Thursday 31 October 2013

Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy 69

The lovely smell of freshly-printed magazine is wafting across my lounge...  this looks like a great edition, as it has a cover and article by mate Andres Fernandez, 3 (!) pieces by mate Allen Curtis, and another on matrix gaming by mate Mark Backhouse!  Plus there are several other great looking articles, including one on page 66 by this chap called Simon Miller...

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Chariot basing

I've grouted and painted the 9 bases, ready for flocking tomorrow with the Torture Implement.  An element of warband have joined them for flock-matching purposes.  

I've been trying to decide what to do after these; either another unit of Celtic warband, or perhaps I might revisit the long-postponed swan necked trading ship...

Tuesday 29 October 2013

It looked smaller...

I bought a static grass applicator I saw on eBay.  It's just a leeeetle bit bigger than I'd imagined... that is a 28mm chariot.  However it should be very useful for the terrain building I need to start soon.

I'll test it later this week, on the chariots, and post my findings...

Monday 28 October 2013

Chariots assembled and ready for basing

I finished the assembly of the 9 chariots last night. The riders are now all pinned and glued to the chariots, and the wheels to the chariot frames.  

I've decided not to fix the chariots to the bases, yet, as basing will be very much easier without them in place. I have, though, used greenstuff to make ruts into which the wheels can be securely glued at the end of the process. I'm not going to add harness, though, as I'm worried about the fragile reins getting damaged in play, and because life is too short! 

Saturday 26 October 2013

Chariot assembly plant

13 months after starting the project, all 9 chariots (of the first wave) are now painted, next I need to attach the wheels, fit the crew Nick painted, and base with the horses. That's Relic's chariot at the front, very nice...

Friday 25 October 2013

Basing with the Bat- Part III

This is the final part of my WS&S article on basing.  The previous parts are here and here.  Enjoy! Please also look out for my new article coming out in WS&S next week; it combines collecting, basing and the lyrics of Johnny Cash!

Advanced Basing

I find that double-depth elements can be very time consuming to base, because it is very hard to get the brush or palette knife into the narrow space between the two ranks of figures. Moreover, sometimes paint or gunk finds its way onto the finished figures, which then need retouching. Yet, as the number of miniatures I own increases, I find that I want to base more and more miniatures this way, because they are quicker to deploy from storage and move around on the table.

Above are some of the splendid Foundry/Black Tree German figures that my friend Nick Speller painted for me. I've done very little to the miniatures, aside from varnishing them, and painting the bases of the miniatures to match the eventual colour of the earth that will surround them.  I've arranged them on six 60 x 30mm magnetic bases of my own manufacture.

In the above close-up, you can see that I like to position some of the figures so that they straddle both bases; this helps to create a “crowd” look, and has practical value at a later stage. Using a variable number of miniatures on bases, as above, also helps to give a more naturalistic appearance to the finished units. 

Next, place the two bases next to each other on a magnetic surface (in this case a 60mm square steel plate), and cover each with your basing compound; then add a little extra gunk along the top of the seam  to disguise it. It will then appear something like the above; the magnetic sheets hold the bases in place whilst the gunk dries to the consistency of concrete.

Once the gunk has fully dried, the two bases can be snapped apart, as above, leaving an irregular line along the break.  The figure protruding from the rear base will ensure that the join between the bases, when re-attached, will be a strong one. I then paint the bases of the two half-elements, separately, which is much easier than trying to reach to the middle of the larger base. Once fully painted and flocked, the two pieces can carefully be re-joined together, along the edge, with superglue. 

Here's the (almost) finished base, after re-assembly. One can just make out the line of the crack between the two halves, but it is pretty effectively disguised, being very much harder to spot than a straight line would be, and will vanish entirely once a few more tufts or some static grass has been applied.

In conclusion...  basing is all too often an afterthought, first considered after the minis have just been painted. A good basing scheme really sets an army off, and this is best achieved by planning the look for the entire army at the outset and using consistent methods and materials across all its units, as it is mustered. I always reckon that figures look twice as good as previously, after they have been based, so am always prepared to invest plenty of time to get it right!

I do hope you enjoyed these pieces!  If you have any questions, please email me at the address above, or leave a comment, and I’ll come back to you.  

Thursday 24 October 2013

Basing with the Bat - Part II

This is the second part (of three) of my article that was originally published in Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy Issue 64, regarding my approach to basing miniatures.   The first part is here.  All pictures are clickable.


