Saturday, March 30, 2013

Terrain Making - Hedges

A batch in progress
One of my goals for the March/April time frame was to complete a hedge/hedgerow making project that I had begun a few months ago. The goal was to create sections of hedge that would be usable as either hedgerows for 15mm WW2 or as simple hedges for any of my multitude of 25/28mm periods. I worked out a simple process that produced a really nice end result and completed a small batch of about 6 linear feet of hedge. I started a second much larger batch (about 16 feet), but as I often do, I bogged down and didn't get very far into it before moving on to something else that had caught my attention. As a part of forcing myself to sit down and drive this to completion, I took a few pictures and have sketched out the process I used.

Materials List:
Most of the following materials are things that a miniatures hobbyist will have lying around already. The only thing I needed to purchase for this project was the balsa wood in this specific thickness. Everything else I already had.
  • 1/4" thick balsa wood strips or sheets
  • Sharp hobby knife
  • Medium-fine sandpaper
  • Large clump foliage
  • Sand
  • Flocking material (optional)
  • Spray paints - medium brown and an optional primer
  • Tan craft paint and brush for dry brushing
  • White glue (such as Elmer's) and thicker craft glue (such as Aleen's)
After steps 3, 4 and 5
Step by Step:
  1. Sections are made using 1/4" thick balsa strips that are 1" wide and varying lengths between 4" and 12" long. I started with 1/4" sheets that were 4" by 36" and cut them down. A single 4 by 36 sheet becomes 12 linear feet of hedge (but does use a lot of clump foliage).
  2. Use a sharp large bladed hobby knife to bevel the edges and round off the ends of the sections. I want the exposed parts of the bases of the hedges to give an acceptable illusion of the mounded earth of hedgerows for a 15mm WW2 Normandy look. The 1/4" thickness isn't much, but it's enough.
  3. Use a medium-fine grit sandpaper to smooth off the carving work (I think I used a 180 or 200 grit).
  4. [Optional] I sprayed the sections at this point with a gray primer to make sure that the liquid in the glue used in the next step wouldn't warp the pieces. I don't think this is really necessary (since these aren't thin pieces), but it was not a big deal to add this step. Allow to dry.
  5. Use a disposable craft brush to smear simple white glue (like Elmer's; Aleen's craft glue is too thick to spread easily) over the top surfaces of the  sections. Sprinkle sand over the glued surfaces. Allow to dry.
  6. Spray the sections with a flat or satin finish brown color that you find suitable. I used a cheap home improvement store milk chocolate color that cost less than $4. Allow to dry.
  7. Dry brush the sections with a tan color craft paint. I used Plaid/FolkArt brand "Camel".
  8. Glue chunks of clump foliage down the center of the sections. I used generous amounts of Aleen's Craft Glue to hold down a random mix of Woodland Scenics foliage clusters in dark, medium and light green. I tried to have the clusters fill the width of the stick fairly well, and tried to vary the height a little bit where possible. It also helps if you take the time to make the clumps roundish or ovalish, as very often tearing chunks off the larger pieces leaves lines and corners and unnatural looking pieces. The first large batch of these I have made do not include any trees, as the scale of trees that would look good for 15mm would probably not look right for 25mm. In the latter part of this batch I added a few small trees onto some sections and they look pretty good. I will have to do a batch that has trees at some point.
  9. [Optional] You could very easily be done at this point, or you could add one last step which would be to glue random patches of green flocking around the bevelled edges of the sections. They don't necessarily need it, but it can help them blend into the table a little better.
Finished pieces (step 8) with 15mm armor for scale
I wouldn't say the end result is museum quality, but the sections do look very nice on the table. Perhaps the best thing about the project is that it is easy, inexpensive and relatively quick. Large amounts of hedge can be made efficiently and quickly. Given the astounding amounts of hedgerow terrain that a 15mm WW2 game set in Normandy can gobble up, even on a modest sized table, this is a very good thing. [As an aside, the little bit of terrain that I placed on the corner of a green board to take the sample "end result" picture above contains four 12" sections and an 8" section, so one-third of the entire 15-16 foot batch I made fits on that one little piece of terrain board... A 4' by 6' board could easily take 40-50 linear feet of hedgerow]

Friday, March 29, 2013

RMS Titanic

Our family had a chance yesterday evening to see a very cool thing - the Titanic Artifact Exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Julia's youth group had a block of tickets for evening entry times, and we were able to get enough tickets through the group that all four of us could go.

