Thursday, October 30, 2008

1/72 Plastic Carthaginian Libyan Spearmen

A few blog readers have emailed and told me they've been enjoying my figures since the days of my old website, MacPhee's Military Modeling (obviously I enjoy alliteration). The old site dealt exclusively with 1/72 scale plastic miniatures, mostly because that's about all I painted until 2003. Then I discovered Battlefront's 15mm World War II line, and I've been painting metal figures ever since.

Still, the plastic figures have a certain charm, and sometimes I dust off an old box, open up my bag of tricks (you have to have a bag of tricks to keep the paint on the plastic), break out my Rustoleum plastic primer, and paint up a batch.

I painted these Carthaginians a couple years ago. The plastic world was all excited at the time about Minwax Polyshades, used as a dip. I gave these figures a simple block paint job, dipped them, then carefully painted the shields.

Libyan Spearmen

There are sixteen figures in total, all from two HaT packs: 8020 "Carthaginian African Infantry" and 8056 "Carthaginian Command and Cavalry." I based them up for Field of Glory today.


Here you can see the detailed work I did on the shields. I had already discovered Little Big Men Studios, obviously. They now make transfers for HaT figures, but at $.60 a transfer, the shields cost several times what the men cost.


You can accomplish a lot on these smaller figures as long as you have a steady hand. The shields aren't anything fancy. I didn't do any shading of the background color, for example. But a few brush strokes can make them look really good.

The Dip

Here you can see the shading from the dip, which is very obvious on the linothorax armor and the helmets. The dip didn't do much, however, for the skin and tunics. They still look pretty flat. Plastics usually have less crisp relief than metal figures, which is one reason I switched to metals.

Standard Bearer

One fellow that shows the dip really well is the standard bearer. His quilted garment had just enough relief to allow the dip to take.

It was a nice diversion, returning to my roots as a gamer, and it's very tempting to start a FoG army with plastics.

October Painting Totals

This was a very busy month, with one weekend-long convention and two other gaming weekends. I spent a lot of time basing my WAB Punic Wars armies on FoG compatible bases. A lot of my painting time was taken up by Wargames Factory's new Marian Romans, which, while cheap and attractive, took a lot of prep time before I ever picked up a paintbrush (a full review will be up within the week). I'm also taking care of a teething baby, and when he cries, I set everything down to comfort him. So here are my painting totals for this month:

28mm Republican Romans, 15 cavalry
28mm Carthaginians, 2 elephants and 6 crew
28mm Marian Romans, 48 infantry
15mm Napoleonic Austrians, 18 cavalry

That's a total of 368 Scott Painting Points for the month. Not as good as August (654), but not as bad as September (299).

Latest Read: Shenandoah 1862

I've read all of Peter Cozzens' Civil War books. I started with Darkest Days of the War on Iuka and Corinth, moved on to his trilogy on the Kentucky / Tennessee / Georgia theater, and last read his biography of John Pope. All of them are good reads that should inspire any ACW gamer. Cozzens includes the tactical minutae of each battle. Between the text and maps, Cozzens provides a lot of scenarios for regimental battles.

Cozzens' works have all focused on the western theater, although his Pope biography understandably spends a great deal of time on Second Bull Run. Shenandoah 1862 is Cozzens' first work focused entirely on an eastern campaign.

Now there have been a lot of works on Stonewall Jackson's valley campaign, so why would Cozzens bother writing on it? Everything I've read on the valley has focused on Jackson and the Confederate army, with authors acting as Stonewall admirers at best, cheerleaders at worst. Cozzens takes a much more balanced approach that will be familiar to anyone who has read his other works. He presents the Union side of the campaign with a thoroughness I've not seen in any other study, and the result is the best balanced account of the 1862 campaign I've ever read.

It's clear Cozzens admires Jackson's accomplishment, but he also faults some of Jacksons moves and traits as a commander. Cozzens avoids any lost cause hagiography of Jackson. Instead of reporting what contemporaries said about Jackson after the campaign, Cozzens focuses on Confederate letters, diaries, and journals written at the time. Even Stonewall Jackson, in the midst of his most famous campaign, had his detractors in the ranks. Jackson was never a good battlefield general, and Cozzens criticizes his tactical movements convincingly.

