Above is a pic of Lt. Colonel James Galbraith, Regimental Colour in hand, alongside Bobbie the regimental dog and some of the other "Last Eleven" survivors of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment, making their last stand in one of the walled gardens just South of Khig village, a few miles West of the Afghan town of Maiwand.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Verdant fields of the Logar Valley - via latex caulk & scenic flock

Though Afghanistan is known for being filled with arid and mountainous terrain, many of its valleys are incredibly green and fertile.  Here's a good example:

The October 6th 1879 battle of Charasiab, was fought over arid foothills and rocky heights, but also over a good deal of green farmland.

After using Google Earth to study the Charasiab battlefield for some time, I realized much of it was -- and still is -- covered with this type of terrain:

...and an even closer view:

The same thing is gleaned from reading contemporary accounts of the battle.  In General Roberts autobiography, he describes it thus:

"...In front of this formidable position were a succession of sandy hills, forming a series of easily defensible posts, and at the foot of these hills ran a bare stony belt, sloping down to the cultivated land surrounding Charasia and the hamlet of Khairabad. "

(selection highlighted by me)

As seen here, the one contemporary illustration of the battle which I'm aware of, when tinted with color, has its share of GREEN FIELDS surrounding Charasiab village, just as described by General Roberts...

My Maiwand Day terrain boards were built to recreate a battle fought on July 27th, 1880, at the height of the Summer, during an especially dry season.  The only green on that battlefield was the handful of trees lining the dusty road connecting the twin villages of Mahmundabad and Khig, and the scrub brush scattered across the Maiwand Plain.

So, if I was going to make my table resemble Charasiab battlefield, I needed to add some farmland.  As visible in both period illustrations and the satellite view courtesy of Google Earth, the arable land in this area is divided up into many, many small holdings.

This raised several questions/issues... in reality each field is surrounded by a wall of stone and/or mud-brick.  Should I recreate those?

None of the contemporary histories of the battle that I've read make any mention of Anglo-Indian forces having difficulty traversing the walls or irrigation ditches which lined the fields, so I decided to leave the property line "dividers" out.  But I still wanted the fields themselves.  They were there, and still are there, so in order for the miniature battlefield to accurately resemble the real one, it needs to have them. I could potentially treat movement across them as open terrain, or assess a slight penalty, or even treat them as rough terrain.  My guess is I will have them assess a slight movement penalty.  In TSATF or 800 Fighting Englishmen, perhaps DROP THE LOW DIE FROM MOVEMENT ROLL.  Doing this will also give more than aesthetic purpose to the roads that wind their way through the crop-fields.

Virtually every valley in Afghanistan sports green crops, so once I'm done with these fields for Charasiab, they should prove useful for many more scenarios.

My requirements for these fields included:

1)  Look pretty good.  

Doesn't mean "museum quality" or even "diorama quality" but it means anyone glancing at the table should instantly know what the model terrain represents, and that is at least equal in quality to those elements of the table that already exist.  I don't want this new stuff to bring my table down, so to speak.

2) Be very playable.

Looking good counts for nothing if single-based figures (as per classic TSATF rules) are unable to traverse the terrain in question.  Although you might not know it from reading this blog over the past couple of years, I build stuff to play games on, not just to look at!

3) Be resilient.

This goes hand-in-hand with number 2 above.  If the terrain can't stand up to being used -- and occassionally abused -- by a variety of players, than it's not worth building.

When I started thinking over how best to build these crop-fields, I was already in the midst of building the road network for the Charasiab layout.  I did some tests and ended up using white latex caulk.  But my first test was with BROWN latex caulk.  I decided to try using my remaining brown latex to make the base of a CROP FIELD, which I would then glue lines of scenic flock to in order to create rows of crops.  Most of us have seen this done many times using corrugated paper or hardboard or similar baseboard materials.  The problem with corrugated paper is that in my experience single-based figures don't stand up on it very well, and because it's so light, fields made from it can easily slip and slide and shift around on the tabletop while playing a game.  Hardboard bases might have worked, but they would have been thicker, and I would have had to do a lot of sawing, even if I'd made just a few much larger base boards and then turned them into a dozen or more different fields all based together.

My prototype field turned out pretty well, so I made some more.  This morning I dusted off the excess flock from the 5th and 6th fields I've built, laid them all out and took some pics.  I think 6 is just enough to get an impression of what 16, or 60, or however many I will have to make in order to cover the approrpiate areas on the table, will look.  I think they turned out okay.  Not brilliant, but solid enough to cover my three requirements of "not bringing down the quality of the table," being "easy to play on," and "standing up to wear-&-tear."

Usually I wait until I'm all done with a terrain project to post about it, and then include a ton of WIP "how to" pics.  I will post the WIP process pics for these when they're ALL done (who knows when that will be, as I still have A TON MORE to build!), but for now I just wanted to show how they turned out...

But before I get to the pics, I will tell you the VERY SIMPLE manner in which I built them, in case anyone wants to try...

(1)  squeeze out enough brown latex caulk onto a clear plastic surface (I used old plastic bags from the Dry-Cleaner, taped tightly over a piece of Masonite/MDF) to cover a 6"x6" or 8" by 4" or whatever size field you want to make;

(2)  smooth the caulk out, then use a hobby tool or popsicle stick or BBQ matchstick or similar to etch in some crop-crows (though you could easily just smooth the surface flat and use the scenic flock alone to create the crop-rows in the next and final step);

(3)  wait a couple of days for the latex field to dry, carefully peel it off the clear plastic, lay down some some parallel beads of white glue on its surface, cover with scenic flock or static grass or turf -- I've been making fields using each of those -- let dry overnight, recover excess flock, and your crops should be ready for harvest.

Here's a few pics of the first 6 finished products...

And finally, single-based figures standing, no problem...

...and a couple more bucolic farming shots for good measure:

5-12-14:  Just discovered a couple more nice pics, posting them for good measure...

Monday, May 5, 2014

Gallery of Afghan photos by Steve McCurry

A friend of mine was kind and thoughtful enough to sent me this photo, which kind of blew my mind, as it was taken in 1984, as opposed to 1919 or even 1897 and then tinted with color...

I wrote back to thank my friend and ask where the photo came from, and it was taken by one of the world's leading photographers, Steve McCurry.

Though you may not know his name, chances are you have seen his work over the past 30 years, including his iconic photo of an Afghan girl which graced the cover of National Geographic in 1985.  There's a new exhibit of his Afghan photos, taken from the late Seventies until now, at the Beetles + Huxley Gallery in London, from May 12th to June 7th.

Unfortunately I won't be in London, or even the UK, at that time, but thanks to the magic of the "inter-web" I was still able to enjoy seeing a handful of the photos, and now so can you.