Monday, July 06, 2015

Top ten - Miniature Ranges!

Time for another top ten, just as personal as the last one but this time focused on the models that let us play these games of war!

I had at first considered restricting this subject to individual figures, literally my top ten models, but this I realised might by nigh on impossible as how on earth would I pick ten figures from the tens of thousands that'd passed through my hands?  Making the subject broad enough to encompass specific ranges was the only sensible choice.  Still I am not simply going to list ten manufacturers, especially as many of my older choices are from manufacturers with patchy at best output, at that time or since.  We'd best have a couple of conditions to this though:
  • A range constitutes a single miniature range as listed by a manufacturer; or, a single boxed set of miniatures - plastic or metal.  So for example (not that they'll be on the list) Marauder Miniatures Dark Elf range could appear on the list but not the entirety of the their fantasy figure range.  Similarly Essex 15mm Rus would be ok, but not all Essex 15mm models.
  • I personally must have bought models from the range (or the identified box) at some stage, even if I have subsequently sold them on. 
  • If I can't prove they exist by finding a photo of them, they don't get on the list (sorry!)
And let's be clear, this is no awards list, these are not necessarily the best models out there, but they are my favourites.

So let's begin.

10. Dixon's Samurai

From Dixons' Website 
Now, I have no photos of my own collection of Dixons Samurai, as they currently live in a box in my brothers' inaccessible loft, not that they were ever that much to look at.  But one of my earliest collections of metal miniatures was these.  They were a popular subject for gaming at my first club, and the shop I worked in sold them too.  On top of my teenage fascination with all things Japanese these were always going to be popular.

I think the actual style of these models would divide modern buyers, they are chunky to say the least, which on the plus side made for easy painting.  Personality and animation were the bywords of the figures, and helps get them into the top ten.

9. Peter Pig AK47 Republic 15mm

One of the key's to whether a range works and is memorable for me, is character, do the models exude something in the way of personality, are they dynamic, evocative of theme and so on.  This is parsonally far more important than whether or not they have the correct number of lapel buttons for the 1756 reformations or whatever.

Of course this sort of thing tends to mean that smaller scale figures struggle to be favourites of mine; they can be well detailed and cute but honestly at less than 20mm scales they tend to feel rather impersonal.  One manufacturer this does not apply to for me is Peter Pig, and their AK47 miniatures were a huge selling point on my playing the game:

Professional Cavalry
These are to ignore the more eccentric choices as well, when a range includes naked troops, child soldiers, media crews and looters you have to agree that whatever the morality of the topic, it gets it's theme and chooses to cover it comprehensively.  Such a shame they spoilt it with a po-faced second edition of the rules.

8. Revell Celts

Now the backstory to this range must be the longest on this list, as the Revell Celts- at least some of them - began life long, long ago with Elastolin:

Image result for elastolin gauls
Compare the two left hand models here... the bottom right here
But not so many as the Revell Romans; who were entirely copied from Elastolin.  Revell rather used these old figures to fill out a range of genuine Gallic warriors in a range of suitable clothing and with nicely detailed shields and weapons.  I managed to score a few packs of both these and the Romans when I was getting back into gaming after five or six years away.  

Overall the set was a pleasure to paint and had lots of conversion potential - at a time when precious little was available in the 20mm plastics field, and I was a poor student with little money, I managed to turn these and the Airfix Ancient Britons into all manner of Celtic troops.

7. Prince August self-cast 'Dark Ages' warriors

Once upon a time home casting your armies was a very real thing, people everywhere were doing it.  At a time when the quality of manufactured metal miniatures was a long way off what it is today, these were genuinely a reasonable alternative:
Tools used to make these moulds.
They seldom looked this good out of my mould...
If you could afford white metal they were as good as many models of the eighties, I however like many was using scrounged plumbers lead and whatever alloy I could get my hands on (wheel balancing weights were a popular alternative and I'm pretty sure some people made fine armies out of church roofs, something I can't condone).

In an age when a range of miniatures might be a handful of models Prince August had a respectable 5 or 6 moulds suitable for dark ages warriors (even if branded as part of their fantasy range), making a dozen or so useable poses.  Cheap lead is also super easy to cast and convert, so I soon had an army of some 200 generic dark ages men; and the molten lead scars to show for it.

6. Perry Miniatures Napoleonic French Line Infantry

It would be remiss to not mention the revolution that injection plastic has brought to historical gaming in the last few years.  It is of course hard to pick a favourite amongst so many excellent efforts now available, but lets say that runner up for me had to be a Perry set, and from a purely objective technical standpoint, Perry leave every other manufacturer in their dust.

