Sunday, March 30, 2014

But the presentation is terrible!

Gotta love chopped.  But, let's face it, certain techniques and cuisines are favored over others.  Italian cooking, with its emphasis on simple, fresh ingredients, always fall short on the requirement that ingredients somehow be "transformed."  Well, sometimes, ingredients are transformed for all the wrong reasons...

Fellowship of the Ring (Awesome!)

This spring break, my nine year old daughter has asked to watch the Lord of the Rings movies with her. While I would rather she read the books first, how could I resist the chance to geek out with my daughter?  She was deeply impressed, to the point of constructing her own Fellowship of the Ring out of Legos.  From left to right, they are Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gimli (in the foreground), Legolas, and Frodo.  That's the Eye of Sauron in the background.  Apparently, Humans and Wizards don't make the cut.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Zulu War: A Work in Progress

After selling my 15mm Anglo-Zulu War figures, I went out and bought a bunch of 28mm Anglo-Zulu War minis.  I looked at other periods, but none of them have the cool movie associated with it that makes me want to go refight Rorke's Drift.  I found a copy of the Warlord Games' boxed set for Rorkes Drift available for a song on eBay. I have not attempted to construct the laser-cut houses yet, but I love the resin sandbag and biscuit box obstacles.

Most of the minis are Old Glory 28mm metal figures.  Not my favorite range (except for the unmarried Zulu warriors, which look great), but they paint up well.  The unit on the Zulu left is Warlord plastic.  They are more slender than the metal figures, but not so much so that they look incongruous on the same battlefield.

I've done two units each of Zulus and British. I'm nearly done with the British force, but I'm going to need a hella lotta more Zulus. 

Zulus, sir! Several of them!

Men of Harlech, stop your dreaming. Something something spearpoints gleaming...

The Warlord warband.  Usuthu!

Some primes and unpainted Zulus can be seen in the left background.  I'm testing the fit on my old movement trays, since these figures use the copper-zinc alloy 20mm bases that my old 15mm figures did.  It's a tight fit, but they work well.

"Independent fire at will!"
"Very nice of 'im."

Spit, boy, spit!

Because we're here, lad. Just us. No-one else.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Lenin Emoticon

My students made me this Lenin emoticon.  Just in case I should ever need a shorthand way to express frustrations with the mensheviks or the need for a Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Painting with a bigger brush

Followers of this blog can be forgiven for thinking that my nerdery extends only to simulation games and miniatures. Those are, after all, the parts of my life that I share here. On several occasions, I have made posts about my military history classes, since I'm lucky to have a hobby that intersects with my job.  My passion for other areas of history finds outlets in other forums, mainly though my professional life.

My studies through my undergrad and graduate years had a very strong interdisciplinary cast, not because I couldn't make up my mind, but because I see history, literature, art, and archaeology as revealing, Rashomon-like, a vanished world.  I took a few Art History classes in college and grad school, but my real passion for it came when I served as a teaching assistant to Vincent Scully, a true evangelist for his discipline.

These days, I teach Art History as a senior elective.  Earlier this year, David Love, one of my colleagues in the Visual Arts department, suggested a team-up field trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where one of his friends, Mark Tucker, is the head of the painting conservation department.  I thought a behind-the-scenes look at the museum and the work they do would be a fantastic experience for my students, so I agreed in a heartbeat.

The kids had fun, and I pretty much had an artgasm. It's one thing to see paintings in the galleries, but to get up close to them in the lab was on a whole different level.  The PMA team was responsible for the restoration of Eakins' The Gross Clinic, a front-page story here in Philadelphia for several months. For all of our rude, blue-collar image, Philadelphia is a city that takes it's art seriously.  Anyhow, Mark focused most of our time on how they made decisions regarding that work.  He started with an analysis  of Eakins' technique in other works.  Like most Academic Realists of the mid 19th century, Eakins worked with both subtle and bold tonal differences to convey meaning through light and color. Unusually, he worked from a light base, adding darker shades as he worked out.  This came as a surprise to me, whose experience painting miniatures is to do the opposite, starting with a  dark base and adding successively lighter highlights.

Eakins' unusual technique led many well-intentioned but ill-informed restorers to strip off the dark outer layers of paint to get to what they thought were Eakins' "original" bright colors.  This left some unusual features (like the glowing red tunnel in The Gross Clinic) and undermined the original intent of Eakins. Anyhow, the detective story left a room full of enthralled students.  What a cool day!

These Renaissance panels depicting groups of religious men and women were inches from my elbow as I listened to Mark's talk about Eakins. "Don't bump them...don't bump them..."  They survived intact.

