Friday, 13 October 2017

Derby Worlds "Welcome to the new Triples?"

I spent the weekend at the "Derby Worlds" playing in the Impetus Competition on Saturday and just browsing on Sunday. The event has come in for a lot of negative comments on line and on the days, mostly from traders and customers so I think it would be useful to give a tournament player and organisers view. The main complaints aired can be summarised as location, size, and cost, so I'll look at each of these in turn

1. Location. Rather surprisingly the venue this year for the "Derby Worlds" was actually in Leicestershire, out at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground near Lutterworth. Leaving aside the fact it wasn't actually in Derby, or even Derbyshire, this was pretty much as rural as you can get. Initially I didn't see much of a problem finding it - satnav - but that was because we had been staying in a hotel on the outskirts of Leicester and as it happened we were almost in a direct line to the venue down main roads - pure luck. I was a bit puzzled by all the "hard to find, windy roads, middle of nowhere" comment, til we decided to head home on Sunday and because we were heading for the motorway rather than the hotel we were directed into the middle of nowhere down those winding country roads I had heard so much about. Thankfully we were doing this fairly early in the afternoon so it wasn't too busy, but I'm guessing if you tried that as people were leaving or were in a van carrying your stock it would be "interesting" to say the least. Parking was ok for the competitors who arrived early enough to get a spot in the car park but if you were in the overflow (aka a field) it was less than ideal. Something this shares with Vappa in York. The other facilities - ie toilets were ok but badly signposted - in fact I didn't realise there were actually 2 sets of toilets until I saw some of the other comments. The shift South seems to have discouraged some attendance too - although overall I don't have anything other than anecdotal evidence I'm told visitor numbers were very much down on last year, and I understand takings were similarly down with all but one trader I managed to speak to on Sunday. More specifically I know of a half dozen players based in the North East who have been regular attendees at the old venue but who decided the new one was too far.

2. Size. For the tournament players it was cramped. I can't really quantify the amount of space we had at Bruntingthorpe compared to the previous venue at Donnington Park other than to say it felt like we had a lot less room. We were lucky that we were situated on the end of the rows of tables so we didn't have to try and squeeze past a long line of players and their associated bags and boxes. All my games were interrupted pretty much constantly by people trying to get past to their tables further down the rows - not something I recall from other venues. The other notable effect of the spacing was there were far fewer interested or otherwise members of the public walking around to see the games. At every other venue or event I've had chats with the wandering public explaining what the rules were and why we liked them etc, but there was no chance of that because the public were clearly discouraged by the obvious cramped nature of the tournament area. This was probably just inconvenient for the tournament players, but at the other end of the hall the traders were suffering somewhat more. They were packed in very tight, and this had a number of effects. Firstly, it meant they couldn't get their full "pitch" set up - I was told they were operating on a 25% smaller area. Secondly, the isles were too narrow. Any sort of group around one stall blocked the aisle to anyone passing. It is difficult to explain how tight these aisles were, but to give an idea a wheelchair user wanted to pass down between two rows of stalls, and this could only be done by everyone moving back out and then moving back in after they had come through. That cramped and tight location has two effects on me. Firstly I was discouraged from browsing or even just chatting with the stall owners because I was aware I was either being constantly jostled or needing to move out of the way to let people get past. Secondly I just didn't bother trying to get through the crush to some stalls. Obviously this cleared up later in the day, but it was a far from comfortable or relaxed situation. The other problem with the lack of space was clear from the demo \ participation games. Again they were too tightly packed to allow easy access and circulation, so in my case I didn't bother trying. I should add there was a fairly spacious entry atrium with a couple of demo games, and these did seem to have plenty of room. Actually the space in the entrance was if anything wasted as it was full of "event special" KR backpacks and "Aeon One" game apparently being sold by the Organisers. These backpacks were full of "stuff" - mugs, keyrings, etc. all ok but hardly "gucchi". As for Aeon One - I'll get to that later.

