Friday, 16 June 2017

Bonsai? 28mm Tree!


Did you know that it is possible to buy plastic bonsai trees?  I didn't know this, at least until very recently.

It went something like this: I was wondering how I could model a large, solitary tree for my African games (probably Congo and/or Pulp Alley).  I'm thinking of the sort of thing that frequently provides a focal point in the savanna, something like an acacia or baobab tree.  For whatever reason, my mind skipped from scale model vegetation to cheap, "fishtank" grasses and shrubs and from there to larger pieces.  A quick Internet search and I had discovered imitation bonsai trees!

Preparing The Tree

It turns out that there is at least one Chinese company which makes fake bonsai trees.  I saw these on eBay, put in an order for two of them and waited for the postman to arrive.  In due course, this occurred.  Here's some things about plastic bonsai trees:
  • They're very cheap.  I paid just over £2 for each item, including postage.  At this price, I figured that I could afford to bin them if they didn't work for my purposes.
  • They're also very crudely moulded, in brightly coloured polythene.  Not really like any real tree at all (bonsai or otherwise)!
So, what could I do with this?

  1. Firstly, I stripped off all the green foliage clusters.  In hindsight, this was a mistake because it took a surprising amount of time and I ended up spraying the foliage with the same colour of paint before putting it back on the branches.  I might as well have just left it where it was!
  2. Next, I glued the roots to an old CD, after first roughening the glossy surface of the CD with some coarse sandpaper.  This should help with adhesion.
  3. The base was spread with pre-mixed filler, paying particular attention to working it under the places where the roots arched upwards.  Once the filler was dry, sand and grit was glued all over the ground.
  4. I sprayed the model with a paint that was specially formulated for vinyl and other plastics.  This I obtained from an automotive store (Halfords, in the UK).  Usefully, for my purposes, the paint was a very dark grey/black in colour and therefore perfect as an undercoat.  It was quite expensive to buy, but really does seem to stick to the polythene in a way that a regular undercoat would not have done.

Finishing Off

    1. When the undercoat was hard, I dry-brushed the trunk and branches with a single coat of "lichen grey" (a slightly greenish-tinged, mid grey colour).
    2. I sprayed all the green foliage clusters with the same undercoat, then pushed them laboriously back onto the branches.  Should just have left them on in the first place...
    3. Next, I painted the foliage generously with "foam tack" glue and sprinkled it with Woodland Scenics "Fine Turf" flock.  Despite the "fine" in the name, this is a slightly coarse, ground-up sponge material that provided a useful texture for the leaves.
    4. Finally, once all the glue was dry, I sprayed the model heavily with sealer.


    This was a very cheap and relatively easy model to build, at least when using glues and paints that are designed to work with soft plastics.  I think it will be a useful addition to many of my games tables.

    Of course, I did buy two of these trees, so I have another one to build as well.  I'm going to try some surgery on the second one, to reposition one of the branches so that the 2 models don't look completely identical.  How hard could this be?

    Monday, 12 June 2017

    28mm: The Middle Eastern Village


    A few months ago, I started to prepare for Scenario 3 in my Pulp Alley "Perilous Island" campaign.  As written, this scenario takes place inside a large warehouse that is full of goods and inhabited by a few night watchmen.  I did look for warehouse models (I have quite a few crates and the like already), but didn't really find any that were both large enough to fit my vision and at the same time cheap enough to be affordable.

    One day, I was browsing the Hoka Hey Wargaming/Timeline Miniatures website when I happened to see some 28mm MDF Middle Eastern buildings.  Suddenly, I changed my plans: Tarzan and the Nazis could fight the scenario at the hideout of the Snake Cultists instead!  Since my cultists are vaguely North African, some adobe buildings would work just fine.

    I'll add some trucks and some crates & other goods for clutter (hmm - the Cultists obviously are in the middle of some nefarious plan, such as shipping copies of their manifesto to unsuspecting bookshops across the civilised world!).  Of course, the night watchmen will then become a handful of cultist guards instead.  Muahaha!

    So, the rest of this article describes the 3 buildings that I have constructed...

    The Small Adobe Building

    The smallest of these models is basically a simple, wooden box.  It has been detailed slightly by the addition of wooden beams that protrude from the tops of the walls to hold the roof (these are just about visible in the picture below).

