Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Cerberus, the hound of hell!

Introduction

In Greek and Roman myth, Cerberus (pronounced Kerberos) was the 3-headed hound who guarded the entrance to Hades or Hell.  His job was to prevent the dead from escaping and the living from entering.  The hound seems to have accomplished the former perfectly, but at least some of the greatest Greek heroes did manage to enter the underworld whilst alive and then leave again.  For example, Orpheus managed to pass Cerberus in both directions - possibly by soothing the beast with his music - and Heracles actually captured the beast as his 12th labour!

Cerberus was sibling to a number of other monsters including the Lernaean Hydra and the Chimera.  So I suppose you could say that he (she?) came from a somewhat dysfunctional family.  I don't suppose that anyone wanted them as neighbours!

Cerberus

 There are several manufacturers who make 28mm models of 3-headed dogs.  I compared all of the ones that I discovered; in the end I chose to buy the Foundry figure.  This model comes in 3 parts: the body & central head and the 2 other heads.  Interestingly the outer heads are identical parts, though I wouldn't have realised this had I not built the piece.  They did need a little filler to mate them seamlessly to the body, but nothing too bad.

 I was aiming for a colouring similar to a brindled mastiff.  This should have some quite visible, if poorly defined, stripes on the body.  However the wash I used was a bit darker than intended and the stripes aren't really visible.  Still, the black elements (ears, muzzle and eye sockets) help to give the hound a sinister appearance nevertheless.

Here's a size comparison with some humans.  In this case, they are 2 Wargames Factory Greeks and a Wargames Factory Numidian, all recently completed and added to my collection.  Note that the WF Greeks are quite tall and chunky figures; the Numidian is more average for a 28mm person.  Even so, the hound is clearly quite a monster: he's as big as a horse (if not quite so tall)!

Conclusion

Cerberus is a very useful monster who ought by rights to strike fear into the hearts of all bar the stoutest of heroes.  In a game it wouldn't be unreasonable to give him any number of attributes, depending on the scenario, such as fiery breath (maybe) or regeneration (he never seemed to die - or perhaps he's already undead?).

However, I think that all the ancient heroes were taking the wrong approach.  The easy and obvious way to defeat a creature like this is to show him 2 squirrels, throw them in opposite directions and just watch the hound tear itself apart in an attempt to chase both of the squirrels at once!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Prehistoric Fauna: the Carnivores

Introduction

Last week, I showed my very limited collection of 28mm mammalian (& avian) prehistoric herbivores (excluding the big beasts, which have their own megafauna article).  Well, to complete the series, here are the carnivores.  There are rather more of them than the plant-eaters!

Smilodon

Leaping Smilodon.  I think that this one comes from the long-defunct Amazon miniatures.
Old (out of production?) Smilodon from Steve Barber Models  The new version from the same manufacturer is a much nicer model!
Smilodon is probably the best-known of the sabre tooth cats.  It's often called a "sabre tooth tiger", though this is inaccurate as it isn't a tiger at all.  The species lived in the Americas until about 10,000 years ago and probably specialised in ambushing large herbivores.

Neither of the models above is particularly well-sculpted, though the first one is a more likely size for an adult animal.  There are a number of other versions of 28mm Smilodons; all are quite different from each other!

Megalania

This Megalania model has a very upright stance that may not be accurate?
Megalania is a rare giant monitor lizard that inhabited Australia until about 30,000 years ago.  It's entirely possible that early man encountered these horrors, which have been estimated to grow up to 5.5m (18ft) long!

My version is yet another model from the defunct (but very useful) Amazon Miniatures range.

Dinofelis

The name Dinofelis means, of course, "terrible cat".  However, whilst they were probably a considerable danger to Australopithecus, most varieties were no larger than a modern leopard.  I suppose that's bad enough if you only have stone tools, though.

Actually, Dinofelis died out about 1.2 million years ago - so the Neanderthal hunter in the picture shouldn't really be too worried about meeting one!

This model is from the Dazed range (or DeeZee or DZ, as the range has been variously renamed).  It's still available, from Arcane Scenery.

