Welcome to 2017!

New beginnings, fresh starts, reaffirmations of love and promises for a brighter future all come to mind for a New Year.  We resolve to get in shape, lose weight, improve career paths, and the like. Then, there are the heartfelt promises we make to others, whether aloud or in our minds. We want to care more, express love more, reverse bad feelings in old relationships or seek out new loving relationships. We try our very best to put these desires into words. Though New Years can be a time of celebration and cheer, there are many people who are facing difficult circumstances. They may be entering this time of year with apprehension or anxiety. I send out a hope of encouragement and for prosperity to you at this time of new yearly birth.

My own plans for this new year are as they were for the last one.  To do much, to enjoy and to bring happiness to as many people as I can manage in person and by proxy online with words and with miniatures from my work.

If you like the look of the picture above that is great.  It is the free miniature for January 2017 at my little Ion Age which you can see online.

GBS

Orcs in the Webbe Advent 2016 – Sharkes Wyvern!

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Now online at Orcs in the Webbe as part of the 2016 Advent Calendar a free Flintloque scenario written by myself as my own personal entry on the calendar for Day 10. Sharke’s Wyvern! The scenario sees Captain Rekhardt Sharke along with his Chosen Orcs taken on a giant monster after being tricked by a Dark Elf noble into a spot of ‘bird hunting’. It includes the scenario but also the rules for including this monster in your games of Flintloque.

You can see it on Orcs on the Webbe and you can see it on Alternative Armies blog as a download PDF too.

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I had great fun writing and playing this scenario with new rules and getting the miniatures for Sharke out of the box again for the fight.  I am currently working on something major for Flintloque that will be out and about in January 2017 but there will be more on this during December.

I hope you enjoy the read and the photos which were taken too.

GBS

Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell

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“I have the most evil memories of Spain, but I have very few bad memories of Spaniards. I only twice remember even being seriously angry with a Spaniard, and on each occasion, when I look back, I believe I was in the wrong myself.” – George Orwell.

I have been a long term reader and fan of Eric Blair (George Orwell) ever since I was a teenager.  Not the Orwell of 1984 or Animal Farm but rather the earlier man of essays and of books such as Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia (not to mention the sublime Down and Out in Paris and London).  Time permitted me to read Homage to Catalonia over the last week during a time of great joy and a friend’s wedding celebration.  It is a book well worth reading if you are interested in several different aspects of life, politics and writing.  It is auto-biography, it is a war memoir, it is a social account and it is a man’s take upon the Spanish Civil War.  Read Orwell and learn about the workings of the world.  Here are some thoughts and if you want to get a copy of this book it is very easy (not the first edition above!) it can be had for pennies from bookshops and elsewhere as it has been in many editions.   My own is in the bin now, water damaged and smelly it was due for composting.

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Orwell went to Barcelona in 1936 to report on the Spanish Civil War. He was so struck with the progress of the workers’ revolution there, the camaraderie and the hope, that he decided this state of affairs was worth defending, and enlisted with a militia unit. His unit soon went to the front, where it stood nearly idle for several months and did little fighting. The unit returned several months later to what seemed like a different city, in the throes of inter-party fighting as the Russian-backed communists attempted to take control of the war effort. Orwell’s unit returned briefly to the front, but while he was hospitalised (due to a bullet caught in the neck,) its members were declared illegal, and he was forced to flee the country.

Most of us are more familiar with the Spanish Civil War through Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Unlike that novel, Homage to Catalonia paints an affectionate portrait of a brave, but naïve, effort that was doomed from the start by international intrigue. Orwell’s affable co-combatants are poorly equipped, crawling with lice, and little interested in fighting, which is lucky because they’re left on an immobile front where if the food isn’t great, the cigarette ration is at least adequate.

