Keeping Project Diaries

Note: this article was originally written for Wargames Illustrated during my short tenure as a columnist earlier this year, but it was rejected as “… jarring with the rest of the content in the magazine”, as a result of which I parted company with that publication. I shall make no further comment about that, but instead, I shall be using this blog to post more of my own thoughts on the hobby in future.

 

THE WAY WE WERE

One of the most satisfying aspects of our hobby is not the playing of games, nor the painting of figures, but simply sitting at our favourite table and planning a new project.

In the old days, we would have been clutching our copy of the Minifigs catalogue or the Hinchliffe Handbook. Perhaps we had responded to one of the little black-and-white ads at the back of Military Modelling or Practical Wargamer, and had sent off our SSAE (yes, a stamped, self-addressed envelopes, remember those?) to Ronald W Spencer Smith or Peter Laing or Heroics & Ros, or indeed any of those manufacturers, many now sadly long-gone, who then sent back a simple photocopied sheet listing their wares.

Ah, if only the prices were still the same as then! And of course, in those days, whilst those little leaflets would list the figures and tell us their prices, we would have to guess what they looked like, as photos of products were few and far between. Hinchliffe, like Redoubt Enterprises, took the unusual step of providing line drawings of their figures, which of course rather relied on the talent of the artist…

We shake our heads. Listings of figures without any images to show us what they look like. That would never happen nowadays. Surely. Would it…?

A page from The Hinchliffe Handbook

A page from The Hinchliffe Handbook

NEW PROJECT AHOY!

Now, even assuming that most of us, unlike Peter Cushing, don’t sit at our wargaming desk in collar and tie, let alone cravat, smoking Gitanes and wielding a Mont Blanc fountain pen as we peruse the lists of available wares, there is something deliciously indulgent about planning a new project. Indeed, I know some wargamers who admit that it is one of their favourite things, almost a hobby in itself, as they conjure up entire theatres of miniature warfare in their heads and then work out the practicality of turning their dreams into reality.

Of course you could do everything online, simply adding items to shopping carts without checking out, but I know I’m not the only one who has special notebooks for storing these indulgent episodes. Whilst you might plump for a simple pad of A4 ruled paper, I like to invest in the pleasure of a new Moleskine. Others prefer old-fashioned school exercise books, whilst some of my ken are definitely modern in their tastes, preferring the tap of fingers on keyboard or touch-screen to the subtle scrape of pencil or pen on paper.

You might be familiar with Microsoft Excel, but an online group I belong to is regularly entertained, if that’s the right word, by one of its members who swears by a piece of software called Kanban Flow. At a game I organised a few years ago, one of the participants created a miniature vignette depicting a general consulting his project manager, aided by a flip-chart and pointer!

Elite Kanban flow chart guard! Photo by Dave Hall

Elite Kanban flow chart guard! Photo by Dave Hall (see his fabulous blog at http://themedetianwars.blogspot.co.uk )

THE JOY OF PAPER

Why buy a posh notebook? Well, planning projects such as my Wars of the Faltenian Succession and, more recently, forays into early WWII, combine so many aspects of our hobby that it seems a shame to let all that hard work go to waste. In a notebook, I can put down my thoughts about the period, the rules, the armies I want to collect, the organisation of those forces and how they will be represented in my games. This can be followed by research into who provides figures for that period in the scale I have settled upon, and what the likely costs will be.

It’s a good place to jot quick calculations, too – for example, £20 for a box of 36 American Civil War infantry in 28mm, versus roughly £1.15 per figure in metal… So, with a box equating to a battalion or thereabouts, then that will be about three boxes or £60 for a brigade, plus a battery of two artillery pieces and crews (roughly a tenner each, more if you want the limber too) and a unit of a dozen cavalry (another £20 in plastic). So, in 28mm, a single brigade with support is going to cost in the region of £90. Add a few pounds more for a couple of command figures and you’re looking at around £110.

But wait, a bit more research reveals that there are bargains to be had, with Perry Miniatures doing a brigade (three boxes of plastic Infantry, two metal artillery packs and a high command metal mounted figure) for £64; and even better, a division (six boxes of plastic Infantry, three metal packs of artillery, two high command metal mounted figures) for just £114. Bargain!

