Thursday, 16 November 2017

Not quite in Harmony

Right. So. My final Chinese Wooden Building. For the moment.

This one is quite ambitious in terms of size and complexity. It's the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City. I took it into Shedquarters so I could lay it all out. This makes it to assemble in the end.

For the first time with one of these I decided to paint before hand. I realised I'd have to touch in some of it later, but it seemed like the best option. The printing on this one was in a very light brown and got lost in the grey. I therefore had to draw in the paving slabs by hand, - something that would have been very difficult if I'd assembled it first.

I also had to draw in the black lines on the balustrades, which weren't printed straight. In this case it would have helped to have assembled it so you could see what was intended. You can't win, just as you can't tell from this picture.

The building sits on a three tiered platform which is quite large and stretches across several sheets of pieces. The numbering was a bit hard to follow at this point.

Flipping over you can see it is all held in place with wooden clips. The ones on the base level will need to be cut off and glued so it sits flat.

Damn. Missed painting the rear of the base.

The temple itself is, indeed, red. Or it might be vermillion, because that's the Imperial colour. I painted it red. I remember it being red from when I visited.

You can just see through the entrance into the interior where there's a representation of the throne printed on the wall. I thought everything was going well at this point, but I had missed fitting the doors. Also the lower level roof supports had a different numbering system and need to be fitted right at the very beginning before you put the walls in the base, not at the end as I thought.

So, anyway, I thought I was doing great, and put the roof on.

Then I took it off again, to fit the doors. Which involved removing the interior walls and two of the side walls. The doors have working hinges, but because of the roof, once you've pushed them open you can't close them again without taking off the roof.

Then I put the roof on and had to take it off again to fit the lower roof. I didn't photograph me doing that, although that also involved removing the interior walls etc.

Once I'd run out of bits I decided I must have finished, so I took it inside to finish the paint work. The golden roof is simply done with my normal tinted varnish, slightly diluted. Shiny.

Then back outside for a quick picture with some Imperial Bannermen on guard. They can stand on all the levels, just not all the way round.

This took the longest of all of these models partly because of how I did the painting. I think that was the right decision, but it did make the wood swell slightly, so some of it was harder to fit together.

Of all of the buildings I think this one might be of the least use, although it does look magnificent. It was also hard on the fingers, like the walled house.

But I am quite proud of it.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Ney, Ney, Thrice Ney

For November my monthly SPI retro game meet up featured the well-regarded "Ney vs Wellington". Published in 1979 and available tin the May/June edition of S&T, this game covered the Battle of Quatre Bras at battalion level, and used the "Wellington's Victory" game system.

This is quite a complicated game. It's a tactical Napoleonic game, and has a lot in common with 1970s figure games. Units can be in different formations, - column, line, square - guns limber and unlimber, infantry puts out skirmishers and so on. There's a lot going on, a lot of units and a lot of markers.

The rules for the game, with scans of the counters and map can be found here. Alas the definition of the map is poor, and it is hard to make out the hex numbers.

No matter. When I arrived at Gary's he was still pushing out the counters. Yes. He had a pristine copy from his 1979 S&T magazine. BTW I also have the magazine but not the game. I do not remember ever playing it. Alas my brother had all of games and has lost them. I am more than a little annoyed about this. 

I do not recall ever playing it. I suspect that at the time I was playing Napoleonics with figures against my mate Derek and had large armies of mixed Airfix / Minifigs / Warrior / Hinchcliffe figures, using Bruce Quarrie's rules. I had no need for a tactical Napoleonic boardgame.

Any how, as I'd found the rules online and Gary had the original we'd both had a chance to read them before we got together. This was interesting when we met, as Gary knew nothing about Napoleonics and so was really struggling with what the rule mechanisms were trying to make him do and what it all meant.

Gary decided defending was easier, so I took the French. The first problem I had was working out where everything was, and what it was (where are my guns? where's the cavalry??) and then deciding on a strategy. Basically the French have to get north of the Namur Road that runs from top left to middle right and occupy Quatre Bras, which is the crossroads. On the French left is Bossu Wood (the big green blob) and there are marshes and a pond on the right. The Namur Road offers quite a good defensive position with the edges lined with cover. There's also some reverse slope.

I had two thoughts. One was I had a lot more light infantry at the start, hence more skirmishers. I intended to flood Bossu Wood and turn that flank. In the middle I had a lot more cavalry, so I meant to threaten the allied infantry, force them into square then blast them with artillery before close assaulting with infantry in column. The aim was to do this quickly, before all the allied reinforcements turn up.

Early on I had problems getting into Bossu Wood as Gary tried to defend as far forward as he could. I had a lot of skirmishers as my Voltiguer units split down into 6 counters (marked 1-5-5), where as his Belgians & Dutch can only give up one each, and sometimes not even that. At this stage things are a bit confusing as we kept forgetting that units in woods are automatically disordered so don't need "Dis" counters. One of the problems with this game is that the counter stacks get big as you also put strength markers under the units when you give up skirmishers or are hit. You then add status type markers, or formations and commanders and it isn't always clear what you've got where. That's where the analogy with figure games break down.