This book is indeed an homage, to a brief time in a small place where equality was real, but fleeting, and to the people who were there to live this hope. It also shows us the moments when Orwell became disillusioned with communism, leading to his best known works. (It may difficult for us to imagine, but we need to keep in mind that in the 1930’s, the violence and cynicism of the U.S.S.R. were still widely unknown, and there were many active communists all over the world.) Thus, this book, in addition to being highly enjoyable, is vital to understanding a mindset now remote and alien to us, and a time we mostly know nothing about.

The power of this book is in its indictment of the foreign press and the hypocrisy of international communism. Each did its part to muck up the war effort and betray the people it purported to defend, and Orwell explains as clearly as possible the complex international forces that wasted the war effort and opened the door to fascism in Spain.

Well worth reading and in case you wonder…the world is not so different now.  Be careful what second hand accounts you believe.

GBS

Flintloque, USEME and I go digital download!

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Last week the four books that currently make up Flintloque 3rd edition not only went back into printed stock but also, for the first time, they became digital paid downloads.  Otherwise known as purchasable PDF books. While other companies have been trading in downloads for several years successfully now it has only been in the last month or so that Alternative Armies and by extension 15mm.co.uk and my baby The Ion Age did the same.  When the decision was taken it was set to me to task out a platform from which to make the digital publications available.  After running tests on several installs I settled on one that seamlessly integrates with the physical products on the websites and is very easy for customers to use and also to return to for their purchases.  We began with DarkeStorme my high fantasy skirmish system for 28mm and 15mm miniatures and then moved across to HOF Fire Team and Age of Might and Steel before turning my other loved system books Patrol Angis and Callsign Taranis into paid downloads.  Then it was onto the main event…Flintloque!

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A busy few weeks and then the time arrived this week and with my usual flourish I presented the books plus a mega bundle to the world.  Early notice went to the Notables who were quick to get involved.  The reception has been very positive across the board and especially from the regular wargamers who play Flintloque who in some cases purchased the books as digital to go with existing print or both at the same time to expand their collection.   What has surprised me is actually the uptake on the printed books in conjunction with the same digital title as well as miniatures (above are the Pudigroan Dogmen and our funky three barrelled cannon).  I have asked and been told that the desire was to read the books while waiting for a package to arrive with paper being very much preferred at the gaming table.  This makes sense to me actually as I read books virtually but often purchase in print those I enjoy and tend to always buy wargaming books and RPG books in print only.  It seems that digital downloads are here to stay at Alternative Armies.

As always if you are a customer who continues to allow me to make my living in this wonderful manner I thank you and hope you enjoy what I do.

When the time comes that I have finished the next Flintloque book which is titled ‘Retreat to Kooruna’ it will be a print and digital download title and as such it will be the first Flintloque book to debut as both mediums.  I look forward to seeing how this is greeted by the fan base of the World of Valon.  While the first ever campaign book for Flintloque will get more, much more, coverage as it nears release you can see the cover art by Edward Jackson below.  Back in December 2015 one of the full scenarios from the forthcoming book was published in the Advent Calendar on Orcs in the Webbe.  Click on the link and you can read it or on this LINK you can have it as a PDF to your device direct.  It is one of a dozen to be in the book.

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Flintloque grows every month with new miniatures, new items and new material.  It has been a part of me for more than a decade and it will continue to be so long, long into the future.  In fact some wargamers would never forgive me if I stopped creating new content for the game!

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On Friday last week the whole USEME series of wargame books went digital download at 15mm.co.uk and while it is true that I nor any other author in the series such as Omer Golan Joel or Kurt Benson have added to its dozen titles in the last two years or so that will change.  We have six small books in various stages of development.  In the meantime I am really pleased to see people still remember my USEME and in honour of that the digital editions are cheaper than the print booklets.  A whole game system for three pounds.  Excellent!

USEME has half a dozen titles in the works by three authors including myself and these are at various stages of readiness.  I am looking at adding titles in the near future and these may well be digital download only.  This will be based upon consulting with several dozen customers at random to see what they prefer.