3. Cost. The actual entry fee was the same as last year (£15), and as a bonus we got a voucher worth a fiver if we spent a tenner (IIRC) or more at any stall. On that count although it could easily be argued we got less for our money because we got less space, it wasn't bad. The food costs were very high. It cost more to buy a Mars Bar at the makeshift food area than to buy one at a motorway service station. Luckily I had packed some sandwiches etc - or rather bought them at Sainsburys so this wasn't really an issue for me.

OK having dealt with the stuff the main body of commentary was about I'd like to throw in a couple of other points. Firstly organisation and attitude. We queued up for some time to get in on Saturday morning, unlike previous years. I'm not 100% sure what the cause of this was as it didn't happen at either Donnington or the other venues but I suspect that it was simply lack of staff on the entrance and lack of a specific tournament player queue. They were also taking money on the door which seemed to slow stuff down, particularly as the tournament guys had already paid. Once in we got zero involvement from the organisers, no directions or similar, no visits to check if there were any problems. OK you could argue we didn't need them, but in the past we've always had some contact throughout the day, which is appreciated.

I mentioned Aeon One. I cannot for a moment understand what the **** the organisers thought they were doing here. It's some sort of fantasy \ Sci fi boxed game they have commissioned. It looked stunningly meh - basically reboxing already available stuff with some new rules and the now obligatory cards. This was retailing (if you can call it that) at £60. I have no idea how much this cost to produce but it looked nothing more than a vanity project. Some traders I spoke to pointed to that as being one of the reasons pitch prices were so high. I cant say if this is correct or not, but given the amount of material, time and printing that went into it, not to mention the ridiculous amount of column inches they have paid for suggests this is probably true.

All in all I think the organisers need to have a rethink. Actually I don't think its just them who need a rethink, its everyone. Why are tournaments married to trade events? I doubt the tournaments attract visitors in any significant numbers over and above the players. I also doubt the players themselves spend that much with the traders - we usually don't have that much time. Given the space the tournaments take up in comparison to the revenue they generate, organisers would be better advised to give more space to traders and demo \ participation games rather than trying to do all three and failing badly. As a tournament player I need some reasonable facilities and time \ space. I like the option of shopping and browsing, but I'm there for the tournament. So where does that leave the tournaments ? Actually I think there is plenty of opportunity to organise tournament only venues, smaller perhaps, and maybe with limited trader support - ie if its a Bolt Action Tournament maybe Warlord ? That sort of thing.

Derby this year was not great. Given the failure and apparent demise of the other great "Northern" shows Sheffield Triples, this is a bad time to drop the ball. The overall impression was the organisers tried to do too much with an inadequate venue, plus the whole questionable "Aeon One" vanity project. Lets hope they manage to do something about it next year.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Afrika Korps for Chain of Command

Having mentioned them in an earlier post I suppose it would be polite to show a pic of the Afrika Korps platoon I have been building for Chain of Command.

They're all Perry miniatures with the exception of the vehicles which are a mix of Blitzkrieg, Warlord and Empress, plus a burned out Opel Blitz from Any Scale models - only £6 and cheap at twice the price

I'm rather happy with how they turned out. Of course like any other project there is an element of project creep going on - I've ordered some more supports, this time from Warlord, and I'm working on converting some more Perry miniatures to represent DAK Pioneers. More on that later

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Bit of a Hiatus

Quick update.

Having spent the last few posts looking at model aircraft for Blood Red Skies my butterfly mind has flitted on to something else - in this case playing a Chain of Command campaign.

Chain of Command (CoC) is the best WW2 skirmish game I've played so far. It has a lot going for it, but even as a fan I have to say sometimes it can be a bit less fun because it is brutal - something it shares with the subject matter I suppose.

After one of those "Fancy playing ........." conversations I rapidly had to dig out my half finished Perry Afrika Korps, got them painted and are now preparing game five of the campaign, which is so far been quite a lot of fun as my DAK are chasing John's 8th Army back through Libya to Egypt.

On the crest of that wave I decided to paint up my support options to fill out the base bones force I had ready. There is nothing like playing a game to inspire some painting I find. I'm hoping to pick up some more DAK support - possibly a motorcycle recce section or some similar soft transport at the Derby Worlds (7th/8th October) where I'm playing Impetus. After that I suspect I'll be back to looking at Blood Red Skies.

