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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

His Imperial Highness Negus Neghesti

You will laugh: but I have been thinking for a few years about this minature. After all, it is not just another rank-and-file grunt: this is His Imperial Highness Negus Neghesti, depending by the time Theodorus or Menelik (I am not picky.)
Finally, tonight, while watching the Olympics, I just pick up the brush and here the result. Which, as usual, looks horrible at this magnitude: but believe me, it looks pretty impressive in the real scale of 15mm. The bad lighting doesn't help (the collar looks green in reality... oh well: for better pictures, you need to wait for a daylight photo-op.)
As you may have already guessed: tonight it was painting night, and I made a few progress on my Hadendowa/Abyssinians. Here's another preview.

And I'd better to reserve some time on my schedule, because the "pipeline" still looks rock solid...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Italian colonial artillery

It all started with what seemed a harmless question: which ordnance was available to the Italian troops in Abyssinia?
It turns out that the information is not as easily available as I was expecting. I googled long and hard, with very little satisfaction. I found out what artillery was available to Menelik (old muzzle-loaders, about 30 Krupp cannons and a few Hotchkiss quick-firing guns), but very little about the Italian guns.
The most promising bite of information is from a page by Associazione Nazionale Alpini, which refers to the "75" mountain pieces - I believe these were the guns also referred to as "75 A" or "75 B", where A=acciaio (steel), and B-bronzo (bronze.) Another a mention is for "cannone da 75/27", a Krupp model that, stricly speaking, was first produced in 1906 (ten years after Adowa.) Not that I am that picky, yet...
I can get stubborn, at times. So I kept digging, until finally I reached the information I was looking for: here. It's in Italian, but it is very interesting. Strictly speaking, it only refers to the mountain batteries manned by the askaris, but for the time being, it suffices. And it includes a nice pictures of the Italian 75 mountain gun, which I will share below.

Of course, the article doesn't cast light on the regular Italian line guns, but fortunately, I recently found a Yahoo groups ("Adowa1896") specifically dedicated to the Italian colonial wars. I guess I will head there next.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Some quiet time

Last week turned out to be more busy and stressful than anticipated, with a few professional events in the evening that prevented me to make any big advances in my wargaming projects. I then took the week to relax, catching up with friends old and new in a few social occasions. I also went for a very long bicycle ride yesterday, and a shorter one today. All this to admit: not much progress. But, after all, this is what in Italy is known as "la settimana di Ferragosto", or the "mid-August week" - a major vacationing time. So, I do not feel too bad, and in fact I did some painting today, on the Hadendowa/Abyssinians riflemen I bought at Historicon. Also, some good readings out of Burleigh, from the two books available online I previously mentioned here.

As I recharge my batteries, I am pondering whether I should commit to a schedule of projects, or keep proceeding in my free-wheeling style. I really would like to complete some Abyssinians troops, and have a playtest for EB and our new rules. These games would come straight of Mark Fastoso's scenario book, and would take relatively little work for preparation once the miniatures are painted. I'd actually like to send out a broad invitation for the playtest, and bring on-board a few friends who are new to wargaming, but show some interest in learning more about the hobby. That would be fun.
Second, I would like to start a mini-campaign in the Eastern Sudan. Yes, I got good ideas from my readings, some interesting time-tables in terms of traveling and deployment times, and some excellent orders of battle.
Finally, I need to add some troops to the roster of the Principality of Saxe-Pape-Cyssor, and its mortal enemies... this will require some $$$ to invest in new Marlburian miniatures, and I am afraid the process will stretched out to October, easily.
After a spur of enthusiasm in Napoleonics right in the middle of the summer, things have slowed down on that front, but they are not out of the picture. I just need some prioritizing, and of course some time - which has been a scarce resource over the past week. Fortunately, I have so many fantastic blogs in my reading list that keep me over-stimulated...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A colonial library

Some of my favorite readings about the colonial period were the books by Don Featherstone based on the original correspondences by the Illustrated London News. I really enjoyed the journalistic style - sometimes a few remarks may sound inappropriate for the modern sensibilities, but I always found very exciting the sense of freshness and sincere marvel that exudes from those contemporary writings.
It was in this spirit that, the day before my trip to New York state, I downloaded and printed from the online library 'Project Gutenberg'"The Reconquest of the Soudan", an old book by Bennet Burleigh, the war correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. A truly enjoyable reading, as I mentioned here.
Yesterday night I did some further research. I did not find much more in Project Gutenberg, although I was very happy to find Winston Churchill's "River War", which I read years ago in Italian and I will be very happy to read again in original language.
The real surprise, though, came from another online library, or repository of freely available books in PDF format: Google Book. I had heard about, but I never spent much time exploring it. Big mistake, because this is really a resource full of surprises and treasures.
I have now saved on my hard-disk some exceptionally intriguing texts, and I just limited my search to the topic of Egypt, Sudan, and Abyssinia!

