Saturday, July 27, 2013

Works in progress this weekend

I see lots of other wargamers who sit down and marathon paint an entire regiment or a whole village worth of buildings all in one night. I admire their tenacity and their eyesight. I, on the other hand, keep a multitude of projects going and I flit from one to the next with gleeful abandon. I have neither the patience nor the spinal fortitude to go for hours on one thing. Quite honestly, I'd get bored and lose interest, so I keep it mentally engaging by flip-flopping around. Ok, I don't get nearly as much done nearly as quickly as others, but you know what? A hobby is supposed to be relaxing and FUN!! Too many wargamers turn it into work. I get too much of that on weekdays. That's why I need a hobby in the first place. 

So, here's this weekend's crop of little half-finished projects I'm tinkering with and/or finishing. I've completed a 3mm West German panzergrenadier battalion at 1:1, for my 1981 LANDJUT campaign. Here's the battalion, with company and battalion command:

Marders for the two companies of panzergrenadiers and one company of M113G's for the jägers. The dismounted infantry still wait for my attention. 

Next up is a 1/285 ambulance I've completed for my Vietnam aid station. Much to my annoyance, no one makes the M43 or M725 ambulance that would be correct for mid to late Vietnam War, so I'm forced to use a WWII Dodge WC-54 ambulance. I can overlook it because they would've been present early in the American participation (up to 1965 or so) and the ARVN no doubt had many in use right up to 1975. 

I'm also in the process of making up a 3mm Cold War Danish 105mm battery, again for my LANDJUT campaign. 
It will be 4x 105mm (Danish light batteries had only 2 sections), 4x Bedford M ammunition supply trucks, 4x M113 crew transport vehicles, 2x Land Rover 110 forward observer vehicles, and 1x M113 battery commander's vehicle. A 1:1 battery. 

And this Armored Troop Carrier
needs to be turned into another one of these

That's enough to keep me busy until Monday morning. No doubt I won't finish it all, but there's always next weekend!!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

It's all a matter of scale

1/285, 1/300, 6mm, Z scale. Too many competing scales that are almost (but not quite) the same. I was never a scale Nazi and for me, "close enough" is close enough. I know MANY wargamers who are far, far too anal about scale and ok, it's their game and their hobby, so they have that right, but it's still highly annoying if you happen to be gaming with them.

However, no manufacturer makes everything you'll ever want, all in just one scale. You have to be a bit flexible when it comes to mixing scales if you want to get as much vehicle/figure/aircraft/building variety as possible. So, for me, if the various scales aren't radically different and they don't look out of place on the same table, I'm a happy camper. 

I don't have the same vehicle in two different scales, so let's look at two comparable vehicles
The top is a Russian ZIL-157 in 1/300 by Heroics and Ros and the bottom is a 1/285 US M35 "deuce and a half" by CinC. As you can see, virtually the same, as indeed the real vehicles are. I realize they look to be painted identically, but they aren't. It's just the crap camera on my iPhone. 

Z scale however, is noticeably larger. Again, I don't have two of the same vehicle, but here is a 1/300 VW Beetle by Armstrong Miniatures (now part of Heroics and Ros) and a Z scale VW van by Noch
Yes, a real van is a bit bigger than a real beetle, but as you can see, there's a very large difference here (Z scale is actually 1/220). The same is true with Z scale buildings. So I use this scale only when I can't get something in any other scale or when it would be quite large in real life. Take for example, this German city gate with an attached apartment building and pharmacy
A real beauty of a Z scale model railroading building by Kibri and nothing even approaching it is available as a wargaming building. That's the 1/285 US M35 truck in front of it for scale
A bit out of scale, but in order to get such gorgeous and unique buildings on my table, I'm willing to overlook it. In any case, it's a noticible difference, but it's not a ridiculously glaring one. 

I couldn't afford TOO many Z scale models, as the price that model railroaders are willing to pay is literally breathtaking. However, quite a lot of these things are on eBay and I can just put in a low bid and if I get it, I get it and if I don't, I don't. Generally I don't, because the model railroaders go crazy for this stuff, but if I'm patient, I eventually get one for a low price. I only use Z scale for things that are totally unobtainable in wargaming scales, such as post office, fire station, etc. For my 80's NATO v WarPac games, I like to represent the sizeable German civilian population that realistically would've been caught in the middle. 

If you've ever been to Germany and seen the old Fachwerkhäuser (half-timbered houses), they're actually very large and imposing compared to modern houses. So when I do urban battles, I'm happy to use the noticibly larger Z scale houses. I just try not to mix wargaming scale buildings immediately next to any Z scale. 

I'd welcome comments on how you do (or don't) mix scales

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The REAL terrain of Southeast Asia!

