Thursday, June 30, 2011

Digging in

Work on the fortress is still proceeding, and Dad hopes to start playtesting this weekend. Hopefully we will have the gatehouse painted and assembled by then, as it has been the major sticking point. However, today I finally got around to putting paint on some of the battery emplacements we built last weekend.

These started with a base of luan, to which we attached some roughly rectangular strips of scrap foam. Then these were cut into a more sloped shape, as seen here.

I filled in the cracks with spackle, and Dad cut some slots in the front for the cannon barrels.

Here are the painted batteries laid out to dry. The paint was given some texture by mixing in sand; the next step will be to drybrush with a lighter shade to match our existing trench sections.

(And if anyone read the title and expected this to be about food, here's a picture of some blueberry corn muffins.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Everyone with access to a computer probably has a game or two that they can absentmindedly burn away their hours with. For me, the one which has stuck with me longest is Freeciv. As the name would suggest, it is a relative of the Civilization series. As the name would also suggest, it is free. In fact, it can be found here.

I honestly don't recall how long I've been playing some version of Freeciv; our last home computer ran version 1.10 almost until the day it died, despite being a Linux machine and not exactly cutting-edge even when we bought it. While other boys my age were getting sunshine and exercise, I was learning the importance of Michelangelo's Chapel and Cruisers. Eventually, I even figured out how to edit the rulesets of the game to create new nations and units--one of the few advantages of Linux.

Newer versions rendered this unnecessary, as they added far more countries than I would have thought of on my own. By the time I was clandestinely installing version 1.14 on my high school's computers, it was possible to play civilizations as outlandish as the Filipinos or the Cornish. Now with the installation of version 2.2 I can play anyone from the Ainu to the Westphalians if I so choose.

Alas, the AI still leaves something to be desired, although with 2.2 the computer seems to have acquired a certain degree of cunning--enough to contest some of the wonders, but not usually enough to be a threat in the endgame. Fortunately, there is a multiplayer option, and from time to time my brother and I have contended with each other. Still, for whiling away the hours, the AI provides at least some sort of opposition. And there's something satisfying about building one's chosen people up from a tiny little two-city country to a mighty industrial empire that spans continents and sends expeditions to Alpha Centauri.

(Oh, and bonus points for anyone who recognizes the nation in that second screenshot without resorting to Google. Apparently the Himyar were a tribe in pre-Islamic Yemen, but more importantly they have a neat-looking flag...)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Battle of the Dining Room Table

After a couple of days of painting figures, I had an urge to actually play a game. Since our regular gaming table is currently piled with stuff, I coerced my brother William into helping me clear the dining room table and set up a brief skirmish.

In the orange coats, we have the Wachovians, who are in a terrible hurry to make off the opposite edge of the table. Their force consisted of the 1st Regiment of Foot, supported by the infamous Wilderer light infantry, a squadron of hussars, and a pair of guns.

Standing in the way of that goal are three companies of infantry--my brother's own Wiegenburgers in the white coats, and the nameless blue and red-coated infantry companies--supported by a squadron of dragoons and the Wiegenburg gun.

We set a limit of 10 turns for me to get as much of my force as possible off the table, beyond the line of the hills. As it turned out, this was a little pessimistic; the battle was basically wrapped up by the end of turn 6, with the Wachovians having successfully forced their way through the pass.

Table set-up at the beginning. Terrain was pretty minimal. Wachovian troops are entering in column along the road.
Situation a few turns later. An indecisive cavalry melee is taking place at the foot of hill. My troops have shaken out into line, for the most part. My two guns are exchanging fire with William's gun up on the hill. Unfortunately...
... I knocked out his cannon almost immediately. This left him in an awkward position, with a gaping hole in his left flank. 
He moved his reserves up to fill the gap, where they met my two companies coming over the rise.
The red company put up a good fight, but his other two infantry companies had been ground down by a couple of turns of musket fire, and the victorious Wachovians swarmed through the pass.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A brief diversion

Last March, we happened across a large collection of figures in the flea market at Cold Wars, which we promptly snapped up. Their origin is somewhat murky, but we touched up and based a couple companies' worth for a pair of little skirmishes a few weeks later. The one issue is that the standard infantry company, under Charge! rules consists of 16 rankers, an officer, a sergeant, and a drummer, and the troops we had acquired were notably lacking commanders.

Since the fortress is basically on hold for a couple of days, I spent yesterday evening painting up some officers and sergeants for these troops. It was an interesting experience, as I was doing my best to match the style of the troops painted by our Mysterious Benefactor, which was somewhat different than my usual.

For one thing, I started with a white basecoat rather than black, as I figured it would be easier to match colors that way. Our Mysterious Benefactor used an entirely different palette than me, so I borrowed a few paints from my dad's collection to get better matches. Unfortunately, nowhere did I find a precise match for the shade of red used by the redcoated company, so I had to do a little mixing to come up with something plausible.

A few other things I noted as I was painting:

  • The bluecoats have red turnbacks, white cuffs, and blue collars. Ordinarily these would all be the same color, as they are for the redcoats. Makes me wonder if MB was familiar with the period before he started the project.
  • Gun stocks, wigs, and pouches are all the same red-brown color--something like burnt sienna.
  • Gun barrels and bayonets are a flat gray rather than a gunmetal color--a quirk I extended to the officers' swords and the blue sergeant's halberd. I think it's an interesting look--kind of more stylized than my usual.
  • Our Mysterious Benefactor had a thing for buttons--all pouches and turnbacks are marked by little gold buttons.
All in all, it was interesting to examine some familiar figures painted by an unfamiliar hand. It makes me wonder which details I put peculiar emphasis on and which ones I ignore. A few of these were almost refreshing, but I don't know that I want to do too many like this, so I'm not sure what we'll do with the piles of troops who don't fit neatly into Charge! units...

Anyway, here's a couple of shots of the orphan companies drilling with their new officers and sergeants.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ultima Ratio Regum

While the king of Schoeffen-Buschhagen is off touring the provinces, Wachovian artisans have been working diligently to prepare for the upcoming siege of Adelheim. In addition, another gun crew has been recruited, bringing Wachovia's artillery arm up to a full battery.

The figures are Prince August; the gun itself is Meisterzinn. The gun will probably get used by the besiegers this time around, since they'll be in need of artillery pieces that can breach these walls:

And not to fear--our gallant defenders will have plenty of guns of their own.

And here's a couple of shots of the Wachovian battery, split into four-man fortress crews, drilling on the walls of Adelheim.

(A few people may be wondering what Wachovia is. It is a fictional country--the Palatinate of Wachovia that is my part of a generic 18th-century wargaming project. It takes its name from an American bank of the same name, which was named for a town in North Carolina which was named for someplace in eastern Europe, if I recall correctly. My father and his longtime partner-in-crime, Ross McFarlane have written extensively about the Not Quite Seven Years' War on their own blogs--if you're not already familiar with them, you should take a look.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Origins of the toy soldier?

Last Wednesday, I was in New York City with a couple of friends, and in the afternoon we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was something I'd never done before. (As a matter of fact, I don't think I've been to New York before, unless I was a very small child at the time.)

Anyway, the Met is a fascinating place; I only had a couple of hours to spare, which was not enough to see even a quarter of the exhibits. I started off looking through the collection of ancient Greek artifacts, since it was near the entrance where we came in, and among all the spectacular pots and statues, I came upon a display case full of miniatures.

It's a little difficult to see, but the label at the bottom calls them "lead votive figurines." I presume this means they were used as offerings or something similar, but I wonder whether some might have been toys as well. After all, casting lead miniatures is not terribly difficult if you have the equipment--which the ancient Greeks clearly did--and I expect that even then, lead was pretty cheap. As you can see, there are both male and female figures (and some of the fellows in the second row seem to be armed) as well as a variety of animals and a pair of sphinxes.

(Side note: Before visiting the Met, I had not realized just how deeply the sphinx was ingrained in ancient Greek culture. There were sphinxes on pots, sphinxes on jewelry, giant sphinx statues on pillars as tombstones... were they just fun to sculpt, or something?)

Anyway, ancient Greek miniatures--pretty old, right? Well, check this out:

Another lead votive figurine... but this one is from the 3rd millennium B.C. And it gets better:

Here you can see a picture of the mold this was cast in, which looks remarkably similar to ones we still use for casting toy soldiers today. My father saw this picture and noted that the description here is probably incorrect: it describes this as an open stone mold, but it is pretty clearly one half of a two-piece mold. Note that all of the various geometric "pendants" have a sort of wedge-shaped channel running to the edge: when the two halves of the mold are put together, this would be where the molten metal could be poured in. The small round holes in the upper left and lower right probably match to nubs or something on the other half to ensure that the two halves are fitted together correctly. (Otherwise you can get molten metal leaking out the edges, which is a Bad Thing.)

Anyhow, the point of the story is this: lead casting has been going on for at least four thousand years, which is a surprisingly ancient heritage for the miniature wargaming hobby!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Testing the atmosphere

It's a blank place, a lifeless surface without even an impact crater to draw distinction to its face. An entire world to be filled with the hodge-podge of my life, from the trivial to the profound. Not too much of the latter, probably.

So who am I, the current sole inhabitant of this place? To be honest, if you're here you probably have some idea of who I am, but I'll throw this out here anyway.

My name is Norman. I was raised on the banks of the Susquehanna, in half of a house which held more books than the local branch of the public library. That's where I am right now, as a matter of fact. I earned a degree in chemical engineering at UMBC; my diploma should be here in the mail any day now.

I enjoy reading, cooking, games (of many sorts: board games, card games, paper-and-pencil roleplaying games, and miniature wargaming, to name the most significant), leisurely walks through interesting scenery, and wearing hats. Other interests include airships, prehistoric creatures, and the history of the Hittite Empire. Any or all of these might get discussed at further length somewhere along the line.

That's probably enough to go on for now.