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

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Cue the Spares Box, plus a World of MDF

All a matter of balance - and special equipment...
I have received the first prototype Thing (not sure what it is – a buttress, a pedestal, a support…?) to enable garrison units to stand on a walkway on the walls that is narrower than the subunit bases. My ECW Foote are on 60mm x 60mm squares, but the walkways are about 20mm wide – you can see the problem. The prototype seems to work OK – Michael has produced a build-it yourself kit in 2mm MDF which glues together to give a block 50mm wide, 48mm high and 23mm deep, and I attach a piece of steel paper to the top. Since my unit bases are all finished with magnetic compound, this should be a big help. I have glued-up and painted the prototype in a delicate stone shade, as you see, so that it blends in a bit (i.e. looks less stupid than you would expect). It should even be possible to mount artillery on the walls if I use the Things two-deep. Now I need a supply of about 20, plus I need a good name for a Thing.

The Thing
Troops on The Thing
Call out the trusty Spares Box. It also occurred to me that it would be useful to have some musketeers mounted in single rank, on half-depth bases, specially for siege and fortress work. It seems a bit of a grunt to paint some up just for this role (and I’d begrudge the use of figures which could be made up into proper battlefield units), but the Spares Box came into its own. A while ago I bought some old painted ECW figures from Harry Pearson, and some of them are from the very earliest “Subscription” series which Les Higgins made before his more famous centrifugally-cast 20mm range (of which I use a great many). The early figures are interesting because they are seldom seen, but for me they are a bit puny in stature to mix comfortably with the later ones. However, for isolated special-purpose siege stands they could be just the thing, so I did some (minimal) touching-up and revarnishing, and mounted them up on 30mm-deep stands. They could never be accused of possessing actual beauty, but I expect they will do as they are told. In any case, given their age and history, it would be sad for them to live in the Spares Box forever.

Surprised to find themselves on special duties - "Subscription" Les Higgins ECW

They can do it without The Thing
While I was looking in the Spares Box, I was also reminded that the ex-Harry figures also include some of the later Higginses which are in good nick and – with a few supplementary figures painted to match, should provide me with 3 new units of foote – there are some red-coated fellows who will give me a decent double-sized unit for Francis Gamul’s City of Chester regiment – there’s that siege theme again…

I also have prototypes for some of the new MDF structures which will form the basis of my trench sections, but more of that on another occasion. I also have some MDF pieces which will provide a pretty radical solution to the placement of rivers on my hex-grid table. I’ll get some painted up – this week, I hope – and there will be some pictures (unless they are terrible, in which case I shall just change the subject – good heavens, is that an elephant in the garden…?).

The river system is that I paint up some 2mm-thick hexes to be water – good gloss varnish finish and all that – I’m still pondering the best colour for water, by the way – I tend towards mud rather than sky-blue, but I am open to ideas. Then I have a series of bags of extra parts laser-cut from 2mm MDF, painted in baseboard green, which sit on top of the water hexes, and are painted on both sides to give maximum flexibility. The bags are labelled “cheeks – straight”, “cheeks – inners” and “cheeks – outers” and that sort of describes the system – there are two different profiles for a straight (a bit wiggly, these are not canals) and two profiles for a curve. Each river piece connects at the edge, with a 2-inch wide river in the middle of a (4-inch) hex edge. Using the cheek-pieces in different combinations, it is possible to produce a wide range of river shapes, and you can even make estuaries, lakes or a coastline. Until I get more to fiddle about with, I do not know the full extent of what is possible, but it seems very promising. When I have a decent number of pieces painted up, I’ll try to put together a post to demonstrate this.

Not painted yet, but this quick mock-up gives an idea of the scope, with a
very small number of alternative shapes - does anyone else remember
Slartibartfast? It may have occurred to you that the cut-out bits which are
missing from this picture are - well, roads! - aha....

I’ve had problems with rivers since I started wargaming, and hexes are just a specific variation on that theme. The new rivers, by the way, will not be the slightest bit dioramic – these are to be flat, tidy, obvious rivers that you can stand a unit or a bridge on without everything falling over. Like an oversized version of Commands & Colors terrain tiles, in fact.


  1. Might it be possible to get some sort of stand in Perspex? I have no idea where you could get such a thing made but it might look better. Otherwise using the spares on the strips looks good - can you not mount them on 20mm bases to match the width of the walkways. Full of bright ideas ain't I?

    1. The MDF supports look OK - when there are troops on top they are not very obvious - I'm pleased with them. If you have a source of custom Perspex bit, I'm all ears!

      I pondered using 20mm, but decided to stick with 30mm, which does the job OK. Everything, as ever, is a compromise. Bright ideas always welcome - I've been scratching the head over this stuff for a while!

    2. How about http://www.alliedplastics.co.uk/index.php?PageID=1368&ParentID=1005&list=box
      Might be trade only.

  2. Good thinking! Where did you get those hexes from? They look the business.

    1. All my current MDF prototyping work is being looked after by Michael at Supreme Littleness - link on the RHS of this page. Very pleased with the way the rivers are shaping up - as long as the cheek pieces stay put (preferably without BluTak) they should be great on the table. Been looking for a working system for rivers for years and years.

      I'm not on commission or anything, but if you're looking for any special MDF bits, Michael is a top man.

  3. Firstly, I rather like the new bulwark or buttress. If one were to paint windows and a door + a stone pattern (or wood) it would look like a barrack, stable or storeroom etc built against the inside of the wall.

    Secondly, Garrison troops? What a fitting use for retired veterans! They used to use them for just this purpose along the British North American and US borders here. Less likely to desert over the borders than new soldiers.

    I'm sure the rivers will be clear one day. Speaking of colour though, I have seen reddish brown and bright green rivers as well as clear ones that reflect the sky, so bright light blue or dark and brooding depending on the weather and time of day. Perhaps several sets to choose from?

    1. Thank you Ross - the original idea was the bulwarks should be laser-inscribed with a stonework pattern - I can't remember why we dropped this, now I think about it.

      River colour is an interesting study - I must look at some aerial photos of rivers! I also need to paint a section or two to be fords. Having a choice of river colour is really uberkuhl - at £0.70 for a 7-inch hex of 2mm MDF it is maybe a possibility...

  4. I feel that The Things should be correctly termed "bulwarks", as coined by Ross here - naturally, being of a seafaring bent, I insist that this would be pronounced "bollocks". Henceforth this is the approved nomenclature - I thank you.

  5. I quite like that castle. I am on the lookout for a 28mm castle myself as a standing for Minas Tirith, but haven't looked too hard of late. As for the Thing, or whatever it is currently called, very clever. Speaking of Things, I watched the 1982 John Carpenter The Thing last night - much more gory and less interesting than your thing, and couldn't hold a candle to the very fine if somewhat campy BW original version. But I digress.

  6. Top marks for the river idea. Great system!

  7. I think calling the Les Higgins 'subscription' figures out of retirement to be used as garrison troops to man the walls is a far more appealing solution rather than using 'things' all over the place :)