Saturday 22 May 2021

Making trees; and more on the 18th century post lockdown games

 This post follows on directly from my previous Back to the 18th Century post lockdown and in it I'll be showing how I made the wintry trees for Brampton and then a bit more on the upcoming two SYW battles on this terrain, with a few pointers on my Summer/Autumn trees.

Wintry trees entertain Prussians and Austrians for a skirmish

On cardboard terrain boards
But first I wanted to correct any misunderstanding created by the previous post. My normal table has a flat slightly textured green surface and some games I just "add-on" terrain features as most wargamers do. However, when I have more time or something special coming up I like to sculpt a terrain specially and after a few games generally just cut it up and reuse what I can and dump the rest. Morally I don't like putting this stuff into landfill but it's only once or twice a year at most. Like everyone I have limited storage space and my garage is pretty full since the Waterloo terrains of 2015! So this, and all my papier mache surfaces, has wrinkles where the paper dries in an irregular way. I don't care about that and try to use it by dry brushing or partially covering with scatter. I don't recommend this for your permanent table if you require flat surfaces on which to rest your hills, buildings and woods etc. unless you are prepared to work at it quite a bit and add texture to even things up.  But I'm just a bit mad as 55 years of wargaming has made me rather dissatisfied with ordinary, or too much temporary looking, terrain, sorry.

On to the Winter Trees
I'll start with giving a link that I originally showed on my blog in 2015, which is for Supertrees. This is a natural product from the USA and takes all the hard work out of making armatures for natural looking trees. Removing the hard work means its quicker to do mass woods and forests and some may recall I showed how I made about 150 for our Cotswold Waterloos back then here, But as always the pictures tell it better than mere words

First I cut lots of bases from hardboard or old canvas board from my painting. Then I passed through a strong map pin for each tree trunk. These were secured with glue. My "working area" is a big piece of polystyrene covered with paper (the same ones I used in 2015 in fact) so the pinned structures are held firm during the process

The pins are not essential but for me it means I can push them into my cardboard and plaster terrain for a secure fit which can easily be moved deliberately (but harder by accident) during the game to facilitate figures; and they also give a fixing place for the trunk

Here I've used a glue gun to fasten a sprig of natural "Supertree" to each pin. The dense nature of gun glue helps disguise the pin profile and you can be artistic with it too if you wish! Also it dries quickly which is a great help

Above and below; Small sprigs of Supertree waste bits
 are stuck over the pins which will look like ground level growth

Although you could keep them natural and move on to the bases I feel they need strengthening and painting. This was done by making up a bowl of PVA glue, dark brown acrylic paint, and water, well stirred together. It's a messy job - I suggest you use rubber gloves and have a plastic or paper sheet. The pin and poly work surface enabled me to dip them throughly and then hang them upside down to drip till the mixture dried (a couple of hours in warm air outdoors).

When dry they can be spray painted with various shades of compatible wintry tones of grey/brown cream/off white, whatever your taste.

When the trunks, branches and twiggy bits are dry it's time to deal with bases. I used PVA with a brown acrylic paint mixture and then sprinkled scatter while very wet 

I used a mixture of commercial dead leaf, or "forest floor" scatter and sawdust of different sizes with the occasional twiggy bits for variety

And here are some pressed in situ on my sculpted board in one of the spots I had prepared (see previous post) by the marshy beck

Above and below: Just for a photo opportunity I pushed some into a hill on the table and arranged the
light troops skirmishing to give a better idea of scale.  Freikorps by Foundry Miniatures from my collection; Grenzers are Front Rank I believe formerly in Phil Olley's collection and originally painted by John Preece I'm told.

Battle of the River Mur
Now for the second battle. After Guy had approved my original plan for the Brampton table Ken knew the limitations of hills, rivers and some roads for his game as we wanted to have the minimum of work to do to make an overnight change of scene. He came up with a lovely sketch which I turned into a Photoshop version based on the actual table and then we negotiated over the correct footprint sizes of BUAs etc . I was able to choose some appropriate buildings from my collection and this is a top-down photo map and a couple of photos of the table so you can see it ready.  Whether it is an Imagi-nations or historical game I have yet to find out, Ken is full of surprises...........

Photo map for Battle of the River Mur

Town of Stadl an der Mur in the foreground

Polsbach bridge and St Georgen are the nearest points of interest in this view

Making the Summer trees
To be fair I did not "make" these. I found some time ago that you can now buy on Ebay really respectable looking trees for model railways from China. They come in packs of different sizes and this size seems to be 50p to a pound or so each tree. The only trouble is they are rather garish green and don't have bases as I presume they are intended to be glued in permanent spots on a railway layout. So for my purposes I have to put them on single and multiple bases and make the leaves look nicer. 

