Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of books, miniatures, possibly other websites, and anything else we think needs reviewing!

Renedra Generics Scenery Bits

A few weeks ago, I took advantage of J & M Miniatures’ offer of free shipping for all of December to order a few bits and pieces of Renedra’s injection-molded plastic bits and pieces.

Before I move on to my quick review of the Renedra stuff, I just have to give a quick shout-out to James of J & M. I was already following his great wargaming blog Rabbits In My Basement, so when he announced he and a friend were launching a web/mail-order wargaming business I checked the site out. He’s got all sorts of good stuff from Perry, Renedra, 4Ground, Plastic Soldier Company and other companies, and is (as far as I can tell) the sole Canadian seller of some of these ranges. Given that domestic shipping is cheaper and skips the expense and irritation of occasionally being dinged by the nice folks at Canada Customs, as well as the great customer service I’ve gotten so far from James, I think it’s safe to say that a reasonable portion of my hobby budget will be heading toward Ontario in the future!

Moving on to the Renedra bits, I ordered two packs of their Mixed Tents, two packs of Barrels, and one pack of Gravestones.

Tents and barrels – all six tents from one of the Renedra sprues, the barrels assembled and unassembled. In the background, barrel sprues, figures and clutter! The cutting matt has a one inch/half inch grid, the figure is a 28mm Brigade Games White Russian priest.

The Mixed Tent sprue has two bell tents, two large ridge tents, and two small ones, each done with one open door and one closed tent. The bell tents are 2″ diameter (55mm) and 1 5/8th” tall (40mm); the ridge tents are 2 3/8ths long (60mm), 1 3/4″ wide (45mm) and 1 1/2″ tall (37mm), while the small ridge tents are 1 1/2″ long (37mm), 1 3/8″ wide (35mm) and 7/8″ high (20mm). They’re done in a medium grey plastic, and very solid – even the tents with open doors don’t flex much if you squeeze them a bit. These are nearly universal tents; you could put them (especially the two types of ridge tent) in nearly any historical setting and they’d fit right in. The bell tent is a bit more specific to the 19th and early 20th Century, but iconic in it’s time and place, up to World War Two or so, maybe later in some areas.

Filling the gaps between the tents on these sprues you get a nice campfire piece about 3/4″ across and two camp beds or stretchers with legs to hold them off the ground. Nice little bits of camp clutter to add detail and life to a camp scene on the tabletop, although the beds are going to need bases of some sort if they’re going to survive transport and use on the table.

I don’t generally base buildings, but I’ll likely base these tents. The ones with open doors especially will look better with a base, with a bit of canvas groundsheet visible in the door – the bell tent especially will have an especially visible interior when on the table, because of it’s design.

The Renedra barrel set has two sprues in brown plastic, one with five large barrels, the other with five small ones. As you can see from the photo above, each barrel half has one round end, which minimizes the visible seams on the completed barrels. Unfortunately, the side hoops don’t quite seem to perfectly align when you glue the halves together, but the tiny mismatch is really only visible when you’re handling the barrels and will be totally invisible on the table! These are an older style of barrel, with thin doubled hoops (wood, maybe?) instead of flatter metal hoops, so they’re more suitable for pre-modern gaming, but will work OK as clutter and freight on most pre-WW2 tables.

Finally, the Gravestone set has two identical sprues in grey plastic. Each has a variety of monument stones, all about 1″ tall and 1/2″ wide. You get 16 slab stones (one broken into two pieces), 4 crosses, a small column, a slab/vault topping, five bases that can fit a variety of the slabs and crosses, and finally a raven. These are all done in the same solid, strong grey plastic the tents are made from, more than strong enough for tabletop use. Two minor things bug me about this sprue, one being that only a few of the stones have any texture or detail on the backs; the rest are just smooth plastic without even a basic stone texture. Fixable with a bit of sandpaper, but still a detail that could easily have been fixed. The other is even more minor – after getting the excellent Ainsty gravestones with their readable, laser-engraved lettering and details the stylus-pushed-through-putty squiggles of these Renedra stones lettering and details does feel like a minor step backward. This is still a great set of grave markers, enough in one set for quite a large graveyard, and the raven is a neat, whimsical (or possibly gothic and ominous) touch!

