Princes of the Universe by Cold War Miniatures

Or how Betamax changed my life.

Back in the heady days of the mid-eighties my Dad made a decision.  A decision that would resonate for the rest of my childhood.  A decision that would fundamentally change my outlook on life.  A decision that would be looked back on as one of the most important of the late 20th Century. He decided to buy a video recorder.

Not just any video recorder, but a Betamax video recorder.

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At least it was a front loader (‘stock footage’ – not a photo of the actual VCR, which was finally skipped a few years ago)

Those of you that know your history will recall that back in these times of big hair and constant fear of nuclear Armageddon there were a number of competing formats for home video.  Betamax (arguably technically superior) backed by Sony and VHS by JVC appeared as the top runners and therein entered into a brief period of competition from which one only would emerge triumphant (spoiler – it was VHS).  (Older readers may also remember other formats, including the curious Video 2000 with it’s curious two sided cassettes – something that remained in use in my school anyway well into the nineties, often wheeled into classrooms on giant wheeled trolleys also holding very flammable looking wooden framed TVs).

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The classic L-750

So the fateful decision having being made we were then the proud owner of a technically great machine, but within a few months without the ability to rent or buy any tapes.  What this did mean was that as a youngster I was limited to those films we taped off the telly and the increasingly rare (and often ex-rental) tapes we could still buy.  Accordingly I had a relatively small pool of things to watch, and watch them I did, repeatedly.  Some of my all-time favorite films were discovered during this period, including the 1978 animated version of the Lord of the Rings, the second 60’s Peter Cushing Doctor Who movie (Daleks Invasion Earth 2150AD) and of course the camp, cult classic Flash Gordon.

 

I must have watched the 1980 Flash Gordon film hundreds of times over the past few decades, and I’ve often thought about how I might bring Flash to the tabletop.  A successful Kickstarter was recently run to publish a Flash Gordon setting for the Savage Worlds roleplaying system.  I’m more of a miniatures person though, and although the Kickstarter produced a limited set of miniatures they weren’t quick what I was looking for.

 

Fast forward to last year and a random Facebook post pointed me in the direction of Cold War Miniatures.  This is a small Scottish based miniatures produced (who interestingly despite their name do not have any Cold War ranges), but do have a number of interesting lines, including a wonderful range called Princes of the Universe (retro sci fi minis with a Flash Gordon flavour in 28mm scale miniatures in both resin and metal).  I ordered a couple late last year to check them out and they are very well sculpted, clean and crisp with no flash at all.

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Princes of the Universe by Cold War Miniatures

The style is very much based on the classic Flash Gordon comic strips of Alex Raymond from the 30’s and 40’s, with a significant nod to the Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe movie serials of the same time.  (The black and white serials were often shown daily during school summer holidays on TV in the UK and I remember watching  and loving these way before I got a view of the Technicolor delights of the 1980 Mike Hodges film.)

 

As regular readers of my blog may know, my go-to miniatures game is 7TV as it allows me to game pretty much what I want and allows me to field all those random cool toys that catch my eye.  So it is that my ‘Flash Gordon’ cast is beginning to take shape.  I’ve decided to concentrate on the good guys to start with, so an additional order to Cold War Miniatures has resulted in the fleshing out of the team to include not only the dashing hero, his muse and their mad scientist companion, but also a couple of alien princes (one at home in the forest kingdoms, the other a winged behemoth with a passion for shouting!)

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These guys are currently work in progress.  I am due to attend a couple of 7TV gaming days this year.  The one at Board in Brum in January might be a bit too soon to get these guys finished, however I’ve also recently signed up for the Wargames Illustrated 7TV day at Wargames Foundry in the summer (at which conveniently the new Pulp version of the rules will be being used).  (You can read about last year’s event elsewhere on the site).

 

I’d highly recommend checking Princes of the Universe and Cold War Miniatures in general.  Not only lovely miniatures but great service and very quick postage within the UK.  In addition to the miniatures I also bought from them a couple of the 3D print files for a rocket ship and some giant trees to go have a go at with my newly acquired toy (but that is a story for another time….)

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New toy

Twenty Eight Years Later – Warhammer 40k revisited

Last week I made another trip down to Warhammer World in Nottingham.  Following on from my October visit last year to play Kill Team, I made the short drive down the M1 with an old friend and his super keen young lad, but this time to give 40k a go.

