French and Indian War: Compagnie Franches de la Marine from Conquest Miniatures

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By the time open conflict between French and British forces erupted in the French and Indian War in 1754, the French were well experienced with the challenges posed by the North American wilderness. In varying forms, the Compagnies Franches de la Marine made up the majority of the defenders of the colonies of New France for about 100 years. Operating from Canada, their skill in adaptive combat made them ubiquitous in engagements large and small throughout the FIW, including the Battle of the Monongahela, the Siege of Fort William Henry, Battle of Snowshoes and the Battle of Fort Carillion.

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WarlordlogoWarlord Games offers a boxed set of Compagnies Franches de la Marine featuring twenty metal models from Conquest Miniatures. Conquest’s castings tend to be on the smaller side of 28mm scale — a bit closer to 25mm in my experience. That said, I’ve found my experience with their various FIW ranges to be excellent and full of detail. This set of one officer and nineteen soldiers armed with muskets is a fantastic way to get a couple units on the table usable in a variety of scenarios throughout the FIW.

Work in progress of the Conquest miniatures Compagnies Franches de la Marine boxed set from Warlord Games

Uniforms for the Compagnies Franches de la Marine were officially quite similar to regular French troops with white jackets with blue cuffs and turnbacks, blue waistcoats, blue breeches and white trousers, all topped with a yellow-laced tricorne hat. More commonly the irregular nature of these units assignments in the field led to more adaptive uniforms and gear. Slouched  blue and white forage hats, loose shirts, leather leggings and colorful sashes were used in a combination of looks. Daggers, hatchets and short swords filled provided practical frontier weaponry. Bags, satchels and jewelry — often traded with close Indian allies — allowed individual French soldiers to individually kit themselves out as they saw fit.

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The lack of formal uniforms in these soldiers makes for a lot of the fun in painting them. Using my imagination allowed me to field a model who could be used as a scout dressed in a long fringed leather buckskin coat (above, left). The included officer model (above, right) maintains his more formal appearance with his tricorne hat and dress uniform while gesturing a command with his left hand and leaning on his musket with the right.

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The remainder of the models each carry a unique poses of their own, making these Frenchmen pleasure to paint and a nice break in the action from the regular 18th-century uniforms so present during the FIW and on the gaming table.

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French and Indian War: Virginia Provincials from Galloping Major Wargames

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With French eyes on the contested Ohio Country and Western Virginia, in 1754 British Colonial Governor Robert Dinwiddie called for the raising of provincial infantry to protect the frontier. Commanded by Colonel Joshua Fry and a young Lieutenant Colonel George Washington, the Virginians would be present at the very start of the French and Indian War at an encounter gone badly at Jumonville Glen in Western Pennsylvania in May 1754. Washington’s eventual promotion to Colonel commanding the Virginians in 1755 during disastrous experiences at Fort Necessity and with the Braddock Expedition would shape his future leadership both on and off the battlefield.

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I was fortunate to be recently gifted fifteen Provincial figures from Galloping Major Wargamers. These excellent sculpts are on the bigger side of the 28mm miniature spectrum, representing a classic “true 28mm” with stocky, detailed and well-posed figures. The models are equipped so as to represent a variety of the Provincial forces in the British colonies during the era, allowing for a lot of flexibility for painters and gamers.

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Charles Willson Peale. George Washington in the Uniform of a British Colonial Colonel. 1772. Oil on canvas. Lee Chapel & Museum, Washington & Lee University.

The challenge in painting models of the FIW period can be in choosing what uniforms to base color schemes on. From my research I was able to tell the  Virginia Provincials went through two distinct uniform designs. The first, from about 1754-1755, featured a boldly in red — red coats with red cuffs and turnbacks, red waistcoats and red breeches. The later uniform adopted in 1756 through the end of the conflict featured a dark blue coat with red cuffs and turnbacks, red waistcoats and blue breeches. The 1772 portrait of Washington by Charles Willson Peale captures a heroic depiction of this later uniform style. In reality, both uniforms probably overlapped in use and at times the undersupplied provincial units would have resorted to using whatever equipment and clothing was available.

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I chose to paint my provincials in the later blue coats so as to make them stand out from the other allied British redcoats on the gaming table. To my eye, the later uniforms somehow look “more American” as the Virginians exited the war already sowing the seeds of the Revolution against British Crown rule to come over the next two decades.

