Monday, June 30, 2008

Military map of Austria-Hungary

I cannot go to bed tonight without sharing this amazing website:


This is a military map of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; actually, it is much more extensive than that - it goes from Cologne to Kiev, and from Stettin to Instambul.

267 sheets, in 1:200,000 scale.

On ground scale, and buildings

I believe I already mentioned I exclusively collect and paint miniatures in 15mm scale. The reasons why will be explained in the next couple of days, as I am planning to write a longer post about the logic behind that decision.
[That said, when Stokes a.k.a. the Grand-Duke of Stollen and Jeff pointed me in the direction of the 25mm RSM miniatures, I felt my knees weaken... yes, Jeff: I do want to paint some tricornes...]

Back on topic. Since most of my colonial games are semi-tactical in nature, I do not have a problem in having, on the table, buildings that are in true 15mm scale. But I have that problem for my napoleonic battles. These games are grand-tactical, and, keep in mind, are played on a 6'x4' table. True 15mm scale buildings are completely out of proportion, vertically AND horizontally. Just think: the recent release by Paperterrain is the S.te Mere Eglise Church, which is 15mm scale is 18" x 12" x 10"! As somebody pointed ut in the discussion at TMP, in most rules the length of the building would exceed rifle range! Of course, in my case, I might opt for the shortcut and claim that one building is really representing a whole village... but let's face it: that sucks. One building all alone in the tabletop is not a village: it's lame. I need at least two, three even better, building to realistically state: "that's a village."

I guess my question to my attentive readers is: how do you deal with this situation? The solution I want to explore: scaling down building. Which means: 10/12mms building to match my 15mm miniatures. I would be even tempted to go one notch further down. Paperterrain offers a European village pack in 5mm/6mm scale. As long as the top of the building roof is taller that the tip of a grenadier plume, I would feel comfortable to deploy smaller scale terrain in my 15mm grand-tactical battles.

Which of course only leads to the next question: where do I get a 6mm Valmy windmill??? :-)

I wonder...

... according to which logic, one day in my life, I decided to store in the same bag primed miniatures of WW1 Italian Alpini, 1853 Piedmontese infantry for Crimea, and 1866 Austrians... Mah.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Napoleonic French Infantry

Repeating the exercise just conducted below for the Austrian infantry, I also looked at the French, just to get a sense of how much work is done/remains to be done. The French collection is still a work in progress, and I realized I will need to add a few but fundamental figures to round up to completed units. On my shopping list, I have 3 command figures in overcoat, 6 command figures in bicorne, 18 infantrymen in shako, and 6 grenadiers advancing (that's 1F bag in the old Minifigs listing). Assuming the integration just listed, I should end up with:
  • 10 line battalions in shako

  • 2 line battalions in shako and overcoat

  • 4 battalions in bicorne

  • 1 battalion of light infantry

Bottom line: 17 infantry battalions, to oppose the Austrian 18 infantry battalions as calculated in the previous post.

... mmm... not good... I think I need to add to the French forces, pronto.

Napoleonic Austrian Infantry

Since I am still sitting and waiting for the paint on the kitchen walls to dry, I thought to go through some boxes and tally up my existing forces. Just to kill the time, and check which little homework I need to do in order to have a nice, fighting force battle-ready.
I started by my Napoleonic Austrians. Here's where I stand.
  • IR#3 Erzherzog Karl

  • IR#4 Deutschmeister

  • IR#11 Graf Wallis

  • IR#21 Gemmingen

  • IR#28 Graf Wartensleben

  • IR#31 Benjowsky

  • IR#48 Graf Kinsky

All the above wear the helmet in use between 1798 and 1805/1809.These are seven solid units that came through a fortunate bidding over eBay a few years back. In one of my anal retentive moments, I realized, though, that some of the color facings do not correspond to what reported in other sources, like here and here. Therefore, I think I will do some minor work to correct this, admittedly minor, inconsistency. IR#11 will get pink facings; IR#21 sea green, IR#28 grass green, and IR#47 steel green.

There are then other units ready but not officially "baptized." One has helmet and red facings; it may become IR#23 von Toscana/Wurzburg (I dunno about Wurzburg, but Toscana reminds me of a red Chianti, which I can easily associate to the facings for prompt identification on the battlefield. The other one wears shako and grey overcoat, and it will take a little longer to match it to a historical unit.

