Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Napoleonic Renaissance -- part I

Lack of postings for several weeks doesn't mean that wargaming activities have ground to halt -- quite the contrary! Juggling night feedings, diaper changes, a real life job and an equally real multitude of miniatures projects has been rewarding and challenging at the same time, and it resulted in blogging taking a back seat as more urgent tasks took precedence... but it is now time for an update!

Let's start by spending a word or two about the Napoleonic Renaissance that appears to be gaining some momentum, these days. True, the period has never really gone out of fashion: but for a few years I somewhat sensed it was stagnant, as far as generating new enthusiasm and energy in the hobby. Then, in a matter of months, if not weeks, we have been overwhelmed by several, very catchy products. Four new major rules have been released, and one fifth has been reissued in a new, expanded edition. I am talking about Foundry's Napoleon, Black Powder, Republic to Empire, Sam Mustafa's Lasalle, and TooFatLardies' Le Feu Sacre III ed.. As Mae West put it, "too much of a good thing is just wonderful"!

All these rules, for the most part (LFS being the exception), seem to share the same trend toward glossy, beautifully produced and printed rules booklet. The topic has been discussed ad nauseam in wargaming forum, and I will spare you to add my totally negligible opinion on the issue. The problem for this wargamer is that quality comes with a price, and at the average cost of $45-$50 per book I had to rethink what would have been my default course of action -- that is, go out and buy them all!

How to choose among so many offerings? Well, I look at the reviews. In recent weeks I have noticed the emergence of "playtesting vigilantes" on TMP, people ready to go out and clobber those dedicated gamers willing to share ASAP their opinions on a game, before conducting several playtests of the rules. I cannot stand these "vigilantes": yes, some playing mechanisms might make more sense after one game or two, but a lot of information -- the information we need to make an informed purchasing decision -- can be share just by reading the rules. I am grateful, therefore, to the people who did take the time to offer a peek into game mechanics, and an opinion about the rules. When considering a purchase, I usually focus on a few feature I deem important: scale of the game, how big a table the game requires (I need to accommodate my games on a 6'x4' space), how big the units must be (in the case of Napoleonic, my units are 12 miniatures based on four rectangular stands of three miniatures each), the sequence of play (I don't like IGO-UGO), how long it will take to play (I need to clear up in six-seven hours maximum), how many miniatures it will take for an average battle (I am a solo player and I cannot reasonably field more than 150-200 miniatures per side.) So, rather that rehearsing for zillionth time the basic of those reviews, which I bet many of you have already read, I'd rather offer some of my thoughts during my shopping decision-making process, with no pretence to be correct in my judgment, nor to be fully fair to the products in question.

NAPOLEON'S. I read good reviews about the book as an excellent introduction to the period, but nothing about the rules themselves really caught my attention. I am already an experienced Napoleonic player, so, while I welcome a product that will ease access into the genre for new players, I didn't feel compelled to add these particular rules to my collection. Thus, I passed on this item.

BLACK POWDER. Online reviews were consistent in stressing that these rules are for big units on a big table. That was an automatic NO for me. Other comments stressed the quality of the text, entertaining and tongue-in-cheek, with a soft "old school" feel. This was attractive to me, but not at $45+. Fortunately, Amazon is offering them for a fraction of their retail price, very much a mistake due to some confusion in regard of the currency. I could not say no at that price, even if I have to wait for the first week of February for delivery.

REPUBLIC TO EMPIRE. This set appears to belong to the family of detailed and process-oriented rules that were popular in the 1980s and 1990s: by what I read, I would associate some of their mechanisms to the tradition of Empire, Legacy of Glory, Valmy to Waterloo... I own all of these sets, that were read a lot and played not that much. Honestly, I do not have much appetite to add another one to my collection. Pass.

LASALLE. These rules are authored by Sam Mustafa, of Grande Armee fame. Regardless of some minor disagreements I may have with those, I strongly believe that everything Sam writes is well worth attention, and the price of the publication. Thus, I ordered and already read this excellent book, and I am very satisfied with the choice. There are some very intriguing concepts in this piece. The sequence of play is IGO-UGO, but with a twist. The size of the game is right, and the rules almost perfectly fit my basing scheme (but they are flexible enough to accommodate for almost every major basing scheme out there.) Other features are unusual for a Napoleonic game. The author tried to work out a compromise for rules that would please the traditional Napoleonic grognard, while appealing at the same time to the tournament crowd. For full disclosure, I have to confess I am not a tournament player, and I am actually very opposed to the whole tournament scene and culture. That said, cuique suum; and I would acknowledge that Sam's compromise is indeed very witty. Nothing prevents you to play Lasalle as a purely "historical" game, and nothing prevents you to play it in competitive settings; yet, Lasalle avoids all the silliness of army lists and points that, to my eyes, mar tournament rules. Instead, Lasalle introduces basic armies, standardized but historically plausible, that in turn can be beef up with additional units (think of them as "assets" in the modern jargon) for the game that are both balanced yet make historical sense.

