second chance games

Search This Website of delight

Showing posts with label intel. Show all posts



For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!








 SONG FOR WAR FROM INVICTA REX GAMES Look out for this new simulation on the whole of the Mediterranean conflict in WWII - the first game la...


For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!



Look out for this new simulation on the whole of the Mediterranean conflict in WWII - the first game launched by a new company, Invicta Rex Games.

Look out too for a special review exploring this stunning project here on A Wargamers Needful Things next month.

KICKSTARTER LAUNCHED   TRENCH CLUB LEGACY FROM PKB GAMES We're glad to announce the Kickstarter for PKB Games Legacy edition of their st...


For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!






We're glad to announce the Kickstarter for PKB Games Legacy edition of their stunning game Trench Club.  If you liked Company of Heroes, you'll definitely want this.

Magnificent full colour boards

Variety of troops in detailed miniatures

Plus the Legacy mode

All that the original game contained has been increased with the addition of a Strategic map board that allows you to craft your own path and destiny through WWI.  Create your own story with the legacy campaign, adapt the map, unlock new units and weapons.  The original was stunning...this takes you even further.

Click HERE to access the Kickstarter video.

  EUROPE IN THE SPOTLIGHT Just a brief glimpse of three new games that I'll be focusing on over the next few weeks and as the title indi...


For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!



Just a brief glimpse of three new games that I'll be focusing on over the next few weeks and as the title indicates all from European companies.

The first is also the very first game from an equally new French company, Serious Historical Games, though its founder and designer is certainly a familiar name, the well regarded designer, Philipp Hardy.

This will be Nagashino 1573 & Shizugatake 1583 exploring two battles of the Japanese Shingoku Jidai period.

Following on from that will be the latest from the Polish company, Strategemata, many of whose games |I've covered.  This one is a new departure being a multi-player strategic game, in the style of Here I Stand, but with several two and three player scenarios. Its title is simply Time of Wars and covers conflicts in eastern Europe from 1590-1660.

My third review will bring us back to more recent wars, namely WWII and will cover the latest two expansions, V-Sabotage Miniatures and V-Sabotage Ghost from Triton Noir.  The original core game, originally entitled V-Commandos, and its expansions have been featured in earlier reviews.

The miniatures, I can promise you, is a an excitingly hefty package.


 LATEST NEWS CTHULHU WARS: DUEL The latest in the Cthulhu saga has been announced by Petersengames.  To learn more click on here A swift, br...


For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!




The latest in the Cthulhu saga has been announced by Petersengames.

 To learn more click on here

A swift, brutal 2 player rendition of Cthulhu Wars is upon us!!   Be very afraid!

Look out for a future review here at A Wargamer's Needful Things.

Roguelike. Wargame. Two genres that you usually don't imagine mashing together. Perhaps it's time for that to change, if Armou...

Armoured Commander II Armoured Commander II

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Roguelike. Wargame. Two genres that you usually don't imagine mashing together. Perhaps it's time for that to change, if Armoured Commander II is any indication of the possibilities. Now, of course, that fact that this game is a sequel indicates that the idea has been around for a bit, but I've only recently become aware of the series. I'm glad I found it, because as an avid fan of all stripes of roguelikes, I was excited to try something completely different. 

Armoured Commander II (AC2), made by solo developer Gregory Adam Scott, does indeed bring some fresh ideas to the table, and does some cool things with a very simple interface. As you'll notice, AC2 is not a visually impressive game, though the blocky tank designs are charming in their own way. What is impressive is the UI design and the fact that anyone could pick up this game and be playing in a matter of minutes, with no need to even look at the manual. The action follows a distinct series of phases, and all available actions in each phase are either explained on screen or self-explanatory. 

The game begins by letting you choose between a variety of campaigns. You can start at the beginning with the invasion of Poland, or jump to the late war rush across Europe by the Allies, and many stretches in between. Even more campaigns are planned for the future, including North Africa, the Eastern Front, and perhaps even the Pacific one day. Once you pick a campaign, you are given a choice of several tank models. All the mainstays are here, along with some rare models. I enjoyed the historical tidbits included about each model. 

Each campaign consists of multiple missions, broken down into individual days. The gameplay is then split between something of a strategic view, and more zoomed in tactical battles. Each day you have some sort of objective, such as breaking through the enemy lines, and proceed around the hex-based map in an effort to accomplish it. You aren't alone in this effort, as allied forces will take some spaces as the day goes on, occasionally giving you some extra breathing room. Artillery and air support is also on call when available, though you can't fully rely on it. Every action you take on this map consumes part of the day, time which you would ideally be using to rack up victory points. You can choose whether to spend time conducting reconnaissance into neighboring hexes, or just roll right in. Sometimes you will arrive in a hex to find fierce resistance, and sometimes nothing at all. As the day goes on you will begin running short on shells, and perhaps take some damage, making the decision of whether to press on or turn back all the more tense. Leaving the field early will cut your victory points for the day in half, but discretion is the better part of valor after all.

Before long, you will find yourself in a tactical battle against one or more enemies. This is where the meat of the game begins. Now the hex map zooms in, putting your tank in the center and foes all around. At the beginning of each round of combat you will decide what each member of your crew is doing. Naturally, each member has different options available, though all can "spot" for enemy contacts. The driver can prepare to drive, the gunner can prepare to gun, but the commander can only lend his direction to one of them at a time. Depending on what tank you are in, there will be other assistant crewman who can help out by reloading the main cannon, or manning a machine gun, or doing other activities. In the event on of your boys takes a hit (never a pretty sight inside a tank, best not to think about it), you can have one of these crewmen slide over into their place and carry on. All of the selections you make here at the beginning of the turn will dictate what your options are for the rest of the turn, and how likely you are to succeed in those actions.

Combat is deceptively simple in AC2. When you fire a cannon or machine gun, you'll get a percentage chance to hit. This chance depends on a number of factors, such as the size and type of target, whether they are in cover, whether your tank just moved, and whether the commander is directing the fire, among other things. At the end of the firing phase, there is another roll of the dice to see if the target is damaged or destroyed. Each round the enemy is doing roughly the same thing back at you. This sounds simple enough, but there are a lot of neat little twists built in. You can direct your driver to seek a hull down position. He might succeed or not, maybe you should have had the commander help him out? Alternatively, you can have the driver attempt to overrun the position of an enemy AT gun or rifle squad. Do you roll into battle un-buttoned, able to survey the entire battlefield, or button up to keep safe but leave yourself almost blind? The game has many little trade offs like this that keep each turn interesting. 

If you survive and go on to the next battle, your crew will begin to level up and gain new skills. Letting you customize your experience in each campaign and add some RPG flavor to the game. The men each have their own stats like morale and grit that change over time. Each crewman also has a name and even a bit of history, and it will sting to lose one or see him badly wounded after many fights together. I didn't get deep enough into any one campaign to see a lot of this system just yet, but I love that it's a part of the game.

I wasn't sure whether or not I would like AC2 when I first fired it up, but after my first session I could see the appeal, and after my second session I was hooked. Like other roguelikes, AC2 makes you want to see what's around the next corner, and then the next. Maybe you'll find a juicy target, or maybe a nasty surprise. Your first time out might be a dismal failure, but each subsequent run will be made with the experience you've gained. Different campaigns come with different varieties of terrain, enemy forces, and tanks to command. There is a lot of variety here already, and the one-man developer promises to keep adding on over time. The game has technically just begun early access, but you can buy it right now, and expect a full experience already, and a steady stream of updates to come. In the past week since release there have been near daily patches to fix bugs and make small improvements.

At a very modest $8, this game is certainly worth a look for anyone who fancies a new roguelike, a fresh take on WW2 combat, or all of the above. Even if you aren't a fan of the Dwarf Fortress level graphics, the solid UI and compelling gameplay will suck you in before you know it. Like some kind of grognard Neo, you won't be seeing punctuation marks and abstract shapes, you'll be seeing a battlefield alive with dug-in AT guns and deadly panzers.

Since this is just the initial early access release, I plan to follow the game for a while and post a full review once it is deemed complete by the developer.

Armoured Commander II can be purchased on Steam.

Official Blog

- Joe Beard

Here's a link to Part 1 in case you missed it. The Kingdom of Graykeep has already plunged head first into a new age of progr...

Shadow Empire Preview: The Graykeep AAR Part 2 Shadow Empire Preview: The Graykeep AAR Part 2

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


The Kingdom of Graykeep has already plunged head first into a new age of progress, rapidly expanding its borders out from admittedly modest beginnings. As king, I have many decisions to make that will shape our future, but I am assisted by numerous advisors and staff. I plan to continue recruiting additional bureaucrats and using them to head new councils like one focused on foreign affairs, and another in charge of military research. The more funding we can provide to these councils, the more able they will be to provide me with stratagems, cards which I can play, at the cost of political points, to do things like improve diplomatic ties with a hostile neighbor, or change the tactics of individual military HQ's. Below you can see the world as we know it right now. There is much that is unknown to us, but we know that there is opportunity out in that darkness that exceeds the dangers.

Militarily, our situation is stable but still requiring my full attention. We face two points of contact with non-aligned rebel forces, and are being pressed by a minor power that has no respect for our expansion. Previously, I was able to secure basic diplomatic contact with my neighbors to the north, west, and south, and we all agreed to fix the borders in their current state. While future conflict is almost certainly still on the table, I feel comfortable enough to concentrate my forces to the east, where we have numerous active enemies, and several small towns up for grabs.

Amania (dark blue) makes a fatal error. Going beyond occupying the nominally unclaimed territory between us, they send their soldiers behind my lines, cutting off the bulk of my forces from supply just as we finish off the last of the rebels in the area. This will not stand! I have no choice but declare my first war. I had hoped to avoid this inevitability for as long as possible, at least until we had established a more robust economy, capable of replacing the losses we were sure to take. Fortunately, most of my forces still consist of militia, units which are able to replenish themselves without input from my government. On the downside, these forces are weak in terms of firepower. Our enemy appears to have two units of mechanized walkers to our single walker, but overall we have much greater numbers. 

First things first, I have my troopers breakthrough and take back control of the road leading back to Hawking, our capital. This will ensure my forces aren't soon starved for supplies. Then we begin working on turning the tables against the Amanians by cutting off a couple of their units and eliminating pockets one by one. Alas, the major power to the north, Zelaria, chooses this as an opportune time to shake us down for money. Their leader threatens war if we do not pay tribute. With their forces stationed on the border, immediately ready to attack my army from the rear if they so choose, I decide to pay the tribute that is demanded, and avoid a two front war. I've read that those never go well. 

Although it stings to lose a large portion of our hard earned cash, it will hopefully buy us time to deal with one enemy before facing another. My forces pounce on Amania forces and press them back. Unfortunately, their walkers are just as formidable as our lone steel beast, able to turn back entire companies of militia riflemen on their own. Our greater numbers soon tell, however, and we are able to isolate and defeat them piecemeal. The next turn, I notice that our borders in that area show only non-aligned rebel forces. Whether we have defeated them entirely, or if their rear was overrun by rebels, is unclear. The only thing that matters is that our front is secure and our forces can continue to advance and liberate more towns in the area. I order the expansion of our road network so that our supplies can flow to the front. With the foreign affairs situation relatively stable for the moment, more attention can be paid to internal matters. 

One matter , for example, is whether or not we should interact with an ancient AI computer found in some deep ruins back in Hawking. The machine predates all of our known histories and could give us some interesting revelations. It could cause us problems as well. In the spirit of boldness, I direct our scientists to turn it on and see what happens. The AI gives us a lengthy lecture on ethics, and then supplies the knowledge needed for us to produce more effective firearms. The ethics we take into consideration, the firearms we prepare for production.

Production, however, requires resources, and my advisors point out to me that we won't be able to build any of the nice new things they have been researching until we secure our own supplies of them. Namely, metal. Our militia army is fine for now, but if we want to build anything better, we need metal. Our dirt roads are fine for now, but if we want to build railroads, we need metal. If we want to expand our industrial base, again, metal. To that end I stop by the economic council meeting and direct them devote the vast majority of their funding to prospecting for resource deposits. The more passive approach I've taken so far has not yielded any results. I have the military continue to explore and bring more territory into our kingdom, hopefully increases the chances we will strike metal.

In the meantime I've begun buying metal on the limited open market. We have an excess of funds at the moment, since we aren't building much of anything (need metal!) and so buying it outright will get things moving for now.  I quickly learn that buying too much of one resource causes the price to sky rocket for a time, and vice versa, selling a large amount of food, something we have quite a lot of, causes its price to plummet. As a result, the amount of metal we can acquire at any one time is limited, but useful for finishing some construction projects we started long ago but never had the resources to complete.

There is one nice economic development, the first private construction pops up near the agricultural domes we built early on. A town to support the workers pops up on its own accord, and begins paying taxes. An excellent development indeed! 

Another internal matter comes across my desk. This one is a bit of a touchy subject. The Church of Syndic, by far the most popular cult within my kingdom, requests a hefty donation from the state to fund their ultimate project. They want to create some sort of super computer to solve all of our problems. Such cults are fairly common on our world, though each has its own objectives. Quite a few of my own staff are Syndic sympathizers, and they would be quite upset with me if I refuse, not to mention the church itself being cross with me. They point out that they have donated multiple priests to augment my forces by strengthening their resolve, at no cost at all to the state. In the back of my mind, I am wary of using such priests in our forces, I can't help but think that seeding too many of them among the companies might lead to some sort of insurrection. That said, they do greatly benefit the troops they accompany. 

I decide it is in the best interest of keeping everyone happy to make the hefty donation. That's money we could have used to buy more metal and other resources, but a kingdom is more than just buildings and roads, it must have a happy populace as well. Zelaria, our most powerful neighbor, is at it again with the demands for tribute. I can see their forces build up along our border at times, making everyone nervous. I tell them to shove off this time and the next. Not only because our forces now stand ready to repel any invasion, but also because I don't have that kind of money to spare at the moment.

Our investment in prospecting efforts finally pays off! A metal deposit is found in the southern region of the kingdom. Now I just need to order the construction of a metal mine and we will be in business! No more shortages, no more buying at exorbitant prices on the open market! We can really make some progress with a steady flow of materials. Oh, what's this? My construction chief is telling me that the site is too far away and outside of our logistics network. Apparently building such a facility in the middle of nowhere with no way to transport workers and construction equipment to the site is a problem. Ah, well, that makes sense. I consult the writings of my father (the game manual) and realize that I have indeed been neglecting the logistical side of things. Simply building dirt roads is not enough it seems. I order the construction of some transportation centers to get trucks on the road and supplies moving. Once again I'm forced to buy metal on the market to speed up the process. 

In the meantime, I look out across my kingdom. We have expanded further than I ever expected by this point. So far out in fact that our units can't be supplied and we begin losing contact with a few of them completely. Logistics really are important it seems! Being a king in this world is far more involved than simply ordering armies around. It requires management of trade, diplomacy, logistics, personal relationships, and more, in far greater detail than one might ever suspect. It looks like I've still got a lot to learn, but things are going quite well in the Kingdom of Graykeep. For now...

Shadow Empire is coming out soon from Slitherine Games. Stay tuned for more coverage of this fascinating title!

- Joe Beard

Day breaks over the kingdom of Graykeep. Well, calling it a kingdom would be a generous statement. Once...long ago, before the Dissoluti...

Shadow Empire Preview: The Graykeep AAR Part 1 Shadow Empire Preview: The Graykeep AAR Part 1

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Day breaks over the kingdom of Graykeep. Well, calling it a kingdom would be a generous statement. Once...long ago, before the Dissolution War, it truly was a magnificent place known around the system. Or so the records and traditions passed down to me by my father say. Truth be told, no one can say for sure what the kingdom was like, or even how long it has been since those glory days. The darkness of endless war and devastation ruined our world, and all of the others known to man during the Dissolution War. A complete loss in communication and trade with other worlds, a regression of technology, and a total breakdown in society has left little standing in the ashes. My family line and a few thousand loyal followers have clung to each other in the city of Hawking and its surrounding villages for centuries, holding out against famine and raiders alike. Now, on the day of my coronation, as I take my deceased father's place, we are poised on the edge of a new era.

Our resource situation, after years of progress and setbacks, has finally become stable enough to support a small standing army of militia, including vehicles for some units. These forces are divided up into several smaller battalions and one, relatively, powerful offensive brigade. We know little about the world around us, only that there are green prairies to our east, a desert to the west, and mountains in between. Ancient roads, now reduced to dirt paths and traveled only by the occasional merchant, still exist and will serve as our means to resupply the troops we send afield. We do not know how far these roads extend, and will likely need to invest in building new ones as we go. 

When it comes to neighbors, we do know the names of several similar city states like ourselves, but no one is certain where their capitals lay or what their exact dispositions are towards us. The little news we have received indicates that other places are in a similar situation as us, able to field small forces to defend their territory and perhaps expand. In the gaps are roving bands of militia, holding onto whatever they can, but without any proper government. Something is in the air, a feeling of tension as if a spring were coiled, we are not the only ones ready for action. 

Our goal is to take back what was once ours, and return civilization to this planet. We will do so by force if needed, by diplomacy when possible. This objective will require us to find new resources and invest them in new infrastructure. To that end I direct my secretary to form an economic council and appoint a promising young staffer to lead it. This council will focus on finding resources and developing new technologies to exploit them. There are many other councils that will need to be formed as we go, using some of our political resources, but each one added gives us many new avenues for improvements.

Our initial ventures afield go as expected. Troops are sent down the known roads and link up our capital with several nearby villages, adding to the kingdom right away. We also stumble across the wreckage of an advanced vessel from the Galactic Republic days. Somehow, despite the centuries of time that have passed, this wreck remained hidden in a ravine and was never picked over by scavengers. Studying it will greatly help our research efforts as we work to recreate the more advanced technology of old.

As we also expected, before too long our troops begin to push up against the forces of our neighbors, who also seem to be on the move. There are no official borders established between us, as they are as much in the dark as we are. Not looking to immediately get in a fight, I pull my forces back to hold onto the towns we have found, and secure the precious advanced wreckage. In the south, our troopers do not encounter any opposing forces and continue on, locating additional villages to bring into the fold. While adding all of this additional population is the goal of our mission, it also means that we have many more mouths to feed. I decide to invest in a domed farm right outside Hawking, where water is plentiful. I also direct our work crews to start their first infrastructure project by building a short new road out to a village that we have discovered. Hopefully this will be the first step towards a globe spanning network centered around our kingdom of Graykeep.

Over the next few months, we bide our time, investing in new government councils while getting a better view of the big picture. We now have a rough idea of the forces facing us from the west, as they continue to encroach on our territory but do not yet attack. Our scouts, initially skittish, reporting the potential foes to be overwhelming in numbers, but cooler heads have prevailed and now we see that their forces in similar to our own, and we have reinforcements we can bring to bear if needed. The troops we sent south find some working automated machine gun bunkers from the Republic days and bring them online. Unfortunately, these units cannot be moved easily, and we do not yet have to means to redeploy them.

As most of our forces are currently occupied with staring down the neighboring army, I decide to invest in an independent company of buggies that can serve as fast scouts to continue exploring the unknown territory around our kingdom.

Over recent months we have tried to sneak a spy into the lands of Limehead, which have learned is the name of the nation to our west. Their forces have not retreated from the border, and I would like to know what lies beyond their lines.The first two attempts to send over a spy fail, but on the third try they are successful, we expect reports to filter back soon. Our scout company of fast buggies is almost complete, and will move out shortly.

We did get some more good news from our soldiers to the south, after some more poking around in the ruins, they recovered a fully functioning mechanized walker from the Galactic Republic era. Our rudimentary militia, equipped with only basic weapons like rifles, machine guns, and RPG's, will be happy to have this war machine bringing its additional firepower to bear. Knowing that we have so many neighbors around, and hoping for better options to interact with them, I decide to form a foreign affairs council. This will generate more stratagems for us to use in diplomacy.

The Emperor of Limehead, apparently tiring of the ongoing situation between our forces, requests that we formally recognize the current lines as the legitimate border between our nations. With the information reported by our spy, I can now see that there is mostly only mountains and desert out there, and so I decide that peace would be prudent at this time. The lands to our east seem far more promising and hospitable. Recognizing the border improves relations between us and Limehead, so I feel safe to remove the bulk of my forces from that area and send them up the road to the northeast. Our first foray into that area encountered numerous groups of unaligned militia and it is likely we will need to fight to take the resources in that area.

Tragedy strikes the scout company we sent into the wilderness to our east where no roads existed. They find a couple of villages, but upon entering one they were ambushed by the local militia forces and nearly wiped out! Of course, this will not stand. I divert some of my troops to secure those villages and the nearby sea. We will need to begin a large road project here if we want to truly control this area. Sending my forces so far into the countryside with no road for logistics is a bad combination. Running low on supplies renders even the best troops vulnerable and useless.

To the northeast, things get hot but go our way as our better equipped army is able to crush several units of unaligned militia. I've begun to consider these forces rebels more than anything else. They should know by now that these lands belong to Graykeep and standing against us is futile. There is another minor kingdom here as well, and we are able to gets eyes on their capital. Like with Limehead, we choose to respect their borders for now so that they will not molest our advances east. After breaking through the rebel lines and driving away most of their forces, we send the battle walker forward to quickly capture a couple more villages. Nothing quite like seeing such powerful ancient technology bearing our banners to bring people into the fold. 

Some of the rebel forces refuse to retreat, and are pounded by our artillery, infantry, and the battle walker. With so much firepower on our side, coming from multiple angles, we are able to inflict heavy casualties while sustaining almost none ourselves. Our forces grow confident with each victory, and kingdom of Graykeep continues to expand under my watch. At home, some new technologies and ideas are discovered, giving us new options and improving the efficiency of my government. I decide to form multiple councils focused on research and development so that we may maintain an advantage over our rivals. I suspect that the going is about to get a lot tougher.

This article is the first in an AAR series I'm doing as a way to preview the upcoming Shadow Empire. This game has really grabbed my attention with its fascinating premise and deep gameplay. It is from creator of Advanced Tactics Gold and the Decisive Campaigns series. At a glance, Shadow Empire bears some resemblance to those games, and does use a similar combat system. But. This game has so much going on that really sets it apart. The manual includes a dozen pages of back story giving context to the setting and the goes on for another 160 pages detailing all of the various systems and mechanics driving this game. It's a lot to take in, and I'm learning as I go. That's why I choose to do this AAR, to chronicle a game so you can get an idea of what it is like, and to give me time to really sink my teeth into the gameplay and the fun setting. I think this game certainly bears a close look from all wargamers and strategy fans. More to come soon!

- Joe Beard

Panzer Corps 2 is just over the horizon! The long awaited sequel to one of Slitherine's biggest titles comes out ...

Panzer Corps 2 - First Look Video and Open Beta for Field Marshal Pre-Orders Panzer Corps 2 - First Look Video and Open Beta for Field Marshal Pre-Orders

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Panzer Corps 2 is just over the horizon! The long awaited sequel to one of Slitherine's biggest titles comes out March 19th, and you can see a bit of gameplay in my video below. If you want to play the game yourself, then you are in luck. Those who pre-order the Field Marshal edition (includes first two DLC and other goodies) will have access to a similar beta version from Feb. 18th to the 20th. So if you loved the first game, go ahead and hop in, this one looks to be a winner no doubt. If you're curious, check out my video and others. 

Please Note: I had some kind of unexpected issue with my recording, which resulted in it looking quite laggy when moving the camera around quickly. This is not reflective of the actual game, which runs perfectly smooth. I'll try to fix it and get a better version out when I can.

- Joe Beard

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking over the phone with Russell Smith , an award winning artist who focuses on images of ...

An Interview with Russell Smith An Interview with Russell Smith

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Last week I had the pleasure of speaking over the phone with Russell Smith, an award winning artist who focuses on images of the Old West and early aviation, particularly World War I aircraft. A rough transcript of our conversation follows.

JB: To start off, tell us a bit about your background, what started your interest in art, and how did you get to where you are now?

Russell: Art was the one thing I've always been good at. Even in elementary school, in third grade, I was drawing noticeably better than a lot of the kids around me. You know when you're good at something, you tend to keep doing it, because you get recognition for it, and I enjoyed doing it.

Then when I got into college, I majored in art, and about that time I saw the work of Robert Taylor, and I just, I loved airplanes as a kid and I thought, "Wow!" if someone can make a living painting airplanes, that's what I want to do. So I started doing it on the side, and worked day jobs for about ten years, and then finally back in 2001, I went full time with it.

JB: So, you did something else in there before you went full time with it. What was the moment when you thought, I can do this full time and make it work?

Russell: Well, I was working in the printing industry for about ten years. I was single at the time, and so I was kinda pushing myself on a pretty hard schedule. What I would do was, I would get up at 6:30 in the morning, go to work, work until 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Come home, maybe run a couple miles and eat some dinner, and then I would go in the studio, and work until maybe one in the morning. Drinking a lot of coffee obviously. I was pushing myself pretty hard, and not getting a lot of sleep, especially towards the last couple of years. In the last couple of years, I was doing to the point that my performance at my job was starting to go down, because I was sleep deprived. 

At one point I just finally thought, this is ridiculous, I can't keep up this schedule. I either have to give up the art or give up my day job, and there was just no way I could give up my art. Because that was my dream, to be a full time artist. I had just enough work, that I figured it would keep me going for just a little while. I decided I would give it a year, and then if it wasn't working out after a year I could look for another job. Then one year turned into two, then two turned into three, then after three or four years business really picked up, and I haven't looked back since. I joke with my wife, you know, if this ever did tank and I had to go back and get a job I don't what I would do. Twenty years on I'm not really qualified to do anything other than be a full time artist.

Russell Smith - Biography

JB: So the two subjects that you focus on mainly are the old west, and early aviation, a lot of World War I aircraft. Tell us, why those two topics?

Russell: Well, of course, I've loved airplanes since I was a kid. That started when I was seven years old and my dad bought me a model of a B-25. I've just loved airplanes ever since. I built a whole bunch of different models when I was a kid. Then when I got a little older that started translating into art. That interest has always been with me and I've always been a history buff. I like looking up the history of these people, the pilots, the planes, and translating those stories onto canvas.

As far as the old west, I love that too, it's a bit more recent subject that I've been painting in, just because for a long time the airplanes kept me so busy that I didn't have time to delve into these other interests of mine. With the old west stuff, it's really more the mythology. The idea of the old west. I guess it's the stories and ideas you get from the books and movies and legends and all that. I love that stuff. I'm not as much into the historical details with the old west as I am with the aviation subjects. Part of that is just because I've been doing the aviation subjects so long, I know the historians, I've studied it, I know what I'm doing with that. Whereas, I can loosen up the belt a little bit with the western stuff. It's almost like that lack of knowledge gives me a bit more freedom to have fun with it. I can explore that mythology and those legends and get that onto canvas.

JB: Can you tell us about the process of how you go from an idea to the finished product, step-by-step, what does that look like?

Russell: Each painting is a little different. I do commission work, so sometimes it's the client telling me what they want, so I go from that and build a composition around it. Other times, it's just an idea that pops into my head. One painting in particular, that I did several years ago of Eddie Rickenbacker's SPAD was actually inspired by a piece of western art that I had seen. It was a picture of a guy on a horse, with a bunch of dust behind, and I thought, if I took that rider and horse out, and put an airplane in there, that would be a really cool scene. So that's kinda what I did. 

Once I get that idea, I'll do some small thumbnail sketches, kinda flesh out of the idea, and give it a little more to breath and get it out of my head. I'll work through a number of sketches until I find what I want. Then it's a matter of doing more detailed drawings, some figure drawings, doing perspective drawings of aircraft. I'm working on a western train robbery scene where I had to do a perspective drawing of the train. Basically getting the finer points down, making sure everything is right, making sure the drawing is right, before ever going to canvas.

Then once I get the image transferred to canvas, it can take a couple of weeks for a small painting, to a couple of months for a large painting. It can be time intense. I'm not the kind of artist that can work straight through on one painting and get it done. I just get burned out after a certain point. I usually have two or three paintings at different stages of completion just sitting around the studio. When I get to a stopping point on one painting, maybe I get bored with it or just reach a point where there isn't any more I can do with it at the moment, I'll take it off the easel and I'll put another painting up and I'll work on it. So there's always work in front of me.

I did an interview with a local newspaper a couple years back where the interviewer asked what I do when I get artist's block and I said I don't really have that problem, because I've got a lot of ideas backlogged that I want to get to, and I've always got a painting waiting to go up on the easel. So, I never really have a problem with artist's block or anything like that.

JB: I asked Russell about whether he ever likes to experiment with new styles or techniques, or explore new subjects.

Russell: It's interesting, the western art market and the aviation art market are typically different from each other in that the folks who are interested in aviation are usually historians, pilots, and technical minded folks who are very detail oriented. Typically in that market they want nuts and bolts, they want rivets. Whereas, in the western art market, the subject is more organic. You're not dealing with aircraft, you're dealing with horses and people and landscapes. You can loosen up and be a little more creative with that. With your brush strokes, with your compositions, your whole method of painting. 

But, I don't want to have two different styles of painting. So what I'm trying to do is, I'm trying to introduce some of that looseness, some of that stuff I deal with in the western art, back into the aviation art, to give it something a little different, to help it stand out from other work in that aviation market. Which is typically really detailed and tight. I think it's really working, people tend to like it.

JB: Next, I asked Russell about the day to day life of a full time artist, and what his normal schedule looks like.

Russell: Well, I've got two small kids, and so a little bit of my day is killed by playing Mr. Mom at home, and running kids to and from school, and playing referee when they get into arguments. I try to keep my day scheduled. If I don't do that, if I don't stick to a routine, I won't get anything done. My attention span is really short and a lot of artists tend to be ADD in that way. A lot of times during the week I'll even eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch, just to kind of keep a routine. I'm going to eat at this time, I'm going to run at this time. I just have to keep my day really structured. 

I get up before the kids are up, just to give myself time to wake up. Once I've got them up and out the door, I'll come in here and I'll work for about three hours, maybe go running. Then I've got to go pick one up from pre-school and I'll bring her back and I'll put her in the house and let her do her thing, and I'll come back in the studio and I'll work another four hours. So that's a typical day, I try to stay focused and not get on Facebook, or get sucked into social media, or things like that. That's always a trap you fall into, and suddenly realize you've killed thirty minutes you could have been painting.

JB: I asked Russell about whether he had any favorite pieces that he has painted, and whether any had a deeper story he wanted to share.

Russell: Oh wow, you know, I heard Billy Joel once say, when someone asked him a similar question about writing songs. He said that they're all like your children, but some of them grow up to be doctors, and some of them grow up to be slobs.

Yeah, there are a few that I'm really proud of, and some that I look back now and think "I could have done a better job with that." There's some aviation pieces, like a couple of my Richthofen pieces, one in particular called God of the North Wind which is of a black tri-plane. Then on the other hand there is this western train robbery scene I'm working on that I think will be really cool when it's done.

[Here I lost a bit of the recording, as somehow both of the devices I was using to record with stopped working for different reasons. First time doing a phone interview, lessons learned.]

JB: I next asked Russell if he had any advice for aspiring artists, especially those looking to make it a full time career.

Russell: (First he discussed how it's important for a full-time artist to understand art as a business, and how to stay in business, and how that is a skill many artists are lacking)

The other thing I would say, is don't do it unless you are absolutely committed to it. It's a hard business, a very competitive business. There are times when you are rolling in business and things are great, and other times when suddenly you hear crickets chirping and wonder what's going on. You gotta be able to ride out those highs and lows, and have a tough skin here. But if you're devoted to it, and it's what you love doing, then by all means do it. Just understand that it's not going to be a walk in the park at times, it's gonna be hard. You'll have to ride out the low points and wait for the high points.

JB: So what do you do for fun? Many people might have art as their hobby, but you do that full time. Do you have other things you enjoy doing?

Russell: It's funny, a lot of artists, I'm finding out now, their idea of fun is going back in the studio and working more. But you know I try to get out, I try not to live in my cage all the time. I try to get outdoors and go hiking. I've got a buddy who is a pilot that I'm going flying with tomorrow. Yeah, I mean, this is like a seven day a week job that is all consuming if you let it be. Sometimes I let it be a little too much, so I try to get outside. I try to go running to get some blood pumping, get some activity to refresh my brain and just reboot every now and then. 

JB: Since you're a fan of the old west, I've gotta ask what is your favorite western movie?

Russell: Oh that's a hard one. I love Tombstone, and 3:10 to Yuma is a good one. Actually there was a scene in 3:10 to Yuma that inspired a painting I did a couple of years ago. A lot of times I'll watch these movies and I'll see a frame, not necessarily that I want to copy, but it's an effect. Or like, this one in particular, there was a stagecoach coming around a curve with some dust behind it, and I thought that would be a cool painting if I put some guys on horseback chasing it. The thing about western movies is they kind of come and go. They'll have a couple good ones come out and then nothing for a while, then a couple more good ones will come out.

JB: You mentioned you like history a lot, do you have any books that you're reading or that you really like?

Russell: Oh boy, that's a hard one to say. I've got a whole bunch of books in my studio. I've got bookshelves full of history books, and they're stacked up in the corners. Most of them are aviation books, but I've got a pretty respectable collection of western books going now. The irony is that most of them I don't end up reading. I only read them if I have to, if I need to research a subject. Most of them remain unread for a long time.

JB: Next, since we are primarly a gaming website after all, I asked Russell if he plays any games or has an interest in war and strategy games.

Russell: You know, I try not to, because I know if I did, I would get addicted and it would steal a lot of my studio time. We don't own a Nintendo or anything like that, for that very reason. I know if we did, I would get nothing done.

JB: A lot of the games we cover are on historical topics, and usually have really detailed art on the cover, have you ever done a box art or anything like that?

Russell: I haven't done any box art, but I have done a lot of book covers, for World War I titles. I've got several publishers I work with. It's fun to do those, because you've gotta kind of think outside the box. Instead of just painting a painting, you have to think about where the title is going to go, what kind of image is going to sell the book, and how big it's going to be. It's fun to work on them, but they're a little constraining at the same time.

JB: If anyone wanted to contact you about doing a commission or anything else, what is the best way to reach you?

Russell: Through my website, Russell Smith Art.

JB: Thank you for your time, it's great speaking with you.

Russell: Thank you 

- Joe Beard

Today we've got an early look at the beta build for Close Combat: The Bloody First. The series goes 3D under the direction of Matri...

Close Combat - The Bloody First Preview Video Close Combat - The Bloody First Preview Video

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Today we've got an early look at the beta build for Close Combat: The Bloody First. The series goes 3D under the direction of Matrix Games, and I'm excited to give it a spin. Check back in a couple weeks for coverage of the final product, releasing on October 3rd.

(Sorry about the audio on this video, I forgot to adjust settings and so my voice is drowned out by much of the shooting. You aren't missing much, just my ramblings.)

SAIGON 75 from NUTS PUBLISHING ANNOUNCING THE FORTHCOMING KICKSTARTER Recently I was fortunate enough to receive a proto...


For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!






Recently I was fortunate enough to receive a prototype copy of this game to be launched on Kickstarter next week.  Consequently what I'll be sharing with you now is intended just to give you a flavour of the final finished professional production.  Above all the aim is for a swift playing game that can be completed in about an hour.  Quite an achievement and one which, for those of an older generation like me, has its acknowledged antecedents in  The Fall of South Vietnam from Yaquinto games.

Like that game and other companies more recent efforts such as Fire In The Lake and Hearts and Minds,  Nuts Publishing have gone for an area movement map.  For me this has always been my preferred way of treating the geography of this war when handled in its entirety, whether as a full blown simulation or a lighter treatment as here.

Though the prototype is on a simple paper map that needed to be assembled in four sections the final product is to be a mounted map and, if you've seen the quality of their paper maps from Urban Operations, I expect the standard for a mounted map to be very high.

For the components, like Fire In The Lake, the company have gone for solid wooden pieces.

However, considering the much lighter treatment and fast play-time there will be considerably fewer to consider!  As you can see from some of the prototypes, the dice are going to be customised with icons, a factor I've always enjoyed as in the Command & Colours series.  To round out the physical elements in the game will be a set of Event cards, which judging by these preliminary ones will certainly add to the thematic atmosphere of Saigon 75.

I've always been a fan of using period photos and these are just what I like in a game.  The current rules provide for using them in two different ways.  The way that they consider best when first learning the game is to start with a hand of three cards, play one each turn and draw a new card or the other way they suggest for players with more experience is to begin with a full hand of eight cards.  Personally, I like the first method as it adds a greater element of uncertainty as to what will occur and which player will ultimately be the one to play the Event.

There are a small number of colourful counters, some - those marked Quyet Thang -  to indicate NVA control, which is absolutely essential to victory, others are US airstrike markers.

At the moment the rule book is physically a very simple, black and white production with no examples or illustrations.  Though it certainly will not need the high quality illustrations and production values of the excellent rule and scenario booklets seen in Urban Operations, I'm still expecting a very attractive presentation.   Even as it stands, I found it very well organised and easy to understand, even without any illustrated examples.  So, no worries there.

As expected the North Vietnamese field both NVA Divisions and VC Battalions, while the South Vietnamese possess ARVN Divisions and an assortment of Ranger Battalions and Marine and Paratrooper Brigades along with a small contingent of River Patrol boats.  Despite its low unit density I was intrigued to see that both sides have to roll for the number of activations that they're allowed each turn, giving each player pause for thought as to where the focus will lie each turn.

All in all, this looks a smooth design, quick to learn, swift to play, but with its own distinctive features.  I look forward to seeing its progress on Kickstarter.

Once again, many thanks to Nuts Publishing for the chance to preview their upcoming game.