Then there is the pipeline. I can count:
  • 51 line infantrymen in shako

  • 31 line infantrymen in helmet

  • 23 Hungarian grenadiers

  • 12 jaegers

To round the numbers, I will probably have to buy a few additional command sets. With this further addition, if my math is right, I should bring in at least other 5 battalions in shako, 3 battalions in helmet, 2 grenadier battalions and 1 jaeger. Not bad!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bottom line of the day

Spend $4 at Starbucks; save $40 in painting material.
And so he said.

Rough beginning of the weekend

This morning I came into the kitchen and started fixing some breakfast. Something didn't work in the cappuccino maker valve, though: and after a St.Helens-like eruptions, I sat hopelessly at the table as a geyser of coffee hit the ceiling and nebulized drops rained all over me.
It now seems that, after all, there will be painting done this weekend, but of a different nature: kitchen walls and ceiling. Miniatures will have to wait.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Mission impossible

I had a very early start of the day today, which did not prevent me to sit in the rays of the sunrise and contemplate the SYW Prussians I primed the other night.

Result of the inspection: not good. These are Old Glory miniatures, sculpted in the typical, "dynamic" style of Old Glory. Lots of action, interesting poses of figures on the move. The problem? These are going to be tough, tough miniatures to paint. I already mentioned to be concerned about painting "Age of Reason" miniatures, because of the complexity of uniforms. But these OG add an additional set of problems, given the style of the sculpt. There are basically no extended area where the brush can move quickly and smoothly; there are layers of details that need to be individually cared for.

I feel very overwhelmed. I anticipate that any attempt to paint this will come at the cost of a lot of frustration, and a lot of time. As an economist, I must ask myself: is it worth it?

I may still experiment around in the weekend. may they won't be as difficult as they seem to be. But I also need a plan B. here's what I have in mind.

I will do some comparisons. I have two samplers on the way from Minifigs. One bag of SYW Prussian fusiliers, directly comparable on the OG on my workbench. And a second bag of WSS French. I will look to answer these questions:

A. Can I manage to paint, in a satisfactory fashion, miniatures for the SYW? Is it my problem in the sculpting style of Old Glory, or in the uniforms of the period?

If my problem is in the figures, I can switch from OG to Minifigs and still starting in the new period. Otherwise, I will consider

B. SYW vs. WSS. I have been suggested that WSS uniforms are easier paint than SYW uniforms. Is this the case? How much easier? Should I go for Marlborough, rather than Frederick?

In either cases, it seems unlikely that Old Glory SYW miniatures will enter in my collection in significant numbers. I have five bags of them: other than the Prusina musketeers, Austrian fusiliers and cuirassiers, plus Prussian grenadiers and artillery. Right now, I feel they are bounded to eBay. We'll see if there is really no better alternative.

My camera

In one comment left to a previous post, I have been asked about my new camera. It is a Panasonic Lumix FZ7. This model was released a couple of years ago, and discontinued this spring when Panasonic upgraded the model. As a result, these cameras can be still be found around, at cheaper prices. I got mine in a clearance sale at Wolf Camera, actually with an additional discount because the camera was a display unit. It turned out that the display unit did not work properly (a problem in the battery), and the store offered to exchange it with a new one. So I got mine with a double discount, for about half of the original price! Aside for having to visit the store thrice, it was a great deal. If not for the affordable price, I would have never look into a camera in this category, and I would have probably settled for a cheaper one in my price range.

As a background about my choice. I was looking for a camera with a good macro functions, in order to take good pics of my miniatures. But I also wanted something that may work well with people and scenery, since this is going to be my only camera and I would like to use it while traveling with my wife. This is also my first digital camera, but I still have some skepticism about some of the technical features now associated with digital cameras. So I zoomed into this Panasonic because it comes with Leica lens, and 12x optical zoom. It also allows to set aperture and shutter speed manually, which eventually may lead to more sophisticated uses (I am not quite there, yet.)