The last thing in my J & M order wasn’t scenery, and wasn’t something I’d even ordered, but was (I assume) thrown in as a thank you gift from J & M – a very nice large suede dice bag, about 7″ wide and 9″ tall and bright red. My own dice are in a bag I hand-sewed myself nearly twenty years ago in junior high, but I think I’ll press the new bag into service to carry the collection of card decks, markers, tape measures and random gaming accessories that normally slops around loose in my backpack. It’s large enough for a couple of pencils, too.

An Ainsty Resin Order

In some ways, this smallish order of Ainsty resin scenery bits has been a decade in the making; I discovered Ainsty sometime in the very late 1990s or early 2000s, and even though I didn’t (at that point) do much in the way of skirmish gaming in 25/28mm, the huge variety of neat stuff Ainsty made stuck with me! So back in November I finally got around to throwing a bit of money Ainsty’s way, on a mix of scenic details that will see service in various pulp skirmish adventures, Russian Civil War battles, and who knows where else.

Here’s a quick late-night snapshot of what I got:

Ainsty resin order, Dec. 2012
Ainsty resin laid out for review. Click for full size.

General sculpting and casting quality is good and clean, although a number of the pieces have a slightly slick, greasy feel to the touch, almost certainly from the mold release used. A good scrub with dish soap and warm water should take care of that, and it should also help get rid of the last of the faint but definite smell of outgassing resin I got when I first unpacked the pieces from the small plastic bags each set was carefully packed in.

Clockwise from top left, here’s a quick review of what I got.

Top left is Trade Goods J Stacked Sacks, three each of four different roughly square sets of stacked sacks. They’re all about 1″ a side at the base, and the tallest stacks are just over 1″ tall. They’ll provide useful cover for docks and warehouses, although a bit more fabric texture on the sacks would have been nice.

Moving clockwise, I got two sets of Trade Goods B Tea Chests. This is described as 18 chests, but it’s really four stacks and three single tea chests. Again, useful cover, and like sacks, the sort of terrain bit that you could build yourself, but which can be fiddly and frustrating to mass-produce at home. I could definitely see throwing another set or two of these into any future Ainsty order; you can never have enough crates cluttering up warehouses in pulp games, especially if they’re in precarious, badly stacked piles just waiting to topple onto someone!

Bottom right we have Trade Goods L Mixed Piles x 4, which is a neat little set of crates, bales, barrels and sacks, up to about 3/4″ tall. This is pretty close to “universal cargo” for anytime from the early-mid 20th Century back at least four or five centuries. Each of the four piles is different, with two of mixed crates, sacks and other baggage, one pile of three canvas bales and one of three small-to-medium wooden barrels.

Moving clockwise once more to bottom centre, we have Mixed Memorials x4, which is a nice mix-and-match set of four bases and four tops for memorials or possibly fancy gateposts. The four base pieces are each different, with two of them having very fine (probably laser-etched?) lettering on the molded plaques on one face. The four top pieces are also each different, with two slightly different obelisk toppers and two lower pieces. One of the bases arrived with a minor chip off one corner, but given that full size monuments out in the real world get dings and chips too, I’m not going to worry about it. The tops of all the bases are finished, so you could even leave the toppers off for further variety. One of the low toppers has been sanded at a bit of a rakish angle on it’s bottom suface, but a few passes on sandpaper will correct that enough to be invisible.

At the centre of the group we have Upright Headstones x8, which are by far the most detailed pieces in my order. Each of the eight headstones is unique, and I’m almost certain they’ve been laser etched, as the lettering is actually completely readable despite being under 2mm tall. The headstones commemorate Kurt Cobain, Bella Lugosi, Gandhi, and others, including two with “A Soldier of the Great War/Known Unto God” on them, which is the wording used for unidentified soldiers buried in the Commonwealth Wargraves Commission’s cemeteries from World War One. My only minor complaint is the massive size of these headstones; the tallest is a full inch tall, or nearly shoulder height on a standing 28mm figure. There certainly are headstones this massive in real life, but memorial stones about 2/3rds this size seem a lot more common in most cemeteries I’ve seen. One of the stones had a tiny casting flaw in each side, but those will be easy to file into minor damage to the stone and won’t be an issue.

