Sunday, April 4, 2021

The first hobbits — Minifigs ME6

 In addition to digging out my original Dungeons & Dragons for my birthday last week, I also took the opportunity to haul all of the 25mm fantasy boxes (of painted figures, that is) up from the basement.  I needed to return the last set of troops sorted out for a batle to their proper storage locations, and I also wanted to conduct a quick census, since I was pretty sure that my estimate of numbers in my running project diary was off.  (I had somewhat over 1600, by the way, rather than the 900 I had estimated—so I hadn’t caught up in a while.)

In the course of that, I took a look at all of the Minifigs ME figures I have painted so far, and decided that I was ready to get back to that project.

The family gamers have been meeting for a group discussion, and sometimes a painting session, on Saturday afternoons for a while. Painting seemed like a good idea yesterday, so I dug around in my supply of figures already primed, and came up with some ME hobbits that had been awaiting attention for a while.  As noted in the title, these would have been the first purpose-cast hobbit figures released, back in the dawn of fantasy miniature production.

I have lost provenance on these, but I think that they are ones that I collected back from my brother, so they’ve been in the family since 1975 or thereabouts, if true.  The ME6 catalog number was a strip of three hobbits, as can be seen on the Lost Minis Wiki.  These guys are one strip, plus a spare spearman presumably representing a lost second strip.  They stand about 16mm tall from the base of the foot to the top of their hairy heads, and therefore are a rather small canvas upon which to work.  The MEs were sculpted in the traditional Minifig manner, prior to the invention of the greenstuff/epoxy sculpting pioneered by Tom Meier (if memory servies correctly), and there was a whole lot of detail with which to work.  The faces, in particular, are quite rudimentary.

When it came to basing them, I decided that I didn’t want to base them individually.  My brother and I have several times run the 1975 Lord of the Rings strategic tabletop game Ringbearer at conventions, and that calls for the Fellowship of the Ring to be pared down to 2 hobbit bases, the Ranger, the Elf, the Dwarf, and the Gray Wizard.  I have been gradually working toward the ability to run Ringbearer alone, and to do the whole thing with Minifigs, so I decided that i would make these guys my 2 hobbit bases, by mounting them in pairs on 25mm circular bases.

I checked my unpainted cache yesterday as well, and found that I have three more strips of these, plus three strips of ME48, the better-armed hobbit militia strip.  If I mount them all in pairs, I will only need to find one more strip to be able to field 2 Dragon Rampant units of hobbit militia.  That’s not enough to reproduce the Battle of Bywater (from “The Scouring of the Shire” in The Return of the King), but would add something unusual to a larger army of allied Free Peoples.

Monday, March 29, 2021

A Significant Birthday

I was going to post something about this earlier this weekend, but got caught up in events.  As I mentioned in my 2020 retrospective, my 60th birthday is this year, or, more specifically, last week...

While I don’t remember exactly when I was introduced to rules for wargaming in the spring of 1971, 50 years ago, I do remember that I received my original Dungeons & Dragons for my birthday in 1976, 45 years ago.  So, thank you, Mom and Dad! I’m not sure what I would have been doing without games and the friends I’ve made gaming all of these years.

As you can see, my D&D set is still in playable condition.  Since it’s worn and has my notes (mostly pencil) scattered throughout, I had no particular qualms about reinforcing weak covers and rebuilding the box with library tape last year.  Sometime this year, I’d like to get at least a short campaign on the table for old times sake.

When I do, I’m considering staffing it with the vintage miniatures I’ve been collecting more recently. I probably will not restrict things to just the Minifigs that I started with, more recently painted examples of which are shown below:

More on that when it occurs...