Of course, this is only one example, in just one scale, in a popular period, of the kind of notes you might make. You’ll also be thinking about ‘the look of the thing’, the size of battle you want to represent on the tabletop, the rules you want to use and, of equal importance, who your opponents will be and what their preferences are. In my case, though I did dabble in 28mm ACW and even painted a few Perry figures, I realised that what I really wanted for my ACW games was the grand sweep of battle, and to play out large-scale manoeuvres on the tabletop, committing entire corps or armies to battle. This meant a shift downscale for the miniatures to 6mm or 10mm. In the end, as listeners to the View from the Veranda podcast will recall, this led to love at first sight with Pendraken’s delightful 10mm offerings.

My wargaming campaign and panting notebooks.

My wargaming campaign and painting notebooks.

MORE THAN JUST THE MEN

The choice of scale doesn’t just affect the figures, but also the tabletop terrain. For many gamers here in the UK, at least, storage is a real challenge—we just don’t tend to have the large houses that our American cousins, in particular, seem to enjoy. Perhaps this is why the British are noted for their garden sheds! It’s a little easier if the burden is going to be shared as a club project, but still, there are both storage and terrain costs to be factored in. In my own case, I already have lots of terrain for 28/30mm 18th century games, so there was simply no way I could also accommodate a new batch of scenery for 28mm ACW. I’ll concede that for some eras, the landscape and buildings are at least similar, if not identical—but there are very distinct differences between the look of a game set in America compared to one set in Europe. All that rail fencing and those colonial-style timber buildings… So again, 10mm suited me in terms of budget, space available and the look that I wanted.

All these internal debates can be included in our project book, which is looking really interesting now. We’ve probably ‘gone to checkout’ with some of those imaginary orders, or picked up some stuff at a show, so it’s time to sit down and clothe our little men with paint. This is where the notebook really comes in handy. First of all, you can use it to list reference sources for uniforms and equipment. Nowadays, I frequently find reference online and print out pages or images from websites, which I tuck or stick into the notebook. But most important are the painting notes.

Peter Cushing painting his miniatures.

Peter Cushing painting his miniatures. See the video on YouTube at https://youtu.be/BGag8Qllgnw

PERFECT PAINTING PARTNER

We all know what it’s like to be in the middle of painting an army, only to have to take an enforced break, either through illness, travel or, as can happen, fatigue with a project. We return to it with high hopes, only to realise that we are having trouble matching the colours we used last time. Did I add one or two parts white to that navy blue to highlight the jackets? What about those gun carriages—did I use Russian or French Chasseur Green in the Foundry range? With a notebook, these problems are eliminated—the precise mixture of paint is noted and, better still, a blob added to the page for additional reference.

Your project book can be finished off, of course, with photos of your miniatures, nicely painted, based and on parade. Why not go one step further, and include shots of them in action too? You could even list each unit and leave space for their accumulated battle honours, or citations for bravery, an especially nice touch if your force is built for skirmish wargaming.

What I love about this process is that you achieve several things. Not only do you have a substantial point of reference for your project as you are working on it, but also, in years to come, you will rediscover this special work that you created by yourself, for yourself, with love and enthusiasm over days, weeks, months, even years. I have notebooks dating back to the 1980s and wish I had started even earlier. There’s nothing quite like being able to relive projects as they unfolded, the trials and errors, the highs and lows, the victories and defeats.

Although it may be a personal thing, the digital alternative just doesn’t quite cut it for me. I can’t get excited about finding old spreadsheets. Can you?

Spreadsheets – not so exciting!

Spreadsheets – not so exciting!

40 comments for “Keeping Project Diaries

  1. May 16, 2017 at 10:59 am

    You are not alone, although in my case they are sketchbooks full of drawings and notes rather than detailed text.

    Tony

    • henryhyde
      May 16, 2017 at 11:05 am

      And your drawings are wonderful, Tony — I for one would love to see those sketchbooks!

      • Kemberly R. Cason
        June 23, 2017 at 3:23 am

        Baron Taliesynne
        Trimaris
        How the Scroll Was Made.
        Ring any bells?

