Y Viva Espana! However, I shan’t be taking the Costa Brava plane, as this is a journey back in time. For some while now, I have been hinting at a new project, or as I should really say, YET ANOTHER new project, for Sharp Practice. Readers of this blog and elsewhere will know that since the release of Sharp Practice, I have been adding lots of new armies to my collection. So much so, in fact, that we are about to have the builders start on Lard Island to create new storage space for all the figures and terrain we are accumulating. It is all too easy to say “It’s just another fifty or so figures” and off we go on another Sharp Practice adventure.
This time, however, the adventure is not exactly new. We have been very careful with Sharp Practice to try to show how the rules embrace the entire era of black powder weapons and to a degree we have been remiss in highlighting the one campaign which everyone associates with the rules: the Peninsular War. Of course, owners of The Compleat Fondler will recognise the tribute to fictional heroes of that campaign, but with the release of Dawns & Departures I am really fired up to run a series of campaigns which will, once again, allow us to focus on the campaign of Richard Fondler and hi arch enemy Colonel la Rue of the French Imperial Guard.
The first step was to accumulate my figures for a British force. Lard Island Regular, the Traitor Mc Kipper, has sufficient French forces to get us started, so I went with a mix of Perry Miniatures and a few Warlord Games 95th Riflemen to add some variety. To be fair, comparing the Perry Miniatures 95th Rifles with Warlord was a bit like comparing Michaelango’s David with Tracey What’s-her-names unmade bed, so I have since placed an order with Brigade Games in the US of A for some of their Riflemen. However, let us pass for now over the figures and look at terrain.
Readers of the latest Christmas Special will recall that the terrain boards which I use for Viva Ras Begus were due to be tarted up for a new use. With the light sandy coloured earth this was to be the Peninsular with a scattering of brunt summer grass added in patches when I got myself in gear to order it off eBay. In the meantime I looked at what buildings were available and began to build up a collection of suitable bits.
Firstly, I had some buildings from Empress Miniatures which I had bought some years ago for a Spanish Civil War project but which had somehow got lost in the resin mountain. Empress were very wise when constructing this range in that nothing on the buildings could date them specifically to any period, so the large farmhouse, outbuilding and walls would be fine for the early 19th century.
Next on my shopping list was a trip to Grand Manner. Let’s be honest, the buildings produced by this company are pretty much peerless, but they come at a price. Like many wargamers, I have champagne tastes with a Blue Nun budget, so this was always going to be problematic. Unfortunately many of the larger buildings which Grand Manner used to stock for the Peninsular are no longer in production. It had been my plan to purchase a church and then get a selection of smaller bits which are much more reasonably priced and which will create a very pretty table without breaking the bank. In the end I purchased what is described as a Roman wayside Inn which is ideal for another project I have running in the background, but also serve as a multi-purpose “big building”.
After that came the bits and pieces which, as stated, will look nice but are more reasonably priced than the bigger stuff. I’m really chuffed with these, the small house, the hovel, the windmill, wood store, bread oven and olive press are beautiful models in their own rights.
I need to assemble some of these bits, so I will feature that in a future article. Today, I want to focus on some MDF models which I purchased from Charlie Foxtrot Models.
Now, let’s be brutally honest. Wandering around wargames shows, one may be forgiven for thinking that MDF buildings are the universal solution to our building needs. They are certainly popular enough, especially the pre-painted versions which are so prominent. I must admit that these leave me minded of the old 2′ polystyrene terrain tiles which, when they hit the market back in the early 1980s were an immediate success. Yet it was not long before their ubiquitous appearance left me wanting a bit more. My own position on MDF buildings is that the material is good for some things, but it does have its limitations. Readers here will have seen me wax lyrical about the roof tile sheets from Warbases which transform a flat etched MDF roof into something much more real. Indeed, the best MDF building manufacturers recognise that the material has its limitations and seek to maximise the usefulness of their models in one way or another. Warbases produce an excellent range of buildings which are somewhat minimalist, allowing the modeller to use them as a basic shell and then develop the model as they like from there. Some manufacturers pre-paint their models in an attempt to beautify them past the point of bare brown wood, and some others seek to combine the MDF with other materials to enhance the models in that way. The latter route has been, very cleverly, taken by Charlie Foxtrot models with their new Pantile range which currently stands at four models.
What I like here is that the company have been quite honest about the fact that flat MDF roofs do not look like pantile roofs, however you paint them. Instead, they have produced resin roofs which they add to their models to really lift them up above the ordinary.
I bought all four and I must say that I have been very impressed. The design of these models is very intelligent indeed. They are simple to put together but the ideas they use lift them way about your average bit of etched wood. What’s more Charlie Foxtrot have always recognised that MDF is only the core of the structure. To improve these no end a small amount of additional modelling allows you to create something which is as good as any resin model. And that is seriously saying something. The company have a guide to building these models on their web site which is we worth a read: Pantile Houses Article
I read the article through in full and then read the instructions on what looked like the most complicated of the four kits. One thing worth mentioning is that there are a lot of parts included for each one, but the key components are easily recognised (they are the walls!) so stuff like window frames can be set aside as you’ll want to paint them separately and fit after the bulk of the modelling is complete. Here’s how the kit looked when I did a dry-run of the parts.
As you can see, this is simple stuff and it all sticks together with a PVA glue. When that is dry you add some interior walls which adds rigidity and these also serve as a base for some resin sections of stonework which just stick into place to represents sections of wall where the plasterwork has come away. This is a very nice idea and allows the model to take on a non-MDF feel even at this stage. Next I add some sharp sand, painting on PVA in some areas and leaving others clear. Just dip in a big tub of sand to get a gritty finish. Note, this method is slightly different to the one on Charlie Foxtrot’s guide, but I reckon this cuts out one stage in the process and that suits me.
At this stage you’ll need to let your models dry overnight. Getting all four models to this stage took me about three hours. On the next morning I used Quick Drying Polyfilla straight from the tube I spread this on relatively flat with a bread knife and left for five minutes to start to dry. I then got a pot of water, dipped my finger in this and began to polish the filler to a flat surface and blend it in with the sand bits which I largely left uncovered. For all four buildings, this took about 90 minutes.
At this stage the buildings looked pretty good already. I now sanded down the top edges of the walls, focussing on where the ground floor and first floor met to ensure a smooth fit.
With that done I now need to wait for the filler to dry in full. When this is done I will tidy up any window and door frames where any filled has gone over. This will be a quick you with scalpel. When that is done I will paint the whole model with a very thin coat of PVA glue before making a start painting the small fittings such as window frames and doors for fitting tomorrow.
Watchers of Twitter may have noticed that, as part of our ongoing Metz 1944 campaign, my US platoon attempted to assault Fort St Blaise last week, but to no avail. We were repulsed with some nasty casualties despite getting to the fort’s rear door. It was a tough action but it was also very informative.