2010-01-29

Essex Elephant: MEPA23

The next elephants in my series of elephant pictures are these Essex miniatures 15mm elephants, MEPA23: Elephant with driver and pikeman.

As with the other Essex elephants I've shown, the castings are 3 parts: two body halves and one head. Thes are unarmored elephants for use by the Alexandrian Imperial army and early Alexandrian successor armies. They have a single phalangite with a pike as well as the driver, carrying what looks a lot like a brain spike (emergency brake).

I installed the driver in the wrong place, as far as I know. I think he should be up further on the elephant's neck, as on the rest of my elephants.

I decided to face the pikeman rearward, based on an article I read in Slingshot issue 260: Elephants and Things, by David Edwards. His conclusions were based on logic, not on historical evidence. He concluded that the only way a pikeman with a 20' long pike could protect both sides of the elephant without decapitating the driver or knocking him down is if he were facing rearward. The elephant can take care of its own front just fine, thanks. Later, with large crenellated howdahs, riders could stand and move around more easily, but probably still wouldn't bother lifting the pike over the elephant instead of swinging it around the rear.

Museum Miniatures Elephant: IE10/IE15

This elephant came as a part of a DBA army pack, and was labelled as a Museum Miniatures 15mm elephant IE15: C In C On Elephant Elephant/Howdah/Crew Umbrella. However, it looks identical to the image on the Museum Miniatures site of IE10: Indian Elephant Howdah Mahout, Archer Javelin.

It did come with the top part of an umbrella, but there was no obvious place to mount it, so I left it off. The crew is the same as on the IE10: a driver; a kneeling archer, identical to a ground archer; and a kneeling, thrusting spearman.

If I remember correctly, the elephant itself is a single part casting. It isn't as tall as the Essex elephants, but it's longer front-to-back. The howdah is a separate part, and the crew are also separate. There's no blanket or any other covering under the howdah.

These are nice looking castings with a good skin texture that is easy to paint. The pose is very animated and a lot less lethargic looking than the Essex selections, but the elephant doesn't look very warlike.

Here's an image comparing the Museum elephant, on the left, with an Essex MEPA23 on the right.


Update:
Edited to change "IE16" to "IE15" after I looked at the actual bag it came in...

Essex Elephant: MOGE23

The second elephant in my series of elephant miniature pictures is the Essex Miniatures 15mm elephant MOGE23: Armoured elephant, driver & four javelinmen. It's an Indian elephant with Indian soldiers helping it along.

Again, the elephant does not fit 4 javelinmen comfortably, so I added only 2. The driver is the same as with the MOGE19 elephant, and all 4 javelinmen are identical.

As with all the Essex elephants I've assembled so far, this is a three piece casting: two body halves and one head.

When I saw this one unpainted, I thought "what the heck is that armor supposed to be?"

After a bit of Googling, I found pictures of elephant armor that seems to match the Essex miniature. The actual suit of armor is on display at the Royal Armoury Museum in Leeds, UK. I can't seem to embed remote pictures very well, so I'll include links, instead.

Flickr user Gidzy posted a good picture of the armor from above the rear quarter.
About.com has a composite picture with close-up details of the construction.

The armor has areas of metal scales and decorative plates, connected by mail. It is exceedingly detailed compared to the huge scale of the animal, but most of the detail is lost on the 15mm figure. The circles I painted gold on the miniature seem to correspond to larger metal plates decorated with a raised images of elephants and other animals and decorations. The Essex figure had no obvious tie-downs on the side of the elephant, so I painted the fringe and rear ties red instead.

It's worth noting that the real elephant also doesn't seem to have room for 4 seated archers as well as the driver!

Essex Elephant: MOGE19

Essex Miniatures does not publish images of their elephant models in their catalog. This makes purchasing elephants difficult since you can't see what you're getting before you have it. I have decided to post pictures and descriptions of all of the elephant models I have, to help others make informed purchasing decisions.

This is the Essex Miniatures 15mm elephant MOGE19: Unarmoured elephant, driver & four archers.