LE FEU SACRE. This is the outlier, as a game that refrains from the bells and whistles of a glossy publication and it is distributed in PDF for a very reasonable $12. The reason why I bought it is that i have greatly enjoyed some other rules and game from TooFatLardies: I Ain't Been Shot Mum, If The Lord Spares Us, Troops Weapons & Tactics,Rock the Casbah, B'Maso. Thus far, I only had the opportunity for a quick read, and I noticed that LFS seems to be a more rigorous and detailed game than many of its TFL more free-wheeling predecessors. Nonetheless, some of the ideas are interesting, and there will soon be the opportunity to play test it.

TO SUM UP Here I am, sitting on my couch surrounded by two new Napoleonic games, Lasalle and Le Feu Sacre, and with a third on its way, Black Powder; on the shelf in front of me, some other classics from my collection: my favorite ever, Piquet - Les Grognards; two strong runner-ups, Grande Armee and Napoleon's Battles (the AH miniature game, a classic in itself)... you would wonder, something must be brewing into my napoleonic plans and projects... and this is indeed the case! For which, though, you will have to wait for the next post (I promise, it will come soon!)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Marlburian infantry units in review

Today I finally managed to spend a few hours to fix some final details on my Marlburian armies, and I also had the opportunity to take some long-due photos of the final results of, literally, months of work. I am very pleased by how things are shaping up in this project. of course, I would have liked to proceed faster, but overall I cannot complain. Life has been busy, really busy: and yet, I have succeeded in bringing several units to the table -- literally.

Right now, the bulk of my Marlburian forces are in two armies: the one of the Elector of Palatinate, and one French. ideally, I will probably develop an imagine-nation narrative when the time to deploy them will come, but for the time being I am glad to keep them both relatively historical.

For the Palatinate forces, I also manage to paint a commander, maybe the Elector himself. You cans ee him here, all smiles after a full staisfactory review of his troops. These are 15mm Edition Brokaw miniatures.

Thus far, I have completed five Palatinate regiments, based on 12 miniatures per regiment: IR Bettendorf and IR Rehbinder (blue coat with red cuffs); IR Haxthousen and IR Westerwald-Dillendurg (blue coat, green cuffs); IR Saxe-Meiningen (red coat, green cuffs.) Here the five units:

For the time being, only one Palatinate cavalry regiment has been completed, RR Hochkirk, while two other cavalry units are in the pipeline, one dragoons and one cuirassiers (the Gendarmes de Venningen.) Here's Hochkirk's cavalrymen:

The French units have been completed in a more free-wheeling, unsystematic manner. Thus far, I count four "regular" infantry regiments: Normandie, Piedmont, Perche, Enghien. In addition, there are two Irish units, Abermarle and Donnington, and one Swiss, Stuppa, plus some Spanish grenadiers (you can see them in the background in the second picture below, or here for a close-up during painting.)

What will be next? There are some items with very high priority. I need cavalry for the French; two units of dragoons are about to hit the workbench, and eventually one more of mounted musketeers. As I mentioned, there are two cavalry units for Electoral Palatinate that are almost completed, and I am considering an additional couple of Imperial cuirassiers. Then, I need artillery -- something is in the pipeline, but I need to hurry up... So, yes, still a lot of work is waiting for me. But, nonetheless, some very sweet progress as well!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Naval teaser!

Life chez DestoFante has not been limited to sleepless nights and changing diapers! Wargaming time, in all honesty, has been minimal, as you might guess; but we had a few progress, about which I hope to update you soon in thorough manner. For the time being, just a teaser -- a naval teaser! Here a few WWI British warships just christened early tonight. These models are 1/6000 Figurehead, representing four Weymouth-class (Town-class) light cruisers, namely HMS Weymouth, HMS Dartmouth, HMS Falmouth, and HMS Yarmouth, and three Devonshire-class armoured cruisers: HMS Devonshire, HMS Hampshire, and HMS Carnarvon.

I hope to have the time to get back online soon with some pictures of my finally completed Marlburian units!

Friday, September 11, 2009


Having spent most of the day with my boss and professional colleagues sharing our recollections from this day eight years ago, I now find comfort in sitting back, serving myself a glass of wine, relaxing if possible, and thinking about this very same day, only three century ago.

Thanks to Grimsby for the reminder!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Look who is here!

DestoFante Jr. was born at 12:20pm on August 30th!
Mom and son have been doing very well in the first 10 days, and maybe the day is not too far that the sleepless dad will retrieve brushes and paints from the closet and resume "normal" wargaming activities. In the meanwhile, this little angel is keeping us busy almost around the clock!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I dipped, and almost regretted...

I decided to dip... and I went close to a complete disaster.

First, a quick overview of my dipping technique, which is actually not a real "dip", as I use a brush to apply the Minwax Polyshade finish to my miniatures. I normally use a fairly large, cheap brush, and two types of Polyshade, one called "Antique Walnut", with a more reddish-brownish tint, which usually works great for red-clad miniatures, and the other with a blackish color, called "Tudor Satin", which works great for miniatures painted in gray and white as main color.

