Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Marry Christmas to all DestoFante's readers!
My best wishes for holidays of peace and joy for all of you!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A year in review

DestoFante will be on the road for the next 10 days. First, Christmas with Mrs. DestoFante & her family in Florida; then, New Year’s celebration with my family in Italy. I expect the program to include a first jump in temperatures from -20°F with wind-chill in Chicago to 82°F in Southern Florida, then another sudden drop to the mid 30°F up in the Italian Alps near the Swiss border where my family live.
And DestoFante detests sudden changes in temperature.

These travel plans also mean that, maybe with the exception of a few hours of painting that I hope to squeeze in tonight or tomorrow, the wargaming year is coming to a close. It seems the right time to make a quick summary of the accomplishments of the past 12 months (there will be opportunities to discuss the projects for 2009 at a later time.)

First of all, this blog. It provided “method to the madness.” It has been a wonderful instrument to reconnect with old friends, and make several new ones. It really keeps the excitement going, and it works well as “discipline device”: it keeps me focused on my projects, and it provides the incentive to get things done, or to articulate my thoughts of the several different aspects of the hobby.

In terms of new periods, in 2008 I broke ground on three major projects: the Marlburian age, an “AK-47 Republic” imaginary African state, Lopongo, and my first foray in naval wargaming with 1/6000 WWI models.

Old projects never die, nor fade away… nor really get completed, because you also have one or two units here and there that can be added. In 2008, I made progress on the miniatures of my Abyssinia campaign, and I completed a few Napoleonic and WWI units.

In terms of rules, I was glad to provide some input to my friends EB who is working to revise the colonial module for an excellent ruleset (hint, hint: these are my favorite rules.) The project is due for publication in 2009, and it will probably be available at Historicon.

I also had the opportunity to buy and read two excellent rule booklets, among the best I have seen in several years: Sam Mustafa’s “Grand Armee” and “GåPå.” I promise a post on the topic of rules a long time ago, and for one reason or another I have not been able to write it yet, but I am looking forward to share with my readers some of my preferences & pet peeves on the thorny issues. Since I am very particular about what I like and what I dislike in rules, it is quite significant that in a matter of a few months I found not one, but two sets I sincerely enjoy very much.

I should add two further rule books that are going to have long-lasting impact on my gaming: the old but newly republished “The War Game” by Charles Grant, and the revised XVIII century module for Piquet, “Cartouche 2”, which hopefully will be delivered in time to appear under my Christmas tree in two days.

As for terrain and scenery, in 2008 I learned that paper models are cheaply (or freely) available, and they have reached an excellent quality. I plan several purchase at PaperTerrain over the next 12 months, as terrain is one area where I have been lagging.

Finally, this year marked my return to Historicon after a one-year hiatus. As usual, the experience was blast – both socially and in terms of shopping. The show is always the same, but that’s the way we like it. Crossing my fingers, I hope to have the good luck to return to Historicon in 2009, although it is too early to tell.

All these small and large accomplishments, I should add, were achieved during an unusually busy professional year, when we saw changes of historical magnitude in our economic and financial landscape. The almost complete silence in blogging during September and October were the direct result of such a dramatic time; nevertheless, the hobby has also been a major stress-reliever during a very tense period.

I should have time to make a few plans for 2009 during the flights in the next week or so, and I will definitely check in for the seasonal greeting over the next few days. Not sure if new pics will come available, but I will post any good ones I will get in my hands!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Freezing temperatures...

... make for a perfect painting afternoon! And I am glad to report some further progress in my Marlburian project. I am currently working on a few units from the Army of Electoral Palatine I bought at last Historicon from Editions Brokaw, plus one French infantry from Minifigs, plus one unit of Brandenburg grenadiers. Here's a few pics, taken before I realized a major mistake: belts and bandoliers should not be white, they should be buff or leather! Since then, I promptly corrected the error with some appropriate retouches -- unfortunately, no picture to document the final result.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

ISO a good boardgame for my father-in-law

Hello my dear readers,

I apologize in advance for this open and somewhat off-topic request, but I trust your indulgence and broad knowledge of everything-wargaming as I work on my Christmas list…

My wife suggested that, as a present for my father-in-law, we look into a military boardgame. I have been concentrating on miniatures for two decades now, and my Avalon Hill days are long gone, so I am not really sure what to look at. My father in law is a retired high school principal, with a keen interested in American history, in particular AWI and ACW. He never played wargames before, but he seemed genuinely interested to my gaming hobby. I do not expect him to pick up brushes and miniatures, hence the idea to proceed with a boardgame first. Ideally, I'd love to find a game with the following features:

a. good/high solitaire playability;
b. very good historical background;
c. medium complexity: something engaging for an adult, not too simplistic yet not too overwhelmingly complex;
d. focus on the American War of Independence or the American Civil War.

I am sure that, out there, there must be a "present day" AH "1776"… I just don't know where to look. Any suggestion & recommendation will be greatly appreciated – and hey, if any winning idea will come, I'll buy you a drink at Historicon!

