Den Upgrades and a Reappraisal of Pile of Lead.

Home renovations.  I’m sure you’ve had them.  Maybe you are somebody with considerable DIY skills.  I don’t.  I’m a pretty good, pretty fast painter-that’s about it for me.

Lorri and I had a long conversation in the spring-move or remodel.  She has a wretched commute that shaves about three hours off her life per day.  Moving even a little closer to Renton would give her back some of that time.  But with the housing market continuing to blaze like Mount Vesuvius, we didn’t feel it was possible to get out of the house we’ve lived in for 27 years, and get something more desirable without losing our shirts.  With retirement not far away, we decided a remodel was a more viable solution.

So, we made our plans.  Unfortunately, due to delays in our re-fi, we didn’t get started until mid-summer.  Combined with working J-camp and a lovely trip to Astoria, here we are.  Our bedroom and bath are unusable. I’ve had to move everything out of my den and Lorri’s sewing room–which is like almost all the STUFF in the house.  And there is no place to paint anything. Sad, because I have little to do but comfort my poor dogs who are driven crazy by the loud noises and strangers working in their house.

Oh, well. Going on three weeks without any meaningful painting time, and that kind of drives me crazy.

There are lots of things I want to work on.  I’ve blocked out two aircraft projects I want to do.  There is the Falklands stuff I started on and would like to have finished for Museum of Flight day on October 22nd. And then I’d like to paint my sizable collection of Mediterranean planes to combine with the Dave Smith bounty, about which I have not yet written.  Soon. Daveshoe and I are talking about the air attack on the HMS Illustrious in January 1941 for Enfilade.

The new den is almost ready for painting.  The records are now all stashed away, the desk is complete–all that’s missing is a selected brush and some water to clean them in.  Those are some Galactic Knight fighters awaiting paint.  Some planes out of view to the left and a hydroplane. 

Lorri granted me the opportunity to make major changes in my den. As I said, everything came out of the den because new carpets were being laid.  That meant all my unpainted figures, a thousand vinyl records, my stereo system, book case, a media stand television and various ephemera-lots of ephemera.  I peeled the 15-year old wallpaper from the one wall it had the misfortune to be located.  I painted the room a stately, but warm gray.  I took down my various military prints, soon to be replaced by a variety music photos—Patty Smith poster, Temple of the Dog, my framed copy of an original Love Me Do 45, Pearl Jam jumping about the stage in ’92, and an original drawing of John Lennon.

But the coolest improvement, without question is the hobby desk Lorri let me order for my room.  It is was a couple of hours worth of construction, but gives me more space than the simple 48” X 30” Costco folding table.  It also has plenty of room for storage, including my SpinClean record washer and all of the bits that go with it.

But, before I moved all my stuff back into the closet in my den, I went through every drawer of my IKEA Antonio-twelve in all-where I keep a lot of my stuff. I made some tough decisions about unpainted bits I’ll be parting with.  It will almost certainly be followed by more choices regarding painted items.  Not like the world will be falling in, but many of my DBA armies will be offered up and priced to sell.  I haven’t played in likely five years, and with the 2.2 vs. 3.0 schism I’m willing to let some go. I have thirty painted armies, I’m okay with it.

But looking past that, as I moved my piles of unpainted figures out on the deck, I need new projects like a hole in the head.  I really do intend to paint every figure I own. There are hundreds of unpainted HYW figures, ACW figures, AWI figures, even some additional troops for the War of 1812.  I set myself a goal of starting on the Sudan next summer, but perhaps that should be delayed even further, or indefinitely.  I have no shortage of figures to paint, projects to complete and, what’s more, desire to complete them.  So I think I’ll hold off for now.


Hue 1968: The Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam

Hue 1968

I’ve read a number of books about the Vietnam War, being relatively of that era. The usual suspects-Halberstam, Sheehan, Karnow, McMaster, even read Daniel Ellsburg’s book Secrets about his decision to release the Pentagon Papers. Mostly they are an analysis of the decision to enter the war, the logical gymnastics the Kennedy and Johnson administrations engaged in as they made the decisions to enmesh the country deeper and deeper into commitments to support the government of South Vietnam.

But for the most part, I’ve avoided the military histories of the war, whether they were devoted to specific battles or combat units.  I wanted to avoid glorifying the sacrifices that were made by the men who fought there in a war waged for goals that were unrealistic and guided by plans that were fantastic and delusional.

This spring, however, I decided to read Mark Bowden’s book on the Battle of Hue when it became available. Bowden is a journalist, writing for The Atlantic Monthly and Vanity Fair magazines. He also wrote the bestseller Blackhawk Down, so he knows his way around military history.  Though I haven’t read that book, the response to Hue was so strong, I bought a copy for my friend for his birthday and downloaded an electronic copy for myself.

I can say unequivocally Hue 1968, is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Bowden has done a superb job with his research and the storytelling that he leaves the reader with an inescapable conclusion: the war was a mistake, fought under erroneous conclusions drawn from incorrect data. It left the lives of many-Americans, supporters of the Hanoi and Saigon regimes, as well as civilians just trying to survive the turmoil of the war, shattered by death, severe injury the loss of loved ones and friends. What’s more, Bowden does his best to offer the perspective of all the combatants and civilians, not just American servicemen.

Bowden begins by sharing the delusions of the American commander, William Westoreland.  Asserting the American war effort is succeeding, and that victory over the Viet Cong and NVA forces is not far away, Westmoreland prepares for an assault on the Marine outpost at Khe Sanh as 1967 was ending and the new year was approaching.  All of Westmoreland’s preparations came with requests for more troops.

While Westmoreland was worried about the Marines in the western highlands, the planners in Hanoi were planning a far more ambitious campaign. To coincide with the Tet New Year, the Viet Cong, together with elements of the North Vietnamese army attacked every large city in the south, including every provincial capital, Saigon, and the old capital of Hue. The goal was to demonstrate the ability of the Communist forces to coordinate widespread attacks and encourage a popular uprising to support unification with the North and reject the corruption and dependence of the South Vietnamese on American support for survival.

On January 30th, the first night of Tet, attacks went off as plan.  The attack on the U.S. embassy made the T.V news.  Cities and towns across the South were captured.  But within a few days the Viet Cong and their regular army allies were driven off with losses.  There was no rising.  And Westmoreland, telling the press he knew about Tet all along, hunkered down waited for the expected Dien Bien Phu-like assault at Khe Sanh and the rest of the country went quiet.

Except at Hue, the old colonial capital, built largely in stone by the French colonizers in the early 19th century. Stone buildings laid out in blocks south of a large, menacing citadel across the Huong River. On the first night of Tet, nearly 20,000 troops were engaged in the capture of the city, defended by a small garrison of South Vietnamese, depleted by troops on holiday leave, and a Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) compound just south of the city occupied by some U.S. Marines and an assembly of support troops.

Bowden’s story is about Major Truong’s effort to hang on to his toehold in the citadel with his depleted ARVN forces, and the American struggle to hang on in the MACV compound.  They had to fight off their enemies, as well as the belief by their superiors they were fighting a few hundred, and maybe as many as a few thousand Viet Cong. They also had to fight with their hands tied as high command refused to allow the defenders to use heavy weapons in the city because of the historical value of the buildings.

But somehow they did survive the NVA assaults, took the offensive themselves and captured the city block by block, suffering tremendous casualties. The city’s stout structures, well-defended by veteran, tenacious regulars, Viet Cong and even local militia, were virtually destroyed. Those civilians unable to flee at the outset of the Communist occupation were caught in a killing zone, usually without food or water, and no easy way out of their desperate circumstancers.

Bowden’s research, combining what was available in print, together with interviews from participants on both sides as well as civilians make this captivating reading.  It’s a great combination of telling the story using official and journalistic sources, as well as the anecdotal accounts that give the story real meaning . It’s a balancing act and Bowden does it masterfully.

The book concludes with an analysis of Hue and its it central role in the failure of the American mission to settle the status of South Vietnam as a independent nation without the need of U.S. support. More important it examines the impact of Hue from the standpoint of the media and it’s retreat from support for the war to the belief that the war could not be won on the battlefield.  Finally, Bowden gives attention to the battle’s influence on Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, the removal of Westmoreland, and LBJ’s decision not to seek re-election in 1968.

Hue 1968: The Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam is a must read for those who hope to understand that war, or want to gain additional perspective on the long American commitment to the Middle East and Afghanistan.  Questions like “Why are we there,” or “How do we win,” and “When are we done,” should have been asked loudly and forcefully during that earlier Asian conflict, and we shouldn’t hesitate to ask them now.


Wargamer Collection Catalog

I was poking through The Miniatures Page this morning, still smoking that Bill Armintrout went on vacation and left those of us who weren’t supporting members mute, when I ran across an interesting post. One of those privileged enough to speak posted about a website that allows visitors to catalogue their miniature collections

With contractors in my house, and my three Aussies objecting to spending the entire day in my den remounting figures, I decided to give it a try.

You can link to Wargame Collection Catalog and set up pretty easily.  You’ll need to create an account and login. Doubtless, you’ll wonder “why should I create another account and login?”  Well, silly, you need to be able to find and complete your collection, right?

Once that’s done, you can take your collection, project by project, and enter it unit by unit.  Yes, it’s tedious, but if you have some time to kill and want to get it done, go for it.

One real practical purpose for this is the valuation the site offers. There is a raw lead value, and a painted value.  It doesn’t really discriminate between really spendy figures and cheaper (Old Glory vs. Foundry, for example) but it does give you something to work with if you want to properly insure your miniatures.

Since it is topical, I’m starting with my Louisiana project.  It’s super easy.  Identify a unit, number of figures, metal or plastic, 28mm, painted, based, plug in a picture if you have one, and voila. Add your entry.

I printed my screen, just so you get the idea.  It looks like this.

Screenshot (1) It’s pretty slick, and allows you to create a pdf to supply to your homeowners carrier. No question it will take me a long time to complete an inventory of my collection, which takes time away from important things like rebasing and painting.  But, overall, not a bad thing. It will also tell me how many painting figures I actually have, which may drive me insane.  But I have an online-catalog of my records, I think my painted figgies are worth it.

American Rampant Again

Gathered with friends for a Truant Friday playtest of America Rampant.  Four of my buddies plus myself gathered at Game Matrix for a game.  This time it was American regulars and militia against a force of Chickasaw Indians supported by some Spanish mounted infantry.

I was really excited about seeing everyone: Mark, Al, Gene and Scott.  It’s been a while since we gamed together.  In fact, it was so exciting to get together, torture one another and push some lead around, that I completely forgot to take pictures.  So I’ll keep it short.

Let’s just say the Americans were out to have the last word in the typical cycle of violence that wove American expansion with native responses to that aggression.  This punitive expedition targeted Chickasaw food supplies and dwellings, while the Spanish were determined to make things bloody for the their dangerous neighbors.

The Americans had four units of regular infantry, supported by a couple of the small King’s howitzers they used on the frontier until the War of 1812.  They were supported by four units of militia, including two units of mounted rifles.

The regulars pretty much had their way with the Chickasaw units facing them.  The Indians tried to pop out of some woods to attack the regulars, but when their double-quick activation failed, they had to show themselves and take a lot of fire. One of the units, rated fierce, actually did make their charge, destroying one regular unit, and badly mauling another, before it was eliminated by fire.

The militia fared less well.  It’s leadership factors were lower, and had a harder time doing much, complicated by Gene’s relatively terrible die rolling. The Spanish mounted infantry chipped away at the four units.  While the riflemen did inflict damage on Spanish, they would likely be kept out of the Chickasaw town.

The game ended with the Americans, bloodied, but unbeaten, advancing on the Chickasaw town, and the natives unlikely to be able to stop them.  I really enjoyed the rules.  Learned a lot more about terminology and the quick way to figure out the differences between pinning and rallying. Very clean, very quick.  I’m anxious to try them again.

But first I need to keep remounting figures.  My goal is to have the entire project remounted by the time I leave for WJEA summer camp on the 26th.  It’s all complicated by the fact that we are also doing some serious home renovations.

big remount

The last of the Americans requiring remount. So far I’ve remounted 25 units totaling some 264 figure.

Even so, I’m usually able to put some hours into the project every day.  It’s time consuming and tedious, but the routines are simple:  pry the old figures off their bases; glue them to new bases and wait to dry; apply modeling paste and wait to dry; paint bases burnt umber and dry brush with Trail Tan; apply flocking and spray with Dullcoat; add some clump foliage and touch up shiny spaces; add magnets.  I can usually get a couple units per day done, sometimes more.

Sounds easy, and it is.  But it does have some inherent hazards. The first part, prying old figures off their bases means using a very sharp X-Acto blade. For the most part the figures have come off without a major struggle. To this point.  I’m not talking 30 or 40 figures here.  The number is over 250. But Saturday and then again Monday the knife slipped and trashed my left palm and thumb.  Blood, a mad dash to stop the bleeding. The solution? The hand bottle of Zap glue on my painting table.

first aid

This is my new first aid kit, with the offending puncture provider in the background.

The good news is the Americans are all safely remounted, leaving only the Spanish to be remounted. But, I’ll be letting my sore thumb heal a few days before taking them on.

Oh no! Not Hawkmoon figures!!!

I’ve been re-basing away here in Smythland.  Really meant to be painting, but I’ve been re-basing my Louisiana project and so far so good.  I’ve rebased 18 or so units and with a refreshing of my needed Litko bases today I’ll have plenty to finish up this project, and maybe enough to do the Aztecs and Conquistadors too.  Well, in addition to painting my Louisiana leftovers–about 150 figures worth.

Haven’t quite decided what to do about mounted units.  I bought 25 60mm round bases, which is what it would take to squeeze two mounted miniatures on rounds  But they sure would take up a lot of space.  Would make ’em more vulnerable to shooting and attack.  Dunno.  Might be able to make ’em look cool, but may be more trouble than they’re worth.

In any case, the I’m going to stick with the plan and wrap up the 150+ figures I have to paint for the Louisiana project, but I’ll probably remount all my painted units before I move on to painting more.

Remember my no new projects for 2017-18 (Enfilade pledge?  Well, it’s being sorely tested.  I ran across some hard evidence–as in figures available with a price on them–for the Hawkmoon range of fantasy figures by Eureka Miniatures.


Fantasy figures?  Who cares, you might be saying.  Usually the answer is, not me. But these are figures based on the Hawkmoon stories by Michael Moorcock.  Anything from Moorcock’s Eternal Champion cycle interests me, but Hawkmoon is probably the simplest and most fun of these.  During the late 70’s and early 80’s I read every Michael Moorcock book at least twice. That he agreed to the production of these figures is pretty exciting stuff.

So, what, you ask, would you do with it?  Strictly Dragon Rampant fun.  Yes, I have tons of stuff to paint for Dragon Rampant, but if I limited myself to one retinue of the Kamarg warriors that fight for Hawkmoon and his allies, and one retinue of the Granbreton nasties that are trying to kill him, that may be enough.  At $3.00 or so a pop, that may be all I can afford.



You die, he dies, everybody dies: the America Rampant playtest

As promised, today Dave Schueler and I dropped in at Meeples to try out the America Rampant adaptation of The Men Who Would Be King. I knew we’d be playing on a pretty small table, probably 5′ X 3′.  So I couldn’t have too many units out there. Thursday and Friday I took every minute I could to remount enough figures to play the game.

I settled on a simple scenario idea, the search for cannon captured and hidden by the Miamis at the Battle of the Wabash in 1791.  It was a good idea, but the scenario played poorly in execution. But it did give us a good look at my basic ideas and I’ve got to say they were two thumbs up.

TMWWBK plays like a super cleaned up version of Lion Rampant, and why anyone wouldn’t create house rules to adopt those changes is beyond me. Free actions.  An activation failure just means move on to the next unit. It all made for a good flowing game.

America Rampant changes the game from a rifle dominated game to one in which melee in close terrain is more likely.  In our little game, casualties through muskets and close combat played a part in the game.

i hoped to learn two things from our little playtest:

  1. Did my remount make sense from a game context?
  2.  Did the rules adaptation work from a mechanical and historical standpoint?

The Remount

The remount was not easy. Lots of steps.

  1. Figures were pried from their bases.
  2. Glued to their new bases.
  3. Modeling paste applied to bases
  4. Bases painted with Burnt Umber
  5. Bases dry brushed with Trail Tan
  6. Apply Woodland Scenics turf
  7. Glue in clump foliage
  8. Final touch up and Dullcote

It was time-consuming, and it took every spare minute I could summon Thursday, Friday and even a half-hour this morning to finish seven Indian and five American units. I don’t have any more painted natives, but I have tons of American militia and regular units, and a lot of Spanish.  I’ll need to acquire more bases to finish them all, but it’s on the docket to finish all of them this summer.

That said, it seems completely worth it. They don’t rattle around in their cases.  It took much less time to set up a game.  Movement was easy.  Pick up went really fast.  All the objectives were achieved.  They look pretty good too. The remount was a success.

The Rules Adaptation

I chose to take the Americans and Dave took the indians.

Dave had:

  • Two tribal infantry without modifiers
  • Two tribal infantry with veteran +1 to discipline
  • two tribal infantry with veteran +1 to discipline, and fierce.

I had

  • One veteran regular infantry, +1 to discipline
  • Two plain ol’ veteran infantry
  • One unit of irregular infantry, militia
  • One unit of veteran militia, +1 to discipline, armed with rifles.  This was a rule change allowing greater range (18″ vs 12″ for smoothbore muskets,) but allowing only half the figures to fire each turn due to slower loading and shooting.

The two sides were divided by a fordable stream, and Dave set up his units in covering terrain.  Another change to the rules is the Indians have only an 8″ shooting range and always fire at long range (this requires all hits to be halved.) Deciding he was too far away and unlikely to coax me into crossing the stream, Dave launched all six of his units at me.

Because shooting is a free move for regular and irregular infantry, it didn’t make much sense to do a lot of moving around.  The first turn of fire was made at long and short range, depending on the unit. My troops did little damage, and successful pin rolls were made all around.

In the second turn, as some units moved close enough to consider attacking at the double-quick, the Indian units mostly failed their activations. But one of the fierce units did not, and hit a regular infantry units.  Dave rolled 24 dice and hit on eight of them.  I rolled ten dice and hit on two.  Bad news. The unit failed its pin roll. I was not shocked.

But my second turn of fire went much better. All my remaining units hit at a greater than 50% rate, and pinned their targets, rendering them unable to move in turn three.

But our fierce friend struck another unit, inflicting another eight casualties against only three losses. Two of the five units in my command were now shattered, and by a single unit. My center was simply remnants, my left was holding and gradually reducing their attackers, and my veteran rifle unit was isolated, pouring fire at two potential attackers, but firing at half strength was not going to cut it forever.

In turn four, the fierce unit dispatched one of its badly wounded prey, while the two left flank units ended the resistance by their opponents. Three Indian units were eliminated.  But on the right flank, one of the units was across the stream, and the other was finally moving into the stream.  Trouble was coming.

In turn five, the fierce unit was fired on as it advanced toward the last remaining regular unit, and reduced to five figures. One of the Indian units in the right flank attack struck the collection of figures assigned to finding the hidden cannon, driving them back, but suffering loss. More losses came with fire from the rifle unit, and they were pinned. But the fresh unit on the far right was lining up the rifles for destruction.

Turn six was the final turn. The fierce unit attacked the American regulars and were finally worn down to nubs.  But the unit on the right hit the rifles and killed half of them at minimal loss. They were driven back and pinned, but failed their pin recovery.  The two American left flank units advanced toward the carnage in the center as the game end. By the end of the game, far more stands were removed than were still in the game.

Our verdict was the game played as intended.  The rules were simple.  Lots of bases were removed.  No real snags in the flow of play.  We didn’t use the officer characteristics rules. One other rule change, was the addition of a leader to each command.  The leader could give a +1 to activation or pin rolls to one unit per turn. This played a minor role int he game.

I’m pronouncing these a success, but I want to play them again soon.

Louisiana: It’s a Start

Lorri and I are leaving tomorrow on a little vacation.  We’re going to the San Juans.  First time for either of us.  Amazing because both of us have lived almost our entirely lives in the Puget Sound area.  Oh did I include the fact that three Australian Shepherds will be joining us.  Yes, it seemed like such a good idea at the time.

I hoped to get a lot more miniatures work done today, but no such luck.  But I did manage to rebase all my Woodland Indians-mostly Old Glory with a few Front Rank figures in there for good measure. I pried them all from their 25mm X 25mm bases, remounted them on Litko rounds.  50mm in diameter for three figures, 40mm in diameter for two figures and 25mm rounds for singles.  They are in 12 figure units so the basing is 3 X 50mm, 1 x 40mm, 1 X 25mm.

I covered all the bases with Liquitex modeling paste.  I really like this material.  It’s easy to spread, and because it’s acrylic it doesn’t chip, and it dries very quickly.  In an hour or less you’re good to go. I’ll paint all the bases an overall Ceramcoat Burnt Umber, a very dark brown.  Then I dry brush it with Ceramcoat Trail Tan.  When it’s all dry I’ll spread some brown and green flocking.  These are all units that fight in the woods, so I’ll use Woodland Scenics Hobby Tack to glue down significant bits of clump foliage.

I finished a unit of Woodland Indians and a unit of militia today.  American militia figures strongly into the Americans forces for this project. They are a 10 figure unit and include 2 X 50mm, 1 X 20mm and 2 X 25mm.

Woodland Indians on the left.  Militia on the right. 

As I said before, I’ll be meeting Dave Schueler in West Seattle to try out the rules on July 8th, and following up with a Friday Truants game with whoever can get loose at the Game Matrix on the 14th.  I’m pretty set with a hypothetical historical scenario with Dave–recovering one of the cannon taken and hidden by the Miamis at the Battle of the Wabash in 1791.  I’m thinking five or six Indian units vs. four or five American units.  I should have the Indians all done, but the Americans will have to show up in their singles–except for one militia unit. I’ll plan the Truants day accordingly

I’ve located all my figures for Louisiana.  Yes it should be easy, but it’s not.  The remounting will take some time.  But I also want to take on the painting and wrap up all the miniatures I have.  I currently have enough Woodland Indians for seven units.  I believe I have enough unpainted figures to get that up to at least twelve. I have enough Wayne’s Legion figures to paint four units of Legion infantry 1792-4–you know, the guys with the colorful turbans and plumes.  The rest of my units all have black turbans and white plumes.  I already have a couple of light infantry units from the Legion period painted.  So it would be fun to do some scenarios from that period as well.

Anyway, plenty to do and I’m all in.  However, there is the matter of ten mounted archers on my painting table from the Hundred Years War.  They’ll need to be finished before anything new can be painted.