Cherio for now

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.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

As Public Image Limited might have said “This is not a review” - Warlord Games Blood Red Skies aircraft

OK disclaimer \ apologetic explanation for some of what is to follow. I'm a fifty something year old English man. That means in my childhood and formative years I didn't have computers or any real technology. Children's TV consisted of an hour of Bernard Cribbins reading a story followed by guessing which of three or four stuffed toys or dolls would be hiding behind the Round Window. I had a football, bike and Airfix to fill my time. These were the heyday of the Airfix model, Hornby trains, Warlord and Commando comics and parents and grand parents from a generation who had understood and in many cases directly experienced the war.  I became almost intimately and obsessively familiar with the Spitfire, Hurricane and to a lesser extent the Me109E.  I built models of them, hung the models from the bedroom ceiling (with the Spit always just about to shoot down the Hun of course) saw pictures of them all the time, and on a few rare but joyful occasions saw them flying. They occupy a unique spot in my memory, even today, and I still avow there is no more beautiful machine than an early Spit. They are in many ways my first love. and one that has lasted.

I should also add I have no affiliation to Warlord Games. This is also not going to be one of those reviews we see in some places that gushes with enthusiasm no matter what the product. I'm too old and cynical for that.

Ok now that's over with I hope it explains some of the comments that follow in subsequent posts, because there is stuff that others may find just a bit too obsessive.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on some sample pre production resin masters of the Blood Red Skies (BRS) models due to be released in plastic over Christmas. A big thank you to the guys at Warlord for that - hope you don't regret it!

I can’t really review them as the final product will be different – at a minimum the material will be different and who’s to say what else may change? For the same reason I can’t really do a direct comparison with other models available. So what follows is more a general look at the pre production models to give you an idea of what we may eventually get and my thoughts on them in general.

The models are a Me109E, Spitfire MkII, Yak 1, A6M5 Zero and P51D  As I said these are pre production resin versions cast in a nice grey lightweight resin. They are scaled to 1:200, which means for practical reasons there will be some stuff that gets missed off a model or has to be made over scale to prevent it breaking when handled, and as gaming pieces these will get a lot of handling. I'll show them exactly as delivered, so there are still some minor flash and pour vents that will need cleaning up, so what you are getting is a warts and all "not a review". I plan to paint them and post up the results at a later date.

Here is the group shot, taken in natural daylight and with no enhancements or technical jiggery pokery. The mat they're shot on has a 1cm grid which will help give a better idea of the size of these models.

Group shot - top

Group shot - bottom 
Tomorrow I will have a much closer look at the individual models, starting with the Me109E Emil

Monday, 7 August 2017

Fantasy Side Project - The Reckoning

So just what has this £50 budget project actually cost?


Golden Fleece £7.50
King Aeertes and Retinue £10
Minotaurs £8.90
Children of the Hydra (Skeletons) £7
Harpies £9.50
Hydra £10
Medea (and spares) £12
Bronze Bull £4.45

Total £69.35

Postage and Packing in total £22.77 (!)

Rules £15

Err £112.12

Biggest shock is p&p - partly a bi-product of using multiple suppliers, partly not being decisive and ordering several times from the same manufacturer. More planning needed "Next Time"

Fantasy side project Part 5 - Back to the Hydra (and kids, and other supporting cast)

So having got sidetracked by the Minotaurs I needed to get back on with the main protagonists, which are clearly The Hydra, and the associated Children of the Hydra that Aeetes summons in the film.

Bullets needed to be bit as I was in definite danger of either blowing a large amount of ££££ on a big model or stalling the project, so I decided to go with the Foundry Hydra. In reality it ticks a lot of boxes, being nicely detailed, no legs, and reasonably priced. What it lacks is size, but size isn't everything. I ordered it at the same time as the "Medea" pack so didn't incur any additional postage and it cost a tenner.

