Bushido Me Timbers Part Four: Leaves

Leaves

So how does an otherwise relatively normal individual decide to spend dozens if not hundreds of hours into constructing a brief snapshot of a history that never was? I’m the person who did just that and even I’m not sure, but this four part series looks to deconstruct the genesis of a new project as well as the way ideas translate into scale reality.

With precepts, concepts and even rules hammered out I was finally able to flex my historical muscle and develop the overall scenario –as well as hammer out some tasty morsels of flavour (not to mention start mixing my metaphors like a hack).

Even though I finally had the general idea of what was going to happen, specifics were far from pinned down. Yes, there were men who led and men who followed. They had an island which designates the general terrain over which they will fight and die. But what was going on?

I’ve never been able to let an irksome question rest. Everything always has to be resolved and answered in order for me to be satisfied with the outcome of a project – and few things matter more than the political motivations. Looking over history had yielded the strange delights of Japanese pirates called Wokou, including one who was not only a pirate but also a samurai and a ninja, but they were eradicated at the very beginning of the Seventeenth Century and it seemed like lazy writing to hurl them sixty or so years into the future, so instead I looked for where things were headed at this time. A lot of gamers who fail to be interested in historical gaming view research as something boring that you must suffer through, and no doubt would be groaning at some of the texts and documentaries I devoured. These people are to be pitied, because above all else they are being fed poorly-actualised settings. No fantasy writing team, no matter how passionate, is going to be able to model history. History modelled every last button on every last coat and then wrote an essay on those. Even the most organic and complete fantasies won’t have regional dialects of Elvish, or any of the other organic features that can and will enrich any history table. There’s no shame in detail delving, and it lets you zoom in or out, being as involved or uninvolved as you want.

It is for this reason that I discovered with great joy an event that happened just prior to (and was potentially responsible for) the closing of Japan. An invasion force of 10,000 was raised to strike at the Spanish East Indies but it had to be cancelled due to mounting problems and pressures. But what if it had gone ahead, and then been a spectacular failure on every level?

 Fleet

No Seventeenth Century invasion force from a still fractured Japan would give up its power so easily as to just head home and then disarm. The Emperor would have had virtually no authority to impact on the soldiers that had left, except through his vassals and officers. If they had turned, then suddenly becomes chaos. This era of Japan was never a stable society and another war would have seen the power balance blown sideways. This collapse would even have come as China wrestled with the invasion of the Manchurians and end of their native Ming dynasty, meaning that the two East Asian powers would have been in a power vacuum and there would have been large forces afloat now under their own steam. Cue ‘its a pirates life for me’.

While it’s true that this setting would never have been a sustained or ongoing conflict, it would likely have led to a few years of relative piratical anarchy. Where the dust settles is completely unclear, as with this force of eye-patched Samurai afloat you would have had large risks to the fleet used to invade Formosa for its real-life collapse. There would likely be serious commercial opportunities for the Dutch to exploit, as well as a shifting series of alliances that suit a broken down system. To make this even better for everyone but the Dutch, they were the European backer of the invasion both in real history and my pulp timeline – so who would vengeful Samurai blame for dishonour and disgrace? Why those orange-coated bastards who fed their lords lies and led them into disaster, naturally.

Jap Chaos

I do not contend that any of these outcomes are realistic and no doubt my dates are somewhat off-kilter. But I set out to make a pulp setting and this is the one that captured my attention by corrupting what had originally been a relatively serious and historically accurate idea.

(These posts were finished quite a while ago, but I haven’t made much progress with miniatures but especially this project since then. I will however be trying to paint up starting forces for the games this month as part of a monthly painting pledge challenge over on that website of dubious quality, Reddit. For those of you who want to find the subreddit, try here http://www.reddit.com/r/taleofredditgamers/ but for those with more sense than that, I’ll be putting up a post detailing the ins and outs of who and what I’m painting that will be at least as fun. Also it will come with the long-promised progress report.)

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Bushido Me Timbers Part Three: Sprout

Sprout

So how does an otherwise relatively normal individual decide to spend dozens if not hundreds of hours into constructing a brief snapshot of a history that never was? I’m the person who did just that and even I’m not sure, but this four part series looks to deconstruct the genesis of a new project as well as the way ideas translate into scale reality.

As the plan started to take place, yet more strange ideas latched on.

Firstly, I decided to put serious attempts at alternate history to one side and instead develop a setting with more of a ‘pulp’ feel. I was already looking to channel a number of vibes more commonly evoked by the two ‘big’ wars anyway, as a small and ragged bunch of men raggedly hang on in their machine gun emplacement against seemingly unstoppable doom.