Thanks in advance!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Is paper the new black?

Of course it is not, nor I would ever dare to state the contrary. Yet, I think that for people in the right mindset, with the proper expectations, and for the right price, paper can go a long way on our wargaming tables.
Enter exhibit A.

This building was downloaded a few evenings ago from this website. If I well understand, the models are inspired by buildings in the French island of Reunion (which, by the way, I thought it was a penal colony.)
Yes, this is not perfect. It is not the solid, stocky building I would have bought at JR Miniatures. Not the excellent, hard cardboard models from the always intriguing Paperterrain. But hey, the price is certainly right: they are free to download! All I needed was a color printer, some glue, some patience, and a couple of hours during a rainy afternoon. And rest assured this palace will come handy again and again: I already envision it as the Prince's Palace in my XVIII century imagi-nation, the Principality of Saxe-Pape-Cyssor, and it will also serve as the presidential palace in Lopongo.
I hope, eventually, to refine my skills in paper building - starting with a not exactly simple project has probably affected today's final result, too. But again, with the right expectations and the right mindset, I believe this palace will be in proud display on the tabletop soon.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Annoying delay

You may -- or may not -- have noticed very little action in my fictional African Republic of Lopongo. Unfortunately, we ran into some headwinds. In order to get ready for a first, "fighting" scenario, I was waiting a few miniatures I ordered through a winning eBay auction. It was a very nice lot: some vehicles, some Peter Pig figures, a few other interesting items. Even the price was more than fair.
Alas, the US Postal Service lost the package! As I file complaints and insurance claims, I am apparently stuck with an annoying delay in the project. I need a few figures to get started on the first scenario (and I am not telling about it yet!), but I am reluctant to do another order now, in December, with holidays looming - and USPS notoriously overstretched...
Thus, in the meanwhile, I have been doing some background reading to add some realism to the first developing plot in Lopongo: the oil deal between the government and the French. I learned a lot about the economics of oil in Africa and, ironically, I have used part of that information in my professional capacity before than on the tabletop. I look forward to move the Lopongo story forward with a detailed post about the economics and politics of the oil deal soon.
In the meanwhile, I am glad to refer to another blog of interest for those of you following modern insurgencies/conflicts: Tiny Metal Men, faring from Australia, with some catchy materials. Read there, and keep an eye on here, too.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

O boy, "they paint" fast...

... and you paint, and paint...
And here we go. Fresh from my bench, SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau ready to sail off Messina, destination: unknown. Circa August 6, 1914.

Now the question is: does Britannia still rule the waves?
These guys are out to offer their answer...

Some commentary will follow soon... but I figure out you will enjoy a happy Sunday night with some eye-candies. All these miniatures are Figurehead 1/6000. Painting took place between yesterday and today, and this time around there was some headwind: one lesson I learned is never, never spraying a white primer outdoor in the freezing Chicago temperature. Nevertheless, I recovered from that horrid splash of condensed white paint shot on HMS Warrior, and I sailed relatively smoothly for the rest of the job.
Funny fact: none of these miniatures were in my possess as of last Monday morning. On Monday afternoon, I submitted an order to the Figurehead distributor at The Last Square, Madison WI. The miniatures were fortunately in stock: the package was sent on Tuesday morning from Madison, and delivered on Thursday in Chicago. By Sunday night, they were painted and ready for action. Sigh of bliss...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dried-up acrylic paints

In a few weeks I will visit my family, and I will face again one issue I confronted during my last visit. I found in a closet a box with several acrylic paints, forgotten for a long time and, by now, completely dried up. Question: is that any chance I may "resuscitate" them? They are water-based acrylic paints, so, I wonder, maybe I could add some solvent (or just plain water?) and bring the pigments back to life. is it possible?
Clearly, DestoFante does not understand much about the chemistry of acrylic paint, but still hopes...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dipping the toe in new waters

Having just asked myself the other day, "how am I suppose to paint these little jewels? ", where by jewels I meant some 1/3000 and 1/6000 miniatures for naval wargaming, it was only consequential to spend a quiet, otherwise uneventful Saturday afternoon by taking up my own challenge. Again, I have never painted any ship, in an scale, before, so this was an absolute FIRST. Here's my humble chronicle of the events of the weekend.
I started by gluing my ships to nails with a flat head - I guess, this is the naval equivalent of the wooden stick I use for 15mm miniatures. I was lucky enough to have some styrofoam around, which provided an excellent base. The Figurehead 1/6000 minis were separated, the actual vessel on one nail, the base on another. Here's how my table looked at that point.

Next, some white priming. This was done with the Krylon H2O White Primer I bought in the by now not-so-recent trip to WalMart. Very nice primer, I would agree - and pretty cheap. I keep it light, since this are tiny tiny model, and I didn't want to overdo my hand. Here's a close-up of RN Regina Elena.

