Old West Point ’84 Classmates Get in First Miniatures Battle in Decades in Arlington, VA

As I write this it is Memorial Day, and this weekend was spectacular in it’s breadth and depth of experience.  I traveled from Albany, NY on the evening of Thursday the 21st after working at Albany Medical Center.  I drove to Arlington, VA for the promotion of my fellow F-4 classmate Chaplain (COL) Paul Hurley, to Major General as the new Chief of Chaplains of the US Army (more to blog on that later as Fr. Paul’s ceremony and after party were indeed epic!).

The drive was going well until I hit an accident-induced traffic jam at the Baltimore tolls that lasted over two hours with ZERO movement.  Finally, it cleared, and after five aggravated lanes of traffic merged into two, I made my way to our class hotel in Arlington, arriving at 2 AM.  Got a key, went to the room, only to find that someone was in there.  I felt badly that I woke whoever it was up at 2:15 AM – and made a hasty exit back to the front desk for a new key to an unoccupied room.  This is why I ALWAYS bolt the doors at hotels.  At least I knew what was going on – the poor guy in the first room only knew someone opened his door and said “sorry!”.  I then crashed and slept until 7.

As backstory, the previous Saturday, Dave Wood, my classmate and old roommate from USMA swung through East Brookfield, MA on his way back from the Huzzah historical miniatures convention in Portland, ME with his wife Brenda.  Lynn and I were happy to see then and really enjoyed spending some time with them and had a great lunch (thanks to Lynn and not me!).

Lynn Morin, Dave Wood, Mark Morin, Brenda Wood
Lynn Morin, Dave Wood, Mark Morin, Brenda Wood
Dave & Mark get together for the first time in 16 years!
Dave & Mark get together for the first time in 16 years!

While in East Brookfield, Dave and I made final plans to go to Fr. Paul’s promotion (at Ft. Meyer by the Pentagon) on Friday afternoon, which left us some time to plan to have a quick miniatures game using the Buck Surdu “Look Sarge No Charts”/Bear Yourself Valiantly system.  Flash forward to Friday the 22nd – so Dave drove down to Arlington and met me at the hotel.  After we grabbed a quick breakfast, it was on to the battle!

Dave set up everything and did a great job.  He brought a drop cloth and that went right on the king-sized bed for a nice battlefield.  The battle was between an attacking force of Elves (me) and a defending group of Ratlings (Dave).  He also had a few orc/goblin ballistae, and I had an Ent.  I do believe that Dave gave me plenty of forces and did a nice job teaching me the game mechanics as we went along.

The Battle Set Up, Elves attacking from Right to Left
The Battle Set Up, Elves attacking from Right to Left
Elven Left Flank
Elven Left Flank
Better Detail of Elven Left Flank and Center
Better Detail of Elven Left Flank and Center

I focused on maneuver and less on frontal assault.  This allowed me time to marshal forces for multiple attacks on units.  Dave of course accommodated by advancing his forces into woods that I could hit on three sides.

Elves attack into Woods and go after Wounded Ratling Leader
Elves attack into Woods and go after Wounded Ratling Leader
The Woods become a Rat Trap!
The Woods become a Rat Trap!

The Ratling defensive position on the Elven left flank became untenable, and they quickly scurried away to the next wood line.  On the Elven right flank, casualties were higher, and progress was slower.

Despite Greater Casualties, the Elves push forward on the Right Flank
Despite Suffering Higher Casualties, the Elves Push Forward on the Right Flank

Ratling morale began to falter and their leaders faced multiple morale checks as shown by the red gaming stones.  Dave’s Morale Check rolls led to retreats.

Ratling Leader Losing His Nerve
Ratling Leader Losing His Nerve
At the Second Wood Line, Fleeing Ratlings Crowd the Forest
At the Second Wood Line, Fleeing Ratlings Crowd the Forest

At this point, the end was near, and we called it over.  Dave was gracious – really he set me up for a win.  Back in the day, we kept records of all the games we played, and he held a commanding lead over me in victories.  He did concede that now I am ahead in the 21st Century!