At this point of the game I went through a phase of not rolling any 6s (luckily this flipped later on) so my skirmishers really struggled to push the British skirmisher screen back. Eventually I had to clear some with cavalry which was a risk and a waste. Gary had chosen to defend forward and was chucking stuff down the main road very quickly. His units were also a bit bunched.

I didn't take a lot of pictures, and we didn't finish the game. We're about 30%-40% through at this point. This picture is taken near where we stopped playing. The Allied units at the back with white markers on them are routing. Those in the middle are all disordered. I've got some disordered too, but I've got a rally phase coming up. Out on my right, that's all cavalry, bearing down on troops in march column. In the centre Gary's problem is that I've caught him whilst still in column, and he doesn't have enough room to get into line. My skirmishers have seen off his lights, and I've managed to close assault, - sorry "Shock Attack" - all along the line pretty much and there's a hole opening up. I also have all of my guns deployed on forward slopes so I can hit most units in the centre. Out of picture on my left I've got stacks of skirmishers enveloping Gary's right, making a dash for the cross roads through the woods.

We played for about 5-6 hours, with drinks and lunch breaks. Gary was convinced he'd lost by the time I had to pack up and go, and I would have been disappointed to have lost from here. My chum Russell reckons it takes 20 hours to play properly, as opposed to the BGG estimate of 3 hours. THREE HOURS??? Yeah. Right. Or, rather, thrice tines nay.

It's a game where knowledge of Napoleonic tactics helps if you want to win. It isn't a bad simulation, from that point of view. Knowing what is supposed to happen when reading the rules is is a great help. The rules are quite well laid out, but key definitions such as what happens when disordered units are disordered again are scattered throughout the rules and the cross referencing isn't always great. If I was to play again,  I think I need to go through the rules again and specifically pull out those sorts of bits and put them together in a QRS. Plus the morale rules need a thorough re-read now I understand where they get used.

So, lots of period flavour but a bit frustrating for chaps getting older who don't have fingers as nimble as once were in respect of moving the counter stacks. And there are some lessons in it for my own designs, so not completely wasted.

Be nice to have been able to finish it properly, tho'.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Taiping Tribulations

Having painted my buildings it was time to include them in a game.

Firslty, however, just for Tony, here are some eye-candy pictures of the finished articles:

I suppose this is the front....

...or perhaps this is? Probably the side with the crenellations is the front, so that would mean the top picture. In which case, this is the back. I put it on a hill because the Great Wall is mostly on the top of hills. At least the bit I visited is.

The Chinese Walled Garden House has now got another set of walls round the outside to finish it off.

So the game was a field force of Taipings defending a town against a force of Manchu and Chinese Bannermen and a few units of Mongol Horse*. My aim in this game was to provoke a lot of hand to hand combat to try out some rule re-writing I'd been doing. I'm having some issues with "Taiping Era" that are proving intractable. The hand to hand rules are not as clear to me as they should be, and the outcomes can swing too violently. Just when I think I've fixed them for European v Chinese combat I find I've broken them for Imperials v Taiping. It might be that my aim to have one set of rules that cover all types of conflict in mid-19th century China using one core mechanism isn't achievable, but I feel I need to keep trying.

So, Taipings to the left, commanded by me & Chris K, Imps to the right with Chris A and Phil.

Phil had the Mongol Hordes and swept up into the hills. I should have made them impassable.

I responded by putting my cavalry on alert and forming a square/schiltron/hedgehog with my Taiping spear men.

Chris was forced to do the same because of the Manchu horse on the other flank.

Soon my cavalry were clashing with the Mongols.

I won the first round of combat and drove them back. With the rest of the horde gathering that might have been a mistake. In the centre the Tiger Men had chased off our jingals in the battle of the skirmishers (NB must write some rules for when skirmishers fight other skirmishers.)

Elsewhere we waited for the Imperial onslaught.

And wondered why the photos suddenly went dark. Both my cavalry units were now getting the worst of it, outnumbered 8 : 2 they were putting up a brave fight, but it wasn't looking promising.

One of my cavalry units was now almost completely surrounded. The Imp infantry charged my square, but it availed them naught.

At the other end of the table Chris K launched a ferocious series of charges on the Imp foot, driving them back. The Manchu cavalry circled round, reluctant to close.

All my cavalry were now broken and were fleeing in disarray. In the centre my foot were advancing steadily.

The Imps facing our left were in a bit of disorder now, as Chris followed up his attacks. The stand off round his square was tying up a lot of Imp units.

The Mongol Hordes were working their way round our rear. It didn't look good. But at this point both the Chris' had to leave, so we put the game on hold.

I played through a few more turns the following morning. My advance in the centre was halted by the need to form square because of the Mongol Horse in the rear.

The other flank was on hold as desultory matchlock fire held off the horse, who refused to charge.

Yes, in the shadow of the Great Wall it was all a bit static.

We continued to drive off the Imp foot on our left, and would probably be able to breakout.

On the other side it was all a bit helpless. Pinned in place and subject to greater firepower it was merely a matter of time before my squares collapsed.

