Wyevale Winter Trees Bargain

For those of you who hadn't noticed, many garden centres are selling off their winter model Christmas trees.

I had heard about this wondrously cheap way of acquiring snowy terrain for the wargaming table, but hadn't actually seen the proof of the (presumably Christmas) pudding.

Until now.

The wife of a friend picked up the above Battle of the Bulge, winter wonderland forest for me for a mere £13.50: and that's for sixty-one trees! A bargain, and they look to be good quality as well.

For me, unfortunately, this was a false economy, as I now need to buy myself a snow-scene mat for the top of my gaming table...

A Pond...a Very Nice Pond

Second piece of loot from Colours was a pond from Debris of War.

This is shown here with a couple of bases of Polish infantry for scale purposes.

Lovely bit of kit. Not on the Debris of War website, so I'm assuming it was made up just for the show. Whatever, it cost me £10.50 and I'm very happy with it. DoW also do movement trays, resin walls, the odd building: lots of different stuff really, well worth a look.

Expect to see the pond appearing in many AARs to come! 

15mm Buildings from Minibits/RedVectors

First of the loot from Colours: some slightly different buildings to round out my Russian village.

Hadn't seen these before: they are a selection of five laser-cut MDF buildings from a company called RedVectors that market through Minibits.net.

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As you can see, there are two different houses, two different open-fronted barns, and a pig pen with fence.

They go together very nicely (not quite as nicely as the 4ground or Sarissa stuff that I have already, but very nicely all the same) and are a great way of adding a bit of variety to your hamlets.

How do they directly compare? Well, I prefer the 4ground roofs, and I think that the RedVector houses look a bit gingerbread, but the open-fronted barns and big pen are just fantastic. Here's a couple of comparison shots with a 4ground Russian shack:

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Yes, they look a bit different...but not enough to matter on the 15mm wargames table. I shall probably use the barns and pigpen all the time, and save the houses for when I need to represent a hetman's hut or something different to the run-of-the-mill shacks.

As regards price, the five buildings together cost me £18, or about £3.50 each. 4ground come in at a whopping £8.50 for one house, down to about £7 each for their collections. Yes, 4ground are "better" (more detailed, I prefer the roofs) but £18 for five buildings is a really, really great price.

Incidentally, the RedVector/Minibits buildings also come in a ruined variety, at £15 per pack:

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In all, these get a huge thumbs-up from me: a change to the 4ground buildings; I love the open-fronted barns and pigpen; and the price is excellent.

Highly, highly recommended.

More Goodness from MBA

Regular visitors to this site will know that a month or so ago I took advantage of the 50%-off Miniature Building Authority sale to order some 15mm terrain from the US. See the post by clicking here (will open in new window).

I was so pleased with the buildings, and the fact that the 50%-off made them affordable to buy from the US, that I decided I'd better get some more in order to make my middle eastern town a bit bigger. A few clicks later, and I had another of the compounds and four more little houses on the way.

Whilst I was on the site, a couple more of the buildings caught my eye, and I duly ordered some of them too: manufacturers take note: all you have to do is get me there!

First up is the sawmill. Great little building this, and ideal for one of the scenarios in Bashnya or Bust! Unfortunately, the site said it was out of stock, but an e-mail to Kirk (good man that he is) led to him uncovering one deep in the recesses of the warehouse.

A nice little building, quite distinctive, that comes with a couple of piles of wood (okay, so they are a bit pants!) and some fencing to make an outside area. Loving this: will make any wooden Russian town or village a bit more interesting.

The next thing to catch my eye was the MBA Russian church. I'd coveted one of these for some time, but the problem is I already have at least three (it might be four, I deliberately forget!) Russian churches. If I bought this one, I was well on the way to having enough to portray a different church in each of the various towns and villages  in all 32 of the Bashnya and, indeed, all the Vyazma, scenarios as well. I definitely did not need another Russian church.

So here is my new MBA Russian church proudly sitting on the tabletop:

Another lovely model that comes with two gold crosses for the steeple: a really nice touch as I am bound to break or lose one over the next few years.

Here are the two buildings together rather than in isolation, and you can see the new middle eastern kit behind them as well:

So how did the financing work out this time?

Using an exchange rate of $1.30:£1.00, here's the calculation, rounded to single units for ease of consumption:

  • List price: $290 (£223)
  • 50% off: $145 (£112)
  • P&P:  $85 (£65)
  • Tax: $36 (£28)
  • Total Paid: $266 (£205)

So a saving of around £20...and I have some very nice buildings that are usually only available (due to cost) in the States.

