Monday, 31 December 2018

A wargaming year…

Okay it is the last day of the year, I am contemplating the Lucullan dinner awaiting me, and taking time to write some (understatement) lines about 2018 and wargames. Plenty of bloggers do that… after all it is quite normal to look back in such a day (before filling our stomachs and forgetting everything). I will say it has been a positive year for the hobby in general, and for my corner of it in particular. We saw plenty of new releases, good and bad, more good than bad, and I was able to play and paint several of them. Even the computer side of it has been good, with the new Combat Mission Shock Force 2 released, The Operational Art of War 4 and other little things. Basically a good year for the hobby… and the Perry twins’ early XV century cavalry is arriving in a couple of week…

Yet despite all the positives there are some negatives (no I am not talking about personal ones). The hobby community is more and more divisive, crap is still coming out, and there are some uninspiring trends. I would say that the negatives are more about people than the hobby in itself, and certainly they concerns people who get publicity… basically I am quite pissed off by the ‘public face’ (there is one?) of the whole wargaming hobby. More often than not the hobby appears to be represented by its lesser lights, certainly the more aggressive.

I have already written a tirade against Facebook groups few posts ago, but to be quite honest some of the issues that plague these groups are also plaguing the big wargaming websites (rather than forums) across the internet. Basically the issue is one:

What I do not like deserve to die.

I play games on maps...

I play games with miniatures. And to respond to Brian painting and building them is part of the hobby, and result is warranted. 

Well I am the first to say that plenty of people deserve to die, I am a military historian by trade and one thing that history teaches is that sometimes deaths are necessary and inevitable… but usually these concerns evil dictators, madmen, and pesky colleagues (and maybe politicians whose asses are glued to their comfy chairs…). I am not really interested in seeing particular strand of the wargaming spectrum dying, neither to see companies disappear (okay FGA excluded… but well, how many supporters FGA had ever had?).  Yet, if you look around there is plenty of negativity. In his end of year summary for, Colonel (USA RTD) Wilbur Gray made a quite scathing prediction for board wargaming, hex and counter will die, GMT and Decision will disappear, Compass (that it happens to produce hex and counter wargames!) will thrive on their carcasses.  Of course miniatures and computer wargames will not be affected by gloom and doom. Of  course it is no secret where Bill Gray’s sympathies’ lay. On the same token, other commentators  (admitting their previous failures in predicting wargames’ future) again predict the collapse of hexes and counters and the eternal rise of CDGs! Or something else, like War-Euros combinations and the like. Other people predict the demise of miniatures for computer games…

Basically everyone, his brother, and their aquarium fishes make wild prediction centred on the thriving future of their favourite kind of games and the demise of the rest. There is the underlying idea that only on aspect of our varied and storied hobby is worthy of salvation. Plenty of these predictions have come to pass, and we are still playing, designing, and publishing a wide array of different wargames.

Because all the Cassandras, and the other assorted Sunday’s prophets that had seen the light in computer wargames and the dark in other kinds… have failed. Funnily enough the first of these two cents fortune tellers, James Dunningan left the field to become a third (or fifth?) rate strategic expert. The idea that computers killed board wargames is a dead, putrefied, skeleton horse. It stinks. Yet it is still around… like the myth of the German military invincibility (read one of the latest articles by Ty Bomba to be treated to the uber-Germans winning the second world war… no, wait… they lost…) it is a myth that is never ending. Back in time, reflecting on the demise of SPI James Dunningan blamed computer games for the destruction of paper wargaming. Of course there were lot of other trends involved (and also Dunningan may have had a big personal role in the fall of SPI, and tried to cover it up), and board-wargaming did not die at all, despite Dunningan analysis. Yet the idea that somewhat the hobby is relying on a flat base of older gamers who survived its heydays is often casually thrown in discussion. The recipe to stave off disaster is, we are told, crossover games, and moving away from traditional wargames toward computer. Often these calls are coupled with accusations of male dominated hobby, snobbism against fantasy or science fiction. More often than not there is a tone of impending doom… change or be swept away. Each of these elements has its champion or champions.  Yet the underlying impression a moderate gets is… ‘I do not like game XYZ so it has to be bad and disappear’. And then there is the unanswered question… why?

Then you have the people that claim hexes and counters are dead, and cards, areas, and meeples will rise… it is the current CDGs crowd, or the current COIN crowd. Yet, Card Driven Games have been around for a while, and they are not so new. They have not supplanted hexes or counters. Plenty of them uses counters, and some even hexes. It is worth to note that their boom as passed, and while they are not going away (and why they should?), they are just become part of the whole hobby. Cards are used also in Miniature Games (I ain’t been shot mum anyone?). It is a worthwhile mechanic but not an end unto itself. And we had plenty of crap and bummers in this department.

