Category Archives: Terrain

Māori attack on the homestead

IMG_3052_aThe peace of Atkinson’s Farm, somewhere in the back-blocks of colonial New Zealand, is suddenly disturbed by blood-curdling yells as a party of Māori warriors descend on the farmhouse.  The Atkinson family run to stave off the attack.

IMG_3050_aaMiss Amelia, still dressed in her Sunday-best, flinches as she fires her father’s pistol at an attacking warrior brandishing his tewhatewha.

Note: The tewhatewha is a long-handled Māori club weapon shaped like an axe. It was designed for scientific sparring and lightning strokes and thrusts, aided by quick footwork on the part of the wielder.  The blows were not struck with the blade as one would with an axe, but rather with the thicker straight front edge. It was common for tewhatewha to be decorated with a small bunch of  feathers to distract or confuse the wielder’s opponent.

IMG_3052_aaMr Atkinson, still bandaged from a wound in an earlier clash, takes command and directs his son Jim (dapper in his town-going clothes) to his position.  Little Annie hitches up her skirts and runs with a haversack full of  ammunition to resupply the defenders. Meanwhile Mrs Atkinson can be just seen in the doorway, musket slung over her shoulder, doling out the gunpowder from a small barrel in her arms.

NewZealand3 - Copy (2)NZ16 - Copy (2)The Māori warriors and the family are all from Empress Miniatures.  My favourites are the delightful set #NZ16 shown above.   The house is a plastic kit by Perry Miniatures, and the typical New Zealand cabbage trees, toi-tois and flax are paper kits from Right Track. The background is my own garden!

burtts farmWith this set, I’ll be able to recreate attacks on homesteads during the New Zealand Wars, such as the attack on Burtt’s Farm in 1863, as shown in Gustavus von Tempsky’s above painting.

illus02Or I can portray attacks from romanticsed fiction, such as the attack shown in the above illustration from the classic 1891 novel Maori and Settler by GA Henty.

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Colourful ‘Ronin’ skirmish in 16th century Japan

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Our first-time experience using Osprey’s Ronin skirmish wargaming rules resulted in pretty much of a mixed bag. We found many aspects of the rules worked well and were simple to follow.  But a few of the rules mechanisms did confuse us, which made this first game a very slow one. In fact, it went so slowly that there was only one casualty in the whole two hours we spent playing.

We now need to decide if this was just first-time inexperience, and with a few more Ronin games under our belt, things will become clear.  Or if we should revert to a samurai version of another set of rules we are already quite familiar with from playing other periods, namely the Legends of the Rising Sun variant of Games Workshop’s Legends series.

Anyway, here is the report from our first Ronin game.

The terrain

IMG_3018_aThe terrain consisted of a small post village straddling a straight highway.  The thatched house in the foreground is by … um … 4Ground.  On the left you can see the red torii gate of the temple, which is a plastic kit by Plastcraft Games. The fencing is also by 4Ground, and the latex road by Miniature World Maker.

IMG_3019_aPeasant cottages lie just off the highway, each with a small garden area shaded by cherry-blossoms trees.  To the left a stream babbles quietly under a stone bridge.  A Perry Miniatures coolie lugs his load across this peaceful scene.

IMG_3020_aPedestrians on the busy highway pass a small temple complex, cross the stream and then proceed past the open doors of the village’s communal rice barn.

IMG_3021_aA monk stands on the ornamental bridge in the temple grounds.  A peaceful scene, about to be shattered by the clarion calls of war …

The game

We fought the game with two small but evenly-matched forces.  We each had two samurai (one mounted) and four ashigaru soldiers with different weapons.  These figures are all by Kingsford Miniatures, by the way.

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The main force of Scott’s Takeda clan started by moving towards the highway through a field of long grass. The archer attempted to shoot some enemy at long range, but with no effect.

IMG_3025_aMeanwhile my Hojo clan warriors moved up to the stream from the other side of the board.  My archer also tried a few long shots, but was also unsuccessful.

IMG_3026_aIn the background, Scott makes his next move, whilst my men get ready to wade across the stream. One of my ashigaru carries the distinctive  Hojo banner of  ‘the five lucky colours’.

IMG_3032_aOnce across the stream, my men ran into Scott’s mounted samurai, who had galloped around the edge of the board.  This ‘two infantry vs one cavalry’ melee took quite a while for us to work out under the rules, and in the end it was an inconclusive result, with nothing major happening to any party.

