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Xenophon's Ghost covers military history and wargaming from the ancient period to modern times.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Reformed Jonah

After four years of frustration and procrastination, I have finished the plastic model that drove me to seek a new hobby, leading to wargaming.  I think it is fitting to give some credit to this "Jonah," a jinxed model that continued to be a challenge until the end.   While this F-86E Sabre didn't kill an albatross like the sailor of yore, the model did kill my enthusiasm for military modeling for awhile.

F-86-E-10 "Jolley Roger" 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, Korea, 1952

During my last assignment in Korea, I started a collection of military models from the Korean War.  This F-86E represents one flown by Captain Clifford Jolley, 335th FIS/4th FIW.  The F-86 Sabre was the first swept-wing airplane in the U.S and proved very effective against the Russian MiGs in Korea.  The F-86E was armed with six .50 caliber machine guns and could carry 16 five-inch rockets or 2,000 pounds of bombs.

The model gave me fits from the starts.  I had problems with the fuselage assembly, requiring a lot of noxious putty work on the seams, and the tail had an ornery gap. The wings needed to be drilled for the fuel tanks, and I could never get one tank to align correctly.  You can see it drooping in the foreground. One landing gear was problematic, too.  I put the model away for awhile...

The real trouble began with the decals.  After completing the wing decals, the large yellow strips began peeling away!  They wouldn't adhere for some reason.  I first tried to use Dullcote as an adhesive, finally resorting to superglue for the stripes on the bottom of the wing....not the best looking result.  At this point, I stored the model away for several months and reflected on what I liked and disliked about plastic models.  I enjoyed brush painting, but I didn't care for airbrushing, particularly the clean-up.  I had also developed a definite hatred for decals...

When visiting a game store to purchase Pokemon cards, I found a Flames of War (FoW) display and gaming table.  I picked up a single Sherman tank as a test run and checked out the FoW website.  A search on other wargaming sites revealed tremendous variety in the hobby.  Even though I'm interested in WWII history, I decided against FoW for cost reasons and my interest in the American War of Independence (AWI).  I chose AWI as gaming era, partially because of concerns that Napoleonic gaming would be too expensive.  I now find myself with a decent AWI collection, five DBA armies, and a few Napoleonic units (with plans for many more).  I sometimes wonder if FoW would not have been a less expensive option! (I doubt that I would have limited myself to FoW, though.)

Determined not to carry a half-finished model back to Korea four years later, I tried to reform my Jonah F-86E.  During the first session, I applied all of the decals for the left side of the aircraft.  This model has a lot of marking-related small decals.  About 30 percent peeled off as did the large unit marking (FU-834) on the rear half of the fuselage.  For the right side, shown in the photos, I primarily used the large decals.  True to form, the yellow stripes on the tail peeled off.  Tempted to throw it in the trash, I decided to make peace with the Jolley Roger and continued to complete the model as best I could. 

The jinx remained when I applied Dullcote.  In my rush to finish this model within a day of our move, I didn't notice the dust that had accumulated on the wings.  Dullcote does a great job of adhering dust to a model, even a model that rejects decals.  I did my best to rub it off, rubbing off another decal in the process.

 I might run into a few people that notice the plane's faults when I display this in my office soon, but I'll accept that. This model led me to historical wargaming, for which I am grateful.

P.S.  I haven't turned my back on plastic models completely.  I built an M41 Walker Bulldog with Korean War markings during a wargaming hiatus.  The decals went on smoothly!

M-41 Tank rail-loaded in Korea
Photo Source: Wikipedia, originally from US Army Center for Military History

Friday, June 29, 2012

Scale of Battle

NapolĂ©on on the field of Eylau by Antoine-Jean Gros
Public domain image from Wikipedia
I have been investing time to learn the best way to get started in Napoleonic wargaming, focused on building up enough of a miniatures collection to play Lasalle, a tactical scale game designed by Sam Mustafa. Along this journey, I learned about DBN, another Naps game that is radically different and piqued my interest. DBN was inspired by DBA, an ancients game that I play. Alex Testo and Bob Carter created the game. 

