Sunday 28 August 2016

Jungle Scatter Terrain


I'm continuing to document my build-up of figures and terrain for the new Congo game rules.  Last week I described some of my Forest Tribesmen, but this week I'm going to talk about terrain.

I already have some large "jungle" terrain pieces, as can be seen in some of my previous games (for example, Tarzan and the Lost Expedition).  These are all based on old CD-ROM disks and are made from the traditional plastic aquarium plants.  On both counts, they're quite large pieces; also the regular shapes of the disks makes it difficult to set up interesting tables for games.  So, I decided to build a number of smaller, "scatter" terrain models.

Model Railroad Plants

In the past, most gamers' "jungle" terrain has been made from plastic foliage that is designed for aquariums.  That can work well, but such plants are usually greatly over sized and often need quite a lot of chopping and converting.  After all, they're 1:1 scale and frequently designed to have long stalks so that they can wave about in a fish tank!

It turns out that similar plastic plants of a better size are also made for model railroads (and gamers) and these can be bought very cheaply online (usually from China, unsurprisingly).  I bought 3 different packs, each containing 50 plants for less than £9 including postage.  I simply don't understand how this is economically possible - even if the raw materials and labour cost next to nothing, shipping anything from the other side of the world must surely cost something?  Yet here we are...

"2.5cm BUSH Shrubs"

The first set of plants I have is called "2.5cm BUSH Shrubs" [sic].  They look to me more like a type of grass or flax, though.  Either way, they come with a spike on the bottom to enable them to be pushed into a (foam?) landscape.  I cut these spikes off and simply glued the plants onto some prepared and painted bases.

It strikes me that these would work well for savannah as well; these "shrubs" look as if they'd be at home in an arid terrain as well as a very moist one.

"Green Grass Bushes"

Next, we come to the strangely-named "Green Grass Bushes".  Note that I've mixed a few other plants in on some of these bases for variety; the bushes are the ones with the crinkly, oak-like leaves.  I've prepared these in exactly the same way as the previous plants and stuck them to bases.

As with all these scatter pieces, I varnished after sticking the foliage to the base.  That has toned down the dark green, plastic colour of the leaves quite nicely, though they do look a little "milky".  Finishing polythene plants is always a problem; they're usually very bright and glossy if untreated, but it's hard to find any paint or wash which will stick to such models.

"5.5cm BUSH Heart Leaves"

Finally, we come to another set of "bushes".  Again, I've mixed these with a few other plants, but it should be fairly obvious which ones have the heart-shaped leaves.  These look as if they would be much more at home in a jungle than anywhere else; I cannot imagine such wide leaves surviving very well under a blistering sun in the open.  Instead, they're perfect for shady undergrowth in a larger forest.


I'm looking forwards to using these smaller pieces in a game.  When combined with my older, CD-ROM & palm tree bases, I should be able to have a much more interesting layout.  It ought to be easier to mark out paths and clearings, for a start.  Still, we'll only know for certain how well this works once I've tried it for real!

I haven't used all of the plants I bought, so I'll need to make up some more terrain bases sometime.  Cutting out the MDF bases is the bit that takes the most time; actually painting them and then sticking down the plants is relatively quick.  Of course, there are other forms of tropical-looking model railroad plants available too.  At under £3 per packet, maybe I should get some of those as well?

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Congo: random Forest Tribes figures.


I'm really keen on Congo (the new "African Adventure" wargames rules from Studio Tomahawk).  After all, the authors have a fine pedigree, having already written the very popular SAGA and Muskets and Tomahawks.  In addition, the European exploration of the Dark Continent is a subject that I have found fascinating since my university years, when I read large numbers of books by H. Rider Haggard and umpired long-running games of the old Source of the Nile board game.

To scratch this itch, at the recent Claymore show I bought the newly-published Congo rules as well as a pack of assorted natives and another of Askaris, all Foundry miniatures.  I've now painted up many of the natives and it's these that I'll be showing below.  They will add to my existing North Star "jungle cannibals" to form the basis of a Forest Tribes force, though I haven't quite worked out how that will be organised yet.


"Pelt", "Hangout" and "Scar"
"Bluejacket", "Grandpa" and "Pithy"
  I've got a fair selection of tribal characters here, all of whom are easily recognisable as coming from Foundry's "Warrior Characters - DA064" pack.  There's a slight problem with that pack, though.  Since each tribe would probably have been distinguished from its neighbours by having its own hair style or type of shield, I can only suppose that these guys are all from different tribes.  Well, I won't let that bother me too much (and who knows, I now have the starters for 5 or 6 different tribes I could collect!)

