On the Painting Table

Recently, I’ve been painting a couple of 28mm figures for our RPG group and to my surprise, I enjoyed it a lot. So I decided to continue. An additional motivation was my discovery of a new game by Andrea Sfiligoi: Sellswords and Spellslingers. This is a cooperative miniature wargame, something I find very interesting. After reading an inspiring review on the Lead Adventure Forum, I ordered a copy of the rules – I’ll let you know more as soon as I’ve played a game!

This is Inga. She’s from the wonderful dwarf range of Lead Adventure and was a treat to paint. I really like the Lead Adventure dwarves, they are pretty close to my imagination of those guys, which is heavily influenced by Terry Pratchett. I imagine her to be a slightly crazy inventor and tinkerer.

In preparation for Sellswords and Spellslingers, I’ve ordered a couple of fantasy miniatures from Black Tree Design. They come at a very modest price (especially if you take advantage of a sale, as I did) and have a decidedly old school look, which I like very much.

ub

I’ve also finally started painting my dwarven fleet for Man O’War. First up were the submarines. The colour schemes correspond to the Viennese underground lines… who said dwarven jokes have to be funny?

acw

On my workbench, you can see some ACW command figures. I’m slowly building up enough miniatures for regimental level actions. I’ve finished a couple of regiments recently, but at the moment, I feel like I need a short break from the Blue and the Grey.

fant

Fantasy figures to the rescue! On the far left, you can see Cartimandua from Bad Squiddo Games – Annie was kind enough to give me one a long time ago, so I’m happy I’ll finally paint her. The dwarf is again from Lead Adventure and was a present from Virago. The two Orcs are old HeroQuest figures.

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Happy New Year!

2017 was a good year for The Raft. In fact, looking at the statistics, it was the best year ever. Thanks for dropping by and reading, browsing and commenting! It really is very motivating to see that someone else is interested in what I do.

I know that, with the new job and all, my blogging declined a bit towards the end of the year. I hope that I will find more time and inspiration for the blog in 2018!

Looking back at my gaming, 2017 definitely was the year of Sharp Practice. I started tracking my gaming on BoardGameGeek in May and since then, I’ve played 16 games of SP – this is double as much as the next game on my list, Battle Cry! I’ve had the opportunity to teach SP to a couple of new players, but most of my games I played with K. Not only do we both enjoy it very much, we also realised that SP is a game that really profits from being played often – the more experience you have, the easier you remember the rules and the smoother the game runs along, letting you concentrate on decision making, command & control and the narrative.

BGG

I’ve also played quite a lot of new games. Empires in America, The Cousins’ War and Zombicide are my favorites among those, but many others have been enjoyable. I’m also glad that I had the opportunity to play a couple of games of Songs of Blades and Heroes (respectively Flashing Steel) – a game that has been a continuous favorite of mine for several years now.

Thanks to everyone who played games and shared the hobby with me!

For 2018, I’ve got two new projects. One might say that the first is a natural outgrowth of my continuing interest in the American Civil War. I want to extend my collection so as to be able to play regimental-level actions. To give the collecting and painting a focus, I decided to do the Battle of Olustee. It was a rather small affair – three small brigades plus some cavalry and artillery on the Union side, and about the same for the Confederates. Also, it ties in nicely with my interest in the USCT.

OlusteeKAFL
Period illustration of the Battle of Olustee

I’m still pondering about what rules to use. At the moment, I’m leaning towards Pickett’s Charge, but I also consider They Couldn’t Hit An Elephant and Longstreet. At first, I wanted to use Black Powder, as I liked the game we played at the club, but I have since browsed the rules and the ACW supplement and got a bit angry… but more on that some other time.

The second project is to paint a fleet for Man O’War. Recently Stefan, an old pal of mine, has rejoined the hobby, and he kindled the Man O’ War fever – Virago and Sigur also joined in, so what could I do? I’ve now got a Dwarf fleet waiting to be painted…

ManOWarGameCover
Coming back to my gaming table in 2018!

Recently, I’ve also started to enjoy painting single 28mm figures. I’ve painted a couple of the anthropomorphic animals from Oathsworn Miniatures and some characters for our RPG group. This is no real project, as I paint what I fancy, but with the abundance of skirmish rules out there, it won’t be too hard to devise a use for the figures once enough are finished – Songs of Blades and Heroes being, of course, my first choice.

I wish all of you a great and inspiring New Year!

What I did during the last weeks…

Life has been busy, but in a good way. I’ve got a new job and still have to settle into the new routines. I haven’t actually neglected playing games and painting (though it’s going slower), but I didn’t find time or leisure to write blog articles.

Here’s a quick update on my gaming-related activities. I hope that in the future, this blog will again resume a more structured appearance.

