Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Old school rock for an old school gamer...

8 hours after setting foot out into the blazing afternoon sun besieging the dark Tower, and I am home from what has to rate as the finest gig I have been to.

The First Direct Arena in Leeds was packed to the gunwhales and what a show we got.

Three hours of solid Fleetwood Mac perfection.

If I die tonight, I might not actually be too distressed after witnessing musical heaven.

Tusk's video (above) looked a like a Chaos summoning ritual!

This is about 2/5 of the crowds. It was heaving with humanity.

Now it's bedtime for Bonzo... Perhaps to dream of painting Dwarves.


Immortality is not an option...

With the sad news this week that Chris Squire, co-founder and bassist with prog rock legends 'Yes' had passed away at age 67, my attention was drawn to the fact that he was only my senior by 20 years.

That's 20 more birthday cards, christmas dinners and only about 80-100 more conventions.

A stark reminder that, contrary to popular belief and gamer lore, we are all mortal. And that made me shiver in the early hours, despite the heatwave in the UK at the moment.

And so, as I sit at my desk and look around my studio, I realise that a life of selectively collecting and acquiring things of joy and beauty to gamers and similarly-minded pop culture enthusiasts (let's not use the G-word) I am a at once a little distressed at the whole mortality business, depressed that I have ostensibly wasted so much time on such ephemera and yet, elated that I can literally get up and cross the floor and touch something which was created by one of many artists who have brightened the lives of thousands - if not millions - of people who were lucky enough to witness their brief tenure on this blue marble in an ink-black vacuum. Not just a print, mind you but the actual painting or sketch into which some of the creator's essence must have seeped as they sought to leave their mark on the day-to-day history of mankind. It may not change the world, but it may change one kid, sitting in his or her bedroom and from that those kids may carry on giving life to dreams.

My own book, was a an attempt at achieving some degree of therapeutic catharsis. It worked to a large degree, but what is better than an emotional purging, is when I receive an email or in some cases get stopped at a convention to be told how much someone has enjoyed my story or how they have had such a similar life thanks to gaming and music. It's a really powerful and humbling feeling when you realise that your own brief time has affected someone else positively, doubly so when they take the time to use a measure of their own time to tell you in person.

Because gaming has been such an integral part of my life for better and for worse, I have to relate to the world through my window of experience. Thus even those musings on the human condition and my own mortality therein are tinged connected and interpreted through gaming.

I am now more determined than ever to get out and see the exhibitions, and listen to the bands I've not seen yet. Ironically, it is only two weeks since I purchased tickets to see 'Yes' next May. Tonight I am off to see Fleetwood Mac, who I have wanted to see for years and whose music I always equate with painting a Dwarf army back in 1987, in a squalid shared house, in the middle of what was a relationship which was spiralling like a wounded wyvern towards a pine forest. Well two positives versus one negative is a majority isn't it?

Although I have pretty much done with historical gaming, I am planning a couple more fantasy projects and have two model railways being professionally built for me, so I have a lot to get my teeth into, and I'll be damned if I leave them unfinished, as I have countless times before, believing that 'there's always tomorrow.'

Sometimes a healthy reminder of mortality can be just what the apothecary ordered.


Thursday, 25 June 2015

Walking the 1st ed walk... Getting the proper 80s look.

Oldhammer... Or as we old timers call it , Warhammer is as we know all the craze.

But, I think what separates the old sweats from the Johnny-Come-3rd-Ed-&-Afters is a 'vibe' which you don't just get from buying a set of rules and some over-priced old figures. Indeed as I opined previously, Citadel figures do not an Oldhammer army make.

Let's take a couple of moments to look at what the middle of the road Warhammer 1st ed player looked like in 1982. I know there will always be exceptions, but there are some themes which ran deep in those days.

First of all, most gamers were literate, dreamers and creatively minded. That may sound like a no-brainer, but believe me, the general intellect these days is not what it was in your local corporate gaming store. And that goes for the staff too, I fear...

Secondly, there was a definite slant towards rock music, particularly progressive rock by the likes of Genesis, Pink Floyd, Marillion, Starcastle, Rush and YES. Now as most of us all wanted to belong, but at the same time be recognised as unique, this could lead to some interesting musical explorations. I was firmly in the Marillion and Rush camp, but felt that it was important to stamp my mark by listening to Fatal Charm from Nottingham as well as Men Without Hats and Haysi Fantayzee. My mate Pete was into a the more 'earthy' record covers and so he was known to listen to 'Witchfinder General' whilst the more pretentious Paul was trying to convince us that Dire Straights were what the the superior ear was listening to, despite our protestations (behind his back, as is right and proper for a gamer) that he was just a twat. Another mate Simon was heavily into Suzanne Vega, who was pretty outre back in the day.