Now the last time I played a game of Warhammer 40k was way back in the midst of time when I was about 12 years old – funnily enough the same age as my opponent for this game.  Back then of course we were still on first edition, i.e. Rogue Trader, and when I say ‘played’ I mean roughly moved some figures around on the floor and make some dice rolls.  (I distinctly remember that we played purely with the contents of one of the classic plastic Imperial Guard boxed sets.)

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Rogue Trader era Imperial Guard – participants in my only prvious game of 40k

So why come back to it now?  Well, this is partly down to the recent release of the aforementioned Kill Team (which I have been really enjoying) which itself is symptomatic of a significant change in direction for Games Workshop in the last few years.

When I first got back into gaming (after the obligatory break that most people of a certain age refer to), Games Workshop had just released Space Hulk Third Edition.  In fact it was seeing this that prompted me to fall in love with the hobby again.  However I soon discovered that the release of Space Hulk was the exception rather than the rule.  GW were very much in the mode of concentrating on their core games of 40k and Warhammer while seemingly continuing to minimise their engagement with the community and customer base.  Perhaps stung by the post Lord of the Rings crash this decision resulted in a set of products and supporting release schedule that became quite opaque and difficult to engage with as someone getting back into the hobby.  Multiple editions of Warhammer and Warhammer 40k came and went in the following years, each of which seemed to the casual outsider such as myself to become more bloated and impenetrable each time.

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Space Hulk Third Edition – my gateway back into the hobby

However something changed in recent years and the approach has been to engage more with the community, release more games (providing multiple jump on points for new gamers) and make their core games and IP more accessible and easier to get into.  For example the continued release and ongoing support of what used to be referred to as Specialist Games (for example Necromunda), the change in approach to both Warhammer (with Age of Sigmar) and 40k into an almost ‘living ruleset’ supporting and encouraging narrative gaming (as well as continuing to support the tournament scene) all aided in accessibility.  In addition the move into more public domain gateway products (such as the Conquest part work and a change in focus in White Dwarf) has meant for me personally I am much more interested and engaged in their offerings than I think I ever have been.

So to that end I’ve found myself actually being interested in expanding on what I have been doing recently with Kill Team and giving the main 40k game a go.  To be honest part of this is that I am loving painting tanks at the moment and I just want to get a lot of toys on the table at once!

As you can probably guess this means I have gone Imperial Guard (now known more commonly as Astra Millitarum) for my first army.  In a ode to my original games back in the late eighties/early nineties I have based their colour scheme on the classic Necromunda regiment embodied in the original Rogue Trader plastic box set.

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I’ve managed to pick up a few old school Rogue Trader minis and hope to field a Kill Team of these guys soon

Having pulled together a rough force (and again this is where I really like the new 40k with it giving you the flexibility to within reason just field what you want without having to worry too much about points and lists) I was challenged by my friend’s son to a game.

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I bolstered my Astra Millitarum with some Space Marine allies (Cobra’s Baroness not included!)

So how did it go?

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It didn’t go entirely to plan

Well, unsurprisingly not well for me.  My opponent had played a few times recently with his Dad (who was umpiring / supporting us on the day), is young (so can remember things like stats, special rules and tactics) and basically took it a whole lot more seriously than me (I was just making lots of ‘pew pew’ noises in my head as I pushed my troops around).  But you know what, it was a lot of fun.  It is always great playing at Warhammer World, the game was fun and although my Guard were utterly devoured by their Tyranid foes and the game retains an old fashioned and kind of clunky core mechanic (rolling to hit, to wound, to save) I’m definitely looking to expand my forces and play again.  Age of Sigmar might even be whispering in my ear (come on, I mean steampunk airship dwarves are a no brainer).

Any how, presented below are a few shots of the battle in progress, hopefully the first of many games this year.

Adventures with Amera Plastic Mouldings and Stone Textured Paint

One of the great pleasures I get from the hobby is the chance to view everything through the hobbyists eyes.  So when I am out shopping (ostensibly for real word stuff) I’ve always got half an eye on what I could use for the latest project on the tabletop.  I’ve written before about my ongoing love of re-purposing toys for gaming and toy shops are a great place to start.  However I never overlook what might be lurking in the local discount store, Poundland or craft supplies shop.

Although I have an airbrush I also make extensive use of spray cans to undercoat and basecoat miniatures and models.  There is a lot to be said for the convenience, particularly of the Army Painter coloured sprays of quickly and effectively getting minis to the table.  That said one of the areas that people often overlook are the basic colours used for undercoating (black, white and grey).  Yes you could shell out a tenner (or more) on some Games Workshop or Army Painter sprays for this, but the basic car primers you can get from places like Halfords or even the pound shop are in most cases just as good or even better (just be careful to avoid the gloss versions).  I’d highly recommend the matt black Halfords own brand cans, they give a really nice flat finish on most surfaces and are good value for the  amount you get).

