Saturday, December 29, 2012

Deus Vult! First Thoughts Part 1

Around the time Fireforge Games released their Templar Knights, I decided that resistance was futile and bought a box each of the Teutonic Knights, Templars and then the Mounted Sergeants. I’ve always loved 13th century knights, and had a great time painting some in 1/72 scale. The lure of being able to put together a sizeable force in 28mm, made up of affordable figures in a coherent style proved too strong. God truly did will it.

Although my main intention is to put together an army for Impetus, I also preordered a copy of Deus Vult, the set of wargames rules from Fireforge, written by Dylan Owen, Alessio Cavatore and Fabio Spieza, and have been gradually reading my way through the rules. Paul of the Man Cave asked for a review, so here are some initial thoughts, bearing in mind that I haven’t actually played a game.

1. Presentation and Layout

The Deus Vult rule book is really quite superb. It is hardback, 192 pages, and sumptuously illustrated with photographs of beautifully painted figures, Fireforge’s magnificent box artwork and a number of diagrams to help explain the rules. It is nice to see that Fireforge haven’t just taken the opportunity to advertise their own miniatures, with the book also featuring photos of figures from Gripping Beast, Conquest Games, the Perrys and many other manufacturers. The book has been extremely well edited and proofread. Despite being a pedantic bugger I have yet to discover any errors.

The layout of the book is very clear and accessible, with clear and numerous subheadings. One feature I quite like is the use of margins to pick up on points made in the text. Sometimes the margins just contain some inspiring ‘fluff’, such as quotes from various chronicles, but often the authors have used the margins to give tactical advice or to justify some point of game design. There are also suggestions aimed at assisting game play, such as the salutary advice about how to resolve rules disputes without resorting to bloodshed on p. 8, or a guide to making an instant protractor on page 9.

2. What's In the Book?

The subtitle of Deus Vult is ‘Wargaming in the Time of the Crusades’. The rules and army lists focus particularly on the first three crusades in the Holy Land, up to the end of the 12th century, although the authors make it clear that the Deus Vult game will be developed into different Medieval contexts with the release of future supplements.

The first chapter of the book deals with ‘General Conventions’, explaining fundamental concepts in the rules such as morale and so on. This section also sets out to pin down various points that can cause disputes in games, such as exactly how to measure distance or resolve line of sight. I get the strong impression that the authors are aiming this game partly at tournament play, and are seeking to make the rules as clear and unambiguous as possible.

Chapter 2 (‘Anatomy of an Army’) explains how forces are organised in Deus Vult I particularly like the fact that army organisation closely mirrors the historical reality, with armies made up of Main Force and Rear Guard Divisions, with a possible Vanguard Division, usually of skirmishers, leading the army. An army could consist of a single division, with up to one Rearguard Division added for each in the Main Force. One Rearguard Division can also be designated as an Outflanking Force, which is left off the table when the army deploys. Divisions are made up of a number of Units, which can fight in Line or Deep formations.

Each Division is led by a Battle Leader, and the first task for a player is to determine each Battle Leader’s profile. This involves rolling dice to determine the Leader’s Discipline and Courage, Command ability, their prowess in Duels, and the possible Virtues or Flaws and Strategies they may possess that will influence the game.

Chapters 3-6 cover the actual rules for fighting tabletop battles, so I’ll come back to those shortly.

In Chapter 7, we have seven different scenarios, which all look well thought out and enjoyable, and certainly fire my imagination. Generally they present fairly familiar situations as are found n different rule sets, which is natural enough as they reflect typical situations in Medieval warfare. For example, we have scenarios such as Seize the Baggage (pretty self-explanatory), or others involving river crossings, holding objectives, fighting while encircled and so forth.

Chapters 8-10 explain how to go about recruiting your army, providing army lists for Early Crusader States 1100-1128 and Arab Dynasties 945-1150. A fairly cursory perusal suggests that these are detailed and well thought out, and although based on a points system are constrained by various limitations that avoid power gaming by forcing the player to field an army that reflects its historical composition. The cut-off dates on the lists is a little surprising given the focus of the rules on the first three Crusades, but this is explained somewhat by Chapter 11, which provides a list of ‘Sample Units’ allowing the player to raise forces for Deus Vult! outside the main focus of this book. For Example, statistics are provided for ‘Generic Western European Troops’ as well as for Templars, Hospitallers, Seljuk Turks, Teutonics, Russians and Baltic Pagans. These would certainly allow the formation of later Crusading armies in the Holy Land, but only provide a skeleton of units for those, for example, interested in the Northern Crusades. As the authors point out, we can expect to see the later crusades, the Northern Crusades and other conflicts such as those involving the Mongols covered in future supplements.

Chapter 12 ‘Fighting for God’ gives an overview narrative of the history of the 1st-3rd Crusades, running to 16 pages. This is well written and gives a good overview of the period, and I am very impressed that Fireforge went to the effort of including such a good section on the historical background to the game. Nice one.

This is followed in Chapter 13 by an after battle report of a game of Deus Vult, involving none other than Alessio Cavatore, one of the authors, and perennial swords for hire Rick Priestley and the Perrys. This is quite a good read, and does help to explain the flow of a game.

Chapter 14 is great, giving some good suggestions about how to customise Deus Vult to different situations such as tournaments, or how to use figures with different basing conventions or in different scales, how to play multi-player games and how to design new scenarios. Perhaps surprisingly there is nothing here about campaigns, but perhaps we can expect that in a later supplement. There is some nice advice on p. 159 about how to organise a tournament, including suggestions about how to avoid the problem of plyers with hangovers or pushy girlfriends (!)

Finally, Chapters 15 and 16 provide a number of Gaming Aids, such as cards to keep track of the attributes of different Battle Leaders and tokens and cards for use in the game. An overview reference section completes the book, which makes good use of the margins by providing page references to different rules. At first glance this looks well designed, but you would have to use it in the heat of battle to really assess this.

Right, well that pretty much gives my initial thoughts on most aspects of Deus Vult! except for the rules themselves, which I will cover in my next post. Overall impression so far? This book is clearly a labour of love, presenting an ambitious new gaming system with a clear strategy for expansion lying behind it. I can’t fault the presentation, and frankly think it would be worth the price just for the army lists, historical section and inspiring eye candy. The introduction does refer to a painting guide in the book, but I couldn’t find any trace of one, but that minor quibble aside, this is an impressive piece of work.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Top 10 Hobby Highlights of 2012

So what have your top ten hobby highlights of the year been? This could include anything - an event, a game, a new range of figures, whatever. The list need not be in any order of importance. If your name is Fran or Ray it will probably include many happy memories in each other's company.

Here's my top 10, in no particular order.

1. Blogging. I've really enjoyed how connected I've felt with gamers around the world as a result of the blogosphere. I was touched by the kindness of you folk out there when my dad died, and the blogosphere has also brought me a group of beautifully painted British Paras courtesy of Tamsin in the UK. Closer to home, I've made a new buddy in the hirsute form of Man Cave Paul after 'meeting' each other via our blogs.

2. Meeples and Miniatures. I eagerly await each new episode of Neil Shuck's podcast to listen to while painting. I love the arcane and sometimes grumpy arguments about point systems, 'heft' and whether boxed games need to come in boxes, and enjoy listening to Neil interview games designers and figure manufacturers to get an idea of what's going on in the hobby world.

3. The School Wargaming Cub. 2012 saw the club developing some momentum, and it has been a real privilege seeing the boys getting into it. You should see some of the figures that boys who were entirely new to the hobby a year ago are now painting. One of the main reasons for success this year has been...

4. SAGA! 2012 has been the year of Saga in the Duchy. I've played more games with more different people thanks to it than ever before. What a tops game!

5. Taking part in a Saga tournament. I entered my first ever tournament this year at Hall of Heroes, and even won it! The victory was sweet, but even sweeter was just having a full day of gaming with some great blokes in a fantastic venue. Seriously, if Hall of Heroes had a bowl of oranges lying around as an anti scorbutic there would be no reason to ever leave.

6. Battle Group Kursk. Terrific looking set of rules that has made me excited about WWII gaming again.

7. Fireforge miniatures. Boxes of affordable 13th century knights? What's not to like?

8. Two little Dux. Dux Britanniarum and Dux Bellorum joined Saga this year, making gaming the early medieval/dark ages arguably more interesting than it ever has been before. I'm really looking forward to starting a Dux Brit campaign.

9. Cabot's Acrylic Stain and Varnish. What I use instead of Army Painter Dip. Great stuff that helps me get figures on the table without making me feel ashamed of them looking goopy or too dark.

10. War and Peace Games. Great local online business run by people who know the hobby, know how to look after their customers, and who are happy to help support local clubs.

It has been a good year. Add to all that the fact that I painted 348 28mm figures along with a few in other scales, and a feel a curious glow of contentment.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 In Review: Resolutions SITREP

I'm away staying with the in-laws at the moment, so not too much will be happening on the hobby front until after the New Year. This makes it a pretty good opportunity to pause and look back at the year that was in Homunculorum Towers.

To start with, here's the SITREP on my resolutions for the year:

1. Play more games. Specifically, make it a priority to get to club every 2-3 weeks.
SITREP: Total failure at getting to the club more often, but I certainly played more games thanks to making some new friends and the school club. Accomplished.

2. Continue to develop the school wargames club. Hell yes - mission accomplished. Despite one of my afternoons now being taken up by helping to run Cadets, the club is going from strength to strength, with some big plans for the year ahead.

3. Expand my Anglo-Danish, Welsh and Viking Saga warbands to 6 points each. Accomplished for the Welsh and Vikings

4. Make another couple of Saga warbands. Yup - Bretons and Scots

5. Build more Viking age terrain. Specifically, scratchbuild a great hall and at least one longship (probably the Revell one).Well, I made the Viking ship...

6. Make a set of terrain boards. Done! Haven't used them yet though.

7. Re-base my 1/72 ECW figures for Baroque To be honest, I just haven't been able to face the rebasing.

8. Paint more 1/72 ECW, particularly for Montrose's army.Not really - I painted 20 Scots lancers back at the start of the year.

9. Paint some 28mm figures for Pulp adventures, using the Song of Blades and Heroes series of games.A bit.

10. Paint some more 1/1200 Langton ships for Kiss Me Hardy.FAIL
11. Start painting some of the 28mm ECW figures I own.FAIL
12. Find a Napoleonic grand tactical set of rules that will inspire me to get back into 1/72 Napoleonics. Perhaps Lasalle?FAIL. Napoleonics haven't featured at all this year.

13. Continue building up some 1/72 Impetus armies for the Italian Wars.FAIL!

14. Paint a 15mm Antrim Scots force for Irregular Wars.FAIL - but mainly because Harry Hotspur upped and moved to Ireland.

14. Blog more often! Big success!

...and no doubt other things that catch my eye during the year! . Great success on this one!

Naturally of course I haven't come close to living up to all my hobby resolutions, but have generally had much more success than I usually do with non-hobby ones (like drinking less, exercising more etc). I rate 2012 as being one of my best hobby years ever, and in my next wrap up of the year post I'll give my top 10 highlights of the year. Now I'm off to stuff some zucchini flowers.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Mission Accomplished!

I set myself the task of clearing my painting tray before Christmas, and 'tis done.

First up, I've had these markers sitting around half finished for over a year - they are for use in Basic Impetus (to show the current VBU of a unit) and for showing Fatigue in SAGA.

I've also had a few figures waiting to complete my British Bolt Action force. Firstly, a 6pdr from Warlord Games...

...and a Sergeant, Lieutenant and stretcher bearer. The Officer came with a peaked cap, but in the interests of not giving every Jerry sniper in Normandy an inviting target I replaced it with a helmeted head from the Warlord set of plastic Tommies. I had run out of decals for the shoulder insignia of all these figures, so the divisional patch for the Tyne and Tees is painted on.

Look at this! Empty, virginal... just waiting for more figures to be assembled and undercoated. And I have two projects in particular in mind. One is Project Kursk, and the other something new...

Note the bloke on the left in awe at the empty tray.

Merry Christmas to you all. It has been a great hobby year, made even greater by all your feedback and encouragement, and by seeing all the inspiring games and models being played and made around the globe. This is my 201st post, which seems a fitting milestone of sorts. Hooray for the hobby, stay safe and enjoy the week coming up with those you love.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Anglo-Saxons (and a blue unicorn)

I'm on a mission at the moment to finish everything I have on my painting tray before Christmas, and I'm nearly there. These six Anglo-Saxons have been sitting in a semi-painted state since around June, so it wasn't a big job to get them finished. One job for the new year will be to do up the rest of an Anglo-Saxon warband for Saga.

The three figures on the left are from Miniature Design Studios, the three on the right from Black Tree Design. As you can see, they are very compatible in size. I like the BTD faces. The MDS figures don't have as much character as other ranges, in my opinion, but they look good as rank and file, and are very cheap when MDS has its warband deal on, costing 25 pounds for 50 figures.

Oh, and the massive blue unicorn is there because the Mini Duchess thought it ought to be.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Project Kursk Part 5: Panzergrenadiers

Ahhhhh holidays.

The Duchess and I are enjoying two golden days during which the twins are at day care and the Mini Duchess is still at school, while I'm on holidays and the Duchess has finished her studies for the year (she got another High Distinction in her Latin exam - brains AND beauty). We vaguely kicked around the idea of going somewhere today before deciding that all we wanted to do was slob around the house for a few hours.

The upshot for me was some good hobby progress. I have finished my box of Plastic Soldier Company Hanomags, and finished two squads of Panzergrenadiers to travel in them.

I'm pretty pleased with the Hanomags. Following Thomas' suggestion I tried to make these dustier looking than my Panzer IVs, adding a drybrush of Vallejo US Field Drab mixed with Buff. What do you reckon? Sugguestions gratefully received. Oh, and as mentioned in the Kursk Project Part 4, I know the Stummel is wrong, which is a shame as it looks quite mean, I think.

German infantry Squads in Battlegroup Kursk are made up of 8 men - a three man LMG group and a five man rifle group. These teams are activated separately, so I have put them on separate bases. The rules require individual figure removal as casualties, but I will keep track of this with counters as they just look too tiny to base as individuals. I have decided to put them on irregular shaped bases, which I'm thinking will be the standard for Project Kursk. What do you reckon?

These are the first WWII figures I've ever painted in 15mm, and I have some doubts about whether there is enough colour contrast. Any suggestions about how I can paint them better (but still quickly!) appreciated. In particular, what do you 15mm grognards do when you are painting the Zeltbahn tent quarter in this scale? Also, what do you think of the base colour? I've used Tamiya Flat Earth with some Dark Yellow added to lighten it a little.

The PSC German infantry were quite nice to paint, but some of the detail is so fine that I only really figured out what I was painting as I went along. In particular, I realised that the bloke walking along holding on to his shoulder straps is actually a medic, as he is carrying a large medical kit with red cross on his back. However, by the time I realised this I had already given him a slung rifle. Some of the soldiers' kit looks a bit dodgy, with water bottles and entrenching tools generally on the non-regulation side and gas mask cylinders in all sorts of odd positions. The proportions and anatomy however are terrific.

A few more infantry and I'll have enough of a basic force to switch to the Soviets.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Project Kursk Part 4: Review of PSC Halftracks

I've always quite fancied the German Sdkfz 251 halftrack (aka 'Hanomag'). I remember about 20 years ago cutting my thumb to shreds trying to cut open the vision ports on an Esci Hanomag, and buying the Squadron/Signal book 'Sdkfz 251 In Action' with the aim of making a model of every variant. I think I actually made about four. Then about ten years ago when I got back into wargaming I bought a couple of Hasegawa 251 ausf. Ds, and very nice they are indeed.

It was therefore with a certain nostalgia that I opened up a box of 15mm Plastic Soldier Company Sdkfz 251 ausf. Cs. For my own battlegroup I bought one of PSC's Kursk starter deals, which gave me a couple of boxes of halftracks as well as two sprues from their conversion kit, which allows you to make the Sdkfz 251/2 (mortar carrier), 251/9 ('Stummel', with 75mm gun), 251/10 (platoon commander's vehicle with 37mm Pak 36) and the 251/16 (flamethrower). Although War and Peace Games don't actually list this deal on their website, Ian was kind enough to put the package together for me, and it is good value.

I'll come back to the conversion kit in a moment, but first, here are some thoughts on the basic 251 C kit.

I was certainly very impressed with the PSC models of the Panzer IV, but I'm completely gobsmacked by the 251s. These are terrific little kits that fit together simply and perfectly. There are some particularly clever design features that allow the complex shape of the 251 to be modelled accurately, with the bottom of the crew compartment modelled separately from the chassis and fitting snugly into it. This image might show what I mean, as well as showing the instructions that come with the kit.

The 15mm box contains five vehicles, with seven crew for each - a driver and co-driver, a gunner on the forward MG34 and four other seated Panzergrenadiers. In a nice touch, the forward MG is moulded as part of the gunner figure, but a separate weapon is also included if you do not intend to model the vehicle in action. A good amount of stowage is also included, with spare track links, infantry packs, a tarpaulin, jerrycans and a spare tire to festoon each halftrack with.

I really can't recommend these highly enough. The only minor quibble I have is that there are a few sink marks from the mould on the floor of the crew compartment.

The conversion kit from PSC is designed to fit their ausf. D halftracks. Ian from War and Peace Games warned me before I bought it that some pieces would need some trimming to fit the ausf. C, and he was right. In particular, the interior detail for the 251/9 'Stummel' didn't quite fit the more complex shape of the C version of the halftrack, so be prepared to deploy a sharp knife. However, there is a more fundamental problem. As far as I know, the 251/9s built on the C chassis of the Hanomag always had the gun mounting countersunk into the front of the vehicle like this:

It was only on the later D chassis (and only partly through the production run) that the simpler mounting as featured in the kit was produced:

I only remembered this after I had assembled my 251/9, so I am going to have to turn a blind eye to the fact that my battlegroup will contain a vehicle that never actually existed. Be aware therefore that although PSC include these conversion parts in their Kursk deals, some compromises are necessary if you want to use them. Only 251 Cs were used at Kursk, but some of the conversion parts are only accurate for the 251 D. To be fair, PSC only suggest you make the /2, /10 and /16 in their description of the Battlegroup Kursk Panzer starter deal, but it is up to your own nerdy knowledge to realise that you can't use the conversion kit to make a 251/9 ausf. C. Damn.

I also have a couple of other quibbles about the conversion kit. The barrel of the Pak 36 is over scale, appearing to be at least the same calibre as the 75mm gun. It is also a shame that there are only single figures provided for operating the guns on the 251/9 and /10, when each would need at least a couple of crew. For my 251/10 I used a MG gunner from the standard kit, trimming away the machine gun so that he appears to be operating the Pak gun.

Finally, here are the five halftracks primed and ready for painting. I'll be painting the interiors before assembly. Buy some, they are great!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Project Kursk Part 3: Plastic Soldier Company Panzer IVs

I've completed my first five Panzer IVs from Plastic Soldier Company. As I said in a previous Kursk post, I'm very taken with these little kits. They go together beautifully, and I'm pretty pleased with how they turned out. After undercoating in white and then spraying with Tamiya TS-46 Light Sand, I added the camo with some Gunze H-303 Green that I happened to have lying around. In the absence of an airbrush, I painted on the swirls with heavily thinned paint, then went over parts of the pattern with paint straight out of the jar to give the effect of sprayed-on camo. The shade of green seems pretty right to me, although the paint is a horrifying semi-gloss that only looks ok after spraying it with matt varnish.

Before adding the varnish I painted over the tanks with my acrylic wood stain Ersatz Army Painter to darken the yellow, add shadow and the suggestion of dust, then just did a bit of highlighting to finish off. The shading was an experiment, but I think it worked prety well. I'm aiming for simple with these, partly because I don't adore painting tanks and partly to come up with some good shortcuts for the boys at school.

I finished them off with decals from Plastic Soldier Company for the 11th Panzer Division at Kursk. The decals were lovely, by the way. At school we will mainly focus on the Gross Deutschland Division, but my personal force will be from the 11th Panzer. One thing I did do was trim the three digit turret number to two digit. This is where my obsessive compulsiveness comes out - I read somewhere that the 11th Panzer used 2 digit numbers, the first indicating the platoon, the second the vehicle within the platoon, but dispensing with the usual first digit that indicated the company. So all my tanks are from the 1st platoon, except for the one with Schuerzen marked 01, which is supposed to be the company commander's vehicle. I tried to check this on the net, but was amazed to find that Google let me down. Surely if the internet is good for anything it is good for people to share their exhaustive research into German vehicle numbering. I did find some photos of tanks from the division from 1940-41 with double digits, and so I'll assume they still used this system at the time of Kursk. If anyone knows definitively whether this was the case, please let me know! And yes, I'm aware I am a sad, sad man...

Arthurian Supernumeraries

What with holidays and all I'm on a mission to clear the painting tray. These seven are some Arthurians who have been sitting around for a while looking peeved at only being half painted, so I thought I had better make them happy.

The priests and monks will be useful for Dux Britanniarum and Dux Bellorum, as will the bard. Then we have a couple of random nobles and a musician for the Romano-Brits and my Late Romans. Some of the figures are Gripping Beast, some Westwind, and it is a nice reflection on how compatible they are that I can't completely remember which is which.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Project Kursk Part 2: Assembling PSC Panzer IVs

Well, I'm back from Cadet camp and the term has ended, so am now on holidays. As usual, I hit the wall, and have spent the last couple of days being exhausted and foul tempered with everyone.

The holidays mean that not much will happen with the school Kursk project until February, but I'm hoping to start the year with a couple of small battle groups of my own to use helping learn the rules with the boys at school (and anybody else who wants to play with me (Paul!)

First up, I've whacked together a box of 15mm Panzer IVs from the Plastic Soldier Company. I'm really impressed with the kits. The engineering on them is brilliant - all the pieces fit together very well, and there was practically no flash (just a tiny bit on a couple of the tracks). The tracks can be a bit fiddly. I recommend attaching the running gear to the hull, then sticking on the top track section, then the bottom, without worrying too much about the perfect placement. Then, when the glue is still setting, add the top halves of the drive and idler wheels. This fixes the track into place.

One small criticism of these kits that I do have concerns the instructions. For a beginner, I think the single exploded image of the kit would be quite confusing, and there is no guidance given for the location of some small parts such as the storage bin for spare wheels, even though this was standardised on the tanks. Similarly, the instructions give the impression that Schurzen were only carried by the Ausf. H version of the Panzer IV, although the Ausf. G also often wore them. For such lovely kits it is a shame that they are not made a little more accessible to newbies, with some clearer assembly and painting instructions. It is also the case that there are some small inaccuracies resulting from the attempt to fit all versions of the Panzer IV from Ausf. B-H in one box. In particular, the commander's hatch is wrong for the Ausf. H (it should be one piece).

After assembly I sprayed the kits with Citadel Skull White, then Tamiya Light Yellow. I usually would have used XF60 Dark Yellow, but I'm working on the theory that the slightly lighter shade might work better when I put a coat of shading over it. We shall see.

Anyway, these are the first WWII kits I've started in about 8 years, so I'm having fun.