Sunday, September 17, 2017

Game day at Fort Steilacoom


Yesterday was our annual game day at historic Fort Steilacoom. This event was begun by Lawrence Bateman, who has been involved with the Historic Fort Steilacoom Association for several years. The event raises funds ($10.00 donation per attendee) to help upkeep and restoration of the remaining buildings from the fort.

The fort was founded in 1849 to give the US Army a presence in light of recent attacks on white settlements by native American tribes. During the Puget Sound War of 1855-56, the US 9th Infantry Regiment was stationed there. The fort was in use through the Civil War and after, but was decommissioned in 1869 and the grounds were used for the Fort Steilacoom Asylum for the insane, which is today Western State Hospital.

Fort Steilacoom circa 1860
Several of the original buildings remain, which are kept as a museum housing several artifacts from the era. There are also a few old cannon on the grounds.

The days of boom are long gone for this old veteran
We set up 4 tables for games in the restored officer's quarters and run two periods, morning and afternoon. So, there's potentially 8 games that attendees can join on a late summer's day.

Our venue
I came (late) for the first game period, but managed to wheedle my way into Kevin Smyth's "America Rampant" game, which is his modification of Dan Mersey's excellent The Men Who Would Be Kings skirmish rules. I have the rules, but this was the first time I played them.

Kevin has a long-running project that focuses on the hypothetical interaction between forces of the nascent American republic and the Spanish influence in the Old South along the Mississippi. Think of it as another French and Indian war, set 40-ish years later, with the Spanish as the French allied with Choctaws.

I commanded a couple units of mounted rifles, who got jumped on turn 1 by two bands of excitable Choctaws hidden in a patch of woods. I got smacked and sent reeling back.

Were'd all them gol-durned injuns come from!?
I had my back to the edge of the board/world. One unit kept failing it's rally test and ran off home to mama. With the other unit, I managed to dismount and start shooting slow rifle shots at my attackers, who kept ripping into me with tomahawks and clubs.

Meanwhile, three units of Spanish regulars were advancing.

¡Adelante, hombres!
In the center and left, American militia and regulars were advancing against a Choctaw stockade and some cornfields, which they had a mind to burn down and deprive the Spanish-Indian forces with food (or capture and make into corn liquor).

Let's make us some popcorn, boys!
Choctaws manning the stockade
The American right (me) continued to crumble. However, the wee American cannon in the center managed to drive the Choctaws out of their stockade. On the left, the American regulars were giving short shrift to the Choctaws skulking in the woods on that end.

I lost my second unit of riflemen under a fury of Choctaw war-clubs and took over command of one of the militia units. I traded shots with the advancing Spanish, but when the Choctaw warbands, fresh from killing my riflemen came on, it was all over.

The last stand
With the last of my units gone, I ran out on a mission to get cash (which I rarely carry) so I could pay my donation and maybe pick up something at the swap tables. When I got back, they were picking up the game. I don't think I ever knew who won. I just know that many fewer militamen were comin' home to their kinfolk.

Other games being played were Dean Motoyama's beautiful First Battle of St. Alban's, which he ran using Lion Rampant rules. Dean's blog has featured his work painting these over the last few months—and really, just a few. He not only paints well, but fast.

Yorkists attack!
The game Yorkists apparently didn't come out like they did historically. The gates of St. Albans (really just barricaded lanes) proved a nut too tough to crack for York and the Neville boys.

Forward to defeat
The one other game played in the first period was a naval game between George Kettle and Damond Crump. I'm not sure what the rules were, but the models were all battleships (WW1, I think), so a hard pounding on both sides, I imagine.

Battleships engage
Kevin Smyth and I went out to lunch in "downtown" Steilacoom where we talked of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings, etc. We also talked up the idea of using The Men Who Would Be Kings for playing the American Civil War. We both have significant ACW lead-piles that we want to do something with. There was talk of doing Fire & Fury Regimental in 28mm, which would be a big undertaking. Doing ACW with TMWWBK is more manageable (for me, the painting weenie—Kevin is another prodigious painter like Dean).

I didn't stay for the second period, but there were a few games setting up. One of them, run by Lawrence, was a skirmish between set in the Puget Sound War using his modification of the Brother Against Brother rules.

After Kevin and I came back from lunch, we chatted with other gamers a bit. Then I headed back north—with a few stops en route—to make it to the vigil mass, so I could sleep in and goldbrick this morning. Last week was a long week.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Summer's end


This is the idyllic time of year. Labor Day is passed and summer is soon to end. The warm (sometimes too warm) days of summer give way to cooler nights and, shortly, to cooler days. These days are like the last few drops of an elixir that has intoxicated us till now. It's like the last rays of light on a warm, beautiful day. You have to just sit and drink it all in.

It's much warmer this year than last. Here in beautiful, bucolic Lynnwood, WA, our high temps are in the mid-80s and the air is very smoky due to the wildfires in the Columbia gorge and elsewhere. By this time last year, high temps were in the 60s and I'd already had a fire or two burning in the hearth.

Yesterday was the anniversary of Grendel's death. This time last year was filled with anguished hope and hopeless despair. I still miss my little man. My heart breaks a little bit every time I think about him. The sharp pain of those terrible six weeks of late summer has subsided, but the sorrow lingers.


