Flames of War: Novus Design Studio 15mm City Block Ruins

ruinsWar is destructive by its very nature, and World War II was the most destructive war in history. Aside from the tens of millions of military personnel and civilian deaths, the war brought unprecedented ruin to the thousands of villages, towns, cities and industrial areas through and over which the war was fought. The nearly immeasurable physical and financial impacts of WWII rippled for decades to come, including enormous effects on buildings and other physical spaces worldwide.

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My 15mm European terrain during a recent game

For my 15mm WWII wargaming using Flames of War and I Ain’t Been Shot Mum rules systems, my terrain has been modeled almost entirely on Western Europe using buildings from numerous manufacturers collected over the past few years. In all my 15mm modelling, destroyed buildings have largely been absent so far, so I’ve been really happy to add my new city block ruin models from Novus Design Studio to my terrain collection.

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NDS was founded just about a year ago in April 2014 by Robert and Nancy Rumfelt, the founders and original owners of JR Miniatures. Like many wargamers, I’ve got a long history with models from JR Minis and so in many ways I knew what to expect from NDS when the company’s launch was first announced. I watched their inventory grow in the past year covering 6mm, 15mm and 28mm scales across WWII, sci-fi, fantasy and modern themes, and they’ve continued to add new products in the new year.

IMG_4969A complete set of four 15mm city block ruins from Novus Design Studio

The two and three story 15mm urban ruins retail for $26-31 USD each but I picked up a full set of four in a 40% off deal NDS ran at the end of 2014. The straight and corner buildings match up nicely together in a row or bunched into a city block in various configurations. The models also look great placed among buildings from other manufacturers, especially other city row houses from JR Minis. The castings in a creamy resin require a little flash clean up with a sharp hobby knife and air pocket holes show up here and there but don’t distract from the destroyed nature of the structures.

Novus Sample Front BackFront and rear view depicting multiple removable floors of a typical city block ruin model

All the NDS city block ruins feature removable floors molded with plank floors, piles of rubble, walls and interior doorways. The buildings have staircases and walls on the interior, broken window panes and more rubble on the attached sidewalks at the front. Everything about these make them very usable for 15mm gaming whether it be for 20th-century historical scenarios or contemporary and near-future gaming in European or even American urban settings. Getting multiples of the models on the table would easily allow setting up a truly impressive cityscape ravaged by the impacts of war.

IMG_4987Cleaned and primed corner city block ruin model

After cleaning up the flash on the models, I washed them all in warm soapy water to remove excess casting residue. The main building structures got a spray of flat gray as a base coat followed by layers of dry brushed tan, light gray and off white paint on the exteriors. Sidewalks also received grays and off white to highlight piles of ash and broken masonry heaped on the ground. On building had shutters which were painted in a dark blue and green and then highlighted with the same color mixed with a bit of white.

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For the interiors, the removable floor levels were base coated in flat black. Plank floors were built up in layers of browns ranging from dark to light in each coat. I went basic on interior walls, using an off white to create a simple plaster look. As with the exterior, the rubble and tile floors on the ground floors were built up in grays and off white.

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After a finish of a few coats of clear matte spray, the city block ruins were done. Arranged in a square block or stretched out in a row, these models easily blend in with other 15mm terrain manufacturers and add a great bit of variety to a tabletop set up. Bringing a bit of destruction to my overly neat wargaming battlefields is a welcome addition with my first buildings from Novus Design Studio.

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I Ain’t Been Shot Mum: Gela July 11, 1943 Scenario

gelaWe continued our play through Operation Husky and the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 this past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. We’re working our way through the events of July 11th in the Sicilian Weekend book by Too Fat Lardies for their I Ain’t Been Shot Mum rules for 15mm World War II play.

HuskyMap2Operation Husky, July-August 1943 (Gela in green)

The scenario represents the northeast section of the town of Gela where ferocious fighting had taken place the day before in the early actions of the Allied invasion of Sicily. The table was set up with a couple dozen buildings from a variety of manufacturers, including JR Miniatures, Battlefront, Mark IV Miniatures, Miniature Building Authority and Games of War. The occupying US troops all began hidden in  Gela with the Italians arriving on blinds at the opposite end of the table over a small railroad cut, bridge and road surrounded by open farm fields dotted with trees. The objective was simple: the Italians had to take back this corner of Gela and the Americans had to hold what they had fought so hard for the previous day.

