Saturday, July 18, 2009


After a bit of digital legerdemain...

a very quick post as I have an extremely busy weekend with a number of (unfortunately non-gaming related) tasks ahead of me of me, but yes, it's finally done!

I took my time with the final touches in between working on a bunch of different miniatures for a variety of periods. And very nice it is, too, if I don't say so myself.

Once time permits- and the weather cooperates- I'll take it outside for a more detailed photo shoot, hopefully with a few minis to go with it.

I celebrated the occasion by making a new blog header. I've been working with a new graphics program for my Mac, so this was a bit of a learning project for me.

The Collina della Formica looms behind a young "Desert (Mountain?) Fox" in the foreground. The backdrop is from a very atmospheric photo taken during the Battle of Caporetto in 1917. The picture shows a number of clearly exhausted- but victorious- Austrian Stösstruppen guarding some Italian prisoners.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Getting there...

Here it the Collina della Formica after the exterior has been base-coated using an old (expendable!) brush and half a pot of Ceramcoat's mudstone.

And again, after drybrushing and highlighting.

I shall soldier on! The interior will be a royal pain to paint but I'm anxious to get started on it.

I see that Scarab Miniatures has released some Chauchat LMG teams and a Hotchkiss MG or the French, along with some VB rifle grenadiers which is very good news.

I've also been slowly working on the garrison, experimenting with paint shades trying to find the best combination of colours for the Austro-Hungarians. I'm working on these in between working on my War of the Austrian Succession collection, so no pictures yet.


A quick update:

There was a thread on mountain warfare on TMP, and someone linked to this site on how to make easy and practical mountains for wargaming. Owes a lot to theatre scenery it seems, but the idea is simply great and I can now see a way to make a suitable- and usable- backdrop to the Collina della Formica!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Still trying to reach the summit!

In case anyone is wondering where I've been, work- along with the rest of life's constant demands- has been a canine of the feminine gender recently. As has been painting the Collina della Formica.

It is one
big model to paint, especially when the biggest thing I've painted in the last few years has been an artillery piece or two in 28mm. As a result, I ended up underestimating- by a large margin- just how long it would take me to paint this beast.

It has taken a number of tries with a various combination of paints, but I think I finally found a finish that seems to look like the rockscape as seen in various pictures of the Dolomites, and which would look equally at home on the Carso plateau.

Here is a shot from the business-side of the anthill.

This thing devours paint, brushes- and patience- like you wouldn't believe! Imagine painting a sponge with a triple-0 paintbrush...

I ended up spraying the whole thing with two (!) cans of Panzer Grey enamel spray paint from Tamiya as an undercoat. I then use Ceramcoat's mudstone to wet-brush on the main surfaces, leaving the dark grey in the crevasses. I then successively lighten the rock face with a drybrushing of sandstone and maple sugar tan by the same company. This is followed by a wash of tube acrylic raw umber. When dry, I give it a final highlighting of very pale gray (Ceramcoat's soft grey).

Basically another week or two's worth of painting to go, and I still haven't started painting the inside of the trench works yet. But I have to say I'm happy with the way it's turning out.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Almost done...

The modelling part, anyway.

I added the roofs to the MMG bunker and the observation emplacement, both made from foam-card and textured with filler for effect.

After wondering exactly how I was going to model the steel doors, inspiration came in the form of one of the small plastic bases that comes with the Battlefront/ Flames of War minis. I scored a centre line with a razor saw, glued it down to the stone floor, added hinges and supports from wooden off-cuts, and used two small washers as door handles. Now the garrison commander, the Freiherr von Talus auf dem Skree, can access the MMG bunker, and more critically the wine cellars.

I also textured the trench sides and added some supports to the log wall. I've just glued down the main walls using PVA and a wad o' toothpicks to anchor them.

Once the walls have dried thoroughly, I'll fill in any gaps as well as the odd accidental gouging and holes where I pushed the toothpicks through,. The final step is to give the whole thing one more coat of watered-down filler to soften the outlines of the stone.