I loved that chubby, obstreperous munchkin more than I knew. I love my replacement cow-cat Bogart. He has his own unique personality which endears him to me more each day. I can't help but note the contrasts, however. Grendel was a cool cat, master of every situation. He approached everything with an enviable sangfroid. Bogart is bit more touchy and skittish. He's OK with visitors, but gets a bit agitated if there's commotion. A friend brought her young daughter by a few weeks back and her excitability at meeting Bogart was clearly taking its toll. He withdrew, she followed. I had to back her off in fear that he'd attack her. The window cleaners came by last week and started whumping and bumping their ladders around the house. I had to put Bogey in the windowless master bath to calm him down. He was freaked out and near screeching in fear as strange faces suddenly appeared at the windows. Grendel would just sit at the window and stare them into submission.

I have a week's vacation coming up. I meant to take it in early August, but the demands of work kept me chained to my oar. It will be next week—or the week after that... So, on the plus side, I still have it to look forward to. I'm experiencing what it means to have your cake and not eat it, but the desire to eat the cake is growing. Maybe a week off when the temperatures are cooler and the smoke has cleared is a better option. Painting weather.

Oh no it's not!

Reading

Much of my summer reading focused on The Irish Project. However, I managed to get some reading in that was not project related but pure pleasure. As I mentioned in a post in June, my quest for fish 'n' chips brought me into striking distance of Sea Ocean Book Birth and a few delightful finds amongst its groaning shelves. I've completed The Galleys at Lepanto and Sir Francis Drake. Both were excellent reads. Thomson's bio of Drake was surprisingly rich. The narrative moves along well and the story is exciting from start to end. From the first chapter to the last, you find yourself hanging on in anticipation of the next exploit.

Beeching's book on Lepanto was equally rich. He pulls together so many threads to weave the story that you're entranced by the tapestry. I always wanted to be a historian. It's reading books like these that makes that desire grow stronger (though, I'm not sure if I could ever achieve it). I was able to tie in reading The Galleys at Lepanto with reading chunks of Gunpowder and Galleys. I've had this title for a while and only browsed it. It's a very nice technical work on Mediterranean warfare in the 16th century and allowed for a few excurses into ship details where I wanted a bit more that the narrative provided.

I'm now in the midst of reading Mattingly's The Armada. This is a classic work and is proving to be equal to the first two books. His characterization of Elizabeth is an interesting comparison with how Thomson portrays her in his Drake bio. Thomson saw the Armada as more a response to the depredations of the English corsairs, El Draque chief among them. Mattingly starts by tying it to the tensions between Protestant and Catholic England—and the larger tension between Protestant England and Catholic Spain—and the situation after the execution of Mary Stuart in 1587, the year before the Armada, or rather the year it was intended to be had not Drake preemptively wrecked it in harbor at Cadiz.

History is an opportunity missed if the writer can't tell a compelling tale. I love being able to get details, but they're valuable for reference and become onerous the more pedantic they are. A good story is more to be desired than gold. I've read a lot on the US Civil War, but nothing better than anything by Bruce Catton. He was foremost a master story-teller and my understanding of the Civil War is enriched by his colorful narratives.

Painting

My primary hope for my week off—whenever I manage to take it—is to get a lot of painting done. Mostly on the English and Irish figures I have, but on a few other projects too. I have some new Beyond the Gates of Antares figures that I'd like to get finished, or nearly finished. They're a quick paint and I have most of them started already. I might also like to complete some long-languishing Xyston 1/600th galleys for my Row Well and Live! project. I'm starting to get eager to complete the revisions I noted for it three years ago and play some more. I may offer it on Wargame Vault at some point when I'm satisfied that it will pass muster.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Irish project (An Tionscadal na hÉireann)


In January this year, I finally got around to ordering some of the Timeline Miniatures Irish from their Border Reivers range (formerly of Monolith Designs/Graven Images). I posted about this earlier, and have alluded to it in other posts, but I thought I'd give an update and sketch out a bit of my plans for the project going forward.

Background

Elizabeth I's wars in Ireland were a bit like a prolonged Vietnam/Boer War/Malayan Emergency. An army designed to fight for a nation state against other nation states found itself in the midst of an insurgency fighting an enemy who used guerrilla tactics. Much of the fighting in the wars involved ambushes of English columns on the march to support isolated outposts. The only thing like a stand-up battle was the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, where the Irish forces of Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, discovered why they had hitherto stuck with fighting in woods and bogs: those tactics worked, taking on the English in an open field, not so much.

Since the Norman invasion under Strongbow in Henry II's reign, England had sought to subjugate Ireland. By the time of Henry VIII, Ireland had pretty much subsumed her conquerors and the Anglo-Irish nobility had mostly gone native except for those within the Pale, the area surrounding Dublin where the royal writ was still honored.

The English Reformation was probably a significant catalyst to change all that. Having succeeding in changing England's religion by royal decree, Henry found the Irish less willing to switch. The brief reign of Mary I didn't do much to alleviate religious tensions, which only grew worse with the accession of Elizabeth in 1558. Elizabeth's policies were aimed at effectively de-Irishing the Irish. Their laws and customs were targeted to be replaced by English law, English custom, and the English church—this latter was especially true after Elizabeth was excommunicated by Pope Pius V in 1570 and in retaliation she imposed greater restrictions on Catholic practice throughout her realm, including recalcitrantly-Catholic Ireland.

Seeing the slow encroachment gradually undoing their way of life, many Irish chieftains were alarmed enough to break out in rebellion. The two rebellions of the Earl of Desmond (1568-73, 1579-83) were a resurgence of the Gaelic Irish against Anglicization. The result was the despoiling of Munster, famine, further suppression of Irish customs, plantations of English settlers in Munster, and the Earl's head decorating Traitor's Gate at the Tower of London.

