Sunday, October 7, 2018

Stinky People, A Hobby Hazard

The Stench Among Us

The owner of a Southwestern game shop posted a peculiar sign. It stated that those who participate in games at the shop could be ejected for having a bad odor. Whether it emanates from their clothes or themselves, stinkers will be given the boot at that shop.

A customer questioned the necessity for the sign. The shopkeeper replied that it was necessary. And from my many years hobby experience, I can confirm that. For various reasons, hobbies in general and gaming specifically attract an undo share of stinky people.

I was working at a hobby shop about 12 years ago. The shop had a little of everything: trains, games, fantasy figures and such.

One day, a chubby fellow in dirty khakis came into the shop. He had unkempt hair and wore a large pentagram around his neck. (The oversized pentagram would have gotten ridicule from my Wiccan friends.) I could smell him as soon as he came in the door. Tucking my Thor’s Hammer pendant under my collar, I hoped he did not want to start a conversation with me.

The smelly fellow looked about at gaming supplies, then came to the counter. He told me he could bring  many gamers into the store. I got the impression he was hinting at a job. And I knew the owner would never have hired him. It turns out the man who worked weekend evenings knew who he was. The stinker had been one of a small pack of gamers who frequented the shop a few years earlier. He was known for his stench.  Think of burnt poop.

For my part, I moved about behind the counter so as to dissuade conversation with the portly stench man. I also acted as if I knew little of gaming. He eventually left, promising to bring his friends.

I never saw or smelled him again.

There were other creeps and stinkers. Two very weird, middle aged individuals came in one day to look at trains. I directed them to the counter that had their scale. The smaller one who smelled like month-old smelts wanted to tell me about his trains. He had a reedy little voice, “I have Fleischmann and ....”

It was obvious that these two were not going to buy anything. They just wanted to talk to somebody.

I moved slowly to another part of the counter, and he followed me, still going on about his trains.

(A hint for the unknowing: the guy at the hobby counter does not want to hear you go on about your trains ,especially if the shop does not carry that brand.)

The little man asked if I was into trains and N scale. I didn’t tell him I run one of the largest non-commercial model railroading websites. My reply was an outright lie, “I don’t know much about trains. I am into fantasy gaming.”

The little man tried to continue his train talk, starting to explain something about trains to me. I smiled and said, “Yeah, I really don’t know about that. My thing is the stuff in this aisle.”

I pointed at the 25mm figures and fantasy gaming models.

By this time, his friend had finished looking at the counter and rejoined him.

“Is there anything you want,” I asked.

They shook their heads and left. I heard the fishy-stinky man say as they left, "I really wanted to talk to a train guy, but all he knows is that creepy stuff.”

Another customer was right there in the shop at the time. He knew that I was into trains, miniature soldiers and military vehicles. He said it was all he could do to keep from laughing. “I didn’t want to talk to those two, either” he blurted. Then he asked, “How much do you know about this fantasy stuff?

“Nowhere near as much as I know about trains, “I replied.

Back in the 70s, I was invited to play a medieval game at a friend’s house. He had a few people there. I knew about half of them. We were using a rule set I knew well. Setting up was pretty easy. Sitting at one end of the table was a big, shabby looking fellow. I did not know him. However, as the night wore on, I got more than a whiff. Suffice to say that by the end of the game, he was at one end of the table and everyone else was at the other end. He smelled of stale sweat and desiccated poop. The smell just got worse with each round.

I agreed to drive a couple of the players home. As we were leaving, my friend asked if I could drive the big stinker home. I stated that I was going in the other direction. As we got in the car, my passengers thanked me for ditching the portly pooper. A Ford Maverick is too confined a space for that!

Which makes me ask: have you ever had to ride next to a human stink bomb in a car? Do you worry that some of the stench might rub off on you?

The fact is that slobs, dirt-bags and human stink bombs are a hazard of hobbies. They can make an otherwise fun thing unpleasant. And for the dense duds who don’t know, think about this. If people don’t want to give you a ride, don’t want to have a conversation with you and don’t want to sit near you at the gaming table, take a hint. It’s time to shake hands with a bar of soap and introduce your attire to the laundry on a more frequent basis. Nobody likes a stench, especially when it emanates from a stinking, malodorous slob.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Tricks for Painting and Finishing Miniatures

What I use to paint figures.