Then I will set it aside to dry for a few days, clean the horrendous mess that has accumulated on top of my painting desk, and then get painting- both miniatures and Anthill.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Mir sein die Kaiserjager"

Here's one for the Austrians. The song (and march) of the Tiroler Kaiserjager, who did a lot of the fighting in the Dolomites.

Note the photo of the minenwerfer with the finned projectile that appears towards the end of the video. I've the model from Brigade games that I need to put together. Just the thing to plunk in the middle of the Collina della Formica.

With that thing looking over the Allied lines and lobbing hate into their trenches from above, there will be plenty of incentive for the Allies to want to eliminate the stronghold!

Speaking of which, here is a recent shot of the Anthill in progress. As you can see, the flagstones have been added to what was once the floor of the now-ruined building.

Looking down into the defensive works set in the "basement".

Looking from the back ("back" here being the side facing away from the enemy).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mein schlauer Plan...

The Protagonists...

The Collina della Formica nears completion, I have received a bunch of Austrians and French from Scarab Miniatures, and my barbed wire and bases are on their way. It is time to look at what the next stages of my Italian Campaign project will be.

1) Paint up a small garrison of Kaiserjager for the Anthill

2) paint up a platoon of the French 701st with some support weapons

3) detail and paint Kallistra trenches

4) mass produce a wad o' barbed wire emplacements on 75mm square bases, as well as some rocky outcrops and sangars for cover.

These will not necessarly be done in this order, and I'll probably work on things like barbed wire positions between painting phases. But it should see me through to the summer, and in July I'm going to get myself a fold-up ping-pong table for gaming on.

I might even get myself either this one or this one for "flavour"!

I have been mulling over a setting and scenarios for my games, and have started on a cast of characters. The French capt. Raymond de Bouillon-Cantinat, Marquis de Sangfroid, commanding a detachment of the 701st that has been sent to Italy, will be sparring with that young but extremely self-confident scion of the noble Tyrolese house the Count von Talus auf dem Skree.

The Marquis is the latest in a line of Bouillon-Cantinats who have found their way into my French armies down the ages. It is only natural that he make an appearance here!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tre Sassi

Lots of goodies due here in Tokyo this week through the post.

I've ordered both French and Austro-Hungarian minis from Scarab Miniatures, including an observation, AA and MMG team for the fort garrison. Also on their way are a bunch of round 25mm bases from
Litko Aerosystems, and three boxes (eighteen metres worth!) of barbed wire from Antenociti's Workshop.


on the Collina Della Formica continues apace. I spent the last few days on the laborious- and totally unexciting- task of modelling the stone effect in the trenches and and on the walls. A mix of techniques, but the effect is pretty good.

Now I have to finish texturing the inside walls with a few think coats of filler to blend in the card and balsa "stonework", and then I'll glue down the larger walls.

After filling in any gaps I'll add the emplacement covers and doors, then it is pretty much a matter of painting.


A large part of the inspiration behind this is the
Festung Tre Sassi, an Austro-Hungarian fort built in 1897 near Cortina.

Here in 1916,

...and as seen today. What a beautiful place to have to be fighting a war!

When the Italians declared war in 1915, the Austrians actually decided to withdraw from their line of forts in the Dolomites to a line further back from the border, and used the mountains themselves- to great effect- as natural fortresses for the Italians to have to attack.

There appears to be a good
museum at the Tre Sassi that I'd love to visit if I ever get to that corner of Europe.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Il Piave mormorò....

Dating from 1918, a popular Italian song about the Piave campaign.

Austrian Terror Weapons...


No, I'm actually talking about this;

I'm putting together an order for some more of the excellent Scarab miniatures, and find myself hesitating about whether to order a flamethrower or not.

