Thursday, December 29, 2011

What We're Watching Now: Babylon 5

Last week, we began watching season one of Babylon 5 on DVD (the remastered version). Though I watched the series when it first aired, this is Jeremy's first time watching it. I've been chatting up the series with him the past 15 years (Jeremy will be 21 in March!), but he's never really been interested until now. He's always been a Star Wars fan, and recently a Star Trek fan (we had been watching Deep Space 9 until last week, stopping in the middle of season four. I kept telling him how DS9 was a poor ripoff of B5.)

I haven't seen these Babylon 5 episodes since they first aired and then rerun during the same season, waiting for the next season to begin. Plus, there were episodes in season one that I have missed, until now. Tonight, we just finished watching the episode "And The Sky Full of Stars," which I missed back in 1994. Wow. It's amazing how each episode has little clues (sometimes major clues) about the storyline/plot! Great foreshadowing as well. I try my best not to divulge anything to Jeremy while watching, but it sure is hard. I keep making little comments and sounds when something important is said or happens.

He's enjoying the series, though he's not as impressed with the Mimbari ships as I am. Oh well. Plus, the cheapness of the medlab's set bugs him, like it has always bugged me. As he puts it, the lab looks "so random," like a lot of the show's sets. But he's quick to mention that story is key, not glamorous sets, especially when the show's budget was a lot less than Star Trek. The lack of Star Trek Tech Babble is also nice.

Gaming: Late to the Show
Ironically, he's now interested in B5 but all the B5 miniatures and games are hard to come by. I still have my 2nd Edition of Babylon 5 Wars box set (never played) and the Babylon 5 revised boxed version of A Call to Arms ship game (played once). Sadly, no miniatures to go with them. I really wanted to get the Fleet Action ships back in the day. I was disappointed to hear that Mongoose went with the larger ships, and that their quality was spotty as I remember it. At least, ACTA has the paper counters. Looks like ebay will have to be my friend for B5 gaming.

A Spot of Luck!
Jeremy bought Season 1 on Amazon with his own money, paying $14 for it new. On Monday, he and I went out doing some shopping on the other side of the county, with the plan to hit Cool Stuff on the way home to pick up some new games, which we did. (More on that in another post.) On the way back, we decided, after much hemming and hawing, to stop by a Goodwill thrift store, one which we hadn't been to in a long time because we usually find nothing there. Well, just as we were leaving the store empty handed again, I saw a small rack of DVDs we had missed. There sat Season 2 through 5 of Babylon 5! No Season 1, but we owned that anyway. And the price? $9 each, in nearly new shape! So I plunked down my money. (Funny how I wind up buying all the other season sets???) We now have the entire series on DVD for only $50.

Taking a Slow Boat to Babylon 5
We tend to watch one episode an evening at around 10pm if there is no hot football or basketball game on. (Jeremy is a basketball freak,while I don't get the game.) I'd like to watch more episodes an evening, but he likes one a night. Hey, as long as he in enjoying quality sci-fi, who am I to complain?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Fun Audio Dramas

A recent thread on The Miniatures Page got me thinking about one of my favorite pastimes since I've been a young kid: listening to audio dramas. I grew up listening to vintage radio dramas and comedies from the golden age of radio. Then to mysteries broadcast every night on our local AM radio station. Later, I would listen to Hitchhiker's Guide, Ruby: Galactic Gumshoe, and other neat shows on public radio every Sunday evening in the early 1980s.

I thought I would mention a few recent audio dramas I h've enjoyed. Jeremy has gotten most these for me as presents over the years, or I've recorded them live. When possible, I've included links to Amazon in the section titles. Often, you can pick them up used for a few dollars or download them as MP3 files. I hope you enjoy.

Superman Lives
This was a 2.5 hour BBC 5 production from 2005, originally called "Doomsday and Beyond" when it aired. Here is a brief synopses of the story: "Epic action, thrilling suspense, and a rollercoaster ride of mounting excitement are all featured in this incredible audio experience, chronicling not only Superman's duel-to-the-death with the monster called Doomsday and how he ultimately returned, but also the story of his love affair with Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane and the true fate of his arch-enemy, Lex Luthor. The fastest-selling comic book story of all time comes to life like nothing you've ever heard before!" Yep, the classic 90s story in audio. I love it!

DC Universe: Trail of Time
The CD's in this series of "Graphic Audio" releases are an interesting combination of traditional audio books with a narrator reading the text combined with actual audio drama, complete with sound effects. There are many titles in the series. This happens to be the only one I have at the moment. It is wild, featuring many of my favorite characters.

