Sunday, April 19, 2009

Terrain Building Goals

Well now that I have both a gaming table and a basic mat, it’s time to build some scenery. In fact, I need a lot of scenery as the visual aspect of the hobby is what has really drawn me in. As the photo shows, I do have two structures (both 15mm) - a french farm house from JR Miniatures and a partially completed scratch built demolished house. Other than those structures, it’s a pretty sparse landscape so that needs to be addressed. As with any project, a little planning is needed, so lets start with some basics needs:

Scale Flexibility:

I play both 15mm and 6mm scales so where possible, I’d like the terrain to be usable in both scales. I think I can do this with the more topographical terrain elements (roads, hills, rivers, woods and hedges). Obviously, terrain that is more human scaled (buildings and fortifications) needs to be scale specific.

Ease of Setup and Storage:

I’d like all the terrain pieces to be mounted to a fixed base to allow for easy set up and storage. I’ve seen some gamers use loose gravel for roads and rubble. While it provides a high degree of flexibility, it seems very messy and a bit wasteful. With the exception of a few set pieces, no single terrain element should be bigger than 1 square foot.

Inexpensive to Make:

I’m going to try to make all of the terrain pieces out of very basic materials to lower the costs and reflect that my modeling skills are somewhat limited. I do have one advantage on the supply side as I’m also a model railroader so I’ve got a fairly large inventory of scenic supplies.

With the three simple objectives above, I’m going to try and organize my efforts along the following project list:

Roads for under $50.00




Field Fortifications

  • Barbed Wire
  • Mine Fields
  • Trenches

Focus Pieces

This last section is for those “center-piece” terrain sections that serve as objectives for gamers and eye candy. During this year’s Cold Wars I purchased an Italian Monastery kit form Paper Terrain - the paper models look pretty good and you can’t beat the price.

  • Italian Monastery on a hill (who wouldn’t like a Monte Cassino game?)
  • Italian Village
  • Carentan-like French Village

Saturday, April 18, 2009

New Game Mat

My new terrain mat just arrived the other day. I ordered both a large (6’ x 4’) and small (2’ x 4’) game mat for The Terrain Guy (Allen) a little less than two weeks ago. The ordering process was done via his website and a few email exchanges. Once nice feature of the ordering experience is that you receive a number of progress report emails that note the different steps of the process.

As for the mat’s, I was very pleased by the quality. I selected the brown-green version as way able to specify 75% green and 25% brown. The mats are shipped rolled around a 1 inch pvc tube packed into a 50 inch long box. I like the packing as it’s very stable and the mats don’t have any creases in them from folding. The enclosed instructions do point out that the mats should be stored via rolling them up, with the flocking facing inward.

The mat’s are made of a canvas material covered with flocking. The glue holding the flocking seems very strong and I didn’t experience any of the material rubbing off (the wasn’t any inside the shipping box either). The green is a darker shade which gives me an impression of Northern Europe. I may purchase or make another mat with a lighter, more tropical shade of green for a change of pace.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with the product and would recommend that you take a look at Allen’s products if you’re in the market for something new.

While the table looks a little sparse, it does look a whole lot better than bare plywood. Now I need to go about making some more terrain! I would post some more pictures but it seems that my son has taken the family camera on a boy scout trip. Perhaps not such a great loss due to the rather poor quality of my photographic skills.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Basic Probability theory

I need to first admit that I am a novice war gamer and that I have only 10 or so completed games under my belt. But I have noticed one thing - a lot of gamers have only a rudimentary grasp of probability theory which impact’s their gaming and leads to the cursing of the Dice Gods. In order to avoid making the Dice Gods angry (never a good thing) I thought I should point out some basics in probability theory - one should expect nothing less from an idiot like me who runs around with the moniker of “Uber-Geek”

First off, I am assuming that the outcome of all die rolls are random. Now we all know that, technically, that’s not true because the friction co-efficient for each dice face is different due to the different markings (pips). I think we can dispense with that aspect as the error term introduced doesn’t even round to anywhere near 1%. Second, I hope none of you plan on using any of this information to rush off to a casino and break the bank. If you do, it will end badly - for you. If a fevered brain like mine can babble this stuff out, I’m pretty sure a Casino has done the same and then some. They also tend to be somewhat resistant to the plea “can I have a do-over? I didn’t understand the probabilities”.

So, you need to roll a 6 on a D6 - what are your odds? Well, you need one of six outcomes so 1 divided by 6 equals .167 or 16.7%. Hmm what if you had a +1 modifier, well then your odds are 2 out of 6 (since either a roll of 5 or 6 works) so your odds are 16.7% + 16.7% or 33.4%. Each die outcome level or die modifier impacts the probability by 16.7% - hey wake up the good parts are coming.

What if you still need to roll at least one 6, but now had two shots - you can roll 2 dice, but still only need one 6. If one has a 16.7% on one dice, surely one has double that or 33.4% if 2 dice are rolled. Nope. The odds are a bit less than that.

