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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Gepanzerte Soldats - World War Two Mechs

Background: Weird War
Sixty three years since the Second World War, and even as its veterans and victims live amongst us to many it is no more than a colorful activity book, a ledger of derring do, and a playground grimoire of mad and comfortably far away ideas. Coated in that veneer of appeal that separates history from fiction, it has historians, garage hobbyists, and small boys constantly in its orbit.

The human imagination being what it is, the further an event ripples away in time, the more we get to reinvent it into something more interesting. The first ripple is the informed and deliberate projection of "what if." What if the Germans had won the war? Fatherland is probably the best WWII themed book in this genre known as Alternate History (which Brian Aldiss reduced fairly accurately to being chiefly "Roman crap, Dixie crap, and Nazi crap").

The next ripple out abandons any pretense of seriousness. In the case of WW2 this was both comedy and pulp fiction - with everything from Dad's Army and 'Allo!, 'Allo!, to Indiana Jones, and Wolfenstein 3D. Spielberg did not invent the Nazis as entertainment, but he helps make the rest of us get away with it.

The next ripple is post structuralism - World War Two is no longer interesting as a topic in and of itself, but instead as a medium for whatever we'd rather be examining. This is commonly called "Weird War," and is populated with SS psychics, grenadier zombies, and flying tanks (there really were flying tanks). Weird War in the past ten years is or so is especially disinterested in the details of the actual conflict, and fills the ruins of Villers-Bocage with Japanese style giant robots (you really want to click on that link. You'll thank me for it). We know we are in still in this ripple because many are still uncomfortable with this melding. There's no melting in the pot if someone isn't unhappy with what they see.

This brings me to my latest project - the Gepanzerte Soldats. Sadly, these were not my idea - I first saw them done by W.B. Kurgan on my favorite forum, the Lead Adventure's board:

Kurgan was putting together power-armored Germans, something just as Weird War (and unevenly accepted) as giant mechs. My interest was more in what these 28mm space marine conversions would offer a 15mm German army, since, well, I have one and I need something to spice it up.

The Gepanzerte Soldats scale pretty well with Flames of War Germans -- not huge like anti-ship Gundams, but rather more like medium-sized tanks. I like mechs that seem practical and realistic like the mobile armors in the anime series Gasaraki, and the Gepanzerte Soldats were bang on the money.

Putting Them Together
Games Workshop's space marines are fairly fascist looking (form does follow function you know). The newer ones look more like angry space knights, but the older stock, tube-sock, standard marines are just the right amount of plain to be compatible with other products.

The "Kolony Militia heads" from Pig Iron Productions are perfect for the headswap. They have not only iconic German helmet going for them, but my favorite fashion accessory - gas masks!

Power armor Nazis in gas masks. You can't go wrong with that.

We didn't mount them on the 28mm round bases the space marines came with, but instead on Flames of War medium bases. They look a bit odd on them (initially I had them on Flames of War small bases), but I needed them on the larger bases so that could be more easily accepted as light tank proxies in a (semi) serious game.

I painted them differently than Kurgan did. He opted for field gray, a mostly green color. I wanted these to pass as armored vehicles, so I painted them Vallejo German Grey -- the same dark color early war vehicles were painted in, so they could hide better under the shadows of trees. Many people think that the German early-war, infantry uniforms were this color too, but this is just a popular (and for commission painters, quite annoying) myth.

The problem with this is that German Grey is a grey -- and that is to say, automatically boring. To add color I did the lenses in red with green in the little sight things on the side. To help the problem, I also went for a rich, loamy, brown basing and gave them camo netting.

The camo netting was a stroke of luck. These are a brand new product from Antenociti's Workshop, for 15mm vehicles and terrain pieces. I got it for use on client minis but it needed to be tested of course. On my minis. First. Of course.

I think it came out nicely. I did what I could to make the netting hang straight down to give the suggestion of mass and size. The problem is that it's easily over done, so I just did one platoon with them and the rest will be bare.

Right now I have ten of these chaps, which is two platoons in tankland. I've got more space marines coming to flesh these out to a total of 22, which is enough for four platoons with two "tanks" for the HQ. In plain German, that's a Panzergrenadierkompanie.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Space Frog Army Completed

Took me about one and a half years, but they're done now.

Flames of War is a popular game set in World War Two, played in 15mm. Players field historically accurate armies of the period and simulate battles with a fair degree of realism.

But what if aliens invaded?

Choosing the Right Alien
The first challenge for the modeler is what to use. No mecha monstrosities or salivating xenomorphs for this period. Aliens of this period wore bubble helmets, had green (Martian) and blue (Venusian) skin, brightly colored equipment with fantastic names like "Atomizers" and "X-Bombs."

