Sunday, 22 June 2014

Wargaming and Fashions



For a while, I have been considering how fashion and social groups have re-modelled the hobby over the years.

Now, I really got involved in the hobby proper around 1980/81; at the start of a decade which was creatively unsurpassed in the 20th century. 

The music (although at the time I ignored much of it) the fashions (ditto) and indeed the gaming hobby was more varied than at any other time. The Cold War was winding down, the drab colours of the 70s were fading to black, to be replaced by vibrant hues. Hair was big, the Baby Boomers had bred and their offspring embraced life, big time.We had Heavy Rockers, Prog' Rockers, Punks, Skinheads, Glams, Goths, Townies, Urban Vagabonds, New Romantics, Mods and probably a few more youth sub cultures that in the befuddled LateSummer Season of life have slipped my mind. 

Whatever your taste in clothes, cause of adult deafness or outlook on life; there was something for you.

Apropos of nothing, I was listening to a documentary the other day, on the topic of organised football violence and repeatedly, there were references to the evolution of fashion on the terraces and more importantly how the 'casual' look came to be the defining style for the hooligans, with football colours and a previous penchant for shaved heads and big boots being cast aside in the 80s in favour of large price tag apparel. It's quite bemusing (for me at least) that you would dress yourself in smart clothes to kick the living shit out of someone, but that is beside the point.

Anyway, once again, that got me thinking about the evolution of specific games or miniatures and how they were taken up by or aimed at a given social group.When I was a lad, it didn't matter. You may have not spoken to someone at school who was not part of your peer group, but down at the games club or local game store, the rivalries went out of the window as more important things such as the latest game or figures were discussed, purchased and collectively simpered over. Then it was back to school, and the faux hatred would continue as before until the next trip to 'holy ground'. 

I believe that it's fair to say that the first truly noticeable divisions, appeared around 1986 when Games Workshop began to really roll out it's Warhammer ranges. It takes very little effort to see that they designed each race with an image that would in general terms appeal to a given group. A prime example of course being the Wood Elves with their tight, striped clothes, outrageously coiffed manes and warpaint. These were targeted at the rock orientated gamers, Dark Elves and Undead were really the domain of the Punks and Goths, and so on and so forth.

In the 90s when I was at the helm of a game store, you really saw a polarisation of the gaming fraternity. You increasingly saw groups of gamers who all looked the same. Many of these were the younger siblings of my own generation and they identified themselves by fashion and carried that over into the types of games they played as a result. 

It was increasingly rare to find groups as varied as they were in the 80s (unless they were established in those heady years). The gaming industry began to take notice and tried too hard to tailor their lines for specific cultural demographic groups. 

It was all quite depressing. The last place where the unconventional was acceptable without struggle was beginning to fall apart. If you doubt me, then ask around, look at catalogues from the time and then go to a decent contemporary games store, and look at the themes and memes on display.

Gaming itself is now something of a fashion victim something which has it's roots in the 90s as I stated previously. Roleplaying was the first casualty, but traditional Wargaming now suffers from having an 'industry' in the same way that RPG's and fantasy developed in the early 90s. 

I was listening to a conversation at a convention recently between traders, who were saying that Wargames Illustrated is only pushing the products of a very few companies which make up the bulk of it's advertising revenue (or indeed their own products, given that the mag is now owned by Battle Front). 

There has been a dumbing down of rules and research and a piling on of eye candy which in the long term will lead to problems. Equally, terrain is becoming cookie cutter in it's look and quality. This year will see a lot of awful WW1 releases, WW2 releases and will lead up to 2015 where we will see a rash of re-hashed Waterloo stuff. 

A couple of weeks ago on the very anniversary of D-Day we saw one company send out a mail encouraging you to re-fight Normandy. This piece of grubbing, crass, commercialism has ensured that company will lose my business permanently - a not insignificant annual sum - because they were unable for one day to show a little tactful respect, instead indulging in their GW roots flogging a horse to the 'nth' degree. 

The fashion for gaming is is becoming bright, simple and cheap; kind of a commercial Kylie Minogue or Janine Melnitz whereas it used to be about care and attention, more akin to Joni Mitchell or Dana Barrett , if I may. 

