Review: Campaign Games Miniatures

The bulk of my 18mm napoleonic figures is from a company I did not know before I started with the 1809 project, but which has rapidly become one of my favourites: Campaign Games Miniatures.

The company, which is run by Dermot Quigley and Marta Huercio, has actually been around for some time and is based in Barcelona. This is a huge boon for customers from the EU, as ordering from the UK has become an expensive nightmare since Brexit (at least in Austria). The customer service is most excellent and Dermot is a very nice person to deal with.

CGM produce their own range, but also stock several other ranges. Recently, they have become the European distributor for Xyston Miniatures. CGM’s own miniatures encompass napoleonics, ACW, World War II and Ancients (Gauls and Romans). I only have figures from their napoleonic range, so I can only talk about those.

The range is vast and comprises the Revolutionary Wars as well as the different stages of the Napoleonic Wars, with many nationalities present. I have French and Austrians.

As is standard for most companies, infantry comes in packs of 8 and cavalry in packs of 4, but they also make battalion packs of 12, 16, 24, 32, 36 figures including command figures and elites for infantry and 8 or 12 for cavalry. You can even ask for custom units sizes and composition of centre and flank and elites figures and command figures. As a regular Sharp Practice group consists of 8 figures, the standard pack size is perfect for me.

The figures themselves are very nice. Size-wise, they are on the 18mm side of things and perfectly compatible with AB figures. The sculpting style is a bit different and I actually prefer the CGM ones, but this is a matter of taste. The differences are small enough that they can be used within the same unit. One thing I like about CGM’s figures is that the metal is quite hard, so no broken off bayonets or wildly bent muskets. Also, the casting is very clean and there is no flash.

I’ve recently painted cavalry, so here are some figures from my collection:

Austrian Stipsicz Hussars.
French 13e Chasseurs à Cheval
French 7e Cuirassiers

And some Austrian Hungarian Infantry on the march:

For more and better images, go to the CGM homepage, where you will find painted examples of all their figures.

Dermot told me that the napoleonic range will be expanded with new figures: Neapolitans and more Prussians are already on the way, while Bavarians, Spanish and other French allies will follow. I’m especially interested in the Bavarians, as they would fit perfectly into the 1809 project.

Also, a medieval range will come during 2022, which might inspire me to go back to the Middle Ages, something I have been pondering recently… And when I told Dermot that I would love to see napoleonic civilians, he replied that they are “a real possibility”, so let’s keep fingers crossed.

Last but not least, CGM also produces metal (and other) bases. As I use magnetic sabot bases for my games, I need steel bases, so I’m very happy that I can now get them from within the EU.

I highly recommend Campaign Games Miniatures – have a look at their shop, they have a lot to offer.

Review: Five Parsecs from Home

The pandemic situation is worsening again in Austria and face-to-face gaming with my friends once again comes to a halt. This really is annoying and mentally draining, especially since it could have been avoided if the government would have listened to the experts. This time, the situation taxes even my life-long honed and highly developed skills of escapism.

So, I decided to spontaneously treat myself to something I had my eye on since it came out: Namely the new edition of Ivan Sorensen’s Five Parsecs from Home. Around this time last year, I gave the old version, which was published by Nordic Weasel Games, a try. It was not exactly what I was looking for, so I modified it beyond recognition for my Tanit’s Talons solo campaign (which is documented on this blog).

However, this time I am more in the mood for a story that centres on the classical small group of misfits, canonized by books and TV shows like Firefly and The Expanse. Also, I have to say that I was attracted by the nice look of the 3rd edition book, which was published by Modiphius. Yes, I am that shallow, but I do like pretty books.

K. also showed interest in the game, so we started by creating a crew. This takes a little while, as it involves a lot of dice rolling, but it’s great fun to see the crew come to life with backgrounds and motivations. We ended with the crew of the star ship Black Cat, a worn colony ship, making their way through the galaxy.

As we are in debt, we wanted to take an opportunity mission, but old pirate rivals of us turned up to teach us a lesson. Fortunately, we managed to turn the tables around and taught them a lesson they won’t forget so fast, as they decided to leave us in peace for good. This was a pretty successful first game and it did provide us with some money to buy new equipment.

The campaign system really is the heart of the game. The rules for tabletop combat are quick and fun. They work very well and offer plenty of opportunities for tactics. But the driving force is the campaign system, which tasks you with managing the career of your little band. The game has been called an RPG lite, and Ivan himself states that the Traveller RPG was a huge influence, but if you expect something like Rangers of Shadowdeep, where you follow a storyline that has been established by the author, you will be disappointed. There are RPG elements, mainly in regard to managing the crew’s resources, but as a whole, it is more akin to a story generator. There are many tables to roll for events, meaning there is a lot of randomness. Now K. and I like this, as for us, this randomness creates a story and gives us the bones to add our own narrative. However, it might not be for everybody. For the individual scenarios played on the tabletop, the randomness is mitigated by several mechanisms, such as Luck Points, Story Points and Stars of the Story cards.

