Three’s a Crowd – Interview with Richard Clewer

The product that impressed me most at CRISIS was a new range of figures by Magister Militium. Surprisingly, not only is the range new but also the size: They are 3mm from foot to eye! Now of course there are already some established ‘scales’ at the smaller end of the wargames world: 2mm has been around for some time and is popular especially among modern wargamers, while 6mm has experienced a certain boom thanks to the efforts of Baccus Miniatures and their Joy of Six show.

Republican Roman or Tarantine Cavalry
3mm Roman Cavalry

I’ve always been interested in the smaller scales – after all, my first miniature wargame was GW’s Epic Space Marines, which was nominally 6mm. I like the mass effect of the small figures, which can even be achieved on a limited playing table. So when I first saw the new Magister Militium figures on Facebook, my curiosity was roused. However, seeing them in the flesh at CRISIS was even more impressive: They do show an astonishing level of detail and really convey the impression of a large mass of men. K. and I both agreed that infantry and cavalry formations in 3mm looked, in fact, very very good! And it’s fascinating how easily you adapt to the size – when we headed over to the Baccus stand afterwards, the 6mm figures looked almost obscenely large.

Marian or Caesarian Legion
3mm Roman Legion

As I wanted to know more about the motivations behind the new range, I contacted Richard Clewer from Magister Militium and asked him a couple of questions.

Cpt. Shandy: So, why a new scale? What is your personal motivation for doing this project? 

Richard Clewer: The answers to the two questions are interrelated so I will start with one answer.

I wanted to put together the battle of Pharsalus and to make sure that the figures reflected something of the historic deployment space and formations. I looked at the scales I make, 15mm does not give enough mass and even with 10mm I was ending up using a figure scale of 1:30 or 1:40 and was still struggling with depth of deployment. I then looked at 2mm (I have large ACW 2mm armies) but found it was really difficult to differentiate the legions or clearly be able to identify what cavalry type was what. It had the right mass but had lost the identity.

That left me with either trying 6mm or something else. 2mm looked almost right so I thought I would get one of our sculptors to try making a 3mm figure (based on 3mm from foot to eye). The figure came back looking good so I slowly started him on creating a strip of legionaires, then a command strip and then cavalry, skirmishers and command. When I got the first legion painted up (at 1 figure representing 10, so 528 figures per legion including the double 1st cohorts plus command) it looked good. Clearly identifiable as Marian type romans even with my painting which is not the best in the world. Cavalry also looked good and seemed to take up the right amount of space. I also painted up a 1 to 1 cohort, which was extremely interesting (pictures will follow on line at some stage).

The real benefit in the 3mm was that the figures could be represented in real mass in a relatively small area. At the same time they look like the troops they are supposed to represent.

Marian or Caesarian Legion
3mm Marian or Caesarian Legionaires

I had never really though about selling the figures but the response from the few people who saw them at the unit was very positive so we took them along to Britcon and then the Worlds at Koblenz. The response was great and the range has sold very well so I have now upgraded its sculpting priority and we are cracking on at full speed.

CS: Ok, now the question that is perhaps in everybody’s mind when they look at such tiny figures: How do you paint them?

RC: They are actually really easy to paint. The Romans are painted literally in lines and then the plume, shield boss and face picked out with a very small highlight. Celts are a bit more bitty with the variation needed but again pretty much in lines with a highlight.

Marian or Caesarian Legion Command
3mm Legion Command
CS: And what kind of basing do you use?

RC: I guess basing is down to the individual. I have been working on two different basing styles. I am basing the figures up for Pharsalus on 40 by 20 bases putting 48 legionaires on each base (representing a cohort at 1 to 10). Command is going on a 20x20mm base. That leaves enough space to base and put a very small grain flock on along with space at the back for a printed label.

I have also been putting a full legion together using larger bases but that is for show and not gaming. I tend to base figures for Warmaster Ancients where I can as I like the system, it is relatively fast and fun. That basing system also works for Hail Caesar.

CS: At the moment, you offer Marian Romans and Celts. Do you have any further plans?

