Introducing Miniature Wargames to Your Children

The idea for this post comes from my own experiences with introducing miniature wargames to my son—he was eight when he first became interested in miniature gaming—specifically Hobbit Strategy Battle Game (Hobbit SBG)—and is now nine, going on ten. Over the last two years, we’ve played several RPGs together: D&D being the main one, but also some of the old d6 West End Games Stars Wars role-playing game, and a bits and pieces of some others, but D&D has been the main one. His interest in the Hobbit SBG was prompted by the close link between the figures and the movies that he had already seen and loved. So when we saw the Goblin Town boxed set in our local Games Workshop, it became a must-have for his next birthday. Since then we’ve played perhaps half a dozen games with it—it took a while to get started because of all the figures to paint (more on that later) – but since then he’s got well into the rules and created some of his own scenarios for the game.

One Hour WargamingOn the historical wargames side, this isn’t something that he’s been as keen on. We did try playing with the simple rules from One Hour Wargames using the chapter on Ancients and playing British vs Romans. He was doing Boadicea at school at the time, and enjoying episodes of Horrible Histories, so knew some of the background. For this we used paper armies—made out of scans of pictures that we drew together. So we had British chariots, Boadicea as a special leader, Warriors and Skirmishers, vs Roman legionaries, skirmishers and auxiliary cavalry. The game was fun, but perhaps too simple in that both sides were fairly generic and perhaps too balanced—whereas the Hobbit games being more asymmetrical and story based fired his imagination more. Again a key factor to engage his interest was the connection with story and an element of fun.

There’s a few constraints that we both have on pursuing the hobby at the moment. One is my time—we have a toddler as well and she takes up a lot of time looking after and can’t be trusted not to play with figures herself and eat them! Another is space—we don’t have a table big enough for proper big battles—the main table we have that we can use is only 2 ft by 3.5 ft—and we can’t leave that permanently set-up for gaming. The space factor is also comes into play for storing figures and scenery as well—so moving off into collecting a whole set of armies for a historical period on spec is probably not going to happen.

With these limitations in mind, here’s how I would summarise my experiences of introducing the hobby to my son:

Cool miniatures are a great gateway, but can be time consuming and a barrier too

So, with the Hobbit SBG the miniatures were a big draw, but my son didn’t have the skill or patience to paint up the 50+ figures plus quite complex scenery in the Goblin Town starter set. That’s why they say 12+ I expect on the box!! However, he was definitely old enough to understand the rules and enjoy the game.

He has done some of his own painting since then and his skills have improved, but I still think he probably needs to be a bit older before he does this himself. The larger figure sizes – i.e. 28mm – are better though for beginners I think as they’re easier and look better.

However, in terms of space and affordability I’m wondering if smaller scales – 6mm or 10mm might be a good starting point for historical mass battles in the future.

Rules should be easy to understand, interpreted clearly and flexible

As I mentioned understanding the basic  rules wasn’t much of a problem. Difficulties emerged though when adding some more of the advanced rules, and though we both understood them, I think the effort of having to remember all the complexities meant that applying them all held back the enjoyment of the game. For Hobbit SBG I’m specifically  thinking of rules for heroes such as Might, Will and Fate, and heroic actions. For the last scenario we did, we took these out completely. We still had Gandalf being able to use spells, but didn’t worry about recording his Will. I think we could reintroduce these rules at a later date, but with the main priority to have a fun game, playing by all the rules wasn’t a priority. It is a very good idea though to agree up front what rules are going to be played by and to be consistent about things – especially what constitutes a legitimate dice roll – for instance if it lands on the floor or not flat on the edge of a base do you re-roll or not! There’s a tendency for younger children to take whatever would be the most advantageous outcome.

Encourage Story Telling and Fun

Almost like an RPG it can help to dramatize what happens during the battle – “Dwalin staggers back as the Goblin King swings his club at him” etc. That helps to build the narrative of the battle, rather than making it just about winning and losing.

Allow them to contribute to the story telling 

Encourage them to make up their own scenarios. But I would advise a word of caution on balance. It’s probably worth checking that both sides are even – let them choose which side they want to play but make sure things are “fair”. One thing I have to do in the future is check on points values and handicaps to ensure both sides have a chance – a walkover for either side is not fun!

What’s Next?

