Tuesday, 28 July 2020

More Musings

In 1981 when I began gaming, it was a very different world, obviously.

Historical wargaming tended to have a few periods which were considered to be the core of the hobby; Ancients (encompassing the Dark Age and Medieval eras) , ACW, AWI Napoleonic, WW2 and Moderns, generally in 25mm with the exception of WW2 in 20mm and Moderns in 1/300. You also saw naval in 1/1200 and 1/3000. To be fair, I also saw my first 15mm game at that time and it was ACW.

Quite a lot you might think, and you'd be right when compared to what is available these days, but these were the 'staples', the meat and two veg of the hobby, and a neophyte would do well to take an interest in at least one of them because it pretty much automatically opened doors at a club and allowed you, unless your elders and betters were complete arseholes (much rarer than these days, I assure you) you'd be able to bring a few figures to the table for a big game, whilst you built your own collection, and also learn about the nuances of the period.

I remember the first time I saw a 25mm Wars Of The Roses game at Sheffield Wargames Society and I was fascinated. I asked questions, joined in for an hour or so, and learned that there was more to it than just lining up and shooting each other.

35 years later, I tried to introduce a friend who hadn't benefitted from a childhood like mine, coming to the hobby late, and try as I might I couldn't get him to even try it because all he saw was a bowline and boredom.

I guess we do all have our favourite periods, but I also think that the wider variety of periods these days and a plethora of rules have fragmented the hobby. Periods are being treated like clothing fashions and unless you are very quick indeed, you will be wasting money on many projects because by the time you get a force together, the fad has passed. The companies have made their money and moved on.

I saw this myself with the Bolt Action Korea fad, which, after a few emails between myself and Warlord, I knew they were not going anywhere with it - and haven't.  I bailed quickly as a result, but had it been properly rolled out, I'd have been in there for the long haul, for sure.

When I played my first ECW game with Roy Gunson in 1982, it was not as mainstream as today, moreover, Roy had armies in 15mm, at a time when ECW tended to be 25mm Hinchcliffe & Minifigs.

I got hammered, and you may think I would have walked away from that at age 14, vowing no more, but Roy took the time (whilst mocking me gently, as was his right) to explain the tactics, the relation between pike and shot elements and the use of cavalry and dragoons. It made sense, and I was hooked. 38 years down the line and I still am, so Roy did his job!

As you will have seen recently, I've begun an ECW collection, using al I've learned over the decades and on a scale that as a lad I could not have done. True, I have employed a painter for 90% of the work (worth every penny when you have less time ahead of you than behind - and yes, I am looking at you Mr S.) but against the tide of choices available, I've returned to one of the classics.

In fact, I've also just commissioned my painter of choice to also produce an AWI collection for me before Christmas, again a classic, but not a period I got around to as a youth, despite drooling over photos of Peter Gilder's collection (I seem to recall that a certain friend of mine, late of this parish, owned part of that very collection at one stage.) and once, making start, when I was truly so poor that really I should have been eating rather than buying little lead dollies.

But, now, I am really thinking about what I'd like to play, what size of collection will give a good game, allow flexibility of force selection and look stunning on table or shelves. AWI works because there is not much cavalry, so it stands out on the table, whilst the long linear formations offer a lot of bang for the buck visually. 24-30 man units look just right, and have the right 'feel' as you manoeuvre them on the tabletop.

My ECW uses larger units than I have ever used in any scale in the last 4 decades, but that is just because I fancied getting away from my field strength 24 figure units and take a chance with paper strength 36 man units.

What I am not interested in, is partaking in wall pissing competitions or games of 'mine's bigger than yours' anymore. I've done that and trust me, many of the blokes who have continued to do that over the years look like wankers from the sidelines.

I recently saw a a social media post where a gamer posted pictures of his 25mm Napoleonic cavalry, built and painted to his tastes, and very nice they were, too. But then along came someone known to me, let's call him Mr Big Bollocks, posting a snarky comment and a picture of a mass of cavalry, deriding the original poster for his pitiful collection.

And that dear reader is when I blew my top and ranted at the screen. What's the fucking point in doing that? Does the thought that you may have put someone off the hobby for life, make your tiny penis throb? Well...

No, I will build sensibly sized armies that can be used (so far a modest 500-700 figures has felt right for a given project). I am not saying that over time I won't increase the size of the collection, but not at the expense of actually getting a game.

Let me tell you, that you can have a decent ECW game with a brigade of foot, two cavalry wings and a couple of sakers, so if you have limited space or funds, aim for that, not the entirety ion the forces at Marston Moor. Much better that you play some games whilst you add those extra units, unless like me you have the luxury and bloody-minded determination to have a force painted. Actually, you will learn more about a period if you play games with the building blocks of the typical forces.

Also, as I have said before, read a good selection of books and don't be a slave to only reading what is in fashion. Speak to those old crusty bastards with the chipped Minifies armies at the the local club. After all, they will have been gaming that period for decades, and will have learned a thing or two - So could you!

Well, I need to sign off and go and do a day's work, but I'll leave you with the latest pics from my painter who has, as the images show, almost finished 2 infantry regiments, 2 cavalry units, a dragoon unit and my artillery train guards:


Sunday, 26 July 2020

Come On, It's Quarter Past 8 And We Have To Catch The Bus... Can I Stick Some Of Your Patchouli Oil On My Denim Please?

It's 1982, a crisp November day; a Saturday which means that I am off into town with Alan Staniforth (after cadging some of his patchouli oil for my oh-so-new looking C&A jacket)  to visit the latest shop to attract us, the recently opened Games Workshop on The Moor, that pedestrianised shopping area at the far end of the city centre at the end of which is the Manpower Services Commission building, a red brick ziggurat in that 'fuck you all' style of architecture so beloved of those raving lunatics put into power by the type of people who would stick a red rosette on a milk bottle and vote for it, back then.

But politics are not on my agenda as I am 14 and about 12 months into this new hobby I've found called roleplaying games, and the close relative wargaming. They were yet to become 'gaming' and were at that time two completely separate worlds which you had to negotiate very carefully indeed.

