Saturday, December 31, 2016

Confessions of a Lego Convert

I have to open this very belated post with an admission, I've neglected this blog most shamefully.  No doubt readers (if there are any left) have written Castles of Tin off as just another blog abandoned without a clue why, consigned to the dustbin of the internet.

Suffice to say that I'm still alive and kicking but went through months of a deep funk where I couldn't summon the motivation to work on any of my numerous half baked projects.  Yes, I dabbled with this and that but accomplished little worthy of actually putting together a blog post.  I also dropped out of the blogosphere - a tactical error in denying myself the inspirational effect of viewing other's work.

Personally I've been doing well enough.  Although an unwelcome occurrence this year was the onset of a slight tremor in my left hand.  I had it checked out, the neurologist said it didn't herald the onset of some degenerative disease like Parkinson's and for that I'm grateful.  That said, it's impacted the painting a bit.  Although I'm right handed, holding the object in my left hand can make for a shaky target.  It seems to wax and wane, perhaps I don't have the precision of old but I can still paint !

Oddly, what got me back on track was the gift of a Lego Speed Champions kit from my stepson.  The car is an Audi Prototype racer, in truth not a great replica (not to mention to mention the P1 cars are Batmobile ugly these days anyway).  But I did readily see the appeal of Lego.  That is something American kids growing up in the 50's missed out on. We had to make do with Lincoln Logs or Erector Sets.

 Naturally, I got interested in the military side of things.  Lego themselves are a peaceable sort of toy company, but plenty of others have stepped in to fill the void. And I discovered a whole new world of Lego military groups on Flickr.  Certainly a most vibrant community although you're inclined to encounter a few of the same sort of button-counting pendants who frequent wargaming forums, in this case laughably critiquing toy figurines for small inaccuracies in their kit.

A pink baby awaits the whims of his master
Yes, your basic minifig has the proportions of a toddler, a cartoon face, stud holes in the back of his legs and arms totally unsuited for wielding a rifle in any realistic manner.  What they do have is (aside from a few outlier companies like Cobi and Sluban) a shared common scale and design, thus the multitude of available weapons and accoutrements fit any figure.  Genius !

Capped only by the size of your budget, you can build an army from ancient times up to the modern era.  At present, there's a lot of gaps in what you can get off the shelf, but the Ancient, Medieval, World Wars and Modern eras are well enough represented. Particularly the modern era, perhaps in part due to the popularity of Call of Duty/Battlefield online video games with young people these days.  As you can see below, I've taken a stab at a few different things.  And unlike many collectors, I do really enjoy painting the figures.

At present, the modern era is really where it's at with these things.  And particularly so given the relatively cheap and plentiful figures and armor kits on Aliexpress and elsewhere on the web. You can buy sets of modern infantry with all their accessories for around $1 per soldier.  Turning back the clock to something like Ancient Rome is going to be costlier as once you purchase separate armor, shields and weapons, a single figure will run ~ $5.

My overall objective here is to build up some squads with a few vehicles per side for some toy figure gaming.  My project is a variant on Green vs. Tan, with the Aquilonians (almost NATO) vs. the Hyrkanian Empire (almost Russian).  Let's look at a few of the Hyrkanians, I've done so far. First up is the basic conversion, out of the box guy on the right, my own version on the left.

Here's the first squad, posed with the Winner anti-tank vehicle, pretty much a BRDM and the T-90 tank.

Now for some Aquilonians, Sluban APC and tank in the background:

Painted  the vehicle, a Lego sacrilege of the first order !

I haven't picked the rule set yet, but I have a number which could fill the bill.  Little Cold Wars may well work as well, although these figures look a bit more contemporary.

To sum up, it feels good to revive the blog at long last, and a Happy New Year to all !

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Chibi Maru Battleship

Here's a model I actually finished a few months ago.  It's one of Fujimi's Chibi Maru warship series, depicting capital ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy in cartoon style. This particular kit represents the battleship Hiei which was sunk near Guadalcanal in 1942.  After seeing these posted on Bob Cordery's Wargaming Miscellany blog, I was tempted to try one and ordered from eBay.  The kit shipped from Japan fairly quickly and was reasonably priced when you consider what plastic models cost these days.

How was the build ?  Pretty straightforward.  All instructions with Japanese text of course, but as the plans are a series of numbered schematics, it wasn't difficult to assemble.