Next step, I did some actual painting, starting from the 1/3000 Davco. D-551 Audace was relatively easy: light gray for the vertical surfaces, and dark gray for the horizontal ones. This seems to be a pretty standard scheme for NATO. The tanker was slightly more challenging. I was not able to come up with a color picture of British Trent, so I had to adopt the scheme from a few other online pictures I found through Google. As for the Osa-Class mssile boats, a few good pics helped a lot; I opted for brownish horizontal surfaces and gray vertical surfaces, based on a few pictures from former Soviet and Iranian sources. This is not the best pictures, but at least shows the three vessels together.

Since the Osa-class ships are attached to the base, I took a little time and fun to paint the waters... and this is the moment in which things got exciting. I have to confess, thus far I was painting without much self-awareness, but now I began to feel the excitement. I took a picture of this Osa and I began to feel self-confident into my efforts.

I polished the three Osa, Audace and the tanker with a black ink wash. Not my favorite technique - I actually explored a very light dipping in my dark WinMax Polyshade, but I decided against going this way - the Osa model I experimented with looked too shiny, and I was not able to control the "blackening" to fix a few "painting sins." Black ink did it, and I was glad with the results.
I took a break, and I realized it was time to move on to the the 1/6000 Figurehead vessels. I cannot hide my concerns: these are tiny. Really tiny. I already felt I was stretching my abilities with a 1/3000 model, and Figurehead was upping the ante to an entirely new challenge. Oh, well... I started dipping the brush with the thinner point into the paint, and I slowly went to work... first, the horizontal surfaces, a yellowish buff; then the vertical surfaces, a brownish gray. The color scheme came from a few models I found online (in a much bigger scale!) at this excellent website. Then I painted the chimney turrets black. And then... I was done! Seriously, there is not much else you can do on a vessel at the 1/6000 scale! This is how RN Regina Elena looked at this stage.

I faced again the dilemma between miracle dipping and ink wash, and I went for a split decision. RN Regina Elena received the ink wash, while RN Dante Alighieri got a mini-dip. I worked on the bases, and by now I felt I mastered the tricky task thanks to the previous work done on the Osa ships.
And right there, I was done: the miniatures popped easily off the nails, and as easily were glued to their bases. Done!
After all the work, this morning the time came to take some "official" pictures. First, the Osa class missile boats.

Now D-551 Audace and the tanker.

Then RN Regina Elena.

And finally, RN Dante Alighieri with RN Regina Elena in the background.

Some final thoughts. Painting these miniatures was actually far easier than expected, and that's true also for the 1/6000 Figurehead. Actually, I am thinking to buy some more from this line. My first foray into painting naval miniatures was fun, at moment exciting. I am delighted by decision to spend my Saturday on this task. I will resist the temptation to stand on the deck of RN Regina Elena and declared "Mission accomplished", but I feel elated by the experience, and I think I will soon explore naval miniature wargaming with more dedication. I have a few thoughts to share on the topic of which rule sets to adopt, but I will leave that for another post. For now, let me bask in the sunshine on the deck of one of the aforementioned ships...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Naval detour

Over the years, I had a few moments of fondness for the idea of naval wargaming. On my bookshelf, I have a copy of Harpoon, in case I decided, one day, to play some modern scenario. And Seekrieg V has been on my wish-list for quite some time.
Occasionally, I also bought some miniatures: modern 1/3000 Davco and WWI 1/6000 Figurehead. These miniatures just came in my hands again tonight, as I was browsing through my wargaming closet. They are nice, nice for sure... but... er... how am I suppose to paint these little jewels? I found a few online tutorials, most notably this, but nothing that really convinced me that painting naval miniatures would not be complete madness.
So, here I am contemplating the nice pictures I am sharing, and wondering...
Modern Italian DDG "Audace", 1:3000 Davco model

WWI Italian BB, RN "Regina Elena", 1:6000 Figurehead model

WWI Italian BB, RN "Dante Alighieri", 1:6000 Figurehead model

ERRATA: The modern vessel, "Audace", is in fact a Davco model, not Navwar as previously stated.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another quiet night of painting...

This is becoming a recurring theme for this fall. I am able to squeeze in a little bit of painting, let say 90 minutes to a couple of hours. Not much to register any major breakthrough, but still a very enjoyable session, actually relaxing and not too tiring on my eyes. I usually work on a batch of figures: 24 marlburian miniatures (a battalion), or 24 Napoleonic ones as I did today. This is a rather rewarding strategy: I work on a small group of figures so that I can do some actual progress, and I do not get bored as I did when working on the boots of 60 miniatures in one sitting. The downside is that progress is slow, but hopefully there will be soon a good number of figures ready for basing - and then, you can count on some good picture!

