Circa Games

dispatches from terra incognita

A Year About the Place

My absolute favorite place upon this Earth is my home. An unanticipated bright side to this year was that I got to spend a lot more time there. My wife and I made an extra effort to document the year along the way.

This post will concern some of my other hobbies — gardening, carpentry, sky-gazing …


January

Nandina bushes and a patio bench on the 1st day of 2020.
Front of the house, 1/1/2020.

February

New “prep” table. All eggs laid by our industrious hens.
Unusual February snow in North Carolina.
The new “solarium” I was in the process of finishing. Began life as a simple deck, then a larger screened porch. Now glassed and heated/cooled.

March

Cherry tree blossoms.
Front corner of the lot. I have been an unlucky beekeeper. The hives are empty.
Tulips.
Signs for the garden, fashioned by my younger son & niece.

April

Dogwood blossoms.
Sunset
Called “the Wonderland,” Hobby Shack in the background.
My wife’s birthday feast.
Peonies.
Working to enclose the garden vs. varmints.

May

Sustenance in order to persevere.
The garden, complete.
Most prolific garden we have had in 20 years.

June

One of the aforementioned varmints, helping herself to my chickens’ feed.
The “solarium,” largely complete.

July

Marital collaboration: birdhouse and post by me, sign painted by my wife.
Summer flowers, and basil in the background. The counter is cherry, made by me.
Luminaries on our street, in honor of a beloved neighbor who died.
Bounty from the garden.

August

Zinnias.
The “cutting garden,” source for the zinnias.

September

I believe these marigolds made a previous appearance on this blog.
The okra plants gave all summer.

October

Bought from an artist, years ago. A favorite.
Lightly haunted.
Swamp sunflowers. A favorite — I am surprised every year when these open.
Sunrise.

November

Red maple in its glory.
Morning in the kitchen.
Front porch on Veterans’ Day.

December

Reminiscent of Owl’s living room in the Arnold Lobel children’s book, Owl at Home.
The room was built to hold this tree.

Thanks for sharing this journey!

I do not say that John or Jonathan will realize all this; but such is the character of that morrow which mere lapse of time can never make to dawn. The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.

Henry thoreau, Walden, 1854

Packing Away the Year

This one has been a mess for so many. I feel fortunate to have remained healthy, employed, and amongst family. I hope the new year brings better things to everyone.

Here is a good bit of my painting progress of late:

The Cthulhu Collection, Reaper Bones all.
A lovely suite of torturing stuff; also from Reaper.
Weird-lookin’ columns; Reaper.
Scatter terrain from Super Dungeon Explore.
This stuff sat primed for a LONG time!
Super Dungeon Explore kobolds and kobold-ogres.
I hate “mimic” monsters, but they make sense for SDE I guess.
I tried to go full “silly” by painting the handles to look like eyes.
Here’s the whole gang. People online describe them as “fun” to paint. I found this not to be so.
Another pair of poker players, from Monday Knight Productions, maybe? I shared the rest of the quartet awhile back.
Reaper Bones fantasy. Not bothered to straighten weapons, and ok with that …
Zombicide figures. These were kinda fun to paint.

Hobby Giving

Heretofore, hobbying has been a personal pursuit for me. The vast majority of my time is consumed by painting miniatures, building terrain, and questing for the perfect organizational system for same. Occasionally I get in a game.

This year, my heart apparently expanded like the Grinch’s, and I was possessed to offer some of my work as gifts. Someone’s post on The Miniatures Page (I believe it was) alerted me to the existence of minis representing the cast of a favorite TV program from my youth.

While painting them, musing that they would likely be for display only as I wouldn’t have much of a gaming use for them, I was thunderstruck. My elder son is also a M*A*S*H* fan, and might enjoy the novelty of possessing these as his first miniatures.

A bit of spray-paint and a sadly-rendered door, and I had a suitable “Swamp.” Owing to the fact that I already possessed all the pieces for this gift, it was completed by the Big Day.

Inquiries uncovered that my son’s girlfriend is a fan of a show with which I am, alas, unfamiliar.

