On parade! Shogunate Japanese armies

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Over the last year I’ve been gradually parading each army in my wargaming collection for inspection to take stock of what I’ve got. In this posting in my On Parade! series, it is the turn of my Shogunate Japanese armies.

For this posting, I started by taking the above photo of my entire Japanese collection on its shelf in my display case. By chance, the lighting and background almost gives the impression of a traditional Japanese kabuki theatre show! You really must click on this photo to see it at full effect.

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Here’s the first samurai I ever painted. I had a great deal of trepidation when I started work on the complicated armour of this 28mm Kingsford figurePainting the intricate silk lacing was quite a challenge. I used an almost dry brush to pick out the well-sculpted threads.  While the result doesn’t bear too close scrutiny, the overall effect has (I think) worked quite well.

I based the colour-scheme on an Angus McBride plate in the Osprey book ‘The Samurai’. The plate portrays an unnamed samurai in c.1553. This  is clothed and armoured almost the same as the samurai in the book, so I suspect they may both have used the same source.

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Now my first samurai is joined by his buntai (warband) of Kingsford 28mm warriors. They carry a mix of weapon types – yari (spear), teppo (arquebus) and yumi (bow). Such a mixture of weaponry within the same unit is historically correct for Japanese soldiers of this period.

I painted these models as retainers of the Takeda clan. I used VVV decals for the small sashimono (back banner) worn by most of the figures, but I hand-painted the Takeda mon (badge) onto the large banner.

The soldiers’ armour is mainly rust-coloured, and their clothing various shades of beige or sand. Their samurai leaders are more variegated.

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To oppose my Takeda buntai, here is the Hojo clad. The carry the triple triangle emblem on their yellow sashimono, which I drew with a drafting pen. Their large standard portrays the so-called ‘five lucky colours’.

The foot soldiers’ armour is mainly black, with light blue lacing and clothing. Their samurai leaders are clothed in different colours according to taste.

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I’d admired this set of 28mm Perry Miniatures unarmoured samurai for many years. So although I settled on Kingsford for my armoured samurai, this set did not escape my clutches.

There are three things I particularly like about these figures:

  1. The way they look so Japanese – something indefinable, but definitely there.
  2. The realistic poses imbued with so much flowing movement.
  3. Their wonderful facial expressions, straight out of the TV series ‘Shogun’!

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These figures are from are North Star’s Koryu Buntai set, modelled after the eponymous characters from the 1952 movie Seven Samurai.

Seven Samurai is set in war-torn 16th-century Japan, where a village of farmers look for ways to ward off a band of robbers. Since they do not themselves know how to fight, they hire seven ronin (lordless samurai) to fight for them.

  1. Kikuchiyo – a humorous character who initially claims to be a samurai, and even falsifies his family tree and identity. Mercurial and temperamental, he identifies with the villagers and their plight, and he reveals that he is in fact not a samurai, but rather a peasant. Eventually however, he proves his worth.
  2. Shichirōji – an old friend of Kambei (the leader of the Seven Samurai) and his former lieutenant. Kambei meets Shichirōji by chance in the town, and he resumes this role.
  3. Kyūzō – initially declined an offer by Kambei to join the group, though he later changes his mind. A serious, stone-faced samurai and a supremely skilled swordsman whom Katsushirō is in awe of.
  4. Kambei Shimada – a ronin and the leader of the group. The first samurai recruited by the villagers, he is a wise but war-weary soldier.
  5. Heihachi Hayashida – an amiable though less-skilled fighter. His charm and wit maintain his comrades’ good cheer in the face of adversity.
  6. Gorōbei Katayama – a skilled archer recruited by Kambei. He acts as the second-in-command and helps create the master plan for the village’s defence.
  7. Katsushirō Okamoto – a young untested warrior. The son of a wealthy landowner samurai, he left home to become a wandering samurai against his family’s wishes. After witnessing Kambei rescue a child who was taken hostage, Katsushirō desires to be Kambei’s disciple.

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A busy track sometime during the Sengoku Jidai (‘Warring States’) period, in the shade of a castle and some cherry-blossom trees.

An old-timer ambles along, whilst a mother drags her bawling child, following a well-dressed lady. A ronin stands with his sword over his shoulder. Two workers hurry along, one carrying a mattock and the other with goods balanced on a pole. Meanwhile a yellow-clad monk watches the passing traffic. 

These are all Perry figures.

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This geisha by Kensei practises her moves with a pair of fans.

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 here: cherry blossoms, humpbacked red footbridge, and a sturdy torii ornamental gate!