Synopses from Amazon: "Clark Kent is living in a dark world where he has no powers, no memory of ever being anything other than human. His world is controlled by mystical forces no one can challenge, with the triumvirate of Vandal Savage, Mordru, and Felix Faust calling the shots. The Demon and Phantom Stranger approach Clark and tell him that he is really Superman, that alterations made more than a hundred years ago to the time stream are causing space-time fluctuations that will result in this particular reality becoming the sole reality, unless something is done. Since Superman is powerless in this reality, and since the alterations were made in the past, the three heroes have to travel into the past, specifically into the American Southwest of the 1870s, where Jonah Hex, Bat Lash and other DC Western heroes help them set things right again" Cool stuff!

Judge Dredd, Blakes 7, Dr. Who, and More
Check out Big Finish Productions for many audio dramas of great comics and sci-fi BBC shows. You can buy CDs or download MP3s. I own the Dredd collection and love them. Once again, these were BBC productions.

Just a note. BBC Radio 4 Extra has Blake's 7, Doctor Who, and others you can listen to online. You might want to check it out. You can record these programs right off the Internet while listening to them using a free program, such as my favorite Audacity, and save them as MP3 files. I've done this many times over the years.

Any Other Suggestions?
Well, there you go. Some ideas to get you going. If anyone has any suggestions for some good fantasy, sci-fi, or historical audio dramas that you think I or others might like, pop down and mention them in the comments.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Siege of Kanlakab Valley: Playing "The Sword and the Flame" With 10-Man Units

The Battle of Kanlakab Valley had begun when an expeditionary force of primarily Gurkhas had been ambushed while marching in column through the steep hills of the Kanlakab Valley deep in Afghanistan on the very edge of the Her Majesty's Empire. It had been a bloody affair, the Gurkhas retreating from the direction they had come. A small company of men from the 1st Gurkhas Rifles volunteered to stay behind as a rear guard action so their comrades could escape. Colonel William George vowed to return as soon as possible to rescue the brave men.

That had been days ago. Though the stone walls atop a low hill toward the bottom of the valley provided some protection for the men, they knew that it would do little to protect them once the waves of natives began swarming toward them, leaping over the walls and fighting hand-to-hand. Though they had been keeping the natives at bay for sometime, the men knew that time was not on their side.

"They are massing their forces," said Sgt. Ganju Pun spying dozens of natives climbing about the hills to the east. "The tribes are coming together once again. I fear an attack is about to happen."

"We shall be ready for them," responded his superior, Lt. Donald James.

James knew that was a lie, and so did his sergeant. Their food and water supplies were nearly exhausted. The sun had been beating down on them so fiercely for days that the skin on their very lips had begun peeling off in large chunks. There wasn't as much as a leaf to provide shade on top of that barren hill. A godforsaken area of the world if there ever was one.

Hours passed while more and more natives began massing in the eastern hills. Feeling emboldened by their earlier victory during the ambush, the Pathan tribesmen did little to hide their presence. An attack was mounting surely.

Hours passed.

Back on top of the fortified hill, a rifleman suddenly shouted, "Look! There! See? A dust cloud. Off in the distance."

Sgt. Pun ran to the wall and peered down the valley to the west, following the man's shaking finger. "Hmmmm. It is a dust cloud. But is it friend or foe?"

"We can assume nothing," said Lt. James, who appeared behind Sgt. Pun. "Sergeant, prepare your men for an attack. Deploy some on the east wall and some on the west wall, until we know who is making that cloud."

"Yes, sir!" snapped Pun, as he ran off to organize his men, possibly for the last time.

And so began the Siege of Kanlakab Valley.

The Game
A few weeks ago, we played a game of colonials using the The Sword and The Flame rules by Larry Brom. This set of rules has been around for decades, becoming one of the classics of miniature gaming. Though Abel had played many times many years ago, this was my first actual game using the rules. I found them easy to learn and quite thematic overall, though sometimes they can be a bit too cinematic, as if Larry Brom had watched Zulu a few too many times!

Using Smaller 10-Man Units
To better utilize the figures we had while keeping the game fast and bloody, we decided to try using smaller units than the standard 20 men. We based our units on the combatant rules found on page 40 of the rulebook under "The Sword in Africa" section.

We made the Gurkha infantry units 10 men armed with Egyptian rifles. For some flavor in each infantry unit, we made one of the figures a sergeant, who was also armed with an Egyptian rifle even if holding a pistol. For extra flavor in the defending infantry unit, we also made one of the 10 figures a lieutenant armed with an Egyptian rifle. We assumed the defending unit had been larger days earlier but by the time the game had begun had lost many men to the elements and wounds from the previous battle. The officer had survived. If the defending force and rescuing force each had two infantry units, we would have given each an NCO or officer as an extra man as suggested on page 40.

We made the Gurkha lancer unit six men, designating one of them as a sergeant for some flavor. Again, if we had more lancer units we would have given them an additional officer or NCO figure instead.

