How to… Make a Beach Mat

No, not one of those mats you have to drag to the beach, rather a mat that brings the beach into your living room! Or at least a reasonable facsimile you can put tiny figures on.

For a long time I’ve been collecting scenarios involving amphibious operations. Some may remember my attempt at scratch building a medieval cog, which still has to see action. Recently, I’ve also painted up two longboats for the British Marines, as there have been a couple of interesting landing operations during the British campaign on St Domingue.

After experimenting with the ‘caulking technique’ by making roads and wood bases, I finally plucked up all my courage and prepared to make a proper gaming mat. Thankfully, K. took pity on me and volunteered to help.

I wanted the mat to be about 80x110cm, 80cm being the width of our gaming table. There were to be three sections: One with ‘normal’ earth ground, that is ground that would go with all my other terrain, one strip of beach and one strip of water.

Like last time, I used a piece of felt as a base. I fixed the felt unto a large board (the back side of the boards I made for playing X-Wing) and put it into a room we wouldn’t use for a couple of days, as the acrylic emits nauseous vapours when drying.

The caulking mass for the earth ground and the beach was prepared from four cartridges of caulking acrylic, mixed with sand and brown paint. I applied it generously with my hands (using disposable gloves!), trying to achieve a rough surface structure for the earth ground and a smooth one on the beach section.

When this was finished, I prepared another mass of caulking acrylic, which I mixed with blue paint for the sea section. Applying it again with my hands, I tried to recreate a wavy water effect with my fingers. In hindsight, I should have used less caulking mass – especially on the edges, the layer of acrylic is very thick. I just hope it won’t break when the mat is rolled up for storage.

We made the mat just before going away for a week, so when we returned, it had dried properly.

The mat before drybrushing
The mat before drybrushing

After cutting off the edges, I drybrushed the earth ground with an off-white (Terminatus Stone, which I use on all my figure bases). The beach was drybrushed in several layers of desert yellow and sand colour, while the water got a light drybrush of white to create the effect of surf. Finally, I used PVA glue to apply patches of static grass to the earth section.

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After drybrushing and applying static grass.

 

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I’ve been quite apprehensive about making a gaming mat until now, as I’m a bit averse to messy work, and from what I read the caulking technique can be very messy. To my surprise, it wasn’t really – perhaps because my mat is rather small. Apart from the drying time, the whole procedure was also quite quick – I don’t think it took more than half an hour to prepare the caulking mass and cover the mat, and it took perhaps three painting sessions to drybrush the mat and apply the grass. Furthermore, it is a cheap project: One cartridge of caulking acrylic is about 1 Euro where I live, and I used five where four would have been sufficient. The most expensive component was the felt (at about 15 Euros), but I had positive experiences when I used it for the roads and didn’t want to experiment with another surface for this project. I guess other cheaper textiles would also work.

So I might make another one some day – I really want one with earth ground altogether. I’m sure there are things I can do better next time. Perhaps I’ll use less acrylic, I think a thinner layer would be sufficient and would perhaps be better for storage. What do you think? Any hints or advises?

Artemisia, a Greek Admiral

Logo_smallArtemisia was queen of Halicarnassus (today’s Bodrum in Turkey) in the 5th century BC. Her kingdom was subject to the Persian empire, so when Xerxes mounted his invasion of Greece, she contributed a squadron of five triremes (galleys with three tiers of oarsmen and a crew of about 200). Herodotus reports that Artemisia’s squadron was the second best of the fleet (after the Phoenician). There is no doubt that Xerxes held her in high esteem and valued her opinion as a military leader: “But when the counsels were reported to Xerxes, he was greatly pleased by Artemisia’s opinion. Even before this he had considered her of excellent character, and now he praised her much more highly.” (Herodotus, Histories 8.69)

A Greek trireme.
A Greek trireme.

She was the only commander speaking out against attacking the Greek fleet at Salamis, invoking sound reasons that show a thorough understanding of the tactical as well as the strategic situation. Xerxes, however, did not follow her advice. As we know, the battle of Salamis was a disaster for the Persians: Their squadrons were first caught in an ambush by Greek galleys bolting out from a bay on the Persian flank and than impeded by the choppy sea, which favoured the low-lying Greek triremes.