The MBA sale is still on, click on the banner below to visit their site. Please mention VL if you do end up buying: I've already received one angry e-mail from a spouse about the money spent by her other half the last time I posted about MBA!

Crimean War British Gallery

Inspired by having to convert all my other 19th Century galleries from web-pages to blog-posts (see my post Page Limit Panic below), I have finally got around to posting up the gallery of my 15mm Crimean War Brits.

This army is a mix of units that I had professionally painted, and some of the best 'block painting' jobs that I managed myself e.g. Lord Cardigan ("what is what, what is what") and the 11th Hussars.

Click on the picture below to see the whole gallery:

A Rather Useful Tool

I was in my local Games Workshop the other day, stocking up on various paints after the Christmas break, and was idling chatting to the store manager about various painting techniques and the like.

As I was popping a pot of one of their texture basing 'paints' onto the counter, I happened to mention that I used old paint brushes to apply the texture. Ah, said the manager, you should use one of these:

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Now I'm all for having the right tools for the job, but this seemed a bit excessive, especially as that finely carved bit of plastic will set you back £5.

However, I was using up a voucher, and had enough left over to indulge, so I thought I'd get one and try it out...especially as I was fully expecting to be disappointed and have the opportunity to be suitably obnoxious about it next time I was in (what is it about GW stores that make me want to be obnoxious? I don't know: but it's true of all of them!).

Anyway, turns out I was wrong. I used this to base the Israeli half-tracks I posted about yesterday, and it really makes the job a hell of a lot easier that using an old paint brush, even when you attempt to carve said old paint brush into a suitable shape. I would go as far to say that that bit of plastic is the best thing as a basing tool since, er, sliced bread.

So, as compensation to GW for being prepared to doubt their products before I've even tried them, I'm posting about their tool here, and recommending one to everyone who needs to smear a bit of basing material onto a base!

Page Limit Panic!

This website is built on the Squarespace platform: very arty, very reliable, easy to use, and more than just blog functionality. Highly recommended for this sort of hobby site that needs a bit more than a pure blogging platform can offer.

I pay the $180 a year to have up to 1,000 pages and was somewhat surprised when, on coming to build the pages for this year's TFL Painting Challenge, I was told that I had reached my limit.

I can't have built 1,000 pages!

Of course, it turns out that I have. Two hundred pages for previous painting challenge galleries, five hundred pages of individual after action reports, all the different articles, army galleries and scenarios: it all adds up.

So what to do?

I contacted Squarespace and said "help"!

Their (very helpful) customer service chap couldn't give me any more pages, but pointed out that I was using the platform in quite an old-fashioned way: using web-pages rather than blog-posts for my content...a bit like producing a daily newspaper on super-high quality gloss paper rather than newsprint. 

He suggested that as Squarespace gives you unlimited blog posts, and that a blog post contains most if not all of the functionality of a web-page, if I was a bit clever about navigation and presentation, then I could actually archive a lot of my web-pages onto blog posts, thus significantly freeing things up.

Not only that, but Squarespace has various 'summary' functionalities that can group and present blog posts in a very pleasing way, and would actually save me the trouble of having to build second tier navigation pages line by line: I could just pop in a 'summary' block and the machine would do it for me.

Now the above makes me sounds positively antediluvian (hilarious, as I work in media and spend a lot of my time working on the commercial side of some very large publication websites) but as I sat and played with Squarespace, I realised that, as regards Vis Lardica, I was still in very much a pre-blogosphere mind-set.

So, gradually, over the next few months, I shall be migrating content as Squarespace suggest.

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Trouble is, of course, this is very time-consuming and actually quite annoying: it's the web-designer equivalent of re-basing!

I've already spent four hours working out how best to present just one small part of the site (see below), and another four hours actually migrating the content. New areas will be built a la blog, but moving the old will take some time.

So, first area migrated is the gallery of my 19th Century (Waterloo to Mons) figures. Here, the navigation page is effectively a blog, with each different gallery being a different blog post, and with the links to the different galleries coming from a Summary content block. 

Click here to go to the navigation page and let me know what you think. I've also revamped the look and feel of the titling as well: always good to refresh look and feel occasionally!

Vis Imperica: The Mahdists

As mentioned yesterday, the bank holiday gave me a chance to continue photographing my collection of little soldiers. After the Egyptians, it seemed appropriate that the Mahdists were next under the spotlight.

