Tuesday, 31 December 2019

What I did during the holidays.

The first thing was to build the Panzer III as the N version which I received from my wife for my birthday, courtesy of Black day, week, month, Frizzled Friday or Manic Monday or whatever from Warlord, in other words it was cheaper than normal. I would have preferred a Rubicon model but they took theirs off the market and will replace it with the usual dozen different designs, you know the one with the square bolts rather than the round ones, joking, but I wanted it now.

I had run out of patience for some reason and kept dropping bits on the carpet despite my fingers being covered in glue and then had to get down on all fours and spy with my little eye, thankfully I found all the bits but only after cursing myself for being a dolt, especially the third time it happened. As you know I am usually fairly placid but why would someone make the tracks on such a small model in four pieces, it is lunacy. Not only that I found out I had put them on wrong and had to tear them off and reset, still the small bits did not fit seamlessly. I was very close to throwing it in the bin or using it as a wreck. I persevered and got to the painting stage, this helped a lot and I eventually found some love for the little tank. I did find the Schurzen (side skirts) to be very easy to fit, even better than those on the Rubicon PzIV, so a small win. The usual paints were used and I took an idea from the Warlord site and painted two of the side plates as brand new replacements, in red oxide, a nice touch I thought.

Next up was the Tiger II I got for my Christmas, again from the missus albeit she wouldn't know a Tiger II from an Elefant or an Elephant for that matter. Why such a big tank, why not, besides there were at least two in Normandy, maybe more and I collect anything which appeared on that battlefield, also there were a fair few on the Eastern Front. Rubicon again have one coming out, no doubt superb as you also get the internals, engine, crew compartments and turret stowage etc., but I want one for wargaming, not modelling hence with a price drop it is again from Warlord. And of course it is an Italeri kit, but this time it all went smoothly, the tracks are again in four parts but they are so big they have guide struts, a much better idea, I hacked a break in one of the side skirts just to show possible damage, I have yet to paint the tank but have two schemes in mind. My only disappointment and I knew it as soon as I looked at the commander, was that he is huge, a giant of a man even for 28mm, no way was I going to use him, luckily I have the Rubicon free tank commander sprue and will hopefully fit that German officer on the tank.

I have also managed to build all my Russian Front buildings from Charlie Foxtrot, I also managed to paint them all, finishing the last bits and pieces today. I had a look on Google at Russian villages and generally they are pretty run down, so I have gone for that kind of look, paint peeling and weathered. I found that if I watered down the paint it dried uneven and looked pretty good to me without drybrushing, although some colours are better for this than others, I have dry brushed some but not all, especially the smaller pieces i.e. pig pen, log store, cabin etc. I now have nearly everything for the upcoming campaign, railway tracks remain to be got for one scenario and I will be searching eBay for used track over the next few hours or so, these always come in handy so a good buy I hope. I have almost decided to buy three more Russian Front kits from Sarrissa, they have some posh peoples houses also the designs are more towny than villagey (are they words?) but they can wait. I also want to go back to the Charlie Foxtrot buildings and do a bit more when I get the time.

Now on the desk I have my Flakpanzer IV with an incredible six sprues to build, at a quick glance it looks like the complete 2cm Flakvierling kit and enough components to almost make an extra Panzer IV, I might get a wrecked tank vignette out of this. Whatever happens it is a lot of wasted plastic.

So that is it for the hols which will be over tomorrow but normality will have to wait until after the weekend, I do have two wargame days coming up before then, so a good start for 2020.

Sunday, 29 December 2019


I was asked recently how my mapping process worked, I will concentrate on how it works with Helion and Company as most of my work is for them. Helion will approach an author or the author will make a pitch to the company, if the manuscript is viable then the legal stuff will be worked out and a contract signed. One of Helion's editors will work with the author depending on what the book is about and which period and guide him through the process.

If the book requires maps which of course most military books do if they are to be credible then the author usually provides his own, these are normally basic sketches but at times can be actual military maps of the period or such a map but anotated, Google Earth captures or even Powerpoint files anything to show the publisher what is required, permissions if required will be sought if old maps are to be updated. This is now where I come in, the editor or Duncan the managing director will contact me and ask me to look over the maps/sketches to see if there could be any problems, will the maps fit the page size, are they decipherable, are they overly complex or are they too simple, I also get the page size and whether the maps are to be black and white or colour. Once I say I can work with the information I am usually put in touch with the author and work with him from then until the final drafts are ready.

