2010-08-30

Old Bedford Village: Drums in the Forest

Last weekend we went to Old Bedford Village.  This is a historical reenactment village in central PA, similar to places such as Colonial Williamsburg, Old Sturbridge Village, or Strawbery Banke.  This weekend was Drums in the Forest: a reenactment of Braddock's Defeat held every 5 years in the forest just outside the village.

We arrived in the midst of the reenactment.  As with most publicly viewable reenactments I've seen, this one seemed heavy on the show and light on accuracy (or, maybe I'm just an eternal critic who doesn't know what he's talking about).  It seems that when you're reenacting a specific event, it's hard to find enough properly uniformed troops, these days.  There were plenty of irregulars, but there didn't seem to be enough properly uniformed British.  Truthfully, if I were tromping through these woods I'd leave my bright red coat at home too.

There was lots of smoke and plenty of muzzle flashes, but I had a hard time avoiding the image of a bunch of boys running around in the woods yelling "Bang!" (and this is coming from a "grown man" who plays with toy soldiers as a hobby).

Although I found the reenactment a bit disappointing, I consider that to be my fault and not theirs.  The whole family thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the village, and I was able to have fun once I managed to put things into perspective.  The permanent installations provided many good demonstrations of period industry and craft, and all of the reenactors looked and acted wonderful as long as I ignored the context of the massacre they attempted to demonstrate.  The reenactor's tent encampment would have been a lot more interesting to me than the reenactment itself, but since they were actually living there (for the night), it felt like a big invasion of their limited privacy even though they probably expected it.  I expect the reenactors probably call us all "muggles" and complain about us behind our backs.

Personally, I find the individual demonstrations of professions such as leatherworking, weaving, cooperage, candle making, tinsmithing, and basketmaking in the context of the homes or shops where they were done a lot more interesting than presenters talking to an audience about what was done and why.  Orating about period Colonial dress is not as compelling to me as seeing the place someone lived, and experiencing the limitations of their life that inspired the solutions they implemented in their industry. 

The buildings at Bedford have interesting stories as well.  Some of them were moved, log by log and stone by stone, from other locations to this site.  I'm reminded of the family who tore out their new house's "modernized" drywall to find a log cabin underneath... and they were wondering why it was so hard to run wires through the walls?

2010-08-21

DBA at Legions, Friday August 20

This month's theme for DBA on the third Friday of the month at Legions was Chinese armies and their enemies.  There were 5 of us; unfortunately, at least JM, Kevin, and Larry couldn't make it.

I played II/4c: Warring States Chines, Chao the whole night, and managed to get in a game against everyone.

First, I faced Jim's Sung Chinese (III/61), with a single Artillery.  He was defender, and set up on one half of the board, with his deployment zone bisected by a steep hill.  My response wasn't ideal, and I made some mistakes (not following my plan, and moving my LH where they didn't need to go).  In the end, he beat me 4-1. 

Next I faced Neal, who borrowed Jim's Ming Chinese (IV/73) with two Artillery.  I defended and placed triangular terrain with two steep hills and a wood (with a road through the middle).  He attempted to flank me around the wood with his two light horse, but I managed to repel them with a single element of crossbow, and kill one in the process.  I approached his artillery and bows with my spears.  His shooting was ineffective even after many shots, but I killed one of his bows in the woods.  I think my other kills were blades by my knights, but I don't remember very well.  It was a pretty even match that finally ended with me winning 4-2.

In my third game, I defended against Rich's Southern Dynasty Chinese (II/79) including an Elephant.  I placed a small central wood and a gentle hill bisecting one deploment line.  I deployed facing the side opposite the hill, with my forces concentrated on my left and my bows moving towards the wood.  He placed his elephant on the road directly approaching my line. 

My deployment was adequate, but not spectacular, and Rich had the upper hand early on with expected matchups.  He moved his elephant down the road, supported by blades, toward my spear line.  However, he was frustrated by poor PIP rolls: he rolled a single 3 and nothing else higher than 2 for PIPs for the whole game.  I was able to use my higher PIPS to maneuver into better matchups and pushed his elephant back, but I was very vulnerable at some points, if he only had enough moves to take advantage of my position.  I ended up winning 4-3 in a very close, tight game when I killed 2 elements in the last turn on a few more lucky rolls.

My last game was against Steve, who attacked with his Shang Chinese (I/13).  I used a smallish steep hill and smallish wood on two deployment zone corners; the road played no part in the game.  I never got my bows out of the wood on my side: he attacked with superior forces of Auxilia and Psiloi.  I had a fairly strong central position, but he controlled the other flank with his bows against my light horse. 

