May 31, 2017

Quick look at 1/72 US Heavy Weapons set from Plastic Soldier Company

There is this old wargaming saying that claims that there is no better motivation for painting more minis than actually playing games. There may be something to this, because after recent test run of Chain of Command which disclosed how limited my collection of minis really was, I decided to do something about it.

And so, after yet another archeological excavation in my basement, I found what I was looking for – 1/72 sets of German and US infantry from Plastic Soldier Company. For those unfamiliar with this company, it’s been around for a better part of a decade by now. Their goal is simple – to provide affordable hard plastic figures and vehicle models in 15, 20 and (I believe) 28mm scale, mostly for WWII.

First off, as I am in urgent need of getting some .30 cal Brownings on the table, I decided to get cracking with the US Heavy Weapons set. Just to clarify yet again, I use 20mm or 1/72minis, so review is of the box in that scale. The box contains three identical sprues. Each sprue has following contents:

  • 19 miniatures, all of which are sculpted as crew personel for weapons listed below.
  • M1917 water-cooled MMG on a tripode, crew in sitting stance
  • M1919 aircooled MMG on a tripode, crew lying down
  • M2 HMG (aka 50cal or ‘Big Deuce’) on a tripode, crew in sitting stance
  • 60mm mortar
  • 81mm mortar
  • 4.2’’ chemical mortar
  • Bazooka

As I hope can be seen in picture of the sprue, some cleanup, assembly and gluing, both of weapons and figures, is required. For gluing I recommend the glues intended for plastic model kits, such as Revell’s Contacta glue or Tamiya’s Extra Fluid Cement. Superglue will also work, but personally I prefer the kind of glue that melts and fuses plastic together.


The assembly of minis isn’t complicated, but it does takes a bit of time – this single sprue required about two hours of my time. If you don’t bother with scraping and filing away all tiny mould lines (which are not much of a problem, really), you could probably cut away an hour or so from preparation time.

It has to be said that these little suckers weren’t the easiest ‘build’ I’ve ever worked with. The parts are a tad fiddly and I managed to snap off one leg of the .50 cal tripod, but that’s not really much of an issue. What gave me most problems were the minis with arms separate from the torso – .50 cal gunner, M1917 gunner and the guys with binoculars. The .50 cal gunner is especially tricky, as his arms are fused to the machine gun. If you don’t attach these arms ‘just so’, the entire gun ends up floating in the air. In the end, I had to use some filler for the joints between the arms and torso on a couple of figures and I’m still not 100 percent happy with the result.

Perhaps I make it all sound too dramatic – the minis go together pretty well and I’m sure that with a bit of practice things will move along for you without any hickups. And once you’re done with a sprue, here’s what you get…

The good




The bazooka team and both medium machine guns are pretty nifty figures. The .30 cal is slightly overdimensioned and bazooka’s details aren’t 100 percent historically accurate, but I don’t think anyone but a true button-counter will have any problems with deploying those minis on the table.

The bad




With this group, I unfortunately have some issues. Let’s start with the ‘elephant in the room’, and I do mean it quite literally. Seriously, who the heck sculpted this M2? While it is instantly recognizable as what it’s supposed to be representing, it is simply huge. Its length is 3,2 cm, i.e. about 230cm in 1:1 scale. The real thing is about 165cm long. So the overdimensioning in this case is very hard to ignore.

Next the 60mm and 81mm mortars. Both are sensible additions to this set, but… once again, the 60mm tube is grossly oversized, so much so that at one meter’s distance it is really quite hard to distinguish it from its bigger brethren. The real M2 60mm mortar was a tiny thing (relatively speaking), with a barrel just a bit over 72cm long. M1 81mm mortar’s tube was 119cm long. Sadly, this difference in size and heft of the two mortar types is unfortunately hard to observe in this set.

The questionable


Finally, we arrive to my ‘huh’ moment. Opinions may of course differ, but to me the addition of this heavy piece of equipment in a 1/72 scale set is a bit of a mystery. 20mm minis are most often used in skirmish games. On the other hand, 4.2 inch mortars were deployed as battalion level assets and had minimum range of over 500 meters – not likely the equipment you’d encouncer at the edge of front line. Addition of some troops with sachel charges, bangalore tubes or flamethrowes would in my opinion be much more useful. But here it is, in three ‘copies’.

Luckily, the minis that follow with it are generic sculpts and will certainly come in handy as artillery crews for all kinds of equipment.