Finished map.
Some problems that can occur are that different maps of the same area/battle can have different spellings where the book may use modern spellings, in others roads, rivers or type can be so feint as to be useless, also very old maps when superimposed over a modern rendition can be miles out. A particular problem I always run into is the course of rivers, over a hundred years or so these can be very different to the modern course, coastlines present the same headaches. Google is not good at rivers, they are there but you have to zoom right in and if you are drawing a map of France and want all of the Loire river it is a faff to keep zooming in and out. Having said that if you have the time you can draw on Google Maps and trace the river then take a screen shot and put it over your template. Page size can also present a challenge, once I scan and fit the original sketch into the template the top or bottom, left or right hand side might be blank, to remedy this I usually look for a map of the expanded area or as a last resort go to Google and build up the missing parts. There are other tools you can use on the web apart from Google, ArcGis for instance is a geographic information website which is good for topographical information and is very good for rivers.

Simple map, one of my first for Charles.

Complex map.
 I use Adobe Illustrator for mapping and have a licence so the programme is kept up to date, usually several times a year and I can use it on two work stations, one in my study and one in the Post Office so I can map when on or off duty in said PO. I set up templates for the half dozen or so page sizes that most publishers use, I have also built up symbol collections for Nato military icons along with guns, wagons, aircraft, tanks, trains and German WWII unit symbols along with many others which tend to be used again and again. Lines are another thing which get used a lot, you can make basic dot/dash lines but you can also design your own i.e. barbed wire, trenches, hill slopes, rail tracks etc. Most maps are black and white, but when I have to do a map in colour I make a colour group up for the particular map and save it, there is no limit in Illustrator to colour, the tints and hues are endless, you also get colour libraries to use as well rather than make your own up.

German army symbols WWII

Once I have drawn the maps I send them back to the author for input, hopefully he points out any mistakes or more likely he wants to change, add or subtract something. Some authors know exactly what they want and these are very easy to work with, others will want small changes made but only drip feed these one at a time, this does not take long but can be frustrating after going back to the map half a dozen times. I have also been lucky in that only one person among the hundreds I have drawn for made me want to throw the towel in and tell him to go elsewhere, an incredibly rude person. I have worked with professors of history, military men from generals to captains, mercenaries, amateur historians and wargamers, also many who have fought in conflicts from WWII tank gunners to South African and Rhodesian defence forces, and due to the wonders of modern science with people from Peru to Australia and all points in between. I have only ever met two of the authors in person who came to my house to ensure I knew what they wanted, dedicated and very nice chaps.

"Bloody Streets" patiently waiting for this in January.

If the author is happy with the work I then do a final look through and convert the Illustrator files to .eps files for the typesetter, some only require high resolution .jpg's so I normally send both to the editor who then passes them to the typesetter. My job then is done.

I do not get copies of the books which contain my maps, which is fine as many may only have half a dozen or less in them and I do not have the room to store them if I did, also many are simply not what I am interested in. I was kindly given a copy of the WWII Eastern Front Atlas I drew. I do tend to buy books which have a lot of maps in or which I think special, I am looking forward to getting my copy of "Bloody Streets: Battle for Berlin" which I am told will have a separate map booklet much like "The Combat History of the 21st Panzer Division" which is now a collectors item, the hardback that is. Helion also acknowledge that it was me who drew the maps in their books, many publishers do not mention the cartographer at all, many authors whom I work particularly close with also kindly mention me in their forewords, this of course pleases me immensely.


How did it come about, well many years ago I picked up a set of American Civil War rules and enjoyed them so much I began to write my own scenarios and drew the maps in the style used in the rules. I bought Rotring pens and a drawing board along with other drawing aides, I then produced the maps for about eight of my scenario booklets. By the end I had found Illustrator and finished the last booklet with computer generated maps, still as close to the originals as I could make them, I felt a bit sad stopping actual drawing with pens but still have the Rotring pencil which I use every day in the PO. I then met Charles Singleton through his parents who are friends of ours, Charles is a wargamer and Helion editor and an expert in the warfare of the 17th Century, he was producing a booklet on the army and battles of the Marquis of Montrose and asked if I could draw the maps. A short time later when Helion were publishing his book the director Duncan Rogers asked if I would draw a set of maps for him. I said yes and was stunned when the maps came through, they were complex and nothing like I had ever done before, but I managed it and have worked closely with Helion ever since.