So, today I headed to the roof deck, armed with all the necessary to engage in a nice session. First I applied the Tudor Satin to the Spanish grenadiers, a Palatine regiment, and the French Piedmont and Normandie. So far, so good. But I didn't stir the Tudor Satin can much before applying the dip, so it came out as a relative "light" layer. When I moved to work to the Swiss and the Irish/Palatinate units, I made sure to stir more robustly the Antique Walnut, and... gee! It came out thick and dark brown, and covered everything, from bayonets to the white and yellow trim on the hat. I had to sweat quite a bit to thin the dip, and to remove as much of it as possible from the areas whose color I wanted to keep more vivid. And as I was working in this crucial cleaning action... the brush broke off! I was able to fix it on the fly, and to complete the cleaning/finishing strokes -- I just had to be very careful with the brush.

Photos will follow soon. For the time being, let me articulate the lessons of the day:

a. make sure the brush is in good condition; if it is, take a second one with me nonetheless, just in case;
b. use a smaller brush: it will make my work slower, but it will ensure I have better control of the amount of finish I apply to the miniatures;
c. try not to put any dip on the hats and the bayonets;
d. give the dip a few minutes to sit down, or stir more gently at the beginning. Go for a ligher mix. These are War of Spanish Succession figures, not colonial natives, duh!

Bottom line. The Swiss and the Palatinate/Irish came out a little darker than I would have preferred, but they are still nice. Normandie, Piedmont, Palatinate, and Spanish grenadiers look great. The day was saved!

Monday, August 24, 2009

More pic, and a question

[Apparently, blogspot is working again, and I can now continue the post abruptly interrupted a few minutes ago... make sure you read both this and the post immediately below in sequence!]
First, I want to share the pictures I promised when I posted the photos of the Milano grenadiers and the Piedmont and Normandie regiments earlier tonight.
The first picture shows the back side of the Stuppa men, followed by two close-ups of the Stuppa and Donnington officers. As you may notice, I am becoming more and more daring with the use of silver and brass on laces and uniforms, as well as on tin buttoms. Ehi, they look good to me, given than about one year ago I was still adamant in NOT wanting to paint XVIII century uniforms because "too complex and ornate"!

And now a question for you all, my friends.

Usually, I have come of the good habit to dip my miniatures before basing them. You may see some good example of my technique and final results here and here. But now, I confess to be torn. The dip may still provide a great effect on my infantrymen, but I am afraid that the dipping will partially cover my painting efforts, especially on the officers. So, I am almost tempted NOT to dip this time around. I need to think about this. Oh well... in the meanwhile, I can start some work on the cavalry. I have dragoons and cuirassiers waiting on the workbench!

Still waiting... but making the wait productive

First and foremost: DestoFante Jr. is taking his time. He should have shown up eight days ago, but so far, nothing. Nada. Niente. So, after a few days of excitement and heightened expectations, we are settling into a not exactly comfortable routine. I cut back on my hours at the office to spend more quality time with Mrs. DestoFante, who by now is bored to death and over-stressed, and understandably so.

In the meanwhile, somebody gotta kill some time...

And so, I took the brushes off and I re-started my weekly routine of slow but steady progress. Actually, this couple of days were more satisfying than most, because I finally completed different units in my Marlburian project that have been on the workbench for quite some time.
First, a Spanish grenadier unit, Milan Regiment. You may remember a Santa-looking unit from a post a while ago, but you will appreciate the better style of the completed grenadiers now that painting is concluded. These are 15mm Spanish grenadier from the GFI/Minifigs range.

Next, also from my favorite 15mm range by GFI/Minifigs, two French units, Regiment Normandie and Regiment Piedmont. In order, you will first see an infantry from Normandie, followed by two from Piedmont.

There are some more pics from the two red-clad regiments that complete this batch, the Swiss Regiment Stuppa and the Irish Regiment Donnington. Apparently, my blogspot connection is running to some trouble tonight, so you will have to wait until tomorrow... believe, it is worth the wait, because I took some artistic dares in painting these units (especially the officers), and I am very proud of the results!

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Every now and then I get trapped in some dilemma of sort about practical aspects of my wargaming projects, and that state of mind seems to drain energy from achieving further progress.

I stumbled on one of these blocks on a relatively minor issue concerning my Marlburian armies. Here's the problem: I am building my units in a modular fashion, so that, depending by the mood, the rules, or the battle, I will be able to deploy battalions or regiments with either 12 or 24 miniatures. Ideally, I would like to have all my infantry units made of 24 miniatures, but in a bout of realism, and taking into account the fact I live into an apartment and I play on a 6' by 4' table, I want to have the flexibility to opt for 12-miniature units. So far so good, as far as line infantry is concerned.

But what about grenadiers? I am fine with a 12-miniature grenadier unit; the problem is that a 24-miniature grenadier one looks... excessive, at least for the period (1700-1720.) Or isn't it? Am I wrong? I would feel comfortable with large grenadier units for later conflicts, like the Seven Years War: but what about this earlier age?