The Mahdists, or Ansar if you like, are one of the earliest 15mm armies that I actually painted myself. Fresh out of university, determined that 15mm 19th century gaming was what I wanted to do, I spent a ridiculous amount of money on a beautifully painted, second hand Zulu army, and then painted (badly) a whole lot British figures to fight them. Once they were done, and I'd had enough of Brits vs Zulu games, I decided that the next conflict to model were the various Sudan campaigns.

I'd also heard about this marvelous new painting technique called dipping or washing, where you roughly painted a figure (phew!) and then covered it in brown wash or magic dip. This I could manage, so away I went and produced the figures you can see below. 

Now almost thirty years old, you can see how dark they are: at that time I didn't know the maxim "paint 15s one shade lighter than you would anything larger" that has recently seen me in good stead. The finish I use has also darkened over time. But, as I said, at the time these were the best figures I'd ever produced. You can also see how I've more recently added some command figures that are painted with highlights rather than wash: good to see how one's painting technique improves over time!

Click on the pic below to see all:

Vis Imperica: 19th Century Egyptians

Bank holiday weekend and a chance to take another few steps towards finishing the photography of all my 19th century figures. First up were the Egyptians from about 1875 - 1900.  

I had forgotten how much I like the look of my Egyptian troops until I got them out of storage in order to photograph them. I have a soft spot for troops in fezs: I think it must be something to do with Jon Courtney Grimwood's Arabesk trilogy!

My Egyptian force consists if two brigades, with each brigade having the same composition: three battalions of infantry, a squadron of cavalry, and a couple of guns. 

These days, as I don't play much 19th Century at the moment, my Egyptians will probably find themselves proxy-ing as Libyans for my Operation Compass games...but at least they'll be on the table! Click on the pic below to see all:

The Musée de l’Armée, Paris

Recently, there have been a spate of people on the TooFatLardies Yahoo Group mentioning how good the Musée de l’Armée in Paris is. 

Reading their recommendations sparked off an idea in my head: I had a few days holiday left over from last year that I had to take before the end of March and, never having “done” Paris before, thought I’d take the opportunity to do so, with the Musée being one of my main objectives.

A quick surf of the net secured me Eurostar tickets and three nights in a 3* hotel for only £240. With such a short time available, I planned what I was going to do with military efficiency, including pre-buying a Paris Museum pass and a Metro pass. For those interested, I ended up almost exactly cost-neutral on the Museum Pass, but really appreciated not having to queue for tickets anywhere; and used the Metro constantly: things in Paris are a lot further apart than the maps suggest!

I’d allocated Tuesday late morning for the Musée. The plan was to get up early and visit the Eiffel Tower first thing, then walk to Les Invalides, which is where the army museum is.

The Tower is amazing (get there forty-five minutes before opening time:  I did so, and was first in the queue with, by the time it opened, some 500 people behind me!) so it was mid-morning by the time I arrived at Les Invalides. 

The Courtyard

I entered from the river side of the building, which means that I ended up in the central courtyard almost immediately. It’s impressive, with various bits of kit scattered around the walkway around the outside.

Pictured here is a Renault FT-17 tank, the world’s “first modern tank” that set the standard for AFV design i.e. tracks at the side, turret on top. What amazed me was how small it was, and how fragile the front hatch looked. 

The Exhibitions

There are five main things that I’d recommend seeing at the Musée:

  • the arms and armour galleries
  • Louis XIV to Napoleon III (obviously including Napoleon I)
  • the WW1 and WW2 galleries
  • the Plans-Reliefs
  • Napoleon’s Tomb

Old Armour and Weapons: 13th to 17th Century

This is an amazing collection of the aforementioned old armour and weapons. Most impressive are the galleries of suits of full- or half-armour made for royalty or other noble-types. Also very impressive are the glass-fronted storerooms of full suits of armour such as the one pictured here. These are just the storerooms, not the main exhibits, and look rather chillingly like a scene from a Cyberman attack!

There are also a lot of weapons on show. A lot. This sort of thing is a particular interest of mine, and I spent a lot of time wandering round reminding myself of the difference between a morion and a sallet, and attempting to remember the difference between a glaive and a guisarme.

It’s nicely laid out in a rough circuit, and well worth doing.

Louis XIV to Napoleon III

Loved this gallery as well. Loads of uniforms on show, including an absolutely incredible gallery full of original Napoleonic cavalry uniforms (see pictures, below). 

