Friday, 25 October 2013

Artscow review: custom card decks for Longstreet and Blood & Sand

Card-driven games as not to everyone's taste and while some people loathe them, I love them. I sometimes think this dislike of card-based rules is something of a knee-jerk reaction as there are as many ways to use cards in a game as there are rules out there. For example, cards are at the heart of Sam Mustafa's Longstreet ACW rules, governing turn sequence, activations and impacting the effect of the units' actions while they play an entirely different role in Real Time Wargames' Blood & Sand colonial Sudan rules where they determine game length and the arrival of Mahdist units. Games from the Toofatlardies or Piquet stables again use cards in a very different manner.

While I like card-driven games because I find they usually give a good feel for the uncertainty of battlefield friction, the one thing I dislike is figuring out the effect of that Queen of Spades by looking it up in the rules. Or cutting up loads of cards from a PDF printout. Enter Hong Kong-based Artscow (a similar service is provided by Printer Studio in the US), an online company that allows you to print your own images on everything from mugs, key chains and blankets to... cards. These 54 card decks come in different flavours:

Friday, 13 September 2013

Hip to be square: Italeri/Fabbri 1/100 Mil Mi-8 review

Used by soldiers, spooks and warlords the world over, Mil's Mi-8 Hip is probably the world's most produced helicopter (although Bell's Huey is another contender for the title if the whole 204/205/212/214 family is included). Yet, much like the CH-47 Chinook, it is not very well represented in 1/100 scale.

QRF make two resin and white metal models in their modern 15mm range: the Mi-8TV Hip C armed transport and the Mi-8TVK Hip E attack variant. While I own neither, I do have a few of the 1/100 diecast Hips released by Italeri/Fabbri a while back. These were made in two civilian liveries: an Aeroflot one or a Maldives-based Hummingbird Helicopter one and I can heartily recommend them although they are sadly getting harder to find at reasonable prices.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Imperial Rover: QRF 15mm Landrover Series II review

Way back when I was a wee lad (well, actually it was more like ten years ago), I bought some QRF 15mm LWB Landrovers which had formerly been part of the Denzil Skinner range and a while back I enquired as to whether this model which had disappeared from the QRF website was still available for purchase as I fancied adding a quartet of them to my (very) slowly growing Imperial Twilight in Africa forces.

After rummaging through what I presume are mountains of moulds in QRF GHQ, they managed to find the ex-DS mould, pop it into the casting machine and include them in my next order which is great testimony to the excellent customer service from Chas and Geoff.

Unlike QRF's PBS10 and Peter Pig's model which are 1970s versions, this long wheelbase Land Rover is a Series II or IIA vehicle (with the headlights on the front grille rather than on the front wings as in the later Series III) as produced from 1958 to 1969 and thus more suitable for the Congo, Rhodesia and Portugal's waning colonial empire.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Helmand workhorse: QRF 15mm Pinzgauer truck mini review

Along with the WMIKs and Snatch Landrovers, the Steyr-Daimler-Puch Pinzgauer truck is one of the iconic vehicles of the early days of British operations in Helmand province and QRF happens to have a very nice one in its British softskin range.

The diminutive Pinz is a very simple model with only six parts: four wheels, a truck body and a tilt. It is nicely detailed with a well-captured shape and casting quality is pretty good with very litlle cleaning up required.

Being modelled with a separate tilt makes it possible to portray a stripped-down vehicle simply by adding a wire-cutting bar and the canvas supports from plasticard. 

All in all, this is a very nice little model, and the photo on QRF's website doesn't do it justice.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Chieftains, by Bob Forrest-Webb

Chieftains by Bob Forrest-Webb first popped up on my radar screen way back in 1986-87 when I bought TTG's Battlezones - Scenarios for the Ultra Modern Period which featured Chieftains amongst its list of scenario sources though I was never able to lay my hands on a copy.

This book popped up again a couple of years ago when it was recommended over on TMP but again no joy was had in finding a copy for even tattered ones seemed to command utterly ridiculous prices.

Now, thanks to the joys of electronic reprints, the book is once again available for a reasonable price as a Kindle edition and I was finally able to see what the fuss was all about. And a pretty good read it is, I must say.