The idea of deliberately setting out to grill one's fellow man or to ruin his lungs (as was the case with my great-grandfather) for the sake of the fulfilment of some political goal or redrawing of a border just doesn't sit comfortably with me. 

Yes, I know I'm being neither logical nor consistent. War is hell in all it's aspects, and being blown to fragments by a shell or being hit in the face by a high-velocity rifle bullet can be no less horrific, but there is something about the use of flamethrowers- and the use of toxic gas- that "pushes the envelope" of my comfort level when it comes to using them in a wargame. 

It is a personal thing. It is not something that I need a debate with others on, or that I lose sleep over. I know it is just a game. I may very well order them anyway just as models anyway. 
Somewhat heavy thoughts for what is after all just a gaming blog, but for me the issue sometimes arises, particularly when gaming WW1 and later where one doesn't have the excuse of colourful uniforms to justify collecting the miniatures.  

I've had an interest in military history all my life, and as I look at the human cost vs. ultimate benefit side of things down through the ages, the study has pretty well made a pacifist out of me.  

And like that other great pacifist and pioneer of our present-day hobby,  H.G. Wells, I like to limit myself to just playing with toy soldiers.  

I won't be bringing up this issue again on this blog, but I do feel that it healthy for me to reflect on just how nasty warfare can be in the scientific age, and not to let myself get too divorced from the reality as we move our metal models around on the tabletop. 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

More WIP pics

Spent the afternoon working on the stonework again. These were cut into the surface of the papier-mâché. I like how they came out.

I also used a sheet of thin card to cut out the stonework for the trench mortar emplacement. Looks rather like ceramic bathroom tile in this picture, but I will give it wash of PVA/filler "goo" to soften the edges.   All will be hidden under a coat of paint later anyway.

The top "decking" between the ruined walls will get the same treatment. I will add a hatch to the floor to represent access to the MMG pit below.

Another day or so with the trench interiors, then I will begin work on the walls.  About another week to go and it will be ready for painting!

Saturday, April 11, 2009


A very quickie update. I have now installed all the trench bays, and am fitting out the interiors and have started on the external stonework.

The section on the right was cut into the papier-mâché surface.

The section on the left was made from balsa chunks. Once dry, they will be trimmed down and given a thin coat of acrylic filler, with more filler used to blend it into the surrounding rock face.

The blue foam wall rubble was just marked in with a ball-point pen.

The same after some work with acrylic filler and trowel.

The other big news for me is that I have just received my copy of Mark Thompson's "The White War".

I'm already hooked- great reading ahead!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Back to work!!

I have just spent the last few days in Kashima city on a business trip, and when I came back I resumed work on the Collina della Formica.

Before I left I had glued the observation post bay assembly into the top, so that by the time I returned it had had plenty of time to dry out. Now I can get to work knocking it around again!

Just one more bay to complete and the trench assemblies are done.

There is a little more work to do on the internal planking and detailing, and I'm going to add a stone floor to the mortar enplacement for variety. I've also started "dressing" the stone work on the parapets.

I still need to add a detachable top for both the machine gun emplacement and the observation post- currently I'm pondering the best way to do this and what material I should use.

The foam walls you see here have been placed in position with toothpicks, but have not yet been detailed. Once I do this, and the trenches are completely finished, then I'll glue the walls down with PVA.

I also decided to re-contour the base around the ruined walls so that the building doesn't look so much like it was perched on top of a birthday cake. It entails some extra work to the project, but I feel it makes for quite an improvement.

The same, after having covered the foam with a "goop" made from a mixture of papier-mache, filler, and PVA.

When that dries out and the walls have been glued down, I'll use acrylic-based putty to enhance the look of the rock formations.


I found another photo of an actual Austro-Hungarian fortification of the time. Somewhat similar to my image of what the Collina della Formica may have looked like before having been shelled into rubble!

I'm under some time pressure to get the actual construction done though. Here is what my desk currently looks like- a major disaster area! No place for any painting and there is much too much dust around to do any painting anyway.

