Miniature Ordnance Review looks at the world of historical and fantasy miniatures wargaming and model building. From 15mm Flames of War, to Warhammer 40K, to 1/35th scale tanks, with some potential surprises on the horizon - you'll find them here!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Economics of Wargaming

On one level, game designers seem to have an ideal job; they get to spend every work day effectively doing what for the rest of us is a hobby. Of course, the operative word there is "seem." To be and remain successful in what has become a highly competitive business game companies need to have a steady revenue stream. This revenue stream pays the workers and designers, and if the latest product or version of an established game flops companies can quickly find themselves in very dire straights.

Buy a new car or buy a new army???

The key challenge that any company must overcome is that hobbies are expensive. There, I said it. It's the "uncomfortable truth." It's the elephant in the room. Hobbies require both disposable income and the time to actually pursue them, and therefore as long as there have been miniatures and games, people have been looking for more economical ways to procure and enjoy them. In wargaming various money-saving techniques include patronizing deep discount retailers, using alternate miniature sources, casting one's own miniatures, and even turning to new technologies like 3D printing. 

So how expensive are wargaming and miniatures hobbies in general? The answer is "it depends greatly." On a one for one basis, miniatures in the smaller scales (15mm, 12mm, 10mm and 6mm) are going to be progressively cheaper than larger ones (28mm, 54mm, etc). The number of models and miniatures required to play a typical game is also going to factor heavily into its overall cost with skirmish-style games generally requiring fewer miniatures than platoon or company level games. The media used to actually produce the miniatures is another variable. Miniature wargaming started out with "lead figures" - which has evolved into white metal (a pewter which may or may not be lead free), resin, and even injection molded plastic. Then there is the cost of the rule books themselves, though the miniature cost often outweighs the rules cost, sometimes by a fairly hefty multiplier.

So let's look at a few real world examples. For all of these I will use quoted retail prices in U.S. dollars. In cases where currency conversions must be made, they will be accurate as of the writing of this article (October 2016).

Monday, October 30, 2017

Thanks for a Great Month - and a Look Ahead!

In October so far, Miniature Ordnance Review has gotten more actual hits than in any other month... well ever, if I filter out the few months I was getting a bunch of referrer spam. I've been focused on Team Yankee and some builds there, and the support from that community has been nothing short of spectacular. There seems to be a lot positive momentum for the game, and I'm really looking forward to several upcoming releases - some of which are public knowledge - some I can't talk about... yet...

My current plans are to finish up my NVA forces for Team Yankee as much as possible and then I'll likely start working on Americans with the release of Stripes. A lot of the kit looks like a lot of fun, and yes I will have Sergeant Yorks... but I'll also likely have a bunch of M60s running around to support my Abrams tanks. Hopefully the M60 plastics from Battlefront will follow the mold of the reasonably accurate T-64 rather than the "needs a lot of coaxing to fix" T-72. PSC has a model coming out as well, but it has already been fairly heavily panned for accuracy based on the renders. I'm mostly painting the American forces for my son who has gotten in to playing, but I'll take the time to do them up right.

I also have a few other Team Yankee armies I'm going to work on - I have several of the new Leopard 1 plastics from PSC on order for a proposed West German light force, along with some more T-55s for a variety of projects. I've got the PSC Soviet infantry on order as well (though when expertly painted the new Battlefront plastic Soviets look pretty good)which will support my T-64 army. With the updated version of Fate of a Nation on tap for next year, my Israelis will definitely be on the table as well.

I also have a couple of non-Battlefront projects in the planning stages. I need to paint on my Bolt Action forces and get them ready for the tabletop and I ordered the new Fallout Wasteland Warfare miniatures from Modiphius. They're sort of spendy, but my son and I both love the game, so this should be another fun father/son game!

So my tentative painting plans for the next several months:

  1. Finish Team Yankee NVA
  2. Work on Team Yankee American
  3. Team Yankee Soviet or West German
  4. Fate of a Nation Israeli
  5. Likely some Bolt Action and/or the new Fallout range of miniatures

So let's talk about the elephant in the room. There's no new Flames of War on that list, and yes, that isn't a misprint. My concerns about the lists for MW Version 4 and the ongoing balance issues for EW/LW are such that I really want to see them solved before I commit to painting new armies. I already have several painted forces, and if I feel the urge I can run those until BF gets FoW fully sorted. Again, which is a shame because I had planned several new forces. I remain hopeful, though, and I'm having more fun with Team Yankee these days since the campaign.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

T-72 Progress - In the Home Stretch!

I've being trying to finish up all of the rest of my East German T-72 tanks over the past few days in between other projects (non-Team Yankee) that I'm working on. The turrets have been going a little slowly - partially because I decided to wait for some actual 1.0mm styrene rod to finish up the modifications to the smoke launchers detailed in my previous blog entry. The styrene arrived early last week and I've managed to get all of the smoke launchers updated - now the wiring begins!

I start by drilling a couple of small pilot holes for the brass wiring. This ensures I have a steady base to work from when I'm bending the wire around the smoke launchers. I glue the wire in with a thin super-glue, and once dry bend it around the launchers. The net effect is the turret looks sort of like a bug until I get the wires bent around (see below).


When I took this picture, I only had about five or so of the 15 turrets completed, but I'm now up to nine with only six to go. In the photo below you can also see the hatch modifications with new spotlights added.


In the meantime I've primed the tracks and hulls of all of the T-72s, along with a few friends that were also effectively naked at this point.


Once the T-72s are done, the few upgrades needed to my rank and file BMP transports begins in earnest. It should (hopefully) go quickly as there are no fundamental modifications to the standard AFVs - only the addition of a few details on the front. I still have a few command and observer vehicles to work on, but those can come along as I have time.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

T-72 and Advanced Modeling Syndrome Part 3 - The Final Chapter

Well, the "Final Chapter" maybe until I get to the painting and detailing, but certainly "the final chapter" on the actual builds! No sooner had I gotten the last of the turret stowage box details on the last of the 15 T-72 turrets (from Part 1 of this T-72 descent into insanity) when I turned the turret around, looked at the simplified smoke launchers and mused, "what am I going to do about you?" Fortunately the next day a solution presented itself - the great chaps over at Breakthrough Assault posted an article on how they'd updated their Warsaw Pact tanks with a host of relatively easy to do improvements!

At this point instead of 1.0mm styrene rod, I've been using 3/64" (1.2mm) and sanding it down for the smoke dischargers. The photo below shows the result before final sanding. At this point I have some 1.0mm on order which will better match the size of the kit smoke dischargers with less effort.


I'm using 24 gauge brass wire for my smoke launcher wiring, which I think gives me a better scale effect, and is easier to work with than trying to bend thin styrene rod. I've also moved the machine gun mount facing the rear as that appears to be correct based on what I'm seeing in the references as well.


As I indicated, I've pretty much finished up the stowage boxes - though they'll need a little final sanding and filling around the edges. I'm planning on priming them first to make sure I get the all of the gaps filled properly.


As you can see from the photo above, all of the fronts are ready to go with photo-etched plates and final details added with strip styrene.

So there you pretty much have it. All of the final details are going on my NVA T-72 tanks at this point, and the next step will be to prime and paint them. Unfortunately I have a few other projects I need to work on outside of miniature building over the next couple of weeks. so progress is likely to slow just a bit until those are done. My goal is to have everything ready to go for the next online Campaign!


Sunday, October 15, 2017

T-72 Photo Etch Update

Given I only managed to get nine reasonably acceptable front plates of the 15 I need out of yesterday's batch, I knew I needed another batch of photo-etched plates for my NVA T-72s. I managed to get the batch running today and made a few adjustments along the way to hopefully get a better result, and thankfully I did actually manage to get that better result. I believe all twelve of these will work, so I'll be able to pitch a few of the more over-etched examples from the previous batch!


This batch worked so well it managed to almost keep the whole set of sprues. There appears to be one spot where the etching solution bled through on the top left example, but with a little filler that one should work just fine too!

This time I used a longer exposure time (12 minutes instead of 10) to better expose the resist. I also adjusted my exposure lamp to hopefully provide more even light coverage. I also backed off on the concentration of the developer, and left it in the developer a shorter amount of time. The etching took a bit longer as I was reusing the same etch solution, which they say is good for multiple runs, and I spent more time double checking it.