Game Scales

My recent posts have focused on a scale decision: figure scale. This post focuses on a different scale: game scale. Lasalle and DBN model Napoleonic warfare at different scales. Lasalle is a tactical level game; players command a division supported by a brigade. DBN places the player in the role of corps commander.  For a corps-level game, DBN can be played on a table as small as 2 x 3 or 3 x 3 feet.  This will be a plus for me in Seoul, Korea, our new home in two weeks, because of limited space.  DBN also supports playing the major battles of the Napoleonic Wars, such as Eylau, in a reasonable play area because each figure stand represents a brigade.

A Choice Not a Decision

Unlike the difficult decision on selecting a figure scale, I will be able to enjoy both games with the same miniatures collection.  I can choose to play both.  I have had a few days to read the DBN rules now and received some great information from the members of the DBN Yahoo Group. The rules are well written and much easier to understand than DBA. My first exposure to Nap rules was a couple of rule sets that were complex and suitable for an experienced player.  Both DBN and Lasalle have the complexity level that seems right for me and my 12-year old son, who is my main playing partner.  Both games are also appealing because they don't require paperwork and endless consultation of complex tables.

Charting an Efficient Path

In comparing the rules, I noticed that some figure stands needed for DBN may not be used in Lasalle, at least not initially.  I'm planning to collect enough figures for a Lasalle division and one supporting brigade for two armies.  DBN armies are truly combined arms corps, with a mix of different foot, cavalry, and artillery.  I won't be able to use all of the units in the initial Lasalle forces.  I'm analyzing combinations of Lasalle and DBN armies to determine the level of consistency for different national forces.  More information to follow in a future post.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Battle of the Scales

15mm and 10mm French Voltigeurs
I have finished the painting time and cost analysis for a group of Lasalle Armies to support my decision making: to switch or not to switch.  As noted previously, I have bought and painted up a small number of 15mm figures, and my other wargame miniatures are all in this scale.  Concerned about the time commitment to get playing as a new Napoleonic wargamer, I decided to invest a small amount of time in comparing two 15mm basing options (double rows of infantry and a single row of infantry) with 10mm figures, based in double rows.

As described in a previous posting, the cost difference between 10mm double row bases and 15mm single row bases is marginal, when you are comparing the cost of completed figure bases.

Painting Time

My painting test indicates that I could finish single row-based 15mm figures slightly faster.  I used the test results for infantry figures and added a 15 percent time increase for cavalry, artillery, and commander elements.  The chart below depicts the painting time, in hours, for the three options.
While I'm comfortable that the 15mm painting test is a reasonable estimate, I'm less sure of the 10mm test.  The test figures were my first attempt at painting 10mm figures, so I expect that I can speed things up with practice.  

The testing is also limited in two areas for both scales.  I only painted a small number of figures in both tests, so my test didn't capture the efficiency of painting a larger group at once.  I also didn't consider time spent cleaning up and priming figures.  I believe that the clean up for the 10mm figures went much faster.

Integrating the Analysis

Paint time and cost are only a few factors that will influence my decision.  I ran a multiple factor analysis that includes qualitative factors, such as the appearance of the miniature units.  I weighted each factor and used a logarithmic rating scheme.

The (Preliminary) Winner is...


Considering all of the factors important to me, I'm seriously considering a switch to 10mm scale for my Napoleonic collection.  I like the "mass" look of double-row bases, and the cost and time savings compared to 15mm double-row bases is significant.  I already have an AWI 15mm figures based in single rows.

Before making the big jump, I plan on painting eight more strips of French flank company figures.  Once we arrive at our new home, I may test paint a group of cavalry figures, too.

The Long Road to Lasalle

Even with a change in scale or basing, it will be a long time before I can field two Lasalle armies.  I can spare an average of five hours a week for my hobby time.  At that pace, it will be almost a year before I'm ready to play unless I can find fellow players in Seoul, Korea that happen to have a common interest.

Fortunately, I found another game, with a completely different operational scale and approach from Lasalle, that integrates the benefits of DBA with Napoleonic gaming: De Bellis Napoleonicis (DBN).  DBN requires a much smaller number of elements to play, so I plan to use basing that works for both games. This approach will allow me to play sooner while I work on a collection that suffices for battalion-scale rules like Lasalle.