So, let's hop on the number 4 bus from Tyler Street and pay our 2p fare, finding a seat at the front of the bus upstairs, where we can get a good view of the blackened shapes of the steel works which line Carlisle Street almost into the city centre. The denim jacket festooned with patches declaring my tastes in rock and a rather racy 5 metal studs is dropped over the periscope which allows the driver to see upstairs from the cab via a convex mirror. This is not done because we are going to vandalise a bus, sniff glue or partake in any other mischief, we just think it's a great seat and besides, the bus driver will be frustrated that he can't see upstairs, and that seems to us to be a blow for freedom against the SYPTE.

Well, that was a fast trip, and we alight in the Castle Market area...

...where we quickly see if there's anything new from Joan Jett, Tygers Of Pan Tang or Iron Maiden, before getting in the lift which goes to the Gallery, a series of shops on the top of the market. which connect via two bridges to the upstairs entrances of Woolworths and British Home Stores, but for us it's Hopkinson's Toys a proper old school toy shop where Stanny and I buy model kits, model railways stuff and where, in 1981, we first came across Citadel and Ral Partha miniatures, as well as a few other interesting but unfathomable items which, sparked an interest in gaming, without us really knowing much about it all. Old Mr Hopkinson didn't know about them either, but as they were models and the nice rep' from a place called Citadel Miniatures in Newark assured Mr H they'd sell (and they did), he decided to take a chance, and they are crammed in no particular order on a free standing display rack just to the left of the counter, because there are certain youths who would filch as many as possible to sell to mates, unless they are nicking the various tubes of glue instead, to sniff and get a primitive high, before shouting abuse at passers-by in the paved shopping area below, perhaps 'gobbing' on a passing hippy, and eventually turning on themselves as the glue runs out and they start to 'come down' in an aggressive, drooling finale.

But by now, Stanny and I are going around the gallery (watching out for Punks and Skins of course), looking longingly down at the entrance to Rebels rock nightclub where Stanny's older brother goes with his mates (we are assured that it's the place to go after the Wappentake - a serious rock boozer which even  at 18, I found a bit much for my tender nerves), past the upper entrance of BHA and across a steel footbridge, leaping down entire flights of stairs because it makes a tremendous 'CLANG!' noise as you land. We cut through the back door of C&A, drop down the stairs to the 'Clockhouse' maternity wear department in the basement and through the glass doors into The Hole In The Road...

We look at the fish tank in the wall, and then go across and up to the left, jog up the escalator and into  Rackhams department store because I have developed a taste for Knobs & Knockers, a franchise selling wondrous selections of bright door fittings, to which I have an attraction which even 38 years later I cannot explain. Stanny indulges me, and whilst I paw at a rather nice gloss red coat hook, he ogles the female assistants, before we jump down the flights in the back stairwell, out onto High Street and into Boots The Chemist, where we run down the stairs, into the basement, to look at what games they have for the ZX81 and to see if there are any new Fighting Fantasy books, to which we have become addicted since Warlock Of Firetop Mountain hit the shelves in August. Hang on, it's 9:30... OK, out of the basement doors, up the stairs from the subway and onto the paved shopping area which is Fargate:

We ignore W.H Smith today, but I do want to quickly nip into Hallmark because it was Halloween a couple of weeks ago, and they are selling off the Snoopy seasonal stuff, and I get a 'Great Pumpkin' biscuit cutter for 30p, being an addict when it comes to Peanuts and American popular culture in general.

Next we hit Pinstone Street and Beatties for our second 'fix' of the day...

...where we have not yet clashed with the fearsome Geoff, manager of the branch who would later be the cause of me being grounded - for no fucking reason, I might add.

We'd found that Beatties had a fine stock of roleplaying games at the far end of the shop, around to the right where the Tamiya radio controlled cars were, after Stanny started to take an unnatural interest in such things. Previously we'd been over at the other side of the shop looking at model railways and had never had cause (yes if you were not interested in something, why even deign to go the 15 feet into that part of the shop?) to peruse that desk.

We coo and ooh at the games in the glass cabinets and the boxes of Grenadier Solid Gold Line figure sets which are an eye watering £7.95 per set due to high import costs and which it will be another year before I have spare money for such things.

Then it's down Pinstone Street, down The Moor to our target for the days, operations:

Oh look, in the store window there is a painting competition, linked to the newly released Warhammer game, where you have to paint a unit. I'm not yet a figure painter per se, but I am a traditional paper-based artist artistic and the efforts on display (2 of which are done by the staff themselves, but not the legendary Pete 'Greblord' Armstrong, whose style is well known and so the fraud would be detected immediately) are 'crap' in the argot of the times.

We go in, wander around and get glared at by the staff, (because at this stage I am not the 'Gaming God' I grew to become, with the ability break female hearts and melt inferior paint jobs with a raised eyebrow) and I buy a couple of the cheaper dice and a pot of Kingfisher Magenta paint by Poly S. The shop smells of a strange combination of acrylic paint and freshly brewed coffee, and is a smell that to this day floods me senses if I ever encounter it. Mind you, these days it tends to be the smell of gamers that gets noticed more!

At this stage I've not been accepted by the staff as 'the genuine article' nor have I met the likes of Paul Green, Pete White, Paul Stevens, Dez Green, Spike and certainly not the best friends any kid could have, Rog' Smith, Darren Ashmore and Keith Rhodes, so it's off next door to the bakery, but then Stanny suggests that we go up to the sandwich shop behind theThe Moor and get a chip butty on French bread, and sit on the open rooftop bays of the car park, looking out over the city, a favourite, only bettered by the cafe up at Weston Park museum with the psychedelic fibreglass Samurai sculpture in the gallery below, and a wonderful concrete staircase (I love and loathe Brutalist architecture in equal measure, but some features of it just make me think dungeon passageways or starship corridors and then I get a little rosy glow in my flinty old soul).

Lunch finished we walk down the interior ramps of the carpark, until we realise we have not tested the new dice for quality, by dropping them down the stairwell of the car park. This is normally done in the one behind Debenhams on the other side of the precinct, but we are not there and the test must be done. Stony runs dow to the bottom and I to the top. I shout 'bombs away' and wait for the clatter followed by Stanny trying to avoid puddles of piss (this is reversed when he buys dice) and locate the die in question, reporting if the 'high impact' plastic has been marked. Test passed, the dice are pocketed and we cross the road to the side entrance of Redgates...

