Tuesday, 15 October 2019

US Tank Crew

The day job is proving relentless at the moment; nothing too onerous you understand, just the incessant reports, meetings and work scrutinies that it has been decreed must be completed before the half term break.  Unfortunately this has contrived to reduce the hobby time to a few precious hours on a Sunday morning.  I am, of course, grateful for that time, but I am starting to feel like I am letting the side down somewhat as James ploughs on, realising more and more of our idle conversations in freshly cut MDF!  
Looking for a quick win at the weekend, I happened across this set of miniatures.  Now I am not suggesting for one moment that teaching is akin to commanding a tank, but I did suddenly feel an affinity for these most beleaguered of troops, whose only option was to ‘button down’ and  plough on into the face of adversary. 
 These four are from 'Artizan Designs' and sold through the ever reliable 'North Star Military Figures'.  I have noticed over the years that my painting style has simplified.  I have stopped trying to paint eyes, to layer three colours or add numerous washes often giving as much time to one miniature as I would now give to whole unit; seemingly with little discernible difference!  I am attributing this change in style to my ever failing eyesight, but it could equally be my impatience to get the miniatures to the table.  This is certainly the case here, especially as James is racing ahead with all manner of structures that we are both looking forward to sharing with you in due course.
Given the aforementioned simplification of painting style, I found the the 'Artizan Designs' sculpts to be wonderfully forgiving.  I thoroughly enjoyed working on these, trying to find subtle variations in the greens to make them stand out; I was even brave enough to attempt the Divisional Insignia on some of them!  
On refection I probably should have attempted to give them a little bit more of a worn look, as these chaps look incredibly pristine given their recent action.  Six crewmen in total took part in the defence of the castle, five from ‘Besotted Jenny’, Commanded by Capt. John C. Lee Jnr. and  Commander of the ‘Boche Buster’, Harry J. Basse, Lee’s second in command and lifelong friend.
So with the addition of ‘Oddball’ I have five complete, just need to find a suitable Captain Lee!  I have a couple of possibles, one of which is winging its way to 'Awdry Towers' as I write this, but if anyone has any suggestions then do please let me know.

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Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Getting a feel for the place.

One of the considerations of creating the castle in MDF was how do we ‘sell’ the illusion of an Austrian Schloss? By its very nature our adopted building process produces flat panels to assemble, perfect for square or regular shaped units, but a little problematic for a building that has continuously evolved since the ninth century.     
This becomes doubly difficult when you consider that James has no actual plans to work from, but instead is working from a series of photographs.  That said the infoweb is a wonderful thing and If you are prepared to put the time in then it will, eventually, throw up all manner of useful source material.  So it was that James was able to construct the basic design.  We have decided to progress one section at a time, starting with the smaller, more accessible sections, which allows us to resolve any issues that may arise along the way before we tackle the main structure.  This particular section is located to the North of the main hall and looks as if it should act as an entrance hall from the courtyard.  

Although a relatively straight forward shape, the photographs appear to show that this area is rendered stone and to recreate this we simply used some ‘play sand’, kindly donated from the recently abandoned nursery building next to the studio.  This was duly mixed with PVA glue and liberally spread over the surface of the structure.  Although some my baulk at stone painted grey, the images suggest that the ravages of time have, in fact, left the castle that exact colour, although with a yellow ochre tinge to it.  Some of the masonry has a cleaner, almost whitewashed, feel to it and I am assuming that this has indeed been painted.
Another other design idea has been to create interior panels that have the effect of creating a rebate on the windows and the doors.  This has helped to create a sense of depth, again breaking the flatness of the traditional MDF unit.
When the sand and PVA mix was finally dry, a series of heavy dry brushes were applied until we were started to achieve the desired effect.  When it came to detailing the interior, James had found an amazing shot that we were keen to replicate along with the heavy wooden doors at both ends.  The benches are just strips of card and balsa would, whilst the heraldic devices are 3D printed shields from ‘Winterdyne Commission Modelling’.
For me the success of the piece is in the subtle devices James has used in the build.  The rebutted windows are inspired and although the texture and painting is nothing new, we are both genuinely thrilled to see this first section complete.  There is a real belief that we can pull this off, but we still have an awfully long way to go! 

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Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Chocks Away!

Given the interest generated from my last post, 'Flight of the Storch', I am delighted to be able to post a couple of shots of James' latest diversion, a 1/56 scale model of that most iconic of aeroplanes, a Hawker Hurricane.  Pictured here alongside the rescaled Storch, it is already taking shape and looking superb!
This will also give me the opportunity to bring to your attention James' new blog, 'make it miniature'.  A venture that will allow James to go into more detail regarding the design process of some of his builds and give a fascinating introduction to some of the techniques that he employs.  I have made no secret of my admiration for this man's ability to fashion, seemingly, anything from the most humble of materials and delighted that James is going to share this process with a wider audience.