English troops returning successfully from an expedition with prisoners—and heads!

In 1580, Fiach MacHugh O'Byrne rose up against Elizabeth's new Lord Deputy, Arthur Grey de Wilton. At the Battle of Glenmalure, Grey de Wilton lead his army of about 3,000 men into a trap and suffered a huge defeat, losing at least a third of his force, abandoning many weapons and military stores, and retreating pell-mell back to Dublin.

The major conflict of the period was the rebellion of Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone. Known often as "Tyrone's Rebellion," it's formally called The Nine Years War and occurred from 1594 – 1603.

English forces cross the ford at Belleek under covering fire from musketeers and calivermen

When the war started, Tyrone was still maintaining a pretense of loyalty to the crown. He provided troops to Hugh Maguire in 1593 and again to Maguire and Hugh O'Donnell (Tyrone's brother-in-law) in 1594 when they fought and won the scrumptiously-named Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits. However, in February of 1595, Tyrone declared himself in rebellion.

Tyrone's Irish confederation was initially successful using traditional Irish tactics of raid and ambush. Tyrone was able to distract the English to react in one place while he made gains in another. His greatest victory was the Battle of the Yellow Ford, near Armagh, An English force of about 4,000, en route to relieve a besieged garrison at the Blackwater Fort, was ambushed and beaten, losing about half its numbers killed or deserted. (Many soldiers in "English" regiments, were in fact Irish and were prone to switch sides—many of Tyrone's men got their military training from the English.)

The largest force sent against Tyrone was the 16,000 troops commanded by Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (daddy to the ECW Parliamentarian commander) in 1599. Essex squandered his force by breaking it out into garrisons, focusing on the south, and doing very little against Ulster and Tyrone. In the end, he wound up making a disadvantageous truce with Tyrone and went home in disgrace—soon to lose his head after a desperate attempt to restore his dignity by overthrowing Elizabeth (don't mess with Queenie).


By 1601, the war had dragged on with neither side close to victory. Despite many defeats—and being economically on the ropes—the English still possessed superior resources to Tyrone and could replace their losses. Tyrone had finally managed to get the Spanish to send an expedition, which landed at Kinsale in Munster. The English under Mountjoy, their most capable commander, promptly besieged the Spanish and Tyrone and his allies marched south from Ulster to break the siege and, hopefully, inflict a decisive defeat on the English forces. The result, however, was the disastrous Battle of Kinsale. Tyrone's army was routed, the Spanish—who sat out the battle behind the walls of Kinsale—capitulated, and the English took to reducing Munster in their typical fire and sword fashion. After Kinsale, the Irish cause pretty much collapsed.

The war went on until 1603 when James I, who had succeeded Elizabeth that year, made a truce with the Irish lords that granted them pardons—and pardons, too, for all the rebels throughout Ireland—in return for swearing loyalty to the crown and agreeing to the loss of all the things they'd been in rebellion to keep. It was an uneasy truce poisoned with mutual distrust. In 1607, Tyrone and other Irish lords left Ireland for Spain where they hoped to raise an army to restart the war, but nothing came of it. They never saw Ireland again, their lands were confiscated by the crown, and James accelerated the colonization of Ulster with plantations of Scots and English settlers.

Irish forces

The fighting men of the Irish insurgency underwent a change during the years of the wars. The traditional Irish forces were pretty much a chieftain's kern and hired gallowglass, and possibly some Scottish mercenaries known as "redshanks". However, the Irish forces—especially those under Tyrone—were aggressive in adopting the newer weapons and tactics of the time. Dart-wielding kern gave way to more-disciplined caliver-armed shot. The pike, too, was introduced in large numbers.

Reenactors (the chain-link fencing and barbed wire are, I believe, anachronistic)
By the time of Kinsale, the character of an Irish force was quite similar to its English opponents. In some cases, the Irish were even better trained and armed. Tyrone's shot were uniformed in red, according to some chronicles and accounts of the fighting. Though it was more difficult for them to come by powder and shot, the Irish tended to do better in a firefight. Until rather late in the conflict, English calivermen were required to pay for their own powder, likely an attempt to reduce wastage. However, it tended to reduce the amount of firepower because the English shot tended to carry less powder and to husband it since it was to them a dear commodity.

The improved quality of the Irish forces was not lost on the English. Many of the Irish had been trained by the English either as auxiliaries or enlisted within English companies. Although there were regulations minimizing the number of Irish in English companies, some estimates claim that up to 3/4 of an "English" company were actually local Irish. Several English commanders commented on how well the Irish troops performed compared to their experience against them only a decade or so back. In some cases, English officers fell in with Irish units mistaking them for their own.

What the Irish lacked was experience in open field battles. The movements of the Irish battles at Kinsale was disjointed (due as much to rivalry as to inexperience). Their cavalry, while regarded as individually superior to the English, were no match as formed squadrons. The rout of the Irish horse by the near-starving English troopers was the action that started the unraveling of the Irish forces at Kinsale.

The English Forces

The English army in Ireland was one of the few standing forces Elizabeth had. During the crisis of the Armada in 1588, there were more English troops in Ireland than at Tilbury. However, the garrisons of Ireland needed to be supplemented often with drafts from England—certainly for any major action against Irish rebellions.

