Saturday 27 January 2018

An Arabian Dhow for 28mm Figures


Recently, I saw a blog post online about a card model of a dhow that was suitable for 28mm figures I'm very annoyed with myself that I cannot remember whose blog this was; my sincere apologies to the author.  However, this is something that I had been considering for myself as a useful adjunct for my Arab slavers (for the Congo game) or possibly for Pulp Alley games set in East Africa.

Once the idea was there, it didn't take much effort to find the source of this kit: it was made by a Russian outfit called "Umbum" and sold through the "Russia Best" website.

Interestingly, this website is in English [at least when I view it] and so it's quite easy to navigate.  Even more interestingly, their catalogue lists a number of other ship models which might be suitable for wargames:

  • Arabian Dhow
  • Greek Bireme
  • Medieval Caravel
  • Russian Ladja (like a small Viking ship)
  • Hanseatic Cog
  • Oriental Junk
There's no scale given for these kits, but the dimensions of the finished models are usually available on the web page.  I thought that I'd take a chance and so I ordered a dhow and a bireme [for my Greek Argonauts].  This article is about the dhow; more on the bireme another time.

Costs & Delivery

I was a little bit nervous ordering anything from Russia, as their postal system doesn't have the best reputation in the world.  However, I figured that at $8 (USD) for each kit plus about the same again for postage it wasn't too expensive to take a chance.

I ordered these models some time before Christmas and in due course, 6 or 7 weeks later, I received my package with various customs seals and labels attached to it.  It's not clear to me whether this timescale is normal when ordering goods from small Russian companies, or whether the Christmas holidays [and their associated effects on postal services] contributed significantly to the delay.  Anyway, I now had my kits...

The Dhow Kit

The Dhow kit came in a very large, very flat box.  On opening it, I found the following:
  • 1 large sheet of printed parts.  This is quite heavy cardstock, but nicely printed on both sides and die-cut very well.
  • 1 instruction booklet.
  • 1 sheet of paper (?) or plastic (?) sails.  I couldn't quite work out what the sails were made from; these are a very different material from the rest of the ship - much thinner, though still quite strong.
  • A hank of cord to use for rigging.
  • A set of "standee" figures and [oddly] foam bases for them.
  • 1 sealed toothpick!  This is nominally to help push out any small parts, though I didn't find it to be necessary.

The Instructions

I was very impressed by the instruction manual for this model.  It's easy to follow [it uses colour and simple diagrams very effectively] and it is language-neutral throughout.  Quite a delight!

A Suitable Size?

When I bought it, I took a chance that this model would work with my 28mm figures.  In the picture above, you can see the 15 (!) standees alongside a few of my Foundry Arab slavers.  Allowing for stylistic differences and the unusually thick foam bases, I'd say that the kit's card and my metal models are extremely compatible in size.  

The Build

Construction of the dhow was extremely straightforward.  The parts fitted well and were designed to be simply pushed together.

If I had done a "dry" build, I don't think the kit would have taken long to complete.  However, I intended to make this a very permanent model and so I used a paintbrush to apply white glue along the seams at various stages in the construction.  This meant that I had to leave it to dry quite often, thus slowing down the build quite a lot.

A sharp knife cuts off the tabs that protruded from the deck

One other issue that I wished to address was the presence of tabs.  Due to the push-fit nature of the  model, there were occasional tongues of cardboard intruding onto the deck or the sides of the hull [Note that these should NOT be confused with the protruding rigging points or the supports for the bases of the masts!].

Tabs/tongues cut flush and then painted with deck colour.  See if you can spot them all!

Once the glue was dry, I cut these tongues/tabs flush with the surfaces from which they protruded.  I then applied some paint to the exposed edges of the cardboard to hide them.

More construction tabs, this time on the sides of the hull.

After tackling the tabs on the deck, I assembled the hull.  More construction tabs stick out of the sides; these were also cut flush and the raw ends were painted to match their surroundings.

When the assembly was done, I painted all the remaining exposed edges of cardboard with a colour to match the surroundings.  Mostly this was one of two shades of brown, though the decorated prow of the ship, rigging points and some parts of the waterline needed a dark grey.