They also have loads and loads of hand guns and long arms, really depicting the transition from matchlock to wheel-lock to flint-lock etc. Lots of swords as well.

The accompanying history was also good. I made a point of watching their video displays of various important battles of the period: imagine a series of large coffee-tables with a screen instead of a surface, with the battles playing out on top of them with commentary through headphones.

Finally, I also liked all the bric-a-brac, with my favourite being dispatch cases printed with the name of the Marshall whose orders they contained.

Lunch

I took a break for lunch at this point. I would highly recommend using the on-site restaurant. Here’s a picture of my lunch: delicious!

The Two World Wars

It’s worth differentiating between theWW1 and the WW2 exhibits, as they have a very different feel to them.

The WW1 bit is a bit like a continuation of the Napoleonic bit, above. Lots of original uniforms (amazing how colourful they were…at the beginning of the war!) and weapons on display, and lots of history written from a very French point of view.

WW1 isn’t really my thing, so I was quite surprised how much I enjoyed these galleries.

The WW2 bit, unsurprisingly maybe, has a very different feel to it. It’s a bit difficult to explain, but the other parts of the museum are displayed and written from the inside, as it were, whereas these galleries felt far more like you were reading something written from the outside. There’s quite a bit on the Free French army, which was very interesting, but again to me the best bits were the various pieces of equipment on show. I can really understand how big a Solothurn anti-tank rifle is now and, funnily enough, how small an MP-4 looks.

The Attic

The attic contains a visually astounding collection of Plans-Relief.

What’s a Plan-Relief I hear you ask? It’s basically a wargames table designed to be used as a map…or a map that looks like a wargames table: take your pick.

These are huge, and are displayed in an attic that seems to go on for miles. It’s a spooky place, and a must-see.

Napoleon’s Tomb

Displayed as the centrepiece of the inside of the Dôme des Invalides, this is impressive both inside and out.

Do try and pick a time that isn’t full of school kids so you can appreciate the full majesty of the place. The school parties tend to clump, and are usually only in there for ten minutes or so, so if there are some in there when you arrive, go have another beer at the restaurant and wait until you seem them streaming back past you into the museum proper before visiting it yourself.

The Dome des Invalides (above) containing Napoleon's tomb (right)

So, there you have it: an absolute recommendation for the Paris’ Musée de l’Armée. Had I had time, I would almost certainly of gone back and had another look around. There really is just too much good stuff on display to take it all in first time around.

Vis Imperica Army Galleries: the Imperial Chinese

Another army that I really like: the Imperial Chinese with a few Boxers added in for good measure. This is another army made up of figures from a painting service and, again, I can't remember which service it was or even who the figure manufacturer is...I think it's Irregular, and I think that it was their in-house painting service, but I'm not sure.

 The great thing about the Imperial Chinese is how unrelentingly rubbish they are! A loss can be greeted with a shrug of the shoulders and no shame, a victory can be celebrated as an incredibly impressive achievement, especially as they are usually fighting much smaller but much better armies from France or Britain. I think the trick is not actually to engage the enemy at all ("the art of fighting without fighting") at least until you can get close enough to overwhelm them through sheer numbers. Oh, and don't tell the Boxers that their lucky amulets don't work very well!

Click on the picture below to see the whole collection:

 Boxers

Boxers

Vis Imperica: Prussian Gallery Added

As the title suggests, I've had a chance to photograph the Prussians in my 19th Century figure collection and add them to the Vis Imperica army galleries.

Ah...the Prussians. Amazing troops in the system we used: big units, good weapons, excellent artillery, good troops:  very hard to beat. So hard to beat, in fact, that beating them often became the be all and end all of any game that they featured in. They were the favoured army of one particular player, who was always keen to extol their virtues, so the rest of us were always equally determined to thrash the pants off them, and would do anything we could to do so.

Click on the picture below to see the whole gallery of much-maligned figures who probably had no idea why everyone was always out to get them!

Vis Imperica Gallery: Crimean Russians

My Crimean Russians are a nice little army: solid battalions of drab-coated infantry commanded by glittering officers, supported by equally solid masses of cavalry and hordes of Cossacks. Although most of the army is painted to the standard I was achieving at the time, the officers and Dragoon Guards show that I was reaching for more.

The figures are mostly Essex, IIRC, with quite a few Minifigs thrown in, and one unit from Irregular. Confession time: the Hussars were bought painted at a Bring and Buy, and the Don Cossacks were painted by the Irregular Miniatures painting service. All the rest are my work...and I do love the Dragoon Guards!