In the somewhat underrated WWII movie ‘The Monuments Men’, there is this scene where Matt Damon steps on a German anti-personel mine. He hears the click and freezes. Then Clooney comes along and wonders what happen. Damon tells him and Clooney asks ‘Why did you do something like that?’. Personally, after putting together these figures, my reaction is a bit like that of George Clooney in that movie. The guys running Plastic Soldier Company know their stuff and they certainly know what a whiney bunch we wargamers can be. So why would they decide to give us an .50 Browning looking like a bolt gun from Space Marines set and a 60mm mortar on steroids? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe it’s something about the design process (I think PCS designs in CAD and then scales minis accordingly), maybe it was a concious decision to make the pieces less prone to breakage. I can only speculate, but regardless… overall, I can’t help but think that this set is a bit of a missed opportunity.

Having said that, I must allow my sensible side to have it’s say – despite my criticism, I claim that this box it is most definitely a good purchase. The crew minis look good and you get 47 figures for peanuts when compared with prices of metal figures. And if you’re after a cheap, quick way to flesh out out your U.S. infantry force, I doubt that you’ll find better ‘value for money’ option that this set. I won’t lie to you, in due time I will maybe be replacing these 60mm mortars and .50 cal HMG’s with figures from AB Miniatures (with gritted teeth over their abhorent prices, I may add), but for now I will happily be fielding these minis in my Chain of Command games.

May 26, 2017

When Wargamer’s Magpie Syndrome pays off

Let’s face it, we all suffer from it to some degree – new period catches our interest, a new range of minis is released, a book or a movie gives us ideas for a cool scenario or campaign. When this happens, small parcels start being delivered by postal service to our doors. I’m sure that vast majority of wargamers is far more disciplined than I am and manages to put contents of those parcels onto wargaming table within a couple of weeks… In my case though, these newly acquired ‘treasures’ are as often as not inspected, admired, put in some box and then doomed to linger, half-forgotten, in my basement storage room. Sometimes for years, sometimes for decades.

Every once in a while though, a small miracle happens and my interest in the period or theme awakens again. As for example, with the WWII skirmish due to ‘Chain of Command’ ruleset. As I started to seriously consider putting together last week’s test scenario, I realized that I really didn’t have much terrain suitable for such game. And then I remembered… sometime in late ninties I’ve bought a shedload of bits and pieces from Gamecraft Miniatures. It took some effort, but after a small archeological excavation I’ve managed to dig up a bag of resin walls and stones. I am pretty sure that a dozen or so resin buildings are hiding somewhere, so the search is not yet complete!

Anyway… getting these walls and stone formations ready for a game seemed like a plausible goal over a period of two weeks I had for preparation of the game. In ‘raw’ form, the terrain pieces are made of off-white resin. So the first step was to wash them in luke-warm water with some detergent. An old-fashioned toothbrush is quite useful for this task.



While the resin lumps were put aside to dry, I started to wonder how to approach this particular painting job. Normally, I start with a coat of Vallejo (or these days Plasticoat) grey primer and then get to work with acrylics. But in this case we’re were talking about stone. In nature, both stone walls and outcrops have a lot of subtle tonal variation, but in a limited color range. Browns or greys shift in saturation due to varied exposure to elements – to get a realistic effect, I would have to do a lot of blending and washes. And I have to admit, after all these years blending with acrylics is still a challenge for me. And so, I arrived to a somewhat surprising decision – this time around I would go ‘old school’ and dust off my old Humbrol enamel pots!


Enamels may be an unfamiliar medium for ‘younger’ wargamers, but they were pretty much all we had before acrylic ‘revolution’ of early ninties. They are not water-solvable and need either white spirits or terpentine to thin (and wash the brushes). They stink (especially some of the older Humbrols can make your nose hair curl in panic as soon as the lid is off) and they take forever to dry. So when acrylics arrived on the scene, enamels didn’t stand a chance. But… this last drawback – long drying time (and I speak about several hours) is under certain circumstances a blessing in disguise. It allows for blending and lifting off techniques (that’s what I call painting and then ‘taking off’ paint from painted surface) that one only can dream of with acrylics.

I started the painting process with an uniform coat of Humbrol 98 for the stone formations and Humbrol 118 for the stone walls. Once this was done, I let the pieces dry over night.

For stone formations I next proceeded with building up several thin layers of 72 and 187 mixed in different ratios. Darker shades were applied all over the stones. I did however try to let the dark base color to get through here and there. That’s where ability to pick off the paint with the brush was very useful. As I successively lightened my mix, I blended it with underlying layers in the areas that would be exposed to sunlight and elements. For final highlights I added some light grey Humbrol 64. Addition of light neutral grey desaturated the mix. It was added to the sharp edges and surfaces that were visibly raised. Normally this step would be done with drybrushing technique. However, since enamels don’t dry in a blink of an eye, I had plenty of time to do proper blending.

I did however switch over to drybrushing once I started working on the walls. Blending of individual stones would simply take too much time. So a heavy drybrush of Humbrol 26 was applied to the raised stone areas with a flat brush, followed by lighter passes of Humbrol 187 and 72 in irregular patterns.