Great box art too
I've picked their Napoleonic French, as they offer great variety and good value for money; and permit me to produce units for my Peninsular War army with a decent range of options.

One of my own efforts

Not the only 28mm plastic on this list but certainly the prettiest.  There are different reasons as to why they are not higher though as we'll see.

5. Games Workshop -  Feudals (1980's)

f4mercenarieswd948710.jpg (38282 bytes) f4mercenarieswd948710.jpg (38282 bytes)

Specifically the C26 and F4 ranges from  the mid to late 80's, I managed to pick up a fair few of these over the years (back when 4 for £2.50 was expensive!); and some of them are on my painting table at this very moment, getting the love they deserve to join the ranks of my Lion Rampant force.  Ignoring the somewhat off plastic shields of the period these were nicely accurate and well made models for their day.

Now available from Foundry at prices GW might be proud of they are still cracking sculpts, even if levels of detail have moved on since.  For nostalgia value, which is clearly a major feature on this list, they hold their place over modern replacements

4. Cipher Studios - Anima Tactics

In terms of sheer complexity, nothing else on the list will come close to these gorgeous sculpts from one of the many Spanish miniatures companies out there:

As the title suggests, the models in the game range are anime inspired (along with a hefty nod towards Japanese role playing video games like the Final Fantasy series), one thing I like is how frequently the models are designed to match the concept art quite closely, many exactly; this figures themselves are full of character and enormous amounts of detail.  They reward patient and high quality painting, and doing so for my own collection (not shown above!) helped improve my skills no end.

Sadly I understand these are no longer in production, and so it is likely to be a game which I never get as many games of as I would've liked, which is a shame as it is a really nice system.

3. Wargames Factory Numidian Infantry

I've long hailed these as the most useful set of 28mm plastic figures ever, and that is simply because of their simplicity.  A lack of anything more than a tunic means they can be turned to innumerable roles.  Thus:
Slave Revolt warriors
My own Jewish Guerillas
Early Roman
and so on.  I've seen them mounted too and they could serve as a basis for troops well beyond the ancient period too.  They come with a good range of weapons options and are reasonably cheap too.  Having permitted me to start my long aspired too Jewish Revolt project I had to put these on the list.

Wargames Factory, unlike the Perrys', use Computer Aided Design rather than physical sculpting, the limits of this technology, or at least how well WF can implement it, do show in these models, but as a tool for putting a wider variety of armies on to the table, these leave most of their more detailed and specific brethren standing.  The converter and kit-basher in me loves them.

2. Games Workshop - The Nightmare Legion

When I started getting in to fantasy games, I definitely had a thing for two evil races; Orcs - due to the Lord of the Rings (and so my Orcs were always more of an Olive colour than a garish green) and thanks to Ray Harryhausen, skeletons.

I used to have a horde of Games Workshop plastic skeletons but the models I really wanted were the Nightmare Legion, a swarm of heavily armoured undead warriors.

And I managed to get hold of a box, long cherished, latterly joined by another dozen or so models from a friend.  For many years the served a Grave Guard in my old Warhammer Vampire Counts army.
Better than mine ever looked
These were certainly some of the nicest fantasy models of their time, and in my opinion anyway, still remain so.

But they don't make number one, and partly that's because my first encounters with toy soldiers were older, smaller and more historical than these could ever hope to be.

1. Matchbox  - Afrika Korps

I must confess these were not the first ever toy soldiers I owned.  I had of course a fairly random collection of 1/32nd scale soldiers - Russians and Germans as well as cowboys and knights that did random battle in the garden for a few years.  But as a precocious eight year old I read my first wargame book and it well informed me that to play toy soldiers properly I must scale down to 20mm.

My first purchase in that scale was the Matchbox Commando set, and it was a tough call as to whether they should occupy this top spot, but my second purchase was Matchbox's Afrika Korps, and these to my childish eyes were perfection.  It began with the box:

Oh lord!  The memories...
No soldiers stood around fighting like this in World War Two I'm now sure, but as an effort to present the poses in the box in a dramatic and evocative context it was perfect.  The Matchbox sets for me, more so than Airfix of the same period, little packages of magic.  And then I got it home, and inside were 50 of these beauties:
So lovely!
All mine for the princely sum of 99 pence!

With enough troops to take charge of both sides my future as a wargamer began, with scrappy rules and mismatched forces, but I was sold, and despite several hiatuses over the years, I've never stopped.
Matchbox's gorgeous little models have more to do with that than anything else to be honest, and so they rightly deserve top spot in my list.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

More Austrians - IR.35 Argenteau

So a second regiment of two battalions is ready for my 15mm Austrian project:

These are a line regiment from Germany once again, but this time in the new issue shakos.  The regiment facing was Lobster Red, which according to my references was something of a faded crimson.  I think mine is too pale, but it will have to do.

So with four small or two large units ready, they are beginning to take shape; next up for a break from all the foot, some Cuirassiers and a divisional commander.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

'Approved' Hail Caesar Fantasy Rules

Whilst Warhammer undergoes a turgid transformation into a wholly different beast; a blog just popped up on my radar featuring fantasy mods of Hail Caesar that are produced with the blessing of the game's author.

A quick browse around the site indicates army lists for a number of classic races, as well as a comprehensive set of modifications and additions to give the rules a magical twist.

I don't know if I'm looking for Hail Caesar to replace Warhammer, but this is at least another option for those who aren't fans of Kings of War...

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Age of Sigmar, Hmmm...

So, the Age of Sigmar rumour mill is now well in to the tangible stage:

The new Box
Others have covered it better and I'm sure if you are monitoring the progress closely there is little more I can tell you.  The new boxed set is looking at being about £75/$125 for 47 minis, a 96 page background and scenario book, and get this, 4 pages of rules!

4 Pages.

Games Workshop are also going off script - for them - by offering the rules for FREE.


Games Workshop? Free? 

Exactly that.  When did GW ever give rules away.  The information to date is that there will never be a rulebook, army book or otherwise that you need to buy to play, it's all free, downloadable online or provided with the miniatures.

Boxes of models, and supposedly all existing units will have a War Scroll detailing their new unit:


There's plenty to note in this, models only have four stats, and then a fixed set of weapon stats.  They all seem to have special rules specific to the unit.  Actually to me, none of this seems very bad.  But there are problems, issues that friendly games may not suffer from but that will make competitive gamers seeking balance furious, and rule exploiting doucebags ecstatic:

  • No point values
  • Units/armies can be of any size
  • You can use whatever you want
So you could turn up for your game with four units of 10 Orc warriors say, and you opponent arrives with 12 dragons in 3 units and a fourth unit of 100 Skaven assassins and the rules would basically suggest that's fine.  I give a fairly extreme example but this seems to be what is causing a lot of nerd rage at the minute.

If you want to sneak peek the rules I suggest you look here:

Whilst the best source right now for other pictures seems to be this Twitter account:

As to the new models, well I always had mixed feelings about the various chaos ranges over the years, but some of the new models look pretty good.
Whereas, I have no love so far for the immortal warriors of Sigmar:
Some of the new Stormcast Eternals - Sigmarines if you will.
These are not humans per-se by all accounts, and look pretty much to be Space Marines for Warhammer, I'm certain that's what GW wanted anyway.

So what do we have?  It looks like a means first and foremost to bring new players into the game with whatever miniatures they have or want to buy.  In short rules to sell figures, not rules to sell rules.  Will it be any good?  Well, I've not had time to read the whole rules yet, but they seem to be a mixure of really simple concepts, elements that could be lifted from any number of contemporary rule systems, and a big slab of random.

But as it seems to be free it'd be rude not to try it, and monitor it with interest in the future...

All will be revealed in this weeks White Dwarf, along with free model too.  Not long to wait now.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Waterloo at the Royal Armouries

Okay so this was a week ago, and the anniversary was Thursday last, which would've been a great time to post these.  But it's been kinda hectic around here.

On what was a fraught weekend to say the least I did get half an hour to scan round the games on at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.  The Armouries had given over one of the their main downstairs conference rooms to around a dozen groups with wargames - almost exclusively - Napoleonic in nature.

 Two shots of a game I couldn't recall any details on, nice models my quick photography could not do justice to.

Camera crews and Bacon butties
 Part of the Sharp's Waterloo game put on by the RAF gaming society IIRC.  A novel twist on the theme, with attention to detail such as having La Haye Sainte the wrong way round and such like.

Legendary Wargames can always be relied upon for some In The Grand Manner action:

Hanoverians I think...
Action around another farm
Next up wass the Warlord Games display, using - as several others appeared to - Black Powder.

The battlefield was far less populated than some
And it looked to me like the boards belonged in the Spain not Belgium
 To their endless credit, Warlord seemed to be doing good work with the general public.  This was not a gaming show, there were no traders and enough room to see the games, get involved if you wished and ask questions.  Compared to many wargaming shows this was a refreshing change.

Incidentally, whilst all these games were 28mm, there was at least one 15/18mm game on the day too.  Displaying the field of Waterloo on a more strategic scale

I took away from this in particular an Idea I'd been toying with about fleece throws as wargames mats, less intrusive than faux fur but with still some naturalism.  It bears saying that this one had been recoloured by its owner.

I wish I'd had a little more time to hang around and get better pictures, the room was a bit quiet, but this was at 3pm on Sunday afternoon so well after any rush could be expected.  Overall it seemed to be a great idea to help get people to really understand the battle.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Friday Freebie - Road Wolf

So who, like me watched Mad Max: Fury Road and had an immediate urge to play games based on it?

Yeah OK, quite a few.  and why wouldn't you:

Brum brum!
Or this:

Image result for mad max: fury road

Or indeed this:

Image result for mad max: fury road
Easily the best film I've seen in a long time, and the best action movie in oh, the last 5 or 6 years.  So pretty soon after seeing it I began trawling around rules options - as you do.  But after failing to secure a copy of Dark Futre for under £50, and not being taken with the sheer rules volume of Car Wars I left it somewhat frustrated.

Then quite by chance I came across Road Wolf.  What looks like a fairly simple system, featuring a rolling road mechanic and a variety of vehicles and equipment.  It looks to have potential, and it's completely FREE!

Now, with a week off coming up, can I resist another project and stay away from the Hotwheels cars in toy shops?...

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Waterloo 200th Anniversary

You don't need telling really, but I just felt I'd commemorate the day too.

A nice picture of the new statue at Hougoumont.

Plus of course:

Our own modest gaming commemoration will be on the 4th July, with a replaying of part of the battle.  For once I'm not organising it so I've no idea what part exactly.  I finished reading my one book on Waterloo in preparation last night, so We'll see if I can do honour to the men of the day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Foldio Lightbox - Better pictures here we come...

One of the frustrations I have with my blog is the quality of the pictures of painted miniatures I present on it, in short they are often not that good - taken in poor conditions with bad lighting.

It isn't as if better lighting would improve the look of all my models that much, but it would do a lot for some of them.  I'd long been looking for a solution, and have used cobbled together white boxes over the years to try and get the best from a standard camera, but generally it was only back when I had a flat with huge 9 foot windows that I had enough light to really get things to look okay.  The other obvious down side to such jerry-rigged solutions is you can only really use them at home

Quite by chance I came across Foldio on Kickstarter, a product that had long since funded but looked like it could be the very thing.  I was able to pick one up on Amazon, from South Korea no less for a price I accept seems steep for something you might make yourself, but I was never going to do that, and if I did, it would not be of the same quality.  It's fair to say you could get one from other sources too.

So what is it and does it work?

Well first of all, it comes in a small neat package:

Not 6 Pink Floyd records...
For the 'dads' out there the whole thing is about the size of an LP boxed set, and weighs very little.  Inside as the name implies is a folding reflective box , made from a pre shaped plastic and held together with rare earth magnets.  You also get a strip of high intensity LED lights (for an extra ten bucks you can get it with two strips) and  a set of three foam inlays - white, grey and black - that give the background a seamless transition:

Roomy, I've had smaller apartments...
 The whole thing then packs back up into a neat bag, as well as going in the box for as long as that lasts.

And the effect?  Well I only had time to test it with whatever was to hand, so the closest to finished on the paint desk today was a reaper miniature of shall we say, a lady of negotiable virtue! Unprepared for her moment as she may - uncharacteristically - be, it is her time in the spot light.  Firstly with the light array alone and no flash, but with standard post production colour correction:
Coming out the gloom
 And then with the flash on my camera, from the same position, and with the same correction applied:

Hello boys!
I think that makes an enormous difference, notice in particular how the rear shadowing is relatively slight, the detail is crisp and the colours, vibrant.  I should add that I don't use a complicated camera, just a Samsung ST77 point and click, whose only real benefits are a good optical lens and a decent range of options.

Obviously I need to work on the technique, but I think this will improve my pictures no end, and moreover it's portable, so I can hopefully get better pictures of other peoples masterpieces with their permission.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Age of Sigmar - Warhammer's Replacement?

But what is it?

Much as I hate to admit it, Warhammer remains a bit of a big deal for me, and so I'm watching the rumour mill on 9th ed. with interest, on the basis of the latest I'm seeing though the new game is not Warhammer at all.  Scrap any ideas of 9th edition.  Age of Sigmar is a different beast.  The following is according to someone who managed to get a few hours with the rulebook...

