Sunday, 10 September 2017

Its the Bomber! Blood Red Skies

Not sure about that chin turret on a He111 Lemmy. Still a great album though :-)

Blood Red Skies is due for release by Warlord Games in December. The base set has a rather Battle of Britain feel to it, with Spitfire MkIIs vs Me109Es all in glorious plastic. Of course there are always going to be some things that for production or cost reasons they can't include in the box, and one of these are model bombers. The game includes three double sided bomber counters printed on card for use in bomber escort scenarios, with a RAF Blenheim MkI on one side, and a Luftwaffe Do17Z on the other. So I thought it would be a good idea to look for some models to replace them.

Deep breath. Firstly I'm sure I'm not the only one to be scratching my head at the inclusion of the Blenheim MkI, which had been withdrawn from service as a bomber before the Battle of Britain began and replaced with the MkIV. The problem is the MkIV had a very distinctive nose and canopy, totally unlike the rather angular and stubby MkI, so the two are not easily mistaken. OK now I have that out of the way the stats in BRS are probably the same for both anyway so it's not that much of an issue.

So replacing the card counter with models - where to start? Lets look at the Blenheim first. Actually there are two rather good sources of Blenheim MkIVs in 1:200 scale. Firstly there is the Russian model manufacturer Zvezda, who make a Blenheim for their "Art of Tactic" game. A quick digression, Zvezda's Art of Tactic range is rather interesting. They seem to be producing models to fit the hex size rather than a single scale, so their infantry are 1:72, tanks are 1:100 (15mm), fighter planes are 1:144 and bombers are 1:200 - spot on for BRS or Wings of Glory. The range is a bit limited, consisting at the moment of a Blenheim (hurrah!), Ju88, SB2, Ju52 and lastly an Li2. This last one is a Soviet copy of a US C47 and can be happily used as such with minimum alteration - ie removing the turret and blanking it over. These Zvezda kits are easy to get hold of both sides of the Atlantic, cheap (a Blenheim in the UK is about £4) easy to assemble and paint up a treat. Very much a box ticked!

The second source is the very fine range of WW2 planes produced by David Schmid of Armaments in Miniature (AIM) , who are based in the USA and who have an extensive range of WW2 models cast in resin. I don't have an AIM Blenheim but they do look good and at $5 (£3.80) a go are very good value too. I'll be taking a closer look at AIM in a future post but in a nutshell they are rather nice models, and reasonably priced, though shipping across the pond from the US makes them a little less appealing. Having mentioned that they are amazingly light and therefore dont really cost that much to ship.

So on to the Luftwaffe, what are the options? Firstly AIM again. David produces a beautiful Do17Z in resin and priced at $5 (£3.90 at current exchange rates), a steal really. If you are not bothered about your Luftwaffe bomber Kette being Do17s then the aforementioned Zvezda Ju88 is also available, though this is a little more expensive on average with prices on ebay between £4 and £8 - nice one ebay!  This is the Ju88A4 version, which was starting to enter service just as the Battle of Britain was winding down, but only rivet counters will be able to tell the difference. AIM also make a Ju88A1 (more correct for the majority of the Battle of Britain) and a He111H.

Lastly as a "millionaires option" or for those lucky few of you who may already have them, there are the beautiful pre painted models designed for use in Wings of Glory. The problem is that they are now rare as hens teeth and change hands for rather more than the £20 retail price, if you can find them.
In all these cases you will still need a base of some sort, but that shouldn't really be much of a problem.

I'm going to have a closer look at the Blenheim and Do17Z options next BRS post.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Blood Red Skies Models - Not a review, redux

So over the last five posts I've taken a pretty close look at the pre production models for Blood Red Skies. I've tried to be balanced and fair, but not glossing over issues. Here's my overall impressions.