I am actually considering keeping all the Marlburian grenadiers in units of 12. They will be fine when deployed in a battle with other 12-miniature units, and they will still look OK when taking part in clashes with 24-miniature line infantry units (assuming that the whole idea of "line infantry" made any sense in this earlier period.) Or maybe I should sink myself in further readings about the period, and verify whether, historically, there is any ground to justify smaller count of men in grenadier units vs. regular infantry units.

On this problem, I got stuck: and no progress on my projects has been registered for a few weeks now.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Exhausted, but I accomplished my mission!

And so Cpt. Agesilao Fantoni did, after several hours of tense action in the valley of Wekiro!

The game played out exceptionally well. I took several pictures that I will include in the final AAR. As a teaser, I will liberally sprinkle a few in the present notes, just to whet your appetite!

Photo-op: Fantoni's Force poses for a picture before leaving Monkullo.

Many solutions I experimented for the first time contributed to a fantastic experience.
  1. The integration of "Mythic Game Master Emulator" with "The Sword And The Flame" works smoothly, and added a lot of color and narrative threads to the "vanilla" game based on TSATF. Of course, there is room for improvement: the Random Event outcomes by MGME have a "fantasy" flavor that, with some work, can be corrected, so that the experience will feel more directly "colonial"; that said, it took very little effort to fold the random outcomes into a colonial narrative, thus, little complain here.

  2. The terrain looked good. Really good. And so did the miniatures. Probably my best looking game ever. Heck, having a blog, and a digital camera, and attentive readers, really forces you into doing your homework!

    The valley west of Wekiro: "a narrow valley with steep mountains on both sides, and a dried creek bed at the bottom".

  3. The story was solid, and, as I was hoping for, it opened several threads that might become the basis for a campaign, and future games.

  4. Fantoni's force advancing toward the village.

  5. It was a great idea to keep my computer on, and to jot down notes as the game developed. I have now several pages of a narrative that would make the AAR, hopefully, quite entertaining -- and not a chore as it is when I need to write everything from scratch one day or two after the fact.

Hostile presence in the village.

There were also a few, minor issues I was not completely satisfied with. As mentioned above, some of the tables in MGME may be improved, to provide outcomes whose interpretation is more straightforward in a colonial setting.

Abyssinian warriors holding the village.

Second, I didn't realize how rusty my TSATF memory was. I haven't played the game in quite some times, and I forgot some minor elements in the rules. Also, there were a couple of circumstances where I doubted how the situation should be handle, especially as far as point blank fire, and shaken and routing units are concerned. I need to brush up my TSATF for sure! Re-reading the rules tonight, after the action, will definitely help for the next game. Also, I'd like to make some personal notes -- flow diagrams to help my memory in dealing with a few cases.
Last but not least: as the game got going, I realized I was missing my d20 dice! They must have got lost in our recent move, as there was no way to find them anywhere. I'll tell you: playing TSATF 20th Anniversary Edition with one and one only d20 was a real pain! Likewise, one card was misplaced, but fortunately there was an easy fix and that problem did not have major consequence for the game.
A little regret for the missed opportunity to playtest "Colonial Adventures", which I did not have a chance to do today. Next time, I want to give these rules a try, definitely!

Abyssinian warriors meeting their fate charging the Italian infantry.

Next, I will work on an After-Action-Report. I may actually break it down in two parts, the first relative to the force entering the valley (in which RPG aspects will prevail), and the second about the fight with the Abyssinian bands (here it will mostly be a TSATF fight along the traditional standards.) And I need to sort through the several pictures of the game, to highlight the narrative. Busy days ahead!

Abyssinians charging the askaris.

[Apparently DestoFante Jr. is not due before next weekend, and all we have to do is sit down, relax, and wait... writing a detailed AAR may actually be very therapeutic!]

Cpt. Agesilao Fantoni enters the village followed by his troops.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Orders have been issued!

I report the following orders, as they were issued yesterday afternoon. The original Italian text follows.

"Massawa, Eritrea Colony, August 8th 1889

I, the Commander, direct:
  • Cpt. Agesilao Fantoni, 7^ Infantry Rgt. “Cuneo”, to take command of the following force:
    -- one company of Colonial Infantry “Askari” under the command of Lt. Arrugola;
    -- one platoon of Fanteria d’Africa detached from 7^ Rgt. “Cuneo”;
    -- an auxiliary detachment of Camel Troops in support.

  • In the afternoon of Saturday August 8th, the aforementioned force will move to Monkullo, and then proceed northward along the desert trail to the village of Wekiro, where they will camp for the night.

  • At dawn on Sunday, the force will march westward in reconnaissance of the adjacent valley. The force will verify reports of activity by local bands of native outlaws, and will eventually proceed in eliminating the threat.

  • Maj. Forra, from the Military Institute of Geography, will be attached to the force to map the area.

  • At mission accomplished, the force will return to Massaua on Monday.