It's a nice model, but a bit of a bitch to assemble - main body, tail, two neck groups and seven separate heads. There was some rather big gaps after assembly and lots of filling needed, but the end result is "not bad at all"

Next up, The Children. In the film Aeertes uses the now dead Hydra's teeth to summon some animated Skeletons to attack Jason and his select team. It is my favourite bit of the film and quite an iconic sequence - these guys go through the Argonauts in short order and Jason only escapes by jumping off a cliff into the sea. Ideally the best models for these guys would be the Wargames Factory plastic skeletons, which were pretty much modelled on the ones in the film (if a bitch to put together I'm told). Sadly since Warlord Games took over distribution these have been removed from the catalogue and are rather hard to find. What I did find however on Ebay were some of the original Citadel plastic skeletons dating from the 1980s. I replaced the shields with some Hoplite ones, and a careful rebase and a quick paint session later I had enough for 2 bases worth - and yes I know I really should only have one base of seven but I got carried away and ended up with 2 bases each with six.

Lastly there are the Harpies. I was told the old GW ones were close enough and that was wrong - they're an EXACT copy of the ones in the film - E-Bay again provided six. I've given them a very quick paint job. The guy who I bought them off had clearly been trying to model them flying, having cut the "slotta" off the base and frilled a few holes. I completed this. I know they will fall off at the most inopportune moment but so far they look quite good!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Fantasy Side Project Part 4. Commanders , Magic Users and Heroes.

Short break from the Battle of Britain and back to "The £50 Fantasy Side Project"

In S&SF Commanders and Magic Users are separate bases that run around pretty freely providing morale and combat boosts. 

Heroes are treated as units but on smaller bases, being quite flexible but somewhat vulnerable if caught on their own. 

Sadly all my Thracian Commanders are based for Impetus and therefore integral to their unit bases (as an aside I understand Impetus 2 may be switching to separate bases for Commanders also). Looking at the rules I’m probably going to need three Commanders \ Characters. Fortunately Foundry make exactly the stuff I want in their “Casting Room” range. I may get on to discussing them in a bit more depth at a later time but needless to say I ordered King Aeetes of Colchis and Guards from Foundry, £10.00 plus £4 p&p. 

I’m planning on two Magic Users. Firstly King Aeertes himself as both the overall commander and high level magic user, and his priestess daughter Medea (who betrays the Fleece due to falling for Jason – I rather doubt that will happen with my army) As I mentioned Aeetes is available from Foundry and comes in a pack with two bareheaded soldiers and two guards wearing Phrygian style caps. 

I’m planning to use one of the bare headed types as a Hero, with the other and the two in hats acting as a Commander and his bodyguard. I searched diligently for a suitable figure to represent Medea before again returning to Foundry – this time their “World of the Greeks” range that includes a pack of Mythical Characters in which there is a rather imposing looking female that will do the job. I'm not sure if she is really supposed to be Medusa but she paints up rather nicely as a dodgy Priestess. Only problem is I made that decision after placing the order for Aeetes so that''s another £10 + £4 p&p

King Aeetes is based with some spare Wargames Factory Skeletons erupting out of the ground in true Ray Harryhausen style. He is rated as a Level 3 Magic User and also Army Commander. That is going to be a bit of a disadvantage as trying to act as a Commander will cramp his Magic Use quite a bit, and vice-versa, but that's a price you pay for trying to get a backstory I suppose.

On the plus side it means he is well placed to do this sort of thing, which is cool!

Medea is on her own with only her charms to protect her. Rated as a Level 1 Magic User her 
main role is to provide support for the rather lacklustre  normal bits of the army.

Here are the Hero and Commander.

So running total now £40.85 on figures and £21.27 on postage

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Over Kentish Fields – Blood Red Skies

Back to Asgard Wargames for another game of Blood Red Skies BRS , the soon to be released WW2 Dogfight game from Warlord Games. Were still using our "Back Catalogue" of 1:144 models rather than the "official" scale of 1:200 - more on that later.

We think we have a grasp of the basic mechanics of 2v2 so decided to try a step up to 4v4. This caused a little technical hitch as we only had 3 Me109s ready but we “fixed” this by including a pair of 110s. An interesting bi-product would be we would get a chance to try out the multi engine rules the nice Mr C explained to me. A down side was we didn’t have the 110s on gimbal bases so we had to mark status with a dice – we’ve since remedied this.

