Sunday 30 June 2013

Miniature Sunday: The Radio Man

I believe this was the last figure I painted before my recent miniature clear-out.  It’s a great little figure that comes from Games Workshop's, Imperial Advisers pack. Despite containing three, really nice miniatures, this pack was never put into general release by Games Workshop, and was only available by mail order. This actually kept me from buying the pack for a long time. I did eventually, however, and I'm really glad that I did.

I painted him up so that he would slot right into my Black Moab, Inquisitorial forces with his red tunic. The lighting seems to have thrown the colours off just a tad in the photograph, as his trousers are grey, and not nearly so blue as they seem here. 

One thing I really like about the figure is the kind of throw-back look of his breast plate. It is very reminiscent of the old Imperial Guard officers from the 80s. I went with a pale bronze for this as I thought it fit nicely with the red.

He should find lots of work with the forces of the Black Moab, as every detachment needs a radio man. I’m very pleased with this figure and even more mystified as why GW made him harder to obtain than usual.

Saturday 29 June 2013

Zombies: A Hunter’s Guide (Deluxe Edition)

A few years back, I wrote a book called Zombies: A Hunter’s Guide for Osprey Publishing. While I’m no zombie fanatic, I had been dissatisfied with most of the books on the market. Every book I had seen only examined zombies in their most current and popular incarnation as virus victims that could only be put down with a shot to the brain. While that is all well and good, it neglects a huge body of myth, folklore, and creative imagination that has surrounded zombies for decades. So, when I came to write the book, I covered a variety of zombie types including necromantic zombies, voodoo zombies, atomic zombies, as well as several varieties of modern zombies.

The book also featured a load of really great artwork. Some of this was newly commissioned for the book, while the rest came from a variety of sources both professional and amateur. All-and-all, I was very happy with the end result, and it was my proudest writing achievement at that time.

Well, with the zombie craze still apparently riding high, Osprey has decided to re-release the book in a new Deluxe Edition. While the interior of the book is essentially the same, it now features a black, leather cover, with silver foil stamping on the cover and spine, and silver gilt-edging around the edges.

The book is due to publish in September. I’m hoping that I’ll actually get to see a copy in August. 

Pre-order one for the zombie-lover in your life! 

Thursday 27 June 2013

Chain Snap

Even though I cycle back and forth to softball games, I’ve actually been doing less cycling over the summer.  I quickly discovered that a 13-mile round trip to work, combined with a 6-mile round trip to the field, plus a game of softball, is a bit more than my body can handle most of the time. It’s also hard to ride to work the day after a game as I’m often tired and a bit bruised.

That said, yesterday morning I was feeling good, and the weather was nice and cool. I had been planning to take the bus, but I hoped on my bike instead. I even took a different route to work, cycling along the Thames path for much of the way. It’s a longer, but undoubtedly, nicer trip (at least in the morning when then riverside is mostly empty).

On the way home, I decided to take my normal route. I made it about a third of the way, when I heard an ominous ‘chunk’ followed by scrapping. I freewheeled on the pedals for a second, then glanced back and saw my chain dragging behind me…

Well, it was a long walk home. Thankfully there are a few long down hills on the route so I was able to glide down them. Still it added a good 30-45 minutes to the trip.

Looks like I get to ride my wife’s bike to softball tonight.  My poor Ridgeback Meteor is going in the shop on Monday. I’ve just got to figure out how to get it there.

Total Bike Miles: 8,438

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Softball – Fun Style

This week, when I arrived at the ball field, I discovered that the league was running a special ‘mixed-up teams’ day. 

Since I had captaincy experience, I was unfortunately put in charge of one of the teams. Thankfully, I was with a laid back group of guys, and it proved a simple task. For the game we used a rule of 3 outs or 5 runs. Basically, as soon as one team scored five runs in an inning, the inning ended and the sides switched. With a lot of new players, and players playing out of position, it seemed like a great idea. The game flew along and never got bogged down in a big inning. The rule only came into play a few times and after ten innings we called the game with the score 22-19.

I went a rather mediocre 2 for 5 on the night, although both hits were very satisfying line-drives over the third baseman. In the field, I spent 4 innings at pitcher, 2 at catcher, 2 in the outfield (where absolutely nothing happened) and 2 at second (where I took a shot in the chest, blocking a hard bouncer - made the out though). 