For painting metal figures, I have a process. After casting an removing flash, I give it a once-over with a thin wire brush. The thin wires do not mess with the details. They leave tiny, almost invisible scoring. You need a magnifying glass to seed it. Paint adheres better because of those scores / grooves. Next, I wash it with water and let it dry overnight. Next day, I give it a coat of Rustoleum clean metal primer on all sides, including under the base.. After letting it dry for a couple hours, I bake it in a small toaster at about 250 to 270 degrees for about 20 minutes. This makes the paint primer harder.

I paint using various techniques. Usually I start with a base coat of the primary color for the figure. Next come the other colors, and then the details. Last I paint the top of the base a thick acrylic green or brown shade. While still wet, I add model railroading turf, usually a blend of grass and earth. For desert figures I use a base coat of dark yellowish tan paint and add playground sand.

Depending on the figure and the colors, I may also use washes and / or dry- brushing.

The final step is a flat / matte clear spray to protect the paint.

For plastic, I spray paint a base coat of flat enamel and let it dry. I follow up with acrylics. They adhere to the flat enamel well. Acrylics do not always adhere well to bare plastic.

I do NOT wire brush plastic figures. Never!

I use a hobby spray for plastic, such as Model Master (We used to like the old Pactra flat sprays.)

I use craft shop acrylics. Favorite brands are Folk Art, Deco Art, Apple Barrel and Anita’s. Years ago my friends and I used a brand called Polly S. Now it is made by Testor’s and is called Polly Scale. (I do not have a nearby hobby shop that carries it). The craft stuff is cheaper and you get more of it.

For clear coat, Folk Art makes a good flat. Rustoleum also makes a few..

I use Rustoleum Clean Metal Primer for priming .metal figures.

If I must brush on flat enamels, I use Testor’s in the small bottle. I have used Testor’s for over 55 years. I used to paint with Pactra, too, which is no longer available since it was bought out by Testor’s.




I use paint brushes and other items. Small hobby files and metal emery boards are quite useful. Knives are also valuable, be their a very sharp pocketknife of craft knives such as Excel and Exacto. Another goodie is the old Atlas Snap Saw.

For removing pieces from a sprue, I use a sprue cutter. In the past, I used a small wire cutter. Cutting is better than twisting. Cutting / snipping does not damage the piece. Twisting can mar the piece.

I buy good brushes. for the most part. I have a variety of sizes, from 4 to 00. Brushes are cleaned thoroughly after use. Better brushes last much longer than the cheap ones.

Toothpicks can also be used for many things from applying dots of paint to applying and shaping glue and putty. Round toothpicks are best. The pointy end can be further sharpened with a knife.

Birthday candles have their use. They can be used to heat the end of a pin. The pin is used to poke small holes in plastic, whether you are making bullet holes or holes for adding detail parts. Then there is the old “stretch sprue” trick. A piece of hard plastic (usually fro m a model kit sprue) can be held few inches over the flame until it is soft, then pull both ends to make thin pieces. These can be used for details, antennae, etc. Use this at your own risk. I keep a cup of sand around when I work with small fire. Sand can douse the flame and is a lot less messy than water.

Small wire brads can be used to replace broken rifle barrels in 45mm to 60mm figures.

Most of my tricks were developed because I could not buy better items when I was younger. For instance, I did not have an airbrush or more advanced hobby equipment. It was all hand tools.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Notes on Building Compact Train Layouts


The trick to small layout design is to allow as much action as possible without clutter or cramming. You want trains to move. Scenery has to be added judiciously. You don’t want to pack things tightly. A good blend of track, structures, signals and natural things makes for a pleasant layout.

Know your trains. Know what you will run on the small layout. Understand that the value of compactness has a pay-off. In gaining action in a small space, you lose the ability to run larger trains. Shorter locomotives and cars thrive on a small pike as much as a large one. Even if they can make the curves and tolerances, large trains look awkward. Overhanging passenger cars and long freight cars detract from the appeal of running a train.