The completed, fully rigged dhow

There's a lot of ropework on this ship!  It may look complex, but the instructions were very clear and easy to follow.  Two things are probably worth mentioning, though:
  • The stays for the mast are not symmetrical!  The mast is braced differently depending on which side the sail has been placed; I had to redo some knotwork when I realised this.
  • The string supplied with the kit was quite thick, inflexible and possibly wax-coated.  This made it difficult to tie the knots which were suggested in the instructions.  I ended up doing simple hitches instead, with glue to hold them in place and clamps to keep the tension whilst the glue dried.
In hindsight, the rigging took rather longer than the rest of the construction [and wasn't as much fun, either].  However, it does add greatly to the appearance.


I bought this model to assess its suitability for wargaming.  I'd say that in many ways it has surpassed my hopes in this respect:
  • It's cheap.  Even with the cost of international postage, the dhow should be within the financial reach of all but the most impoverished wargamers.
  • It's sturdy.  This model is really designed as a toy, so it's built from heavy-duty materials.
  • It's easy to build.  Apart from possibly the rigging, the parts went together quickly and easily.
  • It's a perfect scale, at least for 28mm figures.
  • It's pre-coloured, even on the inside of the hull [which cannot be seen in the finished model!].  The only painting required is to touch up the raw edges of the cardboard; I'd recommend strongly that you do this.
Of course, I have to balance this with a disadvantage or two:
  • Because of all the [realistic/unavoidable] rigging and deck clutter, it's actually quite awkward to place 28mm figures on the ship.  I managed 3 or 4 on the foredeck without too much trouble, but could only place a single Arab on the aft deck - and that required some dexterity.
  • There are no instructions or alternate parts to permit a docked or anchored ship [i.e. with the sails furled].  I don't imagine it would be too hard for someone to make such an adaptation, though.
So, if you want a dhow, or a whole fleet of them, for gaming then I'd certainly recommend this Russian kit.  I might replace the string provided for rigging with something a bit thinner and softer, though.

Now all I need to do is find somewhere to store the model...

Saturday 20 January 2018

The Last of the Christmas Models


The Christmas & New Year holiday is well and truly over; I've been back at work for 2 weeks now.  However, I'm still sorting through and putting away models which I painted during that period.  Here are some of them - it's quite a mixture!

Damsels in Distress

These are some classic "damsels in distress", from Bob Murch's "Pulp Figures" range.  Specifically, they come from pack PWM 10 - Cringing Captives.  I plan to use these in games of Pulp Alley or Congo (fairly obvious, I would have thought!).  As such, I don't really need the other two figures from the pack; sawmills and railway tracks aren't really a feature of Darkest Africa, where my games are set.

Note that I've painted up both of these models in an identical colour scheme.  This will enable me to use one as a replacement for the other in a game, thus indicating whether the heroine is currently tied to a stake or not.

DreadBall 2

From L to R: score marker, turn (rush) marker, new style referee 

Early this month (i.e. January 2018), I received my Dreadball 2 Kickstarter package.  I'm not buying any new teams, as I already have 12 (I think), of which only 8 are painted.  However, I did receive the new rules, new cards and new game markers.

1st edition DreadBall supplied cardboard counters for the score and rush markers.  This worked well enough, but the 2nd edition has some rather nice models instead.  The new score marker is a miniature trophy, while the turn marker is a robotic commentator/linesman in a floating disk/chair that is liberally equipped with spotlights and/or cameras.  There is also a different figure for the robot referee.

I did need to replace the support pillar on the floating chair with a transparent post.  This was mainly because the moulded pillar was somewhat bent and wouldn't have produced a very good effect.  Still, that conversion/repair was easy enough.

Note that I'm experimenting with transparent bases for the figures which will be on the pitch.  The referee is the first such model to be completed.

Lady Godiva - Fiction and Reality

Lady Godiva: the myth

The fictional tale of Lady Godiva is simple: a Saxon lord was oppressing his people.  His wife (Godiva) asked him to lower rents or some such, to which the husband replied that he would do so only if his wife rode naked through the streets of Coventry.

