Wednesday 26 June 2019

Book Review: Painting Wargaming Figures - WWII In The Desert by Andy Singleton

My last book review was quite critical, so I am pleased to say that I am a lot happier with this one.

WWII in the Desert by Andy Singleton appears to be the first in a new series of books from Pen and Sword called Painting Wargaming Figures.

The subject of the book should need little explanation, covering the four major forces in the desert campaign of World War Two. British and Commonwealth (including Canadian, Australian, Indian, South African, as well as Poles, some French and others), Italian, United States, and German.

The layout of the book has been well thought through. The book is split into two sections, Basics, and the actual Painting Guides. The Basics section covers the various tools, paints and varnishes that will be needed and then goes on to explain how to prepare and assemble figures before the painting begins. This covers metal, plastic and resin miniatures and so all bases have been covered (well actually, basing the figures is covered at the end of the painting guides, but you know what I mean...).

The painting guides themselves are well laid out with a brief introduction and history of the various forces and their involvement in the campaign. This is a nice touch, as it would have been very easy to skip this and dive straight into the guides, but as the book is probably going to be read by wargamers just getting into this period it gives that extra level of information that will help build a wargames army. In each guide, Andy takes us through the painting process at three different levels. A simple basic paint scheme, a more advanced scheme that will give a good tabletop standard, and then the truly advanced scheme, which would probably be best kept purely for command figures or special characters.

Each guide shows the full process of painting the same figure at each level. Although there are four different factions, there are five guides as the fifth guide shows the painting of camouflage for the later part of the Desert campaign, when the German paratroopers arrived in theatre. Now, clearly, there is a fair bit of repetition as you read through each of the painting guides, if not exactly in colour, but in the technique used. However, the reader is likely to be following only one of the guides and is unlikely to be painting all the forces, at all the different levels in quick succession, so the repetition only gets boring for a reviewer reading the entire book, without actually using it to paint their army.

The author also points out that a lot of the uniforms faded in the dust and sun of the desert campaign and many of the soldiers chopped and changed items of uniform so it would be rare to have a standard scheme across an entire squad, let alone larger forces. Therefore, the painting guides are just that, guides, they can be mixed and matched, within reason, to achieve a more realistic look.

After the painting guides, there is a nice guide to basing figures in desert schemes. It goes into quite a bit of detail and is far from simply glueing sand onto the bases ( although it does involve a bit of this).

The final pages of the book are given over to a reasonably thorough list of manufacturers who produce ranges of wargames figures for the Desert Campaign, at various scales.

It would have been nice to see more than one figure for each force, as clearly the uniforms varied a lot over the campaign, and we just get one (except the Germans who also get the camouflage scheme). It would also have been good to have seen one or two reference pictures for each of the uniforms, whether that be illustrations like those found in the Osprey Men At Arms series of books or photos of re-enactors etc. Also, obviously these guides are all written by one (very capable) author and, as any experienced painters knows, there are endless numbers of different ways to paint a figure, so it might be nice to see a book like this written by several different painters, offering different ways to paint similar figures.

Still, these are minor quibbles and overall, I would highly recommend this book.

So, in conclusion, this is an excellent beginners guide to painting figures for the Desert Campaign. It covers everything that someone just venturing into this area would need to get going with a new army.

You can check out the book for yourself HERE.

Friday 7 June 2019

Book Review: Wargames Terrain & Buildings - The Napoleonic Wars by Tony Harwood

Tony Harwood has quite a reputation for building attractive wargames scenery so I was very keen to get hold of Pen & Sword Books The Napoleonic Wars, which appears to be the first in a series of books on constructing scenery and buildings for the wargames table.

As expected, after a quick flick through the book, Tony has managed to produce a series of interesting buildings that could grace any wargames table. Although it is squarely aimed at the Napoleonic period, I feel that there is plenty here to interest gamers of other periods too as many of the buildings would suit earlier or later periods.

A brief skim through will give you a right old treat for the eyes, and even that is enough to inspire terrain ideas.

After giving it a thorough read through, I do have a few issues with the book. Firstly, I would like to point out that I am a professional model maker and have been for over 30 years (I have been running an architectural model making workshop at a school of architecture for the past 15 or so years). I do understand that this gives me access to techniques and materials that are probably beyond most hobbyists, however, I am perfectly happy building models in the same way as any hobbyist would, so it shouldn't affect my review.

As I have already said, a quick flick through the book and you can see that it is lavishly illustrated with plenty of photos. When you start to read the book you actually find that there are possibly too many photos of the models. Some double-page spreads have 8 or 10 photos on them, with the text squeezed in between. A lot of these photos are extremely similar, just showing the model building from a slightly different angle. It is often fairly tricky to work out which photo relates to which bit of text.

Also, virtually all of the photos are pulled back, showing the entire model, even when the relevant text is discussing small details. On flicking through the book again, as I write this review, I find no close-up detail shots at all. This makes working out the fine detail modelling fairly difficult. Makes you want to pull out a magnifying glass at times, just to see what's in the photos.

Anyway. that's my first gripe out of the way. Let's look at the positives. Tony tackles 9 different projects throughout the book, ranging from a simple stone well right up to a 2 building diorama/farm and a chapel. He has picked buildings from different regions, to reflect the different Napoleonic campaigns, covering the Peninsular War, France, Germany, Russia and the chapel is Hungarian. The book doesn't give any background on the different styles of buildings from the different regions, although it does mention where Tony got his ideas from. I would have liked to see some reference pictures, either some photos of appropriate buildings or illustrations of period structures. Anyone approaching this type of project really does need to do the research before throwing these things together.

Tony has tried to build each of the 9 projects using different techniques and to a certain extent different materials. One is a laser cut kit, another is built entirely from foam and a third is built almost entirely from card and foamboard.

His basing for nearly all the models is a piece of scavenged plastic sheet. His insistence on the use of recycled/reclaimed materials is laudable, but may not always be practical for every modeller. Personally, I much prefer to use a sanded and sealed piece of MDF sheet for my bases, as I find it much more stable and it sits on the table better.

While we are on the subject of materials, I don't think that the book covers a very diverse selection of materials. Yes, we have foam, card, DAS modelling clay (which Tony seems to like to clart over everything) and some plastic sheet. However, there are certainly other materials that are often used by model makers when doing buildings. There is very little wood in the book, other than some scrap strips of timber used for the Russian windmill. I feel a more realistic way to guide other model makers, would have been to build that model with balsa wood strips, they are readily available from model and craft shops, and it is unlikely that everyone reading the book will have some scrap strips of timber lying around.

The other material that Tony seems to favour he refers to as "green foam". Unfortunately, at no point in the book does he explain what this material actually is. One of the buildings is built from blue insulation foam, that gets a mention in the glossary at the back of the book (and I use it regularly anyway, so that was fine). But what is this "green foam" that he uses in virtually every project, to a greater or lesser extent? The only green foam that I know of is florists foam, which is very soft and crumbly and doesn't make very good model making material, as it is too fragile. I found this to be possibly the most frustrating part of the book.

I could go on nitpicking ( the almost evangelical use of superglue rather than other more suitable adhesives for example), but I don't want to condemn the book completely. It is certainly inspirational and Tony does make beautiful model buildings.

As a whole, I think the book feels more like a series of blog posts chronicling Tony's builds, rather than a guide on how to build these buildings yourself. A lot of the information is repeated from one project to the next, such as basing techniques, use of scenic grass (sawdust) materials etc. The book feels like it could have done with a good going over by a knowledgeable editor, to tighten up a lot of these problems. I would be a lot more prepared to let these things slide if this was a self-published book (which I know Tony Harwood has done in the past), but I feel that Pen & Sword should have spent a bit more time refining this one.

Anyway, rant over, if you have never built any buildings for a wargames table before, and you really don't know where to start, this book will certainly give you a few pointers in the right direction.

Here is the LINK to the Pen & Sword page for the book.
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