Poles Apart

A couple of weeks ago I had my first demo game of Flames of War and last week had my first actual, proper army list (albeit small – 700 points) game and as a result I’m left with a few things to do…In both games the tanks got killed off relatively quickly and it was the infantry that really won or lost the game (although the two MG armed armoured cars proved well worth their 50 points in the last game). That means I have to start collecting some infantry… And collecting means painting as well. Lots and lots of painting. 

I’ve managed to amass a game legal force of Polish Home Army. Built around two rifle companies and an HQ unit which includes the optional extra snipers (which proved to either be really useful or no use at all from one turn to the next). I do have two Panther tanks (which yes, the Poles really did manage to capture) and the two armoured cars, but to be perfectly honest, those are actually relatively quick and easy to paint.

As the infantry I bought weren’t pukka Flames of War miniatures, but the easier to get hold of (in that they were sat on the shelf as opposed to waiting for an order to come in) Forged in Battle miniatures they didn’t come with appropriate bases. That wasn’t a particular hardship as I knew what size they should be, had some plastic sitting to one side and it was an evening of cutting and filing to get them all to the right size and shape. I’ve managed to stick some offcuts of plasticard, metal and leftovers from some 1:100 tank kits to the surfaces to try and build them up a bit to meet the bases on the miniatures and to add a bit of ruined building detailing. Then I’ve put some coarse sand on, followed by finer stuff on top of that. They’re hopefully gonna look like city fight bases when they’re done (as they will end up representing the Polish resistance uprising in Warsaw). Once all of that’s stuck down it’s a quick coat of black primer and then an even quicker coat of grey basecoat (from above only).

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After a bit more work they’ve ended up looking like this…

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(the one in the middle at the back is the unit in the “before” photo above)

I’m trying to paint one medium base and one small base as a pair, that way I hope I’ll get through the bulk of them soon enough. I’ve also managed to get hold of some 105mm artillery, so I’m dangling those as a tempting treat to finish off the riflemen first. The uniforms are a mix of colours, the rifles are a mix of types, and some of them have had extra details like the red and white armbands and I figured the flag was a nice little touch I could get away with. 

I realised playing that last game how important it’s going to be to have some objective markers, so in between waiting for bits to dry I’ve also been making a Plastic Soldier Sherman to use as an objective marker – the idea being to make it look like ‘Fury’. It’s not quite the right variant, but I’ll put the stowage in the right places and it shouldn’t look a million miles away once it’s painted.

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Since this it’s been primed, basecoated and painted up. It needs setting on some sort of scenic base… Should I blow the starboard track, angle the gun downward and place a burning German on the hull front…? That might be a step too far.

If you haven’t seen the film that last comment might contain spoilers…

Tanks or Horses

Tanks or Horses… It isn’t as silly a question as it sounds. Bear with me, I’m going to be doing some thinking out loud here.

Day 1

I managed to get a copy of Red Bear, the Flames of War sourcebook for Allied Forces on the Eastern Front January 1944 – February 1945 today. So that, combined with a bit of a leaf through the main rule book is going to be the basis for whatever I’m going to collect (specifically I mean – I know that it’s going to be Soviet).

I’ve already got the beginnings of a Tank Company in the six T34s I got a little while ago. I’d need a minimum of 11 for a game legal force though, so I’m still a way away from that. The Tank Company is still a good place to start. It’s pretty mixed, I could add lots of infantry, light tanks (T70s or Valentines), Anti-Tank artillery and Aircraft. There’s one thing missing though…

Actual Cavalry.

I don’t know why, but I really like the idea of fielding some proper Cavalry. Namely a Guard’s Cossack Regiment. I can’t really explain why, but I really like the idea of masses of horses sweeping across the battlefield. They can still be supported by a Tank Company of T34s so there’s no wasted money there. It would also allow me to field a Katyusha Rocket Battalion – and let’s face it, rockets, umm, rock.

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I’ll sit down and work out a force over the next 24 hours – one for each option (although I’d also like to have the option for a Polish Home Army Battalion as that would allow me to field captured German equipment and add a bit of story to the games…).

I’ll leave this post here for tonight, but will add more tomorrow.