Having been stationed in Southeast Asia (northeastern Thailand) for 18 months when I was in the Army, let me clear up a few misconceptions that wargamers seem to have entrenched in their minds, as far as the landscape of the area. Here are a few key points to remember when you're buying/building your terrain for Vietnam:

1. DON'T buy lots of palm trees!!!!  I know Hollywood wants you to believe that Vietnam is wall-to-wall palm trees, but it's not true!!  The only places you will see palms are along the banks of rural creeks and rivers, in a tree-line set back from the beach, scattered around in towns, and in "orchards" on the numerous coconut plantations. Rarely will you see them elsewhere. Also, except on the plantations, palms in Vietnam are NOT the tall, thin, "South Seas" coconut palms. They're shorter and a bit scruffy looking. This is a typical river; a mix of deciduous trees with palms interspersed. This is along a tributary of the Mekong, above the Delta.

2. Vietnam is NOT all "jungle"! The majority of rural Vietnam is rice paddies, grasslands, scattered villages, and forests. What Hollywood wants to call jungle isn't "Tarzan swinging from the trees" stuff. It's quite simply rain forest, just the same as in Brazil or Indonesia or wherever. It's almost totally confined to the Central Highlands. Here's the upper Dong Nai River. 
The Mekong Delta area is a maze of large and small rivers that reminds me for all the world the bayou country of my home: southern Louisiana. Basically a vast wetland with fingers of dry land between water courses.
Here's an aerial view of part of the Delta, rivers zigzagging every direction

3. Your wargaming table can never have TOO many rice paddies. Paddies are probably THE defining feature of rural eastern and southern Vietnam and indeed all of Southeast Asia. They come in all shapes and sizes. Solitary farm houses will always have one or two smaller ones nearby and villages will be surrounded by them
If it's before the rice sprouts, the water in the flooded paddies varies in color from "mud" to "tea" and every shade in between
After the rice sprouts, the colors of the fields vary, depending on how far along each crop is, exactly what variety of rice was planted in each paddy, etc. 
Good-sized dykes or raised roadways are very common. 

4. Put away the blue paint for your rivers. Vietnamese rivers, large and small, are one color. Mud. To be sure, the shade varies in different parts of the country and along different stretches of the same river, but it's always muddy. Here's the Mekong, near the mouth of the Delta
And here's a small tributary in the Delta
Here's the upper Mekong, just inside Vietnam, on the Cambodian border
And this is farther up the Mekong, just inside Laos
And two shots along the lower Dong Nai, not too far from Cat Tien
For those who can't shake their addiction to those horrible little plastic palm trees that come 50 for $15 from China, more power to you. It's your game and you should have the table decked out any way you want. But for those who (like me) want to depict the landscape of Vietnam as accurately as the scale allows, I offer the above observations in the hope that they'll be helpful. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Terrain for Southeast Asia, Part 2

One of the things that defines the Vietnam War, as far as I'm concerned, is the Mekong Delta and the riverine forces that fought there. I find that this area makes for fascinating wargaming.

As such, a fair bit of the terrain I work on represents the Delta area and rivers are a major portion of that. As I've said before, I use GHQ Terrain Maker hexes, despite not being all that happy with it as a product. There's far too much variation in exact size and shape from hex to hex and it's way too much trouble to try to alter every single hex. But, I've yet to find a better, but still affordable alternative. 

So, we begin with a 1/4" hex, which I smear with a liberal coating of Flexpaste
I then tap gently with my finger all over the wet paste to raise small "wave" ridges, to simulate current, etc. Then let it dry well and we end up with this
Rivers in Vietnam are rarely blue or blue-green as they are in the US or Europe. Generally in Southeast Asia, they're an opaque mud color, and in some areas, with a noticeable olive green tint. I went to Home Depot looking for a "muddy water" house paint and what should I find for $2 in the mis-mixed bin? 
Enough to last a lifetime!! So after giving my hexes two coats for even coverage, I then add a generous coat of Vallejo Gloss Varnish and here's the end product
When strung together and banks added to both sides, I get something like this

As you can see, the GHQ hexes don't fit together as seamlessly as I want, but it'll do until I find a better alternative. 

Ok, back to the work bench!!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Terrain for Southeast Asia, Part 1

One of my ongoing projects is terrain. No matter what timeframe, it's got to have terrain to go with it. Terrain doesn't tend to be "one size fits all". 3mm and 6mm are somewhat interchangeable as far as terrain goes, but not totally. Different width roads, etc. Soil color varies between northern Germany and southern Vietnam too. At present, I'm working on some Vietnam terrain tiles
I use GHQ Terrain Maker hexes. Honestly, I'm not all that happy with them as a product. There's way too much variation in size from one tile to the next, there's always some dented or crushed area on a tile, etc., but they're as good as you're going to get for the relatively low cost. Other better options, Kalistra, etc., cost an arm and a leg. So, I make do with these. One of the things I dislike is the little hexagonal pattern the high density styrofoam beads leave on the surface. To help make that less noticeable, I smear the top of the tile with Woodland Scenics Foam Putty. It helps even out the surface. 

The soil of southern Vietnam varies from dark brown loam that would be right at home in an Iowa corn field to such a shocking red that you'd swear it's on Mars and every shade in between. As I obviously can't make a dozen sets of terrain, I settled on a terracotta shade. That's what's stereotypically "Vietnam" in my mind. So this is what I end up with once it's painted with a couple of coats
As you can see, I use the cheap "granny" paint. Americana Terra Cotta. Now it's ready for flocking. This particular tile will become part of my Fire Base, and I want it to be the area of the hospital tent
The tent is by DB Miniatures in Canada and the red cross decals are by Company B. I've glued it down with Scenic Glue. The next project is to surround it with sandbags, GHQ in this case
Ok, more in the next installment, as my aid station takes shape!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Let's begin at the beginning...

Since I've been wargaming for 40 years, I'm not going to try to cover all the things I've done in all that time. I'm just going to jump right in with projects that are ongoing now.

So let's begin with the basics: bases. I have a variety of sizes I use depending on the scale and the timeframe; ie ACW, Vietnam, etc., and what sort of unit I'm basing; infantry, an armored vehicle, etc. I prefer to use metal bases, as it allows me to put magnetic sheets in the bottom of my storage boxes and prevents damage when moving things around. Most of my bases, I get from Wargame Accessories

Here's a 40mm x 30mm base that I use for my 3mm modern minis. After I straighten it out so that it sits level (they come a bit bent up), I'm ready to make something with it. If I add a small hillock or other terrain feature, I seal it with Flexpaste, as some paints will dissolve styrofoam.
Terrain feature or not, the base gets a coat of light grey primer. Paints and texture pastes don't tend to stick too well to bare metal
Then I give it a coating of Vallejo White Pumice Paste (for Western Desert bases, I use PVA glue and fine sand instead)
Once that's good and dry, I give it two coats of a soil-colored paint. I like Stone Mountain Miniatures Mud paint.
Then, because of the small scale, I use quite a fine summer grass flock by Woodland Scenics and generally top that off with a scattering of fine burnt grass flock. The whole thing is then liberally bathed in Scenic Cement
I usually leave a bare patch or two, just to break up the "pool table look".  Now it's time to use some superglue gel to attach the minis
In this case, two 1/600 West German M107 self-propelled howitzers from Picoarmor. I then add a bush or two, glued down with Scenic Glue. I give the whole thing time to dry and finish off with a coat of Testors Dullcote. Viola!! One based mini!!

So, here we go!

Ok, so now I have a "blog". Being from a pre-Internet generation, I'm somewhat at a loss as to how to use a blog, how to add photos, why anyone would want to read it in the first place, but I'm assured that blogs are a "must have" for the 21st Century man, so, please bear with me. One (among many) of my passions is miniature wargaming. I've been at it since I was about 11 years old (too long ago to remember clearly - I'll be 51 in Sept). Oddly, as I've gotten older and my eyesight has gotten worse (and worse), I've discovered an increasing love of the tinier scales, 1/300 and 1/600.

When I was a kid, 25mm was all the rage. I took an instant dislike to this larger, clunkier scale and I went to 15mm figures, which I stayed with for many many years, then lo and behold, I came across 6mm (aka 1/300 and 1/285). All my life, I've had a fascination with all things tiny (maybe that's why I have a wife who is 4'11"?). 15mm was passé for me now!!  6mm became my consuming passion...until a few months ago when I made the mistake of buying a few 3mm (1/600) vehicles. Oh Lord!!  The detail on those tiny things is incredible!! And so a new passion was born, though I haven't given up 6mm. Both scales co-exist happily in my hobby addiction.

Like most, if not all, wargamers, I have more interests than my wallet will support, so my current passion rotates through several timeframes. The Vietnam War (mostly 6mm, but tinkering with 3mm too), Early 80's NATO v WarPac (mostly a LANDJUT campaign in 3mm, but again, tinkering a bit in 6mm too), ACW in 3mm, Napoleonics in 6mm, and WWII Western Desert in 3mm (I think I have hobby ADD). As you can see, "too many hogs for the teats" to quote Abraham Lincoln. Miniatures, terrain, paints, brushes and tools, rule's all just too much for a poor checking account to handle.

So, in summation, this will be my "diary" about what I'm fiddling with, painting, creating, buying. I'll do my best to make weekly posts and I'll keep a list of all the links from my posts on my front page, all for your titilation and edification, provided of course that I figure out how to use this damned blog. (Also, please note that I will be using numerous images that I find on the internet and I do not present these as my own images and copyright remains with the images' original posters.) So, comments and questions are welcome and if there's a particular topic you'd like to see me cover, please feel free to let me know. As a nearly 51 year old rudely thrust, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century, I am indeed a "stranger in a strange land." Welcome to my blog...