Five Parsecs from Home is a great game if you are in the mood for some solo or cooperative sci-fi action. It even motivated me to paint a couple of figures – a welcome change from ten months of painting napoleonics!

WATU: The Book, the Movie, the Game

WATU stands for Western Approaches Tactical Unit. This was an organisation of the Royal Navy tasked with developping and teaching anti-submarine tactics for convoy escorts during the Second World War. A recent book by Simon Parkin, titled A Game of Birds and Wolves, presents the fascinating story of this think tank.

There are several remarkable things about WATU. First of all, under the command of Cmd. Gilbert Roberts, they used war games to analyse, develop and teach tactics. Those games were played on the floor with model ships, with the ships’ commanders being stationed behind curtains so they could only see a small portion of the playing surface. They also couldn’t see the U-boats, whose courses were marked in a colour that was invisible from further away – quite an ingenious means of restricting information.

Another remarkable thing was that Wrens – women belonging to the Women’s Royal Naval Service – played a central role at WATU. They not only plotted the courses of the ships, but many of them also played themselves, taking on the roles of U-boat commanders or escort commanders. They became very proficient in the game and often played against Navy commanders who came to WATU to learn the new tactics.

Parkin’s book tells this story in a lively and dramatic way. Concentrating on the persons, he highlights the essential role of Wrens for the success of British anti-submarine tactics. He also stresses the importance of games as a means of analysis, innovation and communication. Highly recommended!

Coincidentally, when reading the book I also stumbled upon the new Tom Hanks movie Greyhound. K. and I decided to watch it and we were both pleasantly suprised. Nowadays, we watch almost no movies – most of them are too long, too loud and too corny (maybe we are just getting old). This one, however, had a sensible length (only 90 minutes), with the pleasant effect that it told a condensed and straight story, concentrating on the actions of the commander, played by Hanks. The only weak point was the uber-villanious U-boat-commander sending threatening messages to the convoy – a rather stupid contrievance that had no relevance for the plot. Still, all in all it’s a movie I’d recommend if you like naval stuff.

All of this made me consider gaming convoy actions. Fortunately, indefatigable naval wargames rules writer Dave Manley is already working on a solo game where the player controls a convoy escort ship. I’m looking forward to trying my hand at defending a convoy from dastardly U-boats! 

Booknotes – Science Fiction & Fantasy

I’ve recently finished reading one of the best fantasy series I’ve come across lately: Jon Skovron’s Empire of the Storms trilogy.

skovronStarting with Hope and Red, it tells the story of two people, a girl who grows up to be a fearsome warrior and a boy who becomes a thief. However, what could easily have become a cliché-ridden ‘team becoming couple’-story develops into a much more exciting thing. The books are set in an interesting world, namely an Empire made up of islands in a vast ocean. This alone is great, as I love nautical fantasy (and I have to admit that this was the reason I got the book in the first place). But if I came for the ships, I stayed for the characters: Skovron introduces a plethora of compelling and complex characters. Each of them has his or her own motivation and, most importantly of all, they all change and develop as things happen to them. Best of all, the changes within the characters actually drive the story and define the stakes – which, in a way, become higher than in most other fantasy novels. Highly recommended!

220px-the_lost_fleet_dauntlessI also finished another series, the reading of which was a sort of guilty pleasure. I’m talking about Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet. Clocking in at eleven volumes, this military sci-fi soap opera had a strange pull – as soon as I finished a volume, I wanted to read the next one. It’s not that the books are especially gripping per se, and several times when I was halfway through one I decided that this would be the last. However, Campbell has what could be called an economical way of storytelling: there is lots of repetition, but in the end there are just enough new developments that I became curious how the overall plot would work out. And, for being military sci-fi, it is refreshingly free from the trashy right-wing ideology often found in this genre. Recommended if you like space battles mixed with a dose of exploration and romance.

artarcanaFor Christmas, I got myself the new history of Dungeons & Dragons, Art and Arcana: A Visual History. This is a huge coffee-table book full of spectacular artwork from all editions of D&D. The accompanying text was co-authored by Jon Peterson, who is the authority on the history of role-playing games. What I like about Art and Arcanais that it not only covers Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and the coming-into-being of D&D – something that has already been the subject of several books – but that it delves deeply into the evolution of the game through different editions and settings. If you are a fan of D&D, give yourself a treat and get this book!

blAs I write this, I’m halfway through Nicholas Eames’ Bloody Rose, the sequel to his fabulous Kings of the Wyld. I started with some trepidation, as I really loved the first book, but was unsure how sustainable the analogy between fantasy adventurers and rock bands would be. However, Eames manages to weave an engaging story around Fable, the band led by Rose, the daughter of one of the lead characters of the first book. Again, there are great characters and as the story develops, we get a much more nuanced perspective on the world, especially on the monsters that hitherto served only as the backdrop and cannon fodder for the exploits of the bands. And now some really wild things happened and how will they get out of this and sorry I have to get back to the book…