Day 2

I’ve slept on it and decided to do two things. A Guard’s Cossack Regiment and a Polish Home Army force. The Cossacks I’ve already discussed, so won’t go into any more detail except to say that I’m working on some more T34s tonight – a mixture of Zvezda hulls and Flames of War turrets. My local independent store is going to order me the bits and bobs as I work out what I need, but I think I’m going to continue mixing parts from different suppliers as it means I can tailor the look of whatever I collect a bit more than just limiting myself to one make. The Zvezda hulls are about 1mm shorter, but you really can’t tell the difference unless you sit them side by side. Your bank balance on the other hand will notice the £5.25 per model (if you buy a box of 5 – a whopping £7.50 if you buy them individually) from Flames of War compared to the £2.99 per model from Zvezda. It’s a no brainer…

Anyway, the Polish Home Army force will require a mixture of infantry types, captured German equipment (at the moment I have two Panthers, but they also captured a Tiger, a Hetzer and a load of other stuff. It will allow me to paint in more than just the same tones of camo and it’s an army that has got an interesting story behind it.

Day 3

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I’ve finished painting the T34s (that I have) so I’ve started on the Poles. The compulsory part of the force is two Rifle Companies and a Command Unit. I managed to get just over half of that based last night using a mixture of German and Polish infantry (as previously explained, the Polish Home Army was using a mixture of equipment including home made, but captured a lot from the Germans.

As a reward for getting that lot done, I painted up the first of the two Panthers to support them. 

The polish check on the front was tricky (and went on after the weathering to show it’s a newer feature on the hull). I didn’t want it to look too neat as it would have been added quickly once the tank was captured. The only problem with painting something to look a bit scruffy is that it can end up looking, well, a bit scruffy… I’ll try and paint the rest of it tonight – it’s mainly down to the details now and a bit of tidying up here and there.

I’ve got another one of these to do, and along with the two Rifle Companies and the HQ I’ll have 650 points of Polish Home Army troops ready for my first game of Flames of War using my own minatures.

I’d best get cracking…

How do you live with yourself?

Normally I would share my posts on social media. And by “social media”, I mean the one that people actually pay attention to, Facebook. And by “pay attention”, I mean the one that people can’t seem to just turn off. This will still get shared on Twitter, firstly because the command to do so is embedded somewhere deep inside WordPress’ electronic brain and I can’t be bothered to switch it off, but secondly because I am almost convinced that the use of Twitter to promote this sort of banal stream of consciousness is, well, ineffective to say the least. My 50 followers might pick up on it, but I have doubts. The post will only be tagged in order that it might help (I hope) people in a similar situation. It won’t be categorised and I will try to come up with the most innocent title I can.

Maybe three people might stumble on it by accident.

And do you know what? That’s ok. I don’t actually want people to read it. I want to sit down, think about things for a while and write it.

So before you go any further, if you normally check in to read about hobby stuff, you should probably just turn around and find something else to read right now. There won’t be any pictures, there probably (although you never know) won’t be any humour.

It’s not something I talk about very often, and only ever with incredibly selective people, normally people in a similar situation, but I am bi-polar. I hope that for anyone I actually know who’s reading this that this won’t come as much of a shock. I hope those people read it and think to themselves “oh, that makes sense”.

Normally the highs are more hypomania than mania and the lows aren’t terribly deep. Normally. I’ve learned how to spot the warning signs. I still don’t know what triggers it, and it manifests itself in strange ways. I get the usual sort of thing where I can just be doing something normal and burst into tears for no reason – this usually happens at home when there’s no one else around thankfully. I pack stuff away (which I don’t think is so normal), DVDs, books, my hobbies in particular – anything that is about me really. The things that make me me. I become incredibly difficult to get out of bed. Because of the kids and the job I know I have to now, so that at least is a bit easier to cope with than it has been in the past. On the flip side I find it very difficult to sleep at night and my brain feels like it won’t turn off – unless I actually need it to be doing something, and then I can’t turn it on… There’s a lot of hiding my personality and concentrating on the basics. Work, housework, eat, sleep, repeat. If you do know me and wonder why sometimes my Facebook profile picture occasionally changes to something that isn’t me, that’s normally another sign that I’m on the slide on the way down rather than the ladder on the way up. I feel worthless, I have no appetite. Whether I’m high or low I tend to say or do silly things. The lows have made me drink (and normally I don’t drink much at all) and I have hurt myself. Quite deliberately and quite badly. Not for a few years now though.