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This model, which is also included in the above-mentioned North Star koryu buntai set, depicts the manga comic hero Ogami Ittō. He was the shōguns executioner, but disgraced by false accusations from the Yagyū clan, he is forced to take the path of the assassin. Along with his three-year-old son, Daigorō, they seek revenge on the Yagyū clan and are known as ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’.

Don’t forget to visit my other On Parade! postings, in which I’m gradually doing inspection parades of every army in my wargaming collection.

Call To Arms 2: Samurai

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This second post about my display games last weekend at Call To Arms in Wellington features my samurai scenery and figures.

The games I put on were static displays, one in the morning and then a completely different one on the same small table  in the afternoon.  The samurai were the subject of the afternoon display.

IMG_3280_aThis was actually a quick change from the colonial New Zealand Wars game I put on in the morning.  Essentially the terrain stayed the same, but the buildings and some of the trees have been replaced to quickly convert New Zealand into Japan.

Or, as several wags commented, it was still New Zealand, but depicting the film-set for ‘The Last Samurai’ in Taranaki!

IMG_3300_aThis was a chance to show off my Shogunate period buildings, which are wooden kits from 4Ground.  The river sections by Miniature World Makers also created a lot of interest.

IMG_3301_aSome cherry-blossom trees and a few Perry Miniatures villagers set the scene.   In the background, the banners of the warring Takeda and Hojo clans begin to appear.

IMG_3281_aA view behind the Takeda lines.  The samurai and ashigaru figures are all by Kingsford Miniatures.

IMG_3286_aTwo mounted samurai charge into single combat, whilst their retainers battle it out with bow, arquebus and pike.

IMG_3282_aMy favourite Japanese figures are the set of unarmoured samurai made by Perry Miniatures.   They are really animated, and capture the feel of the TV series ‘Shogun’.  Here two of them battle it out in a field of waving wheat.

IMG_3283_aAnother couple of unarmoured samurai fight on an arched bridge, in the shadow of an ornate torii gateway.

IMG_3284_aIn the temple confines, the last two unarmoured samurai are locked in combat near a large gravestone, whilst a Perry monk watches anxiously.

IMG_3293_aA last look at the temple complex …

In my next post, I feature some other spectacular  games that caught my eye at Call To Arms.

Ronin samurai game at Kapiti club’s open day


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I had been kindly invited by the Kapiti Wargames Club to put on a display game at their open day today. Having recently completed painting my samurai armies and constructing suitable terrain, this was the perfect opportunity to give them a public outing.

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As I had a couple of hours to wait until my opponent Paul was able to arrive, I set up my terrain for the morning as a static display of a peaceful Japanese village lying blissfully unaware of the forthcoming battle.  And, yes – those are indeed chopsticks decorating the edges of the table to add a touch of oriental character to the display!

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The terrain consisted of buildings by 4Ground and Plastcraft Games, along with my el-cheapo Hong Kong blossom trees, and rivers and roads by Miniature World Makers.

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I populated my ‘morning diorama’ with some of Perry Miniatures’ delightful Japanese civilians, keeping my samurai figures out of sight beneath the table until the battle was due to start. This kept some open day spectators on tenterhooks waiting to see what the fighting forces would look like when they finally arrived on the table.

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The village scene included this small temple complex, complete with the typical Japanese torii gate commonly found in front of Shinto shrines, where they symbolically mark the transition from the profane to the sacred.

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This little bridge arching over a babbling brook looks peaceful enough here. But little do the mother and child know that this will shortly be the scene of the bloodiest fighting of the day.

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The peace is suddenly shattered as the opposing forces begin entering the village from each side, and villagers scurry to safety. My forces wear the yellow or blue sashimono back flags, whilst Paul’s are the figures with the red and white sashimono in the background.

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I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow description of the battle here, as Paul has already done that on his blog much more eloquently than I ever could. But here are a few shots of some of the milestone events of the day.

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I split up my force to attack each of the two river crossings. Here one of my groups rushes across the little arched bridge to assault Paul’s awaiting warriors.

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My leader in his ornate old-fashioned armour joins the stoush at the far end of the bridge, as both sides feed more and more figures into the fight.

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Paul’s leader, it must be said, turned out to be one tough samurai. Even though he was grievously wounded quite early on, he still managed to defend himself, and even inflict some telling attacks, before finally succumbing in the very last turn of the game.  He is seen here lying rather undignifiedly on the ground, no doubt to have his head removed soon as a trophy.

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Here’s the end of the game, as seen by a passing Japanese seagull.  At the top right is the final aftermath of the fight at the bridge.  Meanwhile, on the left one of my arquebusiers hides behind a rock after my attack at the ford has been resoundingly beaten off by Paul’s men.