Then there is COIN… the new grail… except that despite a couple of good games, the whole series is sliding down the crappiness and some designers force COIN on the throat of everything… yet you have people arguing that COIN will supplant everything else, and everything else is destined to rot in hell…

It is disheartening to see so many people relishing in their prophecy of doom for entire segments of the hobby. Even more disheartening because these prophets looks quite shallow, and their arguments take up places that could be used for more useful endeavour, like informed discussions, and reviews. Frankly, who cares if a computer games expert bashes board games? Does he know what is talking about? Short answer, only people who dislike board games care, and he does not know anything.

Thankfully, like Dunningan prediction and analysis (that hide his own poor decisions in SPI…) these prophets are basically rubbish. Let’s paint a better picture… maybe, one based on real knowledge. I will start from computer games. Recently on the Facebook wargamers group the idiot of the day (If you want I can provide Facebook names too, after all Marck Zuckenberg does it all the time…) said that the relation of  board wargames to computer wargames is like that between VHS and DVD. Persuading young people to play board wargames over computer games is like pretending people to go back to VHS from DVD. Okay… 

There are deep issues in this view. Basically, it is just an outgrown of Dunningan’s claims of PC games killing board ones. New technology always supplants existing one.  The underlying idea is that board games were somewhat inferior to their electronic counterparts and more expensive. But, when Dunningan was pontificating not only electronic wargames were in their infancy, they were few, basically crap, overpriced and relied on hardware that, until sometime later, was extremely expensive.  A single pc game could have been not too expensive, but it needed a computer that was not readily available to everyone. This even before addressing issue like quality, AI, and playabilty. I saw some of them, and they were quite subpar. Basically Dunningan was talking hot air, like he does in his strategy page… old habits never dies.

The Moderns have at least the benefit of cheaper hardware (but how cheap is a computer rigged to play the latest games?) and better games. PC wargames have evolved and some are innovative, interesting, well researched, and engaging.  So at least they have something to show. Now there is an issue that cannot be denied, I cannot deny it too. Computer games sales far outstrip traditional wargames one. Fair point, but one that is also completely irrelevant.

We are comparing apple to oranges, and even in a bad way. The issue that what I call the ‘PC doom crowd’ fail to address is what a computer wargame is. Nitpicking? No. It is the heart of the issue. How many computer games that really qualify as wargames are sold? What really qualifies as computer wargames? If you just pull out the average Joe from the street, if you can get an answer at all it will be Call of Duty or Warcraft/Starcraft, if you are lucky a Total War game…  But we have a deep issue, computer games that are often called wargames by the press and the public are not wargame in any sense. There is very little relation between Call of Duty and ASL as there is very little relation between Rome Total War and Imperium Romanum II. I have seen this with students. They are quick to think of them as wargames because that is what they are told. But wargames they are not. Also they appeal to different people. Yes there will be overlap, as there is overlap in everything, but this is not changing the reality. Real wargames are a minority even in the PC market, their sales are not that big, computer games in general did not steal the player base of wargames.

Once you remove the oranges and remains with the apples it is also interesting to see what the apples are. A lot of PC wargames are tactical in nature. There are very few operational or strategic ones. Also players often criticize board-wargames for their lack of details. I remember a discussion on RPS Flare Path column on Phil Sabin’s Simulating War book. One of the posters was complaining on the limit in the level of detail of any ‘manual’ game compared to games like War in the East. Fair point, but…

1     1) He did not really read or understand Phil’s position about details
2)  2) Despite disagreeing with Phil’s emphasis on abstraction, I am persuaded that details do not equal realism by default. Just because a game track each infantry squad on the whole Russian front it is not more realistic than one who only track army corps.

Again the computer player in question is attracted to detail in a way that is outside the scope of any playable manual wargame (much better definition that board wargame, let’s use it!). I play computer wargames and manual ones. I find very little overlapping. I found them not very related. I also play Total War, and have played several Call of Duty and Medal of Honour games. Let’s leave CoD and MoH alone for now.  They were never wargames to start with, and, right now, they are also bad games more concerned with campy multiplayer, scripted movie sequence, and very little with any meaningful conflict simulation aspect. Also, they are not wargames, they are first person shooters. They are the brothers of Doom rather than ASL.

Total War and other RTS or even 4X turn based games are, often, hailed has wargames or historical games, but they are not wargames at all. They have war and conflict, but grouping them together with manual wargames would be wrong. As it would be grouping together their player bases. It is worth noting that some RTS have evolved in the so called ‘E-sports’ and are nothing more than click fest.

Even serious title like Steel Beasts Pro or Combat Mission are games that is difficult to pin together. They are apple and oranges by themselves, and it would be very difficult to find equivalent in the manual wargames library, especially for title like Steel Beasts (they are simulators, again a different beasts, notwithstanding the idiots on BGG and other places that confuse simulation with simulator). Combat Mission (especially the first series) feel like a miniature wargame, but for now we are focusing on another genre.