Several things affect the design of the track plan. Will it be realistic, whimsical, classic “tinscale” or something else? Do you want to run operating cars and accessories on it? How important is scenery? Do you want your scenery to look realistic, “tin-litho” or toy-like? Questions like these lead to developing the layout that best suits your desires.

Operating systems are less of an issue on a compact railway. The electronic systems like TMCC, DCS and DCC hit their stride with larger layouts. Much of their value is wasted on a small pike, where everything is pretty much in reach. Indeed, manual accessories and switches can be used comfortably on a very small layout. Transformer control is more than adequate. Likewise, wiring is much easier.

Understand that different brands and styles of track have different track geometry. Pick track that fits your area nicely.

Last, what is in your budget? You can make a small layout that is within your means. You can also add to it gradually.

The main rule is that it is YOUR  railroad so make it the way you want it.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Brief Breakdown of Hobbies and the Trade War Tariffs

  1) Most manufacturers of both toy soldiers and model trains are inextricably locked into Chinese manufacturing.

2) The days of low prices for Chinese-made hobby goods ended about ten years ago.

3) A trade war with high tariffs on Chinese hobby goods (20% to 30%) will jack prices 25% to 35%. The extra 5%  is the cost of re-pricing, producing new price lists, additional customs costs, etc. Your $450 locomotive is going to cost $550 to $650. Your box of soldiers is going to go from $15 to $20.

3) Lionel Trains has started making some of its goods in North Carolina. Tim Mee is made in the USA. AIP has moved back to the USA. Hasbro is backing out of China.  MTH, Bachmann, RMT, BMC, LOD, and most of Lionel is made in China. While some production could be moved to Korea, it will still be a costly thing. Moving production will require retooling, setting up facilities, hiring and training staff, etc. That takes time and money.

4) Everything is going to be utter chaos until the dust settles.

5) Either way, you (the hobbyist) lose.

The manufacturers should have heeded a time-honored piece if advice:

Don’t put your eggs in one basket!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Fundraiser for American Legion Post 54 veterans

American Legion Post 54 is celebrating its Centennial next year. (1919 - 2019) We are one of the oldest posts in the country. Several events are being planned. As a fund raiser, we are selling certificates to get a professional car wash at Freehold Raceway Car Wash in Freehold Township. I have several of these tickets. You get exterior wash, wheels & tires cleaned, interior vacuum, dash dusted, windows inside and out, towel dry. If you are in the Freehold area and would like to support us and get a great car wash, contact me. Tickets are $19 each.

Thanks in advance!


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Additions, Updates and Improvement’s to Grant’s “Battle” Wargame Rules.

More on Grant’s Battle Rules

As I implied in an earlier post, I really like Charles’ Grant’s World War II rules: “Battle: Practical Wargaming.”  They are a good blend of realism and playability. The problem with them is that they are limited. Grant set the rules in the last year of World War II. As such, he included a small assortment of tanks, artillery and infantry options. Much was based on available models at the time.
This page has a variety of updates, additions and optional rules for playing Battle. You can choose whic h ones you like, adapt them as you see fit, or use them as a jumping-off point foir devising your own improvements.
I decided to use Grant’s rules as the basis for a trio of mini-wargames for model tanks and small scale soldiers. Following his lead, I was able to develop Speeds as well as Defense and Attack values for vehicles and weapons that he did not list. I also made some adjustments to “true up” the list with knowledge I had of armored vehicles.


Expanded charts: The original book gave charts for Defensive Value, Attack Value and Movement for a handful of vehicles. I have expanded that and made a few corrections along the way. These are included in three sets of “mini-rules” I compiled back in `05. I based these on Grant’s system.