The most impressive thing about this book is the understanding Cozzens brings to Federal movements in the valley. Jackson won his campaign through deft movement and hard fighting, but he was helped by uncoordinated Union advances and decidedly second rate Union commanders. Fremont and Shields come in for some harsh criticism for their handling of Cross Keys and Port Republic, for example. But Cozzens seems to admire the leadership of Banks and McDowell, or at least to have a good appreciation for the limits under which they operated and some sympathy for their situations.

In sum then, Cozzens gives us the best account of the campaign to date. The book is a balanced look at the commanders, armies, movements, and battles in one of the most famous campaigns in American military history.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Austin's Russian Grenadiers

I'm very lucky to have a gaming group with such excellent painters. Jon is able to exceed my figure counts most months, and he paints very attractive, clean looking figures. Austin paints a little more slowly, but everything he paints is just first rate. These are Austin's AB 1805-11 Moscow Grenadiers, perfect for Eylau.

Moskovskii Grenadiers (click for larger image)

AB just released these figures, and they're beautiful sculpts. These are figure codes AB-ER65-8. Eureka USA doesn't have photos of them on the website yet.

All three of us paint with craft paints such as Delta Ceramcoats, Folk Art, and Apple Barrel. Austin used "Mudstone"as his base on the greatcoats, and highlighted with "Eggshell." The flag is a free one from Napflags. Bases are from Litko. You'll notice that Austin paints three figures per base, rather than the more usual four. This way he can build his units more quickly, and he doesn't end up spending so much on figures. It's a nice compromise for Age of Eagles. Even if Austin doesn't get ordered blocks of infantry, the finished units still look very nice.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Crusader Roman Cavalry

I wanted some armored Roman cavalry for my Second Punic War battles, but Old Glory only offers unarmored equites. I turned to Crusaders Roman cavalry in mail to give me some hard-hitting heavy horse.

And here they are. I based these for Field of Glory instead of Warhammer Ancient Battles, and I have to admit, those multi-figure bases look good. My WAB cavalry are all on 1" frontage by 2" depth, and FoG calls for 60mm of frontage and 40mm depth. The frontage works pretty well. I mean, it's a tight fit, but the figures do fit. The depth doesn't work at all. I ended up going with a 60mm depth just to keep my figures from jostling each other in two ranks.

I was definitely impressed with the look of the figures, but when I went to assemble them, I found that the Crusader riders don't fit on the Crusader horses! All the horses have their heads up and their manes trailing in the wind. No matter how I tried, the manes kept the riders from sitting comfortably on the horses' backs. I finally got the figures on, but with some strange gaps between saddle and horse. The result is that the figures aren't too sturdy. I broke some off during painting, and I'm sure they'll break during gaming.

After prepping nine cavalry, I wised up and substituted some Old Glory horses. Bingo. I had a good fit, and those three horses (front right base in the photo above) fit well enough with the others to work as a unit.

One thing I screwed up; the Crusader riders are wearing boots, not sandals, but I painted them as sandals. Whoops.

My favorite part about the Old Glory Roman cavalry were definitely the shields (see the last picture in this post). I don't know how accurate they are, but they really look neat. The Crusader shields were just a smooth disc with a boss, which is probably what the Romans really carried. If I've learned anything about painting ancients, it's that the shields must pop for the unit to look good. So I set to work painting a plausible design on these Romans.

For my Roman army, these armored cavalry will represent the actual Roman cavalry. My unarmored Old Glory figures will represent the Alae. I wanted these Crusader figures to work for the 1st century BC as well, so I went with a design that could work for either period. The shields got lightning bolts, a fake spine, and "Leg. II."

All the Crusader cavalry wear a cape, which I painted in the standard Roman army mustard brown. It's a dull shade on these otherwise flashy figures, but it's probably what they wore.

