Reviews: August 2013

Reviews: August 2013

August 2013

Our regular, monthly round-up of what's new on the hobby scene.


Setting the East Ablaze
Partizan Press

Reviewed by Wayne Bollands

Subtitled ‘Warfare in the Back of Beyond 1917 -1926', this is the type of rulebook that I like. First of all, at sixty-three pages, it is easy to read in a single sitting. Secondly, the rules are well laid out in a series of rapidly referenced, numbered bullet points within easily found sections such as movement, shooting, melee, etc. Finally, the rulebook itself is a glossy affair with a wealth of interesting photographs of well-painted miniatures from a range of manufacturers displayed on some excellent terrain. So far, this meets all the requirements of a once callow youth who used to indulge his hobby through the medium of the equally glossy Games Workshop rulebooks. But how does the game play?

Well, er, very well, to be honest. Thanks to the easily read tables for movement, firing, morale, etc. and the two excellent playsheets, my first few games soon saw me able to avoid using the rulebook that often and focus on the action. When I did have to reference a rule, the same numbering system on the playsheet made it a rapid process.

Reviews: August 2013
The basic tenet behind the rules can be summed up as ‘getting on with the game' rather than a slavish adherence to every aspect. Figures are individually based and the game mechanics can cope with anything from a few units per side up to hundreds of figures.

The game uses six sided dice throughout. The basic set up for the game is quite interesting - each unit, vehicle or leader on the board has a card upon which is recorded it's name/number, type and Class. So, for example, an infantry unit can be regular or irregular, given the designation ‘1' or ‘King's Own' and then given a Class rating of between 1 and 5. A Class 1 unit is the best of the best, able to perform any action per turn and is often reserved for special units and leaders. A Class 2 unit may move and fire, a Class 3 unit may move or fire or may move half it's number whilst the rest fire, a Class 4 unit may move or fire and a Class 5 unit is basically armed mobs of civilians who may be more of a danger to themselves than anyone else. Units are also designated as ‘stubborn', ‘warriors' or ‘ferocious' as part of the morale aspect of the game.

Once the cards have been created, they form the basis of the Action Deck. This Action Deck is then used to carry out movement, shooting or melee as each card is turned up from the deck. To make the game even more interesting, each type of unit rolls a set number of D6 when moving in either ‘Good' or ‘Difficult' terrain. This makes for an even more varied game as you cannot rely upon the same amount of movement from one turn to the next, reflecting the fact that even the best troops can fall foul of tough terrain or suffer some minor morale problems. Each unit, vehicle or leader carries out any and all possible actions before the next card is turned. Although the rules do not specify it, we used a blank card in our deck to symbolise the end of a turn. This meant that some units never actually got to carry out an action, which again added to the overall sense of ‘battlefield chaos' with orders perhaps going astray or being misunderstood.

The role of leadership and morale in the game is an important aspect. In a suitably cinematic fashion, the leader figures can undertake any action and aid a unit with its morale rolls after suffering casualties, etc. In a small departure from the standard idea, however, leaders can offer either bonuses or minuses to a range of rolls. This is due to the fact that a leader may be in charge but is not necessarily good at their job. To this end, whether a Commanding Officer leader is Class 1 or less, they can add or detract from certain rolls with anything from a +2 down to a -1. There are also Staff Officers/Commissars who usually do not add any direct modifiers to the unit but do aid with target priority, melee results and in morale check situations. Speaking of morale, there are a range of circumstances where morale should be checked by a unit. These include casualties lost in a turn up to being hit by heavy weapons, seeing friends routing and whether you are under attack from a particular type of weapon such as a tank, flamethrower, etc. The three states of morale failure are Suppressed, Retire and Rout, denoted by one, two and three suitable markers respectively. Action cards can be used to Rally and roll off the first two states but Routing troops can only be rallied by a Leader / Officer joining the unit and adding their factors.