I had thought to use some thicker metal for future projects, but looking at the edge creep on these, I wonder if it wouldn't be counterproductive as I can get undercut (wet etches are by there very nature isotropic) - so I may even to thinner on future projects.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Battlefront's T-72 and Advanced Moldeling Syndrome - Part 2

In my quest to improve Battlefront's T-72 and get my NVA army ready for painting, I've gone to great lengths to get the lower front glacis plate correct. Unlike the newer T-64 kit that has the lower front glacis plate detail molded in, the early T-72 kit is flat with no detail. Soviet T-72 tanks would have had the distinctive toothed plate with eight engineering attachment points above it, whereas the Czech and Polish produced varieties (like those received by the East Germans) would have only had four.


Step one in getting the miniatures ready for upgrading was to fill the seam on the front glacis. I've seen some photos where there is a clear weld line in roughly that area, but the gap seems overly large in scale and its placement wasn't perfect, so I decided discretion was the better part of valor and I filled it.


I used Mr. Surfacer 1200 to fill the gap because it is a nice liquid that can be easily brushed on and controlled. Once the Mr Surfacer had dried (nominally 2 hours, but longer is better), I sanded down the front to make it ready for detailing.

So... the elephant in the room... how to make the detailed toothed front plate? Well, I could use styrene, and that would take a long time, and be nearly impossible to replicate easily and consistently. Or I could throw the Hail Mary and dig out a technique I last used in graduate school - photoetching.

The first step to photo etching is coming up with good artwork. Between the Zvezda 15mm T-72 and the Battlefront T-64, I was able to scale myself a decent front plate for the T-72 in Photoshop. The artwork is printed out on clear film which has to be registered as you have a front and back pattern and will be etching from both sides!

I used the Micromark photo-etch system, and for a hobbyist system it ended up working pretty well. I had a little over-etch which spoiled about 3 of the 12 possible parts, but I think I can fix that next time with a longer exposure. The system requires you to clean the brass, ad a film-based resist to it, expose, and then develop the resist. Once the resist is developed (which uses a sodium hydroxide solution), the brass itself is etched in ferric chloride (and yes, the whole thing does the chemist in me proud!).


One side finished etching before the other, so I had to pull half of the parts out of the bath while the rest were still etching. Once I was done etching, the remaining resist has to be removed in a concentrated sodium hydroxide bath.


All told I was able to get what I think will be nine functional parts (see above). As I currently have fifteen T-72 to finish up, I'm going to have to do another batch of twelve parts, so I may not end up using some of the more over-etched examples above.


Once the T-72 had been sanded, I added the photo-etched part to the lower front glacis and then added the engineering points and other details with strip styrene. I have a great tool called The Chopper that allows you to make multiple replicates of a piece that is a constant length. I'm using Evergreen styrene for the details.

So soon I should have my bevvy of T-72 tanks for my NVA force ready to prime and paint, and they'll not have a naked lower glacis!!! I'm hoping to get one more run through the photo-etcher done this weekend so I'll have enough to finish the lot.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Not Your Typical Volksarmee - A Painting Guide for East German Infantry Part 1

The main Team Yankee book includes some fairly decent painting instructions for NVA infantry, but if you look at the zoomed figures on page 31 of the Volksarmee book and compare them to the distance shots on page 32, the colors don't match up well to my eye. Also, the actual camouflage scheme used by the NVA (also on page 31) is very intricate making the attempt on the figure itself look fairly crude. The lines and pattern are far too large and ultimately don't begin to give a proper scale effect for NVA BDU camouflage, officially called Strichtarn, but colloquially known as "Ein Strich - Kein Strich" by DDR troops. I therefore went in search of more information and worked to develop my own paint scheme for these troops.

The first thing that I discovered is because Strichtarn was in use for so many years and produced in several places, there is a great deal of inconsistency in the exact coloration. The other thing I realized is that on a 15mm miniature replicating the actual camouflage scheme is impossible and it won't look right even if you do. Unlike World War II Waffen SS schemes that can still be rendered effectively on a 15mm miniature, as you shrink Strichtarn to correct for scale, it simply comes out looking brown with maybe a beige highlight to it. The other thing I discovered was that there was a variety of gear that came (or could come) in colors and patterns other than Strichtarn.

NVA BDU

The photo above comes from one of the few references I've been able to find in English on the NVA, Uniforms of the East German Military: 1949-1990 by Klaus-Ulrich Keubke and Manfred Kunz. I also have a few pouches and other pieces of East German militaria I was able handle and look a personally in developing the palette for painting my own Motorisierte Schützen.