Finally, bottom left we have Trade Goods K Rifle Cases x5, with two closed and three open wooden crates holding rifles. One of the seperate crate lids has a rifle resting on it; the open crates show one or two rifles each and the greased cloth that would have been used as packing to preserve and secure the rifles. Everyone always needs more guns (well, in games, anyway), so I suspect these are going to get a lot of use in all sorts of scenarios, as loot or as objective markers of sorts. The detail is very nice on this set, with good wood grain in the crates and enough detail in the rifles to make it obvious what they are. These crates would be suitable from about the mid-19th Century up to modern day, depending on where your adventure was set.

I will definitely put another order in to Ainsty at least once in 2013, after I get this current order all painted up. Shipping time from the UK to Canada was fast, although Ainsty obviously does a lot of it’s casting to order, as there was a delay of about three weeks (November 17th to December 10th) between placement and shipping of my order. The usual fast Royal Mail-Canada Post connection worked nicely in my favour, as it usually does, though, so overall order time was entirely reasonable.

More (with better photos!) as I paint up and finish all the various bits I’ve just acquired!

(oh, and in honour of this being published on December 21st 2012: If you can read this, congratulations, the Mayan Apocalypse never happened. What a surprise…)

Book Review: The White Armies of Russia

"Brutality made Bolsheviks where none had been before."
—p.288, White Armies

The White Armies of Russia: A Chronicle of Counter-Revolution and Allied Intervention by George Stewart is another modern reprint from Naval & Military Press, and was part of the same order I made to NMP back in April 2012. I’ve been reading it in fits and starts in between other books, but finally settled down to actually finish it about ten days ago.

White Armies was originally published in 1933, so it’s not a modern book, but it is still one of the touchstone pieces of Russian Civil War history in English. When I asked about this book over on the TooFatLardies mailing list, Richard of TFL mentioned paying quite a lot of money for an original edition a few years ago and being happy to pay it, but thankfully these days NMP’s facsimile edition is available relatively cheaply. The book is 470 pages or so, paperback, and seems solidly bound. The original photographs and maps are included, although quality of these (as NMP warns for all their facsimile editions) is not quite up to modern standards. This is especially frustrating on the maps, which are numerous and were apparently most drawn by the author or commissioned by him for the book. Many of the reprinted maps have a lot of barely readable tiny print, though, which makes them hard to use. That aside, in a conflict as sprawling as the RCW, it’s nice to have any sort of map to try to follow the action with!

The book is focused, as the title implies, almost exclusively on the actions and personalities of the White movement(s) in Russia, and on the various non-Russian groups that interacted with them — primarily the Czech Legions and the British, American, French and Japanese interventionist forces. Stewart has an obvious distaste for Bolshevism, but he pulls no punches describing the corruption, brutality and ultimate failure of the Whites.

The book is laid out roughly chronologically, starting with the first (February) Revolution and the beginnings of the counter-revolutionary movements and moving on from there. Each chronological section has, generally, a chapter on each of the main theatres of the RCW (Murmansk/Archangel/the North, the North-West, the Southern/Ukraine/Crimean, and Siberia, broadly speaking). This book design does make following a single theatre all the way through the war a bit of an exercise in hopping around in the book, but it’s hard to see how to avoid either chronological or geographic dislocation when attempting to tell the story of the entire RCW in one book.

The White Armies of Russia by George Stewart. 2009 NMP reprint, original publication 1933. £16.00 at NMP, less if you get it during one of their regular sales.
The Shortest Possible Review: One of the classic histories of the White movement during the RCW, and still a good single-volume history decades after it was written.

Given how focused White Armies is on the White experience, I’d be curious to hear recommendations from readers on a similar book focused on the Bolsheviks and Red Army, to fill in the gaps, so to speak. Suggestions in the comments, please!

Book Review: Gone To Russia To Fight

"Very little has been written about the RAF in south Russia and much of what has been written has been inacurate. Several myths have been accepted as truths and written into the histories. This book is an attempt to set the record straight by going back, where possible, to the primary sources." — Introduction, Gone to Russia To Fight

The international intervention into the Russian Civil War — basically, the Western Entente (Allies) attempting to first keep Russia in the fight against Germany, and then to defeat the Bolsheviks and assist the anti-Bolshevik Whites — is not an area that gets a lot of attention, being overlooked as a sideshow both to the Great War and even to the larger Russian Civil War. Gone To Russia To Fight: The RAF in South Russia 1918-1920 is a look at a unique (and even more overlooked…) piece of that sideshow: the involvement of a couple of Royal Air Force squadrons in Southern Russia and the Caucasus/trans-Caucasus/Caspian Sea area during the Russian Civil War.