The mistake we made was giving the mountain gun a full crew of four gunners, which made the single gun quite powerful against the smaller units. We rationalized the guns strength as being crewed by zealous gunners, set on revenging their loses days earlier. Next time, we'll play with two gunners per cannon.

We made the Pathan infantry units 10 men either all armed with spears or all armed with jezails. The rules on page 40 suggest mixing the native's weapons, but we found it fine the way we did it. The jezails were horrible weapons as it was, so arming the entire unit with them seemed to balance it out more. Plus, it made the units easier for our first game. The Pathan cavalry were handled the same as the Gurkha cavalry units, though armed only with spears.

Revised Straggler Rule for 10-Man Units
Using smaller units than in a normal game forced us to modify slightly the straggler rule when a unit charges. Whenever a unit must roll for stragglers, we rolled a single D6. On a result of 1-2 one figure straggled, 3-4 two figures straggled, 5 three figures straggled, and 6 no one straggled. It worked quite well.

Orders of Battle
British Defending Force:
1x Gurkha Infantry (Egyptian Rifles)

British Rescue Force:
1x Gurkha Infantry (Egyptian Rifles)
1x 10th Bengal Lancers
1x Mountain Gun
1x Mounted Commander

Pathan Attacking Force:
2x Pathan Jezails
1x Pathan Native Spears

Pathan Reserve Force:
2x Pathan Cavalry Jezails
3x Pathan Native Spears

Since I was new to colonial gaming, Abel laid out the scenery on the table and then placed the units. I haven't been doing much gaming the past year-and-a-half, so I hadn't been working on scenery at all. We used what I had on hand, placing my few foam hills under a piece of mottled-tan cloth I had purchased years ago at Walmart. The scenery was very basic but worked well enough that day.

Abel placed the besieged defending Gurkha unit toward the "eastern" end of the table on top of a low hill. We used my Old Glory stone walls to provide their fortification. He then placed a couple more hills a bit farther east, placing three of his Pathan units on the table (two armed with jezails close to the Gurkhas and the remaining two spearmen farther away behind the hills, out of harms way.

I then placed my Gurkha rescue force on the western end of the table in a small valley we had created. My objective was to approach toward the defending infantry unit as quickly as possible and then escort them to safety the same way I had entered. It sounded like a simple plan, though as one can expect thanks to the rules it turned out to be more challenging and dramatic than I had imagined.

The table is set. We're getting ready to begin play!

Photos of the Deployed Pathan Forces
Below are some photos of the 25mm Pathan figures we used.

Photos of the Deployed Gurkhas
Below are some photos of the 25mm Gurkha figures we used.


Turn 1: The Game Begins
The first turn of the game started out with little drama. It was the first to move, so I activated my cavalry unit, moving them toward the defending unit. Throughout the game, the random dice rolling for movement added some nice tension and friction. I came to enjoy this aspect of it, allowing us to use our imagination when explain why a unit would roll so badly when moving. As additional activation cards were flipped, I was able to move the remainder of the rescue force closer and shift the defending unit so all the figures faced the eastern wall and the massing Pathans. Abel basically moved his jezail units into range, while making sure his spearmen remained behind the hills. Having learned the movement rules, we went onto the next phase, ranged fire.

The spearemen unit of natives sneak up behind the hill, out of sight from the rifles.
Firing Begins
This is when the fun began. Since we deployed units close enough to each other to get stuck in right away, we got right into learning the firing rules. Abel got the first draw of the card and opened up with the Pathan jezail unit closest to the defending Gurkhas. He rolled 10 dice, one for each native firing. Using jezails against a defender behind a wall, he needed to roll a 1 to score a hit on a die. Since the game uses d20s, that gave him a 5% chance of hitting on each die. Sure enough, one of the dice rolled a 1--a single hit. A darned lucky shot, if I must say so!

He then drew a card to see the results of the hit. I figured he would wound one of my men and that would be it. No, not this time. Instead, he drew an ace of hearts, killing the units leader. Ergh! Down when Lt. James, clutching his chest. To die on top of a godforsaken hill in the middle of a godforsaken country was not a fitting death for a brave Englishman such as Lt. James! Surely, back in England his betrothed darling, Elizabeth, would mourn his passing for years to come. Curse you, you stinking Pathans and your lucky card draws!

That combat complete, we drew another card to see who fired next. Sure enough, Abel got the initiative again. This time opened up with his other jezail unit, once again rolling a single hit. Darn his luck! Drawing a card to see the results of the hit, he drew a heart face card. This meant a "key figure" that is not a leader is killed. We decided that this would be Sgt. Pun, who collapsed beside the recently fallen Lt. James. Double curse you, you filthy Pathans and your lucky card drawing!