As stated above, these Galloping Major castings feature some great personality. The command figures, one with a sword drawn behind his back and the other with his pistol at the ready, really carry a lot of presence on the table. The drummer stands resting as is catching his breath before the next command beat through his drum. Even each line figure, either loading or firing, has slight tweaks to their pose or equipment to show each miniature as an individual within the Virginia Provincial Regiment.

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French and Indian War: Woodland Indians from Conquest Miniatures

After facing my fear of painting all the details on my first 18th-century British Redcoats, I turned next to North American Indians and another challenge – painting lots of flesh. Getting Indians in the mix with my French and Indian War gaming project was key, and my focus on the era of the Braddock Expedition and the Battle of the Monongahela meant I was going to need lots of Indians. In addition and since both the British and the French allied with different tribes throughout the war, I was going to need a fair amount of variety from the figures I chose.

 

As I entered into modelling my first North American Indians of the 18th-century, I went to two books. Jill Lepore’s The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity (1998) focuses on how warfare in New England in the 1670s shaped the mindsets of European settlers as well the native people they encountered. In a follow-up of sorts, Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America (2007) by Peter Silver picks up this thread in the Mid-Atlantic colonies of the 1700s as multiple nationalities and ethnicities of Europeans again ran up against a population of natives set on halting the expansion of these new arrivals. Both books are remarkable and still ring as relevant to this day as fear and violence remain a cultural and poltical driver as we Americans continue to grapple with new cultures of people looking to share space.

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With a bit of reading under my belt, I was fortunate to have a fellow member at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY who had piles of extra Indians from Conquest Miniatures sitting in a box. These metal cast models are now carried by Warlord Games in both boxed sets like the Woodland Indian War Party and in smaller packages. From my friend’s stash and without duplicating poses, I was able to pull out a couple dozen different models to build my initial Indian force. The models show a lot of unique personality and equipment with both traditional weapons (bows, war clubs, knives and hatchets) and European guns. The mode of dress also varies, with some figures wearing only the minimum of a loincloth and leggings while others are in long-sleeved shirts.
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My first Indians get their base flesh coat
As per my usual process at this scale, all the metal was cleaned up, the figures were based on washers and the bases were filled in roughly with wood putty. After a black spray coat, the first challenge was in finding a proper flesh tone to represent Native woodland Indians of northeastern North America. I read a lot online debate on how to capture the skin tone of a varied people, so I settled on a two-part process of my own.
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A second lighter flesh coat is added
Over the black primer I applied a first coat to exposed skin areas using a 50/50 mix of red and dark brown paints. As the paint was drying, I immediately noticed the skin was a good dark color but translating as overly red even at arm’s length. In order to preserve the richness of the color while also tempering the bright redness, I gently dry brushed a coat of light brown over all the skin areas again. Once dried a second time, I felt I had a fairly decent tabletop rendition of skin tone capturing the creases, shadows and shape of the bared muscles without tipping into caricature.
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Details in equipment and clothing begin to be blocked out
As opposed to the sameness of European uniforms of the FIW period, the real fun in painting these Indian models is in the imagination that can be put into them. Not surprisingly, there’s not much of a detailed historic visual record of exact modes of dress for Native Americans of this period. With that, I let my creativity reign. Most leggings, loincloths and satchels got a basic leather brown color with fringe highlighted in slightly lighter brown. Jewelry such as necklaces, earrings and bracelets got a mix of metallic and red, blue or green colors to represent precious stones or trade beads.
Since decoration was very prominent with most tribes of the Northeast, all bags, leggings, belts and other gear got a mix of geometric patterns applied to represent this native craftsmanship. Detail also extended to some of the flesh on the models, with most receiving body paints or tattoos in red, dark blue, black and white. In the end some of the figures wound up with their arms, heads or even entire torsos covered in paint.
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Painted models are finished off in a woodland-like basing mix
While half the models carried the look of their native cultures, the other models sported more European-style clothing with long shirts, blankets and leggings, all of which were done in various colors. I especially liked one figure who seems to be striding along proudly wearing a captured British red coat. With everything painted, the bases were finished with Green Adirondack ground cover from Scenic Express.
My first two dozen completed Indians wound up dividing nicely into two groups of twelve. This will make them easier to identify as diffrent units on the same side or different tribes altogther choosing to swing their aliance to the opposing British and French.
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French and Indian War: British Regular Infantry from Conquest Miniatures

French Indian War 1754-1763: British Regular Infantry boxed set

I’m a longtime miniatures painter in multiple scales and periods, but the 18th-century has always intimidated me. Large masses of European troops standing in lines, a sameness of pose and uniform bedecked with multicolored facings and detail all seemed a bit much. And if I was going to be playing the French and Indian War I was going to need British Redcoats – lots of British Redcoats.

