A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Fiddling Around – Trenches and Varnish

Abstract representation of Siegeworks
You may recognise the objects in the picture – they are wooden blocks from a game which goes by various names – the very big garden version is called (I think) Jenga – I only played it once, and I wasn’t very good at it, though the beer was good, I recall. I subsequently bought four miniature sets, very cheaply, from a local general store, just to get my hands on the blocks.

You see, what these are really is siege trench sections. Yes, I know they don’t look very realistic, but they are what I have available. I am reminded of a very old schoolboy joke about survivors of a plane crash in the Tunisian desert searching for food; the bad news was that the only organic material they found was camel dung – the good news was that there was a lot of it. So my trench sections might look rubbish, but I have more than you would believe.

Since my siege gaming is still in its extended prototyping stage, and since I am a lazy beggar, I have stuck with these dreadful lumps of wood on the grounds that it wasn’t worth splashing out money or effort on anything better until I have a game which works. Disadvantages, of course, are multiple – for a start:

(a) It’s not very motivating or interesting to build trenches which look this ridiculous

(b) Recruited players – particularly younger ones – may find themselves building odd shapes with the blocks during the game, to create a welcome distraction

(c) Etc

I am starting to think seriously about more acceptable trenches. Whatever I do has to be cheap, simple, and easily stored. There are some splendid looking resin castings around, but that is hardly a cheap option. I could scratch build something, but I fear I am not very skilled at such things, and it would take me ages to produce enough – and then I have to remember that all the scenery I ever scratch built fell to pieces very quickly.

Somewhere, in an old book, there is a suggestion for the use of triangular section hardwood strip, cut and mitred to provide proper lengths and angles. That’s cheap and storable, and would paint up OK, but it’s only a small step up from the Jenga blocks. What else is there?

Well, the bold Mr Kinch mentioned dado rail recently, and I had previously thought myself of picture frame mouldings, so I have been having a bit of a look at what is on the market, studying the websites of Wickes and a few specialist picture framing suppliers. Some exotic stuff out there – nothing jumps out at me yet, and I am starting to realize that I don’t even know very much about what a real trench looked like, so I’ve started reading up on that, and I’m heading backwards at a decent rate. If anyone would like to come round for a very large game of miniature Jenga, I might be interested.

More on this subject soon, I hope.

Subject 2 – Varnish

Moss Troopers and friends, waiting to be de-shined
I have become the owner of a collection of ECW figures of the correct size – SHQ and Tumbling Dice, mostly, plus some others I haven’t identified yet – which are painted up and should be capable of being worked into my armies without a life-changing effort. They were part of the (vast) collection of a chap in Belfast who died recently, and my interest was kindled by the fact that they contained numerous Scottish and Irish figures, which might give me an easy way to expand my armies in such a way that I could have a bash at the campaigns of Montrose.

I’ve received about half of the new arrivals so far, and am somewhat shaken to see that the flags and the organization of the units suggest that the previous owner had them set up for – that’s right – the campaigns of Montrose. I’ll have to see what comes in the second box, and there will be a lot of re-organising and rebasing needed, but this is quite an exciting little development.

Only slight fly in the ointment is that the figures are finished with a very heavy gloss varnish – almost certainly an enamel-type varnish rather than an acrylic one, so I’ll have some work to do calming this down a bit to match the rest of my forces. I’ve been trying some pilot figures, to see how a wash in detergent followed by a coat of matt acrylic works, and it looks promising. I was afraid that the acrylic would just form into blobs, or wouldn’t cover properly, but it is looking good. I’ll have to do a bit of extra detailing on the horses once they are dulled down, but I am reassured that it is feasible.

So I’m busily reading Start Reid’s booklets on the Scots armies, and am quite enthusiastic about the potential of this little exercise. Again, you should hear more of this in due course.


  1. I have played a number of games that use blocks.

    It's not only younger players that find themselves building impromptu towers and such.

  2. Following any good for idea's??


    1. Thanks Steve - these are very interesting - I shall study them with care. I may be looking for a rather more down-market version, but the general principles look sound!

  3. The most accurate way to do trenches would be to take a chisel to your terrain boards/dining table but I'd be reluctant myself.

    If you would like to see triangular siege trench sections in action, both prototype and finished please refer to http://gameofmonth.blogspot.ca/search/label/siege

    1. Thanks for this - very much - I missed these first time round - maybe I wasn't looking for them. I'll have a serious read and study the pictures.

  4. I tried Steve's method years ago, and unless you are of a carpentry persuasion, it's slow, sweaty and sometimes bloody work. The florists' foamy stuff, or something like it - I use an insulation board that I found - is fast and easy, and because you cut the fronts freehand gives a pleasantly `hasty' effect.

    My method is to cut each piece to a similar section to Steve's quadrant moulding, and glue the bottom to card with enough room behind to place figures on. I then glue dried grass stems (you find them for free in roadsides or the garden - now is a good time to collect a thousand or so) horizontally to the back of the model with a vertical piece of stem every couple of inches. Then paint the whole model except the grass with PVA adhesive, and sprinkle with your favourite `rough ground' texture - I use John Innes No. 2 soil-based compost. Paint to taste.

    1. Thanks for this - any tips for quick and cheap are mot welcome - I'll have a lot of this stuff to make, and I have less talent in the handicrafts department than you would believe. Scenic acceptability is going to just scrape a pass in my set-up, so off-the-shelf mouldings on a plywood base might be as sophisticated as I get. The John Innes is a nice rustic touch, though.