I was able to shave a spear off to hold back the bows, but my bows were suffering in the woods on my other flank.  I ended up killing off his three psiloi, while he whittled me down.  Eventually he was winning 3G-3 and I needed 2 PIPs to move anything.  I lasted another 2-3 turns, when he killed my fourth element and I wasn't able to return the favor, so he won 4G-3.

I learned some important points in these games, mostly about the interactions of bows in bad going.  Chao has a very small bad going force, only a single Psiloi, so the bows have to pull double duty in the woods and steep hills.  Playing against Neal, I realized my spear were an even match for him in the woods, since he couldn't shoot me in there and we were both +2 and 2" move.  Rich taught me that blades are still better than bows in the woods, with their +3, and my shooting didn't make up for this.  Steve reinforced the point by demonstrating Auxilia's superiority in bad going: they survived many turns without moving or recoiling from my shooting.  In short, Bows are good only against a few troop types in bad going, even in a defensive role: mounted, pike, and maybe psiloi if you can get a double shot off. 

There was a wide variety of Chinese armies there.  Besides the armies I played against, Steve also had Ming and Post Mongol Samurai; Jim could field Yuan, Khitan-Liao, and maybe one other option; and Rich also had Warring States (other).  I had all of the Warring States options except (other) as well as Mongol Conquest.  This seems to be a very heavily populated part of the world, w.r.t. locally owned DBA armies.

I also noticed several of the armies had Museum figures in them, and they were all painted very differently.  It was interesting to see the different color schemes, they made the figures almost unrecognizable in the different armies.

It was a fun theme this month.  The proposed theme for next month is Elephants: every army must have at least one.  Sounds good!

2010-08-13

DBA Army II/4: Warring States Chinese, Double Army

I've completed the elements necessary to field two Warring States Chinese armies at the same time, or a double Chao army.  It's been hot in the attic so I haven't gotten a chance to take pictures for a while.


The green army is II/4c: Chao, which has no options: 2xHCh (gen), 2x2LH, 4x4Sp, 3x4Cb, 1x2Ps.  I needed to finish the chariots, crossbows, and psiloi to field this army.

All of the figures are Museum Miniatures.  Overall I really enjoy working with these figures.  There is very little flash or other cleanup required.  The poses are limited, but I like the overall effect in this army.  The infantry has enough detail, but not too much, and lends itself to a clean simple color scheme.

I'm not quite as happy with the green army chariots as I am with the blue ones I painted a few months ago.  I mounted the umbrella too low on the general's chariot, and didn't paint the red quite as well.

For the cloth, I used a light base coat and mixed a wash from darker paint, gloss varnish, and water until it flowed well over the cloth.  A few highlights on top finished it off well.


The blue army started as II/4a: Qin, but I quickly decided I wanted to morph it into other Warring States armies.  The first morph was into II/4c: Chao, but along with the green army I can now morph into any of II/abcd with all options.  I'm missing the 3Bd and 3Cb elements for II/4e.
Here, I have 2xHCh (gen), 1x3Cv, 2x2LH, 4x4Wb (with halberds/dagger axes), 4x4Sp, 3x4Cb, 2x2Ps.
In this round of painting, I only needed to paint the 4x4Sp and 1x2LH elements.

I chose to model the warbands with halberds to differentiate them from the spearmen (shown here).  According to the DBM army lists, the same troops are categorized as warbands in the Qin army and spear in other armies, due to their different motivation and not different weapons: Qin soldiers were paid by the head.

The light horse is the only element I needed to match colors with an existing element.  It's not identical but they're close enough that it makes no difference.

With only a few elements of light horse, I don't mind that there's only one pose. With an entire army of light horse, I need either different poses or different colors to keep things from getting boring.

This is all the Chinese I need to paint for our planned BBDBA tournament at Fall-In; but it's fun, so I could forsee getting around to painting some more.  Maybe I'll build enough to morph into a double army other than Chao, or maybe into Han.

2010-08-11

DBA Army IV/11: North-Western American: Tlingit

I finished painting my Tlingit army.  The camp will wait a bit while I finish some other projects.  Here's the whole army: 10x3Bw including the general, and 2x2Ps.  Since the main body of the army is bows, I decided to use melee troops for the psiloi.  The only sources I've read about Tlingit fighting suggest that they'd be better classed as warband.  At the Battle of Sitka they apparently rushed at the enemy in an attempt to win individual combats, and didn't shoot en-masse from a distance or advance in formation.


On the other hand, most folks seem to agree there weren't enough of any North American warriors to build a "real" DBA army.  That really doesn't bother me: I painted these guys because they look cool, what more do you need?

Here are pictures of individual elements.  On the right side of this image is the General, distinguished by melee weapons, and the fact that all three warriors are wearing helmets.