Dashing to the web for research and commerce, I was able to locate their iconic vehicle in two scales (1:64 and 1:43). To my surprise, Hasslefree do passably recognizable versions of the stars as well. Ordered in November, they remain, purportedly, winging their way across the seas.

My younger son has invariably drawn sustenance from Scooby-Doo. As recently as last month, when he spent both Thanksgiving and his 20th birthday isolating with a (thankfully) mild case of COVID-19, he could be found curled up in bed watching the original TV show.

A simple visit to Wal-Mart provided appropriate “wheels,” and as fate had it, Hasslefree also do appropriate miniatures, in both “stock” and “post-apocalyptic” poses.

Once the package arrives, I’m not entirely sure what will be inside. Several characters were marked “out of stock” and others as “pre-orders.” They did take my money for what I attempted to order, so we shall see. This gift may have to continue on to next Christmas …

Wisdom of the Ages (WotA)

This purposely portentous category will be a catch-all for the occasional gleanings of guidance I run across on the web. I’ll begin with two nuggets of wisdom that have guided me for years, and one that may guide me in the future.

The first comes from a foundational text of my wargaming: viz: David Helber’s Major General Tremorden Rederring’s Colonial-era Wargames Page. Mr. Helber formed and continues to shape my aesthetic sense of how a properly laid-out wargames table should appear.

In miniature gaming, structures should be as small as they can be without looking ridiculous.

David Helber, Building Construction for Colonial Wargaming, Major General Tremorden Rederring’s Colonial-era Wargames Page
Template belongs to David Helber.

The Major General’s site is a treasure trove of inspiration and counsel. I have printed out most of the pages, gathering them in a binder for perusal. I’ve read that some gamers use buildings of one scale smaller than their figures. That makes sense, but to my eyes, seems too board-gamey. If you look at David’s structures, they look appropriate next to the troops, but you can fit more of them on your table. And, they’re easier to store. I’ve loved the mdf stuff I purchased from TT combat, but, good golly, those are immense.


The site that likely persuaded me to begin collecting 15mm (really 18mm) figures, lo those many years ago, was Bryan Brooks’ DyeHard’s Victorian & Edwardian Science Fiction page. In addition to his Helber-like tutorials and guidance, Brooks freed me from the shackles of “dead matte” miniatures. No matter the make of spray varnish I used — including the venerable Dullcote — my figures always retained a bit of a shine.

Bryan used the stain method of dipping, rather than my Chick Lewis Future Wash, but the final appearance is similar.

I was very skeptical about this dipping method at first, but now I love the effect. I have even grown to love the candy coat shine over time. I use to be a dead flat paint kind a guy, and one could go back a spray on a layer of Dull-Coat to reduce the gloss effect. After mounting the figures on bases and adding some grass flock, I do give them a quick spray to cut the shine just a little. Beyond the shading effect, the dip also will provide a very strong protective coat over your paint job.

Picture belongs to Bryan Brooks

Here you can see how the technique brings out the details like buttons and metals on a figure, while adding shading to folds in the uniform. Also, despite the focus, you can see the contrast of the dead matte paint of [the] side of the landship and the gloss of the figure. To my eyes, it makes the figure look more animated. [Emphasis added]

Bryan ” Dyehard” Brooks, The Dip Method of Shading, 15mm VSF

And I just have to agree with Mr. Brooks. The slight glow evinces each miniature’s élan vital — the spark of life.


Today’s final bit of philosophy was shared recently by a miniature painter whose work I admire: Chris Palmer of All Bones About It. Chris has been intrepid in his endeavor to paint all the figures in the Reaper Bones I Kickstarter, and subsequent editions as well. He’s been unfailingly generous in sharing details of his process, decisions, and techniques. I only began painting eyes following his tutorial.

Lately he mused after completing some unsatisfying gnomes:

Well, there they are.  They turned out okay, but my heart wasn’t in them.  I have decided life’s too short for me to paint stuff I really don’t like, so the remainder of the set, is going in my sale/trade box. 