The Commander
Military Governor of the Eritrea Colony"

The orginal Italian text reads:

"Massaua, Colonia Eritrea, 8 agosto 1889

  • Che il Capitano Agesilao Fantoni, 7^ Rgt. Fanteria “CUNEO”, assuma il comando di una forza cosi’ composta:
    -- una compagnia Fanteria Coloniale “Askari”;
    -- un plotone di Fanteria d’Africa distaccato dal Rgt. “CUNEO”;
    -- un distaccamento ausiliario di truppa cammellata in sostegno logistico.

  • Nel pomeriggio di sabato 8 Agosto la succitata forza si trasferira’ a Moncullo e proseguira’ a settentrione, via sentiero desertico, fino all’insediamento di Wekiro, ove s’accampera’ per la notte.

  • Con le prime luci dell’alba di domenica, la forza procedera’ ad occidente, in ricognizione della valle sovrastante Wekiro.

  • La forza accertera’ l’attivita’ di bande brigantesche segnalate in azione nell’area, ed eventualmente ne procedera’ alla eliminazione.

  • Se forze indigene in superiore numero saranno identificate, la forza ripieghera’ su Moncullo e tosto riferira’ a questo Comando.

  • Il Ten. Arrugola e’ comandato a disposizione del Cap. Fantoni.

  • Il Magg. Forra, dell’Istituto Geografico Militare, e’ autorizzato ad unirsi alla forza comandata allo scopo di effettuare rilevazioni topografiche.

  • A missione conclusa, la forza rientrera’ a Massaua nella giornata di domenica.

Il Comandante
Governatore Militare della Colonia Eritrea"

All is ready. I just finished painting the camels in support of the Italian mission. The mountains are ready, and I hope they will look really good -- hopefully, it will be a surprise to my readers. Miniatures are ready, too: about seven/eight units of Abyssinians/Fuzzy Wuzzies, and two units of askari plus one of Italian infantry. The terrain will be set up tomorrow morning, and I expect the game to take place from noon on. At the last minute, I decided to play the game with TSATF, as I am more familiar with the rules, and I feel more comfortable to experiment a few other ideas moving from a more familiar sets. Time permitting, since I expect this to be a relatively short scenario, I may still play the scenario a second time with "Colonial Adventures", as originally planned. I am still determined to try something new, i.e. to combine TSATF rules for the resolution of the tabletop action with "Mythic Game Master Emulator", in order to add some RPG elements to the game, and produce a nice narrative for the blog. Plus, I believe this would be an interesting "starting scene" for a campaign to follow.
I expect the Mission to Wekiro Valley to be a small affairs, but ideal to test some new arrangements for my games; ideally, this will be an "Italian colonial" equivalent of the mission to Chamla Valley included in TSATF.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Something brewing in Eritrea...

Yep, something is definitely brewing in Eritrea... Let's say that over the past 10 days I have achieved some momentum in my Italian Colonial project. I have a small but growing force ready to take the field, and enough indigenous warriors to provide a decent opposition to any advance. The amount of terrain available should suffice, but to make a believable action at the foothills of the Abyssinia plateau I definitely needed some real mountains, of the type shown by Jeff in the Saxe-Bearstein blog or by LittleJohn's at Lead Garden blog.

I am now glad to report that some steps in this direction have been taken. I have three larger set of hills/mountains, and a smaller "kop" on the workbench; one is almost completed, and can be shown here; the other three pieces are in different stages of preparation, but should be ready by tomorrow morning at the latest. Here's a preview.

Examples of mountains being prepared.

I want to do another last minute purchase, tonight or tomorrow morning, at Michael's, the local craft store. I need more little stones to mark a dry creek, and the desert conducting to a narrow valley... Then, I will be ready to play a small scenario!

When? Well, thanks to an inclement weather advisory for the weekend, with expected heat in triple digit, I think that Sunday afternoon might be the day! I need to hurry up with some final preparation -- the mountains, the hills, some final touches to the Abyssinian warriors, the camels following the Italian Askaris. But a little mission in the afternoon of Sunday is entirely feasible. Keep your fingers crossed!

What rules? Funny you ask, because since my last post I caught up with some interesting readings. TwoHourWargames has a very interesting set for the colonial period, "Colonial Adventures", which strikes me as a modernized version of "The Sword And The Flame", with some clever mechanisms to limit the player's control over what happens on the field. I believe this would work very well for a solo game. Also, to add some color and background to the game, and eventually making it the kick-off of a small campaign, I would like to introduce some narrative elements more traditionally associated with RPG. In fact, I found online "Mythic Game Master Emulator" or MGME, a set of rules meant to facilitate solo RPG but very suitable to integration with traditional wargaming. On different Yahoo groups I found a fascinating NWF Frontier campaign played solo with MGME, where table actions and combat were resolved through TSATF. And by digging into my Google search results, I found that nobody less than our Jeff of Saxe-Bearstein is also using MGME for his Fantasy adventures! With such an endorsement, I feel quite intrigued to test the system myself, pronto!