The highs are easier to deal with I suppose. I try and plan things. Big things. I think, if I’m honest that the Battle of Jutland and Cape St Vincent recreations were thought up in a manic phase. So I suppose in some regards the rather innocent comment from another club member that they are my “enablers” is probably a bit too close to the mark for comfort. I also buy things I know I shouldn’t, and then usually feel bad about it afterwards. Again, I hope that the people who know me fairly well, if they’ve read this and think about it, they will recognise the highs and lows in my own behaviour. The days at work where I keep my head down and just get on with things, or equally the days where I’m just a bit louder, more ambitious and enthusiastic than normal. I think I keep quite a good lid on it, but you never know. There might even be people out there reading this thinking “well tell us something we don’t know”.

The wife knows the warning signs to look out for. We’ve spoken about it in the past. She knows if she comes home and the bookcases are empty that I probably need some quiet time and hugs until it passes, normally a few days later. I probably won’t want to talk about it at the time. Again, this hasn’t happened for a while and she’s very good, but I’m getting the feeling that I want to do it right now. Hence this post.

I’ve already tidied up the living room. The area that would normally contain half-made models, pots of paint, brushes, glue, files and drills is completely barren. If I had some decent cardboard boxes I’d probably put some DVDs and books into the basement. I know if I do that it’ll worry the wife, so at the moment I can probably get away with passing off the tidiness of the living room as a natural break in proceedings. I’m even considering taking a break from the club. I could quite happily go to bed now and not get up until ten minutes before I’m due to be at work in the morning.

My first clue that this would be something that would be part of my life was sitting in a lecture room on my nursing course and being asked by the lecturer to fill out a patient survey, something normally given out in hospitals to assess a person’s state of mind. He told us that we wouldn’t have to share the result if we didn’t want to – a few people did, but I just sat off to the right in the front row (it was 16 years ago, but I can still remember where I was sitting, the fact that the door was on the right hand wall in front of me, it was late afternoon, the windows were on the left hand side of the room, there were vertical blinds on them) and kept my mouth shut hoping that the lecturer (Kevin) didn’t look at me and ask if I wanted to share with the other people in the lecture what my score was. I had answered the survey completely honestly and actually felt pretty good at the time, that’s what made the result frankly quite terrifying. “Worse than clinical depression” was the form’s diagnosis. Obviously I went to see a doctor, more to see what the options were than anything. Typically in a university town he didn’t know me, didn’t seem to particularly care and his word for word response was “I’m not surprised you feel a bit miserable, you’ve just had glandular fever” followed up by the even more memorable “Well what do you want, pills?”. At that point I practically walked out. A few days later I really hurt myself. It was stupid, I don’t think I’d ever do it again, it’s not something I’m proud of and yes, I really regret it.

So why the hell am I writing this? Well I guess it’s part of a process. It’s either this or pack everything away. It’s either this or just go to bed. I’m trying something new. I’m not trying to make a big deal out of it – as I hope I’ve made clear. I’m not after sympathy, I don’t need it because to be perfectly honest it makes no difference and just makes me feel like people are paying me more attention than I want them to. If someone else is ever feeling the same way and it in some way helps them to know that other people have similar symptoms, to just feel a little less alone (and despite being married, having 4 kids and a friend living in the same house as me I really do genuinely feel alone when I get like this), If it means that someone who knows or suspects that a loved one is depressed or bi-polar and they understand a bit better, then I suppose it’s worth it.

Ironically I’ve just spoken to the wife on the phone and she asked me if I’m alright because I didn’t sound it… She is good you know. She’s on her way home, so I’m going to wrap this up. If you’ve read it to the end and it’s resonated for any reason, hopefully because it might make you feel better or it helps you help someone you know with similar problems, then thank you.