The quality of the drafted men was mixed. In several of the battles, the raw English troops performed badly, being rescued from complete disaster only by the experience and pluck of their commanders. The Irish were often able to spot the least experienced troops by their uniforms, which consisted merely of same-colored smocks worn over their regular clothing. (There was no such thing as genuine military uniform at this time.) Veterans had long since adopted a more practical and individualist look.

Uniform smocks and 50-gallon hats—like Hoss on Bonanza
English pikemen and billmen were issued with heavy armor, including back and breastplate, pauldrons, vambraces and gauntlets for the arms, tassets for the thighs, and some form of morion or burgonet for the head. However, most soldiers considered the armor to be overly burdensome and unsuited for skirmishing in the wild Irish countryside. Seasoned troops tended to wear a simple jack or leather coat and sport some kind of cap on their heads, looking much like their Irish foes, sometimes to the point of confusion and mischance.

The mainstay of English forces comprised pike and shot. The bill and bow of earlier times were, even when they produced triumphs like Flodden, superannuated when compared with the military practices of the continent. Having no native pikemen (or shot), Henry VIII resorted to hiring German mercenaries for his wars against France. By Elizabeth's time the bow was only an auxiliary weapon and billmen made up a very small percentage of a company.

Artillery was rarely used in the field. It was, however, of great value for taking and defending fortified places. In this regard, the English had a huge advantage over the Irish who had almost no artillery. The situation was so lopsided that Tyrone destroyed his own fortified places to avoid them becoming places where troops could be besieged and lost. In most cases, the Irish were only able to take English forts and outposts by cutting them off from supply (hence so many of the battles being ambushes of relief/resupply forces).


Minis

As noted, the minis I'm using come from Timeline Miniatures/Hoka Hey Wargaming. I'd been eyeing these figures for years, but I wasn't sure what I'd do with them, so for a long time I did nothing. When The Pikeman's Lament came out in January, my interest reawoke.

The Border Reivers range, formerly of Monolith/Graven Images, sculpted by the late Jim Bowen is the main line I'm using. Alan Rudd at Timeline acquired them a few years after Bowen died (along with some other Monolith ranges). The figures in this range come in some variety. There are 2-3 basic poses for each type with head variants providing increased variety. As I've stated in previous posts, I really love Jim Bowen's figures. They're simple, but have a lot of charm. If the range didn't exist, I would likely not be doing the project. They're also BIG. (See my review from earlier this year.)

Timeline also produces a range of 28mm Elizabethans. These figures are an discontinued Pendraken Miniatures, which Alan acquired some years back. Pendraken are soley 10mm, as far as I can see, but about 10 years back they tried to branch out into a few 28mm ranges, but they lost their designer and the ranges went looking for new owners.

The Timeline Elizabethans match the Border Reivers range pretty well. The style and size are similar. However, there are only single poses for every type. The Elizabethan range is a valuable auxiliary to the Border Reivers range because they offer several types that don't exist in the Border Reivers range: Irish cavalry (2 types), English cavalry (5 types), "redshanks", artillery, etc.


Rules

As noted above, the project really got its start when Osprey released The Pikeman's Lament. The scope and nature of these rules was such that it made it possible to do the Elizabethan wars in Ireland. In most Renaissance rules, the Irish are a hapless lot, bound to be shot to bits by English calivers and then run down by English cavalry. Bringing things down to the skirmish level evens the game.

Even though The Pikeman's Lament was a primary catalyst in starting this project, I have to give honorable mention to Donnybrook. I'd heard about them when they first came out and a few people bought them. However, the reception by those people was negative. I got the PDF version online and I'm not so sure they're as bad as my local fellow-gamers aver. The basing I use, is suitable for either set of rules, so at some point I'll have to play a Donnybrook game with them.


Books 

No project would be worthy of the name if it didn't involve our friend the printed page. I have to admit that prior to starting this project, I had a pretty woeful grasp on this period of Irish history. I bought and read a pile of books to get an understanding and, more importantly, the "feel" of the period. The following is a representative (not exhaustive) list of the books I read:

Elizabeth's Irish Wars by Cyril Falls (first published 1950). This is a good overview of the wars from Shane O'Neill's rebellion in the 1560s until the end of the Nine Years War. Falls provides a good background of Elizabethan Ireland and has a lot of information about the nature of the armies that fought.

Gallowglass 1250-1600 by Fergus Cannan (Osprey 2010). Good Osprey-style overview of these traditional mercenaries.

Renaissance Armies 1480-1640 by George Gush (1975). This is a broad overview of Renaissance armies and includes short sections on the English and Irish, which provide a pretty good description of the troops involved on both sides.

The Irish Wars 1485-1603 by Ian Heath (Osprey 1993). Another good overview of the wars with a lot of historical background information and descriptions of the armies.

Irish Battles: A Military History of Ireland by G.A. Hayes-McCoy (1969). This book covers several Irish battles from Clontarf in 1014 to Arklow in 1798. Five of its chapters address a battle from our period: Farsetmore 1567, Clontibret 1595, The Yellow Ford 1598, Moyry Pass 1600, and Kinsale 1601.

The Nine Years War 1593-1603 by James O'Neill (2017). This is a very recent book that takes advantage of the latest research on the war. O'Neill (who doesn't claim to be an ancestor of Tyrone), does a good job dividing the war into phases starting with Tyrone's proxy war and moving in stages to the aftermath of Kinsale. He also provides a chapter at the end about Tyrone's military revolution in Ireland and a final chapter that examines the character of the war in the context of European conflicts.


