Saturday, 15 September 2018

Colkitto's Son

Alasdair, son of handsome Colla,
skilled hand at cleaving castles,
you put to flight the Lowland pale-face:
what kale they had taken came out again.
'The Day of Inverlochy' by Iain Lom McDonald

Alasdair MacDonald, or MacColla, was the archetypal Highland hero who in 1644 through 1645 led the Scots Royalist 'Irish Brigade' in the ‘year of miracles’.  His story would make one hell of a Hollywood blockbuster, and it was reading his biography by Stevenson that started my interest in collecting a Scots Royalist army.

Finding a suitable figure to represent MacColla in my wargame army was going to be a tall order!  Both Eureka Miniatures and Warlord sell figures aimed at representing MacColla, but neither of these figures really did it for me.  I was therefore left with having to convert something.  The MacColla figure had to be tall (his was alleged to be a giant of a man), and have a definite Scottish feel.  I also wanted to represent his claymore that, according to legend, included a sliding weight to add that extra bit of impact to any strike.  Although quite probably a fantasy this ‘vorpal’ blade would really set off the figure.  This final figure is made up of a Eureka figure, two separate Foundry figures, a TAG figure, and some Green Stuff.  I think the resulting figure looks suitably commanding, and should strike fear in the hearts of his Covenanter enemies.

To accompany MacColla I used two of Warlord’s brilliant highlander range.  These two represent MacColla's bodyguards: Dubhaltach MacPhee and Calum Mor MacInnes.  (Probable translation: Black-haired MacPhee and Big Calum MacInnes!)  I have one wielding his own deadly claymore (from the Warlord MacColla figure pack) and the other (converted from a normal Warlord highlander) carrying MacColla’s yellow colour, inspired by the wonderful Project Auldearn blog.

MacColla was the younger son of a clan chief, of a minor MacDonald sept.  Hi father was known colloquially as Colkitto, or Coll Ciotach in Gaelic.  Colkitto would be worth his own Hollywood movie, as he probably got his epitaph for being crafty!  Being a MacDonald aye this time meant that Colkitto and his family were arch rivals of Clan Campbell, and were always at odds with the Campbell chief, the Marquis of Argyle.  Colkitto, and his sons, feuding with Argyle and the Campbells led the them spending a lot of time imprisoned by the Campbells.  No surprise then that MacColla spent a lot of his early adult life with relations in Ulster, away from Argyle’s power base in the Southern Hebrides.  It is in Ulster that MacColla learnt his trade as a soldier.   As a large and imposing figure, he quickly gained a reputation as a fighter, and he seems to have also developed in to an inspirational leader and a canny tactician.

At the start of the conflict in Ulster MacColla was fighting in a mixed Protestant-Catholic force against the Catholic rebels in Ulster.  He had some notable successes in the smaller scale actions there and is sometimes credited as creating the infamous highland charge; a single, close range, volley of fire, followed immediately by a charge to contact. (Even if this tactic was introduced to the Scottish Highlands by MacColla, it is likely that it originated in, and was brought back from, the fighting in the Thirty Years War on the continent.)

When the Scottish Covenant government, led by non-other than Argyle, sent forces to support the Protestants in Ulster, old rivalries came to the fore and MacColla was forced to switch sides to the rebels to save his own skin.  He was warmly welcomed by the rebel forces, along with his followers.  When the leading Royalist in Ulster, the Duke or Ormond, raised a brigade of infantry to send to Scotland MacColla was the natural choice to lead them.

After landing in Scotland, despite his fighting credentials, MacColla wasn’t perceived by the Scottish highland chiefs to have sufficient authority to lead a war in the King’s name against the Covenant government.   Providence then brought MacColla and Montrose together.  Montrose, as the King’s Lord Lieutenant, brought the required legitimacy, and Montrose desperately needed MacColla’s men.  Over 1644 and 1645 Montrose and MacColla combined ran rings around the more numerous, and supposedly more professional, Covenant forces sent against them.   History remembers the noble Montrose as the sole leader and military genius behind the victories.  What part did MacColla have to play in the victories?  Well that makes a fine topic for wargamers’ discussion, preferably over a wee dram!