Firstly, these are designed as playing pieces NOT exact scale models. The models are over scale in the sense they are a bit "chunkier" than they should be. Wings and tails are thicker and some details are missing. I'm 110% happy with this in theory as they are designed to be regularly handled and gamed with. In this it is rather important to understand as unlike most other WW2 air games such as Wings of Glory or Check Your Six! the BRS advantage rules and the way they are represented by moving attitude of the model on the base means these models will need to take a lot of handling, not just the base as in other cases. If you were to model propeller blades, cannon barrels and radio aerials to scale or even close to scale, as happens with some other models, you would rapidly find a lot of breakages during play. So there is a necessary trade off between accuracy and utility. I would however have liked to have seen some cannon barrels on the Zero. I don't suppose this is a big deal and in reality will be an easy fix.

The next feature that needs to be mentioned is those panel lines. I like panel lines on model planes, and I'm guilty of painting some in myself as you can see in this earlier post on a Pe2  .

In reality panel lines would be almost invisible at any sort of viewing distance, but they can make an otherwise rather bland model look cool. On the BRS models these are so over scale you could probably fly an X Wing down them. Again that's not really a bad thing as it will make them easy to paint if you want to, and at the same time they will not be so obvious if you just paint over them. So far so good. The issue is the 109 certainly has the wrong panel lines, and the Zero may have, which  sours the milk a little for me, however I would hazard a guess that 99% of the gaming public wouldn't notice and wouldn't care even if they did, so its not a big deal overall.

On a similar note is the cannon bulges on the Spitfire. They shouldn't be there, but in truth they're almost invisible to the naked eye - in fact I looked at the Spitfire for a week and didn't notice until someone pointed them out on a blown up pic I posted. In a strange way you could think of this as a bonus. If you are a real rivet counter you could (carefully) file them off for a MkII or leave them on and add some cannon barrels to make a MkV. In fact if I were to be modelling the Mk V I would probably have expected those bulges to be emphasised a little to make them more visible! I'm again prepared to bet this is not going to cause 99% of gamers any loss of sleep at all.

The 109E is slightly more disappointing given the panel lines and cockpit canopy but in reality I cant see that putting too many people off buying them.

The last thing I would mention (again) is the actual choice of models in this initial release. The Spitfire MkII and Me109E are "no brainers" and at that point the decision to diversify so that the first release of BRS isn't just the Battle of Britain makes some commercial sense. The Yak 1 also works and can match up with the Me109E, but at this point the wheels come off. The late war Zero and P51D are just too late and diverse in my honest opinion, and cant really be flown historically against anything else here. Even against each other there is a major miss match.  A far better choice would have been a Wildcat and A6M2 Zero, but for whatever reason that isn't happening.  Hopefully Warlord will follow this initial release with some new models to make these two a little more relevant.

So that's it. As I explained at the start I cant really "review" the models or make direct comparisons to others available as the ones I have are pre production only, so what you are getting is my general impressions. Which are on the whole rather good. Assuming these models remain similar once in the new hard plastic material these are going to be a very welcome addition to the WW2 air gamer. No confirmation on price point yet, but I guess somewhere around the £25 point packaged in "Squadron*" boxes of six models plus bases and the associated cards needed to play them in BRS. That will make them essential for BRS players wanting to expand past the 2 player starter set, and also very welcome and useful to players of other WW2 air warfare games.

* yes I know, six planes isnt a Squadron in any real historical sense, and tactically six is a strange number for anything except early war but they had to call it something!

Next post (hopefully) will be a look at some alternatives if you want to replace your bomber cardboard cut outs with real models

Friday, 1 September 2017

Blood Red Skies Models (6) P51D Mustang

Last look for now at the pre production Blood Red Skies models, in this case the P51D Mustang. Again this is as received, with no clean up, and the pics are on a 1cm grid.

Not a lot to say here. Like the Yak1 the BRS Mustang looks spot on. Actually it may suffer a bit with too many panel lines, but that’s getting extremely picky and you will need to paint it to really tell. I like the model a lot.

