Monday, July 21, 2014

28mm Spanish Civil War Republican Anti-Tank Gun and a New Book: 'The Shattered Peloton: The Devastating Impact of World War I on the Tour de France'

I thought I'd bash out a few more Spanish Civil War figures in preparation for an upcoming game I have scheduled in a few days with the fine lads from the Fawcett Ave Conscripts. 

Here is a 37mm Bofors anti-tank gun with a Republican crew. Even though the Bofors fired a relatively light shell it could easily penetrate the armour of any tank used during the Spanish Civil War. From my reading its reliability, low profile and high rate-of-fire made it well liked by its crews. 

This is a great little set produced by Empress Games. Paul Hicks sculpts with his typical great character touches (I love the gunner who is raising his sunglasses to better see the effect of their shot.)

I decided to keep the gun in its basic green colour, without the black camo 'blobs' which are often seen in period pictures.

I have a few other SCW figures in the wings but I'll roll those out in later posts.

Also a brief book review! 

Every July for me is sheer heaven as it means that for three weeks I can bask in the summer heat while following my favourite sporting event: the Tour de France.

This year's Tour is the 101st time the event has been held. The now world famous race began in 1903 and has continued to this year uninterrupted, except for the years of the two world wars. And so upon this theme, I came across, 'The Shattered Peloton' when we were on vacation this past spring - and immediately ordered myself a copy as it focuses on another passion of mine: the Great War and its impact on the riders of the 1914 Tour.

Believed to be Guiseppe Azzini during a mountain segment of the 1914 Tour.
The book describes the start of the 1914 Tour which occurred on the 28th of June, at 3am, where 145 riders met in Saint-Cloud, a suburb near the edge of Paris.  Little did those riders know that, later that day, archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie would be assassinated in Sarajevo, beginning a spiralling sequence of events. By the end of the Tour in late July it was regarded as inevitable that a general war in Europe would soon begin -  and a few short days later the First World War began. 

French cyclists doing what they do best...
The organizer of the Tour de France, Henri Desgrange, although being fifty years old at the war's outbreak, volunteered into the French army and encouraged all French cyclists to do the same. Many of the riders from that 1914 Tour de France were killed during the war, including three winners of previous Tours. Patriotism's bitter harvest.

I won't go into any great detail regarding the book other than to say that it's a good read for anyone who enjoys military history and the sport of cycling. It doesn't break any new ground in the historiography of the Great War or for competitive cycling, but it does a nice job of joining the two disparate topics together for a very interesting and poignant perspective. Recommended.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

28mm Napoleonic French During the Russian Retreat and FormulaD Racing! (wtf?)

Ahhh, summer has finally made its presence felt here in the Canadian prairies (upwards to +30C temperatures this past week). Admittedly it's a bit late, but I'll happily take it, and so to celebrate I decided to host our weekly game out in our courtyard. This week we played an old favourite: 'Formula D'. 

Yes, they may look a mild mannered bunch but you should have seen the fisticuffs in the street after the game...
For those who may not have tried it 'Formula D' is F1 racing game which has players competing over a variety of tracks which depict famous Grad Prix racing circuits from around the world. Each car is rated 'wearpoints' for its Tires, Brakes, Gearbox, Engine, etc. which the players have to carefully manage during the race. The game utilizes various modified polyhedron dice to reflect gear changes (D4 for 1st gear, D6 for 2nd, etc.) and the trick is to find the 'sweet spot' gear in order to speed down the straights, but yet slow enough for the coming turn. Its dead-easy to learn, a trick to master and a heap of fun to play. The cars models that come with the game are fairly uninspired plastic affairs, but you can find 'after market' models on eBay to pimp your game. My good friend Dallas acquired and painted these cars for my birthday years ago (Thanks Dal!) and they get heavy use in our F1 scrums (I've had to give them a few touchups due to 'rubbing' in the corners!). 

1/300 scale F1 cars (with my favourite, Jaguar Racing, in the lead.)
As one of our several ongoing mini-campaigns, we've been conducting a full Grand Prix season this past year and this was our 4th race (Hungarian Grand Prix - a fairly fast track). 

The only place where you can safely drink & drive... Here we have Peter utilizing his mad math skills and devious slight of hand tricks in an effort to bamboozle the rest of us.  Sylvain, as you can see, was onto him like white on rice.
I managed to cheat better than the rest of the boys and so pipped first place, but Sylvain surprised us all by not exploding spectacularly, or driving headlong into the fan-packed stands, instead he came through with a heart-stopping second place, just in front of Peter. We will not speak of Stacy's appalling luck-of-the-dice as his curse may manifest itself in the retelling... 