The back of the elephant obviously doesn't fit 4 archers along with the driver, so I only painted three archers and the driver. When I went to install the archers on the elephant, I couldn't find a good position for 3 passengers that didn't look like they were falling off, so I only included two out of the four archers here. All four castings were identical.

The elephant itself comes in 3 pieces: two halves of the body, slightly hollow, and the head. The pieces don't fit perfectly, and require some sanding and gap filling to get a good fit. I used epoxy to hold the elephant together, and pinned the archers in place (but not the driver).

The elephant skin is nicely textured, and lends itself to dry brushing. However, the large two-layer blanket has no surface detail, and really begs to be painted. I'm not very good at flat work, but did what I could to spice it up a bit.

DBA Army III/10c: Hindu Indian

Here is my latest DBA army: Medieval Hindu Indians "other," army III/10c. The figures are from an Essex DBA v1 army pack, and did not include the Artillery element that is optional in the DBA v2 army list.

The army consists of 1 Elephant General (I choose the one with the red blanket), 2 Elephants, 2 Cavalry, 1 Blade, 4 Bows, and 2 Psiloi. The Artillery, if I had it, would replace one of the elephants. I have a bombard I could paint up for this army, but no appropriate crew yet.

I plan to write more about the individual Essex Elphant models soon, since I have had a horrible time finding any useful information about what they look like and how they should be painted. For now, let's just say: these things are tanks! The two on the right are very heavily armored except for their legs.

I tried to find information online about how the Medieval Hindu Indians should be painted, but I didn't find anything other than other peoples' paint jobs, and indications that they were also guessing. Off white is always a reasonable choice, or red if you need some color, since it seems to be one of the most commonly available dyes. The cavalry are the only elements that have much color (other than the elephant). I chose primarily red, with green barding and some blue shirts.

The lances held by the left element here were molded on, so I left them until they break off. On the right, I used Xyston wire spears instead, since they had to be glued in place anyway.

The infantry are easy: off-white butt wraps and head wraps, with red shields. I don't even know if these figures are appropriate for medieval era Indians; I'd expect them to be wearing a bit more armor or maybe a robe. On the upside, these guys will give me a head start on Classical Indians, and they're compatible with the Mountain Indian figures I've already painted.

Was my most recently painted full DBA army Mountain Indians? It seems odd, I feel like I painted something else in between... I guess that was my 10 other DBA elements for the Persians.

Have I actually played a game of DBA since I painted the Mountain Indians? Well. Maybe 2 games, I guess... but I haven't played with the Mountain Indians yet.

2010-01-24

Game report: Uncharted Seas, 2...

...In which our heroes remember the importance of reading the rules ahead of time.

Frank and I played Uncharted Seas again on Saturday. We didn't get to the "setting up and remembering how to play" stage until 10pm or so, and then we had to find the rules for all the new models we're using.

We were playing almost 1000 points per side. My Dragon Lord fleet consisted of 2 battleships, a squadron of 3 cruisers, a squadron of 3 heavy cruisers, a dragon carrier, and 2 squadrons of 3 frigates each. Frank's Dwarves had a battleship, a flagship, two squadrons of 3 carriers, a squadron of 2 heavy carriers, and two squadrons of 3 frigates.

The scenario was a simple "line them up and knock them down" setup since we're still figuring out how to play well. The game ended up lasting about 3 or 4 turns, which is to say, until we stopped at 2am.

When we called time, I had basically lost: I lost all of my cruisers, all but one frigate, and one wing of 3 dragons from the carrier. My carrier was damaged, but my other models weren't. Frank had damage on many of his models, making them less useful, but only lost a few carriers and a few frigates.

I learned several things not to do, but I'm not sure what I should do instead!

Dragon Lords are fast and have good long range firing, but don't have good armor or short range guns. Dwarves have heavier armor and much better short range guns. They're also better at firing forward instead of broadsides.

This presented several difficulties. First of all, my fast frigates were really easy to get too far ahead, where they were stuck out by themselves and got into trouble. Once they were there, they got in the way and acted as a screen, preventing my cruisers from firing through them... until they were crushed. The frigates can only shoot at short range, but once they get that close they're hosed by the Dwarves.

