The work bench really, really needs a sort out!
Well, the process of writing my Wargaming review has actually got me picking up a paintbrush for the first time since mid-October. Not for very long but it broke a psychological barrier. I also did a bit of basing and did some work on the helmets of my Afghan Wars British to make them look more suitable for 1879. The key problem now is the really bad light. I have two daylight lamps on my desk but can't really paint shading without good daylight.
One of the things I discovered last year is that, thanks mainly to the work I did on IHMN figures, I really enjoy painting individual character figures and don't enjoy painting units. Now given this, and given the fact that I am totally unable to focus on even as little as a few dozen periods, is it not now time to just admit that I am never going to be able to finish enough figures to field an army for a big battle? People with the focus of Giles and Big Red Bat are much to be admired as they don't stray too far from their core interests. I am sitting here looking at a based and undercoated Great War Miniatures British Crimean War infantry man. Am I really ever going to paint enough units for the Battle of the Alma? No, is the brutal answer. I have played in a few large games at Guildford (Republican and Early Imperial Roman, ECW and Wars of the Roses) where I could contribute my hundred figures or so to other people's larger collections. In reality, I think, this is the only way I will be able to do big battles using my own figures. So time to forget building armies that require several hundred figures, I think.
Wars of the Roses at Guildford Wargames Club. Not much scenery required
However, there is a problem with skirmish games for me. If you have two big armies facing each other in your typical ancients or medieaval game you really don't need much in the way of scenery. A green cloth, a few trees, some lichen for scrub and maybe a hill. All the effort and cost goes into the armies. However, with most skirmish games lots of scenery is usually necessary; almost always to provide cover. This is because, in many of the sets of rules I have played a hit (or two) means you lose the character and if you are looking at forces of six to 12 figures this can make the game very short indeed (as I have witnessed on one or two occasions). With big unit battles the units are more resilient and don't get destroyed on first contact. They can slug it out and maybe even regroup if they are forced back. So being in the open and getting hit by a flight of arrows is unlikely to lead to your unit being taken off the table instantly. You don't need to keep them skulking under cover so don't need cover for them to hide behind. Skirmish games tend to require a lot of scenery and getting suitable scenery done is a problem for me given that I have no craft skills whatsoever, unlike Scott and Eric the Shed who turn out miniature wonders. So its a trade off between lots of figures and less scenery and less figures and more scenery. Time and cost wise, I suspect they balance out.
The mini Bosworth game I produced for my son's school project.
I was talking to my new friend A about the problems of not painting enough figures for an army but she pointed out that, basically, if a unit fights as one whole then why do you need 24 figures when six or one serve the same purpose (I did not then start to describe DBA to her). When I produced a model of Bosworth for a presentation my son did at school we represented all the major units using just 38 figures. It is of course, certainly for me, all about the look of the thing (which is why I think DBS armies look ridiculous). Big units look better (as the writers of Warlord Games various rules acknowledge with what was, at the time, an unfashionable focus on large armies). They are a figure manufacturer, of course, so like their Games Workshop former employers want to shift quantity but it has, to a certain extent, seen a return to Charles Grant sized (well, nearly) units.
My 48 figure Blue regiment of foot
The first proper set of wargames rules I owned where Charles Grant's Napoleonic ones based on his articles in Military Modelling in the seventies. These posited 48 man units. I do actually have two units this size; the only two ECW units I have painted. The size was dictated by having what looked like a reasonable block of pikemen. Sixteen figures was as small as I thought looked good and then that dictated the sizes of the sleeves of shot. I tried a nine man pike unit and it looked odd. The next size up to keep a square pike block would have been 25 figures leading to 75 man units. Too much! For my armies I now work to a 24 man standard size but this would mean that, at most, I could only paint four units a year and that would be if I could focus on one period!
Five colour shading really isn't necessary on 18mm figures, perhaps
The big battle people would say that the obvious solution would be to move down to 15mm or less. My problem with this is that figures of 12mm or less have ludicrous looking anatomy. I did too much anatomy while studying art to get over this. There are a few, a very few, manufacturers who make reasonable looking 15mm figures, which is why I have bought into the War and Empire Kickstarter. 15mm really is sensible for ancients. The problem is that with the few 15mm (really 18mm, of course, these days) figures I have painted I paint them as if they were 28mm so I don't paint them appreciably faster. When I was choosing which armies to select for my War and Empire forces I eliminated all those where I had some 28 figures painted, which meant I eliminated nearly everything. This is why I have ended up with Spartacus revolt. I wanted to go for the Punic Wars but I have quite a lot of 28mm figures painted for this so just couldn't, even though I know that I will never finish an army for either side in this scale.
Muskets & Tomahawks at the Shed
This last year, however, I think I have solved the problem with the appearance of rules like Lion Rampant and the fact that I played my first game of Muskets & Tomahawks. My force for the latter was three units of six. Admittedly, there were two other players on my side with the same number of figures but that is nine units in total for not many more figures than in my ECW units. These are both what I would call semi-skirmish games, using around 6o figures a side maximum. This is an achievable target for me.
My only painted figures for El Cid
So what does this mean going forward? I will keep working on IHMN companies and I will jump forward in time with the rules, slightly, to cover The Lost World (I just picked up the lady explorer I had been looking for to finish my characters for this) and the twenties in Egypt and, possibly, the twenties/thirties in Asia. I will get going on more pirates and Jason and the Argonauts figures too. I am seeing the Afghan War as a semi-skirmish project so will carry on with that. I want to do a Lion Rampant force and the logical one would be the Wars of the Roses as I have already got most of the figures but I am also tempted to go back in time and do Crusades or El Cid for this. There is more to be done on Darkest Africa which is another semi-skirmish project but one where I have painted a lot of figures. Add to this some Hobbit, Mars Attacks, WW1 and Texan War of Independence figures and I think I have more than enough to be going on with. See, even my focus is already losing focus! Lots of stuff to put on eBay, even so, I think!