Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Bespoke... what does that really mean?

Amongst our group, the term bespoke has been cropping up with some frequency of late in reference to new projects and collections. But what does bespoke even mean? A quick look in my handy Oxford shows that bespoke is something that is "made for a particular customer or user." Well, that could apply to almost anything I build. It's built for me particularly, surely. But I do understand the intent of using the term in wargaming terms. And this has had me thinking about how I plan projects and what I look for in a new project.

So, an admittedly non-exhaustive list of things I think about and try to incorporate into a new project...

1) Historical Genre/Period: Horse & Musket

If I'd considered this question a couple of years ago, I would have answered differently. At that time, WWII was a major project for us and took a lot of my time and focus. But a quick calculation shows that we haven't gamed any WWII for at least 18 months! That isn't to say that we won't return to WWII (another quick calculation shows 534 28mm figures spread over eight different armies - not including vehicles) but my life-long passion in the hobby has always been Horse & Musket genres, specifically Napoleonics. Looking at the new Wars of the Roses project, this just barely scrapes the edge of Horse & Musket for me.... horses, pointy sticks and some early handguns and artillery. But my Sharp Practice and ImagiNation collections fall into the heart of the Horse & Musket period. While it's true that I like the more modern periods (WWII numbers above support that) but no matter how much effort and time I put into khaki, I always return to my first love.

2) Figure size: 28mm

I have dabbled in various scales/figure sizes over my gaming life (coming up on 47 years in the hobby) but always I've returned to 28mm (or 25mm, or heroic 28mm, whatever....). And with advancing age and deteriorating eyesight, I will stick with God's Own Scale. There is a lot of appeal to the smaller scales such as 10mm (and I have a few samples from Pendraken in my pile) but the truth is my painting style fits 28mm the best and I'm too lazy to modify or re-learn techniques.

3) Project Size: semi-skirmish

What size do I want the games to be? What level of command do I want to represent in the games. Some will argue that the command level of a game is based on the basic maneuver element, be it a battalion, a company, or a section. I think the command level is based on the tabletop commander whose persona the gamer is trying to inhabit. For instance, in Chain of Command, the highest level of command is the platoon commander and the gamer is playing that part in the drama. The basic maneuver element in the game is the section or team but the command level is the platoon. In Sharp Practice, the command level is a bit more nebulous. The figure scale is not particularly defined but I've settled on one 8-figure group representing a company. Thus, most of our games include multiple "companies" and this places the command level closer to the battalion level in Napoleonic terms. Both SP & CoC I consider to be semi-skirmish games (knowing full well the somewhat ambiguous nature of the term). And this is the level I prefer the most... for the level of command decisions but also the relatively low figure count (my ImagiNations project, fielding about 1200 figures, falls squarely outside this usual preference... no defense here).

4) Colour

This relates directly to #1 above. One of the reasons I like Horse & Musket gaming so much is the colour (something that is absent in WWII etc... although it has a colour appeal all of it's own, I suppose). I like a colourful looking game, be it figures, terrain, or table surface (this last also has a side benefit in adding light and clarity to the figures and buildings placed on top of it).

5) Figure Basing: single-based

Now this is a tough one. Most of my projects the last few years have been built using single-based figures placed in sabot movement trays (the notable exception to this is the ImagiNations project, which in truth began with single-based figures but grew out of control and was converted to large multi-based figure stands). Single-based figures provide rule-set flexibility, allow for placement amongst confined table spaces, and figure/casualty removal (depending upon the rules). Another bespoke aspect related to basing is making the basing material match the chosen table covering. This is something I've never achieved completely, although for some reason it never seems to be at the top of mind when I start a project. So, strictly-speaking, the "perfect" bespoke project would ensure matching tabletops and figure bases. I also have a penchant for round bases and/or rounded corners on sabot bases. I like how the rounded-ness(?) gives a more organic feel and look (knowing, of course, that they are basically toy soldiers floating above the ground surface).

6) Game Paraphernalia - minimal as possible

As much as I've aspired to the "no markers/tokens" state, I know that this is practically impossible (at least for me). So what I look for now is a project that will have minimal markers/tokens on the table or tokens that are as innocuous as possible. Can the tokens be coloured or based to match the figure and terrain collection? If dice are required to track status (i.e. in SP  or CoC), can we use less gaudy-coloured dice? Instead of the standard yellow, white or red dice, can we use muted greens, and blacks? Can dice cells be incorporated into the figure bases or sabots? This is a category of bespoke-ness that I am admittedly poor at executing even if it is something I often consider.

7) Labels

How to add labels to figure, sabot, or unit bases.? This one I haven't quite worked out but am actively considering. There are many options but none which appeal completely to me. More of this anon...

8) Figure Style - consistency

Consistency is the key here. I try to use one manufacturer for a project and barring that, sculptors with similar styles. Thus, with the War of the Roses project, I'm using primarily Front Rank figures. For the Irish contingent, I'll be using a mixture of Crusader, Antediluvian, and Saga/Gripping Beast miniatures. out of necessity. Yes, I know Perry Miniatures have all of these in the same range and with consistent style but I have my issues with Perry figures (see here).

9) Storage & Transportation

Ah, the bane of my gaming existence. There was a time when I had a large house with a dedicated gaming space. I had a 12' x 6' table and had little need for considering transportation issues. I hosted most games and needed only to consider figure and terrain storage (unless I was foolish enough to run a game at a convention).  Unfortunately, those days are long gone. I currently have a good painting and building space but no room for a gaming table. Thus, my gaming takes place usually in one of two other venues (thanks to Michael & Vidal) and this means transporting figures and terrain back and forth. Years ago, I decided on figure bases with stick on magnets (usually from Litko) stored in metal tool boxes. Some gamers go the opposite route... metal bases on magnet sheets on the bottom of the storage boxes. Generally, my choice works well (unless, of course, you drop the damn tool boxes or have someone ahead of of you in traffic brake unexpectedly). With the new Wars of the Roses project, I will be experimenting with flexible steel sheets on the bottom of the sabot bases to avoid figures falling out during movement on the table. The point here is to think through potential storage and transportation issues before starting a new project. This also includes ensuring any planned terrain pieces will fit inside my existing terrain boxes (large plastic bins). I've consistently forgotten this when getting stuck in to new terrain projects.

Driving disaster!

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