Here's the list, in alphabetical order by author:

Towards Khartoum: The Story of the Soudan War of 1896. With Maps, Ports., and Numerous Illus. from Photos
By Andrew Hilliard Atteridge
Published by A. D. Innes, 1897

The River Column: A Narrative of the Advance of the River Column of the Nile Expeditionary Force, and Its Return Down the Rapids
By Henry Brackenbury
Published by W. Blackwood, 1885
Original from Oxford University
Digitized Sep 26, 2007
291 pages

Desert Warfare: Being the Chronicle of the Eastern Soudan Campaign
By Bennet Burleigh
Published by Chapman and Hall, 1884
Original from Oxford University
Digitized Sep 27, 2007
320 pages

Khartoum Campaign, 1898, Or, The Re-conquest of the Soudan
By Bennet Burleigh
Published by Chapman & Hall, 1899
340 pages

The march to Magdala
By George Alfred Henty
Published by , 1868
Original from Oxford University
Digitized Jun 27, 2006

Suakin, 1885: Being a Sketch of the Campaign of this Year
By Ernest Gambier Parry
Published by K. Paul, Trench & Co., 1886
Original from the University of California
Digitized Nov 19, 2007
271 pages

The Egyptian Campaigns, 1882 to 1885
By Charles Royle
Published by Hurst and Blackett, limited, 1900
606 pages

Coomassie and Magdala: The Story of Two British Campaigns in Africa
By Henry Morton Stanley
Published by Harper & Brothers, 1874
510 pages

Magdala: The Story of the Abyssinian Campaign of 1866-7
By Henry Morton Stanley

Published by S. Low, Marston & Company Limited, 1896
Original from the New York Public Library
Digitized Aug 23, 2007
190 pages

Not bad, uh? I am particularly excited by the two books by Stanley -- I confess my ignorance, I did not know he had followed the Napier expedition in Abyssinia. In general, I think this is a strong lot that will provide hours of happy reading, and several ideas for scenarios and campaigns.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New colonial website

This was unknown to me until a few minutes ago, but it seems to be a fun reading!
Up the Nile

On miniatures and pricing

Immediately before leaving for my operatic break I did some work on some of the colonial miniatures I bought at Historicon, and I actually enjoyed quite a bit to work on the Old Glory 15 Hadendowas. Since I am moving relatively quickly in my painting job, I was tempted to add to the lot a couple of additional bags. Right now I am working on command and rifles, and I thought it would make sense to add spearmen and swordmen.
Of course, I just had the time to sit at my computer and open TMP that I caught the announcement of a price increase by Old Glory 15 - from $15 to $17 for a bag of 50 miniatures. I also noticed that they are now extending their convention deal - buy 5 bags and get 1 free. So I immediately switched to my professional mode, and I wondered how good a deal that may be - and how prices across colonial ranges differ. Here a quick table to summarize my findings (I limited my analysis to infantry.)
As a warning - it seems that Minifigs is still carrying a few old items (Sudanese) at the price of $5.50 per bag, while most of the new cast are in the $9.95; hence the double listing.

Seller Minis per bag Price per bag Price per mini
Minifigs - old 24 $5.50 23c
Old Glory 15 - deal 50 5x$17.00 +1 28c
Old Glory 15 - regular 50 $17.00 34c
Minifigs - new 24 $9.95 41c
Tin Soldier 8 $4.00 50c
Essex 8 $4.59 57c
Irregular 12 $7.50 63c
Peter Pig 8 $5.35 67c

A couple of observations. This list includes almost completely my collection of miniatures, with two manufacturers missing - Eureka and Stone Mountain. I hope to have the opportunity to extend my analysis to them tomorrow.
Also - I was aware of the cost of Essex and Peter Pig, but I was surprise to realize the relative price of Irregular. I suspect the weak dollar is to blame for the high cost of all miniatures made in the UK. I wonder if we will see any revision of the retail prices down when, later this year, the British Pound will weaken against the dollar. [How do I know that? I make economic forecasting for a living!]
Finally, Old Glory 15 minis remain a great deal, special offer standing or not. And so Minifigs.
Hope this will give you some food for thought.

The secret about my blog header

As I catch up with an unbelievable variety of more or less pleasant issues (seriously, guys: I was out of town four days: how did all of this happen?), I want to reply to Craig of "Koening und Kaiser" fame, who asked about the "professional and nice set out" of my blog, and of my header in particular.
Well, Craig, I hate to be honest, but there is really nothing of nice and professional about the header: just several trial-and-error attempts with a lot of cropping, until the picture "looked" right. By your question, I guess it does... but I wish I knew a few magic to do the work in a slightly more professional manner myself! I am afraid I still have a long way to go in handling HTML. For instance, I'd love to know how to handle tables for my next post, but I have no clue. Time to jump and dig in Blogger help...
By the way - K&K is coming up with some very witty ideas about how do handle grand-tactical and strategic movement at campaign level: check it out here. I hope Craig will soon report about his progresses on this project!