Thanks for your time.

GBS

Festival of Light 2016 Girvan

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I had the pleasure last night of attending the 2016 Festival of Light Life Cycles with my family along with close friends.  This annual event takes places in the small Ayrshire sea side town of Girvan where I live and in a procession involving more than a hundred people a trail of light is taken to the sea front.  Children and adults who have spent many weeks making lanterns of various sizes all come together lanterns lit while the excellent Samba Ya bamba band plays at their head.  They walk through the town while the crowd applauds and dances a bit moving alongside the procession.  As you can see from the images it was very bright and fortune was on our side as not only was it dry but it was mild and not even a breeze which anyone who comes to Girvan will tell you wind is a constant here.

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The procession featured a hundred, to my estimation, lanterns in various shapes as well as larger battery powered and back pack carried creations such as a glow worm and a white rabbit.  I joined the procession near its end as it moved to the promenade.  This year an excellent development at the sea front with the inclusion of a portable generator and lighting rig making it possible to navigate and proceed easily.  The band marched onto the sand and continued to play while the crowd gathered to watch the straw structures on the sand be lit and burned as a climax to the procession.

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Two large ears of corn with a titanic corn lady with halo in the centre.  About twenty feet in height she was lit last as fireworks were let off and the band played.  Many of the photos I took were blurred and no good but these are the best of them and I have enhanced them for low light.  It was a very effective display and my children enjoyed it.  I have put pennies and small change into the collection bottles dotted around the town across the year and was glad it was well spent.

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Soon is the Girvan Fireworks event…I am looking forward to that, oh and the Christmas Street Party too.  Excellent.

Thanks for your time.

GBS

The New Bank of England 5 Pound Note…plastic!

An Idle Muse for a Sunday afternoon,

Money, Money, Money…great isn’t it…but what is it?  It got me thinking, musing, on this subject during this week when in my change at a shop I was handed a very odd bank note.  A new plastic polymer ‘fiver’ a five pound note issued by the Bank of England.  Though Scotland has had a plastic note similar for a while now it is rather rare and I have only encountered a few.  Let me tell you that after a life time of paper notes this object is weird in the extreme and does not even feel like ‘money’.  So my musing, what is the note and what is money?

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The new five pound note is very small, smaller than its paper predecessor.  It no longer folds and it has a transparent pane.  The front has the Queen as expected and the rear that most prominent of British statesmen Winston Churchill.  I can see the securing features, the holograms and the other measures making it harder to counterfeit.  It has an odd feel and quite unsettling actually but I suppose I will get used it to as those who swapped coin for note initially did.  I folded it, rolled it, crushed it up and it does not return to shape with any ease unlike paper.  Have a look at this five pound note from about 1932-37.

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I say what is money since the first non tactile notion I gained from this new note was its change from paper to plastic.  It puts in physical reality the twin factors of inflation and the illusion of currency as opposed to money. Humour me here.  Currency is used as a physical representation of value that changes over time (bank notes) where as money is actual value (silver or gold coins with inherent value themselves) and this new fiver shows it.  It is a mere token, an abstract, another step down the line away from ‘money’ on the gold standard.  We are moving into plastic ‘chit’ reality devoid of value as all the nations have borrowed in extremis which can never be repaid.  Inflation is subtle but there and over time it mounts up and up.  Have a think.  In rough terms a pack of twenty cigarettes is now about ten pounds, less than a decade ago it was five pounds and when I was a child in the early 1980’s a fiver would have got you hundreds of cigarettes (I use this as I could find the data but it is applied to the pricing of all items).  Inflation makes currency worth less and less.  I will not go into more detail here as it is a musing.

Remember the 1930’s fiver above..when new it could have bought you 113.5 litres of Petrol….now it buys you about three or four!  As for housing…a nice house in London would have set you back thirty of these notes (you earned about one per year on a typical wage)…now…well no point in even trying to work it out.