    For all 3 models, the laser-cut MDF fitted absolutely perfectly.  I suppose that I should expect that these days, yet it always comes as a pleasant surprise when a kit such as this goes together so well.

    I've "upgraded" the basic MDF shells by coating them with a mixture of white glue, sand and a ballast powder (I used an old tile grout).  Of course, this required some fixing up after the mixture had dried, to clean any excess from the joints between the walls and the roof!  Oh, well...

    The Medium Adobe Building

    My second building is slightly larger than the small, simple one above.  It also has a second storey and a canopy over the front door.

    Like the first building, the interiors are playable.  In this case, the top lifts off to reveal the upper floor, which I have decorated with some printed paper planks and rugs.  I've also added a piece of dowel in the centre of the floor, to act as a handle...

    ...allowing the upper floor to be lifted out easily to reveal the ground storey.  I've left most of this space empty, but there are some more rugs, a table and some pots to hint at habitation.

    The Large Adobe Building

    The 3rd and final building in this collection has multiple rooms, a dome (a resin hemisphere) and a courtyard.  This latter has allowed me to add some exterior detail; in a couple of the nooks and crannies there are large pots that contain lemon trees

    Once again, the top storey lifts off to reveal the upper floor.  Again, I've added a dowelling handle to make it easier to remove the next piece...

    ...which then shows the 2 rooms on the ground floor.  Once more, I've added minimal detail to these space - just some rugs - thus allowing plenty of room for figures or loose scenery items.


    Timeline make only these 3 types of Middle Eastern building, which is a pity as they're really nice models.  I think that repeats of the largest building would look a bit strange (it's quite distinctive), though I'm somewhat tempted to get more of the small and medium ones.

    These kits are easy to build and could be painted just as they came.  However, I'm glad that I added the plaster mix to the walls; it gives texture to the otherwise completely smooth MDF.  It was a messy and slow process, though!

    I'm in two minds about my interior detail.  Part of me thinks that there should be much more to be realistic, whilst the other part says that open space is better for playability.  I'm really not that sure...

    I note that other manufacturers exist: Knights of Dice (in the USA) have a larger "Tabula Rasa" range that includes quite a variety of adobe buildings.  These seem to be specifically designed for the model-maker to add detail (the name of the range is a bit of a giveaway!) and are very similar in concept to the Timeline models.

    Sunday, 4 June 2017

    Low Tables for 28mm Middle Eastern Homes


    I'm working on making some 28mm North African or Middle Eastern buildings.  Why?  Because they'll be useful for Pulp games - specifically, for the 3rd instalment of my Pulp Alley "Perilous Island" campaign.  Technically, the 3rd scenario as written is set in a large warehouse, but I figure that it will work just as well in amongst buildings.  I've never been afraid to change a scenario's setting before!

    Before I get to the buildings themselves, I thought that I'd need some furnishings.  If they have playable interiors then I don't like my wargames buildings to be completely empty, though any furniture is strictly representational and will leave plenty of room for figures or other models.

    So, tables...

    Low Tables

    Now I don't know a whole lot about North African buildings or their furnishings.  Nevertheless, it seemed to me that some tables would show that the places were inhabited.  They should be easy enough to make as well, right?

    I started with the table tops.  Now I could have just cut out some rectangles of thick card or plastic.  Instead, I found some unused rectangular bases from Renedra.  These worked just fine; I took one of the longer bases and cut it into 2 pieces.

    For legs, I raided an old sprue from a Wargames Factory kit.  These were designed with legs on one side and cups on the other, so that the sprues could be stacked with each other to make a block that was easily packaged (seemed like a neat idea to me).

    Each of my sprues had eight cylindrical spacers of about 1cm in length; pretty good for a 28mm coffee table, though rather too short for a full-height table.

    To make them a bit more interesting, I added some baskets and pots to the tables.  These metal items come from Steve Barber Models, from his "28mm Market" range.  Roughly speaking, one table has food on it (bread and fruit), whilst the other has drink (3 cups/goblets/small jugs and a larger vessel)

    Finally, here's a (rather gloomy) picture of the finished items.  I've also included some larger pots that also came from Steve Barber Models.