IMG_3029_aMeanwhile Scott’s Takeda soldiers lined the fence alongside the highway, as civilians scampered out of the way.

IMG_3030_aBut, surprise! My mounted samurai had made his way through the village and now suddenly appeared behind the Takeda line.  The soldiers quickly vaulted the fence to get out of the way, whilst one of their number shot a hasty arrow at the approaching horseman – and inflicted a light wound.

IMG_3033_aMy samurai charged in to attack the archer, who was quickly joined by his spear-wielding comrade.  Fighting from behind the protection of the sturdy fence, they wounded the samurai again, causing a fatal wound – the one and only casualty of the game!

At this point we had to finish the game, so victory went to Scott.

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4Ground’s shogunate cottage and barn finished

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Having finished building the latest shogunate Japanese buildings from 4Ground, I thought I would take some close-up pictures to show the detail of these neat wooden kits.

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Peasant labourer’s dwelling

According to the 4Ground website, this model depicts a lowland farmstead dwellings, the home to a family of ‘mizunomi’, or farm labourers.  These most simple of houses were made of wooden post-framing, with timber boarded panel walls throughout.

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This photo shows the intricate framework of the 4Ground model. The wooden planks are actually inserted panels that are glued between the frames (sounds complex, but they fit so accurately that it is a doddle to do). The wooden-barred windows and the loft air-vents are beautifully laser-cut pieces. The roof is made of teddy bear fur supplied with the kit.

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In the foreground of this picture we see the house with its roof removed.  The interior walls are fully detailed.  The dwelling is divided into the lower padded earth floor area where many household jobs were done, and the higher timber flooring where the family ate and slept.

You can see the opening door, and once again one of those delicately barred windows.  Note also the little lug in each corner that hold the roof on.  The two rather visible location pegs on the verandah roof don’t show when the thatch roof is back on.

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Unlike a couple of earlier 4Ground kits I made, I haven’t trimmed the edges of the thatch roof this time. I think I prefer it this way, as it looks more natural.

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Village rice barn

This is a lowland rice barn. As described on the 4Ground website, all villages had an estimated field tax burden that they had to pay in produce to their Daimyo.  The rice tax was collected and stored in village rice barns/large outbuildings like this one, called ‘mura bei no naya’.

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While the two kits are based on the same plan, there are differences. For example, the barn lacks the loft-vents of the dwelling, and doesn’t have a verandah.

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The barn has double doors, which are fully operable. And inside, of course, the barn has no raised sleeping/eating floor. 

The roof comes off the barn in the same way as the dwelling. You can see the holes in the ceiling in which the corner lugs on the walls sit.  

All in all, another pair of 4Ground buildings that I am very pleased with indeed.  Dead simple to make, tons of character, strongly built, definitely Japanese in appearance – what more could you want for a samurai game!

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New housing estate in Little Japan

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My Japanese villagers are all abuzz as construction work moves ahead at a great pace in their village. The frames of two new 28mm buildings have recently appeared, one the start of a village rice barn, the other a peasant labourer’s dwelling.

These are both kits by 4Ground, to complement the two larger 4Ground houses and the Plastcraft Games temple I had already built.

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New fencing and gates have also been erected over the last couple of days. These again come from a 4Ground kit.  These are assembled by firstly gluing posts into the bases, then attaching rails to the posts, and finally gluing the boarded fronts onto the rails.  I came up with a couple of tricks:

  • Firstly, I textured the bases after I had attached he rails to the posts, but before the boarded fronts were glued on.  This saved having to do loads of very fiddly texturing under the boards.
  • Secondly, I painted a heavily-diluted wash of black acrylic paint between each board.  This was a tedious job, but I think the end result gives the fences more definition.

My only disappointment with this kit is that the gates don’t open or close (unlike the doors in the 4Ground buildings).  However, that is a very minor beef, and overall I love these fences and gates.

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This picture of the two latest buildings under construction show the clever way that these 4Ground kits are designed. You first assemble these frames. Then the pre-painted interior walls get glued to the inside, and small textured panels are glued on the outside into the spaces between the frames. Doors and windows go in, and the roof is added as a completely separate sub-assembly.  While this may all sound complex, in fact it’s a dead easy process.