One of my first professional maps.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

The Crazy Gang

I turned up at the club last night for the annual Christmas game expecting it to be a large scale Muskets and Tomahawks game, as the terrain was being set up and Stuart and Rob arrived with boxes containing all sorts of stuff Stuart cryptically mentioned that there would be some muskets and some tomahawks but that was it.

Seemingly in a galaxy far far away there was a Star Trek episode where some monster or other put several human leaders from history on a planet to fight it out and see who would win, this was to become the idea behind the game, but this time with a twist. The monster this time only knew of mankind (peoplekind if Canadian) through movies and television and had brought people from both these media outlets to our large table to fight it out for Glory.

Around the table arrayed in no particular order were the 7th Cavalry (They Died With Their Boots On), 19C American sailors (Sand Pebbles), Soldiers of the Raj (Northwest Frontier), Captain Jack (Dr. Who), Decimus Maximus (Gladiator) etc. you get the idea. There were tokens scattered throughout and once contacted these could be either good or very bad for the group.

I took Kenneth More and a group of Sikhs and set off, I picked up Dr. Who's daughter (a surprise to me as well as Ken) and decided to wipe out a nearby bunch of Romans (Julian), thunder sticks vs pilum, how could I lose. I clambered up a hillside and started shooting but there were a lot of Romans, the hill now drew disparate groups and baddies as the body count rose. Vampires, Daleks, Tau and an especially annoying little blue alien all joined the fight. Somehow I managed to survive and twice captured Decimus and then lost him, the Vampires eventually finishing him off, not that there could have been much blood left. Seeing the way the wind was blowing and having lost all my men except Ken I leapt him off the cliff and found a nice little cave to hide in as the clock counted down and the mayhem atop the cliff continued.

We also got to take control of enemy groups roaming the table and we did our best to attack the other players where possible, Simon was on his fourth reincarnation when the game ended, in one corner John Chance (Rio Bravo) and his men were set on Fran, while Fran in his turn sent them away again, so they played the Grand Old Duke of York on a nearby hill. Fran ended up with Audie Murphy (To Hell and Back) but didn't win any medals.

Player cards, mine at the top.
 Rob and Stuart provided the troops for the game, Stuart especially having an impressive array covering Dark Ages to Star Wars and everything in between, although he was taken to task with a play on a line from 'Allo Allo;' 'although I have lots I will play these only once'. I went and forgot my camera so I am happy Simon managed a few before his battery died.

Julian's excellent mince pies and a Topic for me, it is not true I eat them all.

 Several hours of nonsense and a great way to end the year with everyone taking part, who won, who cares, oh and it was me by the way.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Review of 2019

Where does the time go, and yes it does hurtle past when you get older, my wargaming year is now all but over so it's that time of the year again. As usual my wargaming has had its ups and downs in the past twelve months, I continued for quite a time with my new Seven Year War project and got to the stage where I had enough forces to play a game from the Honours of War rulebook, but I have not managed yet to get that game played. In fact as I look at the serried red and blue ranks in their boxes at the other end of the Post Office I am having to face the hard fact that it may be a complete waste of time and money to continue, I have some 4-5000 ACW fifteens and they manage to see the elephant once every two years at the moment so why did I jump for another huge horse and musket period, no idea apart from it seemed a good idea at the time. If I do go back it will not be until the Spring.

I had got a complete new set of X-Wing stuff from several sources over Christmas, so of course I had to buy another set of plastic markers/rulers, I have managed to play a few games, not as many as I had hoped but the club is going to run a small league next year so I have put my name down, despite being the worst pilot in the galaxy.

I was sidetracked from the SYW by delving back in to WWII, I was desperate to do some campaigning and tried to slot two different rule sets together, it was a botched job, neither one nor the other, not only that I got my head handed to me on a plate as it turned out I was neither George Patton nor Erwin Rommel, more Georgi Zhukov battering away with no finesse. I therefore decided to go back to the campaigns but use them as intended, with Chain of Command, a rule set I was not overly chuffed with up until now. As usual I jumped in with two feet, to make my tables look like the CoC games I needed more buildings, walls, roads and scatter terrain, a small detour while I also got more vehicles which could be chosen for supports, yes you can get away with only a few, but I don't play that way, I had to cover all options even if they never see the light of day.