Thylacine

Thylacine is very unusual for a "prehistoric" animal because they existed right up until the 1930s.  Indeed, there are still occasional sightings claimed, though it would be quite sensational if any of these were verified!  It's a marsupial predator, sometimes referred to as the "Tasmanian Tiger" - although at one time it was widespread across all of Australia and New Guinea.

My thylacine pack is by Steve Barber Models.

"Terror Bird"

There are a number of species of giant birds in the prehistoric environment.  This particular model is one of the earlier figures from Steve Barber and is now retired, I believe (there is a newer giant bird model from the same manufacturer which is very nice!).

I haven't been able to identify the species that this figure represents and so I cannot give you many details about it.  However, given its size I think that the Neanderthal may well be able to drive it away from its nest and take its eggs!

Diatryma Giganticus

Now here's a species worthy of the title "terror bird"!  Diatryma Giganticus (aka Gastornis) inhabited North America and Western Europe  about 45 million years ago and - despite its ferocious-looking beak - may have eaten tough leaves and shoots rather than being a hunter.  However, scientists appear to be split on this, as well as whether related species in China are actually the same creature.

This pair of models come, once again, from the defunct Amazon Miniatures range.

Phorusrhacos

Phorusrhacos is another variety of giant "terror bird".  This species lived in the Americas until maybe 13 million years ago and is believed to be a predator.

Several manufacturers make 28mm models of Phorusrhacos, but again mine comes from Amazon Miniatures (if I remember correctly).

Daedon

Strictly speaking, the world-wide Entelodont family (of which Daedon is a North American species) are omnivores rather than carnivores.  But then, so are bears (and humans)!  They'll eat meat if they can get it, though otherwise they'll live off vegetable matter.

I've put the Entelodonts in this article on predators because their taste for meat and their sheer size would present a considerable threat to any humans they encountered.  Of course, they wouldn't have met any people because Daedon died out about 19 million years ago - long before anything remotely like a human existed!

These models are from the Primaeval Designs range, available from Acheson Creations.  If they seem familiar then that may be because I've used them recently in a game as the fabled, monstrous Calydonian Boar and also (less recently) as "not-targ" in a Klingon Holiday.

Andrewsarchus

This is possibly the largest land-dwelling, carnivorous mammal of all time.  A fully-grown Andrewsarchus has been estimated to weigh 1 ton or even more.  With a 3 foot long jaw, it would have had a ferocious bite, though it isn't really known whether it was primarily a hunter or a scavenger.  Fortunately for the Neanderthal in the picture, Andrewsarchus lived in Mongolia some 36 million years ago, long before humans!

Good luck with finding a 28mm model of this beast!  Mine came from the long-defunct Amazon miniatures; I've never heard of another manufacturer attempting to make this creature.

Cave Bear

Now here's an animal which most certainly would have encountered Neanderthals!  The cave bear lived in Europe until 27,500 years ago - well within the timeframe for cavemen.  Given its huge size (a male could weigh 0.5 tons), they must have been quite a threat to stone age people!

This is a resin model that I thought came from Steve Barber Models as it's based in the same manner as my other "Prehistoric Settlement" game models.  However if it is from there than it must be an earlier sculpt; the current catalogue shows nothing like it.

Dire Wolves

Dire wolves are slightly larger than a modern grey wolf, but had a rather heavier build.  They existed in the Americas until maybe 10,000 years ago - well within the timespan for early humans.  I imagine that even primitive men were reasonably safe from them - unless the wolves were in an overwhelmingly large pack, were starving or otherwise motivated to attack!

This pack comes from the Dazed/DeeZee/DZ range and is still available from Arcane Scenery.  They were the stars in one of my most successful "offbeat" battle reports: The Howling!

Conclusion

There are many more prehistoric predators in model form than there are herbivores!  Indeed, a lot of the creatures that I have described above can be found in 3 or more different ranges of miniatures.  For example, Phorusrhacos (or something very like it) is/was made by Amazon Miniatures, Dragonblood Miniatures, HLBS, Ral Partha, Steve Barber and Reaper Miniatures.