I would like to play some more historical games at some point with my son – I think it would help teach him something about history, and also give him a different perspective on games as well. Probably we won’t be diving straight into the Battle of Cannae yet, but perhaps a half-way house like gaming myths, as he’s very into Norse and Greek myth after reading the Percy Jackson and Magnus Chase books by Rick Riordan. So, we might try out the Of Gods and Mortals rules from Osprey with a few figures, and then maybe try to recreate some famous historical clashes too. We’ll see!

Earworms by Jonathan Doering – Book Review

Earworms by Jonathan DoeringPhilip Fry is a good Quaker boy, a PhD student specialising in the anthropological effect of sound on humans. He’s approached at a careers fair by someone who works with a department within the Home Office – pretty certainly some kind of spy organization, and is recruited to work on a secret project. But as we soon find out something has gone badly wrong with the project, and rather than trying to bring about positive outcomes, the sound effects have caused harm rather than good.

Earworms is similar in style to Jonathan’s Battalion 202 stories that have featured in Alt Hist. So expect shifting of timeline and inclusion of documents – e.g. secret  memos, copies of letters, emails etc to break up the normal flow of the narrative. I felt that style worked well for historical fiction – I’m less sure how necessary it is for something set in the present day/near future – although the secrecy aspect means that it does still work I think.

I felt that the story got off to a slow start, but then the intrigue given by the shifting perspectives and timelines meant that the the plot became more involved and interesting. There were a few moments though that took me out of the narrative – i-pad instead of iPad and the liking of the main protagonist couple for quite retro music – I wondered if the story was set in the present day or slightly in the past. Indeed the theme of the story did have a slightly old-fashioned techno-thriller aspect to it – especially when our real world is full of such things as Stuxnet viruses that can turn off nuclear centrifuges in enemy states and elections won by “fake news”. Despite those minor qualms, I enjoyed the story though and felt that the plot kept me interested throughout.

You can buy Earworms at the following stores:

Kindle UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N9E92QO

Kindle US https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N9E92QO

Paperback https://www.amazon.co.uk/Earworms-Jonathan-Doering/dp/1540871517

Picker Pete Lightfinger – C04 Thief Painted

Picker Pete Lightfinger - FrontOne of my ambitions is to collect again some of the miniatures I owned as a kid when I played Warhammer – nearly 30 years ago in the mid to late 80s. I’m not sure if this is one of them or not – but I certainly had a number of the Townspeople and other general human types. Picker Pete Lightfinger - Side

This is from the C04 Thieves range and according to Stuff of Legends his name is Picker Pete Lightfinger – see below for the original catalogue image from the 1986 Citadel journal – and he was designed by the Perry twins.

C04 Thieves - 1986

For paints I used the new Citadel range as follows:

Hat

Base: Mephiston Red
Shade: Carroburg Crimson
Layer 1: Evil Sunz Scarlet
Layer 2: Wilder Rider Red

Coat

Base: Macragge Blue
Shade: Drakenhoff Nightshade
Layer 1: Altdorf Guard Blue
Layer 2: Calgar Blue

Trousers

Base: Waargh! Flesh
Shade: Athonian Camoshade
Layer 1: Loren Forest
Layer 2: Straken Green

Skin

Base: Bugman’s Glow
Shade: Reikland Fleshade
Layer: Kislev Flesh
Eyes: White and black

Hair

Base: Balor Brown
Shade: Agrax Earthshade
Layer: Flash Gitz Yellow

Shoes and Gloves

Base: Rhinox Hide
Layer: Mournfang Brown

Shirt

Base: Rakarth Flesh
Shade: Reikland Fleshade
Layer: Pallid Wych Flesh

Fur Sleeves

Base: Stormvermin Fur
Shade: Nuln Oil
Layer 1: Codex Grey (aka Dawnstone)
Layer 2: Administratum Grey

Gold Cup

Base: Balthasar Gold
Shade: Agrax Earthshade
Layer: Gethenna’s Gold

Bag

Base: Rhinox
Shade: Agrax Earthshade
Layer: Gorthor Brown

Sword

Base: Leadbelcher
Shade: Nuln Oil
Layer: Chainmail (aka Ironbreaker)

Belt & Scabbard

Base: XV-88
Shade: Agrax Earthshade
Layer: Tau Light Ochre

Base

Stirland Mud with a drybrush of Terminatus Stone
Grass tuft Gamer’s Grass – Light Green

Finished with varnish of Ardcoat and then matt of Lahmium Medium

Publication Plans

Things have been a bit quiet from me recently so I thought I’d let you know what I am currently working on at the moment. Firstly as you may know I’m the editor of Alt Hist – the 10th issue of this magazine is being edited at the moment and I’m aiming to publish in February or March.