I looked at sources on the Internet for inspiration to paint the patterns on the helmets, armor, and conical hats.  My patterns are paraphrased versions of the real patterns, but the overall effect should be similar.  Most of the helmets were done with a brush and paint, while some of the fine black lines on armor and hats were done with a Pigma Micron pen, .005".


Almost all of the helmets and armor patterns are taken directly from specific images I found online. Some of the helmets are patterned after modern helmets carved and painted by Tommy Joseph: specifically, his Wolf War Helmet and a human helmet whose images I can't find anymore. 

Other designs, including all of the hide armor patterns, are inspired Tommy's pictures of Tlingit artifacts in museums around the world, which are available only on his Facebook pages.  One of the helmets (top center in the second detail picture) is patterned after a Shark Transformation helmet, depicting a human (on the front) transforming into shark form (on the rear).

Overall, the coloration on most helmets seemed very uniform. Faces of humans and most animals were copper/tuquoise blue, with red (iron oxide?) on the lips, nostrils, and ears.  Eyes, hair, eyebrows, and other details were black, and teeth are inlaid in white.  Depending on the specific animal detailed, portions were left wood colored, painted white, red, or black.  The blue paint I chose was somewhat more blue than it should be, but I had a very hard time mixing a blue-green that didn't read as "way too green" at this scale.  Some animals (bears) are depicted with a black face, but lips and nostrils are still red.

On the wooden slat armor, I painted the body of the armor khaki, similar to the color of the fresh bindings shown on Tommy Joseph's reconstructed Tlingit body armor.  I detailed the exposed wood portions at the edges with a lighter yellowish wood color.  Historical artifacts all show much darker wood and bindings, but those are hundreds of years old.  I expect in battle, the armor would look much newer.  Many of the wooden armors have a detailed crest on the chest, but some are plain or have patterns of exposed wood between the bound areas.

I didn't find any evidence for the colors used for bows or arrow cases. I expect both were more decorative than I've depicted them here, but I'd rather err on the plain side just in case.  I don't think any of the arrow cases are visible in pictures here anyway.

I'm very happy with the way this army turned out, but I don't have a lot of hope for its prospects in open battle.  Luckily there are two North American theme events at Fall-In 2010, so I'll have a chance to win a battle with them.

Overall, I like the Eureka sculpts.  It might have been better for me to choose a different mix of helmet/armor options, but another limiting factor is in the shapes available for the helmets.  They are far more limiting than the wide variety of animal shapes used on real Tlingit helmets.  The other problem with the Eureka sculpts is that they don't use a large enough collar: I think the helmets should be sitting much higher than they are here, compared to the head height of the warriors without helmets.

I sat on these half-painted figures for a while, worried that I'd wreck them by detailing the helmets and crests.  I'm glad I finally jumped in and finished them, because I think they turned out quite well. 

2010-08-04

Meanwhile...

Meanwhile is a very interesting graphic novel by Jason Shiga. I highly recommend that anyone interested in graphic novels read it, or at least experience the free interactive online version.

The cheap and easy way to describe Meanwhile is to compare it to the Choose Your Own Adventure books our generation enjoyed as kids.  This comparison is unfair to Meanwhile. Athough the mechanism involved is similar, the results are very different.

Instead of reading panels left to right, top to bottom (or right to left if you prefer Manga), the panels in Meanwhile are connected by directional pipes leading to the next panel in sequence.  Often, these pipes lead you to a choice, and the path you choose changes the part of the story you experience.  Sometimes when you're tasked with entering a pass code, it starts to feel a lot more like a game than a story.

After experiencing a few of the many paths through the book, it starts to require a concerted effort to find your way onto the remaining pages, or onto paths you've seen in passing during other parts of the story.  Some parts of the book are pure Easter Eggs that can't be reached without "cheating" and flipping through page-by-page, and others are available only by making poor or random choices at key decision points.  Just as in real life, some of the most interesting endings are available only through serendipity.

While Choose Your Own Adventure books tell a different story depending on the choices you make, Meanwhile is a single, coherent story; you just experience it from a different perspective based on your decisions.  I'm sorry I can't tell you more without giving too much away.  You'll have to go experience it for yourself!

Completing the story provided about the same length of entertainment as a "normal" graphic novel of a comparable length, but it was satisfying in a very different way.  I wonder how it was created, and if another story could be created that would work as well as this one does.

The physical book is printed in full color, in a hardback binding that protects the thick, glossy paper tabs at the edge of the book.  It is a very pretty object, and it's designed very well.  It was well worth the purchase price, and I'm glad I have it to share with others.