I turned to a couple books to stoke my interest I turned to a couple books focused on my soon-to-be subjects. An old standby in the hobby is Osprey Publishing, and I picked up a copy of 1996’s British Redcoat, 1740-93 by Stuart Reid. While good for a few detailed illustrations by Richard Hook, the slim volume also gives a solid intro into the recruitment, training and life of a British soldier of the period. My interest piqued, I dove deeper into the topic with Stephen Brumwell’s Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755-1763 from 2002. The book is scholarly yet very readable, and Brumwell goes a long way in smashing common myths about English soldiering during the FIW.

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With inspiration fired, I picked my first set of metal figures in the British Regular Infantry box offered by Warlord Games. Made from castings by Conquest Miniatures, the box comes with a nice selection of 18 models: four men firing, eight marching aggressively forward and a six-man command group including two flag bearers, a drummer, two junior officers and a commander.

I decided to paint my first British soldiers of the period to represent the 44th Regiment of Foot due to their role in the Braddock Expedition, the Battle of the Monongahela and other major engagements of the FIW. For my first time painting facings, I also thought the bright yellow against the red of the 44th Foot would also pop nicely on the table.

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My first test redcoat with basic colors blocked in

After basing the models on washers, filling the bases with rough wood filler and spraying a black primer coat, I blocked in the colors. I didn’t get carried away on exact colors, relying on a basic red for the coats, waistcoats and pants, basic yellow for the facings and a brown buff for the leggings. The cuffs were done in two steps, first with a bright white and then finished with a thin line of yellow. With a fine brush, white details were added on the basic black tricorn hats and on trim to the waistcoats and lapels.

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Halfway through my first batch of British Redcoats

Details were finished off with the same brown buff on stripes and belts, a basic brown to the guns and metal to finish off the guns, bayonets and officer swords. Finally, flesh and eyes were painted. Exposed skin and the leather leggings and straps got a careful light coat of brown wash to finish the painting. Flags were made by photocopying those included in the Warlord box, the bases were covered in my new favorite groundcover – Green Adirondack from Scenic Express.

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28mm: Panzer IV By Rubicon Models

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With 8000-9000 Panzer IV models rolling around over the course of World War II, this German tank was ubiquitous in engagements throughout. The tank itself went through a number of evolutions in terms of guns and armor, and the chassis wound up serving in many capacities as the carriage for other ant-tank and anti-aircraft guns. If you’re a wargamer like me fielding a WWII German force, chances are you’re eventually going to need a few Panzer IVs.

IMG_8768Unboxing the Rubicon Models Panzer IV kit

I’ve had a bit of experience in the past modelling the Panzer IV in 15mm with a kit from Plastic Soldier Company. For my 28mm models, I turned back to Rubicon Models which I had used in modelling a US M4A3 Sherman a while back. I chose Rubicon again for a consistency of scale, the clean casting of their kits and the deal I found on a pair of their Panzer IVs for under $50 USD. Unboxing their models is a real pleasure with separate sprues individually wrapped in protective plastic, clear instructions and decals included with the kits.

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Cutting and sorting pieces as construction begins

The clear step-by-step instructions make assembly a breeze as long as pieces are organized and the model is done in stages. The kit includes options for building the Panzer IV in its evolution from F2, G and H models. Uniquely, the kit allows the finished model to swap out the 75mm KwK L/43 and L/48 gun barrels with a friction fitting pin. The Schürzen on both the sides and turret are likewise removal, allowing you to effectively field two versions of the tank. For now I’m leaving the guns and Schürzen removable but I may decide to permanently glue them in the future.