Before basing, it is really beneficial to paint the bases of the figures to match the eventual colour of the base; this is much quicker and easier than trying to paint around the feet of the figure in the middle of a clump of miniatures mounted on the base.  At this point, put the magnetic bases on your metal baking tray. The magnetic sheet holds the base flat and will prevent it from warping, as the various layers of basing gunk, paint and glue and are applied. 

Before reaching for the glue, do please take all the time you need to arrange the miniatures on the bases in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Ideally, the layout of the miniatures should tell a story, especially in the case of command stands. Think carefully before positioning items so that they protrude over the edge of the base, such as spears; if these stick out too far, it can be very difficult to rank up the bases, and they will take up more storage space.

I strongly recommend fixing miniatures to their bases with wood glue, rather than superglue, as this makes it relatively easy to re-base at a later date. Wood glue also dries relatively slowly and gives me plenty of time to move the miniatures around to find the most attractive arrangement. However, it is best to leave wood glue to dry for 4 hours or so before going on to the next stage, so if you are in a hurry, it’s not for you!

It’s gunking time!

With the miniatures firmly fixed onto the bases, mix up a batch of basing gunk on a disposable surface (plastic lids from cream or yoghurt pots are handy for this). The gunk mixture will consist of approximately 2 parts dry basing gunk, to one part wood glue, and one part water (or more if needed).  Only make up as much as you need, you can always add a bit more, later, if you run out.  Stir it thoroughly with the palette knife, until it is wet, but not so wet that it will slip off the palette knife, and then start to apply to the base. 

I find it easiest to start in the middle of the base and work outwards, towards the edges.  Build the compound up to the level of the top of the bases on the miniatures. Use the small palette knife to get into tight corners.

At this stage, remember it is essential to let the bases dry, slowly, on a magnetic surface.  For this, I use an old steel baking tray. Make sure that the surface and the underside of the base are smooth and clean, because if the contact isn’t good, it will very likely warp. If desperate, you can speed the drying process by putting it on a radiator or under a lamp, but this can make the compound crack.

Painting the bases

It is very desirable to have a standard colour scheme for all your units across different armies, especially when contingents work in different forces (such as my Greek psiloi, who serve across a number of different armies). To maintain consistency across my collection, I only ever use Games Workshop Steel Legion Drab, Windsor and Newton Buff Titanium and a little peaty brown ink, such as Agrax Earthshade, for shading. Your chosen colours will likely be different ones, but do make a note of what paint range you are using, and keep it consistent!

I roughly dry-brush the Steel Legion Drab base coat over the brown of the base, and then add a highlight with the same paint diluted with 50% Buff Titanium, and finally apply a top highlight consisting of around 25% Drab and 75% Titanium.

After this I seal the base with a wash of Testors Dullcote, into which I mix a tiny bit of brown oil paint.  Sometimes I use a matt acrylic medium, with a very small amount of brown ink mixed in (believe me, less is more, with the ink!)This coat helps to tie the colours of the base together, give it depth, protect against damage, and above all make it matt.  Glossy bases don’t look great!

Once the varnish is dry, the next stage is to apply the Silflor tufts. These come ready made and one can quickly stick them into place I use tweezers to pull them from the plastic sheet and to fit them into place with a small dab of wood glue. I personally find that foliage looks best when I use a variety of different shades and types of tuft, including the weeds and flowers. It is well worth spending some time on this stage; I like to have at least 8 different types of “vegetation” on each base, and have been known to spend a whole evening doing the tufting for a couple of units. I sometimes also apply static grass to the bases, again using wood glue and my trusty Noch puffer bottle. This is also a good time to add twigs, small trees or battlefield debris to the bases.

A worthwhile final stage is to lightly dry-brush the tufts, first with Yellow Ochre and then (optionally) with a thin topcoat of Buff Titanium. This latter gives the bases a dusty appearance that particularly suits an army fighting in a drier climate, and all my Romans and Greeks get this treatment.  

For southern Mediterranean bases, I use more Buff Titanium, drier-looking tufts and leave more of the base exposed.

Since I wrote this, I've introduced one final step; I now paint matt varnish over the tufts and static grass, and any shiny patches of glue on the base.  This is a surprisingly worthwhile additional step; it makes the grass look much more realistic!  Part III, advanced basing, follows tomorrow.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Basing with the Bat - Part I

This is an article that was originally published in Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy Issue 64, which explains my approach to basing miniatures, and which I've reprinted here with their kind approval. It is an extended version of a very old post on this blog.