It's akin to the difference between a night with a high class madam and a 2 minute knee trembler with crack whore. Or so I am informed...

The new generation coming into the hobby are largely lazy and have no drive to research the topics, relying instead on often questionable source books. Equally several 'historical' rule sets bear absolutely NO resemblance to the period they are purporting to portray. 

FOW Vietnam is a prime example. The concept of toe to toe massed battles is absolute bollocks with about two exceptions, both of which were exactly that. If it bears no resemblance at all by design, then it is in fact a fantasy game in the true sense. It's not a 'what if' it's pure fiction. 

There is also trend towards writing 20 pages of text and then adding 60 pages of stuffing and charging a premium for it, which to me is pointless. A few diagrams, and one or two QUALITY bits of eye candy should be enough. The most elegant game systems are often the most succinct. 

In terms of sci-fi and fantasy gaming, the post Cold War era has seen generally dark and morbid; some may say depressing, games. Strewth; if I wanted morbid and depressing I'd go back into the Civil Service and get paid for experiencing it. 

There were faults with the games of the Golden Age, but time has shown that they can still command strong followings, including a new generation of players who have an eye for quality. Whilst everything is pushed at gamers in the style of GW, you will have stifled creativity and reduced motivation to fully explore a period. And what is worse many shops are becoming the whores for the industry pimps. 

How long will it be before we see a return to a more 'inclusive' hobby, where the game comes before the demographic? How long before we see companies being innovative rather than imitative? Oh how I 
yearn for the 'good old days'. Alas, alas...

Or perhaps we will begin to see rival 'firms' of geeks, nerds and gamers 'having at' each other at conventions, anoraks and cargo pants torn and bloody, dice in the gutter, bayonets broken from the loser's latest 'must have' Napoleonic miniatures. 

Of course the government will be obliged to step in, with 'banning orders' from all conventions in the country coupled with stiff sentences of 'repeated weekend trips to garden centres with the wife and kids'  being handed down by the courts, before things return to normal.


TTFN

Monday, 16 June 2014

Please Don't Faint - I'm Going To Say Something Nice.

I have a somewhat well-deserved reputation for saying what I think, and quite often it's not too pleasant.

However, I really must take the time to heap much praise upon Army Painter for superb customer care.

Now, as many will know I am a full time '3-D man-child dream realisation technician' or as I am more commonly known; a miniature painter.

I also pride myself on only using the best materials, rather than what is en vogue in the hobby. The undercoat I use is of great importance to me, and I've been a devotee of the Army Painter sprays for some time. I get through 50-75 matt black cans per year and I rely on the repeated high performance of the product.

However, two cans which I purchased and which had the same batch number came out high gloss, no matter what my years of experience  could come up with to counter it, and thus I wrote to the manufacturer, explaining the issues.

Well, not only did they rely within 24 hours, but they also kindly and without any kind of coercion, replaced both cans and also sent me some of their brush on paint, all the way from the Netherlands.

So, I take my hat off to Army Painter and congratulate them on being in that rare group of whom I say nice things!


Moving on, I would also like to share with you the secrets of perfect varnishing.

Forget Dullcote...

I now exclusively use a high gloss coat of Montana Gold, which is the choice of professional graffiti artists and which is a UV resistant varnish of the highest quality.

Following that I use a coat of Winsor & Newton Professional Artist's Varnish which performs to a much higher specification than Testor's and is frankly unbeatable.

I have sprayed around 3000 models using this combination and have used 1 can of Montana Gold and 2 cans of W&N with no problems and predictable results.


Montana Gold is around £6-£7.50 per can and W&N £10-£12. Both come in 400ml cans.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

A Long Week, With Some Fun Toys... And The Beating Of Staples into Swords


It's been a long week, work-wise. Alas, the week began with a hospital visit, which plays hell with my schedule for the week, every time. But, if I am going to keep the hands (and other soft tissues and organs) in good condition, I have to put up with this...

But, despite some long and hard days, I have also had a few nice deliveries this week.