The Old Glory cavalry lacks command, and WAB gives bonuses to units with officers, standard bearers, and musicians. I picked up a pack of Crusader unarmored cavalry command and tried to match my earlier paint job. Here's a shot comparing the size of the Old Glory and Crusader figures. The Crusader figures look taller than they are because the riders just won't sit on their horses. You can clearly see the gap between horse and sadle on the rightmost figure here.

And here you can clearly see the difference between the Old Glory and Crusader shields. I definitely like the Old Glory shield better, but that's just a matter of taste.

Overall, I was a little disappointed with these figures. The riders and horses are beautiful seperately, but they didn't work well together. I emailed Mark Sims, who sculpts Crusader Miniatures. He confirmed that he had switched horses since starting the line, and he admitted that the new horses don't really allow for a good fit. He suggests trimming back the mane, which I did not try. I would probably be more upset about the whole thing if Mark hadn't been so nice about it.

Crusader Carthaginian Elephants

I have elephants for my WAB Carthaginian army, but I needed some on 60mm frontage for FoG, and I didn't fancy rebasing my old models. Out goes an order to Old Glory; in come two Crusader elephants.

First impression: they're big. Really big. Much bigger than my Old Glory elephants. They're also scary. The OG elephant kind of shuffles along. The Crusader elephants are running, and they have a mean look in their eyes.

My second impression was that they were going to take a lot of work. That's a big gap between the neck.

Obviously that gap on the trunk is too large to just leave.

In fact, there were large gaps everywhere. Superglue alone wasn't going to cut it. I had to break out some Squadron green putty that I usually reserve for 1:35 models.

I gooped the green putty on pretty thick, then levelled it out with a toothpick.

Next, I sanded the putty down to get a smooth surface. The I used a hobby knife to mke some cuts where the elephants' skin folded. As you can see here, only two of each elephant's feet are touching the ground. I drilled holes in those feet, inserted brass rod, and glued the other end of rod in holes I made in the Litko bases. These elephants shouldn't be going anywhere.

The completed elephants look pretty good. I didn't want them to look identical, so I varied the howdah color slightly. I probably should have changed the blanket and the tunic on the mahout as well.

I also set the elephants at slightly different angles. The fellow in the front is as the sculptor intended. The fellow behind has three feet on the ground. It makes for a good contrast, and it really makes these guys look like they're moving.

Looking at this shot, you can still see where that seam is on the base of the trunk, but it's a lot better than the huge gap before the green putty.

Hannibal in Italy at Tactical Solutions

I ran this game in the evening session on Saturday. My Aspern-Essling game was a success; this FOG game was not. I had designed the game as a "get to know the rules" session, but that just didn't work out. A couple players were off chatting when they should have been listening. Almost everyone was quarrelsome. The hall was too noisy for everyone to hear me well. Most of these guys wanted to win rather than learn the rules. These all just made it a frustrating session for everyone.

In retrospect, Austin and I should have run a demonstration game. Or I should have been more forceful with the players. Live and learn.

Carthaginian Players Mike, Matt, and Pat

Roman Players Terry, Don, and Bud

Pat advanced the Carthaginian left wing cavalry pretty agressively.

Terry moved out the Roman cavalry to meet them.

For two hours of our three hour game, all the action was on the flank with the cavalry. The Roman players elected to keep their infantry in a double line on their table edge. It made for a dull game.

One unit of Roman cavalry drove off both Numidian units, but the Spanish cavalry drove off the other Roman cavalry unit. The victorious Roman and Spanish cavalry headed for each other's camps.

The centers finally met. Because their formation was so deep, it took the Romans time to really start hurting the Carthaginian infantry.

The Romans left their weakest unit, a group of Italian spearmen, in the center of their line to face the elephants. The Italians quickly broke, and the Roman center bent back. Here you can see the problem with keeping too large a reserve. This was the decisive point in the game. The Roman heavy infantry should be chopping the Carthaginians into tiny pieces. And only two of their five Roman heavy infantry units are engaged.

Where the Romans did get into action, they won. Here the Carthaginian infantry streams to the rear, leaving the elephants as the only formed Punic unit in the center.