The rules manage to encompass all the different aspects of warfare in the period covered and include every type of ground vehicle from armed trucks up to tanks. There are also rules for aircraft and naval vessels and even armoured trains! All the rules have playability in mind and manage to simulate a style of warfare that covers actions from the Oder River up to the wilds of the Russian and Chinese steppes. There is just enough background in the book to whet the reader's appetite for this type of ‘Back of Beyond' adventure, although I do think that the rules could be used for more conventional games. But why would you really want to? The book contains suggestions and supporting rules for campaigns and linked games and a little bit of research/imagination or both would help the average gamer to find a reason to fight a few battles. For my own part, I have created the ‘imagi-nation' of Randomistan, a small Sultanate in the rocky Russo-Chinese borderlands where, with the Great War spreading across the globe, British troops attempt to prop up a shaky system to keep the oil and minerals flowing and ‘advisors' from other powers attempt to gain a foothold. Yes, it isn't history really and it might not be even geographically possible but with these excellent rules, it can be done and a lot of fun can be had! So, if you want a well-structured set of rules which contain plenty of varied elements in an easily used package, get in contact with Caliver Books, dust off all those small units you haven't used in ages and ready yourself for a life of wargaming adventure.

Reviews: August 2013
28mm Fireforge Games Plastic Miniatures
Fireforge Games

Reviewed by Wayne Bollands

A slightly different style of review this time. Although I shall be discussing aspects of particular sets, I intend to comment upon the range itself. Just for the sake of clarity, I have before me five boxed sets of figures, the Templar Infantry, Templar Knights, Mounted Sergeants, Foot Sergeants and Teutonic Infantry.

The main reason I would like to comment upon the whole product of this Italian company is that I continue to be impressed every time I sit down to glue any of their figures together. The horses from the mounted boxed sets I have are full of movement and, in the case of the knights set, truly convey to me the idea of a destrier or courser (or even a rouncey) bearing down upon the enemy. The Templar Knights set has horses both with and without forms of barding, allowing you to decorate a suitable surface with the classic symbol of the order. In a similar fashion, the knights themselves may be modelled with or without cloaks and have a choice of weaponry.
This ‘customisable' aspect is the same throughout the range. Whether mounted or foot, the gamer can choose from a variety of heads and weaponry. The weapon options for the foot figures include spears, swords, axes, maces and crossbows. With 48 figures in the Foot Sergeants box, this allows me to build two or three units with varied weapons, depending upon my choice of rules. Using the other Foot boxes, I can add to my force with 24 more foot sergeants or 12 crossbowmen and 12 dismounted knights. The fact that each boxed set provides the purchaser with different options is a major selling point for any plastic boxed set. Reviews: August 2013
The figures themselves are well sculpted and in a range of suitable action poses. Some are obviously attacking or defending but none of them are so exaggerated that they cannot be adapted to create unique figures. The level of detail on chainmail, leather, quilted armour, helmets and other clothing is quite deeply inscribed but this just serves to make them easier to paint. The Teutonic Foot Knights is the only set which has some head and helmet options which may seem a little ‘over the top' but a little bit of research will no doubt provide evidence to support horned helmets and cloaks edged with wolf's fur. Even here, these are simply options rather than standard. For those who remember the days when the only plastic Medieval figures in 28mm were the Bretonnian range from Games Workshop, these are far superior and much more based upon historical research. That said, my own force shall be blending the two together, largely because I would like to field a force of Crusaders with an English background and the longbow will predominate. Overall, the figure size is a personally pleasing ‘realistic but large' side, allowing them to scale with a number of metal ranges but perhaps placing them slightly larger than the Perry range.
Reviews: August 2013 This does not overly concern me because Fireforge Games have made my choice of figures very easy - they produce excellent quality plastic figures in boxes with enough options for me to create a suitable force for the Early to Mid Crusades period. I have yet to purchase a copy of their Deus Vult rules but I have the feeling that, being a company set up by wargamers for wargamers, the unit sizes, combat rules and overall game play will go together with their box sets to allow me to field a substantial force quite cheaply and rapidly. A heartfelt ‘molto grazie' to the people at Fireforge for enabling me to embark on another new period at a price which does not cause the credit card to melt.

28mm Great War of the Worlds Miniatures
Miniature Figurines

Reviewed by Wayne Bollands

There has been a recent resurgence of interest in the alternate worlds of Victorian Science Fiction and Steampunk in the past few months. Amongst all this, it is worth remembering that it is the 100th anniversary of the great grandfather of modern wargames rules, ‘Little Wars' by H. G. Wells.

Reviews: August 2013
Putting aside movies and radio shows, the novel ‘War of the Worlds' by Wells is perhaps the most well known great grandfather of science fiction itself. As a fan of the original, I have read a wide range of different forms of fiction that have taken the original story and tried to extrapolate what would come next after the Martians. In the devastation wrought by the invasion, how would the British Empire fare and what would happen to the Edwardian world? The latest releases from Minifigs attempt to present one version of this in 28mm scale, adding to the little known Edwardian Science Fiction or ESF possibilities for the interested gamer.