The bottom line is that computer and manual wargames scratch different itches. On top of that perusing game forums I have seen very few people who are even aware of the existence of manual wargames at all… my experience in KCL Conflict Simulation class, and in Wolves ‘Virtual Warriors’ module is that while there are more students familiar with computer games and manual wargames, there very little in the way of ‘I stopped playing manual wargames because the PC ones were better’ often the computer crowd is stuck on total War, Paradox grand strategy (and often they do not care too much about the level of historical details), and CODs… on the other hand some students dismissing manual wargames as obsolete by default in September came to different conclusion after having played and designed games at the end of the module.

What I see is a large, healthy base of publishers doing manual wargames, and other doing computer wargames. Their catalogue are strong and varied. Their titles cater for different interests, mechanics, and players’ inclinations. Each medium, and each title has its own strength and weaknesses. It is worth to mention that while there is an overlap in players, (and I just played Slitherine’s intriguing Panzer Doctrine…) the players seem to be two largely discrete communities.

Bottom line: the boom in real computer wargames happened after Dunningan wrote his nonsense. It even happened after the fall of Avalon Hill, and the dark age of manual wargaming. Probably they are two unconnected phenomena.  Yet this myth is still with us, and duly resurrected when the idiot of the day wants to explain why manual wargames are a doomed hobby. Nonsense. We can just play our games in peace.

Now let’s move on… the second big myth. The new holy grail game technique that will rule them all… give me a ring please… Even better is it is a crossover to euros.  The crossover that will suddenly bring thousands of eager new players in the hobby by virtue of its simplicity and appeal (and low price!). I think everyone hopes for it… I think everyone with a working brain knows it is just rubbish. There are several wrong assumptions at work here. First of all is that you can entice people to become wargamers just hanging an easy game in front of them. After you have hooked them they will simply move to more complex games, finally they will all play ASL!   I do not think this is making any real sense.

First of all, there is an assumption that one size fits all, be it players’ interests and game mechanics. There is also a mental limitation at work, that one mechanic can cover everything. This is a phenomena that you can see both in board and miniatures wargames. There was a recent article on Wargames Soldiers and Strategy waxing about the idea that a single mechanics can simulate everything at every scale, from Sumer to Ramadi… I scratched my head… and mentally binned the author in the realm of idiots. I am sorry to use such a term but it was just a demonstration of the lack of understanding of warfare and its modelling. Okay… it could provide food for the game vs simulation debate. But here is serving another purpose. An historical wargamer, one who understand history, will scratch his head if an Assyrian chariot is simulated in the same way of a French 1812 Cuirassier. Even more if an unit of chariots and one of cuirassiers are modelled in the same way (I mean their functions, not they physical models!). Yet the one game to rule them all crowd propose exactly this. What we can call… the Sauron’s technique… will replace everything else. Sadly for the prophets, luckily for everyone else (including the prophets of the different Sauron’s technique…) it will not happen. Despite the claims that the new games will replace the old it will not happen. They will just sit together on the same shelf.

IF we look at the past of the hobby it is something that happened all the times. Everytime a new mechanic was introduced the players were divided in camps, some outspoken supporters, some claiming it was just a fad (why? Was it used improperly?), and the silent majority buying what they like, and leaving on the shops’ shelves or website the games they did not like. Some designers become fixated on certain mechanics (Mike Rinella and its area/impulse, who is simply saying the approach is better than anything else, without explanation), some rejected it, most simply adding it to their libraries.  Nothing new, no impeding collapse, despite every time someone yelling at the ultimate mechanic. Still… people continues to search for a grail that looks more like the Ring… nothing holy, just a chimera that, once reached is only a curse… remember the end of the Fellowship… there is no rule to rule them all.

But it is not just the random poster on Facebook or BGG that clamours for it. Years ago, boardgame (be careful, Boardgame not Wargame…) designer Lewis Pulsipher, the creator of Britannia claimed that wargames were destined to irrelevance because our games do not have plastic components, area maps, and are too complex. Okay, if someone creates an idiocy guided cruise missiles Pulsipher would be a perfect guinea pig to test the guidance system. Yet beside the fact it was just an empty, baseless, claim by a second class designer and smelled more of self-advertisement than anything else, it highlighted the issue at hand. More often than not people use the internet, or even game magazine not to discuss issues, but to do negative promoting, criticizing other products and approaches to promote theirs. Wargames are not bad. Wargamers are bad. There is this habit to knock off things to sanctify others. Wargamers are not the only culprits, historians and strategic analysts are even worse offenders. Lewis Sorley is a master of it, launching vitriolic attacks on General Westmoreland just to make a saint of Creighton Abrams. And what about the dean of all strategic forgers? Basil H. Liddell Hart?

You need counters... put such information on a plastic meeples... or produce a similar map with areas... sorry mr. Pulsipher, you do not know what you were talking about...

