A miniatures games blog about Warhammer 40k, 15mm American Civil War (ACW), D&D, Classic Battletech, painting, terrain and anything else that rolls or shoots...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Waiting Game

At some point over the last week, I reverted to age 7.  Each day when arriving home from work, I whip open the porch door praying to find a cardboard box waiting for me.  Sure enough, each day, when opening that door, I'm greeted with nothing.  Trudging inside, I sulk over to the calendar and X off another box.  The wait continues.

It's a scene that the old man in me feels is played out all too rarely across modern day America.  These days, what with Amazon Prime and "Federal Express", one can acquire virtually anything from across the globe and with enough money, can enjoy it's appearance on their doorstep in less than 24 hours.  This, however, is not the case with the American Civil War miniatures in 15mm.  

The funny part is, I'm not totally sure that I mind this.  

At the beginning of this venture I knew that I would need miniatures, and lots of them.  Due to the fact that I don't personally know anybody who is as yet involved with this particular field of nerd-dom, I figured I would initially have to coax opponents to the table by providing everything needed to play and would thus have need of two armies.  Easy enough.  

A quick Google search reveals that there is no shortage of models available to represent all manner of Civil War participants.  Generals, foot officers, surgeons, supply wagons, wounded, signal towers and even souvenir hunters are all available by a wealth of different companies.  So, after running the numbers and doing a fair job of convincing my wife that her husband wasn't finally going off the deep end, I took the plunge and invested in Stone Mountain Miniatures.  They have a great selection of miniatures with some great sculpts for the size.  For the noob like myself, they also have a section of 'brigade bags' that are light on the wallet and make it easy to have a good-sized force from the start.

However, the great price comes with a downside.  In order to keep costs down, Stone Mountain keeps a very small inventory and most of the orders are cast on receipt which means there's usually a two week wait and for a large order like mine, three weeks.  Although these days, three weeks can seem like forever to wait, it wasn't all that long ago that you had to wait (brace yourselves, kids) FOUR to SIX weeks for just about everything that wasn't from the Sears catalog.  For some reason, this really seems to fit my impression of historical miniatures gaming.  A sort of 19th century, gentler pace, you know?

So, only a few more days to wait.  I figure since I've put this off for 30 years, what's a little bit longer?  

That's not to say I haven't been productive!  About a year ago, I purchased a box of 25mm Civil War infantry on a whim so in the name of testing paint schemes I painted a few of those up and even managed to win a couple of eBay auctions  Look for details of this excitement in the next few days!

Until then, I'll be taking a couple of days off from work because I've decided that it's interfering with time that could be spent waiting for the mailman.  


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Roads?? Where We're Going....We'll Need Roads.

If you are reading this, you already know that our hobby of choice isn't exactly light on the wallet.  There are, of course, miniatures to buy not to mention rulebooks, paints, dice, markers, storage cases, etc.  However, once you have the armies, you need something for them to actually fight for...which brings me to terrain.

Everybody has their own thoughts on battlefield terrain, whether it be something pre-made and bought on Ebay, a 'kit' like the ones made by Games Workshop or even DIY hand-made, there are a lot of options to consider. Almost two decades spent playing Warhammer 40k has swelled my terrain collection to include all three of these categories and though it might be pretty easy to drop $40 on a beautiful looking piece, there's something incredibly satisfactory about designing, assembling and painting your own scenery.  This of course has the upside of saving some big bucks with the downside of spending the extra time crafting as opposed to actually playing.

When I decided to embark on this quest to start a brand new wargaming pursuit I knew I would literally be starting from the ground up.  Warhammer 40k, like most popular miniatures games today, is fought in the 25mm scale, where 1" equals roughly 6'.  On the other hand, because of the amount of men and equipment in a typical 19th century battle, this has to be dropped to adequately accommodate the amount of miniatures and space needed.  The wealth of ACW (American Civil War) miniatures available in 15mm made my choice of scale easy.  The overall scale varies slightly by ruleset but the ones I chose to go with for my first few battles, Warlord's "Black Powder" (which I will cover in a later post!) go with a general scale of 1" = 30 YARDS when using 15mm models.

