Tuesday, 27 February 2018

In Memoriam - Pete 'Greblord' Armstrong

Today marks the anniversary of the passing of Pete 'Greblord' Armstrong. 

Pete was one of the first people I met when I got into fantasy gaming, when Games Workshop opened it's doors in Sheffield in the early 1980s.

He was also the first GW figure painter and wrote the painting guide which appeared in the early Citadel and RAFM catalogues. He was an innovator back when the standard paint job was a simple block finish in enamels, and he was the inspiration for many of my generation. Pete was also I believe the last manager of the flagship Dalling Road Games Workshop store.

I emulated his style and made his life a living hell sometimes both in and out of Games Workshop. To get a grudging affirmative grunt from Pete when you showed him a figure, was high praise indeed.

I lost contact with Pete in the late 80s and the next time I saw him, I was the owner of Dungeons & Starships, when he walked through the door on a visit to his family in Sheffield. I never told him, but seeing him, seeing me owning a store which was greatly influenced by the old GW, meant a lot.

I would be a hypocrite if I said I always got on with Pete, because I didn't. We were abrasive with each other at times, because he was not the same egomaniac twenty-something and I was not that awe-struck teenager, and I don't think either of us adjusted too well for a while.

2017 was a horrible year for the old school gaming fraternity in Sheffield as we lost a total of 4 of our own, all much, much too young.

What's more a genuine hobby pioneer has been lost, and should be celebrated and mourned accordingly.

As befits Pete's renowned sense of humour, I'd like to leave you with a an excerpt from my 2011 book, which illustrates just how mad he could be.



'Sheffield used to have 3 main city centre cinemas, The ABC, and Gaumont were ‘respectable’ cinemas, but then there was Studio 5-6-7 a rundown pit even in the 70s and had only opened in 1968. The latter of the 3 specialised in porn films and the odd X rated splatter movie. By the time I was old enough to go there and sample the flea-ridden pleasures of the place it had gone the way of many of these old ‘bug pits’.


But, it was at the Gaumont that I spent the best part of an entire day watching all three - there were only three back then - Star Wars films back to back. It was I recall a Thursday in Summer and I had gone as part of a gang including Pete, and sundry other ‘gentlemen of the twilight’ all carrying 2 litre bottles of Quattro – the carbonated beverage of choice that year – and a bucket of weapons grade popcorn each.


I had dressed for the event, wearing a white cotton shirt with a mesh overlay on the shoulders. It was all very fashionable for the time – honestly – and had two vent pockets that ran vertically down each breast. This meant that I arm myself with my hairbrush and sundry other items that allowed me to keep my rapidly growing hair in tip-top condition.

We sat in two rows and I had the dubious pleasure of listening to Pete - who was sitting directly behind me - recite verbatim, the entire dialogue of the first two films. 

As credits ran for the 2nd of the trilogy, Pete leaned forward and whispered in my ear, ‘Either you’ve got really big dandruff, or a f***ing great parrot’s crapped on your shoulders.’

Somewhat bemused, I craned to see what he was blabbering on about, patting gingerly at my shoulders and back. My hand touched row upon row of toffee- coated popcorn and discovered that my shirt had gained a layers of comestible rhinestones. Pete had managed to meticulously stick individual kernels to me as I sat watching the screen. I was once again the butt of a masterfully orchestrated wheeze.

Later as we stepped out into the late night air I bounced my empty Quattro bottle off the back of Pete's head as he walked out of the cinema. It was a petty revenge, but revenge nonetheless and it felt soooo good to have had the chance to exact it.'


Rest in peace Pete. You will be missed by many, forgotten by none.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Genuinely Better Than Sex... No, REALLY!




After a week of watching and biding my time I just won a 583 piece Mike's Models Wars Of Religion collection at the very reasonable price of £510.00.

It's bang on what I personally love to see... Vintage figures, well painted and based on green filler.

I was pacing the room, with a very large rum (or two) having made sure none of my friends had thrown their hat in the ring, because I'd have been obliged to not bid, as a point of honour.

Anyway, here are the pics:


TTFN

Friday, 23 February 2018

Need A Good Noggin?

Always happy to help out a friend, I'm doing a shameless plug for my mate David Woods of the Dear Tony Blair...' blog, who also just happens to be the manufacturer of the Noggin The Nog 28mm miniatures range...

Check out David's range and also think about backing the Noggin Boardgames on Kickstarter




Thursday, 22 February 2018

Crumbs! It's been a while...

I just realised that it's been almost two weeks since my last post. What with flu and my workload, I've simply lost track of time.

I have been listening to more of the Grognard Files Podcast and as usual, enjoying it immensely. I'd love to collaborate with Dirk company if the chance came up.