        • henryhyde
          June 23, 2017 at 1:39 pm

          Well hello there! An unexpected place for you to pop up after so many years! I’ll email you.

  2. David Mesquita
    April 25, 2017 at 12:46 am

    Really nice column, enjoyable and fun to read. Also, brought back many fond memories! Also really sad that your column was “jarring”. That is the attitude that increases my disappointment with the current magazine. Last year I let my subscription to Wargames Illustrated lapse after subscribing to it since Issue #1 and right now I don’t know how long I will continue with this one.

    • henryhyde
      April 25, 2017 at 9:57 am

      Thanks for the feedback, David.All I can say is that each magazine has its own editorial policy and pressures it has to deal with, but it was somewhat disappointing.

  3. Bill Protz
    April 24, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    Dear Henry,

    I would have published your article. It appeals to any time-period and genre. Your writing style is very good as I naturally expect from you without even thinking about it.

    Recently soldiers were added to a low-strength unit. Remembering paint mixed together did not happen with exactitude. However, I got close. There was no harm done since these uniforms are supposed to have some wear and tear in the jungles of the South Pacific..

    The nightmare scenario for me is being unable to log back into my blogs where game histories, images or stories are stored. Expedition to Alexandrapour was totally fictional. We played one game in the two dozen chapters. The rest was an exercise in writing fiction heavily revealed by briefly captioned photos. I spoke with a writer/editor last June who said no one would publish it because it is on the net. Understandable. I learned something. I’ve thought about self-publishing it or something new but time is a merciless thing.

    There was a time when my blog host offered an option to print blog stories in a printed format one could hold. I don’t know what happened to it. I would do this for ETA and some of Gen. Pettygree’s adventures.

    Thank you very much for your article. I appreciate it.

    Cheers,
    Bill Protz

    • henryhyde
      April 24, 2017 at 7:47 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Bill! The simple answer nowadays is self-publishing, because as you say, traditional publishers aren’t interested in the kind of thing you and I get excited about! Check out Joanna Penn’s brilliant site at http://www.thecreativepenn.com for huge amounts of useful information.

  4. April 24, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    I have tried to plan wargame stuff on paper or digitally, honest I’ve tried! My brain just doesn’t go there though, it quickly becomes a drudgery or chore and gets skimpy then abandoned. Revisiting them just makes me wonder what I had been thinking! Vague dreaming and mental musing is more my style which may be why I still occasionally putter away at collections that have survived decades of periodic renewal without ever reaching “completion”.

    Its more about the journey than the destination and the memories are likely to be as inaccurate as the plans but much better!

    Now, flipping through old catalogues and ads from the 70’s is another matter!

    • henryhyde
      April 24, 2017 at 3:03 pm

      Hi Ross. “Vague dreaming and mental musing” sounds fine to me, and “It’s more about the journey than the destination” is, I’m sure, true for many (most?) of us. The Wars of the Faltenian Succession, for example, are likely to rumble on, perhaps even beyond the tricorne era…

  5. April 24, 2017 at 9:58 am

    Interesting Henry, reminded me of something I read by Don Featherstone donkeys years back, I have piles of notes all over the place about various odd projects 🙂

    • henryhyde
      April 24, 2017 at 10:46 am

      Don Featherstone and Charles Grant both kept journals, war diaries and the like. If it was good enough for them…

  6. Graham Knight
    April 24, 2017 at 6:25 am

    I have kept a common place book for my projects. Now I keep 2. One is always on my desk at work. When those inspirational ideas come you have to capture them before they flitter away. It is interesting to follow how my hobby thinking and aspirations have changed over the years. I also find it easier to structure my priorities if I can write it all down. I always seem to have several projects running in parallel. Who has the best offer, rumours about releases. Budgets. It is all there. And pictures. I learned early that pictures need to be pasted in. The internet is fine, but you don’t control it and websites come and go, not every blog is sacred. I lost a cloud backup, simply because my credit card number changed, and no warning of billing was given to allow me to change it. Gone. So now a note book always. And yes fountain pen only, it stops me scrawling.