Here’s my quick guide to getting the models assembled and painted:

Painting 28mm German Armor

  1. Carefully cut kit pieces from plastic sprues with small pliers.Keep pieces organized as you go and assemble the model in stages per manufacturer instructions
  2. Basecoat the model with flat black spray primer.
  3. Using three progressive coats of dry brushed greys, paint the entire model. I use Skavenlight Dinge, Mechanicus Standard Grey and Dawnstone (all from Citadel).
  4. Paint tracks Black.
  5. Paint wooden tool handles Dark Brown and metals parts with metallic Silver.
  6. Using a flat brush with only the very slightest amount of the same metallic Silver, dry brush the tracks. Use the same method on raised plates, hatches and edges of the entire model to create raised highlights.
  7. Paint the rear muffler a rust color by mixing Dark Brown and Red.
  8. Apply decals to the model and set the decals with Solvaset or some other decal sealer.
  9. Use a watered down Agrax Earthshade (Citadel) and add a muddy wash at edges, plate and hatch seams, muffler and on the Schurzen.
  10. Very, very lightly dry brush the entire model with Baneblade Brown (Citadel) to create a general muddied and weathered effect.
  11. Spray coat completed models with matte finish. Make sure you remove the turret so it does not stick to the main chassis during the spray coat.
  12. Rub pencil graphite on the edges where the turret meets the chassis to ensure free rotation.

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Dry brush coats of greys gradually lighter greys provide most of the color

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Included decals provide a lot of modelling options

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Watery mud is applied to the Schürzen

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Rubbing pencil graphite where the chassis meets the turret to ensure easy rotation

Aside from the drying time between steps, my tanks were finished in just a couple hours work over the course of a few week nights. I really love how slick the Rubicon Models kits assemble, paint up and look when completed. More views of the finished models are below, but I can’t wait to get these on the table at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY and see how they perform in pushing back the Allies.

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Freedom: The Underground Railroad and America’s Slavery Pop Culture Moment

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Slavery in the United States is having a moment in today’s popular culture. Suddenly again the long, complicated and violent history of slavery is seemingly everywhere — movie and TV screens, bookstores and even Presidential politics. Chalk it up to the mostly-ignored 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, a surging national conversation on race in America or a growing recognition among cultural creators for the need to tell this story, but slavery is importantly among us.

Slavery in contemporary fiction: Underground Airlines and The Underground Railroad

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters has been my late summer read. The book depicts a dystopian alternate contemporary United States where the Civil War never happened, slavery still exists in a pocket of Southern states and the hard-boiled narrator (himself an escaped former slave) pursues runaway slaves looking to escape north to Canada. Colson Whitehead’s newly-released The Underground Railroad takes a more historical fictional approach following an escaped Georgia slave girl’s journey north through a fantastically re-imagined Underground Railroad consisting of an actual network of secret railway routes.

Slavery on contemporary television: Roots and Underground

On small screens, no telling of the story of American slavery has been greater than in the landmark 1977 TV miniseries Roots which I watched as a child. Almost 40 years later, the summer began with a well-reviewed remake of the series on the History Channel, once again telling the multi-generational story of a family from Africa to slavery to freedom. Earlier in the year, Underground premiered on WGN with a fictional drama telling the tale of a group of slaves making the decision to escape their Georgia plantation. A second season will be premiering in 2017 and the first season has just become available for streaming on Hulu.

Slavery on contemporary film: Django Unchained, 12 Years A Slave, Free State of Jones and The Birth of a Nation

Hollywood has a spotty history with slavery but some old favorites of mine include the story of the first black volunteer regiment in the Civil War epic Glory (1989) and the slave ship revolt trial film Amistad (1997). Django Unchained (2012) somewhat controversially showed how slavery could be used as framework for what was essentially a violent action film. The following year’s Academy Award-winning 12 Years a Slave (2013) returned to a true narrative of a New York freeman sold South into slavery and winning his freedom again. In 2016, two movies have turned to historical armed slave uprisings with Free State of Jones and The Birth of the Nation, a film which riffs on the title of the classic pro-KKK 1915 movie in the telling of the story of the martyred slave rebellion leader Nat Turner.

Escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass and his anti-slavery newspaper The North Star published in Rochester, NY from 1847-1851

While stories of slavery, abolitionism and the Underground Railroad are currently in our pop culture media landscape, my years growing up south of Rochester, NY exposed me to all this history from an early age. Escaped slave, writer and activist Frederick Douglass lived in Rochester in the 1840s through 1870s and was eventuality buried there upon his death in 1895. Harriet Tubman, another escaped slave, activist and escort along the Underground Railroad, also settled in nearby Auburn, NY and was buried there in 1913. Stories, historic sites and statues to the abolitionists of the period litter Western New York, as do the routes and stops along the Underground Railroad — some factual and some folklore.