Post number 100

I just realized that the previous post was number 100. One hundred posts since June 21st - not bad! When I started blogging, I was not sure how frequently I would be able to write my wargaming notes. Apparently, I did better than expected, but I still feel some frustrations about the past few weeks, which have been professionally very demanding. In any case - I am still here, and happily so!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A night of peaceful painting

... and the nice feeling that progress is happening in my "age of reason" project! I spent a couple of hours adding a few but fun details - the cuffs, the tricorne lace, the belts...
Here's, in no particular order, some of the work for the night. The first two shots are Minifigs WSS French; the third, the infamous Old Glory SYW Austrians; the last, the Edition Brokaw WSS Palatine. On this final line: the sculpt is somewhat rough and "old style", but I have to say these miniatures are easy to paint, and very fun to work on. Despite the tentative details, they have a shot of becoming favorite of mine along the Minifigs range!

Monday, October 20, 2008

A new, exciting colonial blog

It was opened in mid September, but somehow it slipped from my attention until now... The "Campaigns of General William Augustus Pettygree" is an "old style" wargaming blog that brings us back to the North-West Frontier... I can't wait to have the time to read all the past posts (the recent ones are very inspiring!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

New brushes

I haven't bought brushes in quite some time. Actually, a long time - it must be more than a few years. Probably I got by because I take good care of them, but they were beginning to show signs of wear. Points weren't as fine as they should, and I was beginning to have hard time in catching some of the tiny details. Time to go shopping for some new tools!
Fortunately, in the Chicago suburbs we have a very nice hobby store - Game Plus in Mount Prospect. I headed in that direction for some shopping yesterday, and here's what I took home.

Four spanking new brushes, three in a nice set by Reaper. Size 5/0, 0, 1, and 2 flat. This addition should provide some mileage to my current painting projects - Lopongo, WSS/Saxe-Pape-Cyssor, etc. This purchase will also give me some leeway to transfer the old brushes to some heavy-duty task, like dry brushing camo or horses.
To tell the truth, I have done some more painting today wild those old tools, which served me so well over the years. Maybe they could have kept going for a while. But it is nice to have something new!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lopongo miniatures - a preview

This is my first attempt to paint contemporary armies. An interesting journey: clearly, painting camo is not as easy as I first thought, but with some exercise I should become able to produce OK, "wargame standard" miniatures. It is a work in progress, but I want to share my first brush strokes.
The first group will be mercenaries: South Africans, Rhodesians, Belgians, some veterans from the French Foreign Legion. Not sure yet whom they will work for - a big oil company setting up operations in Lopongo? A PMC (private military company) hired by president Kwanto Sei Bruto? or maybe by a district governor with ambitious plans of his own? Stay tuned! For the time being, here's how they are coming along.

The second shot is for Lopongo regulars. As you may expect, these are likely under-paid and under-trained men from which you would not expect much... unless motivated by the desire of better pay after a radical political change, or inspired by a visionary religious leader, or driven by long-seeded tribal animosity...

The Republic of Lopongo

I did it. To relax from the stress caused by the global financial meltdown, I took a breather and created my imaginary Western Africa nation, the Republic of Lopongo. I opened a blog about it, "Qui Lopongo", where an independent news agency will report events, breaking news, and in-depth analysis from that unfortunate spot on earth. I even drew a few maps, that you will find in the blog under a detailed "Country Brief". I plan to keep "Qui Lopongo" in character, and post all the wargaming information on "Desto Fante".

A few words of introduction. I was fascinated by Peter Pig's AK-47 miniatures when they were first released. After all, who didn't love a book like "Dogs of War" or a movie like "Wild Geese"? My problem in embarking on a wargaming project, though, was the AK-47 rules. I love the tongue-in-cheek style - which I deem necessary to a subject that may be unsettling to many - but I was less than impressed by the actual gaming mechanisms. A couple of things have changed. TooFatLardies just published a supplement for the post-colonial African conflicts, B'Maso, tailored for their WWII rules IABSM (which I enjoy a lot) and for their skirmish set TWT (I never remember what that stands for, but it is IABSM at a smaller level, i.e. IABSM is company vs TWT is platoon.) Second, an interesting ruleset is out there for modern regulars vs. irregulars types of fight, "Ambush Alley". Thus, I came to the conclusion that with IABSM, TWT, "Ambush Alley", and the compass of B'Maso it will be possible to play AK-47 scenarios - even a nation-wide campaign! - which both maintains the chrome and provides fun game mechanics & narrative.

In the Country Brief, I went to some length to set the background, and I also add some "color" to the personalities involved. Italian-speaking friends will probably take note of the ironic nature of the names used - unfortunately, with a few exceptions, most of the jokes go lost in English.

Finally, a few acknowledgments. There are two great websites that have offered ever-ending inspiration for Lopongo: Ztum-Setum and Bongolesia. I've never met personally the gentlemen behind Ztum and Bongolesia, the members of the South East Scotland Wargames Club and Mr. Murph in Indianapolis, but my kudos to them! I hope Lopongo will be as inspiring and fun as their African imaginations!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Excellent service!

