TooFatLardies and Eureka USA Make a Great Team

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It’s the news that North American wargamers and players of TooFatLardies games have been waiting for; The Lardies have teamed up with Eureka Miniatures USA and appointed them as their official North American stockist, importing our hard copy products across the pond. But this is more than just about selling rule sets. We talked to Rob Walter, the main man at Eureka USA, to find out more.

“Here at Eureka we have been providing gamers with what we think are some of the finest figures around for the past fifteen years or so. Of course it is impossible not to see the potential link up between our ranges and TooFatLardies rules, be that in the Dark Ages, Napoleonics, WWII or more modern conflicts. What we felt that TooFatLardies lacked was a real platform around the North American convention scene and we talked to Richard about how we could work together to improve that. We are looking not just to stock the rules, but also to host games highlighting the rules and, naturally, show off our figures in action. In 2015 we plan to be running Chain of Command games at Cold Wars in Lancaster, PA in March, Huzzah in Portland, ME in May, Historicon at Fredericksburg,VA in July and Cold Wars at Lancaster,PA in November. You’ll be seeing Lardy products and games feature at them all.”

Over in the UK, from his Lard Island base, Richard was equally enthisiastic.

“I first met Rob at Historicon a few years ago and he’s a great guy to do business with. His enthusiasm for the hobby is second to none. I knew the range Eureka produced very well, having met Nic before he was clapped in irons and shipped off to Australia and, let’s be honest, the quality is almost the stuff of legend. If anyone was going to be presenting our rules to the North American public we’d like the game to look its best and with Eureka figures that’s a foregone conclusion. What Eureka can provide our customers with is a speedy service with significantly cheaper postage rates on an everyday basis. But even better will be the focal point of the games which will, we hope, allow the Lardy community old and new to strengthen their bonds across the pond. In the UK and Europe, and now increasingly in Australia thanks to the work of our Lard Ambassadors, we have very strong social gaming links forged by a shared hobby and enjoyment of the Lardy rules and culture. It will be great to see that extend across the pond. I hope to be across for Historicon in 2016, so this will provide a great place to meet people and enjoy some fun gaming.”

Eureka USA stock an extensive and eclectic range of figures, from the “must have” Kung Fu School Girls (I kid you not!) to the internationally lauded AB range of miniatures. You can check them out here: http://eurekaminusa.com/ or, if you want to get your hands on Lardy goodness, you can go here to see the range Eureka are carrying: http://eurekaminusa.com/collections/too-fat-lardies-1

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Poldercon – The Shape of Things to Come?

Poldercon HeaderLast weekend saw me pack up my troubles in my old kit bag and set forth from Lard Island International Airport, heading straight into the heart of the EuroReich to visit a brand new show on the circuit; Poldercon in the historic Dutch city of Utrecht. Starting a brand new wargaming show is always a risky business, but the three wise men behind this venture, Patrick Diederiks, Jan-Willem van der Pijl and Jasper Oorthuys, had bravely chosen to dare to be different, taking a fresh approach and seeking to create a true Convention for wargamers.

“What’s the difference?” I hear you cry. Well, let’s start out by being honest. The wargame show we all know and vaguely love in the UK and Europe tends to have the emphasis firmly on shopping. We turn up, see a whole raft of traders with ranges old and new, and spend most of the day handing over our cash before having a sniff around the supporting act – the games – before buggering off home. If we’re lucky we may snatch a quick game, or we may catch up with a few pals, but the format is as well know and comfortable as an old pair of slippers.

Where Poldercon was different, was that the organisers began their planning with the game at the heart of the convention. For the average gamer, Poldercon was not about “coming” and “seeing”, it was about taking part. The day was divided into five chunks, two in the morning, two in the afternoon and lunchtime. During the morning and afternoon sessions, the gamers had a choice of participation games to play – there were no “demonstration games” – or workshops to attend. These were pre-bookable, on the same lines as a convention in the US, so the organisers could ensure that each game had its correct number of players and each workshop was prepared for the numbers due to turn up. A wide range of games were on offer, along side workshops on painting, terrain building, running participation games and similar, so it was perfectly possible to structure your day in order to have a real mix of activities. I know a couple of guys who left one slot free just to sit at the bar and chat with friends.

Of course, all of this involved something that we wargamers rarely find ourselves challenged to do: plan our day in advance; something we rather rebel against, being by nature free spirits and rebellious souls. Let’s be frank, I have many friends in the Low Countries gaming circle, and, at the start of the day, some of them were honest enough to admit to me that such a straight-jacket was not a comfortable fit. However, what the format did achieve was to oblige all of us to actually get stuck in and play some games or attend some workshops. By the end of the event four very successful sessions had persuaded all who I spoke to that the day’s structure was not just solid, but very enjoyable. I think the photo below really speaks volumes:
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What we see here is not the usual bovine crowd of gamers ambling around, chewing the cud of demonstration games, but a room full of people actually playing games. For me that really sets Poldercon apart from the crowd. Is it a better format than our normal show? No, but by being different it does make itself attractive in its own right. With our diaries absolutely full of wargames shows across the UK (I speak as a Briton here) whether I attend one this week or one next week is often of no consequence as the same old traders will be there with the same round of this year’s show games. With Poldercon I am getting something very different.

But what of the fifth, lunchtime, session? One of the great joys of the venue selected was that it had a bar and catering facilities. Part of the entry price included the provision of a very pleasant buffet lunch which was positively groaning with food. The opportunity to sit down with fellow gamers was really unique in any wargames event I have ever been to. I found myself chatting to a whole range of chaps and discussing the games we’d been playing the workshops and the format generally. This opportunity to linkup with like-minded gamers and kick off new friendships is surely priceless. And yes, even a trencherman like me had plenty to eat!

