Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gaming the French colonial expansion

My 15mm colonial collection is mostly Anglo-centric. Truth be told, I have a significant portion of my figures for Italians in Abyssinia, but the rest is, by and large, for British theaters of action: Sudan, South Africa, North-West Frontier. In the closet, there are a few bags of unpainted Chinese: years ago, I bought some Old Glory 15 for the Boxer Rebellion. I have yet to paint those miniatures, but ideally they will provide some variety adding American and German troops to the lot.

One area, though, that in my opinion remains under-appreciated is French colonial conflicts. From the Sahara Desert to Equatorial Africa, to Fashoda, to Madagascar and Indochina, the period doesn't lack in color. Alas, when we think "colonial French," we seem to limit our view to the French Foreign Legion, with her kepis and blue overcoat. This should not be the case. French deployed a variety of colonial troops, recruited almost in every corner of their vast empire. And it seems that, with a few minor conversions, a wargamer should be able to cover almost all the bases, and add variety and character to his colonial collection.

Just for sake of divertissement, I did a little of research about French colonial units can I could easily created in 15mm, based on existing ranges, or fortunate purchases from companies now out of business. Here's some ideas about how to spice up your French presence oversea.

  • Zouaves, Turcos, and Tirallerus Algeriens are easily available from most of the Franco-Prussian War sets. Having seen a few, I came to the conclusion that Essex miniatures would be the best "colonial" conversions, as they are slightly less heavily packed than their counterparts for the European theatre.

  • Infanterie de Marine is actually available at Old Glory 15, in the aforementioned Boxer Rebellion range.

  • Infanterie is the basic infantry, as represented in some of the late 19th century prints: white pants, blue jacket, and white colonial casque. Here's one found on the internet.

    Units of Infanterie would be easily converted from the existing French Marines by Old Glory.

  • Tiralleurs Senegalais would be converted from the Sudanese infantry made available by Old Glory 15 in their Sudan range. In the following print, also found over the internet, some of the Senegalais troops can be spotted in the background.

  • Tirailleurs Tonkinois et Annamites. As far as I know, they were only produced by Frontier Miniatures in a Boxer Rebellion range that has gone, unfortunately, OOP a long time ago. I was able to secure two bags, about 100 figures, in a circuitous manner. I found online a gentleman who happened to be friend of the Florida man who owns the moulds. Apparently, he was willing to occasionally produce a few bags here and there, for friends or upon request. I have never been able to get in touch with him directly -- apparently he only attends conventions in the South, and he does not respond emails nor phone calls. Bizarre. The topic was discussed on TMP a few years ago. This is very unfortunate, because these are (were) very good miniatures. I have never understood while they have never been taken back to the market. [For some mysterious technological reason, a webpage for this range is still online, several years after the manufacturer and retailer ceased all activities.]

Overall, this would be a fun project. Maybe the French takeover of Madagascar might be played for a small campaign, or maybe a fictional German intervention in Madagascar in the late 1890s might be created. In general, I feel colonial French have a lot of potential, and when my life will come back to some after-move normality, I may be willing to explore the possibilities.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

News about MagWeb

This announcement was posted a few days ago on TMP, and I hope not to commit capital offense in reporting it verbatim:

The MagWeb server is still off line, and support@ and magweb@ e-mails to our server will only bounce. I don't have an ETA on getting MagWeb back up and running, but I know that when it does get back online, it will be in a different format. We've found that we just can't rebuild something this large built over the last 13 years in just a few months.

As MagWeb has not been updated since the end of September, we here at MagWeb agreed that we should offer a refund to members' credit cards for the unused portions (October onward) of memberships. Our guru, Tibor, has done most of the work, and this will appear as a credit on your next Visa or Mastercard statement -- anywhere from $4.08 USD on up depending on when you joined.

So, I'll apologize (once again) for any inconvenience and thank you (once again) for all your support of MagWeb past, present, and future. I'll also try to cruise TMP more, or at least the "Websites for Wargaming" section.

Feel free to point folks to this message in TMP or repost this message elsewhere on the web.

