Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mechanical Men - Why & How

One of the most popular units in my Victorian Science Fiction collection is the Mechanical Men. I have been asked about how I made them and also how they are used.
Firstly I will explain the rationale behind them. I wanted a unit of artificial humanoids. I imagined them to be a form of early, clockwork robots. They needed to be almost unstoppable in melee but to have a few design flaws due to being prototypes.

Game Play
In the GASLIGHT rules I use units are ten strong, so for this unit I have eight mechanical men and two mechanics to maintain them. They are also supported by their inventor, Professor McHoots; a character figure from Eureka. He has powered skates which allow him double movement. Each mechanical man is rolled for on each turn to sustain its mechanical function. However if the sustain roll is failed that figure cannot move again until Professor McHoots or a mechanic has fixed it. This can lead to the unit being spread out over a considerable distance as the game unfolds. For this reason the unit cohesion rule is ignored. Anyone controlling(?) this unit has therefore got their work cut out. On the plus side each mechanical man is devastating in melee and will almost always kill a human opponent and has a good chance of damaging vehicles or buildings.

Now comes the interesting bit – how to build your own unit of Mechanical Men.
The upper and lower body, legs and arms come from plastic Games Workshop Empire infantry sets or Mordheim warband (the same figures repackaged I think). I don't know if they are still available but may be on E-bay.

The weapons need to be removed and the legs detached from the lower torso using a sharp modelling knife. The rest of the parts you need are two sorts of small washers. I used 4mm shake-proof washers and 3.5mm flat washers from my local B&Q store – you need quite a lot of these for the entire unit. For the heads I used metal BB pellets but small ball bearings or plastic pellets should work just as well. I used a thick super glue such as Zap-A-Gap throughout. Remember to take care, no one wants a Mechanical Man attached to your fingers – just think what the doctor might say.

The washers are glued together in pairs, 1 shakeproof onto 1 flat. I originally intended using a flat washer sandwiched between 2 shakeproof but the result was slightly too thick in my opinion, but feel free to experiment. The resulting part will act as a joint between arms and shoulder, legs and hips and in the waist of each Man. The serrated nature of the shakeproof washers is intended to give the impression of a gearing mechanism in each joint.
Now glue a washer pair to each shoulder on the upper torso of the figure, the shakeproof washer should face outward. Similarly glue a pair to each hip of the lower torso, shakeproof washer facing outwards. A better bond is produced if the plastic parts are all roughed up with a small file or sand paper prior to gluing. Once dry attach the legs and arms to the appropriate washers. I tried to keep legs fairly straight as the figures need to stand on the base but arms can be stuck in any position. My intention was to have figures obviously flailing their arms about, attempting to maintain balance as they walked.

The next stage was to glue the lower half to the base. Then the final washer pair was glued to the waist of the lower torso. When all this was dry and secure the upper body was glued onto the waist washer with the upper body turned to maintain that flailing appearance. The final part of the construction was to glue the pellet head onto the neck of the upper torso. It is important to allow each stage to set well before attaching the next part. You may find the a little reshaping of parts, such as legs and arms, will result in a better fit onto the washers. The whole structure can seem a little frail at times but once painted and varnished it will become more robust.

The final Mechanical Man is on the right. The other two were earlier versions which I think failed to give the correct impression. I was trying to avoid cutting the legs from the lower torso but in the end I was pleased that I did take the time to do so.

The Paint Job
All that remains is to paint them.
Spray black undercoat all over. Two coats is usually sufficient but as the black colour is a base for the figures a third coat for luck should do.
I then dry brushed most of the figure with a metallic brass colour and the highlighted with a lighter gold shade. This was used to pick out the “cogs” on the shakeproof washers and the edge of each washer in the pairs at each joint. Some of the bands on the wrists and body of the figure can also be painted in the lighter shade. For the head I painted lines and swirls around the black base colour to give the impression of movement within the round head. I then added a couple of silver lines on the head to show reflections and give it more variety.
The results were simple, quick and, in my opinion, effective.
They can work well in other settings too Pulp, Sci-fi, horror etc.
I look forward to your comments and suggestions for improvements.

Monday, July 6, 2009

VSF on Mars - An explanation

Whenever we have played a Victorian Science Fiction game at the club it has always had a good response. Even players on the receiving end of poor dice rolls and other vagaries of war have enjoyed the game. So I thought I’d take a post to explain why I like these games myself and something of the ideas behind aspects of this “period”.

Way back when the dinosaurs ruled the wargames world & the likes of Donald Featherstone, Terry Wise and Charles Grant held sway over the domain, a young teenager was still playing with toy soldiers and collecting Airfix figures even though he was “too old for all that”. He was simultaneously reading Science Fiction and Fantasy novels (who says males can’t multi-task, eh?). After reading the Tarzan novels (don’t forget the TV series and films) he sought out more of Edgar Rice Burrough’s works and came upon the John Carter of Mars books and some of the Venusian ones as well. This resulted in a few Airfix figures being carved up and extra arms added to men and extra legs to their steeds. This was short lived as the conversions were time consuming and used up two or three figures to make up just one Green Martian. The glue never lasted and they fell apart after very few battles. But the germ of an idea was sown and was left to await a future which would surely come, of well sculpted figures and suitable rules.

Along side this was more literary images of the possible worlds of HG Wells, Jules Verne and others, most notably Michael Moorcock’s Oswald Bastable books. These all had a late Victorian setting one step away from the reality of history. Another idea left germinating.

Let us step into Mr Herbert George Well’s time machine and move forward thirty years. Remember, before we leave, to have our copy of Little Wars autographed by the great wargamer himself.

So we travel into the future (or the recent past & the present day really). A number of impulse purchases were made with the help of the wargamer’s greatest discovery – the Internet. In no particular order I bought; British Colonial infantry from Black Tree Design (the discounts were good), the G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. rules sets, a second hand copy of Frank Chadwick’s Space 1999 rules and a selection of Eureka’s Pax Limpopo figures. Added to this I was reading Gibson & Sterling’s The Difference Engine and other Steampunk tales and the graphic novels; The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen I & II and Scarlet Traces. I was back with the VSF universe I had left behind but this time the resources I needed were all around and the one thing wargamers can always rely on - others had shared my dream. I sought out the web sites these gamers had made, which gave me ideas for scratch-built machines and more sources for figures and vehicles.

So all that remained was to fill in the gaps of the forces and develop a story line. I decided on a Prussian invasion of northern England. This has sound strategic logic as the ship building centres of Newcastle and Sunderland would be obvious targets in such an invasion as would a strike towards the industrial centres of Yorkshire. I also realised that the Ether-shipyards in Middlesborough would be another target but I may have just imagined that. It was an area of Britain I new well and so I could link the progress of the campaign without the need for topographic research. Now what I needed was to build up suitable orders of battle.

This was achieved in a somewhat haphazard way. (My usual method of chaotic wargaming as any of my fellow club members will verify - I feel the need for another post.) I tried to balance the figures and vehicles which I imagined as British with any that had a Prussian feel. Then I looked around at what was available to bolster each side. The results looked liked this:
(in brackets are the manufacturers or ranges that each troop type comes from)

Various characters – mainly colonial officers (Foundry & Black Tree)
British Infantry (Black Tree & Wessex)
Police (Eureka & various others)
Field Guns & Gatling Gun (Black Tree)
Mechanical Walker (Games Workshop conversion)
Steam Tanks (GZG)
Steam Coach & Steam Tractors (Brumm Diecast Models from E-bay)
Tricycle Field Gun & Gatling Gun (Eureka)

Various characters – officers & personalities (Westwind & Eureka)
Prussian Infantry (Westwind & Renegade WW1 Germans)
Armoured Penny Farthing Bicycles (Eureka)
Mechanical Walkers (Wild Wild West toy conversion)
Bohemoth Tank (Mageknight)
Turtle Tanks (Lego conversion)
Mechanical Men (Scratch built from Games Workshop figures with Brigade & Eureka mechanics)

There are also some Old Glory naval figures and some of their WW1 pilots milling about on both sides when needed. Also in use are seated figures from Redoubt Enterprises for some of the vehicle drivers.

I intend to add some cavalry to both sides – possibly Eureka’s unicycling lancers for the British and Prussian lancers from Helion. Ironclad Miniatures make some wonderful steam tanks and British infantry in home service uniform including some guards. Finally Ramshackle makes a great and menacing steam spider which I must have before I die.

Remember John Carter on Mars and the Space 1889 books mentioned earlier? Well once again I’m not the only one. The London War Room produces a comprehensive range for Martian adventures (currently available from Brigade Games) and they have been joined by Bronze Age Miniatures’ truly enticing range. There are also ether flyers available as card model downloads as well as resin versions from TLWR. A number of gamers use Game Workshop’s Kroots as Martian or Venusian natives and I rather like the look of their Dark Eldar Raider as a small flyer. So, guess what the next VSF adventure might be? Ready the supplies of liftwood and Cavorite -Mike’s heading off-world.