The Boss

The big man and his special advisor
Here is the tribal chieftain.  This time, the figure is from North Star, though his advisor is another Foundry casting.  The chief is dressed in a somewhat unlikely "Hollywood Cannibal" style, with a grass skirt and a bone through his nose.  I don't think this would have been seen anywhere in 19th century Africa!

It's also fairly obvious that the chief has somewhat paler skin than the other figures I am showing today.  I started to paint him many weeks ago and I must have used a different recipe for the dark wash that was applied over the basic skin colour.  Oh, well - I'm not going to repaint him.  I've got a spare Foundry chieftain that I can paint up if this guy's costume and skin colour start to annoy me too much.

All Together

This adds another 8 figures to my Forest Tribe; a.  Along with the 15 North Star figures I painted earlier this year that makes 23.  I've still got a few more models to paint, but these are mostly auxiliaries or decoration (the war drum, the chieftain's favourite wife and daughter, the witch doctor...).  A basic "column" for Congo would probably need about 30-35 models, so I'm still a little short.  Now let's see - should I go for archers, tribal muskets, fierce cannibals or hordes of young warriors?

Thursday 18 August 2016

Warbases 28mm MDF Land Rovers


If you're a regular reader then you may remember that I visited the Claymore 2016 show recently.  Amongst my purchases were a couple of Land Rover kits from Warbases, a local(-ish) Scottish company.

I've been on the lookout for some early Land Rover models for quite a while; these could be used as British farm vehicles or as light army transports (especially for the Brigadier and his UNIT troops from Doctor Who).  Alternatively, with a different paint job and a lot of stowage, they could be part of some long-range, cross-continent expedition.  A Land Rover painted with white and black zebra stripes could be the wheels for game wardens in the savannah (anyone remember "Daktari", I wonder?).  In fact, they are very versatile & rugged vehicles and could be used for almost anything from the 1950s onwards!

The Kits

I was delighted to find that Warbases makes Land Rover MK1 kits; I'm guessing that these are a new addition to their catalogue since I don't remember hearing about them until recently.  The vehicles come in SWB (short wheelbase) and LWB (long wheelbase) versions; both kits are priced at £7.00 .  They're the right vintage for my purposes and they don't cost too much - but how well do they work?

The LWB Land Rover kit has a somewhat surprising 53 parts, laser cut from a variety of materials including strong MDF for the body shell, thinner card for the skin and textured card for the floor.

Note that the door window frames (not attached) are not part of the Warbases kit

So, how was this model to build?  Firstly, the instructions: there aren't any in the kit.  Instead the company's website is given, along with the information that the instructions can be downloaded from there.  That's fine; it saves paper and packaging cost.

Now, you can call me stupid if you like, but I had some difficulty in finding the downloadable instructions on the Warbases site.  They are there, but it took me a while to find the link, though it seems obvious in hindsight.  Another disappointment was that once downloaded, the instruction document wasn't very easy to follow.  It consists of a large number of small, slightly blurry photographs following the stages of construction.  I had some difficulty in deciding which pieces were needed for each stage, particularly for the early steps.

OK, I'm an experienced model-maker.  Using the instruction sheet, I worked it out and despite the large number of pieces, the kit went together very rapidly.  Note that I did the build over several sessions, as I found it necessary to clamp some of the curved parts around the front of the vehicle (and leave them to dry) before proceeding with the next stage.

Good points:

  • All the parts were very well cut and only required a little nick to separate them from their sheets.
  • The use of a cardboard skin (especially on the sides and rear) covers over the otherwise obvious MDF slots and joints very nicely.  It also allows for some extra detailing, such as the door handles & hinges.  A nice touch.
  • More generally, the mixture of types of material in the kit allows for the necessary curves and thinner parts (e.g. windshield), whilst still maintaining a good, rigid base structure.

Not so good:

  • The instructions, whilst better than nothing, were poor.
  • The cardboard sides were cut slightly short, I felt.  I needed to use a little filler  to neaten up the corners.
  • The bonnet (the hood, if you're American) was a bit awkward, as the cardboard needed quite a tight curve around the edges.  Although the part was scored for this, it still took some effort to get it to fit neatly.  I'm not sure how this could have been done differently, mind.
  • The joints (tabs & slots) between the MDF parts were slightly loose.  I'd have preferred these to have a little less play in them, though they worked well enough once glued.