Not the right era, but useful for conjuring up the impression

 

 

 

 

 

Secondly, I didn’t just want to make the Japanese systemically evil. Although this sort of approach is common to pulp games, that doesn’t make it wise. Being personally of German extraction means that I feel a little sad and dejected whenever exposed to a setting where every German between the years of 1933 and 1945 was huffing pure evil fuel. War is hell for all sides involved, something that everyone who games conflict needs to remember.

With that sombering note in mind, I decided to make my Samurai warriors also be pirates. Nothing promotes racial sensitivity like pointing out that even the native government would want these men dead, after all.

With these very serious decisions made, I moved on to looking for the perfect rules to model Dutch Pessimists vs Samurai Pirates. One thing I’ve come to admire more in games is elegant simplicity, so that had to be in there. The problem encountered when I started looking at skirmish type 17th Century rules sets was that the simplicity was never elegant; it was just a lack of rules. There has to be a very fine balance involved in the creation of these booklets judging by how many are published via the internet online, each claiming to have that perfect feel but none of them working in all situations and none of them having ways to incorporate the feel of Samurai pirates. Naturally I went to the old wargamer standby and started home-brewing.

Writing rules from scratch soon proved too much work, though, so I wound up browsing online repositories of pdf rulesets with a complete lack of purpose. The breakthrough came when I looked over what I already had and realised that the solution had been within me all along. It wasn’t more home-brewing, which is something that feels like work. Instead it was the Sharp Practice rules for Napoleonic skirmish in the Spanish Peninsular.

Despite the obvious time difference, the personality orientation of the game suited my concept perfectly. I was able to create Samurai Pirates, a bunch of ugly and scurvy scoundrels with a proper sense of camaraderie from their crew. I was then able to oppose this with stuffy aristocrats, resigned to the islands demise but held firm by a mix of patriotic loyalty, the impossibility of escape and personal ambition. Because of the way Sharp Practice was designed it would use these ‘personality’ types more than anything else, driving their soldiers forwards or backwards and generally taking this battlefield personally.

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Orders and Dispositions for the Year 13

Aha! You thought that I was dead, didn’t you internet? Well I suppose we all know how that one turned out.

I have the remaining two parts of Bushido Me Timbers, hard-hitting exposition that it is, written and sitting on the hard drive of my faithful laptop here in Canberra. I also have left his power cable in Bendigo and no method of extracting them without wasting money on something like that – so the other posts will go up, with part 3 coming in on Friday the 11th when I return home from Bendigo. The series has been finished for a while, I was just planning to space the posts out rather than going for an info-dump. I guess that serves me right for pretending to know what I’m doing.

This post, however, is not written on a borrowed computer or on my old laptop that might as well currently be a brick. This post is written on a brand-new Toshiba laptop that I got for Christmas. Having a computer that makes mincemeat of tasks my old one couldn’t even attempt puts the concept of obsolescence into perspective, even if it is an artificial example powered by the great Satan of capitalism. So what will this drive me to do? Muse about what I want out of this year.

By the end of this year I will:

 

– Have painted a total of 600 miniatures.

This averages 50 a month, and as I plan to do 3mm armies for Cold War Commander with the tiny and easily-dotted infantry (and tanks) it shouldn’t be anywhere near as difficult as it sounds. More difficult is the fact that I want to get around 150 miniatures done that are 28mm – I want to finish a regiment of Napoleonic Austrians, my 17th C. Dutch for Bushido me Timbers and the Japs for Bushido me Timbers, which isn’t even counting the inevitable complication that arises from a tempting new project (Ancients? 15th C. Italy? Old West? Pirates? Who knows!).

– Average less than an hour a day on Steam.

Look, I love my computer games. Like every other lonely geek my age I have at some point or other combated loneliness and low self worth with digital devilishness. But it needs to be come to an end. Or at least, come to a less. At times last year I played Mount & Blade until 5AM, slept for 3 hours, then got up and went off to Uni. I don’t care if other people do it, its better than what some people do, or even if its normal. I’ve damaged my capacity to successfully function as a student because of it. No doubt when I come to negotiate next year at the Uni, the fact that I was promising but ultimately unimpressive will come back to haunt me. Speaking of which …

– Do something worthwhile (in a ruthless, structuralist sense).

It doesn’t matter whether it’s soul-destroying busywork or getting on top of my inherent studiousness. I wish I could change this last year so that it was much less wasted, and either bringing money into the closest thing I have to a family arrangement or just being more consistent at school and thus leaving the other students in the dust (as is righteous, for they are but mere mortals). Even if all I do is end up learning a cool but unprofitable skill, that still won’t be a total failure. Pepsi? Partial credit.

– Track my progress and happenings on this blog.

Look, see? My non-existent readers aren’t left out of the process. It doesn’t matter whether or not you care or even exist, dear internet. I want to see myself able to provide consistent and regular posts on whatever subject feels appropriate. One of my main goals was that this blog would not be another wargames blog, where photos of miniatures dominate not just some posts but all posts. I want to post my thoughts on movies, music, history, love, gak, or whatever else takes my fancy. If a readership grows then yay, but if not then meh. I’m going to add a new ‘page’ to this site, that will track the number of miniatures painted as well as the number of games I’ve played. BADGA? Bendigo Boardgamers? Privately? Doesn’t matter. I’ll track the number of fortnightly DnD sessions I attend, and possibly even more interesting vidjamagames. I want to commit to something and see it develop over the course of the year. I can’t speak for precisely how often the page will be updated, but I hope for weekly. Maybe monthly.

 

Kindest regards, and the best wishes in the New Year
~ Max W. Weber

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Bushido Me Timbers Part Two: Roots

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So how does an otherwise relatively normal individual decide to spend dozens if not hundreds of hours into constructing a brief snapshot of a history that never was? I’m the person who did just that and even I’m not sure, but this four part series looks to deconstruct the genesis of a new project as well as the way ideas translate into scale reality.

The idea to build Dutch troops hit me suddenly, but then it started to grow and grow.

As part of the groundwork for this project I had researched the Swedish Empires brief colonial phase, looking for other colourful opponents that I could throw some salted herring at. Unfortunately, what little eventuated was always in plastic. I even tried researching other wargamers and what they’re doing with this period, but to no avail. There were people doing Eastern Europe, but always in huge battles with metal figures and smaller scales. The only popular range with plastic support that I could find was 16th Century Japanese – and while adaptable to the period I wanted, they were hardly a good match for the Swedes. When it stuck with me I did a little more careful research and discovered the bizarre period of Taiwanese history from when the island was known as ‘Formosa’. Originally home to an aboriginal people whose name eluded my searches, Taiwan was settled by the Japanese in what we would call the middle ages. So then how did it become Chinese? Well, the Chinese residents were brought by the Dutch.

The Dutch had a famous and vast colonial empire that revolved principally on trading. They were prone to doing very little with the opportunity for conquest, because the empire was effectively run by autonomous and private companies that focussed on profit. As a consequence there was very little effort towards colonial settlement, which made Formosa an even more unique period of time. While upheavals were taking place in China with the fall of the Ming dynasty and in Japan with the Sengoku period, the Dutch swooped on Taiwan and attempted a haphazard settlement that started bringing over Chinese workers to construct their everything and only bothering with Dutchmen for the garrison. This is not a period of history with a great deal or art or even any media attention, in Holland or abroad but it did have this magnificent piece that sold me immediately.

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The image that I had of Dutch settlement on Formosa was not a happy one. When defining racial characteristics for the Dutch defenders I named the most prominent one ‘Verrekt, Verdomt, Vervloekt’ which amounts to ‘Damned, damned, damned’ and was designed to capture the mentality that arises when commanding in an impossible position. When the island finally and inevitably (between its lousy position, tiny garrison and total lack of naval support) fell the garrison had spent months fighting 25,000 Chinese soldiers with a Dutch contingent that didn’t even reach 2,000 strong, probably including native and Asian auxiliaries as well as the European soldiers.

This tied into my original plan perfectly. Even though I didn’t have somewhat irregular Eastern Europeans to compete with, there were honest to goodness plastic Japanese infantry. And even though they were a little earlier than my Dutch and the Japanese and Dutch never came to official blows, it remained perfect. I had two factions with little reason to like each other and plenty of wiggle room for strategic competition. There was a stark contrast between two sides which had their armed forces cast in plastic.

Sweet, sweet plastic.

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Bushido Me Timbers Part One: Seed

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So how does an otherwise relatively normal individual decide to spend dozens if not hundreds of hours into constructing a brief snapshot of a history that never was? I’m the person who did just that and even I’m not sure, but this four part series looks to deconstruct the genesis of a new project as well as the way ideas translate into scale reality.

As a very introspective person, I tend to get a lot of ideas.

Sometimes these ideas are simple but brilliant, the sorts of small changes that reap untold benefits – like a reshuffling of some furniture that takes a few minutes but makes it possible to walk through the house at night without falling repeatedly on your face. Other ideas are borderline madness and best left alone, like the suggestion that I should try and tidy up under my bed when whole expeditions sent by the British government have died trying to plumb the depths. And then there are the terrible ideas that have a gag value. For whatever reason there may be, something will make me laugh and then stick into my mind. Often this is just a corruption of a pre-existing thought and sometimes it’s something entirely new and worrisome. ‘Bushido Me Timbers’ is a 28 millimetre scale project of mine that mixes real and imagined history with whatever the hay was available to create something that I at least will contend is unique.

In late 2011 I bought a stand-alone expansion for the Mount & Blade computer game called ‘With Fire and Sword’. What’s special about this game is the incredibly rare setting, taking place in 1600’s Eastern Europe as powers like Sweden, Poland and (pre-)Russia struggle for military dominance over the continent. It’s not well-balanced, or even especially well designed – and especially not when compared to Mount & Blade ‘proper’. But the setting really got me thinking.

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Although the history is somewhat bastardised, what’s true is that during this century you could have Swedish infantry files grouped as Pikemen and Musketeers facing off against horse archers that looked like they had rode straight in from Genghis Khan’s horde. It was a kind of colonial asymmetry, between natives and Europeans, but here the natives were Europeans and afforded the sense of dignity that these Swedes and Poles would have claimed not that long ago. I saw through the boredom the game had given me and looked instead at the potential for really, really fun games. I wanted to find a way to bottle this formula and release it on a tabletop.

The problem was my insistence on two things. Firstly, it had to be in 28mm or 1/58th Scale. Secondly, it had to be all in plastic. I have so many different projects that I’m starting to lose count, so I wanted this to be small, controllable and cheap. But I also really wanted to capture the feel and novelty of this era the same way it had captured me. The ability to field Swedish miniatures was something that I already knew about, and between their uniforms and the contrast they can create I was already sold on my first faction. But months passed and all I could find for the other, wonderful nations were either metal or 1/72. It seemed like a question of which would break first – my love of scale or my love of plastic. Then suddenly, inspiration madness corrupted my idea as I noted that it sometimes does at the top of this post.

Overnight my Swedish soldiers became Dutch and I bought several boxes of Wargames Factory 16th Century Japanese to fight them.

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The Beginning of Campaign Season 2012

University is on the cusp of finishing up for the year, which comes with a promise of a great deal of freedom for the next short while. In this time I will be visiting Canberra for December, as well as taking a trip on a houseboat with my girlfriend and her family. But these are not what my summers have been about in recent years, oh no.

Summer has become campaign season.

When I refer to the campaigning season, I wish to emulate those generals of various bygone ages that had seen their armies stuck in depots and digs throughout the cold winter months while left unable to influence them or improve upon their situation. When the snows finally started melting away it can only have caused a stirring in their heart and a feeling that this was the time for the chips to fall their way. Whether or not it had come to pass by the time the next winter trapped their men in those same unenviable positions cannot compare to the burst of energy, optimism and will that an opportunist would have felt at the dawn of spring.

Being a scale wargamer means that I’m not just in charge of ordering the soldiers about, though. I have to assemble and paint and care for every last man jack in my command. When one has soldiers that stretch from the most bizarrely imagined to the entirely real and from the Viking Ages to the possibilities of a 1980’s Cold War Gone Hot it becomes a very disparate and confusing task to keep everything under wraps and manageable. Even worse when you are planning everything around your university schedule. The totality of ones existence becomes either ‘uni’ or ‘not uni’ and the ‘not uni’ is just used to try and repair the gaping hole in free time left by an onrushing work load. The lead and plastic get dragged out into battles, but without being given any improvements, repairs or much progress at all. Old wounds are grated deep into the flesh of unfortunate soldiers that wish only to be presentable.

But now, for a few short months, campaigning season is on. Last year I managed to paint up 2 large battalions for Black Powder Austrians and an entire Flames of War Company in just over a month. I doubt I’ll match that feat this time, but things have since advanced enough that over the course of this summer I should finish the rest of my first Austrian Napoleonic infantry regiment as well as bits and pieces for my side projects. I have 18 Austrian infantry in various stages of completion, 36 sprayed and awaiting colours and 36 awaiting spray – as well as an ‘almost done’ unit of Uhlans for support. On top of that I hope to sink my teeth into 17th Century Skirmish and paint up some 1:600 Leopard 2’s.

The campaign season of Summer 2012 has not quite begun in earnest, but it’s so close. Horses are champing at the bit and men are swearing that this will finally be their chance to join with their brothers and receive a fresh coat of paint. For me it is not just about making hobby progress and enjoying the ride, but also that thrill of optimism as I see the men digging their way out of the off-season quarters.

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