I've noticed whilst making this list that much of my collection are older models, many of which are no longer available.  It's very tempting to start buying some of the more recent sculpts as well, to fill gaps or perhaps just for fun!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

28mm Prehistoric Fauna: the Herbivores

Introduction

A long time ago (in 2012, no less), I showed some of my collection of 28mm Prehistoric animals: the Megafauna.  Not all mammals from prehistory are so big, though!  I also have a reasonable collection of smaller creatures that I'd like to record and publish.  Since there are really too many of them for a single article, I thought that I'd start with the subgroup of herbivores.  Even though these would have been numerous in real life, I find than I don't have many such models, so this might be quite a short post.

As with the Megafauna article, I've included a figure of a 28mm Neanderthal hunter, for scale purposes.  Note however that most of these creatures were removed a very long way in time and space from such a hunter.  They'd only meet in some strange, Hollywood-inspired Lost World setting for a game - and who would ever have the imagination to do that?!  Something like this, perhaps?

Diprotodon

Diprotodon is (roughly speaking) a giant wombat.  They were the largest marsupial ever to have lived.  Diprotodons lived in Australia and died out maybe 46,000 years ago.  I suppose that contact with very early humans was just about possible, though I'm not an anthropologist and don't know this with any certainty.

Actually, this model must be either a female or an immature youngster.  The fully-grown male would have been 3m (9.8 ft) long and have weighed 2.7 tons.

The model is (I think) from Mega Miniatures.  Although it was sold as a 25/28mm model, I can't help wondering if the sculptor intended it to match 15mm figures instead.

Chalicotherium

Chalicotheres are very strange-looking animals.  They were widespread across Europe, Asia and Africa for many millions of years.  Sadly for our Neanderthal hunter, Chalicotheres seem to have died out about 3.6 million years ago; that's long before any humans were around!

Once again, this is a Mega Miniatures model and (like the Diprotodon) it's about half the size that it should be!  A fully-grown Chalicothere stood around 2.5m (8 ft) tall at the shoulders, whereas this creature is no higher than the man.

Doedicurus

Doedicurus is one of the best-known Glyptodonts; it ranged across the Americas (North and South) and finally became extinct about 11,000 years ago.  This puts it very definitely in the period for early humans, though it wouldn't have met our Neanderthal (he's a European, after all).

Guess what?  This is from Mega Miniatures and it's a lot smaller than it should be for a 28mm model!  An adult Doedicurus could reach about 4m (12 ft) in length, so once again this figure would make more sense with 15mm humans.

Miohippus

Horses have been growing bigger for many millions of years, from the very small ancestors such as Eohippus (60cm / 2 ft long) to our current animals.  The prehistoric species differed mainly from modern horses in being smaller and in having separate toes rather than fused hooves (but who's going to notice that or care in such a small model).  However, the basic form of the animal remained similar, whatever the size of the species. 
This being so, I decided to create my Miohippus herd by using models that were designed for 15mm.  Rather than using 15mm horse figures, I chose to use donkeys - though zebras or wild asses would probably have a more accurate body shape.  Still, these are good enough for me, especially when painted with a spotted coat.  I think the models came fro Lancashire Games, but I could be mistaken about that.

Miohippus lived in North America and died out about 25 million years ago, so once again our hunter is completely anachronistic!

Dodo

Now here's a real oddity!  Dodos were flightless birds that lived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean until they encountered modern European sailors; they were last seen in 1662 (the dodos, that is - not the Dutch and Portuguese sailors).  Once again, our poor hunter wouldn't have encountered dodos, if only because they existed in such an isolated location.

Unlike the earlier models in this article, these figures are too large.  A dodo should be about 1m (3.3 ft) tall, whereas these birds are much bigger than that.  The sculpts also have a rather strange body shape and are missing the very distinctive upright plume of tail feathers.  Still, I don't know of any other dodo models in this scale, so I'm quite happy to have a small flock!

These dodos are from Black Cat Bases, home of some of the most intriguing and bizarre miniatures on the internet!

Conclusion

If you exclude dinosaurs, there aren't many models of the smaller (i.e. less than a mammoth or wooly rhinoceros) prehistoric herbivores in any scale, though most of those which do exist are scaled for 28mm figures.

Here are some herbivores that I don't have (yet!) and which I believe to be still available:
  • Steve Barber Models make an alternate Diprotodon and the unusual Macrauchenia
  • Eureka Miniatures make a herd of Aurochs.
As ever, the best source of information on this subject is Steve Pugh's Very True Things site, which is an absolutely invaluable resource!

Monday, 8 June 2015

Not enough time in the day - so, cows...

Once again, I've missed my self-imposed Sunday post.  This is partly because I'm just not organised enough, but also because I can't even find time to read other people's blog posts with the attention they deserve, let alone write my own!  Until I manage to sort things out a bit, here are some cows...

 These are 28mm Highland cattle from Warbases; I bought these at the recent Carronade show.  I think I painted and finished them in under 2 weeks from purchase; this is probably some kind of a record for me!  Usually models linger for months, years or (occasionally) decades before I complete them and apply that final coat of varnish.

Highland cattle are probably about the simplest animal models there are to paint.  These were undercoated, sprayed with a pale brown and then given a darker brown wash.  A little detailing around the muzzles and some effort on the horns and they're done - you don't even need to paint in any eyes (well, apart from the calves)!

This livestock will make very suitable objectives, obstacles or decorations for my games of SAGA; they are entirely appropriate for herds in much of Scotland.  I don't know if Highland cattle are ever seen anywhere else in the world, though.

It's possible that I might also use them for rural scenarios in All Things Zombie as well.  Although cows like this are generally peaceable creatures, I don't imagine that they'd take kindly to being assaulted by the walking dead.  If they were cornered by zeds and couldn't escape then they might just fight back!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The New Alien Overlords

Introduction

So, it's another mid-week post and I haven't got a lot of time.  What shall I talk about this time?  I did consider writing a list of all the gaming projects I'm pursuing and why they are currently stalled.  This would have included sets of rules and scenarios that I'd like to play but for which I haven't yet found time.  Perhaps I'll write this article some other time?

Instead, here's some Dreadball stuff.  I've got a new team painted as well as the latest standings in my mini-league.

The New Alien Overlords

The "New Alien Overlords" team.  I do like the transparent helmets; they had to be added after varnishing the figures, of course!
Yes, it's a Martian Dreadball team!  As in "Martians from Mars Attacks!".  Since Mantic has the license to produce Mars Attacks! figures, I suppose it's not too surprising that they've released these as well.  Supposedly, the back-story for the Dreadball team is that after a time-warp accident a few Martians are stranded in the future and decide that the best way to bring down humanity is to beat them in an ultra-violent game.  Or something like that...

Martian Guards (specialised blockers)
 Officially, these models are sold as the "Red Planets" team, but I wanted my squad to be somewhat different.  I think I'll call them the "New Alien Overlords" instead!

Martian Strikers (specialised ball handlers).  I'm not too keen on the soft plastic that Mantic uses for these; it doesn't work at all well with this pose.
 It's a well-balanced team with a mixture of the different classes of players, though somewhat hampered by their fragile attribute, poor ball-handling skill and no-better-than-average strength and speed.

Martian Jacks (multi-role players)
 The great leveller for this squad is their use of illegal weapons, though!  Martians will think nothing of coming onto the pitch with a hidden knife or gun and trying to kill an unwitting opponent!

Martian Jacks, showing a mixture of hidden weapons!

League Standings:

The Martians won't be taking part in my Spring League, but it's reaching the climax for the 5 other teams [See here for the early season standings].  Here are the latest results:

Spring Season
TeamPlayedLandslideWonLostBuriedPoints
Pink Ladies7124011
Mean Green Machine6150013
Sky City Slammers803329
Gutter Gashers702418
Golden Swarm6212110

So, each team plays 8 regular matches (4 home and 4 away) and then the top two teams will play a final against each other.

