Sunday, August 31, 2014

More Bugbears

Here are the other units in my Bugbear army waiting to be painted (plus 2 more crossbow units).

Bugbears! ...and boardgames

A week ago I was inspired to design a new board game. It's a game of fantasy armies, battles, conquest, and heroic quests. I've been working on the rules all week and am really excited about the results. I think that its going to be a lot of fun. The working title is either:     Epic!  or Warquest. (Feedback?)

The next step in the design process is to create a prototype and playtest it. This is a critical part of the process as it tests all of the assumptions and mechanics, and allows me to tweak the game until its finished.

Since this is such an important task, I want to make sure that it's fun and looks great. To that end I have been ordering miniature fantasy armies online to use as pieces. When determining which miniatures to use, scale is always a question. There are many great 28mm fantasy figures out there, but they may be too large to work as board game pieces. 15mm are a little small and the detail can be hard to see much less paint well. I settled on 20mm, and started looking. In my search I found a very cool line of 20mm miniatures called Splintered Light. They have Dwarves, Goblins, Beastmen (Satyrs, Fawns, Minotaurs, etc.), Bugbears, and even a few Ogres.

They can be found here:

I placed my order and received the figures very quickly.

This morning I painted up a stand of Bugbear Crossbowmen.

Here they are:

I really like the figures. The entire line was sculpted by Bob Olley, who is widely known in the miniatures community for his unique style. He is a genius in giving his sculpts character and individuality.

I can't wait to get to work on the rest of these great figures.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Patio Table Adventure...Project

I usually post gaming and miniatures projects here, but since this project has replaced those for most of the Summer, and since it was a project in many of the same ways that creating miniature armies are, I figured that it belonged on this blog.

Two Summers ago, we built a new patio to replace the truly crappy one that we lived with since buying our home in 2000. The new patio was great, but needed new furniture, so we invested in some Italian slate tables: An 8 foot long dining table, a small round coffee table, and a rectangular lounge table (you know, to put our drinks on when we were lounging).

The first two weathered our rather harsh climate beautifully and are still like new. The lounge table however wasn't made as well, and moisture permeated the crappy plywood understructure, warped it, and the entire table essentially fell apart.

Well, I liked that table and finding a replacement proved difficult, so I gritted my teeth and determined that I would tear the old table apart, rescue the slate and the legs, and build a new one!
The fact that I've never built anything in my life didn't give me a moment's pause...though it should have.

My first mission was to tear the wood off of the undercarriage and remove the slate pieces. This proved to be the first major obstacle. The liquid nails that the manufacturer used to attach the slate to the plywood proved more resilient than the wood. I was able to break the slate pieces away from each other and tear them from the wood, but I was left with big, hard gobs of glue on the bottom of the slate. Off to the internet I went to learn how to remove it.

I learned that alcohol is a good solvent for removing glues of all kinds. Aha! A new Summer project was just added to the list: Clean out the liquor cabinet. We had dozens of crusty, half used bottles in there from parties dozens of years ago, and now I could put them to good use. As my lovely wife Hectored me that 'that is never going to work', I poured the contents of bottle after bottle into a giant bucket, and then gently slid the slate pieces into the bucket.

Every few days I would go out to the sandbox at the side of the house to check on the progress. I would scrape and scrape at the stubborn glue, and little by little it came off one chunk at a time. Mostly due to my wife's incredulity I was as stubborn as the glue. I WAS going to get those slate pieces clean. After a few weeks and innumerable trips to the sandbox, they finally were...though during one particularly 'Hulk Smash' episode I cracked one of the pieces...