Thus far, I am very satisfied with the results; I will test it on the road during a trip over July 4th weekend, and I am really looking forward to see how it will perform. Until now, the only weakness I noticed was the slow reaction of the shutter when taking pictures of my jumping cats in the evening, with very poor light conditions. Admittedly, a tough test in far from ideal conditions, so I do not make much of it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Napoleonic artillery & cavalry: a preview

As promised yesterday, I can finally share a preview of the napoleonic cavalry that has been on my workbench for a while.
DISCLAIMER: these miniatures look good on the table, and they are fine at my eyes. But when I am taking picture with my new, wonderful camera, there are dozens of tiny details that become very apparent, and I have issues on the way the figures look. I have at least four major retouches I need to apply, and this was just by a simple look at the pictures posted below. That said, I still believe they will look terrific during an actual battle, looked at from a distance of a few feet.

This is the French foot artillery of the line, with three nice 12-pdr guns. Heavy stuff.

The Austrian hussars got a little over-exposed, but a little adjustment in sharpness and contrast makes the picture decent. There isn't much else in the pipeline in terms of Austrian cavalry, so I guess these guys will have to work hard!

French chasseurs. There is an additional stand due to this unit, plus two other full units that will be ready soon. On the table, French chasseurs will be a force to reckon with!

When the economy gets rough...

... economists get to work. Over-time. Interesting evening. I came back home from the office, changed into shorts and t-shirt, poured myself a nice glass of red wine, and got down to work with some gusto on my napoleonic cavalry. Telephone rings. Assuming it's my wife, I look for an excuse not to answer and keep painting. "I was at the grocery store" always works. Then I pick up the phone. [I always do, honey!] It's not my wife. It's a television channel. They want to come here, at my home, for an interview about the economic situation. I think of Nero Wolfe: he would never interrupts a session with his orchids for the press. But since this is what I am paid for, I agree. I stop painting, change again in business attire, refresh my memory about what is going on outside my 15mm world: first quarter GDP, +1%; Dow Jones Industrial Average, -3%; oil, $140 per barrel. And as soon as I am camera ready, the telephone rings again: there is a breaking news somewhere else, the reporter has been rerouted to the scene, interview postponed.
In the meanwhile, I lost momentum on those hussars.

Oh, the vagaries of the 24/24 economic news-cycle.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Productive evening

Funny how I have spent some time thinking about wargaming the Age of Reason right at the time I had committed myself to make some progress on my two major projects of the moment, colonial and napoleonic. Oh, well, I am a fickle wargamer. Nonetheless, tonight I was able to sit at the desk for a couple of hours and, indeed, I get something accomplished, other than priming those 24 Prussian musketeers.

First, I finally based three French 12pdr guns, with line foot artillerymen in attendance. Second, I completed the final touches to 8 Austrian hussars, and 8 French chasseurs. There are other 16 chasseurs almost completed as well, so I am looking forward to the weekend to get this task done and beef up my napoleonic cavalry collection. I also had some good work done on 30 French line infantry in bicorne, and 20 French line infantry in overcoat. Last but not least, I checked the status on several Sudanese colonial miniatures, and I should be able to bring them into "battle ready" status by the weekend as well. No picture for tonight, but hopefully tomorrow I'll snap on pic or two.

I am planning on writing at least three longer posts under the category "about us" over the next couple of weeks, in which I want to talk in some detail about:

A, periods I do play;
B. rules I do like;
C. periods I do NOT play. (At least for the time being...)

On wargaming the Age of Reason, again

In his comments to a previous post, Bluebear Jeff raises a good point:

<< If painting uniform detail is something that you don't care for, then I'd suggest the earlier part of the 18th century.

There is a lot less "lace" and detailing in the WSS and GNW . . . and more cavalry as well (if you like horses). >>

[By the way: can anyway suggest a shortcut to quote and unquote on Blogger?]

In fact, the Marlburian period (War of Spanish Succession) is what I have been looking to when pondering this new project, exactly for the good reasons Jeff pointed out. Although I have to say: despite my claim to be just an average painter, with little interest for the intricacies of 18th century uniforms, I have never tested myself. Thus, for sake of experimenting, tonight I mounted on hobby sticks and primed 24 Prussian musketeers for the Seven Year War. Hopefully, over the next few days I will take a stab at painting them, and I will reach firmer conclusions. For the time being, I will enjoy Jeff's recommended links, dreaming about the possibilities...

Belated happy birthday!

Belated happy birthday to Bluebear Jeff, who hit the big six-oh on June 19th!

Jeff holds the undisputable honor to have provided the first comment in my blog, on the previous post about wargaming the 18th century. He made several good recommendations about blogs focused on the 18th century. Thank you, I really appreciated!