Red or Dead

I was asked earlier today (in reference to my selection of force for Flames of War) “why go for the Soviets?”

Good question.

Let me roll things back… Imagine if you will the heady days of July 2013. I was a mere slip of a 35 year old, I’d just had the zany idea to look at wargames that didn’t necessarily come in a box proudly marked GAMES WORKSHOP and because of the place I worked (and still work) I started by looking at historical wargames.

The one I fairly quickly settled on was Mongoose Publishing’s Victory at Sea, and the first miniatures I bought from Navwar were the British Aircraft Carrier HMS Glorious, two Royal Navy Destroyers to represent HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent and the two German Battlecruisers the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. These ships met in reality in June 1940 and the result was a very one sided “3-0″ to the Germans. The story is an interesting one, the carrier had no flights in the air and an early deck hit ensured that remained the case for the duration of the battle. The Destroyer escorts laid smoke and attacked the much larger Battlecruisers in order to protect the Glorious, but all three were sunk in relatively short shrift.

So my introduction to historical wargaming was a bit of research, a recreation of an actual event and both allied and axis miniatures.

Soon after, with the Chatham Historical Wargaming Club established (initially as Victory at Sea, Chatham – because that was the only game we originally intended to play), a few members and ideas for our own collections I decided to amass an Imperial Japanese Navy fleet. Not the most obvious choice perhaps – especially considering my nationality, the reputation of the Japanese forces during the war, their treatment of allied prisoners of war and where I work, but there were a few reasons for picking the IJN.

The Japanese Navy was initially based on the Royal Navy. They were the first nation to launch a purpose built Aircraft Carrier, they built the largest operational Battleships the world has ever seen and their Long Lance torpedoes were far and away the most advanced in the war. At their (surprise) entry into the Second World War they seemed to understand that the Battleship’s time had passed. Their ships were completely different visually than the sort of stuff we’re used to seeing on this side of the world – just look at this, the Fuso.

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So yeah, I chose to collect IJN miniatures.

A little while later (and once a copy of the Victory at Sea expansion, Order of Battle had been ordered, dispatched and received) I thought it was time to look at a second fleet. By this point other members had collected Italian, British, US and German fleets so I was really left with the French… or the Soviets.

So the Soviets it was.

This was a bit more of a “what if” fleet than any of the rest – Aircraft Carriers and Battleships that were never completed were sat next to destroyers purchased from other countries, given to the Russians by allies or which were out and out copied from other navies. All a bit strange, outside of my experience and a real mixture of stuff from the slightly (incredibly) shonky looking Gangut Class Battleships to the projected but never completed Sovietsky Soyuz Class Battleships. We then (as a club) stretched our legs a bit further and got acquainted with Bag The Hun, Two Fat Lardies’ WW2 aerial combat game. Again we started collecting a bit of everything, but I always had a bit of a soft spot for the Il-2, the MiG 3 and the Yak 3.

Finally, right up to date now, we looked into moving into land based combat and settled on Flames of War as a game system and again I had to look at a suitable force – for me.

The only other players I know have British and German forces, so they were out. The US was eliminated by virtue of the fact that they shared a reasonable amount of equipment with the British (although I am sorely tempted by buy a single Sherman so that I can paint up my very own 1:100 “Fury”) and of the nations outlined in the main rulebook that left the Soviets.

It wasn’t quite that cut and dried though. The playstyle for each force was outlined in the rules – Germans strong in attack, British strong in defence, The Americans as the most versatile and the Russians… The Russians with their massed tank formations and lots, and lots of infantry – and that suited me. The T34 is as much an iconic product of the war as the Spitfire or the Bismarck. The failure of Operation Barbarossa and the Soviet push back to Berlin, watching Enemy at the Gates – there’s all sorts of reasons I picked them as a force. The main reason I picked them is because of the four forces in that rule book, it’s the one that I know the least about – and it will give me an opportunity to do something about that.