To my mind, the organisers taking the brave leap and daring to be different have not only achieved their goal, but hopefully done the hobby generally a service in showing that wargames events can be more proactive in terms of managing our enjoyment. Let’s take a look at the games on offer:

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Maybe it’s because I have my WWII head on at the moment, but the games below were real stand out examples of beautiful terrain.

Murphy’s Heroes of Delft were playing Chain of Command, set on a Dutch airfield in 1940:
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The terrain was so beautifully modelled, it was just like actually being in Holland.
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And this smashing Bolt Action game was put on by a very pleasant and clearly very talented Seb Burlage:
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One of the things I really appreciated about this game was the fact that the ubiquitous MDF buildings which one sees around the shows had been personalised so that they really had much more character than the “straight from the pack” originals. It is touches like this which make a good model, and a good game, really great.
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Also on offer were the workshops:
Painting
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More painting
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A fat bloke
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And, allegedly, some installation art.
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So, a real flying start for Poldercon. Will it be repeated? I do hope so. More importantly, I do think that show organisers generally can take much from what was achieved. With so much competition between different shows to attract a decent footfall, and therefore a good range of traders, there must surely be aspects of what we do currently which could be improved. Slavishly following any single model can only lead to stagnation. Considering what we can do better, what would improve the experience of those attending, must surely be the way forward and Poldercon certainly provided a chance to see how different can also be hugely positive.

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Williamsburg Muster, a Lardy Show Report

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2015 has been officially declared the year of Lard in the USA, with some BIG news due on that within the next week. US gamers should be seeing a much hightened presence of Lard on the Convention circuit this year, and to kick off the action we have just received this report from Williamsburg in Virginia where Ron Carnegie, flew the Lard banner in the Old Dominion.

Last weekend, February 6-7, brought another successful Williamsburg Muster Convention to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Williamsburg Muster is one of two conventions run each year by the Hampton Roads Wargamers, with Muster being the larger of the two. This year the attendance broke all records, with over 350 gamers gathered and ready for some serious action. Indeed, so great was the attendance that next year we may have to look at a larger venue!

Over the weekend, I ran three games from the TooFatLardies stable, Friday evening’s scenario was “No Pasaran” with Chain of Command Espana, than Saturday afternoon we had “The Battle for France” with Chain of Command before rounding off with “Kellogg’s Allies”, another game in the Sharp Practice adventures of Devon Kelloggs. [Ed. It's a cereal!]

No Pasaran was set in the period of the Jarama Valley Campaign with the scenario generated using the main rule book. It was my intention this weekend to demonstrate portions of the rules and thought I would randomly generate both of my Chain of Command games to show that part of the game to my willing players, Brian, Derrick, Ross and Gunnar. Two of them had no experience with the rules but Ross had played one of my earlier Spanish Civil war games and Gunnar was not only familiar with the rules but is in fact a subscriber to the Lardy Yahoo group.
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The game was an Attack on an Objective, the objective being a small Spanish Village overlooking a little valley somewhere in the Pingarron foothills. The “Lincolns” were commanded by Derrick and Ross. They were ordered to hold Santa Catalina and were supplies with their full complement of Valero mortars and light machine guns as well as an anti tank gun and a Russian made T26 tank. They also had three entrenchments. Their Force Morale started at 10. Brian and Gunnar were commanding a Spanish Foreign Legion Platoon with some of the ranks filled by Moroccan Regulares. They were supported by a Bilbao armoured car, a 75/28 Artillery battery with a forward observer, and an adjutant. Their Force Morale rating was 11.

From the very start luck smiled upon the Nationalists as they controlled the first three phases of the battle. This allowed them to deploy two of their sections. One that immediately moved forward to the olive grove and the other up towards the small house on the lower left of the pictures and by the entrenchment. They also deployed their forward observer who impiously called for a barrage on the church! Two of the Lincoln’s jump markers were close to be challenged already!

The Nationalists may have had the jump on the Lincolns, but now the Americans defended their jump of points by deploying the AT gun in the foxhole on their right and a light machine gun section on their left. A second section took positions in the church and the bell tower. From these positions they placed a withering crossfire onto the exposed Legion’s 1st section. The T26 was also deployed and with one lucky shot wounded the Legion’s Senior Leader, leaving him out of action for the rest of the turn.

The Legion’s 1st section bravely ran forth in an attempt to silence the republican AT gun, but the effort was in vain and the entire squad was lost. On their right however, the Legion was finding more success. Having gained positions in the Olive Grove, they began to reduce one of the IB’s Light Machine gun squads. Their artillery rounds were also now falling on the Church pinning any support the Republican LMG squad might have been hoping for.

Eventually these Legionarios would charge the house the LMG had been defending. Here they encountered the Lincoln’s Senior leader as well as a squad of brave volunteers. The Lincoln’s fought bravely and pushed the Legions back killing 8 of their men. The victory proved too costly however and the survivors could not stop the push of a second Nationalist squad. This time it was the Republican whose Senior Leader was wounded.

Finally the legion began to concentrate the fire of their 50mm mortars as well as the machine gun of their Bilbao on the AT Gun’s position. This proved to much for the brave crewmen, causing them to rout from their positions. At this point, the republican commander realized that his position was untenable, and he conceded defeat.

The game was long, and neither side had been reduced below 5 on their force morale. The forces appeared to be well balanced and it took some time before it was apparent who would prevail. All players seemed to have a good time and honestly so did the I, wish is certainly not always the case when one is game mastering!

The first game on Saturday was Fall of France. This was again randomly determined but would represent some of the action that happened in the first two days of the fight, as the Germans carved their way through Belgium. The player were Charles, Kai, Grey and again Gunnar the from the Spanish Civil War game.

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This battle was an Attack and Defend scenario. Gunnar and Grey played the French and began with 11 as their Force Morale. They were supported by a 25mm AT gun and a Hotchkiss H39 tank. Both players had experience with the rules. The Germans on the other hand were commanded by Charles and Kai. Charles had some experience with the game some time ago, his nephew Kai had none.