Review: Army Painter Strong Tone Quickshade

Army Painter makes some interesting hobby supplies designed specifically for painting miniature wargaming armies quickly and effectively.  Quickshade is a tinted varnish intended to shade painted miniatures... quickly (duh).

I'm not usually interested in using the "dip" method for painting (or shading) miniatures. But at Historicon I found a deal in the flea market I couldn't pass up: a large painted Carthaginian army for less than the price of unpainted figures.  The army is useful for killing Romans (surely a noble pursuit), but I wasn't interested in painting Carthaginians, so it seemed like a good deal.

Unfortunately the paint job was very "old school." There was no shading, and although most of the figures were painted with glossy enamels there were some painted in acrylics, and a variety of styles.  There was obviously more than one painter at work here, though all the figures had been based somewhat uniformly. Overall it was totally not my style or preference, so I decided to try out the Army Painter quickshade to see if it would help.

I haven't used any other "dip" formulas, so I don't have any similar products or techniques to compare this to.  I don't intend to get good at dipping, so I wanted to get it right the first time. Army Painter was the obvious choice, since the point of this exercise was "adequacy through laziness."

The typical use for Quickshade and other "dip" formulas is to dip the painted miniature directly into the can of varnish, remove it, and shake off the excess.  This seemed very wasteful and messy to me, so I decided to use the alternate technique: apply the varnish with a brush and more carefully brush off the excess.

The first annoying thing I noticed about the Quickshade is that it is not a water based product.  It's oil based and requires mineral spirits to clean your brush, hands, spills, and so on.  It's definitely not for indoor use!  I wouldn't be able to use this while painting through long winters even if I wanted to.


Before varnishing the figures, I rebased them, touched up some chipped paint, and repainted some inappropriate colors. I tried to remove any stray dust or flock, but there were still clumps of unnaturally bright green flock glued near their feet.  I decided to see what effect the quickshade would have on the flock on a few stands, before spending even more effort to clean it up.

I used a wide flat brush to apply the varnish.  The process was easy, but a lot messier than I expected.  The varnish has the color and consistency of used motor oil, and has a tendency to drip all over the place and get your hands quite sticky.  I now think dipping and shaking could actually be less messy than brushing it on, but you'd waste a lot that way.

The most important part of appyling the product was to clean up the messy pools before they got too sticky.  This was especially problematic at the bottom of flat areas such as shields.

When the varnish dried, it was as glossy as possible and looked pretty horrible to me.  A topcoat of Army Painter dull spray varnish improved things considerably.

Overall, I was pleased with the results, with a few caveats.

The varnish turned the extra flock brown, at least as dark as the brown MDF bases I used.  This was exactly what I was hoping for, and provided a much better color behind the new basing material, but in general you definitely don't want to use this over flock or other loose basing material.

The Strong Tone is a dark brown, comparable to GW's Devlan Mud wash.  The color is similar, but it didn't darken other colors as much as Devlan Mud does.  It did a very good job of staying in the cracks to provide shadows, while keeping the high spots lighter.

The effectiveness of the Quickshade depends directly on the quality of the miniatures you're shading.  The figures need to have enough details for the Quickshade to creep into, or they'll still have large areas of flat color when you're finished.  The Carthaginians were mostly old Viking Forge figures with limited detail.  Most of the Gallic infantry was painted too thickly, obscuring the little detail present.  Because of this, the Gauls turned out much worse than other figures with better details.

I was happy with the Quickshade's effect over other colors, especially white.  It shaded stark white into a pleasing off-white without ruining it.  The shading effect is good over a wide range of colors, even typically difficult ones.  It's certainly not as nice as hand-painted shading and highlighting, but it's an acceptable solution for a fraction of the effort.

One effect I often notice with washes or dips without additional highlighting is that the color ends up a lot deeper than you'd get if you painted lighter highlights. It's the same deal here.  Typically I paint things a bit lighter than I want them to be in the end, but in this case I didn't have that option, so some of the colors are darker than I might otherwise prefer.

After painting approximately 54 stands of 15mm foot, infantry, and elephants (maybe 150 figures or so), well over 3/4 of the pint can of Quickshade remains.  I don't yet know how it'll stand up to long term storage, or if it'll start to evaporate and become too thick to use.  The "dip" method wouldn't work once you used up enough of the varnish: the figures would start to hit the bottom of the can.

The Carthaginians look much better to me than they used to (pictures should be coming soon), but they're still definitely my "beater army."  They won't be winning any beauty contests, but hopefully I can at least kill some Romans with them.

I won't be putting the Army Painter Quickshade into regular use, but it will serve well for limited purposes: quick shading of figures Martine paints, and rehab of other armies I find cheap at convention flea markets.