Do whatever you want

Some of the TOTEMS of the hobby.

When I decided to write a book about my personal experiences with Toy Soldiers -and as Dan Allen has remarked some Toy Policemen- it was fun. But it has turned a sobering experience. I first did it in Spanish -just to find that nobody was interested in my ramblings- and secondly I translated the book to English myself… that was really stupid!… First edition not up to par I fear… so in the end just because sheer stubbornness I payed for getting the manuscript edited and revised to make it readable and apt for human consumption. Will never compensate finances involved with sales of the Second English edition but I was less mortified -satisfaction finally was achieved- so far so good.

It would have done me a good turn to read a book like mine when starting in the hobby, but to be really fair maybe I would not have bought it!… there where a lot of other priorities around! So, I must admit it was and is a paradox. Same happens with your experience in real life it is very hard to pass on the hard learned lessons.

Full Brigade of Prussian cavalry -Dragoons at the back-

After careful consideration I summed up my experience with Toy Soldiers in some principles -read advice-

1) Be respectful with other wargamers/collectors choices.

2) Be sure you will have to make compromises with real History.

3) Be free and prime composition over compatibility.

4) Try to be proportional. No 100% Elite Units in an Army.

5) There is no such thing as perfect rulebook so learn to adapt them.

6) Choose your games companions with care.

7) Before buying minis inform yourself.

There you have it in a nutshell.

Old 25/28mm collection. All sold.

Not much original I agree. But those counsels would have saved me a lot of time and cash. I am not a socialite by nature, but leaving far away from places with more common interests did not help at all. Luckily enough my brother shared the interest (because of my bad influence!) and that was enough for me, in fact he has gone over the top and actually WORKS in the games sector for real!… what was a hobby has turned business… well, I always sustained that it is much better to work in something you really love.

As far as it goes nowadays all I can say is ANYTHING GOES! (just emphasis not shouting) -as long it is fun for you- not for me to say what will do for you. I will stand as usual in the fringes trying to be the less obnoxious I can manage… Interacting with real people through my computer is quite satisfactory. No need to buy them drinks, be told his phylias and phobias -and even worse why is that so- a hobby can be boring too if not shared with people within the same range of affinities.

So, there you go, I will end this post with a thought on equipment. Imagine you think getting a Pontoon Train is a good idea… why not?… there are rivers aplenty to ford… Berezina comes to mind!. So what can be said about it?… first of all if wargaming in 6mm your Pontoon Train, deployed or in Transports is quite affordable… I will surely get both versions… on the march and mounted over a river. IF you do not use minis on the stands the same set will be used in no matter what period, glue those Engineers and Pontonniers in separate stands. I have found firms -a google search will suffice- that will cut your stands to measure to suit your needs (Baccus compatible). The Idea of NOT getting minis glued in the stands of your Equipment is extensible to Mule trains, Camel trains, Wagons, and Transports akin, and I never use mounted soldiers on my limbers!… they are useful for a lot of periods that way! You lose some of the appeal of the Military Modeling part of the hobby but gain in space of storage and cash. If you do wargame in different scales at the same time yo will need the double or triple of scenery&equipment… I am not specially fond of investing too much money on scenery, I try to have a few things of quality but not overcomplicate the tabletop landscaping to the full. Be free to do whatever you want yourself!

This pic is not mine. Found on Internet. And I went Playmobil for a decade more or less as a consequence! If a copyright infringed will delete without problems!
Grand Duchy of Blaufosk Infantry. Now owned by one of my grandsons (the Video-games addict!)

Fun

The Three Musketeers + D’Artagnan

I just wanna get fun. This has been and still is the motto, whatever I do it is for FUN. At my age one certainly looks back sometimes to see the long and winding road travelled. Of course, at least in my case, there have been smooth parts and rough one’s, but overall a sense of satisfaction prevails.

As a hobby Toy Soldiers seems pretty simple -and it is not- I guess I am fond of History and this is what lays as the foundations of it. If it was not for a love of History I would not have known about wars… and toy soldiers are a mean to recreate war in a most idealized way, your Toy Soldiers never die after all, they always live to fight another day, just like chess pieces.

