Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A painting rebirth

A couple of old tricks approached in a new way have really changed the painting landscape around here of late.

One was setting myself up with a good wet palette.

I used to use a contraption that required two layers of foam topped with a sheet of cooking paper (or greaseproof, as we call it in NZ).

It was small, slimy, needed to be cleaned out quite often and was a pain to organise. It was much better than no palette at all, but if I hadn't painted for a while it became yet another barrier to actually sitting down and putting brush to figure.

The internal monologue would go something like this: "Hmm, you know, I could just about do a little painting tonight. Ahhh, but  I'd need to rejig that palette before I could begin. Can I be bothered washing it out, cutting the foam sheeting to size and soaking it for the appropriate amount of time?"

And we all know how rhetorical a question that is...

But recently I saw someone somewhere talking about another way to do a wet palette. It needed a shallower tray and instead of fluffing around with foam you used a paper handy towel to hold the water, putting your greaseproof paper onto that. When not using it you put another tray over the top of it (upside down) to keep the moisture in.

I thought about it for a while, then went to the 100yen store and grabbed the required items.

Needless to say, it has been a big success. The paint keeps for days, so the only prep I need to undertake before painting is to remove the top tray. Over time the paint liquifies, so if you do it right you can use older splotches as a wash or mix them with a more recent (and thus thicker) blob to do, say, a cloak, or horses in a slightly different colour.

The second thing has been to use the dip. I tried a dip substitute previously when I was just starting out, but it didn't come out very well so I shelved it. I'd pull it out again for things like pteruges, but more as a wash than anything. Of course, I used Future / Klear, but again as a wash, to bring a paint job together or to provide a protective covering.

And so I laboured for years with spray undercoat, brown wash, block colours, highlight, the odd wash, Future/Klear protective coat, spray varnish.

It works great, but it takes a long time and there are various steps that you end up dreading, and this all contributes to painting fatigue (or laziness, in my case!).

Like everyone I've experimented with various ways to improve and to speed up painting (some of them catalogued in painful detail on this blog!) and met with varying degrees of success.

The trouble for me is limited time, limited motivation, and a large lead mountain.

Anway, I again came across some posts (isn't the internet great?!!) and realised that maybe I should try the dip again, only this time using it more strategically. "Bugger it," I thought; "nothing's getting painted without it, so why not give it a crack?"

A little experimentation showed what I'd been doing wrong when I last used it: a) I'd been too heavy handed, and b) I'd used it on the wrong colours.

It seemed that the tricks were to dip your brush in water before putting it into the mixture itself (and then to come back with a brush or tissue paper to get rid of any pooling on the figure), and to use it on muted colours, coming back with a highlight if needed.

Having painted almost 50 figures a week since these changes were implemented, they have helped me to put a serious dent in the Dark Age leadpile - so much so that I'm probably going to need to buy more to 'fill in a few gaps in the collection'.

So far so good. I guess we'll have to see how long it lasts!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lovely article in Slingshot 301

The most recent edition of the Society of Ancients'  journal Slingshot arrived in my letterbox this morning, so over lunch I had a quick browse, reading the first article, by current President Roy Boss, entitled "An Amazing 50 Years".

Well, what a cracking read it is. With this year being the 50th anniversary of the Society's founding, Roy talks a little bit about how Slingshot and the SoA have changed (perhaps moulded is a better word!) the landscape of ancients figure gaming.

As a latecomer to the scene (I only became a proper researching,collecting, painting and playing wargamer ten years ago), I have always taken the easy availability of figures, rules and information for granted, so to have Roy put the current abundance into perspective so well made me realise how much is owed to the founders of the hobby, and reminds one again why groups like the SoA who maintain a link with the early days of the hobby are worth supporting.

Thanks Roy, and thanks to all of those people, recognised and unrecognised, who have played their parts in the evolution of this wonderful little hobby of ours.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Three chips off the old block

My kids saw me doing some painting last night and wanted to do join in. I reckon they do a better job than me!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Game Review: GMT's Conquest of Paradise


On Sunday night I was lucky enough to be able to assemble a crew of three to join me in a board game. One of the players had played before; the others were wargaming newcomers.

Due to the mix of people and interests I wasn't sure which game to use, but the more I thought about it the more it seemed a good chance to try out GMT's Conquest of Paradise. It being a world-exploring, civilisation-building game with warfare as just one aspect of play, I thought it would be a better intro to the various possibilities of gaming than, say, Risk or Axis and Allies. As most of the players were Kiwis, I suspected the Polynesia, 500 AD setting might appeal.

The biggest concern was whether I would able to learn it well enough in five or six hours to be able to explain it to a group. I needn't have worried: it's amazing how a bit of pressure can kick the brain into gear!

I forgot a couple of things at start up, but aside from that it all went reasonably smoothly. The key was following the turn order closely. Once routine took over, all was fine.

In Conquest the players begin each controlling one Pacific island chain (Tonga, Samoa, etc) on an ocean board made up of independent islands and blank, here-be-sea monsters hex spaces. Players take turns to explore the unknown areas in the hope of discovering new island chains which they may attempt to colonise and improve. Over time the empires will run out of space to expand peacefully and will come into conflict.

The goal of the game is to gather the number of victory points needed to claim a win, with VPs obtained by controlling territories, building villages and by purchasing 'Arts and Culture' cards.

The Turn.

There are four phases to the game turn - exploration, movement and battle, building, VP calculation - each of them with its own distinct character.

The exploration phase sees players activate their explorer token to search unknown hexes. These searches are conducted by drawing a chit from a cup, with the chit indicating whether an area is an island chain, open sea, or the explorer has gone off course.

If an island chain chit comes up, the active player draws a terrain hex at random from the pile. Each island tile shows a combination of resources to be exploited by building villages or developing agriculture. Players have the option of keeping up to three of their island discoveries secret, and with some areas being obviously richer in resources than others, it can be useful to keep quiet about what you've found.

The player may continue exploring by moving into another hex and repeating the process, but must beware of pushing luck too far, as unfortunate or foolhardy expeditions will cause the explorer to be lost for the following turn.

The second phase is the movement and battle stage. Players move their colonies and transport canoes (or their warriors and war canoes) about the place, either to colonise an unoccupied island chain or to attack islands that are already populated.

An interesting aspect of the movement system is that the rules encourage each player to make up a network of linked transport canoes to facilitate immediate, cost-free transportation of units to any connected island chain under the player's control. Used in this way the transport canoes function like roads or railways, and building up a canoe network as you expand is essential if you want to challenge for the win.

Although the expansion of your transport network is something you can plan for, certainty goes out the window when it comes to battle, for it is entirely luck-dependent. Combatants line up opposed combat units, roll a die, with positive results for the attacker 50% of the time and negative results for the remainder. You can control how many warriors and war canoes you bring to a fight, but you are not always sure how many enemies there will be because counter stacks are hidden face down, and there are dummy units in the game as well.

Combat is essentially an expensive lottery. There are a couple of approaches players can take in preparing for the post-combat retreat of defeated forces, but fighting is probably not something that you want to be doing unless you really need to.

The build stage comes next. Naturally enough, players create units and build improvements in this phase, and can also take control of island chains by converting colonists into villages.

There are economic builds (villages, agriculture), expansion builds (colonists, transport canoes) and war builds (warriors, war canoes). Players may also elect to buy Arts and Culture cards in this phase.

Sample Arts & Culture cards

That the build phase comes after the movement phase means that to colonise island chains players must move a colonist unit onto the unclaimed island in the movement phase and then use the build phase to convert said colonists into a village, thereby taking control of the island. If that sounds headache-inducing as I've written it, in the game it is actually quite easy!

With building done the turn (and possibly the game) concludes with the Victory phase. Here players tally up the number of villages they own and island chains they control, scoring one VP for each respectively. They also add any VPs on revealed Arts and Culture cards and, should anyone have reached the victory level, that player is declared the winner.

However, getting the victory score alone may not be enough: you also need to score more points than any of the other players to secure the win.

Because the victory phase comes immediately after the build phase - in which players may convert claim territories and create villages - it is possible to increase victory points dramatically from one turn to the next. With careful planning and husbanding of resources it is not impossible to steal the win with a massive last-minute points haul.

With experienced players I feel that the endgame strategy would become very cut-throat!


1) Game play.

The game played smoothly and everything flowed well. The turn order seemed right, and there was a natural progression from one phase to another, with players able to quickly grasp how early decisions would impact on the later turn.

It works well with two or four players, and would no doubt also be fine with three.

2) Luck and skill.

The game used hidden information very well. Unit stacks are not revealed until battle is declared, and with dummy markers floating around there can be quite a bit of uncertainty about just where other players are concentrating their combat strength.

Battles are luck-dependent, but a careful reading of the game situation will allow astute players to gain an advantage by knowing where and when to fight, and planning accordingly.

3) Satisfaction.

I found the empire-building aspects of the game to be simple but enjoyable. Exploring, founding villages, colonising island chains and expanding your transport canoe network came together in a strangely satisfying way.

4) Strategy.

We were feeling our way for the first couple of turns, but people quickly picked up on effective strategies for expansion. The battle strategies were probably less than perfect, but in a learning game the whole point is to try things out, so I daresay next time people would be a bit more focused in their 'application of force'.

I can see already that among canny players the final push for victory will lead to many different strategies. Foxing, last-second VP builds, invasion of the others' islands, sneak attacks to sever transportation networks, diplomatic coups, card build-ups and no doubt plenty of other things would all have their place.

5) Gripes.

The board and terrain tiles are nice, but the counters are a little boring and the different sides are so similar in colour that it can be hard to distinguish them from one another.

Shot from a no-hidden-info game with my eight year old.

5) Conclusion.

This is a genuinely playable lite-civilisation game, and for me, the other gamers (and yesterday my daughter!) a genuine winner already.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Saxons (and maybe a few Angles...)

Well, the (Anglo) Saxons are done. This is two Essex DBA armies' worth; Anglo Danish and Middle Anglo Saxon. Glad to have these done, and with the dip to help out they didn't take too long at all. This is the first time I've painted an army made up completely of Essex figs, and they were very nice to work with. 

Next step is to flock them and then onto the Normans, Bretons, and Vikings, I guess. There may be a Samnite or Gallic interlude though. We'll see how things go.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Saxons and the dip: before and after.

This was going to be a quick, somewhat smug, post about how pleased I am with the dip method. I have a bunch of before dip photos (seen below), after which I dipped, highlighted, did the metallics and then sprayed with matt varnish. Sadly, despite doing a test figure that had no ill-effects, the Japanese humidity has ruined me. They are all struck with the dreaded frost!

Anyway, as a lesson for me, here are the befores (gray undercoat, black wash on armour, block painting the rest):

And the afters: dip, antique silver on the armoured bits, matt spray and... frosting!

I'll get up early in the morning before the humidity gets too high and give them another whack with gloss varnish to see if I can fix it thataway. If not, apparently olive oil does the trick. I am not too keen on having figures covered in olive oil though, so let's hope the gloss works!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Basing schemes for smaller armies

As my 'Dip' experiment turns into a project, thoughts naturally turn to how many of the little metal blighters I need, and how I'm going to base them.

As background, a couple of years ago I ordered the DBA 2.2 rules and took advantage of a generous offer from Essex miniatures who were doing a 3 for 2 sale of their DBA 15mm armies. I decided I'd like to get into a Dark Ages / 1066 campaign, and so picked up 6 armies, adding a couple more, specifically Crusaders and Syrians.

Unfortunately, I've since found that I don't like small armies - and DBA armies are small! - but nor do I like the period enough to mortgage the house so that I can paint up armies to the size I do for my ancient fetishes fixations.

My problem therefore is twofold: I don't want to play DBA; nor do I want to build massive armies for what is (for me) a period of only secondary interest.

The first thought I had was to base them up on x4 bases (ie, 80mm x 30mm) for infantry, and x2 bases for cavalry (also 80 x 30), but I think that DBA armies spread out on bases of that size are going to look rather forlorn.

Instead, I think I might use the 28mm DBA scheme (60mm x 20 / 60mm x 40mm). This should allow me to get away with 8-10 15mm infantry or 4-5 15mm horse per base without the lines looking too sparse. The downside is that my basing won't be compatible with that of anyone else, but as I am going to provide all the armies anyway, I don't see that being a major problem in the foreseeable future.

The plan as far as rules go is to use Dux Bellorum (modified as needed), which means that I'll require somewhere between 7 and 10 units for each army. I may have to buy in a couple of extra packs of figures here or there, but first impressions are that the armies I have when mounted on 28mm DBx bases should just about hit the spot.

Now, with that sorted I can get back to painting!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A dip test

I've been getting a little frustrated with my failure to make much of an indentation in the lead mountain, so I thought I would try something different from my usual painting method to see if I like the results. Yes, the dip.

I have a mass of Essex late Dark Age / early medieval 15mm DBA armies picked up in a 3 for 2 sale some years ago, and they seem like good candidates for a block paint and dip approach. Not to mention that with Dux Bellorum on the shelf it seems criminal not to try to get them tableworthy.

So here we are then. Block paint dullish colours.

Add acrylic stain. Used as-is, and applied with a wet brush.

And voila.

Hmm. Not spectacular, but probably comparable to other more expensive products. With a highlight here and there and a coat of matt varnish these might look OK.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Phil Sabin's 'Phalanx' game available for free download

Phil Sabin has recently revised his Society of Ancients game 'Phalanx' and made it available for download from the files section of the Lost Battles yahoo group. An enterprising member has since made up a VASSAL module for the game so that it can be played live over the internet, by email, or solitaire on your computer.

The game itself is diceless and relatively simple, using only 1 page of rules. Two armies of equal size - 10 units and a baggage piece each - and strength face off across a hex board (a Commands & Colors: Ancients board does nicely), with a neat method of combat resolution (3 attacking units will rout a hoplite unit, 2 a peltast or cavalry unit, 1 the baggage unit, 4 the commander and his guard).

The object of the game is to rout four units and there is a simple victory point system so that players can play a series of games to determine an overall victor.

If you are interested, follow the link above to see more.

Note that the game can be played as a board game or with miniatures.

Phalanx game board, taken from the VASSAL module by Slava.
Sample deployment, again from the VASSAL module.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A work interlude

It's been a pretty busy couple of weeks here but things are settling down now for a short spell so I hope to be able to get some painting done.

The rushed state of affairs was brought about by my having been asked, about two months ago, to do a 'teach the teachers' seminar on behalf of the local Board of Education. Its purpose was to give Japanese elementary school teachers a few tools to make them a little more confident teaching English, either in their own classes or in a team-teaching environment with a native English speaker.

As Japan will be increasing its focus on English language learning at elementary school level over the next couple of years, there is a bit of a push on to get teachers up to speed.

Anyway, the seminar seemed to go over quite well, which was pleasing. There were a couple of areas I could have improved on, but on the whole it was worth the time and effort.

And now that it's done, I might just have a short window of time to catch up on some painting (if the motivation holds!) before I need to start preparing for the next thing I have to do!
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