RC: The Celts have been released recently; they comprise initially Celtic Warband, Cavalry and Chariots.  Skirmishers with bow and sling are a week or so off. We are also working on Hoplites, Phalangites and Romans in Lorica Segmentata. I will then fill in from there with other troop types. After the hellenics the logical next step would be Republican Romans and Carthaginians. I am not certain about other periods at the moment. I will see how the Ancients go and take it from there. If people let me know what they want we can prioritise accordingly.

CS: Thanks for your time Richard!
EDIT: Several people have pointed out to me that 3mm is not a new size. Figures and vehicles have been produced by Tumbling Dice and Oddzial Osmy for several years. However, most of this is 20th century and SF (plus ACW); no one has done Ancients in that size before.
The error was entirely my fault, Richard never claimed it was a new size.

Book Review: Two Faiths, One Banner

We all have learned about the big battles that allegedly saved Western Civilisation, from Poitiers to the relief of Vienna from the Turks in 1683. And the current political situation in the Near East makes it easy for ideologues of all persuasions to depict history as a clash of civilisations, an epic struggle between enlightened Christendom and fundamentalist Islam.

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However, as Ian Almond calls out, this story works only if the influence of Islamic culture on the so-called Western World is ‘airbrushed out’ and history transformed into a caricature. His book Two Faiths, One Banner aims at setting the picture right by shedding light on seemingly key moments in the struggle between East and West.

Starting with Spain in the 11th century, he goes on to cover the Muslim troops in the service of Frederick II, the complicated alliances between Turks and Christians in Asia Minor from the Catalan company to the fall of Constantinople, the events leading up to the Turkish siege of Vienna in the 17th century and finally the Muslim troops that could be found fighting on all sides in the Crimean War.

The chapters always combine a rich historical and cultural background with a narrative of the conflicts and battles. He especially investigates the motives for fighting and argues that even when the leaders on each side ventilated religious slogans, most of the time the real reason for fighting was to increase one’s own power and wealth. This becomes even more convincing when he shows how easy alliances between seemingly mortal enemies could be forged if there was a common interest!

Almond’s aim is not to exonerate fundamentalists or in any way play down their atrocities. What he wants to show is that fundamentalism is only one expression of belief and that to reduce Islam (or the Christian faith) to such an image serves political purposes, not the least of them being the covering up of internal conflicts by invoking the danger of a common enemy.

Identities are, as Almond writes, always-complex entities. Religious affiliations lie alongside – and sometimes against – other identities, such as economic, linguistic, ethnic or local. For example, when the inhabitants of the Muslim Italian town of Lucera revolted against Charles of Anjou in 1268, they were joined by their Christian neighbours, as local solidarity against a ruler they perceived as an oppressor was stronger than religious identity.

Almond’s book is a fascinating account of a story that is increasingly suppressed by the master-narrative of Europe as the epitome of the Christian West. But what does it offer for the wargamer?

Lots I think. First of all, it makes us think about the stories we tell with our games. Do we tell the story of the Cid’s heroic struggle against the Muslim hordes or do we tell the story of how an 11th century warlord tried to carve out a territory for himself by making all kinds of opportunistic alliances with Christians and Muslims alike?

This, of course, leads us directly to the second aspect, namely army composition. Many army lists are compartmentalised into clear-cut factions. However, as Almond shows, many armies were quite mixed and contained all kinds of troops, especially when campaigns involved alliances. So the ‘Christian’ army of El Cid might contain a number of Islamic troops from an allied Taifa state, while the Almoravids might have Spanish knights on their side (The WAB supplement on El Cid is quite exemplary in this, as it allows large numbers of allied and mercenary troops in its lists). And of course there is always the option to use a mixture of figures in units where Christians have fought alongside their Muslim neighbours, such as in medieval Spanish frontier militias.