Books…

Compared to the actual time spent playing wargames the time I have spent reading books -even about wargaming!- is so disproportionate that in the end it is as if I had not indulged in wargaming at all. Probably an exaggeration?… no, not at all. I have read and collected books about History, and of course good historical fiction related to my favorite periods. So I am first and foremost a reader, somewhat compulsive and obsessed by certain subjects as the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, the Crimean War, Colonial periods… in fact the XIXth Century is where I live when I grab a book. Mind, I have read my classics too. But apart from the second punic war have not been much tempted by Ancients… conflicting sources… biased works… a lot of holes filled by great authors… Republican Rome and Imperial Rome are in a way fascinating, and of course the Greeks before them, but you need very good writers to get hooked aka The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan as an example will suffice.

Not politically correct nowadays!

And NO I do not forget Alexander the Great!… but I am not going to do a full relation of the great captains of all periods… The title of this post says it all, very young I found that reading never let place to boredom, I guess I have not been bored at all -I can be very boring mind!- and had FUN reading, not that I do not like movies and music too… but when a film or record ends I grab a book.

Movies…

That the accumulation of “knowledge” about certain periods as the XIXth Century finally ends in a hobby like wargaming and collecting soldiers is just a consequence -not even logical- but a consequence nevertheless. In it lays the deep question “what if”… no one who reads about Waterloo or The Little Big Horn or The Charge of the Light Brigade can’t avoid thinking that it could have been different after all… some disasters let you puzzled by its idiocy -hindsight is that cruel- and of course if you have travelled the path of wargaming WHAT IF is what is all about.

Napoleonic sets of Rules…

FUN I achieved reading, but I achieved fun seeing films about my pet periods, enjoyed the music -the real and some soundtracks- and had lots of FUN searching for toy soldiers to play at it, organizing and bathtubing the opposing Armies, obtaining them, painting them, basing them, converting minis when not commercially available, choosing scales, choosing rules or doing my own… and finally playing with them with my brother. Later my sons. And now pestering my grandchildren about it explaining patiently to them there is FUN in it, while they play video games with all sorts of electronic devices… for what I have seen they consist mainly in characters parachuted into an island, collect things and weapons and try to kill anyone around… not so different from wargaming!… except the uniforms, my toy soldiers do not dress like a giant banana.

If you do not have FUN it is not worthwhile at all, as all other pastimes around.

Holmes & Watson
Hunter or Mountain Man…

Disorders

Military Modeling as a distraction…

Megalomania is a common affliction in the hobby, I have been infected by it several times in my long span messing with toy soldiers. Not a severe case mind, there are others much more sick that yours truly -I felt relieved when I knew about them- summing up it consists in a vague tendency to cope with too much by far, exceeding the limits of space, time, and also the patience of your relatives.

The tendency of taking a break from your main interest -be that what it may- because a certain tiresome feeling and repetition… or monotony on a certain period sometimes causes in the hobby what I call the sidetrack addiction. Wargamers when bored to death just start a new adventure -read period- instead of taking a holiday or try golf. they simply change scale (usually a mistake) or maybe try a new era.

Sometimes a Book opens new horizons… P.C.Wren mentioned them as I recall so I will have a go at them after all.

I have felt like a hamster on a wheel several times. But if your cage is spacious enough why not jump to that other wheel?. It is a well known fact that we are never satisfied by a single period, probably the mono thematic wargamer exists in some dark corner of the world and will be found before the extinction of the species… or dug out in the future who knows? but he or she is an exception to the rule.

Mr Sharpe and Sergeant Harper with the Light Co of the South Essex.

When confronted with boxes and boxes full of plastic bags with minis aplenty on your cupboard… say Napoleonic’s for a laugh!… you sigh and close the door. Then after “original” and sound reflexion you decide -eureka- that what you need is a breath of fresh air. You are not going to be unfaithful to your main interest! -perish the thought!- but what about trying that so different range of minis which of course been a minor period you will do just for fun. You have always wanted to raid in a Viking Ship!, or hunt buffalos!, or lead a small patrol in a skirmish, impersonate Sharpe, do a bit of swashbuckling… whatever…

Tatanka!

Now, If you have a main interest that surely has happened already… but what if you have several “main interests”… and keep sidetracking all the time?… You then pass from Megalomania to a Lead Tons Hoarder.

I guess not many of you have indulged in that!

