Tuesday 5 January 2021

Warlord Epic ACW - painting and comparing

Hot on the heels of Warlord Games announcing their new venture into smaller scale ACW, the latest issue of Wargames Illustrated magazine has hit UK stationer shelves, with a free sample ACW sprue attached to the cover.

This post just gives some initial observations of the figures, the experience of painting them and then comparing them to the figures of Kallistra 12mm ACW and Peter Pig 15mm ACW. 

please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.

Firstly - what’s all this about?

Warlord Games are doing a new launch that takes the ACW period using a figure size that is described as 13.5mm from foot to eye, to give a mass effect on the table, working in conjunction with their Black Powder rules.

The product will be in hard plastic and the initial starter box will provide 12 x 100 men regiments per side, plus 12 guns per side and leaders. There are other support elements planned (Zouaves and cavalry) for the future. 

The starter box is coming in at £90, so if you count every infantry man as 1, every mounted man as 2 and every artillery (and crew) piece as 8, which seems standard industry practice for pricing, then the package adds up to 2576 infantry man equivalents, which at 90 British Pounds Sterling is working out at just over 3 pence a figure.

Actually, it is cheaper than that, because the package also gives you an MDF building, an A5 copy of the Black Powder rules, a background and scenario booklet, bases and some snake fencing.

So of course one of the big things being discussed on wargame media at the moment is the pricing point of the product.

However, accepting that and setting it to one side, this post is going to look at what it might mean to my wargames table, if cost alone is taken out of the equation.

The first thing that we can tell from the sprue and the advertising information is that a regiment is formed of 5 bases, each with two ranks of 10 men, so that is 100 figures for the regiment. The base frontage is 60mm, so the regimental frontage is 300mm, which is actually bigger than the typical regimental frontage in 28mm, so on the face of it, this doesn’t seem something that is intended to cross the bridge between big Black Powder tables and our more modest kitchen / dining tables at home.

Having said that, there is talk that there are some amendments to the Black Powder system for ‘Epic ACW’ and clearly, a starter box that has 12 infantry regiments per side and a scenario book, must by default have scenarios that are based upon using 12 regiments or less, so perhaps getting this to the smaller table is within the design goal of the product. 

Also, the Black Powder universe has tiny, small, standard and large formations, so perhaps all of the 5 bases are only used when representing large units? We will just have to wait and see.

However, wargamers in my position with a smaller table, will likely just create smaller units, perhaps of 2 or 3 bases and anyway, we are used to successfully adapting Black Powder to the smaller table with scaled down game measurements.

The bases have peg holes in them to mate up with pegs on the bottom of the figure strips. It looks like the bases are to be multi functional as an infantry base only has two pegs, but the base has 5 holes, so it looks likely that these bases will also be used to mount cavalry in fives and possible single skirmishers at some point.

Anyway, onto the prep and painting of our free sample from the cover of WI magazine (a superb free gift by the way and rather a coup for the magazine, which is already running high after their recent free Never Mind The Billhooks rules for Wars of the Roses).

Above - this is a picture of the two sprues that come with the magazine, the second sprue holds the bases. You will note the figures sprue has 100 infantry, 1 gun in 3 parts (cleverly done with the gunners attached to the wheels) and one mounted commander. Also note the peg holes in the bases.

For a test, I took one infantry base, one artillery base and the commander.

I originally thought it best to paint these on the sprue, but found this a little awkward, except for the gun wheels and attached crew, which are better painted on the sprue for greater accessibility to all aspects of the figure before the cannon is assembled.

Instead, I glued the mounted leader to his base with plastic cement and the front rank of infantry to their base, but for the second infantry rank, I attached that temporarily to a spare base using Copydex glue, which is a sort of latex glue that stays flexible enough for a couple of days to allow me to still get the figures off that holding base after painting them. Mounted this way for painting, access can be gained to the front and back of both figure strips before mounting them permanently on one base.

The strips have two small lugs underneath that slot into anchor points on the base, so they will not sit flat on wooden lolly sticks, hence the reason for attaching them to their bases.

The WI magazine has a painting guide article. They make good use of contrast paint and describe speed painting that means the rear of the front rank should not get too much attention from the brush as it is hardly on show .... however, while speed painting or impressionistic painting is a valuable skill to learn for small scale mass forces, I can’t help myself from doing my normal painting with Vallejo paints, with a tidy job over all of the figures. 

Though that said, by the very nature of the way the figures are presented, there is a definite and natural speed gain from the dab, dab, dabbing of small paint strokes going along the line of tightly packed figures.

Above photo - my process for the bases shown here was to wash the sprues in hot soapy water, then connect to bases as single ranks (not the artillery wheels / crew, which stayed on the sprue). Prime with black Vallejo Polyurethane acrylic primer and lightly dry brush with Vallejo off white to bring out the detail.

The figures were then block painted in Union colours and then each strip was washed with a mix of Army Painter Dark Tone and Army Painter Acrylic Medium to thin the wash at a ratio of 1:2.

Then going back in to highlight with the same colours as the block paint, but with a dab of Vallejo Ivory added to the uniform colours to ever so slightly lighten them. I know my colours are a tad too bright for Union uniforms, but I like them that way!

Once done, they were coated with mat varnish (hand brushed) and then the strip that had been held on a spare base with the Copydex glue was gently lifted and then permanently glued as the second rank on the other base.

I found the surface of the bases to be very smooth, so where there was space, they were rubbed with some fine sand paper to get a good key. In future, I would do this first, as part of the washing process, before anything is glued to them.