The Pathans open fire on the defending Gurkhas.

Gurkhas Fire For Revenge
Next, I finally got to fire my Gurkhas. With vengeance in my eyes, I rolled my eight dice. In the end, three Pathans lay wounded and one lay dead. Though it didn't truly avenge the deaths of my brave and beloved soldiers in the Queen's service, it was a start.

My Thoughts on Movement and Firing
So there you have the first turn. The initiative and movement mechanics made for some interesting friction, wondering if units could reach their destinations in time. The ranged fire and wounding mechanics also were fast, fun, and dramatic. Who would have thought I would have lost two of my best men in the opening volleys? The only downside for me was rolling handfuls of d20s, which was a bit awkward because the dice were so large. A minor quibble if there ever was one!

The Game Progresses
As the game progressed, the Pathans continued with their lucky die rolling and card flipping, killing a third Gurkha and wounding another. I was getting ready to erase all the 1's from my d20s but thought better of it.

Eventually, I moved my rescue unit up to the defending unit. The lancers waited at the base of the hill for an opportunity to charge a native unit. Cavalry seems rather weak in the game, so Abel suggested I not engage the cavalry too quickly lest I lose them. The infantry unit moved up to get the besieged infantry unit out of harm's way. The mountain gun unlimbered and began blasting apart the natives from a distance.

Colonel William George has returned to save the day!
Then Abel charged the wall with a spearmen unit, a suicide charge. At the same time, my lancer unit charged at the flank of the spearmen. This was going to be an interesting melee! The Gurkha infantry repelled the spearmen before the lancers were able to make contact.

Col. George, looking on from behind his approaching forces, called out that help had arrived just as the spearmen and the lancers get stuck from charging.
Rule Change: Attacking and Defending Across Walls
One of the major rules we modified for our game were the rules on page 29 dealing with walls in close combat. The rules do not allow combatants to fight across walls at all, forcing the attacking unit to charge to the wall on one turn and then firing, on the next turn climbing onto the wall in the next turn and fighting at a rather large penalty, and then on the third turn crossing the wall to fight normally. This smacked us of Larry Brom having watched Zulu a few too many times. We just couldn't see this as making much sense when the Gurkha infantry were behind a low, thin stone wall that anyone could easily reach or leap across with little effort. No one in their right mind would try to balance themselves on it and fight! (It reminds me of wooden fences in ACW games giving the defending unit a big bonus, as if the little wooden sticks could actually stop a rifle bullet or obscure the target.)

In our game, we made the charging unit stop at the wall and fight normally, giving the defending unit a +1 bonus. The attacking unit could then cross the wall on the next turn, assuming they had not fled. Considering the scenario, it worked just fine for our purposes.

The Game Is Nearing The End
Toward the end of the game, the Pathan cavalry finally entered the fray and charged headlong into the lancers, who quickly met them with a counter charge. But not until the mountain gun opened fire on one of them, blowing them apart quite well. Once again, Abel rolled and flipped cards amazingly well, killing a lancer with the only hit. Still, the lancers tore up the two spearmen cavalry units, which retreated off the table. Then a unit of fanatical spearmen charged the lancers. And the craziest thing happened. Seeing the spearmen charging in their direction, the lancers panicked and fell back (I blew my dice roll when units are contacting during a charge). What in the world?!

The red and green chiits keep track of the units and are keyed into their roster sheets.
This was not good! During all the charging, the two units of Gurkha riflemen were trying to make it off the board to safety, moving behind the cavalry unit and the mountain gun, which was getting ready to hightail it out of there as well. Though Col. George was doing his best to inspire his men to greatness, the exhausted and wounded infantrymen moved horribly slow every turn. (I kept rolling badly for the units' movement dice. It was quite frustrating because it looked like a sure victory was rapidly slipping from my fingers! If the lancers had fallen back just a bit more, the day would have been completely lost, with the spearmen charging into the flanks of my Gurkha infantry. Wow, I love this game!)

Fortunately, the lancers regained their composure, turned around, and quickly charged the spearmen. The photos in this section show this final great confrontation. The Gurkhas would prevail with a decisive victory, while the Pathans, as fanatical as some of them were, would flee from the battlefield. Granted, the natives still controlled the valley. But Col. George would return once again in the near future, this time with a much larger force.

The wooden red cubes are from the Age of Mythology boardgame. I use them to mark wounded characters. I use other colored blocks from the game to mark other conditions.

Though Allah had been with them earlier in the game, the natives were to experience why the Gurkhas were a feared fighting force, no matter how small their numbers.

Final Thoughts
I hope you enjoyed this after action report about how we played with smaller units and the rule changes we made. We both thoroughly enjoyed the game and the rules, which are easy to pick up and quite cinematic. Better yet, we also got to play an entire game to its conclusion, a rarity in League games!

Obligatory (Badly) Posed Photo
Ok, I just had to include this photo. My wife wanted to snap a photo of us playing the game. I think she told us to look like we were "doing something."  So we did "something." It cracks me up every time I look at it!

Looming over Abel, I show him the rule stating that I always win. "Oh, that rule!" he replied.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Road to Victory: The Thrilling Conclusion

Forgive me, but I thought I had already posted the conclusion to the Road to Victory series! Since it has been such a long time since our last installment of this D-Day reenactment battle, below is a little refresher of where we last left the action at the beginning of the engagement.

Two young French partizans have just wandered into the SS road block during the Normandy invasion. Luckily, their papers are in order and are allowed to pass.
Watching the German road block from a nearby copse of trees on the enemy's left flank, lead elements of the American recon force watch the partizans quickly leave the area, while the enemy troops continue to deploy. The outnumbered GI's will have to hold tight until the rest of their force along with an M-8 Greyhound can catch up.

Will the evil Germans repel the advancing US forces, pushing them back into the sea, or will the brave GI's show the Krauts what for? Let's find out!

"Jeder macht schnell! Enemy auf die rechte Flanke!" -- Everyone hurry! Enemy on the right flank! -- Suddenly, the Americans open fire not from the left flank but from the right flank! The German checkpoint forces, including a lone Fallschirmjäger in the foreground, quickly return fire.

The Americans on the right take heavy fire and severe casualties but refuse to give up the fight!

It's a crossfire! The American recon forces along with their Greyhound suddenly advance out of the trees on the German's left flank,opening fire on the confused enemy, who now is being attacked from both sides!

While the Greyhound on the left flank provides covering fire, a brave medic tries to save the wounded infantrymen from the burning jeep on the right flank.

"Nicht schießen! Wir geben auf!" -- Don't shoot! We give up! -- Though both sides fight hard and inflict many casualties, the Americans win the day.

Taken by one of the young partizans and then placed in the bottom of a shoebox in the back of a closet, this photo remains a testament to the brave Allied soldiers, ordinary men, who liberated Europe 65+ years ago on the Road to Victory, giving us the freedom we enjoy today. 

(The photo above in its original color.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Heroclix Throw Down

Needing to work off some turkey with all the trimmings last week, we did a large 500 point Heroclix throw down on The Bridge. Not telling me anything about the figures he was picking, Jeremy began rooting through my DC boxes picking a "bad guy" team. OK, I can dig not telling me. After he picked his secret project team, I went to town picking my DC "good guy" team.

I always hear about all his heavy-hitter figures, so I like to razz him that I can take him down using "weenies." The other week we played a game in which he took in Beta Ray Bill, Iron Man, Hulk, and a host of other bricks. Pretty good stuff. I, on the other hand, took in the Power Pack team, a couple other kids like Leach (who cancels all powers near him), rookie Invisible Woman, and rookie Thing. I figured that the Fantastic Four were baby sitting that day. Hey, that's just how I roll! Guess what? I KO'ed everything but Iron Man. In a tournament I would have won by turtling behind Invisible Woman's shields while the remaining minutes ran out. It was great fun.

The Secret Project
Ok, so back to our current story. When we began placing the figures on the map, I discovered that Jeremy (my 20-year old son and adversary for the game) picked a modern age Project Cadmus team: Lex Luthor, Amanda Waller, Two Face, The Question, and a Gorilla City Warrior. Ok, so he had lots of the "Outwit" power to nerf my characters' powers. Wonderful--and cheesy in my mind. Plus, he had The Question going rogue, working for Cadmus! Are you kidding??? I guess Question must have been in deep cover.

Doing The Time Warp
Ok, so I plonked down my clix. Once again, I wanted to counter his few figures with many figures in what I like to call the Uncle Joe doctrine, named after Stalin's quip about quantity having a quality all its own. So I took in some of my favorite characters in an old school, brawling Golden Age Justice Society of America team: The Atom, Black Canary, Wildcat, Mister Terrific, Dr. Mid-Night, Liberty Belle, Vigilante, and a Gotham Police. On a 1-to-1 basis, my figures were each half the points of his!

Golden Age meets Modern Age comics on The Bridge.
The photo is the brawl the game turned into on the second turn. Vigilante started my game with Wildcat riding on the back of the bike. Vigilante revved his bike, jumped over a wrecked car, and slid to a halt as Wildcat leaped off the back of the bike while in midair, landing in a awesome somersault feet away from Two Face. It would have looked so cool in a movie! Of course, I had to repeat the move several times with the figures, adding "vroom vroom" sound effects and witty dialogue as I went. (I felt like I was 10 again!)