The other problem Dragon Lords have is difficulty bringing all its guns to bear. To stay at long range, you need to sail around the edges of the table and shoot towards the middle. But if you do that, you'll only ever get one broadside and possibly minimal front arc shooting. But if you close to get both broadsides into combat, the Dwarves crush you in close shooting.

So maybe I need to use the Frigates as a screen in a more conscious way, or possibly as bait to send the enemy where I'd prefer them to be.

A few problems with the rules are showing their head as well. Maybe it's just a lack of tactical skill, but I've seen this in many miniatures games. When there are both weak and powerful units on the board, the weak ones all tend to get killed off quickly, leaving a duel between a few large units. With large ships being harder to hit by small ones, but killing the small ones much more easily, an equal number of points of small and large ships aren't really balanced because the small ones can hardly touch the large ones.

The other problem I have with the rules is the specific implementation and maintenance they're doing with the actual rule book. Spartan Games sells their rule book, but they release rules for new models online instead of selling them. They also make rules corrections and additions available online for free. This is good!

The problem is, these rules additions are spread aross many files and it's a big pain in the butt to actually use them, especially in combination with the rulebook, which is not available online. The best case scenario would be One Big File of "everything else" you need except the rulebook.

The reality is much worse. To figure out how to handle the Dragon Carrier, I needed to consult 4 different files: the stat card, front; stat card, back; Nogdra Dragon rules; and Flying rules.

Using these separate files makes it easier for Spartan to release a single update, but it makes the rules nearly unusable because you're not sure which files you need until a question comes up.

I also don't like the revision control they have on thier rules. They call the files things like "Flying rules- final." Well, what happens when you change the final rules? Nothing is ever final, but they don't have any room for new version numbers.

Overall I'm happy and I'd still play the game again, but maybe not 1000 point battles until we're more familiar with the rules.

2010-01-23

Make Your Own Game: The Game Crafter

I recently discovered a really excellent web site: The Game Crafter.

Here, you can do on-demand publishing of board games, while maintaining ownership of your creation. They have a selection of standard parts you can choose from, such as pawns, meeples, tokens, glass gems, and colored cubes. They also print and cut decks of cards, mounted game boards of certain sizes, and instruction books. Finally, they let you sell your game from their store, similar to the way a site like Cafe Press works.

I haven't used the service or bought any games from them yet, so I can't comment on the quality of the components they provide. However, as far as the price is concerned, this seems like an excellent way to get reasonably high quality cards printed, such that they are all an identical size (so you can shuffle them) and without running out of printer ink. The base prices seem like a manageable cost to build your own game and purchase a copy, but it seems like the margins would be really slim if you wanted to sell copies at a reasonable price.

I also discovered a similar site for books and authors: lulu.com. I'm no writer, so that one's not as interesting to me.

Jack of All Trades or Renaissance Soul?

The GeekDad blog at Wired recently had a post by someone else who finally recognized herself as a Jack of All Trades. Except, she refers to herself as a Renaissance Soul, a term used in a book she read. I suppose this is the modern, PC version of "Renaissance Man."

It's interesting to read her story, especially the part about how after reading some books about other "renaissance souls," she finally feels like there's nothing wrong with this aspect of her personality. I'm not sure I ever felt like being a Jack of All Trades was a problem; it's just the way I was. I came from a family of well-rounded individuals, so I don't think I felt out of place.

I also enjoyed her observation that some people enjoy going to the same place for vacation every year, while others prefer going to new places. I prefer going to new places, but I don't take many non-family vacations anyway. Our decision to take many long weekends instead of a few long vacations per year meshes well with my preference for the new. But more than anything, I don't think we enjoy going on vacation unless we have a specific reason or an activity to do in the place we're going. Travelling just to be somewhere else makes little sense in this day and age.