I received the DBN rules last night, so I'll post a review and my plan for creating a collection that works for both games in the future.  My first impression is very favorable.  I've wondered if I could find a corps-level miniatures game, and DBN appears to get the mechanics right.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Smallish French Advance Faster

Despite it being Day One of a three day pack-out for our move to Korea, I managed to carve out an hour and a half to paint last night, finishing the 10mm figures for my painting time test in a single evening: a first for me!

Painting Approach 

When first researching 10mm figures, I read an excellent painting primer on the Bend Sinister website 
(www.bendsinister.co.uk).  The primer recommended repeating a single stroke across all figures at once. In some cases, the artist appears to drag the brush along the figures. Unfortunately, the webpage was recently hacked, so I could not refer to the primer again.  I went off of memory and my prior experience with 15mm figs.

I painted the Old Glory 10mm figures in three sessions, the first being an hour long.  Keep in mind that this was the first time I have ever painted 10mm figures when perusing the photos.  I used a new Nr 2 Round brush for most of the work, avoiding the temptation to use a smaller brush.  I used 2/0 and 5/0 brushes for the smaller details and hard to reach spots.

Session One

I was surprised at how fast I could paint these figures.  I planned out the painting order in advance, making a check list.  I decided to take photos every 20 minutes.  (I stopped the clock during the photo shoots.)

At the 20 minute mark, I had painted the bases, hair, face, hands, and jackets.

20 minutes of painting

In the next twenty minutes, I finished the rifles, shakos, and boots.
40 minute mark

In the last twenty minutes of Session One, I hit a lot of the smaller bits, including the packs, bedrolls, ammo pouch, green portion of the plume, epaulets, bayonet, and bayonet sheath.  Because the figures are molded together, some details only needed painting on the ends, such as the sheath.  The rifle barrel was not defined on the figure, so I didn't attempt painting on a barrel.  I left the rifle slings alone, relying on the white primer for the color.
60 minutes of painting - front view
For the  backpack, pouches, and bedrolls, I dragged the brush across all the figures, completing these items quickly.  I did need to go back and hit the sides of the items one-by-one.

Second Session

The rapid progress slowed a bit in the second session when I tackled the braiding on the helmet.  My primary resources for Napoleonic uniforms lacked images that depicted the braiding, so I turned to Wikipedia, finding that the braiding was yellow.

In the 30 minute session, I completed the braiding, shako top edging, the top of the plume, white cross-belts,  white highlights on the pants, and grey shading under the cross-belts and between the legs. 
Session Two - yellow details and white shading

 I also painted the white straps on the roll and pack, finishing with black touch-up work.
Session Two - strap details and turnbacks

Third Session

After waiting an hour, I applied a light burnt umber wash.  Thinking I was finished, I took a photo and noticed that the red cuffs had been missed!  I fixed that problem and declared the painting complete.

Painting Complete

The total paint time was one hour and 33 minutes, an hour faster than painting up eight 15mm figures.  At this pace, I can complete a four base French Infantry battalion for Lasalle in six hours and 12 minutes.  I suspect that I can paint even faster than this with a little practice.

As a basic comparison, painting 10mm is much faster than double row-based 15mm figures, which I estimate takes 10 hours and 24 minutes for a Lasalle battalion.  However, painting up a 15mm single row-based battalion only takes 5 hours and 12 minutes.  Hmm...

Lessons Learned

While painting the 10mm figures is very similar to 15mm work, there are differences.  I found that brush quality was more important.  My 5/0 liner brush was a bit frayed and caused me some headaches.
It is easy to overload the paintbrush as well.  When painting the collars, I left my 2/0 brush a little too wet, and the yellow washed onto the figures face instantly.  Other than that, painting the figures was a breeze.