Extending the model

I decided even before I started on the first of my pair of Land Rovers that I wanted to make them quite distinct from each other.  The most obvious way to do this was to give one of them a soft top, but there was a problem: the Warbases model has a windshield but doesn't come with any windows for the driver's or passenger's doors.

I've looked at a number of photos of Mk1 Land Rovers over the last week or so and they do come in a number of configurations.  The Warbases version with no door windows  is certainly a valid version, though it seems to me that it's less common than vehicles which do have them.

Click on the image above to download the PDF containing the correctly-scaled pattern

To fill this void, I constructed some door windows (cut from thick plastic card) for both of my Land Rovers and added a frame for a canopy to one of them.  These are fairly crude and probably not particularly accurate with respect to any Land Rover blueprints, but they work for me.  I used some cloth to cover the hooped frame; this was actually quite difficult as I wanted to be able to remove the canopy during painting so as to be able to paint the inside of the vehicle.


I didn't put a lot of effort into painting the 2 Land Rovers.  They were primed, then coated all over with olive.  Details were picked out in dark grey or silver (tan for the seats, lichen grey for the canvas canopy) and then each model was given a black wash.

Finally, a couple of tiny orange and red dots were added to the rear, as indicator & stop lights.  Job done!


I'm very happy with the way that these kits have turned out.  They were models that I had wanted for some time (though I'm now mildly irritated to discover that 1970s UNIT used an SWB Land Rover, not the LWB versions that I have here).  I'd be very happy to buy further Warbases kits, if there were any that suited my gaming genres.

Cost: 4/5.  Not too expensive, but I've seen other kits of similar size that are cheaper.  Then again, those have less complexity...
Construction: 3.5/5:  Poor instructions, slightly loose parts, some filling needed.  Despite these caveats, finishes into a well-detailed model with little hint of its internal MDF construction.
Usefulness: 5/5.  Land Rovers can be used for almost any setting, almost any time from 1948 onwards and for almost any purpose (military, domestic, wilderness, rural...).
Overall: 4/5.  A very nice piece once built, though you might wish to add some extra details.

Sunday 14 August 2016

Billboards from TTCombat


There are some very impressive MDF kits available for gamers these days.  Not only are the various vendors producing the obvious models of buildings, but increasingly they are also making vehicles, crates, pylons and other "scatter" elements.

TTCombat is one such manufacturer; they have a huge range of model kits that I might describe as "gamer friendly" or perhaps "cheap and cheerful".  Their buildings often have useful interior fittings, yet they are clearly designed for use in wargames as they are not totally faithful to real world sizes and layouts.

For example, the TTCombat "Sovereign" cinema has just 20 seats and no toilets or projection booth.  However, it does have plenty of open spaces where one could place figures during a game.  Not many movie theatres in the real world would fit this profile - and yet it's a lovely model that could play a central role in many tables set in urban USA or UK over the last 100 years or so.  Anyway, I digress...


So, I bought a very simple TTCombat kit to start with: the billboard set.  This contains 2 identical billboard models for the princely sum of £3.95, postage free.  Yes, that's right; these models are cheaper than a takeaway meal for one!


Early stages of construction.  I found it easiest to start by fitting the legs to the underside of the platform
There were no instructions in the billboard kit and I didn't bother to look online to see if there are any available for download.  These are reasonably simple models and I put them together very easily with intuition alone.  Just remember that most of the parts plug into the long, rectangular "platform" piece.

On the whole, the pieces of the model went together very well indeed:
  • The fit was typically firm enough to hold in position, but not so tight that the pieces couldn't be separated again after dry-fitting.
  • I did use some filler on the upper side of the platform to hide the leg joints, though you could manage without this.
  • The overhanging lights didn't match their sockets quite as I expected; it seemed as if the sockets weren't quite deep enough.


These were incredibly easy to paint, at least in part because I wanted to see how they would turn out with minimal effort:
  • Undercoat in grey primer.
  • Paint white around the edge of the poster "frame".
  • Use a black wash all over.
  • Paint the undersides of the lights in pale yellow (though it's actually quite hard to see this detail, so it could be omitted).
  • Print a suitable advert onto paper (12cm x 6cm) and glue it to the billboard.
  • Seal.  I used a spray varnish, so this only took a few seconds.


These billboards are so cheap that your time and effort to build and store them are probably more significant than the material cost.  How do they do that?  For me, the low price actually had the unexpected effect of making me want to finish the billboards as simply as possible, on the principle that they weren't "worth" putting in a lot of work.  Don't be taken in by this; just because they are cheap and easy does not mean that these models are worthless!