Otherwise the hobby desk has been largely neglected in favour of enjoying the weather and working on some yard projects. That being said I have managed to get a few pieces done. Here are four unfortunate sons of France, fighting their way out of snow-swept Russia.

The fellow firing over his frozen comrade, the kneeling chasseur with sword and pistol and the carbine-armed lancer are all Perry models, while Michel Ney, 'The Bravest of the Brave', is from Gorgon Studios.

'Le Rougeaud': The last Frenchman to leave Russian soil.

It was a treat to paint these guys during the recent warm weather as many of their predecessors were grudgingly 'inspired' by the -50C conditions of our past winter (yuk). 

I have quite of few of these poor blighters left to do but they'll have to wait a bit longer as I feel like moving on to something else...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

28mm Mortal Imass Tribesmen - An Homage to Steven Erikson's 'The Malazan Book of the Fallen'

Here's one a little out of left field. Earlier this spring I came across these new wonderful Neanderthal castings by Steve Saleh (one of my all-time favourite sculptors) which are offered through North Star Figures. They are fabulous models, giving a real sense of the sturdiness and mass of these early proto-humans. 

Nonetheless, being the nerd that I am, I thought they would make wonderful Imass warriors from Steven Erikson's epic 10 volume series (yes, I did say 'epic'), 'The Malazan Book of the Fallen'.

Book One: 'Gardens of the Moon'

Right, so what are these 'Imass', I hear you say?

If you are not a fan of fantasy fiction you may want to click-away before unabashed sword-and-sorcery dorkiness ensues. 

Are we alone now? 

Ok, here it goes. Erikson describes the Imass (one of many races peopling his books) as an ancient, stone-age race of early humans who existed about 300,000 years before the events described in the novels. The Imass' mortal enemies are the Jaghuts, who are a race of mage-tyrants who wielded vast power, frequently using it to enslave or eradicate entire civilizations. What ensued was a series of apocalyptic wars where the Jaghuts, seeing themselves loosing ground, used ice magic to serve as a bulwark to limit the assault of the ferocious Imass. The Imass, in turn, knowing that they could not cross the vast, lifeless sheets of ice created by the Jaghuts (without starving and succumbing to cold), decided to create a mass ritual (the Ritual of Tellann) which would see the majority of their people transformed into undead in order to prosecute the war against the Jaghuts without fear of extreme elements or the necessities of life. Yup, pretty extreme stuff but the stakes were very, very high.

Here is a great painting by Jan Pospisil of what a mortal Imass would've looked like.
...and after the Tellann ritual which bound them as undead warriors. Painting by Niklas Tarpila.

Anyway, during the time in which the books are set, the T'lan Imass are described as huge, undead warriors, largely desiccated, wearing the remains of ancient hides, bone helms and armed with magically invested flint weapons. They continue their hunt for the now very rare (but still very dangerous) Jaghuts.

So when I saw Saleh's models I thought they'd make great mortal Imass, as seen before the tragic self-imposed ritual of Tellann which would steal their life away. 

From what I remember the Imass were supposed to have golden/amber skin and dark, coarse hair. I took a bit of liberty with the hair to make them a bit more interesting. I modified the leader model to be a Imass 'Bonecaster' shaman. I removed the original club from the figure and replaced it with a flint sword made of hewn plasticard and brass wire.  From his previously empty fist he now holds aloft the head of a recently defeated Jaghut (a decapitated head from a grotty 1984 demon miniature from Ral Partha). Pretty simple modifications but they worked out alright.

A Bonecaster shaman with flint sword and Jaghut trophy.

Other than Phil from Diary of a Gaming Magpie, who did this great Bridgeburner figure, has anyone else read these books? I admit they are a bit of hard sledding, but well worth the effort. If you are interested in the premise of the books but don't have the time to read them, I can heartily recommend the audio-book version as they have excellent production value and are a rollicking good listen. 

Anyway, that was a fun diversion, but now on to something different...

Monday, June 16, 2014

28mm Spanish Civil War: Spanish Foreign Legion HMG Team

Ever since we got back from our vacation I've been suffering from an infuriating case of hobby ADHD - working on a zillion things at once and seemingly getting nothing done at all. Well, I guess that's not entirely true as I managed to stay the course and finish this HMG stand for my much-neglected SCW collection. 

This trio is a team of Spanish Foreign Legionnaires crewing a French-designed Hotchkiss heavy machine-gun. 