    These tables were easy to make and cheap.  I do wonder if they'll be enough, though - even if my goal is to have very sparsely-furnished buildings.

    Sunday, 28 May 2017

    Plotting Away...


    I like my wargames to be fought over something important.  It's not very interesting to play to inflict casualties on the enemy for the sake of it, or to gather more "plot points" than the opposition if these are in the abstract form of yellow tiddlywinks.  No, victory (or defeat) has to be tangible.

    With that in mind, I've written articles about modelling plot points for my Pulp games on a couple of occasions previously:
    Well, the collection continues to grow...

    Yet More Plot Points

    I think that I have described the pouch of diamonds before, but the dynamite is new.  It was formed from 7 identical lengths of plastic rod, glued into a bundle [and oddly that was much harder to build than it sounds; I had glue and lost pieces of rod all over the place].  Two thin strips of paper were wrapped round the bundle and I finished the model off with a thin piece of wire as a fuse.

    The missionary's luggage is a commercial casting.  It comes with the "Lady Isabel Poppington" model from North Star, though obviously I have based it separately from her.

    The pile of skulls also comes from North Star; if I remember correctly then it was part of the "Cannibal King" pack.

    The crate of rifles is a bit more complex.  The crate itself is based on a small MDF/Greyboard kit [I cannot remember the manufacturer at the moment], but with a scratch built lid.  The rifles came from the Wargames Factory Zulus set.

    Lastly, the enormous footprint was made very simply by pressing the foot of a toy dinosaur into Milliput.  Note that I mixed the putty and then left it for quite a while before making the print; I wanted the mixture to be malleable but have lost all its stickiness.


    Back row: 4 totems/skulls on sticks
    3rd row: Missionary's baggage, pile of skulls, suitcase, whip & hat
    2nd row: radio, dynamite, jewelled sword, crate of guns, giant snail
    Front row: pouch of diamonds, journal, Spratchett's Quintail, enormous footprint

    These plot points are intended for use in my Pulp games, which are roughly speaking based around Tarzan, The Lost World, King Solomon's Mines, King Kong and the like (so tropical wilderness).  But there's no reason why the concept shouldn't be used for any objective-driven game.  In fact, I should really build myself something similar for games of 7TV set in Star Trek, Captain Scarlet or similar "space opera" settings.  Hmm, ideas are forming...

    Tuesday, 23 May 2017

    ATZ: The Race


    I've been putting off this article for nearly a month now; battle reports are a lot of effort.  Still, I promised a description of our last, one-off All Things Zombie game and so here it is...

    The Scenario

    I decided, at short notice, that this game would involve a race for safety.  Mark, Will and Barbara have spotted a helicopter parked on top of a police station several blocks away.  They'd really like to leave the zombie-infested city - but will the chopper pick them up?  Will the pilot (if indeed he or she is still alive) carry them away?

    Without telling the players, I chose a 10-turn limit for the helicopter.  On the 11th turn, it would try to stat its engine, just as a car would (and making noise like any other vehicle).  On the turn after the rotors are spinning, it will depart, whether or not the players have made it that far.  The pilot is just performing some reconnaissance and, whilst not hostile to a request for a lift, isn't aware that there are (live) people in the area.

    10 turns is tight, but doable.  With a REP5 leader, the party should activate on 8 or 9 of the 10 turns.  It should only take 3 or 4 turns to cross the square and another 3 or 4 to work their way upstairs once inside the police station.  So, no dawdling then!  Of course, the players don't know about the time limit...

    The Characters

    Today's victims survivors are as follows:
    • Mark: REP 5 Poser with machete and pistol
    • Barbara: REP 4 Medic with sword
    • Will: REP 4 Fast with crossbow

    The Game

    All started reasonably well, as Mark, Will and Barbara ran along the pavement.  Will even paused to shoot a zombie at long range with his crossbow.

    On hearing the noise, there was movement in the open-top car and 3 people clambered out.  [In other words, a PEF was revealed as civilians].  Jade, Curly and Jenny had been hiding from the zombies and hoping not to be noticed, but the near approach of the moaning undead had spooked them:
    • Jade, REP 4 civilian with pistol.
    • Curly: REP 3 civilian with shotgun
    • Jenny: REP 3 civilian with shotgun.

