Wednesday 25 August 2021

The Farce Awakens

I don't collect or paint Star Wars related miniatures. 

I learned when I played both Wizkids' Star Wars Miniatures Game and Fantasy Flight's X-Wing, that this is a rabbit hole that is just too deep. For this reason I have sidestepped both Imperial Assault and Star Wars: Legion

So when it was announced that the next 7TV day at Board in Brum would be Star Wars themed, I had a problem to solve.

This is my answer...

My thinking was that, at the moment, nobody makes a miniatures based on the new films (apart from Hasslefree,who make not-Rey and not-Finn, more on that later). Therefore, if I build a cast based on those films, I can resist the urge to collect all of the Star Wars universe that relates to them because...they don't exist!

I then thought about when in the story to build my cast around to theoretically allow Rey and Finn to adventure together, which really only leaves the space between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker when the Emperor was playing Fortnite

This would mean that my cast could include all of the major new characters. They'd be based on Ajan Kloss (hence the foliage on the bases) engaging in stealth missions against the First Order. It also meant that I could potentially leave out Chewbacca and C-3PO, who might be unsuitable on stealth missions, as they are a bit more expensive to procure.

Rey, as mentioned above, is from Hasslefree Miniatures. This means, in case you were wondering, that she will not scale remotely well with Star Wars: Legion miniatures.

The miniature is based very roughly on Rey's outfit from The Force Awakens (which is when the miniature was rekeased), but the necessary points of difference to allow this model to exist fortuitously bring the outfit closer to the costume from The Rise of Skywalker.

This meant painting her mainly white, which these days means Apothecary White contrast paint over a white base with a white highlight. I was very happy with how this turned out.

I decided to keep the blade (another 'point of difference') as without it I felt the staff was too short, and anything I added would probably be too flimsy. I figure that somebody who is willing to cut Snoke's guards in half with a lightsabre, wouldn't have an issue being a bit stabby when trying to keep a low profile.

Also from Hasslefree, Finn is a really good likeness of John Boyega, and the miniature is only let down by being based on Finn's outfit from The Force Awakens, and so the colours are a bit dull.

I actually added more red to the back of the jacket than is in the real thing as I just wanted a bit more colour on the model.

Sadly, I felt Finn was a somewhat underused character in the films as I feel more could have been done with a ex-Stormtrooper trying to find a new place in the world.

Perhaps my adventures will give him more depth, however, given my previous exploits at Board in Brum, he's more likely to end up going the way of Captain Phasma.

Poe Dameron (I keep on wanting to call him Cameron Poe, but that's Nicholas Cage) is a Reaper Miniatures 'Pulp Smuggler'.

It's a fairly generic model which could serve as one of many 'Han-alike' scoundrels in the sci-fi canon (Mal Reynolds seems the most obvious) and I'm justifying him as Poe based on the fact he wears a coat on Kijimi in The Rise of Skywalker.

It's close enough, even though the model doesn't look particularly like Oscar Isaac, so that it's ckear who it's meant to be when stood with the others. The only change I made was adding a scope to the gun to make it fit the Star Wars aesthetic more.

The major gripe I have with the model is that there's something wappy going on with his right eye. I'm not sure if hair is meant to be blowing across his face, or it's a miscast, but it looks better in real life than the picture suggests.

Finally, I needed a BB-8, as he seems somewhat inseparable from Rey.

I made him from a ball of greenstuff (which had previously been used as a football in my scratch-built Guildball team) and half of a Russian helmet from Bolt Action.

Free-handing his design was nerve-wracking, and it's nowhere near perfect, but it's good enough to be absolutely ckear who it's meant to be.

I now need to decide on the rest of the cast. I'm hoping to put something together from my bits box, but I might end up spending a small amount of money on some old Star Wars Miniatures commons.

However, these four form the core if what will be an instantly recognisable cast, and will possibly provoke more than a few conversations as to the merits of the newer films.

