15mm Siege Scenery

I’ve long been fascinated by sieges and have thought about how to include them into our games. I guess that playing proper sieges isn’t really exciting: The long periods of waiting while your sappers dig a tunnel, your troops die of disease and your foragers struggle to organise enough supplies probably makes for a rather dull game – and this is already the part of the ‘active’ party, namely the besieger!

However, during many sieges, there were also dramatic events: Evacuating the surrounding villagers into the castle before the enemies’ scouts could get them, making sorties and, of course, the most dramatic of all, the direct assault of the walls. Some time ago I picked up a second-hand copy of the old Warhammer Historical supplement Siege & Conquest, written by Guy Bowers, who is now editor of Wargames Soldiers & Strategy magazine. The book is mainly a collection of scenarios that can be played single or as a short narrative campaign that doesn’t require any book-keeping, so this was a good start to think of some siege-related events that could make an exciting game.

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During the Wars of the Roses, gunpowder artillery had come to dominate sieges, although besiegers were reluctant to shoot the castles to pieces as they might need them themselves later on. Still, it seems that sieges didn’t take too long: In December 1462, Warwick besieged Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Alnwick castles at the same time, and the first two had surrendered within the month. The last one was relieved by a small Scottish force that enabled the garrison to sally forth and get away. However, the castle still fell into Yorkist hands.

Such small episodes can easily be made into scenarios for Sharp Practice. But what about scenery? At last year’s CRISIS, I bought a castle layout by Kallistra. I’ve also painted up some artillery. What else would you see around a siege site?

The landscape around a besieged castle would have been ravaged. The retreating troops would have destroyed any buildings near the walls so as to deny the attackers any cover. The attackers would have done the rest by building camps, ditches, mines and sometimes even counter castles. Wooded areas would have been cleared to provide timber for the siege works.

Well, ruined buildings are easy:

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So is an area of freshly cleared woodland. Especially as I was fortunate to get some cheap tree stumps at the local model railway shop’s sale:

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For the camp, I got some Baueda tents for knights and officers. The smaller tents for the troops were bought at CRISIS, unfortunately I can’t remember the manufacturer:

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One of the most common means of attacking a castle was to dig a mine. The aim was to get a tunnel underneath an important part of the wall or a tower and then bring it to collapse by burning the timber beams. Mine entrances were often disguised as small houses, so I decided to build one of those:

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The hill is made of styrofoam and plaster, the hut is made from match sticks. The guy carrying the empty bucket is an Essex artilleryman. The poor sod with the heavy buckets is a conversion: Originally a figure from Museum Miniatures, I cut off his sword and bent his arms a bit so I could add the pole with the buckets. The buckets are small pieces of a wooden dowel, fastened with wire.

We are almost ready to play a siege scenario now. There is only the tiny problem of the castle. Unfortunately, it still isn’t painted. I made a start by undercoating it with a grey spray primer, which was unpleasant enough. But when I applied some ink to bring out the details, it seems that the undercoat wasn’t thick enough as the ink didn’t stick in the recesses of the structure. Now the raised parts are dark while the recesses are light. Urgh! The whole business reminded me why I hate resin and, not without a lot of swearing, I put everything away. I might give it another go when my anger has cooled down a bit. After all, I’d really like to see it in action!

The New Project: El Cid

In another post, I’ve hinted that I was about to begin a new project. Well, it’s officially started: I am going to do early medieval Spain for element-based large battles. Yes, we dyed-in-the-wool skirmish gamers are going for mass combat.

Why this period, you may ask? I was looking for something medieval that includes non-European armies, that demands different tactics from what we usually play and that is colourful. By chance I read about Spain at the end of the 11th century and was hooked. For one thing, there are a lot of options for army building: The Christian kingdoms, the Islamic Taifa kingdoms of Al-Andalus and the Almoravids from North Africa. Even better, everyone fought against everyone else, so there are also a lot of options for gaming (more than with the typical crusader line-up of Christians against Moslems)!