Initial set up we assumed we had one level 3 pilot and the rest were level 2s per side. Dicing for initial advantage status left the British right hand element Advantaged but the lead element mixed normal and disadvantaged. On the other side the 109s had Advantage and the 110s were mixed as the lead Spitfires.

Paul "Herman" Davison in charge of the Luftwaffe!
Turn 1 saw both sides predictably close and “grab” to either gain or maintain advantage.

British side of the table - as clearly indicated by the cup of tea. Germanic order on the other side with the dice arranged in precise formation!
Turn 2 was “The Merge”. Assuming the scenario is even this is probably the first decision point in the Basic Rules game of BRS – and there are a lot of really rather interesting decision to be made. Critically, if you are already in advantage you can try to Outmanoeuvre your opponent – flicking a wing to try to lure him into a mistake and dropping his status – if that works he’s in a world of trouble, and that is pretty much what happened to the Spitfire Flight Leader (on the far left) who found himself only neutral to the opposing 109 who was advantaged. The 109 didn’t risk a head on shot (which would have allowed the Spit to shoot back) but bides his time. The 110s wanted to take a head on shot to take advantage of their heavy nose guns but couldn’t as their immediate opponents were at the same advantage level. (BRS only allows shots at less advantaged targets or if you are targeted by an attack from head on).

Turn 3 and the Spitfire Leader is in a world of trouble. The 109 has the advantage and moves first, passing through and looping around 180 degrees (Burning his Advantage) to put him directly behind the Spitfire, Neutral status in a tailing position. The Spitfire’s Wingman is out of position, so the Spitfire is automatically disadvantaged, and a stream of 20mm cannon fire whips past the Spits cockpit. The pilot manages to evade, but gains a Boom Counter for his side. The 110s bore in, and the second Spitfire pair come around to try and help the leader.

Turn 4 and it all gets a bit hectic. The tailing 109 “drops a bollock” and a combination of Outmanoeuvring, pilot error and better pilot skill the Spitfire Leader reverses the situation. Meanwhile the detached Spitfires are coming around on the 1100. One takes a speculative long range deflection shot and hits. The 110 has a lot of dodge dice (9 in all) but fails and picks up a Boom. Being twin engine this doesn’t immediately count (multi engine planes can accumulate booms up to their number of engines before they count – its more complicated than that but I’m sure that will be explained when the rules get published), but one effect is it loses some speed and its rear gunner is no longer effective as he is slumped over his gun bleeding.

Turn 5 The Spits and 109s are now totally involved trying to manoeuvre for position, and both sides score hits. The second Spitfire element is now all over the 110s like a rash.

Turn 6 and the Spitfires line up a damaged 110 and hit it hard. It goes down in flames. That takes the Boom scores to 4-3 in Brits favour, and the Germans disengage at the end of the turn. Another win for the Few!

 So overall we continue to be impressed by BRS. It is slick and has a good "feel" to it, with minimum record keeping, and some really interesting and thought provoking game mechanics.  The multi engine rules work well and integrate with the single seaters, and as we have stepped up the numbers involved were not yet seeing any strains on the system. Games remain quick  - we played three games in just over an hour, although more planes will make the games longer I don't foresee time as an issue. We are also giving a lot of thought on tactics, and so far, the general theme is, if it worked in real life, it will work in BRS, which is about as good a thing you can say about a set of rules.

As I mentioned, we are at the moment playing with 1:144 - here's why :-) however I will be shifting down to the "official" 1:200 scale when they become available as this may help to prevent some of the "crowding" we are seeing. 

Next step up will be to try out the cards, and try and get more planes on table - Mark (Geordie) is busy churning them out as we speak - have a look at his blog Geordies Big Battles

I'm certainly going to want to get the starter set when it is released (due some time around Christmas?). I'm not so sure about the current pre order bundles on offer from Warlord. I think individually the expected price point for the 2 player starter set and squadron boxes are very reasonable, particularly as they include the cards you want to play the advanced rules (assuming the models are ok) but I'm less sure about people going to jump straight in to full squadron level (ie 12+ planes a side). Hopefully Warlord will offer just the starter or individual squadron boxes as part of the pre order.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Fantasy Side Project Part 3 Hydra Envy & Bullshit

At this point in the exercise I sort of got a bit carried away. 