Until next time - Alba gu bràth!

Slapping On Some Paint

Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.  Salvador Dali

Warning!  This is not a "how to paint figures" tutorial.  Rather it discusses the trials and tribulations of turning the lead mountain in to table ready figures.

When I first started playing wargames as a child the biggest hurdle to overcome was being able to afford enough toy soldiers to sufficiently fill the table for a game.  Every figure purchased or gifted was eagerly painted, based, and on the table in double-quick time.  Now in adulthood, of course, it is different.  My shelves sag under the weight of the great unpainted horde.  I can afford to buy the little lead and plastic marvels far faster than I have the time to paint them.

To compound the lack of time, big battle games need a fair few figures.  My interpretation of Inverlochy has about 500 figures to cover both armies.  The lead mountain is intimidating.  I don't think I am alone here.  Looking at the games becoming popular at the moment there is definitely a move away from big battle games to 'skirmish' games, with reduced head-counts of figures required.    Given enough time I can paint to a table-top standard that I'm happy with, but I realise I am painfully slow compared to hobby friends.  As my Inverlochy project progressed it became clear that, if I was ever to realise my dream of re-fighting Inverlochy on the table top, then I was going to need help.  I was going to have to 'out-source' some of the painting to the professionals.

This was a big step for me as up to this point I had always painted everything in my wargames forces myself.  There is a very strong 'do-it-yourself' and 'do-it-for-cheap' dogma at the roots of wargaming, probably going all the way back to H. G. Wells original book 'Little Wars'.  The good side of this is that the hobby encourages us all to get better at many crafts and skills.  The flip side of this for me was a feeling that I had to do everything myself.  In the end it was a choice between getting things done in a reasonable amount of time, and holding on to the DIY ideal.  Getting things done won! Now, when I look at the progress made after getting help, it was easily worth the investment for me.  (What is more, getting past the first psychological hump of having two small forces table-ready, has encouraged me to go on building my mid 17th century collection.  I am probably more productive now than I have ever been.)

Through recommendations from friends, and also using friends who do a bit of figure painting on the side, I was able to secure the services of a couple of people to help paint my 'mountain' at a cost that seemed reasonable.  It needs some time and effort to find the right people, and also to agree the style and colour palettes I wanted to be used.  Also people aren't necessarily familiar with 17th century fashion.  But it was definitely worth it in the end.  A mountain of lead was eventually turned in to two table-top armies.

For painting guides I recommended two Ospreys:

  • Men-At-Arms Series 331 Scots Armies of the English Civil War
  • Warrior Series 21 Highland Clansman 1689-1746 (despite the date in the title it covers the ECW period very nicely)

I decided to keep the basing of figures 'in-house', so to speak.  I also added the pikes for the pikemen, and the Colours for ensigns or cornets (see a future post for more details on flags).  This has helped me maintain a single overall 'look' to the armies.   I have done some of the figure painting myself.  I do enjoy the painting/modelling part of the hobby, and so I kept favourite parts of the miniature armies to paint myself; mostly command groups, vignettes, and artillery.

Here's an example of one of the command groups I painted.  None other than Alasdair MacColla, the 'Devastator'! (More on him in a future post.)

When I started this project I was still a died-in-the-wool enamel painter.  White Spirit fumes were part and parcel of the job of painting for me.  I had a set of colours, built up over many, many years that I was happy with.  All of my gaming buddies switched to acrylics years ago, but switching was just too big an effort for me.    Despite that fact that many of the figures were not painted by me, this project has gotten me far more in to the paining and modelling scene.  Eventually I decided I would give these new fangled acrylics a try.  A starter box of 16 Vallejo colours got me going.   Twelve months after the initial experiment I can now say that I have fully made that switch.  I even use a wet palette!  I do really like how easy it is to squeeze out a few more drops of paint from a dropper bottle.  I'm still building up that repertoire of colours, but I don't think I will go back now (Humbrol Enamel Matt Black 33 is a great brush-on undercoat however!).  I don't think my figures look any better (yet) but it is easier / faster, and my white spirit habit is receding :-).