For two rolls, there is a 1/6 probability of rolling a six on the first roll. If this occurs, we've satisfied our condition. There is a 5/6 probability that the first roll is not a 6. In that case, we need to see if the second roll is a 6. The probability of the second roll being a 6 is 1/6, so our overall probability is 1/6 + (5/6)*(1/6) = 11/36. Why did I multiply the second 1/6 by 5/6? Because I only need to consider the 5/6 of the time that the first roll wasn't a 6. As you can see the cumulative probability is only 30.%, which is slightly less than 33.4% (or 2/6 from the previous paragraph).

For three rolls, there is a 1/6 probability of rolling a six on the first roll. There is a 5/6 probability that the first roll is not a 6. In that case, we need to see if the second roll is a 6. The probability of the second roll being a 6 is 1/6, giving us a probability of 11/36. There is a 25/36 probability that neither of the first two rolls was a 6. In that case, we need to see if the third roll is a 6. The probability of the third roll being a 6 is 1/6, giving us a probability of 1/6 + (5/6)*(1/6) + (25/36)*(1/6) = 91/216 (or 42.2%). Again, this is less than 3/6. Observe that as the number of die are increased the gap from the simple additive assumption grows.

The general formula for rolling at least one 6 in n rolls is 1 - (5/6)^n.

Of course, all of this probability mumbo jumbo in no replacement for the sheer exhilaration one feels after seeing your lowly M4A1 Sherman overcome the thick frontal armor of a dastardly Tiger tank and win the game by rolling a pair of 6’s.

Just remember, sometimes your die rolling luck might just be improved with a better understanding probability theory.

Ok class, lets take roll call:



Bueler....., Bueler....., Bueler.....

Monday, April 6, 2009

A 1:1 Scale Boat Kit

Not all modeling efforts result in tiny replicas of the real thing. It’s possible to transfer your modeling skills to build something a little more substantial. Last year my son developed a real interest in sailing and we decided it might be fun to build a basic boat rather than buy or rent one. After some google searches we settled on a kit from a local manufacturer Chesapeake Light Craft (CLC). CLC gives you the option of either purchasing the plans, purchasing a kit with all the parts pre cut or anywhere in-between. They were also very, very helpful during the build process, so I recommend them highly.

Building the boat was like any model or miniature build. One first reviews the plans, inspects all the parts and remove any flashing / imperfections. The hull planking is assembled using a lap-stitch method. The hull planks overlap like tongue and groove wood flooring and are initially held in place by copper wire loops ever 4 or 5 inches. I think we drilled over 800 wire holes and put in 400‘ish wire loops! We then used epoxy to fill in the seams and bind the boat planks together. Once the initial epoxy seams were dry, we removed the wires and applied more epoxy to fill in the wire holes and “voila” you have a hull.

Then the fun starts - sanding, sanding and more sanding. Two coats of epoxy and six coats of varnish later, she’s ready for the water. If any of you decide to try an build a boat here are some helpful hints:

  1. Don’t sand the epoxy seams too much. When the boat was first put in the water we realized that we had sanded the seams too much as there were lots of micro leaks along the side. There is nothing more depressing than launching a boat and slowly watching her take on water. After that we learned to test launch our boat in the pool.
  2. The build process uses a lot of epoxy to seal the hull - due to the curing time you need to work in small batches and buys lots of surgical gloves. Also, if your head gets itchy while you’re applying epoxy ALWAYS resist the urge to scratch it. I discovered that epoxy covered gloves and head scratching don’t mix unless one wants an excuse to get a buzz cut.
  3. Take your time - boat building and rushing equals waste, frustration and the likelihood you’ll expand your child’s vocabulary in a guttural way - just like with model building. Again, take your time!

It took us about 75 hours to complete our little boat, but it was a blast.

Here are some pictures of the build process:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Where is a Wargamer Without a Table

Crawling around the floor on his hands and knees and where is the dignity in that?

After deciding on getting into the hobby I realized that I needed a place to play. Like all middle aged war gamers my initial thought was to liberate the dining room table. Heck, we hardly ever use the thing and I’d be happy to pick up my scale miniatures if a Turkey dinner was the payoff (we all have our price don’t we?). Merrily, I told my wife about this exciting new venture my son and I were embarking on - we would be spending time together (approving nod), it’s educational (approving nod), and it’s creative (approving nod). In fact it’s a bargain when you think that the only cost to you, oh mighty Empress of the Household, is the meager use of your oft neglected dining room table (stony silence, then well you know...). The reaction was like that part in the second Lord of the Rings movie where the Orc army has marched up to the gates of Helms Deep and it grew eerily silent until one of chowder heads on the ramparts looses an arrow (a metaphor for asking to use the dining room table?) and all hell breaks loose. I didn’t stand a chance.