Also I am editing the second volume of Stonehearted. The first volume, By the Sword’s Edge, started off the story of two young adults – Richard and Eolande and the Hundred Years War. I think that will be available early in March.

There are other things that I need to edit and get out there as well – but won’t promise any more yet!

Writing-wise I am currently about half way through a short story/novella set in an Oldhammer inspired world – a bit like Warhammer, but without any actual Warhammer content, to avoid copyright infringement 🙂

I’m having quite a lot of fun with that – I don’t usually write humour, but the Oldhammer theme required it, so have given it a go – get ready for some bad puns!

What is Oldhammer you may ask – that’s probably the subject for another post, but until then let’s just say its for those who liked Warhammer pre 1992!

Eowyn Miniature Painted

So another miniature from Hobbit Strategy Battle Game that I painted fairly recently – this time Eowyn. She is also doubling as an Elven magic user from the D&D game I play with my son and at his request her dress is white to tie in with the D&D character – otherwise I tend to be a bit boring and try to copy whatever I see in the official Hobbit or LOTR rule books!

Eowyn - white dress front
Eowyn – white dress front

I tried proper layering for this one – so the white dress starts off with a brown base and then gets built up – up close in the photos you can see the nuts and bolts of this quite clearly but from more of a distance this looks better I think.

Eowyn white dress back
Eowyn white dress back

Boromir Miniature Painted

I have started getting back into miniature games over the last couple of years – inparticular old Warhammer stuff (now known as Oldhammer for Grognards like me!) and Hobbit or Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game, which is a skirmish level miniatures game also by Games Workshop. I’ve had some great fun playing that game with my son and also doing a bit of painting. Here’s a recent figure that I’m quite proud of: Boromir! 

Boromir miniature painted by Mark Lord
Boromir miniature painted by Mark Lord

I think I probably need to work on the photography a bit – this is just using some card a smartphone and some lamps – but hopefully you can see it ok!

Creating Fantasy Languages – my own attempts

In my last post on this blog I wrote about the difficulties of finding a suitable language for an Elvish culture and the pitfalls of copyright infringement. There was some good comments on a Facebook group I belong about the pros and cons of that and also in the comments section of the blog post as well.

So I thought some readers might be interested in how I have approached constructing fantasy languages or conlangs in the past.

The largest bit of world-building is to create a world called Ladmas and a continent called Neriador. This has gone through a few incarnations and in one form or another has provided the setting for my novel The Return of the Free, and also the short stories, Two Lives for the Sea God, Demon River and Forged in Blood.

Here’s a map of the latest version of the world – the place names have been created using the languages I created.

ladmas-currentI’ll just give details of one of the main languages for now and maybe post about some of the others in the future. The dominant culture of the continent is the Lurar.

Lurar Language background

Used in the countries around Sea of Akdeniz

Source of true Lurar language hotly disputed – each nation exhibits a variation on the language – spelling and pronunciation, but most cosmopolitan natives can understand other foreigners – backwoods would have more impenetrable accents though.

Language is fairly flexible and allows for complexity of meaning and subtleties – as benefits a language well used for trade, diplomacy, politics, thought and bureaucracy. However, also fairly static as developed early – resistance in some quarters to innovations. Some nations more open to outside influence – so Nukush has the tribal influence of the desert for instance.

Ironically the most pure form of Lurar is found in the 100 princes where due to the excessive degree of legalism, diplomatic treaty writing and cultural exchange the language has remained stable – also the common exile of different political parties to other countries has meant that this form of the language has often been exported. Freedom of thought – philosophy, poetry and drama has also been popular in the 100 princes so culturally the rest of the Lurar-speaking countries tend to follow their lead.