I was looking for some monsters to flesh out the Colchis Army for Fantasy Sword & Spear. The bulk of the troops would just be re-tasked Thracians, but I would need some “proper fantasy stuff”. Clearly the first monster would have to be a Hydra, but here I ran into some problems. 

The glorious owner \ operator \ proprietor of Asgard Wargames, (known to some as “Arkwright” due to the way people are sometimes seen staggering out of the shop with a glazed look on their face grasping a carrier bag full of toys they never intended to buy until they fell under his commercial spell)  - anyway he has a really nice Games Workshop issue Hydra in his Dark Elf Army. I wanted something at least as impressive. The problem is most “modern” Hydras seem to have legs – very different to the Jason \ Greek ones.


I also needed it to fit onto a 6 cm wide frontage if possible. Lastly I needed it to be cheap if I was going to stay anywhere near the £50 project  budget(!). Much searching through internets resulted in three possible options, none of which were ideal. Firstly there was the Steve Barber version, Which I think is too big for my use. The same can be said for the one I saw on ebay from Second City Games – too big (but beautiful) and also £30. Lastly, there was Foundry again, but their Mythos range Hydra was a bit small when compared to the others - particularly Arkwrights! I decided to give the whole Hydra thing a bit more thought and look for something else.

In this rather distracted frame of mind I saw some Reaper miniatures Minotaurs on Ebay. They were the new “Bones” plastic range, so much cheaper than metal. I impulse ordered three different ones. OK not really Colchis, or even Argonauts, but sort of Greek Myth so not too far short. Cost for all three was £8.90 plus £5.58 p&p was I ended up ordering from two different sellers. They all arrived pretty quickly so I painted them “quick & dirty” using a spray undercoat (Fur Brown) then some blocking and a heavy dose of Vallejo sepia dip \ wash. I was rather happy with the result. These are going to be based together as one unit as my Heavy Infantry types to give the army some much needed steel (err bronze)

Of course the cognoscenti will be shouting "Bull!" at this point. Yes I later realised what I really needed was a Khalkotauroi, the legendary bronze bulls of Colchis. There is supposed to be two of them. Luckily I found both Reaper and Foundry do them, so I ordered the Reaper one (again Bones plastic) as it was the cheaper. This is going to be one of my monster options. A giant fire breathing bronze bull - what can go wrong?

Added bonus being it was not exactly a challenge to paint either :-)

Total spend on miniatures is now £20.85 Rules £15, postage £13.27

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Blood Red Skies - First Sortie

High over Kent, a pair of Spitfires are directed onto a pair of 109s on a Frei Jagd. Both pairs consist of an Experienced pilot with a Rookie wingman, and are closing at the same altitude, head on. “Tally Ho!”

Initially both sides grab altitude but neither gain an advantage. 

Then as the range drops the Spitfire leader decides to try and outmanoeuvre his opponent, and succeeds in dropping the lead 109s status to neutral. The Brit’s wingman has a chance to shoot at the lead 109 but declines as this would result in a straight exchange of fire and instead moves to get a better position. 

The lead 109 tries scissors on to the lead Spitfire but the British pilot counters and remains in the advantaged position. The second 109 tries to cover the tail of his now vulnerable flight leader, but doesn’t quite manage to get into position. The lead Brit seizes the chance and burns his advantage to brake hard and drops in behind the lead 109 in a tailing position, immediately reducing the German to a disadvantaged position. Eight .303 Browning’s spit fire but no hits are caused. Both 109s desperately twist and turn, and the Spitfires try and stay with them. This continues for several long seconds with neither side gaining a significant advantage or viable shooting chance. Then a burst of MG fire comes close to the second 109, only a deft flick roll saves him, but in doing so he becomes detached from his leader, who is again disadvantaged, and now out on his own. 