For research, I first got the obligatory Ospreys (El Cid and The Moors), which are a bit disappointing as they cover a wide period and only contain superficial information on the stuff that interests me. I then read The Quest for El Cid by Richard Fletcher. This is a fabulous book which I can’t recommend enough. Even if you are not interested in the period, it’s a masterful example of historical writing, combining a lively, engaging and witty style with a critical approach towards the sources. I also got a second hand copy of the old Warhammer Ancient Battles supplement El Cid, which is inspiring and helpful for putting together armies.

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So which armies will I collect? I decided to go for a Christian one, as it allows to field Rodrigo Diaz himself, which in turn allows to field Islamic allies and auxiliaries, and an Almoravid one, as they have colourful and unique troops and interesting tactics. I will paint some Taifa units which can be used for both sides. Incidentally, I find the Taifa kingdoms to be the most likeable of all the factions, so I might paint up enough figures to field them on their own.

For figures, I ordered something from almost all of the 15mm manufacturers. Christian troops were no problem as Dark Age Normans work very well. For the Almoravids, it was more complicated. As they have a distinct look, most generic Arabs won’t work well. Some companies offer Berber troops, but only in limited poses. It took me a while to discover the Arab Conquest line of Museum Miniatures , which has just the right figures for the job. Those are now going to make up the bulk of my Almoravids.

Rules wise, I intend to use Hail Caesar. I’ve read good things about it and already bought the book. I like very much what I’ve seen so far: The style is laid back and the author stresses that the rules offer a tool box and should be adjusted to the players’ needs. They are scenario based and seem to give pretty fast games.

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Now Hail Caesar is explicitly written with large battles in mind. The recommended unit sizes made my eyes water – there is no way I’m going to paint that many figures! However, the author also stresses that, in fact, it doesn’t matter how large the units are as long as their frontages are consistent. So I am going to follow the DBA standard for basing as this will allow me to play all kinds of rules (not least DBA, which I played once and enjoyed more than I would have thought). But how many bases to use for one unit? After much humming and hawing, I decided to go for 4 DBA bases for an infantry unit and 2 DBA bases for a cavalry unit – I don’t think I am brave enough to paint more horses than that.

That’s still a lot of figures to paint. But then, I’m in no hurry. K. already told me that she is not too keen to learn yet another set of rules in the near future, so I will approach the whole thing rather relaxed.

15mm Sci-Fi Structures

Sci-fi gaming is still stalling as I haven’t had time to read the Pulp Alley rules yet. But as I built quite a lot of scenery during the last couple of months, I thought I might share some images. All of this is built from scratch, using everything from packaging material to parts from plastic modelling kits. I also got a couple of things from Antenocitis Workshop – especially their doors are very useful. Another useful thing is to buy one or two second hand plastic modelling kits on ebay, you get a lot of parts for little money.

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Those two buildings are made from dessert pots – I ate some atrocious stuff to get nice looking containers! Door and window are from Antenocitis Workshop, the satellite dish is from Critical Mass Games, the rest are screws and bolts and other small spare parts.

To get some variety to the buildings, I got a cheap box of decals from a plastic modeller on ebay. This was a mixed lot, including aircraft, tank and civilian decals, but it provided me with a lot of numbers and symbols to furnish the buildings with.

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I got the fuel tanks to the right at a flea market – they are for H0 model railway and looked atrocious in their original colours. However, painting and weathering them was easy and they have a nice industrial look to them. The water-processing unit to the left is made from a curiously formed packing container, embellished with screws, buttons and other small stuff.

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The crashed drone is a Star Wars model kit by Revell which I also got on ebay. I just cut off one wing, put it onto a base and repainted it. We’ve already used it as an objective in a game of Tomorrow’s War.

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This bunker was an experiment. At the local DIY store, I saw those cork blocks made for wrapping sandpaper around. I wondered if the cork structure would look at all like rough concrete…. so I decided to make a test. The door and the semicircles on the roof are from Micropanzer. I think the whole thing looks ok, the wall structure certainly is a variation to the smooth plastic of the other buildings. I’m not sure I would make more of them, though.

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This greenhouse is made from an electrical box which had just the perfect shape for a sci-fi building. I just added the door and the rooftop dome, which I got from the local craft store. The plants are bits of plastic flowers from the £1 shop.