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Thinking About What to Do With Those Russian 54mm Flats; A Limited Fantasy Environment (Part 1)

 I don’t know how the rest of you think about this, but I have my miniatures divided up conceptually into “projects”, which is my term for a batch of miniatures that “go” together.  This is usually a combination of period (e.g., Late Bronze Age, Hundred Years War, Renaissance, Fantasy) to include various IPs (e.g. Buck Rogers, Burrows and Badgers) and scale (e.g. 1/72, small 25mm, heroic 25/28/30/32mm, 40mm).  For each project, I usually have a baseline rules set that I am using or planning to use.  Some projects have multiple sets of rules. Usually figures are based consistently, but projects intended to support multiple different styles of rules sometimes end up with a mix of basing.  My old school 25mm fantasy is probably the worst offender in this category, with a mix of 60mm squares with 4-8 foot figures for mass battles, individually mounted vintage figures generally on 25mm wooden bases with flexible steel underlayers, and figures mounted on steel washers (generally 1” or 0.75”). I have 60mm square magnetic movement bases to allow the individuals to be grouped for easier participation in mass battle games.  


I belong to a wargames club, the HAWKs, that specializes in historical miniatures wargaming, although we all play a broader range of tabletop games in our personal capacities.  Because of the commitment to miniatures,  though, we sometimes have a need for something that can be set up quickly, especially for times when (in the Before Times) we had an unexpectedly large number of players show up for a club night, or for when it’s too quiet at a convention.  We have evolved the Battle in a Box format to address that need, as described in the write up for a contest we ran for producing interesting BiaBs. The ideal BiaB is one that has its own scenery and the rest of the support gear (dice, rules, rules, handouts), and can sit quietly on a shelf waiting to be grabbed on the way out the door to a club meeting or convention.


So, what’s the difference between our established Battle in a Box and the Limited Environment that I am thinking about?


I am thinking of the Limited Environment as something that would be portable, and support several different play styles; ideally these would include role playing games using miniatures, skirmish games (1:1 small unit actions), mass battle games, and wargames campaigns (i.e. map games with armies and politics with the potential to generate tabletop battles). It would be “limited” in the sense that anything that would cause you to lay down a mat and a bunch of miniatures would be capable of being represented in miniatures, so that your armies will not have horse archers if no horse archer models are available, and your role playing characters are going to encounter wolves if that’s what you have models for.  I tend to believe that art (and miniatures games are a form of performance art) is better for limitations anyway.


Since this is just for my own purposes, and not designed to meet any external criteria such as those provided by the Battle in a Box Contest, the question of just how portable in needs to be can be answered with some flexibility.  My Portable Fantasy Campaign currently resides in 1 12-liter Really Useful Box, 3 6-liter Boxes, and 1 2.5-liter Box.  I have tested this out; the 12, the 2.5, and ONE 6-liter Box can be banded together into a lightweight package which will fit (as seen below) in the overhead compartment on a typical commercial airliner. (I’m guessing this was a Southwest 737, since it was on the way to GenCon a couple of years ago).  For a road trip, all three 6-liter boxes are still manageable.

So, with a fairly comprehensive Limited Environment already in hand, why start another?  Because it’s there? That’s probably the real answer, but I also do like my games to attract attention at a convention, and 54mm, even if flat (or maybe especially if flat) are easier to see than the 1/72s...

Monday, March 15, 2021

...And rode madly off in all directions...

 Things might be simpler if I had just one period of history (or type of fantasy) which interested me for gaming, but, for better or for worse, this is not the case.  So, like the fellow in the title, I’m off in all directions this week.

I have been experiencing a fair amount of pandemic fatigue recently, and have gotten behind on keeping up with the rest of the wargaming blogosphere.  Last month, however, Ross Macfarlane caught my attention with a few posts on Russian semi-flat figures.  I poked around the web a little to see what sort of background information there was on the history of these figures.  I like German flat zinnfiguren, even if I find them to be very difficult to paint, and I liked the look of these Soviet-era figures.  I probably would have left it at that, but shortly after that, the Michigan Toy Soldier Company (MTS) had an article discussing the work of a new Russian designer in a similar style.  The Warriors and Battles line includes a wide array of non-combatants, so my mind immediately went to some sort of roleplaying game, rather than a straight up wargame.  In any case, I couldn’t resist buying some samples.

Individuals are in a resin material

Figures from group packages are in the usual toy soldier plastic

I am an old enough wargamer that I have been caught unprepared by the sudden unavailability of figures more than a few times.  From these experiences, I have developed a general rule.  If I can’t buy enough figures to stage some sort of game with the first purchase, don’t buy anything. With figures being imported from Russia (i.e. chancy supply chain) and the possibility that the appeal was a little speciaized, I concluded that this was definitely a time to follow that rule, and ordered a box with 8 SKUs—three knights with retinues, a group of peasants, a group of bandits, a pack of wolves, and a pair of individual ladies. MTS shipped it promptly, and I was very pleased with the figures once they had arrived.