On September 22nd, I placed an order to Silver Eagle for the few Abyssinians figures I need to complete the roster of my army. Monday September 22nd. I got a nice reply by Jacob, who told me a few items were out of stock. I agreed to split the order, and... Wednesday September 24th, I got my package! I mean - 36 hours to go from CT to Chicago. WOW! Bravo! I received this past week the second installment, which I was not expecting until the second half of the month!

I should add: I have received some very good service by several dealers over the past six months: Silver Eagle, Minifigs USA, PaperTerrain, Peter Pig, JR Miniatures, TooFatLardies. Maybe I am just lucky, but I like to think that we have some truly exceptional individuals serving the wargaming community!

Gentlemen, there is only one way to express our appreciation and gratitude: we'll keep spending!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Back ache

DestoFante has been grounded for the day by an annoying back ache. He is lying on the couch, in pain. He thinks that a good glass of Scotch whiskey is all he needs for a prompt and complete recovery.

Mrs. DestoFante disagrees.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Painting the Age of Reason miniatures

Here's a preliminary, photographic report on the progress, or lack thereof, made last week, amidst tumbling markets and failing economies. These two sets are respectively French WSS and Prussian SYW, both by Minifigs USA. I am painting 24 of each, in order to have two "big" battalions by 24 figures each - yahoo! As you will notice, still a long way to go, and I still need to get completely comfortable with the Prussians. The French feel more straightforward, or mybe it is just my preference for WSS over SYW. After all, if you remember my thoughts back from the summer when I started all the blog, the whole was to experiment with different periods within the 18th century, and go for the one I feel more comfortable painting. Anyway, preliminary as they are, here's a glimpse to what is being worked on.

And in true spirit of the times (the current, not the XVIII century) please notice the worthless stock quotes in the Wall Street Journal I used to protect the underlying table.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On other matters...

A couple of weeks ago I moved my Marlburian project along, very slowly, with a few of painting sessions in between market collapses. Pictures were taken, but the lighting was poor. I will post soon a few samples anyway.
In stark contrast with the polite and chivalrous style of warfare in the Age of Reason, I also read with some interest the latest supplement by the guys at TooFatLardies, B'Maso, which deals with post-colonial wars in contemporary Africa. This work quickly brought me toward two other books that I literally devoured, "The Wonga Coup" and Forsyth's "Dogs of War." Connecting the dots, I realized that there is a very interesting opportunity to translate the imagi-nations concept into modern Africa, and I actually did some background work to outline a fictitious West African state, plagued by a paranoid dictator, diamond-trading guerrillas, oil-protecting mercenaries, coup-plotting colonels, and order-restoring French paras. This would be an excellent excuse to spend some money on Peter Pig's AK-47 miniatures, and paint some khaki uniforms. We will soon hear more about this, too.

Abyssinian Wars Project

Before the turmoil on financial markets completely absorbed my life, I hinted a few times to a colonial project I have been working on for a few months. My friend EB is writing the 2nd edition of a great set of rules for the colonial period, and he asked me to contribute the army lists for the publication, expected to go to the press next year.
It was tough to find the time, but I finally delivered EB some drafts last week, and apparently he thinks they are really good. Some more work to polish the ratings, and add a few optional rules, and voila', we will be in good shape. Stay tuned, because when the time will come, I will provide plenty of information about our project.
In the meanwhile, I took the opportunity of this contribution to go through an inventory of miniatures I have available for the Italian-Abyssinian War, 1887-1896. My playtests were conducted with some Mahadist units as stand-in, but I realized that, with little efforts, I may have a full, completed project!
So, first of all, I pick up the excellent scenarios booklet "Colonial Campaigns - Ethiopia 19887-1896" by Mark Fastoso (whom, incidentally, I also help with playtesting.) Second, I tallied up all the units you need to play the 10 scenarios, thus deriving a nice matrix of what do I need to have in storage. I counted five types of units for a total of 13 units for the Italians, plus leaders (mounted and foot) plus guns, MGs and wagons. The Abyssinians forces display also five types of units, for a total of 16 units, plus leaders and guns.
Next step, with my little matrix in hand, I paraded the existing forces on the table for a roll call. Some units are already battle-ready, some other miniatures are at different stages along the painting process, and a few are still in their sad little bag, unpainted. I took a few pictures, one for the Italian

and two for the Abyssinians.

This quick survey highlighted a few shortcomings, which I immediately try to fix with an order for a few bags. I received the missing pieces during my recent "sabbatical", so to speak, and as soon as I'll come back to wargaming in full swing, I will have in my hands all I need to complete the two armies in a short time!