4 Floors of toys, and it even had stuff from TSR & Chaosium that Games Workshop didn't.

Ask any Sheffield kid born after 1965 and before 1985 about Redgates, and they'll get moist about the eyes, but we are looking for Redgates own enamel model paints which, are being sold of cheaply, and at 10p per tin for 'manila' which is a brilliant natural flesh tone, I am stocking up. I also buy some two part epoxy (powder and liquid) which is German and which sets in 60 seconds as I find out later after guessing what the instructions say. I also buy my first X-Acto knife, and slice my fingers open that afternoon, just opening it, decorating my parent's dining room with fresh, young claret, which spurts out in a lively manner for some minutes before I stop panicking.

Stanny buys a puncture repair kit from the bike department, and we are off again. We cut up past Pippy's the 'go to' shop for the long haired, the 'edgy' scent of incense wafting onto the street, and bringing a sense of the souk to the Steel . We take the backstreets down to West Bar and into the Left biased underground and radical bookstore 'EXIT' where we don't really understand what we are looking at but the books filled with drawings by R.Crumb inspire us, and we know that somewhere, there is a connection between the 'underground' nature of this place and that of roleplaying and wargames.

Now we are off along to the Castle Market again to catch the bus home and 15 minutes later we are walking up the seriously steep Jenkin Road. Stony has to go and help his dad with the repair of his  tyre if we are going to be able to go out on our racing bikes on Sunday, and I want to daub some Fantasy Tribes Zombies I bought a few weeks ago, with manila enamel then poison myself with epoxy and for a grand finale slice open my hand before my parents get back from their day in town with my kid brother and sister.

"Same time next Saturday yeah?"

"See ya.."

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Dobbin Daubin' Done

Well, in less than 30 hours, I've painted 120 Essex 28mm horses representing the current cavalry strength for my New Model Army.

I'm pleased with the finish given the speed, and they will look rather dandy with the riders on them.

Given that I paint for a living, I really don't enjoy using my weekends for painting my own stuff, so to get these done has been quite an achievement. Ignore the shine on the front row. I'd just given them the second matte coat over the anti-UV gloss layer and they were going to be another 30 minutes drying.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

The Times, They Are A-Changin'

It's a curious year for me. I'm making massive inroads on several projects such as my 28mm ECW project, which was sent to the painter and is going to be completed and with me by October, which itself is just around the corner.

I decided that I'd paint 90% of the horses because they are Essex Miniatures and despite the fact that I generally don't paint for myself, the Essex castings are a real joy to paint.

After 20 hours, I have 81 horses done:

My painter sent back the first units of ECW, a couple of weeks ago, as 'test pieces' before throwing himself into twelve regiments of foot, 12 of horse and two of dragoons:

Although I insist that the models are returned with a a high gloss acrylic anti-UV varnish, used by graffiti artists, I matte them down myself using a professional grade art varnish. I am really happy with the test pieces and so I am looking forward to the first 200 pieces arriving at the end of the month.

As you can see, the infantry, dragoons and artillery are a mix of Warlord, Perry and Foundry - all metal.

On the matter of horses, I remember when I first met Roger, he showed me a long shelf in his war-games storage room (lucky lad to have that at 15) which was covered in Connoisseur horses which, he explained, were painted according to the Gilder method, using oil paints.

Fast forward 35 or so years, and I am using a similar method, using acrylic bases mediums.

I being by taking 4 or 5 different 'horse shades' of Kobra spray painted base coat the models. The next stage is (wearing gloves) to apply a good coat of Rowney FW acrylic pigment, and then using lint free material, buff most of it off. You'll already see at this stage, that you have a rather nice horse flesh finish.

Then, stick them down in groups of six on 20mm batons, ready for painting. Then, paint the under shades for the hooves, eyes and manes, noses too, if like me, you like that look, and the socks. Then block in the reins and tacking. Highlight the manes, socks and noses, dot in the eyes and you should have 6 good -looking horses in 60-90 minutes.

After 4 decades, I have decided to get rid of my fantasy collection. I realised that I've not played a game since August of 2019, and I also tend to think of fallen friends and idols, and that makes me get rather maudlin, ponder my own mortality and from there it's a slippery slope.

I also realised that despite owning a fantasy miniatures company, I have none of my own models yet, so my mid term plan is to start over again, using my Satanic Panic Miniatures Hobgoblins. But not yet.

I've decided to go back to one of the classic, and develop an AWI collection, using the proceeds from the disposal of my fantasy. I've started with a Continental force of 14-16 regiments of 30 or so models, with a few guns, cavalry and the usual bits. My wife, who disposed of her massive Dark Elf army, did the same with British, Roger has threatened to bring in the Hessians, and as I write, my brother is being shown pictures of Frenchmen :)

I'm doing a lot of thinking about the 80s recently, and although I can't quite order those thoughts into a series of writings, there's something there that needs to be recorded. I'm really trying to find a way to empirically show just how great the 80s were for gaming, but also despite the sources and community which existed, how outer and underground gaming was. That made it much more interesting and gave the feel of being part of something secretive and almost arcane.

I am taking the whole of August off, so I am hoping to be able to do some serious thinking and writing. I need to do this, because as I say, I am thinking a lot about the things I've done, people I've met and the choices I've made, for better and worse. My life really has been based around gaming in a way that very few people will experience. I need to reassure myself that my life has not been wasted, but moreover I want to use the experiences of the first 50 years of my life to pull those experiences into some really positive quality time involving friends, family and little lead dollies.

My purchases have been limited of late. Apart from the AWI, I have bought a copy of 'Mystic Wood', a classic game I played in 1982 when I found out that one of the 'hard lads' at school was a closet gamer, and three of us used to go to his house at lunchtimes and play this whilst demolishing a few cans of soup and a loaf of bread, saving dinner money for spending at Games Workshop, Beatties and Redgates at the weekend.

Ah, simple pleasures...


Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Rant Time!

In the last 40 years, there have been many changes in this fine hobby, but one which really grinds on my nerves is the dumbing down of armies.

How? I hear you say...

Well, when I was but a lad, every period had it's enthusiasts within a club, to whom you would be directed, or to whom you might speak when you saw a game in progress which made your heart miss a beat.

I recall, that the first time I saw Lloyd Powell with his colourful 25mm Medieval armies, John Armatys with his Marlburians or the entire club's senior membership with their vast ACW displays.

