Impressions: Spectre Stowage Version 2

Way back when the Razor was released by Spectre, they also added a stowage kit to the range so you could add all sorts of boxes, bags and launchers to your vehicles and troops. I took a look at original pack back in July last year and since then have bought it four times, explaining why lots of my troops seem to have gained AT4s and LAW. The downside to the pack was that is was often out of stock, leading to people missing out on it when new stock came in.

Spectre has decided to do a new version of the stowage range. As well as swapping to resin rather than metal, the pack has also been split out into five separate packs. This has also allowed them to expand the range, adding several new items.

This is going to be a quick post covering the new range before I start sticking them onto things. The change to resin has improved the detailing on several items (as you can see above) although I did notice a few tiny air bubbles that will require a little filling. We also seem to be missing an item – the sand boards didn’t survive the conversion, although it sounds like they will be returning soon.

First up the fun stuff! The Launchers pack is designed to let you cover your vehicles in a wide range of things that go boom. In addition to two LAWs and two AT4s from the original pack, this new kit includes a pair of Javelin tubes and an NLAW. The new items are ideal for giving to your more advanced forces (although we are missing a Task Force Operator with a Javelin…)

Probably the most useful of the stowage packs, the Containers and Ammo pack gives you all the various boxes you’ll need to store the vital kit. I’m really happy with the addition of the smaller ammo boxes (in both singles and a block of three), perfect for when you want to stack them up ready for quick action. It’s also the return of the Pelican rifle case, a perfect stand-in for whatever kit you want to claim is inside it.

A quick note – this pack seemed to have gained the small cooler from the next pack I’m going to look at. Might have been a mis-pack.

The cooler chest returns in the Coolers and Fuel pack. The main change here is with the two types of duel stowage – MRE boxes and fuel cans. The four separate cans have been swapped out for a single loose one and four cans stacked in a row. I can see this causing mixed feelings, with many preferring the options of individuals. However, more often than not the singles were being combined into racks when added to vehicles so it makes sense. The MRE boxes are also grouped up.

The Bergens and Daysack pack includes six packs. As well as the four from the original stowage pack, they are joined by two old friends. Backers of the original Kickstarter will remember the SAS Recon Patrol and their separate backpack. Well, the designs of those rucksacks live on and can now be bought separately. This pack is labelled as stowage but honestly, this is ideal for anyone wanting to upgrade any number of figures to look like they are ready for long range patrolling.

The final pack, Comms and Countermeasures, is a real mix of old and new. The smoke dischargers and satellite aerial from the original stowage return. They are joined by the aerial bases (from Humvee Upgrade – Charlie) and a brand new addition, the FLIR cam. This is a two-part upgrade, letting you position the camera facing in any direction. It’s a neat add-on that could be used on all sorts of vehicles to give it an edge in gathering intelligence. It would have been nice to also see the Large Aerial from Humvee Upgrade – Charlie but it’s not a deal breaker

This is one place where I think the switch to resin will improve the product – the metal version of the satellite antennas I have on my SF technicals have been repainted multiple times as they have been bent out of shape. In resin, I can see it returning back original position much more easily.


So what do I think of these changes? First of all, splitting them into different packs is ideal. It means that when I need to grab a few more launchers, I don’t end up with a massive pile of bags I haven’t used. The change to resin is also a positive one, as it means they can be cast by Spectre themselves without having to wait for their metal casting partners. Hopefully, this should reduce how often the stowage is unavailable. It also does a nice job on the detailing as well.

On the other hand, there has been a change in pricing structure. The original pack was £7.50 for quite a few items. The new packs are £3 each. If you wanted to re-create the contents of the original pack, you’d need to spend almost double. On the other hand, you’d also be getting much more on top of the original pack. All of this is, of course, idle speculation as the metal version (which was out of stock) has been removed.

Overall, I think this is a good change for Spectre to make. I’m also excited to see what else they may create to extend the stowage range.

Come back on Friday to see why the FLIR antenna isn’t in the group photo.

Project Humvee – Stowage and Painting

Last time in Project Humvee, we took a look into the basics of the Spectre range and assembled the chassis for the first two vehicles. This time around, prompted by the need to get some vehicles ready for an upcoming game, we’re going to cover the next step for this project. Adding some details, getting the current vehicles painted and then sorting out the next set of chassis and turrets.

Stowage

So in between the first post and now, I’ve actually done a few tweaks to the vehicles. Starting with Humvee One, the standard one. Seeing as this is designed to be the “normal” one that will probably end up being used by the regular forces, the base vehicle hasn’t had any add-ons installed. I did adjust the positioning of one of the armoured windows I mis-installed and filled in a gap I created on the rear bumper.

Up top though, the turret got some improvements. After looking at the some of the pictures, I realised I had mounted the .50cal a little too low and would have caused some gun depression issues. To correct this, I installed a small column to life the gun up slightly. From the stowage kit, I pulled out the large ammo box and stuck it to the side of the turret. This was inspired by a picture from HMMWV in Scale, and made a lot of sense – after all, it means the gunner can grab a reload much faster than having to drop down into the vehicle. I also added a LAW tube on the interior of the turret – perfect for when something needs stopping and the .50cal isn’t working out.

As you might expect, the SF Humvee had a bit more stowage added to it, seeing as that whole rear section is designed to be filled with kit. Starting with the exterior, I added the ever useful sand channels to the side of the vehicle, which should visually balance out the spare wheel and M240 on the far side. In the turret, I decided to keep things simple just adding a small Pelican case to the rear of the interior. Mentally, I see this as somewhere for the gunner to store all the kit they might need when running the turret, such as pen flares or tools. With the new launcher pack, I’m tempted to add an AT4 tube on the back of the turret but this will be painted and assembled once my next order arrives.