The Germans began the battle with a Force Morale of 9 and two vehicles, a Panzer 222 and a Panzer III. The Patrol phase began with the Germans gaining two preliminary moves. The Patrol Phase was where the experience Chain of Command players had the advantage. The French outplayed their German opponents who found their markers locked down on the wrong side of the available cover and one of their markers ended up being negated being behind all the others when the phase ended. The Germans would now need to cross into the open to close with their enemy. Clearly those French scouts were earning their pay!
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The French deployed their Rifle Grenadier team into the bombed out farmhouse as well as a section in the orchard in front of the house and one out in a field on their right. The Germans deployed to the right of the road, with one Squad behind the Farm shed directly in from of them and two in the woods. They also deployed their 5cm mortar team in the woods and tried in vain to silence the French grenades.

This began a firefight which the Germans, caught in a crossfire, suffered from the most. One squad was lost in that fight. Another allowed itself to be trapped behind a farm shed with their lmg team destroyed. Finally the platoon’s Feldwebel took command and ordered two squads to double time across the open ground to the large field on their right.
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Now the Germans deployed their armor, The 222 to a position alongside the trapped squad in the centre of the line while the Panzer III entered calmly right down the central road. The French responded by bringing on their Hotchkiss and this began a duel which did some damage to the armored car.

The real action however was on the German right. Having learned the lessons of maneuver, two German squads got into position to threaten the French in the orchard. Their assault was however premature and while doing serious damage to the Poilu, the German squad was lost. Now, with two squads and one lmg team gone, their armored car immobilized and there force morale having dropped to 5 the Germans conceded the fight. This was one of those classic convention games where players learn the rules as they play. It was impressive to see the German chances of a victory improve as the players became better acquainted with the game. I think if we had played the scenario a second time the results could have been very different!

The final game I offered was Kellogg’s Allies on Saturday evening. The scenario was adapted from the Fondler’s Allies scenario in “The Compleat Fondler” with some alterations made in force size and composition. The bridge was also altered having been inspired by the bridge in the movie version of Sharp’s Eagle. The Bridge called Ponte Alcantra in the Compleat Fondler is clearly the Roman Bridge at Alacantara and therefore larger and taller than I was able to put together in the short time I was working with. The bridge in Sharp’s Eagle is low, long and wooden and I could build it quickly around scenery I already had. I also replaced the 95th rifles with the 60th and my numbers were a little reduced due to a lack of figures.

The 60th Royal Americans were ordered to hold the bridge with the aid of the Spanish regiment of Irlanda until Engineers could place explosives to blow the bridge. French Dragoons were ordered to stop the demolition from occurring. The players were Mark and Zoe on the French side, Peter commanded the Spanish and Mike, the Rifles. Most of the players had no Sharp Practice experience, although Peter has played once before when I ran a game last August.
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The Spanish deployed with most of three of their five groups in a line defending the bridge. The remaining two were in column on the bridge with their commanding big man Major O’Higgins (The Spanish Irlanda are Irish expats.). The 60th rifles deployed in skirmish order before them.

The French entered on blinds which at the ranges we played without cover was probably unnecessary but it was fun nonetheless. More so because I had kept the existence of the French 4 pounder hidden from the allies. The French deployed that cannon on the highest hill available to them, giving it a clear field a fire on the whole battlefield. In the end however, the gun did little damage.

Half of the Dragoons were dismounted and made their way towards the Allied forces just below the road. The longer ranges of the Baker rifles caused a great deal of damage to them and one group was quickly forced off the field.

The mounted Dragoons suffered a different issue. By an accident in the placing of the blinds, the two groups of mounted dragoons ended up on opposite flanks. Apparently an order went astray or was misunderstood. This meant that these two groups could not easily make a formation with one right on the road to the bridge and the other on the extreme right of the French line.

The Dragoons on the road suffered quite a bit of fire from the rifles but what survived charged. The rifles were caught by surprise and one group was cut down leaving only a single riflemen to run off in terror. Worse than that, The Allied commander Lt Devon Kellogg, was grievously wounded and would play no further part in this fight. The Irishmen did stand the charge however. They were poor troops but their superior numbers held out and the horsemen were bounced back.
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A similar situation occurred upon the other flank. France’s Sergeant Martin charged forward on another group of riflemen who again suffered badly. Seeing the danger, Major O’Higgins had brought his reserve off the bridge and formed them in a line behind the rifles. This action saved the day. The fisticuffs were not decided for three rounds and that wing of the Dragoons had lost too many men to continue. The game ended an allied success!

Conclusion
Once again, Muster at Williamsburg proved to be a great Convention to attend. The games were all successful and enjoyed by those who participated and in some cases also attracted some observers. Many people spoke to me about Chain of Command and their high opinion of the rules, that even included one man who was running a game with another “leading brand” of WWII rules.

I met several people who were interested in playing more often and now may little club is considering offering an occasional game day. This would be sort of A one day mini convention. We are already looking for sites to try to make that happen. If this happens, we can be sure that TooFatLardies games will be much in demand there. Indeed, we had one other Sharp Practice game on offer at the convention, and introductory scenario by one of the men that played in my World war two game.

As an aside, I had the pleasure of meeting Joseph Legan, one of the Lardies most popular authors, having penned Platoon Forward and Squadron Forward. I was great to talk to him, a fellow Lardy Blogger, and we have plans to get together for some games.

Finally one of the vendors, my friend Steve at Age of Glory was selling some Too Fat Lardies product. He had Chain of Command, Mud and Blood and Sharp Practice which seemed to be selling successfully throughout the weekend. I think it was a successful convention in general and I for one am pleased at what seems to be an increased acknowledgment of all that is good and Lardy!