Hans Und Panzer covers World War II circa 1943-1945 It covers many tanks and guns not included in the original Battle. Download a copy here:  http://www.thortrains.net/milihistriot/muzzleblastanks.pdf

Hand Und Panzer Afrika Korps covers World War II circa 1939 - 1943 It includes several tanks and weapons used in the early part of the war. One typo: we listed the 45mm gun as German when it should have been Soviet. Get it here: http://www.thortrains.net/milihistriot/muzzleblastafrika.pdf

Krunch a Commie covers the Cold War from 1946 to about 1975. There may be some discrepancies. For instance, we list the Defensive Value of the Centurion at 18 based on an early model. The later model would be 19 or 20. I did not figure guided missiles like the TOW, Sagger or Shillelagh into the rules, nor was there any mention of reactive armor. I may have to work these out in the future along with larger HEAT weapons like the 106mm recoilless rifle.  (I can tell you from experience that firing the 106 is a wonderful experience. Really cool!)  Get it here: http://www.thortrains.net/milihistriot/muzzleblastcoldwar.pdf

Because of information I had, I have corrected a few of the armor values and such. These booklets can be used with Grant’s rules

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I use a different system for anti-tank gun hits. The front of a tank is at full Defensive Value. The sides are 2/3 this value, and  the rear is ½. Though most tanks have ½ the armor on the sides, I take into account the skill of the drive ro minimize vulnerability. Otherwise, it would be Front: Full Defensive Value;  Side: Half of Defensive Value;  Rear, 1/3 Defensive value

When determining Defensive Value from sides or rear and you get an oddball number, round up.

Let’s be blunt: you may not agree with all of my Defense and Attack values. No problem. This is a hobby, not a religion or a science. Adapt and improvise as you see fit.

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If you want to take into account the skill and leadership of different armies, consider this

The US and Commonwealth armies are the baseline.

Soviet and Italian crews had less training both for troops and officers. However, Italian troops improved during the course of the North African campaign. Soviet troops were rushed through training. This is reflected in both morale and shooting.

Tanks and AT guns and morale:

Italians prior to July 1942 and Soviet crews fire at -1 on the first shot at a target.

Italians prior to July 1942 and Soviet troops get -1 on morale rolls.

Italian troops improved as they gained combat experience. Also, some units in North Africa were retrained by Rommel.

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Optional horse cavalry rules (Cossacks, etc.) Cavalry moves 10" on road, 6" off road. Cavalry goes through woods at ½ cross-country speed.

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The morale rule I included in the mini games was a simple one. Frankly, I think Grant’s system is just as good. In his method, 10 is the base number. Points are added or subtracted and a single die is rolled. If the score adds up to more than 10, the unit is okay. If less, the unit stays in place .It must roll for morale the next turn. If it is nine or less, the unit retreats 1 full turn. It will continue to roll for morale at the beginning of each turn until it either routs off the board or scores 10 or more and operates according to orders. An officer can be sent the intercept the unit and help improve the morale score.


I have yet to work out a rule extending visibility to 60 inches. Such a rule would be very useful for fighting in the Desert (North Afrika, Egypt and Syria) as well as Cold War combat after 1960. In the latter case, improved optics and range finders make a difference. Again, there is also the issue of guided weapons that appeared in the 1970s. TOW and Shillelagh missiles come to mind. The trick is to keep it simple land practical. We do not want to confuse anyone. We have to be considerate.

Likewise. I do not feel confident that I can come up with values for the modern super-tanks such as the M1 Abrams, Challenger, T-90 and Leopard 2. The same goes for guided artillery and rocketry. This is why my games stop around 1975. Military technology has surpassed game play.

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Grant’s Additional Rules

In the additional Rules ( chapters 27 to 32, originally printed in Meccano magazine) are rules for terrain. Grant used graduated hills, somewhat like those of little wars, but contoured. Each contour was a rise of 50 feet. Going uphill reduced speed by ½, whether cross country or on  road. Thus, going up a contour, a half move was plotted from the start point on the lower contour to the end point on the next one.

A point about 1 inch over the center of the top contour represents the hilltop. Troops on one side of the hill cannot see troops on the other side of the imaginary top unless one or the other crests the hill.

In Grant’s rules, movement through woods was 2/3 cross-country speed for Infantry. They were impassable to vehicles. There was no penalty for vehicles or men moving on roads through woods.

Rivers could only be crossed at fords and bridges. Smaller streams could be crossed at these rates: 2 moves for infantry and 4 moves for vehicles. The latter includes man-pushed artillery.