Inside the rear section, I’ve added a pile of stowage items perfect for giving the crew a bit more firepower while also making sure there was plenty of space for anyone using the M240 to move around. The list of additions are.

  • Large Pelican case: General stowage, anything from personal effects to medical or comms equipment.
  • Rifle case: More firepower, can be used to stand in for any stored equipment
  • LAW tube: MORE FIREPOWER
  • Small ammo box: General stowage, anything from ammo to additional grenades.
  • Hardened laptop: In gameplay terms, I’m going to use this and the aerials as a way of signifying improved comms for off-map assets or long-range co-operation. This helps to show off this ride as ideal for a SF advisory team, able to act as a force multiplier when working alongside other forces

Finally, I added two items on the rear bumper. The rucksack was put in place to cover up some damage caused by an air bubble, with green stuff filling in the bulk of it. On the other side, a jerry can helped to balance out the look.

Painting

Painting on these vehicles was very similar to some of the other US vehicles I’ve done. Black basecoat, Humbrol desert spray and then touched up with a brush version. Other details were then painted before being washed in Agrax. Rather than leaving to dry as I usually do, I instead dabbed it off which prevented some of the strange patterns I had to deal with on earlier vehicles.

I have a love-hate relationship with painting vehicles. It’s very easy to make them look bad but modern paint schemes means no faffing around with camo. Painting was done in an evening and although there are a few things I could touch up (like the central hubs on the wheel). I’d say these things are ready for the tabletop.

Humvee Three

So, with these vehicles finished, let’s look ahead at the next vehicle I’ll be assembling. The goal with this is to create another Humvee that can be used with regular army forces, so it will be using HMV upgrade Alfa and the partially armoured doors.

This time, however, I’m going to make it a little special and outfit it with the FLIR camera from the new stowage set. This is partially inspired by the LRAS vehicles. A variant I learnt about from the book “Red Platoon”, these vehicles have powerful observation equipment. Instead of the turret mounted system of the real version, the rear mounted camera does the job of marking the vehicle out as something similar without requiring a specific turret change. I’m looking forward to using this in-game.

Of course, the exciting bit is up top – the turrets. I find building .50cal turrets to be a pretty safe bet. It’s a multi-role gun, easily able to take out infantry and light vehicles a like. However, as various scenarios have told me, the automatic grenade launcher is also pretty common. I was planning to wait until Spectre made a Mk19 (much more suitable for Big Army, especially when playing games in the near past) but having seen more photos of the Mk47 in action, I guessed it was time to get one on the board. I am thinking of using the spare M240 I have as a secondary weapon in the turret, letting the gunner engage closer targets where a hail of 40mm would be unsuitable.

That said, I do also like miniguns. Having already used the Spectre minigun when modifying turets for the Empress model, it was time to add another one to my collection. I can see it being used a lot on the SF vehicle, so I think I’ll put it in Turret Bravo with the greater protection. The main challenge is deciding where to put the ammo box.

Finally, as I buy more vehicles, I’m slowly building a collection of unarmoured turret rings. As you might expect, this setup really isn’t suitable for most modern locations. However, it might be useful to have a few armed ones for less combat focused operations (such as interior policing or base defence) so at least one is having a .50cal added to it.

Conclusion

As you can see, work is progressing on. Having a deadline for a project is really handy as it helps to focus the mind and add a sense of urgency. I’m really happy with how these two vehicles turned out and can’t wait for them to both be reduced to burning wrecks as is tradition for newly painted models.

Next week will be another entry in Project Humvee as I frantically try to get vehicle 3 assembled and painted in under a week. I’ll also be looking at at the new stowage options and even getting one or two onto the vehicles.

EDIT: Change of plans – I totally forgot to order the FLIR unit so next Project Humvee post has been delayed. So the first time you see it will be in the next battle report!

Range Impression: Spectre GRU Spetsnaz

When looking at most people’s collections, it’s safe to say that Western SOF units make up most of them. However, for players looking for something different to bring to the table, the Russian Spetsnaz provide an elite force with some changes that make them visually and doctrinaly distinct. Spectre currently have a large range of Russian Spetsnaz available, and with a new group coming soon, now seems a perfect opportunity to look over the current range.

Please note there is a pretty big jump in painting style between these figures so expect to see some paint schemes done back in 2015.

The current Spectre Spetsnaz can be split roughly in half, with the first wave of release designed for general field operations while the second is more focused on urban operations.

The general operators look a little similar to their Western counterparts, with fast helmets,  modern BDUs and plate carriers. However, there are plenty of changes to make them stand out. Some of the figures are wearing Russian designed helmets while all the load bearing equipment (plate carriers and vests) is slightly different from those on the Task Force Operators range.

The close quarters operators share much of the same basic kit but have a few additional items more suited to fighting room by room. The most obvious is various operators with different helmets, including several equipped with visors to protect the users face. Another addition is that several models are wearing fragmentation protection suits designed to protect against blast fragments – a useful bit of kit when clearing rooms. Finally, more of them are wearing armour protection that includes a pelvic plate. Basically, these are the guys kitted up for kicking your front door in and then working their way through every room.

Riflemen

As always, the bulk of your force will be your riflemen. These guys, armed with assault rifles and carbine are most of the figures you’ll need when assembling your force. For the Russians, the riflemen are armed with a selection of AK variants from the AK-74SU up to various AK-100 series weapons. These guns are kitted out with a selection of red dot types, lasers, torches and suppressors. They also have rail kits and stocks that look like Zenit products to make them look even more Operator. Overall there are 6 riflemen in the first release (4 with assault rifles and 2 with carbines) in a selection of moving and shooting poses.

For the second release there are only two riflemen, both with assault rifles, but both are also wearing the additional protective gear (including one of them in a frag suit).

There are also a selection of Russian figures armed with SMGs. In the first wave, there are two figures equipped with suppressed SR-2s. These are great for pointmen on covert operations, taking out targets at close range quietly.