Sicilianweekendcover‘Sicilian Weekend’ by Too Fat Lardies for their I Ain’t Been Shot Mum WWII rules

The Americans deployed in well-defended positions in the town with two platoons of rifles and light machine gun squads perched in buildings. A combat engineer platoon armed with a 37mm M3 anti-tank gun in tow sat hidden along the main street through town. Off board, 4.2 inch M2 mortars and 105 mm M2A1 howitzers from the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion were available as support to be called in by the captain from the company HQ perched in the tall building at the center of town. Tough and dug into great positions, the Americans looked to have a clear advantage.

IMG_5651The tabletop battlefield for Gela

As in the previous scenario southeast of Butera, the Italians again represented a massing of manpower from the Livorno Division with six small rifle platoons and a machine gun support platoon. Accompanying them this time was Mobile Group E compromised of light French Renault R35 tanks and pre-war Italian CV33 Tankettes. What the Italians lacked in a starting position on the field and quality of equipment and troops, they certainly made up for in volume as they began the game arriving on three blinds per turn.

IMG_5652Italians arrive northeast of Gela

As the Italians neared the town, the Americans bided their time and sought not to reveal their positions until the approaching forces were nearly on top of their positions. Approaching in the open, the Italian blinds were spotted in the open to reveal tanks and infantry closing in at the center and edge of town. With IABSM’s randomly card-activated units mechanic, my US commander was perhaps overly cautious in waiting a turn or two too long to start getting the American cards into the deck. This all but negated off-board US artillery support for the game and allowed the Italian attackers to get dangerously close to seizing a quick victory with nary a shot fired.

IMG_5653Italians swarm the edge of the town and the hidden American positions

On the Italian left, one of their early shots fired down the street took out a crew member of the M3 anti-tank gun, forcing the remaining American crew to haul it back around a corner to safety. In answer, the US engineers opened fire at close range and threw back the initial push by the Italians on the American right. At the center of town, US rifles, machine guns and bazookas firing from within a massive central building ripped into the Italians marching forward in the open. Under heavy fire at their center, the Italians fled for cover to either side as their approach was slowed and their returned rifle and tank shots had little effect on the Americans.

IMG_5654Italians encounter fire from US engineers defending from buildings

IMG_5655Italian infantry duck for cover as they receive heavy combined arms fire from the Americans in the large central building

IMG_5656Italian armor repositions away from American fire

With nowhere to go but forward, an Italian rifle platoon at their left assaulted the US engineers holding down the American right from a building. The Americans took heavy casualties and were thrown backward from their position into the open street to the rear. In response, returned fire from engineers in a nearby building flung the Italians back from their brief victory.

IMG_5657Italian rifles push a US engineer platoon from the building position

Back at the center, another round of combined arms fire from the Americans in the large central building continued to feed shots into the Italians, forcing them to continue to slide into cover to either side of the open field outside town. While pushing the Italians back with casualties and shocking fire provided a short-term positive for the US, it also allowed the Italians the chance to redeploy and set themselves for a move into town on the American left.

IMG_5658Italians slide from the center toward the American left

Meanwhile on the US right, the surviving engineers were chewed up by additional fire in the street which stalled them out of the action. With the main street into town wide open, the first Italian tank positioned itself to roll down the cobblestones. Waiting in the distance was the American anti-tank gun with a clear field of fire down the street looking to stave off an armored assault into the heart of Gela.

IMG_5659Italian armor sneaks around the American right as the US 37mm M3 anti-tank gun waits in the distance

With the Italians abandoning the center, the fight moved to the flanks. One US rifle platoon moved to reposition into buildings further to the edge of town on the American left as two Italian platoons, one already having suffered heavy casualties, snuck between buildings for cover. The American engineers on their right sought to hold down the approaching Italian tanks and three rifle platoons, and the US anti-tank gun crew had yet to fire a shot. The American rifles, machine guns and bazooka crews who had caused so much damage at the center were facing a choice of redeployment as their Italian targets skirted to either side.

