Friday, June 30, 2023

Serving up 'Bloody Congo' for Four

      Heroes of the encounter, the Katangan gendarmes, move out through town to engage the enemy
The Katangan Secession crisis was waged again at Origins Game Fair 2023 in Columbus, this weekend. Although I had it set up for six players, I ended up with four in my Friday morning session. This scenario pitting the newly-independent Congolese forces, augmented by a UN contingent, against Katangan Gendarmes and hired European Mercenaries. As with my six-player version I ran at CincyCon 2023, the mercenaries are bringing vitally-needed ammunition in their armored personnel carriers (APCs) to the Katangan forces.

    The Congolese players, Sam & Kyle, move up their forces while Jenny brings on her APCs
With only four players, I decided to leave out out the Congolese paratroopers and the Katangan militia. In my previous runnings of the scenario, those two factions tended to slug it out with each other and not interact as much with the other four forces. I felt the game worked out just as nicely without those two and was a good solution to having fewer players than I'd hoped. Origins is an all-genre convention, but historical miniatures are definitely under-represented there. So, I wasn't exactly surprised that a "hard historical" game ended up not filling up. In general, of the games our First Command Wargames crew ran at Origins, the less historical games filled up better than the more hardcore historical miniatures ones.

    Three squads of Ghanaian UN troopers hurry towards the road to cut off the vehicles' passage
Three of my players were brand-new to my Wars of Insurgency rules, but picked them up quickly and seemed to enjoy them. One of them purchased the rules after the game, which is always a bonus! Another reason I really enjoy this scenario is, being a two-sided scenario (but with each faction having its own goals), it plays quickly. That, and the board is super quick and easy to set up, but still looks nice, I think. I think the billboards with the propaganda posters makes it "pop," and shantytown shacks give it a third world feel.

    Carrying sorely-needed ammunition, European mercenaries roll ontable in their armored vehicles
Action on the table proceeded similarly to my previous times running the scenario. Perhaps the European mercenaries in their three APCs were a little less aggressive than they have been before. Jenny played them and focused on using the terrain to prevent the Congolese getting off RPG shots at her vehicles more than using the heavy machine guns (HMGs) mounted on the APCs to hammer the enemy. As before, the UN troopers and Katangan gendarmes began skirmishing at long range and quickly intensified into a full-blown firefight. In this game, Sam (who played the UN), aggressively charged into extremely close range in an attempt to clear the Katangans from the town they had occupied. Both wore each other down, with the Katangans likely getting the better of the exchange.

    Katangan gendarmes begin to occupy the buildings of town as a fire base to engage the UN
The ANC (Congolese National Army) concentrated most of their firepower on the mercenaries and their vehicles. They did respond to spoiling attacks by the gendarmes, but did their best to set up shots with their RPGs on the mercenaries, and succeeded in taking out the lead APC. However, Jenny restricted their line of sight with the patches of brush effectively, and neither of the other two took damage. When the APCs arrived at the bottleneck close to where the UN and ANC were occupying the brush, the gendarmes stepped up their attacks and drew the Congolese return fire. This action protected the APCs and enabled the two vehicles to dart past the "kill zone" with minimal shots. Once past that, the vehicles would be able to use the patches of jungle and the buildings as cover to reach the table edge. 

    The UN advance into the teeth of the gendarmes' fire, hugging cover and moving up
It was at that point that we decided to go ahead and count up points. For the first time, the ANC were able to fulfill their primary mission of grabbing ahold of one of the disabled APCs and restocking their own depleted ammunition. Although their mission includes being part of the attempt to put down the secession, the central government has kept this local garrison under-supplied and they were also short on ammo. However, even that was not enough to make up for the casualties that the gendarmes had racked up. In previous games, the APCs accounted for most of the Congolese losses. However, in this game, the gendarmes held their own and killed many of the UN and ANC troops.

