Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reality bites

If you had the opportunity to read the headline news over the past 10 days, or watching five minutes of the evening news, you already know what I have been up to for the past couple of weeks. How distant is the summer, with its warm, long days, and plenty of time for blogging!
The developing financial crisis has kept me busy professionally, and I spent the very little spare time in doing some little progress in my projects, rather than updating "Desto Fante." Things are coming along both in my colonial project - the Italian-Abyssinians wars - and in my "Age of Reason" long term project, with some painting done on the samples I brought back from Historicon. Currently, painting is proceeding on the following infantry units: one marlburian French, one SYW Austrian, two marlburian/SYW Prussian fusilier, and one SYW Prussian musketeer.
I also made two small orders: some additional Abyssinians from Irregular and Tin Soldier, to complete the "bande" units (irregulars fighting on the Italian side), and my first order ever to PaperTerrain... for sure there will be more to discuss on the latter!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

How to catch my attention on eBay

A thread on TMP made me think about the best practice to capture my attention toward an eBay auction. I enjoy eBay, I think it is a good instrument to look for good deals in miniatures, but I also believe that, without some homework, you can easily make mistakes. Here what I would recommend to a potential seller, based on my experiences as an occasional buyer:

A. group your miniatures in medium-to-large lot, from 50-60 figures up. I rarely spend time on small lots;

B. make sure to have pictures. Good close-up are fundamental;

C. make sure to add detailed descriptions: scale, maker, units included, number of figures. You would be surprised by how many auctions are poorly worded. Again, poor, confused or misleading title will kill your chances;

D. make sure to have a exhaustive header, including again scale, maker, period, nationality of the figures (i.e. "15mm Minifigs Napoleonic Prussians".)

I have seen some item overly mispriced on eBay. In some cases, prices were outrageously inflated; in other cases, I made excellent purchases with fantastic discounts. For sure, it takes some time and a little of talent to learn how to ace those auctions!

Good readings

As I laid in the Mexican sun last week, I had the rarer and rarer opportunity to read almost non-stop for several hours -- a guilty pleasure I have not indulged in for a too long time.
Two of the books that were devoured cover-to-cover have some relevance here. They both refer, more or less directly, to modern, almost contemporary conflicts. Low intensity warfare in the second half of the XX century is something that has intrigued me for a long time, and yet I have been reluctant to tip my toe into this period, at least publicly. I think this is my sense of decorum in display: these events are still open wounds for many people, and making them the object of wargaming is something that must be done with great taste, respect, and measure, and some understatement.
Back to my recommended readings of the day.
The first book is about the open engagement in the Vietnam War, Operation Starlite in August 1965.

The title is "The First Battle - Operation Starlite and the Beginning of the Blood Debt in Vietnam". It is a quick book, little more than 200 pages, and it contains several ideas for good scenarios. It is also a fascinating reading to cast some light about the fighting doctrine of the U.S. Marines and the VietCong in the early stages of the conflict.
The second book is not military history, but a novel which had some success a few years back.

Alexandra Fuller wrote "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood" as a memoir of her childhood in war-torn Rhodesia, and the book chronicled the story of her family moving across the region (Rhodesia, Malawi, Zambia) in the '70s and '80s. It s a very frank and sweet book, which portrays the harsh realities of a country in political and military turmoil.
Just a few weeks back, TooFatLardies published B'Maso, a supplement for "I Ain't Been Shot Mum" which provides historical background, army lists, and scenarios for the conflicts of African decolonization: from the Mau Mau in Kenya in the 1950s, to Katanga and the Congo in the 1960s, Biafra and Nigeria, Rhodesia, the Portuguese Wars in Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Angola, and the border war in South West Africa.
I have to confess: reading this book made me very curious about the possibilities in TFL booklet. Very interesting. Maybe it's time to go and give a second look to Peter Pig's AK47 range...

Did you miss me?

I am back - did you miss me?
Mrs. DestoFante and I enjoyed a delightful vacation in Mexico, and we have some picture to share!