The second wave also has two SMG figures, but these are not armed with tiny SMGs designed for room clearing. Instead, these two are armed with AS VAL, an integrally suppressed rifle firing the specialised 9x39mm round. The round is subsonic (so perfectly for use with a suppressor) while also remaining capable of piercing armour at a reasonable range. Both of these figures have pretty well modified VALs, with sights and torches. These actually present a pretty interesting weapon seeing as they can easily fit the role of assault rifle (especially in terms of lethality) at close ranges.

Support

When thinking about support, the first stop is suppression. Wave 2, more foucsed on urban operations, doesn’t include a machine gunner but Wave 1 does. This figure is armed with an RPK which is great for a putting some extra fire down as part of a rapidly moving force.

Of course the other way of suppressing is to start blowing things up. The Spetsnaz range includes three figures armed with explsovie weapons. The first is an AT Gunner, armed with a RPG-18 with a slung Vityas SMG as backup. The RPG-18 won’t kill an MBT but is perfect for taking out technicals or busting structures.

The other figures are equipped with one of my favourite bits of Russian kit, the GM-94 grenade launcher. With a minimum distance of 5m, this launcher is designed for use in urban fighting, letting the user throw rounds into rooms in the same building as them. The Wave 1 launcher figure is also carrying an AK for backup (for example when you don’t want to wake the neighbourhood) while the Wave 2 operator just has a pistol, relying on his team to engage the enemy once they are reeling from the blast.


As you’d expect, the CQB operators have a few more interesting options for specialists. As useful as the SMGs are at close range, a shotgun really can bring the pain. Wave 2 includes a breacher armed with a red-dot equipped Saiga 12, a semi-automatic magazine fed shotgun perfect for room clearing. This figure also has breaching tools ready to go. In other words, this is your go-to guy for FISH-ing.

As a bonus, thanks to the Saiga’s design, this figure could pass as someone armed with an assault rifle – just in case you find yourself needing another rifleman.

One piece of kit that is more practical for the close quarters fighting than most battlefield is ballestic shields. The Spetsnaz range includes three figures using them. The first two are using partial length shields (the BZT-75T). These only cover the users upper body but makes room entry slightly less risky. Both operators are armed with small compact PDWs (one with a SR3 and the other with a PP2000) perfect for use handed

The final figure is equipped with a full length shield, leaving only his boots exposed. This shield has a vision slit and torch modeled letting you easily lead the team into darkened corridors while still being able to see possible threats. For self protection, the operator also carries a SR-2 SMG.


Of course, the GRU are not just about kicking doors and going kinetic. The range also includes a few lower profile operators, perfect for your special operations. There are 5 figures in civilian clothing, complete with packs full of equipment or ready to hide your firearms from the locals.

The first three figures are more lightly armed, perfect for a crew moving covertly. These three are armed with SMGs including a suppressed AEK-919K perfect for being very quiet. Of course, on the other hand , you can just go loud. For this, the last pack has a pair armed with AKs

As well as being covert operatives, you could use these figures as part of a criminal group. They also fit together well with the Agents and Deniable Operators for more special forces shenanigans.


So what do I think of the range? Overall, pretty great. There is a large variety of kit for players to pick from, with everything from covert agents up to heavily armed door breachers. It also gives players the opportunity to collect a Special Operations range that isn’t just fast helmets and railed M4s – now you get a chance to do some fast helmets and AKs! By combining the different waves together you could build some really cool scenarios utilising the different focuses such as clearing a town with the more mobile operators before the heavily armoured force assaults the stronghold.

I think the only downside I can see is very minor and it’s regarding several of the wave two figures. There are several with quite obvious mould lines down the centre of the helmet which are plain to see even after I attempted cleanup and painting. These won’t matter from gaming height and I’m sure I just needed a bit more elbow grease to remove them but they are definitely there. Apart from that though, the rest of the figures are Spectre usual great casting style, with plenty of detail in the webbing and on the guns.

When it comes to painting, I decided to go for SURPAT, as something different from all the multi-cam. Honestly, I’m not sure I was successful. The massive time difference between painting the two waves doesn’t help (although good to see I’m improving). This is definitely a case where the camo is there to mostly give the impression of camo rather than trying to replicate it exactly at 28mm. On the other hand though, these figures are very visually distinctive when put next to my Task Force Operator models.

Of course, just as I finish this range the next one is coming up. As you can see from the preview above, we’re looking at some brand new weapon systems and updated gear. The new range seems to be based on AK-12 pattern guns in the various roles (assault rifle, LMG and DMR) as well as the PKP Medium Machine gun for extra firepower. It will be interesting to see how the range continues to evolve from here – the Russian arsneal is packed full of strange and unusual kit and the sheer variety of roles they Spetsnaz find themselves means we could see a lot of exciting stuff for years to come.

Spectre Operations: Building A Force – Irregular Support

In the first two posts in this series, we took a look at the basics of building a force, with posts looking at both task specific teams for infantry and the basics of vehicle use. In this part, we’re going to continue the theme of irregular forces (that we looked in post 3). As with previous parts, this article is designed primarily for Spectre Operations but many of the tactics are valid in all modern skirmish games.

(Delving into the archives for this week’s photos – it’s been a busy week)


In the last article we looked at the core of any irregular force, the infantry. Having had you’re greens, we’re now going to talk about the dessert of playing Irregular troops – support options! We’re going to save details of Off Tablet Assets for the next post so for now it’s all the things that will be on the board.

Nothing beats a lack of training like a mass of firepower

Support options are where the irregulars can really level the playing field (often literally).  This is where most of your killing power is going to be, able to get through the Regulars advantages and make life for your infantry easier. Thanks to the relatively low points cost of your core forces, you can often bring a great variety of support to table with a larger selection of options.