The End is Near
The End is Near
Elven Casualties at Top (1 Unit), Ratling Casualties at Bottom
Elven Casualties at Top (1 Unit), Ratling Casualties at Bottom

I was impressed with Buck’s system (no surprise).  I was also impressed with Dave’s ability to teach me the system.  I will be incorporating some of the mechanics and concepts into the version of fantasy rules that I am updating.  I was also able to catch up with Buck on the way home to discuss them (again much thanks to Dave & Buck)!

And after the game, the promotion ceremony for Fr. Paul and the After Party! (my next post!)


The Sunday Sweeps are back at Bay Path Golf Course! Great news!!

There was a little snow behind 3 that is now GONE!

This was a last week (April 26th) on 6 – no, my ball really did not end up here.

Bunker on 6th Hole
Bunker on 6th Hole

My game is rusty but I have spring, summer, and part of fall ahead to fix, or at least try to do so.  Then this white stuff comes again.  As the Starks say, WINTER IS COMING.

Jeff did a great job with all the tree removal!  Thanks Jeff!

Iron Wind Metals Bringing Back Ral Partha’s Chaos Wars with a Great Kickstarter Campaign

Great Goblins!
Great Goblins!

This is some great news – Iron Wind Metals has a really interesting Kickstarter Campaign going for bringing back the Ral Partha Chaos Wars and figures.   I really like the Goblin/Orc Battalion and will get that.  Go to:

It looks like my re-entry into the hobby was timely!

The World of Greyhawk 9, Cavemen, Cairn Hills (Minifigs) Circa 1980

My latest reclamation project was a unit of 18 Cavemen that I purchased from Buck Surdu or Dave Wood back in 1983 or 1984 (not sure who).  These were from a line that Minifigs made around 1980 that was quite extensive.  Like my other projects, these have been sitting around for quite a long period – 30+ years since I acquired them and 35 years since their manufacture!  I thought that it would be interesting to have a large unit of Cavemen armed with Neolithic weapons.

The Cavemen Await Freedom from their Packages!
The Cavemen Await Freedom from their Packages!
Close up of Single Package - a bargain at $3.98 in 1980!
Close up of Single Package – a bargain at $3.98 in 1980!
Back of Package Detail
Back of Package Detail

The individual figures did not look very special at first glance.  There were three types of cavemen in each package of six.  One was armed with a large bone and a shield, a second had a stone dagger and a Neolithic spear, and a third had a shield and a Neolithic spear.  There was much less detail than what you would find in later miniatures.  I found that there was a lot of flash which I cleaned off, filed down, and saved for future miniature molding.  The spears were very soft, and removing the flash felt like I was performing surgery to save the spears.  I straightened them out with needle nose pliers.  This was also true of the shields.  There were 12 shields.  I then used dishwashing liquid and a toothbrush to remove oxides and any other residue from everything.  Buck had suggested fender washers, so I bought a package of 1” fender washer at Home Depot, which I used as initial bases.  These washers were the smallest that Home Depot had, although later on I did find a source for ¾“ fender washers on eBay for future uses.  I mounted two figures each on numbered popsicle sticks.  Surprisingly, they cleaned up fairly well.  I then used Krylon white matte spray paint to prime them.

Caveman Prepped for Basecoat
Caveman and Shields Primed

As you can see above, the rectangular bases really stood out and I was not happy with this.  I thought that before I base coated the figures, I needed to address this and my final basing plan.  I used simple home vinyl spackle on the washers.  By simply putting small amounts of spackle in water and using clay modeling tools I was able to hide the sharp linear edges.  I let these dry overnight.