Well, you can guess how the game ended. I won. Once again, Jeremy got frustrated as my weenies took down his outwitters. I'm still re-learning the rules and could have played my team a lot better. Still, we had a great time

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Halloween Horror Comic Display

Using vintage horror comics from his collection, Jeremy made a special Halloween display at our neighborhood's clubhouse. A number of people have commented how they like it and remember some of the old comics.

He bought some spooky webbing and other Halloween doodads and arranged the entire display himself. Our community's annual yard sale is this Saturday at the club house, so a lot of people should be seeing the display. He'll be there selling off about two long boxes of comics he no longer wants at cheap prices, along with a bunch of other older video games and other items. Of course, all proceeds will go to buy additional comics and video games!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

WW2 and Modern Vehicle Drawings

I'm not sure how I found these websites, but I thought I'd pass them along. The WW2 Drawings website is very deep, with drawings for just about everything. The Modern Drawings website is still rather shallow. If you're into this sort of thing, check them out.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Wet Pallet Revalations

This past weekend was one of those revelation moments when it comes to painting miniatures. Not having any committee or department meeting nor having to run up to campus at all (huzzah!), I spent the morning watching painting videos online at youtube. There are some nice videos, and many not so good videos. Still, I applaud the efforts. Making good hobby videos is very difficult!

Today, I will recount my experiences and revelations about using wet pallets. Later, I'll get into some other painting revelations that I am sure everyone else had a long time ago. (It always seems like I'm the last to figure out the basics! LoL)

Several months ago, I tried using a wet pallet but very frustrated with it. I use the Masterson Sta-Wet Handy Pallet kit I picked up at the local craft store chain for $5 after a discount coupon. (You can make one yourself, but $5 is such a cheap price that making one is not worth the hassle in my opinion.) When I last used the pallet, the paint would get too thin when sitting on the paper, and I had a few other issues making the wet pallet experience very distasteful to my...uh...pallet. So I went back to using those cheap-o $1 pot-pallets, though I could have used plain old paper plates instead. Anyway...

So there I am Friday morning, cruising youtube and reading different bits of advice on various blogs and forums when I stumble on some wet pallet advice (and decide to reread the pallet's instruction sheet as a last resote). Hmmm.....yep....oh!....hmmm....duh! Those were the sounds my wife heard emanating from my Man Room as painting revelations smacked me in the head like a sledge hammer.  So last night, I finally gave the pallet another try. Bingo! It worked great!

What Did I Do Right This Time?
I learned that using distilled water is a must. I have no idea why. Perhaps the fluoride and other chemicals dumped in tap water mess with the paper? Everyone, along with Masterson's instructions, says to use it. I didn't use it before. I use it now!

I also made sure not to overload the sponge with water. I even poured off a bit of excess water just to make sure. I think this and the distilled water made a huge difference.

I also followed the instructions for soaking the pallet paper in hot water for 15 minutes, though I used boiling distilled water out of fear of using tap water. (Our tap water in Central Florida has a ton of minerals to boot.)

When done, drain a little water from the sponge

After all of this, the pallet works perfectly! Some people said to thin the paint as you normally would, though I thinned it just a tad less because the paint will pick up a bit of the water.

The Benefits of Wet Pallets
Here is what I like about using the wet pallet:
  • While using the wet pallet, I realized that I used less paint than normal because I used nearly every bit of the paint I placed on the pallet. Wow!
  •  I didn't have to worry about the paint "skinning over," getting that goop layer across the top of it because it's drying out.
  •  Dropper paint bottles are far more efficient with wet pallets than craft paint bottles because dropper bottles are more precise, allowing me to use less paint than I normally would in a regular pallet.
  • I can rinse off the paint "left-overs" from the paper and reuse it.
  • If you sit two colors near enough to each other on the pallet paper, you can paint with each one of them and then easily mix them for a mid-tone color, dragging the paints toward each other. (Ok, you can do this on a paper plate as well, but on a wet pallet you have hours instead of minutes to work with the paint.)
  •  Finally, the paints does not dry out while I'm painting.

So I highly recommend using a wet pallet. The Masterson Sta-Wet is very nice, with a tight-fitting lid. And make sure to read the instruction sheet.

Friday, October 14, 2011

From the Greatest Generation With Love

This photo is so full of joy and sadness that I don't know where to begin. Every time I try to start writing this post, years of emotion keep welling up. It has been a year of great joy and many deep loses for our family. So I'll try to keep it brief for now.

I took this photo back in March of this year. We were having a neighborhood block party that evening and were celebrating Jeremy's 20th birthday. The weather was perfect, so many people turned out, the food was delicious, and Jeremy's birthday cake was great. We really love our neighbors. It's like a family.