It really does hit that sweet spot in the memories of gamers of a certain vintage, and it's been responsible for me reacquiring several games as you know.


Now, I have always been a bit of a snob where Runequest is concerned, choosing to only buy/collect original box sets, but it struck me that it's a waste of time and money as they are increasingly fragile and using them just exacerbates the entropy.


I no longer need to prove my credentials by having that original item from my early days. I have moved on and will leave that kind of thing to those rather pitiful types who can't see the fun for the collection. So,  after shaking my fist at the screen as I listened to that damned podcast, I decided to just buy what I could from the re-prints.


My haul for last week was as follows:


2 sets of Runequest Classic rules from Blackwells £18.99 each,post free.


Borderlands and Beyond, Griffin Mountain and Cult Compendium from Chaosium, who very kindly found me all of those, lurking in the warehouse. £102.00


Trolls and Trollkin, Militia and Mercenaries, Creatures of Chaos, Balastors Barracks and The Sea Cave from eBay. £34.95


Then I turned my attention to the Judge Dredd boardgames and JD RPG, both long top GW titles and got the former for £22 and the latter in hardback along with the companion volume for £35.


I've also had a change of direction with my 28mm Renaissance project and have gravitated to the 30 Years War as it's a part of the period I'd not ventured into. I am going with 28mm again of course. My 15mm ECW from Lancashire Games should be with me in a few weeks.

I'm also considering another couple of projects which I'll go into in more detail at a future date lest I become distracted.

Going back to RQ for a moment, I was reading the Balastor's Barracks scenario in a fit of reverie and I have to say it's a bloody awful and bloody lethal scenario which leaves you wondering what was going through the minds of the authors when it was written. It's a bit too much like a traditional dungeon crawl, which I am not too adverse too, but RQ is capable of so much more. 

I've been hard at work this week on new releases for Heroics and Ros, in particular their forthcoming 6mm Cold War U.S infantry which, are rather nice indeed:



These models are as detailed as most 15mm, and Heroics are setting the standard for the WW2 & modern eras with release after reales of new ranges.

I was looking around the studio the other day and found my very first 'official' purchase at Games Workshop in 1982, in the shape of this rather tatty looking D20 which did some serious service back in the day:



I say 'official' because I'd already shopped there before it opened.

How?

Well... (fade to 1982 in a shimmering tinkling kind of way)

I was allowed back into town with Alan and we had walked down The Moor, the major shopping area in Sheffield back then (although now, a shadow of it’s former self), which sloped down gently to the Moorfoot precinct with the imposing red brick pyramid which was the Manpower Services Commission building. I worked in that building during the early 2000s when the Home Office shared the space and it was great to look out over the city, but an absolute bugger to navigate around.

   On this, our first trip into town for a month since that fateful clash with Geoff (Or ‘That Bastard’ as he had become known), Alan wanted a record from Virgin Records, which lay in the shadow of that russet monolith. Sheffield had more than its fair share of interesting architecture back then. Of particular note was ‘The Hole In The Road’ essentially pedestrian underpass that allowed several lethally busy streets to be navigated by the simple expedient of going underneath them. Built in 1967 T’ Hole In T’ Road as it became known locally was a roundabout at the junction of four main roads. The middle of the roundabout had a hole in it like the summit of a volcano, which allowed light to pass into the large pedestrian underpass below. 

This underpass contained shops, a large fish tank and even public toilets. It was a great place to skateboard or in my case imagine I was deep in the dungeons of a fell necromancer. I’ll not waffle on about it any further but make a search on the web. It’s worth it.

   Virgin Records was not the shining ‘family friendly’ store it would become in later years. It was a dark and foreboding place as I recall, where if rumours were true, a clean living lad would meet a swift and sticky end at the hands of Mods, Punks and other ne’er-do-wells. I never went in and had my parents discovered that I had frequented a shop with such a ‘sexual’ name, I’d have been grounded for a year or so. So, whenever Alan went in there, I just hung around outside and tried to look moody and mysterious, but approachable and not in the least bit dangerous. This was not easy. Well the mean and moody bit at least…

Thus it was, with Alan in search of his record, this particular afternoon found us walking past the Hagenbach’s bakery – long gone, alas, alas - when what should I see? 

   It was dear reader, the answer to my prayers and the beginning of a life of penury in the shape of a specialist gaming establishment by the name of Games Workshop the first of several dedicated game stores in Sheffield. It was back then, with its amazingly broad range, and enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff and distinct ambience, a place of almost holy reverence for my generation. It was in essence, my place of worship and weekly offerings were to the gods of games in ever-increasing amounts, a pattern that has continued ever since.

   These days, game stores seem more obsessed with ‘image’ rather than content, more about form over function if you will. In the ‘golden age’ it was more about the product, the hobby, the fun. It was all about playing games!   

   In 1982, the concept of providing the gaming public with a single ‘temple of games’ was still quite a novel one. Certainly to the uninitiated, it was unbelievable and what was more, the doors were open.

   We walked in, heads twisting, eyes swivelling, like nervous chameleons who, having fallen from their comfortably familiar treetop perch, find themselves on the back of a monitor lizard which is in the process of considering what it will be having for dinner. From all sides our senses were assaulted by literally thousands of striking box covers depicting all kinds of fantasy and science fiction theme imaginable from half naked princesses to gigantic star ships. Although we did not know back then, Sheffield based synth-pop band The Human League took their name from one of the factions in a game titled ‘Starforce: Alpha Centauri’. Just a brief aside, that shows the popularity of this type of game in even the most unexpected places.

   In the centre of sales area were wire ‘bins’ containing various special offers coinciding with the opening of the branch. My eye was taken by 4 small boxes, luridly illustrated ‘a la mode’, each containing 10 plastic figures, half a dozen acrylic paints, a terrible brush, 2 six sided dice and a set of rules. 

Each of these games presented a mini role-playing experience with all that the lucky purchaser needed. What’s more they were priced at £1.00! I picked up one called ‘The Cleric’s Quest’ and Alan, ‘The Woman Warrior’ - although the name of the other titles escapes me at the time of writing.

   Around ten years ago, I saw a set of these games on Ebay go for a three figure sum. Oh how I howled that day I can tell you, both with a sense of loss and recollection of happy times past. But once again I am wandering off at a tangent and you’ve not given me a sound nudge in the ribs.   We had been in there for about ten minutes before being approached by a member of staff. We had been so taken by the sights and odours - yes, smells, of which I will say more later - that we had not noticed a distinct lack of other customers and indeed, staff. The man approached us and said that the shop was not open. We precociously pointed out that it most certainly was, the proof being that we were in said store, having walked through the doors, thank you very much. 

How we were not slaughtered on the spot still amazes me to this day.

   ‘It opens this weekend and it’s going to be great. Do you want that?’ This said with a gesture to the box I was holding and then to Alan’s fistful of goodies.

   ‘Yes please. I’m sorry I thought you were open what with the door being open.’ I replied, my natural state of being returning, despite my indignant outburst.

   Well, we each handed over one pound of the currency of the realm, were politely but firmly shown the door, and I was thereby ejected from that store for the first but alas, not the last time in my life.

   Alan forgot all about his record. We had something new and exciting and what was more we had an inside track to the grand opening event for this temple of temptation, this cavern of game related goodness. After all hadn’t the bloke in the shop all but given us a personal invite to attend?


So, I can state in all honesty, that I was the first paying customer of GW Sheffield.

When the Grand Opening came around, that little brown nugget along with two sheets of hex paper and a comic badge made up the contents of my very first GW carrier bag, which you may have seen on this blog in the past.

As I type this I am looking at a pile of games and books next to the iMac I'm working on and I have to admit that the bold yellow box of the JD boardgame is getting the better of me and I can't wait until our next games night as I think I'll be rolling it out. After all what other chance will you get to rest Judge Death for littering?

TTFN


PS: If you haven't already signed up of it, go and check out 'The Dice Men', the definitive history of GW's first (and greatest) ten years.

https://unbound.com/books/games-workshop/#.WmBZoMt-LCo.twitter

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Of Men In Tights...

Well, this week has been very very unpleasant.

I managed to get flu after venturing to York last weekend, and have been quite poorly, with today being my best day yet. I'm far from perfect but I am on the mend.

It must have been bad, because I actually contemplated a day off work on Wednesday so ill did I feel.

My good friend Roger gave me some sage advice on Thursday, insisting take a bath with an 80s RPG book. And loom, was he right. 45 minutes with a Twilight 2000 module did me a power of good.

Last night I finally managed to place my order for £870 worth of Connoisseur Italian Wars in the form of a Swiss and a Florentine army, based on the old George Gush lists - because I like them and they are a good 'go to' starting point for the period which at least do try to match historical compositions.

In the end the butchers bill shaped up thus:


Swiss:

1 x 96 pike

2 x 72 pike

2 x 36 shot

2 x 30 halberds and two-handed swords

5 x knights

6 x mounted crossbows


Florentine:

4 x 36 pike

8 x 24 shot

1 x 18 halberd

1 x 5 men at arms

1 x 10 Knights

20 x mounted crossbow and handgun


Hopefully this will give interesting games, with the Swiss storming in against superiors volumes of firepower, cavalry harassment and a few annoying pike blocks on the part of the Florentines.

I'l add a few Perry character pieces in and possibly some artillery for the Florentines rather than the Swiss given the fast advance of the chaps from over the Alps.

I'd toyed with a few manufacturers for the project but as Roger pointed out, Gilder's sculpts look like they're doing the business with the forward lean to the pikemen being notably attractive to the eye.

They will probably end up being gloss varnished too, a la Gilder for a nice old school finish.

I am not anal about basing so the infantry will be all on 60x40 bases with generally 5 figures in 2 ranks rather than 6 to allow for a little more 'movement' which will give a little life to the blocks and, allow a degree of diorama work to be applied.

Lots of flags and command will be in evidence and the Swiss advance pike Kiel will have 16 of the 20 figures in the 3rd and 4th ranks made up from command and colour bearers, with 10 in the other two pike kiels.

The Florentines will feature Giovanni De Medici's 'Black Band' and a couple of Landsknecht styled mercenary units to add texture, with parti-coloured Italians for the majority of the remaining troops.

I am not painting them of course, but my wife has named her terms and price and was awarded the contract by competitive tender.

Now, I just need my 800 15mm ECW from Lancashire Games' painting sheds to arrive and all will be peachy.

Now, if you will excuse me I am going to have a soak in a steaming hot bath.

Until next time...


TTFN

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Whatever Happened To The Traditional Wargames Show?

I remember the days when I would feverishly count the weeks and days until the start of the wargame show season.

The year began with a brilliant show here in the North where the club organised events for those attending for the weekend, where traders smiled and made money, and there was a positive atmosphere everywhere.

The club organising the show made a LOT of money, so much in fact that the society became one of the wealthiest in the country, actually paying a dividend to the members in the form of two Essex army packs and latterly a £50 voucher to be used at a local game store.

But along with this wealth came hubris. As time passed the club did less to entertain those attending and did less to help traders set up and take down. They failed to listen to those attending, those in the industry and in one memorable instance stated 'Traders are idiots.'

Basically, they lost the plot. Venues improved, standards slipped. Manufacturers stopped attending because despite repeatedly contacting the organising committee, they were being ignored. Quite literally ignored, because certain individuals could not be bothered anymore.

A rash of frankly piss poor second hand tat purveyors crept in, along with a veritable plague of re-sellers all stocking the same thing.

The rot had set in and like all Empires the end was on the cards.

It was a sad day when that show folded.

Now there are more shows filling the gaps left by this and other 'Fallen Eagles' but none of them are attracting the traditional manufacturers. The 2HTPs and re-sellers are firmly ensconced, to the point that you see no real variation in shows, no individual feel or atmosphere.

I understand that Dave Thomas, that stalwart of the trade scene is also calling it a day, so our hobby is looking even greyer...

Will we ever see the vibrant shows of the 80s and early 90s return?


TTFN

Twilight Arrives And Vapnartak Passes

It's been a while since I put fingers to keyboard due to heavy workloads (no complaints from me there, as it pays the tailor's and vintner's bills and funds my rakish lifestyle) and a shorter than normal working mont, what with it being February.

Last week, I managed to get my hands on a rather nice copy of the Twilight 2000 RPG in it's 1st edition along with 7 supplements for slightly more than £100. This was more than I think reasonable, but the condition was nice and they were there for the taking.

T2000 or (WW3 The RPG as it's known in these parts) has been a favourite of mine down the years as it tied the two sides of my hobby together very nicely indeed and, being well written presented, is one of those games you can sit and read just for the hell of it.

The later edition of the game was 'sexed up' and for me, it lost some of it's feel.

I've not found the time yet to indulge myself in it's pages yet , but it's on my 'to do' list.

On Sunday, we made the annual trip to Vapnartak at York racecourse, stopping off at a very nice diner just outside of York in what was once a Little Chef. The menu was reasonably priced, the food and coffee very good indeed and it cost £10 per person including gratuities. Not for us the greasy pasty and instant beverage of York racecourse.

 I am pleased to report, the personal hygiene rating of those attending the show had improved after last year's stench-fest. In fact there was a noticeable improvement in the overall sartorial standards too, with plenty of tweeds, caps and sensible brogued footwear as is right and proper.

The show seemed a bit livelier than last year too, but I managed to spend a mere £144.50 which was later reduced to £84.50 after I flipped a £25 purchase for £60.

The day was only marred by repeated evacuations due to false alarms. In the end we just said 'fuck it!' and sat there drinking our tea and coffee.

However, this is the last show we will be attending this year, because the traders in attendance are becoming very 'cookie cutter' and there is only so much 28mm plastic WW2, Medieval and Dark Age product that a gamer needs or can look at without bleeding from the eyes.

I never thought I'd be witnessed saying 'Well, there's no point in going to 'X' or 'Y' show, because there's nothing of interest for me.'

But there you have it...


TTFN