Anyway, I digress.  On a recent lunchtime wander round my local Boyes store (one of the few places in the UK outside of specialist gaming shops that stock a good supply of Vallejo paints), I happened across these…

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Rust-oleum Stone Textured Finished Paint

Stone effect aerosol sprays in a variety of colours.  I had a few years ago used one of the these in a dark grey to provide a tarmac like surface to a game board I was building, but like many projects a few years back didn’t see it through to the end.  However having recently bought a Bastion Stronghold (Z2014) from Amera Plastic Mouldings for use as a ‘wasteland’ fortification for post-apocalypse gaming (and potentially a bit of Kill Team / 40k on the side) I had an idea…..

Amera have been on my radar for a while.  They produce a range of vac formed plastic terrain and scenery aimed at both the wargames and scale modelling (dioramas) markets. Their products are good value and in many cases substantial in terms of size.  One of the downsides of using vac-formed plastic however is that the surface details of larger pieces tend to be very flat and lack texture.  If only there was a quick and easy way to apply a textured finish, maybe to emulate concrete or pebble dash to my recently acquired ‘post-apocalypse’ stronghold?

So having  put two and two together I started work.  After the recommended wash in warm soapy water I gave the whole piece a black undercoat.  After leaving this to dry I applied the first coat of stone effect.  I had chosen ‘bleached stone’ as my preferred colour of sprays as I though it would match an arid PA wasteland type setting.

First thing to note on the stone effects aerosol is that it is under quite high pressure and comes out very forcefully.  It became quite apparent early on that this meant I was going to have to be very patient, do a number of thin coats and wait for each to dry properly.  Repeated application of layers on a surface that was not yet dry just ended up moving the stone effect paint already laid down around.

What also became clear was that the black undercoat was not working.  The light ‘desert yellow’ / ‘skeleton bone’ like colour of the spray was being overpowered by the dark base.  To rectify this, once the first thin layer was applied and was dry (after about 15 minutes) I gave the whole model a full all over spray of Citadel Averland Sunset (a darkish yellow).  Building subsequent layers over this was much more effective.

Once I’d completed about 4 or 5 coats using the stone effect I had a good covering and a good scale approximation of either pebble dashed concrete or sandstone.

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A couple of coats in and the effect was starting to look better

Where to take it from here?  I knew I definitely wanted to weather this down, especially as it was intended to be a wastelands style outpost, but simply dry brushing a highlight over the stone effect would perhaps make it too light.  I could of course have left it there, the effect was good enough for ‘basic tabletop standard’, but I was keen to take it further.

I also wanted to ensure that the stone effect paint was protected, so rolled the weathering and protection into one by painting on Army Painter Quickshade Strong Tone.  I’m a big fan of Quickshade; not the dipping method, rather painting in the same way as a shade or wash.  Normally with miniatures following an initial drying period the shade ‘pulls back’ into the recesses of the model and you can ‘dab’ up any excess with a brush.  With this scenery piece there weren’t really any recesses into which to recede so I had to work hard not to show brush strokes in the finished effect.  I achieved this using swirling motions with a cheap large brush.

At this stage, to be honest, I wasn’t very happy, it looked like I had dulled down the stone effect too much and the natural gloss of the Quickshade kind of made things worse (albeit I knew I was going to have to dull this down with a top coat).  A quick dry brush back up of Army Painter Skeleton Bone seemed to retrieve the situation, but I was now left with a much darker piece than I was originally intending.

I was on the verge of going back to the drawing board, when I thought about maybe rather than weathering this up as an arid desert stronghold, I could shift my post-apocalyptic mindset more towards a ‘nature reclaiming the landscape’ scenario.  To that end I liberally applied some green washes and made use of an old bottle of Modelmates mould effect I had.

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Midway into the weathering process

With the addition of some flock, tufts and overgrowth I was much happier with the final result.  The metal supports and door were painted silver and then (probably overly) weathered up using again a Modelmates rust effect.  Finally the whole thing was sealed with a couple of thin coats of Testors Dullcote.

All in all I’m pretty pleased with the outcome.  I’d highly recommend Amera Plastic Mouldings as a cost effective and striking alternative to other options for tabletop scenery.  Using the textured spray paint added that extra level of detail, but required some patience.  As they say, you learn from your mistakes.