Which raises the big question with the P51D – why is it here in the first place? Of course I'm not for an instant suggesting we don't need or shouldn't get a P51D. The problem is more, "why now?"  You can realistically only match it against the Zero, and even then that is such a miss match it may not be worth playing. If only they had gone with a Wildcat, Hellcat or even a P40 WarHawk for the US fighter it would have matched either the Zero or the 109. As it is this feels like, and indeed is, a fighter from the future of the others in the first release. To play the P51D historically you really need a FW190 or late 109 to match against it. I'm sure these will come in later releases, but it does leave the P51D rather alone in the current release.

I'll wrap these "not reviews" up with a general overview.

Blood Red Skies models (5) Zero

Penultimate look at the soon to be released "Blood Red Skies" models, this time the Japanese A6M5 Reisen “Zero” \ “Zeke”. As with the others, I should stress these are pre production resin models not the hard plastic expected on release. They are exactly as I received them, ie I've made no attempt at cleaning up flash or mould lines. Lastly the pics are blown up so remember were dealing with a model about 5cm long - the grid shown is 1cm.

The model is listed as the A6M5, the original of which first flew in mid 1943. Dimensions and proportions are as close to 1:200 as I can tell. Detail is similar to the rest of these models, a lot of over scale panel lines which I think will paint up well, and the signature external exhausts of the A6M5. What is lacking are the 20mm cannon barrels I would have expected on the wings, but to be honest that could easily be fixed with a bit of sprue if it means that much to you. The wing panels also seem to be the earlier A6M2 configuration. The choice of A6M5 is a bit of a strange one given the in service dates are not a match with any of the other fighters in BRS – if it had been an A5M2 for instance it would have matched up with the first three planes in the range quite nicely at least on in-service dates. That raises the question, could you use this model as an A5M2? The answer is a fairly clear if qualified “yes”. The earlier version has a longer wingspan and lacks the exhausts I mentioned, but to the casual, or anyone other than a rivet counter gamer that is probably not a real issue.

Last I will look at the P51D Mustang.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Blood Red Skies Models (4) Yak 1

Continuing this look at the Blood Red Skied models. As before these are pre production resin models not the plastic ones we will get with the release. Pics are on a 1cm grid so details are blown up quite a bit. Additionally I have not cleaned them up in any way so there are still some pour lines and flash that I expect will not be on the production models. OK having said all that, here is the Yak 1

Err – as far as I can tell this is very good! Of course this may be due to my lesser familiarity with the Yak - (Airfix only made a Yak 9). Dimensions and proportions are spot on (ok I suspect the fuselage is a little too thick but you really wont notice it). Detail is the same as the other BRS models – ie over scale panel lines but the overall effect is very much a classic Yak to my untutored eye. This is the early model Yak 1 rather than the late version with the bubble canopy and cut down rear fuselage, which may be very welcome just as another source of 1:200 models.

Interestingly there is a lot of detail on the bottom too.

The Yak series bear a very close family resemblance to each other but most of the later versions have the bubble top canopy so you cant really use this model for the later Yaks without some serious whittling. Then again the Yak 1 soldiers on into 1943. I really like this model :-)

Next the Zero

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Blood Red Skies Models (3) The Spitfire Mk II

Here is a look at the second model planned for the Blood Red Skies WW2 dogfight game from Warlord Games, due out some time around Christmas. The Spitfire MkII

As with the Me109E, these are pre production resin models NOT the plastic ones that will eventually be released, so bear that in mind. Also remember in the pics that follow these are blown up to a size much larger than the original. The model is shown without any cleaning up or trimming, again the production plastic ones are expected to be much cleaner. The grid is 1cm to help give you an idea of scale. So without further delay....

The BRS Spitfire MkII has the same excellent proportions and over scale panel details as the 109.