Even stellar figures in the hobby fall prey of it… I remember reading a piece written by my favourite Miniature Wargamer designer, Richard Clarke, the Lord of Lard… dismissing manual map based wargames, and telling the readers they were dead… He had bad experience playing the Europa series back in time and written off, thousands of titles… and a vital strand of the hobby. I was reading about divisions moving at a glacial pace over the Russian steppes. At the time I was playing the new edition of Red Star and White Eagle from Compass. And it was not division moving a glacial pace, it was the Konarmya racing forward, and then the Polish counterattack… it was exciting… it was engrossing… it was a fight for a country, rather than a fight for a village.  It made me think twice about the usual engagement with Rich’s Chain of Command or IASBM. Yet I like both approaches. I do not knock off one or the other.

What I found irrelevant of this approach is that the Sauron’s technique is not a solution, is part of the problem. As me and Phil said to countless cohorts of students, there is no right or wrong way to design a game. There is no perfect answer to every problem. This is exemplified with the different approach me and Phil takes to design. Loom at my own games or the games I have worked with (easy go to BGG and look up to game designer Arrigo Velicogna), and do the same with Philip Sabin. You will see plenty of differences in approach. Even better for today discussion you will see that even our games tend to be different between them. Some designers are just iterative, some are instead letting the situation to dictate the technique to be used. Plastic meeples? Fine as long you do not want plenty of information on your game pieces. Miniatures are better than counters, at times they are, at times they are not. Variety is the key. The final game does not exist. The ‘evolution’ that some closed minds see is only a nightmare for us.

Plenty of new games on different subjects, with different mechanics, including mine.

Well… it was along post… and one quite negative on wargamers, but, I am persuaded, positive on the hobby. I am sitting on my uncomfy chair right now. I can see part of my collections of wargames. PC, Miniatures, Board. They are varied, they are exciting, they are an important window over military history. Some are easier, some are more detailed, some are broad brush approach. The bad ones… well I tend to avoid buying them, trade them, sell them,  or put them somewhere else… I also have my list of eagerly awaited pre-orders. Under the trees I had Iron and Oak, Tinian, and War for the Union (2nd Edition). A broad and varied lot! I also got TFL annual magazine with new rules and scenarios. And a couple of games on steam too. Right now there is nothing on the table, I borrowed it to my mother for her Lego city… But I am looking confident on the future. There are plenty of interesting project approaching completion. Adam Starkweather is finishing his operational game on Vietnam, a Rumor of War with Compass, and two new games of his company scale series. GMT has a new Next War game coming, and Bruno Sinigaglio big game on the Ardennes (and Compass has Danny Parker reworking his Bulge Masterpiece. MMP has a TCS game on Bir el Gubi, the Ariete armoured division giving a bad day to the 22nd Armoured Brigade, a rubbing generations of British historians, blinded by their arrogant, baseless, and racist contempt for Italians, and slavish admiration of a nazi like Rommel, have always attributed to Germans… (that for that idiot Capitan Blood, that on the Lead Adventure Forum claimed that the Italian experience in North Africa was only shoddy and sorry… an insult to my country, my Army, and myself as a former Italian Army Cadet Officer… another star display of historical ignorance)

The past year was good, the new year looks even better.

Go Forward Wargaming

And Best Wishes for a great 2019 to my readers!

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Cruising in the slot...

Whoa... I am slow in updating the blog... too sloooow...

anyway back to business! Namely the business to show my recent miniatures' painting efforts. In my last post I was complaining how crap is the painting you see on GHQ 1/2400 ships on the internet. I am not that rich to have a whole fleet of GHQ stuff, so I collect 1/3000 ships for smaller engagement or air attacks. Mainly Navwar (cheap!) but last summer I took the plunge and tried some of the excellent 1/3000 plastic from Fujimi (built plenty of Fujimi models in my youth). Ordered them from Japan and had them shipped here...

Okay here we have two Fujimi US Battleships (USS Washington and USS South Dakota) escorted by Navwar destroyers (hint hint hint... 2 BBs, 4 destroyers... what engagement is?)

Now the level of detail on the Fujimi warships is quite stunning. Conning towers, main turrets, and even the stern crane are molded separately and have to be placed into position.

While the two BBs can looks similar they are from two different classes (one improved upon the other) and show their differences. 

Now more details of the queens of the night. On the South Dakota you can clearly see the radar and the single funnel configuration.
 While the Washington has two funnels and a different radar arrangement. Deck wooden platings are well reproduced. And the 16" Gun turrets are clean and crisp.

 The sea base and the coastline are included in the box. I will probably dry-brush the coastline soon.

When you compare the detail on the BBs with that on Navwar destroyers you end up quite... deceived.  Still while Fujimi has a nice selection of IJN warships constantly increasing (guess...) and even JMSDF ships lined up, the USN ships are just the two BBs from 3rd Savo... so I still need to source USN ships from Navwar  or Skytrex (Roe Tengco's 3D printed 1/3000 models from Shapeways are awesome, but Shapeways is massively overpriced!).