Of course, he didn't expect her to do this, but she arranged for the local townsfolk to close their doors and window shutters and then disrobed and rode the streets, unobserved by all.  Her husband was true to his promise and treated his people better thereafter.

A later addition to this tale: one man did steal a glance at the naked lady, but was immediately struck blind as punishment.  His name was Tom; from this incident we get the phrase "a Peeping Tom".

Lady Godiva: the reality?

In reality, Lady Godiva was a virtuous Saxon noblewoman who would be much more likely to look like the figure above.  It's entirely possible that she did indeed soften her husband's harsh rule - but not by riding naked through a town!

Super Dungeon Explore: Last of the Kinoko

Finally (for now), I have finished my Super Dungeon Explore "Kinoko" warband!  These are mostly aggressive, mobile mushrooms, though they also have some truffle pigs.  Here are the final two groups to be painted:

Kinoko spawn points

Kinoshrooms - minions
There's not much more to say about these; either you'll like them or you won't...


I completed a goodly lot of models during the Christmas/New Year break just past; these are just some of them.  It helped that we didn't go away and that the weather was not good enough for us to be outside much.  Still, it's very satisfying to have made such progress!

Sunday 14 January 2018

28mm Bees: Revisited


At the end of last year, I showed my recipe for creating a swarm of bees for my 28mm "Wicked Witch of the West" army.  This idea seems to have gone down well, but a couple of responses particularly caught my attention.  Paraphrased, the commenters said "if you did this with a tube or dome then you could place it over a 28mm figure to show that a model was enveloped by the bee swarm".

I found myself returning to this idea again and again; I just couldn't get it out of my head!  Eventually, I thought that I'd just have a quick look online for cheap sources of plastic domes, to see what might be available.  Of course, it didn't end there and so the remainder of this article describes what happened next.

Snow Globes

In the UK, there is a company called "Baker Ross" (I imagine that similar suppliers exist in other countries too).  They make cheap craft kits, often in multi-packs.  It looks to me as if their products are aimed at kindergartens, primary school classes or possibly birthday parties for young children.  However that may be, I discovered that they make a range of small, plastic snow globe "kits".

A box of these snow globes cost just over £5 (including postage).  There were several sorts available (mermaids, princesses...), but as far as I can tell the only difference is the pattern on the cardboard insert for the centre of the globe.  Since I would be discarding this anyway, I didn't really care which version I bought.

Each box contains 4 globes; the globe comes with instructions and is basically a glitter-filled dome covering a plastic insert & base, which in turn acts as a holder for a patterned piece of cardboard.  The idea is that you colour in the card, slip it into the central holder and then fill the globe with water via a plug in the base.

A 28mm African villager surrounded by a swarm of bees

I wasn't at all interested in these items as snow globes, though!  It was trivially easy to cut the dome away from the plastic base.  Once it was separated, it took a little longer to wash out all the glitter and then paint my bees.

The painting was done according to the recipe in my previous article; bees were painted on both the inner and outer surfaces of the dome.  I'm not sure if painting them on the inside (which was certainly a bit trickier) helped to add to the impression of depth or not.

L: spray varnish.  R: brushed-on acrylic varnish

When the bees were dry, I varnished the dome.

My first attempt ruined the model: I used my normal aerosol satin varnish and the dome went completely frosty!  I'm not sure that there's anything I can do to save this piece; I've tried re-varnishing it lightly (which sometimes works), but it remains completely opaque.

Fortunately, I had several more domes available.  For my second attempt, I brushed on an acrylic varnish.  This hasn't compromised the transparency at all, though on close examination the brush marks are evident.  It'll do...


At 50mm wide and 55mm high, these domes are easily large enough to engulf most 28mm figures (excluding pikemen, horses, or models who are waving exceptionally heroic weapons in all directions).  So, they will work as I designed them to do.

Of course, I don't have any immediate plans to use swarms of bees to engulf models in any of my games.  But I could!

Finally, I now have several base remnants, as can be seen in the picture above.  I'm racking my brains to think how they could be used; so far all I can come up with are dungeon doors (or secret doors in fireplaces, as seen in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)!