Choices, Choices

I'm going to run some numbers of the time required to paint up a collection of Lasalle armies before choosing a scale.  I also plan on basing the figures for a look-see.  In the end, will this quantitative analysis help my decision?  I'm not sure yet.  More to follow in another post.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The French Rapidly Advance

French Line Infantry - painted 15mm and primed 10mm figures
I have finished the first phase of a painting time test, comparing the paint time for 15mm and 10mm infantry figures.  I will use the test results to help in choosing a scale for my Napoleonic armies.  I don't have a lot of time to devote to painting, so the time test and the cost analysis shared in the last post will be important.  Of course, I will also consider other factors, such as my preference for the looks of the two scales.

Test Conditions

I will track painting time for eight 15mm figures and ten 10mm figures.  Because I had already cleaned up and primed the 15mm figures before deciding to perform a test, I won't compare this part of the work.  All figures are primed in white paint and mounted on craft sticks.

Eight 15mm figures is enough to create one double row-based stand or two single row-based stands.  The Old Glory 10mm figures are cast in groups of five, and the ten figures are enough to create one double row-based stand.  I plan to play Lasalle and DBN with the armies.

Based on the results, I will project the total painting time for four Lasalle armies, using the same armies as used in the cost analysis.  I plan to estimate the additional paint time for cavalry, probably applying a 15 percent time increase for each cavalry stand.  I welcome thoughts on how much longer three cavalry figures take to paint as compared to eight infantry figures.

15mm French Line

For the 15mm test, I chose four French line infantry figures and four French Voltigeurs. The figures are Battle Honors Line Infantry, 1809-1812.

I aimed to paint quickly, so these figures are not my best work.  I didn't perform much highlighting, and I kept the details simple.  If I'm ever going to finish a couple of Lasalle armies, I need to advance rapidly.

The painting and wash was completed in five sessions.  I made a few tactical errors on the paint order, such as forgetting to paint the hair until the last session.
Session 1 - 33 minutes - Flesh, boots, ammo bag, shako, pants, small clothes, jacket front
Session 2 - 21 minutes - jackets (blue)
Session 3 - 39 minutes - backpack, rifle, plume/pompon, canteen, bed roll, collar, epaulets
Session 4 - 55 minutes - base, yellow on Voltigeur pompon, rifle barrel and bayonet, hilt, hair, touch-ups
Session 5- 8 minutes - light burnt umber wash

Total Paint Time: 2 hours, 36 minutes

The Results

I'm satisfied with the results even though I was painting faster than normal.   Overall, the figures were easy to paint.  Here's a shot of the Voltigeurs:

I used a medium grey to shade the shirts near the cross belts, providing some contrast.

The line infantry were even easier to paint because of the rifle positioning.  I didn't need to fiddle much with cross belt shading or details on the front of the figure.

Here's another shot.  The 1st company of a French battalion wore green pompons on the shako.  I chose to paint  1st company soldiers to speed things up because I needed to use green for the Voltigeurs' plumes.

Scaling Out

At this painting pace, I could paint one double row-based French battalion for Lasalle in 10 hours and 24 minutes.  With single rows, a battalion would take 5 hours and 12 minutes.  I recognize that this test may not represent actual paint time precisely.  I normally paint more figures at once which is more efficient.  However, I also normally paint when in the same room as my wife while she is watching TV.  We chat during the painting which also slows me down. For the test, I was down in my hobby room and uninterrupted. Overall, this estimate seems reasonable.

Mark Severin ran a test speed painting British 15mm figures which is posted on his website, www.deepfriedhappymice.com and his result was consistent with mine.  He cleaned up, primed, painted, and based 24 figures in four hours.  The painting time was 2 hours and 30 minutes.  I was not trying to paint as fast as possible, and I don't plan to do so when I work on my armies.

Up Next

I'm anxious to see how the paint time compares for 10mm .  I bought a pack of Old Glory French Flank Company figures for the test.  They are cleaned up and primed.

As a relatively new wargamer who hasn't had the chance to attend any conventions, this was my first time seeing 10mm figures.  I was impressed with the level of detail at this scale.  For example, the figures have a plate and braiding on the shakos.  Clean up wasn't too bad, but I had to be careful when trimming the flash on the plumes and bayonets.  I managed to break one half of a plume off...

We are in the midst of moving, but I plan to use my birthday (today) as an excuse to hide in the basement and paint for an hour tonight after the packers have left.  I hope to share a post with the paint results in a day or two.