I really enjoy the research into it, so far that’s included the history of the war on the Eastern Front, the German invasion and the Soviet response, I’ve had to look at how the tanks were painted, armed and what their tactics were. I’ve looked up the composition of Tank Corps, and then Mechanised Corps. I’ve had to look up equipment I’m not particularly familiar with (like the Katyusha Rocket Launchers). The basic composition of a tank corps gives me the option to field motorcycle recon teams, anti-tank units, mobile artillery and heavy tanks, T34s by the bucket load, sappers, snipers, anti-air units, transport trucks and a motor rifle brigade. Which is, let’s be honest, is a fairly versatile force.

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They were the first to get to Berlin and whatever happened after that (and I’m certainly not saying that I agree with their ideology, their methods, the Iron Curtain, the Cold War or the current situation in Ukraine), bearing in mind the position they were in 6 months into the German invasion that is one hell of an achievement. To put all of that success at the feet of “bitter Russian winter” doesn’t really do the Red Army justice.

Maybe, just maybe, that’s all rubbish though, and it really is all about the T34…

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Blue on Blue

I’m not going to write very much tonight because I’ve just got in from the club night and it’s nearly 11pm, but I do just have to post something about what we’re up to and the results of my first game of Flames of War.

The first thing I did tonight was compare my tanks to the Shermans of my opponent. I’ve been painting these in isolation – I’ve never seen anyone else’s attempts at painting them before and wasn’t sure if they’d be up to scratch. I’m relieved to say that they are, they fitted with the standard of the British Lorried Rifle Company that Graham (An English Wargammer) brought along for the game. The only thing I think I need to look at is repainting the tracks on the T34/85s. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I’ve obviously been so used to painting metallic tracks on 40k miniatures that I didn’t stop to think that they don’t actually look like that… Whoops, but at least it’s a mistake that’s easy to correct.

The game, as I’ve now found out, is quick and easy to play, fun and looks really good – even with the basic setup we had tonight. We had a fair mix of tanks, artillery and infantry (including rifle squads, mortars and command units). I’m not going to post a full battle report, because the game really was a demo – the two forces were identical, the playing area was small, there were no real objectives other than to learn a new system and mainly because my dice rolling was up to its usual standards – You can pretty much guarantee that if I need to roll a 3+, I’ll roll a 1…

What I will do is post some photos.

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And finally we’ve started up our second Victory at Sea League. We played one last year (before Jutland) but we arranged it in a typical heats, semi finals, runner ups and finals sort of way. It became a bit mired in making sure that people were there to actually play the games and a couple of people dropped out halfway through. Although we got to the end it was a bit of a nightmare to be honest… This time we decided to simplify things.

Everyone will play everyone else. Twice. Once as the attacker and once as the defender. The scenario is randomly generated from those in the rulebook and so is the priority level. 3 points are awarded for a win, none for a loss and 1 each for a draw. This way (I hope) we can keep up the league without having to worry about people not being able to turn up every week and it means there’s a bit more variation in the games as they’re not just “sink everything on the table” affairs. We’ve been running it for two weeks now and it seems to be running ok so far. Here’s the current league standings.

Week 2 Victory at Sea League

Right, that’s enough for one night, I’m off to get some shut eye. Or to watch more Black Books…

“Button Up!” – Or “How to make things difficult for yourself” (the wife’s idea for the title)

After doing a bit of research last night into how to base and assemble the Command HQ unit I bought for my Red Army Flames of War force I thought I’d make a start with the heavy machine gunner and support crew. The gun is (I think) a Maxim PM M1910 and comes with a gunner and two loaders (one feeding the belt and one with a spare belt).

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I filed and prepped them earlier tonight, then stuck them to a length of lolly stick (which we have laying around the house at the moment – long story) so I could get the primer all around them. Then they’ve been basecoated a mid khaki and washed a darker green. I’ll hopefully get to more detail in the next few days, but it’s club night tomorrow and I have my demo game!

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The other thing I’ve been up to tonight is modelling the next T34/85. In carrying out the research for these I’ve come across a lot (well, a reasonable amount) of photos that show the drivers hatch open, so I thought I’d have a stab at it.

