Wednesday 13 July 2022

Epic - Building an army in a day!

As they say, anything that sounds too good to be true …… probably is! However, I plead this post title has at least a part truth - sort of!

After picking up the Epic Prussian starter army, from Warlord Games at the Phalanx wargames show (UK) last month, I have been re-energised to start jacking up my Epic Waterloo project, with a view to taking an early look at the Plancenoit part of battlefield.

I already have the French starter box, but have done no more than a few test bases, basically to try and find a painting style that would allow me to get a balance between ploughing through the generous amount of troops supplied and having a paint job that satisfied me.

I have to admit having reached a point in life of being a bit fed up of the merry-go-round of  starting figure armies from scratch, taking ages to get a playable force (worse …. having to paint two playable armies to get a game) and then finding the motivation waning as time takes its toll and the painting becomes tedious or ideal rules can’t be found or the basing feels wrong or more likely and in truth, something else, new and shiny comes along - likely, we have all been there!

So, what to do to keep the motivation going for long enough to see the project through.

Yesterday, I opened up the French Epic box, washed all of the sprues, broke them up and mounted them on their bases with a temporary glue, just to get the full starter army out in front of me. This gives some direction for the project and will allow games to be played with the raw plastic, while units, one at a time rotate across the painting table, with a commitment to getting the whole army ‘dressed’ at some point.

The following post discusses my ‘Epic’ intentions with regards to gaming, basing and reducing game footprint by using smaller units. Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this article.

The first obstacle for some readers might be the thought of gaming with unpainted figures. Well, we have to get a bit real here. If you consider such gaming a sin, then the bigger sin surely would be to have these boxes languish on game shelves, unused and unloved because the gamer is overwhelmed by the task of getting so much painting done before even getting the first game. The point is - we want this on the table and right now would be preferable.

Warlord Games have wisely produced the figures in perceived ‘national’ colours, so here we have blue plastic for the French and Black for the Prussians (red for the British), so instantly we are presented with an easy path to gaming without paint and a recent video from Wargames Illustrated magazine nicely shows such a game being played (see link below), it all looks rather grand.

Having tinkered around with some test bases, I have broadly settled on how things will be done;

Commanders - these are the easiest to deal with. As single pieces, they can be permanently mounted on their ‘official’ plastic bases from the start and have their basing paste added. At least three of these will likely enter the painting queue first for a fast instant result. 

These are brigade commanders, but there is more than needed in the box (10), so some can double as markers to represent aides or be placed at the head of columns to show the unit is in march column rather than attack column.

Foot artillery, you get 10 of these and 6 Horse
Artillery bases in the starter set.

Artillery - having tried painted these two ways, once on the sprue unassembled and once fully assembled fixed to the base, I must conclude that painting them on the sprue is much easier, so initially, these will stay on the sprue and the game will use the bare plastic base supplied to represent the artillery. Yes, I know ….. this will be even harder to bear than unpainted armies :-) so in the first instance, four guns and their crew will be quickly painted up and mounted / based properly, so that some ‘proper’ guns can make an early appearance for my initial small games. 

One uniform base with command strip
and base with great coats.

Formed infantry (line) - I am not a huge fan of the gap that appears between each block of infantry. This results from a 55mm infantry strip being attached to a 60mm base. I will initially use the bases supplied, attaching the infantry with temporary glue, but as each unit gets painted, I will rebase them to 55mm bases (as above photo). For the first few test units, I cut the plastic base down with a razor saw, but to reduce that faff, I have ordered some 55mm MDF bases to see how I get on.

3 bases for attack column

For a representative visual effect and for the sake of reducing unit footprint on my domestic sized table, my initial game with the unpainted stuff will be to use just 2 bases (wide) per unit when in line, 3 bases (deep) when they are in attack column and use a 4th base when a square is required. For my smallish table, I see big advantages to doing that, plus it will significantly speed up the ‘getting painted units to the table’ quest, especially for the British, who were most often in line and so will mostly just use two bases.

4 bases for square

So, I will simply have a drawer of based infantry and they will be allocated to the table on the basis of what the unit currently needs to reflect its present formation. The starter box comes with 10 infantry battalions of 80 men (4 bases each), I reckon with just 2 or 3 bases per unit, I can easily push that to around 15 battalions from the same number of figures and still be able to do square and column when needed, not that I particularly want that many.    

Cutting the strips in half and mounted on a 30mm base.
These are Prussian figures from the free magazine sprue.

Note - above, There is a vlogger (Leon66) who is working through an Epic game box, cutting his strip of 10 figures in half and mounting them on a 30mm base (search YouTube footage for Leon66) - I thought I would give this a go using the free plastic Prussian sprue that I got with a recent Wargames Illustrated magazine. I think perhaps to deal with that gap between bases that I am trying to lose, I should really be using something like a 28mm base to keep things tighter. Admittedly, they do look good and are very functional, especially for road march and going over bridges.