I am back. It seems ages ago when I was able to post here almost on a daily basis, and now almost two entire weeks went by without me popping in, not even to just say hello.
If you have been watching the news, you probably suspect the reason of such a long absence. The situation on world market has deteriorated steadily, and now our economic shop has a forecast for a recession in the fourth quarter of the year (that is: now) until the late spring 2009. We have been working almost around the clock, literally: a few decisions by the federal authorities were taken on Saturdays or Sundays, so I have been working during weekends, and some other events took place during night time, because of the time difference with Europe and Japan. These days, it is not uncommon to start exchanging emails with my boss at 3am, and stop past 11pm. Needless to say, Mrs. DestoFante is not happy! I will now proceed, in a different post, to some wargaming updates.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reality bites

If you had the opportunity to read the headline news over the past 10 days, or watching five minutes of the evening news, you already know what I have been up to for the past couple of weeks. How distant is the summer, with its warm, long days, and plenty of time for blogging!
The developing financial crisis has kept me busy professionally, and I spent the very little spare time in doing some little progress in my projects, rather than updating "Desto Fante." Things are coming along both in my colonial project - the Italian-Abyssinians wars - and in my "Age of Reason" long term project, with some painting done on the samples I brought back from Historicon. Currently, painting is proceeding on the following infantry units: one marlburian French, one SYW Austrian, two marlburian/SYW Prussian fusilier, and one SYW Prussian musketeer.
I also made two small orders: some additional Abyssinians from Irregular and Tin Soldier, to complete the "bande" units (irregulars fighting on the Italian side), and my first order ever to PaperTerrain... for sure there will be more to discuss on the latter!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

How to catch my attention on eBay

A thread on TMP made me think about the best practice to capture my attention toward an eBay auction. I enjoy eBay, I think it is a good instrument to look for good deals in miniatures, but I also believe that, without some homework, you can easily make mistakes. Here what I would recommend to a potential seller, based on my experiences as an occasional buyer:

A. group your miniatures in medium-to-large lot, from 50-60 figures up. I rarely spend time on small lots;

B. make sure to have pictures. Good close-up are fundamental;

C. make sure to add detailed descriptions: scale, maker, units included, number of figures. You would be surprised by how many auctions are poorly worded. Again, poor, confused or misleading title will kill your chances;

D. make sure to have a exhaustive header, including again scale, maker, period, nationality of the figures (i.e. "15mm Minifigs Napoleonic Prussians".)

I have seen some item overly mispriced on eBay. In some cases, prices were outrageously inflated; in other cases, I made excellent purchases with fantastic discounts. For sure, it takes some time and a little of talent to learn how to ace those auctions!

Good readings

As I laid in the Mexican sun last week, I had the rarer and rarer opportunity to read almost non-stop for several hours -- a guilty pleasure I have not indulged in for a too long time.
Two of the books that were devoured cover-to-cover have some relevance here. They both refer, more or less directly, to modern, almost contemporary conflicts. Low intensity warfare in the second half of the XX century is something that has intrigued me for a long time, and yet I have been reluctant to tip my toe into this period, at least publicly. I think this is my sense of decorum in display: these events are still open wounds for many people, and making them the object of wargaming is something that must be done with great taste, respect, and measure, and some understatement.
Back to my recommended readings of the day.
The first book is about the open engagement in the Vietnam War, Operation Starlite in August 1965.

The title is "The First Battle - Operation Starlite and the Beginning of the Blood Debt in Vietnam". It is a quick book, little more than 200 pages, and it contains several ideas for good scenarios. It is also a fascinating reading to cast some light about the fighting doctrine of the U.S. Marines and the VietCong in the early stages of the conflict.
The second book is not military history, but a novel which had some success a few years back.

Alexandra Fuller wrote "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood" as a memoir of her childhood in war-torn Rhodesia, and the book chronicled the story of her family moving across the region (Rhodesia, Malawi, Zambia) in the '70s and '80s. It s a very frank and sweet book, which portrays the harsh realities of a country in political and military turmoil.
Just a few weeks back, TooFatLardies published B'Maso, a supplement for "I Ain't Been Shot Mum" which provides historical background, army lists, and scenarios for the conflicts of African decolonization: from the Mau Mau in Kenya in the 1950s, to Katanga and the Congo in the 1960s, Biafra and Nigeria, Rhodesia, the Portuguese Wars in Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Angola, and the border war in South West Africa.
I have to confess: reading this book made me very curious about the possibilities in TFL booklet. Very interesting. Maybe it's time to go and give a second look to Peter Pig's AK47 range...

Did you miss me?

I am back - did you miss me?
Mrs. DestoFante and I enjoyed a delightful vacation in Mexico, and we have some picture to share!

Once back I had to deal with a busy week at work. If you are checking the economic and financial news tonight, you may realize that my next day or two might end up being absolutely hectic indeed. But for the time being, I ams till enjoying a rainy (very rainy, as Stokes reported early today) but restful weekend. And yes, some wargaming progress was finally taking place! I will soon provide a more detailed update, but here a quick overview:
A. I completed the basing of a good portion of my Hadendowa/Abyssinians;
B. I did a thorough headcount of what I will need to play most of the Italian-Abyssinian War scenarios in Mark Fastoso's booklet. And the good news is: I am almost perfectly on target! Have you ever heard of a "completed" wargaming project? This may well be it!
C. "Almost perfectly" in the above item - I prepared two small orders to file with Irregular and Essex for a few spare items I need: a couple of Maxim guns and a few irregular Eritrean to deploy as "bande" with my Italians;
D. also, I am working on a new order to Minifigs to beef up my Marlburian French - for my "Lace Wars" aficionados, I may be back soon on that project as well!