The third aspect the book addresses concerns unusual or lesser-known conflicts. Instead of playing the famous battles of mainstream history, why not look into some of the fascinating conflicts Almond describes? The Italian Saracens established in Lucera by Frederick II offer great potential for skirmish games as well as large-scale battles, as do the complicated struggles in 16th century Hungary. It would be great fun to play a campaign based on the career of Lodovici Gritti, an Italian businessman who led an army of Turks, Greeks, Romanians and Hungarians on behalf of Sultan Suleiman. Almond’s book thereby offers a lot of inspiration for building and painting colourful but still historically accurate forces!

In one way or the other, we always tell stories with our armies and games. By telling stories that break with the mainstream narrative of history as a clash between enlightened Western Christendom and fundamentalist Islam, miniature wargames might perhaps in their own modest way contribute towards freeing history from nationalistic and chauvinistic interpretations and depicting the complexity and intricacy of conflicts.

Enjoying the CRISIS 2014

My enthusiastic tales about last year’s CRISIS made K. curious and she wanted to come along, so this year, we both headed over to Antwerp for a day of wargaming madness. It was again a fantastic experience – even better than last year, I have to say, as it’s even more fun to explore all the stuff if you can share it with another person. K. and I were very impressed by what we saw: the games, the traders, but also the crowd, which was very nice and relaxed. We spent five hours there and weren’t bored for a minute. The excellent pastries helped to bolster our spirits – the rice cake was a treat!

Strolling through the hall and looking at the different games, we picked up lots of terrain ideas. Seeing the different styles of tables made us talk about what we liked most and why, and it gave us some great ideas for our own projects.

A lovely game by the Alde Garde, set in the Geldern War 1507.
A lovely game by the Alde Garde, set in the Geldern War 1507.
SAGA The Cross and the Crescent storming Jerusalem.
SAGA The Cross and the Crescent storming Jerusalem.

K.’s imagination was especially captured by the snowy landscapes, one by the League of Augsburg and one with a steampunk game.

League of Augsburg in the snow.
League of Augsburg in the snow.

It was interesting to see that scattered snow and a couple of snowed-in buildings suffice to create a wintery impression – there is no need to actually base all the figures on snow bases. K. made me promise to do a snow board some time, perhaps for our Wars of the Roses game.

The games also felt more accessible this time, but perhaps this was just because I felt less timid and actually talked to people. We had a couple of nice chats with folks explaining to us what they played. I was also happy to finally meet up and have a quick chat with Henry Hyde!

Saracens vs. Crusaders with 54mm toy figures.
Saracens vs. Crusaders with 54mm toy figures.
TooFatLardies at work.
TooFatLardies at work.

The most impressive game for both of us was the Battle of Keren 1941 by the Newark Irregulars. We spent quite some time marvelling at the work the Irregulars had put into this. There was even a second table with a small exhibition about the historical background of the scenario and information on how the table was made. This was an exemplary way of presenting the context of the game. It was fascinating to look behind the curtains of the project and have a glance at how it was done. Splendid stuff. Deservedly, it won the price for most innovative game, so congratulations!

The fabulous Keren table.
The fabulous Keren table.
The Keren exhibition.
The Keren exhibition.

The most innovative product for me was the new 3mm range by Magister Militium. I’ve already seen images on Facebook of those tiny figures, but seeing them in the flesh was even more impressive. Sure, they are tiny, but they are surprisingly detailed and create a really good mass effect. I’ve been thinking about doing a project in 6mm for some time now, but after seeing those figures I will go all the way to 3mm. At the moment, they have Late Republican Romans, but Celts will follow shortly. I’ve already contacted Richard from Magister Militium for a short interview, so stay tuned if you want to know more about the new range.

Of course I also did some shopping. Most of my purchases were preorders: For my medieval Spain project, I got Baueda beduin tents and supplies from Magister Militium, baggage camels from Donnington and some figures from Essex. For the sci-fi project, I got a hovercraft from Brigade and a Critical Mass mecha from Figures in Comfort, both for a new faction that will bring more variety into our games. I also picked up Martello towers and a lighthouse in 1/2400 from Magister Militium and, on a whim, decided to grab one of their lovely dinosaurs (the Triceratops, my favorite dinosaur – yes, of course I have a favorite dinosaur, don’t you?). At the Caliver Books stand, I found a middle eastern mosque which will hopefully also work for medieval Spain. Finally, I bought reading material: the December issue of Wargames Illustrated and an Osprey on Samurai Women, as I’ve become increasingly interested in the history of women warriors. Oh, and I got nifty pincers from the tool stand and a Vallejo surface primer. I resisted some temptations, especially at David Lanchester‘s book stand, but I’ve got enough unread books at home as it is.