Next, I returned back to the stone formations. I dilutted heavily the dark brown Humbrol 98 with white spirits and used it as a wash, applying it to lower parts and around crevices of stone formation. Once done, I left everything to dry over night.

Last painting step consisted of a wash with Vallejo’s acrylic washes, which I applied on the walls in an attempt to bring out the detail of the walls. I mixed together Black and Oily Earth and applied it all over the walls. Not entirely happy with how this step turned out, but it did add a bit of variation in color tonality.

Once everything was dry, I flocked the terrain bits with turf and foam clumps from Noch/Woodland Scenics.

Overall, I am not entirely happy with how the walls turned out – the reddish tone of Humbrol 118 that I used as base color looks a bit unnatural to me. But from a couple of meters away the walls look perfectly serviceable. On the other hand I am totally delighted over the visual effect of stone formations. The stones have subtle but clearly visible shifts in color, which is exactly what I was after and the dark brown wash that was added in spur of the moment did a lot for creation of ‘natural’ look.

It was a very happy return to an old medium of enamels, which I’ve neglected almost completely over last two decades. For the future, I will have to remember about their special characteristics and positive properties.








May 21, 2017

First impressions of “Chain of Command”

For the wargamers who just arrived from outer space, let’s start with a short introduction to “Chain of Command”. It’s one of the “newest” rulesets from Too Fat Lardies and it’s a WWII skirmish ruleset. One miniature represents one man and one vehicle or artillery piece model represents a corresponding single real world piece of equipment. The ruleset focuses on combat between forces of platoon size with some reinforcements. While it allows the player to directly control every individual figure, the basic manouver and fire units are squads of 8-12 men. Those can be further split into (usually) two teams, which is how most units of that size operated in real life. Specialized weapon teams, such as bazooka or medium machine gun teams provide additional firepower. Command and control is performed by ‘leaders’ of two types; junior leaders usually lead individual squads and weapon teams, while senior leaders provide control at platoon comman level, allowing coordination between individual sub-units of the platoon. Ruleset caters for support units in all forms and shapes – tanks, mortars, artillery (both on the table as well as off-board), engineers, etc are all handled. D6 dice is used throughout the ruleset.

“Chain of Command” has been around for a while now (about three or four years, I believe) and many reviews have allready been written about it, both in printed publications and online. So I will not try to reinvent the wheel by writing yet another lengthy review that will hardly add anything new to what’s already been said and written. If you’re interested in a detailed analysis, I recommend for you to listen to episode 106 of Meeples&Miniatures podcast or read an excellent review posted on Anatoli’s Game Room blog. Both of them provide a very good overview of this ruleset.

So what’s the point of this post of mine then? Well, I hope to provide a ‘rookie’ gamer’s initial impression based on two games I’ve run yesterday. In the first one I acted as Game Master, in the other one (enriched by my impressions of the first game) I took over one of the gaming seats.

The setup

Since it would be a first experience of the ruleset for all involved sides, I’ve picked up the most basic generic scenario that is included in the ruleset – an encounter between two patrols in no-man’s land. In this setup, the players start by establishing their initial zones of control with help of simple meta-game. Basically a bunch of markers are moved over the board until they come into 12’’ of one of enemy marker. Once this is done, players select their jump-off points in territory they control – computer game players can think of those as spawning points. These define where individual squads, teams and leaders can be deployed on the table.

To further simplify the task of ‘first game’, I decided to play on smaller area than recommended 6x4’ table. The game would be played on my kitchen table, which is only 5x3’. The terrain setup was my own creation – i basically threw whatever terrain I had available on the table with hope that this random arrangement would provide for a good game.

Finally, I decided to limit order of battle to a single basic platoon and no support units. So both sides (German and American) had their three squads consisting of an LMG team and rifle team to play with. Each of the squads was led by a junior leader. Furthermore, Americans had at their disposal two platoon leaders and a bazooka team, while Germans had a single platoon leader and a panzerschreck team.


Game one

In our first game the Americans, played by T., managed to gain control both of the hill and the house in the initial phase. This gave him a huge advantage from the start and set the tone for the game. He deployed one squad in the house and the other two along the ridge of the hill. L. responded by deploying one of his squads in the hedges by the crossroad and the other one in the woods by the ‘northern’ foot of the hill (by the chairs in the picture above Smile). The MG team of that squad gained a foothold on the hill, deploying in the rock outcrops in its northern end. And that was it… both sides started to hammer each other, with Germans clearly getting the worst of it. After a fire-fight lasting over several phases, L. suffered eight casualties to two of T, the  machine gun teams of both of his deployed teams were wiped out and the remainder of the squad in the hedges by the road was pinned by T.s fire from the house. To put it plainly, he was screwed and he knew it. Thus, we ended that game.


Game two

T. left our company by that time and L. and I gave it another go. Wiser by the experience, L. managed to claim the posession of the house in the initial phase of the game, while I grabbed the hill and the high ground to the south of it.