I told myself that I was going to be good and try painting some of the figures before ordering more.  I discovered that the soft plastic would hold the usual primers that I have been using on 1/72 scale figures, and that the resin could be primed with a Krylon primer advertised as being suitable for use on plastic.  

The figures are pretty flat; with the soft plastic ones being even thinner than the resin lady shown above, but the sculpting nevertheless has enough texture to make shading a relatively straightforward matter. I found them to be fun and relaxing to paint, enough so that I ended up spending three hours at the desk painting the two samples, and needed a good stretch when I was done.

I was pleased with how they came out, and have set up five more and primed them.

I haven’t quite decided how I am going to base them.  They are quite light, and I can imagine them easily being knock over at a convention by the wind, or fans, or passing attendees, so I am thinking that they will end up with rectangular steel bases to give them just a bit of heft.

While I was not looking for a new project, especially not another individually-based medieval project, here we are...

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Down the Rabbit Hole — Part 8 and Final

 With last weekend’s painting, I finally had enough newly completed Prince August figures to run a little solo skirmish with A Song of Blades and Heroes (SBH). SBH recommends a typical game of 300 to 500 points.  I have noticed previously that the point system doesn’t seem to be as finely balanced as the carefully calibrated two-significant-figure point values would suggest, but, there’s a lot of randomness in the game, and it was going to be a solo game anyway.

One warband consisted of orcs and friends (an orc leader, three orc warriors, a troll, two goblin wolf riders, and a spare goblin warrior).  The other was all human (a leader, two warriors, two archers, an apprentice magician, and a cavalryman), and I managed to finesse them so that each was exactly 300 points. 

I set up a battlefield on my dining room table, using a “Kill Team-sized” neoprene matte (22x30”). The road and river are also neoprene pieces.  The road predates the pandemic, and the river was purchased just as everything was locking down.  The three-dimensional elements of the terrain are all pieces that have been completed in the last year, as were the troops.  So this game finally closes out this little digression, by having been created (almost; roads excepted) since the lockdowns started.

Upon looking over the table, a scenario suggested itself. The humans simply need to cross the table, unlock the tower, and get inside.  Had this been properly planned as a narrative battle, I would have given everything names, but, after months of delay, I got a bit impatient and just played...

The horseman rides out ahead to scuffle with a wolf rider
Initiative in SBH is handled on a “push your luck” system of choosing to roll dice for 1, 2, or 3 actions per figure.  Failing two rolls will hand the turn over to the opponent, until they have activated each of their figures, or hand it back after two failures.  Since you need actions to get anything done, you can’t be too cautious, but it also means that your turn has a tendency to end at some unpredictable time, and, not infrequently, when some figure is in a desperate situation.  The uncertainty makes it a decent solo game without further modification, since it’s pretty easy to swap hats and be able to see what the most desperate situation is, or the one with the greatest opportunity.

The skirmish began with each side sending out their fast-moving mounted troops, to see what the situation was.  On the human side, the archers were also pushed forward to provide some covering fire.  This proved to be entirely ineffective this game; no orc fell to a human arrow.  

The horseman quickly found himself embroiled in combat with half of the orcs, a situation which was bound to end badly for him sooner or later. (And did...)

Following the death of the horsemen a wolf rider scored a lucky kill against a human

The sorceress approached the combat guarded by the two warriors, but one was forced to hold off several orcs, and the other fell in an attempt to protect her from a wolf rider. As seen above, one of the archers was forced to abandon his futile attempt to shoot something and to leap in to protect the sorceress with his sword.

The human leader falls to the troll

As the initiative passed back and forth unpredictably, the human leader jumped into the combat in an attempt to save the warrior outnumbered by the orcs.  Unfortunately for him, he found himself facing the ferocious troll.  While the Prince August troll is not particularly impressive as a casting, in the game is is big and tough, and made short work of the unfortunate leader.  Disheartened by the fall of their leader, the humans all attempted to run, with the surviving warrior cut down as he attemtped to flee combat.  