    Cleverly using the bush to restrict Congolese line of sight, the APCs advance across the table
All four players had a good time, they said. They picked up the rules and how to calculate their own shots, adjudicate hits, and roll for saves without me having to actively manage the process. I think the rules make for a good convention miniatures game: easy-to-explain, quick-to-learn, and the players feel like their decisions are having an impact on how the game proceeds. This may be the final time I run this scenario this year, though. For Historicon next month, I am switching off and running my French & Indian War rule, Song of Drums and Tomahawks. So, stay tuned next month for reports from those games! And if you feel like channeling Magua and killing "Gray Hair," sign up to play!

    BOOM! An RPG strikes a damaged disabling it completely, killing the last of the mercenary crew

Close assault by the UN attempts to drive the gendarmes from the town and cut off the vehicles' escape

    The heroic Katangan gendarmes seem to be everywhere, though, and distract the Congolese focus

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Barbed Wire Compound

    Two boxes worth of Monster Fight Club's Chain Link Fences (bought locally at Guardtower East)
When I was creating my 28mm urban terrain, I scratch-built a bunch of chain link fence sections. To be honest, I was never very thrilled with them. The styrene tubes I used as the aluminum poles and the "granny grate" plastic material for the fence looked okay. They were a little over-scale, though, and their construction looked clunky. So, when I saw Monster Fight Club's scenery pack of Chain Link Fences, I snatched up two boxes of them right away. I felt these would look much more realistic, plus they'd be able to be use as a barbed wire compound.

    The box from Monster Fight Club, which contains 10 sections that each measure roughly 5" long
Since it's me, though, I couldn't resist modifying them a bit. They come with these strange, brick-like, rectangular pieces that the poles fit into to stand upright. The picture on the box also shows them being used at the top to "clip" sections together. I didn't like the way that looked nor they way it elevated the fence off the ground. Wouldn't an elevated fence allow unwanted visitors to slip underneath? So, I decided to snip off all of the bottoms of all the vertical poles. Since these are soft plastic, that was easy enough to do with wire cutters and an X-acto knife.

    One of the unpainted sections - not the poles projecting from the bottom which I trimmed away
Each section measures roughly 5" long, so I cut thin styrene bases for them that were just a tad longer. I had to figure out a way, though, to make sure I glued them perpendicular to the ground. Otherwise, my fences would be leaning this way and that. Keeping them upright was the job of the now-discarded "brick clips." And with 20 sections total, even a small bit of lean would end up looking pretty topsy-turvy the longer the fence line grew. I decided to sandwich each section firmly between two square rods of bass wood. I would shave these into a triangular shape with an X-acto knife to allow the ground to slope from the fence to the base. The sides squeezing the fence section and the side in contact with the base remained a true 90 degrees, hopefully keeping them perpendicular.

    A view of my barbed wire fence sections set up as an abandoned military base for my next game
I slathered the styrene base with 5 minute, two part epoxy and then placed the fence section between the two bass wood rods and held them into place while it hardened. This did a good job of affixing them upright to their bases. It was somewhat time consuming, what with trimming the bass wood square rods, and epoxying them essentially in batches of two or three. It also provided a nicer look, I feel, with the fence actually set into the ground rather than above it. I flocked the sloped rods and bases naturally, which allow the fences and bases to "disappear" onto the tabletop.

    F Troop investigates one of the damaged sections - what could have forced open the metal fence?
I took three sections, cut them in half, and converted them into damaged sections. I also created a gate piece sitting on scratch-built rollers. Half of the damaged sections were made to look like the chain had been cut and the horizontal tubes bent inwards. The other sections I used an X-acto knife to cut one horizontal section of chain and bend it down (as if someone had cut the wire and broken into the compound). Even without the damaged sections, two boxes of the fences provided almost eight linear feet of fencing. So, I had enough for a fairly big compound!

    The rolling gate created from one half of a section, with scratch-built rubber wheels (beads)
How to paint them, though? I decided I would spray them black first with Krylon matte black. I did it at several angles to ensure I got all of it. I didn't want any gray plastic peeking through! I also didn't want to have to do any brushwork on these, figuring it would be a time-consuming mess! After they dried, I used a can of spray silver that looked fairly "aluminum" like. I tried to spray lightly from the top so that some black would show as shadow. I'm not sure there's much shadow, though, and the fences look fairly silver. To tone that down a bit, I went over the horizontal and vertical poles with a dark, black wash. This did a great job of weathering the look, and I am happy with the final color of the fencing.