  • With 2 games yet to play, the Mean Green Machine (Orx & goblins) have a commanding lead, though it's just possible that the Golden Swarm (Bugs) could catch them.
  • There's a mathematical chance for the Pink Ladies (Women) too.  However this looks very unlikely as they've not been playing well recently and they have 1 game less to play.
  • The poor Sky City Slammers (Men) have played all of their matches and are almost certain to finish at the bottom of the rankings.



Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Crooked Dice Mystery Machine

Introduction

I've had my Mystery Inc team (also known as the "Scooby Doo gang") for some time.  These are 28mm models from Hasslefree and are, I think, fairly widely known about by those with an interest in such matters.  However, what about their ride?  The team need a vehicle.

In the original cartoon show they had an iconic van with an instantly recognisable colour scheme.  Oddly, there are many imitations and variations of this paintjob applied to a number of different types of real life vans - just google for "Mystery Machine" images.  These are owned by fans, re-enactors (?!) or (more likely) professional entertainers with reasonable budgets.

But what about 28mm models?  Well, there are several choices for the Mystery Machine.  Most commonly recommended are toy vehicles, but I find such toys to be badly scaled, often quite goofy-looking and frequently out-of-production and hard to find.  But there's another choice...

Another Option

Hidden away on the Crooked Dice website, listed under 'Heroes' (I think), is a 28mm model of a Transit van.  This clearly fits into the "cops and robbers" category of Crooked Dice's 7TV game, as the example paint jobs show.

But there is a US manufacturer called Company B who produce - amongst other things - decals for some fairly off-beat models.  For example, they make "police phone box" markings suitable for a Doctor Who Tardis as well as tank insignia suitable for the Japanese "Girls und Panzer" cartoon show (and if that isn't weird then I don't know what is!)

What's significant for my purposes here is that Company B produce Mystery Machine decals to fit the Crooked Dice van.  Yay!  So, at the Carronade show earlier this month I went to the Crooked Dice stall and bought a van.  An online purchase from Company B was delivered very quickly and I was in business.  Here we go!

The Crooked Dice Van

So, the Transit van comes as a resin body with 4 metal wheels and a small sprue of accessories.  I wouldn't be using the police light or siren, so I needed only the mirror stalks from the accessories.  The wheels have a guide on the backs of them that lines up with the resin body so that they fit at just the correct depth; this is a nice touch.

It took but moments to glue all the parts together.  On the whole they were well cast and required virtually no cleanup, but I was disappointed to find a significant air bubble in the resin, located just on the edge of a front wheel arch.  I probably spent more time repairing this defect and restoring the body shape around this area than I did with the rest of the construction.

After undercoating, I painted the body of the van with pale blue, then gave it a wash of a medium blue.  This is essentially a cartoon vehicle, so I didn't plan on a lot of weathering or details such as a numberplate!

The doors and windscreen were outlined with a very dark grey.  The same colour was used to paint the tyres, radiator vents and wheel arches.  These latter were exceptionally difficult, since there wasn't really enough space for a paintbrush and I did wonder if I should have painted the wheel arches before gluing on the wheels.

A silver colour (Humbrol aluminium enamel) was used for the hubcaps, bumpers (fenders if you're from the USA), door handles, headlamps, mirror stalks and radiator grill.  For really shiny, chrome-like effects I still prefer to use this Humbrol enamel paint, though pretty much everything else I do is in acrylic paints.

The silver bits were given a very thin black wash; this is most evident on the wheels.  A few extra details were added - the indicator and stop lights - and then it was time to do the windows.

I've not really painted windshields before, so I looked on the internet for references.  One that I found especially useful was a Flames of War article called Lumpy's Guide to Windscreens.  I tried to follow the "not-so-easy" method and I think it came out quite well.  Whoever you are, thanks to Lumpy!

Now for the decals.  The Company B decals are designed for this model and for the most part were easy to use.  Their target location was fairly obvious and the decals were sturdy enough and came loose from their backing paper easily.

I did have a slight problem with the larger, lower panel decals: they were too long for the bodywork!  In order to make them fit, I cut each of these pieces into 2 parts and removed about 2mm of decal from the cut edge.  This is visible if you look closely; there is a slight discontinuity in the pattern where the shortened parts meet.