In many ways, I much preferred this more fun oriented style of play. True, it wasn’t an official game, but you better believe I’m counting the hits for my career totals! I don't know how many more games I've got in the old bones; I need every hit I can get!

Career Hits: 96

Tuesday 25 June 2013

The Last 70

So, as promised, I went home after work yesterday and went through all of my unpainted miniatures. The plan was to get my stock down to 50 and put the rest in deep storage. Well, I almost made it. I got it down to 70 and decided that was close enough. After all, its a hobby and I don't want to stress out about it. Plus 28 of those miniatures are all part of The Hobbit releases from Games Workshop. I've cooled on the project at the moment, but I know this will only last until I watch one of the movies again (when is that Hobbit extended edition due out?).

Anyway, 70 will soon be 50; and 50 will soon be done. I'm not worrying about it.

What I think is pretty impressive is the number of different miniature companies represented in my remaining seventy. So, for those who have an interest in such things, here are my remaining seventy unpainted miniatures.

The Hobbit (Games Workshop)

5 Dwarves
18 Goblins
Goblin King
3 Warg Riders


Inquisitor (Forge World)
Purple Worm (Reaper)
OGRE Mk V. (SJ Games)
Ogrethulhu (SJ Games)
Witch Hunter (Games Workshop)
Witch Hunter (Games Workshop - Warhammer Quest)
Medusa (Otherworld)
Santa Contaminated (Lead Adventure)
Ettin (Reaper)
Athena (Wargames Foundry)
Hera (Wargames Foundry)
3 Dwarves (Wargames Foundry & Black Hat)
Cossack (West Wind)
Gypsy (West Wind)
Astropath (Games Workshop)
Gondorian Soldier (Games Workshop)
3 Future Marines (Wargames Factory)
7 Mechs (EM-4)
6mm Dropship (Model)
Bird Wizard (Games Workshop)
5 Victorian Gents (Northstar)
Sherlock Holmes (Northstar)
Cultist (Northstar)
Chinese Swordsman (Northstar)
Steampunker (Northstar)

That's thirteen different companies represented, assuming you count Forge World as separate from Games Workshop and accepting that one is actually a little model and not really a miniature.

Monday 24 June 2013

Follow-up Thoughts on the Lead Mountain

Thanks to everyone who responded to my last post, either here or over on The Miniatures Page. It's always great to get insight from others, especially those who are also a part of the hobby.

One gent over on TMP made a very wise observation. He pointed out that the problem I have isn't 'too many miniatures' it is 'worrying about miniatures', and that if I push too hard, I may find that I have traded one set of worries for another. Being obsessed with getting rid of miniatures isn't really any better than being worried about having too many. I've already gotten rid of 85% or more of my original lead mountain, I don't need to stress about a perfect score.

So I've got a new plan. Tonight, I'm going to box up 100 of the remaining 150, put the box up in our hard to access loft and do my best to forget about it. That few, that far out of sight, will hopefully prove out of mind as well. If not, I'll get rid of them later.

With just the favourite 50 left on the work bench, I will probably find I get through them pretty quickly, and I can then return to the one-project-at-a-time approach that made me happiest.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Tearing Down the Lead Mountain

About a year ago, I realized that my main hobby of miniature gaming was actually causing me a good deal of stress. I still loved painting miniatures, imagining armies, and playing occasional games, but I was also worrying about the increasing number of unpainted miniatures I possessed.

It was an irrational problem. All of those unpainted miniatures weren’t really hurting me in any way. 
I wasn’t actually spending an excessive amount, and I could always store any excess up in the attic if space became a problem. Yet, I just kept asking myself, ‘when was I ever going to paint them all?’ I began to paint faster and faster, and my enjoyment became less and less. Although I didn’t immediately realize it, I reached a point where I was painting just to finish miniatures instead of painting because I really enjoyed it.

Knowing that something was wrong, I looked back over my near lifetime of the hobby, and tried to pinpoint when I had most enjoyed it. It turned out to be remarkably easy to find. It was about 15 years ago, when I was living in Silver Springs, Maryland. I was in my first real job after university and making decent money. At the time, I had no real gamer friends and virtually no connection to the larger gaming world.

