Tiny Painted Soldiers

Autumn is a great time to visit battlefields in Virginia–not too hot, but clear and mild weather with all the variety of hardwood trees changing colors which sets a pleasing frame to the carefully mowed fields and lonely field artillery. And since it’s not summer, there are no crowds, especially during the week days. I spent a few days this past week in October to visit several battlefields around Richmond, Virginia, and after walking along miles of paths and reading scores of historic markers and plaques, by Friday I was tired and ready to stay within the city limits.

IMG_0499 After breakfast with my wife at the hotel, we parted ways, and I drove down to the Virginia War Memorial. The memorial was built in 1956, but more recently a visitor’s center was added, and in the basement I marveled at an extensive collection of tiny painted soldiers, some of which were set up in dynamic dioramas.

IMG_0520These are just a portion of the 7,000 figure collection, all painted and donated by a single hobbyist. These figures are larger than the 32mm figures I usually paint, standing around 54mm high. Some were even larger.

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These display cases are only half of what’s in the visitor’s center.

The detail on many of these figures are quite incredible. The patterns on the dresses of the figures below, for example, must have been painted by hand. And on figures smaller than your thumb!

toy soldiersI later spent the afternoon walking along the canal and riverbank of the James. It was a beautiful afternoon, and I enjoyed coming across a very vocal songbird before doubling back to check out the old Tredagar Iron Works.

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Playing Imperial Assault

I recently picked up the new Imperial Assault box from Fantasy Flight Games.  In the past two weeks I’ve painted most of the figures and played several campaign sessions with a group of players, and last night I finally played a skirmish game against an opponent.  My short review:  this is a fast and engaging game system; with the extra rules and cards for a player vs. player miniatures tabletop game along with the more RPG oriented Descent-styled game, this may prove to be a brilliant means for introducing casual tabletop gamers to the strange hobby of miniature gaming, especially considering the popular Star Wars brand.  I’m going to run this at a teen gaming event at the library soon!

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Gaming History

Hosting games at the new place is helping get my hobby back on track since the local gaming store closed four months back.  The experience has been positive all around.  I’m reminded of my early days of gaming, when the experience was at home or going over to a friend’s house to game rather than meeting in a generic retail space.  I grew up in a rural area, and never visited anything like a game store, unless you count hanging out in the gaming aisle at Toys’R’Us.  There is something satisfying about hosting a game at home–preparing snacks and drinks to share with guests, feeling a sense of privacy at the table from public eyes, and truly making the tabletop experience a social activity.DSCF3294

So, with that in mind, I want to share what two friends each shared with me this week–items which reminded me of my early days of tabletop gaming.  The first was from a relatively new friend–we’ve played a lot of Edge of the Empire RPG sessions together, along with talking about Shadowrun, Mouse Guard, and other roleplaying games.  He gave me two boxes of lead figures which have been sitting in a box for at least 30 years, still with the original packaging foam intact.

These are the just like the lead figures I remember playing D&D with when I was in third grade, over at a friend’s house.  He didn’t know how to paint them, so we just used them out of the box, and he had maps drawn on construction paper.  I remember being intrigued by how I could use a sword tip of a figure to write on a piece of paper, just like a pencil at school.

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When I was older, I was still playing D&D in high school, and I remember playing in a friend’s attic with figures–he had all of them painted with enamel paints.  And they were ugly compared to what I see on the tabletop these days.  But we still had fun with them.

The other gift was an online link to a PDF of StarFrontiers-AlphaDawnBOX-01the old Star Frontiers game.  I may have started with D&D, but my favorite RPG in 4th grade was an epic science fiction opera with a range of aliens, huge starships, and wild adventure on a variety of worlds.  I played a shapeshifter, and during lunch breaks and on Friday afternoons when the kids caught up on their homework for the week were allowed to read or play quietly in the back of the classroom, I played Star Frontiers with a couple other boys.

