to continue after treatment. It does mean nearly a quarter of the company has been lost in action.

Captain Pike has resolved to return to the river line, but not along the original path taken on the advance as there are signs the G'wunda tribe is prowling the area in strength. An Arab walled village is located on the banks of the Ukrazi about a day's march somewhat to the south-west of the Barsetshire's zareba. It offers a good landing stage for the river steamer Lady Cynthia to dock with supplies and reinforcements. Of course, he has to convey his wounded thither and protect them all the way, which may not be easy...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Workin' on the railroad...

So here we have it, the first locomotive of the Ukraziland & Gwundaland Light Railway (U.G.L.R, or Uglier as it's affectionately known).
 Henry Oliver Pratt and Oberst Hans Wöhl inspect 'Priscilla,' 
the new tank engine.

Pratt and Captain Whitney discuss the engineering required to lay miles of track through sometimes-hostile terrain.
* * *
I do need to cast more track lengths to make a full stretch across the width of the gaming table, and sometime after that the length of the table, which is six feet. Rolling stock in the shape of flat cars and goods wagons will appear by the by. 

Of course, the country must be conquered in order to run any kind of railway at all. More on that when I get a chance to clear the decks and actually run a game.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Progress on the railway

It was a busy weekend what with plumbing problems to fix. I did finish the main construction on the tank engine model.

The wheels are drilled out ready to pin in place. I'll make four buffers and fit drive rods, and put 'coal' in the rear hopper once painted. After that comes the question of which colour to paint it. 

Most engines on colonial-era railways were utilitarian black which I find boring. I could paint it black with brass and copper areas for contrast. I also have a nice blue paint - but the end result would look a bit too much like Thomas the Tank Engine.

I'm leaning toward a deep magenta similar to the old London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) livery.

* * * *   
I've been asked about the materials I use to make molds and castings. The mold is a two-part silicon medium called OOMOO 30 from Smooth-On, available in the US and UK. It mixes at a 1:1 ratio and has a good curing time and shelf-life at room temperatures. Be sure to stir it well, and avoid any contact with water or latex as it won't cure at all.

The resin is KastEZ, a two-part epoxy resin with a short mix life and curing time. Typical decanting time from a mold at room temperature is a matter of ten-fifteen minutes, leading to a quick turnaround time for fast production. It's a little smelly and can be messy. All in all, though, it's easy to work and can be drilled, sanded and cut without problems.

The kit comes with two 8 ounce bottles, a mixing cup, stir-stick and disposable plastic gloves. I find using plastic disposable spoons to be the easiest way to measure out the two parts in the small quantities needed for some casting jobs. 

All in all, though, since I already have the materials and molds I'd be happy to make an engine body and wheels to order for gamers who'd like such an engine. Drop me a line and we can work something out. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

In Flanders fields...

Today is Armistice Day. 
In memory of my Great-Uncle Alfred Matthews, L/Bombardier Royal Field Artillery.
Killed in action on the Somme, 
19th October 1916.
* * * *
And in memoriam to all those who served.
And in gratitude to all who are serving.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Molds, track and loco

A number of chaps have expressed interest in the way I'm setting-up a narrow-gauge railway for my Colonial campaign. I thought I'd share some pictures of the beginnings. 

These are the molds I made for the track and locomotive driving wheels, with four of the six wheels cast. As you can see from the top-right mold the track normally has ballast and terrain either side when fully-molded. In this instance I want to make a short bridge or culvert which won't need the effects so I cast only the rails and sleepers/ties.   

The casting's smokestack was too short for a narrow-gauge locomotive so I cut off the flare at the top and extended the stack with a length of brass tube and a bead. The footplate and the beginnings of the rear coal box are made of basswood, plastic card and L-section strut.  