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Solo play set up for Freedom: The Underground Railroad by Academy Games

While the Civil War has long been a popular period among historical miniatures wargamers and board game players like myself, the subject of slavery has been largely ignored. That changed in 2012 with the release of Freedom: The Underground Railroad from Academy Games. The intense board game presents the period from 1800 through 1865 with players cooperatively taking on the roles of abolitionists and conductors of escaped slaves along historical routes from the Deep South to freedom in Canada.

Playing against the game, players must work together in Freedom to raise funds, build abolitionist support and ferry slaves from three plantation areas of the South. A series of actions in each round give players choices in moving escapees, fundraising and buying cards as slave hunters prowl routes in the North attempting to recapture slaves seeking freedom in Canada. The cards depict historical events and people that assist or hinder the mission of the players, with each of the three rounds of the game revealing cards specific to the events of different periods of the era. As each turn ends, more slaves (depicted as small wooden blocks) fill the Southern plantations so the game is a race against time from the start. Only by rescuing a certain number of slaves and building anti-slavery support by the game’s end results in a victory.

And victory is difficult and harrowing. Playing through the game several times in both its solo and multi-player mode, Freedom has an intensity I’ve rarely felt in a board game. Hard, balanced choices have to be made to lure slave hunters away from Underground Railroad routes and players likewise have to keep an eye on not only moving their escaped slaves northward but on the other important aspects of raising money and gaining support for the cause. After several games, I realized some slaves had to be heartrendingly sacrificed and captured in order to allow others to escape. By game’s end, players can be emotionally exhausted and I’ve even heard of some crying during play.

Playing Freedom reveals the difficulty of depicting slavery and the story of the Underground Railroad in game form. Making Freedom a collaborative game with players working against the construct of the game does a remarkable job of presenting the challenge the entrenched system of slavery presented to those working against it for decades under long odds and seemingly little chance for success. Academy Games does a great job in providing informative historical context in the rule book as well as making available a 72-page teacher’s guide to using the game in the classroom.

Much as our popular culture has struggled to deliver diverse, accurate and compelling stories of slavery in books, television and movies, it is most probably the complicated nature of  the history that has kept game makers away from the topic for so long. Thankfully Academy Games has risen gloriously to the challenge with Freedom and filled an important gap in historical gaming and our popular understanding of slavery in The United States.

28mm: German Wehrmacht and Mortar By Black Tree Design

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Taking advantage of the frequent sales by Black Tree Design, I’ve added some additional Wehrmacht troops to my 28mm World War II German force. Previously, I had painted up more than thirty of Black Tree’s figures, so this later order filled out my collection with a few more soldiers armed with rifles, another officer and a mortar crew with a nifty spotter with binoculars raised to his eyes.

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When on sale, these metal cast models from Black Tree come in at about $1.50 USD each. This price point makes these miniatures super affordable, quick to get based and ready for painting up using my regular painting process.

Painting 28mm German Infantry

  1. Clean flash from metal models with a sharp knife and glue to metal washer or plastic bases.
  2. Apply filler putty to bases. When dry, scrape off excess with a sharp knife.
  3. Basecoat models and bases with flat black spray primer.
  4. Paint pants, helmets, soft hats, officer greatcoats and gas mask containers with Skavenlight Dinge.
  5. Paint faces and hands with Tallarn Flesh.
  6. Paint packs ans straps with Baneblade Brown.
  7. Paint boots and equipment straps Black.
  8. Paint bases, gun stocks, water bottles and helmet straps with Dark Brown.
  9. Apply Agrax Earthshade wash to webbing and packs.
  10. Dry brush pants, helmets, soft hats and officer greatcoats with Light Grey.
  11. Lightly dry brush bases and gun stocks with Baneblade Brown.
  12. Paint metal gun and water bottle parts with black and finish with a light dry brush of Metallic Silver.
  13. Dry brush gasmask containers with metallic Silver.
  14. Paint eyes with small dots of Off White and Dark Brown. Clean up around eyes with Tallarn Flesh.
  15. Mix 50/50 Tallarn Flesh and Off White and brush highlights on cheekbones, chins, forehead, nose and hands.
  16. Cover bases in white glue and cover in 50/50 mix of fine light green and dark green grass flock.
  17. Glue small pieces of clump foliage to base.
  18. Spray coat completed models with matte finish.

With about 40 of Black Tree’s models now complete, I’ve got a flexible, reliably sized force of simply outfitted Germans ready for deployment in a variety of European tabletop scenarios.

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