To blend the step of the figure strip to the base, a mix of artists acrylic modelling paste was dirtied up with 2 drops of brown paint and applied around the figure bases with a small old brush and a super thin palette knife. Also the gap between the front and rear ranks were carefully done and the base edge was painted Forrest Green (GW).

Once dry thinned PVA was added to most of the base with a small brush and various flocks, tufts and fine gravel were added to dress the bases.

Above - the front face. Overall, they have turned out well and the way the strips are done, with the figures shoulder to shoulder, makes it very easy to progress along the row in a factory production line sort of way and of course the figures pretty much don’t have any sides to worry about as they are joined shoulder to shoulder.

Above - the rear face. I am a little bit over lit by camera flash in these shots.

There is nice detail on the figure and it is cleanly raised so that the paint brushes catches it easily, making them both easier and faster to paint. 

In some respects that actually caused me a timing problem. While I ‘felt’ that the painting was faster and even easier than normal, these few samples still took a few hours to paint up, longer than I thought they would and that is simply because the detail is there. 

Close up to your face while painting, the detail is clear and I felt compelled to paint it, but once down on the table, most of it disappears in normal lighting, to my older eyes anyway and I think I just need to find a technique that strikes a better balance between speed and doing all of the detail so meticulously.

Above - for height and bulk comparison purposes with other figures I own, the above shot shows a 12mm Kallistra base, the Warlord Games Base and Peter Pig figures side-by-side, in that order. To the eye, it may seem from this position that they are close to each other, but in terms of bulk and being spaced on the base, the differences are noticeable, with them being closer to the Kallistra.

Above - But in this more aerial shot, the differences become more apparent. Gamers that already have 12mm - 15mm collections are probably more likely to have bases that have spacings between the figures. Even if these figures were re-based to have the figures tightly bunched up, I think the bulk of Kallistra and Peter Pig figure would still be noticeable. I am wondering whether the slimness of the Warlord Games figure would actually be closer, as a scale and style, to the Van Dyke models, but I don't have any to compare.

Above - the artillery are again Kallistra, Warlord Epic and Peter Pig in that order and here they are much closer to each other in appearance, probably helped by similar sized basing.

Above - even in the aerial shot they are not that eye-catchingly different.

While painting these, some things that may factor towards a buying decision have crossed my mind;

They are cheap at the ‘per figure’ calculation.

They are easy to paint, but that is slightly off-set by there being a lot of them.

Above taken from an official advert in the Wargames Illustrated magazine - the figures do not run exactly to the edge of the base, so when bases are all lined up as a regiment, the impression of a single cohesive unit is interrupted by the space between blocks of figures.

This may be a deliberate design feature that the starter box rules will make use of. The artillery piece is so cleverly and thoughtfully constructed, that one can assume that the nature of the infantry basing is very deliberate.

For ACW 15mm gamers, a lot of current collectors base to either 25mm (1”) or 30mm, so if absorbing the figures into a current collection, one might need to count the Warlord Epic bases as 2 bases. However, it is also true that Black Powder champions the 40mm bases for larger figures and so the designers must have something in mind to make the 60mm more Black Powder compatible ... we shall have to wait and see what secrets the literature in the starter box has.

With 20 figures to a base, yet being in plastic, they are noticeably very light and robust, so this will be a portable set.

There is plenty of 10mm and ‘N’ gauge terrain available, which has a slightly smaller footprint than 15mm and this would work well with the aims of ‘Epic’.

I suppose to keep the sprues cheap, they have gone for a single infantry design to cover both armies. So each infantry strip has men wearing a mix of kepi and broad felt hats. I have seen one gamer on a video (link below) use a sharp knife to craft away the broad felt hats so that they look more like kepi’s for the Union bases, but that is a step too far for me. In truth, at this scale and en masse, I suspect it is not going to matter too much at the three foot rule.

Overall, I can see the Epic endeavour being successful. Those who already have big 15mm ACW collections may see differences in scale and basing an unconvincing reason to ‘buy in’. Those not so heavily invested will be easier to encourage and those new to the period or to wargaming or wanting to dabble in a new side project will see much to like.

The fact that the product exists (almost) will have people wondering what will come next (if anything) and so it may be that the legacy of ACW may become the important factor.

If I have any reservations, they come from something as daft as I prefer bases to mate up so that there are no eye catching gaps between the figures on neighbouring bases, but in real play, rather than analytical discussion here, that may not be so important, I need to get a few more bases prepped up and see how that looks.

I was also surprised that after spending a few hours painting in all of the detail, once they were out on the table, that largely disappeared and I was just aware of blue ranks with pale areas for face and hands and we are back to that three foot rule.

In some ways this disappoints me, because I like seeing 'the figure', but it probably reinforces the view that If I were to get into these, I would need to finder a faster and more impressionistic way to paint them that would both do the detail some justice, while also going for overall effect.

For the smaller scale gamer, the real positive hit of all of this comes from the fact that Warlord Games as a big advertiser is influential and hopefully we will start to see our magazine coverage and wargame show scene having a bit more scale diversity.

It will be a real shot in the arm for smaller scale enthusiasts to see their preferences reflected in wargame magazines and shows and for the wargame scene in general to ‘appear’ less 28mm centric.

With the other big plastic manufacturers also dabbling in the small scales, this knock on effect at shows and in magazines is going to gather momentum as we have Plastic Soldier Company doing 10mm moderns and 15mm ancients, Victrix doing 12mm WWII and Gripping beast doing 10mm ancients.

Anyway, a big thumbs up, another area of choice for the customer and in our relatively small hobby, it is good to see the confidence of firms to continue to invest in our hobby.

Resource Section.

A very good video by the gamer who carved away the broad felt had and gives a useful description of the product. LINK.