Mark's colleague Sarah shared this nativity scene by Hieronymus Bosch with us. Unlike most paintings by Bosch, there are no erotic elements or grotesque elements here, but the style is unmistakably his.  I had a poster of The Garden of Earthly Delights on my wall in grad school because I'm a sick puppy. Sarah thought she identified a signature on the sword of the knight, who is pointing to it. She smiled indulgently when I offered my Dan-Brown-conspiracy-theory that the sword is really a stand-in phallic symbol, and the the Bosch/knight figure was really indicating the earthly generation of Jesus.  I hope she knew I was kidding. Otherwise I looked like a real idiot.  Heh. 

I'm looking over one of my student's shoulder as he looks through a microscope at a "Near VerMeer".  I've seen my share of VerMeers, and I was more than willing to accept its authenticity.  I'm glad I don't have to make calls like this.

 Mark Turner, seated on the right, describes current projects to a group of students.  Chemistry teacher Jamie Anderson, standing in the rear, also found a lot to keep his interest.
Mark shows us some X-Rays taken of some of the works we discussed.  The detail from the Gross Clinic, above, demonstrates Eakins' technique, with shadowed areas actually appearing lighter than light areas due to the way he worked inward rather than outward.  Below is an X-ray of a Cezanne landscape, revealing how he had painted over a portrait of his wife.  When we went up to the public galleries at the end of the day, it was hard not to see the ghostly image of a sideways woman looking out at us from the sea and hills.  Does seeing things like like this enhance or cheapen the experience of looking at the painting? I suppose the answer lies in whether you would take the red pill or the blue pill.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Battle of Avila: The Almost-Crisis

Today was out second session of Napoleonic Black Powder in the apocryphal Battle of Avila.  I told Alex (playing the British commander) and Tyler (fighting for the French) that the game would be decided quickly today, since one of Tyler's brigades had already routed, and if his cavalry charge failed to drive off the facing British infantry brigade, it would be all over. I was, as usual, dead wrong.

Tyler gets his Italo-Bavarians to recover from their former blunder to close on the critical bridge.  Some early volleys rattle the Spanish, but the fiercest fighting is still to come.
The big cavalry charge on the French left was less devastating than I thought it would be (I retract my earlier quote: "The result of two die rolls will establish a clear winner to the entire battle.") One British battalion was able to form square, but the other fell into disorder, and its feeble closing volley did little to slow the charging French dragoons. A hole was cleared, but not enough to threaten the main battle line of either side.

Alex's light cavalry counter-attacks. The dragoons, weary and spent from their previous charge, flee the field. but the supporting French light horse rallies and countercharges.  The ensuing clash saw no casualties on either side!  The French fall back due to the press of numbers, but they remain locked in melee with the pursuing British hussars.
Alex learns that the dice can be fickle mistresses.  Units on both sides were either making or missing all of their morale saves, resulting in wild swings of fortune. Despite the wild luck, though, the armies held positions in two lines facing off against each other. 

Alex surveys the scene at the end of three and a half turns.  The Bavarian-looking Italians have forced one Spanish unit back.  The remaining British and French line infantry brigades are facing each other in the center across the crest of the strategic hill, hammering away at each other. Both sides have several shaken units, and it won't take much to start a cascading series of routs.  One more session should decide it, but that's what I said about today's game... 

Neither side has much of a reserve to speak of to use for insurance, so once gaps start appearing in the line, it will be all over for the side who can take advantage. I mean it this time.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Game Day: USS Olympia

Maybe I'll get to this.  Maybe not.  But I swell with local pride when I see that the USS Olympia is hosting a game day this spring. How cool is that venue?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bill Guarnere, 1924-2014

South Philadelphia and the country lost a hero yesterday.Wild Bill Guarnere was one of the more colorful characters in Ambrose's Band of Brothers, and it seemed like he was at the center of every "Holy Cow! I can't believe they actually did that!" moment in the book and miniseries.

Yo, Bill: Currahee!  We owe you and your fellow vets a debt for your service and sacrifices.

Read the obituary here

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Zulus, sir! Several of 'em!

My latest project.  The minis are 28mm Old Glory, and the fortifications are from the Warlord Rorkes Drift set which I got for a great price on EBay.  For such a small conflict, it sure has captured my imagination for the past few decades. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Battle of Avila: Opening Moves

Well, for one of the first times in my life, I'm glad that there was no snow day. 1) This allowed my Simulation Games class to get our Napoleonics battle under way.  2) I'm f*****g tired of snow.

As promised, we start with some closeups.  For a description of the scenario and setup, please check here.

Sharper and Harpe lead squads of plucky riflemen ahead of the British line infantry to harass the French. In our first session, they were called "badass."  I recommended Cornwell to the players as a consequence.

English infantry advance through the wheatfield to engage the French on the other side.  Meanwhile, the Spanish stand by and wait for a command roll in their favor.  Why put oneself out?