Sure, everyone remembers Gamma World, and I played that during my Junior High years.  But Star Frontiers was more like Star Wars than the goofy post-apocalyptic setting of Gamma World.  I don’t remember any particular adventures, just a vague notion that we had our own starship and explored some maps printed on graph paper.

Anyway, I don’t know if I’m going to paint those lead figures–I like having something which reminds me of my youth, as they are.  And what young gamer would believe me if I told him they were lead under a layer of acrylic paint?  Just the same that I probably won’t run a session of Star Frontiers–I enjoy the dynamic of the Edge of the Empire system from Fantasy Flight Games, and I have a hard time bringing myself to roll an old fashioned d20, and forget about trying to track the progress of the PCs using graph paper.  Still, I appreciate those particular friends sharing these things with me.

Historicon 2014

Historicon: another impressive collection of miniature wargames again this year in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I didn’t spend the entire weekend at the event, but my partner in time agreed to accompany me to see what it’s all about, and I took a few pictures of some tables and figures which captured my imagination.

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The small city attracted both of us almost as soon as we walked into the main hall, and my partner was tempted to actually try a game set to run among the range of buildings on a huge table.  But sticking to our schedule, we walked around the rest of the space, checking out a big table set up for a steampunk game on another planet; Historicon features a variety of games, not only historical simulations.  But the Revolutionary battle set up across a winter scene got me thinking again about completing my own plan to create and run my own game set during the French & Indian War… maybe next year.

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H14 Spears Ancient H14 Martian H14 Landship House H14 Jungle River H14 Flea Market H14 FIW H14 30YW H14 BSG

Dystopian Wars Rises from the Waves

Sunday, last day of June, eight miniature gamers met at the Game Vault to play Dystopian Wars using the new 2nd edition rules.

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It was a great turnout for a casual event, half the guys coming down from Northern Virginia.  We paired up in teams and then matched against players with fleets from opposing alliances.  One of the guys brought some excellent island terrain pieces.

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I brought my Empire of the Blazing Sun to team up with a French contingent which was matched against my Usual Opponent and his Antarctican Anarchists.  My fleet went up against the Ottoman Turks.  Unfortunately, Japanese rocketry was ineffective, as usual (again, I must rescind the allowance for a shot of sake before each battle for the rocket battery officers), and the Turks withstood most attacks, eventually sinking my battleship and knocking my flying gun platform from the sky.

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But the other players were engaged in their respective games, occasionally breaking to ask for clarifications of the new rules from the group.

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Jade Wood Elves

Looking at some of my green dice, I wondered at the precedent for painting the scale armor on my Wood Elves as if they were wearing scale armor made of jade plates.

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I clearly enjoy painting these miniature soldiers with different shades of green–this preference seems to be indicated by the range of different paint pots I’ve acquired in the past Imagefew months.  I have more than a dozen different shades of green acrylic paint, not including some green inks and shades, and I have almost as many yellow paints, but I only have two pots of blue, both of which I’ve only used on painting the bases for naval models (with a dash of green ink, or course, to simulate the greenish/blue ocean waters).  And I found some pictures of museum pieces of Chinese stone armor which may support the concept of jade scale armor in reality, even though I’m talking about a fantasy game here but satisfies my secret, inner historian.

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The regional master miniatures painter known as Shades (you can see some of his work on his awesome blog: http://minimayhem-theblog.blogspot.com/ ) offered some advice on how to achieve the effect of painting jade scales on a figure, and a quick stop by the FLGS this afternoon opened up my options with 3 new paint pots in 3 different shades of green I hadn’t yet procured (now I have a selection of 15).  The first layer of paint is drying on a test figure, more to follow.  In the meantime, I have made some progress with the bases on some Wood Elf infantry and the Sisters of the Thorn.