I used to read the battles between the supporters of one or the other of the big two WWII sets, but having played both they are simply just different, you cannot really put one up against the other they are that different. I can now play both depending what suits on the day.

This year I have drawn quite a bit for Eastern Front histories and had ordered up the Bolt Action Fortress Budapest, I found I could not kick the idea of moving East, I tried to put it aside until 2020, but I was fighting a losing battle, much like the Germans in fact. I found quite a bit on campaigns for the East using Chain of Command and was intrigued with one which was exactly what I was looking for, a German breakout attempt from Konigsberg during the dying embers of WWII. I couldn't resist any longer, I threw myself into getting a Russian force while supporting my Germans with Volkssturm and Hitler Youth, I now have everything required and the campaign will kick off against my son in January. I have acquired a new respect for the Russians while doing research for the troops, uniforms and supports.

I did try a SAGA campaign at the club but after completing, or surviving, the first year I realised it was not my kind of game, I much prefer Dux Britanniarum to SAGA, maybe I will get around to playing it again at some point.

At the club I tried Cruel Seas and Black Seas, much preferring and enjoying the latter, I have also managed a few CoC games recently to learn the rules along with the usual stalwarts of Battlegroup, Muskets & Tomahawks, Black Powder, Star Wars Legion and a few others over the past twelve months. I do owe Rob Martin at the club a big thanks for most of these as he organises some splendid club nights.

Home games still manage to elude me in the main but I did host a War and Conquest weekend back in April which was excellent and Mark Walker came back for a days gaming in September. I used to really enjoy my weekends away playing this but sadly they fell by the wayside for several reasons.

What's in store for 2020, a few things, Chain of Command on the Eastern front for certain, I hope to put some campaigns together myself for this as I have several books arriving after Christmas, be assured I am not building the centre of Berlin, no way. I would like to do some more War and Conquest and get my American Civil War armies out again at some point, I also want to have another look at my terrain and try to improve my battlefields. I have a guided trip to Waterloo in June with my friend Billy which I am really looking forward to and a possible visit from mate Matt Smith of The Wargames Table.

Now and again I look at all my stuff which now surrounds the walls of the Post Office having outgrown my study, and wonder if it is all worth it as many of the boxes have thick dust on them. I then think of the enjoyment this hobby has brought me for around fifty years, flash up the computer and order more.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Disappointing Day

It was club night tonight but I got a phone call at 1600ish to say that Rob who was running a Black Seas game was not going to make it due to the weather, I could totally understand as the whole day here was windy and wet. This did not seem to alter the amount of customers who braved the downpour and mini hurricane to upset my day. With no chance of getting some free time to organise a game before the PO closed I decided I too would call it a day on the club. We have the big Christmas game next week so we should all be there, I believe it is a grand Muskets and Tomahawks game, no doubt with many twists and turns knowing Rob.

I woke to a disappointment in an email which notified me that my third Kickstarter would now be late, the people concerned have let us all know, in too much detail if you ask me, why it is being delayed, so we will see what happens. My second Kickstarter is now about to enter its fourth year of delay, the famous Lindybeige of Youtube fame who as far as I can see has no intention of ever completing his Kickstarter, I have been trying to get my money back by annoying him in the comments but of course he just keeps deleting me. I wrote to his publishing house and still no answer back, this is bodering on 'the principle' so I may have to hound him to the ends of the earth. No more Kickstarters for me, one out of three is not a good ratio.

Every cloud has a silver lining of course and I managed to complete my Soviet Scouts tonight, they are from Crusader (I think) and are very nice figures, I painted them in Amoeba camouflage in what I believe is the Autumn pattern. These guys have some nice abilities in Chain of Command and I look forward to giving them a try.

During my last CoC game I used 'covering fire' for the first time and had no decent markers to use, so I looked in my spares box and came up with some bases, flock and wisps of grey wool and hey presto, fire markers. While I was on my markers kick I needed some Patrol Markers for the game, so I spent an hour or so sorting out Soviet armoured insignia which I could use, I await the 40mm round bases so that I can print, cut out and stick them on.

