Monday 20 June 2022

Terrain, bases and leader markers for games in The Sudan

I like the idea of terrain that can be versatile for different periods and locations. The trees I originally created for 20mm games in NW Europe are large enough to work for my 28mm AWI games in North America. The same trees have helped fill out my jungle terrain when playing 20mm Second World War games in the Far East yet also populated 28mm tables for the Hundred Years War. That sort of thing is not so straightforward once you move your games into the arid terrain of the desert. It means very few pieces will translate and so my recent venture into the Sudan has called for more terrain and game aids.

One of those are sabot bases. The ones I use currently were made for Sharp Practice in North America and won't work in the desert. While I find sabots useful for moving formations of figures I don't like the way they can appear on the table as raised platforms. It's probably just a personal thing but they do seem to break the immersion (I can't help thinking the miniatures look like they're performing on a stage). For me there's a simple enough solution which is to bevel the edges using the sanding attachment on my Dremel rotary tool.

It's just a matter of doing this freehand as you are after a naturalistic look.

What is remarkable is the difference it makes. I'm not sure if it's an optical illusion, but it's hard to believe the two bases pictured below are exactly the same thickness.

The next steps are to add texture and paint in exactly the same way as I do the figure bases. In the case of the desert they don't even require any flock other than the odd tuft.

I think they become much less obvious and intrusive once the figures are in place.

I'd hate to suggest that I'm fussy or obsessive about this (yeah, right, I hear you say) but I also dislike empty sabot slots during a game. Once again it breaks the illusion and the immersion, but there are several simple enough fixes which involve creative use of round bases. I use mini dice to record things like morale or shock and so having these the same size and style as the figure bases means they can be dropped quickly into a slot emptied by a casualty. Similarly I've made a few blank bases to perform an identical role. 

The blanks are quick and easy enough to make and I think well worth the effort. Of course eventually the entire sabot can be removed from play once the number of casualties increases. 

I've found that even the most experienced Sharp Practice players have a problem remembering which leader relates to which card or chit. I've found the easiest way to handle this is to create specific leader bases that show the number of the corresponding card and the leader's status level (represented by the appropriate number of rocks).

Naturally there is a matching set for each side and I've produced the same for the Dervish leaders.

In the Sudan variant for Sharp Practice Mahdist groups can often start the game with a certain amount of Fervour, which acts like shock but in a positive way. As I had a number of spare shields and weapons left over from the Perry plastic sets I thought I would make up themed markers for these. Once the fervour has been lost the groups take shock much like other units and so all I do is use a different coloured dice to indicate fervour and shock. 

Lastly the Mahdists have the ability to Go to Ground and find a better level of cover. I wanted a simple themed marker to use for this and just added a few large rocks to a base to help record when a unit has done this. 

Finding a basing system that works and a handful of game aids to keep track of action on the table can go a long way to keeping a game flowing and making it more enjoyable. So far I'm happy with what I've done for these games in the Sudan. 

I didn't want to use sabot bases for the Mahdists, so they are based together in threes, twos or individually which allows for the look of a tribal mass while not appearing regimented. At the same time it enables quick movement of figures much like a sabot base. The 3,2,1 combination allows for casualty removal and I've found it very effective for basing units armed with edged weapons who tend to move en masse.

The leader figures are easy to identify and yet their basing blends in with the mass of other figures. 

As does the marker used to record their fervour, or alternatively....

... their level of shock.

Similarly, it's clear to see when they've 'Gone to Ground'.

While I'm very much enjoying playing games set in the Sudan, like any new(ish) project it's called for the creation of more pieces of terrain. Having made a desert game mat the next project has been to build the terrain to populate it. The latest additions have focussed on trees, patches of scrub, and, a few more rocky outcrops.

At the same time as I created the desert mat I made several rocky outcrops like the one pictured below and you can see more about how I made them in this post.

After a couple of games I soon realised I didn't have enough. That led me to dig out a box of old terrain pieces and give them a revamp. 

Several years ago I made areas of scrub for my 20mm games. Unfortunately I'd gone a bit overboard on the foliage for the scrub to the point that the pieces were not particularly functional, with figures balanced precariously on top of the vegetation. 

I'd been tempted to dispose of them but as you never know when something might come in useful I'd stored them away. I thought with a little bit of work they could be transformed into rocky outcrops. So the first thing was to strip off the foliage. It was all re-usable and so I've stored it in a bag. Like I said, you never know when something will come in handy, even if it's not obvious at the moment.

I didn't bother removing all the static grass as it would soon be buried under filler, sand and paint. The bases were originally built up using insulation foam and so I cut into that and embedded pieces of dried bark, exactly the same material I had used in my original rocky outcrops. They were then blended into the terrain using filler.

The rest of the base was covered in PVA and a layer of sand. Extra small rocks were added using cat litter. Then they were painted to match the other pieces and the desert terrain mat.

Lastly a few small pieces of foliage were added sparingly using tufts.

There's a tendency to think automatically of palm trees when creating desert terrain but acacia trees also proliferate in those arid regions (their fruit being the principal ingredient of gum arabic). I had a few spare small tree armatures from Woodland Scenics and so made an attempt at making them. The most distinctive features are the way their branches fan out and the way the foliage sits atop them.

The Woodland Scenics armatures can be bent and shaped in many different ways and so I spent a bit of time experimenting with various forms. Once I was reasonably happy I then shaped rubberised coconut fibre to the basic contours of the foliage.