Well, Jeremy got a very special present that day that no one expected. No, it wasn't a video game or iPad or some other tech toy. Bill Peebles, a WWII veteran, gave his service medals to Jeremy. He loves the kid. I don't like tooting our own horn, but Jeremy is one of those rare kids (young adults!) who loves helping others, is totally respectful to everyone, and just tries living out what he reads about in his Bible. Bill wanted Jeremy to have his medals because he knew that Jeremy would understand their importance and appreciate what they mean to Bill and future generations. Neither Jeremy, nor us, knew what to say

Bill, now in his late 80s, joined the army at about Jeremy's age. Bill served in the 36th Infantry "Texas" Division. He was a .30cal machine gunner. He served in North Africa, then hit the beaches during the invasion of Salerno, Anzio, fought at Monte Cassino, captured Rome, nearly froze to death in Southern France, was wounded a number of times, then joined the Air Commandos, got shot down over Germany, survived, and then made his way back to the USA. An amazing life the likes I cannot imagine living. He considered it just another day.

Sadly, the doctors gave Bill a bleak diagnosis this past week. It looks like his days of service here on Earth are coming to an end very soon. Jeremy and Robin (my wife) are visiting with him right now as I type this. He still has some time. He's still the spunky fellow we've known for the past several years. But...

Just got a phone call from Jeremy! Bill wants to tell his story to Jeremy and wants him to write it all down, all of his adventures during WWII. Jeremy is an excellent writer, who has already written two novels. So who knows where the Lord will be taking this! Jeremy is excited. So am I!

Ok, time to wrap this up. I'll probably be posting more about Bill Peebles in the coming weeks. So just say a small prayer for Bill and all our veterans of the Greatest Generation. We are quickly losing so many good men who gave so much for us all.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Blue Moon Cowboy of the Month

Though my teaching and committee schedule has been busy this semester, I actually took some time to sit down and get a bit of painting done last weekend and this. Inspired by Adventures in Lead's "Photography blues" recent blog post about just grabbing the old digital camera and quickly shooting a shot on the workbench, I snapped some photos of what I've been working on. I used a large yellow envelope as a background. Like I said, grab and shoot.

The first snap I'm posting is of Blue Moon's (Old Glory) June cowboy of the month freebie, CP-11. I got it a few years ago as a member of the Old Glory Army. It, along with several other figures, have been sitting in the drawer partially finished for the past two or three years. Getting sick of seeing this figure lingering about, I finished it off last Friday afternoon. Not the best of my work, but it looks good enough on the game table.

Vest Stripes
I think I posted a while back how painting stripes (and any kind of straight line) scares me to death because my hands shake something fierce when painting. Painting highlights on clothing is also challenging. How I envy painters with steady hands! On this figure, I bit the bullet and tried painting some ivory-colored stripes on his light-blue vest. Forgive me for tooting my own horn, but I actually like how they turned out. A first!

I found another nice color for painting holsters: Americana's Antique Maroon. It has a reddish leather look. I added some Ivory to it for the highlights, but Antique Rose turned out to be the same color. Go figure! After I painted the highlights, I recalled reading somewhere that adding orange to the red leather would make a good highlight. Not sure about that. I'll have to try it next time.

The base color coat is Ceramcoat Charcoal, with black shadows and Ceramcoat Dolphin Grey highlights. Memo to myself: try using Rain Grey next time. Dolphin is a bit too harsh I think.

I have no idea what color I painted these three years ago! Highlights and shadows are too subtle, as I suspected. Oh well. I don't feel like messing with this figure anymore! Memo: write down the colors for each miniature I paint and then don't lose the notes. That last bit is really important, Bob. Really really important.

Hair and Beard
I like the way the hair and beard turned out. (toot toot!) While looking in the mirror, I tried matching various shades of browns and tans to my own hair, holding the bottles next to what little hair I have left. An odd sight to behold. I painted Ceramcoat Espresso over the black primer. The paint is thin (even though it claims to be opaque) and allows black to show through quite a bit. No problem this time though. Espresso is the just shadow color. If Espresso is unavailable, any darkish brown will do. I just had Espresso handy and never get to use it. It's one of those "orphan" colors that never gets to play with all the other colors. Next I applied the base color, Ceramcoat Territorial Beige, one of the most useful browns made. The highlight is Ceramcoat Trail Tan, another useful color. With each new color, make sure to let the previous colors show a bit.

Well, that's it. Now that I posted my painting info, I will not lose it like I did most of my painting notes a couple weeks ago. Is there an emoticon for smacking myself in the head?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Road to Victory: Combat Photography

Just about wrapping up my series on the Road to Victory reenactment. Inside the auditorium that day, a group of fellows who reenact World War II army combat photographers set up a wonderful display of authentic WWII camera equipment, showed vintage combat footage and war-related cartoons (Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse), and gave a fascinating talk about combat photography in WWII. Jeremy felt it was one of the highlights of the day. I should have overcome my introverted nature and taken more photos of the equipment and gentlemen. I wish I had their talk videoed. They also go into schools dressed in their WWII gear and give talks to the students. What a great way to make history come alive for the kids!