Lurar Vocabulary

I created a word list for basic things in Lurar, so for example:

cat gres
cattle mersh
charm beryok
chief meith
child shuiv
citizen konsh
city kon

And then used that to create place and personal names:

Lurar Place Names (just a few examples):

Name Meaning Notes
Luranivs People of beauty An original tribal name from 100 princes area
Arumlu Mountain land Country to north of Bachyanrik in mountains
Phaengep Meat market City name
Narkon Camp city City name
Lepakon City on the Lepad river City name
Turedkon Factory city City name
Vrekon Faith city City name

Lurar Personal Names (just a few examples):

Name Gender Meaning
Eut Male True
Euta Female True
Kainek Male Dedicated to Kainopeon
Aeva Female derived from star
Drol Male derived from servant
Drola Female derived from servant

Conclusion

Although I could have delved much deeper into creating a language, I think the process of creating a vocabulary that seems consistent gives the language a uniqueness and also something that seems like it could be real.

Using Elvish Languages in Fantasy Fiction

Elves as portrayed in the 1977 Rankin-Bass ver...
Elves as portrayed in the 1977 Rankin-Bass version of The Hobbit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So if you want to include Elves in a work of Fantasy fiction that should be pretty simple right? I mean everyone knows how Elves speak – what kind of names they have etc – Elrond, Legolas, Galadriel – they all sound suitably, well, Elvish.

That’s the position I was in recently when contemplating writing a fantasy work including Elves, Dwarfs etc – the standard fantasy tropes – but with a twist of course. So wanting to be fairly thorough about my world building I decided I would need a naming system for people and places – a constructed language effectively. And therefore following on from that I naturally thought I should take a look at Quenya – the main Elvish language created by Tolkien – surely I could just use that as a basis and make up some cool and realistic sounding Elvish names.

But having read part of an online Quenya course (which is very good by the way and fascinating in itself), I realised that it wasn’t so simple. The author of the course includes a lengthy section on copyright, the main aim of which is to defend the right of people to publish courses such as his and also their own works in Quenya – not for profit even seems to be a bit controversial. The author of the course made the point that any commercial fictional work that used Quenya to create a naming system and language would effectively be in breach of Tolkien’s copyright.

That stopped me in my tracks – I hadn’t even considered that. So I looked into it a bit more – did other fantasy works with Elves really have their own unique languages. The main works are actually games – D&D and Warhammer – they both have their own languages – Elven and Eltharin respectively – although I suspect both are fairly superficial in nature. I looked a bit further and found that fictional works also had their own languages – for instance the Elvish language of Gael Baudino‘s Strands series is based on the Romance languages, and the Elvish languages of Andrzej Sapkowski‘s The Witcher saga, are apparently based on Welsh, Irish, French and English.

So it seems other authors and creators of Elvish cultures have also endeavoured to steer clear of using Quenya – a shame in a way as Tolkien created such a rich language – no one could do something more comprehensive I suspect for a race that doesn’t exist, but also you could also say it would be great to write fiction in Tolkien’s world, which also would be derivative and remain in the sphere of fan fiction.

So where does that leave my Elvish setting? Looking at creating a new language I suppose – and probably digging out a Conglang book such as the Language Construction Kit. However, I’m still planning on learning more about Quenya for the inspiration and also to make anything I create myself a bit richer.

Brexit Fifteenth Century Style

The last time England withdrew in a big way from the continent of Europe – there was a Civil War!

English: Illustration of the Battle of Barnet ...
English: Illustration of the Battle of Barnet (14 April 1471) on the Ghent manuscript, a late 15th-century document Haigh, Phillip (1995). The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses, Hardcover, Cover sleeve, Sutton Publishing, United Kingdom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What am I talking about? Well England’s defeat in the Hundred Year’s War lead pretty much directly to the Wars of Roses. With the UK now split almost evenly on the issue is there a danger of strong divisions appearing again in our society? There are strong emotions on both sides–anger at the result of the referendum and fear of uncertainty over what will happen next? These are dangerous times I feel – we’ve had for the first time popular leaders in the UK stirring up tensions. What’s next? It feels like we’ve taken a massive step back in terms of tolerance and a rational approach to politics and society.

EU Ref MapLooking at a map of the referendum results – you can see how further resentment and division will bubble along in the future – the richest city in the UK, London, voted overwhelmingly to leave – but will now suffer because of the economic downturn. Whereas Scotland and even Northern Ireland may leave the union together over this. This is a new civil war – fought through the media, ballot box and via words, rather than with swords and arrows – but it feels like a war nevertheless.