Cost: 5/5.  I don't see how these could be much cheaper unless TTCombat gave them away.
Construction: 4/5.  No instructions, but parts fitted together well.
Usefulness: 4/5.  A good scenic element, though the billboards are a bit top-heavy and might need to be based.
Overall: 5/5.  Inexpensive, useful, easy to build, excellent value for both time and money.

Sunday 7 August 2016

Claymore 2016


The largest wargames event in Scotland (Claymore) is held in early August.  In other years, we've often been away on holiday at this point, but this year I had arranged for our family vacation to be in the middle of July instead.  The 6th of August was free, so we were able to go to the show!

Although all of my children (and wife) were offered the opportunity, only my younger son ("A.") wanted to come with me.  He's extremely keen on games days such as this, so that made up for the (mild) disappointment from the more general lack of interest.

Our Day

It takes us just under 2 hours to drive from Helensburgh to north-west Edinburgh.  Let's just say that it's a tedious, though not particularly difficult, journey and leave it at that.

We arrived some 10 minutes before the official start time, but the doors were already open and many visitors had entered before us.  It's nice when you don't have to queue!

As always, what follows is a record of what A. and I did on the day.  It is not a comprehensive record of the games, traders or people present at Claymore, but rather just a description of our experiences.

SSFSA Tombola

Very near to the entrance, there was a tombola stall being run by the SSFSA (the armed forces charity).  We decided to spend some money on this and were surprised to find that both of us had won a prize.  I received a book on U.S. Rangers, whilst A.'s ticket matched a 28mm officer of Australian Light Horse!  I'm not sure what either of us will do with such items, as they're both quite a long way from any games or periods that we play...

Game 1: Wings of Glory

There were players needed in the first participation game that we came across, so we sat down to play some of the very popular Wings of Glory.  We were using 1916 aircraft; A. and I took a pair of French Morane Saulnier N monoplanes, whilst a couple of other young boys took some British clunkers to our right.  Opposing us were a mixture of German 2-seaters, eindeckers, observation balloons and the like.

I had enormous difficulty in working out the effects of the manoeuvre cards for most of the game.  I understood the mechanics easily enough, but found that my predictions of where my plane would end up were hopelessly adrift.  Consequently, I spent most of the game flying about pointlessly on the extreme left hand edge of the table.

Meanwhile, A's Morane was set on fire and eventually crashed.  He was given another, identical aircraft, but after tangling with the German 2-seaters, this was also set on fire.  A. flew off the table before burning to cinders, so perhaps his second plane survived?

Just as I had (almost) figured out how to manoeuvre and had lined up a good, tailing shot on an eindecker, I was hit by flak and killed.  Bah!

Game 2: Pancho Villa

The next game we encountered was a Bolt Action skirmish set during the Mexican civil war and presented by the Glasgow and District Wargames Club.  We took a bunch of Villistas (?) whose goal was to overpower the Federales in a small town and rob the about-to-depart gold train.  Sounds straightforward enough; we were told that we had about a 2:1 advantage in forces.

The game started well enough, as our American mercenary flier dropped a 75mm artillery shell onto one of the government machine gun positions.  He didn't hurt any of the crew, but he scared the cr*p out of them!

Our opponent in this game was a very young girl, with her dad and even younger brother watching from the sidelines.  She seemed to have a particular antipathy to my cavalry and shot at the horses on all possible occasions.  I thought that little girls were supposed to like ponies?

A. and I quickly found out that it was very difficult to advance with units that had PIN markers on them.  This led to our attacks going in piecemeal as each unpinned unit would charge forwards on its own, only to be gunned down by the defenders.  My glorious, flanking cavalry charge that was supposed to take us over the walls on the left was met by some particularly stubborn resistance; even though I inflicted 6 hits on the defending unit of 7 men, they all hit in return and routed my force.

At the end of the 6th turn, when the gold train departed, we hadn't managed to get even one figure over the sandbag wall...


I'd taken a packed lunch with us, since I've been dismayed at the quality (and price!) of the food offered at this and some other shows before.  The sun was shining and we were able to sit outside in the courtyard; it was good.

Game 3: Operation Retribution

Blue dice for low-medium altitude, white dice for medium-high.

The Blue Bears put on a massed WWII aircraft battle, based on Operation Retribution (the German invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941) and using their own rules.  Each of the 6 players took a flight of 3 Yugoslav fighters, which were a mixture of Bf-109s, Hurricanes and their own, homebuilt IK-Z.  The goal was to shoot down as many Luftwaffe bombers as possible.