So once the model is completed, I'll leave it a few days for the glue and filler to dry out thoroughly. At that time I'll organize my desk top, and clean the room completely so that there is no dust to settle on wet paint.

Then I'll get to work on painting its garrison of Kaiserliks, and on undercoating the "Anthill" prior to the massive undertaking of painting it!

I'm probably looking at the end of the month as a completion date.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Problem solved!

One thing that was bothering me about the model so far was that the top seemed too "flat" for a hill of it's size, yet I didn't want to make it too much taller for storage reasons, and I certainly didn't want to make the base any bigger; which I would have had to have done, if the hill was to have been made any taller and yet retain some sense of proportion.

I think I have the solution, though. The position will be a fortified ruin. Maybe an old church or monastery that in happier, pre-war times would have looked something like this;

War has no respect for scenic beauty, and with the entry of Italy into the war against the Central Powers (treacherous swine!) and a couple of heavy bombardments later, any such structure would be left in ruins with the defenders using the basements and cellars as the basis of a prepared fortification as was common at the time, as witness the defence of many a
chateau in France along the Western Front.

Therefore the top of the hill will have traces of walls and rubble, and perhaps the remains of a fallen roof or bell tower. Making convincing-looking ruins will in many ways prove more of a challenge than making an actual building itself in its entirety.

I bought some 7mm foam core board- the thin kind that is sandwiched between paper, and which is used for signs and such things. They will form the remaining wall sections, with rubble from a variety of carved foam and wooden off-cuts used to cover the base. The whole thing will be given a very thin, watered-down coat of plaster and sand "goop" before painting to blend it all together, and give everything an "old and decrepit" look.

Someone who has visited the Dolomites has pointed out to me that mountain houses often have walls of at least half a meter thick - indeed I have seen building like this in the mountains of Iwate in Northern Japan when I lived there for five years. If I double up the thickness of the foamboard for the remnants of the outside walls, that should look about right. I'll also be adding stonework out of card which along with the coat of filler should add to the overall mass.

Kallistra trenches come through!

After no more than a week since I ordered them, I was pleased to find a large- but light- packet arrive at the doorstep today.   My set of modular trench works from Kallistra, and quite pleased I am with it, too. 

Moulded in tough hard plastic, the pieces are quite a lot larger than I had imagined, but not overly so and there is plenty of room for minis. The trenches themselves look great. Lots of scope for extra detailing, as the interiors are somewhat basic.

I don't mind that in the least, as I like the modelling aspect and want them to match the other terrain pieces I'll be using in texture and appearance. I also have a piece that comes with a large bay for artillery pieces, or to model some bunkers.

I may well get some more sections, as I have already enough for more than one line of works with which to face the
Collina della Formica. A second line with some communication trenches linking them could look really great on the tabletop.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Things start getting Nasty...

...for any potential attackers!

Today I bought some balsa wood, and sat down to make the bunker for the MMG emplacement. Basically just a balsa box big enough to hold a Schwarzloze stand.

And here it is set in place. I will tidy up the corners when it is thoroughly dry, glue it in place, and blend it in to the baseboard with some foam off-cuts and putty. Then I'll add a few internal details, such as a steel door in the back of the bunker through which the inhabitants can scurry should they detect the approach of a flamethrower team.

And again, seen with the roof placed on top. The roof will of course be detachable, and it will be protected with logs on top as I remember seeing in a photo of a fortification somewhere during the Caporetto offensive.

Finally, a video of the wicked beast that dwells within. I couldn't find any videos of a Schwarzloze in action, but here is a German Maxim 08/15 machine gun, the Grim Reaper of Spandau.

The Rocky Road...

Work continues apace. I've added goops of putty and sculpted like mad. I really enjoyed this part of the project (if not the cleaning up afterwards)! I will have a walk down by the Tama River here in Tokyo later today and collect some rocks and pebbles to use as boulders.