Unlike the 109 the cockpit canopy and windshield frame don’t look like they are made out of scaffolding, so far so excellent. One minor niggle (because I so wanted this to model be "right") is that the rear part of the canopy has a raised bar running along its length when the “real” one has none*. If you don’t know about it you probably won’t notice it, but to me once I saw it, it sticks out like a sore thumb. You may be able to carve it away with a sharp knife if it bothers you. As with the 109 I think this is a result as much of design requirements as anything. I suppose you cant have everything.

*Actually there IS a frame across the top of the rear canopy, but it is internal rather than external, so in my view ideally shouldn't be there - ah well.

Other than that this is a quintessential and very good model Spitfire from the Battle of Britain era. Like the 109E however it would be difficult to pass it off as a later mark as these had very prominent 20mm cannons and the associated “bulges” over the breaches. The Mk II never saw action against the Zero (at least not as far as I am aware), but Mk Vs did. It is a beautiful and evocative model of a beautiful and evocative machine.

Next we're heading East for a look at the Yak 1

Edit: The gents on the Wings of Glory Aerodrome spotted an interesting fact. The wing has a bulge outboard of the landing gear blister (the bulge in the upper side of the wing that helps house the landing gear). This is exactly where the cannon breach bulge would be on a MKV (yes the one I called "very prominent" above). This is very much a "curates egg" as it shouldn't be present on the MkII but it does mean converting this to a cannon armed Mk V by simply adding either brass or stretched sprue barrels, which extends the usefulness of this model quite a bit. Thanks to Oldguy59 for the spot.  

Friday, 25 August 2017

Blood Red Skies Models (2) Me109E “Emil”

So moving on to a closer look at the Blood Red Skies models from Warlord Games. Just to repeat the earlier caveat, these are pre production resin prototype models NOT the plastic ones that will eventually be released, so bear that in mind. Also remember in the pics that follow these are blown up to a size much larger than the original. The grid is 1cm to help give you an idea of scale. The pics are of the models before clean-up so there are bits of flash that will need removing, but that should not be an issue with the plastics (Warlord plastics tend to be very clean)

First up the 109E, iconic fighter of the Luftwaffe through the Battle of France and Battle of Britain and which soldiered on into the Russian campaign.

Dimensions and proportions are good to 1:200, taking into account this is a model designed as a single piece gaming model that will be expected to take a lot of handling. I think the model captures well the angular clipped appearance of the Emil.

There is a lot of inscribed panel lines, which given the size of the model are going to be very over scale, however I suspect these will make painting much easier, which gets a thumbs up from me. The cockpit frame is also over scale, and I’m not so keen on this as it looks like it was made out of scaffold tubes. I’m also not convinced about the shape of the cockpit panels themselves, the last (rearmost) panel in the real 109 was triangular, this one is nearly square, a product of the “scaffold tube” effect which does look a bit strange, as does the front. I’m hoping this will be less noticeable when painted.

BRS 109 canopy

Real 109E canopy

Having said that, how much of that will be noticeable once painted and on the table is open to debate, and of those who do notice it, I would guess not many will care.

The Emil is the perfect opponent to the Spitfire MkII and was still in service (in the process of being replaced) when Operation Barbarossa began in July 1941, so will match up with the Yak-1 as well. It is therefore a great choice for the launch of BRS.  It is not so great as far as the US opponent in the initial release goes. By the time the P51D arrives in mid 1944 the Emils were withdrawn from front line service so they can’t really be used against each other. I cant imagine why the P51D is in the first release at all, when a P40 would have been a valid choice for the US, even assuming that was needed, but that's what is happening. The 109E is also physically quite a different shape to the main versions that followed it, the F & G, which had different (rounded) shape to the wings and tails so it will not be so easy to pass this model off as anything later without squinting quite a lot. I certainly would not.

All in all this is a very nice model of a 109E except for one minor glitch that 90% of the gaming population will find of zero interest. The other 10% (me included) will probably paint it out.

Next, the Spitfire MkII.