    The newcomers immediately ran over to the players, begging them for help [the players won the talk very decisively!].  Mark was a bit distracted by trying to break in to the gun shop [naughty!] and didn't immediately appreciate just how many zombies had seen the movement and were now converging on the strengthened party.

    OK, keep your heads.  Don't panic and scatter like startled bunnies.  Ah, heck!  Mark and Jenny ran forwards, towards the police station.  Barbara raced back round to the other side of the gun store as if all the hounds of hell were after her.  Curly and Will followed her more slowly, leaving a startled Jade all on her own.

    So, here's the situation a turn or two later:
    • Mark and Jenny have been accosted by 5 zombies, but are manfully (and womanfully?) fighting them off.
    • Barbara has made it round 3 sides of the building at top speed and is about to come into the open again.
    • Jade has caught up with Curly and Will; they're somewhere on the other side of the store.  It was about now that Will twisted his ankle...


    For a moment, it looked as if Barbara might be clear and away.  Only for a moment, mind: she was caught by a fat zombie in a dirty nightdress and couldn't escape from her clutches.  Before she could even scream for help, the pack was upon her, tearing the poor girl apart and feasting on her remains.

    Jade, Curly & Will

    Jade wasn't having a good day.  No sooner had she caught up with the boys and mouthed off at them for leaving her in the lurch than they were beset by the trailing zombies.  She and Curly fought off the first pair, but there were more lurchers coming.

    One of the zombies grabbed Jade, just as Curly and Will turned and fled round the corner.  She couldn't break the cold grasp of the creature; with the odds against her she died cursing and screaming.

    The guys didn't do a whole lot better, though.  Their way was cut off by the zombie pack which had just finished feasting on Barbara, so they turned and fled.  Fortunately for them, Jade's body was still attracting all the attention of the original group of zombies, so Curly ran and Will hobbled past them in safety.  Both men fled off the board into the city, to an unknown fate.

    Mark & Jenny

    Jenny seemed welded to Mark now; even though she was only a REP 3 civilian she was sticking with him like glue!  The pair shook off the zombies in the square and burst through the front doors of the police station.  There were more zombies inside, but these were destroyed with very little effort.

    "Hurry!  Up the stairs!" called Mark.  The pair charged onwards, only to be confronted by another pack of monsters.  Truly this place was infested with them!

    At that moment, there was a noise from the roof.  Before Mark and Jenny could disentangle themselves from the latest set of zombies, the helicopter's engine whined and burst into life.  It paused for a moment, then took off and was soon lost to sight in the clouds.  Had the pilot been frightened off by zombies?  Or maybe he/she had just finished their business and departed without even noticing the survivors?  We'll never know...

    Hearing the helicopter departing, Mark and Jenny knew that they were in trouble.  There was no rescue - and the noise of the aircraft had attracted a lot of zombies.  They didn't bother to run onto the roof [to shout and shake their fists at the injustice of the universe?] but rather doubled back, down the stairs and into the lobby.  The pair could see through the front windows that many zeds were approaching so they looked for another way out.

    The back corridor past the line-up room was also full of zombies.  Jenny followed Mark's lead and charged into combat, but this time she wasn't successful.  Her opponent bit her shoulder and then fell on top of her, so that she smothered to death.

    There was nothing that Mark could do to save his companion.  He did manage to take revenge on the remaining zombies, killing two and knocking the other one down.  Once his route was clear, he didn't hesitate in running through the back door and away - just as more zombies came pouring into the building in search of him.


    Well, 3 humans started the mission and 3 finished it - just not the same ones.  Oddly, it was the 3 guys who survived and the 3 women who didn't, though they were evenly mixed in abilities and equipment.

    Was it a failure?  Realistically, the helicopter was going to be hard to catch (and wouldn't have been able to carry all 6 passengers anyway), so I wouldn't fault the players for not making the rendezvous.  However, the loss of 50% of the party cannot really be anything other than a disaster!

    Monday, 15 May 2017

    Carronade 2017: Mixed Feelings


    As is my habit in recent years, my son (A.) and I went to Carronade yesterday.  This is one of the biggest wargames events in Scotland, possibly even the largest.  It's held in Falkirk every year, sometime near the middle of May.