It really is starting to look imposing!

Now comes the trenches and MMG emplacement. This will take a little time, but I'll take it in stages.

Scarab Miniatures are releasing their French in the coming month. When they do, I'll place an order for the Austrian communications set as well, along with the first of my Italians. I've also got some interesting books lined up that I'm going to order from a number of sources, cash flow permitting.

In the meantime, I've got some interesting reading on the Italian campaign to do on the 'net, thanks to some useful links sent to me by Chris Stoesen. Thanks, Chris!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What better time to work on terrain pieces...

...than when your significant other is out all day. Today I started on texturing the Collino della Formica, and I know from past experience that this kind of work generally goes much faster, better, and with fewer tears when I can just go ahead and make a mess (just so long as I have it cleared up by the time she gets back!).

And it
IS messy!

The problem with the soft white styrofoam is, of course, that it crumbles easier than old stale panecotta.  So I set about soaking lengths of paper towel in a mash of wall filler, PVA, and acrylic paint, and plastering it over the whole model. While wet it can be sculpted with a small artists' trowel, so that the first rough exterior layer can start to take shape.

Here is the view from the rear, with the path leading up to the top. I haven't yet done the top surface, this will be built up later once the trench interiors have been added.

Attacker's eye view. The cut out will be a defensive position for a machine gun, and will be backed by a pair of heavy iron doors leading into the heart of the position. This "Pit of Perdition" will no doubt end up being manned by defaulters and will attract a lot of unwanted attention from enemy mortars and grenades.

Another view of the path, this time from the side. The soaked paper towels dry rock hard, and can be used to mould natural contours where the seperate pieces of the hill were glued together.

I'll leave this to dry out thoroughly for two days, and then I'll take a tub of my favorite acrylic-based filler and add it liberally to the surface. I can then fill in any unnatural looking join lines, add more contours, and generally texture the whole model. I'll be referring to some web piccies of the Dolomites as a guide to sculpting the surface to make it look as close to a granite rockface as I can.

Top view of the beast, showing the trench and weapon bay layout. 

Having learned from past experience (ahem...), I've made the trenches wider than they need be so that I will be able to fit in the trench sub-assemblies more easily. Each trench will have a width of at least 30mm. Even though a real trench was considerably narrower historically, mine have to allow the 28mm minis to fit, and I will be adding some decorative "bits and pieces" to the trench walls.  I need enough space for the figures to be moved around without difficulty.

The trenches themselves will be of a modular construction, and when completed will be glued in place. Any gaps between the trenches and walls will be filled with off-cuts of foam and a parapet added. I'll then make some detachable roofs for the observation area and (of course!) the mortar ammo store. Finally, should everything go to plan, all will be coated with a final layer of gritty filler "goo" for texture and the whole thing painted.

Right now I need more minis! I have a trench mortar and Schwarzlose MMG from
Brigade Games on the way, and will need to get the observation team from Scarab next time I order from them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Labour intensive...

I came across some amazing footage of Italian troops on La Marmolada in the Dolomites, including shots of men hauling guns up the mountainside using just human muscle power. Worlds away from Flanders, but equally demanding on flesh and blood.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Taking shape...

...big time!

I added the trench works to the top of the Collina della Formica, and shaped the base.  It took a long time and a sliced appendage or two, but it is looking good.. And it's BIG! but we are in the mountains, after all.

Top view from front

Back view

I still need to glue the sections together, and add some rocky outcroppings from offcuts of the foam board. After that, the next steps will be to shape the rock face, line the trench walls with stone and wood revetments, and to build up a stony parapet.

Austrian infantryman in trench- you can get an idea just how tall this thing is. 
The Italians better bring on those trench mortars!

Once all that is done, it will be time to drench the board with filler and sculpt and shape the details. Lots to do yet, but it is fun!

Rifleman Aloysius Kartoffelkopf runs into the defensive work prior to an Italian attack.