Anyhow.  Lets not get depressed!

You can watch a wee video and learn more officially at the notes very own website The New Fiver.  Oh and keep them away from heat..for they melt with ease…I am now without mine… 🙁

GBS

Review – Electronic Dreams How 1980s Britain Learned to Love the Computer

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Having gotten myself an Audible account and some credits I took a gander at the vast number of audio books in the purchasable range carried on the website.  This one caught my eye.  Not just as it’s title is the same as one of my good lady’s favourite ever movies but also as I was a fan of Clive Sinclair in the 1980’s…not that I knew his face or name…but I did have a ‘Speccy 48k’ and boy did I love it!  So what is Tom Lean’s book about?

How did computers invade the homes and cultural life of 1980s Britain?

Remember the ZX Spectrum? Ever have a go at programming with its stretchy rubber keys? How about the BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, or Commodore 64? Did you marvel at the immense galaxies of Elite, master digital kung-fu in Way of the Exploding Fist or lose yourself in the surreal caverns of Manic Miner?  For anyone who was a kid in the 1980s, these iconic computer brands are the stuff of legend. In Electronic Dreams, Tom Lean tells the story of how computers invaded British homes for the first time, as people set aside their worries of electronic brains and Big Brother and embraced the wonder-technology of the 1980s.

This book charts the history of the rise and fall of the home computer, the family of futuristic and quirky machines that took computing from the realm of science and science fiction to being a user-friendly domestic technology. It is a tale of unexpected consequences, when the machines that parents bought to help their kids with homework ended up giving birth to the video games industry, and of unrealised ambitions, like the ahead-of-its-time Prestel network that first put the British home online but failed to change the world.

Ultimately, it’s the story of the people who made the boom happen, the inventors and entrepreneurs like Clive Sinclair and Alan Sugar seeking new markets, bedroom programmers and computer hackers, and the millions of everyday folk who bought in to the electronic dream and let the computer into their lives.

I enjoyed the book and it expanded my knowledge greatly about the subject of micro computers but also of the social aspects of 1980’s Britain.  If you enjoyed Elite or Jet Set Willy or any of the other ground breaking computer titles of the era then you will enjoy this book.  Especially fascinating was the end of the book where the author lays out how the Raspberry Pi came into being and the Sinclair Vega too.  The world turns and turns again.  If anything Britain is more exciting now for computers and gaming in that manner than it was in the golden 1980’s.  Of course real gaming uses miniatures and books but every now and again I enjoy a game of Joust just like the next man in his late 30’s!

If you are at all interested in the subject I recommend this book and if you have some time also the excellent BBC documentary film of a few years back ‘Micromen’ which tells part of the story in a grand way.

GBS

Edinburgh September 2016 – National Museum of Scotland

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In a fairly rare break from my normal life of work and family I took a few days off to treat my good lady to a birthday treat trip to Edinburgh at the weekend just past.  We had a really nice time and the weather held up for us too.  I want to share a few things we did (not all of them as I do not want to bore you or make you faint!) while there.  The main thrust of this posting is the National Museum of Scotland which we spent a very enjoyable full morning inside (it would have been longer if there had been seats in the tea room for a lunch date too!  But alas too busy) and here are some photos I took of objects and such that most interested me.

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Above is the view to the right of the main group floor of the museum and it was a delightful surprise to see the natural light entering from the glass ceiling of the nineteen century iron structure and around its floors.  To the left you can see the main light taken from a late Victorian light house.  Below is a photo I just had to take of a small part of a mid twentieth century ‘Atom Smasher’ used by several different universities in the 1950’s..sadly not in use.

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The museum is divided into several sectors which are represented upon each of the floors as you ascend.  With each telling a rolling story they are excellently done and while the nature element does not especially interest me the Great White Shark hanging from the ceiling upon invisible wires was actually rather scary and you can see it below.  I was more interested in the civilisation (read as Mankind but sadly that is not a word allowed anymore) and the science hall.