The amount of scholarly knowledge was astounding, and although you could be given a long reading list, they personal 'off the cuff' knowledge was unbelievable.

Armies looked like the illustrations/photographs/descriptions and so you got a really good grounding in the look and feel of a period. Remember that the most recognisable feature back then was the Osprey book; we'd not yet reached the age of the spoon fed, mass produced approach.

My own love of the ECW and Renaissance was fuelled by museum visits, conversations with older gamers (some like Lloyd who were historians and archaeologists) and by reading stuff all over the shop, trying my hardest to refine the details on my 15mm Mike's Models collection.

Indeed, finding that the use of the morion by musketeers in the ECW was nominal, I ripped the figures from my units which were so, equipped, having bought a number of ready made armies from MM.

But, this information came from actual research, rather than from buying a glossy book. It taught me what looked 'right' for a period, which added to the feel and presence of an army. It made me understand the evolution of uniforms and tactics.

This morning I was reading a forum, wherein a gamer was asking what the difference was between the Warlord plastic ECW infantry and the New Model Army figures.

The degree of ignorance of those replying with certainty astounded me, and I realised that the ability to discern differences seems to be in decline.

One of the first things I learned was the NMA saw the introduction of the cassock with tapes (this presents a different outline to the figures) but more importantly the gradual replacement of bandoliers with cartridge boxes. All neophyte stuff, I assure you, but the degree of ignorance on even these minor points was astounding.

It made me wonder just how much reading beyond the Pike & Shotte rulebook they've actually done, or indeed how closely they have looked at the dress of the armies they recreate in miniature.

If you disregard the historical details of the army you are building, then it's a fantasy army (oh, I bet a few people will splutter at that, but it's a fact, you are in the land of Orcs & Goblins if you take this route) and I can promise you that how you approach your going will be affected.

I have seen pictures of ECW games, where the look of the troops and the deployment appears to be Marlburian in theme. I feel equally strongly about Plains Wars games where the Indians look like they stepped from central casting, with Sioux bearing blatantly Apache warpaint.

There is no excuse in this age of information for poor research. The age of ignorance is upon this hobby and it's time we called out those who perpetuate it!


Monday, 29 June 2020

It's Been A Funny Weekend...

I was pretty burned out by Friday night, what with the heat, workload and arthritis in my hands, giving me varying degrees of discomfiture.

So, after a Friday evening with wine and a few episodes of a charmingly funny sitcom from the 80s,; 'Keep It In The Family' (watch it, it really does make you laugh out loud) we were braving the outside world at 9AM on Saturday to collect our new Volvo XC40 (Inscription Pro trim for those interested in such things).

That went well, so observing the current guidelines, we went to check on the memsahib's 79 year old mother who, has been managing alone for the last three months, but who was getting a bit stir crazy.

We returned home in the early afternoon, partook of a little lunch and the sat down to read. The memsahib was nose deep in the Volvo manual (she being the driver) whilst I was reading the crushingly heavy deluxe edition of the Metamorphosis Alpha rules.

Here are the original A4 and the larger deluxe version for comparison:

Then we both fell asleep for two hours which meant that our body clocks were screwed for the day.

Sunday, we crawled out of bed at a shockingly late 06:57 and it went downhill again. We take in post for an older lady three doors away, and had been left some mail on Friday. I'd tried to deliver it twice on Friday, but there was no replay. I looked through the window and door glass, and all seemed quiet and untroubled.

Then, yesterday morning we noticed that a Sainsbury's delivery was in progress and that she was not coming to the door. OK, time to call 101...

Other neighbours went to the rear of the property with the delivery chap - and promptly came out at speed, having found the poor woman, most certainly beyond assistance, laying in a blind spot that was not visible from the front window or door. The French windows at the rear were slightly ajar and so, with the approval of the dispatcher, they had entered whilst I relayed the situation.

Well, that took care of four hours and left us with that displaced sensation such things seem to cause.

I managed to get to my studio and using the oil wash and buff technique beloved of the Gilder and Hoyles school of painting, using instead base coloured models and Rowney FW acrylic inks, got 40 of my ECW horses underway. That took two hours:

That was quite enough for me and so I crawled off into a hot bath with an improving book of army lists.

However, I then did what I guess many of us do, and looked on eBay, it being Sunday, and found 165 Ground Zero 25mm Stargrunt figures listed at £150.

Not bad, given that they were tidily painted and priced at about 50% of bare metal cost.

Now, I like the 'feasible' look of the GZG stuff and as I may have mentioned, I've been drawn to the idea of a series of games fought down starship corridors after a very enjoyable game of 'Encounter 2' put on at SWS by the esteemed gentleman wargamer, John Armatys (may his pipe always burn).

I recently got hold of 'Dark Passages' by Dropwing Game Systems, which recreate a similar feel, and I'd mulled over buying a few figures but not got around to it.


Thus, I was very pleased when I said to the seller that I'd pay £125 for them and he accepted, followed closely by 8 power armoured suits from another seller at bare metal cost:

And so, that was the weekend that wasn't. As you can see, far from the average weekend, but at least I did get manage some gaming related activity.Right, if you will excuse me, I am 39 minutes late for work and have a pile of 1/600 Mulberry harbour sections on my desk, demanding my attention.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Back Once Again, Like Indigestion...

Wow! Is it really three weeks since I put finger to keyboard here?

Well, I apologise, but I have been exceedingly busy, painting for clients on average 11 hours per day and at weekends, I've been working on getting my ECW all sorted and ready to go to the painter of choice, which whilst it sounds easy has literally taken me a month.

You see, I am a martinet, a dyed in the wool, mercurial aesthete of the worst kind when it comes to my ECW figures. I have bought, sifted, sold on and replaced, until I have a nice and (to me) aesthetically pleasing selection of models.

The majority of the foot are Warlord metal models which are a pain in the arse because you have to stick headgear on them all. I went with Warlord for the dragoons too, as they are a nice looking unit, but the sculptor seems to have a thing about having them charging, swords drawn like the fucking Blues & Royals. Obviously he had a Naseby fixation, but generally, I prefer my dragoons looking like lurking, slouching scum of the earth types, who'd rather be at home in the Fens, reading the bible or shagging sheep. That's how dragoons should look.