The French infantry are champing at the bit.  This ill-fated brigade will be the first in the fight, but also the first to leave the table.

Who's going to mess with the French cavalry?  Really?  You feeling lucky, England?

French assault columns wait their turn to get into the action.  

Highlanders pass through a picturesque Spanish village on their way to catch bullets and grapeshot.

And now the shooting starts.  I explained the slight variants in the rules to the players, and they were off and running.  Tyler took command of the French and moved first.  One of his infantry brigades bounded onto the commanding heights in the center of the table, but sadly these brave souls did not get support from their comrades, who moved forward at a snail's pace.  This left the advance guard highly vulnerable to a british counter-attack, as we shall see.

Alex gets two of his infantry brigades to attack the hill.  Long range fire from the 95th rifles and an artillery battery do some damage.  Outgunned 2-1, the French start to get rattled.

We finished two turns in our initial session.  The French advance guard got hammered by close-range fire and withdrew in a haphazard rout.  Fortunately, Tyler was able to bring up his cavalry behind them in support, so they may get a chance to inflict some damage in revenge for their fallen friends. The English cavalry and the Spanish infantry finally began to move forward, but the main body of the French is ready to counter them.  Sadly the Italians (who look suspiciously like Bavarians) decided to form a defensive line behind the river, even though they had not been threatened.  Yep, our first command Blunder.

Grace, a student in my class the following period, gets parched from the sight of so much bloodshed and takes a draught from her Snapple.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The (Apocryphal) Battle of Avila

The second battle in which the students in my Simulation Games mini-course will take part is a Napoleonics game set in the Peninsular war just before the Battle of Salamanca.  It is not a historical scenario, but it is a plausible fantasy.  Before Salamanca, Wellington knew that Marmont was about to be reinforced by two other French armies, one led by the Italian Cafferelli and the other by the Emperor's Brother Joseph, the King of Spain.  This scenario assumes that Joseph's army was closer than they were, and that Wellington was compelled to send a large division to head them off.  The two forces clash over possession of a bridge which, if won by the French, will give them a direct line into Wellington's now-understrength flank.

The map above shows the terrain and the initial disposition of forces. The numbers on the map indicate victory points.  At the end of six turns, the side with the most victory points (defined as having the last unit in a terrain feature with no enemy unit within 8") will win the game.  The scenario is loosely based off of one of the scenarios in Albion Triumphant.

The game will take place over several sessions, which with the say the winter storms are cancelling school, might mean several weeks.  Since the game is set up on the Harkness Table on which I teach, I needed to use a narrower, 8'x4' configuration.  I would have preferred a 6' wide table.  As it is, both forces are deployed in an "L" shape formation, with the angle facing away from the enemy. This has the opportunity to become a logjam very quickly, but good and lucky maneuver will be able to win either side an advantage.

The French forces are at the top of the map.   They move first.

Brigade A: Three battalions of line infantry, one battery of light field artillery
Brigade B: Two regiments of chevaux-legeres and one regiment of dragoons
Brigade C: Three battalions of line infantry, one battery of light field artillery
Brigade D: Three battalions of Italian infantry*

* Due to a delay in painting the Italians, they will be represented by Bavarians.

The British forces are at the bottom of the map.

Brigade A: One battalion of rifles; two battalions of line infantry, one battery of light field artillery
Brigade B: One regiment of light dragoons, one regiment of hussars, one section of horse artillery
Brigade C: One battalion of Highlanders, two battalions of line infantry, one battery of light field artillery
Brigade D: Three battalions of Spanish line infantry

Thus the forces are about equal, with the French having a slight advantage in cavalry.  The British have two high-quality units, but they also are shouldered with the low-quality Spanish, who begin the game close to the action.

I'll be using Black Powder rules with the following modifications:

  1) Artillery batteries are represented by two stands. The Horse Artillery section fires at reduced strength (2-1-1)
  2) I will be using the Pas-de-charge rule for French line infantry.  British troops will have the First Fire characteristic, with the Rifles claiming Elite and Sharpshooter benefits. The Highlanders will have the Tough Fighter characteristic.  The hapless Spanish troops will be rated as Wavering and Unreliable (though by 1812 they were starting to show some improvement in their joint operations with the British).
  3) The only way to automatically form square is to do so with a formation change in one's movement phase. Infantry that is not in square must attempt to form square if charged by cavalry by making a morale roll.  This roll is made at +1 if the cavalry moves two bounds in its charge, or at +2 if the cavalry has to move three bounds to make contact.

Sorry there aren't more photos of this troops at this stage.  I'll get some close-in shots of the minis at our first session, whenever that is (snow is due Sunday night, so if school gets cancelled, our class will not meet until the following week).  Some shots of the minis in another deployment can be seen here.