Animal House

Well, well, well – it seems that animal ardor, creature craze, fauna frenzy or even zoological zeal are rampant, at least among my mates, as Sigur and Virago have both bought the new Osprey rules-set Burrows & Badgers. How could I resist? Especially since I’ve already got a set of Oathsworn animals, which I bought about two years ago. I’ve occasionally painted the odd figure since then and now have a collection of ten anthropomorphic animals awaiting adventure.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to do with them, but now that Burrows & Badgers has arrived, they might see the gaming table yet. It’s not that I need another set of small-scale skirmish rules – there is still Songs of Blades and Heroes, which I really like – but Burrows & Badgers is a lovely book with great illustrations by none other than Gary Chalk. And there are some interesting ideas in there.

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I haven’t played it yet, so I can’t tell you more than that, but I will keep you posted if I do. And I will definitely paint the rest of my animals – this is one of my favourite line of miniatures and painting them is a real pleasure.

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Currently Reading

For our Gettysburg Battle Day, I read a couple of books on the battle. One of them was Edwin B. Coddington’s The Gettysburg Campaign. A Study in Command from 1968.

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This is, in some ways, a book that shows its age. Published eight years before John Keegan revolutionized military history by writing about the experiences of the common soldiers in The Face of Battle, Coddington firmly concentrates on the higher levels of command and on the decisions of the commanders. He is also quite judgemental, voicing his opinion about who made which mistake and how it could have been avoided. However, it still is a very good and rewarding reading. Coddington presents a clear narrative, making it easy to follow the action and his analytical approach helps to clarify many decisions.

The one thing that impressed me most however, was the ending, specifically the last sentence of the book. Usually, you expect from an ending a wrapping up of the whole narrative, a closure that gives the whole thing a meaning and makes you feel that something has been achieved. He describes how General Warren, after Lee had crossed the Potomac back into Virginia, sent a message to the War Department ordering maps of the Shenandoah Valley. And then he ends with the sentence: “And so the war went on.” No closure, no wrapping-up or bestowing meaning – instead the sobering, even bleak reminder that Gettysburg, something that today is remembered as a highly significant turning-point, at the time was just one episode in a war that was far from over.

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Ronald S. Coddington’s African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album is a very different book. It presents 77 photographs of African-American soldiers from Coddington’s own collection. Each image is accompanied by a short biography of the soldier depicted. This is quite an achievement all by itself, as it is not easy to get biographical information about men who, in many cases, had been illiterate slaves who left no written evidence by themselves. One of the great things about this approach is that it puts the individuals, their choices and their actions into the foreground. This provides a much-needed contrast to the stereotypical description of African-Americans even by well-meaning white officers like Thomas Higginson. All the variety can’t, of course, conceal the common experiences. Most of the men were scarred by slavery and the war and few grew old. But one of the saddest thing was their treatment after Reconstruction: time and again, you read how in the late 1870s and 1880s, when white suprematist groups crawled back out of their holes after Union occupational forces had left the South, African-Americans were driven from political offices and terrorized, many of them ending in an abject state of poverty.

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Touching on the subject of African-American experience, Brian McGinty’s The Rest I Will Kill is a short and dramatic retelling of an astonishing event that happened early in the war: In July 1861, a U.S. ship was captured by a Confederate raider. The prize crew wanted to sail the ship to Savannah, where it would be sold off. The ship had a free black cook named William Tillman, whom they planned to sell into slavery. What happened next took them by surprise, though: Tillman, aided only by a German sailor named William Stedding, overpowered the prize crew and single-handedly sailed the ship back to New York. At the time, Tillman became a celebrity and was hailed as a hero in the Northern press. The book is an easy read, telling an exciting story while also providing background on the political situation as well as on the biographies of the people involved. It clearly shows the desperation, but also the courage African-Americans showed in the face of a regime that treated them as chattel.

And now for something completely different, as they say. I’ve also read a lot of science-fiction and fantasy lately, but most of it left me rather disappointed. I have to say that I’m wholeheartedly sick of the whole ‘dark and gritty’ thing. Not only is this a childish view on life (it’s laughable how people think it is ‘realistic’), it’s also full of rather disturbing torture porn – seriously, what is it with those people and sexualized violence?

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Fortunately, I hit upon some real gems. The first pleasant surprise was Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld. Imagine a classical D&D-like fantasy world where adventuring parties are treated like 80s rock bands. This is basically the analogy Eames bases his story upon and to my surprise, it worked really really well. It’s the well-known story of an old hero and the effort to, one last time, get the band together. It seems Eames couldn’t decide if he wanted to write a funny book or a tragic one, but both facets actually work equally well. Of course it’s overdone and sometimes corny and a bit of a lad’s story, but hey, so’s glam rock! Certainly the most captivating, most original and most fun fantasy novel I’ve read for a long time.

