O’er the bright black seas …

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Whilst the long pause in postings about any wargaming projects might signify that I have been inactive lately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve actually been busy working on one of the most the most challenging modelling projects I have ever faced – Napoleonic naval wargaming.

Like many wargamers, I recently succumbed to the temptation of Warlord Games’ brand new Black Seas game. I lashed out and ordered the starter box, and also a further box of 3rd-rates. Not that the models are third rate, I hasten to add! Ratings were a way of designating the size/armament of naval ships of the time – and the 64-80 gun 3rd rates were the common workhorses of the period.

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When the starter box arrived in the mail, I was astonished at how extensive the contents were. Not only the ships and rules, but you also get all the markers, a two-sided map, scenic items, dice, cotton-wool smoke and flames, and even thread for the rigging. About the only things not supplied are the paint and glue!

Assembling and painting the hulls was pretty straightforward, albeit with lots of very small details to pick out. In 1/700 scale, those cannons are pretty darn small! But using the new GW Contrast Paints made short work of these.

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My first challenge came with the next job – rigging! The last time I rigged miniature ships was for much larger models for use with 28mm figures – and I found even that difficult. So I was anticipating this task with some foreboding.

In the end, the rigging went quite well. Yes, the very thin thread has a mind of its own. But once I learned to use tweezers, and that a dab of superglue is much quicker and just as effective as a knot, then the job proceeded quite nicely. The main problem was when tightening one thread would cause previously tied threads to sag.

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But the ratlines – oh, those plastic ratlines! Talk about sailors cursing!  I rapidly became frustrated trying to stick these on, as they would keep attaching to the wrong part of the mast, or the deck, or my fingers – but not ever to where they were supposed to go!

It wasn’t till after lots of trial and error (emphasis on the word ‘error’!) that I thought of checking if there was any advice online about fitting the ratlines – and sure enough there was. Firstly, pre-bend the bottom of the ratlines so the top will fall naturally against the mast. And secondly, on the bigger ships such as the frigates and 3rd-rates, pre-cut some notches at the bottom of the ratlines for the guns to poke though.

Anyway, I eventually got the ships rigged and their ratlines attached, leaving the final job of adding flags. This was another fiddly job, not so much the large battle flags on the stern, but the smaller national and signal flags (used to differentiate between the same types of ships on the same side on the wargames table). The long narrow pennants for the brigs were especially tricky. But I eventually got them all attached.

Bending the paper and painting the exposed white edges of each flag gave them the finishing touch. 

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Don’t let any of the difficulties I’ve described put you off. Modelling-wise, I’m of average skills – and I have big butter fingers! So if I could do it, so could anyone else. Overcoming  the challenges involved in making, painting and rigging these models, the finished miniatures have given me a real sense of satisfaction and ‘a job well done’. 

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Finally, what about game-play? Well, I’ve had one play-test of ‘Black Seas’ so far (with a fellow club member’s partly-made models). In the pic below you see my frigate passing between two enemy ships in a very Nelson-like ‘breaking the T’ manoeuvre, giving fire from each side. Though you can also see the enemy supply ship (which was the scenario’s objective) quietly slipping away in the background!

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The rules seemed simple enough, which for me is quite something, as I’m one of those guys who can never remember all the little rules and tables of factors that some guys seem to be able to reel off at the drop of a hat … er, drop of a dice!

These rules probably aren’t on the super-realistic side, but more of a naval-themed fun game that plays quickly and simply, and looks fantastic. And that suits me just fine!

PS: The name of this blog posting is a play on words from the last time I made such small ships.

 

My latest article in ‘Wargames Illustrated’

Check out the sixth item down on this list of contents for the forthcoming November issue of ‘Wargames Illustrated’.

Despite the cover illustration, my article has nothing to do with Judge Dredd. But it still fits within this issues’s theme of ‘fictional heroes’ … you’ll just have to wait and see!

I haven’t received my copy of the mag yet, so can’t wait to see what my article looks like finished!

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Does historical wargaming trivialise or teach?