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A superb presumably solid gold Japanese planetsphere which dates from the seventeenth century which shows the night sky not as pictures but as a series of straight lines.  The photo does not do this object justice at all and the level of detail is amazing and its finish is undimmed by time.

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The next two photographs appealed to the Flintloque writer in me.  The uniform of Thomas Cochrane worn upon the ship Liberator which is well worth looking into and an oil painting by Arthur William Devis.  The fall of Seringapatam and the death of the Tipu Sultan (not actually killed by Richard Sharpe!) in 1797 which was an event one of my favourite British officers was part of; Major General David Baird.

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The reality of biological sciences was brought to life for me in the next room in the form of the actual (I checked!) Dolly, the world’s first cloned animal in 1996.  For more on Dolly follow the link here as it is a fascinating and important area of research.  After this was Wylam Dilly locomotive which while not being anywhere near as famous as the ‘Rocket’ is one of the oldest surviving machines there is from the early age of steam and rail along with Puffing Billy.

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The resourcefulness of human nature and in war caught my eye with a suit of armour plus weapons from Kiribati entirely made of coconut fibre.  While utterly useless against any firearm and most bows as well it does stand up to crushing and impacts from wooden weapons rather well.

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One of the real highlights of the whole museum was the change to read up upon and actually see (yes, I touched it, naughty me) a part of the acceleration cavity assembly from CERN which as you will know is the place of the Large Electron Positron Collider.  Twenty seven kilometres of underground tunnels to smash electrons and positrons together.  I find this actually more impressive than four thousand year old tombs and such as it is the future and an incredible feat of engineering and physics.  Peter Higgs nobel prize was ensured when the ring proved the existence of the ‘god particle’.

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After all this I took the time to get a snap of the view down to the entrance foyer from where we had started our experience in the museum.  An excellent idea for a half day visit and for children lots to do as well.

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Edinburgh was mobbed with tourists…I mean really busy…so I gave up trying to get into any other events or places and instead just went for a sunny stroll in the park getting a good shot of the castle upon the rock from an angle not normally used by TV reporters or postcards and such.

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Lastly a shout out to a great traditional Scottish pub that does excellent food and service too along with some superb ales.  It is small but try to get a table and a late lunch at the World’s End pub at the foot of the Royal Mile. Friendly and with a great atmosphere I took a few photos to show you firstly what I had to drink (Saltire is not easy to get in Ayrshire) and then the outside wall of the pub with its origin tale.

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Thanks for taking the time to read this and if you get the chance I do recommend heading to the historical capital city of Scotland for a weekend.  I had the choice between this trip and possibly Madrid.  I did not get the heat but I got a bloody good time!

GBS

The first digital download of my work….

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I began a test today with a wargame rule system I wrote back in 2005 and then re-issued in 2010 before now in September 2016 turning into a digital download.  The system is DarkeStorme and it is one of my earliest stand alone titles.  I am actually rather proud of it really since it has held up well.  Set on the fictional world of Valon where the mighty rule system Flintloque takes place but in an earlier age of sword and sorcery it was my idea to create a ‘third age’ to replace the lack lustre earlier system ‘Dresda’ which was in a world before Flintloque.  DarkeStorme focuses on warbands of a dozen or so miniatures of any fantasy race and has full rules for monsters, magic and more as well as progression and RPG elements.  A lot packed into sixty pages….mainly due to this being written before I had a lot of parenting responsibilities which makes working life a tad more complex. I am not joking!

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The test is to find out if the customer base of Alternative Armies wishes to purchase paid for PDF’s (digital books)  as well as print books.  DarkeStorme has sold over a thousand copies in its time thus far in print so it is an ideal place to try out this test.  The purchase is made straight from the website using the existing shopping cart and the links are delivered on screen to download from there.  Thus far we have sold a half dozen or so e-copies and it is a good start.  You can visit the page HERE and read the official blog post HERE.