So a win to the Imps, just about, down to their overwhelming cavalry strength. I learnt a lot about the rule re-writes, which seem to be going the right direction. You'll note that compared to earlier games this was played on offset squares, so some adjustments needed to be made. I was reluctant to make the change, but it did improve the way the game worked with all the cavalry about, so it will be persisted with.

Still some work to do.

But the buildings looked nice.

Although I do need some more Taipings and a few more Imp command figures, now I've written command rules.

*BTW I am aware the Pings didn't get as far north as the Wall. But it looks nice.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Chinese Painting Puzzle

Having painted the Wall, I really needed to turn my attention to the walled house. Whilst it is quite effective in its original colour it now looks out of place next to another model of the same sort which has obviously been painted. I also had to cut off the lugs under the base and glue the remnants in place so the building held together and didn't look like it was floating in the air anymoe.

One of the reasons it didn't get painted first time round was it was hard to work out exactly what was what before it was assembled, and once I'd struggled to assemble it I didn't want to take it apart.

I knew I'd have to take the roof off to paint it, so that needed some space to lay it all out and keep it the correct order so I could put it back again. That's why it is out on the table in Shedquarters not on my desk.That then meant I wasn't sure how much I needed to take off. In the end I took out the roof beams as well. For the painting style I based it on my visit to Shenzhou when we were in China back in 2013, which is mainly white with grey tiles and black wooden framing

I stained the wood with heavily diluted paint again so I could see the printing. This was less of a success as the printing was in a light-ish brown instead of black and more easily obscured, and using white made it more difficult as well. Now I'd given myself a problem as I wanted to have external walls white and internal walls in plain wood and I couldn't tell what was what with the roof off.

And I also wasn't sure how to paint the central courtyard.

As you can see the white isn't as white against the pine wood colour as you'd like. I also decided to varnish the internal floors with wood stain varnish and ended up varnishing all the floors as, again, I wasn't sure which were in and which were out.

With some relief I was able to get the roof back on in the right sequence. The paint made some of the wood swell so it was a bit of a push to get some of the pieces back in place.

A quick splash of green on the base still showing externally finished it off as a bit of contrast to the white walls.

The following morning when I got it back inside I realised I had gaps between the wall and base, so I needed to put pollyfilla round the outside and repaint in green. I also found that the over painted printing didn't work so well so I painted over the symbols and window markings in black. This had a mixed success as my hand went a bit wobbly whilst painting.

I wasn't sure how you capture the effect of the Chinese Garden, either. I thought about gluing in some pebbles and other bits and pieces to make it more 3D like, but decided not to as it is the only flat space you can stand figures on in the model. I therefore did some impressionistic blotches in grey, brown and yellow and hoped for the best.

I think it looks okay, which is a relief. Painting a model like this is a bit of a risk, because if you don't like the result you can't undo what you've done because it's wood and you can't dip it in paint stripper.

Any how, ready for Monday's game.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Building the Great Wall

Well, it's no good buying one of these if you don't build it, so I set aside an afternoon and set to it. I 'd had an initial go a few days back, but got confused about which way round things went. I decided I needed more space so I could lay out the sheets of pieces like they were in the instructions and also have room to build it, so I put all the pieces back in the frames and set it aside for a later date.

One of my tables in Shedquarters turned out to be perfect for the resumption of the build. The light is good, and these do produce a lot of bits and saw dust, so it's best to be out of the house as well.

It wasn't completely intuitive at first, and the numbers in the instructions were really small. I also felt the need to glue some bits in place in preference to using the locking-lugs which protrude from the base area.

As I added more bits it all became clear how it was supposed to look. Some bits were a tight fit, and others left gaps. These kits are not as well engineered as those I got in Iran last year.

A quick test showed that after my re-basing my Chinese would be able to mount guard if required.

A bit of clamping was needed, however, to keep it all together whilst glue dried.

Shaping up well, I think.

I didn't finish it all in one afternoon, and had to retreat in doors to avoid Storm Brian whilst I put together the vegetation. Surprisingly annoying as I didn't need to snap the lugs off after all, - concealed by the bushes - and I was thrown by a typo in the numbering of the pieces.

I decided to try to paint this model, but was concerned that I'd lose the stonework printing. The puzzle is made out of soft plywood so I mixed up some really dilute vinyl paint and used it as a wood stain. I was able to trial it on the frames left after I'd taken out the pieces, and it looked like it would work okay.

I disconnected all the shrubbery round the base and stained it green. It was important to keep the pieces in order and not mix then up, something I almost achieved.

It clipped back together okay.

So I nipped out to Shedquarters again and put the guards back on it. They won't fit "All along the watch tower", something I'd try to cure if I had my time again.

I think it looks rather spiffing.

In summary, easier to build than the Chinese house, - or at least easier on the fingers. It is about two feet long, - so not sure how practical it is. It'll just probably sit in the corner of the table and look cool, although the shrubbery looks like it might have wider usage.

The experiment with the staining is a success, so I'll revisit my other building when I've got the time.

Yes, feeling rather chuffed with this.