This finished piece will hopefully be finding it’s way into a game of 7TV Apocalypse soon.

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Meeples & Miniatures – Episode 256 – View from a Twisted Pinnacle

I was recently given the opportunity to go on the long running Meeples and Miniatures Podcast as a guest presenter.

I talk to regular presenters Mike and Neil about my background in the hobby, current projects and purchases and also spend sometime discussing my experiences of working in the industry.

The episode is now available to download for free from their website (or via your favourite podcasting app). They also have a Patreon account setup up if you feel like donating a few pennies to the upkeep and ongoing production of the show.

Meeples & Miniatures

Download Episode 256

Neil Shuck & Mike Hobbs are joined by a guest presenter in the shape of Patreon backer James Aldridge for this episode of the podcast.

  • 00:00 – Introduction – We chat with James and discover how he got into the hobby and what his favourite games/miniatures are.
  • 21:20 – Confessional – Time to own up to all those hobby purchases we have made recently.
  • 57:55 – Our Hobby – We talk about our recent gaming, including Keyforge, 1066 Tears for Many Mothers and Kill Team. James tells us about his recent trip to Warhammer World whilst Hobbsy reveals all about his adventures at Grogmeet.
  • 1:34:35 – Tales of a Twisted Pinnacle – James tells us his somewhat cautionary tale of his brief foray into the hobby as a retail seller. On a more positive note, he then shares with us his passion for repurposing toys as wargaming…

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Toys for Tabletop – Corps Elite Battle Cruiser

I’ve blogged extensively about my project to realise my favorite action figure toys from back in the day, Action Force.  I have a young daughter, but despite not pushing her in any real direction toys, she has gravitated towards traditional girls toys.  Therefore I am not really up-to-speed with boys stuff, and in particular action figures.  So other than knowing that Star Wars is obviously still a thing I’ve no ideal if there is a modern and up-to-date range of military action figures similar to those I used to play with.  However a few weeks back while stocking up on instant noodles during my lunch break in the local discount shop I happened into the toy aisles.  And there I spotted it!

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It also has sound!

So this is the Corps Elite Battle Cruiser.  Corps Elite appear to a modern day (but budget version) of Action Force / G.I.Joe, and boy does this one look like it would be perfect for 28mm scale.  As per usual 7TV is never far from my mind when considering these things.

Having succumbed and picked one up, upon initial inspection the vast majority of the components looked like they could easily stay and represent the ‘down-scaled’ versions of themselves.

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Straight out of the box

Having opened the box and inspected the ship, the scale looks pretty spot on for 28mm scale minis.  The flat bottom / ‘water line’ means this will look great on the tabletop.

 

There are a few things that will have to be removed and replaced to really hide the larger scale aspects of the thing, namely:

  • The turret and ‘machine gun’ on top of the bridge will be removed and replaced with something more realistic (aerials, radar etc. maybe)
  • The clear plastic ‘fin’ and aerials will need some work
  • The large hatch/doorway molded on the side of the bridge will need hiding

 

Painting wise, it looks like a relatively easy job and will be down to a combination of spray cans and airbrush.  The existing decals were easy to peel off and the entire ‘model’ was given an undercoat of black (using a couple of layers in order to effectively mask the painted on pattern on the hull).

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It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve had a bit of a look at the wider Corps Elite range.  While most of the accessories and vehicles are way out of scale for the tabletop, I’ve got to say with a bit of work the ‘Beast Bomber’ could make for an excellent centre piece!

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Post Apocalypse Gaming Inspiration

When I first started at secondary school in the late 1980s we had rather strange setup in my home town.  At eleven years old we went to what was effectively a middle school, this was co-ed and following a couple of years the majority of pupils transferred to either the local girls or boys school, which catered for 13 to 18 year olds.  The other unique thing about my particular middle school was that it was split across two sites about a mile apart.  Break times were often spent on the transfer bus moving between buildings.

The main site (long since demolished), was kind of open plan with primarily outdoor corridors.  Believe me when I say this was actually the better of the two.  What however has any of this got to do with drawing inspiration for post apocalyptic tabletop gaming?  Well apart from the prison camp styling of the architecture, one thing that really sticks in my mind was the school library.  At the time I couldn’t really look beyond the classic Target novelisations of Doctor Who serials (I was slightly obsessed), but I do remember in particular another series of books with very striking covers.  I never read these at the time as something about the content was too close to a very frightening possible reality that hung over us all in the Cold War – nuclear armageddon.  These novels were the ‘Survivalist’ series by Jerry Ahern.