Japanese ships are lining up fast anyway... stay posted for a new post.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Facebook wargaming groups, useful tools or utter crap?

We are living in the XXI century. Instant communication is with us, and there are infinite tools that a wargamer could use. discussion forums (to many to count or name), instant messaging, dedicated sites (BGG or CSW for example), yahoo groups... and Facebook. In the past few years I have joined several of these. Definitely they were a sign wargaming in all its form was healthy and increased communications was just helping the hobby... or so I thought.

Everyone reading these pages knows I am critical of the BGG wargaming areas for several elements, but what BGG undeniably provides is a place to see games before buying. Even if plenty of the posters seems to be part of idiots' brigade or simply of the 'adding nothing to the conversation' crowd (or the dreaded, I just say something completely unrelated often to tell you how good is my favorite game bunch...), the fact remains that BGG is a depository of images of unrivaled scope.

CSW not only keep you posted on the news, but usually provided informed discussion on the games.

And then there is Facebook. There there are several groups, from company operate or supported ones designed to support the operations of a specific manufacturer (a great one is Rubicon Models, but also a small companuy like Heroic and Ros has an useful facebook presence), to group dedicated to specific rules (Battlegroup or VG fleet series sprang to my mind), to generalist groups like 'Wargamers' or 'Naval Wargames'. 

Specialist groups are certainly useful. They provide a quick way to contact manufacturers or publishers, to get up to date news, and sometime to be informed of troubles. In small companies often the latter is crucial. Also, because the subject matter is relatively limited, they provide an useful space to discuss specific topics. In this case groups are certainly useful.

But what about the generalist ones? I have reached the conclusion that they are utter crap. Part of the crappiness come straight form Facebook. Yes Facebook gives you a space for photos and files, but the rest is just an unorganized continuous stream of post that are utterly unrelated, and often completely irrelevant to the reader, at times even to wargaming in general. It is difficult to find useful information  in the midst of unorganized posts. Reading them all... well it is usually impossible. The few useful announcements from companies are usually lost in the background noise. And then there are countless posts that fit better in international news group.  Then posting repetition between groups. I understand people want to get their message (often when it is relating to a new game...) across multiple groups to maximize audience, but if you are member of several groups receiving countless of the same notification could be annoying.

Then there is a big issue in the intrinsic nature of a generalist group covering a largely undefined hobby. What a wargame is? Peter Perla and Phil Sabin have proposed specific academic definition, but then people playing Risk and Twilight Struggle are calling them wargames. People says Call of Duty is a wargame. Now do not get me wrong. Risk and Twilight Struggle are not in the similar games. Their only similitude is that they have a board, and that they are called wargames by people who do not understand what a wargame is. Said that they are completely different animals. I can argue that TS is a bad model of the Cold War first, and spread out bad history second, but is a complex and successful GAME in its own. Just is not a wargame. The same is true for Call of Duty. But when you have people arguing about this around you... warning bells rang. Are the members of 'Wargamers' wargamers at all? I am not just saying I do not like mr. X, mr. Y is an idiot, and so on... I am more debating on the idea that we are part of the same hobby, playing related games, and, more importantly, I can derive some utility liaising or linking with them. If the subject of a group is so undefined that is not recognizable anymore, its utility as a forum for discussion is severely reduced. 

As an example people like Professor Rex Brynnen use group like Wargamers for their own polemics and rants. Beside the fact that  I am not impressed by his use of conflict simulations or his ideas at all; that I think it is one of the negative beacons in professional wargaming; that  I also think he has a badly disguise contempt for commercial wargaming in general.  I bascially do not go to a facebook hobby group for reading professional rants. While I am happy that my job and my main hobby are focused on the same subject, military history, I am also happy to avoid a complete overlapping of the two.  Yet Brynnen  posts on Wargamers group about his own professional activity, and often the posts and the subsequent comments end up in sterile political rants... on both sides. There is a reason why I use wargames as teaching and analytical aids but I am leery to get too involved in the professional conflict simulation community... 

Okay this could be professional hate, but it is also a clear example of the fact that a generalist group like Wargamers has no real usefulness, there is so much going on, that, coupled with the inherent limitations of the platform, make the group itself a waste of time.

Finally there is the issue of the people in general. Do I really care to be in contact with every wargamer in the world?  Frankly no... especially considering that some of them are not wargamers at all. Do I care to receive notification for every utterly irrelevant idiocy posted by someone somewhere in this globe? No.  Also do I care to participate in discussions where only drooling is allowed? Where only positive comments have to be posted in reply to any post, be it interesting, crap, irrelevant and so on? 