Usually Megalomania starts with the well know syndrome of “if I had another battalion…” At the end of a game and seeing your troops leave the battlefield humbled and in more or less disarray the thought appeared to you as the magic solution! Increase the size of your Army!… that way if your left flank gives way you will plug the hole with your reserves… one can never have enough reserves (or Prussians as Wellington said an 18th June).

Seriously, and I am deadly serious, sidetracks are a lot of fun!… you know you will get to paint after difficult research that obscure Opolchenie Russian unit… but what about an Apache Raid?

Apaches!…Where is the cavalry?

This and superglued fingers are the two most common maladies of the wargamer, collectors do sidetrack too, and anyone involved in this pastime… even military modeler artists do stray from the “right” path sometimes.

As it is a non infectious thing and do not cause premature death -in fact it can save you from a dead of boredom- I will leave it like that for your consideration… only old wargamers can resist the temptation taking a look behind them and thinking UF! I already did that some time ago!

This band simply does not exist in the market, Gilles Brown from Dorset Soldiers did it for me using arms from Britain’s and Tradition of London kits (they did only fifes and drums you know!). I sold them and it was a heavy mistake!…I really miss them!… but I needed space in the cabinet and was a theme not related to anything else.
Pilots in distress…in North Africa.

If I had to start again…

As with your real life -I know you have one!- experience modifies the approach. Many people have uttered the nonsense sentence: “I wish I was twenty-something again”, it is understandable but I must add please let me take me with me all that I have learned!, and that is valid both for your real life and your miniature fictional one.

Greek Wars in a grid. Beautiful minis by Foundry in 28mm NOT painted by me.

My oldest game with a grid using the same 28mm of the pic before. Now the figures used are Baccus 6mm.

Not going to bother you much with reminiscences but let me say that if I could go back in time I would have gone Heroics&Ros in the seventies, but with big bases as POLEMOS suggests, my mistake back then was to try to base them in twos or threes… what a mess! If the idea of basing Regiments or Brigades in a single base had occurred to me I would have enjoyed my games much more and saved a lot of cash!. Many projects I had in mind could have been done easily and simultaneously… All of this is of course an anachronism and wishful thinking. On those days, not so much today, I was obsessed to conform to the rules, and THE RULES (popular at the time!), how to play with them model soldiers without a decent set of Rules!. An Orthodox view was a necessity to me in those days…

One of my standard French Napoleonic units, metallic thin bases, 23 figures, call it a Battalion, a Regiment, a Brigade or even a Division in function of the game… I did. Note the Command square is a 5x5cm stand instead of the 5×2,5 of the infantry stands. It took me years to learn the distinctions between Fusiliers, Voltigeurs and Grenadiers of the Line.
Using the same stands, a bigger unit, suddenly the meaning change formation from line to column and viceversa becomes more real. I was obsessed by those things for a time as the Column versus Line firefight. Those were the days.

Well, if you have read some of this Posts or my previous adventures in the Baccus Forum, you know I collect Toy Soldiers in 54mm, I buy, I sell, I found new interests, I change direction, whatever, but this is a cabinet display affair… “decoration” perish the thought!… they are decorative but the collection in itself is a way of gaming too… a Post someday will be done. But my main interest since a child was playing at war -aka wargames- and if a bit chivalrous the better, I loved gaudy uniforms and commanders leading from the front. I firmly put the stop or limit at 1900 for obvious reasons to me. My brother is a WWII nerd and I can accept that without problem but no thank you the XX century is not for me. But let’s go to the point, what did I learn in all those years?… not much I can hear you say… but one or two things are probably useful. See if it helps:

  1. Plan ahead. In a way I tried hard to do it but mistakes did occur nevertheless. You will have to choose a period (or several); Scale (or several even if that means multiplying gear), I am a firm believer in sticking to a scale no matter what.
  2. Choosing a period is a matter of taste and affinity, it helps a lot that a good or several ranges of minis do exist to begin with. At that point the Napoleonic trap is already looming on the horizon. If ever a mini is overproduced and available readily is a grognard of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard… Manufacturers know it and it is their bread&butter… anybody in the hobby, those who remain in it -and those who have tried and gone to do other things- have bought an Imperial Guardsman with Bonnet a Poil. Enough. Go for a period.
  3. Sticking to a Scale has the immense BONUS of not duplicating scenery, terrain, and equipment!… how many wagons, pontoon trains, tents, and what not are you going to get if you go for several scales? Specially if you are a solo wargamer -in the back of beyond as me- for those with Club facilities the matter is quite different.
  4. With the same stands you can play Free Kriegspiel or in a grid. Do what you like. I particularly hate metric rulers and the notion of measuring things on the tabletop… -probably a consequence of my profession in real life- and “counting stores” every half hour. Removing casualties is another thing to avoid in my experience.
  5. If megalomaniac, meaning you go for it BIG in scope even in the smaller scales, consider the multipurpose units, a simple exchange of the Command&Colours stand and you have a double or triple unit, but that is a useful concept only if you have planned that ahead. In the Napoleonic period it was useful, but I am talking 25mm here.