Hello, I am back.

Hello, I am back. After three operas, four concerts and five days of musical full immersion in Cooperstown NY, I am back in Chicago and completely overwhelmed by work which accumulated on my desk over the last week.
Give me some time to catch up. I am almost there!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Reading list

Hello from Cooperstown, NY. More on this visit at a later time. For the time being, it will suffice to say that I had a very pleasant flight from Chicago thanks to Southwest, and I spent the two hours of the trip completely absorbed by the reading of "The Reconquest of the Soudan", by Bennet Burleigh, a contemporary account of the 1898 expedition culminated with the battle of Omdurman. The book is freely available online from Project Gutenberg. Recommended.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Slow moving

... but moving. During the last couple of evenings I have been painting some Abyssinians, or, to be more precise, the Old Glory 15 Fuzzy-Wuzzy Sudanese that I am planning to deploy as Abyssinians. I wasn't too kind to OG when I looked at their SYW range, but I am glad to report that these colonial miniatures are very nice: animated, even dramatic in the poses, but still easy to paint. I am really enjoying working on them. At the moment, I have on my workbench two bags of Fuzzy Wuzzy riflemen and command, but I think I may soon add at least other two bags - spearmen and swordsmen. The reason I am adding the riflemen first is that I already have some "true" Abyssinians from the excellent Tin Soldier range, but I read in the battle reports of the time that Abyssinians had indeed a large availability of rifles, so I really need to beef up this section in my tabletop African army.

There was a moment of disappointment when, getting ready to prime the Fuzzy Wuzzy, I realized I ran out of white primer. White primer seems to be the obvious choice for an army mostly clad in white robes, but clearly this is not going to happen. Those of you not living in Chicago may not be aware that one stupid rule existing in this city (which has plenty of stupid rules: do not even get me started on the ban oagainst pate' de foie gras...) is a ban against spray paint. Officially, it is a measure to fight graffiti. In practice, it is an idiotic rule that force you to go the suburbs to buy spray paint. Alas, I have been busy at work, and I did not have a chance for a trip to Evanston: so, I resolved to opt for a black primer, which is actually working better than anticipated. It takes a more robust white base to avoid a see-through effect, but overall I am quite satisfied. I think at the end, these miniatures will look really good.

It will take a while, though, to have some finished product to show here: tomorrow evening I am once again heading to the airport for one of my final operatic trip to upstate New York. Expect light blogging until Sunday - although, by now, you may have realized I will do my best to sneak some thoughts in every now ad then...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Do you need 15mm animals or pets?

This question came up in an exchange at Konig und Kaiser, and I was sure to have seen a variety of animals and pets in 15mm scale somewhere...
It turned out, it took only a few seconds of Googling to find my answer: Irregular!
Nice little range, by the way: cows, pigs, goats, lambs, dogs - both Labrador and Alsatian. And lion, tiger, giraffe, hippo...

Bottom line: I need to figure out a colonial scenario where ostriches may play a major role, not to mention "a large primate on a tree trunk"!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A note on the Perfect Captain games

As I mentioned, the map for Saxe-Pape-Cyssor comes from a campaign system available online from The Perfect Captain, and completely free. By the way, there are a few other games that Perfect Captain makes available, and they usually are very good rulesets, with supporting materials (counters, maps, charts) of excellent quality. Again: all available for download, and everything is for free. The only request by Perfect Captain is for a contribution to their favorite charities, among the other the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. It's all based on a honor system: some great games available in return of a few minutes of your time, and a good deed for some good causes. Please, if you are going to use some of their games, do not forget to take a few minutes and a few dollars to honor their request.

Saxe-Pape-Cyssor: preview

Just a quick preview of the work done on Friday night on the map of Saxe-Pape-Cyssor. As you can see, I just used the basic system offered by The Perfect Captain in their campaign system BattleFinder. I only had to be careful, to make roads and rivers consistent with an overall pattern. Because of that, I decided to explicitly paint the actual course of roads and rivers to connect each of the individual maps that, for those of you who do not know BattleFinder, can be directly translated into a battlefield on a 6'x4' table.
I still need to do some work to clean up this map; the idea is then to take it to Kinko to make a clean copy, and eventually a few letter-size copies that may come handy at a letter time to manage campaign moves.
Here a zoom into the area between the Rhine, at the bottom, and Harassee-sur-Butte, the fortified town at the centre of the map, along River Butte.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