    So, Saturday 13th May, 2017: the day was overcast and showery (quite a relief after 3 solid weeks of warm sunshine!) and therefore seemed like a perfect day to be indoors at a show.  A. and I travelled by car (the journey from Helensburgh takes about 1 hour and 25 minutes) and arrived some 15 or 20 minutes ahead of the official opening time.  Not to worry, though - the doors were open and we walked straight in.

    As in the previous year (see here), the entrance "tickets" were small MDF plaques; these should find a useful second life as bases.  Of course, I haven't used the 2016 ones yet, so I now have 4 of these MDF tokens...


    We wandered the halls for a while, intending to find a game to play.  Straightaway we felt that the atmosphere of the show was subtly different from before, though.  It seemed that on the one hand it was much more crowded and on the other hand none of the participation games were well manned (and often we felt blanked by the hosts; they weren't exactly encouraging us to join their games).  Was this all my imagination?  It's possible: I was tired and maybe a bit cranky, so I might have seen issues where there really weren't any.  In any case, I should stress that this didn't apply to all the games uniformly; just some.

    Game 1: Dragon Rampant

    The first game we played was "Conan and the Princess", put on by Glasgow and District Wargames Society.  The game was played using the Dragon Rampant fantasy rules and the scenario was something like this: an evil priest (he had a name, but I forgot it) has captured a princess (she had a name too...).  Conan the barbarian and Hadratus the wizard have been tasked with rescuing her; the king has even provided some troops to assist.

    So, we'd simply stroll up to the castle walls, look fierce and receive our rewards, right?  It didn't quite work that way.  My horse archers (I was playing Hadratus) and Conan's bowmen were very reluctant to move over the river.  Consequently, my spearmen were a bit isolated when they were ambushed by a pack of giant hyenas.  Although they gave as good as they got, the spearmen panicked and fled (snake eyes!).  The remnants of the hyenas were atomised by Hadratus, who turned out to be a dab hand at zapping spells.

    Conan and his boys were pestered by a giant snake which slithered in and out of cover.  The men hurt the monster considerably, but repeatedly it ate the odd footman before being driven off, only to return a few moments later.

    Further up the road, demons leaped out and slaughtered my horsemen, before following up into Conan's archers (off-picture to the right) and slaughtering them too.

    The remnant's of Conan's group (after the snake had finally vanished) were zapped by the evil priest.  This was too much for the big man and he ran away.  Thus the assault party was reduced to just Hadratus, who was running up the road, pursued by the pack of assorted demons.  At least he then made it up on to the ramparts to confront the evil overlord, where he was thoroughly outclassed and minced.

    So, we didn't rescue the princess after all.  Oh, well - at least Conan survived...

    Game 2: Devil's Run: Route 666

    Our second event was a short demonstration of this post-apocalyptic car racing/fighting game.  The game was hampered considerably by the fact that it was on a small, end table in a main thoroughfare; it was busy!  In addition to being cramped, the (single) demonstrator kept having to stop to answer questions from passers by; this disrupted the flow of play considerably.

    We each took a car and did a 1-lap race around a short circuit.  There was relatively little mayhem, mainly because A. had chosen the fastest (but lightest) car; he raced ahead early and it proved all but impossible to catch up in order to ram him or otherwise interfere.

    The models for this game look very nice indeed.  However, what we saw of the rules seemed uninspired and flat.  Of course, caution should always be used in such situations: a convention game may well have been dumbed down or used an "introductory" variant of the rules.  Or indeed, in our very short acquaintance with the game we may have misunderstood or missed some subtleties.  But I won't be racing out to buy this one...


    We had to go outside for lunch; there was absolutely no seating space available indoors and there were queues waiting for the few chairs and tables.  This was quite welcome anyway; it was becoming quite hot and stuffy inside the premises and even though it was spotting with rain outdoors, we ate our packed lunch in relative comfort.

    Once back inside, I picked up a pre-order from Colonel Bill's stand (definitely an easy way to shop and with a 10% discount for show collection as well!).

    Game 3: Turf War Z

    Another zombie game?  There are so many sets of such rules available already - and I think a newcomer would have to be very special to displace All things Zombie and Zombicide.  Well, this one advertises itself as a game about gang warfare in a post-apocalyptic city - with zombies.

