Mike Siggins was a well-known, popular and sometimes controversial figure on the wargaming scene for many years. He ran his own boardgames magazine SUMO from 1989-1998, and as a miniatures wargamer, was a monthly columnist for Wargames Illustrated during the time of Duncan Macfarlane’s editorship with his Wargamer’s Notebook, which ran to 63 episodes. When I started Battlegames back in 2006, Mike was one of the first people I contacted to be one of the major pillars of that publication, a relationship that continued into my stint at Miniature Wargames with Battlegames. His popular Forward Observer piece was a first-stop for many of our readers until he finally decided to take a break. You can read his full biography on his own site here.
Remarkably, in all this time, very few people have discovered what Mike actually looks like, enabling him to surreptitiously attend shows and events around the wargaming world for decades – and I’m not about to reveal his visage here! A big welcome, then, to my good friend Mike, who has decided to come in from the cold, as it were, after a much-needed break from the hobby. Here, he tells us in his own words precisely what he’s been up to and what has encouraged him back into the fold, with his 64th Wargamer’s Notebook.
So, I had a break from the miniatures hobby and writing. About four years. I got the sense that I had said everything I wanted to say and that probably meant the readers too were jaded. Worse, I no longer wanted to game or paint. I just stopped, workbench frozen in time. And that is it, in a nutshell. I gave up my job, moved from Ely to the south coast, lived in a hotel for three years, got a bit wiser and here I am. The bad news is that Citadel Paints don’t take kindly to neglect. But the Vallejos are fine. My mojo returned, but not everything else did.
I can’t say much about this as it is in the legal system but the company I used for moving and storage between houses have ‘retained’ a random selection of my stuff and are demanding monies for spurious costs. This includes several of my collections, hundreds of books and almost all of my painted figures. The survivors were the Samurai, Dark Ages, my ACW Ironclads and “Project Sandars” – WWII desert. Everything else is missing: my Gaskin Napoleonics, FIW, WWI aircraft, Thunderbirds, 54s, Flats, War of the Ring, all my 40mms etc. Hundreds of hours work, thousands of pounds. I have no words. I just shake my head.
I have a book on my shelf called Paper Soldiers (Edward Ryan, ISBN 0904568962). It is a beautifully illustrated reference volume of ‘cutout’ troops that used to appear under the Christmas Tree in days of yore. I think instead of tin soldiers, but possibly also much earlier. Either way I love them, and my passion is expressed through flat figures and paper armies such as my Austro-Prussian topdowns.
Time passes. The above storage incident depletes my forces. And then, a miracle. Peter Dennis, who I know through his amazing work in boardgame art, somehow convinces Helion to publish a series on paper soldiers (“paperboys” as he calls them). You can copy the A4 pages, cut them out, and then deploy armies – unlimited except by RSI. I still have to pinch myself to realise this has actually happened. It seems out of time. Dated. Low tech. But entirely wonderful. I would like to think youngsters will go into a library and find these books on the Norman Conquest, the AWI, the ACW, the Armada … and more are coming including Knights and Napoleonics. I have bought them all except Trafalgar as I have no naval opponents. The flats look impressive en masse and are ideal for trying a new period, testing rules or replacing lost armies…. Just perfect.
Apart from the Dennis books, I have bought fewer than ten paper books in five years and about the same number of Kindles. While there are now books on just about anything, I now have steel curtain willpower. Almost nothing gets past. Napoleonic histories, uniform books, Panzer Colours, Ospreys: all bounce off the linebacker screen. I crack occasionally on a cookbook, a modelling instructional, Fry’s Mythos or anything by Gordon Gravett. My Achilles Heel remains weathering and there are six books on the wants list. I buy some of the Mig magazines and Tamiya Model Magazine. Those, Continental Modeller and The World of Interiors and that is it. I am a reformed man and the magazine piles are no longer growing.
The Board Games
While miniatures games are few and far between – nothing changes – I still play boardgames two or three times a week. This gets me through a couple of hundred Euro titles per year, mainly new, and most of the key wargames. Last year was an absolute corker for the latter. Yes, they are a long established form and innovation comes slowly but I can happily recommend Colonial Twilight (GMT), 878: Vikings (Academy), Days of Ire: Budapest 1956 (Cloud Island), Fog of War (Stronghold), Time of Crisis (GMT), Great War (PSC) and anything in the Quartermaster General range. All display new ideas, which I like, but mainly they represent challenging and entertaining games that I hope you will enjoy.