Armies of the 16th Century: The Armies of England, Scotland, Ireland, The United Provinces, and the Spanish Netherlands 1487-1609 by Ian Heath (Foundry Books 1997). I bought this and a companion volume (about the Aztecs, Incas, etc.) published by Foundry Books when they came out near 20 years ago. Until recently, they've sat on my shelf getting an occasional browse. I started looking through them in earnest when I did the Quetzalcoatl Rampant project with Kevin and now with The Irish Project. There's a wealth of information about the troops that fought in Ireland in this period with lots of nice line drawings (no color).

Scots Mercenary Forces in Ireland (1565-1603) by G.A. Hayes-McCoy (first published 1937). This is a fairly exhaustive study of the role of mercenaries from the Scottish Isles (the "redshanks") in Irish wars prior to and during the Nine Years War.

The Elizabethan Conquest of Ireland by John McGurk (1997). Despite its dramatic title, the book isn't a military history about wars 'n' battles 'n' stuff. It's mainly about the societal impact of the wars in Ireland on the English and Welsh shires that supplied the majority of the drafts for the English armies as well as most of the logistical support. There is a nice chapter characterizing the experience of the Tudor soldier in the Irish wars (spoiler: it was pretty grim).

Chapters Towards a History of Ireland in the Reign of Elizabeth, Being a Portion of the History of Catholic Ireland, by Don Philip O'Sullivan Bear translated by Mathew Byrne (first published 1903). This is a series of  historical notes written by the nephew of Donal Cam O'Sullivan Beare. Philip O'Sullivan was sent to Spain in 1602, where he spent his life in Spanish military service. He wrote his Chapters in 1621. They contain a lot of interesting anecdotes about the Nine Years War (which O'Sullivan calls the Fifteen Years War), including a dramatic narration of the Battle of the Yellow Ford.

Ireland in the Age of the Tudors 1447-1603 by Steven G. Ellis (1995). This is a pretty good background history of Tudor Ireland mostly political and societal, but with a bit of military information interspersed.

Articles. Not cited are several articles available online (some as digital copies of printed articles) that address some aspects of the wars in Tudor Ireland. In the age of the Interwebs, there is a surprising amount of information waiting to be mined, especially on the more obscure topics that get short shrift in standard histories, but which attract a lot of interest from budding professional and amateur historians. For example, one BBC article shows how battlefield archaeology by a local farmer has challenged the traditional location of the Battle of the Ford of the Biscuits, by discoveries of caliver and musket bullets at a spot on his land where the farmer had a hunch that that's where the fight occurred.

"Armor-piercing" bullet on the left—tungsten with a depleted uranium core
There are questionable aspects of these articles, however. The BCC article claims that the smaller shot found were special "armour-piercing bullets." I'm rather of the opinion that the smaller shot are from calivers and the larger shot are from muskets and there's nothing more to it than that. I don't think "armour-piercing" was really a consideration for small arms projectiles circa 1594—in fact, the smaller caliver shot, having lower kinetic energy, were less likely to pierce a breastplate than the heavier musket shot fired from a larger bore weapon that used a larger powder charge. In his Chapters, O'Sullivan Beare often distinguishes between heavy (muskets) and light (calivers) firearms, the former being more effective against armored men like Henry Bagenal at the Yellow Ford, whose armor was proof against all, until he lifted up the visor of his close helmet and got shot between the eyes.

State of the Project

"And how's it working out for you?" I hear you ask. Well, it's a going concern. I have a large Irish force painted, based, and boxed already. There's the cavalry yet to paint and I think I need to order a bit more kern, redshanks, and pikes. The English are in the works with 8 units in some state of being worked on and more figures ordered.

English pikemen painted and glopped, awaiting basing
So far, I've made three not-inexpensive orders to Timeline with at least two or three more contemplated. The good thing is that I'm not incurring a lead backlog. The figures paint quickly, partly because of the nifty dip method and also because it's the nature of the figures. They just give themselves to rapid completion.

I hope to get a game in with them sometime in September. The only unit that's been fielded on the felt and seen the dice tumble is my Irish pikeman, who came on as ersatz reinforments in a quasi-ECW game of The Pikeman's Lament. I'm happy to say they acquitted themselves well and put paid to a unit of rampaging Polish pancerni (I did say it was quasi-ECW).

My longer-term goal is to host a few games of it at Enfilade! in May, 2018 with a trial run or two before that (like at Breakthrough in January).

Monday, July 10, 2017

Mind the gap!


Hosting several games of Queztalcoatl Rampant, the Lion Rampant variant Kevin Smyth and I created, got me thinking about how to better enforce the rule that requires all units to maintain a 3" gap between themselves and other units. Players tend to want to mass their troopies as tightly as they can and I found myself many times reminding them of the 3" gap rule.

Back when I was playing DBA and DBM, we all used some form of "Barker marker," a 40mm square marker that we used to ensure that we stayed away from the danger zone that extends out from a unit's front. For DBM, there were template sets you could buy that provided a handy way to stay outside of distances that affected your movement, etc.

I wandered as I pondered and chanced upon a pack of Litko 3" circular bases, at which point the volubly loud exclamation "Aha!" escaped my lips (scaring the cats and alarming the neighbors). Those 3" bases were perfect for templates that players can use to gauge proximity to other units as they move and thus escape the gamemaster's chiding and condemnatory gaze—although it won't correct "conga-line" tactics.

The bases are 3mm thick, so easily picked up by their edges as they lie flat on the table, but I wanted some kind of "handle" that made placing them and picking them up a bit easier. I also wanted to terrain them in some way to harmonize with the bases on the table. For the Elizabethan Irish project, I thought something like an old, weathered Celtic cross slightly askew would look nice—although I have yet to find a suitable 1.5" to 2" high Celtic cross to use [dear readers, suggestions are welcome]. I also thought that for the ECW, something  like a lonely gibbet—with or without the hanging corpse of some malefactor—would be nice. Such can be acquired (e.g., from Irregular Miniatures) but I haven't ordered it yet.

In the interim, I wanted something generic that I could use for any X Rampant style game: Lion Rampant, Dragon Rampant, The Pikeman's Lament, etc. Poking about at Hobby Lobby recently, I came across a packet of 1" wooden drawer pulls. I suppressed another "Aha!," but was quite glad to have found them. They would make the perfect handles for generic templates.

Pulls and bases pre-assembly
I started by roughly determining the center of the 3" base and gluing the pull to it. After the glue dried, I stained the pull using the Minwax Tudor stain that I use for dipping my figures. I didn't let it sit long at all before wiping it, so the stain effect is fairly light.

When the stain dried, I spread some of my beloved Golden Course Pumice Gel medium on the bases as the foundation for terraining them. After the gel dries (I gave it about 48 hours), I trimmed off the excess and glued some model railroad ballast to make rocky bits.

Twin bins of rocky bits
I paint the gel medium and rocky bits with a coat of slightly watered down Vallejo Mud Brown from their airbrush range (which is already a bit thinned). Then I drybrush the lot with Vallejo Yellow Ochre. After that, I drybrush the rocks with a Vallejo Deck Tan and then highlighted with Vallejo Bone White.

Looking muddy
I flocked the bases with patches of Woodland Scenics Earth Blend Blended Turf. I go over the patches with a second application of the blended turf using diluted Mod Podge. The double coating gives a bit more texture to the flocking.

I follow up the turf with an application of Woodland Scenics Coarse Turf. I make a mix of the Light Green and Yellow Grass colors. It breaks up the monochrome affect with the coarse turf the way the blended turf does for the fine turf colors.

When the glue has dried for the coarse turf, I take a small tweezer and pull out the fluffier bits of the coarse turf. I like to trim it down, otherwise it looks a bit much. I really just want it as additional texture and color, so I don't want it overwhelming the surface like kudzu.

Kudzu: The vine that ate Alabama (there's a house under there)
Finally, I added a few Scenic Express flower tufts. The final product turns out quite nice and is usable for any of the Rampant family of rules.

Handy-dandy gap-minder units

Saturday, July 8, 2017

For the pikes must be together...

I bear orders from the captain, get you ready quick and soon
For the pikes must be together at the rising of the moon
OK, different rebellion (but there were so many), but it's apt. I've completed the Border Reivers Irish pikes, a.k.a. The Baldrick Brigade. (Actually some time ago, but I've only got round to blogging about them now.) They were a quick and delightful paint—something which I've found to be generally true of Jim Bowen figures, which is why I love them so much.

These are the first figures I've completed for the 16th c. Irish company for The Pikeman's Lament. All the others I have are cleaned, primed, and have some kind of paint smeared on them, so they're soon to follow.

Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn
I wasn't sure at first how to paint them. After a bit of pondering, I decided to treat the figures' coats as a kind of leather jerkin and went with painting them different variations of leather colors: Vallejo Tanned Leather, Oiled Leather, and Red Leather. The sleeves were an assortment of lighter colors with Howard's Hues Linen predominating. I also used some Vallejo Dark Sand as a saffron-dyed linen color. The Irish in the 16th c. were apparently very big on saffron dye. The Dark Sand is yellow without being too saturated. I'll use it a lot for the kern and gallowglass.

The trousers (or trews maybe) I painted an assortment of browns, tans, reds, grays, greens, grey-blues. I could have painted a sett (tartan) on them, but I'm too lazy and not sure if they would have them anyway. My general rule for painting is that unless I'm very inspired to do so, I don't opt for flashy. Painting one tartan pattern on a pair of pants is a chore; doing it for 12 figures is insanity. Someday I'll paint highlanders, then Katie bar the door.

The nice thing about it is that the above considerations were the majority of the paint work. Bowen sculpts are simple, clean, and free from a lot of the fiddly detail that tends to drive me insane when I'm finishing a batch of figures. The Renegade/Bicorne figures, for example, seem to sprout extra detail as I paint them. I think I'm done and then I notice that some fiddly-bit on a musketeer needs to be detailed, then another... I "finish" those figures several times before I actually finish them.

Once the figures were block-painted, I prepped 'em for dipping with a sprayed-on coat of Rust-Oleum Satin Clear Enamel. It gives it a semi-gloss that allows the Minwax stain to flow and settle better—and prevents rust. The dip itself is the part of the process that still gives me pause. Once you start to dip, you pass the point of no return. If somehow you manage to screw everything up, you don't have a lot of options for fixing it.