My birthday is coming up and No2 son gave me my present when I was through last weekend, he insisted I open it in front of him so I did and decided this gave me the green light to go ahead and build the Soviet GAZ-AAA truck with quad Maxim machine guns which he had got for me, there was another kit but that has to wait now until Christmas as my real Christmas present will not be released until January or February, long story. As you know I have already built the kits No1 son paid for, but I am not finished, the kits my wife kindly bought me should be here this week, one of which I will get on my birthday so more building and painting. Will all this stuff eventually see the battlefield, it will if I have my way.

I have been scrapping around and found three more figures which I may as well paint as have lying about, two scouts and a tank commander looking at a map. I think the latter is Warlord, I got the Rubicon free sprue and to be honest I am not impressed, I prefer the chunky look to the perfectly proportioned Rubicon dolls, I cannot get past the hands, they just don't look right, having said that the crew on the quad look nice.

I needed one more thing to complete my Russian forces, Russian dice, yes I was daft to get them, I have a house full of dice but not Russian ones you see, each of my armies has to have their own dice, no matter how crazy that sounds.

Nearly forgot, almost complete, not only did I get the dice I said I wouldn't, I have also ordered up a complete Russian village which I also decided I didn't need until a few days ago. Mate Colin at Charlie Foxtrot has cut all I need and the Royal Mail elves are bringing it as I type.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

The Elefant in the Room.

Big night at the club, the first run out for my Russians and my first attempt at a scenario for WWII, I already had the name I just needed to fill in the blanks.

Somewhere in the Ukraine late summer 1944 and a Jagdpanzer Elefant the new version of the Ferdinand is sitting in the middle of nowhere abandoned by its crew, an order has come to either secure the area or if not blow the beast up. The tank has already been spotted by the local Soviet forces and they have had orders to capture the machine intact. The Germans had an infantry platoon with 10 points of support, Dave chose a Pak 40, a medic, a Senior Leader and of course a demolition team. The Russians got 13 points due to the disparity in the forces and I chose an SU76, two MMG's and a pre-game barrage, my idea was to win the firefight and keep the Jerries away from the tank.

The terrain was fairly open with the odd rough patch and a small farm with a couple of woods, the Elefant was put squarely in the middle and we diced for which side we would arrive from, Dave got 11 for his Force Morale, I got 9. I went first, yes we got that bit wrong, but the Gods punished me by giving me the dice to end the turn, which meant Plan A of delaying the German arrivals with the artillery went right out the window! Nevertheless I put down an MMG in the farm and a squad in the small wood on my left, Dave countered with the Pak 40 and a squad opposite my right.

The objective

I started to whittle down the crew serving the gun and the squad moving towards the little wood on my right, and was doing alright, I felt I had the measure of the game this time. Dave moved his squad out into the open to deliver some fire as I had deployed a second squad and moved them forward, I then for some reason brought on the SU76 but I had masked the damn thing, it got one shot off. This was the point at which I needed my Senior Leader on the board as I was having difficulty keeping my MG's firing but I was loathe to do this as the Russians only have one and if he went into the front line I might have trouble ordering up reserves, I chickened out. Things began to turn against me, I lost a machine gun team and a squad, my morale plummeted to five then three, for a moment I looked around for a white flag.

The annoying Pak.
Old McPavlovitch's Farm
 I had lost two command dice but against the odds the ones I had left began to turn up trumps, I managed to recover and routed the Pak crew while cutting two squads up and causing one to retreat and the other to hold its ground, a third turned up but it was too late. With time of the essence Dave threw caution to the wind and set the demolition team off for the Elefant, these brave but foolhardy men were massacred in the open. As the dust settled, the Russians, despite almost being on the ropes were actually in a better position to control the tank than the Germans so a Russian win.

The table from the Russian lines just near the end.
 Still made mistakes but overall I think I had a better grasp on this game than previous ones, my main moan of course was the pre-game barrage not turning up, how unlucky is throwing three sixes on the first turn? No matter, I really like this army and look forward to getting them on the table again soon although with all the Festive stuff it might be looking more like the New Year.

I wanted some cobbled roads and at first thought I might make them myself, then decided maybe some latex bendy roads would work, just as I was about to jump I noticed that Deep Cut Studios had rolls of cobbled roads in the same mousemat material as the battle mats, quick and easy, no contest. I am also tempted to go for their streams as well, I do have latex waterways but I have never been keen on them.

I got a nice surprise from North Star today, OK I knew the Scouts were on their way but I was not expecting them for another day or two. My Russian dice order has still not turned up from Warlord, which is a pity as I expected to be playing with them last night.