The driver is a Eureka VSF miniature. Footplate space is limited but two crew figures will fit without the 'slotta' bases. I'm debating whether to make a removable canopy for the footplate which some prototypes had.
The underside of the casting is rougher than I'd like, but it'll still work for the drive wheel mounting. In future I won't fill the mold so high, and will build the mounting from plastic strut instead. I'll drill the centers of the wheels and pin them in place for added strength. The drive rods will be [-section plastic strut. Rolling stock is farther down the road. More pictures as the project develops.   

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Locomotive and track

It's been a busy couple of weeks getting the garden ready for winter, plus I'm writing a new novel and copy-editing a previous work. I haven't had much opportunity to do modeling or gaming, but I have cast a few more sections of one meter narrow-gauge railway. I've also managed to take a mold from an old toy locomotive, a casting from which forms the beginnings of the rolling stock needed for the Ukraziland & Gwundaland Light Railway. 

In railway terms the toy represents an 0-6-0 tank engine. The casting I took from it is shown above. I'll build a cab capable of taking one or two figures, add buffers, tender/coal box, a few pipes and lanterns etc. and make it a 0-6-0 maid-of-all-work. If that goes well, I'll build another as an improvised armored locomotive for a military train. Wagons and carriages and so on will follow.

I'm not sure yet which color to make the loco. It appears most engines in colonial service tended to be utilitarian black, which I find boring. I suppose I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. Hmm. Bridges! Now there's an idea... 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


My wife and I had a blast at Archon last weekend, meeting old friends and making new ones. Being on back-to-back panels through the weekend made it difficult to see much of the dealers' room and some events, but we got to see the art show and our friend, artist Paul Daley, creator of the upcoming Tempest at Hazard graphic novel. More on that at a later date.

We're back home, and I'll be busy with a couple of new novels, one of which is under contract. That means deadlines to meet, so gaming will have to be as-and-when again. I did grab the chance yesterday to play out a solo VBCW game using Went the Day Well rules and my 10mm collection. 
The blurb.

1938: Following the crisis that split the nation, the town of Great Yarmouth declared itself a free port, with a heavily Socialist influence in its governance. The BUF government promptly declared it to be in a state of rebellion against the Crown and has instituted a rather ineffective distant blockade. Ineffective or not, it has led to a shortage of food and supplies in the town, one which the town council is determined to resolved.

Intelligence has indicated farm produce has been stockpiled in various places across the Flegg area north and west of the town by the Flegg Island Fencibles, a body of local defense militia. Although they have declared neutrality in the civil war, they are conservative in outlook and not very sympathetic to their urban neighbours. They have demanded a high price for the produce, one which the town cannot afford to pay on a continuing basis. 
A platoon of newly-formed Socialist militia has therefor been directed to stage a raid on the nearest identified stockpile, located in a number of barns and sheds near the village of Mautby. They will be accompanied by two lorries to carry the captured supplies, and the town's current prized military possession, an Austin armoured car. One of the militia sections is from the Boudicca Battalion of the Socialist Women's Alliance, led by local firebrand Vera Bryant.

A view from the Socialists' line of advance. The red chips indicate potential sites of Flegg Fencible resistance. The two barns containing the produce are located top-left.

 Austin AC scouting out in front, and feeling rather nervous about it.

 The infantry advance to check out the council houses.

 With determined step the SWA arrives!

 The trucks and a dense wave of sea-mist arrive just as first contact is made. Local Defence Militia lurk behind the hedge.

 They attempt a charge, thinking the mist will hide them, but it clears at just the wrong moment. Fire from the SWA forces them to ground. The Austin fails to hit anything.
 "Enough of this nonsense!" cries Vera, and leads her women on a ferocious charge that sees the Flegg men off the premises.

Trouble hits the Socialists' left as another LDV section ambushes them. In spite of taking casualties, the men of Flegg stand their ground and send the militia into a frantic retreat. On the other road the Austin has made it to the farm entrance and comes under fire from a Vickers MG located in the dormer window. Vera leads the way across the field to the right in a move to outflank the farm.
End game. The Austin's twin turret MGs riddles the Vickers position and it falls silent. Vera has outflanked the farm and crosses the road on the blind side. The remaining LDV decide discretion is the better part of valour, and retire from the field.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Keeping track

Not much happening on the gaming front, since my commission work segued seamlessly into preparations for Archon 37 this weekend. I did get the chance to go to a local railway modeling show last Saturday where I picked up a useful pack of second-hand N-scale track to go with my 10mm VBCW. 