Scenario/Setting Bonuses

Before we go into stuff you can buy in the rulebook, lets talk about how the scenario writer should be helping you out. With a few exceptions, irregular forces are not going to be going to pitched battles against regular forces. Irregular forces will use other types of engagements, ofter where they have the chance to prepare the ground or force the opposing force to act in certain ways. These elements are the responsibility of the scenario writer and, while they can be incredibly effective at murdering the balance of a scenario, they are fantastic at helping to set the scene.

There are two types of force multiplier irregular forces can get from the scenario special rules – Bonuses to the Irregulars and Negatives to their opponents:

Bonuses

An Afghan sniper uses the ratline to get into position for the perfect shot

Bonuses are rules that give an advantage to the irregular player. It might be something as simple as having the first turn or starting with the initiative but more characterful mission writers will give you a tool that matches your force.

An example of a bonus is the existence of ratlines (also described as Hot Spots in Force on Force). Representing either tunnels or access to other routes, these give the insurgents a mobility advantage. Dpeending on the scenario, this advantage can either be at  initial deployment (letting teams appear where they can gain the most effect) or during the game itself (letting your troops perform hit and run attacks more easily). Having to clear ratlines also slows enemy units down, especially if they require specialist gear that has to be brought into position. OTAs can help to reduce the effectiveness of ratlines (it’s hard to get away from an eye in the sky) but they can still be a powerful force multiplier.

Another bonus is allowing the recycling of KIA troops to represent overwhelming reinforcements rushing into battle. As well as reducing the number of figures you need paint, reinforcements will allow you to keep the pressure on for longer. Rather than having to worry about winning a firefight as your troops diminish, you get to keep pushing bodies at the opponent. This often won’t

If we look outside of Spectre Operations, Skirmish Sangin includes some characterful bonuses designed for the irregular Afghan forces. Disguising your dickers alongside other civilians requires regular troops to get close before engaging. Adding some goats to the table will make it more likely ambushing troops are discovered. Even the ability for a fighter to ditch their kit and merge with the population will prevent that fighter from being a potential intelligence source or addition to a kill count at the end of the game.

Negatives

Marketplace full of civilians or possible hostiles? Break out the PID checks

Negatives is effectively when you grab the opposing forces’s hand and stop them from being able to use their troops exactly how they want to. Although you can choose to do this physically (your opponent will object, especially if it stops them going for their beverage of choice), I really mean implementing Rules of Engagement and requiring PID. Both of these elements are a part of any modern counter-insurgency and can be incredibly frustrating for the regular troops constrained by them.

Rules of Engagement can vary depending on the situation. It might be limiting the use of certain weapon systems (I.e. don’t engage key buildings with heavy weapons) or restricting actions of your troops (don’t engage targets unless they are already engaging you) but no matter what happens it’s going to force a change in play style. As the irregular player, use this. Enemy can’t engage civilian buildings? Start taking pot shots out of them. Depending on how much you know about the enemy’s ROE, you can really use it to your advantage.

Within this is the concept of PID or Positive Identification. This is how regular troops can actually work out who the bad guys are. This is normally a dice roll that, if successful, reveals the enemy and lifts elements of the ROE. This is has the potential to cause a real issue to you, requiring you to stay out of sight to prevent being rumbled before you are ready. But it also slows down the regulars, and a failed test might cost them the turn needed to prevent you getting a grenade or shot off.

Unconventional Systems

A key part of running an irregular force is releasing they you are not going to play the game in the same way as a regular force. You’ll have much less capable troops,  often much less in the way of direct fire superiority and will probably lack in off table assets. Unless you have a massive advantage in man-power, you’re going to have to look for advantages elsewhere.

The mere mention of IEDs can slow down Regular forces

If the situation makes sense, IEDs and land mines can be a very useful tool. They can be either vehicle or infantry killers and set up to detonate via different method but at the end of the day it’s a way of suddenly striking your opponent without having to expose the bulk of your force (other than maybe a spotter). The bigger devices are a cheap way of knocking out armoured vehicles but don’t dismiss the smaller stuff – an injured soldier is going to affect the rest of the squad.

Even a small device can cause havoc

Finally the mere idea that IEDs are there can also affect how your opponent plays. Every bit of scatter terrain becomes a possible marker for a device. Use this to your advantage!

Now, this final option isn’t for every player, and some people may find it a distasteful element to include. Suicide activated IEDs give you another method of getting explosives into an enemy force without needing to be on the defence. One figure in the right place can cause massive damage, while a vehicle based system is an extreme threat to

Heavy Weapons

Right, lets talk about the big guns. Emplaced weapons are a quite attractive prospect for an irregular player. Most have either high rates of fire or large blast areas, which go a long way to negating the shooter’s low shooting skill. They also normally have several special rules like armour piercing or tank killer that can help get killing blows where other weapons fail.

A DsHK can really ruin an elite operator’s day

Now, they do come with several disadvantages. They are not quite as effective on the attack as on the defence (unless you can find a good position early in the game to cover the entire battlefield). They are very vulnerable to return fire and have a severe mobility issue, requiring the gun to be assembled and disassembled. However, when brought to bear, these weapons can. Especially on defence, assembling these heavy weapon teams in supporting positions and forming a crossfire will let you easily pin down a more professional force.

Of course, if you want to avoid the mobility disadvantages, there is a couple of ways you can get around it…

Vehicles

TECHNICALS

You guessed it, technicals. As I’ve covered in the past, these pickups with heavy weapons give you the firepower of an emplaced weapon while mounted on a much more mobile chassis. On the other hand, they do provide much less protection so you don’t want to get caught in the open. Treat them like a more mobile heavy weapon team rather than an armoured vehicle, putting a few round down range and then relocating.