So I “elected” to build my own table. Now I am economist by training and I thought I should to put that academic background to work - so my initial build effort consisted of “assuming a table”. (The economist amongst my readers will get that, the rest of you, well, just move on). With economic theory put paid it’s off to go use tools, which required me to create a plan. Obviously, I needed a plan so that I had something to ignore while building the darn thing.

I wanted a table that would have multiple uses so I came up with the following criteria:

Playing Surface:

6 x 4 feet for most games with an additional 2 x 4 section for modeling and to hold rule books etc. The two table top sections will be on the same plain so the playing area can be expanded to 8 x 4, if needed. The entire 8 x 4 perimeter will be surrounded by 1/2 inch shoe molding to help prevent dice and miniatures from falling of the table. I have been toying with the idea of making geomorphic terrain tiles so the edging will also be useful holding them in place.

Tilt-able Drafting Surface:

I built the table so that both the 6x4 and 2x4 sections could be lifted and positioned at both 45 and 60 degree angles to function as a drafting tables. I coach my son’s robotics team and the designs they come up with are complicated so having a drafting table is useful. The table top use a piano hinge to spread the weight around. I still need to figure out how to install a pneumatic hinge to avoid gravity fueled top slams and the associated finger injuries.


Since the table tops can be lifted, there will be storage underneath. The table was built using a 1x6 box frame so there is about 14 cubic feet of storage for miniatures and other items. Given the alarming rate at which I’m collecting new armies, I can never have too much storage.


The table is supported by 4 x 4 cedar legs which provide an immense amount of structural integrity and look great. The support structure will also allow me to add under table shelving or fold down leafs if I need and even larger playing space in the future. Plus cedar has a nice aroma, which is more than I can say for some gamers.

The construction is fairly simple, so it shouldn’t tax the average DIY’er. Having access to a power mitre saw and a finish nail gun is extremely useful.

As with any project that involves power tools there are risks, so please be careful and wear eye protection. If your under 18, please get your parents permission and help.

The total cost of the table was approximately $250.00 (US). I did elect to use cabinet grade wood for the 1x6 siding and hinged top as I’m unsure what the final finish will be. Staining the table will look sharp but will not be as durable as a paint. The trim moulding around the top is painted white (it’s from another project) so I’ll need to strip it if I go with a stain.

Here are some pictures of the table during construction:

Here is a picture of the below table top storage. Both surface open, one is 2x4' and the other is 6x4"

The table is extremely sturdy (I can stand on it, which is impressive that I can still climb that high up!). I may redo the moulding lip. The quarter rounds look nice and keep both the dice and miniatures from slipping off the edge but they aren't that stable to hold clip on shelves unless I router the underside of the clip to match the quarter round.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What games do we play? After announcing to the world that one is a miniature war gamer, I suppose there is a requirement to specify what games systems one plays. I was brought into the hobby by my son, who wanted to try playing Warhammer 40k. We started with an Eldar force for Sean and a Space Marine force for me. We enjoyed both building the models and playing each other so much we decided to expand our interests into more historical gaming.

Our first foray into historical gaming was WWII via Battlefront’s Flames of War, which I find to be a fun game but it does play a little like Warhammer 40K. We also game the civil war using 6mm figures from Baccus.

My latest acquisition has been the Trafalgar ruleset and a handful of 1/1200 sailing ship models from Langston Miniatures

Game and Miniature Summary:

World War II

Ruleset: Flames of War

Miniatures: Battlefront 15mm



  • 2 Platoons Fallschimjager infantry
  • 1 Fallschimjager Machine gun platoon
  • 1 Fallschimjager HQ Platoon
  • 1 Armored Infantry Platoon
  • 5 Mark IV’s
  • 5 Stug Assault Guns
  • 3 Panther
  • 2 Tigers
  • 3 Puma Armored Cars
  • 1 88MM Flak Gun w/ transport
  • 105mm artillery Battery (4 tubes plus command and spotters)

US Tank Company

  • 10 M4A1 Shermans
  • 7 M4AE8 76mm Shermans
  • 1 M10 Anti-tank Platoon (4 M-10’s plus recon elements)
  • 3 M8 Greyhounds
  • 1 Armored Infantry Platoon
  • 1 Ranger Platoon
  • 1 120mm Mortar platoon (4 tubes)
  • 4 M7 Priests

American Civil War

Ruleset: Polemos

Miniatures: Bacuss6mm



  • 12 Infantry bases
  • 2 Cavalry bases (mounted and dismounted)
  • 10 Artillery bases
  • 5 Command bases


  • 12 Infantry Bases
  • 2 Cavalry bases (mounted and dismounted)
  • 5 Artillery bases
  • 5 Command bases

Napoleonic Naval

Ruleset: Trafalgar


US Fleet (4 ships-of-the-line, 3 frigates)

British Fleet (3 frigates)

all ships from Langston Miniatures