I will have to edit heavily this Post once I remember other useful things, but for the sake of it I have given you food for thought.

A paradigmatic multipurpose unit, I had 4 different command stands, one British as you can see, one ACW Union, one ACW Rebel, one French… and what not… it was useful to balance particular games changing sides as it was necessary. In fact all the figures are conversions with new heads.
In Napoleonic period the Swiss and the Danes are particularly able to be used changing command stands. And not the only nationalities you can tamper with.
I guess you dig the thing. In 6mm it would mean breaking in three parts that beautiful concept of Brigade stand… but only for a few units… and you avoid the repetitive process and cash inversion.
Playmobil 75mm paranoia… ok… just a different thing for fun!
Skirmishing Greek Wars with Playmobils 75mm. Note the grid.
A “thing” you can do with Playmobils that you can not do in lead… specially useful in skirmish games. It was fun for a decade or so. I am cured now.

Different ways to game

British square in 25mm, mainly Minifigs, but some Foundry and Perry too.

I once said, and still believe, that we play in very different ways, and in fact all is part of the game. I will add that we play because it gives us pleasure, and how we obtain this pleasure? some lucky ones from the first step onwards.

Nearly all those basic pleasures ferment in childhood, let me explain, I still have fond memories of toy soldier boxes unwrapped, the first look inside, the sheer pleasure of taking them out of it, and parading them on the floor… the floor?… oh my!… I was not there on the floor playing with India Rubber “mounties”… I was elsewhere… maybe some sort of mythical Canadian Northwest spreading law and justice! If you do not dig that you do not understand what adults are doing in this hobby.

A pic included because it shows top center two of my first toys, they are more than sixty years old…

I was lucky enough to grow in a house who had a library. And on top of that I was able to read at an early age. Do not recall been much bored -as of course I surely was like everybody else- but when bored I took a book out of the shelves, preferably History and went to other times and places… and learned.

This is becoming too mellow and uninteresting, let’s sum up:

1) You need information, when I was young in the fifties that meant books, now you have computers, that does not mean you will not get books mind! but access to information has never been so easy.

2) Once you are informed -you will learn that this part of the process never ends- you can start choosing a period (it simply would be the first).

3) Imagine you fall for Napoleon, it is very easy, there are tons of info about that exceptional human being (who had a lot of faults too! aka firing cannons on civilians manifesting in Paris for example… or the reinstallation of slavery in the Caribbean… the end justifies the means was his abc), no one in his right would doubt about his personal charisma and intelligence or IQ. He wrote a Civil Code that was in use in France for two centuries -on the side you know- but as a son of the Revolution he was the main exponent of meritocracy. No longer Blue Bloods ruled the world… the world was there for you to take it!… so if Kings (hereditary) were not pleased with that idea you just crowned yourself Emperor above them and HA!… of course that led to the Napoleonic Wars.

Waterloo, Napoleon’s Grand Battery, 25mm Minifigs, all painted by me in the good old days.

4) Now you have chosen the Napoleonic Period as a frame for your game, you will choose a scale. So vey important step and so lightly taken!… you will be sorely tempted between detail of the splendid uniforms (large scales) or brilliant strategy&tactics (minor scales). Well, whatever you decide you are on the game from the first page you read about it. In fact you can even choose a Board-game with a hexagon grid and cardboard counters and away with toy soldiers!… or why not a Video game?

5) You will need books or images of the uniforms, info about the Campaigns, catalogues of miniature figures, paints and brushes or a good painting service, and RULES!… lol… I knew they will appear somehow sooner or later, buy one set or some, try them, and in the end write your own if need be.