IMG_5644Italians mass for an attack on the US engineers

Several hours in, we called the game. The small-scale tactical nature of IABSM is highly contingent on when a platoon or command ‘big man’ card activates. With so many Italian cards in the deck, a run of activated Italian unit cards may have provided the push they needed to get to the main street and victory. That said, each US card drawn was continuing to have devastating results on the somewhat weaker Italians, causing casualties and flinging them into reconsidering different routes. The large number of Italian on the field were still poised to match up with the higher quality American troops, although the US had clearly blown an early opportunity to use their off-board artillery effectively. Good and bad command choices had left Gela contested for the day.

Flames of War: JR Miniatures 15mm Arnhem Row Houses

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I picked up two different 15mm JR Miniatures Arnhem row house models on my recent trip to the HMGS Fall In! 2014 convention at a real steal of 40% off the list price. At nearly 12″ long and up to 8″ tall, these cast resin models create a quick urban feel to a tabletop battlefield. Each model has lift off roofs and interior floor and wall sections which pull out to allow for stands of troops to occupy varying rooms and levels. The roofs on the models also contain open parapet areas where artillery spotters, machine gunners or other troops can placed to command the battlefield from high upon the rooftops.

IMG_4674Cleaned and primed Arnhem row houses from JR Miniatures

As with most of my experiences with JR Miniatures models, there’s a fair amount of clean up to flash before getting started. The castings also contain a few air holes here and there, but nothing that detracts too much from the overall models. If anything, missing pieces of a cornice or a small hole in a wall might be chalked up to gunfire.

Here’s a simple outline of my technique for painting resin buildings:

Painting Western European Buildings

  1. Use a sharp hobby knife to carefully remove extra resin flash from casting. Particular care should be taken to make sure interior floor sections lift out of the model easily.
  2. Wash models in warm soapy water to remove molding residues. Allow models to dry overnight.
  3. Spray prime roof and removable interior floor sections in flat black and main building sections in flat grey. Allow primer to dry overnight.
  4. Paint roofs:
    1. Tile roofs begin with a dry brush of 50/50 black and red paint, followed by a dry brush coat of red paint and finished with a dry brush of orange paint to highlight.
    2. Shingled roofs begin with a dry brush of dark grey, followed by dry brushed coats of lighter browns, light greys and dark green.
    3. Stuccoed areas in roof gables and dormer windows receive a dry stipple brushed coat of light brown followed by off-white paint dry brushed with the same stipple brush.
  5. Paint floor sections:
    1. Dry brush floorboards with layers of dark and lighter brown paints.
    2. Paint wall sections in off-white paint.
  6. Paint building facades:
    1. Stucco walls receive a dry stipple brushed coat of light brown followed by off-white paint dry brushed with the same stipple brush. Dab some random areas with more off-white to create areas of more fresh stucco to create variations along the street.
    2. Dry brush a slightly heavier amount of off-white paint over cornices and door a window molding to create more depth of highlights.
    3. Stone areas receive a dry brush of light grey followed by off-white dry brush highlights and a dark brown wash in recesses.
    4. Brick areas are dry brushed with 50/50 black and red paint followed by random dry brushing in off white paint to highlight.
    5. Paint doors and shutters with a variety of blues, whites, greens, reds and browns. Follow basecoat with highlight in same color slightly lightened with off-white. Dab doorknobs with brass paint with a fine brush.
    6. Window panes are all carefully given a light coat of black and then dry brushed with dabs of lightly dry brushed white paint to give the illusion of glass.
    7. Sidewalks are dry brushed with light greys over a medium grey basecoat.
  7. Ground areas at the rear of the buildings receive brown and green dry brush coats followed by grass flocking and small clumps of foliage.
  8. Coat models in several layers of spray clear matte finish, allowing each coat to dry before applying an additional coat.