As always, if you need to reach me, you can at my home e-mail address: [omissis]


Russ Lockwood
CEO, MagWeb.com

For those of you not familiar with the site, MagWeb is a fantastic online archive of wargaming magazines, some of them dating back to the '60s. In particular, I am very fond of The Courier, the magazine that basically re-started me into miniatures wargaming in my early '20s: I believe that the full text (and most maps and figures) from the publication are available online through MagWeb, from the first issue in 1979 to the last one in 2005. Also, MagWeb preserves the electronic archive of the Midwest Wargamers Association Newsletter, MWAN for short, a magazine that had -- and still has -- cult-like following among wargamers, and to this day reference for generations of players, a few years after its demise also in 2005 (clearly, a hell of an annus horribilis for wargaming publications...)

Unfortunately, I believe MagWeb was a victim of the extended flooding in the Midwest last year, which knocked its server down with severe loss of functionality. To this day, I can still have access to the information, but the search engine function has never been fully restored.

All I can hope for is that Russ will soon restore the site to its full capacity. If you have never subscribed to MagWeb before, you should plan to invest a few dollars into this service as soon as they will be back: it is money well spent!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Naval inspirations

You may remember that a few months ago I finally dared to paint some Figurehead 1:6000 ships, and overall I had a very good experience -- actually, I became very excited about naval wargaming! then, as usual, my mind drifted away from that project, which nonetheless is abandoned. Far from it! A couple of recent postings in other blogs have revamped my Fall flame. Bob Cordery shows some old Minifigs models, and Jeff has been working on his grand fleet.
The inspiration from their work made me elaborate some thoughts on my own project. First of all, I feel comfortable in doing naval WWI at the small scale of 1:6000, since all I have available is a 6' by 4' table, and ground scale would look completely off at any other level. That said, there is something for larger scale, let say 1:3000, and I wonder whether sometimes, in my future, I would consider that scale for the pre-dreadnought period -- where, I feel, scales can be further compressed without stretching credibility to an extreme. To this regard, a recent exchange on TMP did not go unnoticed, either.
The second thought is about rules. I do have an itching, and it has been going on for a while, for Seekrieg V. It is an expensive affair, reason for which I keep postponing the purchase. It also sounds a pretty complex ruleset, somewhat against my recent inclination for a simpler, "old school" approach to wargaming. Yet, I am fascinated by it for two reasons: first, I am more attracted by small naval engagements rather than large, Jutland-like confrontations; and second, I am sincerely curious about the inner working of a battleship, and I do not mind to somewhat dig deep into the belly of the beast, so to speak.
Of course, the irony is not lost on the fact that the complexity of the battleship would be represented on the tabletop but a tiny piece of metal in 1:6000 scale. There seems to be a strident contrast there. Maybe this is one factor that is holding me back from the investing in the rules (which, these days, might still outperform my 401(k)...) And maybe it is this very factor that tempts me in the direction of 1:3000 models for the pre-dreadnought era (which, by the way, would still be covered by Seekrieg V.)
Just thinking out loud.

Monday, May 4, 2009

We moved!

Now, that was the easy part, despite a couple of nights up until 3am, and shuffling apparently zillions of boxes from one side of town to another, and a full weekend spent disassembling and reassembling IKEA furniture, or assembling IKEA furniture ex novo.

The tough part of the job starts now: getting back to a semblance of normality in our life, proceeding swiftly to clear our new living space out of boxes and junk, and complete the roll call on what's there and what should be there but it's somewhere else.

More on topic: thanks to proper planning (the five Ps rule: "proper planning prevents poor performance"), the moving of my wargaming world proceeded smoothly, with relatively little damage expected at this time. Painted and almost painted miniatures were moved by yours truly, and despite some shaking of the boxes due to the bumpy ride to the new apartment (roads in Chicago still need extensive repairs after the winter), the mission was accomplished without any accident. Unpainted miniatures were packed and moved with the rest of our belongings, and I am glad to report all the boxes are accounted for. I could have done a slightly better job in organizing boxes and packs by period and army, so that less mix had to be arranged in some boxes. It may take a while now to sort things out, and unpack and make sense of what ended up with what else. In general, though, I am quite confident that everything will be accounted for, and in good shape. Expect a report soon.