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Wargaming as a way of learning? Especially for a series of wars that continue to have repercussions in my country to this very day? Doesn’t playing the New Zealand Wars as a game trivialise the on-going impact of colonialism on generations of descendants?

My own story says otherwise.

But firstly, why am I even mentioning this? Well, there’s increasing pressure on the New Zealand government to make the study of our colonial wars compulsory in the national education curriculum. I totally support this idea. Just like a person, a country should know its own history, especially where parts of that story still adversely affect the lives of many of its citizens.

So how does wargaming fit into all this?

As a youngster, for me ‘real’ history didn’t take place in New Zealand. Rather, it was the stirring battles and sieges that took place hundreds of years ago and far, far away in the fields, towns and castles of Europe, or in the forests and grasslands of America.

For many years my hobby was built around the history of other countries’ wars – the Seven Years War, the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War. I read a lot of history of these conflicts, what caused them, what impact they had.  But I totally ignored the wars much closer to home. 

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But I wasn’t entirely ignorant of my country’s history.  I vaguely remember doing a project in primary school about the early 19th century whalers and sealers. Then in secondary school I learned all about our political figures of the Victorian and Edwardian periods. And of course every New Zealand kid learns about the ANZACs at Gallipoli.

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I  think I mainly learned about our founding document, the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, from a set of cereal packet cards when I was a child! Decades later I was lucky enough to take part in a reenactment of the signing of the treaty to celebrate its sesquicentennial, but even then I still didn’t know much about the wars that followed.

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During the 1980s I co-authored a couple of local police history books. However, even though there was an obvious linkage with the New Zealand Wars (after all, today’s New Zealand Police descend from the Armed Constabulary), I still didn’t really connect with how those wars were affecting many people in the Māori community today.

The idea of playing a wargame based on New Zealand history never even occurred to me.

But then in 2011 along came a  British company with the ironic name (considering colonialism) of Empress Miniatures, who announced a new range of 28mm metal figures portraying the 1840s campaigns of the New Zealand Wars. There was Hone Heke, exactly as I recalled him from my childhood Weetbix card, along with his fellow chief Kawiti and their warriors, the men of the British Regiments of Foot, the colonial militia and even the Royal Navy.

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I was immediately hooked by what looked to be a lovely set of figures, that for once depicted a struggle closer to home. Off went my order to England. And, as does any wargamer who takes up a new period, I started by reading up a few histories.

Initially I was just searching for superficial information, such as what the soldiers and warriors looked like, the weapons and tactics they used, and the type of terrain they fought over. This was the sort of stuff I needed to know to be able to paint the figures accurately and to create suitable tabletop scenery.

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However, as time went on I began reading more and more deeply, and started learning about the background of the wars, what drove the participants on both sides (willingly or unwillingly), and the legacy they left, particularly through the confiscation of Māori land.

This burgeoning interest gradually infiltrated into my work-life, where I became more aware of the role of the impact of colonialism on my job, and increasingly interested in te reo Māori (the Māori language) and tikanga Māori (Māori custom) generally.

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We’ve probably all heard of people maligning the hobby of wargaming by saying that it’s a war-mongering entertainment that trivialises the history and heartbreak of war. But it was this hobby that initially attracted and then inspired me to dig deeper and gain an understanding of not only the New Zealand Wars, but of their legacy to this very day.

I bet many wargamers from all over the world could say the same about whatever periods they recreate. Wargaming, through its unique visual and hands-on experience, is an amazing way of piquing interest in history. It then goes on to foster deeper learning by the very fact that to be a good wargamer, you need to research your chosen period.

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I believe that wargaming can result in much deeper historical engagement than you’ll ever get from more common (but less often maligned) conflict-based entertainments, such as watching war movies or reading war novels.  

I hope that if the New Zealand Wars do become part of our national curriculum, teachers won’t overlook the potential of a fascinating miniature wargame to spark their pupils’ first interest in our country’s history.

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Kickstarter for early war German Fallschirmjäger

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May ’40 Miniatures’ Kickstarter for 1939/1940 German Fallschirmjäger is now open.