The arrival of an armed APC can cause serious havoc

Of course, there are plenty of cases where rebel forces get their hands on actual armoured vehicles and bring them into play. In most cases, the crew are more enthusiastic than well trained but fundamentally they act in a similar way to other vehicles on the board. For more hints, take a look at the second article in this series.

Bringing in the Professionals

A small group of militia come under fire but are steadied by the presence of a professional contractor

If you’re getting bored of just having a bunch of poorly trained militia in your force, the situation may allow for the addition of a few Elite or Professional soldiers. There are multiple occasions in modern war where regular and irregular forces have worked alongside each other, such as in Syria where both sides have had Special Operations troops working with militia. On the wargames table, the addition of a small group of elite operators can help to give you a few more options. Fundmentally, there are two ways to use them.

Option 1 is to include a Professional or Elite mixed in with your less well trained groups. This utilises the Mentoring rule and can be handy to keep the irregulars in the fight, both with the physical presence and with the equipment they can bring. For example, battlefield trauma kits (unavailable to anyone below professional) will prevent unnecessary casualties. Alternatively, certain weapons will be very helpful alongside irregular groups, such as a marksman with a high shooting skill or a weapon system unavailable to most forces such as the airburst grenade launcher. At the simplest level, an operator with this ties them into a radio net with characters with much higher command values, making recovery from suppression much easier.

Option 2 is to keep the Professionals or Elites in a separate squad. This focuses the power in one place, letting them keep moving thanks to their superior training and get their skill set onto the target. This prevents their skills from being diluted (you have a squad guaranteed to get most of their shots on target) but can leave them vulnerable if the irregulars decide to pack it in.

Conclusion 

As you can see from this post and the last, there are a lot of options for players to use when operating as an Irregular force. Depending on what style of force, you will be bombarded with the different ways of getting the job done. Think carefully about what you’re trying to do and then pick what fits the situation. The only main difference between you and the regular player? Just expect more of you guys only wearing t-shirts.

Next time, we’re going to return to the land of Regular troops to talk about Off Table Assets and air power. What is the best way to use these game changers? How do you make sure you don’t have to change your mission to Blackhawk Down? And finally, how much OTA is too much OTA?

Range Impression: Empress US Army Infantry

When going back to do my Range Impression on the Empress SAS, I found myself delving into the release history of Empress. Which of course reminded me of their second release set, the US Army Infantry. Having just finished the Strykers, now seemed the perfect time to get the last couple of figures finished and take a look at this range.

The range of figures is designed to represent US Army Infantry around 2010. Weapons are M4s for most, with M249 SAWs and M203 UGLs to extend your firepower. As you’d expect, these are the usual Empress style, with four figures in a pack and mostly separate heads. The heads included in the packs are wearing ACH helmet (some with additional light units) with some also wearing eye protection. There are also a pack of heads with monocular NVGs if you want the alternative look for doing business after dark.

You may notice a few of these guys are not wearing their issue helmets and have instead have donned MICH and high cut helmets (sourced from the US Rangers collection). Now, I must admit the addition of these may be partially down to playing a lot of Modern Warfare 2; I really like the combination of kit and just had to add the variation to my force. It also makes it easier to pick out specific figures on the battlefield.

Painting wise, I went for the UCP look. The technique I ended up using was designed to be super quick  while still being effective at communicating the look, in particular of well used kit. The end result is not as crisp as it could be but (like most of my painting) I think does the job and gets them ready for the tabletop.


Team 1 shows off a fireteam on patrol. They have a good mix of guns, including a M4/M203, M249 SAW and even a M14-derived DMR. The pose are all great for troops at the start of an engagement or moving alongside a vehicle.

And then there is the flipping team leader who seems to have become entirely jaded with the concept of being in the middle of a tiny firefight and is instead enjoying a smoking break. I can see the point of including this figure in the pack (especially for those wanting to build dioramas) but he does look a little out of place in the battle. Even if I’m not a fan of him, he does fit in with the rest of his squad.

Team 2 is another fireteam. However these guys do not have the DMR backup but are instead posed as if they are moving under fire. There are also some nice details such as the pelvic plate on one of the figures.

The final fire team pack has the team engaging. The grenadier and rifleman are aiming down sights while the Automatic Rifleman and team leader are preparing to get into the fight. As with all the figures, there is a nice variation in terms of webbing gear based on the role.

Pack 4 gives you a few extra figures perfect for more command roles. These can be either used as attachments to to a squad (with one figure being the squad leader) or as a separate command element. The two riflemen could be either an officer or NCO while the two specialists (medic with kit bag and radio operator with aerial sticking up behind his head) are perfect for bring some force multipliers to the battlefield.

The first support pack is really designed for guys that are perfect for fitting into your squad. The AT rifleman (with M4 stashed on the ground) is just what’s needed for destroying light armour or wrecking enemy positions. The shooting DMR rifleman is a great replacement for the rifleman in a squad, especially if you need to reach out and touch the bad guys. Finally, the pack includes two figures (as well as belts of ammo) designed to form a M240 team when you need to create your base of fire for an assault.

As an aside, I decided to replace the AT4 with one from the Spectre vehicle stowage pack to make it look a little closer to other AT4 users in my collection. Having done the conversion, I’m not 100% sure it’s needed but it’s a relatively easy upgrade.

If the main support pack isn’t hard enough for you, then this pack really lets you go across the board and cause havoc before the enemy get into main combat range. The four figures are split into two teams – a marksman team with a M110 rifle (or something similar) for long range infantry work and a Javelin ATGM for blasting hard targets (or maybe a tank if one turns up)

A great addition with this pack is just how much kit is included to really add to the bases. Both sets include enough M4s for the crew to return fire with their small arms. I also really like discarded helmet for the Javelin gunner.