Acquired: 128
Painted: 157

Monday 23 August 2021

At the Sign of the Prancing Phoney

"If you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles."
- Sun Tzu

As a 'veteran of the long war' with Games Workshop, I feel confident that I usually know what they're up to. As such, when it came to preparing for the Nazgul in Bree scenario, I opted to not buy the official models for Barliman Butterbur, Harry Goatleaf or Bill the Pony. Instead I went with this bunch...


Well, you first instinct is probably correct. I'm a bit cheap. I know this and I am perfectly comfortable with that description as the title of this blog will attest.

I know myself.

However, that's not all of it.

The Personalities of Bree are £25 from Forge World for three characters, two of which will almost certainly only see use in a single scenario.

Although very nice, they fall into the category of what I now describe as 'Goldberries'. An expense I can't justify on this long journey on which I have embarked.

What's more, the Nazgul in Bree scenario in which these characters are used isn't based on either the film (like Buckleberry Ferry) or the book (like Fog on the Barrow Downs). I am fully aware that GW are not above creating scenarios which not only nudge you into buying their new models from Forge World, but also encourage the unaware to buy a load of Laketown houses to build Bree. 

I know my enemy.

Therefore, I set about finding suitable alternatives.

My Barliman Butterbur is from Reaper Bones, and actually is a closer approximation of how the character looks in the book than how he was portrayed in the film - although he's a bit too grumpy.

"Frodo went forward and nearly bumped into a short fat man with a bald head and a red face. He had a white apron on..."

I have griped about Bones models before. I think this one was Bones Black, and so is slightly less bendy, but I still find cleaning up the mould lines on these models a chore.

Having said that, the detail feels fairly crisp, and although it doesn't respond amazingly well to washes, it does respond to quite heavy highlighting.

Harry Goatleaf has been put together using the Frostgrave Wizards sprue I bought last week. The choice of body and head was a nod to how he appears in the film, something that I tried to follow up with the colour scheme.

The lantern was a fortunate find in my bits box and comes from an old Bretonnian sprue. Despite trying to fill it with Greenstuff, the fleur de lys design is still just about visible.

The scale is more stocky and squat than the LotR range, and I wouldn't normally mix models from both ranges. However, I think that the hood and long coat allow me to just about get away with it.

At least he'll do for a single scenario where his life expectancy against four mounted Nazgul is about two rounds at best.

Bill the Pony is from Nolzur's Marvelous Miniatures and is not a pony. He's a mule.

I picked this up at my FLGS a few years ago as a pack of two with the intention of using one of them for exactly this purpose because, at the time, I didn't think the official Bill was available.

Already having the mule only encouraged me to sidestep the Forge World models.

Nolzur's miniatures are cheap, but like Reaper Bones, the detail can be shallow and cleaning them up can be a bit awkward. Fortunately there wasn't much to do on Bill, and painting was quite a straightforward task. If I have a gripe it's that the head of the mule lacks any real detail.

I've picked these three up for about a quarter of the cost of the official models. They're not as good, or even accurate, obviously, but I'm willing to live with it to allow me to invest in more iconic and versatile characters and creatures later.

That's three more painted, but I was also given five iron age pigs by my dad to occupy my sty, and so that's three steps forward but five steps back.

Acquired: 128
Painted: 153

Thursday 19 August 2021

"To Mordor we will take you."

So far in the Quest of the Ringbearer, the 'Black Riders' have been on foot, stumbling about randomly using the sentry rules.

This all changes when the campaign reaches Bree. Not only do the Ringwraiths gain self-determination, they also get their horses back.

This, fairly obviously, required me to buy and paint enough mounted Nazgul for the scenario. That meant getting three more to add to the Witch King I painted a few weeks ago.

Fortunately for me and my bank account, not only do the Black Riders come in packs of three, Outpost also had them in stock (20% off, plus no postage as I live local) and I had accrued enough 'Outpoints' with them to get a further discount.

Assembling them took more effort than I was expecting. There were many more areas of flash to clean than on the Witch King, and some chunky gaps to fill (I had to break out the greenstuff, which I'm usually much to lazy for).