Now I had the clean slate pieces (minus one), and was ready to go to the store to buy the components that I would need. But what were they? I'm not very handy, and I had no real idea what I needed to buy other than 'wood' and 'glue', off to the internet again. After taking some measurements and doing a crude little drawing, I went online and started learning. It really is amazing what you can learn via articles and videos. The process was a long one, and took many weeks, and many videos, and many trips to various hardware stores. Here is the list of components that I ended up acquiring:
        * Plywood board for the base of the table (cut to size at Home Depot)
        * 2 tubes of liquid nails (one to glue the undercarriage to the plywood, and one to glue the slate pieces to the top of the plywood)
        * 8 screws of the exact size to fit the holes that would screw the undercarriage to the plywood (glue and screw is what I learned on my internet teacher...seemed like good advice).
        * grout spacers so that the slate pieces would be spaced exactly right during gluing.
        * a replacement piece of slate tile for the one I cracked during de-glu-ifying. Luckily I found one at a tile store that was exactly the same size and even color. Wow! Luckily the one I cracked was one of the small, square ones that goes in the middle (see below), and not one of the larger, irregular pieces.
        * One bag of dark gray grout
        * One bottle of grout mix (by using this instead of water, my grout would become 'Super-Grout', and would handle the outdoor environment on my patio much better.
        * One bottle of grout sealant (Now it was Super-Super-Grout!)
        * Wood for the top pieces of the table. After some...wait for research, I learned about a cool wood that has many of the properties of Teak, but was prettier, and easier to work with. It's called Ipe, and apparently its native to Central and South America. It seemed like the perfect wood for a piece of outdoor furniture that I wanted to last for more than one season. I ordered the right amount from an online wood dealer...yes, they exist. After it was delivered to my door, I took them next door to Pat's House. Pat's House may look like an average, every-day suburban single family dwelling, but it's really a secret cache of every tool known to man, owned and operated by an engineer who looks at home projects like Scientologists look at confused college students. Pat not only helped me cut the pieces to the exact right size, but also sheered off pieces for side laminate (something I hadn't thought of), gave me clamps to hold the wood tightly together while the wood glue dried (something I hadn't thought of), came over and power-sanded the edges so that the laminate would fit flush ( get the idea), and came over again once everything had dried and routed the laminate edges so that they were perfectly flush with the table (yep).
        * Wood Glue... you know, for the wood.
        * Two grades of sandpaper and a holder to sand the wood smooth and even.
        * One container of Danish Oil to put a deep, rich, natural color into the wood, and to protect it.
        * One bag of lint-free rags to apply the Danish Oil in multiple coats without leaving linty pieces of lint in the finish.

Here, finally, is the finished piece in its natural habitat drying and waiting for the first frosty cold bottle of beer to be placed on it tonight:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Leipzig at Historicon

This year I finally decided to attend Historicon for the first time. I've been to Fall In once before, and to many Little Wars conventions, but somehow I have never found my way out to The Big One.
Well, this year I was determined to go and if I was going I wanted to put on a big game. Since my Austrian, Spanish, and Portuguese armies are fresh off the painting table, I now have the units to play pretty much any Napoleonic battle that was ever fought. After a little thought, I decided on Leipzig. It was on a grand scale and included armies from France, her German allies, Poland, Italy, Austria, Prussia, Russia, and even Sweden. In order to do the battle, I would have to make each unit the equivalent of a division. Even so, there were going to be just a ton of units on the table...and the table would need to be extra large (8' x 10') (compared to the one in my basement, which is 6' x 9').

Here are the orders of battle that I created and the units associated with them all laid out on my table ready to be packed for the show.

I scheduled the event to start at 12:00 on Saturday, and estimated that it would take 5 hours to play. I would divide each side into a Northern Front Commander (Blucher/ Ney) and a Southern Front Commander (Schwarzenberg/ Murat). There were eight players, so this worked out perfectly with teams of two each taking control of a command.

I arrived in Fredericksburg on Thursday evening after an all-day drive from Chicago. Friday I scouted the show and browsed the vendor hall.
Saturday morning I woke early and arrived to start setting up at 7:30 am. I needed almost every minute of the time to be ready for the noon start.

Here is the town of Leipzig represented by a Medieval village from Total Battle Miniatures, but painted to fit into the Napoleonic time period. I really love their 6mm buildings as they make great villages on my battlefields.

I know that the buildings sometimes look out of place with 28mm figures, but when each base equals something like 5,000 men, I really can't use buildings that are any larger and have it work.

Here are Poniatowski's Poles south of Leipzig.

Here is the French Imperial Guard in the French center (Southern Front).

Here is a view from the Allied Reserve (note the Russian Cuirassier and artillery heading north to support the main line.

Marmont's French troops (and Badener cavalry) defending Mockern from Blucher's imminent attack.

And here he comes...

The game took 4 1/2 hours including rules explanation (as always, I used my version of Command & Colors: Napoleon).

Results: In the North, the French chose to not send aid across the bridge to keep their line of retreat open (do or die!), and to send the Reserve Cavalry from the South to the North. This meant that they had plenty of troops to deal with Blucher. In fact, they destroyed York's Corps and drove Sacken and Langeron's Corps back with heavy losses. When Reynier's French Corps arrived on Day Two, the combined French attack almost destroyed the Russians. The result was a victory in the North that opened a new retreat route for the French army.

In the South, both sides charged and counter-charged; blasted each other with massed artillery, and generally mauled each other. It was a bloody draw with appalling losses on both sides. At one point, after the French losses had become very severe, three units of MacDonald's Corps (Westphalians, Italians, and Wurttembergers) fled the field.
Late on Day Two, after a last-ditch assault by the Guard petered out without a decisive result, and massive Allied reinforcements were nearing the battlefield from both North and South, Napoleon decided that he had better withdraw his mangled army while he was able. 
The battle was a tactical victory for the French, but an operational defeat since they were unable to crush the Allies piecemeal.

I think that the players had a great time, and I certainly did, though I was pretty beat afterward, having been on my feet and jumping around for something like 11 hours.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Little Wars and Borodino

I attended Little Wars Friday and Saturday this year. The show looked great with lots of attendees, many really great looking games, and the usual solid vendor area support.