Then there was the clothing... Now, the 80s as many of will shudder to remember were a time when self-expression through clothing was the norm. Although normal is not something that many of the styles brought to mind.

So, the uniform for the discerning prog rocker, at it's finest would start with the feet, thus;

Hi-Tec 'Tec' boots. These came commonly with a blue flash, although every so often you saw a 'right flash git' with red...

Next would come skin tight jeans, which left little to the imagination, thus:

Striped jeans were acceptable, but even in those sartorially liberal days, this was not:

T-shirts declaring your love for your favourite bands were the norm:

T-shirts like this were not:

For those 359 days of the year that it was not warm enough to leave the house without your coat, we had the Italian Combat jacket, easily recognisable because of the star insignia on the collar ends. These jackets also came with an elasticated crotch strap designed to be fastened over the combat trousers. I and many other gaming pals can tell you that all it serves to do when worn with skin tight jeans, is to castrate the wearer:

The essential accessory, which at the time was still uncommon (because the West had not begun bombing the Middle East yet) was the shemagh. Normally this would be in red or black. If worn properly you could store any unwanted food in it, making it useful for day long travels around local gaming stores:

And finally, there was the matter of what to splash on after the morning prayer asking to be able to shave soon:

And there you have the essential components that you really need to hunt down in order to be able to truly embrace the old school Warhammer experience. Errr actually there is one more fundamentally essential item you'll need; A sharp haircut:

And that's about it, apart from to consider how you carry your retro figures to games. Modern carrying cases simply won't cut the mustard my friend. Oh no - You need one of the two most common state of the art 80s methods:

If you are planning on running a display game, your chances of taking the first prize, will be increased a hundred-fold if you take the time to mach your sartorial choices to the game you are playing:


Saturday, 20 June 2015

A Question Of Scale

I was taking lunch today with a friend, and as we do, we were discussing this and that about our fine hobby.

Now, I am severely old school in my tastes, and so I was explaining to D that I'm pretty much finished with historical wargaming, but that I still have a desire to play fantasy genre games with friends and family.

I also explained that as of 18:34 last night I actually owned zero figures...

That's right, zero.

For reasons I don't intend to recount again, 36 years of collecting has gone out of the window, either sold, donated or binned. Now before anyone tells me how foolish I was and how valuable they are... I FUCKING WELL KNOW! I have more idea than most of these armchair experts who pronounce the value and rarity of stuff, normally with an astounding degree of inaccuracy and scant knowledge.

They are toy soldiers, which pre 1990 will in all probability become dust in the reasonably immediate future. And just because you paid £100 for that rare, unreleased Dwarf Rent Boy it's not proofed against entropy.

How d'ya like dem apples?

But that aside, I still have a lot of boardgames, books, RPGs and the like and so I could still probably pay for one hell of a funeral.

Now, I am heavily invested in original artwork, model railways and a couple of other things. This means that coupled with the fact that I spend my working day painting for a living, I really don't want to spend weekends painting toys (as I have previously stated).

So, I am drawing up a list of attributes that would need to be taken into account for me to have one kick arse fantasy army.

1. Old school credentials.

2. A certain quirkiness

3. Good looks

4. Low painting time

5. Hordes of the little buggers

And so, as we tucked into dim sum, assorted Cantonese regional dishes and some green tea, we discussed which army and which figures would best fit those criteria.

Minifigs went straight out of the window, as the re-releases are I am sure sponsored by Dick Turpin or Stede Bonnet.

Hinchcliffe are bloody awful, with a few exceptions.

Citadel was also cast out because - and let me be uncharacteristically blunt here - everybody thinks that these are the only fucking figures we had in the 80s!

That left us with:

Denizen. Authentic old school figures that are wonderfully sculpted and realistically proportioned.

Warrior. The original budget figures which, whilst simplistic, can be painted quickly and made to look very nice indeed.

Essex. Whilst overpriced when compared to their historical ranges, Essex are very well sculpted and cast models with a degree of originality.

The problem is, that none of these have everything I want in one package.

Secondly, they vary in scale.

For today's connoisseur, it seems that the concept of mismatched figures is a major issue. This diverges from the traditional view of we, who are old enough to remember when White Dwarf brought us monthly reports of more than just GW products and suggested where they may be useful in the new game they had produced, which I think was called 'Warhammer'.