The rear doors caused further issues.  In this case, it was because the hinges and handle were raised areas that would prevent the decal from sitting flush with the door.  I had to cut a hole for the handle into the right-hand decal and make slits near the upper hinges in both decals in order to make the decorations fit properly.

Conclusion

For the most part, this was a very straightforward model to build and paint.  There were a few minor hiccups which required a certain amount of model-making skill to fix, but nothing too bad.  This isn't a cheap piece though - neither the Crooked Dice van nor the Company B decals will ever compete in price with the second-hand toy market for Mystery Machines!  Still, I'm very pleased with the end result.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

A small Pictish village

Introduction

I paint a lot of figures, mostly 28mm, for gaming.  However, men alone aren't enough for a wargame; we need terrain as well.  Every so often, I realise that I can't play a scenario that I would like because I don't have the right setting.  So it was with SAGA, when I realised that at least 1 of the standard scenarios in the basic rulebook requires buildings.

Many people use MDF kits of timber-framed Dark Age buildings for their games of SAGA.  Theses are widely available from various manufacturers.  However, my Dark Age warbands are based in Scotland and although timber or wattle-and-daub structures would certainly have existed in parts, the more remote corners of the land might well have had differently-constructed buildings instead.

The Raw Materials

I discovered that Scheltrum Miniatures produced resin models of stone dwellings that would be very appropriate for far-flung communities of Picts or similar Celtic groups.  Low (wind-proof!), stone buildings with turf roofs are especially likely in areas with limited access to wood, such as the Hebridean Isles or some parts of the north of Scotland.  Having decided that I wanted these, I bought a few small dwellings.  That was at Claymore 2012, so almost 3 years ago (ouch!).

I realised afterwards that I also wanted some walls from Scheltrum to go with them, to place the buildings in a more interesting context.  The walls were purchased separately, probably at another show a year or 2 later (I cannot remember for sure).  And so it remained for a long while...

Planning the Village

Finally, earlier this month, I decided to act and build my village.  After all the procrastination, it didn't take much effort at all when I finally got down to it!

Firstly, I found some large pieces of scrap paper and drew out rough plans of how the building and wall pieces would be placed.  This achieved several things: it showed me what size of bases would be required and it ensured that I made best use of the pieces available.

Next, I cut out bases from 3mm MDF and transferred the plans roughly onto these.  I left a margin of about 1" around the edges of each base and beveled the cut edges (my jigsaw can make cuts at up to about 45 degrees off vertical, which is very useful for this type of job).

The obvious next step was to glue on the buildings and the walls.  This revealed a problem, though: the wall pieces didn't join cleanly to each other and certainly didn't join to the buildings.  There were huge, unsightly gaps everywhere!

Mind the Gap!

OK, not to worry.  I rolled blobs of Milliput into rough balls and then pushed these into all the gaps, trying to match the existing layers of stones in the walls.

The joints between the baseboards and the resin pieces still looked a bit abrupt, so I used some filler to blend these together a bit.  I also added a few lumps and bumps to the enclosures, to try to avoid them looking as smooth as billiards tables!

Painting

After adding a few patches of sand and grit (again, to break up any large, blank patches), I undercoated the models with my usual Halford's grey car primer.

Note that as an afterthought I added some "gates" to the 2 larger enclosures.  These were simply pieces of Renedra's wattle fence, cut to fit.

Finishing

To start the painting, I gave all the stonework a black wash, followed by a heavy drybrush of "lichen grey".

The dirt was undercoated with chocolate brown, then highlighted with a couple of lighter shades of tan.

To finish, 2 separate types of flock and static grass were applied, with special attention given to the bottom of the walls and other nooks and crevices.  The few details  (gates, doorways, the guy ropes over the roof of the largest house) were painted separately and then the models were sealed with varnish.  Done!

Conclusion

These pieces were surprisingly quick to build, mainly due to the relatively small number of colours and details on them.  They'll be very useful for outlying communities in games of SAGA, I think.  And it's such a relief to have completed this project - finally!