I think the key is to try and get the foliage to look like it is perched on the top of the branches and not full like European type trees. I made a few adjustments before finally setting on the shape I wanted. Once done the final additions was miniature leaves from model railway scenery manufacturer Noch.

The areas of scrub were simple enough to make. I cut small pieces from a coir door mat and placed them at irregular intervals on an MDF base. These were textured with sand and small clumps of rocks (in this instance aquarium pebbles). The rocks were picked out in a darker colour in much the same way as I paint those on the rocky outcrops.

Everything was then tied together with a good dry brush to match the other terrain pieces.

Last, but not least, the most important part - using them in a game. Here are a few of the various pieces in a recent game.

Wednesday 8 June 2022

The Joy of Adding More

When I first decided to return to miniatures I did so without an opponent or a club. I just felt the urge and worked in the hope that 'if you build it, they will come'. Having played hex and counter wargames for many years I had a circle of friends who I knew liked historical games, although whether they'd be interested in miniatures was another matter. So, on the basis that I would most probably have to provide everything I set about putting together opposing forces and terrain.

My primary interest has always been the Second World War and the initial task was to collect and paint enough figures and vehicles for a game. Delving back into miniatures after such a long break meant I spent a fair amount of time on the internet reading forums and blogs. I'd look with envy at posts where people showed off a new unit, perhaps something simple like an anti-tank gun and crew. It would force me to contemplate the lead and plastic pile I had accumulated and dream of the day when I'd be able to focus on simple, small additions. Well, that was nearly a decade ago and now there is no need to dream anymore, I'm in the enjoyable position of being able to do just that. Which is a long winded way of saying here's a post about several new additions and a bit of revamping of earlier parts of the collection.

My Second World War Japanese collection is reasonably comprehensive, but certainly not complete. I've been looking for figures with rifles to represent squad corporals. The figures I have are from Eureka and all have swords. I found some from SHQ and although I find their figures can be noticeably slimmer than those in other 20mm ranges I thought I would try them out.

The Japanese used the Type 94 Te Ke tankette extensively in China, but also in places like Malaya and Burma. While they would be obsolete in the context of a European battlefield their lightweight and mobility meant they remained useful in the Far East, seeing action in the Pacific as late as 1945. These three are all resin models from Milicast.

Tankette seems a most appropriate term for something so small. Here they are with a couple of figures to give a sense of scale and proportion (and yes, they are the same scale!).

Staying with the Far East I discovered recently that the British 18 pounder gun was still in use at the start of the Second World War. A few modifications had been made to this iconic British gun from the Great War, the most obvious being a revised carriage and pneumatic wheels to allow them to be towed by vehicles rather than horses. These were sent to far flung outposts like Hong Kong and Malaya where they saw action following the Japanese invasions. I wanted to add one to my early war British force. The gun comes from SHQ and is crewed with a few of the AB Figures western desert force 25 pounder set.

Whilst we're on the subject of AB Figures and repurposing crews I did something similar for my Red Army collection. I had acquired a 12.7mm DHsK machine gun from MMS in anticipation of using it in our Westwind Konigsberg campaign for Chain of Command. Unfortunately the crew figures that came with the gun were very small and unlike the SHQ Japanese I didn't think they would match up well with my existing miniatures. My original solution for that campaign had been to crew the gun with plastic figures for a Maxim MG from the PSC Soviet Heavy Weapons set, but I've never liked the seated figure they have for gun. 

I decided to replace them with figures from the AB Maxim set which I much prefer, not least because they are firing the weapon prone.

There is a Market Garden supplement for Chain of Command in the works. I'm interested in that campaign but also the later actions in Holland and then into Germany the following year. In anticipation of that I've been adding to my British force for that latter part of the war in NW Europe.

The Archer self propelled gun used a Valentine chassis to mount a 17 pounder anti-tank gun. It's a quirky looking vehicle, not least because the gun faces the rear, yet it served its purpose well enough. This is a resin and metal kit from Early War Miniatures. The crew figures come from the AB 17 pounder set.

Another mounting a 17 pounder was the M10, also known as the Achilles, a British adaptation of the US M10 (Wolverine). This is a plastic kit from Armourfast with a crew from AB. The Armourfast kits are cheap and robust but can be a bit short on detail, nothing that can't be addressed with stowage and a crew. I've gone one step further with this one and added camouflage netting.

While I was making the netting I took the opportunity to upgrade one of my earlier Cromwell models, also a kit from Armourfast. The same as with the Achilles I've added a crew figure from AB, stowage and camouflage netting. It's surprising how much these extra details lift a model and give it a character all of its own.

The plastic kits from the Plastic Soldier Company have more detail than those from Armourfast, but they are often very chunky and over scale. It's the price you pay for a model that is robust enough for gaming. One of the most glaring offenders is the bow machine gun on several of their tanks. The Sherman being a prime example with a barrel more like a piece of plumbers pipe as you can see below.

Sgts Mess produce a very useful set of barrels which are ideal for upgrading these kits. While I was doing that I took the opportunity to add a few pieces of stowage on the rear engine deck.

Their T34 has similar issues with the bow machine gun.

A set of replacement barrels from Sgts Mess helped out here. It may be a small difference and not one you notice from normal gaming distance, but it's one of those things that really stands out when I'm doing photographs for the AARs.

I've also gone back and made a few tweaks to a few earlier German tanks by adding new crew figures from AB.