The figures received for review are part of a slowly developing range in a world set around 1914. This is a different world to our own, especially given the fact that the original Martian invasion is supposedly almost 14 years ago. Set during the throes of a much sneakier invasion, the sample figures include Martian Hunters, representatives from the Emily Pankhurst Battalion, a Russian Women's Death Battalion Officer and two packs of Greater Martians.

The Martian Hunters are akin to British soldiers in World War One trench armour and greatcoats. On closer inspection, it is easy to spot the ESF differences. Each figure wears a gasmask that is connected to some form of breathing apparatus worn on the back. The segmented armour not only covers the torso but there are also pieces on the lower legs and shoulders. One of the figures has corporal's stripes on his arm and wields a sword, whereas the other carries a rifle of unusual design with a round magazine and a strange firing mechanism. The weapon is topped off with a very large bayonet, more akin to a machete or Bowie knife. As Martian Hunters, they give the impression of being armed and armoured with the latest technology designed to counteract the advantages of the enemy.

The ladies of the Emily Pankhurst Battalion are less obviously armed with unique equipment. One warrior is armed with a standard magazine rifle and bayonet combination and both wear a greatcoat over a skirt or dress. Headwear appears to be a straw hat on one figure and a WVS or WAAC hat on the other. The soldier figure wears 1903 British equipment with haversack but the obvious officer wears a Sam Browne. I say ‘obvious' as this figure is blowing a whistle and wields a furled umbrella in her left hand. She appears to be leading her troops into battle with bravery and gusto. Both figures would fit into a range of scenarios and may even have a place in the VBCW period. The other female figure is a statuesque lady wearing a Russian style uniform with peaked cap. She has a sheathed sword and is armed with an 1898 Mauser machine pistol complete with wooden stock attached. She is posed in a dynamic style, no doubt exhorting her troops to battle.

The final figures are two packs labelled as Greater Martians. These are certainly not the Martians as described in the novel. Instead, these are much more dangerous beings, who are taller and bulkier than the humans provided. In one pack, they are armed with close combat weapons and in the other both standard and heavy ‘heat ray' guns. These figures wear some form of armoured suit with what look like breathing masks and apparatus. The heavy weapon operator has a tank and pipe connected to his multi-barrelled weapon, perhaps allowing it to be used as a ‘Black Smoke' dispenser or intended as a power supply based upon a smaller version on the other figure. The figures with close combat weapons have spears with partially sectioned shafts. Two of the figures appear to be wearing helmets similar to Star Wars stormtroopers but the others have much larger ones, perhaps denoting some kind of rank system. All of them are well sculpted and look very ‘alien' in a retro way.

As stated earlier, these are some of the first figures in a developing range. As the game is set in the years before 1914 and beyond, it should be possible to use other manufacturer's figures to populate this only slightly different world. Equally, ESF is so close to other periods that they allow for the usage of a multitude of science fiction staples from the more ‘pulp' end of the market. A search for ‘scientific romances', as such novels were known at the time, would easily furnish the interested gamer with a wealth of ideas. A new departure from an established company. There are rumours of a sourcebook or rulebook to follow at a later date. I for one will be happy to read a copy and find a use for all those figures that languish in various carry cases.
Reviews: August 2013

28mm Indian Mutiny Miniatures
Mutineer Miniatures

Reviewed by Wayne Bollands

As a gamer with a keen interest in the British Colonial wars of the 19th century, I must admit to not having really delved into the Indian Mutiny. I do have some figures designed to be used for that conflict but they usually end up co-opted into other wars in the far-flung Empire. One of my favourite manufacturers is Mutineer Miniatures, based in Scotland, the homeland of my wife.