At the time, I knew of two gaming stories in the area, neither of which were particularly close to where I lived. Both involved a good 30-45 minutes on public transportation, followed by a 15-20 minute walk. Still, I made that trek every couple of months. Actually, I loved those little pilgrimages. It was an excuse to get out and go somewhere, to a part of the greater D.C. Metro area where I would not have otherwise gone. For making the trip, I would generally reward myself with the purchase of a dozen miniatures or so. Usually, these would have some theme. Maybe they were all part of the same warband or pirate crew, or maybe they were a new unit to an army I was working on. Or, sometimes, it was just a collection of the coolest minis I could find at the time.

Once I got these minis home, I would paint them, whenever I felt like painting, and I wouldn’t think much about buying more until I had nearly finished them all. In fact, rarely would I ever buy miniatures, if I hadn’t finished the last batch.

Then things changed. I ended up getting a part time job at one of those gaming stores. Although I loved the job, the extra cash combined with the employee discount and the lessening of my free time meant that I began to buy more miniatures than I could paint. Slowly, my lead mountain began to grow. Then, I began painting miniatures for hire. I kept buying miniatures, but most of my painting time was spent painting for money. I passed the limited where I could ever paint all of the miniatures I had.

In a way, things got even worse when I got to Britain. A combination of my job and the much larger miniature gaming community in Britain, meant that things got even worse (although for awhile it seemed better!). Even though I had left a lot of the lead mountain back in the USA, it continued to grow over here at an even faster rate.

The truth is that years of getting too involved had actually sucked a lot of fun out of the hobby. I really began to realize this last year and decided to take action. I began to sell it all off.

I don’t know how many unpainted miniatures I had at the time, it partly depends on how you count them, but I don’t think that 1,000 would be a bad guess. (For all of you gasping, non-miniatures gamers, I assure you that this is still a small number compared to many gamers).

For months, I photographed, put pictures up on websites, worked the paypal, and made numerous trips to the post office. It was a lot of work, but the extra income had the double effect of helping me with one of my other goals to get out of debt. When some miniatures didn't sell, I just threw them away.

It has taken a year, and I’m not quite finished. Yesterday I counted all of my unpainted miniatures: c. 150. With each pass over the mountain, it has gotten a little harder to sell them off, but I’m slowly beating it down to my absolute favourites. The miniatures I'm actually still looking forward to painting.

If I could get it down to 100, I could probably have almost all of them painted by the end of the year, but you see, I would still be painting just to get them done. I would still be missing the point. No, I’ve got to get it down much lower than that. I just have to keep telling myself, if I ever really want these miniatures, I can just buy them again (but I know I probably won’t).

The burden, because yes, it has become a burden, is starting to lift. I know that I will never get back to how I felt while living outside of D.C., but if I keep working at it, I will find a new balance. I love the miniatures hobby, but I love it best in moderation.

Saturday 22 June 2013

Miniature Saturday: The Hook Horror

In one of my greatest acts of miniature related willpower, I came away from Salute this year with only two new miniatures. One of those was the Hook Horror from Otherworld Miniatures. The Hook Horror is a classic Dungeon & Dragons monster, and, as far as I know, it was created for the game and does not come from any mythology or folklore.

It’s a rather impractical monster if you stop and think about it. It’s a big, hulking brute with hook/blades for hands. One wonders what it preys upon? I can only assume that it is a magical creation of some diabolic wizard to serve as a guard. If not, who exactly put the armour on him? With those hooks, it’s hard to believe he dressed himself (much less made the amour).

I bought this miniature for two reasons. First, I thought it would make a great generic monster that could be used in just about any setting from mythological Greece through to science fiction. Second, it just looked really fun to paint. 
Well, I was right. It was really fun to paint. It is such a nicely sculpted and cast mini, that simple drying-brushing produces a really nice, layered skin tone. I went with the black armour to give as much contrast between with the light skin as possible. It’s a very simple paint job, but I think it looks fantastic.

I'm sure he'll be crashing through a few of my miniature battlefields in the days to come.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

The Devils’ Revenge (Knights vs. Devils)

Due to a quirk in the schedule, brought about by rainouts, the Knights took the field again this Tuesday against the Devils, who we had last played on Thursday. That was a close fought game, and this one was as well. Unfortunately, this time, the Devils got the better of us, beating us by a single run.