L. then proceeded by deploying a squad on second floor of the house and another by the wall outside the walled house court. I responded by establishing the line of fire along the ridge with one squad, deploying the second in the rough ground at the southern foot of the hill. I deployed my third squad behind the hill, out of sight. My plan was to move it around the hill and hit the house from the north. Once again, L. never bothered to deploy his third squad, probably waiting with it until he found out my intentions for the squad behind the hill.


In some respects our game developed in similar manner to the previous. L. blasted at my guys in the rough ground, while I tried to hit him hard with fire from the hill. The pressure mounted on units on both sides, but yet again an impass seemed to occur almost instantly. After a couple of phases I grew tired of this static character of the game and decided to take a risk. I ordered the squad on the hill to fire suppressive fire at the Germans in the house – this is a temporary state where the incoming fire won’t cause any damage, but automatically reduces fire effectivness of any enemy units that are in the sector where suppressive fire is ‘applied’. This was a preparation step for my next action, which was a mad dash across open field toward the house by the rifle team of the squad in the rough ground.


As Germans hunkered down under suppressive fire, the advancement was completed without any casualties. L. reacted by dropping a couple of grenades on my guys who were now huddling directly below, hiding behind the arcade walls of the house. My luck held and noone was hurt by the explosions. Naturally, as soon as I had the opportunity, I pushed on into the house. A vicious close combat for control of the house now took place… with disastrous consequences for the my side. Once the dust settled, six out of my soldiers were dead, with the sole unhurt man trying to patch up his wounded leader. Normally, such outcome would rout the survivors, but considering the enclosed surroundings we agreed that my survivors were now POW;s.

L.s triumph came however at a cost of three casualties and a wounded squad leader. Another round of whittling fire from the hill completed the grim job, breaking the German squad and forcing them to flee the house.

At this time we were at it for five hours and were more than satisified with the entertainment of the day. Thus, the second game also ended inconclusively.

Musings after the battle

After a single evening, it is far too early to say anything definite about this ruleset. But there is a couple of things I can say with conviction even after this brief exposure.

  • First and foremost, I am not at all surprised that so many people have been raving about ‘Chain of Command’ over last couple of years. It is a cracking ruleset and I will definitely invest much more time and effort into it.
  • In one rather important respect, ‘Chain of Command’ seems to be a very different beast when compared with other similar rulesets (‘Arc of Fire’ and ‘Bolt Action’ comes to mind). Let me explain.

    Over the years, I have learned to identify (and also exhibited myself) in gamers a phenomenon that I believe can be called ‘a stress cone’ – once a player sets his mind on a ‘target’, be it an enemy unit or a specific location, its destruction must be accomplished. And as the game progresses, this target increasingly becomes the sole focus of gamer’s attention. When this happens, a certain blindness to alternative solutions seems to occur. Flanking manouvers, an often valid option of breaking of contact and re-deployment or employment of less obvious assets is no longer considered – the initial goal must be accomplished. What’s even more important, it must be accomplished by direct assault and destruction by fire or close combat. To an unengaged observer, such behavior may seem odd, sometimes even bisarre. But if you think about it, we all occasionally exhibit it and many of us much more often than not!

    So what does this have to do with ‘Chain of Command’? Well, in most wargame ruleset, the initial phase of the game consists of manouvering the units into contact with the enemy. As this takes time, it also allows players to logially consider their options. Once the units come into contact and ‘combat’ starts to happen, player’s attention shifts to the actual action. He may then enter further and further into this ‘stress cone’ I’ve mentioned above. What seems to be special about ‘Chain of command’ is the fact that with this ruleset, the opposing units can be deployed pretty much on top of each other directly at the start of the game. And indeed, this is exactly what the designer of the ruleset states – a game of ‘Chain of command’ starts with opponents already in contact with each other! In other words, players are placed immediately at the small end of the ‘stress cone’ with consequence of ‘shootout’ games being a very tangible possibility if one is not careful and remains cool-headed. But if a player manages to keep his cool and remembers the simple fact that you don’t have to shoot at an enemy as soon as he’s visible, this ruleset has a possibility to provide a damn realistic experience of low level combat in WWII setting.

Allright, enough of ‘deep thoughts’ for this time around. Let me round this post up with repeating the sentiment that ‘Chain of Command’ seems to be an excellent ruleset. If you haven’t yet, you should definitely give it a shot (pun intended). Smile

May 09, 2017

Price of more than one hobby

No point denying it, the goal of having one game per month is pretty much a pipe dream by now, largely due to the fact that my focus has mostly been on ‘that other hobby’. Well, at least I have something to show for time spent on model buildning… This time around I’m proud to present Bristol Blenheim Mk I from Airfix. A truly splendid kit that builds like a dream.