Assuming I haven't turned several hours of painting effort into hammered poo, I let the Minwax dry for a minimum of 48 hours before I apply dullcote. What I've found is that after about 8 hours, the dip is dry enough to start basing the figures. An awful lot of time in my painting process is "curing". That's true mostly with the dip and with basing. The basing material I use is good ol' Golden Coarse Pumice Gel medium. That takes at least overnight or all day to dry to the point where I can trim off the excess from when I slopped it on the base. It's best actually after a couple days. Too soon and the gel is still kind of rubbery, but with a sharp X-Acto knife you can trim it off after 8 hours or so without undoing things. It's amazing how long things can take to dry and harden. But by combining the Minwax drying with the gel medium drying, I can cut 24-48 hours out of "curing" time.

I used my now-standard 3-2-1 basing. It seems a little odd for pikemen, whom you expect to be in tight ranks and files, but they look alright on the table. They did actually take part in a game back in March where they arrived as reinforcements to save me from being overrun by Polish hordes

Axe me about what else is completed

Since I started this post some time ago, I've also completed a unit of fearsome, axe-wielding gallowglass.

We will, we will axe you!
These figures required a bit more prep work because they had to be made to hold the two-handed axes cleanly. I spent a bit of time with a drill and little round file to get it all right.

I also completed the command set with a rather natty chieftain, his priests, piper, and a couple kern. These turned out nice, but I dullcoated too soon (maybe?) and got some crinkling in the paint. It's mostly noticeable on the priest's robes.

The Ó Súilleabháin blessed by his priests and serenaded by his piper
I wanted to stick with a yellowish theme on their clothing. All the info I have points to the predominance of saffron-dyed clothing for these guys. Rather than make them all a uniform yellow color, I varied between plain linen color, diluted yellow, and deeper yellow. I used various pictures of 16th c. Irish soldiers as my guide.

The kern, which I'm still working on, will have the same variety of yellowy/strawy/linen-ey colors.

The rest of the colors for the gallowglass kind of fell into place since it was mostly steel with a few accents that I could make up.

I have two more units of gallowglass almost done. I've completed painting/dipping them and am basing them now. I also got some English pikemen—the first of my colonialist oppressor units—wait for another post on those. I also just ordered some Irish shot, Scots red-shanks, and some Irish horse from Timeline.


Friday, June 30, 2017

Time off and Holy Grails


Today started a five-day long holiday for me. Making use of my copious amount of paid time off, I took off today and Monday and joined them with the Independence Day holiday on Tuesday. As with most long holidays I have options paralysis from the get-go.

I puttered about at home this morning, sleeping in until nearly 6:30 a.m.! I would have slumbered longer, but the cats had become incessant in their demands.

The quest for the edible Grail

After about four hours of reading, drinking coffee, annoying the cats, being annoyed by the cats, etc., I decided to get showered and head down to Seattle for lunch at the Pacific Inn, home of the World's Best Fish 'n' Chips.

Dive in to the Pacific Inn
The PI gives a whole new meaning to the word "dive," but they pull a mean pint and serve up The Holy Grail of battered, deep-fried cod. It is, quite simply, the best fish 'n' chips in Seattle—if not the world.

Mmmmmm
Lunch was quite good, the PI's fish never disappoints, though it was a bit overcooked this time.

The PI is on the edge of Seattle's Fremont neighborhood. I worked down here for years when I was at Adobe and later as a consultant at Aquent. Fremont was once a hippie haven (The People's Republic of Fremont) until Adobe, Getty Images, Google, and some other companies moved offices into the neighborhood. The unavoidable gentrification that followed drove out a lot of the delightfully seedy spots like the old Still Life Cafe, where a heavily pierced and tattooed staff baked and served the best pastries in Seattle. The place is now some kind of yuppie Italian bistro. The horror.

But the PI endures. Most of the buildings around it have been torn down and rebuilt as overpriced foo-foo cafes or boutique businesses. Its shabby, battered facade stands out defiantly from its environment and sustains the neighborhood's tenuous connection to its low-rent past. All the area was once part of the north Lake Union mill and industrial area, which also contained dry docks and repair facilities for seagoing ships. Once very much a working man's haven, the area has been slowly transforming over many years.

It will be a sad day when the PI succumbs to gentrification, either by going out of business or, worse, turning into a remodeled yuppie upscale foo-foo eatery.

A serendipitous Grail discovery

Another delight in the Fremont neighborhood are a few old used bookstores that sit just up a bit and across the street (Stone Way) from the PI. Seattle Book Center had been there forever. "Had" I say, because it is there no more. The owner, John, moved to Colorado where his wife's job was transferred. SBC was a wonderful place and the quality of the used books sold there was superb. All that's left is an out of date Facebook page.

Its place has been taken by Sea Ocean Book Berth, which had been a smaller bookseller two doors up from SBC. The old Sea Ocean Book Berth was a small shop crammed with books about nautical topics. It's always been a favorite place of mine to poke about. The owner, Chris, was as ancient a mariner as Coleridge ever saw. I think he was retired merchant marine. I didn't see him at the new location and didn't ask about him (though I should have). I honestly expected that some day, SOBB would be gone and only SBC would remain. I never imagined it the other way around.

I went into SOBB after lunch to see what was there. It's maybe three times its old size, yet still crammed with nautical books—just not as crammed as before. I passed on several tempting books, but did pick out some 16th c. naval topics: Beeching's The Galleys at Lepanto, Mattingly's The Armada, and G.M. Thomson's bio of Sir Francis Drake.