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The containers are 1/100 containers made for ship modellers. I got them from Hobby-Lobby and, at EURO 2,80 per piece they are by far the cheapest model containers I have seen so far! They fit perfectly with 15mm and look decent enough.

The vehicles are repainted toy cars. You might recognise the Star Wars sand crawler which serves as a C.A.R.T. (Cybernetic Autonomous Robotic Transport) in our games.

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Wargamers are great recyclers! This workshop was made from the packaging of the toy tractor you can see above. The corrugated iron shed in the back was built from corrugated board. I just glued on a door and some bits & pieces and painted it to look reasonably shabby.

I definitely had lots of fun making those structures. With time I developed that strange wargamer’s gaze that checks everything it sees for its usability as a piece of terrain. I’ve still got loads of packaging material and small bits stored away in a box, so if we need more scenery, I’ll have another go.

EDIT: The shop called 'Hobby-Lobby Modellbau' I'm linking to is not the same as the US chain Hobby Lobby! I didn't know about the US chain until now - and from what I have read, that is not a company I want to support in any way. The shop I am linking to is an independent German retailer.

A French Naval Victory

After a small test game to learn the rules, we decided to have a proper scenario to give my 1/2400 napoleonic ships some action. The story went like this: A small French squadron of three ships was ferrying troops to support one of Napoleons campaigns. When the British admiralty got word, they despatched the only two ships in reach, namely the 74s HMS Indefatigable and HMS Fortitude, to intercept the convoy.

The French, played by myself, secretly declared two of their ships as carrying troops and deployed on the western side of the board. I chose the 80s MNF Auguste and MNF Triomphant for this task and put the 74 MNF Audacieux in front of the line. The British chose to enter at the northern edge on an intercept course which would lead them directly across the French line. The aim of the French was to get at least their troop carriers across the eastern table edge.

British on an intercept course.
British on an intercept course.

Both squadrons had the wind on quarter and where making good speed. The French line was veering lightly to starboard to keep distance to the British cruisers, which were bearing down at them at full speed. The French admiral, however, had a cunning plan: He split up his line, ordering the Audacieux to intercept the British ships and hold them as long as possible, while the rest of the squadron sneaked past behind.

French splitting the line.
French splitting the line.

True to its name, the Audacieux opened fire on the Fortitude while the other French ships shot in passing. The French get a bonus for long range shots in Kiss Me Hardy, so I could make the shots count and did some damage to the rigging of the British ships. Angrily, the British ships fired back and soon both poured cannon balls into the stout Audacieux.

The Audacieux engaging the British.
The Audacieux engaging the British.

However, the British commander soon realised that she was wasting valuable time and tried to turn her ships around to take up the chase of the troop carriers (By now, it was pretty obvious who they were). Alas, as she was to learn the hard way, tacking is a manoeuvre that takes some time! Also, the constant firing of the Audacieux and the fleeing 80s wore down the rigging, slowing the British and giving the Auguste and Triomphant a chance to get away. By the time the Brits had turned around and were on a direct pursuit course, the two French ships had reached the table edge.

The chase is on... but too late.
The chase is on… but too late.

Theoretically, we could have continued with a stern chase, but as the Auguste and Triomphant had a head start and were not yet damaged, while the speed of the Indefatigable and Fortitude was already severely reduced, it is very probable that the French would have gotten away. Maybe they could have stopped the Audacieux, which doubtless would have put up a good fight to cover the escape of the convoy.

This was a fun and exciting game. Kiss Me Hardy are great rules, easy to learn and quick to play. We still have to learn how to properly sail though – K. said that, had she known how time-consuming tacking was, she wouldn’t have done it. I was happy with my tactics as well as with the performance of my crews. Especially the gun crews did great work: The French long range bonus combined with a lot of 6s caused enough damage to the enemy rigging that my ships could get away.

We are already looking forward to having another game as K. demanded a replay of this scenario. This time, we are going to dice for crew quality, which should even the odds a bit, as the British have a greater chance of getting better seamen.