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How do I feel about my work, often running to hundreds of hours per title, being distributed in this fashion?  If you had asked me a few years ago I would have refused straight off since I have watched people being ‘pirated’ our of existence by file sharing networks in the gaming industry.  That and the customers simply did not ask for PDF’s in anything but ‘bolt on’ small items and preferred printed books with their miniatures.  Now though the world has turned and customers are asking for both particularly with The Ion Age title Patrol Angis.  So I will wait and see what happens.  My feeling is that we will be putting out more titles as digital downloads including the big books such as War in Catalucia for Flintloque.  Heck, it may even result in me penning original works for digital download only.  The future will tell.

Thanks for your time as always on my little page.

GBS

My copy of Callsign Taranis for The Ion Age

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“This last decade has seen suffering on a scale not seen for centuries since the obliterating horror of the Aldan Crucible. In the twenty years since the murder of my father in rightful battle and following this my abduction as a child, Prydia has been aflame and never more so than in the this decade now closed. None know the true count of this conflict but it is in the billions of needless deaths. All these deaths needless and the result of the ambitions of the rebel barons and their leagues. Now, here, in the liberation of Bosworth IV we have reached the high water mark of the Leagues. They will rise no more. Edmund Bluefort, leader and lord of the League of Canlaster, is dead this very day in fair joust. With his death and the returning of this planet to freedom I send out this message across all the systems in the Precinct. Freedom is coming and the darkness will be lifted in the months and years to come. As long as it takes, you will all be liberated and returned to a worthy peace. Coming from the skies the red and white of the Prydian Army will drive out the rebel barons and their lackeys one planet, one settlement at a time. The flame that threatened to burn us all and reduce us once more to savages will be put out. Already it gutters and fails. That which has been ruined will be rebuilt and restored. Prydia is rising once more and now more than ever before we must stand united against threats that may come to us from beyond our own stars. This civil war will end!”
Princess Daphne Cyon addresses the Precinct from Zone 62 New Bosworth 4330 IC

My space opera setting just doubled in size!

You can read all about my latest book Callsign Taranis online on its page of the website. I am very proud of this expansion book and though it took longer than hoped or expected to chisel to a finished monolith it is now crossing the globe to all those who made the choice to order it up early. Thank you! I only wish to add some pictures here of what the book likes like internally. Its pages and their quality. We decided to get the book printed in Scotland and went for a high quality paper and bind meaning Callsign Taranis will stand up to the rigours of long term use by wargamers.  It is a thing of beauty and that is important and I think we will do this again.  It costs more and means we make less money but at the same time the customer gets a ruddy good product and we keep people in work here.  This also applied to the larger format pre-print with new cover art of the original Patrol Angis book to which this new one is the expansion sequel.

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“In Callsign Taranis you will find the expansion rules covering the use of Vehicles in play as well as Structures and other bolt on mechanics. There are also game statistics for the vehicles of the Prydian Civil War and additional skills, equipment and items for your troops. Following on from Patrol Angis is part two of the Prydian Civil War background. Also in this book is the Support Phase and the Between Games development of your forces. Rules for how to play larger games of Patrol Angis and how to generate random terrain. A bolt on section for Building your Forces with Vehicle and Mixed platoons. This and more all in a packed sixty four pages! 15mm Wargaming!”

The Ion Age is my own baby. My forth child as it were. It is by a long margin the smallest compared to Alternative Armies and 15mm.co.uk but it is growing and between myself and Sam Croes we are creating something special, something unique.

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I have made the choice that although I will not be posting much here on my own site I will be putting up short articles with my own look at some of the books and products I am involved with closely. What I have written or been impressed by. If you want to see what I am up to most every day then look to the right and follow me on Googleplus and or Facebook. My own site is for musing and mutterings beyond these.

GBS