This is designed as a snap together kit so theoretically no glue needed.  However, I found some of the tolerances tight indeed which no doubt ensures pieces don't fall off once assembled, but proved difficult to force into place.  Thus I think a child would struggle to build this and in straining to insert certain pieces, one runs the risk of some small part flying off the tweezers or pliers to disappear in some far corner of the room or carpet pile. As I went along, I found myself increasingly shaving parts for an easier fit and relying on glue to hold things together.

How does she look ?  Not too bad. It's a simple brush job in Vallejo # 992 Neutral Gray. Somewhat deceptive paint as it dries darker than it looks in the bottle.  The kit also has stickers for things like bridge windows and wooden decks but for the most part I didn't use them for anything more than the flag.  I didn't bother painting the lower hull.  They make photo etch parts for many of these kits although that begs the question, how much detail really needs to be lavished on a tubby toy-like battleship ?

So what's next for me in this series ?  Nothing really.  You know, if Fujimi had designed these in relative scale to each other and issued a USN counterpart to do battle with, they might have some wargaming application.  As it stands now, the kit is a novelty piece although I did enjoy the change of pace in building something like this.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Re-Arm with Brickarms 3: Tehnolog 54mm Fantasy

Some while ago, I posted about converting cheap plastic army men to Brickarms weapons which are designed for use with Lego minifigs.  Although the concept seemed well received by Brickarms fans due to the novelty of it, the figures looked a little over-gunned when carrying anything larger than an Uzi.  That is, the Brickarms weapons are nice replicas of the real things, but stylized and of course intended for use with the Lego figurines where the firearms are unabashedly out of scale with the figures.  As is the way with these toys, like it or not.

I still had some weapons left over, and with a set of Russian Tehnolog fantasy warriors purchased on eBay, I thought they'd be more suitable candidates for conversion on account of their already over-the-top style.

Since these are hard plastic, it wasn't too tough to cut away their sci fi guns and replace with the Brickarms.  How did they turn out ?  Not too bad, I think.  Tough guys one and all in the Terminator style, they'll make pretty good special forces or mercs for the forces of evil Tan.

The figure in the black trench coat is unmodified, the four in the photo just above are the ones I converted.

"Out of our way, kiddies."
The minifigs are cheap Sluban clones with the "Merkava" in the background. More about these in a subsequent post. I have no intention of using the little soldiers.  Ah, but the vehicles, definitely some utility there !

Monday, March 14, 2016

Expeditionary Force Macedonians - 60mm Plastic

I'm well past due for a post, time to have at it !   Several years ago when I worked on 54mm Ancients, I customized some Italeri Carthaginians as a Macedonian style phalanx formation. Thinking this was a lot of work, I always had the thought in the back of my mind, "Sure wish somebody would come out with Macedonians in 54mm plastic".  Now years later have my wishes have been answered ? Well, not exactly.

Enter Expeditionary Force.  Splendid sculpts and a fine range of both horse and foot.  Just the ticket ?  Damn it, no !  60mm.  Why this scale I have no idea.  With that in mind, I stoutly resisted the Greeks and Persians. But when the Macedonians released in late 2015, the figures looked so good that I succumbed to the temptation and got a few boxes for Christmas. I'm not altogether satisfied with the quality of these images taken on the iPad Mini but they're at least adequate, so let's have a look.

The foot come 9 to a box, horses & riders 5.  The boxes are generic, not even so much as a label on the side to identify the contents.  They average about $4 a figure, pricey for plastic but not totally unreasonable for what you get.

The figures are multi-part.  The plastic is on the harder end of the spectrum, with the parts fitting well and easy to glue together.  The pikes of the phalangites are two part, rather short but to my eyes that's a perfectly acceptable compromise.  The 9 figures in the phalanx box consist of an officer and 8 soldiers.  They phalangites come in two main styles of armor, linen in the classical Greek style and bronze cuirass, with two styles of shields as well which are either plain or adorned with a typical Hellenistic pattern.  The heads can be swapped at will coming with various helmet plumes and crests in each pack, thus a good variety can be achieved.  As can be seen from the top photo, the rank and file are posed 4 each with the pike level and pike raised.

Quite a splendid officer, isn't he ?

And as painted.  The Peter Conolly school, not the Angus McBride.  But really you could paint these in any fashion and who is to say you're wrong  ? So the operative question is, how do they match up with 54mm figures ?

Eh, not so good.

For toy gaming, I suppose one can say - who cares ?  But I have to say, the size variance is something that grates on my sensibilities. So, I think it's probably off to eBay for these chaps although I'll have to paint a few more eventually to make a reasonable auction out of it.  As I didn't assemble the other boxes they can go as is.

What's next ?  I owe another back post on the Chibi Maru battleship model, long since completed.  I've been quite engrossed of late in my  Daisenryaku video games, much enjoyment to be had in downloading the various classic games like  Super Daisenryaku and seeing what works on an emulator and what doesn't.  Plus the sometimes maddening but often gratifying puzzle of playing in Japanese.  I'm thinking strongly of starting a Daisenryaku blog but haven't completely abandoned the painting, and at the moment have resumed working on the 40/45mm flat & home cast Napoleonics.  

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Battle of Fort Panion - Part 3

This post will encompass the final three battle turns with a final recap.With a lot to cover, let's get started.

TURN 4:   Aquilonia wins the toss, Moves first.


Aquilonia: Heavy infantry double move.
Argos: Stand pat.


Argos: The Fort Panion Slingers fire effectively against the Eruk infantry as they approach melee range, killing Prince Tiglath in the process. And the 1st Peltasts add to the mayhem striking down another 4, the Shemites ranks already shrinking before they can come to grips with the peltasts. The 3rd Peltasts somehow stand firm but miss Achilles.

Aquilonia:  The Tanasul Archers focus their fire on the 2nd Messentian, killing just one. The Elephant archers aboard Jumbo fire into the backs of the retreating Messentians killing another as do Achilles and Ajax against the Argive Guards.


On the Aquilonian right, it finally dawns on dim bulb Prince Alkestis that he's led the Young Companions on a death ride in rashly taking on the full power of the Turanian cavalry.  Reduced to a few bloody and exhausted troopers, they're wiped out by the Shahpur Light Horse.

Meanwhile the 2nd Royal Guards close against the Samaran Horse, wasting the advantages of impetus and superior armor with a mere 2 Turanians killed vs.2 of their own. They've squandered their slim window of opportunity.

"The Guard dies, it does not surrender !"
On the opposite flank, the Guards fight on, somehow keep beating the morale tests for overwhelming odds but like the Young Companions, seem unlikely to survive much more of it.

The elephants continue their rampage against the Argive foot.  Jumbo squashes another 5 of the routed 1st Messentian. Fighting stoutly, the Foot Guards lose 2 men but succeed in hamstringing Achilles and Ajax who collapse to the dusty earth trumpeting their agony.  

And what of our commanders ?  Bardikkas, observing that things go badly for his cavalry on the right flank, rides to the Tanasul Archers:

Bardikkas: Philocrates, it goes hard for us on the right. Hasten your archers there, at the double. Should the Turanians break out and attempt to flank our foot, shoot them down !    

Memnon, his horse frantic from the alien smell and trumpeting of the elephants, barely controls his skittish mount with a firm hand and removes himself to Fort Panion Hill.

The situation at the end of Turn 4.  

TURN 5:  Aquilonia retains the hot hand, again moving first.


Aquilonia: Seeing the 1st Messentian are finished, Jumbo's mahout swings him right to attack the 3rd Peltasts. In the center, all heavy infantry moves into melee.  The Tanasul Archers forgo firing and as ordered, make their double move towards the right.

Argos: Throwing away their shields to make better speed, the survivors of the 1st Messentian flee the battlefield, carrying Iollas along with the tide.


Argos:  The 3rd Peltasts continue their record of futility against the elephants, Ajax making a saving throw on the hit.  But their counterparts on the hill fare much better, the 1st Peltasts killing another 5 Shemites just before they close to hand-to-hand combat.

Aquilonia: Jumbo's missile crew fail to score against the 3rd Peltasts.


The Argive Guard cavalry go down fighting to the last man against the Daramish Light Horse.

 On the opposite flank, facing two units of Turanians, the Royal Guards suffer another 3 casualties against only one inflicted.

In the shadow of Jumbo's looming bulk, the 3rd Peltasts fail morale check and rout from the battlefield.

With a mighty clash of iron and bronze, the elite phalanxes collide.  As the rules are silent about how sarissa-armed phalangites might fare against troops armed with swords or spears, I make a house rule: first round of melee only, pike armed troops do not take damage.  Thus the Foot Companions inflict 5 total kills on the Guards who repay them in the 2nd melee round with 2 kills, one being the phalanx commander Phillip.  But deputy commander Pallantides stands ready to attach himself to the Foot Companions.

Already unnerved by their losses in repulsing of the elephants and with the Foot Companions pushing them hard, the Guards fail morale check and retreat one move in good order.

In the center, the Aquilonian Mercenary Phalanx assaults uphill against the hoplites of the 2nd Messentian. They inflict casualties 4:2.

In front of the fort, the decimated Eruk Infantry attack with berserk fury, revenging themselves on the light-armed 1st Peltasts with 9 kills to 3 in return. Amazingly, the Shemites have nearly evened the odds,  But the peltasts pass morale test and gamely fight on, in the heat of battle forgetting the pre-battle orders to retire behind the Turanian cavalry and let the Shemites bite granite against the walls of the fort.

TURN 6:  Argos wins the toss.


Argos: With the Foot Campanions relentlessly coming on and Jumbo looming up on their right flank, in order to preserver the core of Milo's army, the Argive Guards retreat from the battlefield in good order.

Aquilonia:  With no hesitation, Pallantides orders the Foot Companions to wheel right and prepare to ascend the hill, with the intention of rolling up the Argive line.  Jumbo secures their left in case of a change of heart by the Argive Guards.  Having finished the Horse Guards, the Daramish Light Horse gallop back towards the Aquilonian right with a double move.


In the center, the Mercenary Phalanx continues to press the 2nd Messentian hard, inflicting 6 casualties to 3.

The yoeman performance of the mercenary Turanians being about the only bright spot for Argos this day, the 2nd Royal Guards are further whittled down to just Dion and a few troopers, who fly in the face of insurmountable odds.

The heavier armed Eruk Infantry continue to heavily punish the 1st Peltasts with another 5 kills for just two of their own.  Yet with the odds finally evened and the prospect at hand of being able to slay their tormentors to a man, the Shemites fail morale check and inexplicably break with victory at hand. In the foreground, Dion lives to fight another day.


The situation at the end of Turn 6.  Although the Turanians and peltasts have seen off their enemies, the Argive right wing has been entirely routed or destroyed.  The Foot Companions threaten to flank the 2nd Messentian, and with the relatively fresh Tanasul Archers and Daramish Light Horse ready to reinforce, the day appears lost for Argos. Memnon decides to leave the miscreant garrison of Fort Panion to the tender mercies of Black Bardikkas and orders a retreat.

Thus a hard-fought victory for the forces of Aquilonia, King Epeus' punitive expedition has succeeded. Upon hearing from Pallantides that the garrison of Fort Panion has offered to surrender with the honors of war, Bardikkas snorts with derision: "Honors of war ? The knaves can die when I starve them of food or drink or they can die when our siege engines open a breach and we put them to the sword.  Tell them to surrender now unconditionally and I'll spare their lives".

Bardikkas remained true to his word.  The garrison was spared but stripped of everything and enslaved, brought back to Aquilonia in chains to serve out the rest of their shortened lives in misery working the silver mines at Pasentium.  Fort Panion itself is annexed by Aquilonia, the king opting to install a garrison of his own instead of pulling it down.


Although I found the melee conduct a bit fiddly, the rules in general seemed  straightforward and well suited to the action.  I did commit one blunder which had some impact on the battle.  For Turns 1-4, I somehow overlooked dicing for "contact morale" at the conclusion of each two melee rounds.  Awakening fresh for the second day's conclusion, I discovered my oversight before resuming with Turn 5. And although I diced for the rest of the contingencies such as overwhelming strength, it did play out in some heavily bloody cavalry fights with the right of the stronger prevailing without the wild card element of surprise, that is - the weaker side lifted up by an unlikely reversal of fortune.

I have to wonder, was the deck stacked against Argos ?  Perhaps I instinctively realized this in adding the mad charge of the Young Companions, but even so the power of the elephants in wrecking a large and small Argive unit as well as weakening another weighed heavily in the event.  Funny thing too, because I have several old painted Egyptian chariots, considered adding them to the army of Argos as a counterweight but did not.  I suppose I felt they were lacking that menacing Persian/Seleucid scythed chariot ambiance, but in a Hyborian battle, who cares really ?

To sum up, I enjoyed everything about this battle, organizing the armies, creating a back story, fighting it out, doing the photography.  What I liked most is that the thing kind of took on a life of its own once I started the troops in action.

Eventually I'll do this again and am looking forward to painting some new units to make the next battle a fresh spectacle for myself and blog readers.  I also have several terrific command figure castings in the Carl "Battle of Issos" set who will make suitably impressive generals. In any case, I hope you enjoyed this one.