6) At the end of this fascinating and entertaining journey you will be ready to play and you can do that solo or with fellow companions with the same interests.

Was that not easy?, we are of course talking about years of dedication and obsession… bu all hobbies are like that (I include sports of course) it is an acknowledged understatement and the search of perfection is at the end of our particular rainbow.

In my humble opinion you are gaming or playing from the moment you step out of real life and its chores, and inhabit that private zone of your brain were imagination rules.

Welcome to IT.

Captain Danjou FFL Companie on the road to Camerone*, for once 1/1 scale (all are there represented by a mini) . Foundry 28mm. It includes some “conversions”.
*Hacienda de Camaron.
Another view (some legionnaires and the mules already prisoners of the Mexican cavalry).

Going down on scale

I only included a pic of 6mm figures in the second English edition of the book “My Toy Soldiers & Me”. It was the Crimean British Light Cavalry Brigade. I have build that unit 4 times in my wargaming span, first of all with venerable Peter Laing 15mm. After that and many years later with FOUNDRY 28mm, I even customized PLAYMOBILS to that end!, but curiously enough it was my first try of Baccus -helped to choose proxies by Peter because that specific range do not exist to date- the only ever complete painting job to be done by me in 6mm. Later I’ll justify why.

Old figures, but a new pic -best focused- Baccus 6mm. Crimean Balaklava 600 charge.
FOUNDRY 28mm -compare the area covered by them and the number of figures used in relation to the other pics- I sold them too when I decided to go down in scale.

The customized PLAYMOBILS version 75mm -finally sold them- but it was a fun job to do them (NO paint involved… just stickers and normal and customized parts).

I had the chance to have a relatively big wargames table in my office, as an arquitect I always needed a big table to lay drawings on it and work different tasks -or so I justified myself- but as you will see on the next pic at its maximum use the battle of Waterloo -an obsession for years- looked cramped and with not much room to maneuver. That nagged me. Finally I realized that my 25/28mm where becoming “a military modeling thing”, and the standards of painting were always going up! Add more detail, use the correct colors… with the passing of time masters appeared on that field that did jobs only seen before in the 54mm scale!… so…

My wargames table on the office layered out for a Waterloo game in 25mm.

I decided to have a go in 6mm at my fetish period -the ACW- it had been my introduction to “serious” wargaming back in the days of AIRFIX plastic figures, I had grown reading Stephen Crane and of course Hollywood films like They Died With Their Boots On -ride on you wolverines!- etc.

I first bought the POLEMOS rules -I have had always problems with rules done/thought by other people- but was impressed by the clever use of basing and the term “brigade stand”. It was spot on for me. There were I used to base -aprox.- 3 infantry Minifigs figures I was going to use 28 figures!, and 1 cavalry figure was substituted by 16 in two ranks of 8! It was like multiplying by ten my wargames table surface!. I will post in the near future a Baccus 6mm ACW battle using only the light green area of the table. But before going out of the blog today I will give you an introductory pic.

Baccus Confederate Army , well, part of it!
Life Guards Napoleonic era 1/300 Heroics&Ros aka 6mm; US Cavalry Officer Peter Pig 15mm; Nolan -Crimean conversion- Foundry 28mm; RCMP Tradition of London 54mm; Custer Playmobil 75mm

So many things…

Since I wrote my book many things had happened, I guessed so in the Outro Chapter of the last book -meaning I saw that coming-. Since I discovered that my 25/28mm miniatures were in fact too big to play large battles, I went down to 6mm -mainly Baccus- and at the same time up to 75mm PLAYMOBIL, which seems a contradiction at first sight, to play skirmish games with my grandchildren… So I was going UP and DOWN in scales yet again. BUT with long years of successes and mistakes behind me.

Have seen recently in Facebook -June 2019- the preparation of a massive wargame of Waterloo -Glasgow University with a charity purpose-, using more than 20.000 figures in 25/28mm and scores of players. The area of the game is really big, more than 50 sq. meters. My solo efforts ended with a bit more than 500 figures per side after 30 years of research and painting… it was a pity but I sold them on ebay ending a deep crisis with my hobby… they are mainly having a new life in Switzerland.

Part of my old MINIFIGS Napoleonic Light Cavalry of The Imperial Guard.

So, in my next Post I am going to relate my three years experience with Baccus 6mm. and Playmobils 75mm. Quite happy with the result!