The Complementary Hobby
So 3d modelling and printing got feasible. Kickstarter happened. Boardgames became very popular; almost mainstream. In that strange way of public demand, producer supply and a dash of evolution, the rapidly growing and mutating hobby decided that a lot more titles would have plastic bits. Fantasy Flight, CMON, PSC and others were ahead of this curve, and of course The Perries, but I can safely say it has gone bananas out there.
Plastic characters became plastic monsters. One plastic ‘boss’ monster became ten, twenty, thirty. Cthuhlu Wars made the monsters so imposing that they were worthy of display space. Conan permitted all your teenage fantasy buying in one go. Kingdom Death Monster offered figures of such beauty, weirdness, delicacy and diversity that painters were buying it just for the plastic sprues. And then came Mythic Battles: Pantheon – a game that has over 150 stunning figures. It has five huge boxes to hold them all – we are talking chest of drawers. You are effectively buying every Greek mythology figure you will ever need – gods, heroes and mortals – in one hit. It comes with a hardback book detailing every single paint used for every crease. The game is very good, but packing up after a game carries a 30 minute surcharge.
But the quality… wow. It can be simply stunning. Three times now I have looked at the miniatures in a box and had nothing to say. Dropped jaw time, and I have opened a few boxes in my time! Production, detail and vision were all exemplary. I don’t even know how they are produced – it has taken Tamiya and Dragon decades of R&D, but these companies are accessing comparable 3d modelling and mouldmaking. It can only get better and while I am personally convinced there is a Kickstarter bubble ready to pop, I cannot actually work out how this will happen. So titles like Pantheon, Kingdom Death Monster, Stuffed Fables and Shared Dreams are treats for the eyes. There are many more coming.
As you might suspect, there is a major downside. If you are happy with the figures alone, all is well. But often the games that have highly desirable figures – such as Rising Sun, Descent or Gloomhaven – don’t have gameplay to match. Others like 7th Continent, Shadows of Brimstone and Fallout do, but in a cruel twist their figures are not the best. Either way you are going to have to store them somewhere.
Also, in the pursuit of Kickstarter goals, ambition, gasping customers and – let’s face it – money, some games are overproduced, even to the point of excess. They are not cheap – sometimes the asking price is in the hundreds – but perhaps they are not expensive for what you get. Overall, these figures are now a valid and tempting complement to the existing miniatures hobby. I just wonder how people are building and painting them.
Sweating the Small Stuff
The big change in my miniatures gaming…. No, the huge change has been that I do not now see myself gaming much in the larger scales. Sure, they will look good in the display cabinet and will come out for special occasions, but if I want to do big battles, and I do, and always have, then I have to go micro. Peter Berry at Baccus will be rubbing his hands, but I am going further. Down, down past 6mm, 3mm, even 2mm. Right to the basement. I am currently prototyping my own troops at 1.5mm, or 60thou in old money. I may scratchbuild and cast, I may 3d print, I may just buy Forward March 2mms and file them down (!). Painting will be a challenge. The initial inspiration was Baccus, GHQ and the old Minifig blocks. Recent inspiration has been Mark Backhouse who is making his own legion bases, and Sidney Roundwood and Curt Campbell who are doing wonders in 2mm 30YW. So now all I need to worry about is rules.
The Art of War
As always I keep my eyes open for the latest rule sets and developments. Not those that require a bank loan to start playing, nor those that induct you into a non-questioning cult. No, I like a bit of historical analysis and knowledge, a novel system, elegance and enthusiasm. A game is nice, but history is more important. Usually this means Peter Pig, Real Time, Two Hour or occasionally the Lardies. Pickings have been slim. Very slim. Perhaps because of the burst of activity five years ago, when there was a new rule set every month, the well has dried up. Or perhaps everyone is finally happy (!).
Fortunately the team at Real Time, with Gareth Evans on point, have produced one of the most interesting sets of rules I have seen for some time. Dell’Arte Della Guerra covers the wars in Renaissance Italy in the 15th Century. It follows the house style of Real Time, includes cards and euro style mechanisms, and it tries to project the flavor of mercenary armies and rival tactical systems. This in itself is good enough but they also provide campaign aspects, leading up to and providing context for the tactical battles. Adding to that they have upped production values by a large margin and we have a very interesting package. Full review when I have explored further.
The Lead Mountain
A short paragraph. The lead mountain that escaped the storage fiasco was five solid DHL boxes, standing five feet high and weighing a lot. Now, after concentrated ebay selling every week for three months, I am down to just over one box and one more of horses. Not much luck selling painted units, but unpainted go for 50% of retail or more. And if you have any Oldhammer or obscure Lord of the Rings, start speccing out that Maserati (1/43rd).