Chris Palmer, All Bones About It, Monday, September 21, 2020

This one remains more of an aspiration than a practice for me. I have 1 gazillion unpainted metal and plastic miniatures, including most of ALL OF THE Bones kickstarters … [sigh]. I’ve painted more than ever while working from home during the pandemic. Some miniatures I like, some I grow to like while painting them. Some I don’t like at all, but I soldier through … The lesson of my Warhammer boxed set keeps me from giving them all away, though — it took me 15+ years to realize I did like those figures. And, it doesn’t cost me anything to store them.

Thrifting in NC

Here are the fruits of several recent sojourns to new thrift / antique / junque stores in my corner of North Carolina. The first find was a pair of pairs of Native American Indians. 54mm, metal, old-lookin’, but with no indication of manufacture on the base.

A different store had a bit of a trove, but the fellow wanted too much for them I was forced to be discerning. This chap is a Britains, complete with the swingy arm. I have yet to research who he might be — I don’t recognize the uniform, alas.

By their headgear, I’m assuming these are WWI infantry. They are marked “ENGLAND” in raised letters on the bottom. The kneeling soldier with field glasses has it tattooed upon his leg, as did my kneeling Highlander.

The next two are clearly marked Britains. Both suffer from broken rifle barrels — I haven’t decided on how to best repair the damage.

I wouldn’t usually go for 15s, as I have so many unpainted, but these fellows looked so lonely, jumbled in an old take-out food container (which I’ve already thrown out).

They proved to be a fascinating collection:

I wonder if some of them were home casts, as there were globs of metal and tags with letter markings. The biggest bit of metal was mysteriously marked E WINDS. Then there were gun carriages and limbers, and what I assume are 6mm tanks and trucks.

Then there were some Roman types:

And the majority were Napoleonics:

I figured if I ever wanted to do big battles in Ascaria, this would be an economical start. Tossed in amongst the 15mm mess was this 54mm knight:

He very nearly got binned because I assumed by his gaudy appearance that he hailed from a Safari Toob or some such. Astonishingly to me, he is a Britains figure, though made in China. I later ran across a blog post of someone staging a whole battle with these knights.

All in all, I have been moderately pleased with the “finds” I’ve made. Of course, most of the enjoyment comes from the hunt itself.

Autumnal Splendour

Though working from home, I’m still working — and thus my poor hobby blog has suffered. One consequence of spending so much time à la maison is that the flora about the place has been pampered. Featured above are marigolds, zinnias, and lantana, showing out for fall.

Dipping in and out of various genres, time periods, and scales, I soldier on with painting. Here are a bunch of Foundry Old West figures, along with a couple of Reaper Bones who tower over them. These are some of the first miniatures I bought, based and primed for a score of years.

Next up are some poorly lit Armies in Plastic Woodland Indians. Inexplicably, I’m having a hard time finding suitable inspirational images online as models for the costume. Hence, I’m somewhat makin’ it up as I go.

Below are a quintet of winsome fantasy lasses, all Reaper Bones. I am storing the majority of the first four offerings from Reaper still unpainted, with the fifth offering arriving early next year. Enough to keep me painting for the balance of my days …

Next are plastic miniatures from the Zombicide boardgame. They are pleasingly characterful and paint up nicely. Once I get enough of them completed, I might even be able to try a zombie game.

These fellows came as an infrequent but pleasing surprise — a major miniature purchase that I did not recollect! I knew that I had some Foundry Darkest African native figures, but as I sorted through the blister packs, it became apparent that at some point, I had purchased the entire “Warchiefs & Witch Doctors” collection. I would have come into these soon after the Old West figures, nearly 20 years back. I am occasionally an impulsive purchaser, but I usually recall the caprice.

High Chief and Retinue: Marungu, Moobarik Bombay, and a chap in a “hideous mask”

Squigs. One of the many aspects of Warhammer goblinity that so tickle me. I bought a box of squigs a year ago, and have finally got ’round to painting them. Here are the herders. We’ll see the “beasts” themselves in the next update.