And then I wandered into the section devoted to naval warfare books and found M.J. Whitley's German Coastal Forces of World War Two. This book was publish 24 years ago by Arms and Armor Press and never got a second printing. I didn't buy it way back then and when I wanted it, it wasn't to be had. Over the last several years, I've look to see if any used bookstore had it. I've searched for it on Abe Books and Amazon to find either no results or results so staggeringly expensive that I turned away in shock. This find wasn't cheap...

The Holy Grail of naval warfare books
I debated whether I wanted to spend the money, but having it in hand at last pulled me towards the decision I made. I feel a bit like Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon having finally found what he'd been seeking for years—and I didn't have to kill anyone in Istanbul, Hong Kong, or San Francisco to get it (and the book is probably not a fake made of lead).

Well, sir, it took me seventeen years to locate that bird, but I did.
I wanted it and I'm not a man that's easily discouraged when I want something.

With these new books I feel some naval gaming coming on. I don't have any galley models, but I have lots of 1:1250th scale coastal forces, which I've used to play David Manley's Action Stations! rules. I just downloaded a PDF of David's recently released 16th c. naval rules Cannon, Cross, and Crescent from Wargame Vault.

The days ahead

I expect the next four days to fly by, but I'll try to get a few things done. I want to complete my Algoryn Liberator model (we have a game next Saturday) as well as get some units completed for The Pikeman's Lament. I have several units in some stage of completion—I can never just paint one unit at a time—and it would be nice to clear them from my painting table and  get them on a gaming table this summer.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

BTGOA: Algoryn heavy hoverin' metal


Sh*t just got real for the Algoryns for Beyond the Gates of Antares. The latest release from Warlord Games gives them a jump ahead of the hated Concord.

What started as a mainly infantry force for me has morphed into a collection of heavier weapons as a result of playing games against formidable opponents. Trying to stop a Ghar battle squad with mag rifles can be intimidating. Trying to stop Boromites with mag rifles is intimidating, too. But the worst are the hi-tech Concord who have hard-hitting and hard-to-kill weapons systems. For a while, they had better stuff than anyone.

But now, the Algoryns have the X06 Liberator Plasma Destroyer. I got mine on Thursday. When I heard it was coming out I thought I'd wait a bit until John Kennedy of The Panzer Depot informed me that the keen resin 'n' metal model was soon to be superseded by a plastic kit. The spectre of plastic got me moving and I had him order me one, which he had to hunt down from his distributors.

Plastic may be seen by some people as the salvation of the hobby, replacing expensive metal with a cheaper material. I am not convinced. Indeed, I regard plastic as an abomination.

Do it for the children
When the hobby goes totes plastique, I'll take up scrapbooking. Until then, I'm acquiring all the metal ('n' resin) I can get before there's no metal to be had.

But I digress...

The main part of the kit (the resin bits) are five pieces. The turret is a separate piece. The main hull is one big chunk o' resin. The insectoid mandible-like fore-part of the vehicle is separate as are the "wings." However, all these parts fit together very nicely. The resin casting is superb, as is the quality of the resin.

Five Easy Pieces
The bottom of the hull has a "T"-shaped keyhole-like insertion for the stand.

An inconvenient "T"
I'm not a fan of the stand that comes with the model—not least because it's plastic. I prefer something more substantial. All my Algoryns are mounted on metal fender washers. The infantry is on 1.25" dia. washers, except for some weapon crews, who are on 1" dia. washers. The metal washers add heft to the pieces. I like heft. Heft is good.

Do you know what doesn't have heft? Plastic. Plastic has no heft whatsoever.

Getting back to the basing...

When I did my Algoryn Intruder skimmers, I used a 1.5" fender washer for the bases, with metal 1" tall FASA bases I get from CinC. 1", 1.25", and 1.5" fender washers are easy to find in any hardware store. But when I did my Algoryn Avenger skimmer, I wanted a bigger base, so I went to the Interwebs and was able to find some 2" dia. fender washers at Amazon.com.

Avenger properly based (but WIP nonetheless)
With the Liberator, I was in a quandary. I didn't think a 2" washer would be a stable enough base for the bigger, heavier model. I went back to the Interwebs to discover—to my indescribable delight—that there are 3" dia. fender washers available (but not cheaply), so I bought a pack of 5. You'll have to look up how much I paid for 'em 'cause I'm embarrassed to say—but they did arrive in two days from Amazon, so that's something.

3" washers; dear in more ways than one
I'll create the base with the 3" washer, topped by a 2" washer, with the FASA base on that.

Base is a many-layered thing
I'll terrain the base, as I've done with all the Algoryns, using heavy wood filler and then bits of model railroad ballast for texture. Once painted and flocked, the bases look pretty nifty—and have heft.

I'm just at the point of having cleaned and washed the resin parts and just assembling them now. Getting back to that keyhole at the bottom of the hull, I'll need to fill that in with modeling expoxy, as I did for the Avenger, so I can replace it with a hole drilled for mounting the vehicle on the FASA base.

The Intruder skimmers are done and have actually been used in a game. The Avenger is still a WIP, though very near to completion (I just need to get to it). The Liberator shouldn't take much time if I devote myself to it. Maybe scheduling a BTGOA game will get me motivated. I have so many other project irons in the fire, which I'll address in a future post.

So, I'm glad to get a bit more firepower for my Algoryns. When I got into this project in 2014, I figured I'd just do some infantry for some one-off games. However, the more stuff that's coming out, the deeper in I go. I don't think I'll expand to other Antarean races, however. I'll stick with the Algoryns.

All hail Algor, Founder of our race!