sisters I suspect the new WE army book out has spurred renewed interest in the faction, so most stock seems to be sold out.  But after a bit of inventory on my shelves, I finally opened a couple boxes of Avalon figures from the Alkemy range.  These figures are human 28mm miniatures, of a medieval theme, but definitely incorporate a sylvan theme as well which is consistent with the story of a human culture tied to ancient magic bonding them to the trees.  The first model I considered was this heroic pose for a glade general, the sort of character leading a company of Eternal Guard headlong into battle against rampaging Orcs & Goblins.  kr_lotharius_face1

And then there is the matter of the forest spirit Treekin.  When I first considered collecting some Wood Elf models, almost 2 years ago, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the Treekin models, but I wondered if I could craft my own using twigs and bark collected from the woods behind our apartments.  Unfortunately, twigs and bark combined with a little hot glue and mounted on a plastic base looks worse than the original Treekin models I was attempting to proxy.  But then yesterday I revisited the idea of proxied Treekin while examining these figures with their arms transformed into entangled tree roots.

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The pictures above are clearly not my work, but beautifully painted figures I found related to the Alkemy game–it’s a great tabletop skirmish game, and I wouldn’t consider using some of these figures on square bases with my Wood Elf army if it wasn’t for the fact I already have 2 other factions already modeled and painted while these were still unopened in their respective boxes.  So it goes.

Painting Thorns

Inspired by some of the painted armies I saw and photographed at the Warhammer Fantasy event last weekend, I’ve been busy assembling and painting Wood Elf figures, including these “Sisters of the Thorn.”

ImageThese took a good deal of both time and patience to assemble, but it was just as well since the entire week of weather has been at least humid if not raining.  Today I finally got them primed, and by happenstance I picked up the plastic base-plate of an 80’s vintage electric typewriter, one which I had pulled apart for parts and components, and I realized it would serve as a platform for spray painting and carrying figures out to the back of the apartment complex where I go to prime models.  It certainly is more rigid and serves better as transport than the sections of corrugated cardboard I usually use.  This is now officially designated as my model priming plate.

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Warhammer Fantasy Culpeper Event

We hosted our first big miniatures event at the new FLGS on Saturday, June 14th.

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Some of the pre-registered players didn’t make it, but we still had 16 players, a great even number of participants for a tournament.  Our Tournament Organizer, Ben, presented a great set of guidelines, everyone was early, and the first round of games started on time by 11 am.  We had started the morning with trouble finding the key and swapping some tables, but I brought coffee and Matt brought donuts from Knackals, so all was destined to turn out.  Unfortunately, I had some other obligations cropping up to limit my participation–not unexpected–but I took as many pictures as I could when I was present.

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There were some great models on the table we hadn’t seen before because we had players driving a couple hours to join us.  And during the lunch break there was a painting contest by peers, and some of the displays looked great.

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And, of course, games were played.

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More Warhammer

Experimenting with some color schemes, I’m close to settling on a final set of colors for my new Wood Elf Fantasy army.  I still need to drybrush with some lighter colors for full effect, but I’m pleased with my palette.  I’m leaning more toward painting each figure’s hair a Celtic red rather than the Nordic blonde.  I’m still on the fence about the TreeMan–I like the contrast between the green and magenta I’m using on the infantry, but I’m tempted so much by my favorite shade of yellow.

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I’ve been helping with some logistics to set up for the first big Warhammer event in the Culpeper FLGS, coming up in just over a week now.  One of the local guys put together a graphic for the event, and another local player is going to help me set up tables in the space the night before.  The store sponsoring the event is not charging entry fees, but they’re putting up some decent prizes–the victor will win entry to the GT at the NOVA Open event coming up in a couple months.  There will also be some door prizes.

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I won’t get the chance to directly participate in the event, due to obligations at work, but I’m glad to help out and hopefully make it a worthwhile experience for the players.  But this coming weekend is packed with a game of Triumph & Treachery with several of my favorite opponents, and then some terrain building, painting, and practice games with the local Fantasy players at the store.