First up was a set of Chaos Dwarf Mortar and Bazooka models from eBay, which at £16 for the lot wee pretty fair. I did win another bazooka, but after 3 weeks or more there was still no sign of it as of this morning. I really hate it when an eBayer with no feedback as such tries to stall me for a few pounds. Really; it's not worth it as I am always going to follow it up.

Thanks to getting back in touch with Andy Needham, an acquaintance of yore, and playing some rather fun games of Command & Colours at my original wargames club in the last few months, I decided that I really want to get into the period in the same way that the renaissance era affected me for 30 years or more. With this in mind, I purchased 700 Minifigs and Heritage French from Mike Oliver of Warmodelling UK, via eBay and whilst they are plain paint jobs which need some repairs and a proper basing job, at £220 they were a bargain. The touching up of pompoms and the tops of shakos, together with a wash of 'Army Painter' soft tone ink and distilled water has proved a good move in this morning's field tests, and with the bases and a high gloss (yes you read that correctly) it will give me a pretty instant army of 18 units of foot, 12 of horse and around 30 guns & limbers.

I'll then slowly work on the Imperial Guard painted to my 'usual standard'.

I find that as a full time painter of no mean ability, I tend to lose the drive when faced with a personal lead mountain; so this is a great way to maintain my momentum and interest as I paint the 'real' army.

Now, a lot of the cavalry were missing sword blades, and so I came up with a great repair method. Take a pack of 2500 staples of size 26/6 and priced at 50P at ASDA. Cut a nick in the sword hand, clip a length from the 'long' side of the staple and fix with superglue. Touch the hand up with a little paint and you have a very realistic looking sword. 12 models took me 30 mins. 132 more to go!

But this method WORKS! Forget drilling as it's too fiddly.

Next up, came my long awaited box of miniatures for the OGRE game by Steve Jackson Games. For those who don't know, the basic premise is that in the future, the battlefields will be ruled by truly enormous A.I controlled cybernetic tanks called OGREs and that grav vehicles and traditional style tanks will be pitted against them in a David & Goliath type manner. Anyway, although the original was a traditional boardgame there was a set of miniatures rules written and some rather nice (and hefty) 1/285 scale miniatures produced.

Well, I managed to find someone who was looking to sell their collection and I paid what we both agreed was a fair price.

The toys arrived on Saturday and so this A.M with the first cup of coffee of the day I sat and priced this up against the recently re-released models, and the result looked something like this:


Combine

5 Bigfoot mobile howitzer $49.75
12 Gremlin Lgev  $47.60
3 Minotaur Howitzer  $44.85
4 Roadrunner gev-pc  £27.80
16 banshee missile tanks  $111.20
18 Raptor gev $125.10
12 Yankee light tanks  $47.70

Paneuropean 

4 Eisenfaust mobile howitzer  $51.80
24 Galahad gev $166.80
20 Jaeger heavy tanks  $139.00
5 Seguro gev-pc  $34.75
18 Cossack lgev  $71.10
18 hammer light tanks  $89.10
3 arquebus howitzer  $44.85
9 Ajax missile tanks  $62.55
6 Thor super heavy tanks  $95.70


32 strips of 3 infantry or infantry support guns  $95.20
Mk 1 ogre  $15.95
Mk 2 ogre  $19.95
Fencer $29.95
2 x Mk 3 ogre  $59.90Mk 4 ogre  $39.95
Mk 5 ogre  $39.95
Swimming OGRE $4.95
2 command posts 1 of each  $31.90

Now that totals up to $1547.35

Convert that using XE.com and we have a total value of £920.75

Add to this that I would be hit for £40 shipping from the U.S and customs fees of about 20% on the total
including the postage cos postage; and add the fact that there's also a pile of rulebooks and stuff in the 
post that would not fit in the box, and you'll appreciate why I am a very happy bunny.

And last up; I've been caught late in the day by the forthcoming 'All Quiet On The Martian Front' 15mm
miniatures game, which pits the forces of humanity circa the beginning of the 20th century versus the 
enormous mechanical tripod forces of the planet Mars. It's stirring stuff, and although at first I was a bit
'MEH!' about the game, I confess that as I have seen the recent previews, I gave myself a talking to for not
getting in on the 'Kickstarter' campaign - my loss.