I also completed a couple of fascinating readings, which served as inspiration to explore some wargaming ideas. More to follow on this as well.

Back to work!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Off to Mexico

Just a short vacation. Will be back on Monday. Don't miss me too much!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

In praise of lead hoarding

I have noticed in a few occasions that wargamers tend to chuckle and be dismissive about their hoarding of lead in the closet, i.e. the large amount of unpainted miniatures we keep in storage, waiting for the elusive hour in which action will actually take place on a long dreamt-after project. Recently, during an exchange in the "Old School" yahoo group, I even read the recommendation to donate part of our inventories to lure "new blood" into the hobby.

Well, here's a case in which my professional training kicks in. Let me offer a case about the desirability and "efficiency" of holding unpainted lead in the closet. I will argue in the negative:

You should NOT hold unpainted miniatures if, in the future, you expect
  1. better cast miniatures;

  2. wider ranges;

  3. higher personal wages and salaries;

  4. to be very disciplined in the execution of your wargaming projects.

I think point 1 marginally holds: contemporary miniatures seem to be technically better than they used to be 20 years ago; nevertheless, many of us are more than happy with classics like Minifigs. In average, I think 1. is a weak argument.
Unfortunately, experiences teaches that ranges currently available may not remain available in the future. Just three examples for the 15mm scale, out of my personal interests: the excellent Boxer Rebellion miniatures by Frontier Miniature; Alphacast's Balkan Wars figures; MJ's Falkland miniatures. Definitely, point 2 does not hold.
On point 3, evidence is mixed. If we really believe in the thesis that the hobby is "greying," increasing expected incomes may not be a reasonable assumption. I would rate the point as weak. The reason why future income matters is that the opportunity cost of miniatures today, in terms of foregone consumption alternatives, may exceeds the opportunity costs of the same amount of miniatures tomorrow, when higher income may accommodate both for miniatures and for more alternative spending. Sometimes, it just makes sense to wait for the future.
Finally, point 4 is just a subjective characteristics, and I would rate it as inconclusive. If you are an "impulsive painter", the assumption is clearly incorrect, bt some of us may actually muster the strength to "stay on mission" despite the several temptations that always linger around the hobby.
By and large, I would argue that the case against hoarding lead in the closet is not substantiated, and under fairly reasonable assumptions may in fact be optimal to add to our collection of unpainted miniatures.

I would add a fifth, strong point in favor of hoarding. When you buy and hold unpainted lead, what you actually buy is an option - the option to go to the closet on the spur of the moment, and start painting whatever you feel in the mood to paint. What is the value of such an option? It is the present value of the money spent in the past on the miniature now being painted, plus the cumulative cost of storage - which, likely, is very little for most of us. I would argue that the cost of the option is greater than zero, but still lower than the benefit associated with the opportunity to paint whatever you want, whenever you want.

The bottom line of tonight's "Freakonomic" musings: go out, buy miniatures, and if they will rest for more a decade in your closet as it happens to me, don't feel bad about. It is probably the "economic efficient" thing to do.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Real life

It appears that real life is getting into the way of many of us, these days. In Zum Stollenkeller, Stokes is dealing with the kick-off of the academic year. In Saxe-Bearstein, Jeff is busy in a play. Here, I finally welcome back my wife, a professional opera singer, who has been on the road for a summer festival over the past three months. We are just relaxing and enjoying the Windy City together with some family, and we'll take a few days off for a quick vacation next week, which means: quiet time on the wargaming (and blogging) front for some time. But you know I never resist the temptation to pop in from time to time for sharing some thought on the hobby...
For the time being, I will share two pictures taken today, during the architectural tour on the Chicago River.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Apprehension for Hurricane Gustav

Hurricane Gustav is picking up strength, and heading in the direction of New Orleans. We all remember how much the city suffered when Katrina hit, and our prayers go to all the people on the Gulf Coast for whom mandatory evacuation was ordered on Saturday. Among them, I want to dedicate a special thought to Larry Brom, a gentleman and a scholar, author of one of my favorite rule-set for the colonial period, the legendary "The Sword And The Flame." Larry has been an indefatigable supporter of colonial wargaming; I met him a few times at Historicon, and I sincerely enjoyed his wit as game-master, and our post-game conversations. His small wargaming, business, Sergeants 3, suffered a lot in the aftermath of Katrina, and barely made it through thanks to the efforts of Larry and his daughters. Now, a new threat at the horizon, after what has already been a rough year for Larry's health. Tonight, my special prayer go to Larry, Lori and Christy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