The last pack is a bit of special one. Perhaps inspired by a certain film, this three man pack gives you an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team. Two riflemen provide covering fire while the third figure is in his bomb suit ready for the long walk. I love this pack – it’s a great set of characters and is perfect for setting up a different style of game.

A great other use is if you only want to build a single squad. Two packs (chosen from team 1 – 3) and this EOD pack give you a full squad with one additional rifleman. Perfect for building on a budget.


If you are looking for US Army Infantry, this range is pretty good. Some equipment has changed (more people would probably be wearing kneepads and the helmets have been slightly tweaked) and you’ll need to be painting them in Multicam rather than UCP but they are still worth picking up. The US Army has been pretty prolific so would be perfect for anywhere from Eastern Europe to the sands of Iraq to the mountains of Afghanistan.

So what would I add? As with any regular forces, you can never have too many variations – another pack of infantry would be a neat addition and let you build up two squads using pack 1 – 3, the EOD pack and an additional one. The only other thing missing from this range (compared to the US Marines or the Brits) is a lack of heavy support weapons like the .50cal and MK19. That said, if you’re willing to work on it I’m sure you could do the conversion work with what is currently available.

If you’re wanting your own US Infantry force, you can pick them up from Empress here.

If you’d like some heavy metal to help out your US Army guys, you’re going to need some vehicle crew. I took a look at the dismounted US vehicle crew in a post last year.

Empress stocks several other ranges of US Infantry for different groups. If you’d prefer devil dogs and suppression through accuracy with the M27 (or maybe you just want massive 13 man squads), the USMC range is pretty comprehensive. If you prefer special operations, there are several small packs of US SOF teams (for both Army and Navy) as well as a comprehensive range of US Rangers. Expect to see articles on all of them soon as I work my way through the lead pile.

Impressions: Empress Stryker ICV and MGS

Playing as US force in Ultramodern tabletop wargaming is like being a kid with a box of toys. There are so many options that are available! On one side, you could be rolling around in technicals as SF advisers alongside local troops. Alternatively, you could break out the heavy metal and plonk the Bradleys and Abrams on the table. An interesting option is to roll out with a Stryker Brigade Combat Team and all the vehicles it includes.

 

If you are not aware of the Stryker, it’s an APC based off the Canadian LAV-III. Entering US service as part of a post-cold war rapid reaction force, it was designed to fill the gap between Humvees and Bradleys. Airportable yet armoured, the platform includes multiple variants to fulfil different combat roles. It’s first use in Iraq revealed some issues but also showed some advantages over other vehicles, leading to it continuing in service. As well as the Stryker BCTs, other American forces have used them; The US Army Rangers first used them for urban raids in Iraq but images and footage from Syria have shown them still in use, often alongside much lighter vehicles.

On The Tabletop

Of course, we’re here to look at the model version from Empress. Both vehicles are the usual metal and resin construction, with metal details fitting on top of large amount of resin. There isn’t a huge amount of construction to do but I have to mention the wheels. The back wheels fit into horizontal pegs rather solidly but the front four fit into struts that fit into holes on the underside of the vehicle. This can leave them a little delicate so there is a metal plate that fits across the vehicle and then has caps that sit on top of the struts for support.

As previously discussed, I am a cack handed fool and managed to snap the caps off on all of the metal plates while trying to bend them gently to fit. I ended up having to reconstruct the supports with plastic card. It’s not noticeable in gameplay but it’s definitely something to do very carefully when assembling.

There is a nice amount of detail on the vehicle, with cargo racks, jerry cans and tools all exposed on the side. The only thing that is missing, and is almost iconic on Stykers in action, is cage or SLAT armour for defeating RPGs. As much as this would be a nice addition to the kit, I can see the reason it wasn’t included.

Painting

When I first broke out the paint, I unsure about what colour to actually paint it. Most of my US vehicles are painted in tan. However, it’s very hard to find pictures of tan painted Strykers in action. Most are instead are a particular shade of green with dust on top, presumably to save having to repaint the rapid reaction vehicles as they move from theatre to theatre. I ended up picking up a can of Tamiya’s NATO Green (TS-61) for the base colour. I then decided to hide most of the green under some tan drybrushing to really give it the dusty look.

I’m not 100% on the final look (I might have overdone it a bit) but I prefer the look over the basic green. This was also a really quick way of painting them up, making it ridiculous that it took me over a year to finish them.

Now we’ve gone over the common features, lets look at the specifics of each vehicle:

Strkyer ICV

The ICV (or Infantry Carrier Vehicle) is the main vehicle in the family, performing the role of APC. Being able to carry a full 9 man infantry squad, the ICV can support the troops after they have disembarked thanks to it’s remote weapon system on top. Strykers have been seen using MK19s, M240s and M2 HMGs but Empress only sells a version with the classic Ma Deuce. As well as the .50cal, the weapon system also include smoke grenade launchers.

Aside from the weapon system, the main features of this vehicle (compared to the other variant) is the rear ramp and door, as well as the positioning of jerry can on the rear of the vehicle.

Stryker MGS

While the ICV is carrying troops, the MGS is your mobile fire support. Although mounting a tank cannon it is not designed to hunt down and take out enemy tanks – that’s what the ATGM carrier is for. Instead the 105mm gun (complete with autoloader) is designed to provide direct fire support to accompanying troops, while sharing the same maintenance requirements and portability as the rest of the BCT. The MGS also has a co-ax M240 and a commander M2, meaning it has basically the same weapon systems as an early M1 Abrams but on a much less protected chassis. To quote a US Army soldier, “Some commanders look at the MGS as a tank,” he says. “I cannot stress enough that it is not a tank; it is a support vehicle with some tank-related features.”