Now Ready for Base Coat - Note Figures Rough Detail
Now Ready for Base Coat – Note Figures Rough Detail

The other issue I had was how they were going to be based.  I saw that the spears were soft, so I did not want to see them bent or broken easily.  I additionally knew that this unit would fight in a mass formation.  In my quest to determine how best to take care of these two issues, I arrived at hexes.  I used my Skil scroll saw to cut ⅛” plywood into the shapes for the hex bases.  To get the hexes correct, I traced one from my Settlers of Catan game.  I then used other 1” fender washers to determine spacing – and ended up with six figures per base.

Plywood Hex Bases Primed
Plywood Hex Bases Primed

The painting went well as these figures were obviously mostly unclothed.  To get the skin looking swarthy, I used a combination of Raw Umber from Americana and Ryn Flesh from P3.  I then used Brown Ink from P3 as a dark shade on all the muscle recesses, darker areas, and where skin touched non-skin areas.  I also added definition to the figures’ chest areas and faces.  I lightened and highlighted high areas by making the base coat combination with more Ryn Flesh from P3.  The cavemen’s hair, loincloths, boots, and stone weapons were painted with Americana Ebony.  This was also the color for the eyes and eyebrows. Lastly, I used P3 flesh wash to add even more definition.  The shields were painted with a combination of Armory Musket Brown and Armory Leather Brown from 1996.  The shield edges were painted with Americana Ebony, and then darkened with Sewer Water wash from Secret Weapons Washes  I then affixed the shields with E6000 epoxy and applied a spray varnish with Krylon Matte varnish.

Cavemen and Shields Pre-varnish
Cavemen and Shields Pre-varnish

I glued a series of six additional 1” fender washers to each hex base.  Sequentially, I then glued each figure to the washer that was affixed to the base.  I worked in Polyform Air Dry modeling clay around each figure to hide the washers and to make each base look like a continuous landscape.  This required that I glue a few figures, and then work in the clay, and then let the clay cure before moving to more figures being added.  This took a few days.

Cavemen Based and Ready for Final Flocking
Cavemen Based and Ready for Final Flocking

The final base work was done with flocking by Army Painter.  I used three different types in random patterns – Ash, Green Grass, and Brown Battlefield.  I then used Army Painter Battlefield Rocks painted with Apple Barrel Pewter Gray and Americana Ebony in conjunction with Wilderness Tuft (also Army Painter).

Cavemen on the Move!
Cavemen on the Move!
A Frontal View
A Frontal View
Class Picture with Packages
Class Picture with Packages

Overall, I am thrilled with how these came out.  They were a lot more work than I anticipated, but the bases are solid, heavy, and look great.  The figures speak for themselves and I look forward to the first game with them!  Basically, I learned that you can do a lot with any figures if you take the time to plan and execute on the details.

Ral Partha Umber Hulk 11-404

I never played D&D or AD&D.   I will confess to Buck Surdu’s introducing me to Tunnels and Trolls though (with fond memories)!  I also do know that I did from time to time look at the AD&D Monster Manuals to get ideas for T&T, or units for Fantasy Miniatures.  One of these ideas was the character of the Umber Hulk.  It was a fast-burrowing creature with four eyes and huge mandibles.  If you saw all four eyes, you would get confused while fighting it, and likely become lunch.  It can burrow through solid rock and even faster through soil.  It is intelligent as well.

1980's Umber Hulk from Web
1980’s Umber Hulk from Web

I remember buying one made by Ral Partha in the late 1980’s (not sure where), probably while I was at Fort Belvoir in Virginia or in California while I was at Presidio of Monterey.  Looked cool, but was to remain in limbo until this year.

Umber Hulk in Package - $3.75 - now on eBay for $32 in same condition!
Umber Hulk in Package – $3.75 – now on eBay for $32 in same condition!
Umber Hulk back of package
Back of Package

Back to the word “umber” – I knew it was a color (remember Crayola), but I was unsure if it was brown or dark brown.  Turns out there is umber and burnt umber, both of which are shades of brown.  I could not see this figure in those colors.  He reminded me of a June bug, so that is the direction in which I went.