The book opens with a couple of chapters giving a brief overview of the entire Russian Civil War, the background to sending the RAF and other forces into Russia, and the adventures of Dunsterforce around the Caspian early in the RCW, then goes through the entire RAF deployment one month per chapter. The author, John T. Smith, goes right back to squadron diaries and both published and unpublished memoirs for his material, in several cases pointing out where previous popular histories (or even published memoirs) clash with the squadron diary records and are likely or even provably incorrect.

One unexpected connection to local Canadian history I learned through this book: Raymond Collishaw, a fairly well known RAF WW1 ace who was born in the same region of Canada I live in, was one of the RAF officers in charge of the South Russia expedition. Our very own local connection to the events of this book — who knew?

Cover of Gone To Russia To Fight.
The book has some neat period photographs from a variety of archives, including some fished out of the Russian archives in recent years. The writing is clear and readable, although Smith’s writing style, especially in the first few chapters, is staccato and choppy at times, with lots of short sentences, sometimes to the point where it seems like a grade-school textbook instead of an adult history book. The one major disappointment are the maps. There are only four in the whole book, none of which adequately cover the area discussed in the text. The detail map of one harbour on the Caspian repeatedly attacked by the RAF forces seems kind of pointless, given that a clear, full-page annotated aerial photograph is also included. Given the unfamiliarity of the theatre, the sometimes difficult Russian place names, and the fact that many place names have changed in the intervening 90-some years (making modern atlases or Google Maps unreliable), a few good detailed maps would have been a huge help.

The maps aside, this is an interesting and clearly written look at an oft-forgotten theatre, and Smith does a great job of going right back to primary documents to provide the clearest possible narrative of events 90+ years ago.

Gone to Russia To Fight: The RAF in South Russia 1918-1920 by John T. Smith, published 2010 by Amberley Press. £5.95 from Naval & Military Press. (normally £14.99, no idea how long the discount from NMP will last, but grab it while you can!)

The Shortest Possible Review: A fascinating look at an overlooked piece of RAF history, and a unique perspective on the Russian Civil War.

As a wargamer, I’m now fighting the urge to get some aircraft and some river boats and barges to try and recreate some of the actions from Gone to Russia. Maybe the 1/600 RCW ships from PT Dockyard and some 1/600 WW1 aircraft from Tumbling Dice or elsewhere? Must resist, not got the time or budget right now for a new scale!

Book Review: Notes for Infantry Officers on Trench Warfare

“The importance assumed by trench warfare… have rendered necessary special instructions in the details of trench construction and trench fighting.” — Ch1:1, Notes

This is a modern facsimile reprint of an official 1916 British War Office publication, published by Naval & Military Press. You can find scanned PDF versions of this document online, but I took advantage of NMP’s Easter sale to get a printed version very, very cheaply. It’s a small paperback, roughly 7″x5″ and 78 pages long. (I talked about my experience ordering from NMP previously.)

It was compiled by the British General Staff in March 1916 as a training and reference guide for, as the title says, officers in the trenches of the Western Front. The five chapters comprise an introduction, a long chapter on the construction and maintenance of trenches, the daily routine of trench warfare, defending trenches, and finally the attack in trench warfare. The book finishes off with a couple of appendices, thirty-five diagrams, and a short index.

Cover of NMP's reprint of "Notes for Infantry Officers on Trench Warfare" of 1916.
The writers repeatedly remind the reader that trench warfare is “only a phase of operations“, and that “(t)he aim of trench fighting is, therefore, to create a favourable situation for field operations, which the troops must be capable of turning to account.” While this is technically true, it took until the last few months of the war in late 1918 to come true, and remember that Notes was published in March of 1916 — that trench-bound “phase of operations” lasted nearly two and a half years…

From a wargamer’s point of view, there are two major ways that books like this are valuable. The first is for period flavour and scenario inspiration; something as simple as knowing how a trench network was laid out or the basics of how it could be attacked or defended can inspire a scenario. Small details like the note in the appendix on communication on not routinely taking field telephones right up to the forwardmost trenches, lest the trench be rushed and the enemy able to tap into the field telephone network without anyone being the wiser back at headquarters could inspire quite detailed trench-raid scenarios, with more detailed and more interesting objectives than simply “kill the other guy”.