We’ll close with one of the rare metal Reaper miniatures I’ve acquired. I was reading through my Metamorphosis Alpha, 4/e RPG for the first time, really, since I bought it in 2006, and thinking putting together a game where characters awaken on a “colony ship” where things have gone mysteriously, and utterly, wrong. I would incorporate bits of Metamorphosis Alpha, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, Planet of the Apes, Space Hulk, Mutants and Death Ray Guns, Traveller, and perhaps the kitchen sink.

50331 Rand Daingerfield, Space smuggler, apparently

Odd Trios

Ready for battle

Today we have a few recent completions, all of which came in groups of three. First up, some ancient Eureka Miniatures Hardlove Steam Driven Impervious Suits. Apparently unpopular or at least unphotogenic, inspirational searches for them on the web were fruitless. I also searched for “Steampunk mecha,” to no avail. I knew I didn’t want to paint them as mechanical Victorian redcoats … so, I was at a loss.

I eventually decided that they would be attached to an artillery brigade — and thus, would sport blue livery. A few metal steampunks gewgaws, and then a Union Jack on the right shoulder and a Roman numeral on the left (indicating their code in the Eureka catalog).

As a mournful coda, just after this photo was snapped, I placed them in their Plano storage box. The top could just close, but when I snapped the latches on the lid, it pressed down sufficiently to put a dent in each of those plastic helmets [sigh]. So, I’m looking for suitable little bubbles in packing material to replace them. If not one thing, it’s another.

All black is hard to paint.

Next up, three Reaper Bones gorillas. Two are standard issue, if immense in 28mm. The third, their presumed leader, armed and armored. I studied pictures, and gorillas really are mostly black, which turns out to be pretty hard (for me ) to paint. Then, my trust Chick Lewis Magic Wash had gotten imbalanced and extra-Futury, so they got a serious gloss coat that matte spray Could Not Tame. [I used to be able to Google and find the original web page with Chick Lewis’s recipe. I don’t find it now … ] Somewhere in my containers of unpainted Bones is Ape X, who shall make the fourth for bridge.

And finally … owlbears.

Whoo, whooo, grrr.

The rug, 3D printed, has already made an appearance. The other two are Reaper Bones. The owlbear is a fascinating beast. The individual components of the duality are each deservedly menacing, but the alloy seems … well, silly. I recall that Chris Palmer didn’t love the pose on the left — he did some repositioning, I think. I think it looks suitably ape$hite for an ursine avian, with a “cuckoo for Cocoapuffs” vibe, those of us of a certain American age should recall.

The middle fellow looks to me like a regular 28mm miniature wearing an owlbear suit. I’ve always wanted to do some type of a “costume party” scenario — he shall get an invitation.

The Project I Didn’t Know I Needed

There I was, minding my own business, browsing blogs (as one does) and in a moment, I was swept into a project I had no idea I needed to do.

About three weeks ago, Mark Min, the Man of Tin, in one of his glorious fits of genius, posted a work-in-progress creation of his called Spla-fiti. Using soft plastic skateboarder minis (about which more anon), one scoots about the city, endeavoring to leave the most “tags” on the buildings. Meanwhile, police can catch one and cleaning crews might remove one’s tags.

Mark asserts: “It is another exploration of my interest in non-lethal ‘war’ games,” which I wholly endorse. As a kindergartner teacher, there are few aspects of my hobbies that I can share with elementary school-aged students. This game would be one they might play in school (whenever we get to go back, that is … ).

First step was to acquire skaters. Ebay easily yielded the first set of AJs Toyboarders. As Mark noted, Series Two is a rarer animal. My initial Google forays yielded nought. The following day, however, I unearthed a possible lead. A shop called Jack’s Surfboards claimed to have them in stock. I ordered.

Did Jack email to say he had received my order (and payment) ? … He did not. Were there any further communications about shipping, etc. ? … There were not. I could have emailed or called them, I suppose, but the cost was low enough that patience seemed reasonable. Well, not overly-long afterwards, I was surprised by there presence of a parcel in my mailbox.

And, who should I find inside?

They were eager for exercise after the long flight from California.