The basic color suggestions for the uniform itself (as long as you're painting it as a solid uniform) in the Volksarmee book aren't bad. Using both the Battlefront and other online conversion tables for the new Flames of War colors back to the old Vallejo equivalents, I was able to settle on a base coat of 921 English Uniform followed by a wash (discussed later) and highlights of 873 U.S. Field Drab and 821 German Camouflage Beige (with the latter being a very light highlight). I went ahead and painted the helmets as if they were covered as well, but they could also be colored green (which I may do to help tell squads apart if I paint more infantry).

Uniform Paint Palette

The large bag carried with a shoulder strap as well as most of the East German harness and many rifle slings are a blue-grey color. For these items I chose 992 Neutral Grey. The roll on the back appears to be a beige color, so I went with 987 Medium Grey. Flesh and Black were just the old Quartermasters Flat Flesh (Vallejo 955) and Black (Vallejo 950) colors as you don't need anything fancy there.

In Progress View From the Front

For the weapons and the wood handle on the entrenching tool, I moved over to Ammo of Mig paints. The entrenching tool was painted with 037 New Wood, while the weapons utilized a variety of paints from the Weapons Colors set. Most of these colors can be picked up separately - I generally used the Red Brown Base and Red Brown Shine.

Ammo of Mig Weapon Color Set covers multiple eras

East German AK-74 (MPi KM) rifles were usually fairly dark and utilized Bakelite or polymer furniture (stocks). The buttstocks typically had a stippling pattern on them, though at 15mm scale this would be invisible.

NVA MPi-KM

NVA magazines could be the dark blued finish above, or they could be a very light tan Bakelite. Generally Bakelite magazines would be smooth sided whereas the metal magazines are ribbed, so any magazine that looked like it had ribs on the side, I painted as a metal blued magazine.

NVA Bakelite MPi-KM Magazines

NVA canteens appear to have come in a variety of finishes, and some had Strichtarn covers, so I went with a mix of light green canteens (I used 830 German Field Grey) and some left in German Camouflage Beige.

NVA Canteen

The magazine pouch is also generally Strichtarn, but to make it stand out I hit it with a stronger highlight of the German Camouflage Beige.

NVA Magazine Pouch

Taken all together, this give a lot more visual interest to the Motorisierte Schützen than the scheme advocated in the Volksarmee book which essentially has one uniform color, a web gear color, black boots, flesh and weapon colors.

In Progress View from the Rear

For any green painted surfaces I went back to some old Flames of War books and used the conversion charts again, ultimately settling on 890 Reflective Green for any of the heavy weapons or the light machine gun ammunition boxes.

In an effort to move a bit more quickly in my infantry painting, I wanted to find a shading system that would allow the minimum amount of repainting and highlighting after the wash - especially on faces and other areas of exposed flesh. I picked up some of the army painter Quickshade washes, and these have really done the trick. I use a mixture of Flesh Wash and Strong Tone on flesh - which works well with the very light flesh color. Strong Tone works well on the uniform, and Dark Tone works well on weapons and any gray web gear.

Pre-mixed washes can save time and improve consistency

For the ground work, I went back to Ammo of Mig products which I've used successfully in past projects. For the NVA infantry I started with a base coat of Loose Ground from the Splashes line. I then used a stipple brush to add Kursk Soil and finally Dry Light Soil from the Heavy Mud range.

Ammo of Mig Ground and Nature effects

Taken as a group the three products provide a reasonably convincing looking ground effect without having to use a pumice or fill (as the splashes can be used as a paintable fill - though it may take a couple of coats). These are all oil based, unlike the acrylics used for all other steps, so you'll need thinner to clean your brushes!

Anti-tank missile team ready for final flocking

The photo above shows one of the anti-tank missile teams ready for adding final grass tufts and static grass. Unfortunately my phone camera washed out a lot of the subtlety in the ground work and highlights on the figures, but I'll try and get better pictures once they're complete.

One Company nearly complete!

At this point at least one full company of Motorisierte Schützen are ready for dullcote. I have a few other bases just about ready to go, and I've picked up another platoon to bulk out numbers in case I want to run multiple companies going forward. I'll post more (and hopefully better) photos once I get the rest of the basing completed!