There are 80 skirmish figures in the box


Skirmish infantry - The box art shows 6 figures per base, but my trial bases have 4 figures and due to the vertical scale and figure bulk, that looks fine, so I will likely go with that, giving more than enough skirmish bases from this set. These can be based on the original 60mm plastic bases that come with the Epic stuff, it will just add a bit more to the sense of open order, slightly exceeding my 55mm unit frontage and it at least re-cycles some of the plastic bases.

Cavalry in column 3 bases deep

Cavalry - To keep these compatible with the infantry frontage, once painted, they will be rebased to 55mm MDF bases …. but, I will be increasing the base depth from the 20mm supplied base to 25mm, this just seems to cover the depth of the horse better. The only thing that I am not sure about at present will be whether to drop the light cavalry bases from 5 figures to 4 to differentiate them from other cavalry. I suspect that this might look too ‘skinny’, so some test bases will need to be explored first.

As with the infantry, two bases will represent a regiment in line and three bases for column. There could be some flexibility here, as the set gives a mix of three and four base units. For example they provide three bases of carabiniers, but four bases of cuirassiers, so rather than leave one cuirassier base unpainted / unused, I might do all four and then in some battles, a second unit of cuirassiers can be created simply by having each unit formed of just two bases.

Painting - The sculpts are really nice with a lot of detail. I am presently finding that it is taking around just over an hour to paint a strip of ten infantry plus a secondary item. For the secondary item, a gun / crew or skirmisher base is being included, so they get done quicker without it feeling like much extra work.

Terrain - the buildings that come with the starter kits are lovely and I will certainly make them up as they are the right buildings for the Waterloo battles, but designed at 15mm they seem quite large and more-so with my unit footprint cut down to just two bases in line, so I will likely explore getting some 10mm buildings. Their footprint is obviously smaller, but still retain a ‘relative’ presence.

The brigade of 3 battalions in line and attack column

Rules - Well the obvious contender seems to be Black Powder as they have a tie-in with the Epic package and the rule book supplied with the starter boxes has been amended to be specific to Napoleonics.

In the ACW supplement ‘Glory Hallelujah’, there is a rule stating that if a unit moves more than once in a turn, it cannot then fire after movement. It does a good job of dampening down the desire to use the big movement allowances that Black Powder has as part of its ‘sweeping battles’ design intent. This really helps with the smaller table and so it is worth adopting it into the Napoleonic games.

The Napoleonic Epic Black Powder rulebook, supplied with the starter sets, offers the standard Black Powder measurements (as used for 28mm games), but has two optional measurement suggestions. One is to halve distances (i.e. 1” now equals ½”) the other is to convert inches to centimetres. 

With me reducing line units to just 2 bases rather than the intended 4, using the optional measurement becomes even more compelling and significantly helps us with the smaller table - though in the past with 10 / 12mm miniatures, I have tended to simply reduce all measurements by ⅓, so 12” becomes 8” - we shall see!

There are other rules on the shelf that presently peek my interest. General d’ Armee, Shadow of the Eagles and Bataille Empire being prime candidates, plus, in the good old tradition of wargaming, I have a home grown set that I would like to explore.

I need to add 14 more guns and 68 more
Skirmishers to complete the box to base exercise.

Scenarios - For starters, the supplied Black Powder book has a cavalry action (the Eve of Waterloo page 245, French / British forces) which is small enough to get to the table early, while both Bataille Empire and Shadow of the Eagles each have an introductory scenario that necessarily have fairly limited orders of battle for any nationality. These will make good testing scenarios, but also, picking one might be a good way set the initial target for what units should be painted first, as a planned route to getting a good looking ‘official’ game to the table early.

All of this is coinciding with a number of Waterloo based boardgames that I have been playing of late and as long time readers of the blog will know, regularly, a situation that is created in the playing of a boardgame, can find itself transferred to my table top as a brigade / divisional level battle, so some of that can be expected, particularly when I get back to the ‘Crisis on the Right’ by White Dog Games, which covers the Prussian advance onto the Waterloo battlefield, impinging Napoleon’s right flank and giving us the fighting around Plancenoit.

With all of this Waterloo stuff going on, I have started (again!) to read Tim Clayton’s ‘Waterloo - Four Days that Changed Europe’s Destiny’, which according to Saul David (Evening Standard) is ‘The best book on the battle’. I am currently 100 pages in and the first skirmish size clashes are starting as Napoleon crosses the border and engages Prussian outposts - so again, more opportunities for small games.

Taken together, there is plenty of Waterloo material on the front burner to keep this as a major project theme for the rest of the year! 

But ….. we shall see, because my boardgame Aspern-Essling (Vae Victis reprint) is due to arrive in the morning, covering my much favoured 1809 period and I have some 28mm Austrians that need painting and which continue to prick my conscience ….. don’t you dare say ‘play unpainted’ :-) 

As always, the hobby has much goodness on offers!

Resource Section.

Wargames Illustrated magazine showing an Epic game with unpainted armies. LINK

My sister webspace COMMANDERS is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and give a flavour of where current ongoing projects are up to. The Waterloo project has been given its own page. Link.

At the moment I am exploring a boardgame system called Jour de Gloire (Days of Glory). There is a previous post that covers the battle of Quatre Bras while also explaining the system LINK.