Sunday 29 September 2013

Where has all the balsa (wood) gone?

When we moved to Spain seven years ago we made a lot of scenery for our new wargames table, particularly model houses.   But we had brought a good selection of balsa wood and thick card with us from UK.  

Last month I decided that we needed slightly smaller buildings for our 28mm figures, similar to Hovels in size.   We had lots of card left, but very little balsa wood or thin soft wood baton.   We tried the local toy shops, armed with the few off cuts we had left, but they had never heard of it.   We also tried “do it yourself” shops, but met with similar lack of success.   But we were not worried, because we had booked our annual visit to visit the grandchildren.
They live in a small village about 20 miles north of Newcastle, and a regular feature of our visit was a trip to Marks and Spencer for Jan to restock.   I knew that they had an excellent model shop called Models Zone in the centre of Newcastle.  I had visited in the past, and though had not needed balsa wood at the time was sure that they would have some.   So it was a big disappointment when we found that it had closed, not moved – just closed.

Too late to do any internet search, as we only had one day in Newcastle.   I thought a visit to the tourist information might help, but they told us that there were no other model shops in the city, but that a large toy shop might be able to help.   My hopes were raised when I spotted a model railway section, but no luck.  The middle aged assistant had heard of balsa wood, but no idea where we could get some.

A visit to a games shop, mostly computer games, met with a similar result.  The owner had not seen balsa wood for years.   She also confirmed that there were no model shops in Newcastle or even the surrounding area.

Fortunately I also needed some more thick card, which I had bought last time from Blackwells, a large bookshop which specialises in text books for students at the university.    Better still there was the old box in one corner with a large selection of balsa wood.

Strange how things you take so much for granted just disappear as styles change.   We had a similar problem four or five years ago trying to find thin wood for stands.   We never did find them!

So we returned to Spain with a good selection of balsa wood, more than enough to complete our new project.  

This experience reminded me of the old saying “if you don’t use it – you lose it”.   Seems to apply to model shops just as much as anything else in this ever changing world.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Construction Boom

We have reached a stage in the PBEM campaign when everything is running smoothly, and I start looking for something new to do.  

Usually this would be a new area map, or perhaps fiddle with the campaign rules, but this time it is buildings and scenery.

We have quite a good collection of commercial buildings, mostly Hovels.   But we bought them many years ago, long before we designed our current wargames table and reorganised our armies to create more corps with less model soldiers.

Our current terrain consists of odd shaped squares of felt.   Each one represents a village.   Towns are two squares and cities four squares.  I want to replace them with standard 6x6" squares of felt. This size allows each one to be garrisoned by one of our 8 figure brigades, without looking too silly.   The problem is that most of our buildings are too large to fit more than one on each square.

Some years ago Jan made some card buildings, roughly the same scale as Hovels 15mm buildings.   These fit well, but we need quite a few more.   So her project for the next month or so is to make more buildings.

My task is to cut our hedges and walls to fit the same 6x6” felt tiles.   All the scenery we have seems to be either too long or too short.

The final task is to make some new bridges.   I am torn between making them wide enough for the artillery stands, or more in proportion to look right, but the too wide for the artillery. 

All of that should keep us busy enough until there is another problem with the campaign.

Sunday 15 September 2013

1814 Campaign Phases

Brussels Campaign Area

The campaign has six campaign areas, each with its own allied and French army.   It was designed that way to allow me to use my Austrian, British, Bavarian, Prussian, Russian and Spanish armies.

In addition each campaign area is divided into ten smaller campaign areas, or phases.   This is to allow me to restart each area when one side has defeated the other.   If I had not done so the each campaign area would have finished when one side won a major battle.

To illustrate what I mean, the above map is of the Brussels Campaign Area.   The Prussian Army starts at Dusseldorf and its ultimate objective is Brussels.   Each square on this map is 15 miles, and each square is also a wargames table.

The area in white is the Neuss Phase.   The Prussians start in Dusseldorf, the French in Mongladbach.  Both are tasked to take and hold the town of Neuss.   

Neuss Campaign Area

This is the map used by the French and Prussian players.  It covers the same areas that outlined in white on the map above, but shows much more detail.  Each square is 5 miles, and each square is also a scenic 2x2 foot square on the wargames table.