I previously came across other ways of describing the difference between people who prefer the comfort of the known and those who are entranced by the novelty of the new: neophiles versus neophobes. This clear cut dichotomy seems like an insufficient measurement. As I've written before, I have a fear of the unknown, which may make me a neophobe, but I definitely also have an affinity for the new, making me a neophile. I think I like new ideas, but prefer to have new experiences only after I have a chance to calculate the risks involved.

But what about the names: "Jack of All Trades" versus "Renaissance Soul?" I'd definitely prefer to be called a Jack of all Trades, Master of None. A Jack solves problems, sometimes out of necessity, but never out of vanity. "Renaissance Soul" sounds too highbrow for me, more like "master of others, giving me time to do what I want."

2010-01-22

French and Indian Irregulars

I painted up 12 more French and Indian War figures. These are the last of the figures I started painting in 2009.

The first two images are Dixon Miniatures 25mm French Coureurs du Bois figures that I got on clearance from Wargames Miniatures. I've read several descriptions (and even more spellings) of the Coureurs du Bois, and miniatures manufacturers seem to throw the term around a lot more than historians. My best estimate of the "real" Coureurs du Bois is that they were illegal trappers, "forest runners," who didn't actually play a large part in the war. However, most of the French soldiers in America during the war were born in Canada, and knew better than to wear bright white and blue wool coats unless absolutely necessary.


Given the few pictures I have of French soldiers in wilderness (campaign) gear, these guys seem to fit just fine. The only big question I have is the beards: soldiers typically seem to be clean shaven. I think a wider variety of coats would also be more appropriate.

The Dixon miniatures are comparable in size with the Old Glory 25mm figures. These are a lot pudgier looking, especially their "meatheads," but they don't look out of scale with the Old Glories. The facial figures are deep set and full of expression, which made detailing the faces very easy. A bit of the new GW flesh wash and some highlights and they're ready to go.

These Indians are more of the Old Glory 25mm figures I painted earlier. For these, I tried to do most of the shading using a dark base coat and lighter highlights. I did the flesh and most of the colors this way, but I inked the white and tan leggings/moccasins.

For all of these French and Indian War figures, I much prefer painting the irregulars instead of the rank and file with identical uniforms. The effort required is approximately the same for me, but I much prefer the results of painting the more varied outfits.

2010-01-16

Ride report: The 3-speed Sloth

Halfway through my trip to work on Monday, the first longer ride on my new 3-speed with studded tires, I knew what I'd write about it: I can't tell whether the tires worked really well, or whether the roads weren't icy.

Then I arrived at the snow and ice covered Eliza Furnace trail, and my opinion changed. The knobby, studded tires definitely make a huge difference compared to my normal almost-slicks. I don't know how much of it is because of the rubber knobs and how much is the carbide studs, but the tires definitely inspire confidence on poor weather roads.

As for the bike itself, it's not my new favorite ride, but it definitely serves a good purpose at this time of year. I thought the gearing was too high, until I readjusted my shifter cable and discovered I didn't have 1st gear previously!

This bike makes a good winter rider for poor quality roads, providing a low enough gear to get up the hills without a dangerously fast gear for the potentially slippy downhills. The fenders kept my feet dry through the slush all week, and the toe clips let me wear my boots instead of cycling shoes.

I only wish I had another generator light on the front! Batteries are a bad deal.

Game report: Skirmish at Jumonville Glen

Family Game Night at Martine's school was postponed due to weather, so we didn't play the Jumonville game until last night. It went as well as I expected: successful, but very hectic with a group of 1st-4th graders.

The format of game night was basically a free-for-all: anyone could bring games and play with opponents they found, or borrow games from the school. My game was an oddball. I set it up and waited for people to walk up and decide to play. Lots of kids and a few parents and teachers were interested in the game before it started, and a handful of kids stayed to play.

When I started handing out figures and explaining the rules, there were 6 kids from 1st through 4th grades, Daniel, and me. I decided on 8 players worth of soldiers with the idea that Daniel and I could step out if anyone else wanted to join in.

People came and left a lot between the instructions and the first few turns. We ended up with 4 kids and three adults who pretty much stayed for the whole game, and a few kids who came and left.