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Optional scenery / terrain rules: 

Swamps are impassable except for amphibious vehicles. For LVTs, DUKWs, Schwimmwagens, etc, crossing swamps is at ½ cross country speed.

Lakes are impassable to all but amphibious vehicles. These can move at ½ cross-country speed.

Rivers: Amphibious vehicles cross rivers in one move. However, an optional thing is to roll for current. Determine direction of current before the game starts. Roll die for each vehicle. Each pip is 1 inch for small vehicles like schimmwagens and Weasels.  It is ½ inches for larger things like DUKWs and LVTs. This is how far down-stream a vehicle will emerge from the river.

Optional bridge rules: The infrastructure in Europe and Asia was a hit-and- miss thing. This was especially true in Eastern Europe, China, Korea, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, New Guinea, and the Pacific islands. Not all bridges were created equally. Some could handle tanks, some could only handle lighter vehicles, and some could only handle horse carts and men. You can agree to rate bridges before the game:

Class 1: all vehicles
Class 2: medium tanks and lighter
Class 3: light tanks, half tracks and lighter
Class4: wheeled vehicles, armored cars and lighter
Class 5: men, horses, horse carts

A Class 1 would be obvious because of its size and strength. Some bridges should be obvious by their width. Some may not be as obvious. An optional rule is that the strength of Class 2, 3 and 4 might have to be revealed either by crossing them or by sending a scout to check them out first.

Once a vehicle enters a bridge, the bridge’s class is revealed. A scout takes 1/2 move to reveal the class of a bridge.

On crossing, a vehicle two or more classes higher than the bridge will damage it. Roll a die. 1, no damage. 2, 3, 4 moderate damage. The bridge’s class is lowered 1 level (For instance, a Class 3 becomes a Class 4 for the rest of the game). 5, 6 the bridge becomes impassable except by infantry. In the case of a 5 or 6, roll another die to see the fate of  the vehicle: 5 or 6 means it falls in the collapse and is unusable for the rest of the game. 3,4 means it does not cross and must be immobile for 1 move. 1, 2 it crosses but must remain immobile for 1 move.

A vehicle 1 class higher than the bridge does damage thus: roll 1 die. On a 6, the bridge collapses. Roll as above for a collapsed bridge to see if the vehicle gets through.  4, 5, the vehicle cannot cross and the bridge is reduced 1 class. 2 or 3 the vehicle crosses but the bridge cannot take any other vehicle higher than its class without collapsing. On 1, the vehicle gets across without damage to the bridge or itself.

Class 5 bridges are always impassable by vehicles. There is no need to roll a die to determine their class. Class 5 bridges always look impassable to vehicles.

Artillery attacks on bridges: batteries of guns of 75mm or higher can fire to damage bridges. First, they must hit the bridge as per the regular artillery rules. If hit, a die is rolled. If the die roll is higher than the class of the bridge, another die is cast:

1, 2, 3: Bridge reduced 1 class.
4, 5: Bridge reduced 2 classes
6: bridge totally out.

If a bridge is hit several times and is reduced past 1, it is out.

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I still prefer the small-scale HO, OO and 1/100 vehicles by ROCO, Airfix, EKO and Roskopf. They are more fun that the 1/285 and 1/300 stuff. I got my start with ROCO and Airfix and tend to favor them. However, there are other makes out there offering good stuff. The soldiers by Caesar and Pegasus look nice. Matchbox  made nice figures and models, too. Esci is okay, but in my opinion, not as good as Airfix.

Back then, I was unaware of Comet / Authenticast 1/108 scale recognition models of military vehicles. Nobody around us imported Roskopf models.  We had what our hobby shops had. In our neighborhood, it was ROCO MiniTanks and Airfix soldiers and tank kits. At the time that Grant wrote his book, things were limited. ROCO had yet to release its German kubelwagen and schwimmwagen (German “jeeps”). Most of the available models and kits were of US and German vehicles. ROCO made two Postwar British tanks and only three World War II Soviet tanks. Most of the MiniTanks artillery was American. Airfix made a few British vehicles and guns.