Lead Spitfire lines him up, and this time rakes the 109 from tail to cockpit, and the Messerschmitt suddenly rolls into a vertical dive, never to recover. 

The remaining Luftwaffe pilot decides to run for it, and the Spitfires are suddenly the only planes around.

The surprising thing is that pretty much sums up the game we just had using the basic Blood Red Skies rules. What really impressed me was the sheer narrative energy the rules generate. It really did feel as though every decision counted and that fight to gain advantage. Freed from all the charts and order writing we got to play a fast and quite exciting game - which is just what air combat should be.

Couple of caveats – we were only playing the basic rules and we only had a pair of planes each as we wanted to start small. This is partly so we can get a better grasp and partly because we could only scrape together a few planes at short notice (and yes the 109s are not Emils but it was all we had at the time) The planes in the pics are 1:144 scale and on magnetic gimbal mounts, which are rather a nice idea we pinched from playing Wings Of War and are pretty good for marking advantage status in the same way as the "official" bases.

Tally Ho!

Grab for altitude

Closing pass

Throwing the kites around

Killing shot

I’m going to avoid the hyperbole and just say I was rather impressed at both the fluidity and the execution of BRS. There’s a very good feel to the game unlike anything I’ve played on a tabletop for WW2 dogfighting. The way each action can change the all-important advantage status is really something – make a mistake and let the opposition get behind you and you better have either a competent wingman or a lot of luck.  

I'm not sure how it will play with six planes or more a side, but I don't think there is anything in there that will inherently change the game plays - which is, as I say, quite good so far. I think Andy Chambers deserves a pat on the back and if Warlord manage to deliver this without too much faffing and don't bloat it, it could be setting the standard for some time to come. 

We did have a couple of questions about the rules, but its early days and I'm sure some clarifications will follow.

So Tally Ho!

Thanks to Paul Davison acting as opponent \ Guinea Pig. I happen to know a certain Geordie is painting up some ore planes so between us we can try a six v six "soon"

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Blood Red Skies – Interest, and Hope, stirs

WW2 Dogfighting is one of the Holy Triumvirate of unachievable games, along with “The Perfect Set of Napoleonic Rules” which have eluded generations of war gamers, and, well, insert your particular option here.

Blood Red Skies is another attempt to step up to the mark. Written by Andy Chambers and due to be released in the New Year by Warlord Games, it faces a lot of rather difficult hurdles.

Image result for blood red skies game

The problem is many fold. The first hurdle is all that three dimensional stuff. Wargamers really can’t handle heights well. Our playing surfaces are flat, and we think in two dimensions. Any and all efforts to model heights and height differences just results in either ridiculous telescoping stands that make playing the game a chore, or lots of paperwork and counters. In the end we usually just shrug and go back to good old 2d – Mick Spick’s excellent “Air Battles in Miniature” is well worth a read if only for the great writing style and the fact he tries something a bit different.

The next problem is time. An awful lot happens in a few split seconds of air combat. That tends to impose a level of micromanaging on players, which in turn means only a few planes in the sky. It also tends to mean a lot of pre planning – ie order writing. If you are not careful you can end up spending a half hour working out a few seconds worth of action.

Then there is tactics. Air warfare isn’t a thing you can just “do”. Although we like to think of it as a great solo effort the truth is there are some pretty important tactical concepts in there, learned from hard experience. The Dicta Boelcke is about as relevant now as when it was written (ok maybe not in the missile age but certainly in WW2) and formations such as Pairs and Finger Four do make a hell of a difference.

Lastly there is training and skill. Those magnificent loops, Split S’s and the like require a high degree of skill and experience that in war is usually not there. Moreover some manoeuvres simply do not translate well to a tabletop game or to the casual gamer. Some games try and get around this by having the manoeuvres pre-set – so Check your Six (and the Canvas Eagles\Blue Max predecessors) for example allow you to choose from a menu of manoeuvres based on the plane type and pilot skills, usually at the expense of order writing and a hex mat.