First published in 1982, the book charts the fate of Chieftain crews from the BAOR's 14/20th Hussars (along with cameo appearances by an SAS stay-behind party and a US tank unit) as they face the onslaught of the Red Hordes in northern Germany's plains. While the year is not specified, from the equipment described, it is obviously set in 1982/83. The book is very much a worm's eye view of a hypothetical WW3 and does not concern itself with the whys and therefores.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Recce rodent: QRF 15mm FV701 Ferret Mk 2/3 mini review

Just for a change, a Cold War stalwart has joined the ultra modern vehicles I have on the assembly line: QRF's 15mm FV701 Ferret Mk 2/3 which is an exceedingly nice little model (and a really small one too).

There is actually not a lot to say about this model: the detail is very crisp, the proportions are spot on, the casting is free of flash and mould lines and assembling the seven pieces (hull, turret and five wheels) is a breeze. This one is definitely one of the best models I have from the QRF stable.

Simply slap on some paint, add a couple of aerials and this diminutive scout car will rapidly join your Bedfords, Unimogs, Berliets and Landrovers for a wee bit of armoured escort all over the dying colonial empires of the 60s and 70s...

Monday, 26 August 2013

Pocket MBT: QRF 15mm FV107 Scimitar Mk1 review

For a bit of armour support when the Warriors and Challengers are not around, the Scimitar armoured reconnaissance vehicle can stand in as a pocket MBT (well, that what the Treasury seems to think anyway). This is produced both by QRF and possibly MJ Figures. The latter is sold as a Falklands-era Scorpion but the gun looks like something of a cross between a 76mm low pressure and a Rarden so a replacement gun will give you either version. As for the QRF model, it is modelled after the current configuration of the Scimitar Mk1 even though the photo of the company's website is that of an older model in Falklands-era configuration.

The QRF model is a very nice, simple kit with four pieces: turret, hull, two track pieces. The fit is excellent throughout and the tracks are particularly well designed to ensure that they are level. As with the Warriors, the 30mm Rarden was rebuilt from brass rod and tubes in the interest of longevity.

Open hatched would have made it perfect but you can't have it all. As it is, it's basically perfect for a Telic Scimitar and could be modified to an Afghan configuration with additional ECM although adding the bar armour would be a challenge in this scale.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Chobham gypsy wagon : QRF 15mm up-armoured Warrior review

Along with the Challenger 2 (reviewed here) my last order from QRF included a trio of MCV80 Warrior with Chobham which is the FV510 Warrior in its wartime configuration with large slabs of Chobham applique armour added to the front and  sides.

This configuration was first seen in Operation Granby and also used in Kosovo and Operation Telic. For a mid-eighties vehicle both QRF and Skytrex make the vanilla Warrior, while Old Glory UK has an updated version of the Warrior with WRAP 2 ERA package hidden in its modern infantry listing.

The QRF Warrior is nice and chunky with very few parts: a hull, two track pieces, a turret and two side skirts. Overall detail is good as is the quality of casting. The frontal Chobham block is a little on the thick side, thick enough in fact that the driver would hardly see over it but this isn't really noticeable unless the model is viewed from the side and held at eye level. The side skirts might be a little on the thin side and could be thickened with plasticard but they look the part and I left these alone. As you can see in the photos, the track to hull fit needs a little filler but that is not much of an issue since it is mostly hidden behind the armoured skirts.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Old, cold warriors: Roskopf 1/100 model vehicles

Rather less well-known than Roco Minitanks, producer of 1/87 vehicles, the RMM Roskopf range of 1/100 models produced in Germany from the late 50s to the early 90s has quite a bit to offer a wargamer interested in putting together a 15mm Cold War force or one of the numerous ones that use NATO hand-me-downs.

Obviously, since the range had models released over nearly forty years, the quality was very variable with the older models being crude and of interest only to collectors (the M-47, M-48 and Centurion and most of the WW2 models spring to mind here).

Even though all the models are rather simple quite a few of them are worth seeking out because they have the advantages of injection-moulded plastic: clearly defined detail and straight sharp edges with are sometimes missing from their white metal counterparts. In addition, a lot of these models were never produced by anyone else in this scale.

As you would expect, the range strongly focused on vehicles used by the Bunderswehr vehicles but other NATO forces and Warsaw Pact vehicles also featured which gives you a nice selection of Cold War armour. Below are some of the models I've been able to pick up dirt cheap in a local model shop of the dusty cavern variety and eBay. You can find a full list of Roskopf models over on the 87th Scale website. One word of warning: unlike the military range, Roskopf's later civilian range of trucks was produced in 1/87 scale.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Castle of steel and Dorchester, part 2: Building a better Telic 1 Challenger

While I think there are issues with the QRF Challenger 2's turret (see Castle of steel and Dorchester, part 1: QRF Challenger 2A1 review), it is a nice model which can make a relatively convincing rendition of an Op Telic tank.

Now just to put this statement in context, there was a time when I would whip out my ruler to check that a model was scaled correctly and refer to scale drawings to check that important detail wasn't omitted. And then bitch about it if there were errors. The trouble is that, unless they are drawn by very committed people who spend their time clambering all over museum exhibits, scale drawings are mostly one person's interpretation of what some piece of machinery looks like.

In light of this, I've converted to the philosphy of TLAR. I'm happy to fiddle with toys until I reach the point of This Looks About Right (though I will refer to as many photographs as possible to determine what looks right to me). If the US Army could get away with fiberglass VISMOD to make a Sheridan look somewhat like a T-72, I can surely get by with plasticard, filler and a file.

The hull was mostly left alone although I did trim some of the camouflage netting so it didn't get in the way of the rotating turret. The main addition was a couple of dust skirts cut from 10 thou plasticard as I think this really sets the Telic 1 Challengers apart from other uparmoured Challys such as the KFOR ones. This was simply cut to fit the model's armoured side skirts by trial and error and will attached once the model is painted. Part of the original side skirt was cut to expose the drive sprocket.

The turret was the one item which required the most work and although the result is far from satisfactory I reckon it looks somewhat more like a Challenger 2 turret than it did out-of-the-bag.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Castle of steel and Dorchester, part 1: QRF Challenger 2A1 review

My latest order from QRF included a Challenger 2A1 because nothing says "tank support" like a big Chally! QRF has four Challenger variants, with each of the Challenger 1 (Op Granby) and 2 (Op Telic) available in a plain vanilla or up-armoured versions. Three of these variants are unique to QRF since the only other 15mm Challenger, that offered by Skytrex and Old Glory, is a plain vanilla Chally 1.

Despite some minor quibbles (and one not-so-minor one about the turret's shape), the up-armoured Challenger 2 is a nice model of the "world's best protected tank" (cue dispute of this claim by fans of the Abrams, Leopard II and Merkava, not to mention Leclerc).

Please note that in my haste to start this model, I forgot to take photos of the out-of-the-bag turret so all of this post's photos feature a turret in the process of being modified by myself. I'll update this review if I buy another model but, in the meantime, there are some good photos of Challenger 2s with what I think are mostly unmodified turrets (though they look like they have been deepened with Milliput because mine came with cleaner lower edges) on the Big FoF blog: here and here.

The model is quite well cast and comes in 11 parts: hull, turret, main gun, two track assemblies, two external fuel drums, commander's hatch cover, roof machine gun and two smoke grenade dischargers. There may in fact be a 12th part which I have lost as the turret roof appears to have a locating hole for the fire control system's meteorological sensor but I'll simply replace it with some brass rod.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Cheap and easy DIY painting tray

A while back, I thought that a dedicated paint & modelling tray would be a good way to reduce some of the clutter on my hobby table and looked at the available commercial products. While there are plenty of choices out there (some of them pretty good), they tend to be a tad expensive for a souped up tray, especially if you have to factor in shipping.

Besides the price, I found that the main drawback of commercial paint stations or tray was the lack of flexibility: water goes here, paints and tools here and that's it. So I decided to make my own, trawled the forums to get some inspiration from other DIY paint tray and found one which came close to what I wanted on Dakka Dakka

Being something of a cheapo at times, I then headed over to the local equivalent of a dollar store to pick up a tray for conversion. What I found was a cheap bamboo tray that set me back something like 4-5 euros, was the right size (roughly 30 by 45 cm) and, best of all, had a bottom piece that was easily removed. Turning it into a paint station was dead simple and even my very limited woodworking skills were sufficient.

Friday, 8 February 2013

MJ Figures 15mm Panhard AML 90 review

Hidden away in their 15mm Falklands range, MJ Figures have a couple of AFVs, including a Panhard AML-90 armoured car. This alternative to Peter Pig's AML is rarely seen either on the web or on tables, so here is a closer look.

The model comes in 10 parts (turret, cuppola hatch cover, gun barrel, body, 4 wheels, 2 axles) and requires some assembly which is mostly straightforward. The casting quality is decent despite some pitting although some of the details will be lost during the necessary clean-up phase.

The main drawback is that the axles actually go through the wheels which means trimming and very visible gap in the wheel hubs.  On the other hand, the wheel/axle assembly is well designed and correct spacing of the wheels is easy. In addition, the front mudguards are much too large and need to be filed back. Replacing the smoke grenade dischargers with plastic of brass rod is probably best as these as prone to miscasting.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Oddzial Osmy 15mm Embedded News Team

Since it would appear that no self-respecting army would nowadays go about its business without embedded news teams, there is no reason their miniature brethren should go about theirs unburdened by hapless journos.

There are three options for 15mm news crews: Peter Pig's TV/Media Crew (found in the extras of the AK-47 range) which is perfect for the 1960s or 70s, QRF's News media team which portrays more recent correspondents and Oddzial Osmy's Reporters which are in fact part of Marcin's sci-fi range. I chose the latter since they have nothing particularly futuristic about them and are the only ones wearing body armour and therefore perfect for contemporary settings.

The six-figures pack contains three different scuplts with a bare-headed reporter speaking into a microphone, a cameraman and a female photographer.

The sculpts are excellent and the hard-alloy figures are very well cast and need little cleaning up as you can see from the raw figures to the right. The pack is a little expensive at £3 but this is OK if you don't intend build a horde of television crews.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Salvaging the Skytrex BTR-60

I took advantage of Skytrex's last Easter sale to buy some Soviet AFVs, including a few BTR-60s. These are the same models as the ones sold by Old Glory but I preferred to order from Skytrex because their moulds tend to be in better shape and they worked out slightly cheaper during the sales.

I was a little dismayed to find out that Skytrex had switched the BTR's production to resin without mentioning it on the site (this has now been changed) and that it came on a plinth! The models themselves are very nice, crisp and clean and the resin is top quality. But, in my opinion, they are totally marred by the very obvious lump of resin behind the wheels.

When I contacted Skytrex, I was told that the switch had been made to reduce costs since the previous one-piece metal casting were hand poured and time-consuming.They also offered a refund of any returned items but I passed on that. I did give filing down by hand a try, which was a miserable failure as there is simply too much resin to remove so I just put the models aside. I recently decided to try to salvage them and out came the trusty Dremel. Removing the offending resin wasn't particularly hard but neither was it particularly enjoyable or fast.

There is indeed a very large amount of resin to grind away! This is best done when neither the Health and Safety Department nor SWMBO are around because it is a messy process that will leave your work area looking like a Pablo Escobar picnic...

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

SIKU Tiger UHT to French Tigre HAP conversion

While there are plenty of 1/144 Apaches and Hinds, there is a notable lack of small scale Eurocopter Tiger helicopter gunship models. Operated by France, Germany, Spain and Australia in four different versions (HAP, HAD, UHT and ARH), it is about time Revell, F-Toys or someone decided to produce one. Addendum: I've just realised that Minifigs in fact has a French Tiger gunship hiding in its 12mm  modern German range, still I like mine and it is cheaper...

In the meantime, there is all of one option: a SIKU box-scale toy (product n.0872) which works out at something like 1/185 scale. The main redeeming feature of this toy is its very low price (around 2-3 euros) although it certainly stands up to comparison with some of the wargaming models out there.

The SIKU die-cast is a slightly strange combination of the German UHT anti-tank version and the chin gun found only on the other three versions. These inaccuracies aside, the overall shape is good and the quality is rather higher than what you would expect from a toy whose target audience is probably 6-year olds.

Despite the horrendous rotors and wheels and an oversize nose gun, it can be made into a half-decent representation with very little work. Going from the out-of-the box toy on the right to the one above is in fact pretty straightforward as long as you have a small metal file and good side cutting pliers.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

QRF 15mm Modern British infantry review

As I wanted to field a modern British infantry platoon for Force on Force, I looked at the then-available ranges, namely Old Glory’s and QRF’s before selecting the latter.

The Old Glory range seemed adequate (although some of the poses are hit or miss as usual with OG) but the packaging made me pass them over. Not only is the actual pack content unclear but ordering something like 150 figures and using 1/3rd to field a platoon didn’t seem like a really good idea even though OG’s per figure prices are quite competitive. Flytrap Factory has since released a pack of “Royal British Marines” which look good but are limited to small arms at the moment.

On to QRF’s figures! These are sold in packs of 8 figures covering the whole gamut of smallarms and support weapons which has the advantage of minimizing the number of leftovers. While the photos on QRF’s website do give an good idea of the content of each pack, they are not very detailed. The close up photos at the bottom of this post should give you a clearer idea of what they look like.