    The color came out okay - black spray paint with a dull silver spray over top and black wash on poles
The vertical poles are topped by angled pieces of metal which are obviously meant to be strung with barbed wire, in real life. Monster Fight Club did not sculpt any wire, but did have three shallow indentations where the wire could be strung for enterprising modelers. I decided to be one of those, but what material to use? I ended up going with braided, silver thread. The twisted strands of the thread catch the light at different angles and make it sparkle. I thought this would give the visual effect of the tiny barbs on the wire.

    I like how the silver thread is strung somewhat loosely and irregularly (or cut in damaged parts)
Stringing the thread onto each section was probably the most fiddly part of the entire build. I decided to use a drop of superglue on each indentation to hold it. I was afraid Tacky Glue might dry white, so I went with superglue. First, I cut each strand of wire so that there would be about an inch extra left over to trim off. Then, I glued the three strands to only the left-most pole. Once it had hardened, I put the drops of superglue onto the the other three poles and stretched it across into place. I wanted to be able to pull it relatively tight, so it needed to be affixed firmly to the left-hand pole (if this description makes sense). Since the thread in wound around a spool, it would try to bend back upon itself. However, the superglue minimized this movement, and instead it made it look like irregular slack spaces in the barbed wire. I felt this actually added to the realism.

    You can see the twisted "braiding" in the silver thread that catches the light and gives it a sparkle
Although VERY fiddly, I think the simulated barbed wire really makes these "pop" on the tabletop. I would recommend anyone picking these up to also get a roll of braided silver thread (or raid your wife's sewing kit). The thread was only about $6 with an online coupon at Joanne's Fabrics, if you have to scrounge your own. One final note -- I did all of my clear coating of the fences (and flocking) BEFORE affixing the wire. I didn't want to take a chance that my Dullcoate would take away any of the thread's sparkle.

    I'm really happy with the chain link fence sections and highly recommend them!

I am really happy with how these fences turned out, and will be using them this weekend in my next Post-Apocalyptic game. Stay tuned as the survivor gangs investigate the abandoned military base and try to piece together clues on what happened to the force that had been stationed there...!

Monday, June 26, 2023

Rumbling on the Mean Streets of Columbus at Origins 2023

    The presence of the police doesn't deter the Mohawks from some mayhem on the streets of Columbus
The streets of Columbus were packed with punks, warchiefs, and gang bosses during our two games of Mean Streets at Origins 2023. Jenny ran two sessions and both were completely full of players, some of whom had stayed up the night before to watch "The Warriors" to get inspired for the game! Plenty of street warriors "came out to plaaay," and there were lots of laughs and fun around the table.

    The Hilltop Highlanders prowl the streets of Columbus, looking to rumble with rival gangs
We used a similar setup to previous convention games, with a downtown jumble of streets, buildings, market, park, etc., depicted in 28mm. Six gangs entered at various points, each with several missions they wanted to complete. A primary mission involved some sort of illegal mayhem, such as stealing a car from the service station, shaking down a restaurant owner, shoplifting, etc. In addition, each gang owed another "payback" for a previous beat-down they'd inflicted on their gang. Players were awarded double points for knocking gang members out of action of that specified gang. Finally, gangs received victory points for "tagging" buildings with their gang logo.

    Bobbie, of the Eastmoor Kings, is jumped by a posse of clowns from the Franklinton Flippos
I like to give players a lot of choices in my games, and especially in Mean Streets. I think player choice is a big part of an enjoyable scenario at a convention. Personally, I am not a fan of games where the troops are all deployed and all I can do is march forward and roll dice. With Mean Streets, I give players both a Gang Boss and a Warchief, who both can exercise command and control. This gives a player a chance to split his gang members up to accomplish more than one mission. Alternatively, he or she can keep their gang members together for better protection in case they get "jumped" by rival gangs.