My painting has been rather eclectic. I really enjoyed painting the mole at the Vienna Nerd Institute painting workshop, so I’ve continued to work on the fantastic anthropomorphic animals from Oathsworn Miniatures. Here’s my collection so far:

animals

Inspire by our recent sci-fi game, I’ve also finished a landing party for an IPU (Interplanetary Union) starship:

IPU

It get’s even more idiosyncratic. I recently met a very old friend again. When we were youngsters, we played a lot of games together, among them Man O’War. Now he wants to rejoin the hobby and bought a whole load of Man O’War stuff. I couldn’t resist and by chance found a couple of second-hand Orc flyers, so I decided to give them a coat of paint:

flyers

I haven’t yet committed to build up a fleet, but I did get some Renaissance galleys from Navwar, which might do double duty as Orc ships if I can convince anybody to play the excellent Galleys & Galleons

And my final product shows that I haven’t completely lost my sense, as it leads back to my perennial obsession. Using the Busch maize field sprues, I built a corn field for the ACW. I’ve made it modular so troops can be placed inside.

 

I’ve also played a couple of games. Most of them Sharp Practice, but we’ve also started T.I.M.E. Stories, an interesting cooperative game about which more in another blog post.

And I had a game of Flashing Steel, still one of my all-time favorites!

Fact & Fiction in Scenario Design

While I like painting and modelling, what I love most about wargaming is designing and playing scenarios. Now those scenarios don’t necessarily have to be historical – it’s great fun to devise games set in a fantasy or sci-fi world. But for some reasons, I’ve become very interested in the American Civil war and I really enjoy researching the period. Fortunately, for the ACW, there is an abundance of sources available online – not only the indispensable Official Records, but also numerous autobiographies and regimental histories (many of them accessible through the Internet Archive).

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Research is great fun…

However, this material can also become an impediment. Let me explain why. When I research a historical action, I try to find out as much as possible about what happened that day: which units were involved, what was the state of the troops, what was the terrain like, who was commanding, what did they plan to do, what did actually happen and so on.

The problem is that it is easy to get lost in those details. You may end up with a very detailed representation of the historical action, but nonetheless with a scenario that does not capture what it was all about. The reason for this is that scenarios are not static models. To work as games, the have to be dynamic, open-ended processes.

ClubGame
…but don’t forget to play a game once in a while!

Of course, the historical action was also a dynamic, open-ended process. The people involved did not know what was going to happen, and it was their decisions and actions that determined the outcome. Fortunately, modelling this is what wargames are good at. Wargames – at least the good ones – model the decisions involved in warfare. In one of the Lardies Oddcasts, Richard Clarke remarked that his games always aim at recreating the command decisions faced by commanders in the field. For this, it is important to decide what level of command you want to represent: A regimental commander has other worries than a corps commander, and to mix those levels up is a sign of bad game design. Completeness – trying to model as many decisions as possible, so that you have to micro-manage a regiment’s formation while at the same time decide the deployment of your reserve division – does not actually contribute to a more ‘realistic’ depiction of historical events.

This, I think, is equally true about scenarios. Replicating everything you know of the historical event on the table top may produce a fine diorama, but it will not result in an exciting and dramatic game. To capture what a historical action was all about, it is important to try to recreate the perspectives of the opposing commanders. What was their aim? What did they know? And what were the specific circumstances that shaped their decisions (such as terrain features or the expectation of reinforcements)? It’s important to remember that the commanders in the field had a very limited outlook, not only in the literal sense – most of the time, they didn’t see the deployment of the enemy and his movements – but also in a more general sense: They didn’t know what the enemy was up to and what he knew of their own intentions and aims. Rule sets like Sharp Practice or Longstreet have already built-in mechanics to model this fog of war. But I think it can sometimes be important to integrate such a limited perspective in the design of the scenario itself. Usually with scenarios, both players know not only their objective, but also the other side’s aims. They also know the troops involved, the reinforcements that will turn up, the terrain and so on.

OR
From historical record…

Paradoxically, to accurately recreate the perspective and the decisions of historical commanders, it may be necessary to leave out details or to modify the deployment, the troops involved or even the terrain. Bolstering one side to create more balanced forces, for example, is not always a boring ‘gamey’ trick to make a scenario more interesting for both players.

When a Union raiding force was attacked by Confederates in June 1863, the Rebel commander didn’t know he only faced 60 soldiers. In a scenario based on accurate numbers, the Confederate player could just charge ahead, knowing he will steamroll the Union force. But this does not capture the uncertainty of the historical commander and the cautious advance that characterized this specific action.

SP_Foto
…to an exciting game.

Historical research is great fun and an important prerequisite for designing historical scenarios, but it is not an end in itself. When the research is done, it is important to try to reduce the situation to its core: What was it all about? What was at stake for the commanders? What shaped and what limited their outlooks and decisions?

The real challenge is to translate historical facts into a game that is not only exciting to play, but that also replicates some of the command decisions faced by the historical commanders. This may involve fiction, but nevertheless – or even because of that – it may also produce those cherished and fleeting moments when, during a game, you suddenly feel a jolting connection with the past.