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Recently as I have been working on my 28mm scale post apocalypse projects (with 7TV Apocalypse very much my cross-hairs) I’d started thinking about backgrounds and settings for my games and models.  Aside from the obvious Mad Max style road warrior scenarios, my memory of the old school library and the ‘Survivalist’ came to the fore.  Needless to say a quick trip to Amazon and eBay and I’ve got the first few volumes.

First things first.  These books are very much of their time.  The hero is in that Reagan era 80’s mold. They are not literary masterpieces, they are pulp, but by heck (as they say round here) I’m enjoying them.  Needless to say the basic premise is following the titular ‘survivalist’ John O’Rouke in his adventures in a nuclear war ravaged United States.  John has to fight off marauding gangs, invading Soviets and the like, while searching for his wife and children.  Our hero is not only a survival specialist, but also a trained medical doctor, former CIA operative and weapons expert.  There is an almost lurid amount of detail in these books about guns and weapons with the caliber of ammo, background and description of rifles and machine guns all being describe in minute detail each time they are used (and they are used a lot).  There is also a lot of cigarette smoking in these books (check out the covers)!

There’s certainly plenty in here to act as inspiration for gaming on the tabletop.  I particularly like that the Soviet Union is attempting an occupation of the US (somehow this is possible after a nuclear exchange), but this gives a bit more scope for scenarios, rather than just the usual marauding gangs versus gangs setup.

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Unsurprisingly I’ve been looking into miniatures for John O’Rourke, and remembered the Wargames Factory Male Survivors multi-part plastic kit.  This came out originally a few years ago and was more recently re-packaged and re-released by Warlord Games as part of their Project Z range.

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Is that John McClane or John O’Rourke on the cover?

It seems uncannily like the creators of this set had read some of these books as out of the box I was quite easily able to pull together a figure which is almost a spitting image of the Survivalist from the book covers.  The next stage will be to paint him up and get some stats created for 7TV.

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Inspired by this I’ve also been looking into other background material and thanks to an excellent article in the November 2018 issue of Wargames Illustrated on ‘near apocalypse’ gaming have come across the old GDW Games Twilight 2000 source books.  But more on that another time…..

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For more information on the Survivalist series, I’d heartily recommend this article on ‘We are the Mutants’.

Warhammer World Road Trip

I’ve recently started playing Kill Team, the Warhammer 40k small scale skirmish game by Games Workshop.  While I’ve never really been that into the whole ‘grimdark’ thing something about Kill Team really appealed and I’ve had some very enjoyable games recently.  I think it’s the mix of being able to collect and build multiple small squads, the undeniable quality of the Citadel Miniatures and the objective based missions that make it (even though the rules follow the quite clunky and old fashioned to hit/to wound/save approach of most GW games).

With Warhammer World only about 30 miles away down the motorway, I’ve been a couple of times in the past (mainly to look round the exhibition), but never to play games.  This changed earlier this week when I ventured down to Nottingham with a few friends for some gaming.

Surprisingly (to me anyway) is that there is no charge to play, so you can go along and take advantage of the amazing gaming tables quite freely (providing you are of course playing GW games with GW miniatures).  We booked a single 8 foot square city table, with the intention of playing multiple games of Kill Team in parallel (originally there were going to a few more of us in attendance).  In reality this was far too big, but we were able to scout out some really great potential tables for Kill Team on a future visit.

The games themselves were very enjoyable and there is something special about the venue.  Yes the fake castle walls are a bit tacky, but they kind of really build an atmosphere, especially with a room full of people all sharing the same passion for gaming.  There is of course plenty of opportunity to shop and visit the exhibition, and Bugman’s Bar provides a great range of food, snacks and drinks (at reasonable prices).  There are even some painting and modelling stations, so if you really can’t wait to get your new purchases assembled you can get straight to it.

Personally I crashed and burned in all three games I played (losing my leader in the first round of each).  Somehow this poor performance was achieved using Death Guard, who are supposedly one of the most resilient factions on the game!

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My Nurgle Death Guard Kill Team 

If you are a wargamer  and even if Warhammer is not your thing, I’d highly recommend a visit.  Entrance to the gaming hall, shops and bar is all free, with the only charge being for the (optional) exhibition tour.  I’m even tempted to expand my forces so I can play a full game of 40k there sometime soon!

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Obligatory photo of the 1:1 scale Rhino at Warhammer World