In search of a primer

I ran out of white primer. It happened while I was working on the Abyssinians/Hadendowa figures, and I had to switch to the black primer. Not a big deal, but I tend to prefer the white one, at least to prevent the darkening issues I experienced with the "miracle dipping" as I previously reported.
Now I have the issue of getting a new white primer. Which is more problematic than you think. First of all, I need to select one. The can I just finished was spray from Armory, and it was mostly OK, but had a few cons. First of all, I thought it was relatively pricey. When something is labeled as special for "model hobby", the price gets steep - and I do not believe there is anything actually special about it. I went on TMP, did some search on the boards, and I think my intuition is largely confirmed. Second, I also suspect my Armory spray primer exhausted the propellant before it exhausted the actual paint, because I shake the can and I feel it is far from depleted despite the fact that, no matter how hard I shake, nothing is coming out of it.
So, the hunt is on for a new primer. Again, reading through the TMP posts, I collected a few recommendations that all seem equally good. I have four products on my list:
  • Krylon Ultra Flat Black;

  • Duplicolor Sandable Primer (an automotive primer);

  • Testors White Floquil;

  • Plasti-Kote.
First of all, I wonder if the readers of my blog knows any of the aforementioned products - leave a comment, I look forward to you opinions! In particular: since I paint with water-based acrylics, are the above products compatible with this type of paints?
Second, I need to face an additional challenge: I live in Chicago, where spray paints are ban by law. It is a city ordinance against graffiti, one of the very stupid rules we have in this city (don't get me started about the pate' de foie gras fiasco!) As a result, in order to get spray paint you need to drive to the suburbs, which adds time and and make shopping less convenient.
Bottom line: buying a new primer should be a trivial issue, and it is turning into a little nuisance.

Hidden treasure at the Chicago Public Library

I made a very interesting visit to the Public Library in Chicago, and I am now reading Featherstone's "War Game Campaigns." Very interesting, as all classics are despite the almost 40 years passed by since publication.
There are a few "old school" books available for circulation, and I think I will take advantage of the opportunity in coming weeks. Not that I lack reading materials, as my wife is quick in pointing out: but you know, the most interesting book to read is always the one I will read next...

Short-term to-do list

I finally mounted those Hadendowa miniatures on their bases, but I still need to paint them to achieve the nice, "finished" look that I like my figures to show when deployed on the field.
Life has been busy, so progress on my wargaming projects has slow this week. Hopefully, though, I will complete the final work on the Abyssinians soon. Next on my to-do list are some more askaris and colonial Italians; then, it will time to switch back to Saxe-Pape-Cyssor and the marlburian period.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sometime they just come at you screamin'...

You open a bag of miniatures, and apparently spot one marred by some bad casting... then you look at it twice, and you realize a whole story is coming at you screaming to be told... Like in this case.

Bad casting? Noooo... this is ...the infamous one-legged mad mullah of the Hadendowa tribe! Here we are, the fantastic narrative in my hands, and never-ending opportunities for nail-biting scenarios!

Dipping woes

Today I finally completed the first batch of Abyssinians. Sixty of them - it should amount to five units for Piquet - Din of Battle, or three units for The Sword And The Flame. I still need to base them, but the work is, by and large, done.
Nonetheless, I had to face some turbulence in the process. Apparently, something did not go the way I expected when the time came to dip the figures. I have to say: I was feeling pretty good when the painting job was done: this is how the miniatures look before I dipped them.

In general, I really like the effect of dipping: it adds depth and realism, and it covers up the small "painting sins." So I did not hesitate twice to proceed in what is by now a routine a step.
And yet... the miniatures came out very, very dark. I have a couple of explanations to account for the disappointment. Before dipping, I stirred the dip very thoroughly, and as a result it became rather thick, more than usual. Or maybe it was because I primed these miniatures in black, which tends to darken the final look of the figure. Anyway. I was not happy. I liked the white the way it showed in the newly painted minis, and I did not like to see that effect taken away by the dip. Fortunately, I had a second jar of dip in a much lighter color, and I promptly switched. The contrast was stark, as shown in the two following pictures.

The good news was the dip on the first group of mini had not dried yet, so I was able to repeat the process and use the lighter dip to clean up the excess of darkness. The final result was not bad at all, as you can see.

Actually, I am very happy with the final result, even if I took a circuitous way to get there. I am still ot quite sure about what lesson to learn for the future, though. Double dipping? Dilution of my Tudor Satin dip? I need to think about this.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Painting Abyssinian ras and negus: a follow-up

In his comment on my previous post, Tel mentioned his struggle to find inspiration to paint Abyssinian leader figures, ras and negus. I have a few pictures I found here and there over the web, and maybe these images will provide some inspiration! It is not much, and at the end I decided to follow my artistic (??) inclination, but I hope to trigger some good painting karma in my friends.