Click on the pic to see the gallery:

Vis Imperica Gallery: the Juarista's

My Mexican Juarista army is one of my absolute favourite armies from my collection of nineteenth century figures. Nicely painted, full of character: a wonderful mix of uniformed line infantry, less well-uniformed line infantry, and Mexican peasantry.

Another confession: I didn't paint this army either. Obviously feeling flush, I paid for this army to be painted and based for me...although I have added a few bits and pieces over the years.

The Juarista's have fought the French invaders many times, sometimes successfully, and have also swooped through history to fight the Americans and Texicans in earlier wars. A great excuse to showcase a range of appalling accents as well!

To see the gallery, click on the picture, below.

 Los Supremos Podres

Los Supremos Podres

Vis Imperica Gallery: United States Army 1898

A small but perfectly formed army representing a United States army force for the Spanish-American War of 1898, although they have been used to fight Mexicans in 1840 and Native Americans throughout.

Another army that I bought rather than painted up myself. I was at Warfare in Reading when I spotted this big box of figures in the Bring-and-Buy. Now I'm not normally a B&B kind of person (I prefer to paint my own or buy painted from new) but the box was full of the army below and a Spanish army for the same period (c.f.). This was too good an opportunity to miss: as the sheer obscurity of the theatre was enough to suggest that one would never come across anything like this again.

I think the figures are from Freikorps. I did need to re-base them (surely the worst job in the world!) but that was a small price to pay for troops to fight in such a "splendid little war" (US Secretary of State John Hay).

Click here to see the whole gallery:

Vis Imperica Galleries: The French

My French figures have fought throughout the nineteenth century from the Crimea through the Franco-Austrian War, the Maximillian Adventure in Mexico, the Franco-Prussian War right up to the Boxer Rebellion in China. Obviously some of the units are specific to specific campaigns (the sombrero-wearing Marines for Mexico, for example) but I've never worried too much about getting exact representations.

The figures are almost from Freikorps: a manufacturer that I used a lot for my 19th century European armies. Must confess that I don't even know if they still exist now (if only we had an easily accessible source of the world's knowledge!) but I used to pour over the catalogue for hours on end.

These are still painted in simple block colours style, but are an improvement on some of my earlier work. I will eventually get around to highlighting them and flocking the bases which, I think, will improve them no end.

Click on the picture to go to the gallery.

Vis Imperica Galleries: The Later British

I've had a chance to add another gallery to the Vis Imperica, 19th Century section of the site: my Later British collection.

These were the first 15mm figures that I ever painted...and it shows! They are simple block paint jobs, no shading, no washing...and those eyes!

I look at these now and almost cringe...but then I remember that no-one starts out a genius painter: it's something that has to be learnt, like any other skill. I might be able to paint a lot better nowadays (as I said, to the point where these make me cringe) but everyone has to start somewhere. These serve as a good reminder of that. And, anyway, a quick wash and then a couple of highlights, and these would fit right in with my later efforts.

The army is split into two parts: those in mainly red jackets and based on 'grass' for southern Africa; and those mainly in khaki and based on 'sand' for the Sudan and North-West Frontier. Almost all the figures are from Essex Miniatures.

Click here or on the picture below to see the full gallery.

Zulus: Thousands of Them!

Some of you may have noticed a few gaps in my usual post-a-day regime lately. 

That's because I've been making a big push to finish the 19th Century section (or Vis Imperica) section of the website.

Well that's now done: with the last additions being the last of the battle reports from 1999-2002, and a content-dump of all my notes on the small wars of the 19th Century.

In celebration of the completion of the upload, I've finally gotten round to starting to photograph all my 19th Century figures, with the first gallery to be completed being that of the Zulus.

My 1879 Zulu Wars Zulu army was the first army I ever bought pre-painted. It must have been sometime in September or October 1987, and I had my first 'proper' job in an office on the Grey's Inn Road. in London.

I had just decided that 15mm colonial gaming was the thing for me, and had started painting up some British troops for the Zulu War: Essex figures if I remember correctly. Anyhow, up the road in King's Cross was a wargames shop called Gamers In Exile, now sadly  departed. I remember it as a cornucopia of painted armies for sale, one of which was the Zulus that form the bulk of what you can see in the gallery.

The Zulus have been well worth the money I paid for them (£300 IIRC). I only wish I knew the name of the person who painted them so brilliantly so that I could give him a credit here.

Click here to see the Zulu gallery.