The loot.
The loot.

Last but not least, we had a chat with The Dice Bag Lady, whose blog I’ve been following for some time. We picked up a nice dice bag for our nephew, whom, as you’ll know by now, we are grooming to be a wargamer. Incidentally, it was nice to see quite a few kids running around the hall and playing games.

Tin Soldiers of Antwerp have outdone themselves and organised another fantastic show. Both K. and I had a great day at CRISIS and we will certainly come back next year!

The Extraction – Third Wandering Star Game

Time for another game with our home-brewed rules. This time, we used the full pre-game sequence, which meant we rolled up our forces as well as special events. Again, things didn’t start well for me as I rolled two 1s and got only one unit of AAR and three units of Quar, the weakest troops available to me. K. got only one of her weakest and a weapon team for support. Well, I comforted myself that at least we could test how balanced the game is.

We didn’t roll up the scenario but chose ‘The Extraction': Continuing from our last adventure, we now know whom the vanished miner contacted last, namely Dr. Xyphon Kirschwasser, a renowned expert in exobiology. Both factions were intent on finding him and asking him a couple of questions, preferable in a quiet setting, which meant getting him off the table. The good doctor was either in his institute or at the local bar, no doubt having a pint to get the grey matter going.

The set up.
The set up.

As a special event, I rolled ‘In the grey of dawn’, which meant that shooting ranges were limited to 20cm for the first two turns. As K. had the advantage in long-range fire, this favoured me. So I charged forward with my Quar on both flanks while the AAR provided cover in the middle. I also hoped to put them into a position where they could stop K.’s forces escaping with the doctor if they should get him before me. K.’s Sharkmen were first at the institute and stormed through the doors, looking for their quarry but not finding him. That meant he was at the bar!

Both forces converging on the institute.
Both forces converging on the institute.

The Brunt bounced into the bar, shouting and searching for the doctor. When the Quar entered through the back door, a firefight erupted. However, the Brunt managed to locate and grab the doctor, who had locked himself into a storage cabinet.

Brunt entering the bar.
Brunt entering the bar.
Bar fight!
Bar fight!

At this moment, I saw myself losing again. I had stated in the scenario description that the only way to get at the doctor was to enter into close combat with the unit escorting him, and the last game had shown the fearsome close combat abilities of the Brunt. Nevertheless, my dauntless Quar charged – and won the melee! They broke the Brunt which had to retreat and were pinned. I knew that this was the only chance I would get and immediately led the doctor out by the back door while I prepared covering fire with my remaining Quar and the AAR. Fortunately, I had at least managed to take out K.’s weapons team during the fighting at the institute.

What followed were some of the tensest moments of any wargame we have played: K. rushing her troops into close combat with my escort team while I tried to stop her, using overwatch fire with the AAR and one lone Quar who was bunkered up at the bar.

Quar defending Dr. Kirschwasser.
Quar defending Dr. Kirschwasser.

In the end, I prevailed, managing to take out everything she threw at me. The Quar proved exceptionally resilient and heroic. Surely, a special decoration will be in for the lone Quar in the bar who didn’t stop to harass the enemy troops and held out till the end!

The Quar at the bar.
The Quar at the bar.

This was one of the most exciting games we have played for some time. The twist came as a surprise – I had already written off the game when the Brunt captured the objective. I was lucky in close combat but followed up with some solid tactics for a change, which enabled me to lead Dr. Kirschwasser away without K. getting at him.

The game was also a good opportunity to test the close combat rules as well as force balance some more. Again, everything worked fine, so I will prepare a pdf and put the rules up for download soon.

A job well done.
A job well done.