I suspect that the age of the moulds had an impact on this, and that the mould for the Witch King (which was on 'made to order') has just seen less use.

Painting was as dramatically exciting as it was last time. Contrast Black, light drybrush grey, brown reins, silver armour and weapons, black wash, light drybrush of robes again.

The only point of interest here was that I took some internet advice and picked up a cheap makeup brush (the one I got was a concealer brush) for drybrushing. It definitely was more effective and less scratchy in the effect it achieved, so if you've not already done so, you should get one.

When it came to basing, I decided that my old method (sand, paint brown, glue static grass in patches) was a bit lacklustre. So I decided to add some of the 'scrubland baseready' and tufts I'd bought from Geek Gaming for my Blood Angels into the gaps between the patches of grass.

I liked the effect enough to go back and do the same to my entire LotR collection in a couple of hours last night, although I only added tufts to the cavalry and some key characters.

So there are my four Ringwraiths ready to pursue the hobbits and Strider through Bree.

My only slight peeve is that the black on the three newer models has come out ever so slightly different to the Witch King, who has a slightly bluer hue. 

I suspect that this might be because I was much more liberal with the contrast black the first time around, doing two coats because the first one didn't work.

I used another drybrush to try to tie it back to the new ones, but there's still a slight difference. Fortunately, it's on the only real character model in the group, but it's still annoying.

Three more models painted, but I also picked up four more on a sprue, which I will discuss in future post about the other models I'm painting for the Bree scenario.

Acquired: 123
Painted: 150

Tuesday 17 August 2021

Defence of the Tractor Factory

24th August 1942. The 16th Panzer Division has burst through Soviet lines into the northern suburbs of Stalingrad, Rynok and Spartanovka.

However, waiting for them at the Tractor Factory is a cobbled together force of NKVD, People's Militia and hastily built T-34s from the factory itself.

This scenario from the Stalingrad campaign book features two 1500 point armies trying to cross a river with three bridges. Ostensibly, the Germans were attacking, giving them a preparatory bombardment, whilst the Soviets had trench lines and sandbags, but the victory points were the same for both sides. 1 VP for each enemy unit destroyed, and 1 VP for each unit on the other side of the river by the end of the game.

16th Panzer Division

Second Lieutenant
Panzergrenadier Squad
Heer Squad
2 Pioneer Squads (one with flamethrower)
MMG Team
Anti-Tank Rifle Team
Sniper Team
Heavy Mortar with spotter
Medium Howitzer with spotter
Panzer IV
Panzer III
SdKfz 222

Everything was regular except for the Pioneers which were veteran.

NKVD & People's Militia 

Senior Lieutenant
Forward Artillery Observer
2 People's Militia Squads
3 NKVD Squads (one with SMGs)
Sniper Team
2 Anti-Tank Rifle Teams 
Medium Mortar with Spotter 
ZiS-3 Anti-Tank Gun 
ZiS-2 Anti-Tank Gun
2 37mm AA Guns
2 Tractor Factory T-34s (no optics)

The theatre selector allowed me to replace the usual free squad with 2 free inexperienced AA guns. The Commissar, People's Militia and T-34s were also inexperienced, everything else was regular.

Turn 1

The game opened with a preparatory bombardment which dropped pins all along the Soviet lines and managed to kill both the sniper and the medic. Largely ineffective fire flew back and forth across the river.

The most significant move of the turn saw a blitzkrieg attack from a Panzer IV straight towards the factory, gunning down the crew of factory workers manning one of the AA guns.

Turn 2

With a Panzer IV heading directly for them, the Soviets desperately tried to find something that could at least slow it down, including an artillery strike, and give time for the T-34s to roll out of the factory to the rescue.

The remaining AA Gun traversed on its turntable, took aim at the exposed flank of the enemy tank, fired and blew it up at the first time of asking. One German thrust had been halted.

However, now a Panzer III rumbled across another bridge. To add injury to insult, the German Howitzer found its mark on the ZiS-3 covering that bridge and despite the crew hitting the dirt, only one of them survived.