Back in the day, if you liked a particular range of figures, you bought a few units of the models you liked, and into your army they went. This meant, that as you shopped and your army grew (and we had armies rather than the armed stag parties which seem to be a la mode these days) you had figures of all sizes and stature. And it didn't matter one jot!

What mattered was that you had an army with a real feel of the fantastic that was unique to you. Some of us had identically sed units, and some of us had irregular units which even (I can hear the sound of gamers heads hitting the keyboard as they faint) had a mix of manufacturers in them.

It was a n awesome time...

What did matter, was that basing strictures were tightly followed. It does not really mater how many figures are on the bases or indeed the figure scale, so long as you have the correct bases for the system you are playing. In trying out armies for competitions, we often used blank bases with just a single model on one of them as a means of identification, until we knew which army list was going to work. Horror of horrors, we sometimes just used the bases and wrote the details on them.

Some people call these game counters I believe, and play these things called board games, which don't have figures at all.

I think that by mixing manufacturers, you get an army unique to you and spread your wealth across a wider spectrum of manufacturers. As your collection grows, you find that certain units of certain figures adopt their own 'personalities' and this adds to the pleasure of the hobby. It's amazing what a difference it makes, simply adopting the same painting style across myriad models. You become scale blind in short order and the games you play will not suffer for it.

So what if your opponent does not share your taste and aesthetics - Fuck 'em!

A great part of this hobby, is creating things of beauty. And as the old adage goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


PS: In the end I decided upon Warrior skeletons with Grenadier cavalry, zombies and characters. One or two Citadel models may be included for character and variety.

Friday, 19 June 2015


What legacy will the 70s and 80s generation of wargamers actually leave when they collectively fail their saving throws and go to the toolbox in the sky?

It's anyone's guess at the moment...

It's a complicated subset of the hobby, because many of those who led the charge as it were in the early days of gaming were very polarised. They either loved or hated fantasy and science fiction gaming, in the same way that the publishing world was split over the early sword and sorcery authors.

Wargaming was a hobby for gentleman tacticians, with set formulae for casualties, movement and the like based on men, mounts and cannon (OK, and bows, slings etc). There was no way to accurately quantify the effects of being an Orc or a Troll may have on the same formulae. And that meant that imaginary gaming was something to deride and shun as 'not proper wargaming'.

Hot on the heels of this 'Gen 1' came 'Gen 1.1', not the sons and daughters of those early pioneers, but those only a few years their junior, but for whom the comic books and literature was increasingly becoming less about WW2 and more about Judge Dredd, Slaine and other out of this world characters. It was a time when the cover of a rock album could sit next to a fantasy novel and be indistinguishable, where Tolkien was everywhere and age old social conventions were broken. In short it was a time of change.

The elder group may have led the way in establishing the hobby, but the younger generation with their new ideas and views were the generation which propelled the hobby into becoming an industry.

For the first time, there was a need for higher production standards, larger and more varied conventions, and a willing on the part of the young Turks to play whenever, whatever with whomever.

Some clubs diversified and others split as lines were drawn across periods and genre.

By the mid-90s the hobby was looking rather shabby, but then at the back end of that decade, the children of 'Gen 1.1' (yes, it seems that those Hi-Tec wearing, mullet bearing school boys had managed to breed - one assumes deliberately) began to take an interest as Magic The Gathering and Warhammer became the dominant products for the gaming hobby, for better or for worse.

The fathers of these kids now had the spending power to re-immerse themselves in the pastime of their youth and so the hobby was saved as a market in retro systems and a general gaming renaissance ensued.

Which leads us to the present...

A large section of 'Gen' 1 has seemingly become the metaphorical wargaming fly in amber, refusing to try anything that is too modern or which involves technology. In a world that is changing so rapidly that we can speak in real time with anyone, anywhere in the world from our computers, tablets and mobiles, this is unfathomable. There is always a generation gap of sorts, but even my 93 year old Grandmother has a DVD player, digital TV etc...

So, imagine that you have a 'traditional show' which not only prefers to ignore or pay mere lip service to the part of the hobby which spends the largest amounts, but decides that it prefers not to us modern means of communication and commerce - much to the consternation of traders wishing to attend - and you have a problem.

Add to this a general sense of what appears to be 'It's our show and we'll do what we fucking please, as long as the books balance' and you are going to see the death of some major shows, some of which have run for 2 decades or more.