Well, I have decided to order a fair amount from Wayland Games as this week, I can get a total of 15% off
RRP and post free, so I feel a few starter sets, and a one or two boxed sets of toys should give me all I need.
I did manage to find a chap selling a few of the pre-release models from his own Kickstarter pledge and I 
snapped them up including shipping from the U.S for less than half of the basic U.K prices currently being 
quoted. I look forward to this game with some enthusiasm.

So on the face of it, although the work and health side of things have been a chore, the toys that have arrived
have been rather splendid.

One thing which did irk me somewhat was Warlord Games sending out an advertisement vie email on 6th June
pushing their D-Day range of stuff. Frankly, I find it was somewhat akin to Home Depot offering a deal on 
timber and nails at Easter. I appreciate that they are a business, but maybe for one day every so often; you could
forget their old Games Workshop styles of hard selling. I am relieved that they didn't take a trade stand to 
Normandy. 

Or did they?

We did not go to either club, this week. We were both pretty washed out. Instead, I spent Wednesday 
evening building a LEGO model of ECTO-1 from the Ghostbusters film. It was very therapeutic, quite frankly
and filled 3 hours or so. Of course, today is the 30th anniversary of the first California (ie: official) screening 
of Ghostbusters , and so I'll be watching it tonight with some home made sugar/salt popcorn.






Yesterday, Dave (my usual non-club gaming opponent) and I played Command & Colours Napoleonics, 
refighting the two days of Rolica. I was Wellington, and despite the lax performance of the right wing, on 
day one was able to win both battles, although admittedly it was a damn close run thing!


Sunday, 1 June 2014

Partizan (In The Park) 2014

What a splendid day we all had today.

The weather was warm, spirits high, and we went to a wargames show in a tent!

Yes, due to an error on the part of the Partizan venue, the show was held in a 10,000 square foot marquee. This must be a first for a major show.

And it was bloody great, unlike another recent show. But that's old news now.

Right from the moment of arrival the professionalism of the Newark Irregulars shone through, with clear and helpful directions to the parking zones, friendly smiles and warm welcome at the door.

Catering was handled in the adjacent cricket pavilion with reasonably priced and (as always) excellent breakfast sandwiches and hot drinks. I confess that the cold drinks were a little on the pricey side, but with a ticket price of £4 it was a day when I could get in, eat and drink for around a tenner!

What's not to like?

At lunch there were freshly cooked burgers and hot dogs, which again, hit all the 'plus points' for us.

The show was of the usual high standard, despite being under canvas as it were, and to be honest although quite warm, the light coming in through the marquee roof, meant that the displays were very visible and easy on the eyes. Although there were some games I saw at Triples the other week, they were of the better class, as were all the others. If I wanted to look at average looking games, I'd pop down to a wargames club with the old iPad. This show always has nice games!

I had hoped to see Wargames Developments down at Partizan, but alas it was not to be.

The trade was varied, and business seemed much more brisk than I've seen at other shows of late, and I walked out with some 15mm African Irregulars, some wonderful Rhodesian Light Infantry and a few other 28mm bits. My friend picked up Command & Colours Napoleonics brand new for under £40 and some interesting books. We spent under £200 between us, but got some nice stuff.

My wife was nit up to her usual 'spendy' self, but did enjoy the show. It is in my opinion one of the more accessible shows for the ladies and indeed the fairer sex was well represented as always. Pleanty of youngsters were in attendance, and I believe that I may have caused one of my old hobby pals, Dave Wood to have to but his daughter a figure or two :)

We were done by 1PM, but that was because we had all we needed and had seen all we wanted to see.

Nothing about the day (save maybe the warmth) was at all unpleasant, and I commend Newark Irregulars for managing to turn what on the face of it could have been a disaster, into (in my humble opinion) another great Partizan show.

You see, it's all about having a 'can do' attitude, and the Irregulars have that in spades.

Well done, chaps!