I continued my work as the team’s utility fielder. I spent the first four innings at third base, where I made some good plays, and some not so good plays. I then moved over to right field for the last three innings where absolutely nothing happened.

I had a mixed night at the plate, going 2 for 5 with an RBI and 2 Runs scored. In the great irony of the game, my three outs were on much harder hit balls than my two hits. I opened the game with a dribbler that rolled all the way down the third base line before hitting the bag and giving me a single. On my next at bat, I hit a screamer right at the short stop. I picked up my RBI in my third at bat, when I hit a soft looper over the middle infield.

I got my best swings of the night during my last two at bats but got nothing to show for them. Taking some advice from a teammate, I backed up in the batters box and found the pitches falling right onto the sweet spot. In my fourth at bat, I blasted a shot into right field, only to have the ball snagged by the woman in right field on a nice running catch. My final at-bat came with 2 out in the last inning, and the tying run on first base. Again I rocketed a ball into right field, and this time the woman stationed out there made an even better running catch to end the game.

I hit good balls, she made good catches. It’s how the game was meant to be played. We lost, but it was an enjoyable way to spend an nice summers evening.

Career Hits: 94

Sunday 16 June 2013

Shadow – Go Mad!

In the mid 1960s, Belmont books acquired the rights to The Shadow and launched a new series of paperbacks, attempting to update the pulp crime fighter for a new era. For the first book in the series, they hired the original Shadow writer, Walter Gibson, who penned The Return of The Shadow. Despite being set nearly fifteen years after the original run of the series, that book was nearly indistinguishable from the original pulps. After a bit of searching, I got my hands on one of the later books in the series: Shadow – Go Mad!

Written by Dennis Lynds, who wrote all 8 of the non-Gibson books in the series, this book is closer in feel to the old James Bond movies than it is to the original Shadow stories. Here The Shadow runs a world-wide organization of crime fighters, each of whom wears a radio-ring modelled after The Shadow’s famous girasol. The Shadow still looks basically the same, but he has acquired the power to ‘Cloud Men’s Minds’ that he had in the old radio show. This power can make him invisible, hypnotize his enemies, and also (somehow) allows him to effect electronic circuitry – a useful power in the 60s, a devastating power these days. In one of the book’s stupider twists, The Shadow only has these powers when he’s wearing his hat and cloak, not because either have any special properties, but just because...well, it never really explains why.

The book itself is underwhelming. It starts interestingly enough, with a series of seemingly unconnected, motiveless crimes. However, the mystery is solved in the first thirty pages and the rest of the book is basically a budget spy novel, with the Shadow taking on various disguises and battling the minions of the evil criminal corporation known as CYPHER.

In truth, there is very little to recommend this Shadow – God Mad! is probably one of the worst ever associated with the character, and it doesn’t even make particular sense in the context of the story. The cover is also rather poor. Although it gives us the classic Shadow profile, he is apparently firing some sort of laser gun (as opposed to the automatic pistol he uses in the book).
novel. Even the title

As a Shadow collector, I can take some small delight in having read this book and learning more about this short era of the character’s life. Unless you are the same, avoid.

Friday 14 June 2013

Dalek Overrun

Some battle reports don't need any words.

The Bat is Back! (Knights vs. Devils)

The Knights were back on the field last night, taking on one of our main division rivals, The Devils, in a make-up game for an earlier rainout. I was back at my more familiar and comfortable position of pitcher.
 I tossed a pretty good game, only walking one (which I didn’t mind in the situation) and picking up an unusually high number of strikeouts. I also managed to snag a couple of comebackers.
                My real joy on the night was at the plate, where I reach safely in all five of my at-bats. I lead off the second inning with sharp grounder between first and second. I also lead off the third, lining a ball over second base. From that point, the opposing pitcher began to pitch me inside, but my patience held. I walked in my next two at-bats (probably matching my season total for last year). In my final at-bat, leading off the seventh inning, I turned on a 2-0 pitch over the heart of the plate and launched it over the centerfielder. With no wall to stop it, the ball rolled into the distance, and I notched my first-ever league official home run. 
                The Knights took the game by three runs, though I’m not sure I ever knew the exact score. After Tuesday’s somewhat dismal personal performance, it was nice to get back out there and have such a positive night at the plate.