Franco was one the Spanish Foreign Legion's senior commanders and it, along with the ferocious Moroccan Regulares (both of whom made up the Army of Africa), proved to be a vital component in his bid for power early in the civil war. Their professionalism and ruthlessness provided a much-needed bulwark for the Nationalist cause, buying them precious time as the quality and quantity of their manpower gradually increased.

This 28mm set, sculpted by the talented (and prolific) Paul Hicks, is from Empress Miniatures. I took a fairly stock approach to the group. The only thing I added was a wooden crate as otherwise the team seemed bit too exposed.  This stand will be a welcome addition to my collection as, oddly, I have many squad weapons for the Republicans but almost nothing for the Nationalists (which runs fairly opposite to how things were historically).

I have a bunch of SCW stuff sitting in the wings, all in various levels of completion, so we'll see if I can stop being a useless butterfly and get some of them done-and-dusted over the next few weeks. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Our 2014 Vacation Concludes: Curt and Sarah take Paris

The two of us with the little place we rented overlooking the Seine...
The final leg of our vacation saw us infiltrating Paris. Even though its packed to the patisseries full of Parisians Sarah and I still love the town. It's such a great city with so much to offer. Food, museums, shopping, pastries, and then there are the women. There is something about Parisian women that I always find fascinating - those amazing, haughty creatures, who float on clouds of perfume, cigarette smoke and long scarves always seem to have that, well, there is no better phrase for it: je ne sais quois.

We're big fans of cycling and so we were both delighted and yet gutted to see that we had arrived right in the midst of the Paris 'Tweed Ride', which is a yearly bike outing where cyclists are asked to dress in 30s/40s era clothes and take to the streets for a mass turn about the city. (The French, being typically French, call it 'Le Ride Beret Baguette'.)

The Paris 'Tweed Ride'

These Tweed Rides usually conclude with a big picnic and we saw hundreds of 'tweedsters' toting yard-long baguettes and bottles of wine. It looked to be an incredible amount of fun and we wished we could have been better organized so we could have participated. Next time I'll definitely have to pack my jodhpurs and soft peaked cap.

My new vision quest: A Victoire porter bicycle, custom crafted for Berluti. Yes, those are wood rims - mental.
We visited the Musee de Cluny, Sarah's favourite museum, which has a fantastic collection of medieval artifacts including the mysterious six tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn. These have been recently restored and I very much recommend a visit.

Sarah at the Musee de Cluny.
Me taking a mid-march break at the Jardin des Tuileries.
We also made the pilgrimage to Les Invalides to see what was the featured exhibition. I was delighted to discover that it was on Alexandre Dumas and the French Musketeers (both  historic and fictional), so Sarah and I were delighted to take it in.

At the entrance to the exhibit they had several costumes you could try on for size. As you can see Sarah looks quite fetching in this feathered chapeau...

...whereas I finally found the perfect outfit to go with my dodgy beard and moustache. 

The sword of the real Athos - Now, how cool is that!
So what did I acquire during our travels? Mostly books, which are the absolute devil to pack and drag around, but I can't help myself. 
- In the UK I bought the exhibition catalogue for 'Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK' which was showing at the British Library (f*cking love that place). 
- At a bookstore in St Pancras Station I nabbed a copy of 'The Wipers Times'. (At my work we're in the midst of a huge Great War newspaper digitization project and I thought it fit in nicely with that.) 
- In Madrid I got a wonderful hardback volume depicting the arms and uniforms of the Spanish Civil War (with many excellent colour plates). 
- In France I picked up the museum catalogue of the Musketeer exhibit, a book on French paratroopers in Indochina (in full colour) and a wonderful book of photographs taken during the liberation of Paris.

For gaming I picked up:
- a 28mm scale Hispano Souza armoured car from Minairons Miniatures;
- some 15mm fuel dumps for SAS/LRDG raiding;
- 28mm 'Milady & Household Staff' from Brigade Games for future Musketeer nonsense; 
- a copy of 'Jugula' with the intent on some future gladiatorial gaming; 
- and Alf very kindly gifted me with a wonderful prototype of a Spanish church and some excellent palm tree breastworks for Indochina.

Last but not least, some of the most prized items which I toted home were the wonderful painted figures I received from many friends well-met. Thank you all! It was a tremendous honour to meet you and I look forward to when our paths cross again.

Much-valued additions to the painting cabinet.
I'll end the post with a pic taken of us by our friend Gary while we were wondering down Rue Poulletier on Ile St Louis during our last evening in Paris. A suitable ending to a wonderful trip. 

...and, yes, we're already planning for the next one...