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I started by drilling the corners of the hatch itself and then filed it as flat as I could to thin down the plastic. This left the holes in the corners so I could see the extent of the hatch and knew where to cut. I trimmed out the middle using a sharp knife and then filed the edges down. I made sure that I left the moulded hinge at the top in place and then made a hatch cover out of plasticard. Once I’d got the shape right I added a thin strip to the top (with a notch filed into the centre) to represent the raised vision slits. After that I selected one of the torsos from the tank commander sprue and attached him (at a slight angle to make him look like he was leaning back rather than sitting bolt upright) to the floor of the tank – there was a bit of test fitting here before the glue set, but he’s in a reasonable position now – which explains the glue marks on the inside of the hull.

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You can see him through the hatch, but he’s a reasonable distance inside it (the first test fit almost had his head poking through the hatch – and that would have been very wrong…).

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It’s currently sitting in the dining room waiting for the primer to dry – it’s still in these three parts so that I can paint the driver and then stick it all together before painting the hull (although I will spray the basecoat first). So watch this space – hopefully it will pay off. If it does work I might have a go at modelling a damaged tank with the engine covers open. We’ll see.

The other thing I’ve been thinking of doing is adding snow weathering to the vehicles. I did originally want to paint them in snow camo, but the vast majority of the colour images I could find were in the flat green colouring that I ended up using, but it turns out this was used in the snow as well, so I might have a stab at adding some. I’ve done a winter Imperial Guard 40k army in the past, so I’ve done snow effects and weathering – but not at this scale. I’m still considering it, but I’d like to get them all finished to a basic standard first and then I’ll think about it afterwards.

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And that is A) a T34/85 – the same variant I’m building and B) it has the driver’s hatch open… it also handily shows the positioning of the secondary turret hatch when open.

Food for thought.

Boots on the Ground

Tanks are all well and good, but any Second World War tabletop game is going to feature infantry at some point, and for the Soviets, that applies twice as much as it does to any other force.

After the whirlwind invasion of Russia in June and July 1941, the Soviets threw practically everything at the Germans in order to keep them at bay. The Russians lost most of their tanks, aircraft and huge numbers of their trained infantry in those first few weeks (the estimate of killed, wounded, captured or missing Red Army infantry rests at 600,000 for the first week alone). The full production capacity of the Soviets was mustered to replace the lost equipment and materiel. The Allies were able to provide yet more equipment, but the Russians’ true advantages in halting the Nazi advance were their weather and their massive population.

Often untrained and poorly armed in late 1941 and early 1942 the Soviet Red Army grew and grew. They were fighting for the Motherland, forcing the Germans out of their own country. They were, as the war progressed, battle hardened, increasingly well equipped, motivated (in much the same way that the Czech and Polish pilots in the RAF were motivated and were instrumental in the winning of the Battle of Britain) and they had a fairly major and understandable grudge.

So, infantry…

When I bought the pack of T34 medium tanks the other day, I also bought a Company HQ blister pack. It was the only Soviet infantry pack that was on the shelf, so it wasn’t like I had a lot of choice, but that said it looked like a reasonable mix of ‘stuff’. 3 light mortar teams, a heavy machine gun team and some riflemen (and their attendant Kommissars, Officers and flag bearers). I opened the blister this evening to be confronted by a mass of miniature men… And I’ll be honest, I couldn’t really tell them apart at first glance. That’s not to say they’re not fairly well detailed – it just took me a while to separate the mortar teams from the HMG loaders and so on.

Luckily, the Flames of War website came to the rescue fairly quickly and I managed to look up the pack using the product code – SU701. A huge sigh of relief left my lips as pictures of the assembled bases flashed up on the screen.

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It also helpfully shows them painted, so I know what to aim for there as well. The pressure is off in some regards as although we are going to have a demo game at the club on Thursday night, we’re going to use two identical forces of British troops belonging to An English Wargamer.

And finally tonight I’ve finished the third of the five T34/85s. I’m quite happy with the consistency of finish across the three of them. The trickiest bit by far is actually the transfers… They are very, very small, those stars need to be positioned just right with one of the points straight up. they float around on even the tiniest drop of water, but once in place they do make the tanks look finished and a cohesive unit.

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That’s enough for one night. I’m back at work in the morning, and I can’t sit up watching Black Books all night…