As a wargamer though, this thing is fantastic. Assuming your mission writer has allowed you to do it, the MGS gives you a handy tool when it comes to engaging enemy positions. A 105mm tank gun is plenty powerful when engaging enemy light vehicles and buildings. If you play Skirmish Sangin for example, a tank gun has a huge blast area and does the max damage that game supports. If your rules support it, the MGS can also fire canister rounds when you need to take out enemy infantry. It’s presence is also a nice hit to your opponent’s morale – like any vehicle mounting a tank gun, it does draw the opponent’s focus. Just be glad tiny 28mm soldiers don’t complain about the lack of air conditioning.


Comparison

Of course we can’t look at these vehicles without breaking out the comparison photos:

First up, we have the two vehicles plus reference Empress US Army figures. As you can see, the two variants are incredibly similar seeing as they share the same chassis. The MGS’s turret though is a major height addition.

Looking at the lighter vehicles, you can see the Styker is on the larger size (as you would expect from a vehicle carrying 9 fully equipped soldiers). The other vehicles (all from Spectre) do still have their advantages – the smaller sizes means they can get to places the armoured box can’t.

Going up to the heavy wheeled vehicles you can see the Stryker next to a similar Russian vehicle (although the BTR-80A is armed with an autocannon and carries less soldiers). You can see the BTR has a lower profile compared to the American vehicle. Also I’m banning the M-ATV from future comparisons – it’s just ridiculously big.

Finally we have the big boys. The MGS is a taller vehicle than the Challenger 2 but you can see it’s a smaller footprint (as well as being lighter). In real life, the difference between these platforms is bigger than on the tabletop – most wargamers don’t have to handle the concept of logistics, other than making sure the vehicle gets to the tabletop in one piece.


Conclusion

The Stryker is another one of the iconic GWOT vehicles – something that we hadn’t seen in the Cold War but soon became a star of the evening news. Like most things, it has had it’s problems but they have been improved and tweaked to make it a more effective combat vehicle. While doing my research for this, I kept finding comments about how the Strykers were pretty resistant to being destroyed, more often being able to be recovered and repaired while protecting it’s crew.

The Empress models give a nice balance between detail and simplicity. Assembly was incredibly quick and (once I actually got down to it) painting didn’t take very long. They also look fantastic, much meaner on the tabletop than a column of Humvees.

If you’re wanting your own Strykers, you can pick them up from Empress for a pretty reasonable price. If you’re wanting some of the more recent variants that are being experimented with (such as one mounting a 30mm cannon), you might want to keep your eyes on Wargaming Week over the next few months.


Of course, I really can’t finish the post without bringing up one of the incredible conversions I’ve seen using the Empress vehicle as a base.

Based on Strykers spotted in use in Syria, this one has had some serious plasticard magic done it (WIP photos are on the instagram). With extra weapons and stowage equipped, this vehicle looks spot on!

Impressions: Empress Bundeswehr

Empress releasing a new range in their modern collection is a pretty major event, especially when it introduces something entirely brand new. Going for the all in approach, a new range gives you plenty of toys to get ready for the tabletop. Earlier this year, just before Salute, they finally released one of their most anticipated ranges. First teased at the end of the Empress Kickstarter back in July 2013, the German Bundeswehr is now available from their website.

These Germans are also not your standard 2000’s era Afghan ground pounder (if you’re wanting them, Eureka have a suitable range). Instead, Empress has gone with these incredibly modern looking guys equipped with the IdZ system, a product of the German Future Soldier program. You can see this throughout their gear, from the Ops core helmets with vision systems to various details on the G36s (such as new stocks, optics and laser units). As you’d expect, all the figures in the range are the usual Empress quality and sculpting style. The figures do come with detachable heads of varying styles (no vision system, NVGs and heads up displays) and separate heads are available if you want to equip all your soldiers with the same type.

Empress notes on its website that the packs give you 6 man fire-teams by combining Pack 1 and either Pack 2/Pack 3. This number roughly matches up to dismounts for the Puma IFV but there is nothing to stop them represent foot troops or those using other German Army vehicles.

Pack 1

The first pack is your command and support pack. This has two Team Leaders (armed with the G36) and two Light Machine Gunners (equipped with the new MG4). Much like the other two packs, the figures are split into advancing and engaging poses. The pack does include one of my wargaming pet peeves (a prone figure not part of a support weapons team) but thanks to the MG4’s short length you can just about fit him on a standard size base. On the other hand, it’s rather cool to see one of the team leaders holding an optical viewer up to his eye, showing him taking advantage of the IdZ system.

Pack 2

The first fire team is posed advancing on patrol, with weapons held relatively low. The team has a selection of weapons, including a Panzerfaust 3 AT weapon (complete with optic) and UGL. Every soldier also has a G36, with an optical sights and lasers.

Pack 3

Fire Team 2 is posed engaging (or preparing to engage) the enemy. Weapon loadout is the same as Pack 2, except that the AT gunner in this squad is equipped with an MP7 SMG rather than a full-sized assault rifle.

Pack 4

Every new range needs support packs and the first of them gives the some anti-armour/anti-bunker support in the form of the MILAN ATGM. It’s a nice change from the Javelin featured in many of Empress’s other forces. It’s also nice that the pack includes a MP7 for the assistant to use (great for systems where weapon teams can still engage with personal weapons). The Milan also

I had a bit of difficulty trying to get the crew figures to line up properly on the launcher. Eventually, I unfortunately managed to break the legs off the tripod so it’s now operating in an incredibly low profile mode (with one of the gunners covering up the most damaged leg). I’d recommend taking your time assembling it, rather than trying to rush it, and to dry fit all the parts.

Pack 5

In a fantastic case of “Something Old, Something New”, the last pack in the range gives you a three-man MG3 team, with the venerable weapon design on a tripod many WW2 players will quickly recognise. This Feldlafette tripod actually lets the team fire the gun from the prone position thanks to the optical periscope system. The pack comes with three figures – the team leader is directing the team (and could be used as part of a foot patrol), the assistant is feeding the belt of ammo (while carrying a MP7) while the gunner is adjusting the elevation of the tripod. I had a bit of fun trying to fit the team on my standard weapon team base, leading to the unusual positions you see above.