The track at top along with two print-off paper buildings.

The lower sections of track are destined for use in my Colonial gaming. I made them from a length of HO-scale track by cutting a short section out of the middle of the sleepers/ties, gluing the two pieces back together onto thick card stock before adding ballast and track-side terrain. I then made a silicon mold from it so I have a composite of track and terrain immediately adjacent. The pieces are cast from resin. In 25/28mm they are close enough to the 1 meter narrow gauge railway popular in some British and European colonies during that era. Rolling stock will follow, once I figure out a few details.    

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


An unexpected commission means I'll be unable to spare time to game this week, and possibly next. In the meantime here's a photo of the Darkest Africa casualty figures I recently cast from resin. They're glossy with the first coat of varnish at this stage, but the final coat of matt varnish will kill the shine.
 L-R, two askaris, two natives, British army.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Casualties of war

My new casualty figures mold is working - sort of. 

From left to right: Two natives, British, two askaris.

The first batch came out okay - they're the white chaps at the bottom of the photo. Those on top are the next. That strange gelatinous pale yellow is down to a moment's inattention while mixing the resin. It came out with the consistency of toffee. Ho hum. It'll paint up fine once it sets.

With luck and a following wind I'll be able to play the next Darkest Africa game tomorrow or Monday. Watch this space...   

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A little bit of sculpting

My planned Darkest Africa game is set for sometime in the next few days. Since I've been dissatisfied with the limited poses on my casualty figures I made a few more using Sculpey. I'm certainly not the greatest figure sculptor in the world, but these figures are meant to be more representational than specific.

I added a new British and native figure apiece and two askaris. They'll serve as Belgian Force Publique, but will be used for other askari types. I might add another couple of native poses for the sake of variety. The heads and arms are left over from a Wargames Factory Zulu pack and will be added once the Sculpey has baked.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Five years on the lead pile...

...but finally painted. Here's a group of armed natives, freshly painted and based, ready for the next foray into Darkest Africa sometime this week. I have an idea for a slightly different take on the usual game pattern for this. I'll see how it pans out. 
The pale cove at the back is a Ral Partha (I think) ghost figurine, bought over thirty years ago and only just painted and based. This poor old thing really has been kicking about the lead pile. I found it when we moved, kind of took pity on it and finished it, and it'll go into the cast of characters for a dungeon bash one of these days.

In other news, I hope to get a solo game of AVBCW sometime soon too, using the Went the Day Well rules set from Solway Crafts and Miniatures. It'll be the first outing for my British Civil War collection, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out. 


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

RIP Donald Featherstone

The hobby was left the poorer yesterday at the passing of Donald Featherstone, 1918 - 2013. 
Donald Feathestone and the late Peter Gilder

I remember as a boy haunting the local library in search of his titles on the shelves. His rules were simple enough for me to grasp, yet gave great games with all the flavour of the periods they represented. In later years I bought a number of his books for my own collection, and they sit, much treasured, on my shelves today. His narrative approach to Colonial games is one I admire and try to emulate in my own gaming. A veteran of the Western Desert campaigns in WW2, he lived to see the golden age our hobby now enjoys. RIP, Don, and thank you. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Martini-Henry Grenade launcher?

I've had a busy couple of days painting the kitchen, getting rid of the horrible 'neutral' beige color left by the house flippers. It was the same color as dishwater and just about as cheery. I know why realtors insist on such tricks to sell a house, but I don't care for 'em. In between times I'm getting ready for the Archon art show the beginning of next month, so gaming has to take a back seat for a while.


My friend Paul Daly alerted me to an interesting gadget which surfaced in the hoary atmosphere of World War One. It's a grenade launcher based on the venerable Martini-Henry rifle. Designated the Blanch-Chevallier Grenade Discharger, it trialed with the British army around 1916, although it didn't see action. Here's a photo of the beast...

...and find the full article here.

I can certainly picture it in use by the army in a VSF setting. One of these issued to each section would give an attacker pause for thought.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Some Darkest Africa figures

Armed natives are always useful chaps to have on the board, and I was lucky enough to uncover a batch of Foundry Miniatures bought five years ago. High time they were taken off the lead pile and fixed to my painting block. I should have them done in time for a game sometime in the next two weeks, work permitting.

I have eight of these fellows to paint, along with a nice Foundry Intrepid Explorer chappie who somehow wound up in the same batch. That's him on the right, with bristling mustache and rifle. To the rear of the block are two fantasy figures from Reaper Miniatures, who produce very nice sculpts. 

On the far left is a pack of 100 washers bought at the local Restore (Habitat for Humanity) charity outlet for a few bucks. They have all kinds of nice (and cheap) stuff and their stores are well worth a visit. I now have enough washers to provide figure bases for some time to come. 

Below the block are a few posters for AVBCW, run off my color printer now it's decided to work. I'm in the process of constructing paper/card buildings to populate the tabletop for a game, something else I hope to do soon, and the posters will be glued to them for a splash of color.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Norfolk Special Constabulary

I had a pack of ten Pendraken SCW Republican Guardia de Asaltos kicking around since my previous order and couldn't figure out what to do with them. I'd had a vague idea of making them a kind of BUF unit with a "black and tan" theme to them, but for various reasons discarded it. 

Looking at the figures anew recently I thought they looked more like rifle-armed police with the now-standard modern peaked cap, so that's the way I went. I painted them in the traditional British Bobby's dark blue with a hodge-podge of army webbing garnered from military supplies, as part of the Norfolk Special Constabulary.  

The Special Constabulary are uniformed part-time volunteers who assist the full time police in their duties. The war has led to their being armed, the better to pursue their duties in the current climate. Since I'll get some of Pendraken's (relatively) new British coppers in helmets, the Specials will look the part alongside their full-time colleagues.
Inspector Herbert Lark leads his men on another desperate venture 
in the name of the law.

And so to the fluff.

British constabularies have long been apolitical, keeping away from party politics so they can better serve the public in an unbiased fashion. At least that's the way it's supposed to be...

In the Very British Civil War this apolitical stance comes under severe strain. The extreme-right wing government has its own paramilitary force of Blackshirts, and few constabularies can resist its interference in what are strictly law enforcement matters. Numbers of police officers across the country have resigned in protest at being required to arrest citizens for purely political reasons. The same applies to areas controlled by factions opposing the government.

Fortunately, a solution arose in the form of the  Treaty of Basingstoke, an agreement formed by most of the factions which gives non combatant status to the police, fire brigade, St. John's Ambulance and the car clubs such as the RAC and AA. The treaty effectively outmaneuvered Mosley's government and allows the police to protect civilians as much as possible from the fighting.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Wave of the Future?

My wife brought an article on the Quartz site to my attention. It's on a subject which I feel will have a major impact on our hobby.

"Here’s what’s holding back 3D printing, the technology that’s supposed to revolutionize manufacturing and countless other industries: patents. In February 2014, key patents that currently prevent competition in the market for the most advanced and functional 3D printers will expire, says Duann Scott, design evangelist at 3D printing company Shapeways."

Read the whole article here

In effect this means the costs of producing 3D printing devices and the raw materials used in the process will drop dramatically from next year. It's already happened in one aspect of 3D printing. When the patents on Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) expired, the cost of the basic machine dropped from $14,000 each to just $300.