So, here's my wargaming roadmap for the days ahead: completing the preparation for a small scenario; working through MGME to prepare a background for the mission, execute it, and come back here with a battle report, pictures of the game, and reviews of both of THW "Colonial Adventures" and "Mythic Game Master Emulator." Looks like a lot of work... hope it won't take weeks before the next post on DestoFante, but stay tuned!

UPDATE 8pm. Last touches on the first mountain range: done.
Second mountain range: done.

Pathan taking a walk to test the new mountains: done.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Deal, or no deal?

Deal. Over the past few weeks, I kept an eye on a few auctions taking place on eBay, and I have successfully snatched a couple of amazing deals. The one I am most proud of is a lot of colonial British, and several Pathans for the North-West Frontier. I already had a few Irregular miniatures for this theater, and the recent addition will nicely complete my existing armies.
Once I received the packages, I proceeded with some cleaning, some final touches to my personal tastes, and a "miracle dip" that provided a wonderful (to my eyes, at least!) finish, especially to the native figures. And finally, I have some eye candies to share on this blog! Here's a few pictures of the almost completed projected -- only the final touches to the bases are still due.

First, an overview of part of the figures. To my eyes, they all look like 15mm Minifigs, probably with just a couple of Stone Mountain in the lot.

Now two close-ups. the British look impressive! I cannot wait to deploy these guys on the road up to some forgotten valley over the frontier with Afghanistan!

And here the fearsome Pathans.

So, what will be next? With completed armies available, maybe it is time to prepare some adequate terrain... and look at my closet! A few nice buildings, and a whole mosque are waiting to be painted up!

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Churchillian moment

I spent part of this week on the road for a business trip to the Lake of the Ozarks, in Missouri. On my way to the meeting, I happened to drive through Fulton, Missouri. I was not expecting it -- I didn't check the itinerary beforehand -- but a light went on as soon as I spotted the sign of the city. Now, I am not that old: but in what now feel as a different era, in a different country, I was quite engaged in politics, and a rather staunch "Cold Warrior." Fulton MO immediately evoked a defining moment in that struggle: the speech by one of my heroes, Winston Churchill, warning about the threat of Soviet expansionism in Europe:
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.

[Above, Winston Churchill at the podium delivering his lecture to the audience in Fulton, March 1946.]

And here I am, years later, driving though the town that was the scene of the historical moments. Since signs on the main route announced a "Winston Churchill Memorial", I took a few minutes for a quick visit to what turned out to be a very interesting museum, hosted on the ground of the local Westminster College. The story about the invitation sent by the college to Churchill (inspired by an alumnus connected to fellow Missourian Truman) and the visit by the former British Prime Minister and then-President Truman in 1946 is, in itself, fascinating. The following picture was taking as the duo paraded through the streets of Fulton, before the address of the Prime Minister.

The Memorial is a small, wonderful museum, definitely worth a visit longer than the little time I had available -- I am certainly planning on stopping there again at the first opportunity, and spend at least a couple of hours walking through the exhibition, the Church that was transplanted from London to the middle of Missouri in the 1960s, and the surrounding grounds. It is a little gem, and I am glad I had this random opportunity to visit the Memorial to one of my favorite historical characters.

As an additional treat to myself, on my way out, I stopped to the small store inside the museum and bought a copy of "River War" (which I own in Italian, but not in the original English language.) I am sure I will soon succumb to the desire to engage in some Sudan scenario...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Who are these guys?

And, more importantly: where are they from?

I just completed an interesting deal with a very fine gentleman from Texas, who just delivered some unpainted Marlburian figures. I received the package today -- and I am having a ball to sort through the goodies! In the lot, there are several Roundway Miniatures, mostly British with a few bags of Bavarians. I have never seen Roundway figures before, and I have been pleasantly impressed: they appear to be on par with Dixon and Minifigs, and they will provide a very welcome addition to my expanding armies for the period.

Included in the package, there were also several Edition Brokaw miniatures. I understand this is a very "old school" range, and many may well turn their noses to figures who are, at best, a little cartoonish in their features, and who require a lot of care and cleaning because of the flesh they carry. That said, these are also among the cheapest miniatures for the period, come in a relatively large assortment, and "paint well and fast." Thus, I welcome the opportunity to add some more of them to the several EB miniatures already in my painting pipeline.

Nevertheless, there is a little puzzle I am now facing. The gentleman from Texas was not able to identify the miniatures from Edition Brokaw. I did some comparison with what I already own, and I came to the conclusion that the larger part of the lot, about 100 figures (I have yet to count them properly), are generic musketeers, which EB recommends for use as British, Dutch, and Austrian, plus as troops of some of the Holy Roman Empire. Here's a (very) bad picture of sample of them.

Unfortunately, I have been less successful to properly I.D. the following two groups. I am posting here some pictures, ad I hope some of you may help in recognizing what they are. The first group looks like line infantry with musket at waist, one belt across the the chest and the back, and cartridge box on the right flank.