    • henryhyde
      April 24, 2017 at 10:50 am

      Lovely to hear from you Graham. Your point about these diaries helping us to understand how our hobby tastes have changed over the years is a good one. I look back at the bottles of ink I expended over a Squad Leader campaign Guy and I fought years ago and shake my head! And the point about permanence is extremely valid – as a web designer since 1996, I can’t count the number of sites I designed that have now disappeared forever, lost in the ether.

  7. April 23, 2017 at 10:19 pm

    Great column, Henry. Sorry it did not see magazine publication, but really it seems that it fits very well here, and with the benefit of comments and feedback.

    I admit that when I am doing imaginary forces (imaginations, if you like) I am always writing and scribbling from the earliest days of the project. Maps, orders of battle, miniature manifests, names of officers and regimental histories, ship lay-down dates, all that sort of thing. It is great fun, and a perfect solo wargamer activity.

    • henryhyde
      April 23, 2017 at 10:31 pm

      Absolutely, Chuck. Decades of solo activity has been devoted tothese things, and the vast majority has been written for my own amusement. It’s always very gratifying when anyone else takes an interest in my ramblings, but I’d carry on doing them even if they were never seen by another soul.

  8. April 23, 2017 at 9:43 pm

    Sadly my project notes are much more chaotic being on varying types sizes and scraps of paper. But is delightful to come across a long forgotten item be it a bit of research or maybe a old scenario map or similar.
    Hoarding is most definitely an aspect of the hobby wether we like to admit to it or not.

    • henryhyde
      April 23, 2017 at 10:26 pm

      I have piles of odd bits of paper too, Gary. I keep meaning to organise them, put them in folders and suchlike, but having been distracted by them, never quite get around to the job!

  9. April 23, 2017 at 8:52 pm

    I should defenitively buy several more Moleskin note books. I now have one book, but it is a complete and very chaotic mess, with all kind of projects in it, next to painting and terain building notes. Some even never saw the light of day. One consequence of this is that I have to search hard to find things back after a few months or years.
    On the other hand: yes planning is a large part of the fun!

    • henryhyde
      April 23, 2017 at 9:34 pm

      Sounds great, Wim! Journals of this kind should be personal to their users, a mixture of all sorts of stuff, passing thoughts about our hobby, bits of information and so on. And yes, Moleskins are just wonderful!

  10. Ernie FOSKER
    April 23, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    Hells teeth, Henry, what in heavens name can Wargames Illustrated find wrong with your article? Alright I’m old and old fashioned and I like using paper notes but you haven’t said anything against using digital, you haven’t written anything that doesn’t work or likely to upset anyone – presumably it doesn’t fit with their criteria of publishing for the younger gamer. Bl**dy ridiculous!
    I thoroughly enjoyed the (unpublished!!!!) article, thank you.

    • henryhyde
      April 23, 2017 at 9:28 pm

      Thanks Ernie.

      All I can say is “I couldn’t possibly comment”.

  11. Olaf M
    April 23, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    Interesting reading, and I think it is very much a “thing” for older gamers. I feel the same way- electronic just doesn’t cut it when it comes to that feeling of nostalgia.

    I also have reams of notes, and every time I get told to “tidy up my room”, I find something to bring back thoughts of a shelved project that needs to be resurrected.

    • henryhyde
      April 23, 2017 at 7:38 pm

      Yes, Olaf, the act of tidying often leads to lost hours sitting perusing old stuff. That’s part of the point of the hobby, isn’t it?

      • hanleygreen
        April 29, 2017 at 10:16 pm

        Trouble with me the ideas I had about solo games in the pre computer era are all on scraps of paper, cigarette packets and paper bags that previously contained sweets that you can’t even buy now.
        Being told that we should sell our 4 bedroom house and buy a bungalow bought on visions of seeing my magazines being consigned to the recycling bin.
        There was of course the veiled threat of a skip which sent my Spencer Smith infantry routing to the nearest coppice and me defending box files saying “I’ll sort them out”.
        But, I did find some notes on how an army defends against an attack.
        So not a wasted afternoon after all

        • henryhyde
          May 1, 2017 at 11:16 am

          I know what you mean about scribbled notes and fag packets. Some of my earliest thoughts about The Wars of the Faltenian Succession were on the recycled interiors of Dunhill International packets!