The first post is up and ready, so do head over and have a look if you get the chance.  Link below:

1:56 Hawker Hurricane Part 1

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Sunday, 29 September 2019

Flight of the Storch

Those regular readers of this most humble of weblogs will be only too aware of my butterfly like approach to projects.  Seemingly unable to focus on anything for any given period of time, projects have been known to stutter and stall just when they were coming to fruition.  Now in my defence, I would suggest that this is just a mechanism that allows me to keep my imagination and creativity ticking over, but it would appear that even before the Castle build is complete, I seem to have sauntered off to consider other elements!

There is no doubt that that this project is all about the Castle; the fact that we are building a game around it a secondary thought.  That said we are, at some point, going to need to consider what else is going to be on the table?  We know that the forests surrounding the Castle will have loot markers strategically positioned, along with some artillery pieces, but what else?
It is no secret that I like a popular culture cross over.  Movie related miniatures, a nod to a piece of literature or poetry are all fair game in my hobbying world.  So when I was imagining what might make an interesting feature for the dense forest, I couldn't help but consider the likes of Alistair MacLean's oeuvre or the adventures of a certain Dr. Jones.  One of MacLean's most successful tales, Where Eagles Dare, went on to be made into a splendid film, staring the likes of Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood.  The opening scene tracks the flight of a Junkers Ju 52 through the Austrian mountains as the drum beat intensifies, all very stirring stuff and another personal favourite of Young Master Awdry.
I started to wonder if we could have our own plane?  A crashed Fiesler Storch perhaps, its cargo of lost Nazi gold spilling out everywhere, possibly the last resting place of the Ark of the Covenant?  Now clearly such a fabrication has no place in the original story of Schloss Itter, but who would begrudge me a spot of artistic licence?  This posed the nest question, where does one find a 1/56 scale Fiesler Storch?  Well the answer is you design and build your own, of course.  I have made mention of James' skill in using the computer to draw out his ideas, all the time considering the construction of any given piece.  When the muse grips him, James is unstoppable and appears happiest when his is designing and building, it matters not what.  Within a day of a throwaway conversation a Mark I prototype was drawn and cut, with modifications starting as soon as the construction process began.  
I watched, giddy as a schoolboy, as James tinkered around, adding balsa wood to create a more substantial shape to the angular frame, lifting it beyond your average MDF kit to something much more special.  Cocktail sticks and tissue paper were applied and the kit was starting to take shape, just the small matter of painting it remained.
I should point out at this juncture that the images you see here are all of James' progress.  This is a side project that has really caught his imagination and he has continued to re-visit the original drawing adding seats, propeller and addressing other construction issues as they arise.  Painting saw him fire up the trusty airbrush and even give the plane some camouflage patterns, before turning his attention to the smaller details.
All was progressing well and as my thoughts started to turn to 'crashing' one of James' kits we inadvertently stumbled across a small problem.  It would appear that not remaining on task is contagious and that my affliction had been passed on to James!  As I popped into the the studios earlier this week, I was greeted with a cheery, "Watcha, look what I've done."  There before me was the caracas of a 1/56 scale Hurricane!  James, clearly unable to sleep, had completed the drawing overnight and had already started to assemble his latest construction.  What was staggering was the size of the Hurricane next to the Storch, it just appeared too small.  James, convinced that the drawing of the Hurricane was correct reached for a steel rule to check the measurements.  Sure enough, the fighter was spot on and that was when the penny dropped, it must be the Storch.  Sure enough the scale was slightly out, not a huge disaster, but would now require some rescaling to bring it back in line.   

This has been a wonderful diversion and I can't wait to get my hands on one of these kits, just need to persuade James not to reenact the 'Battle of Britain' in 1/56 scale!

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Wednesday, 25 September 2019