I’m so impressed with these 4Ground kits.  They’re not only great-looking models when they’re finished, but they’re absolute fun to make.

I’m looking forward to their next products in this range.  Rumour has it that they intend to make a highland village and a river delta village (think stilts). The lowland and highland collection are also going to include houses for their local rural samurai.

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Review of 4Ground’s Japanese shogunate houses

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Often you come across wargames-related products you like. Sometimes you come across one you really like. But very occasionally you find one you really, really like. And that’s what I’ve just found.

The product in question came from a somewhat unexpected quarter for me. Up till now I’ve been rather dubious of laser-cut wooden model buildings. I’d never seen any in real-life, but pictures on the internet seemed to indicate that they were often rather toy-like because of the visible joints and the limits in three-dimensional surface detail.

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Then late last year I saw the above picture of  4Ground’s new Japanese shogunate-era houses.  From what I could see, they appeared to have very few visible joints, and the surface-detail looked OK (helped by the typical frame design of the Japanese cottage). So I decided to give them a go, and ordered a set of two Shogunate houses.

Two days ago my order arrived in the mail in a surprisingly heavy box. Inside I found two plastic bags jam-packed with pieces of wood of different thicknesses and colours, all filled with pre-cut shapes to press out. There were also some pieces of teddy-bear fur and an instruction sheet with step-by-step photographs in full colour. I could immediately see I was looking at a quality product.

I couldn’t wait to get started, so that evening I began assembling the first house, thinking I would be able to complete the first few construction steps. But much to my surprise, I had completely finished the model by bed-time, apart from the last step of shaping the teddy-bear fur thatch.

I was impressed at how cleverly the (un-named) designer had planned the pieces. Everything looks so intricate, but with the many hidden lugs and interlocking cutouts, it all goes together in an elegant manner. I kept on whistling to myself in appreciation as I came across one cunningly designed feature after another.

The model starts with assembling a frame, just like building a house in real-life. The pieces of the frame interlock so snugly and tightly that you could almost skip the glue.  You then insert inner walls and a half-platform floor, along with opening doors (both hinged doors and traditional Japanese sliding doors) and very intricately latticed windows.

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The next step is to glue pre-coloured exterior panels into the gaps between the framework.  Finally you make the roof, which is a separate sub-assembly that fits over four lugs on top of the walls, making it removable for game-play.

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As I went through the process of building the model, I was struck by how every part, no matter how small or fiddly, fitted so accurately. There wasn’t the slightest error in the laser-cutting, so no need for any trimming or forcing parts together. As a result, I found construction of this model one of the most enjoyable kit-building experiences I’ve ever had.

Not only was the house fully assembled in one evening, it was also completely ‘painted’ because of the different coloured wooden pieces. The model was almost ready for play only a few hours after first opening the bag!

I’d make just one cautionary remark: ensure you study and follow the instructions carefully.  The lug arrangement means that every piece has to go exactly where it is designed to go.  I initially attached one frame on the wrong side of the base, but fortunately realised my mistake before the glue had set!

The only step that needed to wait another day was the final shaping of the thatch. This is because after you glue the teddy-bear fur onto the wooden roof, you need to wait 24 hours for it to completely dry before damping it down with diluted PVA glue and brushing it into shape. The instructions show this being done with an old toothbrush, but I used a plastic comb. After combing the fur downwards, I pressed the comb into the thatch to make several horizontal lines to indicate layers.

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Of course, clever assembly design or not, the real test is how good the finished models look. In this case I have no qualms about saying these would have to be two of the nicest models I’ve ever come across.  They look exactly how I imagine Japanese houses to be.  And they go perfectly with my 28mm Kingsford Miniatures samurai figures, as can be seen in the picture above.

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According to 4Ground’s website, the larger house is ‘a lowland home to a honbyakushō (literally – first farmer)  family’. It has ‘ two hi-enengawa (full length verandas), one each side, both with naga-ita (wood planking) roofing. The cottage itself has a buki (thatched) kirizuma roof, and the mune-jimai (ridge cover) is the relatively common oki-chi.’

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The other house is a smaller ‘home to a komae family of smallholders. This lowland minka (vernacular built) dwelling is made from kyoro-gumi wooden post-framing, with both partial plastered bamboo panels and timber boarded panels’.