Few days ago someone posted pictures of 1/2400 1942 collection of Imperial Japanese Navy and US Navy ships. Well as I said on the H&R page some time ago, often I found that people buy expensive and well detailed GHQ models just to give them a crap paint job.  Judge for yourself...

And compare to 1/2400 or 1/3000 ships I posted here. There is also another issue. Look at the hybrid battleship in the center... it is an Ise class hybrid carrier. The problem here is that the conversion was done between 1943 and 1944. Not only she is a badly painted model, it is a ship not in existence in 1942 in that shape. Utter fail. Being on facebook I restrained to point out the fact the paint job was crap. But I pointed out that it was not a 1942 fleet. I was told that I was nut and bolt too many. Bloody fucking hell... you put a ship that was not in service in that form (and not a minor modification, a large scale conversion), and you say that it is just a minor detail. It is more akin the chap has no idea about the ships (in other words he is an idiot). but of course the politically correct crowd appeared raising and locking the flimsy shields of the 'be nice'. I added that not only it was historically wrong, not inaccurate just plain wrong... and the ships were also badly painted. Answer:

When I was one of the moderators for the Forumini we would not tolerate behavior like that.

Oh Well I am extremely happy to not have joined Forumini considering what kind of idiot they had in the moderators. I was also told I am an historian over a wargamer... okay I am a military historian, no problem, but I would remember the idiots' brigade this is historical wargaming nothing else. But I feel the word would be just lost on the idiots' brigade.  It is a sad reflection historical wargamers that in the end do not care about history.  And what is the purpose of a discussion group? Just drool... criticism is not allowed. It is a sad reflection of the state of the western world were we are no anymore allowed to voice legitimate opinions in the name of 'be nice.' I was told that if I was posting my own painting job on the internet criticism was something I had to be prepared for. That if I publish my wargame there will be negative opinion, and so on... Certainly other groups are more 'free wheeling' (like someone on the Fleet Series group that blanketed the whole production of Compass Games as 'shitty'), and I have seen heated but useful clashes on the 'Wargamers' group. But again in some groups it appears that criticism is not allowed.

Well, if one has the money to buy dozens of GHQ ships he could also bother to learn how to paint and what ships were present in a specific year, failure means that the individual is just an idiot.

Rant aside, the whole thing had made me thinking what I derive from having joined that specific group. I looked at my posts and comments... and realized I could have been deployed to Vulcan without an internet connection and I would not have felt any regret. Generalist wargaming groups are an utter waste of time. I realized I was turning off FB notification from these groups (also because these notifications are annoying to the point to be obsessive, facebook is not a communication tool, it is a marketing tool that use communication to drive you to their page and see the adverts. There is no point to be subjected to that for groups that hold just a marginal utility (if they hold any utility at all) for the hobby. I have turned off all possible notification from these two groups, and probably I will leave both of them soon. No need to waste time.

Generalist group on Facebook? Wrong platform, wrong community, and the perfect evidence that, just because we can link people, this is turning to be useful in any way.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

I am literally melting down... so...

so why do not paint something appropriate, like British forces for the Western Desert? Differently from the the 'unplanned madness' that their fellow countrymen I have already shown represents this is an entirely planned project. Of course it is also an entirely expanding one...

But let's see what is new on the Western Desert...

Grants! Or better said, M3 General Grant Medium Tanks.  They are resins from Battlefront.  The M3 Lee\Grant (the names were not official US Army's ones, but British nicknames; the Lee retainted the original US turret, the Grant had a British designed one, confusingly enough British documents often call them Grant...)  was both an important allied tank in its own right but also a critical compromise made at a time when US industry was just tooling up for war.

Steve Zaloga calls it the 'Kindergarten Tank'. Its design started in July 1940, as a response to the collapse of France. At that moment the US Army realized that its armor deficiency had to be addressed  immediately rather than in the short term. A new medium tank had to be put in serial production to create a real armored force. This ideal tank had to withstand AP shells from the German 37mm AT gun and be equipped with a 75mm gun capable to fire HE rounds.  It was certainly  a simple brief, one that should have resulted in a product comparable with the German PzKfw IV. Yet neither Ordnance nor the civilian industry had experience with cast turrets large enough to accommodate a 75mm main gun, short or long barrelled.  It was not just the industrial tooling lacking. Army engineers did not even have any idea about how big and strong the turret ring should have been to withstand the recoil. Simply put the US Army asked for something no one in US had really in mind...

 As Zaloga says engineers are face by a triangle of three elements: Good, Fast, Cheap. Usually they can pick two elements. In the summer of 1940 Fast and Cheap were picked. The result was a vehicle inspired by the French B1 tank. Main gun in the hull, secondary AT gun in the turret. Of course even this 'simple' pattern was not easy to achieve. Ordnance at the time was enamored with machine guns. The initial design had plenty of them... Armored Force, the new branch of the Army responsible for mechanized force, had them removed. some were left, including a twin installation in the forward hull, and a little MG armed cupola over the turret (okay this is an arrangement that Ordnance liked as earlier pictures of my M60 show!).  The twin MG in the hull disappeared, the cupola not. 