Last week, the mood took me to knock out a little vignette for my baggage train:

It's titled 'Come back, I love ewe...'

I'm also working on another using a mix of Foundry and Warlord parts, depicting a musketeer in the classic English hooligan pose, which involves running backwards, whilst shouting 'come on you bastards...' and kicking out.

I also painted the Non-Conformist preachers which will be peppered throughout the army:

He'll be painted in an orange uniform as the archetypical 'Essex Boy':

I've also been picking up old games which we either played in the 80s, or which we threatened to, but never did.

First up, is the live action game of assassination, 'Killer' by Steve Jackson Games, which I've bought in both the 1st and 2nd editions:

The 1st ed has arrived, but the 2nd is in the post.

I also bought the farm - quite literally, from EM4 Miniatures, who offer a rather nice, ready to use 'Medieval' farm in 28mm for a very reasonable £91, post free.

Yesterday, the memsahib and I, spent the day spraying up 280 28mm horses and cutting and mounting almost 80 ECW banners to poles. Hard work, but another step closer to the completion of this year's project:

I'm pretty mush tapped out for the year now as I've committed to a 4 figure painting bill which I don't mind, because there are no shows and frankly the fact is, I'd rather be asking and own a large ECW collection, than be skint and have a pile of unpainted lead.

My only other purchase has been another 42 old plastic skeletons to increase my already ludicrously large pre slotta/80s undead army.

To be honest, whilst I am as eclectic as ever, I'm more inclined to simply have one truly expensive project for a year and that's it, with one or two smaller diversions over the year to create the illusion of liquidity over my ten month 'campaign season'. I don't buy anything in November & December as I like to pay for Christmas from my pocket rather than on credit.

My ECW project has rounded out thus:

Sundry command stands
4 wagons
9 guns & crew
9 36 man infantry regiments
2 12 man dragoon units, mounted, dismounted and including horse holders
12 12 man cavalry units
12 train guard

In the first quarter of 2021, I plan to increase the foot and horse unit count by 33% and then that's it for the New Model Army.

I have a hankering for a Catholic Irish force for the 1640s/50s, but I am not settled on that at this point, so that may or may not actually come to pass. I'm a pretty contented gamer at present.

The only thing which is really getting under my skin is building and gaming with Japanese mecha kits in 1/100 scale. In particular, the Xabungle range which I remembered when I ordered the old 'Toon' RPG by Steve Jackson Games the other day. 

Let me explain...

Games Workshop in the very early 80s and up to probably 1985 was a different place, one which the overweight pseudo-bearded youth of today would not be able to exist in, because frankly, they would be eaten alive by the staff for starters... It was no place for Snowflakes or smart arses, as I and others who were in our early teens in 1981 can tell you.

But, GW also sold some great things in those days:

Video games and computers
Electric water pistols with sound effects
The Fighting Fantasy polystyrene dungeon (yes, it DID exist, before you message me to say it was a myth) which was made of the same stuff as the Mighty Fortress)
And, the Xabungle range of mecha kits by Bandai

We'd already been introduced to Macross kits by the late and much missed Peter 'Greblord' Armstrong the resident painter and sage of all things cool and fantastic in GW Sheffield. When GW stocked the Xabungle range, Pete had us hooked like Zartian Gullible Flounders, and so began my love of the sometimes quirky but still 'sweet spot' mecha kits.

I recall that he converted a 1/100 'Crab Type' mecha, so that a Ral Partha Halfling cavalry rider was sitting at the controls. Much mirth was had there.

They were pigs of models to put together, and so we tended to buy and build the Macross series of kits. Trust me, until you've seen a game with 30 or so 1/72 scale Macross kits you have not lived!

And so, when I fondly recalled those days, I got the urge to hunt them down again for purposes of purely selfish satisfaction.

Currently, I'm mulling it over, but I am tending towards the thought that it will be something I do over the winter months.

I've been thinking a lot about sheffield, and indeed the early days of my gaming initiation in the 81-84 period of late. I have distinct thoughts and emotions churning around at present, but I need to form them into something a little more structured before I write of the here. It will happen, but not quite yet, as I can't find a way to convey the world I witnessed and the sights, sounds and smells.

It was a truly different world, and one in which unlike today, gaming was somewhat subversive and 'underground'. I 'm saddened that so many will never experience the genuine thrill and cache of the early days of the hobby. Try as we might to recreate it, it's impossible because the whole environment politically, musically and culturally, was so different.

But, that's another story...


Friday, 29 May 2020

There Was A Time Before Helicopter Parents, When The Hobby Was Young. And So Were We...

Gaming allowed me a lot more freedom than most of my non-gaming peers.

Once parents got their head around the idea that their sons (it really was a male dominated hobby back then, so judge me not, Millennial cherubs) were not actually summoning up daemons in their bedrooms (a couple of years later when the hormones kicked in they probably would've preferred the infernal to the carnal) most gamers I met had a pretty easy time of it.

You see, at clubs and shows we were in the company of the true first generation, many of whom were parents themselves with young families. (Most didn't even muck about when they went away for a weekend with the club. I have a list of those in Sheffield who did, which can be yours for £5 in a plain envelope.)

In those days, we were not obsessed with every adult who spoke to a kid being a 'kiddy fiddler'. On the contrary they would have happily torn apart anyone with sweaty palms and a penchant for little girl's bicycle seats.

They would gladly (albeit sometimes with gritted teeth) take a couple of the junior gamers to a show in another city, dropping them off back home and maybe even popping in to chat with the parents of the kids and have a coffee and a Valium. If we messed about, then parents would not need to know, because we'd have the piss ripped out of us at the club for acting like twats. That was far worse.

At weekends, we went all over the city both shopping and browsing for games and models, but also to the houses of other gamers for 10 and 12 hour gaming sessions followed by sometimes two or three late night buses home unless a parent could be shanghai'd into picking up and delivering several hyperactive youths in the Rocker's uniform of tight jeans, patched denim jacket and varying amounts of patchouli oil.