The sorceress and the two archers were able to flee the field, hoping to find their way back to other friends, and await a more favorable day.

The orcs, meanwhile, were able to obtain the key to the tower from the fallen leader, decisively winning the day.  Did they loot the tower and depart, or choose to occupy it as a base for future operations?  That is a scenario for a different day, perhaps...

So, all in all, the game played out in 45 minutes.  Had I had an actual opponent it probably would have taken a little longer, perhaps an hour.  All in all, it was a satisfying little encounter, and I will look for an opportunity to use these rules again, both solo and with an opponent.

Vaccination is still in the future, so this may not be the last solo game before this is all over, but it does conclude my little self-imposed quest to create a game from scratch.  Had I not had a couple of long gaps of not painting, and of working on other projects, I probably could have gotten this knocked together in two to three months’ worth of weekends.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Down the Rabbit Hole — Part 7

 Well, well,’s been over two months since I posted anything.  The good news is that I and my family are well; the bad news is that this winter has been a motivational low point.  So, I haven’t been painting, and the couple of games that I have gotten in didn’t result in battle reports.

I finally picked up a paint brush last weekend and knocked out a quick Prince August orc archer, using a limited paint palette (my travel paint kit), just to knock the rust loose and get things moving again.  My gamer family has been gathering for a weekly hobby chat time on Discord, so we decided that we would paint while we talked this week.

Having gotten started on Prince August, out of several possible to-do things in my project box, I finished up a couple of armored orcs (from mold 659), a pair of goblin wolf(?) riders (from mold 668), and a mounted human (from mold 667).


That finally gives me enough figures to put together 300 point war bands for A Song of Blades and Heroes, so I hope that a little solo game will be on the table shortly, entirely staffed and scenicked with things painted since the stay-at-home orders originally went into effect almost a year ago.  

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The End is Nigh ... of 2020, at least

We are finally almost to the end of this annus horribilis.  The year end is traditionally a time to reflect on how things went, and consider how one might improve things in the year to come.  I should note that I am grateful that I have remained employed this whole time, and that we have had what we needed.

My plan for the year had included several conventions which were cancelled, of course, and my effort to get back to regularly attending club meetings failed due to the lack of club meetings. Irene and I had been planning a wedding, too, but that did get done, albeit in an appropriately down-sized and socially distant format.  

Some people managed to get additional miniatures painted and additional games (solo or played with remote players), but I ended up taking advantage of my former commute time to brush up on my baking skills, and to learn how to make sourdough bread.

At the beginning of the year, I had been working on the Bronze Age project with my son, using the DBA 3.0 rules everyone got for Christmas last year.  I had also planned to be working on French Revolutionary Wars figures for a joint game with Ross Macfarlane at Huzzah, but the cancellation of Huzzah! for this year pushed that project to the back burner. 

Norman and I had a test game with DBA 3.0 in February, the most recent time that we have been able to play face to face.  We’ve gotten in a couple of remote games of DBA this year, although we dusted off the old HaT Punic Wars figures for one of them.  My painting time was more limited than I had expected, but I did finish up my Bronze Age Libyan army. My son is much farther along with his painting.

Instead of the French Revolution, I ended up working on scenery improvement, on Prince August home cast fantasy figures, and on 1/72 scale plastic figures for the Portable Fantasy Campaign.  Without regard to size, which ranged from 1/72 scale sheep to medium-sized 28mm resin buildings,  I will have finished about 165 miniatures for the year. That’s not too bad (I’ve certainly had slower years, especially when I was a sports parent), but it doesn’t support too many new projects...

Here is my thinking.  Most of the “battle” rules I gravitate toward have units of 12 infantry or 6 cavalry (which are about as hard to paint as 12 infantry). Examples would include Chaos Wars, Dragon/Lion Rampant,  and A Gentleman’s War.  All else being equal, 12 units is a good force size, allowing for some variety in scenarios. Years back, Brent Oman advocated for the 12 unit army in the pages of MWAN, and I thought that made good sense and have adopted the idea for planning purposes. I usually anticipate that I will need to provide both sides of a project. Put all of that together, and a completely new project is approximately the equivalent of painting about 12 x 12 x 2 (or 288) infantry.  At this year’s painting rate, that would make a new project the equivalent of a little less than two years’ worth of painting. That’s not impossible, but it does suggest that these things should be considered carefully, and not started on a whim. (My record years, by the way, back around the turn of the century, ran closer to 600 figures; starting a new project when it amounted to less than half a year of painting was a bit more casual.)