This picture also shows an example of my basing.   I used Warbases for all of the bases (  Great company.  Super product and very helpful team.  I like the 2mm thick stuff they do.  My post on Building the armies ( covers the details on frontages etc.  For the command bases I typically use circular bases, and use whatever size fits the vignette that I have tried to create.

The painted figures are varnished and then glued to the MDF bases.  Following this a mixture of PVA glue, filler (known as spackle in the USA), and acrylic paint is liberally applied to hide the figures' bases, and sharp sand sprinkled on to the still wet mixture.  When dry this is highlighted.  Once the highlight is dry (very important to let it dry!) then static grass and hobby bushes are added with the help of thinned PVA glue.  Finally the base edges are tidied with a dark brown marker pen (I found black a bit too contrasty).

For bases I can't find a better colour than Humbrol Matt 29 Dark earth.  I have used it in enamel and acrylic (and spray can).   I haven't found another paint to match it.  I highlight this with cream or beige.   I used Army Painter Steppe Grass for the static grass.  Quite a dark blend, but seemed to fit right for the Highlands of Scotland in a wet February.  The 'bushes' represent the dried out heather which goes brown in the winter.  Busch Brown (3 Colour) Foliage is the best I have found so far.  Amazon stock it in the UK.

A final word on varnishing.  I prefer a nice matt finish.  At the start of the project I was using Humbrol Matt Coat.  I have gone off this.  Perhaps I've had a bad batch but this doesn't seem as good to me as it once did.  MacColla above has already started to go a bit shiny.  I prefer to brush on my varnish, and I am now a convert to "Daler Rowney Varnish: Acrylic Matt Varnish".  Very matt, very good (also available from Amazon)!  You do need to give the bottle a blooming good shake though.

Until next time.

Monday, 3 September 2018

The Tyranny of Choice

“The onus of supply rests equally on the giver and the taker.” General George S. Patton

In this post I’ll go through the figure manufacturers that I’ve used.  I like variety in my wargames units and so I often find myself using multiple manufacturers.  I know that many people pick a single manufacturer's range and then stick with that.  However I like an irregular look to my units so normally end up with a mixture.  If I can build a unit without a single duplicate figure in it then I am a happy bunny!

The ‘English Civil War’ is now a well supported period by figure manufacturers and even the fringe parts of the conflict, like Montrose, are covered.  I never expected to use a single source for my Inverlochy battle, but I perhaps didn't expect to end up covering quite so many.  Perhaps this is the collector coming out in me.  Here are the manufacturers I’ve used, presented in the order I started buying figures from them.  I bought the first figures in the early 2000s; this has been a slow burn project!

Please note; what makes a nice war game figure very much comes down to personal choice.  The views below are just that.  I would suggest anyone gets a few samples of a range before jumping in and making a big order!


Foundry’s ECW range, sculpted by the Perrys, was ground breaking when in came out in the late 80s (or was it the 90s?).  Historically accurate 17th century soldiers!  No more musketeers in lobster pots or left handed pikemen.  It is still a quite extensive range with lots of diorama fillers included as well. Most importantly for me it includes a good selection of Highlanders.  Indeed, until Warlord came along, The Foundry Highlanders were one of the only choices in 28mm.  The sculpting style perhaps looks a bit dated now, but I have a huge fondness for these characterful figures.  Any foray in to this period by me is going to include at least a sprinkling of Foundry.  Still one of the limited number of places to go for period dead horses and artillery limbers!

Old Glory

Old Glory 25s are sold in big packs and I at first hoped that their ECW Highlander packs would bulk out my Foundry Highlanders.  Although they fit with Foundry size wise, their style doesn’t suit me.  I have only used 1 or 2 figures from the packs I bought. Not recommended.