By carefully reading the catalog provided by Edition Brokaw, and by comparison with my other EB infantry, I can exclude they are Palatinate units. They are not "generic" musketeers: they miss the waist belt and the small sword (a bayonet?) that the generic units carry. So: who are they? Maybe Danish? Saxons? Swedish? Any one? Bueller? Bueller?
Finally, there is a mysterious unit of guard or grenadiers. Here's the picture.

They seem to sport what appears to be a short mitre, a feature which helps, but only to some extent. As they do not wear a bearskin, Austrian and Bavarian grenadiers are out of question. Maybe British? Or Dutch? I have no idea what Danish grenadiers would wear; I would rule out Saxons (and Swedish), as they are suggested to wear a tall mitre.
Bottom line: I'll buy a drink at the first occasion to the ones who will help in a positive identification of these new additions!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

And two other regiments for Electoral Palatinate

Voici! Palatine Westerwald and Haxthausen-Paderborn regiments getting ready! Still a few touches needed to complete these two units, but I feel confident that a preview can be shared by now. These are 15mm Edition Brokaw miniatures.
[As an aside note: there seems to be very little out there in terms of Edition brokaw miniatures, so I am glad to share. I found many people in the hobby to be interested to look at this range "in flesh"... no pun intended...]
First of all, the photo of the all "ensemble".

Now a close-up of some line infantry, front and back. For the drummer colors, i work on my imagination and taste.

Finally, the grenadiers -- I am planning on basing four grenadiers with both the main units, not for any pretension of historical fidelity, but, again, for a decision based on personal taste (and on the odd lot of Edition Brokaw bags, that come with 20 miniatures per bag whereas I need 24 figures for two units.

A few, final touches here and there, a dip, basing, and shoes: probably an afternoon worth of work, and hopefully by the end of next weekend these regiments will be battle ready.

The Saxe-Meiningen and the Abermarle regiments

As promised, today I can share a few pictures I took early this evening. First batch, it's the two red-clad regiments of Electoral Palatinate, the Saxe-Meiningen Regiment, and the Irish in French service Abermarle Regiment. The former can be recognized for the green trousers, while the latter shows green vest and red trousers/stockings.
In both cases, I painted the drummers in reverse colors. These figures are 15mm by Essex.
The first pic shows the two units on sticks.

I put some extra attention to the officers, standard bearers and drummers, and I am quite satisfied by the result, shown in the next picture.

Now a closer shot of the drummers.

And finally, a detail from the Abermarle Irish unit.

As usual, magnified pictures tend to exacerbate the little errors on 15mm figures, but overall I am quite happy of he outcomes. Next, I will apply the "magic dip", and finally I will paint the shows after the figures will be based. Still some work to do, but so far, so good!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I hope to have some pictures soon, but at least I will go ahead and share some news about the good painting work that took place chez DestoFante. In a bout of hobby productivity, this past weekend I made some major advancement on a few regiments for the Marlburian period.
All of them are set up so that each unit can be deployed as one larger, 24-figure regiment, or a smaller 12-figure one. This solution offers me some flexibility in terms of rules and size of games that will be played (hopefully soon.)
For the time being I will stick to the "base-12 system," and list the latest additions: for the army of Electoral Palatine, there are three new infantry units completed, the regiments Saxe-Meiningen, Westerwald, and Haxthausen-Paderborn; a cavalry unit, Hochkirk, is almost completed, too. For the French army, I need to add some finaly touches to the Regiments Piedmont and Normandie, as well as the Irish Donnington and the Suisse Stuppa; a second Irish regiment, Abermarle, is ready to be based. There are three Spanish regiments near completion: Viejos and Nuevos Amarillos, and Milano grenadiers. And for the Imperial army, two regiments of infantry from Brandeburg-Bayreuth are receiving the final details.
Next: I need to work on two units of French Dragoons, one or two of Imperial cuirassiers, one of Palatine cuirassiers; I also need to catch up with some artillery.
To tell the truth, I am seriously considering to do some outsourcing for my painting job: the services of Mr. Fernando in Sri Lanka come highly recommended by a few friends who took this route, and since I expect to have little time to paint (and sleep, and eat...) once DestoFante Jr. will show up in a few weeks, I am actively readying myself for this alternative strategy.
Photos to follow soon!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Back home from vacation

We just returned from a nice vacation: by Amtrak, we completed a three-leg journey through America with stops in Denver, Salt Lake City, and Reno/Lake Tahoe. We are now back in Chicago, which unfortunately still offers a weather more suitable to October than July. And we are entering the final stretch of our little "summer project" -- DestoFante Jr. is expected sometimes in late August!
These days, I am spending more time building baby furniture (today, the crib and the changing station) rather than painting miniatures. But I hope that dynamic will change over the next few days. Since we are pretty much at the stage in which all is well taken care for, and we sit back and wait... oh well, you can kill the waiting time getting some painting done, can't you?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Happy birthday, DestoFante!