Once back I had to deal with a busy week at work. If you are checking the economic and financial news tonight, you may realize that my next day or two might end up being absolutely hectic indeed. But for the time being, I ams till enjoying a rainy (very rainy, as Stokes reported early today) but restful weekend. And yes, some wargaming progress was finally taking place! I will soon provide a more detailed update, but here a quick overview:
A. I completed the basing of a good portion of my Hadendowa/Abyssinians;
B. I did a thorough headcount of what I will need to play most of the Italian-Abyssinian War scenarios in Mark Fastoso's booklet. And the good news is: I am almost perfectly on target! Have you ever heard of a "completed" wargaming project? This may well be it!
C. "Almost perfectly" in the above item - I prepared two small orders to file with Irregular and Essex for a few spare items I need: a couple of Maxim guns and a few irregular Eritrean to deploy as "bande" with my Italians;
D. also, I am working on a new order to Minifigs to beef up my Marlburian French - for my "Lace Wars" aficionados, I may be back soon on that project as well!

I also completed a couple of fascinating readings, which served as inspiration to explore some wargaming ideas. More to follow on this as well.

Back to work!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Off to Mexico

Just a short vacation. Will be back on Monday. Don't miss me too much!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

In praise of lead hoarding

I have noticed in a few occasions that wargamers tend to chuckle and be dismissive about their hoarding of lead in the closet, i.e. the large amount of unpainted miniatures we keep in storage, waiting for the elusive hour in which action will actually take place on a long dreamt-after project. Recently, during an exchange in the "Old School" yahoo group, I even read the recommendation to donate part of our inventories to lure "new blood" into the hobby.

Well, here's a case in which my professional training kicks in. Let me offer a case about the desirability and "efficiency" of holding unpainted lead in the closet. I will argue in the negative:

You should NOT hold unpainted miniatures if, in the future, you expect
  1. better cast miniatures;

  2. wider ranges;

  3. higher personal wages and salaries;

  4. to be very disciplined in the execution of your wargaming projects.

I think point 1 marginally holds: contemporary miniatures seem to be technically better than they used to be 20 years ago; nevertheless, many of us are more than happy with classics like Minifigs. In average, I think 1. is a weak argument.
Unfortunately, experiences teaches that ranges currently available may not remain available in the future. Just three examples for the 15mm scale, out of my personal interests: the excellent Boxer Rebellion miniatures by Frontier Miniature; Alphacast's Balkan Wars figures; MJ's Falkland miniatures. Definitely, point 2 does not hold.
On point 3, evidence is mixed. If we really believe in the thesis that the hobby is "greying," increasing expected incomes may not be a reasonable assumption. I would rate the point as weak. The reason why future income matters is that the opportunity cost of miniatures today, in terms of foregone consumption alternatives, may exceeds the opportunity costs of the same amount of miniatures tomorrow, when higher income may accommodate both for miniatures and for more alternative spending. Sometimes, it just makes sense to wait for the future.
Finally, point 4 is just a subjective characteristics, and I would rate it as inconclusive. If you are an "impulsive painter", the assumption is clearly incorrect, bt some of us may actually muster the strength to "stay on mission" despite the several temptations that always linger around the hobby.
By and large, I would argue that the case against hoarding lead in the closet is not substantiated, and under fairly reasonable assumptions may in fact be optimal to add to our collection of unpainted miniatures.

I would add a fifth, strong point in favor of hoarding. When you buy and hold unpainted lead, what you actually buy is an option - the option to go to the closet on the spur of the moment, and start painting whatever you feel in the mood to paint. What is the value of such an option? It is the present value of the money spent in the past on the miniature now being painted, plus the cumulative cost of storage - which, likely, is very little for most of us. I would argue that the cost of the option is greater than zero, but still lower than the benefit associated with the opportunity to paint whatever you want, whenever you want.

The bottom line of tonight's "Freakonomic" musings: go out, buy miniatures, and if they will rest for more a decade in your closet as it happens to me, don't feel bad about. It is probably the "economic efficient" thing to do.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Real life

It appears that real life is getting into the way of many of us, these days. In Zum Stollenkeller, Stokes is dealing with the kick-off of the academic year. In Saxe-Bearstein, Jeff is busy in a play. Here, I finally welcome back my wife, a professional opera singer, who has been on the road for a summer festival over the past three months. We are just relaxing and enjoying the Windy City together with some family, and we'll take a few days off for a quick vacation next week, which means: quiet time on the wargaming (and blogging) front for some time. But you know I never resist the temptation to pop in from time to time for sharing some thought on the hobby...
For the time being, I will share two pictures taken today, during the architectural tour on the Chicago River.