Itches to Scratch
In the end, the lead sell-off was easy. I had pretty much given up on the hobby and with that went any desire to do the long list of projects I have built up over the years. Sure, I want to make trees and terrain and refight Waterloo, but all the others just dropped away. I still want to do a Swiss pike block and some Gendarmes, the Wars of the Roses always beckon, I can’t shrug Mechs (AT43 and Ma.K), I will add to my Samurai and Dark Ages and I can see tanks and glossies in my future, but mainly it is…
Perhaps understandably, I can no longer go near 30mm Napoleonics. I may yet return but I cannot face recreating units I have painted once, twice, or even three times already. And even looking at uniform or flag plates reminds me of the units lost. My beloved Brunswickers are represented solely by The Duke, which probably says it all. My glossies are down to a dozen men. In short, I failed the rally check.
When I took my break from the hobby I was working on Feudal Knights, Bonaparte in Egypt, and a Vendee Project. The latter was 30mm big units (1:10), assisted greatly by Bill Gaskin’s sculpts, and I was converting or detailing every figure of the 300 I had planned. Progress was… slow. I was fading even before I got going. While I adore the clothing and uniforms of the late 1700’s, and of course France’s terrain, the more I read the more I realised that this was a savage little war and that perhaps my heart was really not in it. And for Egypt, something I thought I would never say: I saw pictures of the Perry game at Partizan and abandoned on the spot. Lost my interest in a few seconds. Inexplicable.
Since my return I have dabbled with The Sudan, Sassanids, Trojans and Old West. Sudan I bailed on because I saw Steve Dean’s 6mms. The Sassanids are on the backburner having dumped all the Gripping Beast cavalry, retaining the A&A. The other two ventures are ‘finished’ and we had an excellent Old West game with Dead Man’s Hand as our Christmas treat. But my main project is currently the AWI, and fortunately most of the Vendee figures convert easily to this earlier period. I have endless plans, inspired by the work of Bill Gaskin, Doug Crowther and Giles Allison, and the rules are approved and ready to go – The World Turned Upside Down. So far, about 100 figures are converted and painted. We shall see.
You would not believe how long I have spent thinking about terrain over the years. I even wrote a longarticle on it once. This may have been post traumatic stress after seeing Bill Gaskin’s genius up close and/or playing all our early games on purple styrene sheets that a mate’s dad had secured from work. I have thought about it so long that I don’t actually have any bog standard green grass terrain after forty years’ procrastination. I have the dyed toweling I will use (Dave Andrews inspired), and the boards, but haven’t actually got round to doing anything. Trees, buildings, walls, hedges: all ticked. So when we came to play the Old West game at Christmas, and a Dropfleet/X Wing game was in gestation, I bought mats. Not your old style flimsy flock jobs, oh no. The heavy, smelly, neoprene masterpieces from Deep Cut Studios. I cannot imagine anything more likely to prompt a game than removing a 6’x3’ mat from its bag, flopping it onto the table and getting started. Sometimes, good enough is enough.
I returned to painting last year and thankfully, apart from some recipes, it all came back – like riding a bike. I am now painting professionally a few hours per week and will probably continue to do that until the eyes rebel. I have a fairly strict rule about having fewer than 20 figures on the go, and I try to balance commission work with personal projects. My style has drifted somewhat and I am now considerably quicker. I use a very limited and muted palette, I wash on several layers and I am usually aiming for, but missing, a Rick Scollins grubby look. My horses are better than ever, if I say so myself, but I need to get up to speed on my trees (Gordon Gravett’s influence again). For those who care, I have left behind gesso and now use Vallejo Surface Primer (600) almost all the time. Otherwise, the workhorses are Vallejo, Lifecolor and oils.
The hobby has changed for me. Perhaps the hobby changed me. Fewer shows, no magazines, hardly any purchases and apart from the 30mm AWI, the micro minis and probably Maximilian 1934, I have no major projects in mind apart from an On30 model railway (!). I will scratch the itches mentioned above and doubtless get diverted at times. My main interest, which fits well with my work in boardgaming, is now rule systems: playing, reading, designing and hopefully innovating. In truth, my two hobbies have met in the middle, focused on design. I am quite depressed where gaming (both codes) has gone, into Saga/Gangs of Rome/Bolt Action style commercial, small unit mode and Kickstarter driven over-supply and over-production. But until the bubble bursts, both hobbies seem in rude health. That is a good thing and once again I am happy to follow progress. The range of figures and boardgames is truly impressive, but a few more rule sets, with history, would be welcome. It is good to be back.
And we’re delighted to see you back, Mike!