Another Diversion: DBA

I’ve been patiently churning out ACW figures for some time now and while I will continue with them, I feel like painting something different for a change. I do own more than blue and grey paints, you know!

I’ve been pondering an ancients project for a long time. The Punic Wars have caught my fascination ever since I learned about Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps at school, and the thought of having little elephants on my gaming table fills me with glee. On the other hand, my foray into mass battle gaming has not been very successful and I have the suspicion that proper mass battles bore me beyond belief. I have toyed with the idea of a small skirmish project, such as the palmary Dagger & Brush is doing, but I realised I’ve already got all the skirmish projects I want.

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Back when I lived in Switzerland, a fellow gamer kindly introduced me to DBA. I enjoyed our games and always thought about painting up an army, but never got around to doing it. However, I slowly came to realised that this might be exactly what I’m looking for.

Why DBA?

First of all, it gives a quick game. It’s easy to find gaming partners (my chums Sigur and Virago play occasionally) and it’s also is easy to teach to newcomers (at least one of my non-wargaming gaming pals has shown an interest in ancients gaming). Another big argument is that it doesn’t need many figures. Now I enjoy the look of massed ranks, but for someone like me who only has a passing interest in mass battles, painting 200 figures for 8 months before having a first game is not going to work (been there, done that – not really my thing…). With DBA, I can paint up a couple of figures, have some games, and, if I like it, get some more armies for the period. This makes for more diversity in painting and researching, which is something I enjoy.

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And the scale?

In the end, I went down the traditional road and decided upon 15mm. I’ve pondered about using 6mm (or even 3mm), but while there are very good arguments for that, I just like the look of 15mm figures and I enjoy painting them. Also, it keeps the figure count low, which is paramount.

For a starter, I placed an order for a small Roman army with Black Hat Miniatures. Their figures look nice and the price is very good. I also ordered the latest version of DBA, as I’ve read that it gives a more historical outcome especially concerning the Punic Wars.

I’ll take it slowly and see where this going to lead to. After all, if I get bored of DBA or decide that I need more figures, I can always use one of the other excellent ancients rulesets out there and paint up more of the little guys.

Building an ACW Blockhouse

The current issue of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy magazine contains a very nice scenario for Sharp Practice featuring a fort, so naturally, I wanted to build one. For the ACW, a fortified blockhouse seemed to be the most appropriate version.

During the American Civil War, blockhouses were widely used to secure lines of communication, such as railroads. The were massive constructions: the walls were often made out of two layers of logs and the foundation was covered with earth. The rooms were at least 9 feet high so as to faciliate loading the muskets.

I decided to make a two-storey construction with the second level built at an angle. My model was based on an illustration in the Osprey volume on American Civil War Railroad Tactics:

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After drawing a simple plan, I cut all the wall elements out of thin plastic and glued them together. This was easy, as the whole structure consists basically of two square boxes. For the logs, I used 3mm wooden dowels which I roughened up with a rasp to give them some structure.

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The dowels were cut into the appropriate length with secateurs (the best tool for this kind of work) and glued to the walls. As the lower half of the ground level was supposed to be covered with earth, I attached bits of blue foam – I would create the earth mound later with modelling clay. Like all my buildings, this one is reinforced inside, as I want it to withstand rough handling at the hands of wargamers old and young (I always ask myself: Is it robust enough for my nephew?).

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The base for the outer fortifications was also cut out of plastic sheet. I used matchsticks for the woodwork and air drying modeling clay for the earth mounds. The modeling clay shrinks when drying, but the gaps will be covered during the next step.

Copious amounts of PVA glue were applied to the ground parts and everything was covered with sand and grit. After this has dried thouroughly, I washed the whole structure (including the buildings) with thinned down PVA glue. This makes the sand stick, seals the wood and makes it easier to apply paint.

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Now the second level had to be attached to the first – but how to align it properly? I marked the centre of area of both parts and then drilled holes. A short piece of wire (actually a piece of a paperclip) was used to fasten the two levels together.

Now the upper part is in the exact centre and can be povited so that its corners project over the middle of the walls of the lower level.

The next step was to make the roof. The shape of the roof is a pyramid which I wanted to cover with wooden planks. The easiest way to do this is to make a paper cut-out model of the pyramid and glue the strips of wood unto the paper. Their edges don’t have to fit, they will be trimmed afterwards.