I think the implications for our own hobby are staggering. An influx of cheap 3D printers from China (where else?) will lead to democratization of the whole model manufacturing industry. Up to now it takes weeks or even months for a figure to go from a concept to production model, and requires specialist skills. With 3D printing it'll take only hours, and, to borrow a phrase from the publishing industry, it'll be Print On Demand (POD). No need for a lot of storage space with shelves groaning under the weight of white metal. Figures could be printed ready-based to any specified rules set, complete with flocking effect. One chore removed with a few strokes of a laser!

Yes, the quality of 3D models isn't quite there in some respects, but technology advances at such a rate it won't be long before there'll be printed models comparable to the best sculpts. And let's face it, hard plastic figurines are already making inroads into the traditional metal figure market.

Will the current figure manufacturers buy into this? Could it mean cheaper figures on the market? Will the means of producing models spread to encompass the hobbyists themselves, perhaps with a club or group subscribing to buy a machine and the relevant design software? Interesting times lie ahead. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reflections on the recent game

Time for a spot of analysis on the recent encounter in Gwundaland. The Sharp Practice rules rate troops as Poor, Regular, Good and Elite. With the opening of the campaign in Yabhouti the Barsetshires rated as Good to begin with. The course of time and experience would have raised them to Elite, but I considered the casualties sustained in action coupled with the influx of new men to the ranks kept the Company at Good. 

Big Men are rated in four grades, with 4 being the best. Although the later grade really should only be found in elite troops, I ruled Captain Pike and CSM Harrington to have gained enough experience to raise them a level to 4 and 3 respectively. This slight increase proved vital in the recent game, as Pike and Harrington had enhanced command and control capabilities and were able to pull the fat from the fire.

For the latest game I introduced the Cardwell Reforms that swept the British Army from the 1870s onward. It meant a slight reorganization of the basic section strength from 10 men to 8. This has a telling effect on the firepower, as under the rules Good troops gain +1 to the dice for every five men firing. By reducing the section strength, the Barsetshires effectively lost two firing dice and +5 points - something that gave them pause to reflect in the recent encounter with the Gwunda tribe. Before, their volleys had a good chance of stopping a tribal charge cold. Now, it's all to play for.

Fred Pike regrets the change, but it's what he has to use and he will adapt his tactics to deal with it. He has decided on a strategic withdrawal to the river in order to see his badly wounded to safe quarters, recuperate the surviving troops, and gain reinforcements. Then he'll come on again, 'with blood in his eye,' determined as ever to do his Duty to Queen and Country. But for now, the next game will show what's happening on the other side of the hill...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Debacle in Gwundaland

A grey and cloudy dawn saw the Barsetshire company on the march toward the hill country to the north. The native drums had beat steadily all through the night. Every man in the column knew the natives watched their steady progress into the tribal lands. Occasionally warriors could be seen in the distance when the growing heat haze allowed. Every man wondered when the hammer would fall.

They soon found out.

A shallow valley dotted with scrub and stands of elephant grass opened before them. Movement in the scrub and on the distant hill suggested the Gwunda tribe was about to make its move.
On Captain Pike's orders the column began to shake out into skirmish order, with 4 section heading for a copse of trees to scout the elephant grass to the front-left. 1 and 3 sections deployed to face the scrub where something moved in the shadows. Pike himself remained in a central position with the civilians, ready to give orders via bugle call when necessary.

Trouble struck within minutes. As 4 section entered the copse, lithe figures emerged from the tall grass. "By crikey!" Private Brown cried. "They're women - and they're nekkid!"

Lance Corporal Hudson glared at the new recruit. "Mind your business lad! You're not on the fookin' parade ground now!"

Hardly had he spoken than the distant women raised bows and fired a volley of arrows. The deadly missiles hissed through the air and found their mark - two men fell pierced through the heart and Hudson grunted as an arrow buried itself in his left arm.
Over on the right the scrub seemed to burst apart as a Gwunda warband surged out of cover. 3 section under Corporal "Nosher" Powell had time for a single volley before the natives fell upon them. The air filled with screams, shouts and oaths as the men of Barsetshire fell back under the onslaught. 1 section under CSM Harrington was slow to react, but eventually positioned itself on the flank of the warband.
Harrington lead a charge into the warband's flank, inflicting several casualties and slowing its pursuit of the heavily outnumbered 3 section. Over in the copse, another man fell to the archers, who seemed to toy with the hapless men, slipping into and out of cover and firing at will. Return volleys rattled the grass but had no other effect. Some of the women laughed aloud and bent over to show their buttocks in contempt of their enemy.
Harrington ordered a swift disengagement, pulling his section back thirty paces. Here they fired a swift volley into the warband, stopping it in its tracks. A large man in a blue and white feathered headdress yelled and gesticulated for his warriors to stay their course. Even as Harrington watched, Marskman Jack Lewis' rifle barked and the chieftain spun and fell, shot through the head. His men wavered then broke, streaming back into the scrub.
Medical personnel came up from farther to the rear to tend the wounded. Harrington lined his men up to face the scrub, certain sure more trouble would come from it. A bugle call told the injured L Cpl. Hudson to stand his ground. Capt. Pike felt confident the threat from the scrub had ended and he could safely lead 2 section forward to deal with the archers. 4 section's fire had improved. The women no longer capered and scorned the Red Men. Some Martini-Henry rounds drew close enough to make them pay more respect to the modern weapon and those who bore it.
Once in position 2 section opened fire, their bullets flaying the grass and bringing down two archers. The survivors fled back into cover, but they had achieved their objective of drawing-out the White Queen's soldiers. Pike had made a potentially fatal error in leading a quarter of his force to deal with so small a threat, for over on the right another, larger warband burst forth from the scrub.
Even the redoubtable Harrington couldn't stem the tide. The roar of battle rose again as the soldiers volleyed then met the enemy hand to hand. Men fell and the sheer mass of numbers told. The Barsetshires recoiled onto the column. The bearers screamed in panic, dropped their loads and fled. DC Carstairs, Doctors Armstrong and Beckenbaur drew pistols and swords and within seconds were fighting for their lives alongside the soldiers. Azu, Carstair's newly hired askar bodyguard, grinned evilly as he fought. Curiously, although the medics and wounded from the previous engagement lay almost directly in their path, the warriors ignored them, concentrating instead on the enemy still standing.
Pike uttered a string of words that would've earned him a beating from his clergyman foster-father. Turning his men about, he called the survivors of 2 section to join him and led them all into the attack.
Perhaps the warriors were too focused on their potential victims straight ahead, for Pike's charge into their flank inflicted severe damage. Shock piled up, and without an effective leader it proved too much once more. The natives broke away and fled back to the scrub, leaving the field littered with the dead of both sides.
The exhausted men of Barsetshire stood-to for an hour under the stormy sky after the fighting had ceased, watching and waiting for the charge that might finish them. The medics tended the new wounded and dying as details brought them in from the field. At last it seemed the Gwunda tribe had decided enough was enough for the day. The valley fell silent. Capt. Pike ordered scrub to be cut and a zariba fashioned around the camp.
The Queen's colour flies defiantly above the tents as the company draws into the protection of the zariba for the night. 
As the medics do their work, DC Carstairs and Dr. Beckenbaur discuss the day's events, and ponder on what to do next.
 * * * *
Carstairs looked sadly at the blanket-covered forms of the fallen. Something of his Scottish mother's Celtic romanticism came through, for he began to recite quietly.

Oh, mother-mair, mak' up ma bed,
For ma heart is sair wi' sorrow.
Adoon the glen lie seven men dead,
In dowie dens o' yarrow...
* * * *
The end of the day sees a British tactical victory in that they hold the field, having inflicted severe casualties on the Gwunda tribe. Strategically, however, Captain Pike and his men are in a pretty predicament. Seven men lie dead, as many are seriously wounded - almost half the company are hors de combat. His conscience prickles him over the wrong deployment which contributed to the mess, but he pushes the thought aside. A more urgent matter confronts him - what to do now? Should he continue with the mission, or withdraw?


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