I was able to achieve a pretty decent tabletop quality finish to my buildings with maybe three hours of work on each model using the painting scheme above. Since colors on buildings are rarely monotone (unless newly constructed), I use a plastic surface on which I dab a variety paint shades and mix colors from this palette as I go with my dry brushing. I then build up areas with heavier amounts of one color or another to pull out highlights, create varying textures and differentiate from one building to the next along the street.

IMG_4695A completed JR Miniatures Arnhem row house

IMG_4694 The other completed row house with corner shop

IMG_4692Close up of the corner shop

IMG_4698A view along both row house blocks

IMG_4697Rear detail of one of the blocks

IMG_4693Close up view of the facades

IMG_4696A German Stug parked in front of the row houses

IMG_4691Overhead view of the interior floors

IMG_4690A floor section being removed for placing troops inside

I’m really excited about these models which nearly double the footprint of my existing Western European buildings in 15mm. Models from JR Miniatures fit in nicely with my buildings from Mark IV Miniatures and terrain from a variety of other manufacturers. Although modeled on actual streetscapes of Arnhem, the buildings are easily usable in creating the look of many densely populated areas of France, the Netherlands or elsewhere in Western Europe during late war operations.

Flames of War: Modelling Western European Terrain in 15mm

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I’ve had a lot of great feedback from the past year of posting after action reports for Flames of War games. Fellow players have been universally complimentary on the layout of my terrain used in my scenarios. With that, I’m increasingly being asked questions about the make of my models, where I buy them and how I achieve some of the other rerrain modelled  in my games.

Modelling terrain, like any aspect of miniatures wargaming, has to take into account the three main factors of skill, budget and time commitment. I find myself somewhere in the middle of all three categories, and I feel my level of personal investment in my terrain modelling is reflective of this. One of the many benefits of belonging to a club like Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY is the opportunity to share in our massed collections of terrain and create some pretty impressive-looking games.

As a longtime miniatures hobbyist with a passion for scale modelling, I wanted to share a quick round up of the current state of my 15mm terrain collection I use for Flames of War. To date, my FOW gaming has focused on the European Western Front, so the vast majority of my terrain focuses on buildings and other features appropriate for France, the Low Countries and Western Germany. All that said, let’s take a European tour in miniature…

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Any small town or rural tabletop Western European battlefield needs buildings — barns, houses, shops and cafes — not only for visual appeal, but to provide covering positions and even possible objectives during game play. FOW offers a fine line of pre-painted buildings but I find them to be a bit on the expensive side and toy-like. I also like to paint, so breaking up modelling little tanks and soldiers with some miniature real estate projects makes for a nice change to hobbying routine.

Last year I discovered the cast resin terrain produced by Mark IV Miniatures. As a second-generation wargamer, the owner of Mark IV obviously invests a great deal of care to his Western and Eastern front models. All the buildings come with removable multiple stories and roofs, making their use in FOW gaming a breeze. I just acquired my second set of models from Mark IV (ordered from Musket Miniatures), giving me a number of houses, barns and shops which I set close together as a village center or spread out for use in the countryside. For my towns, I also have a set of Mark IV  walls, a cobblestone courtyard and nifty fountain monument model. At about $18-24 per model, Mark IV’s offerings are my hands-down favorite in miniature buildings.

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With so many Mark IV models on my shelf, I wanted to add in a few more commercial structures representing stores or cafes common to European towns small and large. The excellent Model Dads UK blog recently reviewed the 15mm town shop models from Games of War. Based on a shop in Caen, the GOW shops come in three different pre-painted varieties for about $24 each shipped from the UK.

The GOW buildings scale nicely with my Mark IV models, and just a little work weathering the existing paint blends them nicely into the streetscape. I also added some signage and posters to the exterior walls, bringing a bit more sense of liveliness to the townscape.

IMG_3111Painting Mark IV and Games of War buildings

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The first 15mm buildings I ever bought were from JR Miniatures. An old standby in the hobby, JR offers a wide variety of scales and themes for eveything from Ancients to Historicals to Sci Fi. I have a small, roughly-cast farmhouse and outbuildings from JR which I use as area terrain. Overall, I find JR’s buildings to be a bit less crisp in detail than those from Mark IV and GOW, and many buildings don’t open for placement of figures.