With a sharp knife, the wood can now be trimmed along the edge of the paper. Fold the paper and voilà, you’ve got a pyramid-shaped roof! The same technique was used for the half-pyramids of the lower level corner roofs.

I decided to keep the main roof removable. This was mainly for storage reasons (I found a box that fits perfectly, and building terrain to fit your storage space is always a good idea), but it also allows to put figures into the upper level.

The whole thing was primed with Vallejo Surface Primer IDF Israeli Sand Grey. I wanted to give the wood the look of freshly cut logs which had the bark removed, so I tried to get a brighter, more yellow-brownish hue. The wooden parts were first painted with Baneblade Brown and than washed with an mixture of Nuln Oil (2 parts), Seraphim Sepia (1 part) and Agrax Earthshade (2 parts). I applied three layers of drybrushing, first with Vallejo Gold Brown, then Vallejo Yellow Ochre and finally a very light drybrush of Vallejo Silvergrey.

The earth was painted to fit in with my mat and the bases of my figures, namely with a layer of Vallejo Beige Brown drybrushed with Terminatus Stone.

On the top of the roof, I applied a flagstaff made of steel wire and a flag – I’ve made two flags, one Union and one Confederate, so the blockhouse can be used by both sides.

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This was a fun and not too complicated project. I’m not sure about the colour of the wooden parts, for my taste it doesn’t ‘pop out’ enough and is a bit too similar to the colour of the earth – maybe next time, I’ll stick to my tried and tested grey hue for old wood.

I’m really looking forward to using the blockhouse on the gaming table!

What Makes a Game Perfect?

I’ve just discovered this remark on a blog called Here’s no great matter and wanted to share it here, as it captivates pretty much what I think perfection in a wargame is:

“I think I’d see it [i.e. perfection] in those moments within games when all is balance, excitement and potential, in those times when something echoes history so keenly it jolts us, when the satisfaction of a plan well made, a move well executed, or the observation of a brilliant, mournful, heroic, tragic tabletop action fills us with a childish delight in play allied to an adult awareness that this world we create, this little space that is ours, where this cinematic, dramatic need to enact stories on our tabletops is fulfilled is – in its very fragility, in its practical uselessness, in its capacity to lift our spirits, to reveal aspects of ourselves to ourselves and to heal the little wounds of the long day – something that is worth doing, worth recording and perhaps even worth a little celebrating.”

The Raft takes a short break for holidays and will be back on 20 August.

The Great Mexican Shootout

Last weekend, we had a Mexican extravaganza out in the country side – a couple of friends came over to my former grandparent’s house for an afternoon of gaming and an evening of barbecuing. Appropriate to the theme, the weather was very hot, but we had a nice big and airy barn which offered plenty of space for the table. We had planned to have several boardgames and at least one miniature wargames, namely a multi-player scenario for A Fistful of Lead Reloaded. I had prepared factions of five figures each, with each faction having their own objectives. Players would get money for each member of an enemy gang they took out and for the leader of another gang, with each gang having their own specified enemies. There was also money to be had by looting the houses, stealing the car or hauling the box of rifles back.

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Half of the guests had never played a miniatures game before, but everybody wanted to join in, so we had a game with eight players. As A Fistful of Lead are simple and fast rules, everybody got them hang of them pretty quickly and the shooting started. Some players concentrated on looting the houses while others sniped at enemy gangs and leaders. I desperately wanted to get the car and managed to drive around for a short while until my leader, who personally was behind the steering wheel, went down in a hail of bullets and crashed the car in a rock.

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In the end, we had a clear winner: The player controlling Bud Spencer & Terrence Hill’s gang had earned the most dollars, despite Terrence Hill being killed pretty soon and Bud Spencer taking to his heels soon after. The second place went to the Villistas, which looted a lot of buildings, while the third place was shared by several players. Naturally, I was the only one who managed to get all of his gang killed!

Here are some more impressions from the game:

The game was great fun and everybody seems to have enjoyed the experience. However, it was interesting to see how even a simple and fast system like A Fistful of Lead starts to bog down with eight players. We played for six hours straight and there were still plenty of gang members left. Also, turns did drag out a bit, which is no wonder if you think about it: Eight players with five figures each makes 40 activations per turn – with two actions per activation! If you had bad cards, it could take quite a while until you could do something. I guess that next time, we will have two different games running parallel and then just switch players.

Anyway, fun was had and what better way to spend a hot saturday afternoon then to hang out with friends?