Even when the tanks was still a drawing the new Armored Force chief, General Jacob Devers, complained about it not being good, and insisting on it being a limited (750 samples) production run. But Roosevelt wanted tanks now, not only for the US army, but for the British Army too. The British had come to Washington with a shopping list... in the list there was a request for 3,650 medium tanks! Good or not the M3 Medium was the only adequate solution.  It was given a go ahead. The US ones would see combat in 1942 and 1943 in Algeria and Tunisia, and in 1943 in the Gilbert Islands. The Soviet Army would receive them and use them at Kursk too. Specialized versions would be employed until the end of the war. Yet the M3 moment of glory came in 1942 with the British Army in North Africa, and its last roar will be in 1944 in Burma and India, again with the British Army. 

The British army realized it was a temporary solution, and they were not impressed by the turret. They asked for changes, dropping the MG cupola, adding a radio bustle (US tanks did not have it!), enlarging it. The British also insisted to have the periscopic gun-sight replaced by a telescopic one.  With the modifications it was shipped to Egypt at a time when British tanks were outgunned not only by the Germans, but also by the Italian tanks. British tank guns, be it 2pdr or the first 6pdr, could not fire HE rounds. The Grant 75mm was able to fire them, and the 75mm round was pretty powerful. On top of that the 75mm fired a decent AP round. And there was a 37mm gun in the turret.  The Grant baptism of  fire was during Operazione Venezia, the Italian-German assault on the Gazala line. The 75mm gun was appreciated, its armor was adequate, but it was still a prey for the larger Axis guns like the German 88mm or the Italian 90mm. Ariete division's AT batteries claimed scores of them in keeping Rommel's cauldron intact. Yet it gave the British tanker an ability to fire gun shells at infantry and AT position and AP shells with adequate range to fight on an even ground with the Panzer IIIs. Of course it also prompted the Germans to ship uparmoured and upgunned tanks in Africa.   It served at El Alamein and in Tunisia. Then newer tanks replaced it. It was a stopgap, but an adequate one that left an impression on the desert war.

 It also happens that the shape is kinda unique and I like it. I finally decided to paint the one I had in storage from more than 10 years ago...  Just as a curiosity they were a direct order to Battlefront in New Zealand! They aged reasonably well. The new plastic ones are better, but these are... adequate. There some issues in connecting the track units to the hull, and one lost is AT gun (I created a replacement with brass wire and tape...). The resin body show both the unique shape and the extensive riveting quite well. Painting them was nice. I used one of the camouflaged scheme seen in 1942, sand base with dark  green blotches. 

I used FoW decals to complete them.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Talking about 3d Printing...

Recently I have read some less than inspiring comments on a Forum on 3D printed vehicles, some were general, some were directed against Butlers Printed Models. It happens that I own several 15mm models from them, and I do think that the comments were basically sockpuppetting from people linked to other companies. 

Of course I cannot present evidence (but one of the most virulent commentators was indeed a scratch builder whose excellent masters are used by another company...), but there is often a clear message:

3d printing is bad buy our resins...

Now my experience with 3d Printing is mixed. I have tried Shapeways, and while the ship in 1/6000, 1/4800, and 1/3000 I got were from good to excellent, the only tank in 15mm I bought there, a Chinese Type 96G, was subpar and extremely expensive. While I can recommend ships and some shops i particular (more on an upcoming post), once you got to tanks in larger scales, quality and price are not there. 

On the other hand my discovery of Butlers Printed Models has been an happy experience. Their vehicles are reasonably priced and compare well with 15mm offers, either in plastic, metal, or resin. 

Here is one of my first model, a Centurion Sho't. first of all, except quality castings in US no one does a 15mm Sho't for the 1973 war. Peter Pig does one for lebanon with ERA armor, BF has only the Meteor engine one.

Now if you look closely you can see the 'trademark' of 3D printing, the lines or stripes, but photography emphasized them more than real life sight. The other issue is the riveting in this particular tank the rivets came a bit 'larger than life.'  The other issue is excess material. The underside of the tank is ugly (but you do not see it!), and the underside of the gun barrell required a strong clean up. Said that, for a 15mm vehicle it is more than reasonable. I would not say awesome, but definitely good.

I replaced the MG with a plastic one, MGs are, as the time of writing, one of the weak points of the range.

Our second 'witness' is a soviet BTR-60PB in East German livery.

Another good representation of the real life vehicle. The turret MG is not bad at all, better than the metal one in the PSC/ArmiesArmy Resin-metal ones. The 'striping' is not prominent at all, despite the dry-brush. The real bad issue of this specifi model is the light above the driving hatch that is not well reproduced. The one on the plastic FoW kits is much better. But the Butlers one is around half the price, and the overall quality is good. 