In basic terms, this means that almost all of my existing 40k terrain aside from some hills and smaller trees has instantly been rendered obsolete for use in my future battles in 15mm. *cue sad trombone*

When working up my budget for this venture, I realized I would have to get back to basics and get my hands dirty, so to speak.  As I said above though, this is not necessarily a bad thing!  It's been well over 10 years since I've made any terrain on my own so I thought I could make this a learning experience for everybody. So, while awaiting my masses of pewter to arrive in the mail, I've put myself to work making things for them to fight over and as everybody knows, it's hard to go anywhere in the 19th century without a road. 

Having never made any roads before and not finding much help in the way of tutorials on the internet, I accepted the task at hand and set my mind to coming up with something cheap, quick and effective.  Then, I had a dream.  

Yes. I literally had a dream one night about how to make roads and you know what, it worked!  I'm not sure what this says about me as person but I am pretty pleased with the outcome.  So, without further ado, let's get started.

You will need the following basic supplies:  PVC Glue (Elmer's or the like), scissors, a sheet or two of poster board, ruler, pencil, some craft sand, an old paint brush or a foam edger and a can of brown spray paint.  For the poster board, I figured brown would look best but then I realized that it's also one of the least 'zazzy' colors out there and nobody in their right mind would pick brown for anything presentation-related.  Thus, with brown poster board unavailable I went with green as that's pretty much all they had besides neon yellow, neon orange, neon blue or neon white.

The tools of the trade.

The first thing you will want to do is to measure and cut an initial piece of poster board that can be used as a template for the rest.  For this scale, I settled on individual pieces that are 1" wide by 6" long.

The template -- 1" x 6"
Once you have cut the template, start tracing til your heart's content.  The general idea here is that each 1"x 6" piece of road will actually consist of two pieces of glued together to make them sturdier and prevent curling later on in the process.  So, one foot of road will actually be four 1" x 6" pieces.

Ready to go!

When all of your pieces are cut, pull out your glue and brush/edging sponge and get busy.  Your goal here is total coverage.

Glob it on in any design you like.  I'm partial to the squiggly.

Then smooth it out, making sure the entire surface is gluey.

Next, glue the two halves together, making sure to run your fingers around the outsides to ensure that everything sticks.  In order for everything to dry properly, place the glued sections on a flat surface with something heavy on top and wait 15-20 minutes.  For the married individuals, you can use this time to empty the dishwasher, take out the trash, or do something else suitably helpful that your partner will appreciate.  This will help take the heat off of further nerdy pursuits.

I recommend using something that has a plastic surface/cover to avoid damage from rogue glue.

Now...go be productive.

When the glue has dried, remove the sections from the 'press' and admire your handiwork.

When you're sure the glued pieces are suitably dry, break out the glue, brush and sand.  Just like you would if you were basing a regular mini, spread the glue over the entire top surface and sprinkle the sand on, making sure to gently shake the piece off in the bag.  Your road section should look something like this:

 Let the pieces sit and dry for another 15-20 minutes.  When this is done, the fun part begins!  For this, I used Krylon brand Indoor/Outdoor - Satin Finish.  They had a few different shades of brown but I went with the darkest.  Find someplace with a lot of ventilation and line up the roads on a cardboard box, paper bag, etc.  If your pieces suck up the first couple of coats don't worry, just be persistent and it will fill in.

The dry time will vary on how much paint you have to use.  When they are dried though, you'll find that you'll have a sturdy yet semi-flexible piece of terrain.  The roads are ready to use in this condition but for those of you who want to take the extra step towards scenic beauty, just a few more minutes are required.

Head over to the painting table and find some browns that are a shade or two lighter than the base color.