Ready to Roll

I believe I recall police officers — and perhaps fire fighters — in my sons’ toy box upstairs. I’ll need to have a look. Which I have now done, and, alas, they are all over the place, scale-wise …


The next challenge presented by the project was proper terrain. I have a decent collection of modern buildings for 28s, but I have not yet constructed much for 54s, particularly because of the storage issue. My first thought, though, went to another wargaming sub-hobby which I have been neglecting: 3D printing.

I scaled-up some STL files that I have acquired and printed them out. At the 54mm size, the printing lines are much more noticeable. I think I left the printer on a “fast” setting which is fine for 28mm and smaller. As they are intended to be background props, I’m not letting it brother me.

An appealing aspect of working in the larger scale is that it’s easier to model details. That loo roll was a bit of dowel with paper glued on. I impressed perforations for the individual sheets, but I doubt they are perceptible.

I have some small milk crates that I have been meaning for some time to transform into office buildings. I’ll need to fashion a gridded playing surface. And then I may tinker a bit with the rules to add “distractions” personified by video games and snack machines.

Expect further reports as progress is achieved.

Painting Progress

Here are my latest figures to go into the “completed” column:

An admittedly odd pair — a Blitz Bowl / Blood Bowl orc and a 3D-printed owlbear-skin rug from Fat Dragon Games.

Continuing with fantasy, we have two well-armed lasses from my horde of Reaper Bones.

And then I circled back to my goblin fetish, with two GW Night Goblin netters. I felt pretty good about adding them to the swelling ranks of my army:

Until I recalled that this is what remains to be painted:

The photo doesn’t do them justice, but these aged Reaper Bones turned out better than I expected. On the left is the iconic Deadlands cover boy by Brom; the skeletal fellow on the right had been a cavalryman, I decided.

“Blondie” was one of those metal figures I was too intimidated to paint for years. I don’t recall who made him. Flanking him are two Reaper Bones who turned out ok. I’m ever shocked that one can paint craft acrylics right on Bones plastic without primer.

And finally, to some 54mm denizens of my imagi-nation, Ascaria. First up are Zafrarian artillery. They came with both mortar and howitzer — I assume they wouldn’t man them both simultaneously.

… And their Ascodali counterparts. I’m getting in almost two hours of hobby time a day, which pleases me to no end. Alas, I’m soon to return to remote teaching, so I’ll likely have to forego one of the daily hobbying hours …

Vintage Tin Lizzie

I continue to progress in clearing my decades-long backlog of hobby projects. My latest completion was another wargaming sub-hobby — scale modeling.

I acquired a 1:16 Lindberg Model T around the same time I bought the war-game-sized contemporary rides. I’ve long wanted to own a Ford Model T, and thought that building a model would help familiarize me with it. Well … it remained on the shelf for almost 20 years. The scratches on the box were inflicted by a beloved feline who passed away 12 years ago!

Working on the model brought back a flood of childhood memories … OF JUST WHY I HATED BUILDING SCALE MODELS! My good-golly-gracious, they are an inexcusable botheration. Oh, well … here it is in all its wabi-sabi glory:

The parts are fiddly and often don’t fit together neatly. If you glue plastic to plastic, you can use model glue, which slightly melts the plastic for a solid bond. When one tries to be proactive and paint beforehand, he either has to scrape paint off the fiddly, delicate joining bits, or else use super glue, which musses the paint, it turns out.

The instructions are not always completely clear — I managed to commit only one profound blunder, by glueing the firewall to the cab before I installed the steering column and wheel. I ended up having to sever and rejoin the column. Had I done it correctly, one would have been able to turn the steering wheel and the front wheels would turn. As it is, I can gingerly turn the wheels, cringing with fear that the column will snap.

I used PVA on the windshield, but still managed to smudge it all up. A little part of me wants to track down another kit and try it again to redeem myself, but I doubt that shall happen.

I did check the web for actual Model Ts for sale, and, with the stable financial position that has come to me with maturity, they are not entirely out of reach. However, I did not inherit the “car” gene from my father, so I doubt I’ll be able to successfully convince my wife to support such an expensive hobby. Plus also the all-important consideration of where to store it.

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