    Hearing Bobbie's cries, Gang Boss Tyrese and others of the Eastmoor Kings come to his rescue
Although I have had scenarios where players went about their various missions without fighting rival gangs as much, most games end up with several sprawling brawls breaking out near the gas station or some other centrally located spot. This is partly be design, with all gangs having it in their interest to beat up on a specified rival gang. I also nudge the players that way by making sure their starting locations and destinations for their primary mission intersect with the paths other gangs will take, too. So, one gang may need to cross to an opposite corner of the table, for example. Getting there will mean they encounter more than one rival gang, so the chances of punches being thrown increases as more gangs intersect. I definitely plan it out so most gangs will end up "meeting in the middle."

   Several gangs converge on the streets of Columbus - a rumble is sure to break out soon!
I feel this gives a nice mix of mission completion and combat. I always remember an old gamer friend growling to me during a convention game where little was happening, "I just want to kill something!" I think that conflict is a big part of our miniature wargames, so a game about gang warfare needs to have fighting to be accurate. So, I set the players up to rumble and they usually oblige.

    Friday evening's crew of players had a great time and were soon locked in sprawling brawls
Both sets of players were a lot of fun and seemed to enjoy themselves. All but one or two players were brand new to the system. Everyone picked up the rules quickly and were able to adjudicate their combats without too much assistance from either Jenny or myself. Jenny did a great job running the game, while I hung around, elaborated a few points and mostly provided color commentary. I like to joke about what is happening on the tabletop in the context of the world of street gangs -- or at least the romanticized vision of the streets in the movie, "The Warriors."

    Kira of the Mohawks snatches open the patrol car door and lands a punch on the officer driving it
Another thing I like to do in my convention games is to keep players involved whose forces have been whittled down to almost nothing. So, when a gang is down to just one member left, they are given a police car and two cops. They can bring it in on any street board edge and send the police after any gang members they choose. This usually involves a little "payback" against the gang that took out their own members. Saturday's game was particularly raucous. Two players were brought down to one and both police car converged on one corner where the Indianola Mohawks were getting ready to steal from Sams Mini Mart. The Mohawks were full strength and had been busting heads, so had no qualms about wading in and fighting the cops. 

    Five of 6 gangs on the table converge on the gas station, throwing punches and laying a beatdown

Mayhem ensued, which involved an officer ramming two punks who were attacking policemen with his patrol car. A punk snatched open the door and punched the cop, who promptly threw the car in reverse, whacking the punk with the door. A couple Mohawks went down, but the gang didn't give up, and kept throwing punches until the game was finally called. It was a great, cinematic finish to the game and I think Jenny's players all went away happy and having enjoyed themselves. 
    Julio, boss of the Santanas, is surrounded and pounded by a trio from the Eastmoor Kings

    Several of Saturday night's players had stayed up the night before to watch 'The Warriors'

    Clown down! Emmett of the Franklinton Flippos is knocked down by Highlanders Snake and Juan

    Linden Daos and Hilltop Highlanders scrapping by the pumps of the gas station

    The Santanas and the Flippos battle it out in front of an apartment building in Columbus

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Starting a New Saga Army - Thracians!

    Thracian mounted warriors from Crusader Miniatures -- my newest Saga project!
I'm a bit behind in posting pictures of my newest Saga army that I am in the process of painting up. In fact, some of these figures already have a couple games under their belt! I was prompted to choose Thracians from the newest Saga world book, Age of Alexander, for several reasons. The first was watching a battle report on Graham's Wargame Vault when his "outrageous" buddy, Wayne, thrashed him in a game using Thracians. They seemed like an interesting army, watching the battle board's abilities he was using and the effects they had on the game. The next reason is because of the sheer color of this army. Thracians are known for their patterned cloaks, so this would give me a chance to create another visually appealing army for the tabletop. Finally, after proxying my Picts as Thracians, I discovered they were very fun and tactically challenging to play.