Our thanks to Ron for his report and, more importantly, his hard work and effort in running three games with three lots of figures, terrain and scenarios. Ron, you put us to shame! That final game, with the Irlanda deployed out to protect the bridge looks truly stunning. As stated above, we have some exciting news coming up in the next few days about Lard in the USA, so watch this space.

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There and Back Again, with Five Points for a Try

Just back from the Netherlands after a long weekend of Arnhem, Poldercon and the wonderful hospitality of our kind hosts, Jasper and Christy, who truly went the extra mile in making us feel welcomed. I have much to say about Poldercon and my visit to Arnhem, but having just got home I’ll keep them for later. My ability to Tweet from Holland was, sadly, limited due to problem getting internet data from my service provider. In the end, only a few snaps saw the light of day when I could hook up with wireless networks.

One of the images which got the most response was my opportunity to try out, for the very first time, the “Bolt Action” rules for WWII games. It’s a system which many people have told me about and compared to Chain of Command but, having never played, I felt somewhat in the dark as to its finer points. Anyway, getting home late Monday evening, my computer was bursting at the seams asking “How did it go?”, so I thought’d I’d spill the beans.

Firstly here’s the table we played over. It’s 6′ by 4′ and the German edge is shown in blue, the British in red.

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I must apologies here as the snaps were taken on my phone, so the image quality isn’t great, unlike the table which was a sparkling gem!

The game began with some high-tech dabbling with an on-line army builder. I asked if my platoon could be as close to a standard platoon as possible, so I got three Paras sections of seven men each, each with one Bren gun. These were commanded by a Lieutenant. I got a “free” FOO (not sure if that refers to points or his lifestyle), a sniper team, a medic and a Cromwell in support. The German force was somewhat more funky; a true kampfgruppe in miniature, with two squads of five men including one MG42 in each, a 251 “Stummel” mounting a 75mm support gun, a SuG III and an SS recce squad with five blokes (MG42 included) in a SdKfz250.

We rolled for our scenario and got one where something very important was sat in the middle of the table and both sides were seeking to recover it and get it back to or table edge. Somehow this became the CO’s sandwiches whose parachute had drifted off-course and, whilst crucial for our operations around Arnhem, would be equally appealing to the Jerries who were heartily sick of sausages and pork luncheon meat by now. The hunt for the sarnies was on!

Before we commence I should warn the reader that as well as being the weekend of Poldercon, this was also the opening weekend for the Six Nations competition in Rugby Union, where the national teams from the northern hemisphere compete to see how much worse than the All Blacks they are. Spending the weekend in a land where the joys of the oval ball are yet to be fully appreciated was a wrench, albeit one tempered by the joys of Poldercon. I can only suggest that constant references to the BBC sport web page to catch up on the scores must have left some kind of impression upon me, as we shall see.

As the whistle sounded and the game began I trundled my forward section up towards the half way line where the sandwiches could be seen. Behind them my second and third section moved up in a neat line, whilst off to the right the FOO and sniper team took up their position with a great view right down the road. At this stage both sides rushed forwards towards their objective, but the luck of the dice draw saw my Paras get to the half way line first and seize the lunchbox.

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On my left, my Cromwell put a couple of hard hits in on the StuG, failing to take it out of the game, but hard enough to get it rattled and stop it interfering with my forward advance. The Hun at this point was advancing cautiously, but putting down fire from its two lead squads. They failed to kill anyone but any successful hit adds a “Pin” to a unit, and these were mounting. The Stummel added its fire, but, fortunately, being a howitzer, its fire is counted as indirect which sees it slow to get any real effect and the result was minimal in terms of losses, but again the pins were mounting.

Now the SS team roared up in its 250. I was under the cosh here as my forward section was awash with pins, even though only one of the elite men had been killed. They elected not to assault me as, apparently, all pins are removed if they charge into close combat, effectively restoring my Paras to a completely rallied status, but wanted to use their firepower to really hurt me. Fortunately I had put my sniper team onto “Ambush” and I slotted their MG42 man, reducing their firepower.

Now I rushed my second section forward up the field, the much pinned lead section passing the lunchbox back to them. Rushing forward, my Lieutenant whipped the box from the scrummage and took the play from there.
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The Jerries were looking menacing on the left with the StuG, so I crashed my Cromwell forward to palm off any threat from this quarter. By now my FOO had called in an artillery strike which had yet to arrive. Seeing the opportunity he moved in from the left towards the centre, waving frantically to my medic and third section who were now strung out neatly across the pitch on and angle from my metaphorical 10m line to my 22m line. (Those not familiar with the dimensions of a rugby pitch may wish to click here)

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As one turn ended and another began, the StuG fired on my Cromwell causing massive damage, and destroying it completely. I could have allowed it to completely removed from play, utterly vapourised, but I left it there as it was nicely shielding the man with the sandwiches. The next dice was mine and the Lieutenant began to run. Like a flash he was out with the lunchbox tucked under his arm before laying it off neatly to the next dice, the third rifle section. Taking the box on the run they thundered towards their table edge, hurling back a neat pass to the FOO who swerved round some trees (with a hint of a Garryowen) before one final off-load saw the medic take up the precious box and hurl himself over the base line, swan-dive and all, for the winning try. Had this been in the Twickenham of my dreams, the crowd would have been on their feet and Johnny would have been stepping up for the conversion.

So how was it? Well, it was the best try I’ve scored in a quarter of a century, so that may cloud my judgement. It was a very fun game played in great company. Looking at specifics. My lead section was paralysed by the pinning effects of fire, even though their losses, until the last moment, were trifling. In Chain of Command, the impact of a pair of MG42s with some rifles would likely have been more mixed, with some kills and some shock, but we’d have been more likely to see the Paras enter into a firefight or withdraw under their own steam, albeit slowly due to weight of fire.

Certainly, the Stummel in Chain of Command would have been much more menacing, with its low velocity H.E. shells tearing chunks out of their target as it would have reduced cover to zero. What is more, both with the Stummel and MG42′s, the fire would have affected not just the front Para Section, but also the one immediately behind it, as the two were so close together that you couldn’t treat threat them as separate targets. That amount of firepower would have meant that I couldn’t just run in, sacrificing the front unit, before legging it with the ball to score my try. I’d have needed to construct a more measured defence in order to engage and defeat the enemy before seizing the objective once they were dealt with.

The same is true with the Cromwell on the left flank. The exchange of fire there was actually very similar to the kind of result one would expect to get with Chain of Command; the rattling of the crew and temporary reduction of effectiveness is fairly typical of a CoC game. As it was, the scenario we played was about winning at all costs, so I had no qualms whatsoever about sacrificing the Cromwell in order to protect the Lieutenant. It was simply an element I could afford to lose in order to guarantee the win. We could certainly see such a situation in Chain of Command; however, the force morale system does mean that sacrificing any unit can be very costly indeed as a shaken force can lose some of its effectiveness. It is also worth mentioning that, with a massive damage result on the Cromwell, Chain of Command could have seen an explosion which affected the Paras immediately adjacent to it, including the Lieutenant. If that had occurred, the sandwiches could well have been toast!

The big shock for me was the removal of pins from a unit which is assaulted. This is really the chief point where the two rule sets are diametrically opposed. Chain of Command encourages the players to mass Shock on their opponent before assaulting them; it is absolutely key to success in close combat and is an approach stressed in every tactical manual of the war I can think of. You simply do not charge to contact with troops who have not been degraded by fire. Bolt Action does not share that approach. I am not sure why not.

Finally, the run half way across the table to take the “ball” from the halfway line to the table edge was done in a run of five dice pulls from the pot. Four of them were mine, one of them German. It was certainly dramatic and I cannot pretend that Chain of Command has rules to cover such a superb dash for the try line. The reason it doesn’t is that the turn structure is very different. In Bolt Action you could, in theory, have that run across the whole length of the table if the dice came out in the right order and the units were lined up correctly. I had recognised that fairly early on and had set up my force in pretty much the perfect rugby backs formation. The lead sections were the forwards in the scrum of combat; the Lieutenant went forward as the scrum half to get the ball out and into play. Once that was done the backs ran the ball home in the most dramatic manner as we got a run of dice.

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In fairness, even if we hadn’t got a run of dice we had deployed our backs in a position where the Germans couldn’t have interfered with their run even if all of their dice had come out before any of ours. That makes what looks like a dramatic try less impressive as, in truth, we were bringing the ball back to deposit it across our own home try line, not taking it forward across that of the enemy. But I shan’t let that spoil my imaginary moment in the white shirt with the red rose of England when gentlemen in England, then a-bed, shall think themselves accursed they were not there…

Ultimately, I think that whether you like Chain of Command or Bolt Action, you should play the one you enjoy. Which are “better” is a matter of personal preference. They certainly “do” WWII in different ways and with a different focus. I certainly had fun with my game of Bolt Action; if there were rules for conversions, penalties, scrums and line outs, I’d probably play them again. For now I can but dream of the summer and glories to come…

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Patrol on the Ring Contour

One of the most interesting parts of designing a scenario or, by extension, a campaign, is the attempt to create balance which can allow both sides a (roughly) equal chance of victory. Often a simple way to do that is to “go vanilla” and keep everything quite bland. With Kampfgruppe von Luck we were faced with the challenge of moving away from the average and confronting two very powerful, but different, forces. Anyone who has faced Panzer Grenadiers in Chain of Command knows that these boys are as far from vanilla as you can get. Their two LMG teams per squad chuck out a level of firepower which is truly awesome. One of the things we wanted to achieve when writing the rules was to reflect the traits of weapons whilst keeping the system simple. You need to know that a player facing an MG42 isn’t just going to shrug it off; it should be an unpleasant experience. So, two such weapons per squad, six in a platoon, can produce as much blood and guts as a chainsaw massacre.

On the other hand, British Paras are a truly professional force and an interesting one to play with. Their platoon structure allows some interesting options, with a brace of snipers and the gun section for firepower. However, most important in terms of game balance is the fact that they are elite and, as a consequence, have excellent fieldcraft. In other words, they die hard.

When designing the Kampfgruppe von Luck campaign, the challenge of getting balance between these two forces, one firepower, the other fieldcraft, was foremost in our minds. The first opportunity to test this came with the opening scenario which is remarkable in that it takes place in an open field of wheat with almost no other terrain features. This plot of land was atop a rise so we treated this as a more or less flat plateau. The British have little in the way of support for this scenario, and their force is not complete as it has been dispersed when parachuting onto its DZ. On the other hand, the Germans have a complete platoon of Panzer Grenadiers and a small amount of support to select from. The table looked like this:
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After the Patrol Phase we generated the following Jump-off points.

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The game began with the Germans rushing forward with two squads advancing on their left.

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The British responded by deploying a section, but the Germans on overwatch caused real damage immediately.

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However, the British were able to halt the German advance and settled in to a pattern of blocking any German advance with accurate fire. The Germans were, at this point, seemingly happy to plug away at effective range, relying on their superior firepower. However, at this range the British were only being hit on 6′s, as opposed to the Germans being hit on 5′s and 6′s.

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What was more, the two British Senior Leaders present meant that the Paras were able to shrug off shock with ease; only the kills taking their effect. Despite their firepower, this was an uneven fight.

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Up to this point the Germans had been sucked into believing that the MG42 was the wonder-weapon and with six of them they could not fail. Against a high quality enemy it was nowhere near as efficient was they had hoped. Bogged down in a firefight they were going to be defeated in short order unless they did something different.

Pushing forward on their right, a squad of German infantry began to manoeuvre round the British flank. Instantly the game changed. The British were obliged to split their force to deal with this new threat.

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Now the German commanders differed on what to do. Von Panda seized the moment and ran forward to reduce the range, following up immediately with a hail of grenades and a rush forward to assault the weak British force which had been left to face them off.

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They swept over the hedge, killing all of the defenders. Immediately the Paras counter attacked, but in the face of two MG42s, this desperate move was only ever going to result in mutually assured destruction.

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Both groups, British and German, were reduced to ineffective, leaving the German squad which had advanced on the right to claim the day.

From a campaign perspective it was clear that these two very different forces, with their own strengths and weaknesses, were well balanced. More importantly, from the perspective of the campaign, it would be the issue of attrition which would, and should, make the difference over five or more games. Trying to win whilst retaining a force in being was what the campaign would be about, and this presented a dynamic we could explore within the campaign rules.

Equally importantly, this game really showed up the importance of fire and movement. Many wargamers approach a game such as this by seeking to deploy all of their forces as quickly as possible, and then advance to a firefight and sit there plugging away until one side or the other wins. This makes for a boring game and it also is a tremendously high-risk approach. You may as well toss a coin to see who wins, and even then the winner can expect to lose significantly in the process. The importance of combining fire and manoeuvre could not be better illustrated then by the way this game progressed. It is manoeuvre which make a position untenable and obliges your opponent to withdraw or face an unequal fight. Had the Germans pushed up on the right from the outset, then the British would have been obliged to withdraw earlier. As it was, the victory was as close to pyrrhic as you can get. The German 1st platoon lost ten men dead in total. However, the Paras lost 11 dead and 6 man have had to be taken back to the chateau where they need medical attention. So that is 17 men down for the next scenario, if anything an even more disastrous result. Chain of Command equips the gamer with all he needs to use proper fire and manoeuvre tactics: overwatch, covering fire and tactical movement, and this game shows how it can be a game changer when used properly (eventually).

At the end of the first game, Hans von Luck is a happy man, although his troops are not happy about the level of losses they suffered to prise a mucky old field from British hands; this doesn’t bode well for future actions. At platoon command level the victory is seen as acceptable and the Germans are happy with their performance. On the British side the Colonel is disappointed, as are the men, but both seem stoic about losses. The platoon commander is content with what was achieved.

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Kampgruppe von Luck, Marsch!

web coverFollowing the great reception we had for our first “Pint Sized” campaign 29, lets Go! we decided we’d stick with Normandy fr our second release, but this time looking at the British end of the operation, in particular Operation Tonga to the East of the Orne and the early German response in the form of 21 Panzer.

The first part of this supplement looks at the British plans and the German deployment in the area and then provides an overview of the German response to the airborne landings. As with 29, Let’s Go!, we provide a detailed but clear historical backdrop to events with historical maps showing the terrain to the fought over, before then providing a complete campaign game to be played with At the Sharp End, our campaign hand book for Chain of Command.

Here the action focuses on the first actions of Kampfgruppe von Luck on D-Day itself, with elements of 125 Panzergrenadier Regiment attacking 12 Para in Le Bas de Ranville in an attempt to create a secure jump-off point for an armoured attack directly onto the two Orne bridges. The British, as yet not reinforced by the glider-borne troops of 6th Airlanding Brigade, are embroiled in desperate fighting where their elite status is tested to the limit.

Marketing Ranville

The campaign section provides briefings for both sides, Army lists and Support lists specific to this action, scenarios and briefings and victory conditions. Once again, the campaign is fought to an end within between five games minimum and eight games maximum, making this a great project to be played over a month or so of club evenings.

Once again, the great news is that you can get all of this for the price of a pint in our Lard Island Local; just £3.60. You can read more or buy this fantastic new product here:

http://toofatlardies.co.uk/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=25&products_id=157

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Back to the Boer War

Back being the operative word. Much to the amusement of my chums, I did my back in whilst carrying the Christmas tree into the house in early December, something which has stopped me sitting at my desk for any length of time for the past month. As a result, despite being able to stand and build my Afghan village, I’ve been unable to sit and paint my modern figures. An immensely frustrating experience when I am ready to get cracking on the modern playtesting.

Anyway, rather than suit here twiddling my fingers, I thought it would be an opportunity to crack on with a long standing project; our Boer War rules. The net result has been that we have played a couple of games since Christmas, Colenso last Tuesday and the attack on the Rangeworthy Heights yesterday. What I’ve also been able to do is get the rules out to public playtest, something which is a key step towards getting the rules into print.

The experience at Colenso was an interesting one, and one which really got to the nub of the issue for the British. The game we played focussed on the 2nd and 6th Brigades attacking towards Hlangwane and the road bridge north of the town. I fail to see the point in including Hart’s 5th Brigade in a wargame, as expecting a player to replicate that very particular cock-up is just not fair. We, therefore, assume that the disaster on the left is happening on auto-pilot, so to speak, while we focus on the battle proper.

For the British player, the use of formations to minimise casualties a key factor in the game. However, what is required is a matter of balance. If the British wish to move effectively across the veldt, they need to be prepared to sacrifice the safety of extended order formations and their command and control problems and adopt more pragmatic formations which allow them to move efficiently until they reach the point where they can at least trade fire with the enemy. Once that is achieved, an extended formation, advancing in short rushes and supported by fresh troops ready to take up the attack when the initial wave flounders (as it surely will) is the way forward.

In fact what we saw was a situation very similar to what actually occurred at Paardeburg. The British deployed their first Brigade onto the table with two battalions entirely in extended formation, as we see here.

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It looks pretty enough, the front battalion, the Royal West Surreys, has four companies in the front line and four in the second. To their rear, the 2nd West Yorkshires have adopted the same formation, whilst in their centre in Major General Hildyard. This photos was taken on the first turn of the game and was their initial deployment onto the table. Note the distance from the stream to their left front.

In this second photo, we can see the same units after three hours play. This is taken from the opposite angle and, as we can see, the force has changed formation somewhat to form an even longer front line, but the location of the stream confirms that they ave advanced less than 12″ all evening whilst under the fire of Boers at extreme artillery range and largely out of rifle range.
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It’s worth considering ground scale for a moment in order to realise that the lead battalion of 800 men is spread over a mile and a half frontage. When one realises that, it is not surprising that the realities of commanding such a dispersed body means that movement has been so slow as to completely scupper any hopes of achieving the objectives. In the end, Lord Dundonald’s colonials on the right stormed onto the slopes of Hlwangane, clearing the Boers from their trenches, but lack of progress in the centre meant they were obliged to withdraw and abandon their gains.

Fair enough. This was the first outing with the Grand Tactical version of the rules we’d had, so errors are to be expected. What it did do was provide a very telling lesson and one which the British players this week were keen to learn from.

The attack on the Rangeworthy Heights is an interesting action. The British under Buller had made a ponderous flank march in the hope of outflanking the Boer positions and breaking through to Ladysmith. So slow had they been, and so well telegraphed was the punch, that the Boers has a week in which they set the local labour to chipping trenches into the rocky mountains. By the time the British crossed the Tugela, the defensive position was ready and waiting for them. The table looked like this.
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Obviously, I have added on contour lines to give a feel for the terrain! The Boers began with deployment points on Three Tree Hill and Bastion Hill. The British then placed their three Deployment Points on their base line before the Boers placed two more on the Plateau. These would define both their deployment during the game and the layout of their defences.

Here’s a silly shot from the British lines to give an infantryman’s view of what lay ahead.
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The British plan was simple enough. Major General Woodgate’s Brigade, the 11th, would demonstrate before the Boer positions, pushing forward to oblige the enemy to show themselves. With that achieved, Major General Hart would advance with his Brigade in a right hook attack. Hart is an interesting character and I felt it important to reflect this. He was a great exponent of “keeping his men well in hand”, shunning extended order as he believed, not entirely incorrectly, that an extended line was impossible to command effectively (as, indeed, we saw at Colenso). As a result we limit Harts Brigade to open order at best, so extended order is not on. This plan played to his strengths, allowing him to launch the well-coordinated attack whilst the Boers were busy engaging Woodgate’s man.

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All began well, with a neat advance in open order, but then, with the lead elements wavering under fire, an attempted passage of lines went disastrously wrong for the Lancashire Fusiliers, the two waves becoming muddled up and allowing the Boers a dense target.
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By now the Boers were coming to life, with Three Trees Hill and Bastion Hill occupied, whilst on the plateau four guns were adding their fire. Woodgate pushed up with the 1st South Lancashires to try to regain the initiative in the centre.

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Here we see the Boer positions and, in the distance, the arrival of Hart’s lead battalion
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Hart’s arrival certainly caused the Boers some grief. On Piquet Hill a lone Boer gun faced the advance without support…
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…and soon paid the price.
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Here’s a “naked” picture in which you can clearly see how Woodgate’s Brigade is engaging frontally, its fourth battalion, the 1st York and Lancs, just arriving in battalion column. Meanwhile, Hart’s Brigade is now pushing forward, flushed by its initial success. The full range of formations can be seen here, from dense almost Napoleonic columns, to open lines and fully extended lines. Nearest the camera, the 1st South Lancs have pushed through the stalled Lancs Fusiliers, but they too have bunched up under fire. It was here that Woodgate rode forward to rally and reform his battalion under fire, allowing it to continue the advance.
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On the right, Hart’s Brigade continued to push forward. The Dublins received a nasty shock as they advanced from Piquet hill, with the Heilbron Commando revelaing its positions with withering fire. Losses were slight, but the first was was driven to ground by weight of fire. However, this was not to stop the Inniskilling Fusiliers who stormed Three Trees Hill in short order, routing the Krugersdoorp men. However, consolidation on the hill they too found themselves drive to ground by fire from the Heilbron Commando. On the right, Hart, refusing to allow his men to shake out into more open formations, was finding that progress was impossible.

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On the left, Woodgate’s intervention saw the 1st South Lances shake out, four companies advancing in echelon to the right towards the Heilbron flank, while four more companies swung to the left to face the small German contingent on Bastion Hill. It was to be a key move, as we see below.

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With Bastion Hill falling and the looming body of Lord Dundonald’s colonial horse sweeping up to the West, the Boers, all the time under heavy artillery fire, decided to quit the field. The route to Ladysmith was open.
R13

A British win, albeit with just two turns of daylight left. It was a close run thing. All the more close when it turned out that the Boers had forgotten to deploy the Boksburg Command, a sizeable force which, it turned out, was overlooked as Sidney decided to go to the chip shop while I did the briefing. A foolish error which, without a shadow of a doubt cost the Boers the game. However, in fairness, they were very nice chips.

As a playtest game, this was the first time we had used the prototype Force Morale rules and also the clock mechanism. What was very pleasing was that we managed to play a full 12 hour day on a club evening. There were aspects of the Force Morale system which I felt penalised the Boers in this scenario, but then that’s why we playtest stuff. All grist to the mill.

We’ve already had some great feedback from playtesters so far. One of the nicest comments came from a gamer in the North East of England. He said “after a few turns I was there on the veldt, trudging forward and getting shot to pieces”. As a game designer, that for me is all the praise I could ever ask for.

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Afghan Fields

With the village pretty much complete my goal now was to get the fields and drainage ditches done. For these I used a sheet of 3mm MDF as the base, cutting the fields into rough rectangles around 8″ by 3.5″. I used a jigsaw to get a wavy edge to these, as can be seen here:

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I then sanded the edges down, as previously a mask was used as MDF is VERY BAD for you if inhaled, so please be VERY careful. Once that was done I applied bits of astro-turf door matting which can be any green standing crop, and some coir door matting for ripe wheat. Used a hot glue gun for this, trying to ensure that the matting edges stuck close to the MDF as any gaps stand out.

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After that I applied sharp sand to the edges using PVA as a base and then, once that dried, washing a 50% PVA/water mix over the top. Where there were gaps (and you and avoid them entirely) I then added some clumps of larger stones to cover these.

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With that dry I painted the green mat bases all over with dark brown…

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…and the wheat mats had just the bases painted:

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Next I painted the astro-turf with several shades green, working up to a light dry brush of a yellowish white.

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From this angle you get a better feel for them in depth.

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The next stage was to dry brush up the bases, all done as per the main buildings.

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Finally I took the semi-harvested sections of wheat and applied neat PVA…

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…before applying trimmings from the coir matting. This actually is not so much for harvested sections, but if any troops move into these areas I can put these sections down as opposed to having them moving in some mysterious levitation across the field tops.

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A final slap on of 50% water/PVA held the coir in place and then they were all done. Once nice thing is that these stack very easily for storage, as we see below.

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I have been sorting out my Taliban forces for painting and was looking for a suitable mullah figure to inspire the faithful. I knew I had some old “back of beyond” figures for Sharp Practice and a rummage around found this bloke with a buckler shield and large chopper. I removed the buckler, cut off the chopper and removed part of the right hand. With green stuff I made a battered old tome of religious texts and then built up the hand to hold that. I had a blob of green stuff left, so I enlarged his beard to give him some gravitas. I’m going to tidy the figure up and then I’ll enjoy painting him.

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The basing is cut for the irrigation ditches, but I am really having to spend most of my time trying to keep my back straight. With a game scheduled for next Tuesday I have no idea how I’m going to get the two forces painted in time. Gulp!

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Project Afghan Village – Round Up

So, with the buildings largely complete, I now wanted a spurt to the finishing line to get this off my desk. I need to get cracking with the fields and irrigation ditches, but finishing this was my first priority. The final step would be to give the village a lived-in look so that it would move from being a collection of buildings to a plausible village.

The first stage was to add some pots to the roof sections and some prayer mats. The latter are really just there to add colour, the former have a more practical purpose: they serve as the handles by which the roofs can be removed.

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The pots I purchased on eBay, 1:48th modelling accessories for dioramas, the mats were green stuff rolled out flat and cut into shape.

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With these done I then painted the pots and made up some odds and ends. Some stuff came from my spares box, like the oil drums and some of the fencing, other bits, like the wooden cases, I made from balsa wood cut to shape and with the planking drawn on with a biro before coating it in PVA glue. The mats you see here are just base coated as I can’t paint the detail yet due to my poorly back. However it gives the general feel. The static grass is a dry summer grass which I think is appropriate for the season just before the harvest; the fighting season.

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Two of the shops got signs for visual effect rather than accuracy. Afghan villages seem to have little in the way of shop signs, I suppose everyone knows that Bert the butcher is the butcher because he’s got several dead sheep out the front. I took these from pictures of shops in Kabul. I do have plenty of produce to put outside the shops, but until my back improves to the point where I am able to sit to paint them they are not on display. However, the shutters got some graffiti to liven things up. All of this I got from images on line. It could well say “Death to the infidels” or just as easily say “We shut early on Wednesdays”, either way it looks right.

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And here are the other buildings. No comments particularly needed I think.

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And finally the odds and ends, including a communal well which I purchased on eBay from a company called Red Zebra Models. Their range of 1:48th model accessories is perfect for 28mm gaming. Their new web site can be found here: http://www.redzebramodels.co.uk/

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So, that was that. The village is largely complete. Now on to the fields and waterways. My big concern at this moment is that my back is showing no signs of getting properly better, so whilst the village may well be ready, the figures are sitting forlornly in their grey undercoat. Just eight days to go until they should be on the table for their first mission in Helmand Province.

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Project Afghan Village – Yet More

I’ve only managed some very brief bursts of activity over the past couple of days, for obvious reasons, but with no time to post on here due to Christmas cooking duties and then being so steeped in festive booze that any attempt at technology would have been pointless. So, Boxing Day seems a good day to de-tox and bring you all up to date.

The first step was to do the roofs to match the walls and then add some rudimentary thatch. I used a broom head for this purchased from Homebase ages ago for another project.

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You can see a bit more detail here:

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I also did a rudimentary test of crops, (my next project will be the green zone fields so this was a bit of an early prototype) by adding some astro turf door matting. I’m in two minds about whether to paint this, I think I will but we shall see when I get onto the crop stage.

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This has pretty much completed the main structures; now I could begin the detailing. My first step was to begin work on the gates for the large compounds. I bought some Wills model railway sheets of box corrugated metal for this. It’s cheap and easily cut with scissors or a knife, so perfect for this task.

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I wanted to be able to move the the gates and to have them either open, closed, or anywhere between the two. I decided to base them on some placticard which I would then texture. I also added a matchstick gate post.

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This can then be added to a model thus:

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Next, I used the same material to make some shutters for the village shops. I used precisely the same method, cutting to shape and sticking to a plasticard base. This will then be lightly textured with fine sand.

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I have some boxes of produce which can be stacked outside the shops, so I can show them either occupied and open or shut up for that High Noon moment when all of the civvies scurry off as Terry Taliban is out to play.

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It is my plan to add a bit of signage to the shops just to break up the monotony. I’m also adding a bit of neat tile grout to some models where I am not entirely happy, but that’s all small detail stuff. Tomorrow I plan to paint the doors, gates and any clutter which I can get prepped today.

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