I celebrate today one year of blogging. And I celebrate, indeed, in a subdue manner, as I have not been very active posting, in recent weeks. After a nearly flawless move at the beginning of May, it took a few weeks to get settled in our new apartment. Then, there were the obvious preparation to welcome DestoFante Jr. into this world later in August [to this regard, I am glad to report that Mrs. DestoFante is doing very fine, and we are very excited about the major change in our life, by now a few weeks away.]
Professionally I have been busy, too -- which is good, considering how lucky I am to have a job, during these trying times for the American economy. And finally, when I am able to have a little time for my wargaming hobby, I'd rather spend it doing something, rather blogging about it!
Anyway, today we crossing the ideal line of 1 year of activity -- 365 days of sharing ideas and annotations. And this should be the right time to welcome and thank all my visitors, 3,600+ according to the counter on the website, who spend some time reading, commenting, and sharing information on these pages. Some of you have turned into good friends, which made the experience all the more enjoyable. Definitely, maintaining a blog has turned into a good "discipline device" for my hobby activities.

So, what lies ahead?

As we enter into the summer season, I'd like to regain some momentum in three/four projects that have commanded my attention over the past several months. I have enough ships to actually play some WWI naval engagements. I have a well-developed WSS project, in which several units may soon be brought to completion, and some actual gaming is not too far in the future. I have a near-completed Sudan/Abyssinian project also nearing completion. I have some fun ideas to jump-start activities the now dormant Republic of Lopongo. And a bunch of minor periods to which I may pay occasional attention: Napoleonic (that, actually, should not be considered "minor"), modern Middle East, Vietnam; WWI; Italian Risorgimento.

There is still considerable uncertainty about how the baby will affect my wargaming habits. One guess: I will step back from more time-consuming activities, like painting, and step up more fun pursues -- like actual gaming. This means that I will soon explore the route of painting services for my miniatures. I already have a couple of names on my list.

And now, off to cut the cake with one candle. Happy birthday, DestoFante!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gaming the French colonial expansion

My 15mm colonial collection is mostly Anglo-centric. Truth be told, I have a significant portion of my figures for Italians in Abyssinia, but the rest is, by and large, for British theaters of action: Sudan, South Africa, North-West Frontier. In the closet, there are a few bags of unpainted Chinese: years ago, I bought some Old Glory 15 for the Boxer Rebellion. I have yet to paint those miniatures, but ideally they will provide some variety adding American and German troops to the lot.

One area, though, that in my opinion remains under-appreciated is French colonial conflicts. From the Sahara Desert to Equatorial Africa, to Fashoda, to Madagascar and Indochina, the period doesn't lack in color. Alas, when we think "colonial French," we seem to limit our view to the French Foreign Legion, with her kepis and blue overcoat. This should not be the case. French deployed a variety of colonial troops, recruited almost in every corner of their vast empire. And it seems that, with a few minor conversions, a wargamer should be able to cover almost all the bases, and add variety and character to his colonial collection.

Just for sake of divertissement, I did a little of research about French colonial units can I could easily created in 15mm, based on existing ranges, or fortunate purchases from companies now out of business. Here's some ideas about how to spice up your French presence oversea.

  • Zouaves, Turcos, and Tirallerus Algeriens are easily available from most of the Franco-Prussian War sets. Having seen a few, I came to the conclusion that Essex miniatures would be the best "colonial" conversions, as they are slightly less heavily packed than their counterparts for the European theatre.

  • Infanterie de Marine is actually available at Old Glory 15, in the aforementioned Boxer Rebellion range.

  • Infanterie is the basic infantry, as represented in some of the late 19th century prints: white pants, blue jacket, and white colonial casque. Here's one found on the internet.

    Units of Infanterie would be easily converted from the existing French Marines by Old Glory.

  • Tiralleurs Senegalais would be converted from the Sudanese infantry made available by Old Glory 15 in their Sudan range. In the following print, also found over the internet, some of the Senegalais troops can be spotted in the background.

  • Tirailleurs Tonkinois et Annamites. As far as I know, they were only produced by Frontier Miniatures in a Boxer Rebellion range that has gone, unfortunately, OOP a long time ago. I was able to secure two bags, about 100 figures, in a circuitous manner. I found online a gentleman who happened to be friend of the Florida man who owns the moulds. Apparently, he was willing to occasionally produce a few bags here and there, for friends or upon request. I have never been able to get in touch with him directly -- apparently he only attends conventions in the South, and he does not respond emails nor phone calls. Bizarre. The topic was discussed on TMP a few years ago. This is very unfortunate, because these are (were) very good miniatures. I have never understood while they have never been taken back to the market. [For some mysterious technological reason, a webpage for this range is still online, several years after the manufacturer and retailer ceased all activities.]

Overall, this would be a fun project. Maybe the French takeover of Madagascar might be played for a small campaign, or maybe a fictional German intervention in Madagascar in the late 1890s might be created. In general, I feel colonial French have a lot of potential, and when my life will come back to some after-move normality, I may be willing to explore the possibilities.