As for soldiers, Airfix was the main source. The available sets for World War II were German infantry, Infantry Combat Group (British), 8th Army, Afrika Korps, US Marines, Russian Infantry, Japanese Infantry and Russian Infantry. The British Commandos had not yet been released. Our only other sources fo small soldiers were a few small ROCO sets and Giant, a Hong Kong manufacturer. Giant made crude US and German troops.

Since then, we have access to many more models from other makers. Roskopf became available. Matchbox, Fujimi, Hasegawa and Revell made vehicle kits. Matchbox, Revell, Esci, Pegasus and Caesar also made small-scale soldiers. That alone is cause to update the rules.


For info on the tiny tanks and soldiers, click here: http://www.thortrains.net/armymen/minimen/tinymen.html





Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Grant's "Battle" and World War II Wargaming


I have been re-reading Charles Grant’s “Battle: Practical Wargaming.” It is a good set of rules for World War II wargaming. In fact, three of my mini games are based on it. (Hans und Panzer, Hans und Panzer Afrika, and Krunch a commie - all available here:  http://www.thortrains.net/milihistriot/downloads.html  )

Over the years, I have read and tried several rule sets for the World War II to Modern Era. My first set were the Featherstone rules given in Wargames: Battles and Manoeuvres with Model Soldiers. (British people routinely mis-spell words like maneuvers. They clearly do not understand nuances of the language.)  Nice for a start, but lacking. His second set in Battles with Model Soldiers were actually limited to model vehicles and artillery made by Airfix at the time. So it was on to other rules.


Somehow I had missed Charles Grant’s rules at the time. I did not get a set until almost 20 years ago. Needless to say, I liked them instantly. There were a few bugs, but for the most part, they were excellent. Granted that the original rules were a bit spare, insofar as they only covered a few vehicles in the last year of the War. Extrapolating values for other vehicles and guns was relatively easy. The rules themselves were practical and allowed for a fun game without a lot of useless complexity.

One glitch was how Grant handled the differing armor on the sides and rear of a tank. I prefer a more realistic scenario: In mine, tanks hit frontally are judged by the full Defensive value for that particular vehicle. A side shot is given 2/3 the Defensive Value, and a rear shot is ½ the value.  This takes into account that tank drivers will try to minimize vulnerability insofar as the sides, so that 2/3 is more reasonable than ½. We have to take account of actual armor thickness and the way they were operated. My addition fits the real nature of armored vehicles.


When reading older works, be aware of the hobby situation at the time. There were fewer models available, and that includes vehicles, artillery and infantry. Airfix was the most common source for infantry and 1/76 scale tanks up until the early 1970s. Fujimi emerged around 1972 (that’s when I saw my first Fujimi kit - a King Tiger) Matchbox came a little later. ROCO had the largest line of tanks and had been imported into the US and UK since 1961.
Roskopf was out there, but was not as available in the US.

Everyone made a Sherman or two, Panzer IIIs and IVs, a Tiger, a panther and a T34. You could get them in 1/72 ( Hasegawa ), 1/76, 1/87 and 1/100.  Try to find a Nashorn, Hummel or M7 “priest” and you were out of luck. And while it was easy to get infantry for the major components, they still had not come out with the smaller contingents. You could find US, German and British infantry as well as paratroopers and Commandos, but it was a while before you could find a set of Cafones (Italians) or a Box o’ Bogans (Australians). Folks had to substitute, convert, or make do.

Then there were the “new” 1/285 scale tanks. What fun is wargaming when your tanks are half the size of N scale?

Wargaming itself was about to get cluttered. There were many sets of rules being published. Featherstone, Gygax, Scruby, Grant, Bath, Barker, Quarrie, and a host of others were churning out rule sets for a variety of eras and conflicts. By the mid-70s, there was a glut of rules. All you had to do was walk into the “new” Compleat Strategist and be overwhelmed by the available games and rules.

But I still prefer the old-school rules.

Hans und Panzer, Hans und Panzer Afrika Korps (1939 - 1943) and Krunch a Commie (Cold War ) contain updated Defense Values and Attack Values as well as Speed and Movement tables compatible with Grant’s Battle rules. They cover many of the tanks, other vehicles and anti-tank guns of their respective eras. These games are also compatible with each other.

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There are three subtle jokes included in the above article. Did you catch them?