Let's use a couple of illustrations to make a point here:

Were all kinds of gaming embraced - or at least tolerated, modern commerce and communications methods employed and awareness of the market attempted to even a basic degree, the wargames hobby would look like this:

Companies increasingly sell over the internet at discounted rates and shows - although still useful as a showcase for products - play a decreasing part in the act of commerce.

Instead with the elitism, commercial ignorance and general unwillingness which pervades certain parts of the hobby, it looks like this:

There will be some I am sure who remark that the above has better dentistry than your not so humble correspondent. This may be true, but proves my point about attitude and outlook.

We are at a point in the history of our hobby where the potential for a golden future is easily attainable. Unfortunately, unless the self-professed guardians of the hobby descend from their tarnished ivory towers and adapt and evolve their outlook, the legacy left will not be one to be proud of.

Certainly, one may indulge in collective back patting in isolation, but surely it would be better to be remembered for metaphorically sliding sideways into the grave, all guns blazing, than to merely kneel down by the ditch and wait passively for the bullet to the back of the head?

There is room for everyone in this hobby; room for everyone to make a difference, if they merely acknowledge that there are areas of space other than their own, and that because we all share the same love of playing imagination games, they can move freely between those spaces without become something less than they believe they are. In fact by looking into those other spaces we could all make the history of this fine hobby so much more than the sum of its parts

Alas, it seems that it's easier to castigate someone who thinks differently, than to speak to them and find out why...

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Force multiplication through element basing

As some of you may have read, I am working on my Men Of The East army for 1st ed Warhammer.

Now, the figures arrived yesterday and are large and irregularly posed fellows in huge turbans, as befits proud Sons of the East.

Now, we have the old chestnut of basing and ranking up...

Those of us who were there at the start will know that the basing sizes were based on old 25mm scale models, in neat poses and as such a 20 x 20 base was more than enough.

As scale creep came along, basing could look decidedly odd, with models advancing with one shoulder forward, the other back, giving the appearance of a formation dancing Ska Boys!

At the end of the day, what governs the unit is the base footprint. 40 figures will always take up the same space and so the basing is the important factor.

To this end, you can do exciting things with less figures and not have the stiff and tricky posing you'd get otherwise.

With irregular armies (mobs, for those of you with Orcs & Goblins) you want a wild look, and you can also make it work where you have large bodies of formed archers or crossbows.

I am using a standard base of 40 x 40 for my M.O.T.E representing a 2 x 2 figure 'element'. I will use 3 figures per base which means that a 60 man unit will only use 45 models.

I have used this before with 7 or 8 models on a 10 figure base footprint. I wanted to convey a headlong Zulu charge over walls, with ranks of men being shot down. Here's a couple of pics from 2011 which illustrate ho effective the above method can look...

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Not Dead, Just Ailing...

Recently, I have noted several forum and blog posts which posit that the traditional two day wargames show is dead.

I do not agree with the general statement but I do have a few thoughts which I will share.

Arguably, the 1980s wargames scene was at it's high point. Show organisers who could afford a decent venue for two days (or even one) essentially had (as I have heard over the years many times) 'a licence to print money'.

The number of shows and the number of kids, coupled with the fact that this was the era of the 'cheque book wargamer' gave a rich environment for making money as long as the organising groups put in a little effort to make their trade customers welcome. It was the CBW's who help steer the hobby into the big time, but also whom put off the gentleman gamer or the school kid on £3 per week with their disdain for anything which was not wildly expensive or 'boutique'. 

Typically, a club would be working flat out to set up from Friday afternoon  through to Saturday morning, and then from close of business Sunday until about ten PM. Three days of pretty hard graft would ensure the financial security of a club for the next twelve months.

Good advertising would ensure that people would be lining up outside the venue for an hour, just to get in.

The very best shows embraced every kind of gaming, reenactment, competition games and painting competions. Some also ran seminars, which I always enjoyed due to my involvement in the gaming industry.

Then, in the mid 90s it was as if a kind of collective lethargy set in along with several changes within the industry. Coupled with the rise of the internet, this resulted in shows falling by the wayside and even the larger shows losing some of the bustle of the previous decade.

Those organising the shows were starting to age (who doesn't?) and the teenagers of the 80s now being involved in establishing families and careers, but in a tighter economic environment than the previous generation of gamers.

Magic The Gathering took it's toll on the traditional types of gaming and the industry was slow to react and adapt. 

Historical miniature gaming was not drawing in the kids to the stores, fantasy was holding it's own and in fact was doing OK, becoming the place 'where the money was'.