There are two main reasons that I like the ranges produced by this company. One is that the level of sculpting is of a consistently high standard and each figure comes across as an individual rather than a faceless drone. The other is they are of the ‘sensibly proportioned but a trifle chunky' variety, meaning that they take paint very well and I can see the details properly when slapping paint upon them (yes, I know, should have gone to Specsavers!). The two packs that I have for review not only meet my less than exacting standards but also have plenty of period character.
Reviews: August 2013 The first pack, labelled MUT11, contains four Ghazi figures armed with swords. These represent the early Taliban warriors who joined in with the mutineers' to further their own interests as militant followers of Islam. These figures are sculpted in a range of poses, all of which contain an element of forward motion. Two have their slightly curved swords held aloft, one has his sword at an angle to the right and the last one rests his blade upon his shoulder as he advances. They all wear the same robes and sport beards and turbans. The faces behind the full beards look suitably fierce and ably illustrate their determination to overcome the enemy. The detail on the robes, faces and turbans is sufficiently deep to allow for washes to be used over a basic paintjob. I mention this as I use washes quite often and nicely etched details like this are perfect for that style of painting.
The second pack is MUT08 Indian Leaders. These figures represent the Rani of Jhansi and Tatya Topi, two of the personalities of the Indian Mutiny. The Rani was a remarkable woman who joined the mutiny after the East India Company seized her deceased husband's lands and gold. She tried to use the British court system first but took up arms in 1857. Tatya Topi was another Maratha leader who led a relief column to help her and together they captured the city of Gwalior. Both were major players during the Mutiny (or Rebellion, depending on one's chosen terminology) and this is perhaps reflected in the sculpts that have been produced. Each of the figures is provided mounted and dismounted, thereby allowing for different styles of battlefield usage. The Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi wears quite plain, male clothing with a turban. The Topi figure wears more ornate clothing and jewellery at his throat. The Topi is the more distinguished looking figure as a result and the stance of the foot figure can be said to be rather haughty. In contrast, the Rani appears more active, pointing with her saber held in the air, perhaps motioning her troops forward. The foot and mounted versions are similar and the horses supplied have suitable looking tack for the time. The whole pack is full of character, just what one wants for the leaders of one's armies.
The two packs I have from Mutineer both consist of high quality castings that were chosen at random by the vendor whilst I was at Salute. The fact that they are of such a high standard, with even the well sculpted but fragile looking sabers intact, shows that Mutineer has their quality control sorted out. In the past, I have bought the odd British command pack, some sailors and some loyal Sikhs but I may take a closer look at the Indian packs in future. As I said earlier, these figures may not be added to an army of such period figures by myself but the level of character suggests they could easily be used for skirmish games in other areas. Equally, they would enhance any group of Mutineers and the leader figures in particular are splendid. A nice example of good design and production from some very helpful gentlemen, have a look at their website and see plenty of painted samples to tempt you. Reviews: August 2013
Reviews: August 2013

28mm Plastic Republican Roman Velites
Agema Miniatures

Reviewed by Wayne Bollands

A recent entrant into the world of wargames manufacturing and retailing, Agema Miniatures first release is designed to provide skirmisher support for those who field Republican Roman armies.

The box contains 16 well-detailed plastic figures with shields, pilum and other suitable equipment items. Each of the 8 sprues contains two identical figures with a choice of two helmeted heads and one head with a helmet topped with a wolf's head. This head is designed to go with the fur cloak also on the frame. Each figure has a pair of arms, with one hand holding a gladius and the other three left ready for posing with a pilum.
The hands need some work to receive the pilum but not too much. There are two shield designs, both quite plain and one with a pair of pilum placed behind it. The main figure itself is depicted in short tunic and sandals and is sculpted in two basic poses. This allows for a number of posing options, mainly using the separate head and arm combination to create variety.

The overall sculpting quality is consistently good and the level of detail is of a high standard. They are akin to the best offerings from Warlord or similar plastics manufacturers. In fact, they would rank up quite happily alongside many other ranges of both metal and plastic figures. They are also quite good value at 16 to a box, especially as you do not necessarily need huge cohorts of them to use on the battlefield. The company is based in the UK and sales of these figures can only help with their future projects in a similar vein. If you field armies of a suitable period but lack skirmish support, these are to be recommended as an option for the Tribune on a budget.
Reviews: August 2013
Reviews: August 2013

28mm Polish Vistula Legion
Warlord Games

Reviewed by Wayne Bollands

My first review of a product from Warlord Games comes from their ‘Black Powder Napoleonic Wars 1789 - 1815' range. The Polish Vistula Legion was employed in French service under Napoleon, one of many units of foreigners to do so.

Inside the box there are 32 plastic and metal Polish Line infantry and 4 metal command miniatures. The plastic frames are basically French Line Infantry posed at the march attack and have separate heads and packs to complete the figure. Where this pack deviates from others is that the purchaser also receives a bag of metal heads wearing either shakoes with appropriate regimental plates and lanyards or the classic Polish czapska headgear of the period. These metal heads are what provide for the Polish ‘flavour' of this boxed set and is a clever way to produce a range of units from the basic plastic frames.