My imagination

I know the sheer title of this post will create thrill in some of you... not so fast, but yes, I want to confirm I am working on this. I set a time-frame: 1715-1740, that is between the conclusion of the War of Spanish Succession and the opening of the war of Austrian Succession. I establish a broad geographic area when my imagination will be: the west bank of the river Rhine, somewhere east of France, southeast of the former Spanish Netherlands, southwest of the Holy Roman Empire ecclesiastical states of Mainz, Trier and Cologne, and north-west of Wurttemberg. Or, to me more precise... south of Frankszonia, and north of the Bishopric of Uber-Gruntshuffen, if you know what I mean...
(By the way: I should probably drop a note to Brother Anslem, Librarian at monastery of Alt-Wittendorf, and make sure he will "officially" register my spot!)
I have a map of my principality, and a very detailed one for that! Thanks to the campaign system provided by The Perfect Captain, I worked over the past couple of evenings to a very detailed chart of the area.
I already have a plot, which should get my first campaign started as soon as some of my WSS battalions will be painted and ready to undertake their mission! My imagination belongs to the Empire, but because it's strategic position, and its complicated dynastic issues, it is the object of the ambitions of many competing states in the area. I have a few personalities, around whom the events will revolve: the Marquis de Belmont, Viscount Diversey... [can't you guess I live in Chicago?]
I also have a plan about how to maintain the chronicles of my principality: following what many of you already did, I will spin-off another blog completely dedicated to the principality, but I intend to keep that as a mere mirror of what I will continue to write here. In other words: Desto Fante is and remains my wargaming blog; the other one will only collect writings related to the specific project, at least until I will move all the contents to a website.
Finally... I hear you clamoring... what's the name of the principality?
Well, in honor of a staunch supporter of Desto Fante, who was also the first one to leave a comment on my blog on its very first day, the first name of the principality will be Saxe. Now, tongue in cheek, since "Saxe" sounds very much like the Italian noun "sasso", i.e. rock, I could not help but choosing "Pape-Cyssor" to complete the name I was looking for. Cyssor, pronounced in the French way, will be the capital of the principality.
So, here we go: Saxe-Pape-Cyssor will be.
Going back to the geography of Saxe-Pape-Cyssor. I took very seriously the task of designing a credible map for this imaginary region. Since the area borders with France, many names will show a French influence: the major city on the border is in fact Chateu Mauvoisin, who sits right along river Rhine. Saxe-Pape-Cyssor is crossed by another river, the Butte; its second city is therefore Harassee-sur-Butte - again, tongue in cheek: but this is as far as I will go, since I am very jealous of my PG-13 rating on Blogspot. A few other spots that found their way on my map were the towns of Sankt Sergius, Schloss Roget, Hirshwald Hof, Fahreberg, Saadbrucken, Thornbach.
The map is pretty much done, but it still requires a few cosmetic adjustmens before I will share.
Well, these are all the news that fit to print, for the time being. It will take sometimes before the WSS units I began to paint last week will come into line, so there is no rush into getting the details out about Saxe-Pape-Cyssor: but I feel I am off to a good start, and by the time the battalions will deploy on the ground I think I will be enjoying a very good time in tracking the maneuvering around this small, but far from negligible, principality at the westernmost border of the Holy Roman Empire.

Catching up on my colonial project

With all the enthusiasm that is springing from my recent venture into the Age of Reason period, I feel I have been ignoring my colonial project. I mentioned a while ago that one of my top priority over the summer would be to offer some play-testing to my good friend EB, who is working to an exciting new edition of a set of rules I love. Since this is a work in progress, I need to remain vague - those who know me also know perfectly well what I am talking about...

My assignment is to work on the rating and the order of battle for the Italian campaigns in Abyssinia, 1887-1897. While I read quite a bit about the period (mostly Italian sources, most of them not available in English), I found always challenging to bridge the gap between the books and the tabletop, especially when it is for a work which will be commercially released.

Fortunately, wargamers have a fantastic resource to the period: the scenario booklet published by Mark Fastoso a few years back, "Colonial Campaigns -- Ethiopia 1887-1896." I'd love to provide a link, but I am afraid Mark doesn't have a full website to support this work anymore; you can peek at the contents at Brigade Games, among the other places, or even enjoy one full scenario made available here.

As I browsed through the booklet, I was of course thinking how to adapt those scenarios, written for "The Sword And The Flame," to our rules under playtest, which feature 4-stand units. Fortunately, the conversion seems to be pretty straightforward, and after doing some math and a few checks in the miniature closet, it seems I will be able to game most, if not all, the battles in Mark's work with my existing collection, once some of units in the pipeline will be completed and upgraded to "battle ready" status. Not surprisingly, I spent some time today mounting a few purchases from Historicon on craft sticks, so that I may catch up with this painting work soon. Exciting as it sounds, this should really take a short time. I do not do forecasts, but I would say: soon, hopefully very soon.