Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Samurai That Wouldn't Die

I realized today that I've been working on my 10mm Samurai project for over two years. Now, I'm sure any dedicated minis enthusiast has one or more of these sort of crazy white elephant projects sitting on their backs, but this may well be a record for me.

The delay has been due to a lot of reasons, several of which I've addressed in previous entries. First, I chose a rather obscure scale for which it proved difficult to acquire miniatures. The fact that I went for a marginal genre in an already marginal sub-category (historical miniatures) of an already marginal hobby (miniatures games) didn't help. Nor did it help that this genre deals with an era of history that is not too well documented, but neither is it fuzzy enough to allow me to say "screw it" and do what I like (as I would be able to do with, say, Sumerians or Skythians, to name but two other "S" choices). Add to this the fact that it's an historical genre from an alien culture with a completely foreign language and writing system, forcing me to rely entirely on the relatively scanty secondary sources available...

Well, it's been an adventure, that's for sure. I do actually enjoy the research aspect of historical miniatures, and I certainly know tons more about 16th century samurai warfare than I did two years ago. But enough's enough! We need to actually play some games, fer Chrissakes!

Fortunately, I'm just about ready to do so, or at least closer than I've ever been. The breakthrough came last autumn, when I was horribly sick and took some of my convalescence as a chance to read up on some points I was still a bit fuzzy about. And that's when I stumbled across the indispensable Samurai Sourcebook. If you've come across this entry because you're interested in getting into samurai miniatures, then know this: this book should be your first purchase. Before you buy any minis, or rules, or anything. Read it, and go forth armed with the knowledge you will need to choose the rules and minis that work for you. And let you paint them well! Why? Because the Samurai Sourcebook contains, among a lot else, comprehensive lists of uniform, armor, and sashimono colors, by clan, both major and minor. I've seen nothing that even comes close in any of my other reference material, even other Turnbull books.

I started basing figures last night. That was another bugbear for me, settling on a basing scheme I liked. In the end, as so often happens, I settled on the obvious choice: actually going by the rules. In this case, Taiko! prescribes a half-inch base per figure, which always struck me as a bit too small for having multiple figures on a base, as I wanted to do. But I was flipping through the rules the other night and noticed that they mentioned that one could always mount multiple "figures" to extra-wide bases, as long as you had a way of keeping track of casualties. And it clicked for me.

So I'm mounting everything on "double wide" bases: infantry are on 40 mm by 20mm bases, cavalry's on 40mm square (a little wider than the 1 inch frontage a doubled stand should have, but that's OK). Yari-wielding ashigaru are 5 to a base, all others are 4 or (in the case of cavalry) less. Only commander stands are the "standard" 20mm square bases (just enough room for the commander and a couple banner bearers).

The system looks great, it's faithful to the ground scale of Taiko! (my old system would have had a unit of twenty lined up in ranks of five by four cover the area of a piece of paper; now it covers the area of an index card), and means fewer minis to paint (my old system would have required me to paint 54 yari for a regiment of six "figures"; now I only have to paint 15).

That last point, of course, leaves me with quite a surplus of figures, which is fine. We are, after all, modeling a provincial conflict and should not have huge armies moving about the battlefield (another reason I like the new-old system). But I'm left wondering now if I might have enough of a surplus to put together a third army. Say, didn't the Takeda invade the Matsudaira homelands at some point...?

ETA: Forgot to mention that another part of my plan is to do the "introductory scenario" of a contingent of Sakai retainers fighting outraged peasants using 20mm plastics and the Taiko! skirmish rules, which are almost identical to the "army" rules. Should be fun.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Why I love miniatures games

I was going through some old files on an old hard drive today and came across this picture:

That's a shot from a game of Baptism of Fire, a WWII skirmish game. My trusty Russian Naval Infantry is just entering the board and heading towards that shelled house beyond the trees. I love the composition of this shot. It conjures up in me the excitement that comes at the beginning of every miniatures game I play, that "what's going to happen" feeling of anticipation.

It also demonstrates ably the supreme aesthetic appeal of a good set-up. It takes time and a little bit of cash, sure, but the payoff for making the effort to produce a good-looking set of terrain is a one hundred-fold return. To me, it beats the best computer game graphics, the slickest Hollywood movie, and even the good ol' imagination, of which I'm usually an ardent supporter. I really do hope new generations of gamers keep taking the time to break out their paint, glue, Xacto blades, and flocking and put together games that would put my own layout to shame.

(In case you're wondering, I believe I lost that game, although it was a close one. My flamethrower OT-34 [not pictured] almost managed to burn that house down while it was still full of Germans, but it got taken out by a Pak 40 anti-tank gun.)

(That's the same modular terrain you can see in action in my Fantasy Warriors battle reports. I eventually sold it and invested in some Hexon II terrain, which I'm hoping to premiere some time this summer. Pics will follow, of course.)

(Lastly, that picture was taken in my old dining room. Dang, I miss that apartment. Moving from a two bedroom to a one bedroom really cramps your style when you're looking for space to play, you know?)
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