By the age of 14 I was a three year veteran and a two or three bus ride followed by a walk through the red light area of Doncaster with Roger, Darren, Keith et al, was like a walk to the corner shop. Trust me, we were all streetwise back then because as we all knew, being a 'Hippy' on even the wrong 100 yards of street in Sheffield could get you seriously hurt. Thus our urban survival skills were well honed, and our white Hi-Tec 'Tec' basketball boots (Roger's had red flashes, mine blue - His were cooler according to the social rules of the day. Martin Lightowler I think also had blue...) were always properly laced for a fast acceleration out of a sticky situation.

I'd been all over the country both on day trips and for weekends with the wargames club, and the art of interpreting the arcane timetables of British Railways (This is the age of the train) was a life skill, you needed, if you were going to get to Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds (a real shit hole of a city back then and the one place where my parents insisted I checked in by pay phone from when I went there, and only ever with friends.) or Nottingham. Oddly Manchester was the only place where I nearly got a kicking - in the Arndale Centre after a trip to their GW (never as good as our own branch) which, was an essential pilgrimage and rite of passage.

I think that the only place that we really messed about was our local Games Workshop, managed at the time by Baccus Miniatures, High Poobah, Peter Berry, who ran a tight ship. I am sure that we must have been collectively responsible for some grey hairs along the way, because between trying to circumvent the rules regarding use of the noticeboard by the front counter, chatting up Lisa (we thought), avoiding getting leathered by Jo (bound to happen if we tried any 'funny stuff') and trying to be as cool as Pete & Chris who manned the figure bar (and of whom it is said, Pete Berry allowed a high degree of 'return fire orders' lest we drive them mad - and trust me, what I have since referred to as the 'Armstrong-Gilbride Method' could have a teenage youth literally in tears were they foolish enough to cross them. I did, and they did... But by Gygax, I'd love to experience one of those verbal crucifixatiuons again, because they helped make me (and I guess others too) the imbalanced and cynical bastard I am today - HUSSAH!

If Pete B, noticed you, you were on death row. Worse still, if Cy the store enforcer got his teeth into you, you were fucked. Phil tended to be less bothered with the youths who freqented the store. He was always pretty even tempered, and hung around in the computer section (yes they had a computer games section) and even looked professional. Oddly, in all the pre corporate years of GW, I generally only browsed down the left hand side of the store and stayed away from the books (That was what the Sheffield Space Centre and Methodist Book Shop were for) , but had I been less of a martinet, I could have probably got me a GW girlfriend, had I only been willing to cross mediums of media... Ah well.

My parents over the years must have spent some serious money on feeding ever-hungry gamers, as must Darren, Simon, Keith and Roger's. Darren Ashmore's Mum Sheila, like my own mum was forever calling half a dozen lads to come downstairs, inviting them to empty the larder. You could have fun with Darren, as he was vegetarian, and if his mum served us a ham sandwich we could get him into conniption fits by touching the condiment bottles to the surface of the ham. It was Martin Lightowler, who went to school with Daz, who got me into this habit and because Darren would get a real strop on, it was fun. However, if Darren was running the game, you had to think twice about where you put the sauce bottle as it were, leds he have an orc put it's mace somewhere you found unpleasant.

Also, as Darren was the one with the 48K ZX Spectrum and a game called 'Attic Attack' he could have his revenge at will...

I've noticed that whilst many of us have gone off and done our own things and become generally respectable adults, we've most not forgotten the youths we were. My wife and I got together a few years after this 'golden age' and she is still amazed how we can not see or speak to each other for a quarter of a century, and then just pick up in the same manner, albeit with sterner faces.

It's not a bad thing either, because in these days of middle age and the world being a far less fun place to negotiate, being able to 'socially downsize' is a useful coping mechanism. Oh sure, we can be all serious when the need arises, but a bit of good youthful repartee is a wonderful tonic for the soul.

For example, I mentioned to a certain friend formerly the owner of red flashed trainers, that I had bought a large flock of sheep along with my ECW army, and he has made several witty remarks about them including the statement that they are the only troops I have, able to stand up to a Royalist cavalry charge. We cause nobody harm with this, and if anyone should judge us by such banter, well, they can foxtrot oscar in my opinion.

It probably appears that our parents were uncaring as to our whereabouts, but in fact they were quite the opposite. We simply did not need 'helicopter parents'. We all knew and were reminded of the rules of engagement in a given theater, and were aware that the airdrops and airlifts would take place at a set time and place. If we were not there or broke the R.O.Es then we would suffer a parental airstrike, or in my case, do time in the glasshouse.

two weeks out of the loop with your peer group could seriously disrupt the group dynamics. Indeed, it was my detention at parental pleasure doing a 14 stretch on house arrest that led to me meeting Darren, and the now legendary exchange which began an almost 40 year friendship.

It was the abuse of the GW noticeboard which put Roger and I on a collision course to a similar deep friendship.  I actually realised as I wrote this, that Roger was the first of my age group who was like me, interested in historical wargaming (OK, he has unnatural thoughts about Gilder Colonials and Napoleonics, but he's a year younger than I, and will grow out of it I'm sure) and to this day is the person I'd choose to play a historical game with, from those heady days of yore. Darren too, became a historical gamer and was one of the small number of my peers who went with me into ECW reenactment. My, those two don't half get my memories flooding back...

Sometimes, smallest and most absurd things can make the most difference. I've tried over the years to imagine how I'd have turned out were it not for that seemingly massive leap of faith our parents made, but after a few times waking at 1AM with a scream and in a sweat after dreaming of a life of such mundanity, I'm just relieved that I met such a bunch of insane, funny and true friends.

I just wish I'd been able to put those feelings into words a hell of a lot sooner.


Thursday, 28 May 2020

Honest Thoughts & Reflections...

It's been a funny couple of weeks, since my dog was euthanised. I've been in a sort of limbo whilst still functioning and also engaging in my hobby.

For a few days I was totally bereft in a way which I have never been, even with the loss of family.  I can say without hyperbole that there were several moments where I simply said out lout, 'what's the point?'.

I even said to my wife that I could very easily just 'stop it all, and move on.'

Anyone who might be reading this who knows me, will know that I am vehemently anti-suicide and that despite some dark moments in my life, I've not just grabbed the nettle, but have then gone on to stick it up the arsehole of existence, without courtesy.

Thankfully, my wife was there for me, as was a friend who is still himself getting over the effects of serious illness, and who I though I tried not to burden, I was fully certain was there if I needed him.