When I started gaming back in the early ‘70s, wargaming was generally conducted with un-based miniatures, and the few bases one came across were rudely cut from a cornflake packet, and painted with lime-green gloss enamel. In these more complicated times, bases are precision cut from a wide range of different materials, often magnetic for storage reasons, and are textured and covered in more foliage than you’d see at the Chelsea Flower Show!

So why do we base, today?  I believe that the principle reason is that, as armies have got larger, bases (and recently bigger Impetus bases) have been required in order to deploy our regiments quickly from storage and onto the table. Other reasons include the usefulness of basing in supporting rules systems, so that strangers can game equally against each other, the need to protect miniatures both in handling and in transport/storage and, finally, the fact that good basing makes great miniatures look twice as nice!

In comparison with most gamers, I’m unusually fussy about my bases. They must all be exactly the right size, standard colour and finish, flocked and highlighted, matt varnished, magnetic and without any hint of warping. Nothing else is acceptable! In this article I’ll describe the tools, materials and techniques that I use with my system.

Some of the tools and materials you’ll need for great basing:-
  • Prepared bases, with magnetic strip underneath
  • A palette knife
  • A small Palette knife or old brush
  • A steel baking tray
  • A good wood glue
  • A tub of pre-mixed dry basing “gunk” (a mix of plaster, sand, grit and possibly pigment)
  • A small tub of Static grass and a puffer bottle
  • Lots of tufts of different sizes and colours, including weeds and flowers
  • A pair of tweezers; these will get glue on them, so best not use the wife’s!
  • A pot of medium earth-shade acrylic paint, such as Games Workshop Steel Legion drab
  • A pot of Buff Titanium acrylic paint
  • A bottle of Testors Dullcote and a tube of Raw Umber oil paint, or alternatively a matt acrylic varnish, such as Windsor and Newton Galeria
  • A peaty-coloured ink, such as Games Workshop Agrax Earthshade or Windsor and Newton Peat
I make my own bases from card and magnetic sheet, in big batches. They are magnetic underneath, and sealed with spray paint on the top and sides, which helps to avoid my deadly foe, warping. I also often use laser cut ply and MDF bases, especially the circular ones, and sometimes the excellent Renedra plastic bases.

It is particularly important to invest in a decent palette knife, with a springy tip that comes to a fairly fine point, than can get right between the feet of the miniature. Do please clean it carefully after use, and don’t leave it in water, or it will rust! Ideally you’ll also have a smaller palette knife or old paintbrush to work the basing gunk into difficult-to-reach corners. A spare, clean brush comes in handy in case you need to wipe away any gunk that gets onto a miniature, rather than onto the base.

I keep a large pre-mixed tub of what I call “BigRedBatGunk”, which is a mix of plaster and sand/small grit/railway ballast, with added pigment, of my own devising. This provides an instant base coat which saves a good deal of time later on, at the painting stage.  

I also own a tub of static grass, a trusty Noch puffer bottle applicator, and a dozen or so different sizes and colours of Silflor-like tufts and also the weeds and flowers which I find add a lot of interest to the bases.

To be continued...

Monday 21 October 2013

Celtic gridlock

The painting tray is absolutely groaning with British chariots, and that pesky final unit of Numidians.

The chariot ponies are Newline (foreground), Foundry and Black Tree (right, black/dark brown) and Relic (rear right, white). They are all finished and on their bases.

Above are some of the chariot drivers.  These were converted from Wargames Factory plastics by me, and painted by mate Nick, who also painted the riders in the top photo.  It strikes me that these WF driver figures, with the right head-swaps, would make great rowers for a Roman liburnian.  Hmmm...

Thursday 17 October 2013


With Thapsus out of the way, my mind has turned to previous projects...

These are mostly chariot horses for my Ancient British Panzer Division.  But a final half-dozen Numidians have sneaked in at the back...

I recently came across this horse-colour chart on the internet; it is the best one I've seen.   It really helps to introduce variety and realism into one's herd.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Fame at last!

I was pleased (and surprised) to make the Miniature Wargames cover for November. The photo was taken at Newbury, and is of my Thapsus game, which has happily turned out to be quite photogenic. 