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For science-fiction, the same is true for Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I know I’m late to the party with this one – I’ve seen it before, but I was always a bit apprehensive as I usually enjoy action-oriented sci-fi. Now I finally started reading it and wow, it’s good. There is almost no shooty stuff, but the story is still captivating and exciting. A lot of original ideas and about as far away from dark and gritty as you can get. It’s a feel-good novel about community and tolerance and living together despite being different. Highly recommended!

A Weekend of Gaming

I’m very happy that I had several great opportunities for gaming during the last days. The opening was two games of Zombicide I had with an old friend from Germany, who stayed for a couple of days at our place. Not only did we have a great time in general, but we also had two very dramatic games, one of which we even managed to win! He enjoyed the game a lot and I hope we will have another opportunity for gaming soon.

On Friday, I went to the club for a game of Kugelhagel. Kugelhagel are German rules for miniature wargames during the 19th century. They have a very active community around here, so naturally I was curious. We played a game set during the ACW, using the impressive collection of Gand-Alf, who also explained the rules. He was a patient and enthusiastic host and we had a great evening.

I’m not completely convinced by the rules: Although I like the activation system (card driven), I find movement a bit too free-wheeling, leading to some strange situations. I guess this irks me more with a period I know a bit about, such as the ACW. But the game is a great option for multi-player club games – I find it more engaging than Black Powder, as I prefer the card driven activation to IGO-UGO.

Yesterday, another friend came to play Sellswords & Spellslingers. He was interested in the character creation process, so we made a small party of adventurers. While I created two equally strong heroes, he decided to take a different approach and made one hero (a barbarian) and three minions (archers with negative traits). We had a great time playing the first scenario and managed to escape from the Orcs. While the archers did very well, the poor barbarian was knocked out pretty soon and had to be dragged to safety by my halfling girl. The shame!

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Finally, today I continued with playtesting scenarios for Sharp Practice. As K. was away, I played against myself. At first, the scenario did not look very interesting – basically, one side has to storm a fieldwork fitted with artillery. The game, however, turned out to be extremely tense and dramatic, which again shows how great a set of rules Sharp Practice is. There are enough decisions to make it interesting and the game flows along in a way that creates a very immersive narrative.

Fantasy Stuff

During the last months, I was quite busy painting 28mm fantasy figures and terrain. I mainly orientated myself by the scenarios in the Sellswords & Spellslingers rule book. Fortunately, I already had a bunch of lizardmen which I painted up years ago for the pirates project (although I’ve never used them then). I also decided to buy a regiment of painted Games Workshop goblins on ebay – they were very cheap and look nice, and I rather spend my time painting up heroes and special characters instead of hordes of enemies. The bulk of my Orcs is from the old copy of HeroQuest, bolstered by a couple of figures Sigur generously gave to me.

Barbarians

Most of the barbarians are from Battlezone Miniatures, a company I recently discovered. They offer nice miniatures for a very good price and their service is excellent. The figure on the far right is from HeroQuest, while the guy with the big horns is an old Games Workshop miniatures I got from ebay.

Painting them, I have tried to implement what I learned from Sigur and experimented a bit with highlighting. I also now routinely do eyes! However, I still paint for gaming, that is I don’t spend too much time on each figure as I want to get it on the table. For the moment, I seem to have found the right groove – I try to improve my technique a bit each time, but I don’t fuss about too much.

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Here’s a group of adventurers. The lady on the far left is from DGS Games (via Bad Squiddo Games) and is one of my favourite miniatures. I really like the pose and I’m quite happy with the paint job. The dwarf with the chain and ball and the two halflings are from the Ganesha Games range at Alternative Armies. Another very characterful range of figures! The other dwarf is from the fantastic dwarf range of Lead Adventure Miniatures. I don’t know who produces the girl with the falcon, as I got it from ebay.

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Another group of adventurers, featuring two figures from Battlezone, a dwarf from Alternative Armies and a Frostgrave wizard from North Star.

Evil

And what are the adventurers up against? The Forces of Evil, consisting of an old Citadel (at least that’s what I think) demon and Minotaur, a Battlezone skeleton and another Frostgrave wizard.

For two of the Sellswords scenarios, you need standing stones. Initially, I just wanted to collect stones when going for a stroll, but the weather did not support this idea, so I made them myself. I used DAS modeling clay and decided to embellish them a bit, imagining that the stones had been warped by the evil powers of a demented warlock or something along that line.

Standingstones

Another company I recently discovered is Hexy. They make very nice resin fantasy terrain and Virago and I ordered a couple of pieces. Among others, I got myself an Orc totem.

Totem

I tried to give it a weathered appearance, as if it had been painted in garish colours which have already rubbed off.

The last thing I want to show is a ruin from Amera. Again, this is something I had lying around for years, but I finally decided to give it some paint. It’s made of a rather featureless plastic and takes some work to make it look decent, but I think it turned out ok.