I love old cameras. Imagine lugging these across a battlefield.
Later that afternoon, the German reenactors gave a weapons demonstration and talk for the spectators. The clip below is about 17 seconds of them firing their weapons. We are getting ready for the battle!


Friday, September 30, 2011

50 Mission Crush

I started writing today's blog post, but as often happens it morphed into something else, this time a nostalgic homage to my favorite computer game company from the 1980's: Strategic Simulations Inc (SSI).

Way back in 1984 when I was a young 21 years old, I purchased one of my favorite SSI computer games: 50 Mission Crush. Back then, I had a heavily modded Atari 400 computer with extra memory (48K) and a custom keyboard. So of course I got the Atari version of the game.

50 Mission Crush bills itself as a role-playing game, with your pilot improving his skills after each successful mission, which took several to ten minutes to play. You had to survive 50 missions to successfully beat the game and go home to America. I played this game so many times I lost count. I never survived 50 missions, though I did pretty well at times from what I remember. Those were good times back then!

By today's standard, the game is crude with basic graphics and lots of text with numbers. But what it lacked in graphics, it made up for it in tension and addiction for an early computer war game.

Moby Games has a nice section devoted to 50 Mission Crush. A quick Google search will also turn up abandonware sites where you can download the game (only 102k in size!), as long as you don't have Windows 7 64-bit installed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Road to Victory: Firing a Canon

I'm trying something new. This evening, I created a YouTube account to host some videos to show here on the blog. This is a brief 9 second video I shot at the reenactment. The quality is ok, considering I shot it using my Lumix camera. Since I didn't have a tripod, I do get a bit shaky when the boom goes off! I have a couple other videos I shot that day. We'll see how this works and then see if I post them as well.

Those Ceramcoat Navy Blues

Over the years, I've been a vocal supporter of using craft paints for miniature painting. I own 100s of bottles of craft paints, along with some other hobby paints. Recently, Michael's Craft Stores stopped selling the Delta Ceramcoat line of craft paints. Michael's also cut way back on their stock of Americana and Folk Art paints, preferring to sell their own cheaper and inferior line of paints.

Several weeks ago when I last visited a local store here in Central Florida, I picked up a dozen or so bottles of Ceramcoat and America on deep discount. paying around .25 to .50 for even their 8oz bottles. I even bought some extra bottles of colors I often use and feel are essential to consistency, such as the browns I use for my figure bases. I figured I had it all covered. I was so content in my collection of craft paints that I ignored warnings on TMP that Michael's was totally getting rid of Ceramcoat.

You know what's coming next! Yesterday, it dawned in my feeble brain that I use Ceramcoat Navy Blue to paint all my Union ACW figures and that I had only one partially used bottle of the color. Agh! A quick check of the Web shows that Jo-Ann Fabric stores still sell Ceramcoat. So I will be toting myself off to Jo-Ann this week to pick up a few extra Navy Blue bottles, storing them upside down to seal them tight for future painting sessions. I am not going to blow it twice!

Today's Lesson: If you have a favorite paint color that you really really need or like to use, pick up an extra bottle or two. You never know when it will be discontinued or altered.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Road to Victory: M8 Greyhound

The folks at the Road to Victory Military Museum in Stuart, FL brought some of their equipment along to the reenactment. Here are some photos of their M8 Greyhound armored car, which would have been used during recon missions. You can find more information about the Central Florida World War II Museum at their website.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Road to Victory: Willys Jeep Hootin Annie

Here some reenactors are representing the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) with a camp display and a Willys jeep named Hootin Annie. Follow this link and you can read the history of the real jeep's actions during WWII and see more photos of the restored version below. It's a very good story. Hats off to reenactors everywhere for keeping our history alive!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Road to Victory: Reenactor Displays

With all the confusion of the past few months, I forgot to finish posting the rest of our photos from the Road to Victory military reenactment that took place here in Central Florida. I'll start this evening with some of the reenactor displays.

Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry Living History Group was there. This is a new group being established here in Central Florida. The 2nd Ranger Battalion Company F had a nice tent display. The 197th Guards were supposed to be there, but I don't recall seeing any Soviet reenactors, which is a shame because I could have used them as inspiration for my Black Tree Design Soviets! Others were there as well, but I can't recall them. March was a long time ago!

Over the weekend, I'll finish with the American vehicles (a jeep and M-8 Greyhound) and then the conclusion of the big battle. I apologize for forgetting to post these pics! You can check the older posts as well: Bren Gun and 130. Panzer Lehr.