As with the MILAN I found this a little fiddly to assemble. I’d really recommend taking your time assembling it, especially if you want to prevent it being slightly tilted.

Painting

This is my first time painting Germans so I had to work out how on earth to paint their camo up. Seeing as I play mostly in desert settings, I went look for how best to paint Tropentarn. Luckily, Eureka has a guide (including Vallejo colours) for both temperate and desert flecktarn. In order to reduce complexity, and seeing as I end all my paint jobs with a copious amount of Agrax Earthshade, I decided to tweak it slightly:

Base Colour: Vallejo Game Colour 34 Bone white
Green: Vallejo Model Colour 894 Cam Olive Green
Brown: Vallejo Model Colour 818 Red Leather

The process was base colour, large dots of Green and Brown and then cover up slightly with smaller dots of the base colour. This give the impression of the camo without it being dominated by the pattern. I’m also not sure the colours are 100% correct but it provides the right look (as well as being different from any of the other nations I’ve painted so far.

Conclusion

Overall this is a pretty different release. It’s a strange blend of old and new, combining old kit like the MILAN and MG3 with the ultramodern elements of future soldier program. It’s great to get some ultramodern Germans, providing an alternative to the older Eureka figures. It also gives the Empress Leopard 2 some dismounts to escort it. It’s also great to have some G36 equipped bodies. These could be a great jumping off point for some conversion work as a whole host of nations use the G36.

Aside from my usual comments about my cack handed lack of fine motor functions in regards to the finely detailed Empress support weapons, my only other comment is that a pack of additional patrol suitable support weapons would have been a nice addition to the range. A pair of guys with the G28 DMR or G22 rifle would be handy for giving some long-range punch while a version of the MG3 or the new MG5 MMG on the move would give some additional fire support for a patrol. We’ll have to keep an eye on the future to see what Empress get up to.

If you want to pick up your own German Infantry for fighting the Russians or training the ANP in Afghanistan, you can find them on the Empress website.

Range Impressions: Eureka ANP

It’s hard to wargame Afghanistan without involving any of the locals. There are many situations where missions should include elements of the local government, either being instructed by the coalition or providing assistance to make an operation seem less outsider focused. Among the variety of Afghan Security Forces, the Afghan National Police have been a consistent sight in reporting from that part of the world, wearing their (predominately) blue uniforms and kepi hats while manning checkpoints or guarding strategic locations.

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Eureka has released two pack of figures designed for the ANP. Each set comprises of six figures, containing 4 riflemen, a PKM gunner and a RPG grenadier. The two packs includes some slightly different poses but the main difference comes down to their equipment. Pack 1 features the ANP in caps while Pack 2 has them wearing PASGAT helmets and kneepads. All of the figures are wearing BDUs and a tactical vest, although the style of this vest varies from character to character.

Riflemen

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As you’d expect, the bulk of any ANP force is it’s riflemen. This range has 8 figures in a variety of poses (from low ready to steadily advancing). A neat feature, and vital for an ANP force, is the fact that several of the guys are not armed with standard AKs; instead, they are using the AMD-65 complete with the distinctive fore-grip.

Support

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The ANP is policing in a warzone and as such, the squads include some special weapons. The machine gunners in the pack are armed with the PKM and posed holding it at the hip. Each gunner has a slightly different pose a cool addition to the range and not just being the same figure with a headswap.

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It’s hard to overstate the usefulness of the RPG and so it’s handy to see the ANP also get an RPG gunner in each pack. Both gunners are only equipped with the RPG-7 launcher (so no backup weapons when you need to reload) but they do at least carry backpacks with plenty of rounds. I like the nice touch that the capped gunner has turned his hat around so it doesn’t cause an issue while aiming down the sights.

Usage

I mean, do I really need to spell it out for these guys? If you’re looking for Afghan National Police figures, these are the guys to go with. However, if you’re not fighting in Afghanistan, these guys would also work for many police forces throughout the MENA area. If you paint them in a camo scheme, they could also work for regular army forces. Thanks to the weapons in the range, you can actually put together a pretty well equipped squad while the PASGAT is common enough in that region of the world.

On the tabletop, these figures give you plenty of situations to use them in. ANP forces have acted in multiple different operations, from both a security role (guarding locations) to more offensive postures when fighting various criminal groups. In many cases, they would also be working along with ISAF personal. Germany in particular has played a large part in training the ANP so there will be situations where a ANP checkpoint may have a OMLT (Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team) alongside them. The Dispatches books for Skirmish Sangin includes some more details on the ANP, with book 1 including the ORBAT and book 2 a scenario featuring a checkpoint attack.

One comment I’d make is that, if I was to go back and repaint them I’d probably mix up the tone of the uniform. As well as the blue, uniforms can also be more grey or green. Adding a bit of variation would certainly give the force a different look.

Conclusions

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The Afghan National Police has played a sizeable role in the fighting in Afghanistan and, if you were wanting to put them on your table, these figures are certainly a great option. Some people have expressed thought’s about the sizing and sculpting style of Eureka figures but I think these guys look really good. From tabletop height I think they fit just with other manufacturers (helped in part by the real life size difference between the Afghans and Western forces) and the team at Eureka have done a great job with these guys.

Wishlist

I think this range is complete and honestly I’m not asking for more. Twelve figures with a mix of poses and weapons is very good. The only possible addition might be some figures designed to be added to the back of pickup trucks for patrolling, either passengers or gunners.

More generally, this has reminded how we are currently lacking some good figures for Afghan National Army soldiers. Although we have plenty of MENA figures armed with AKs, no one has released any figures armed with American equipment and the slightly slap-dash look many images of the ANA include.