The second challenge is a gamer's challenge - the alien army must be easily compatible with the Flames of War rules and design format. They need to be on the right sized bases, they should be organized into platoons, they need to have corresponding units for infantry, armor, artillery. Not only does this allow alien-specific rules to be written for the game, but it allows the aliens to be played as any official army it conveniently mirrors (fallschirmjager Germans, Italians in North Africa, or whatever).

To my knowledge, Zombiesmith's Aphids are the most easily slotted-in match. They come in convenient packs (infantry platoon, mortar platoon, bike squads and platoons, and best of all an infantry company deal), and cost less at retail than Flames of War costs me at wholesale.

Modeling your Alien Army
The aphid bikes look pretty crap and the only support weapon offered are mortars, but the bike riders are pretty handy (reference the ripper swarm cavalry conversions) and more weapon options are easily available with a trip to (which is also an excellent source of other 15mm aliens, especially grays). I used some Eldar parts that were lying around to make my "Disintegrator Rays," and of course if I had D-Ray tanks I could also have D-Ray artillery (D-particles are very dense you see, and when fired on a low power carrier wave the rays are easily bent by the mass of the earth, allowing artillery to fire at targets beyond the horizon).

The modeling was pretty straight forward. I put together three infantry platoons to make a company, and gave it a mortar platoon for support. They are rather small mortars so would be medium range ones at most. This is the WYSIWYG rule: What You See Is What You Get. It's inappropriate in a wargame to call a cave man mini a tank, because your opponent, who has enough to think about, should not have to deal with a non-intuitively modeled army.

WYSIWYG is why the frog artillery is aggressive looking, and also why they are based on the larger, Flames of War, artillery bases. The "radio operators" are just aphid bikers, with a Flames of War 50 cal. machine guns stuck on their backpacks vertically to look like big radios.

The cavalry unit can be fielded as scouts, artillery spotters, or both. They are not a large unit because large cavalry units are inappropriate for World War Two, alternative or otherwise (and if you're Polish you should know better by now). The mounts are just tyranid rippers.

The tank
s are what are called scratchbuilds - they are completely cobbled together out of bits and pieces. The hoverskirts are just large, 40mm square bases, and the turrets are the lids of old GW paint bottles. The fins, boosters, and guns are all Eldar bits -- they had a rather classic scifi look to them which made them excellent choices.

The basing is not otherworldly, one would expect at least a Martian red. Originally this was what I had planned but it was too garish even for my tastes, while the more natural basing added a nice brown-green to moderate the scheme a bit, and gives the impression that they are invading forces that are fighting on Earth.

Reinforcements of the Imperial Expeditionary Force
The obvious choices are some other support weapons, "machine gun" team equivalents for example. Perhaps some anti-tank units, pioneers / engineers, and storm troops. More tanks would always be a good idea, and some other kinds of tank and infantry transport as well.

Well that's for making sure the army can easily slot into the role of any other Flames of War Army - and hardly the ultimate goal! What one really want to do is now add options that will give the army its own feel, style of play, and be appropriately '50s scifi.

I hon
estly don't know enough about the period to decide what that should be, and will need to do some research. Dan Dare was mostly fighting the Mekons in space and Flash Gordon was perhaps a bit too early (the '30s), but I'm sure a few sleepless nights on the net and some grainy classics on Itunes will give me some ideas.

Being invading, rapacious aliens from space, I'm thinking drop pods, lizard monsters, slaves, and something to do with the D-Ray idea.

And that's before we even look at aircraft.

Adding Character - Zurga The Merciless!
Even a histori
cal tour de force like Flames of War has characters with special abilities. Pulp scifi needs no excuses. The army is the Imperial Expeditionary Force lead by Zurga the Merciless. This is actually not a Ming reference, but to the Zurga, the base lead from Les PĂȘcheurs de Perles, (The Pearl Fishers) a French opera by Georges Bizet I had the privilege of seeing over the weekend. Zurga is of course a perfect pulp villain name, and since he wore a bathrobe as a cape at one point as was described as merciless, well....

Zurga the Merciless ("Zurga TheMerciless" on Facebook if you want to add him) adds a whole new dimension for character and of course for humor.

Zurga is a minor military officer with ideas above his station, one of many, many spawnlings of the mighty but indolent Emperor. The intrigues of the royal court are light years away, but successful campaigns abroad would build his prestige and hard boild veterans backed by enslaved / conscripted conquered peoples make a formidable force for toppling emperors, pretenders, and upstart kinsmen.

Is Zurga advised by the priesthood? Perhaps are crazed hermit? Or worse, a wild haired alien covered in tattoos and wode? Does Zurga have to send back prisoners for the mines, rare metals, and exotic beasts
to build favor?

These all effect modeling, and as a result gaming. If he must plunder resources he'll travel with huge drilling machines and tree-tearing tripods: these make for interesting tanks.

If he has to curry good will, he will get to roll for "the Emperor's favor," before battles, getting useful things like orbital strikes of janissaries - or perhaps assassination attempts and tax collector visits.

The more ridiculous, the better.