Career Hits: 92, 1 Home Run

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Oxford Knights vs. Vodafone Heat

My Knights lost in extra-innings last night, 14-11.  I fear I didn’t contribute much to the offense, going a rather dismal 1 for 4 with a run scored, and even that one hit was a bit of generous scoring. In the field, I spent the entire game at shortstop. In truth, I’m basically the team’s utility fielder, I can play every position competently, but outside of my natural position at second base, I'm not great at any of them. I made one throwing error in the game, which is annoying since throwing is probably what I’m best at. On the plus side, I was part of two relays which got runners at third, including a rather epic 9-4-6-5 (that’s right field to second base to shortstop to third base) play that nailed a guy going for a triple.

It’s a short turnaround this week as we are back on the field on Thursday to make up a rainout. Hopefully, I’ll do a little better with the bat.

Career Hits: 89

Monday 10 June 2013

Historical Factoid

An interesting little point jumped out at me while reading The Shadow: The Veiled Prophet (see below). At one point in the story, Detective Joe Cardona receives a letter and notices that it has a two cent stamp instead of the normal three cent stamp, which means that the letter was mailed from inside New York City.

I never knew that there used to be different stamps for internal city mail.

Saturday 8 June 2013

The Shadow: The Veiled Prophet

The Shadow: The Veiled Prophet is the second book in volume 65 of Sanctum Books Shadow reprint series. It is paired with Gypsy Vengeance which I reviewed a few months ago.

I’ve got to say, The Veiled Prophet is one of the better Shadow stories I’ve read in the last few years. It opens with a top-notch action sequence, which could easily be imagined in terms of modern cinema. From there it quickly becomes a very tangled mystery.

Unlike many Shadow novels, the Shadow’s agents play only a minor role in this story. For the most part, the Shadow does his own investigation, sometimes in the form of Lamont Cranston, but mostly in his black hat and cloak. In these guises, he snoops around the scenes of crimes and follows after the numerous suspects, slowly unravelling the various clues and misdirections. It is one of those Shadow stories that proves that Walter Gibson (aka Maxwell Grant) really did have a talent for writing mysteries. It is perhaps unfortunate that the incredible writing schedule he followed for The Shadow (often producing a short novel every two weeks) never allowed him to really work with and develop any of the stories.

Still, it is an enjoyable ride that kept me guessing until the very end and has renewed my enthusiasm for the series.

For hardcore Shadow fans, several agents do appear in the novel, including Moe Schrevnitz, Harry Vincent, and Burbank. In fact, the novel contains a very rare example of Burbank (who runs the Shadow’s contact network) actually leaving his mysterious location and operating in the field. It is implied that several more agents appear at one point, but they are not named.

Thursday 6 June 2013

Doctor Who: Underworld

As a pre-birthday present to myself, I bought a handful of classic Doctor Who DVDs, and watched the first one tonight.

Underworld is a four-part adventure featuring the Fourth Doctor, Leela, and K-9, and it begins with a strong-opening episode.  Arriving at the very edge of the Universe, the TARDIS is forced to make an emergency landing on a passing spaceship, a spaceship that has been travelling for 100,000 years.  Although the spaceship special effects are as bad as anything from this era of Doctor who, the actual ship itself is a fantastic little model. 

After a brief misunderstanding, the Doctor quickly gains the trust of the surviving crew and becomes involved in the final stage of their great quest that has seen them voyage from one side of the universe to the other. Very early on, it is apparent that the writers have drawn heavily on Greek mythology for their inspiration. In a nice touch, the crew wear bronze space suits and carry ‘sheild-guns’, which gives them a slightly hoplite appearance.

Unfortunately, the remaining three episodes fail to live up to the promise set by the first. A majority of the next two episodes are spent in a series of confused and mostly pointless chase scenes, with occasional gun fights. This might not have been so bad if the sets had been better, but even on a show known for its wobbly sets, these were awful. I’ll take an abandoned quarry any day over ‘caves’ built from papier-mâché. To make matters worse, several characters actions seem badly contrived to push the plot forward.

The final episode does redeem the adventure a bit. The bad guys actually do something clever. The Doctor, of course, does something slightly more clever, and our heroes escape in the nick of time.

In the final verdict, Underworld is a fun watch, with some nice moments, and Tom Baker’s clearly having a good time. It is just unfortunate that an opening episode that seemed filled with so much promise, proved the high point of the adventure.