The original colour green with grey-brown plastic trunks

I gouged a hole large enough in my hardboard bases and stuck them
 in initially with UHU glue and then later with glue gun to make them
 firm and blend in the trunk shape to the ground

Time now to use whatever commercial leaf style scatter or small tree/bush foliage you like. I used Woodland Scenics "scenic glue"  this time as it has a tackiness that holds most of the foliage in place till it is dry. PVA is not very advisable as it is prone to drip with gravity

I often mix my own blends and here i have literally thrown on some of the lighter yellow/orange tones on top to get random colour effects. 
I call on my art training and remember the theories of Georges Seurat and the Pointilist School - that if you put enough different tiny points of colour together you can create a whole different effect from standard viewing range. So they look better at a distance.

This photo shows the bases covered in my usual gunge of household powder filler, PVA, water, acrylic paint and some sand, grit or sawdust for body texture.

Here is a view of the batch with bases drying.
The different shades of green show up now

Close up pointillism, sorry about the blur! Cool tree photography or just ineptitude with flash
- you decide!

The bases are being textured now with whatever leave and foliage blends you like  stuck down with PVA glue.  Good to leave some of the "earth" showing  and dry brush it (and the tree trunks) with cream highlight. I also added bunches of thicker model foliage as bushes.

Now outside to dry off and then a generous coat of matt spray varnish to keep everything in place

Here are some of them in place on the table

And on parade with some of my RSM95 Hanoverians

The small trees in the middle distance are some of the original ones from Waterloo 2015

Must let some Crann Tara (generic) French try marching past them too.....

The Battle of the Auden Hills

I hope you've enjoyed this post so far but I haven't told you everything yet. Coincidentally while progressing this journey to two really longed-for 18th century games with old mates I came across, by accident on the Wild Geese Wargamers forum, a certain Paul B. of Cheltenham. I couldn't resist getting in touch as my 55 years as a Cheltenham resident up to 2013 made me curious why we had not met before.  Paul B turned out to be a long term wargamer of non competitive bent like me and with very varied tastes in military history and wargaming. We invited him along to Ken's River Mur game as he is keen to try out Honours of War and we are well familiar with them by now and equally keen to proselytise.

But better yet Paul possesses a couple of truly beautiful Austrian and Prussian SYW armies of Minden and Crann Tara Miniatures, and like us, is familiar with the super generous owners of those companies, Jim Purky and Graham Cummings. It was not difficult for me to invite him to try out HoW with his troops on yet another adaptation of the "Brampton" basic terrain. So I'm organising "The Battle of the Auden Hills" in mid June and I've invited some veterans of Battles here at Oakridge, Gloucestershire - Kevin East, Dillon Browne and Martin Gane, to join us.

Here is a Photoshop map version of the battlefield I have planned for us

Can't say much about it in public but, inspired by using Paul's armies I have set this loosely just before the battle of Torgau in early November 1760 and tried to come up with a scenario which will encourage both sides to be bold and we'll be using around 1000 figures in all.

I will leave you with some 18th Century eye candy - some photos taken when Paul brought his Austrian army for a little try out on my table last week.

As ever all comments or questions gratefully received and thank you to those who so graciously commented on the previous part of this double post.

Wednesday 19 May 2021

Back to the 18th Century - three post lockdown battles to look forward to

 I'm a very lucky man. Guy Barlow and Ken Marshall have been plotting with me (to keep us a bit sane during lockdown since last October's  Battle of Ellenbach ) on what to do this year. Rules for post lockdown get togethers were unclear till late February so we planned a cautious approach at first. We settled on a weekend in late May for the three of us to have a game on each day but we'd use the same hills,  road and river basics of a sculpted battlefield and just change the add-ons - buildings, woods etc. The aim was to minimise the time taken to change the scene to give more gaming time (Oh, well to be honest, I mean more time for a leisurely dinner and drinks at the  The Butchers Arms which will be fully open by then!)

Our eventual battlefield for The Battle of Brampton

Guy was first in with a great suggestion to try a "what if?" scenario based on the idea that Prince Charlie's rebel, sorry loyal Jacobite, Army marched out of Carlisle to meet an approaching Government force under General Wade somewhere near the village of Brampton in late November 1745. He characterised the little town as being in a moorland of undulating hills with some "scrubby trees" and the odd farm. Not much to go on but all I needed to get the creative juices flowing. I checked Google maps round Brampton for some clues and ground level photos and found there were some rivers and streams there but I had to use imagination to place the hills to be useful to us in a game. So I came up with this sketch map. Apologies to any readers who know the area - but this is 276 years ago - that's my excuse!