These two 4Ground houses have completely blown away my preconceptions about laser-cut models. The joints are cleverly disguised in all but one area (the ridge cover of the roof, but a small splash of paint should cover that).  And the surface detail is exquisite.

If there is ever a competition for the best wargames terrain product for 2013, I’d say 4Ground’s shogunate-era houses would have to be amongst the top contenders.

Finally, there’s another rather novel bonus to these models: the laser-cutting process results in a not unpleasant aroma rather like smoked meat! 

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4Ground’s Japanese shogunate buildings

4groundI just ordered myself a Christmas present for my 28mm samurai project – a pair of wooden Shogunate houses from 4Ground.

I’ve never really been tempted by pre-cut MDF model buildings before, because to my eye they tend to look rather like what they are – simple plywood kits with obvious lugs holding them together.

However, I’ve got to say these ones do look good. Japanese houses, with their simple frame and panel construction, seem to be perfectly suited for this medium.

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The information on the 4Ground website also shows they’ve done a lot of homework in order to get these models to be architecturally accurate.

According to the site, one of the houses (shown above) is a ‘home to a Komae family of smallholders. This lowland Minka (vernacular built) dwelling is made from Kyoro-Gumi wooden post-framing, with both partial plastered bamboo panels and timber boarded panels’.

The other house (shown below) is ‘a lowland home to a Honbyakushō (literally-First Farmer) family’.  It has ‘ two Hi-en Engawa (full length verandas), one each side, both with Naga-ita (wood planking) roofing.  The cottage itself has a Buki (thatched) Kirizuma roof, and the mune-jimai (ridge cover) is the relatively common Oki-chi.’ 

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From the pics on their site (reproduced here), it looks like these are very well detailed models, both inside and out. I can’t wait to get my hands on them.

Oh, one other thing – full marks to a company that automatically takes VAT off for non-UK customers at the online ordering point. I was most pleasantly surprised by the final price.

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My stereotypical Japanese terrain for ‘Ronin’

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If you’re going to do samurai skirmish gaming, you might as well go the whole hog so far as stereotypical Japanese terrain is concerned. I think I’ve pushed all the buttons: cherry blossoms, humpbacked red footbridges, sturdy torii ornamental gates, and a pointy-roofed shrine. click on the above photo to get the full-size effect and be transported into my little impression of Japan.

By the way, and for those interested, that is a 28mm Kingsford Miniatures samurai in the foreground – but unpainted, as yet.  They do a lovely range of absolutely exquisite  figures.

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Here is a view of the three kits of Japanese structures I’ve assembled this last weekend – the torii gate, the bridge, and a small house or shrine. I threw them together into a little diorama for this photo session, using a river section and my cherry-blossom trees.

The bamboo edging of my temporary diorama was purely serendipitous. I needed a board to carry my buildings out into the garden for the photography session, and just happened to find an old broken bamboo-framed mirror frame close at hand.  It wasn’t till I posted the above photo on The Miniatures Page that it was pointed out to me how apt this bamboo edging was for an Asian scene!

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The buildings are all Plast Craft Games kits available from the Fukei website. They’re mainly made of pre-cut plastic foam card. This is very easy to work with, and the pressed-out parts fit together well with just a touch of superglue gel. The roofs are made of corrugated card supplied with the kit, and the windows of the house are resin pieces.

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The end result I think looks terrific. Though they may be a smidgen fragile for very robust wargaming, especially the pointy roof ornaments. But handled with care they should be fine.

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Fukei also produce the Japanese gravestones in resin. I’ve glued them as ornaments on the bases of my cherry trees. I’m not sure if this is where you would find them in real life, but they look the part to my eye. The large grave makes a nice centre-piece for a courtyard.

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The little hump-backed bridge, despite its complex curved shape, was surprising easy to put together. Superglue gel holds the curved pieces very quickly because of their light weight. Scoring some boards on the deck of the bridge also helped shape the plastic foam card into a curve.

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Overall, I don’t think you can get more Japanese than this peaceful scene. It seems almost a shame for my models to fight over!

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Oh, one last thing:  I’m not sure what Japanese characters to write on the white plaque at the top centre of my torii gate.  Any Japanese speakers who can help?  I just want it to be two or three characters in a vertical line, saying something like “little red shrine” or similar …

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