Sample illustration from Notes, showing part of a basic front line and support trench setup.
The second (and related, of course) way this type of book is useful to wargamers comes mostly in those 35 or so diagrams in the back of this little booklet. If you’re considering building trench scenery or fieldworks of any sort, knowing the “standard” ways the British Army expected things to be done is obviously valuable. The diagrams cover frontline, support, and communication trenches, various sorts of dugouts, several types of machine-gun nest, wire and obstacles, and more. If you’re going to pull a Roundwood and build up a bunch of trench boards, this inexpensive little booklet could be a valuable starting point.

Notes for Infantry Officers on Trench Warfare, (British) War Office, 1916, reprinted by Naval & Military Press. £7.50

The Shortest Possible Review: If you want a basic WW1 Western Front reference, get this.

Note that there is also a May 1917 version of this booklet, with exactly the same title, but printed by the American War Department as they geared up to finally join the Great War. As far as I can tell the text is largely identical to the earlier British edition discussed above, but the value of the later American version is the hugely expanded number of diagrams in the back. The book has gone up to about 160 pages from 75 or so, and a huge amount of that is new diagrams. You can download a good, complete PDF of the War Department version over on the US Army’s Combined Arms Research Library website – Notes for Infantry Officers on Trench Warfare 1917. To get the PDF version easily, use the blue “Download” button on the far right-hand side of the screen.

Books from Naval & Military Press

Back in April I made an order to Naval & Military Press, a UK-based specialty publisher with a focus on military history. The books arrived last week and I’ll do full reviews of the books in the upcoming weeks, but I wanted to do a quick writeup of NMP themselves and a first-look sort of quick summary of my new books!

NMP were having an Easter sale, with quite spectacular discounts on everything in their catalog, so I jumped on the chance to get a few books I’d noticed in their selection that nobody else had. I thought I had seen one particular title in their catalog that I couldn’t find again, so I fired off an email asking if it actually existed, or if I was mistaken. Three business days later, with time running out on the sale and still no reply, I fire off a second email… two business days after that, on the last day of their sale, I still had no reply, so I went ahead and made the order anyway, a bit irritated at the lack of communication.

I still haven’t ever gotten a reply from NMP. Frustratingly, about four hours after making my order I got the first mass-mailout marketing email from NMP, which I’d opted into when I made my order. They seem to send out at least two advertising emails a week to their mailing list, but apparently that’s all they use email for, as they can’t seem to find the “Reply” button when potential customers send them one!

I got an email about 24hrs after my order saying my order had been “processed”, so I figured that was it in the mail, and started wondering how long Surface Shipping would take. I was not best pleased over two weeks later (11 business days later!) to get another email saying my order had been “shipped”… apparently “processed” didn’t mean what I thought it meant. Since when does it take 11 days to tuck five books into a box? If NMP were waiting for an out-of-stock item to finish up my order, fair enough, but an email to that effect would have been nice.

My order actually shipped on the 27th of April and I got it here on the 10th of May. As I said, I’d just paid for Surface Shipping, books being heavy and me being cheap, so no complaints there, but that’s down to the Royal Mail and Canada Post apparently playing well together.

So, a summary of NMP: given that they have titles I’ve never seen for sale anywhere else, and their prices are fair, I’ll certainly order from them again, but I’m not terribly impressed with either their communication skills or their dispatch speed.