Friend is probably too light a term, to be plainly honest. And my wife is my soulmate, without a doubt. So I want to publicly show my love and appreciation to those two people.

I think the last time I felt this bad was after the falling out with Sheffield Wargames Society, and which is probably one of the reasons despite invites from the new committee to go back down to said club, we've not bothered.

It seems that although a generally hard faced and exceedingly hot headed and forthright motherfucker, I can be, when something which flies in the face of my personal ethical code goes down, I take a hell of a hit. At that point it can go three ways.

I. I fight back and do twice unto others as they have done unto me.

II. I (rarely) acquiesce and accept that shit happens.

III. It's such a hit that I end up in a logical argument which goes like this 'What's the point? It's so easy just to turn yourself off.' versus 'The point is that you exist, so continue to do so, despite the absurdity of it'.

The last option has only happened probably 4 times in 52 years and hell, I don't like it when it does.

The upshot is that I have really, really been looking inwards and backwards, taking stock and obviously, as games have been part of my life for almost 41 of my 52 years, it's made me look for the core experience.

Happily, I can report that I am already doing what needs to be done. My ECW project has been refined to perfection, with the plastic models being scraped in favour of metal, using models which I like and which are from an assortment of manufacturers, which was the norm, when I started out.

I'm planning with Roger, my wife, and my brother to play assorted types of game, but in the end the name of said games is 'fun'.

I had planned to start with early Parliamentarian, but truth be told I have to start with New Model Army in order to go full circle and back to my roots, despite claims that I am being elitist from the Royalist camps...  :-)

I'm also seriously thinking of pulling the plug on conventions because they are so vastly different in feel and content, that I see absolutely no point in wasting a day at a show, unless I am going there to put on a game or trade.

I have been having flashbacks to my youth, but not the usual ones, and so, I also need to write it all down, and also to fill the gap which I left in my book 9 years ago, so as I plan to take August off in it's entirety, I may have to do that during my sabbatical.

One thing I am sure of, is that I have a lot more gaming to do, and I am doing it with people I want to spend precious time with.

I foresee, some sarcastic banter, and feel that wine will be needed in large quantities. Not to calm the situation you understand, but to enhance the pleasure I know I will experience in making up for lost time.

So, although I fell into darkness, I have apparently been clad in white and returned to to Middle Earth. And boy, am I going to make the most of it.

Let me say, that if you ever feel that life is pointless, you are wrong. Speak to a friend or family member you trust. Look up at the sky every morning, and just marvel that you are able to see it. Don't let the world get to you. It can be hard, but start by turning off the news, address the cause and kick it smartly in the bollocks.

Life is a game - Don't worry about playing to win. Just refuse to lose.


Friday, 15 May 2020

A Black Friday But, More Figures...

Friday was one day I do not want to repeat...

One of my dogs, Dougal ('my' dog) was diagnosed with a second strain of cancer on Wednesday. Today, he had deteriorated to the point thathad to have him euthanised, which has left me quite literally hurting all over.

This was Dougal at 8 weeks old, a Scottish Terrier who was so very different from all of our other pack members:

And he grew into a stunning boy:

So, I need a couple of days over the weekend to get my head in a better place.

I'll lose myself somewhat (says he, hopefully) in building Warlord plastic cavalry, of which 5 boxes have arrived out of 11 in total.


As I travelled home, Martin sent me the sketches for the 6 stretch goal hobgoblins and the heads.
So, after that bit of morbid news at the start, here you are:

I don't think I was able to properly appreciate them yesterday, but Martin has really preserved the classic look whilst adding models which the older lines lacked, giving a true sense of a tribal hierarchy.

All of these are unlocked now, so there's no better time to leap on board as we head for the finish line with the Kickstarter:

Looking forwards, it's time that the original muti-part giants were refreshed, and so I've tasked Martin with coming up with an entire range to match and actually improve on, the original 'C' series models, including poses which are 'bowling', 'swatting' and a set of legs to let you make use of those big plastic dinosaurs or whatever takes your fancy and create your own giant cavalry.

They are going a step further than the originals in that they will have split legs and torsos as well as separate heads and weapons. Yes, once again, Satanic Panic is going to go that little bit frther with multi-part insanity.

Some have suggested I go with resin, but I am an unabashed lover of white metal castings, so unless I have to, then metal will be the medium used.

I am also now planning the Undead and a second run of Hobgoblins for 2021 with female Berserks and maybe, 'The Court Of The Great Khan’.

Also in the pipeline are Regiments Of Repute, with a single pose of trooper, leader, musician and standard bearer, but with separate heads. These will cover all the major races of classic fantasy - and more besides.

Pretty exciting stuff eh?


Thursday, 14 May 2020

Lockdown, A Change Of Figures & Hobgoblins

It's an odd world we live in at present. Or is it?

I've noticed that there are many things which remind me strongly of the 70s and 80s, and as you may imagine, I've embraced that feeling and run with it.

As I have joked, I spent a lot of my teenage years on lockdown, due to my Mum grounding me for some ludicrous infractions. Home late for tea, would get me a 7 day stretch, whilst being in at 21:10 instead of 21:00 would get me a 14 stretch. If I argued I would get a 28 days at Her Majesty's Displeasure.

I've covered this at length in my book together with the mechanisms I developed for getting 'sprung'.

My compadre, Roger and I have really got our mojo on for the ECW again, as have my wife and indeed my younger brother. This was something we did a lot of in the 80s when I was not doing time or hanging around the figure bar at Games Workshop.

We've been real martinets about it too. You see, we used to just base stuff for WRG, then we sort of went to WRG meets element basing, and now that we've got back together, we've sort of thrown hard and fast basing sizes out of the window, in favour of scenic and narrative bases. It's about the aesthetic.

But, of course that has had to have an agreed formula that we feel looks right. Base width has been set at 50mm for a shot element with two elements forming an 8 man sleeve of shot. If you go to 12 men, then two 75mm wide bases works well. Depth has been sort of agreed at 50mm which allows some nice space for positioning.Pike blocks are based exactly as that, and we are using 100x100 bases with the entire block on it. We are big boys and girls with 40 years of gaming experience... We can handle it!

Cavalry was the pain in the ass for me. In the end 100 wide by 80 deep seems to work well with 3 or 4 figures. 3 bases make up a unit, and of course you can use 4 bases at 75mm wide and still cover the same frontage. Simple right? It took us a couple of weeks of sometimes quite waspish emails to agree that.

Field artillery has to be on big fucking bases and it's going nowhere once you place it, according to roger. I couldn't agree more.

I bought £1100 worth of Bicorne ECW, but to be honest, I found the castings to look as if they'd been very quickly spun with metal not quite hot enough. They were a little rounded and certainly not worth the price tag. So, my wife bought the lot at a bargain price and now has her Royalists sorted.

I have bought Warlord plastics for the horse, and Warlord metals for the Dragoons, Cuirassier and Foot. The artillery and baggage is a mix of Perry and Foundry (£48 for three guns & crew? REALLY?) and I couldn't resist a flock of sheep, which a cheeky wag known to me as Roger, quipped 'Is the only unit I have that will stand up to a Royalist cavalry charge!' - Cheeky sod.

I've also been really getting into old school post apocalyptic gaming and ordered the original Metamorphosis Alpha as well as the entire range for the new retro-inspired Mutant Crawl Classics. Alas, I can't read the rules because I could not get a set outside the U.S with the lockdown supply chains cut. Then I found a UK book store via Alibris who had a copy and apparently they shipped it the same day... But they LIED and it was ordered from the U.S which, I could have fucking done myself, so I'll not be ordering from GreatBookPrices because in my opinion they are a bunch of tossers who don't do what it says on the tin...

In other news, my latest Kickstarter for old school styled Hobgoblins is going stellar. With 14 days left on the campaign, its over 200% funded.

Take a look here:


I also just received a new sculpt from Martin Buck, who has totally outdone himself with a reimagining of  a classic Hobgoblin, with mutations.

Here's the pics that Martin sent me:

According to Martin (who I think, I may have broken) it's the spikiest figure he's ever sculpted. I can honestly say that I just don't have the superlatives to hand which can really convey how pleased I am with this sculpt. He is perfectly styled and Martin has gone to amazing lengths to produce a stunningly detailed model which simply oozes old school atmosphere and class.

You can preorder Tokygurini here:


Well, I better go and do a days work,


Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Post Apocalyptic Pike Blocks

I confess, that with my workload averaging 10-12 hours per day, I am not finding much time at all for enjoying my hobby. That said, there are no conventions, no way to get together face to face (you can forget remote gaming, because I am old school, and whilst I embrace technology in general I will not sully my gaming with Skype, Roll20 or the like) so my focus is somewhat different.

I am horrified that we may soon be able to go back to meeting in large cattle shed-like halls and spread something between each other (you will recall my comments on that twat at Hammerhead who got way too close to me with his foetid, grease laden outpourings) and thus I have essentially written off 2020 - quite happily, I might add.

To be perfectly honest, I have pretty much allocated my annual budget already, but not in the somewhat 'shotgun' way I'd planned at the start of the year. Rather, I've spoken with Rodger, the memsahib and my brother and we are all very focussed on where we are going.

My wife is head down, working on an enormous (and I mean enormous) Marauder Dark Elf army, before commencing on her ECW Royalists in 28mm.

My brother is also reminding his ECW mojo and is working on a Parliamentarian force.

And then Roger and I are indulging in what he calls 'the arms race' as I build a Parliamentarian and he a Royalist force. Roger is pulling together an army of stunted and no doubt inbred Foundry Royalists,  but I have tall, well fed Parliamentarians from Bicorne.

(I can hear Roger seething as I write this)

So as you can see, the focus is on getting ECW onto the field  by the Autumn and getting some gaming going on a regular basis.

I've also been listening to the Grognard Files podcast where the old Gamma World RPG was the subject of the latest episode along with a mention or two of Metamorphosis Alpha, the second oldest RPG, which is wonderfully available again and being supported.

So, as I have allocated funds for the painting of the ECW and put the Cold War on the back burner, I spent the rest of my spending money on Metamorphosis Alpha and Mutant Crawl Classics which is arguably the best retro-clone Gamma World substitute, with a great retro look, non-ironic retro feel and what's more a brilliant selection of traditional modules.

I bought everything with the exception of the Judges screen and one module, neither of which are currently in stock in the UK, which gives me two little spends to look forward to during the next 5 months of sending money to my painter.

I rounded out my year's spending with a copy of the Labyrinth Adventure Game from Riverhorse, which looks jolly good fun indeed.

So, you can see, the focus is very much on rules-light retro RPG-ing and plenty of ECW gaming.

I managed to get hold of a supply of PVA and as I have my own range of static grass, I'm planning to use the bank holiday weekend to flock and detail the Noch gaming boards I bought a few months ago.

Yes, despite the lockdown, it's all go!


Sunday, 26 April 2020

Back Once Again Like The Renegade Master...

Well, it's been 11 days since my last post, mainly due to work and the fact that I've been waiting for large deliveries of ECW models from Bicorne and Empress as well as a couple of ready painted units.

At present I can put together:

108 horse in 12 troops

24 Dragoons including mounts, dismounts and the whole shebang

5 artillery pieces

11 regiments of foot at 28 men per unit

A lot of mounted officers and staff

The main thing now is basing. I'm having an email discussion with Roger regarding this subject as we both want aesthetically pleasing units, but also want to avoid the awfully tightly packed 'bean counter' basing of the 70s and 80s, which also avoiding the damned awful look of the DBM bases which let's face it depicted social distancing, way ahead of the fashion with bloody great elements with 3 models on them.

I thought I had it yesterday, but after being awake since 04:12AM, I have mulled and reconsidered and I think I have a better idea, which I've sent over to Rog' for his consideration.

He'll roll his eyes I am sure at my missive as is his way, but that is one of the things which has always been a hallmark of a debate or conversation with my friend.

I did paint a couple of commanders at the weekend, and although they are not yet based, here they are:

The riders are Trent Miniatures Royalist personalities repurposed to serve a plenipotentiaries for Parliament, whilst the serving boys are Bicorne. At the moment they are part way through basing in my studio, with the basic groundwork and debris added and awaiting painting.

Right, I better go and start what is to be a long day in the studio.

In the meantime, my latest Kickstarter for 28mm multi-part Hobgoblins in the 'classic' style is over 150% funded in a little over 10 days.

Take a look at it here: