Thursday, March 27, 2008

28mm Sash and Saber ACW, Prototype

The American Civil War is my major period of study. I've read all the major histories and have a library of dozens of memoirs and journals from participants. Until this year, I taught a one semester class each year on the Civil War.

So it's no surprise that the Civil War is what drew me into miniature gaming ten years ago. I have ACW armies in 1/72 plastic with some 22mm Musket Miniatures metal figures, 15mm for Fire and Fury and Johnny Reb III, and 10mm for display in my class. My 10mm figures are in a diorama of one 425 man regiment, which I use to show my students the size of Civil War formations.

I have long been tempted to try ACW in 28mm for tactical battles. I've never really been satisfied with Johnny Reb III, having found the rules too clunky for my taste. Guns at Gettysburg seems like a much smoother system, but because it won't really work with my 15mm figures, I've long thought about trying it in 28mm. I have bought packs of 28mm Old Glory here and there, but although I am an Old Glory fan, their ACW line leaves me a little cold. I tried a Sash and Saber artillery piece a couple years ago and liked it very much.

So when Sash and Saber offered their entire 25mm line at half off this month, I jumped on it. I ordered about 300 infantry, 70 cavalry, and guns and generals to match. MSC's closeout sale on GMB flags was a godsend, allowing me to pick up all the flags I would need for just $120. This will be a huge project, but I'm hoping to finish by October.

Whenever I start a new army, I paint a prototype figure to get the colors right. Union infantry had very dark jackets, much darker than most people paint their figures. I tried accurate colors on my Old Glory packs, but the blue was so dark on the table that it looked black. So for this figure I tried a more traditional wargaming Union blue. The figure is a Federal sergeant from pack US-1"Federal Infantry Command Advancing (right shoulder shift).

15mm Minifigs Napoleonics

From what I've read, I gather than Minifigs is one of the oldest wargame figure manufacturers. They have a reputation for high quality figures in a remarkably consistent toy soldier style. Most packs include only one pose of the rank and file soldiers and three poses of command. The figures themselves are very flat, with minimal raised detail and very wooden poses.

For these reasons, some people don't care for Minifigs. I like them a lot for the very same reasons. The flat surfaces are very easy to paint assembly line style. The wooden poses, when combined into a unit, create an impression of a disciplined group of soldiers moving in strict formation. For the horse and musket period, this is absolutely ideal. I love Old Glory, and AB are definitely growing on me, but there's something about Minifigs that captures the look of the period.

This week I painted two units of Minifigs soldiers. First is the Russian Preobragenski Guard regiment for Borodino. In my Age of Eagles order of battle, this regiment gets 11 stands of four men each. Most of my Russian 1812 army is made up of Old Glory figures, but I wanted Minifigs for the disciplined Russian Guard. These figures are from pack 15013022, "RU Infantry March/Attack in Kiwer 1812." The figures all come with the grenadier plume, which can be trimmed off for line regiments.

Click on any picture to get a larger image.

Close up of Russian infantry

Here you can see both the good and bad of the Minifigs approach. All these infantrymen are the exact same pose; there's no variety at all. The lack of raised surfaces makes detail painting difficult. I painted the cockades unevenly, I wasn't able to paint any bands on the muskets, and I was just able to create the impression of a face. But these guys definitely look the part nonetheless.

Close up of Russian command

Here are the other three poses in the pack. The officer and standard bearer are much more animated than the infantryman pose. The drummer boy is actually a boy. In fact, he's so short that you can barely see him behind the standard bearer. The flag is from

Group Shot: Preobragenski Guard Regiment

It's only in the group picture that you can see the true strength of the Minifigs range. By skipping a couple of highlighting stages, I was able to finish all 44 figures in just six hours. And six hours of painting produces an outstanding looking unit. I'm not going to enter my Minifigs in any painting contests. But when I'm building an army of 1000 infantry, Minifgs is a good choice.

At the same time I was painting my Russian guard, I painted one base of Minifigs French horse artillery (pack 15010035). There's no use clicking on these pictures to get bigger versions. You're seeing the full size picture here.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Back from the Dead

It has been five weeks since I've been able to paint anything. I still have a half-cast on my left hand, and the outside of my right hand, as well as its fingertips, are still numb. But the swelling has gone down, and I'm gaining feeling each day.

Time to paint!

My first post-surgery figure is this Roman general from Old Glory's "Caesar's Gallic Wars" line, pack CWG-17 "Roman High Command." I think this figure is supposed to represent a young Marcus Antonius. The paint job turned out well enough, but I'm not quite happy with the face or the white muscle cuirass. My fine motor control isn't all back yet.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Snake Rail Fence

Snake Rail Fence

Sometimes called "worm rail" or "stacked rail" fencing, this style eliminated the need for driving posts into the ground. In the days before pressure treated lumber, moist earth could rot fence posts very quickly. Snake rail fences were very strong and easily repaired. They were very common in early America.

I used the same building materials as I used on the three rail fence. The snake rail fence does not reach the same height, although it does take more wood to build. I used 1" sections at each end to keep the rails spaced and indicate the next section of fence.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Rail Fences for 28mm

I'm a modeler and painter more than a gamer. I get more fun out of finishing a well-painted unit than out of rolling up an enemy's flank. I read comments from gamers who think that painting is a chore, and I just don't get it. Painting relaxes me. It gives me something to do with my hands while watching a movie or TV. And I enjoy putting the best possible paint job on what was, hours before, just bare lead.

But ultimately, those figures are for gaming. At some point, I've got to research a battle, set up my table to match the historical terrain, and play a game. And then I find that it really doesn't matter how many hours I've spent carefully shading the folds along the hemline of a figure's coat. With hundreds of figures on the table, the mass effect of the figures, rather than the quality of each, is what gives the game its visual appeal.

So even a basic block paint job looks great on the table, with one caveat; the table itself must look like a real place. Trees must look like trees. Roads must look like roads. And it must all work together.

Like everyone else, it seems, I started with felt terrain. I used a green felt cloth for my grass. Squares of tan felt represented fields. Large dark green ovals stood in for forests. And little strips of brown and blue indicated roads. This all works just fine for a game. But miniatures gaming is a visual hobby, and my lovingly painted figures just didn't look right on such representational terrain.

So a few years back I started a big initiative to create attractive terrain that was flexible enough to work on any battlefield. I wasn't going to sculpt terrain boards, but I did want good looking forests, fields, roads, and farms. I was gaming in 15mm only, so I bought everything for that scale. Buildings and fences are plentiful. If it exists in life, someone sells it for 15mm figures. I bought Woodland Scenics trees by the box full. I put Woodland Scenics dark brown ballast in a ketchup bottle, which I squeezed out for roads. I found the perfect mottled green fabric to build a battlefield on. I can now put on a great looking 15mm game, adapting my terrain to almost any time period or locale.

But two years ago the 25mm bug bit. Hard. I dabbled with Romans. I experimented with Vikings. I tried some lace wars. I dipped my big toe in the 25mm WW2 pool. By the time I started painting Napoleonics, I was hooked. I still enjoy 15mm figures, but the 25s have a visual appeal that the 15s just can't match.

When it came time to game with my 25mm figures, I hit a snag. My beautiful terrain just wouldn't work. I hated to do it, but I would have to buy some 25mm terrain. And here's the sticking point; all those pre-made 15mm terrain features just aren't produced for 25mm. Sure, I could find trees, and my ketchup bottle roads work equally well for 25mm, but man-made items? Fences and buildings? They just aren't available.

And so I have to scratch build my terrain. This blog entry shows the method I used yesterday to build some rail fences for ACW gaming.

Raw Materials

I made a trip to my local Michael's for supplies: a big strip of basswood, sticks for fence rails, and tacky glue to hold it all together.

Skinny Sticks, $2.99

The skinny sticks are the key to this project. Long and thin, they will provide all the fencing material. The wood is pretty solid, about the texture and density of tongue depressors. This one bag is all I could ever need for my table. I figure it will make about 50' of fencing.

Split Rails and Posts

At 1/4", the skinny sticks are too wide to make convincing rails. Armed with my hobby knife, I did my best Abe Lincoln and split each stick down the middle. This was fiddly work, requiring a light touch and about 20 forceful cuts per stick. Once I split the rails, I used the hobby knife to cut the long strips in half for the fence rails. I cut them into 1" sections for the fence posts. One nice benefit of my process is that the cuts were irregular, following the grain on the wood. My miniature rails have all the twists and gnarls that real rails have.

Section of Fence

I used a toothpick to apply the tacky glue to the rails, then glued the whole thing together. The first section was the hardest. Once I got the hang of it, I was able to assemble a 10.5" section of fence, with 20 separate parts, in about ten minutes. After the glue dried, I used big dollops of tacky glue to affix fences to strips of basswood. The finished product is very sturdy.

Fence in Scale

Real rail fences usually have five or six rails, but I could only fit three without making the fences over scale. To do more, I would have to have cut smaller strips, and the wood just wouldn't allow for that. The rail fences I've seen come up to about my nose, so a 1" height is just about perfect.

Fenced Road

This method produced some good looking fences, almost perfectly in scale, and at a cost of pennies per section. Once I worked out my method, I was able to crank out three more sections in two hours, start to finish. Once painted, these fences should look great on the wargaming table.

Next I'll try some snake rail fences.