Using an old brush, dip into the next lighter shade, in this case GW's Bestial Brown, wipe off a majority of the paint on a paper towel and gently run your brush over the top of the road.  This technique is called drybrushing and will cause the paint to adhere only to the very top of the sand, causing a shadow effect that will give the road a little depth and make it look more 'used'.  Repeat this with an even softer coat of the lightest shade.  I went with Reaper's Tanned Leather.

Before and after drybrushing.

That's it!  Believe it or not, the drying time is what takes the longest in this whole process.  To counter that, I found that working on a large batch of 10 sections or so at a time works best, as by the time you are finished with the last section in the group, the first one should be dry from the last step.

Now all that's left to do is put the roads on the field and get fighting!

You see kids? Dreams really do come true!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Look Who's Back!

Well, according to the date of my last post, it's been about 2 1/2 years since I've put fingers to keyboard and talked miniature soldiers.  If you ask me, that's entirely too long so it's time to blow the dust off of this thing and get moving again.

I know what you're thinking...something along the lines of "well where the hell have you been?"  I've been here all along, still doing my thing but a few major life events derailed the whole process.  A wedding, two major ankle surgeries (thanks, soccer!) a new job and general laziness can count themselves among this number.  That said, I have still been doing the miniatures thing whenever time presents itself, although the focus has mainly been on fantasy miniatures for the multiple D&D games which I run and participate in.  I will post some pictures of these little guys and gals when I can but let me get to something else first, namely, why I decided to kick the tires on this old jalopy of a blog in the first place.

After 15 years of involvement on the Warhammer 40k front, I decided to branch out to a new (to me, at least) realm of miniature warfare.  *drumroll*

The American Civil 15mm to be exact.

Why the change?  Well, it's pretty simple actually.  With the release of the 6th edition of Warhammer 40k and the emergence of flyers in particular, I just didn't have it in me to drop a couple hundred dollars on new miniatures and then continue to get my ass kicked by some pimply 16-year-old who doesn't have to spend his hard earned income on anything like a mortgage, food, bills, booze, etc.  No, I'm weary of agonizing over army lists, endeavoring coming up with ways to work around the overpowered cheese lists constantly employed by said pimply 16-year-olds, and generally seeing the game go in a direction that I can't fully get behind.  This is not to take anything away from the game though!  I played a few games of 6th edition and genuinely enjoyed them all, but it all just feels like it's becoming a little stale to me.  A change and a fresh start are clearly in order.

So, after considering my options, I concluded, "what could be fresher and less stale than historical miniatures wargaming??"  That just left the period of conflict, which after a recent trip to Antietam National Battlefield and then to Gettysburg to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the battle, became a no-brainer.

Since I was a child, I've always had a keen interest for the American Civil War and after watching through Ken Burns' aptly named series on the conflict while laid up on the couch recovering from surgery (twice, no less!) I decided this would be the war for me.  What could be more exciting than leading long, orderly lines of men across the field of battle while cannons pound away at the ranks and calvary charge their flanks?  The air is thick with smoke and the screams of the wounded as orders are shouted into the chaos and a desperate fight ensues at close range.  The objective is taken, lost and then re-taken again in a glorious final charge!  It might sound a little over dramatic but I mean, ultimately we're all grown men playing with toy soldiers.  You gotta add something in to spice it up...

How could any self-respecting wargamer say no to this??

So, in the next few weeks, you'll be seeing me stumble blindly into this storied and well-established hobby on my way to becoming a general of either glorious renown or ill-repute.  Whichever it ends up being, I'm sure it'll be a good time.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

When You Can't Be Nerding... (A Top 5 List)

As you can probably tell, I've been fairly busy so far this year and haven't been able to put in as much time as I would like on the little plastic men and everything that goes with them.  Balancing a job, a relationship, a band and the other foibles of life can be time consuming to say the least.  We've all been there before.  For instance, last Sunday, the woman I love had made plans to go see Black Swan with her friend, thus leaving the house empty for a solid three hours.  "Perfect!" I thought, "This will give me time to finish up that Catachan squad for the battle next week and be done in time for the football game!"