Relief of a trireme
Relief of a trireme

When the Persian fleet turned to flight, Artemisia’s way was blocked by several friendly ships belonging to Damasithymos, king of the Calyndians. Chased by Athenians, Artemisia was in a tight spot. There seems also to have been some quarrel between her and the Calyndian king, so Artemisia seized the opportunity and rammed and sank Damasithymos’ trireme. This had the double effect of throwing the Athenians off her trail – they thought she was one of their allies, having just wrecked a vessel of the Persian fleet – as well as earning her praise from Xerxes, who watched the scene and assumed that she sank an Athenian ship.

We should not interpret this story as depicting Artemisia as an especially ruthless and devious person. In fact, Herodotus reports that numerous collisions occurred between the Persian ships when the first line started to retreat while the second advanced:

“Most of the ships were sunk when those in the front turned to flee, since those marshalled in the rear, as they tried to go forward with their ships so they too could display some feat to the king, ran afoul of their own side’s ships in flight.” (Herodotus, Histories 8.89)

Whatever we make of her motivation, the story shows that Artemisia was a competent commander who could seize an opportunity and knew how to use her ships to best effect.

Most wargames of Artemisia’s naval actions would not necessitate a figure representing her personally – her ships would be sufficient. Fortunately, early Greek triremes of the aphract type (meaning that the oarsmen were only partially protected) are available in many scales. More on the skirmish side of things are the stately 1/300th models offered by Langton Miniatures as well as the 1/600th triremes produced by Xyston and Skytrex. Langton and Navwar offer 1/1200th triremes, which would perhaps be more practical for fleet battles. The same goes for the 1/2400th models by Tumbling Dice. For those who want to recreate the battle of Salamis in 1:1 without spending a fortune, there are also the tiny 1/3600th ships from Outpost Wargames.

If you desperately want a figure representing Artemisia in person, there isn’t really anything out there. You might convert one of the 28mm Greek civilians, such as those offered by Warlord Games. In 15mm, the Parthian queen offered by Xyston could be pressed into service. If you find one, you could put her in command of the 28mm galleys made by Scheltrum Miniatures or by Old Glory, or of the 15mm vessels offered also by Old Glory.

Bibliography

Herodotus, The Histories, ed. A. D. Godley (available online)

Nelson, Richard: The Battle of Salamis, London: W. Luscombe 1975 (contains not only historical background but also very useful ideas for wargaming the battle)

Strauss, Barry S.: Salamis. The greatest naval battle of the ancient world, 480 B.C., London: Arrow 2005

 

Take the Plantation!

Major Horace Turvington had clear orders: Take the de la Bréjaude plantation from the brigands. The manor house had been burned down during that fateful night in August 1791, when the slaves of the Northern Plains had risen in union. However, the Marquis de la Bréjaude was an important ally and it would show good will if his remaining property could be secured.

For this scenario, we used a simplified version of the blind mechanics that probably has more in common with the scouting phase in Chain of Command than with the blinds rules for Sharp Practice. It did achieve what we wanted: the sometimes a bit tedious deployment was abbreviated without taking away tactical choices and the game started right into the action.

The set-up.
The set-up.
Units after being deployed from the blinds.
Units after being deployed from the blinds.

My British regulars managed to move unto the hill and get into line formation, while my Chasseurs moved straight towards the buildings. K. had her Maroons behind the barn and the rest also heading towards the buildings in the centre, which represented the objective of the scenario. My regulars fired a volley at the militia hanging around in the middle, but then danger loomed large as K. was bringing her Maroons into position to charge the vulnerable right flank of my line. However, now an astonishing series of events started that would show what a joy a game of Sharp Practice can be if everything goes according to plan!

The thin red line.
The thin red line.

Without any doubt, Major Turvington was the man of the day. First, he ordered one group of Chasseurs to secure the right flank. They immediately complied and rushed over, just in time to repulse the charge of the first group of Maroons. Maroons are pretty good in melee, but the advantage of the high ground enabled the Chasseurs to initially stand their ground.

Chasseurs hasting to secure the line's exposed right flank...
Chasseurs hasting to secure the line’s exposed right flank…
... and repulsing the Maroon's charge.
… and repulsing the Maroon’s charge.

When the second Maroon group attacked, the Chasseurs lost their nerve and fled. Fortunately, my regulars had realised the threat, disbanded the line and poured a volley into the Maroons, which took to their heels. The Maroon threat was thereby neutralised – a couple of volleys more and they were falling back for good.

Meanwhile, at the left flank, Lieutenant Winkworth had led his Chasseurs further in direction of the houses. However, the whippersnapper let himself into a musketry duel with a group of militia and got stuck. Even worse, after a couple of volleys it was evident that the militia was getting the better of him!