    A. took a Latino gang (near side) against some other guy's policemen (far side).  The rules for this game seemed very old-fashioned (compare attacker and defender's skill to get a "to hit" number, then roll "to wound" for each hit).  This didn't feel a million miles away from old skirmish games such as Combat Zone or even Warhammer 40K.  We also felt that the zombies didn't really add anything much to the scenario.

    I did like the buildings on the table, though...

    Game 4: Relic Knights

    For our final game of the afternoon, we took on a demonstrator at Relic Knights.  As soon as A. saw this anime-styled table, his eyes lit up and we couldn't just pass by.  The rules and figures are by Soda Pop Miniatures (probably better known for Super Dungeon Explore) and are obviously very heavily based on popular Japanese comic styles.

    A. (with me advising) took the Cerci Speed Circuit faction; these are a bunch of adventurers/adrenaline junkies/racers, as far as I can tell.  We were up against a group that claimed to be some kind of space knights or paladins, but they had dull red armour rather than bright shiny stuff.  I reckon they weren't quite the good guys they claimed!

    The game is heavily based around a small number of heroes; squads of minions support them but don't achieve anything much in their own rights.  Game play is via a deck of cards; each character has a number of special abilities which need cards of the right colour in order to activate.  From that point of view, it reminded me very slightly of Malifaux, though it seemed much easier to understand.  There was definitely a sense of the main characters pausing every so often in order to build up to some stupendous move, attack or psychic power!

    Although the main plot for this scenario was about espionage, we only made a single attempt on an enemy secret (they made none on ours).  Instead, we finally won quite convincingly when the hostile leader was held up by our pit crew squad and then counterattacked and beaten by our sword-wielding, showboating second-in-command (with the white hair and cloak).

    [Once we were home, A. has been looking up Relic Knights on the Internet.  This is the first time I'm aware of him taking such an interest in something we saw at a show].

    Homeward Bound

    The journey home was something of a trial.  Firstly, the rain was torrential; this reduced visibility and the surface water made driving stressful.  On top of that, the police had closed the road through Gartocharn; I'm guessing that there had been an accident, but don't know for sure.  This meant that we had to take a 40 minute detour around the Kilpatrick hills.

    Finally, as we were crossing the last hill on our return to Helensburgh, we encountered a bad accident, with at least 2 smashed cars, 3 or 4 police vehicles and a couple of ambulances.  Fortunately for us, the traffic in our direction kept moving, albeit slowly, and we weren't held up for long.  We didn't see any obvious casualties, but it was clearly not a very good day for someone...

    All in all, I was somewhat tired by the end of the day.


    Not a lot of loot, really:
    • Some varnish (always need that; it beats paying courier fees to have it delivered to home since Royal Mail/Parcel Force stopped carrying aerosols).
    • A pre-order of some more Darkest Africa figures (Livingstone and Stanley, a lady in tropical garb and her maid).  Also, a 17th century ducking stool which will be useful in Witch Hunter scenarios, I think.
    • Some 50mm "pill" bases.
    • Another set of "Nightfolk", mainly for fun.  I might end up using these as a whimsical warband for Frostgrave.
    • Finally, the MDF show tokens, which will be used as bases for something, eventually...


    Both A. and I felt that Carronade hadn't been as good for us this year as it had in previous years.  The high school in which it is held seemed very hot and very crowded.  A friend that I spoke to suggested that this might be because the Triples show isn't being held this year and therefore at least some folks from the north of England might have decided to visit Carronade instead and swell the usual numbers.  I don't know the rights and wrongs of this, but it sounds plausible.

    In addition to physical discomfort, we felt that too many of the participation games just weren't very inviting.  Maybe my memory and mood are playing tricks on me, but it seems that in the past all we had to do was look vaguely in the direction of a table and we'd be invited to sit down and take part.  There were several games this Saturday that we would have liked to try, but we just couldn't get the hosts' attention or otherwise gain access.  Not all the games were like this, of course.  In particular, the Fury game was so popular that we couldn't even see it past the ring of spectators at the end of the afternoon!

    So, final conclusion: tiring and slightly disappointing.  I hope for better next year.