Finally, the last witness, for now, is an Israeli Defence force Magach (M48 with 105mm gun and local modification). Again this is a vehicle you do not find anywhere else. It is also quite peculiar compared to the previous one because its rounder shape. Rounder shapes is were 3D printing is often  weaker.

The turret pass inspection with flying colours. The wheels... a bit less. it is probably the weaker visible area. In the last picture you can see the little problem with excess material (even after cleaning) on the underside of the gun barrel.  Again MGs were replaced with plastic ones from the spare box. Said that it is not a vehicle I would complain about. IT captures the shapes well, the jerry can on the turrets are nice, and on the table it works well. 


I am more and more persuaded that there is a lot of sock-puppetting involved in the bash. It is not perfect, it has limitations, but 3D printing is a viable wargaming tools, and, thanks to company like Butlers, it is helping us gamers. 

PS: no vehicle story today... it was more a post on 3D printing than the 'toys', but feel comforted, I will talk about them very soon!

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

A lonely duck... a Guderian's Duck!

Yesterday I got my copy of Vae Victis 139. As usual the magazine was packing its usual assortment of articles. As usual some anti-american idiocy slipped in... (it is quite annoying, especially because they are usual gibberish) but this is not the point of my writing... much more annoying was a comment I found on the Team Yankee article, in the box highlighting the available miniatures. The writer was defining Peter Pig vehicles:

'par contre le chars uniquement en plomb ne sont plus aux standards actuels'

this is the sort of idiocy that you find in magazine and that seems more a product of people bashing companies rather than serious reviewers. Having painted a PP vehicles just few days ago...

I felt the comments was a gratuitous insult. Peter Pig is not the only manufacturers producing full metal tanks. As a manufacturer with a big catalog it is obvious that some vehicles will be better than others, often reflecting their age. The Jagpanzer IV/70 I had under my brushes is a relatively recent vehicle (in their production, not in history!) and while being a full metal model it is certain up to standard. Certainly better than some resin stuff I have seen around.

Rant done... let's talk a bit about it. As almost every German WW2 chassis also the Panzer IV was used for conversion. Despite the appearances, it was not a late war desperation conversion. The plans for it had been shown to Hitler in 1942 by Vomag AG. The basic concept was to use PZ IV hulls to produce a 75mm armed vehicle to replace the Sturmgeschutz III. The basic reasons were compatibility with the main tank, the ability of the new hull to take heavier weapons than the Panzer III (the design specified a L70 gun from the start, while the Sturmgeschutz III had reached its limit with the 75mmL48), and also the assumption that, when the new medium tank (the still infant Panther...) would have replaced the Panzer IV as mainstay of the panzer divisionen there would be plenty of surplus hull.

That was the idea. Guderian did not like the new vehicle (despite in the end having his name associated with it), but Hitler was adamant that the new tank destroyer would have replaced the Panzer IV. Guderian's argument were basically two: the Stug III was still adequate, the Panzer IV was necessary as medium tank. Tampering with production lines would have been bad. In the end both won in typical German fashion, with Guderian keeping the Stug and the Panzer IV, and Hitler getting the new one. German Army's logistics obviously won.

Production started in late 1943, with the first 30 vehicles being completed by Vomag in January 44. With the new L70 guns going to the new Panthers as priority, the Jagdpanzer IV was initially armed with the older L48 gun. Not until August the 75mm L70 guns were made available for the Jagdpanzer, with production fully switching sometime later. In the end the german factories produced 1977 Jagdpanzer IV, 1208 with the long barrel and 769 with the shorter one. Around 270 were produced by Alkett with a different superstructure.

All in all it was a good tank destroyer with a powerful gun, good armor, and a low profile. Yet it was often used as an assault gun or an ersatz tank with poor results. I have a Skytrex and a Flames of War ones, and they had always performed quite badly on the table...

Gaming experiences aside the main issues with the Jagdpanzer IV were production runs hampered by shortage of materials and allied bombing, and another vehicle complicating the whole logistic issue.

Now, after a short historical introduction... more pictures... so you can decide by yourselves about Vae Victis' comment.

I like it of course!

Monday, 4 June 2018


After the madness of the 'unplanned diversion that turned into a horde' post, a little filler. I have recently repainted four Leopard 1A5 from H&R.

Everyone on the net always moans how good the GHQ models are, and then they painted them in awful manner. I have GHQ models, but I do not think they are by default the first choice. Heroic and Ros models are often perfectly good, especially with a good paintjob.

These Leopards were sitting in my bits box for ages. I just repainted them (so they have two coats!), and the end result is perfectly good.

The key element of the 1A5 version, the added Blohm und Voss turret armor and the smoke dischargers are perfectly visible, especially after a mix of dry-bushing and black-lining. The tools on the sides of the hull are there. The mantlet (another key element of the outlook) is also well done. I am happy.