Front Rank

“Do they have an ECW range?” I hear you cry.  Well, no, but they have a very nice ‘45 collection including Highlanders. Very minor conversions may be necessary but they fit size wise and include some nice wounded/dead figures.

Perry Miniatures

I can’t say enough good things about their English and Scottish Civil War ranges. They are just lovely.  I understand that they set the size of the range to match their earlier Foundry work which perhaps makes them on the small side for today’s 28s.  My only regret is that they didn’t do more Highlanders.  I can’t consider a regular foot or cavalry regiment without including some of these.

Eureka Miniatures

Just as I was starting to think about this period a discussion thread on the old WECW Yahoo Group started about this mysterious antipodean company who make figures on demand.  All you needed were enough advanced orders.  Walter Morrison, from the wonderful Project Auldearn blog, was the driving force behind getting a range of Irish and Stettin based Highlanders produced. I happily invested in the venture and a nice range of figures were produced. (See Project Auldearn for superbly painted examples.)  They fit well style wise with the Perry figures. I think they are a bit small though. Even compared to the already small Perry figures. I have used some of these, especially the Irish brigade figures (which are not so small) but few of the Highlanders.  If you are using mainly  Perry then I recommend the Irish Brigade figs. from Eureka. Otherwise I think you may find this range too diminutive.

Warlord Games

My whole project stalled for some time, partly due to a lack of being able to find enough figures that I liked enough.  Then came Warlord games, galloping to the rescue like John Wayne in a Western movie!  Luckily for us 17th century wargamers, John Stallard at Warlord is a huge ECW fan, with a special interest in the war in Scotland.  So, as well as plastic box sets for generic infantry and cavalry we also got superb metal ranges for the Irish Brigade and (be still my beating heart) Highlanders! Hoorah!  These ranges re-started this whole period for me.  They fit well with Perry and Foundry and so Warlord have become the biggest proportion of figures in my collection.   Needless to say, highly recommended.

Some highlights of the Warlord range.  Many of the Highlander and Irish are available as box sets and as individual figures! Yes, you read that correctly, individual wargames figures.  Not very common nowadays.  Perfect for getting your wild, irregular clan looking just right.  The plastic cavalry horses are great figures and size wise more accurate than most metal ranges.  I wanted to be able to show a difference in horse size between the large English Hunters and the smaller, wiry Highland nags.  So in my collection well mounted cavalry get Warlord plastic horses, and others (Scots, dragoons, etc) get Perry horses.  The plastic ECW sets are also great for conversions and Warlord do lots of nice metal extras such as Scots bonnets and lances.  Warlord also have a great range of civilians; who doesn’t need a Hedge Harlot for their camp followers?!

Redoubt Enterprises

Quite tall and so don’t fit well with my preferred Warlord/Perry/Foundry.  I have a few Redoubt civilians from their Three Musketeers range. Useful.

Bicorne Miniatures

A very complete range. On the big side so don’t fit well with my collection. I have included one or two as “the big lad” in the company.  They are a bit mixed. Some are gorgeous sculpts, some not so much.  If you are going for the bigger size of 28mms then this is the range for you.

The Assault Group (TAG)

TAG have a nice Scots range and also a Thirty Years War range.  They fit size wise with Warlord/Perry/Foundry.  Some of the sculpts don’t do it for me, but others are great.  I have just one or two of the command figures. They have some nice mounted officers, but I’m not keen on the horses.  Worth checking out. They have a well illustrated website.

So that is it.  Probably not a complete run down of all mid 17th century 28mm figures, but I think there is probably something there for everyone.   Although I have enough figures table ready for Inverlochy, I am (of course!) still buying figures.   Packages from Warlord, Perry and Foundry still arrive at my house with alarming regularity, so I would say these are the top three, respectively.

There are some interesting new manufacturers from Eastern Europe appearing that have some tempting ranges.   I'll wait to get some in my mits before commenting further.  The pictures I have seen look astounding.  If you have any recommendations then please post in the comments.

Until next time!