So back to Blood Red Skies. Firstly a caveat. I’ve only read through the basic rules and the stats for Spitfires and Me109Es, so what follows contains a whole load of assumptions, so I reserve the right to look red faced later when proven wrong but…

Andy Chambers has taken another look at the whole picture, and decided on a fairly novel solution. Rather than reams of paper, hex grids, lots of counters and the like he has simplified the whole thing down to a fairly straightforward concept – “Advantage” (pretty much energy conservation and positioning), which much harks back to the good old Dicta Boelcke. Planes are moved to achieve advantage. Rather than trying to choreograph the whole process of one plane half looping to counter a split S then the opponent reacting with a scissors or hard break to get into a firing position, Andy Chambers has assumed all that just happens and the result is either advantage, disadvantage or neutral. Players can choose to improve their advantage status by sacrificing manoeuvre or shooting options, or convert advantage to additional move distance. 3d is out the window, and now planes are simply in better or worse tactical positions. Pilot skill is represented too, with better pilots moving and shooting first. Crucially that can mean a better pilot manoeuvres around a less skilled one, changing the advantage status relative to both and getting a shot in before the opponent can react. Advantage status is very fluid – you may have it in your turn but the actions of an opponent can cancel that out or even put to down to disadvantaged, in which case you need to do some fancy flying or you will be in trouble, as you can only normally fire on targets that are in a worse advantage position than you. This feels much more fluid that the rather stale hex based movement of other games. I’ve seen something similar before in a computer\card game but that failed to get the toys on the table feel. He's also gone straight for the idea that this is a team game - each player has a six plane unit and the rules encourage "proper" wingman tactics by allowing wingmen to cancel out opponents advantage that result in a tail on the leader - IF the wingman is in the right place. 

The "official" Warlord planes will be in 1:200 scale - which is a bonus as there are plenty of other sources for the stuff Warlord wont be doing initially.

The more I look at this the more I think he may just have cracked it. Suitably enthused and because the “official” product isn’t going to be available til Christmas I’ve ordered some 1:700 Spitfires and Emils from Tumbling Dice with the aim of trying out the game concepts to see how they work. I could have tried printing up some counters but the total outlay was £7 including £3 p&p so I figure it is worth a try. I’ll report back in due course.

Comments and equally wild speculation welcome!

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Fantasy Side Project Part 2 - The Golden Fleece

The Fleece arrived promptly from Steve Barber Models . It is a kit consisting of five parts. One resin tree , three metal branches, and the fleece itself, again in metal.

At first I was a bit disappointed. The resin Steve has used is a rather dirty grey and quite heavy type which reminded me forcibly of the bad old days. I suspect I have got used to the more modern lightweight stuff and the beautiful resin from Hawk Wargames. There was also a fair amount of flash to deal with. The branches were in metal and again there was some flash to work on. Additionally it was clear that the branches were designed to have locating pins these had either not cast properly or were missing, and the corresponding sockets on the tree were not immediately visible. This initial disappointment quickly wore off. It only took a couple of minutes work to remove the flash. I then drilled and pinned the branches into where it looked like they would fit best using some cast off bits from where I had cut down brass spears as pins and a pin vice to drill the holes. (Health & Safety warning - if you try this get a mask as the resin dust is not nice stuff) During this time it became apparent that the model was rather well detailed, particularly around the base of the tree, with lots of  subdued features - nice one Steve Barber! I finished it off by filling the gaps with Vallejo Plastic Putty - something of a first but it seemed to work well.

Painting was a breeze. A black spray (car primer) undercoat plus layers of different greys dry-brushed to represent the dead tree. I decided it would be dead as Hydra poo must be pretty toxic. Then I painted and dry-brushed the moss growth around the stump. As I was in a rush I didn't bother with the nice mushrooms at the base - I may go back and do them later just for a giggle.

At this point I realised I had cocked up a bit. The Fleece itself was cast fairly flat. I rapidly painted it with a mix of various golds and bone white for the skull. Then I remembered I had intended to model it wrapped over a branch as it is shown on the web site. That would mean bending the casting quite seriously. After an initial try I gave up and went for a more decorous draping, which at least meant I didn't wreck the paint or the detail on the Fleece.

So here's the finished Fleece in it's rather dead looking tree, just waiting for some wandering pilferer. I'm quite happy with it.