Everybody knows the basics of the RMS Titanic story, a White Star Line luxury liner that struck an iceberg in April of 1912 on its maiden voyage and sunk quickly with tremendous loss of life, so I won't repeat any of that here. The exhibit at the Franklin Institute was a collection of about 300 items retrieved from the debris field of the wreck, which lies in water over 2 miles deep approximately 375 miles south of Newfoundland.

I can't say enough about the quality of the exhibit; it was well laid out, tracing the history of the ship in chronological order, from its inception as an idea of the most luxurious ship afloat, to the fateful events that followed. The layout and lighting was well done, and the variety of artifacts was terrific. On display were everything from mechanical and structural bits through the personal effects and items of specific individual people. The personal items were the highlights of the exhibit. This truly was one of those times where you could feel the history of what you were seeing. The artifacts themselves were carefully watched over in climate controlled displays, but there was one exception to this. Near the end of the tour, there was a piece of iron girder that was in a case that had one small opening so that you could touch it with an outstretched finger. It may sound corny, but the opportunity to touch this piece of history was a moving experience for someone like me who has such a strong love of history.

The opportunity to see this really came upon us by chance, but I am very very glad that it did. I wish that photography had been allowed so that I could have taken a few pictures, but that is a minor quibble. The exhibit is only here in Philadelphia for another week, but anyone who has a chance to see this anywhere else around the world should do so.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Crusades Game 1

A few finished bases
I've decided that the best way to make some progress on the 15mm Crusades re-basing effort is to set a manageable and meaningful short term goal. There is no better goal in miniatures than to be getting ready to put on a game, so that's what I am going to do. I will do a small solo campaign using Day of Battle. Whatever figures I need as the games progress is what I will need to make sure I have done before I can continue. I won't play a game until everything for that game is 100% complete. That includes figures as well as terrain.

With that in mind, I will start with a Crusader faction using the Crusader States list ("K1" in the Crusades supplement), and a Saracen faction using the Ayyubid Egyptian list ("K5"). Since the army generation rules provide good variability in what troop types respond to a warlord's summons, this should be a perfect way to be forced to base up different types of troops from game to game.

Each side will start with a Social Rank 3 warlord, Esteem 2 (and therefore Household value of 5).

The Crusaders:
Card draws (face, face, joker) result in 21 Army Points (5 + 5 + [3x2] + 5). This is 7 units (21/3). This comes to 2 mounted, 1 missile, 3 foot, and 1 "random" unit (which turns out to be a mounted unit), plus the free retinue unit choice. Die rolls on the muster chart result in:
  • 1 Holy order knights (the free retinue choice), 2 mounted knights, 1 mounted sergeants
  • 1 crossbow unit
  • 1 Holy order spear unit, 2 regular spear units
The Egyptians:
The card draws (face, 9, 2) result in 17 Army Points (5+5+2+5 - number cards are worth their value, but to a maximum of the warlord's household value). This is 6 units (17/3 = 5.67). This comes to 3 mounted, 2 missile and 1 foot, plus one free retinue unit choice. Die rolls on the muster chart result in:
  • 1 Royal Mameluke cavalry (the free retinue choice), 2 Mameluke cavalry, 1 light cavalry with bows
  • 1 skirmisher with javelins, 1 skirmisher with bows
  • 1 spear unit with javelins
Each army will also need a few command bases. Details on exact upgrades for the units prior to the actual game will be dealt with later, but none of that happens until the units above are complete. I have some units completed, but not all of the above. What remains to be done should be a very manageable bit of work.

Update - A quick review of my figures shows that only 1 Crusader spear unit and the 2 Saracen skirmish units still need to have the figs glued to the bases (along with the sand). The remainder are close to completion, needing only for the bases to be painted and flocked. So this is primarily an exercise in cosmetic base finishing. However, since I do need to do some gluing, I will probably do a dozen or so other various foot units at the same time for future games. I am doing pretty well on cavalry; much less so on infantry.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

1,000 Geocaches!

I finally hit a huge geocaching milestone this afternoon: 1,000 cache finds. I had gotten to 998 a couple weekends ago, and promised Grace that I would wait to get this with her. She then decided last weekend that she was having too much fun playing and doing other things to go with me, and the weather was not great, so one thing led to another and I didn't get out at all.

I figured I would give it one last chance to do this with the family today before going out by myself tomorrow. As it turns out, we had an Easter Egg hunt event for the girls with Julia's social group, and would be driving right past the community park that I had picked out for caches 999 and 1000.

I had looked at caches in the area wondering whether there was something special that I should do for this milestone; something difficult, or a puzzle, or something that I had looked for before and been unable to find. In the end, only one thing made sense for me to do...something that would represent what all those caches have meant to me. And so I dragged the family to Bonsall Park, not that far from home, and the three of us found two caches while my wife looked on in amusement (and took our picture). It seems fitting that this milestone should be a cache in a community park with the kids.

It has been a lot of fun, and I am grateful to the many people in this hobby who take the time to hide and maintain these caches. Geocaching has taken me to many new places, and shown me many things I would not have otherwise seen. Hopefully the next 1,000 will be as much fun as the first thousand were.

The Beat Goes On

Continuing yesterday's theme of buying concert tickets... I am now also going to see The Eagles in Philadelphia on July 16. Anthony and Cathy were over for dinner last night, and he mentioned that he had gotten an email about an Amex pre-sale on tickets for this concert to go on sale at 10am this morning, before going on sale to the general public later this week. It took less than a minute for us all to decide that this is one of those classic groups worth seeing once in a lifetime, and none of us have seen them before. After confirming that all of the important members of the band were going to be on this tour (Henley, Frey, Walsh and Schmitt), we agreed Anthony should get whatever he could. A few minutes after 10 this morning I got the call that we are all set.

So that is one in July and one in August now.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Justin Hayward Solo Tour, 2013

I saw a post on Facebook a few days ago where my sister-in-law had commented on Justin Hayward coming to Wilmington this summer on a solo tour in support of his recently released new album Spirits of the Western Sky. I'm glad she did, because this was news to me, and tickets were scheduled to go on sale at noon today.

He is playing at the World Cafe Live at the Queen, which seems to be a very small theater/club. Judging from the seating chart, it seats maybe 350 people, and has bars, waitress service, food, etc... According to their web site, the Balcony area is considered the premium seating, at least in terms of amenities.

This is a "must-go at any cost" event for me, so I logged on, stalked the website until noon, and got amazing tickets at an amazing price ($118 total including all fees and surcharges for the pair). Amp and I will be sitting in the center two seats of the first row of the Balcony. If the seating diagram is to scale, this would put us right above the front of the tables on the floor level, making it about 10 rows from the stage. The website allowed you to click on what was currently available on a seating chart and select exactly what you wanted, much like registering for airline seating these days, and these were my first choice. In retrospect, I wonder what if anything would have been available in the very first row, but I am not going to second guess myself - I got in, staked my claim where I wanted to be, and got my first choice. Hard to argue with that. Looking at tickets now at about 1:00pm, most seats are gone...

I am excited beyond belief at the thought of seeing my musical hero in such a small and intimate setting. One of my favorite concert DVDs ever is of Hayward in San Juan Capistrano perhaps 15 years ago, where he does a mix of Moodies and solo music, acoustic and electric, sometimes with a band of 3 or 4, and sometimes alone on stage. I would imagine this will be at least somewhat like that. I can't wait!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Miniatures - March/April Planning

I have been doing my usual "this and that" as far as hobby related things go, making a little progress on various projects but with no real goal in mind. Over the next 4 to 6 weeks, I plan to actually focus on a few specific tasks, and have some goals that I would like to see substantially completed by the end of April. Some of them are related to moving along a couple of projects that have lain mostly dormant for way too long, and a few are more spring cleaning oriented so I can get some things off the work bench and be able to move forward on new things. If I don't get past some of these tedious tasks, I may well stay bogged down forever...

Decision Making and purchasing:
  • I have blogged previously about my ongoing indecision about what to do with Napoleonics, and the ongoing quest for a set of rules that I like and am comfortable settling on. I really like From Valmy to Waterloo, but they are intricate, time consuming, and not a set of rules that we can use with some of the more casual gamers in our little group. Games where I am the only one who knows the rules are problematic. LaSalle was fun enough when we played it, but it seemed exceedingly generic to me, and despite enjoying the game or two we had of it, I have no overwhelming interest in going back to it. Leo's suggestion, to be able to at least be playing Nappy's before we die, is to just bite the bullet and get Age of Eagles, the Fire and Fury derivation. At least we know this can be played by the group we have. Shako also looks promising. Ultimately, I need to settle on a basing scheme that works for what we are likely to be playing, stick to it, and consolidate the figures I have into that scheme. At this point, that seems to be leaning pretty strongly to four 15mm figs in a block on a 3/4 inch by 1 inch base. Artillery and cavalry as I have them based now will work for just about any system. Litko base order to follow.
  • Figure out what my next painting order will be to ship off to Sri Lanka. That way I will know what figures I need to order, if any.
  • Decide whether I want to do anything for skirmish basing. This would be re-using or potentially painting new figures for either Saga or Chris Parker's skirmish rules that he has under development. Order bases with the Napoleonics base order if I decide to do this.
  • Order the Seven Years War flags that I will need for my completed Austrians and pending Prussians. Flag Dude flags of course....
  • The 15mm Crusades project has languished for well over a year because of the decision I made to rebase my armies on Impetus style bases as opposed to WRG style basing. I stripped enough figures off the existing bases to make the armies unusable, but bogged down in the magnitude (and boredom) of the effort. I need to strip all figures off the old bases and make at least some progress toward rebasing enough figures to be able to do a small game. Having usable armies should provide the needed boost to keep going, or at least make it so that the lack of progress isn't completely crippling.
  • Flock bases. I have several trays of completed figures that are based and have had the bases painted, but have not gotten their final dullcote and then flocking. This is a tedious task, but it will allow me to put the darned figures away finally and check them off the "in progress" list.
Buildings and Terrain:
  • I have a dozen or so new large Woodland Scenics trees that need to be based (they are too big to stand up on their own). Cut bases, glue, paint, flock.
  • I began making a series of terrain pieces that could be used as either hedgerows for 15mm WW2 or hedges for 25mm figs. There are about 10 pieces substantially done and another fifteen of so that have just been started. These can be knocked out quickly. Priming, sand gluing, painting, foliage cluster gluing, final flocking of the edges.
  • A dozen or so buildings for various 15mm periods have been either primed or started. These are easy to paint with layered wet-brushing/dry-brushing and should also be able to be knocked out quickly.
So that's the plan. Let's see how it goes... This list should be whittled down by the end of March, and complete or substantially complete by the end of April.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Cold Wars 2013, Day 2

AWI on "teddy bear fur" terrain. Very nice...
Day 2 at Cold Wars for me was fairly low key. After my big caching day on Thursday, I was close enough to 1,000 that I wanted to take advantage of the multitude of Lancaster caches, so I spent the first hour and a half of my day in Lancaster getting 13 caches in a commercial area NW of the Lancaster Host convention site. All easy caches, but good quantity in a short period of time. This left me with 998 caches, and at that point I had to stop because I had promised Grace that I would not get to 1,000 without her. By 9:45am, my caching was done and I was walking into the show. Not a bad use of a part of a morning...

As for the show itself, Saturday was certainly more crowded than Friday, but it still didn't seem tremendously busy to me. There were a bunch of attractive games to look at, and some bits of inspiration to be sure. Some really well executed teddy bear fur terrain was one of these, and I have already been googling advice on how to make nice terrain mats from this material (see the AWI picture attached for a great example).

Today's purchases were a building and an additional castle wall section from Miniature Building Authority, and a few more packs of Blue Moon 15mm Napoleonics (bicorne French artillery crew and guns).
Napoleonics in the Peninsula
The high point of the day though was getting a chance to have a glass of wine (or two) at the bar with Chris Parker and having the opportunity to discuss his new skirmish level adaptation of Day of Battle. That and getting a chance to see a bunch of friends, older and newer, was what really made the drive out to the show worthwhile. Just about anything I buy at these shows could just as easily be bought on the internet, but nothing can replace the bits of inspiration that come from seeing the really well put together games, nicely painted figures, and good terrain ideas that can be shamelessly stolen from.
The Cornfield at Antietam, ACW, 1862.
It's hard to believe that the next convention will be Fall In in November. I am still not happy that Historicon was moved from my backyard to 3.5 hours south, but what can you do. Maybe I need to investigate some smaller local shows...

Friday, March 8, 2013

Cold Wars 2013, Day 1

Poles vs Russians in 25mm in Carnage and Glory II
After my goof yesterday, today was actually the start of Cold Wars. I left for Lancaster after dropping elder daughter at school, and drove through a blowing snow squall most of the way out. I arrived at around 8:15, but had one work conference call that I needed to be on from 9:00 to 9:30, so rather than going into the show and registering, I took a few minutes to find one nearby geocache before getting back to my car for the call.

After my call I made my way in to the register, and then wandered around for a while. There wasn't much going on yet, and the dealer area didn't open until noon, so after exhausting the "mill about and look at the games" possibilities, I went back out to find another geocache across the street, but came up empty. But at least that killed enough extra time that I was able to go back to the show and wander the dealer area, as well as the increasing number of games being set up. I paid particular attention to an 1813 Napoleonic game using Age of Eagles, the Fire and Fury variant, and a handful of Fireball Forward WW2 games (a rules set that Leo heartily endorses and I have purchased and read, and like the look of).