Of course, all of my painting is seldom concentrated on one project for more than a few months.  Smaller projects would be a possible answer, I suppose.  With DBA becoming the house standard for ancients gaming, army sizes seldom top 80 figures, but, on the other hand, project planning tends toward three or four or five armies instead of two.  I am intermittantly working on some sort of urban fantasy skirmish game, which will most likely not exceed fifty figures, but which will need some scenery.  That’s the sort of thing which is a nice break from ranked units.  

As of right now, I have three potential new projects that look interesting.  The first was mentioned recently, the potential 19th century project using home cast figurs of one sort or another.  The second was alluded to in an earlier post as well and is some level of DBA classical Greeks and Persians using 1/72 scale figures.  The third would be a completely new start, a portable Not Quite Seven Years War for conventions, using 1/72 scale Zvezda plastic figures for the Great Northern War as the basis for imagi-nation armies.  The rules would probably be A Gentleman’s War.

Ongoing projects that keep getting paint include the French Revolution expansion, the Not Quite Seven Years War, the 1/72 scale Portable Fantasy Campaign, and the 25mm vintage fantasy collection (in which I have been primarily working on a Middle Earth collection using the original Minifigs range from 1974). 

So, there is a lot to do in 2021, and I’m sure that by March I will be totally derailed into something else...

According to my gaming log, I was involved in 24 miniatures games in 2020.  After March, of course, they were all solo or played remotely.  Somewhere in the summer I ran low on enthusiasm for remote games, and the lack of a space to leave a solo game set up for a week or two has made it more challenging to use solo gaming to make up for the lack of conventions.  Nevertheless, I did play a couple of games generated by the Portable Fantasy Campaign this year, most recently an encounter between the humans and the orcs, and will be keeping that going.  To encourage solo gaming in general, I joined the Solo Wargamer’s Assocation early on in the lockdown, and have been gradually reading through back issues of The Lone Warrior to try to collect some inspiration.

Another PFC game, played remotely with Chris Palmer
Back in April, I went through my projects list and noted that I had 16 projects that were available to play at home (i.e. had at least two forces and scenery), of which 7 had not been on the table in over two years.  We were able to address one of those project with some remote 2nd Punic War DBA,  and one project was 

thanked for its service and sent on its way (28mm colonials).  So I will be entering 2021 with 5 projects which haven’t seen service in over two years, three of which are 6mm portable projects, and one of which (French Revolution) is being worked on, however slowly. (The 5th is the 40mm French and Indian War project; I’d like to try that with A Gentleman’s War sometime soon.)

Going forward into 2021, I have hope that we will see conventions again by the fall.  I still want to do more with solo games while waiting for the world to open up again, especially games that advance the solo campaign.  I am also looking through material I started preparing recently (ok, 2013 still feels somewhat recent) for an NQSYW campaign.  I’m sure there will be more on that as it develops.

2021 holds three significant anniversaries; I will be 60 in March, and my introduction to Dungeons and Dragons will also be a multiple-of-five at the same time, since it will be 45 years since I was given the game for my 15th birthday.  Even more significantly from a miniatures point of view, though, at some unremembered date in early 1971 I was introduced to the idea of rules for toy soldiers when a friend lent me a copy of Terrence Wise’s Introduction to Battle Gaming.  Since I don’t have a specific date, the whole year will be a celebration of 50 years in the hobby.  I think that it would be fun to put a small game on the table using these original rules, however odd they might seem to be by modern standards.  Perhaps an updated version of the 2nd Punic War as demonstrated in the ancients section would be the most appropriate. It would only be updated in the limited sense of needing a tweak or two to use the multiple-based figures I already have, and, of course, being fought with HaT figures instead of Airfix Romans facing Carthaginians improvised from Robin Hood figures.