The elephants were all the Carthaginians would need. Here they strike and rout a unit of principes, winning the game for Carthage.

Even had the elephant not won, Spanish cavalry were preparing to loot the Roman camp.

So I now have four games of FoG under my belt, and my impressions of the game are starting to firm up.

I think the designers have the right idea about infantry combat. Units clash and gradually wear each other down until one side breaks. Often the winning side remains in perfect order with no casualties. That matches history better than the whirling, grinding fights we have with Warhammer Ancient Battles.

Skirmishers are severly understrength in FoG. They have such pitiful range that I've considered just doubling or tripling all the ranges in the book. It takes heroic dice rolling on the skirmishers' part and horrific dice rolling on the enemy's part for skirmishers to inflict any losses. They're very unlikely to disorder the enemy. And they get chewed up too easily by close order infantry. They should be much more able to evade. Between 250BC and 50BC, the Numidian cavalry was the best the Carthaginians and Romans had, but in these rules the Numidian cavalry just can't accomplish much.

The command rules are a little off. We tend to keep generals attached and fighting in the front rank, because otherwise they just don't do much.

The combat rules are clunky. Too many modifiers, too many exceptions. The language is confusing. What exactly is the difference between cohesion and order? What causes a unit to go disordered versus disrupted? I wish the designers had called "cohesion" "morale." I wish they would have come up with any name at all for a unit's level of formation order. It would have all made more sense in early readings.

I'm a quick learner, and with most rules sets, I can start moving away from the charts halfway through a game. Not with FoG. I like the effect of the rules, but the rules themselves make it much harder to get where we're going, with too many steps to go through and too many exceptions to remember. This is not an easy set of rules.

I'll probably stick with them a while longer, and they may grow on me. But for now, I'll still build my units primarily for WAB.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Aspern-Essling Game at Tactical Solutions

Yesterday we played out the battle of Aspern-Essling, the 1809 battle in which Archduke Charles and his Austrian army inflicted a serious check on Napoleon's Danube campaign. Napoleon had bridged the Danube and pressed three corps onto the Deutsch-Wagram plain, but the Austrians managed to destroy the French pontoon bridge with a barge loaded with 55 tons of rocks. Without hope of reinforcing his small force, Napoleon took up a strong defensive position based on the villages of Aspern and Essling. Charles drew up his corps in a circle around the town and attacked.

We used the "Age of Eagles" rules for this fight. Because the convention's gaming slots were only four hours long, we had to bathtub the two day fight down to a manageable size. I cut most of the Austrian corps to half strength and accelerated their release schedule to compress both days' fighting in a single day.

Starting Positions

The French were defending the left table edge, which was the banks of the Danube. The Austrians advanced in a large semi-circle.

The French Lines

Essling is on the left, and Aspern is on the right. The French occupied a ditch between the towns. Because the Austrians had such a tough time coordinating their attacks at the actual battle, I limited the number of melees they could declare each turn.

Another View of the French Defense

This is the village of Aspern on the French left. The French had four infantry divisions holding the main line and three cavalry divisions in reserve.

The French Generals

Austin and Scott commanded the French. They are old hands at these rules.

A Tough Nut to Crack

Although the Austrians severely outnumbered the French, Napoleon had chosen his ground well. This was a formidable defensive position, and the Austrians would have a tough time disloding the fortified French army.

In this picture you can just see Chuck, who was one of the playtesters for the "Age of Eagles" rules. Although he didn't play in the game, he did stop by occassionally to see how the battle progressed.

Austrians Take Essling

Don moved Lichtenstein's corps first, advancing straight at Essling. Even with their defensive bonuses, the French were unable to hold the town. The Austrians took Essling for the first time in our game. It would change hands five times.

French Counterattack into Essling

Undeterred by his first serious check, Austin pushed his infantry back into the town and expelled the Austrians. All throughout the morning, Don and Austin pushed each other back and forth through Essling.

Austrians Push across the Entire Line

By noon, all the Austrian corps were in position, and the Austrians mounted an attack across the entire French line. The French line bent, but did not break.