Or so I thought.

Lesson for new home buyers: if you're planning on buying a hundred-year old house make sure the pipes are insulated.  Otherwise you can learn the hard way like myself, waking up on a chilly Sunday morning to find out you have no cold water on the second floor.  I guess I can appreciate the irony of having nothing but hot water in winter.  Regardless, I called the plumber and was promptly told I was at the end of a very long list of frozen pipe complaints.  They'd get to me between the hours of 4-7PM (eight hours away.)

Long story short, I had this irrational fear (probably stemming back to high school) of being caught playing with toy soldiers by a burly plumber so I kept the paints in the box and waited.

And waited.

Lo and behold, the plumber calls early telling me he's on the way!  I hang up the phone and WOOOSH the cold water starts running upstairs.  The pipes had unfrozen themselves and kickoff was in half an hour.  *sigh*

So, what's a nerd to do in these times to sate the nigh-unquenchable thirst for pint-sized tactical mayhem?

1.) Read the Rules -- I know, it's not necessarily the most entertaining option, but you'd actually be surprised what you can pick up when you revisit the rules for your preferred game.  If it's still fairly new to you, playing a few games and then going back has a way of clarifying certain rules that seemed confusing before you encountered them in a "real life" situation.  For the cheese-heads and lawyers in the crowd, it's also a great way to discover new loopholes.

Bonus: If you're bored at work and not adverse to breaking the law, download one of the many illicit .PDF's available online.  Displayed on your monitor, they can look a lot like official documents.  (NOTE: I AM NOT CONDONING STEALING ANYTHING OR SLACKING AT WORK, I'M JUST SAYING IT'S POSSIBLE)

2.) Start a Blog -- It's what I did and look at me now!

3.) Watch a Movie -- On the surface, this sounds fairly mundane but for the sci-fi inclined, there are a wealth of great (and awful) movies out there that you can use to cull ideas from.  I've been particularly into the Aliens series lately.  In fact, while waiting for said plumber to show up last weekend, I watched Aliens for, believe it or not, the first time in my life.  While not exactly a cinematic masterpiece, I thought the sets were very well done and it gave me some ideas for future terrain pieces.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker for a good corridor..

Space Hulk, anyone?

4.) Get Organized -- Nothing is worse than knowing you have to be at the store in half an hour for game time and you can't find that heavy weapon, rule book, dice bag, etc.  There's a well-worn phrase in the music scene that goes, "Pro Gear, Pro Attitude."  Most tournaments these days require all players to bring their own dice, copies of their own rules and, most importantly supply their own INTACT miniatures.  What's more, it can be really annoying to veterans (who know the rules inside and out) to have to stand around and watch while you, the n00b, flips through pages of rules to find the right stats.  I'm not saying this isn't jerky on their part, but it's how it is sometimes.

One method I've found that helps out is to take your army book to a copy machine and run-off the really important stuff like psychic powers, character profiles, etc.  I keep this info in a binder full of plastic pages that can be removed and kept close at hand come game time.  This can cut out the army book altogether.  In terms of miniatures, I've seen too many beautiful models emerge from storage (a shoebox) missing limbs and weapons.  Come on people!  We all spend way too much time and money on this hobby to not take care of the most important part.  Try going to Home Depot and buying a $6 roll of bubble wrap to line and layer those shoeboxes with.  Something is better than nothing!

Bonus: Games Workshop has made all the pertinent stats for each army available for download/printing here.

5.) Take a Break -- This is probably the last resort for most of us but it can also be the most beneficial.  With games like Warhammer, the sheer wealth of information and background available makes it very easy to get lost in and forget to do things like eat, shower, and communicate with someone NOT on a message board.  There's a big world out there!  If it's nice out, maybe go take a walk for a couple hours.  Call a friend and go get a beer.  Tell your SO you love them.  Anything that doesn't involve little plastic men.  Don't worry, they'll still be there when you get back!