Small Figures, Big Battles

As you might have noticed, I was quite taken with the 6mm Altar of Freedom game I saw at our Gettysburg Battle Day. I’m usually not interested in big battle games, but this one really impressed me. So naturally, I wanted to do something similar. At first I thought about buying 6mm figures, but I immediately broke sweat when I realised how many figures I would have to paint. However, it then struck me that I already have small figures – namely the Irregular Miniatures 2mm blocks I painted for Battle Cry!

It was easy to stick four of them to a thin cardboard base with Blue Tack. The great thing is that this actually looks like a brigade! 

Now those bases are a bit smaller than the base sizes recommended in the Altar of Freedom rulebook – by 1/3, to be exact. So I decided to reduce all distances by one-third (this is something I have done with so many rules now it’s become almost a reflex). The great advantage is that this also reduces the playing field, meaning I can play Gettysburg on a kitchen table while still keeping the ground scale of the rules.

I also bought one of the Altar of Freedom scenario books, namely the Western Theatre one. I soon realised that I still need loads of figures. There are, however, two battles I can play with what I have: Fort Donelson and Pea Ridge. I decided to use Fort Donelson as a field for experimentation and try out some ways to make terrain.

With small scales, terrain is actually more important than figures. Instead of making modular terrain, I decided to make a custom mat for this scenario only. As in this case the playing field is only 2’x2′, it was easy to get cheap artist’s canvas, which provided me with a convenient area to work on.

I started by copying the scenario map unto the canvas.

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As you can see, caulking acrylic was used to model the outer field works of the Fort. The whole thing was then painted, using a mixture of acrylic paint and sand for the surface of most of the board. The fieldworks were drybrushed with brown paint to suggest fresh earth, while the roads were done without texture. It is important to go easy on the texture, as 2mm figures really are small and the slightest bumps look like huge rock formations.

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For the village of Dover and the farm, I quickly made houses out of balsa woods and glued them on a base.

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I also wanted to have woods under which figures can be placed. Again, as the figures are much small than 6mm, the technique has to be adapted. Pieces of felt provided bases which were flocked with Woodland Scenics clump foliage. I glued thin pieces of sponge material (the stuff used to store figures in) on the underside to achieve a bit of height.

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This is how the whole board looks:

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The whole process wasn’t too much work and it was actually quite fun to work in a completely different scale with completly different requirements. My aim was to achieve an almost map-like look, giving the impression of a birds-eye view unto the battlefield.

Shortly after I’ve finished, we managed to play our first game. We both like the rules a lot – the Command & Control mechanics are great and the games moves along at a brisk pace.

Coming from skirmish gaming, it’s interesting how different the game feels – it really feels like you are an army commander ordering divisions around.

I’ve already ordered reinforcements from Irregular Miniatures and will definitely continue with this project!

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Wargaming Article Published

The recent issue of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy magazine contains a special feature on raiding actions during the American Civil War. One of the article was penned by me!

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It’s on a subject I’ve been interested in for a long time, namely the Combahee River Raid. I’ve written a three-part scenario for Sharp Practice, which can be played as a series of successive games or parallel on a club evening.

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Guy Bowers did a great job with the graphic design and the article is illustrated with very nice pictures of 28mm figures. Those, however, are not from my collection, as my photographic skills are not up to producing publishable images – something I really should work on.

So, here are some images from our playtesting:

I have to say that I’m a bit proud to have published something in what is, in my opinion, the best wargaming magazine around. Guy Bowers is always interested in things off the beaten path and the magazine really puts gaming into the foreground. If you are interested in the ACW, check out this issue – it has a number of fascinating articles and great ideas for scenarios!

First Game of What a Tanker!

Last Friday, I could persuade Sigur and Stephan to set up a game of the new Lardies extravangaza, What a Tanker!, at the local club. They had both played the game a couple of days before, but unfortunately I didn’t have time then, so I was very grateful that they indulged me and played again.

We set up a desert table with rather eclectic terrain. It looked like the set for a cheap 60s B-movie, but that fits rather well with the aesthetics of the rulebook. Incidentally, the cover is a work of art. It’s fun and irreverent and pours scorn on the Nazi kitsch that pervades some WW2 games.

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We played with Sigur’s 15mm tanks and as he only had British and Italian, Stephan and I took an Italian tank each and Sigur got two British ones. I can’t remember which – I’m lucky if I can tell a tank apart from a bicycle.

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The game is easy to understand – it’s the simplest Lardies game I’ve ever played – and flows along at a nice pace. The dice activation mechanics is great, there is friction but as long as your vehicle is undamaged you have a lot of dice, so the chances are good you can do stuff. While I fumbled around a bit, Stephan proved to be an old tanker and smashed the British vehicles. In the end, I think I got the hang of it and could contribute to the Italian victory.

I really like the game. Playing it felt strangely relaxing. Perhaps that’s because I’m not really invested in the period or the vehicles (in contrast, after a game of Sharp Practice, I usually feel pretty exhausted). Perhaps it was because we played with early war tanks – I’ve heard that late war fights are faster and much more dangerous. One thing that certain contributed to my mellow mood was playing with two congenial chums. What a Tanker! works really well as a multi-player game, the turns being fast enough to keep downtime short but still long enough to have fun watching the others manoeuvre and shoot.

I don’t see myself buying tanks, but Sigur and Virago and the others have enough anyway, and I’d certainly be happy to play it again. It’s a great little game for a fun evening with mates.

Gettysburg Battle Day

Some time ago, I proposed a Gettysburg Battle Day to the local wargaming community. Inspired by the yearly Battle Day of the Society of Ancients, the idea was to present different games, all of which dealt in one way or another with the Battle of Gettysburg. The aim was to get different perspectives on the battle, not only from the time and area chosen for the scenario, but also from the different rule sets.

To my great joy, many people were interested in participating, so yesterday a bunch of wargamers assembled at the club for the event. When I arrived (a bit late, admittedly, as I had to finish some stuff for my scenario – I was late with preparations this time), the games were already in full swing.

Virago and Sigur had prepared a Longstreet scenario dealing with the arrival of Howard’s XI Corps on the first day of the battle. Following historical events, the game ended with a Confederate victory.

The guys from Tabletop Wien West had three games running. Their main game used Kugelhagel for a scenario dealing with the fighting at Culp’s Hill. As always, they had a very busy table with a lively crowd.

Additionally, they had a Kugelhagel solo game and a game of Battlecry set up.

Nikfu and James had set up a game of Pickett’s Charge, a set of rules that I’m very interested in.

I had prepared a scenario for the skirmishing around Bliss Farm, using Sharp Practice. At the beginning, the farm buildings were occupied by Stephan’s Confederate skirmishers. I managed to drive them out, but the Rebel reinforcements arrived before I could consolidate my position and after a brief struggle, they retook the barn, at which point my Force Morale collapsed.

Finally, a group of people around Helim and Slowik had a game of Altar of Freedom using 6mm figures. They portrayed the whole battle on one 6’x4′ table and it looked spectacular! I fell completely in love with those figures and the way they were presented. This is how a big battle should look like, with mass formations and enough space for manoeuvring. Another great thing about this set-up was that it tied together the other games – you could identify on this table the spots the other games depicted.

I’m happy that the Gettysburg Battle Day was a huge success. Everybody was enthusiastic and all had invested considerable time and effort in their games. For me, it was great to meet friends, to play an exciting game of Sharp Practice and to see other perspectives on the battle. But most of all, it was a very inspiring day which gave me many ideas about how to develop my ACW gaming.