    One reason painting Thracians is appealing is their famed colorful cloaks with geometric designs
Being a metal miniatures guy, I knew there were quite a few options. The Age of Alexander has been a cornerstone of the 28mm Ancients period for decades. There are LOTS of figure manufacturers who have produced Thracians over the years. Unlike many of my contemporaries playing Saga, I am not really a fan of the plastic sets where you glue the arms, heads, torsos, and such all together. I still prefer the weight and completeness of a metal miniature. For my Thracians, I decided to go with Crusader Miniatures because the wide variety of packs they have in their line. 

    My Thracian mounted figures drawn from their command and mounted tribesmen packs
I ordered them from their website and they arrived VERY quickly -- excellent service. I did screw up a little, though. For some reason, when I was reading the Saga book's description and troop list for the Thracian army, I thought that they could field foot hearthguard armed with the two-handed chopping weapon, the Rhomphaia. I based my purchase on that, only to find that hearthguard can only be mounted in this list. D'oh! Long story short, I didn't order enough figures! Well, I should be able to solve that when I go to Historicon next month. Badger Games carries Crusader Miniatures, so I will pick up some more packs of figures to be able to finish out this warrior heavy, hearthguard-less, force.

    The deadly rhomphaia was a feared and famous Thracian two-handed cutting weapon
When I unpacked the miniatures, I decided that I would first paint up all those rhomphaia armed troops. I could continue proxying my Picts for the javelin-armed troops. I was using a hodge-podge of other miniatures for the heavy weapon rhomphaia men, so this would make the proxy army look a bit nicer and more consistent on the tabletop. Many of my Picts are armed with javelins, and they also have colorful cloaks -- though mostly checks, tartans, and stripes instead of geometric patterns.

    I really like how the shields came out on my 1st batch of Thracian infantry - more micron pen work!
One issue that arose, though, was that I had ordered a variety of Thracian types from Crusader. Thracian tribesmen are known for their wicker crescent shaped shield. However, as they became more established as mercenaries, they began to use the oblong "Greek peltast" shield. I wanted my warriors to have the crescent ones, as that is the period of the Saga list. I swapped some out, though, with the cavalry, who I gave the oblong shields to, instead. Hopefully, this will work out well.

    Thracian warriors are often depicted using a wicker, crescent-shaped shield
I thought the poses for the Thracians armed with rhomphaia were pretty cool. I mixed in some from various packs and painted up a group of eight that you see pictured here on this blog post. I was very happy with how they came out. I borrowed my friend Mike's Osprey book on the Thracians to make sure that I was doing a somewhat historical job of them. We are fortunate with the Thracians that they were regularly depicted in Greek art, whether on vases, frescoes, or in other places. This means we have actual patterns for the Thracians' "geometric designs" on their cloaks. I looked through the Osprey book and picked out a handful that I thought I could reproduce with either a paintbrush or my Micron pens. Yes, this is yet another army that will be using the micron pens!

    Crusader Miniatures makes both Thracian mercenary type figures and 'tribesmen' poses

One thing that I have found with the pens is that you have to be careful to keep them from smearing later  when you apply a wash on the figure. I have begun to apply my first spray clear coat before the wash, and this seems to do a good job of eliminating problems with the ink running. As I may have mentioned before, the pens work best on smoother surfaces. If you have a cloak that has deeply-sculpted folds or ripples, you are going to struggle to get the head of the pen down into the bottom of the folds. In these cases, I go Old School and use a small brush to do my patterns. So, maybe plan out your more complicated decorations on the figures with smoother areas and the simpler ones on the others?

    These figures came with the oblong 'peltast' type shield, but I swapped out crescent ones for them

The figures in Crusader's "mercenary peltast" boxes tend not to have cloaks. In this case, I gave them simpler geometric patterns, stripes or borders on their tunics. Y9ou can see that in the figures above, and I think they give a nice effect. Many years ago, I painted Scottish highlanders for the Jacobite Rebellion (in 15mm, no less!). I found when doing that army that you are shooting for a visual effect. You don't need to have every article of clothing in a pattern. One per figure tricks your eye into seeing a consistent, pleasing effect. So, for the tribesmen who do have cloaks, I don't decorate the tunics with anything more than a border.