A rather cluttered table near the end of the game, with altitude and damage dice all over the place.
This we proceeded to do in style; it was something of a "turkey shoot".  The game was enlivened by small amounts of karaoke and the occasional group chant ("On, no!  Not the purple dice of doom!").  Luftwaffe fighters flew overhead, but too high to see what was happening, so we rampaged through the bomber formations and devastated them.

I have to admit that I felt somewhat uncomfortable with the resulting massacre; it was very one-sided and quite a long way from what really happened in 1941.

Game 4: Kings of War

One set of rules which has been on my radar for a while is Kings of War.  This seems to be gaining a great deal of popularity, indeed it is perhaps the "go to" set for large, fantasy battles these days.  We had the opportunity to learn some of the mechanics in a little demonstration game, umpired by a very helpful and friendly representative (thanks!).

So, A. took a small force of dwarves, whilst I attacked him with an undead warband.

The Necromancer steps in to prevent the large unit of Dwarves from attacking the zombies in the flank.  Amazingly, he survives, at least for now!
The dwarves' cannon proved to be spectacularly useless and I don't think it hit anything in the entire game.  However, the stunty warriors proved to be very effective; they carved their way through my ghouls and skeletons in short order (groan!).

My leader, the necromancer, was forced to get involved personally in a messy melee to try to prevent the Dwarven rampage.  Although he eventually succumbed, he did allow the zombies time to fight back.

One after another, the Dwarven units fell to the all-conquering, but heavily beaten-up, zombies.  This was a complete surprise to all of us; when we called time on the game they were facing just the Dwarven warsmith and their cannon.  I'd say that it could have gone either way after that...

Game 5: Custer's Last Stand

In the dying 30 minutes of the show, just as we were tiring and wondering whether to depart, we came across the Leuchars Veterans' game: Custer's Last Stand.  I've taken part in some of their games before and they are always great fun: short, simple, effective and usually with excellent props as well.

I took chief Gall of the HunkPapa Sioux.  My son A. had Hollow Horn Bear of the Brule Sioux.

Each of the 5 (or was it 6?) players took a band of Indians - and yes, we did all wear headdresses with feathers in them.  The measuring sticks were modelled as arrows and our goal was to be the one to scalp Custer.  Note that there wasn't a whole lot of doubt that this would happen as the Indian forces were considerably larger than the remnants of the cavalry!

Between us, A. and I were first up onto the hill.  I may just have positioned my warriors to block some of the other players ("Oh, sorry, Crazy Horse!  Am I in your way - I hadn't realised?"), but all's fair in love and war...

Despite being the first to attack Custer, Hollow Horn Bear (A.'s chieftain) just couldn't kill the general.  Indeed, Custer managed to kill A's horse and thus dismount him!  My leader (chief Gall) was also in early, but failed to make any impression.

At the end, Custer was surrounded by no less than 5 chieftains.  It became a lottery as to who would strike the killing blow; many dice were rolled only for the owner to sigh in disgust at the lack of any of the requisite 6s.  Eventually, the flag-bearer was slain by someone and the very next Sioux chieftain killed Custer.  Suffice it to say that it wasn't either A. or myself who took the honour!

Return Journey

Another tedious trip in the car, this time with the driver (me) somewhat fatigued.  I really wish that public transport was a plausible alternative, but the Granton venue is just not suitable for this if you're coming from outside of Edinburgh!


Between games, we did a fair amount of shopping.  I say "we", but in reality it was just I that bought things.  We did have a few casual looks at the bring-and-buy, but it seemed especially crowded this year.  The bring-and-buy tables also looked to be stacked high with items, thus making it hard to see what was on offer.

So, just traders, then.  Here's what we came home with:

  • The newly-published (and much anticipated, at least by me) Congo rules.
  • Several packets of Darkest Africa figures: Ascaris and Tribal warriors.
  • Into the Breeding Pits (the latest expansion for Frostgrave)
  • Matt varnish.  Always useful, especially as some mail services either won't accept aerosols any more or charge an arm and a leg.
  • 2 x MDF Land Rovers.  28mm-compatible Land Rovers have been something of a Holy Grail for me, so I was delighted to see that Warbases are now producing some kits.  I'll report on these more another time.
  • Operation Retribution rules, handed out to participants in the game.  Whilst of casual interest, I don't think I'll be investing anything into WW2 air combat games.
  • US Rangers and Australian Light Horse officer; winnings from the SSFSA tombola.  I still don't know what to do with these, as they don't fit into any period or genre that I play.