As evening shadows lengthen and the English summer comes to a bitter end, thoughts on Lard Island turn to the last wargames show of the year as we don our Sou-westers and head for the Belgian coast and the BEST show on the wargaming calandar, Crisis in Antwerp. Having been attending this show for many years now, my only criticism is the name. This event is no Crisis, it is a sublime example of what a wargames show should be. Packed with superb games and friendly traders it is hosted by the best organised and most engaging club we have ever come across. It should really be called something more enthusiastic like “Absolutely-Bloody-Fabulous-Con” as that is what it is. If you haven’t yet been, you should make your pilgrimage to a superb show in a fantastic city which, in addition to wargaming is brimming over with some magnificent beer. What could be better? I suppose the beer could be free… Anyway; enough hyperbole. What the statement “Crisis is next week” usually translates into for me is “Oh, bollocks, I haven’t made the terrain yet!”. And this is indeed the case once again.
This year we will be running two participation games games on two adjacent tables. On one side we have “The Return of Mr Reg” as once again the revolting population of the Carribean Island of Musique are seeking to overcome their colonial oppressors with this game of Sharp Practice. On the other table we will be doing a BIG Chain of Command game set in Belgium in 1940, as the might of the Wehrmacht bump into the British Expeditionary Force near Ypres. It’s actually pretty terrain-light, with the British defending a canal line with outposts push out to the East to hinder the Hun as they advance. All jolly stuff, but I realised that I needed to paint a platoon of Germans, finish off a platoon of armoured cars, build just over 6′ of railway embankment and knock up one or two buildings as well as make some fields. If I have time I want to add a few French chaps to my force to make it a truly pan-European blend of forces, oh, and some civilians. I MUST have civilians to litter the table for this game, especially some Nuns. Oh, and while I am at it I need to plan a walking tour around Ypres as we are visiting there for a couple of days en route to the show. Not to mention the telegraph poles I want to get done…and, at the time of realising that I had a metaphorical wargaming Everest to climb, I had just over a week to go. Which does make me wonder why the Hell I am typing this when I could be painting Nuns!
Well, the first step was to set about the German Infantry, start on the embankment and get cracking with the first building. I wanted to do all three simultaneously as there are always down times in any project and with three on the go I could, like the man spinning the plates at the circus, rush from one to another. Here I am going to look at a Boulangerie from Dark Ops who have an “Overlord” range which is meant to be Normandy buildings but is ideal for anywhere in France or Belgium.
Now, to be honest, I have never built anything from Dark Ops before, so this would be a learning experience. However, from what I had seen on their web site they looked good. My own thoughts on MDF buildings is that they have advantages but they also have disadvantages. A pet hate of mine, for example, if seeing lugs in roofs where the structure has been slotted together like the Airfix farmhouse when I was a kid. Texture is another issue; I do not want my buildings to look like they are flat bits of wood, I want texture and depth to them. I have in the past been particularly complimentary about Charlie Foxtrot Models, especially their Spanish looking range with resin roofs, as what they have done is recognise that MDF has its limitations and then used it to do what it is good for, but used other mediums when required to complement the basic structure. So would Dark Ops meet my requirements?
First things first. I opened the packet to find a mix of three materials. The more robust bits of the structure were in 3.2mm MDF so they had some heft to them. The detail such as shutters, window frames and the likes were in 2mm MDF and finally there was a lot of thin card which would serve as plaster.
At first look there is a lot to the kit and I frantically searched for a sheet of instructions. There wasn’t one. For me this was a potential disaster as I like to know what I am doing. One of my pet hates is AT guns and artillery pieces which arrive as bags of metal bits with no instructions. As a consequence half of the stuff I build gets ripped to its several times before I can work out how they are meant to fit together. By that time I am usually covered in more superglue than is on the model and have lost the will to live. Fortunately, I quickly discovered that there was a good reason for a lack of instructions; there is a VERY comprehensive “how to” video on the Dark Ops web site and this 45 minute production was worth its weight in gold. I watched this through once and then cracked on, stopping it at each section break. Indeed, one thing I learnt early was that it was a good idea to paint many of the parts before assembly, so while the video ran through I started painting the bits. The chaps at Dark Ops recommended spray painting some bits, but I just used a normal paint and brush method, as you can see below I began with the brickwork.
I would say now that I regret not spray painting the roof sections in black first, that would have saved me a tiny bit of time later, but that’s an aside. The key parts to paint here are the brickwork and the wood work on shutters, doors, floors and the main shop window.
Anyway, I painted the bricks and stuck together the first section; the ground floor. Dead simple and a lovely fit at all points.
As you can see, the whole model is on a base which provides pavement all round. What I have not added in the above image is the stair case, but I put that in once the above structure was dry.
The next job was to assemble the upper structure. Once again this was very simple, four walls on a base which served as the first floor. One interior wall and two bits which provided the ballustrate around the stairwell. Very easy to do and a nice fit.
You will note in the image above that part of the wall facing the camera has been painted brick red. In some places the walls have been etched so you can have broken plaster coming away with the bricks underneath showing through. How that is achieved is by using the thin card as a layer of plaster but not glueing where the exposed brickwork is. Once the card is dry you can tear off the sections which haven’t been attached. As can be seen below, when applying the PVA glue for the card I miss out the brick area.
With that done, on goes the card followed immediately with some blocks on the flank which support the attic floor and some some curved supports in the front and rear elevation which will support the guttering. One point here is that you do not need to add the guttering, you could easily fill these holes. However, if you do that they I do not think you can include the drainpipe as the top end of this is house in the guttering. So, I think you DO need to include these details, all of which does add a little time to the build. Is that a bad thing? Well, my usual concern about any building is that I transport my terrain all across the UK and beyond and I need it to be robust. Stuff that can break off WILL usually do so. However, it this case the video was very clear that if I apply ample PVA glue this will make a very robust feature once the guttering is in place. As things are fitting into place so well, I am happy to take their assurances and spend the two minutes needed adding this extra detail.
I can now leave this to dry while I make a start on the roof. Below we can see how the two roof trusses fit neatly into the roof sections. what you will also see if what looks like crazy-paving on the roof. These are actually sections which can be removed to represent damage. You can take out anywhere between 1 and all of them, so this allows you to get a lot of variety if making multiple models.
I elected to knock out two sections on one side and just one on the other.
A nice touch is the inclusion in the set of some card sections to allow you to represent rafter or tile battens on the damaged roof. I put mine in horizontally as tile battens but I am still considering adding one or two thicker rafters in wood to finish this off. However, that is me being a pedantic git. Most people will not demand, or even be aware of, the minutiae of roofing techniques.
Right, thus far I have been a very good boy and not gone off-piste. I am sorry to say that this is about to change. As instructed, I did tear away the bits of plaster where the card had not stuck and that did give a nice texture where the tears were irregular and uneven. However, those who have seen me make MDF models in the past will know that I like to use quick drying PVA to get a better three dimensional feel, and I decided to do this again with this kit. The BIG difference is that were I normally plaster a hoe section of building, here I could just slap on a few bits with a butter knife and then smooth it over with my finger. So this was a very quick process.
You’ll also note that I added a roof. I didn’t take snaps of this as it is as easy as falling off a log. The tiles come in strips pre-cut to the correct width. You take them off the “sprue” in the order they are given to you and stick them on a row at a time. You then stick on the cardboard ridge. The chimney is MDF but also comes with a card skin to serve as plaster. At this point I should declare that I was already so pleased with this building that I ordered another one from Dark Ops/ At every point in the build this was a lovey model to build. The parts fit beautifully with a tiny gap allowed for the glue. This is real precision work. Anyway…
A little bit of detail here. I cut the card tiles to make some individual broken ones. I also added the card guttering. This I bent on a flat rule edge and then curved around a skewer which was included in the kit to serve as the drain pipe. I soaked this in PVA and gently pushed it into place on the guttering support., I presumed with would be a right pain in the arse; it was not. Very simple once again. You can see how the drainpipe will fit in the guttering and then drop down to the O bracket on the first floor. You cut it here and a second segment then goes from the top of the ground floor wall to the drain etched in the base. So, when you life the lid off the building the drainpipe is in two pieces and allows this to happen. This is a very well thought out model indeed. So, before we move on, here are some snaps of my plasterwork. You’ll note that I have not put on the window frames and shutters yet, but that was the net step before painting.
I am not about to bore you with pictures of me painting a building. Suffice to say that I had pre-painted the ground floor prior to assembly so all I now needed to do was paint the upper storeys. I did this with a domestic paint in a cream colour. Once dry I washed it with some dirty water from the pot I clean my brushes in, then added some more darker patches in heavily watered down browns and black. With that done I did some highlighting of the plaster areas with the base colour with white added and finally with some pure white in the odd area. Heres what I ended up with.
In the picture above I have added an advertising poster of the period. Typically these were painted onto the side of buildings so I did that before attacking it with some heavy grade sand paper to age it. I used a bit of chalk to add some white areas to the brickwork. A building this age would normally use lime mortar than the cement we use today, so this tends to show through in white patches and can bleed. I applied with my finger and then washed off the surplus, touching up bricks where needed. Again, it’s a potentially daft degree of detail but i do think that a bit of time spent, even on a tight schedule, pays dividends.
Looking inside the building we have, in order, the attic, the first floor and the ground floor (which will confuse my American chums who speak a different lingo in such matters).
There are some bread racks included which I can make up and add to the shop area and I am going to do that if I have time to sculpt some bread from green stuff.
Okay, what did I think of the kit? Fabulous. It was a joy to make and I even found myself wanting to add wallpaper (I normally just paint the inside of my buildings black). To the naked eye it is very difficult to tell that this is an MDF kit but it is lightweight and has a very impressive interior. This ticks the big bo for me that says that visually it must look as good as a resin kit. I AM glad that I added some filler to get an additional bit of depth, but that was a two minute job. Negative? Well, MDF kits do take time. You can buy resin products off the shelf and just paint them, or go to companies like Ham & Jam and buy the ready built, textured and painted product off the shelf allowing more time to go to the pub. However, having built this bit of kit I am very happy to have spent the time I did on this and my only complaint is that the range is not large enough. Indeed it is positively tiny. If there were a dozen buildings in this series I would have instantly bought them all as this is a really, really top drawer product. Indeed, I would suggest to Dark Ops that they need to make some complimentary models to allow a small village to be built. A row of two or three shops, a house, a large maison bourgeoise, all of which can be somehow clipped together to form a terraced street or to stand alone. Then we need yards and outhouses as well. As it is, I am sure that this model will make a splendid centrepiece for our game at Antwerp. I don’t award stars for products I talk about as I am not building these to review but for my own personal use, but in this case this is a true five star product, well conceived and well executed.
With any set of rules the key game mechanisms will usually take up no more than a few pages and for a club set that can normally suffice with any out of the ordinary situations dealt with by a judicious application of common sense. Older gamers will recall the flurry of “Back of a Postcard”