Last year, I picked up a basic JR European stone bridge at a convention for about $14. The simplicity of the model made it easy to paint with a few stone-colored dry-brushed layers of paint. The model stretches over just about every river running through my gaming tables, and I may very well pick up another bridge in a different design from them soon.

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On the higher end of the terrain options, I’ve always had a thing for the Miniature Building Authority. MBA’s extensive 15mm European line comes pre-painted with lift-off sections to place units in the buildings or model them as destroyed structures. They also carry some rather unique structures and large set-pieces like a multiple-model farm complex or full train depot set-piece.

My brother and his gaming friends have been collecting MBA buildings for years, buying a few buildings a year and sharing in their collection. Taking their gradual approach, I recently started small and ordered a couple of their shops and a large, beautiful hotel model for my collection. Over time, I hope to add more from MBA and grow toward larger, more urban scenarios.

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Laying out a gaming table almost always necessitates having roads. I bought some rubberized roads years ago at a convention which suit rural unpaved areas well. A small town or rural setting requires having paved streets, and cobblestones provide a suitable road surface for Western Europe at the time of WWII.

I experimented with stone-textured papers and looked at rubberized stone streets, but none of them provided the depth or the solidity inherent in a stone road. Finally, I’ve bitten the bullet and invested in a set of the FOW cobblestone roads  at a slight discount from a seller on eBay. With a total of more than 6-feet of pre-painted cast resin roads, the box has given me what I think to be plenty roadway for my tanks to rumble down.

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Trees are one of the standard needs for any miniatures wargaming table in any era. Several wargaming manufacturers offer boxes of pre-made tree stands and bases for around $35-40 for maybe a dozen trees. I choose to go the economic bulk route and make my own using trees, flocking and modelling details from Woodland Scenics. For about $75 I’ve been able to make more than enough to fill even the largest battlefields.

IMG_3040Tree-making assembly line

Using two different sized trees from the WS Ready Made Trees Value Pack line, I first glued groups of 2-3 trees to cork coasters picked up at a craft store. On top of the spray-painted green coaster bases, I apply white glue and sprinkles of gravel of varying sizes in random places. After dry, another coat of glue to the remainder of the bases is then flocked with a basic green grass flocking. A few twigs and larger rocks glued here and there add some more depth to the little mini-scenes on each base.

IMG_3041Applying white glue to the tree bases before flocking

Bases are finished off with coarse clumped foliage to represent bushes and undergrowth. Mixing colors of the trees and foliage provides a realistic look. Gravel and larger rocks get hit with some brown washes to tone down the glaring brightness of the paths and piles on each base. All my work is done assembly line style in stages over an old baking sheet so excess flock and gravel shaken from the bases can go back in their containers to use again. When finished, I hit the bases with a matte spray to hold everything in place. In just a few hours time, my model forest on some 30 bases is ready to provide cover for any troops seeking concealment from enemy fire.

IMG_3156Completed homemade trees

Putting it all together, a dozen buildings, cobblestone roads, a bridge and a bunch of my homemade trees gives me more than enough terrain to present rural and town landscapes in Western Europe. Adding in some river sections, dirt roads and fields from fellow club members completes the look of just about any inland battle scenario in Normandy. Check out the pictures below of the results, and keep an eye on my after action reports for future glimpses into my tiny tabletop fields of battle.

IMG_3161Farm complex with Mark IV buildings and walls, JR Mini bridge and FOW fields and river

IMG_3159Games of War shops with added weathering and signage

IMG_3162Row of Mark IV buildings

IMG_3160Mark IV buildings and monument

IMG_3158Town set-up with terrain from Mark IV, JR Mini, FOW, Games of War and my homemade trees

IMG_3157Town set-up with terrain from Mark IV, JR Mini, FOW, Games of War and my homemade trees

Flames of War: Modelling European Western Front Buildings

153770I got into miniatures wargaming through a combined set of interests I developed as a kid: history, role-playing and scale modelling. One of the aspects of gaming I enjoy is setting up a realistic and engaging tabletop battlefield, both for the visual effect but also to reproduce the playable advantages and challenges found in waging scenarios within scenery.