French Left Crumbles

The first major success for the Austrians came on the French left. Matt commanded Hiller's corps. He moved three infantry brigades, one cavalry brigade, and a battery of artillery against Aspern from the rear. The lone French brigade in the trees gave way before Matt's attack.

Matt Victorious

Matt was obviously pleased with his success. This was not only the first time Matt had played with these rules, but the first time he had ever played a Napoleonic game.

French Reaction

With Austrians all around them, the French watched their vulnerable left flank collapse. Scott moved some of the cavalry reserve to check Matt's advance.

French Right under Pressure

With French reserves committed to the left, Don, Steve, and Caleb threw their corps at the French right. The Austrian reserve hussars joined Lichtenstein's and Rosenberg's corps in their attack.

Bring It On!

As you can tell from Austin's cap, he's a fan of lost causes. The dire French situation didn't seem to faze him at all. Is today a good day to die?

French Right Collapses

Apparently so. The Austrian attacks shattered the French infantry brigades on the right and took Essling for the last time. This was the situation when we ran out of time.

The French still had four brigades of heavy cavalry in reserve, and their infantry was not yet running for the Danube. They still possessed Aspern. It's possible that they could have stabilized their lines in another turn or two. Napoleon's engineers had completed a ramshackle bridge that might have allowed a few more French divisions to move across the Danube and reinforce Napoleon.

Caleb Victorious

Two students from my historical gaming club took part in the battle. Here Caleb celebrates his success while teammate Matt looks on.

All our players, clockwise from lower left: Caleb (Rosenberg), Austin (French), Scott (French), Matt (Hiller), Mike (Bellegarde), Don (Lichtenstein), Steve (Hohenzollern)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Getting Ready for Tactical Solutions

I've spent the past two weeks painting like crazy to get my armies ready for our local convention. I'm running two games: Aspern Essling using "Age of Eagles" and Trebia using "Field of Glory." I've used rubber cement to affix my WAB based ancients to FoG bases. I painted two Carthaginian elephants, 15 Roman cavalry, and 18 Austrian cuirassiers just this week. I'm beat.

If you live anywhere near Coeur d'Alene, come check out the convention. It starts tomorrow afternoon and runs through Sunday. You can find all the info you need at the Tactical Solutions website. If you don't live near Coeur d'Alene, well, that's too bad for you. :-)

I'll update the blog more after the convention ends. I want to get up a review of the Crusader elephants I'm using. I'll get pictures of my games and post them here. And I'll be reviewing the new Wargames Factory plastic Marian legionaries. I've been chugging away on them for two weeks, and I'm almost done.

Once those Wargames Factory figures are done, I'll probably take a break from painting for a couple weeks. I might work on my DML Stug III, and I might just kick back and watch some baseball.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Crusader Roman Penal Legionaries

This is the last unit for my WAB Marian Roman army. These figures came in Thursday's mail. I painted and based them on Friday, sprayed them with gloss lacquer and then dullcote Saturday morning, and entered them in the modeling competition the same day.

I wanted some troops to represent the Gallic auxilia Caesar had with his army, and these figures fit the bill. They have Gallic helmets, shields, and swords, but they wear tunics with no trousers. I figure this would have been the appearance of Romanized Gauls of The Province.

All 16 Figures

I primed the figures black and drybrushed the helmets with Testors enamels. I used a mix of bronze, gold, and silver. The spears are from North Star.

The shields are hand painted. They just came out alright. I wasn't able to get clean designs on the shields, probably because I was painting these at 11:00PM the night before the show.

All 16 figures, rear view

The tunics are all unbleached linen, which I thought would be likely for auxilia. I used Delta Ceramcoats, working up from mudstone to lichen grey, to a 20/80 lichen grey/white mixture.

Here you can definitely see the mixture of Roman clothins and Gallic equipment. Those are definitely Gallic swords on their hips, but tha sandals and bare legs really make the figures look Roman: perfect for The Province, I think.

Pose 1

Pose 2

Pose 3

Pose 4

I'll be painting more Crusader figures while I get ready for my gaming convention in two weeks.