A number of shows seemed to recoil against the upsurge in fantasy, and reduced the amount of fantasy content. Within a couple of years you could see familiar faces who were more interested in fantasy and sci-fi, making informed decisions not to attend shows where there was little for them. After all, why spend money to get into a venue if there's nothing you want to buy. The standard of 'off the shelf' gaming terrain means that whereas crowds could be 'wowed' by use of static grass and clever brushwork in the 80s, in the decades that followed, many people had equally good gaming set-ups in their own home.

The Warhammer generation were interested in historical subjects, but they were equally invested in the fantastic and imaginary. They were into slick mechanics which gave a good game, but were turned off by the traditional WRG type rules (I like both types, so personally I was not affected), so when Warhammer Ancient Battles came on the scene, there was a serious upsurge in historical games. When the first hard plastic 28mm historical miniatures came along from the Perry twins a whole new renaissance in gaming began.

There was the potential again, for a second golden age of gaming, with first, second and third generations of gaming all coming together no matter what their individual tastes, to build a hobby which ten years earlier was seen as being on it's last legs.

Some organising bodies, took the baton and embraced the change, got professional in their planning and presentation of their show. And those shows grew and grew. 

A prime example is Vapnartak in York, which has gone from strength to strength, and frankly should take a leaf from the model railway exhibition which is held at the same venue a few weeks later, and use more of the building. There is scope there for Vapnartak to become a Northern counterbalance to Salute.

Salute of course is the rampaging wildebeest in the show calendar, but I fear that we gamers put too much store in a show which is actually too large to get around in a single day. I personally think that Salute would be better as a two day event.

Several shows, despite having strong attendance, didn't move with the times and have suffered or disappeared. It may be a generational thing in that fresh blood needs to be injected into the organisational structure to embrace the changes in the hobby and the industry as well as taking advantage of new technologies. Perhaps, if you have a show which is capable of covering it's costs on trade stand bookings, you might consider a £1 entry fee, or like Britcon's trade show don't charge. 

In the last few years, several manufacturers have started having open days which deliberately clash with shows known to not support the games that their customers enjoy the most. One of those at least, is doing very well indeed from doing so, and gets larger every year.

If the aim of the show is to make a single penny profit, then you have to behave as if it's a business. No arguments... It is!

Simply pretending that you are still running a 1970s village hall show is not going to make you immune to the fact that if you are not putting in the effort, you are not going to make money, because traders are not as I have heard some say in the last few years 'idiots', nor are those attending shows, going to blindly accept poor efforts, high prices or the exclusion of what interests them. Fantasy is where the money is... Ignore that at your peril.

In reality of course ANY wargame is fantasy... We imagine that the toy soldiers, the little lead dollies, on our table are fighting. We imbue them with characteristics and speak of them as if they were real. But they are not...

An ounce of pewter only becomes an Orc or a G.I when it is melted and poured into a mould in an act of creative alchemy. At the end of the day it is still just a lump of pewter

Show organisers should see attendees in the same way. Treat them as that ounce of pewter...

Make them welcome, listen to them, embrace their interests and you can be sure that some of those people will take an interest in whatever your kind of gaming is. In return, you might find something in their part of the hobby (the same hobby, that same piece of pewter)  which is relevant to you.

By doing so, human nature will work it's own alchemy and the hobby will be stronger for it.

Welcome and moreover openly encourage all kinds of gamer and you can have a show which will easily sustain itself over two days. It may take time, but if you speculate wisely, you will accumulate. If you turn off one paying customer, then you are losing money and reputation.

So I say that the two day show is not dead, it is ailing... It needs some metaphorical chicken soup, and then maybe a little meat and two veg to get it's strength back.

Most of all, any show needs a dedicated and free thinking group of organisers who put the interests of the many before the disinterest of a few.


Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Of Trains & T-shirts

Today saw Ollie at The Fiddleyard send me a link to a Youtube video of the first test running of my layout.


I am really impressed with how fast this is all coming together... The longest train in the video is 8 feet or so...  Lovely stuff.

On a lighter note, I found a T-shirt which made me giggle...


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

10mm Eye Candy

As a full time painter, I see a lot of stuff come in and leave again, painted. But every so often I complete something that I am proud of and which catches even my own jaded eye.

Today is one of those times, as I have just completed a 10mm Elven army for the Warmaster game for a friend of a long term client.

The models are a mix of Copplestone Castings and Citadel Miniatures, and are wonderfully detailed models, if not a real b***h to paint...

Work like this does not come cheap, but if you want something special for your collection, be it historical or fictional, you can see more of my work at http:www.conflictincolour.com