The Neuss Phase of the campaign ends when one side has to abandon all hope of taking the town.   It’s not enough for one side to just occupy the town.   Indeed it can be a mistake to do so too early, as the other side can launch a counter attack with superior odds.   To win one side has to defeat the other in a major battle.

When that is done we immediately move on to the next phase, which will be the Mongladbach Phase.   The white grid on the top map is moved one square to the left to provide the campaign area.   Both armies are brought up to full strength.   Each deploy at opposite ends of the map and off we go again. 

I have decided that we will always move to the left at the end of a phase, no matter which side has won it.   This will avoid fighting over the same area again and again.  It will also avoid parts of the campaign moving east into Germany, whilst other parts move west further into France.   This is very artificial, but it makes my life easier as the campaign umpire.

As far as the player is concerned, each new phase is a new campaign.   But I can use the same strategic maps and the same orders of battle.   This ensures that there is very little delay between Phases.   All three have restarted within one campaign day.

One of the major advantages of this phase system is that it allows players to commit for a short period, usually two to three months per phase.   At the end they are welcome to carry on with the same command, but if they want a break it is easier to introduce a new player at the start of a campaign phase than it would in the middle.

It does mean that I have a constant need for replacement commanders.   So if anyone would like to have a go they would be more than welcome.

Sunday 8 September 2013

Don Featherstone

Don Featherstone died this week in Southampton hospital.   He was 95 years old.  He was also one of the “founding fathers” of modern Wargaming.

Don is one of the best known modern wargamers in the world, if not the best known.   He has been a leading light in the hobby since the early 1960s and has written a long list of Wargaming books.   He is one of the very few personalities in the hobby that I have never heard a bad word written about.   For the past 20 years he has been a legend and few would have dared to criticise his work.   On the two forums which I follow there have been pages and pages of posts in praise of him.   The worse thing I read was that one or two, of the younger members, had not read his books.   But even they acknowledged that he had had an influence on their own hero’s.

My introduction to the hobby was when I found a copy of “Charge or how to Play Wargames” in the local library.   I am not sure, but I think, that there was a mention of Don Featherstone’s “Wargamers Newsletter” in there.

I loved the newsletter.   I can remember the joy of receiving the small brown envelope each month and the anticipation of opening the first page.   Even then it looked very amateur and old fashioned, with its smudged writing and tiny print.   But it provided much more enjoyment than the later glossy magazines like “Miniature Wargaming” and “Wargames Illustrated” etc.

I can still remember, almost word for word, my favourite article.  It was called “At the Colonel’s Table”.   It was the fictional tale of a novice wargamer invited to play at the great Colonel’s wargames table.   Whilst they were having a break for dinner, with a glass of wine, the dastardly Colonel slipped away to move his model soldiers to avoid defeat.   The article was spread over two issues, and it was a long month waiting for part two.

Most people praised his many books on Wargaming.   To be honest I found them boring.  I have never been one to learn rules quickly or easily.   I bought every single book as they became available.  I also read them cover to cover.   But I found it hard going.  Very much like reading a technical manual.    Nowhere near as good as the very readable “Charge”.

Some were easier, such as “Wargames Campaigns”.   But my favourite was a soft cover books called, I think, “Wargamers Handbook”.   In contained sections on different aspects of the hobby, and I was particularly interested on the section on museums.   I am pretty sure that it was here I found the first mention of Kulmbach museum of tin figures.   Jan and I spend a marvellous weekend at nearby Nuremburg and spent a whole day studying the displays in the lovely old castle of Kulmbach.

In 1982 we moved to Salisbury, and met Don a few times.   I remember we went to a few of his monthly military lunches in Southampton, where he would have a well known guest speaker.    He was always very friendly and approachable.   He was a legend even then, but always without “airs or graces” as my mum would have said.

So though I never did play his rules, and often found his books pretty heavy going, he was always there in the background.   “Wargamers Newsletter” provided me with hours and hours of enjoyment.  

He had, as they say, “a very good innings”.   He obviously loved the hobby and must have gained great satisfaction from his acknowledged contribution and being accepted as the “Grandfather (or perhaps Godfather) of modern wargaming”.

Thanks Don.   RIP