Turn 3

Once again the factory workers traversed their AA Gun. Once again they fired at an onrushing Panzer. Once again they blew it sky high. Heroes of the Soviet Union, every one of them.

With the enemy armour neutralised, the arrival of an incomplete T-34 suggested a shift in fortunes. Possibly allowing the Russians to go on the offensive.

Turn 4

Sensing a weakness on the German flank, Soviet armour and infantry pushed towards the railway bridge past the burning hulk of a Panzer. However, the T-34 was hit by a lucky mortar round, halting it in its tracks.

German infantry saw an opportunity to push across the central bridge behind the destroyed Panzer IV, using the wreck as cover.

Simultaneously, the SdKfz 222 arrived on an outflanking manoeuvre, getting behind the Soviet lines, but failing to make an impact against the dug in infantry.

It was met by an equally, if not even more, ineffective T-34 which managed to miss its target from point blank range.

Turn 5

With time beginning to run out, the People's Militia left the protection of the factory and advanced towards the central bridge. Pouring fire into the isolated German infantry as they went.

The inexperienced T-34 crew were either unwilling or unable to get their vehicle moving under heavy mortar fire and so the infantry pushed on across the river without armoured support.

However, further outflanking forces arrived behind the Soviet lines but were prevented from disembarking from their transport by massed rifle fire, not by the T-34 that managed to miss the anti-tank rifle team with both its MMGs.

Turn 6

Pioneers clambered out of the truck and the flamethrower used up all of its fuel incinerating much of the infantry packed into the trench. Even with 'encouragement' from the Commissar taking another life, the rest lost their nerve and fled the charnel pit.

More pioneers rushed across the bridge but were caught in the open by an outflanking NKVD assault squads. Eleven SMGs opened fire at point blank range and gunned the Pioneers down to a man.

Repeated shelling from a heavy mortar finally took its toll on the stalled T-34, but in return AA Gun fire into a building destroyed the German sniper team.

In a shocking breach of the Geneva convention, the People's Militia assaulted the German medic and the the remains of the squad hiding behind the tank, before pushing on over the bridge, where they took heavy fire.

Meanwhile, the Soviet assault across the bridge ran amongst the buildings of Spartanovka looking for Germans to kill, but a mortar strike took out the enemy howitzer before they could get there.

Turn 7

Four Soviet squads had made it across the river into Spartanovka and eight German units had been destroyed.

However, the German flank attack had got three units across the river, despite losing the truck to a tank shell at the last minute. Added to the 10 Soviet units destroyed the final score stood at 13-12.

The narrowest of German victories.

This has to be one of the closest games of Bolt Action I've ever played, and it was also one of the most enjoyable. We could point to at least a dozen moments which would have tipped the balance one way or another.

My MVP has to be the free inexperienced 37mm AA gun which took out two tanks and a sniper (made even better by the fact that Pete 3d printed it for me). The star of the German show was probably the heavy mortar which prevented a T-34 wreaking havoc in their lines.

The next scenario sees my Soviets on the attack against surrounded and outnumbered Germans, low on fuel and low on ammunition.

Seems fair.

Monday 16 August 2021

The Building of the Westfold

I know I've been focusing my attentions on Frodo's progress in the Quest of the Ringbearer, but I haven't given up hope of eventually playing through the War in Rohan campaign.

The major stumbling block, however, has been the first scenario, which required me to paint something in the region of fifty miniatures and no less than seven buildings.

With the miniatures and five of the buildings done last year during lockdown, the stumbling block has now finally been overcome.

With the addition of the Rohan house, watchtower and (completely unnecessary) pigsty, I now have everything I need to kindle the flames of war in the Westfold.

What's also nice is that the house and watchtower add some more specifically Rohan themed elements to what had been previously a very generic village, which featured two resin houses from Adrian's Walls (picked up second hand via Wargames Emporium), two cheap plastic shacks from Renedra (proof that you get what you pay for), and a scratch-built blacksmith's forge built around the contents of a Mantic Terrain Crate.