I’ve been searching high and low for an affordable and well-made set of buildings to add to my 15mm Flames of War World War II gaming set in the post D-Day Western Front. Battlefront Miniatures, the makers of Flames of War, launched their own series of buildings last year. The pre-painted buildings are beautiful, albeit a bit too perfect and pretty expensive at $40-50 each. Miniature Building Authority (MBA) has been a long-time producer of fine pre-painted buildings. Like the structures from Battlefront, MBA models feature removable roofs but also convert into ruined bombed-out versions. At $40-50 for single large buildings or for pairs of smaller ones, the MBA buildings are also pretty pricey. MBA keeps a small line in stock, but they have dozens of out-of-production models which you can also find at conventions and occasionally online. JR Miniatures is another standby in the industry, but I find their relatively low-priced line of buildings is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of casting and playability.

markivWith building up my gaming real estate on my mind, I posted to the message boards at The Miniatures Page. Some suggestions pointed to the above manufacturers, but several posters also mentioned Mark IV Miniatures. The company is run by Jeff McCarron, a second-generation gaming modeller out of Colorado who obviously puts great care and passion into his work. McCarron sells his models directly and distributes them through Musket Miniatures, and I found him to be incredibly responsive to a couple questions I had before ordering. As it turned out, a fellow member of Metropolitan Wargamers had recently picked up the large church model and a couple houses from Mark IV. After playing with his models during our big Summer FOW event and Barkmann’s Corner scenario at the club, I decided these were the buildings to sink an investment into.

1148873_10201247963855523_305675209_nI decided to go with several two and three-story buildings, a barn, a courtyard and some walls, all ordered from Musket Miniatures. With all these models, I’d have the flexibility to set up a fairly decent-sized town or play with them as a separate farm estates. The castings arrived clean and required little tidying-up of residual flash with a knife.

20130830-233936.jpgI did have to put in a bit of work gluing plastic tabs to the undersides of the floors and roofs to provide a snug fit for each story of the buildings. The larger one-story bank building also required a wall and metal cast windows to be glued in place.

20130830-234253.jpgFor painting reference, I searched online for photos of European villages. After a light grey spray basecoat, the stucco walls of the buildings were dabbed with a bit of foam sponge in sandy gray-brown stucco and then dry-brushed with an off-white paint to add variety to the wall surfaces. Exposed stonework, the courtyard cobbles and masonry details at the corners, doors and windows all got combinations of varying shades of grays, browns and whites to create some depth.

IMG_2115Shutters, doors and windows were painted with dull blue, white, green and red trim, mimicking some of the variety in paint schemes I had found in photos online. For the roofs, a black undercoat was dry brushed in a couple shades of grey with a bit of browns and dark green shades mixed in. On the barn model I glued on some thin pieces of lichen to add the look of vines covering part of the walls.

IMG_2117The walled courtyard and modular wall sections got a two-part paint scheme over the gray primer. A watered-down brown-black wash over the bricks and cobbles filled the cracks with a dark shading finished-off with an off-white dry-brushed highlighting coat. The courtyard and wall gates started with a dark brown base with a lighter brown adding aged detail to the wood. Iron hinges got a black undercoat with some rusty metal dabbed over it. The result was some very realistic stone and brickwork walls.

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IMG_2125I couldn’t be more pleased with the buildings. They’ve already seen some action on the tabletop in my recent Singling ’44 game and combining them with my existing trees, roads and lichen hedgerows really brings the battlefield to life. I’m already eying a few of the other models offered by Mark IV, including some ruined versions of the same buildings which come cast in some exciting bombed-out interior detail.

At Metropolitan Wargamers, there’s some early plans being laid for another big day of gaming to coincide with the fall’s Flames of War Tanksgiving 2013 event and there’s certain to be plenty of WWII action before then. With my new buildings from Mark IV on the table, these miniature landmarks are certain to add even more depth an interest to all out future games.