He has a blog, too, which I warm-heartedly recommend. It seems that a jolly group of gamers up in British Columbia are enjoying a hell of a time in an imaginary European campaign, circa 1750 (?), fought with beautifully painted miniatures.

Jeff's blog contains a lot of very useful information, and some great tips. I was particularly interested in what he has to say about painting horses. I am always interested in new ways to speed up painting, and he seems to have an effective solution to paint cavalry quickly. I have yet to excel in "washings", but this is just a matter of practice. I have a few Galla horsemen for my Abyssinian army in the pipeline, and I may give Jeff's suggestions a try.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wargaming 18th century: kudos to JR

On the list of possible future projects, it seems that 18th century is perennial second. It's always up there, yet there is always something else taking precedence. I think the linear order warfare is very appealing to me, and so the variety of uniforms in the period; on the other side, the idea of painting so much detail on 15mm miniatures, and a somewhat lack of maneuvering (compared, for instance, with the Napoleonic age) are large liabilities in my assessment.

Of course, being a wargamer, I am fickle by nature, and it doesn't take much to bring me a little closer, or a little farther, to jump into a new era. Last year I went real close to investing some bucks into Marlburian armies, then the tide pulled me in a different direction. But I still have a couple of very attractive rules are on my shopping list (Cartouche, the Piquet module; Sam Mustafa's Might and Reason; GaPa.) And now, to whet my appetite even further, James of the Ikley Lads group offers some fantastic pictures in his blog, which of course earns a permanent spot in my links bar. Excellent job, OlicanaLad! A true inspiration for the rest of us!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Preview: Italians readying for Adowa

It was getting late tonight, but I was still able to squeeze in a few minutes to base two Italian units for Adowa, and some accompanying officers. Here a group pic.

There are a few retouches I need to do before declaring these "battle ready", but overall I am rather satisfied. The miniatures, by the way, are by the excellent, and much under-appreciated, Tin Soldier line, distributed in the U.S. by Silver Eagle Wargame Supplies (highly recommended.)

Here's the commanding officer: a true bersagliere, ca va sans dire...


Basing has always been a big headache to me. Most of the sets come with a standard disclaimer: "these rules will work with any mounting system, as long as the opposing armies are consistent with each other."

Well, not really. The actual mechanisms of the game are always tailored on one basing system or another, and that does indeed make a difference in the way units move, deploy and maneuvre, or how casualties are assessed. For years, I have been torn on the issue. I looked for a system that could be appealing to my taste, and yet flexible enough to juggle different rules.

I believe I am now settled. A few years back, following the recommendation of my good friend Gonsalvo, I tried the Litko bases, and I fell in love with them. Durable and resistant, very easy to paint and to handle. They come in best variety, but for sake of simplicity I decided limit myself to four type of bases, no matter which period or forces.

Here's Desto Fante's standard:

-- rectangular base 0.75" x 1.5"
For infantry. This base accommodates three miniatures for the napoleonic, 19th century, colonial periods, and two miniatures for WW1 or modern conflicts. This solution is consistent with the old GDW WW1 "Over The Top" rules, and Piquet Barrage. This base is also perfect for individually mounted figures (i.e. officers, personalities, ADC);

-- square base, 1.5" x 1.5"
For artillery and cavalry (two horses);

-- square base, 0.75" x 0.75"
For individual figures in WW1, WW2 or modern armies. It also accommodates the occasional officer on foot for all other periods;

-- square base, 0.5"
For individual figures in certain colonial armies, where I want to retain the flexibility of individual casualties or characters (for instance, when playing "The Sword And The Flame.")

In the picture above, three of the Litko bases in use.

What I do NOT do:

-- I do not mount vehicles (i.e. tanks) on bases;
-- I do not mount multiple officer fiigures on one base, to recreate upper echelon of command. I'd rather keep two or three officers, individually based, next to each other. It adds variety.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

What will be next

There are two projects I want to commit to in the coming weeks.

A. I want to complete as many miniatures as possible for my Italian-Abyssinian colonial games. Eventually, I would not mind to place an order for some integrations and odd-and-ends before Historicon. Galla cavalry tops my list, followed by Abyssinians with rifle, more bersaglieri (you can never have enough bersaglieri!) and askari.