19th cent. Prussians vs Bavarians in 6mm - Bruce Weigle
I left at around 3:30 to get home in plenty of time for some family things tonight, but it was an enjoyable day, and I got to see a lot of acquaintances from over the years. I'll be going back tomorrow for a full day, and hope to get into a game or two to play.

No convention write up, no matter how brief, would be complete without listing the spoils of war, which were modest. Or maybe moderate. I picked up Age of Eagles as well as Chris Parker's new Day of Battle supplement for The Crusades. I also picked up an order from Old Glory that I had called in a few weeks ago for pick up at the show. This contained odds and ends of medieval cavalry to expand some existing units (German knights and Teutonic sergeants - you can never have too much medieval cavalry) as well as some Seven Years War Austrian and Prussian artillery and Austrian Grenzers. Leo has shown a renewed interest in gaming Napoleonics, and I have been looking at early war Prussians and bicorne French, so I picked up a few packs of Blue Moon (Old Glory) 15mm/18mm 1806 Prussians to paint as samples. If I like the figures, which I am sure I will, I will get more and send an order off to Sri Lanka to get an army started. I'll be starting with a few packs of musketeers and fusiliers, as well as some guns and crew. I just hope my eyes can still see well enough to paint these little buggers...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Very Smiley Day

I had a very nice day today, but not at all in the way I had foreseen. The annual Cold Wars miniatures and wargaming convention in Lancaster PA was due to begin today and run through Sunday. I planned to do my usual for a convention of this sort so close to home, which was to take a couple of days vacation from work and go out to Lancaster during the day, returning home by dinner much as if it were a normal work day. Lancaster is also a motherlode of unfound geocaches for me, so I planned to get a modest start in the morning, do a little geocaching in the later morning, and be able to be at the convention by the time it opened around noon.

This would have been a good plan if it weren't for the fact that I called Leo to check on his plans as I drove out, and was informed that I had misinterpreted the "begins on Thursday" part of the show, insofar as it beginning Thursday really meant that the registration desk and some preliminary games would be played Thursday evening. Nothing else were to happen until Friday morning. Oops.

So, having my GPS unit loaded with 1,000 Lancaster area geocaches, and a whole day of nice weather to burn, I came up with Plan B.

Many smileys along the trail
Plan B, in short, was to find the eastern end of the Enola Low-Grade Line hiking trail, which a Lancaster area caching group has made into a "power trail", and see if I could rack up a substantial number of geocaches. A Power Trail is a string of easy to find geocaches, generally along a hiking trail, that have been placed as close as possible to the minimum required separation of 1/10th of a mile, constructed for the purpose of allowing geocachers to find a large number of caches in as short period of time and space as possible.

I found the eastern end of the trail, near cache #158, and parked by the side of a country road. I walked about a half mile of the trail and found the first five caches, and would've hiked further from there, but was a little nervous about leaving my car parked for an extended period time on the road shoulder on some farmer's field. I got back in the car and drove further down the road, and was happy to find a trailhead parking lot where route 896 crosses the trail. From here I could hike as far as time and my legs would allow and not be in any danger of having my car disappear.

All in all, between 11:00am and 2:30pm, I hiked approximately 8 miles (4 out and 4 back) and found a total of 34 caches. It was a nice sunny cool and blustery day, and there wasn't another soul on the trail. The peace and solitude and crunch of gravel underfoot was a welcome change to too many days behind a desk. The caches were easy, the hiking was really more a walk than a hike, but it was extremely nice to stretch the legs and have a day outdoors.

By the time I got back to my car, I still had some time (but not a lot of leg energy), so I decided to drive around and get some additional easy caches. A drive up 896 through Strasburg, across route 30, and then east for a ways along the old Philadelphia Pike netted another 11 caches, for a day's total of 45. This easily eclipsed my previous daily high of 34 (?), achieved in and around Gettysburg on the way to another wargaming convention. This brings me to a total of 984 caches, just shy of a caching magic number of 1,000. My day's total of 45 also eclipses my grand total for the entire year of 2012, which was an embarrassingly low 40. Yikes. I have now found 55 in the last week...

I am remembering how much I like geocaching, and the places that it takes me, and am committed to making the effort to set aside some time for it this year. I will achieve the 1,000 milestone very soon, and Grace has made me promise that she must be present when I do. This brings a smile to my face.

I also still get to maintain the anticipation of a wargaming convention, which will occur tomorrow, and not today. Silly me... But in the unexpected, we often find blessings.