    This pairs of warriors shows the difference between Crusader's "peltast" and "tribesmen" figures

With me being behind on posting pictures, my last batch of rhomphaia men are actually primed and on my desktop ready to follow. With this batch, I will also be painting up the warlord's stand. Typically, the warlord's stand contain the last figures I paint for an army. I assume that I will be well versed in painting that nationality by then, and have a good idea what color combination will look good after doing the rank and file. My idea for the Thracians, though, is to play them AS I paint the army. So, I think it will add to the effect on the tabletop to have the correct general. Not that there is anything wrong with the Republican Roman general that I have been using (other than he's the wrong figure and the banner is a legionary one!)...
    Two of my mounted warriors for my Thracians -- my most recent Saga army to hit the tabletop
There is going to be only one mounted unit in this army -- at least how I plan to field six points of Thracians for Saga! I decided I should get them done relatively quickly, too. The proxying of Roman cavalry with Dark Age cavalry bugged the historical miniature gamer in me, so I wanted to get these done early. After painting my Mongols last year, doing one batch of eight mounted figures was nothing...ha, ha! Speaking of which, I actually pulled out my Mongols, looked through them, and selected eight horses that I liked best to use for the colors and markings of the mounts. Why do the same job over and over? When I had done my research on Mongol horse colors I found nothing to indicate that their horse colorings were anything unique in the Ancient world. So, it was kind of nice to have a template for the horses and made it go quick, I feel.

    I think the oblong shields look good for the mounted figures, and am pretty happy with how they look

The armor and equipment for the mounted figures was kind of a mixed bag on the Crusader poses. Some had what looked like Linothorax -- the white linen type armor that Alexander the Great is often depicted as wearing. Others looked like they were wearing a bronze cuirass, while others appeared to have no armor protecting their torso at all. Although some parts of Thrace coalesced into a kingdom during the Ancient period, the Saga list intends to represent them mainly during their tribal phase. So, it makes sense that armor is very individual, making the variety work in my favor here.

    I like this cast-on metal standard the left hand figure is carrying - the severed heads are a nice touch!
I decided to put the mounted standard bearer from the command pack in with the unit of 8 warriors.  I like the look of a foot standard bearer next to a mounted general for my warlord stands. That, and I was being cheap -- typical of me! The Crusader mounted packs contain three figures. So, I ordered three packs, giving me nine figures (8 for the warrior unit and one for the warlord stand). Thus, the mounted standard bearer and the horn blower were drafted into the warrior unit! I really like the severed heads handing from the standard, too. In fact, I am tempted to make my custom fatigue markers severed heads, as well. So, if anyone reading my blog has extra heads that come with plastic kits that they're not using, I'd be interested in getting about 10 or so from you. Let me know in the comments, or if you have may email or FB Messenger address, send me a message!

    The standard bearer on left was also given one of the fancier cloaks - I'm happy with how it looks!

All in all, I feel that I am off to a good start with this army. Two batches of eight done and one of those being the army's only mounted makes me feel progress is definitely being made. Once I finish the next batch of 5 rhomphaia men and the warlord's stand, I will have only three more batches to do. My plan is to field the army in the following way:

  • Mounted warlord
  • 8 mounted warriors
  • 13 foot warriors armed with rhomphaia (one unit of 6 and the other of 7 figures)
  • 27 foot warriors armed with javelins (three units of 9 figures)

I'll split the 27 foot warriors into three batches of nine, so who knows? Maybe this army will be done much quicker than you might think with all the fancy cloaks. I hope so! Stay tuned and see...!!   

    Many Thracian "tribesmen" type figures have the fox-skin hoods that Thracians were known for

    Some of the mounted figures came with round shields -- once again, more variety is good!

    I try to give each Saga army a consistent look for flocking, too, with the Thracians' including flowers

    With these two batches of miniatures painted, I am about 1/3 of the way done with this army!