We had to call the game quits at this stage.  But a result was still achieved, with me winning by a slim margin once the victory points were toted up.  In fact, we had both despatched the same number of enemy each, but I won because Paul’s losses were of higher ranks.  This included his doughty leader, who died as honourably as any samurai could ever wish for:   ‘The samurai’s life is like the cherry blossom’s, beautiful and brief. For him, as for the flower, death follows naturally, gloriously.’

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I also took photos of some of the other games being played, including this spectacular D-Day beachhead game.  Being a scenery-lover, it wasn’t so much the beautiful figures and vehicles that attracted me, lovely as they were, so much as the delicate portrayal of the waves lapping the beach, forever frozen in a snapshot of time.

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I’m told that despite a valiant effort, this time the Allies didn’t succeed.  In this particular universe, the war would have taken a totally different course.

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Just down the coast, meanwhile, commandos and glider-borne troops were raiding a heavily defended shore installation, with unfortunately much the same result for the Allies.

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These commando kayaks brought back memories for me.  These were the same as the first-ever Airfix figures that I painted as a youngster.  This was the first time I had seen these models since those long-gone days.  Almost brought a tear to me eye!

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I was also rather impressed with this lovely model of a Horsa glider, broken open after landing.

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Many thanks to the Kapiti Wargames Club for hosting us at their open day. Paul and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. And it was great to see so much enthusiasm for gaming from such a wide range of ages. Well-played, everyone!

Settlers, samurai, a standard and a Shorland

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It’s been fairly quiet on the gaming front at the moment, but not entirely without some output.  I’m working on some Empress Miniatures figures from their colonial New Zealand Wars range, including these four colonists defending their homestead, and the three gunners to man a Maori cannon.

I also have the last banner-man for my Kingsford Miniatures Japanese samurai to find a suitable flag design for.  Something nondescript, as he is not really required for either of my samurai clan armies, so will be just a decorative figure.

The Napoleonic British standard bearer in the background is a Warlord figure that came with a set of Black Powder rules.  He comes with a cast-on flag, which (like the samurai flag) has been quite a challenge to paint, because I’m more used to GMB Design’s exquisite printed paper flags.

Finally, I recently dug out a miniature resin model of a Dutch police Shorland armoured car, which I made a decade or so ago in my previous hobby of collecting model police vehicles (before I became a wargamer). From memory, the manufacturer was called something like Transports of Delight.  I can’t see any particular gaming purpose for this model, but I just  love the shape of the Shorland, based as it was on the common-or-garden Landrover.

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.

Takeda versus Hojo

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The lack of updates on my blog for the last few weeks doesn’t mean there has been no painting action. As you can see from the photos, my 28mm Kingsford Miniatures samurai of the Takeda clan now have an enemy to fight – the Hojo clan.

The Hojos’ triple triangle emblems on their yellow back banners (‘sashimono’) are drawn with a drafting pen. Their large standard portrays the so-called ‘five lucky colours’.  The foot soldiers’ armour is mainly black, with light blue lacing and clothing.  Their samurai leaders are clothed in different colours according to taste.  

The white diamond shapes on the blue sashimono of the Takeda are done with commercial decals – apart from the large standard which was painted by hand. The soldiers’ armour is mainly rust-coloured, and their clothing various shades of beige or sand.  Again, their samurai leaders are more variegated.

To give the sheen of laquer to the armour and weapons, yet avoid the garish appearance of gloss varnish, I over-painted the laquered areas with a wash of PVA glue and water.  This gave a nice eggshell effect to those parts of the figures, but leaving the remainder of their clothing completely matt.

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of my paint-jobs or their flags. I’ve found it very difficult to research samurai armies. Whilst there are lots of books and websites around, it is such a complex subject. But these models suit my purposes, even if they aren’t absolutely historical. They’re just for gaming, after all!

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My 28mm Takeda samurai buntai

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My holiday resolution was to make some time to complete a full buntai (group) of 28mm Kingsford Miniatures samurai for use in skirmish gaming. And as you can see from the pics, I’m well on the way, with a small buntai of samurai and ashigaru (foot soldiers).

The buntai is made up of a mix of weapon types – teppo (arquebus), yari (spear) and yumi (bow). Such a mixture of weaponry within the same unit is historically correct for Japanese soldiers of this period.

I had been umming and ahhing for some time about which clan my buntai would belong to. But yesterday I took the plunge and plumped for them to be retainers of the Takeda clan. I used VVV decals for the small sashimono (back banner) worn by most of the figures, but I hand-painted the Takeda mon (badge) onto the large flag.