The Rohan house is a really nice and versatile plastic kit from Games Workshop, released at the same time as the War in Rohan book and its first scenario which tells you to get seven of them.

In the box there's a basic house design (which is the one I've used), but the panels can be put together in a whole variety of ways - there's actually a nice section in the War in Rohan book detailing some ways you can use the kit.

Another nice element is that the panels are reversible with options for leaded windows or arrow slots to add more variation to your buildings - top tip: if you want to get these painted quickly choose the arrow slit option.

I actually made a mistake with assembling mine and put the arrow slit in the roof section rather than the really nice sunburst design that I'd intended to use which would have added more colour to the model.

In terms of painting, I went for a base of Baneblade Brown, a wash of Agrax Earthshade and a drybrush of Administratum Grey followed by the detailing of metallics and glass (just more grey with nuln oil over it) and Loren Green for the doors. The thatch was done with a black base followed by two drybrushes of Balor Brown and Ushabti Bone.

I can be quite scathing about Games Workshop at times, but this kit is versatile and detailed enough to pribably be worth the the £20-25 you'll pay for it. However, I was never going to get seven of them for use in a grand total of just two scenarios.

Enter the Blotz Dark Age Watchtower (which just happens to have horse heads on it - how coincidental!). Proof that targetted Facebook advertising does actually work, at least on me.

Made of mdf and retailing at the very attractive price of just £7.50 (I even got an extra 10% off due to a promotion), this was just what I was after.

Games Workshop do actually do a watchtower, but it's in their palisade walls kit which is £45 and so thry might end up being scratch built for the one scenario they're needed in.

The kit is really easy to assemble, but a bit fiddly to paint afterwards. If there's a criticism, it's that the legs are a bit bland to look at. I went for patchy drybrushing to disguise that, but I'm sure there are better ways to improve them (I suspect adding some shields to draw the eye elsewhere might be a good choice).

I've foolishly taken photos that don't show you the ladder on the side of the tower, but along with the removable roof (I did have to shave the pegs for this after painting to make it fit) this becomes a very playable piece of scenery.

The element I found most daunting was the thatch. The kit comes with a piece of teddy bear fur, which allows you to make your tower look like Donald Trump.

There are plenty of tutorials online for making fur look good, but they all seemed to stress the need to have the fur brushed in line with the grain/nap/direction of the fur and the shape of the roof didn't seem like it would work with this.

Therefore, a bit more research threw up the idea of using a piece of terry towelling. This presented the awkward concept of trying to work out which towel I could steal and hack up without it ending in divorce.

Fortunately for my marriage we had an old brown towel under the sink (probably because it was brown). A slit cut in a square of towel allowed it to slot straight on to the roof where it fitted neatly in place once corners and edges were clipped. After gluing it down, I doused it in watered-down PVA.

Once dry, I painted the thatch in the same way that I did the Rohan house (having a brown towel as a base really helped here) and, I have to say, I prefer the towel to the expensive plastic roof of the GW kit. I also prefer it to the scouring pad thatch I did on my forge.

There's still plenty of the brown towel left, so this is likely to be my preferred method of roofing buildings from this point forward - even if a building shouldn't be thatched.

The pigsty is also from Blotz and was just a couple of quid, so I threw it in the basket when getting the watchtower. There's nothing special to say about it, except that the straw is some leftovers from way back when I cut up a door mat for my wheatfields.

No pigs at the moment, but I'm sure that somewhere I've got some from a Pass the Pigs game I painted years ago. They are too big and have massive ears, but they'd work well enough.

The sty will see use in all sorts of genres and helps make boards a bit more characterful.

And so I now have everything I need to start War in Rohan. I just need to convince someone to play. The first scenario would actually work quite well as a multilayer game, so I might try that angle of attack.

In terms of numbers, they may be bigger items but they "still only count as one" model each. There are two bits of fence that go with the house, which I forgot to photograph, but I'm not counting them as separate as they took zero effort.

Acquired: 119
Painted: 147