- Title of the rulebook is: Age of Sigmar: a Warhammer strategy game - full fledged rule system; no skirmish game - meaning not restricted to low miniature count: 50 models on average, way lower possible, in general you use units but you can field an army consisting of only single models - everything is on round or oval bases (there paragraph that explicitly allows legacy and diorama bases, though); - 2 books: the rules (rules and scenarios) and compendium (pictures, unit cards and fluff) - there are unit cards for every (as far as I can see) old unit in the second book, including warhammer forge models and most or all special characters. Some units get the full treatment with a small fluff text, pictures of the actual miniatures and rules, some units get only rules with nothing more. - all new rules with complete new mechanics: think not of 40k 2nd -> 3rd but Warhammer 8th -> Bloodbowl, very compact and fast paced, huge emphasis on individual champions, magic and gods (don’t know how powerful, but these have the most rule pages) ...- there are lots of different people, races, gods and lots of different alliances. The world is a lot more open minded than the old one, Empire-Orc Alliance would be unthinkable, but a human-waaghkin force is nothing unusual in this setting 
...Rules - there is only one ruleset (don’t know what is in the AoS box, but in the book there is no distinction between skirmish mode and battle mode or something like this) - rules have nothing to do with the old warhammer rules, - profile is: Melee, Range, Might, Armour, Initiative, Resolve, Wounds, values from 1-6, lower is better - simple turn sequence: initiative -> player 1 unit 1 moves, shoots, casts -> p1 unit 2 moves, shoots, casts -> ... -> player 2 moves, shoots, casts -> melee - players roll always against each other, for example Melee vs Initiative and Range vs Initiative, Might vs Armour - units regenerate all lost wounds at the end of the phase - both sides in a melee fight simultaneously, winner can roll to fight instantaneously another round until one side is extinct or one side chooses to break from the combat - there is no moral system or combat resolution whatsoever, but unit can be bounced back - units use a 1” 40k formation without any facing - magic spells are all one-use only, when you use it, you have to discard the card - you can collect ascension points throughout the game and spend the point to buff your champions, mechanic depends on your god(s) - unit costs points as before, you are not allowed to field multiple units of the same kind unless the former unit have full strength - there are all kinds of unit sizes from 1-3 to 3-15 (that’s the highest I have seen), but you can field lots of different 1-man units - you don’t buy champions, a set number of models are automatically upgraded to champions, but you cannot exceed the limit - there are rules for different weapons, magic items, war engines, monsters, special rules, etc and a large section for scenarios and terrain, larger than the actual rules 
...Setting game is set on world Regalia that is connected with other young realms through portals of the old ones. Young realms are realms that were populated by the old creators and were guided on similar historical paths. They were untouched by chaos but this has changed since the arrival of sigmar (as a new faith) and archaon (as an actual emissary in flesh and blood) 
Age of Sigmar box content: Extrapolated from the pictures, they are the only new models. If you think you get 3-5 UNITS for each side, you are wrong. you get 10-15 (haven’t counted) CHARACTERS per side. Each model is really individual and it is in no way possible to field the majority of them as a visual coherent unit. It is late and this summary is long as it is, so I make this brief, but I will come back later and add some info on the miniatures. Chaos looks very similar to the old style except the berserkers, the Sigmarite Force is completely different. 
Missionary Force: 3 Knights of the Order of Sigmars Blood, Roman looking armour but more bulky, leather Bands, swords and teardrop-shaped shields, champion is a woman a pair of vigilantes: Male and female, leathercloaked, tricorn, 2 hand-crossbows a hand full of heavy armoured warrior with different weapons and cloaks, almost knightly in appearance but completely over the top bulky, some have eagleshaped helmets One hooded, chainmail wearing, hammer wielding girl a bulldog standard bearer: naked, chains that are hooked into the flesh, very archaic looking one arabic looking guy with a two-handed scimitar and full armour one guy in rags that wields a chain that burns at both ends, very impractical looking 
Chaos Cult: two outriders, basically chaos barbarians as we know them, but female ~5 berserkers: african looking, no armour, barefeet, clad in cloth stripes, two axes, bald and gaunt looking, not overly muscular, bone chain, both male and female three pristesses: flowing robes, sacrifical ziggzagged daggers, skullmasks two armoured harpies with spears and shields, crooked looking, feathered wings at least five chaos warriors similar in appearance to the old chaos warriors, very dynamic fur cloaks and poses, one of them bigger on a larger base, all male as far as I could see one large bloodletter, almost twice the size of a human the leader has armour that looks like a chaos dwarfish, very babylonic, rides a demonwolf, a juggernaut, but with flesh and fur and spikes some more viking-like infantry but with more chainmail That’s only a broad description. Every model is highly individual. 

This all comes with a HUGE caveat, non of it can yet be proved, but it has a certain ring of truth to it (the original post I found on  The Warhammer Forum, via Dakka Dakka).  Not long now until we get to find out of course but this sounds like a completely new game system to me, one GW can control the size of and maintain a vice like grip on the intellectual property rights of...