Plan for the 8 foot x 6 foot table

I was looking forward to the opportunity to make a winter battlefield that was basic moorland, yet I knew I'd have to use it for a Central European game or two as well. I had some good brown hills I made years ago from polystyrene and certainly they would save me the time and mess of making new ones but the colour would be wrong.  So I used their shapes as the basis to work on the sketch and after Guy approved it I set to work.
Choosing from my stock of brown hills 

I was trying to take advantage of some fine Spring weather we had in the Cotswolds in April so my idea was to use the outdoor space to flatten lots of pre-loved cardboard packing boxes and glue them together with PVA, strengthened underneath by some simple wooden batons glued in place, and all weighted down to stop warping, or blowing away till it was sufficiently dry to store in the garage overnight.  I will let the photos tell the step by step construction

My driveway is a nice place to "work" with native logs and
 antique weights. All the materials would have been sent to recycling 
 if I hadn't used them, I didn't buy anything but the glue.

This shows a cross section - wooden batten at edge supporting 2 or 3
overlapping layers of cardboard smoothed out with brown packing paper
 stuck with PVA glue in my usual papier mache style.

I measured a rough grid from the map and drew in the features to scale with marker pen. Then added the hills to show where they go. Ex Falklands War shell case used as a weight now (courtesy of my nephew Mark,  ex Royal Anglia Regiment)

Now using thin acrylic paint to secure the locations

I used my markings to show where to raise the edges of the streams slightly with rolled up paper or small pieces of cardboard. When they were dry I mixed up some gunge to apply to the stream sides and where the hills meet the board, in order to smooth the transitions of surfaces.

As usual my gunge is made up of varying quantities of dry plastering/filler powder; sawdust and/or sand or similar texture: water; acrylic paint (from the cheap big pots for schools or end-of-line decorators paint deals); PVA glue. Then applied to taste with old brushes of various sizes.

I also did the roads, tracks and wooded areas with similar mixtures of slightly different colours. The recesses marking the water courses were painted with sloshy dark acrylic paint mixes and light highlights - remember this is English Winter moorland - no blue refections on this day of drizzle in November 1745.

Later a coat of Acrylic Gloss Varnish on the water.
The first of about 4 or 5 coats laid over successive days
While the gunge was drying off I went along the roads with two coffee stirrers to leave wagon ruts. When dry they were scraped back down with a neat Surform tool. The same scraper can be used to get rid of any awkward irregularities over the whole surface.

Now the big, slightly tedious, task of mixing a suitable gunge for the overall moorland. I opted for a dull green, which had a Winter feel but would also be acceptable for the Continental settings in brighter weather. The old toothbrush is to stipple large swathes of it while wet to create extra texture.

Smoother patches, much scraped, for the bases
 of Built Up Areas (BUAs)

Over half covered now. I use an old plastic kitchen sieve to grade the sawdust or other crumbly bits of texture

All covered and you can see the rough toothbrush-stippled effects, particularly at bottom left where it is still a bit wetter and darker. I have blended the brown hills in to be less obtrusive.

Now the detailed areas need attention

Very useful marsh tuffs from such as Warlord Games
bring the Marshy Beck to live up to its name 

A mixture of sawdust and commercial woodland floor scatter
 helps to mark out the woods......

.....and dried tea leaves for the more organised farmyard "mud".
Multiple shades of commercial foliage scatter on the banks help
 bring the beck alive

Quarry Beck got an extra special helping of small stones,
dry brushed with off-white highlights. You can see my standard
green board still intact under this special moorland one

Difficult artistic choices now. This is a yellow ochre acrylic dry brush
mixture for selected areas, but I also added lighter highlights
of different sympathetic tones all over the surface to unite the features
and help cover irregularities

The hills have come out a browner shade, which is good for game purposes and still fit in to the overall effect

These three photos help you get down nearer the water level. It's at this point I try hard not to
 imagine I'm following the charming Julia Bradbury on one of her TV Pennine hikes!

Above and below: The finished terrain with trees and buildings added

The buildings are just out of the toy box for the sake of illustration, most will be replaced by Guy's own Scottish-style crofts. The trees I made specially, more on them later.

I had now got far enough to take some birds eye view photos for Guy to use as our player map. Really looking forward to it, he has made me the Jacobite player and I can't say more at the moment, Ken may be watching!

Guy's border country stone cottages will look the perfect thing on the day.

 In the next post I will be showing how I'm converting this basic terrain for Ken's Imagi-nations SYW game and how I did the trees for both different terrains.

Please leave a comment and let me know if any of this is of use, thank you.

PS> I joked about Julia Bradbury but a bit of idle curiosity led me to this JB Cumbria walk - mind you that is Summer in the northern hills - brrrr!