  12. Ashley R Pollard
    April 23, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    Well, there’s no accounting for editorial taste, which is to say I thought the article was harmless fun.

    • henryhyde
      April 23, 2017 at 7:39 pm

      Indeed, which is why I wrote it!

  13. Iain
    April 23, 2017 at 7:10 pm

    A very enjoyable read, Henry. I miss your editorials and observations and I look forward to more regular ramblings here.

    I do have a little notebook showing colour mixes and basing processes but other than that virtually all my planning happens in my head. Where it sometimes lodges for ages….sometimes.

    If I were to be totally honest I’d have to say that the planning process invariably takes place over several pints in a pub.

    Admittedly, this particular methodology leads to a certain amount of ‘re-planning’ but it has always been the way I roll. I look forward to finding a quiet corner and settling into a blissful world of my own making. Contrary to what staff and customers might think, my trance like state has nothing to do with the quantity of beer consumed…….usually.

    • henryhyde
      April 23, 2017 at 7:37 pm

      Well, bless you Iain. I shall have to show you my little black books when you’re next here for a game – which reminds me, time to get the diaries out!

      • Iain
        April 23, 2017 at 7:54 pm

        Good idea. I’ll e-mail you next week with a few dates.

  14. parrskool
    April 23, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    Spot on. I look back on my diaries from campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s. happy days.
    TTFN
    (Please come back, Battlegames ain’t what it was)

    • henryhyde
      April 23, 2017 at 6:49 pm

      Thanks for the comment. As for Battlegames – the spirit continues, even if it may be in other formats. You haven’t seen the last of me!

  15. MickS
    April 23, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    After forty-six years in the hobby I have only just started -last year- keeping a painting diary of colours used on what. However, in my defence I have reasonably extensive research library and innumerable internet bookmarks and saved documents on a variety of wargames and history related topics. I do agree, sometimes collating background information and all the other minutiae of a new project can be as satisfying as gaming it. It also helps to keep the interest alive.

    • henryhyde
      April 23, 2017 at 6:21 pm

      I generally agree with the saying attributed to Einstein, that I don’t try to remember anything I can write down, and I don’t write down anything that I can find in a book (or, nowadays, on the internet). But there’s something so satisfying about creating one’s own little reference books for specific projects or campaigns, I love doing it.

  16. Jim Webster
    April 23, 2017 at 5:53 pm

    I’ve never kept a project diary as such but I do still have stuff stored away as word documents from various projects.
    But loved the article, it brought back so many memories 🙂

    • henryhyde
      April 23, 2017 at 6:03 pm

      Thank you Jim. glad you enjoyed it. I’ve been away from stuff for several months owing to family and other cisrcumstances, but it’s given me the chance to think hard about what I really want from my hobby, and it doesn’t always fit what is nowadays considered ‘mainstream’ and certainly I no longer care about ‘new and shiny’, only ‘is it any good?’ And as the article shows, there are some things now considered ‘old fashioned’ (how sad that pens, pencils and paper should be considered thus) that I have always and will always love.

      • Jim Webster
        April 23, 2017 at 8:24 pm

        Yes there is some good stuff out there. As an example I decided that somebody had to do something to bridge the gap in our club between historical players and 40k players. So I put together a 40K army. (Actually very cheaply because I did a Chaos space marine army with very few marines and an inordinate number of cultists who started their existance as fantasy and SF figures I picked up over the years because people were clearing out and they were too cheap not to buy. I probably got the whole army for less than £20 🙂 )
        Our 40k players don’t seem at all bothered they’re not the ‘proper figures’ because they look the part and are all painted. So I’ve had some fun games.
        But even more interesting, I’ve seen mechanisms and stuff in 40k that I’m going to bring back to proper wargames because they’re fun mechanisms.
        But yes, fun, enjoyment, and the joy of just playing games in good company and having a ball !

        • henryhyde
          April 23, 2017 at 9:31 pm

          Great to hear you have a group of gamers perfectly happy to see stuff ‘re-purposed’ in this way. Developing a squint is part of the enjoyment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *