Sunday 19 June 2022

A Batch of Trees

It's been a few weeks since my last post, when I usually try to get something out every week or so. But I have an excuse: the wargames rules for the Franco-Prussian War 1879-71, often mentioned, are now finished. All done, written, typed up and complete with explanatory diagrams. To be frank I am quite pleased with myself for getting going, and following it through a thousand amendments to completion. Anyone who's ever done this kind of big written project (24,000 words) will know it demands a high level of focus, because you have to, as it were, hold the whole thing in your head simultaneously: change one rule and it has knock-on effects elsewhere, which in turn can set ripples in motion at other points. The plan is to at least explore publication. 

I have written rules decades ago (Seven Years War and WWII in particular), but I seriously doubted whether I still had it in me as I came up to my 70th birthday. So massive thanks to those who encouraged and helped in this project: Garry Broom, Adrian Hussey, Phil Olley, Nathan Paxton and Jonathon Marcus. Before this gets too much like a speech at the Oscars, I should say what sort of rules these are. They are aimed at covering the large, dramatic battles of the war, not generic actions with a few units each side. The emphasis is on command and grand tactics, and there is an innovative system of orders whereby you must make a battle plan, but don't have to write anything down or make little maps. We use 28mm figures, but any scale would work, down to 6mm. At any rate, if you are interested in this kind of game and period, just contact me and I will email you a free copy. If you then give me some feedback you will get updates and additions as they emerge.

Right, as some kind of pretext for the all this, here's some pictures of a batch of trees I made a few years back. Skirmish games were in mind at that time, so the bases are big and provide cover for individual figures. I have made slightly better trees a couple of times since, but the methods are only evolutions of those used here, which I have described in previous posts. In due course we will get to these other trees and eventually I will do a proper tutorial, because a wargamer can't have too many trees.

There's not much comment I can add to the individual photos, but two points might be worth making. First, for wargaming purposes, my view is we don't need to enter into individual species of trees for our little woods; generic is good enough in this instance. I like researching stuff more than saner folk do, but I have consciously avoided finding out the difference between an ash, an elm and whatever! 

Finally I have used a method I developed for doing patches of long grass. We'd all perhaps use commercial long grass tufts nowadays, but for what it's worth, here's the method. The material is sisal string, untwisted and dyed fairly dark green in a pan with fabric dye (Dylon in the UK). You then attach it to the base one clump at a time. I experimented with different glues and found UHU worked best. Grasp about half an inch of the fibres between your left thumb and forefinger. Snip it off with scissors and apply a good blob of glue, using your right hand. Now push the tip of this tuft firmly down onto the base. You need it to stand up vertically before you let go of it, so hold it a few seconds if need be. Allow to dry very thoroughly. Now use a sculpting tool or something to splay the tufts somewhat and blend the individual tufts into each other a bit. Finally highlight by drybrushing with lighter greens. The method would work for very long grass or reeds, which are less susceptible to being represented by commercial tufts. Incidentally, even those tufts are greatly improved by drybrushing. 


  1. Nice looking foliage John and some interesting tips. Years ago, I also used sisal twine for grass - I still have about 50m of it in a drawer in my painting desk! At the time I was using either 4mm hardboard or mdf for basing figures, so I used to drill a 3mm dia hole, fill it with PVA glue and cut about 10mm of the sisal then bend it in half and insert it into the hole. When it was all dried, I painted it and dry brushed it a bit before adding the figures - used to work very well!

  2. They look very effective there John. My trees are very much at the functional end of the spectrum, using the plastic trunks from railway model shops and then clump foliage attached with contact adhesive. I then coat these with thinned down pva to stiffen them up, as otherwise they tended to shed their 'leavesl over time.

    Good luck with the rules and for large battles, we currently use Bloody Big Battle rules which work for us, alongside Bruce Weigle's excellent books/rules for reference.

  3. John I am just embarking on a project to build two large 28mm Franco Prussian armies and would be very interested in looking at your rules. I am also interest in fighting large battles but have yet to find a set of rules that would work. If you would be kind enough to send me a copy of your rules I would be very appreciative.My current dilemma is how to base such figures as the new Perry figures are quite large and the firing poses particularly taking up a lot of space.

  4. All good stuff, guys.

    Martin, I just need your email address to send you a copy of the rules. My email address is on the profile page, so you can drop me a line via that. By the way, we use 45mm x 40mm deep bases, with six figures on them and they fit perfectly well. Most of the figures we've been using are the old Foundry range, but the new figures fit fine too. Firing lines were ragged things at this time, so we don't try to "rank up" the figures neatly.

    Contrary to current fashion I like to put figures on as small a base as possible. Two reasons. Firstly, it's historically correct, because prior to about 1900 troops formed literally shoulder to shoulder. The actual rule of thumb was that "a pace is 3/4 of a metre and a file occupies 3/4 of a pace". That's 562mm or 22", in 28mm (1/56) scale scarcely over 10mm per figure! No wargames figures would fit into that, but 15mm per figure works well. The other reason I like small unit bases is that their size gives you the ground scale of the game. The smaller your bases are, the bigger a battlefield will fit onto a practical-sized table.

  5. Hi John, having written my own rules for the better part of 42 years (including a fair number of Franco-Prussian variants) I can appreciate the effort with your rules. I have been a user of sisal twine for years. I took delivery of some of your 4lb Krupp guns from the Perrys the other day and am looking forward to start them in about a week.

  6. Very good - you can never have too many trees and I agree about making generic trees rather than specific species makes life a lot easier. The rules sound interesting and certainly the sort of thing I would have a go at one day. And, I take my hat off to anyone who has the patience for such an endeavour!

  7. Thanks for further comments, guys.

    Mark, I remember when most wargamers or at least most groups used to have their own rules, even though they were all pretty simple by later standards. You had to be more proactive, if that's the right word, in the old days, where a lot of gamers expect to be spoon-fed with a "system" now. Maybe that's a standard "old geezer" comment. Everyone approaches the hobby their own way.

    Kym+, do feel free to email for a copy of the rules when you want. I did send them out to Martin Gane, who asked above. And yes, I think we are best not knowing about ash and elm trees for terrain purposes! There's a lot we might struggle to model with particular tree types (bark patterns?) and I don't want to find out that certain species of trees aren't common in this or that country. OK, I'll go as far as doing fir and pine trees (to be shown here before very long), I've made poplars, and one day there will have to be birch trees with the characteristic white bark, but for your basic bushy tree, generic will do fine!

    1. Thanks I will email you and have a look at them!

      And yes I agree--in terms of trees there are only a few types worth doing for wargaming: jungle; conifers and pine trees; birch; and just plain /trees/ to cover everything else! Which reminds me I had very good results making my own pine trees for Warhammer a few years ago, and I need to do more!