The four books I bought for myself were all WW1 or Russian Civil War-focussed, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s been reading this site for a bit. In no particular order, they were:

  • Gone to Russian to Fight: The RAF in South Russian, 1918-1920 — a fascinating-looking book published in 2010 about the Royal Air Force’s expedition to support Wrangel and the White forces in southern Russia. I hadn’t realized that famous Canadian ace Raymond Collishaw was one of the senior RAF officers sent to Russia. The book also talks about the Tank Corp unit sent to the same areas to train the Russians in tank use, and who wound up fighting as well.
  • The White Armies of Russia, A Chronicle of Counter-Revolution and Allied Intervention — An NMP facsimile reprint of a 1933 history of the Russian Civil War. I’ve barely skimmed it since getting it, but various people including Rich of TooFatLardies recommended it as one of the standard early works on the RCW, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it.
  • Notes for Infantry Officers on Trench Warfare, March 1916 — I bought this book and the next mostly to inspire scenery projects, although I’m not planning a full Western Front setup (but never say never…) I wanted to get the trenchworks and fieldworks I build “right”. This is another facsimile edition, a very nice little booklet, about 100 pages, with all the original line drawings. Trenches, fortified shellholes, shelters and bunkers, and some notes on attacking and defending same are all covered.
  • Manual of Field Works, 1921 — Another facsimile reprint, this is a 300 page monster with 175 line drawings, covering everything from trenches to bridges to field camps to roadworks to demolitions. More fodder for scenery building and general inspiration. Amusingly, I received the hardbound version despite having only paid for the paperback…

The fifth and final book in the order wasn’t for me but for Corey, who has been doing some Anglo-Zulu War gaming recently:

  • The Zulu Army and Zulu Headmen — A facsimile reprint of the official 1870 British intelligence report on the Zulu nation and military, with details of Zulu regiment composition, numbers and even uniform details, notes on the principal leaders of the Zulu nation and more. As a facsimile edition, it even reproduces the handwritten amendments someone had added to the text, small notes like “This regiment destroyed at such-and-such an engagement” and similar, which is fascinating.

I’ll be doing full reviews of my books, as I mentioned, in the near future as I do at least a fast first readthrough of them. I don’t actually have much of a military history library, so it’s nice to fill some gaps and get more reference material on my shelves, and I’ll be keeping any eye on NMP and almost certainly picking up more books from them, as their World War One materials are quite extensive.

I probably won’t waste my time sending any more emails to them again, though…

Fiskars Circle Cutter Review, and Markers for M&B

Back one of the before-Christmas sales, I picked up a Fiskars circle cutter on deep discount from one of the local art supply stores. It’s been on my toys-I-want list for ages, and a chance to get it at 40% was too good to pass up.

It’s proven to be a useful gadget, although with some limitations. It will cut paper, light card and styrene up to about .020″ or .030″ thickness no problem; anything heavier than that it’ll score but not cut. With thicker styrene you can score then clean up with a file or sandpaper later, but this obviously means cutting heavier card is out.

Exact alignment of the circle to be cut out can be a bit tricky, but the central rubber “foot” does pull off to reveal a more compass-like needle foot which makes alignment easier. Of course, I only realized the needle foot option existed a few days ago, when I finally got around to reading the “Instructions and Tips” PDF from Fiskar’s site. Amazing what you learn when you read the instructions, isn’t it?

The other work-around for imprecise cutting is to design graphics that don’t have to be cut terribly precisely, of course. That’s what I did when I laid out the graphics for a batch of 1″ circular markers for use in our Russian Civil War games.

On the right, the Fiskars Circle Cutter. Central, the prop disc and M&B markers cut with it. On the left, the sheet of markers I made in Inkscape.

The markers will mostly be used for showing which Big Men & units have activated in any given turn, as we noticed it can be easy to loose track of which units have been activated with multiple Big Men running around in Through The Mud & The Blood. They can also be used to mark things like sustained fire lanes for machine guns or similar, of course.

On the left of the photo, notice the sheet I laid out in Inkscape for the markers; except for the star the solid colours are fairly forgiving of cutter placement. A few of the Red star markers have had their tips clipped by the cutter, but they’re still obviously Red Army stars, so I’m not fussed. Now that I’ve discovered the cutter’s needle foot option, I should be able to cut out the remaining marker discs perfectly.

The SPAD’s prop disc was cut from leftover heavy clear plastic from a blister pack, then put down on a sheet of 600 grit sandpaper and spun by hand to get the hint of motion blur in it. I wound up taping the piece of plastic to my cutting mat, then the cutter worked nicely on it.

So, the Fiskars Circle Cutter. A useful piece of kit, within it’s limits. I’m sure I’ll get years of use out of it — but wait until you find one on sale before getting it!