The Commandant's Office

As we continue with the build, James and I had considered the idea of detailing some of the interiors and rooms as part of the lecture for the pupils.  At the moment the game play is limited to the exterior of the castle, the rooves, towers, walkways and gatehouses, but the interior presented too many opportunities not to explore in some detail.
We are fortunate in that there are a couple of good, first hand, reports of Castle Itter’s transformation from picturesque schloss-hotel into formidable prison.  Of the existing nine rooms on the first floor, two were given over as offices for the Commander of the SS-TV detachment that formed the permanent guard and his Executive Officer. There was an additional private lounge for the Officers and a latrine and we decide that this suite of rooms might be a good place to start our refurbishment.  
Painting an interior is all well and good, but it suddenly dawned on us that we needed were some items to put in the rooms to make them feel, well, lived in.  “We’ll just make some, what do you need?"  Now there's an offer you can't refuse and before I could say, “flat, pack, furniture”, James had designed and cut a series of sprues to furnish the office of the high command.  We had a set of shelves, a cupboard or wardrobe, a set of chairs and a rather splendid office desk.
The chair sprue gives you a couple of options in that you can press out a couple of shapes and then cut some card for the back and seat or perhaps stick four together for a much more sturdy piece.  Ingenious!  I couldn't resit adding a rail to the inside of my wardrobe, by using some plastic rod, but all of this is optional.  
Painting saw much of the pieces covered in brown, a less than original choice in hind's sight, but it got the job done.  I had a little fun with the office desk by adding some coffee cup rings to the surface and some scratches to the worn leather writing panel. One rather lovely surprise was just how useful the Imperial Eagle was.  This was just a little fun to fill up the sprue, but I rather like it hanging above the door. 
The wall panels in the pictures are prototypes for the castle interiors, although the windows will eventually be a different shape and will have frames in them before too long. I used a couple to establish the furniture, painting them in much the same way. The addition of some Vallejo Red Oxide hinted at a crumbling wall surface above the wood panelling and what with the addition of some paintings and trophies the illusion was complete.
With the offices underway, James turned his attention to a couple of items that might be useful for the barrack room, namely some bunk beds and individual lockers.  These haven’t been painted yet, but the rawness of the scorched MDF rather suites the utilitarianism of the furniture.  That said, I might spring* for a mattress or two before the end.
*No pun intended. 

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Sunday, 22 September 2019

On the turn of a card.

I thought I would just share some of the concept work that has been done for what we are calling the 'Chance' cards.  Various loot markers will be situated throughout the terrain; these can be investigated by using the 'Oh, Shiny!' action.  The player will draw a chance card to see what they have found, but be warned some cards have negative effects!  

I had an idea that I wanted the deck to resemble an old and worn pack of playing cards, adding the logo that I had created at the centre.  Looking at it again, I can see some faults with alignment and have probably overdone the wear and tear, but got close to where I wanted to be.
Concept wise the cards in our game owe much to the 'Zombicide' game and so it seemed fitting to start there when it came to design.  For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with Guillotine Games' Kickstarter breaking phenomenon, Zombicide is a collaborative board game where the players 'search' for equipment by drawing cards.  These can give a survivor's chances a boost with the addition weapons or artefacts, sometimes having to be combined to increase the value or strength of the item.  The cards might also have an impact on game play, sometimes for the worse!  Above is a typical example of an equipment card and as I was reviewing them, I was suddenly struck by the black, red & white colour scheme, which echoes the German Imperial war flag design and had been a consideration when thinking about palette for this adventure.  As a result, I shamelessly stole payed homage to the card design and added our theme to their existing background.
I was aware of the box art for 'Escape from Colditz' board game and Action Man set and was channeling these themes, along with the Commando comics of my youth.  I was interested to discover that the 'Escape from Colditz' game also came with equipment cards and that theirs had historical information relating to the various escape attempts.  Again this was something we had considered and so will be looking to add facts about the battle to ours; after all our core goal is education. 
With a design concept in place, I thought it only right to try out a few ideas for actual cards.  I have had to learn a few new skills along the way, but quite excited at the results.  Obviously there is a need for consistency, particularly when applying fonts and filters, but these examples are done to show a variety of ideas for discussion rather than a finished article.   I imagined any historical information at the base of the card and the light colour on red, seems to work well, making us realise that this is relevant, but separate information from the game itself. 
 Another concern was how do we show that some elements can be combined?  A simple numerical solution perhaps?  There is a lot of information on this set of cards and I wonder if all is necessary?  As always, these are just my thoughts and any additional considerations about them or their development can only be helpful so please don't hold back. 
I have been considering the possibility of two separate decks, one for the attackers and one for the defenders, but it might be easier just to have the one that can be recycled when exhausted.  If that were to be the case then some of the cards may well be duplicates for example Ammunition, but at the same time it would be nice to have a good variety of items.  

The 'Chance' cards  could seriously change the outcome of the game for the individual player.  This uncertainty hopefully adds some fun to the proceedings and a random element to the game play that echoes the fog of war.  We already have a good number of cards worked up, but we could do with some more suggestions.  Below is a list of ideas that have not yet been completed, please feel free to add any suggestions as to how they might be used, or better still come up with some new ones for us.

In addition if anyone knows of a good source for having cards printed up, do please let us know, thank you.

Beef Jerky
Wine Bottles
Canned Food
Frying Pan
Chewing Gum
A lonely goat herd
Nuns on the Run!
The Hills are Alive
Bear Trap!

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