The game itself went relatively well. It took maybe an hour and fifteen minutes including instructions. The French started at the base of the cliff, and the Virginians and Indians were at least a foot away. Early on, the battle was relatively even. Then the French got a long run of turns in a row, and did some real damage. We played until the bitter end: the last Indian soldier, dubbed "sniper," took out 2-3 French before finally being shot for his last hit point

I learned a lot about running games for kids. First of all, most kids of this age don't want to listen to instructions at all. I'm not sure whether it was a good idea to remove Blood and Swash's "roll for your soldier's ability scores" process or not. On one hand, it was some setup time that was avoided. On the other hand, it would've gotten the kids to do something while learning about their soldiers' abilities, instead of just listening to me talk.

I think it might work best to set things up ahead of time, and introduce the rules by playing the first turn. Describing the rules to players who are just going to leave is a waste, and you'll have to re-explain for people who walk up anyway.

I got a hint of another problem when playtesting with Martine, but it was more obvious with a group of kids. Kids have short arms, and they're short. It's not easy for them to reach figures in the middle of the table, especially without dragging their arms over all the terrain. The Blood and Swash games they play with kids at conventions did a great job solving this problem I didn't know I'd have: the games are in a very small (1-2' square) model bar room, with outside walls. The outer walls require kids to lift their arms high enough not to hit any of the contents of the game board. A ship's deck model with railings on the sides might also work well for this.

The useful attention span of these kids was also only about an hour. Things can't go on longer than that without losing steam.

As for the rules themselves: we ended up making some mistakes, though the players were mostly insulated from this. In an earlier playtest, I could never remember to tell players to activate 2 soldiers on face cards, so I didn't even try to implement this rule last night.

The other big rules mistake I made was allowing charging into close combat without any bravery tests. I forgot this the first time someone charged, and so I skipped it completely from then on. It didn't really make the game worse, but it was simpler and different: we had a lot more close combat than in playtesting. One tactic the "free charge" ended up allowing was leaving close combat to charge a different soldier in order to get the charge bonus for fighting. I didn't have a rule that said you can't leave combat, because most of the time it would not be beneficial to do that anyway... as long as you have to make a bravery test to charge again.

I had enough d20's for all the players to use, and I said players could keep them if they stayed for the whole game. Obviously for most of the players who left in the middle, this wasn't enough motivation. But I think there was one player who was staying on in the end only to get the free stuff. It's probably worth doing this again, but I won't have any expectation that it's going to keep everyone playing forever.

I didn't have any figure casualties, not even a bent musket. 3 of my trees broke off, but I mostly expected that; I'm surprised they didn't break off earlier when adults were playing.

Overall I'm quite happy with how it went, and I'm really glad Daniel was there to help me herd the cats. Thanks! In the end, it was probably just an excuse to paint figures and terrain that seemed interesting, but we had at least 2-3 games worth of "playtesting" as well as one "real" game so that's worth it. I'm not likely to try anything with more complicated rules at an open game night, at least until some of the players really show they're interested in learning more.

2010-01-10

The Slippery Slope: Later Achaemenid Persians

On the fanaticus forums, someone asked about building a BBDBA army (a triple DBA army from one army list and its allies) starting with the armies he already had. They just happened to have most of the same armies as I do, so I did some calculating.

If you have all of the Later Achaemenid Persian (II/7) options painted, a Skythian (I/43a) army with all the options painted, and one of the later Hoplite armies (II/5), then you have a great start on a double Persian army with Skythian ally for BBDBA. Reading the DBM lists, you can make a theoretically accurate army by using greek hoplites as mercenary spears, Skythian light horse as allied units within the Persian army, and Cretan archers (use Greek) for the Psiloi. Then
all you need to paint is a few elements of Cavalry and maybe more Psiloi to fill up the BBDBA army.

But... I have all those armies. That means I could do it too. And, I just happened to have a spare pack of Persian cavalry... and so my slide down the slippery slope began.