These 28mm early war Fallschirmjäger (paratroops) will be made as historically accurate as possible in this scale.

They are designed for the 1940 German invasion of the Netherlands (but could also be used for games set in Norway, Belgium and even Crete).

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As a side-note, my father was in the Dutch army at the time of the invasion of Holland (you can read his story here). Amongst a box of his photos is this one, presumably taken shortly after the invasion. 

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The Night Watch as you’ve never seen it before

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What a cool Father’s Day present from my teenage daughter today! She has drawn me her impression of one of my favourite paintings, Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’. I’m blown away!

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The original painting, completed in 1642, depicts a group portrait of a division of Amsterdam’s civic guard — the Kloveniers militia.

The men are getting into formation, and their captain, Frans Banninck Cocq (dressed in black with a red sash), is telling his lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburch (dressed in yellow with a white sash) to start out on the march.

The kloveniers took on their name in 1522 — when they exchanged foot bows for primitive guns that were called ‘kloveren’ (from the French ‘couleuvrine’). This was a type of musket. Hence you can think of the Kloveniers as musketeers.

The painting was controversial because of the way Rembrandt depicted the group’s members. Rather than giving each of them equal prominence, he created the painter’s equivalent of a snapshot: a group of militiamen who have just moved into action and are about to march off.

My daughter told me she had a lot of problems trying to see what some of the characters in the picture were actually doing.

In particular, the man just to the left of Baninck Cocq gave her difficulty. Of course as a wargamer I knew that what she has interpreted as a front-view of a rather odd man’s head with horns and bushy hair, was in fact the side-view of a morion helmet with oak leaves – but I love her version!

We are going to get this framed for my study. And for next year, I’ve told Monique that I want her to do my other favourite painting, Philippoteaux’s The Battle of Fontenoy – now that would be a challenge!

Happy Father’s Day to my fellow male wargamers with kids!

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WW2 Dutch village finished

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My Dutch village is now complete. I’ll pack it away soon, to wait till I’ve painted up an enemy force from May ’40 Miniature’s forthcoming Fallschirmjäger (German paratroops) Kickstarter for my 1940 Dutch to fight.

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The final addition was to make the canal. I simply sprayed some textured sandpaper dark green, then edged the banks with sand and flock. Simple and effective, especially with the addition of some random bits of fencing and a couple of boats.

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The back gardens on the left are a Sarissa Precision product, which just happened to match the dimensions of two of my cardboard row houses. The only thing I had to adapt was to draw a little more crazy-paving to align the garden paths with the the back-doors of each house.

By the way, some people have asked why I use 1/72 scale buildings with 28mm figures. The answer is that I prefer my houses to have a small footprint, as they then don’t dominate the table as much. In any case, wargamers usually play with underscaled trees, rivers and hills, so also having smaller buildings makes sense.

 

A bridge too near – Fallschirmjäger for May 1940

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I’m getting my Dutch village ready for May ’40 Miniatures’ forthcoming Kickstarter for a new range of early WW2 fallschirmjäger (German paratroops).

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My 1940 Dutch army is badly in need of an opponent, so I am eagerly awaiting the Kickstarter that May ’40 Miniatures are about to launch for  a range of German early war fallschirmjäger.

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These figures will be accurately modelled to represent the paratroops who took part in the 1940 invasion of the Netherlands.

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Once they’re here, these fallschirmjäger will of course have to jump (ha ha!) to the top of my existing lead pile!

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Sarissa Precision’s canal bridge

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In readiness for wargaming the 1940 invasion of the Netherlands, I have added a typical opening bridge to my Dutch village.

Although Sarissa’s MDF canal bridge kitset is based on the bridge at Bruegel from the later Operation Market Garden in 1944, it will work perfectly for wargames set during the German invasion . 

The only additional detailing I have done to this kit is to cover the ramps with latex brick roads by Early War Miniatures.

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My next project will be to make a canal for the bridge to cross over, rather than the little stream in these pictures.