I used primed the figure and mounted him on a small piece of 1/8″ plywood.  I then mounted that on a popsicle stick a la Buck Surdu.  I ended up needing a second popsicle stick as he was heavy and not balanced well on only one stick.  I used three shades of purple from Americana – Purple, Dioxazine Purple, and Vivid Violet.  I dry brushed and highlighted as I went.  The eyes were a satin Americana Apple Green, and really shone.  The result is below, and looks more like Jack Nicholson in Batman or Prince in Purple Rain.

I know I came from the '80's, but do I have to look like Prince?
I know I came from the ’80’s, but do I have to look like Prince?

This was on purpose, as I wanted to darken it.  I used two washes sequentially from Secret Weapons Washes.  First, Sewer Waster, then Purple, then Sewer Water again.  It did the trick.  The base was finished with the end of the 1996 Armory Flat Black.

Umber Hulk Ready for Action!
Umber Hulk Ready for Action!

I then varnished the figure with Krylon Matte varnish.  I did work on this at the same time as my Cavemen unit – which will be a subject of another post, as these took up a lot of March and April!

I'm Free!!!!
I’m Free!!!!

Ral Partha Wizards 01-333

It’s about time I updated this blog with some miniature photos and some details.  This will be about the Ral Partha Mage wizard package left over from the 1980’s.  As you can see below, I got it at the PX!

Gandalf, Goldenknob, and Waldo - note the AAFES price!
Gandalf, Goldenknob, and Waldo – note the AAFES price!

The interesting thing is that Lynn painted two wizards – subsequently named Waldo (in purple) and Goldenknob (in blue).  She wanted to try it, so that was her start.  It also was her finish as she says it’s too much detail for her!  Still, I think she did a nice job and these are now in my collection!

The Three Mages
The Three Mages

As far as the one I painted I really thought he looked like Gandalf.  I used Armory Prussian Gray (from 1996) as a base coat for his cloak and Americana Snow for his beard.  I darkened some Armory Leather Brown with Musket Brown for the boots and pouches.  I then experimented with Citadel’s Gulliman Blue Glaze around the cloak where the runes were as well as the sash on the hat.  I used several coats for the effect.

I darkened his staff with Secret Weapons Washes Sewer Water wash, and used P3 flesh wash for the hands and face.

Card 74, Gandalf (Wizard)
Gandalf Up Close

I mounted him on a left over washer from the 80’s (which was too small).  In the end, I decided to leave him as it worked.

I varnished the three figures with Krylon Matte Varnish, and now the three are done.

Opening Day of Golf – at Raceway GC in Thompson, CT – Fun but not Pretty!

After an awful winter that saw us get 119.1″ of snow (the most in the country for the season), it was nice to get out on the course on April 12th.

I went with perennial golf buddies Bob Tilton, Jerry Dufresne, and Dave Faugno.  Of course, to fuel up, we needed to hit the Cracker Barrel in Sturbridge.  Lynn joined Bob and I for breakfast of champions.

04112015 with Bob Tilton Cracker Barrel 2
Bob & Mark attack Uncle Herschel’s at Cracker Barrel

The opening day for golf was fun!  The teams were Bob & myself vs. Jerry & Dave, with Bob playing the forward tees due to him being 82!  I let Bob down with my play which was terrible (I shot 101 – my worst score in 4 years).   Thankfully while we lost the front  3-2, we tied the back 1-1 mitigating the losses.  I won’t cite the others’ scores (all better than mine), but suffice it to say that mud, swing rust, and unfamiliar greens added up to a lot of strokes for all.

It was $27 to walk for me and the rest rode at a pricey $53 (a surprise).  The course was packed as everyone wanted to get winter over with once and for all!

Dave drives the 2nd
Dave drives the 2nd
Jerry drives the 2nd (and looks at his divot)
Jerry drives the 2nd (and looks at his divot)
Mark's approach into 16 would hit the bunker
Mark’s approach into 16 would hit the bunker (saved a Bogey)
The ice was not yet gone!
The ice was not yet gone!