In addition to the heads, the gamer receives 4 metal command figures comprising of two officers, a drummer and one sapper. The sapper and one of the officers come with cast on heads but the drummer and the second officer can be modelled with any of those in the pack. Both plastic and metal figures are well sculpted with a plethora of detail and suitably grim expressions, as well as some fine moustaches. I have mostly purchased World War Two plastic infantry figures from Warlord in the past but these examples are sufficiently interesting for me to consider a foray into other boxed sets from the Napoleonic period. I may even add to my Vistula Legion at some point but I do admit to a penchant for the Crimean War. I like this idea of providing plastic figures with metal accessories to produce a whole new set of miniatures. Although some could argue that this is the easy way to do so, I would simply state that the fact that this is a relatively easy option is something to be appreciated. It allows Warlord to produce a set of standard sprues in plastic that can then be adapted with the addition of suitable headwear or similar to create a variety of units. This means that they are able to keep their prices at a lower level than exclusively metal ranges, providing the wargamer on a budget with the opportunity to ‘bulk buy' more figures and rapidly produce an army. As I am increasingly finding myself as one of those more cost conscious gamers, I can only commend their decision to produce high quality box sets of this style and hope they continue to produce such variants in the future.

Plastics 28mm Dark Age Warriors
Gripping Beast

Reviewed by Ryan Lavelle

Let's face it: reviewers are never easy to satisfy.  A little over two years ago, I wrote a review of Gripping Beast's release of plastic 28mm Anglo-Saxons. Looking for something to nit-pick, I commented that it would be nice if they had done a few of the figures in something other than mail armour.

Dark age
Here I am, sitting with a box of figures from the same era, who will fit beautifully amongst those same Anglo-Saxon figures, all doing exactly what I wanted two years ago, and I'm looking at them for something to nit-pick. I think that pretty much says everything that needs to be said. If you already have figures from Gripping Beast, especially plastic ones, you will know what to expect and you shouldn't be disappointed. You probably don't need to read much further. Forty multi-part figures of the quality that we have come to expect from Gripping Beast, beautifully packaged. Excellent quality, value and easy to put together. Enough said.

But it would be a shame not to say more. GB are trying to offer something ‘generic' with this product, with ‘Dark Age' warriors who are intended to fill the ranks of a range of armies from this period, whether Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, Germanic, or whatever. There's certainly more than a whiff of the idea of the ‘barbarian' amongst them. There's enough hair on these folks' heads to stuff a 28mm mattress: even the owner of a head with the folically-challenged cranium looks like he is making up for it by keeping his chin warm. So, the hairiness of these hairy barbarians is a little bit... well... stereotypical. I can't say that this is too unforgiveable, as hair was certainly important to men's sense of identity in the early middle ages (sorry, Dark Ages!), and it would have been odd, not to mention a little disconcerting, to see them all with neatly shorn locks. The manes of hair (and one fur cap) add a certain character to these figures, perhaps because the designer has to keep the adornments of the torsos generic, they haven't been able to go to town on extra details as they do with other figures.

That doesn't mean to say that these figures are overly basic. What GB's designers have done is a potential plus with these figures: none of these guys is a giant as per the stereotyped view of barbarians (no Conans here) but they aren't exactly slight either, and so with a basic paint job they will sit happily wherever you wish to place them: in the back ranks of armies or in the front ranks as skirmishers (I hesitate to say as arrow-fodder but that tends to be the way in which our minds work as wargamers). But with a bit of effort on the colours used, making use of packs of shield transfers now offered by LBM, they can look a little more like they deserve to belong as warriors. Chop and change the heads and weapons with other plastic figures and some really variety can be introduced.

It should be added that there is a fair bit of variety within the pack itself, too. As well as including enough bases to keep most of us happy, the pack of forty figures consists of eight sprues of five bodies each, each with left arm attached (on reflection a good idea - speeding the assembly process), with seven separate heads, enough shields for everyone and - if you don't choose to arm everyone with spears (for which choice there are enough arms included) - every sprue includes additional arms gripping different weapons: a sword, an axe, a horn, and two slings. So, plenty to keep everyone happy. Still, there's always be one pain in the backside reviewer who comments that, say, it would have been nice to see additional heads with Phrygian caps or a row of alternative heads with Suabian knots to allow the figures to match... (but then I said reviewers are never easy to satisfy...)