Unfortunately the decals haven’t worked too well. The carrier film is quite visible, despite covering it with varnish. I think the problem was that I applied the decals straight onto matt paint. But now I remember from my model-making past that you should apply decals to a glossy surface, and then matt varnish them later.

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My figures are not quite finished yet. I still need to paint final small details on some of them, and also add grass and fallen blossoms to most of the bases.

I’ve found painting samurai challenging, to say the least. The lacing on the armour is incredibly difficult to do, and my efforts don’t stand too close scrutiny. So I’m resigned to the fact that these won’t be up to my usual standard – but they’ll still look good enough from normal gaming distance.

One thing that worries me a little is the fragility of these figures. Those sashimonos are only supported by the thinnest of lead poles, and they’re very bendy. Weapons such as the spears and bows are also very delicate. I’m not sure how well these guys are going to stand up to the rigours of gaming.

But overall the figures are very nicely sculpted, the period is intriguing, and I’m finding this an engrossing project.

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Mounted samurai horseman

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My 28mm samurai project is proceeding at a very slow but steady pace. In the last week I’ve painted this Kingsford mounted samurai armed with a rather fearsome trident, and another foot samurai.

Most manufacturers provide their mounted samurai figures with full size European-style horses. But Kingsford are one of the few who do the correct diminutive mounts. In real life, samurai rode surprisingly small ponies.

I must say I’m finding samurai one of the most difficult painting projects I’ve ever done. I was warned this would be the case, especially because the intricate lacing is just so difficult to do properly. A close examination of the above photo shows my efforts are pretty hit-or-miss. Though to the naked eye, rather than photographically enlarged, my paint-jobs look sufficient enough for my purposes. And there’s no doubt I’m enjoying the challenge.

Note that the sashimono (back flags) remain unpainted. I have yet to decide which clans my samurai will belong to.

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Samurai unleashed in a Japanese garden

IMG_2787_aMy 28mm samurai project is now really up and running at last.  After completing the first of my Kingsford figures last week, I’ve now painted four more of them, plus done a Kensei geisha as well.  Whilst the Japanese armour is challenging to paint, doing them one-by-one has made it an enjoyable pastime.

As you can see, I’ve completed the figures fully apart from the sashimono (back banners).  I’m leaving these in their plain black undercoat till later, once I’ve decided how to divide up my force and what clans they’ll belong to.  I’m also waiting to see the sashimono decals that Steel Fist have advised they will be producing next year.

IMG_2785_aPurely by chance I’ve ended up painting one each of the common colours of samurai armour.  From left to right you can see rust-coloured, black,  multi-colour laced, bare metal and red.  While some colours could be a bit gaudy, I’ve tried to use muted shades of them in order to obtain a campaign look.

IMG_2781_aThe Kensei geisha is a nice simple figure.  I’ve kept her kimono quite plain at this stage, but maybe I might go back and try to add a blossom pattern if I can pluck up the courage.  The bridge, by the way, like all my other Japanese structures, is a foam-plastic kit by Plastcraft/Fukei.

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I’ve experimented by adding some fallen blossoms onto the bases. I’m not sure if this has really worked out as effectively as I had hoped, but it does add to the Japanese garden theme.

Test run painting a 28mm Kingsford samurai

I’ve had a great deal of trepidation in painting my first-ever samurai figure.  But I finally broke the ice last night and painted one of my Kingsford 28mm samurai warriors.

I based the colour-scheme on an Angus McBride plate in the Osprey book ‘The Samurai’.  The plate portrays an unnamed samurai in c1553.  The Kingsford figure is clothed and armoured almost the same as the samurai in the book, so I suspect they may both have used the same source.

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He is wearing a do-maru (the armour wrapped around his torso) laced in iro-iro-odoshi (a pattern of lacing in horizontal rows of 3 or 4 alternating colours).  On his head is a kabuto (helmet) with a huge mittsu-kuwagata (triple horn crest).   [See, who says playing with toy soldiers isn’t educational?  I’ve had to start learning a whole new language!] 

Painting the intricate silk lacing was quite a challenge.  I used an almost dry brush to pick out the well-sculpted threads.  While the result doesn’t bear too close scrutiny, the overall effect has (I think) worked quite well.

The base has so far only been covered in sand. I still have to add some touches of vegetation.

It was enjoyable and relaxing to paint an individual figure for a change, rather than a few – or a lot – of figures in a single  batch.  It reminded me of my previously most enjoyable painting project: my pirates.  Painting unique figures one by one prevents the boredom that can creep in when doing batches of similarly clothed figures.

Anyway, the samurai project has now well and truly started.  I’m not expecting it to proceed at a very fast pace –  just enough for me to really enjoy it.

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