Sunday 7 January 2018

Congo: the Village


For some time now, I've wanted to have models of an African village for my games of Congo or Tarzan-based Pulp Alley.  Well, just before Christmas I ordered a few pieces from Grand Manner and they arrived in almost the last delivery before the festive period shutdown.  Here they are, in their finished glory!

The Enclosure

This is the "Large timber circular animal corral" (TA02), retailing at £15.  It's a fairly hefty lump of resin, quite jagged around the top.  I'm amazed at how the manufacturer has managed to cast such a piece at all, as there are so many nooks and crannies which must make it tricky!

First, the negatives:
  • On close inspection there is clear webbing between a number of the branches.
  • My copy had a number of air bubbles and/or seemingly miscast ends of branches.
  • There are also a few long, straight rods on the floor of the enclosure; these look as if they might be bristles from a brush that was used during manufacture, rather than intentional detail.
Now that's out of the way, here are the good points:
  • None of the above really matters!  The imperfections are either lost in the paintwork or hidden in the interior of the hedge.  I haven't applied any remedial work (filler, sanding...) to this model and it still looks pretty good in the photo above, or so I think.
After I had painted the main part of the enclosure, I felt that the interior was a bit barren and lifeless.  To soften this, I painted some of the slightly more raised "lumps" in a dark brown to represent piles of animal dung.  I also gave the "bristles" a light coat of pale green, so that the might stand in for grass stalks or some similar vegetable matter.

The Huts

Mangbettu circular hut (TA09)
Mangbettu circular hut (TA10)
Mangbettu circular hut (TA11)
Grand Manner make five different patterns of "Mangbettu" huts, but I have only bought three of them (mainly to keep the cost down; each of these models cost £13).  The Mangbetu (spelling varies) come from central Africa; more precisely modern day Zaire.  As such, their huts are very suitable for games of Congo - especially for Forest Tribes.

The three huts shown here are all good models, representing several variations on an obvious common theme.  I particularly like the addition of pots or shields just outside the doors; this gives them a more "lived in" feel.

Two of the huts have painted, patterned plaster on the walls.  This makes them nicely decorative and is completely suitable for the region and pattern of dwelling.  I felt that the sculpting of the decoration was a bit crude, though it's not too noticeable once painted.

Also note that the door curtains of the huts appear to have been modelled from cloth bandage or some similar material.  This is fine, except that on one of the huts (TA10?) a stray thread has escaped and has then been moulded onto the surface of the curtain.  Again, it's not something that you'd really notice unless you know where to look.

The Cooking Fire

The smallest piece in this collection from Grand Manner is the fireplace, yet it probably took the longest time to paint.  That's because it has a lot of different items on it, each of which required different colours.  Here's a list:

  • The central fire itself, with a large cauldron of something bubbling away on top.
  • 2 pots.  I have painted these up to represent earthenware (hmm - perhaps I should have added some decoration to them?), though I suppose they could just as easily have been metal.
  • Several large rocks.
  • Baskets, both empty and containing foodstuffs.
  • A pile of firewood, next to a large mass that was hard to interpret.  I have decided in my version that this represents foliage and twigs that has been removed from the firewood, so I painted it green.
  • A slaughtered animal (goat or sheep?) beside a large club.  How do I know that it's dead?  Well, for starters it's missing its head!

The Village Women

I have some models of African villagers already, but I finished these remaining figures at the same time as the village.  They's probably models from Foundry Miniatures, though I haven't verified that.  Anyway, they're easy to paint and will help to add some life to the village.


Could I have scratch-built the village?  Well, yes of course I could - but it wouldn't have had so much detail and would have taken a lot longer (probably forever, to be honest).  These models are somewhat expensive, though not really that much when compared with a week's commuting, a meal out, or a large Games Workshop figure.  From my perspective, I'm very glad to trade off the money against the time it would have taken; I've ended up with some lovely terrain pieces!

So, what else is needed for the village?  I'm really not sure, though examination of old photos suggests that having chickens running all over the place might be appropriate.  Also, some pictures seem to show racks (for curing skins or to dry leafy crops?) in villages like this.  There's so much more that I could do...