Those Zama boards are the gift that keeps on giving!  I intend to start work shortly on a new set of boards in order that I can "ring the changes" in 2014.  

Monday 14 October 2013

SELWG, or Ally Pally to Crystal Pally

I like within sight of Alexandra Palace, and yesterday made the epic journey through the rain, "sarf of the river" to Crystal Palace, where SELWG is held.  Mate Ian Notter very kindly navigated, generally lifted and ported, and helped me set the game up.

Here are shots of the game; I'm afraid I failed to take pictures of anything else, because time was at such a premium...  Happily Ian took some great closeups.  One helpful thing, there, is the light, which is better than most shows and made the photography easy.

Thapsus seemed gratifyingly popular as a participation game; we ran it twice, with novice players both times. It was larger than the colours game, with perhaps 1300 miniatures on the table. There were lots of positive comments about the look of the game. Strangely, the first game took over 3 hours to play and the second less than 90 minutes! I've fired off copies of my "To the Strongest" rules to half a dozen interested gamers. C

All in all, I had a very enjoyable day at SELWG. The event was very well organised and there were some great games on display. We came in in the top 3 participation games. It was great to see some familiar faces, including, amongst others, Big Lee, Guy Bowers, Phil Steele and Richard Lockwood.  Trevor Halsall very kindly delivered the "Best Participation game" trophy I missed at Colours. Many thanks to Nick Speller for bringing an mate and his legions, and helping to pack up at the end, and Jay and mate for playing so enthusiastically, and indeed all who dropped by for a chat.

This was Thapsus' final outing (at least for a year or so); today I need to start work on the Salute 2014 game!

Friday 11 October 2013

Legio X Equestris

Legio X Equestris were one of Caesar's small group of elite legions. They picked up their nickname when their legionaries provided Caesar with an impromptu mounted bodyguard for a parlay with the German King Ariovistus.

I've just extended this (extremely clickable) elite cohort, from 2 stands to 3, with the help of painter mate Andres. It is built around a dozen figures that I picked up in a swap with Andres (mostly on the left), with my less well painted dozen miniatures (mostly on the right). Andres recently painted another 10 stunning shields for me so that I could finish the unit. The shields are little gems, and I love the small variations between the designs, just like a real unit must have had.

They will be in the thick of the fighting in my Thapsus game at SELWG on Sunday.  If you are comingalong, why not sign up for a couple of hours military service?

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Hail, Caesar!

No not the rules but the man.  Caesar was painted for me by Andres at Einar Olafson, who has done a stunning job!  Please have a click.

Caesar himself is an interesting piece.  His horse is Foundry, his body Aventine, and his head Warlord.  

I painted the standard bearer.  In the heat of the action, he is carrying his shield the wrong way up...  The Aventine vexilla is really useful, I must have used 2 dozen of them, so far..  

So... Caesar will be leading the action on Sunday at SELWG.  If you are coming along and want to play in the very large Thapsus battle I'll be running twice (once each AM and PM), please drop me a line at the email address on the front page of my blog, and I'll book you in!  

Tuesday 8 October 2013

The other Numidians...

The remaining 2 units of Numidian warband.  No elephants were harmed during the basing of these units.

During Caesar's African campaign, Numidian infantry were numerous, if not particularly effective.  I tend to mix them in with my Numidian skirmishers for games with my "To the Strongest!" rules.  

The figures are a mix of Foundry (Greek and Numidian), Companion and Crusader, I painted around half of them, and finished others from eBay and that I bought from Stephen Hales.  

I have lots more of these unpainted in the loft, and will return to this army again.  BTW, if anyone has any spare Companion imitation legionaries, I'm after some.  Juba apparently had 4 legions-worth, which would be around 190 minis in the scale I'm doing, and so far I only have 40.

Monday 7 October 2013

Poor dead nellie

I've finished a few more Numidian units, which I'll post during the course of this week.  To make these (clickable) skirmishers a little different to the previous four units, I have deployed one of my Aventine dead nellies.

Friday 4 October 2013

A few Romans more

I've been trying to match Andres's style of painting and finish a Roman unit that he mostly painted, some years back.   I'm nowhere near as good, but they look OK from 12" away, and that will have to do.  Andres is sending me shields for them.

I'm also about to complete one further unit of Numidians, and Caesar's personal standard bearer, to go with Andres' Caesar model.

A huge thanks to Caliban Paul for sending me a rare Companion Roman Command pack last week!