I ran my Borodino game on Friday night (5pm - 9pm) and Saturday (10am - 2pm).

Friday night's game was fully attended (6 players + 1 last minute add-in). The battle started in the south between the Russians and the Poles near Utitza. The French player was very aggressive and pushed the Russians back with heavy losses.
They then opened fire with the grand battery on the fleches, and launched a large-scale infantry assault in the center led by Davout.

The French attack quickly overran the first two fleches, but the Russians immediately counter-attacked and re-took them. The French then fed in more troops and drove the Russians back out. The casualties mounted, especially for the Russians. It started looking like the French players were going to break the Russian army quickly.

The Grand Redoubt (Reavsky)

The only unit on the table that I painted and based from scratch.

The Russians then launched a massive counter-attack capped by a 'Glorious Charge' card. The two units that charged were Dragoons and Cuirassier. They drove back the remaining infantry and over-ran the entire Grand Battery. This startled the French players, who thought that they were going to cruise to an easy victory. After a few more turns, the French were able to win, but the final score was 14 Russian units eliminated (14 needed for the win), and 11 French units eliminated (out of 13 needed).  Very close game and fun. All players seemed to have had a good time.

The game on Saturday was both similar and very different from Fridays. The French team started out by inflicting many casualties on the Russians and opened up a huge lead that looked insurmountable. However, the fighting raged on both flanks instead of the center. The Cossacks led by Uvarov in the North charged across the stream just West of Borodino and were violently repulsed. In the South, the battle swayed back and forth around the Utitza mound, but the Russians took the lion-share of the losses.  By the time that the action died down and the two sides separated from each other to regroup, the French only needed to inflict 2 more unit losses on the Russians to win, and the Russians still needed to inflict 10.
Then things started to turn around:
An artillery dual began in the center with the Russians getting the best of it. Their guns were nestled safely in the fleches and on the high ground behind them while the French Grand Battery was in the open.
The French commander decided that it was time to launch his attack up the middle to finish the battle. The stream running in front of the fleches slowed the advance down just enough to allow the Russian artillery to rake the French ranks and break up the orderly formation.
The French pressed on, sensing that the Russians were bled white and on the verge of collapse. In truth, however, the Russians were ready and waiting with a powerful counter-attack. As the French attack flowed around the fleches in an attempt to close with the Russians, the Russians met them with a powerful combined-arms attack that drove the French back and crushed their will to continue the fight. The Russians had pulled off a miracle comeback and won the battle!

Figures are Perry, Front Rank, and Foundry

Russians by the esteemed Scott MacPhee
French: Mostly Fernando, some by Paxx88 and Artmaster Studios, and a few by me
French Allies: Paxx88, Artmaster Studios, Roger Murrow

Basing: Scott MacPhee, Paul Niemeyer, me

Assistant game judge: Paul Niemeyer (Thanks Paul!)

Here are a few of the highlights from Friday's games (My phone ran out of power on Saturday before I could snap some more...The Alamo and Omaha Beach games were unbelievable!):

Little Wars was fun as always. I am so thankful that there is a show like this so close to home.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Keith Rocco Paintings

Keith Rocco, IMHO, is the preeminent Napoleonic artist working today.  I was lucky enough to work with Keith on my board game Napoleon in Europe back in 2001.  I licensed one of his paintings for the cover, and his sketches for the manual.

As e talked, we discovered that other than our love of history, we had a couple of things in common:
* We had both lived in the western suburbs of Chicago (Keith moved to Virginia many years ago, but still comes back here from time to time).
* We had a common friend: Paul Niemeyer. Paul did the map and card art for Napoleon in Europe, as well as most art for Eagle Games.

Over the years I've collected several of Keith's prints, three of which hang in my office. I have always wanted to own an original, and so almost a year ago I approached Keith about doing two small paintings of Napoleonic soldiers.

He finished my paintings today and sent me photographs.

Well, to say that I love them is an understatement!  They are perfect.

 French Dragoon

French Chasseur

I feel very lucky to have these in my collection and will enjoy them for many, many years.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Here are the sausage eaters. ;-)

4th Regiment (Salern)
Front Rank Miniatures
Painted by Artmaster Studios

5th Regiment (von Preysing)
Front Rank Miniatures
Painted by Artmaster Studios

1st Regiment (Lieb)
Front Rank Miniatures
Paxx88 (Darren Smith)

Chevau Leger (Thurn und Taxis)
Front Rank Miniatures
Painted by Artmaster Studios

Bavarian Artillery
Front Rank Miniatures
Painted by Paxx88 (Darren Smith)

I really like the Bavarian uniforms and raupenhelm helmets. The cornflower blue for the infantry is also very interesting.  All-in-all, some of my favorite units on the table.