Bob & I paid our debt, and then hit the restaurant for lunch.  With stock car races next door, the sound of engines mixed with the Masters broadcast!

The Story of the Nightmare Legion

Have you ever started a hobby project, but life and its twists and turns got in the way?  You never quite forget that you wanted to complete the project, and you hold on to the basic components for years – in this case thirty years.

This is the story of my painting of the “Nightmare Legion”, and my return to painting and wargaming with miniatures.

1 Front of Box

(front of the box)

2 Back of Box

(back of the box)

To begin, I would have to go back to my years at West Point (1980-1984), where my roommate Dave Wood and his fellow Michigander John “Buck” Surdu (’85) introduced me to miniature wargaming.  I was familiar with all the old Avalon Hill Board games such as Waterloo, Afrika Korps, Panzer Leader, War at Sea, and Victory in the Pacific – and Dave and I played all those plus Risk and numerous Steve Jackson card games.  Then Dave introduced me to Buck – who ran a neat Tunnels and Trolls game as a DM.  Later on, I would DM one with Dave, Buck, and Ken Thrasher.  At some point on a Saturday Buck and Dave brought me up to the Department of Foreign Languages building where all the desks were pushed together with an Army OD blanket covering them creating a battlefield bigger than any board game could ever be.  Representations of terrain were there – as were my first look at miniatures.  These were fantasy ones – something like you would have seen at the Battle of the Five Armies.  It was so cool.  I had been a huge fan of Tolkien, and this was unlike anything I had ever seen in gaming.  I remember the battle was played out by some rules written by Buck, and I was hooked.  That led to my wanting to paint myself, and I even bought molds to create my own units and individuals.  Even after graduation, I remember getting games together in Italy and Germany while we were stationed there.  I really looked forward to these.

At some point while still at West Point I bought some Ral Partha skeletons and learned how to use the dry brushing technique.  I had skeleton units!  They were cool too!  I was on leave at a hobby store in Massachusetts (I think the now-defunct Eric Fuchs Hobbies in Burlington, MA?) when I saw a Citadel box with an entire skeleton regiment, I had to have them!  (My guess is that would have been around 1984).

15 1984 copyright

Bottom of leader

I forget what I paid, but I think it was my most expensive miniature purchase at that point!  It was called the “Nightmare Legion”.  It included 24 figures, including a standard bearer, a champion, a drummer, and a leader.  I remember priming them in black, putting them back in the box, and basically never getting back around to them (life is funny that way).  While I played a few games in the 1990’s, I really only painted some Greek infantry and cavalry for a diorama project that my daughter Ellen and I worked on together around 1999.

I had them stored with all my other unpainted and painted miniatures in an old metal cabinet in the cellar.  In 2010 we had a mishap (ok, a fire) where my fireplace chimney flue failed and caused smoke damage and ultimately a new chimney.  This necessitated getting rid of a lot of stuff in the cellar, including the metal cabinets.  My wife Lynn said that I had “too much junk” in the cellar, but I managed to hold on to my cabinet of miniatures and paint (dating back up to 30 years old).  However, with the price of heating the house getting ridiculous in the winter, we switched to gas in 2013.  Out went the metal cabinets, and my miniatures ended up in another pile in the cellar.  Fast forward to the fall of 2014, and I cleaned the cellar and cleared my workbench.  I decided that I would now renew my hobby as I saw all the miniatures that I had bought and never got around to painting.

I also thought it would be cool to tell the story of this unit – which traveled in its box to West Point NY, Fitchburg, MA, Ozark, AL, Asilomar, CA, Ft. Belvoir, VA, Hagenbach West Germany, and then Fitchburg, MA again, Irmo, SC, Forest, MS, Hubbardston, MA, and finally East Brookfield, MA!

So now to the project – here is what they looked like when I started (well, restarted – I primed them in the first Reagan Administration).

4 primed

After 30 years – daylight!

So I took Buck’s suggestion on using popsicle sticks as bases but used my Dremel to cut a slot so the figures would stay on the sticks – you can see them below with a Ral Partha Wizard that I added to keep the sticks even – I will post more on him when he is finished.

The base coat was Polly S Interior Green mixed with some Polly S Sahara Sand (probably bought the paints in the mid ‘80’s as well).  The polearms (called “bardiche-guisarme” on the box) were painted with Tamiya Gun Metal.  The heroes were armed with one or two swords.

The base coat was Polly S (remember Polly S before Testors bought it out?) Interior Green mixed with some Polly S Sahara Sand (I probably bought the paints in the mid ‘80’s as well).   I drybrushed the bony parts with Americana Bleached Sand.  The result was not really what you would expect from bone – it was too white.  However, using a wash with “Sewer Water” from Secret Weapons Washes yielded a nice effect as shown below.  I thought the bones looked like they were dug from the earth.

7 pre and post wash

Nice effect from the wash

You can see a nub on the figures left arm – this is where the shields were to be attached.  Looking at the box covers, Citadel said that the colors of the remaining uniforms were green, with gold and green on the shields.  The shields needed to be cropped so that the metal was flush with the outside edge – however there were no skulls in the kit to adorn the shields – which left me in a quandary.

5a shields base coat

Shields base-coated before first gold metallic applied

As you can see below, the shields are painted and attached and the nub removed, but I am not happy with the color – it seemed too gold for a unit from the grave.  Also, what to do about the appearance of the center nub?

8 after shields

Golden & green shields with a metal nub?

Thankfully, I have a tool that did not exist in 1984 – my color HP printer.  Using that, I copied the back of the box for the skulls on the cover.  I then measured the size and compared the size to the space available on the shield – and reduced them until I had a good size.  I painted a red circle or oval on the shields with Armory red (left over from the mid-‘90’s Greek project).  I then cut out the skulls and affixed them to the shields.  I then coated the paper lightly with wood glue to protect the skulls.   I then darkened the shield borders with Tamiya Metallic Gray. This was better, but still not to my liking.  I then used P3 Brown ink to shade the metal on the shields and it gave me the effect that I wanted – dull, rusty looking metal on the shields.

Creating the battle standard was a puzzle – and I ended up using the HP printer again.  I had to cut the banner out of the box as the printer would not copy it well otherwise.  I hated destroying a piece of the box but I saved the cutout and can recreate the banner again if I need to do so later.  I cut the banner and applied it to the standard bearer with wood glue.  I stained the back of it (it was printed on regular paper) with the P3 Brown Ink and lightly coated it on both sides with wood glue.  This yielded two benefits.  First, it caused the two-piece banner to curl as if being in the wind and second protected it from damage from the final varnish.

5 shield copies3 Battle Standard detail

9 almost done

Skulls applied to the shields and Battle Standard flying

Then I prepared the base with Polly S Jungle Green and gave the entire unit a light coat of Krylon Matte varnish.

10 prebase

Ready for Final Basing!

The last steps involved the bases.  I have never used flocking before but I wanted to use some on this unit for sure.  I used wood glue to apply Army Painter Brown Battlefield flocking.  I then added multiple Army Painter Battlefield Rocks painted with a selection of Apple Barrel Pewter Gray, Armory Flat Black, or Polly S Sahara Sand.  I then firmed all the flocking up by applying a glue and water slurry.  The last step was to add Wasteland Tuft by Army Painter.

11 Class picture

Class picture – Nightmare Legion completed and ready for battle!

13 troop closeup

Trooper Close-up

14 Command Group closeup

Command Group Closeup

I thought it useful to build a transport card as well (in black).

12 card Picture

Unit Card Photo

I am so happy that this is done – perhaps it helped me keep my mind off of the 110” of snow we got in February!  Interestingly, these are available unpainted on eBay for a price (up to $250 for a set!).  Finally, after 30 years, I have the Nightmare Legion in my collection!