B. I want to make a breakthrough in all my napoleonic miniatures that sit in the closet, almost completely painted, and yet not ready to be based and transferred in the "official" collection. I took a quick survey last week, and it appears I have a LOT of miniatures in near-completion status. I will write more about this, adding pictures. I am planning a few evenings of intensive painting sessions, and bring all these little guys into line.

On the backburner, but on my radar: a few Figurehead 1/6000 for the Italian and Austro-Hungarian WWI navies... what? Did you think I do not do naval? Actually, I don't: by somehow SeeKrieg V has been creeping up on my wishlist for Historicon, and it would be nice to have a few ships ready for action coming back from Lancaster...

This is really for the next 2-3 weeks. Wargamers have a short attention span, and I already know I will be easily derailed. I can almost hear those boxes of WWI Germans and Turks screaming... maybe an excursion to Gallipoli for the late summer? 

Maintenance Day

Today I made a few changes to the look of the blog, switching to a blue background color, and adding a pic to the title. The day revolved about the afternoon soccer game, Italy-Spain, which Italy lost. From a wargaming point of view, a double waste of time. Now I am off doing some reading - I am about half the way through "The Spanish Ulcer," an excellent book on the Peninsula War 1808-1814. which is stirring some interest in considering a new theatre for napoleonic.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Adowa: suggestive pic

Before I go: here'sa suggestive pic of the narrow valley between Mount Raio, left, and Mount Semaiata, right, looking straight east from the town of Adowa. I love my camera, I love my desert cloth! And it really helps that my dining room's beige wall comes out grey-ish in the picture... a perfect setting for wargames in the desert!

Adowa playtest

I have a long-due play-test I promised to my friend EB, who is working on the second edition of... well, I am not saying yet: it suffices to say this will be a very exciting update of a popular set of rules for the colonial period. My job in the project is providing some data and play-test for section regarding the Italian in Abyssinia. I am not quite ready yet to deploy my miniatures, as I need to complete some preliminary task as filling the orders of battle, and rating the units so that the game can actually take place. Yet, out of the excitement for my new camera, I started working on the tabletop of what will be the battle of Adowa, or at least a bonsai version of it, due to the limited size of my East Africa collection of miniatures.
Back to Adowa game board. The goal is NOT to reproduce an accurate model of the ground, but to catch some salient features of the area. After experimenting with a few alternatives, last year I came to the conclusion that the old approach of cloth-over-books still works for me. So I started spreading magazines and texts from my library on the board.

There is a lot you can learn about me by checking out my reading materials, but this will be a wargaming only blog, so we are not going there.
I then proceeded to cover hills and mountains with my desert cloth. Today, I added a twist: I used some dark brown watercolor to highlight some of the features of the terrain. Here's a general view.

On the right, Mount Raio; on the left, Mount Esciascio. Between the two, the strategic Colle Rebbi Arienni. Again: not historically accurate, but good enough for an enjoyable game.
With this background work done, I believe I am in good shape to go on to the next steps in the coming days: completing the miniatures needed for the game, and add some scenery to the terrain. So far, so good. EB, here we come! This is going to be a fun play-test. Stay tuned.

My table

I am lucky enough to play my games in our dining room. Our very nice dinner table is protected by a plastic tablecloth. On it, I lay three 4' by 2' boards, for a total gaming area of 4' by 6'. Here's a picture of my setting.

You gotta begin somewhere, sometimes

My hobby is miniature wargaming. In other words, I play with toy soldiers.
Or, in the immortal words of H.G. Wells, I play "a Game for Boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty, and
for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys' games, and books."
I have been thinking to work on a website for quite some time. It will be a wonderful opportunity to keep track of my own hobby projects, and to share them with friends and like-minded people. Alas, the website has not happened yet, for a variety of concurring reasons, ranging from my technological illiteracy, to the lack of written contents to fill my little corner of cyberspace.
Hence, the idea of the blog, hoping, one day, to transfer these contents to a permanent home.
The blog itself could have come much sooner, but for the lack of a digital camera. Let's face it: with no "eye candies", nobody is going to keep reading my musings.
That final hurdle was finally resolved yesterday. I now have a digital camera. A Blogger account. And thousands of miniatures that are about to enjoy the spotlight.

DISCLAIMER - English is not my native language. Bear with my grammar and syntax.