Comments Welcome!
Dave in Ellicott City, MD, USA

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Question of Scale

From the beginning, I planned to cover all of my wargaming interests in Xenophon's Ghost: Ancients, American War of Independence, and Napoleonics (for now).  I also aim to explore factors in the historical wargaming hobby that are entry barriers for new players, particularly youth.  I happened to start playing DBA simultaneously with the blog start-up, so my posts have focused on DBA almost exclusively.  It's time to turn to a new topic: Napoleonics and the entry barriers of cost and initial painting time required to start playing.

Returning to Lasalle

The end of painting my Macedonian Morph Collection is within sight, and the recent release of Maurice, by Sam Mustafa, prompted me to peruse my Lasalle rulebook.  Mr. Mustafa's Lasalle rules are designed for tactical level Napoleonic games.  I picked it up as I finished painting and playing American War of Independence games over the first 18 months of my wargaming life.  See Sam's website, www.sammustafa.com for more information.

Sam's rulebooks are reknown for photos of well-painted miniatures, and he recommends infantry basing with double rows of figures.  The units look great, and I decided to give it go, fielding an Austrian Avante Garde Division and a French Infantry Division.  I made it through two Austrian large infantry units before burning out.  The painting effort and investment to field two Armies is significant as a new player. DBA was appealing because of the limited number of figures needed to start, so I set the Napoleonics aside.

Considering a Scale Switch

Nonetheless, I do want to complete two Lasalle Armies, and I began pondering a switch to 10mm figures for my Napoleonic collection for multiple reasons.
  • Cost - I estimated that I might save quite a bit of cash.
  • Time - I might be able to paint more quickly, given the limited detail.
  • Variety - my AWI and Ancients figures are 15mm.
Before jumping to 10mm, I have decided to perform a cost analysis and a painting time test.  I did a similar painting test for DBA, trying my hand at two 6mm Elephants to compare the scale to 15mm. 

6mm Carthaginian Elephants
I decided to stick with 15mm for DBA, but I might use 6mm in the future for the American Civil War or Seven Years War.

Green Eyeshade Analysis

For the cost comparison, I planned for the reality that two Armies won't be the end of the story.  I expect to continue growing my collection over time.  I planned for expanding my collection in the following phases:
  • Two Armies to get started
    •  French Infantry Division with Cuirrassier Bde
    • Austrian Avante Garde Division with Infantry Bde
  • Two Extra Brigades
    • French Infantry Bde
    • Austrian Hussar Bde
  • British Guards Division with Dragoon Bde
  • British Infantry Bde
  • Russian Grenadier Division with Reserve Artillery Bde
  • Russian Dragoon Bde
The chart below compares the cost of this collection for two different 15mm basing approaches and 10mm figures.
The figure counts used for the analysis follows:
  • 15mm single row basing - 4 infantry or 2 cavalry figures per base
  • 15mm double row basing - 8 infantry or 3 cavalry figures per base
  • 10mm double row basing - 10 infantry or 3 cavalry figures per base

I used pricing from several websites:

Although I really like the look, the cost analysis helped me to decide against 15mm double basing.  I cannot afford the investment given my other interests and limited hobby budget

Excluding Sunk Costs

Making a decision between single row 15mm bases or 10mm bases won't be as easy.  I have already invested time in painting up two double row-based units, and I have purchased and primed enough 15mm figures for several more units.  I decides to compare the costs of my additional purchases, excluding sunk costs.
As you can see, the switch to 10mm will initially be more costly.  I'll need to spend $264 instead of $192 to get two Armies fielded.  As my collection expands, 10mm will save me money in the long run, but not by much. The cost difference for the entire collection is only $86.

The Painting Test

Given the minor cost difference  (not to mention the psychological cost of not using the already purchased and painted 15mm figures), I am proceeding with a painting time test before making my decision.  I definitely like the look of double row basing, a plus for 10mm.  I'm still unsure if I will like the look of the smaller figures.  I bought a 10mm French Flank Company pack from Old Glory, and it was primed up today.  I'll try to post the painting test results soon.  We are in the midst of a major overseas move, but I'm trying to finish this little project before my kit is packed up.