Brave militia doing in the Chasseurs.
Brave militia doing in the Chasseurs.

Also, the turn limit was running out and there were more French in the zone that formed the objective than British. No reason to despair for the Major, however: First, he rode over to the Chasseurs and rallied them with a stirring speech.

Major Turvington rallying the Chasseurs.
Major Turvington rallying the Chasseurs.

Then he shouted to his Sergeant: “Now’s your time, McAllister!” – and the first group of regulars marched right into the space between the buildings, while the second group charged at the already shaken French regulars and drove them away.

Objective secured.
Objective secured.
The end.
The end.

Technically, the game was a draw – I had as many units in the objective zone as K. But what a game it was! We both agreed that this was the most exciting and dramatic game we have played for a long time. And for me it did feel like a victory. Sure, I had a good share of luck, but I don’t think I’ve ever played a game of Sharp Practice (or any other rules, for that matter) where I was keeping up with the flow of events in such a way. Command and control worked perfectly and the final charge down the hill even felt historically accurate, considering the British penchant for deciding things with the bayonet.

I’m looking forward to playing the next game, although I’m sure my streak of luck won’t last (to say nothing of my streak of tactical acumen…). Meanwhile, a toast to Major Turvington!

Haitian Revolution – First Game

I’ve finally painted up enough figures for a first game of our new Haitian Revolution project. We are using the Sharp Practice rules, which we have never before used for what they were intended – we’ve only played the Wars of the Roses variant so far. Naturally, we were quite apprehensive how we would manage.

I played the French (i.e. the Black Republicans under Toussaint L’Ouverture) and K. played the British expeditionary force that wanted to snatch the rich colony of St Domingue away from the French. In our scenario, the British had to blow up an ammunitions depot hidden in the jungle. Some of my militia guarded the depot while French reinforcements were on the way.

The set up.
The set up.

The British entered in column formation, consisting of two groups of eight line infantry and one of six Black Chasseurs. Another group of Chasseurs was advancing on their left flank. While the British were stepping lively, the French main force (eight line infantry and another group of six militia) dawdled. The maroons however rushed through the jungle to flank the British column. Those troops represent independent bands of guerillas, only lightly armed but good at melee, which in our games may move through jungle terrain without penalties.

K. initially wanted to change her line into column but was afraid the maroons would hit her in the flank, so she decided to manoeuvre her groups independently. This was a relief for my militia, which was advancing headlong towards the British and taking quite a lot of shock from their volleys. Unfortunately, my regulars still wouldn’t budge and kept behind. The militia at the hut was taking cover behind the building after exchanging some quick volleys with the British.

Under pressure.
Under pressure.

I knew I had to do something quick and decided to thrown the maroons at K.’s flank. Unfortunately, she had it guarded by her Black Chasseurs, which are not the weedy coves her disease-stricken regulars are.

Maroons getting ready to attack.
Maroons getting ready to attack.

The Chasseurs repulsed the first group of maroons with ease, making them flee back into the jungle. The second group however did better and threw the Chasseurs back, thereby opening up K.’s flank.

However, this was of no avail. At the hut, my militia was desperately making a stand but could not prevent the first group of British regular making contact with the building and preparing the fuse to blow it to smithereens.

Militia in a tight spot.
Militia in a tight spot.

At this moment, we ended the game as we had run out of time. I conceded victory to K. as she would only need one or two more turns to prepare the fuse and I don’t think I could have stopped her. Sure, the maroons were back in the game and threatening her flank. But her regulars were still fresh and keeping up a lively fire, which had worn down both my groups of militia. My regulars were advancing slowly, but then K. still had a second group of fresh Chasseurs, which could deal with any threat.

The end.
The end.

This was a fun game and an interesting experience. The tactical challenges are very different from the melee-dominated Wars of the Roses games and we both felt that we still had a lot to learn. Neither of us managed to form a line, which could have made the game more decisive, as line formations get a big bonus when firing. K. didn’t dare because of the threat my maroons posed to her flank (lines are more vulnerable to attacks into their flanks than groups), while I couldn’t activate my regulars to move. Shock points have more weight when there is constant shooting and it’s much more difficult to decided whether to activate groups or to just remove shock to keep them from running away.

We both agreed that we like the ‘proper’ version of Sharp Practice very much and are looking forward to trying other scenarios and experimenting with different tactics. Liberté, égalité, chance aux dés!

The Raft makes an Easter break and will be back on April 10. Have a nice time and hopefully get some games or painting in!