I painted two cavalry stands and the cavalry general I hadn't painted previously. Around this same time, I started looking into Basic Impetus and Impetus. To field an Impetus army for the Persians, I'd only need a few more cavalry stands and a bit more Psiloi. So I bought a pack of archers, and painted the rest of my cavalry.

The four stands of cavalry in the rear are Chariot Miniatures (Magister Militum/Navigator Miniatures). The Cavalry general in front is from the Essex DBA army pack. The archers are also Essex figures.

Now... the archers give me more Psiloi than I need. If I use mercenary hoplites from my Greek army for the spear elements, then all I need to make a triple Persian army for BBDBA is another cavalry or chariot general and either scythed chariots or psiloi.

But once I have a BBDBA army for the Persians, who are they going to fight against? Clearly I'll need to paint a second BBDBA army as an enemy. I chose Alexander the Great (II/12), because apparently I have a driving need to paint 48 more pikemen. Actually, if I paint a triple Alexandrian army, I'll be able to morph it into about 5 other Alexandrian/Successor armies, and I'll have enough figures to have some of the successors fight against each other in DBA. It'll also get me enough figures for a substantial Impetus army.

Now I have both Persians and Alexandrians on order from Magister Militum, to round out the Persian army and triple my Alexandrians. I chose the figure packs myself instead of buying premade DBA armies, so I could tweak some of the options so they're more useful in other armies.

2010-01-07

Studded Tires

Thanks for the studded tires, Mom and Dad!

I built this bike to use the Nokian A10 tires. It's a low geared 3 speed, so I'm not tempted to go too fast when I shouldn't. It has good fender clearance, using Velo Orange aluminum fenders. Unfortunately I have to use my battery light on it, that'll be disappointing.

Installing the tires on their rims was the most difficult part of this whole job. The tires are very stiff, and tight on the rims. Also, they have carbide spikes for additional hand comfort as you wrestle them onto the rims.

On my first attempt, when my hands got sore I broke down and did what I knew I shouldn't: I used a tire lever to install the tire. Even though I was being careful, the inevitable occurred, and I popped the tube. After getting some additional tubes, I tried again; the second time, I succeeded. Then I tried the rear tire, and put another hole in the tube.

For the next two days, my palms were sore. It hurt to run water over them. The next day, I remembered I had another tube available, and tried that one; but this time I got smart and used gloves. That tube got pinched and popped, without even using the tire level to install it. After using my last 2 patches to repair two of the three tube failures, one final attempt got the tire on the rim without any holes in the tube. (I have more patches coming in the mail)

There are a few upsides here. There's no way these things are going to get holes in them or pinch-flat, since they are so stiff and heavy. I'm just going to leave my repair kit at home since I'd never be able to replace a tube on the road anyway.

I took the bike out for a spin last night, on our unplowed road. On my limited ride, the tires worked really well: they didn't slide at all, even though it was easy for me to slip on my feet when I was standing.

I have a cold, and we're getting 4-8" of snow in the next few days, so I haven't ridden it to work yet. Maybe I will next week.

Thanks!

2010-01-03

Plumbing WTF

thedailywtf.com decided to join polite company, and declared that their use of "WTF" stands for Worse than Failure. This site is sort of a There I Fixed It for programmers.

What is Worse than Failure? Success, when it looks like this:

It's not failure: it works. It's just a horrifyingly bad solution. That's 5 separate fittings screwed together with teflon tape, in order to replace one T-fitting that isn't available in the exact size and specs I require. It also required at least 4 trips to the hardware store to get the actual parts I needed.

(Yes, I even asked for help at the store on two different occasions, and no one knew what the heck I was talking about, despite the fact that I bought the water filter at the very same store.)

The long story:

We got a new water filter, that came with a plastic T fitting to plumb it into the supply line between the faucet and the supply hose: 1/2" pipe threads. The water filter stopped working. In the process of figuring out why, I screwed up the faucet. The replacement faucet has the supply hose built in, to prevent people like me from breaking it the way I did. But that means the water filter T fitting needs to have 3/8" supply hose fittings instead of 1/2" pipe threads now. Hilarity ensues.