Sunday, April 26, 2020

My Sudan Toy Soldier Project

Egyptian infantry and British artillery fend off a Dervish charge.
All figures show are plastic figures from Armies In Plastic.

I have been posting hints about some sort of grand Sudan project that uses 54mm toy soldiers. So today, I am going to present the details of the project and provide some background into the project's origins.
A rather formidable collection of Dervish warriors.

The Background To The Madness

I have been collecting 54mm toy soldiers for the Sudan campaigns (1882 to 1898) going back as far as the early 1980s. I made frequent business trips to London in those days and happened to come across a little store called Under Two Flags. There was a window display of Seaforth Highlanders, in square, fending off the charge of a mass of Dervish warriors. To make a long story short, I bought the whole window display.

Over the next decade I acquired more figures from dealers in the UK and the USA, focusing on the figures produced by a company called Trophy Miniatures of Wales. However, collecting ground to a halt when I got married in 1995. My interests and time changed, as you might infer, so the toy soldiers where packed away, not seeing the light of day until 2016.

In the Spring of 2016 I was reorganizing my game room and found several boxes of the toy soldier collection. I posted pictures on this blog and it wasn't too long before Major General Pettygree contacted me and threw out the wafer-thin mint idea of playing a wargame with the toy soldiers. Capital idea, thought I, much to my detriment, for it started me on this long road into the black hole of 19th Century British Colonial war gaming.

Egyptian and Sudanese allies - Trophy Miniatures.

The Charge of the 21st Lancers at Omdurman

Let the Madness Begin

We played our first of many Sudan toy soldier games in May of 2016. I was able to set up a 15ft long by 6ft wide game table and had parallel side tables measuring 2.5ft by 15ft. The game was a big hit. Major General Pettygree's brigade of Royal Marines and Gordon Highlanders got wiped out to a man. I pulled out a Sharpie pen and marked a large "X" on the spot where Pettygree's brigade perished. It lies there to this very day.

The Camel Corps sees action.
Britain's War Along the Nile figures.

The game provided the momentum for a new Sudan Project that was based on the large toy soldier figures. The Major General and I gradually built up forces of Dervish and British troops using an assortment of figures from Britain's War Along the Nile range, John Jenkins Designs for the battle of Tamai, scads of old Britain's Arabs and some very sturdy Alymer toy soldiers from Spain. I put most of the Trophy figures back on the display shelves and used the other figures for our games.

The Madness Gains Momentum and Purpose

And now fast forward a little bit into 2020. I wanted to host a showcase quality Sudan Toy Soldier game at the Little Wars Convention in April 2020. I felt that we should really have a 3:1 ratio of Dervish to Imperial soldiers. MG Pettygree and I had a collective Imperial force of about 200 infantry figures so this means that we would or should have around 600 Dervish in order to keep a balanced game.

As things go with any wargame or toy soldier project, I wanted more and I wanted it now.

My thought was that I could build up the Dervish mass by using the economical Armies In Plastic  ("AIP") figures. One collectors' metal figure can purchase about three boxes of AIP plasic Dervish figures. As I began to paint the plastic figures, I began to think about replacing a lot of my metal figures with plastic figures for my wargaming at public venues and conventions. I also wanted to have enough of my own figures so as not to rely on the good Major General's figures all of the time. We can use all or some of Major General Pettygree's soldiers when he comes to my house, or we can use all of his soldiers at his house, augmented by some of my figures. This makes the transportation of figures a little easier for both of us.

I estimated that I owned approximately 125 to 150 British/ Egyptian foot and 56 cavalry, so let's say around 200 Imperial figures, doing a little bit of rounding. 

The British and Allies Forces

My current roster of British Colonial soldiers include the following:

British Army;
Camel Corps Infantry (Wm. Brititains)  -- 50 infantry and 2 Gatling Guns
Black Watch Highlanders (Britains)       -- 25 infantry
Lancs. & Yorks. Regiment (Britains)     -- 50 infantry

21st Lancers   (Britains)                         -- 20 mounted lancers

Egyptian Allies:
Egyptian Lancers (Britains)                    -- 36 mounted lancers

Egyptian soldiers (Britains)                    -- 10 infantry
Egyptian artillery (Britains)                    --   2 Krupp cannon each with 4 crew
Egyptian infantry (Plastic)                      --   54 figures

That adds up to about 190 infantry and 56 cavalry. The artillery component has 2 cannon, 2 Gatling Guns and 16 artilery crew men.

Expected Plastic Additions:

Egyptian Infantry                                    32 infantry
Camel Corps camels                               16 camels (building up to 48 over time)
Royal Artillery supports                         12 infantry (building up to 24 over time)

As you can see from the table above, my Imperial Army of British and Egyptian forces is largely completed. I would like to add enough mounted Camel Corps figures so that that I can have a mounted figure for each of my Camel Corps foot figures.

My mounted Camel Corps so far: 6 painted, 10 unpainted, 2 unpainted pack camels, and 2 unpainted mountain screw gun camels. These are all Armies In Plastic figures.

The Mahdi's Forces

This afternoon I did an inventory of my Dervish army:

Britain's W.A.N figures --- 50
John Jenkins Beja         --- 50

Old Britain's Arabs        --- 100
Alymer                           --- 71
Marlborough                  --- 15
Old Trophy figures        --- 39

Total Metal Figures       --- 325 figures

Plastic figures                --- 110 figures

Total Foot Figures         --- 435 figures

Cavalry & Camelry        --- 75 mounted figures

Total Dervish Army       --- 510 figures

M.G. Pettygree's forces   --- 125

Grand Total Dervish        --- 635 figures

This gives the Dervish an advantage of  2x the number of British forces in my establishment. If we add in the Major General's Dervish army, then the Dervish total of 635 figures. Adding his British forces, I am estimating at 80 figures, yields a total of around 326 Imperials. This gives the Dervish an advantage of about 2x as well.

My intuition tells me that the Dervish need a 3:1 advantage over the Imperials to be successful in our rules. However, that would entail having 978 Dervish, requiring an additional 343 Dervish figures! That's not going to happen... yet.

One way to get around this little problem is to cap the number of Colonials on the table to some number that gives the Dervish an advantage of 3:1. The math tells us that we could only field  208 Imperials to maintain the 3:1 edge, assuming that we did not add any more figures to our collective armies.

It would seem that 635 Dervish and 208 Imperials are more than enough 54mm figures to use on my 12ft by 6ft table - in fact this might be too many figures. On the otherhand, the Major General has a game table twice the size of mine, and it is on his wonderful table that these army plans are made.

Plastic Figures Are the Ansar

It was then that I hit upon the idea of building out the Dervish army using AIP plastic figures. I had previouly painted some AIP Egyptian infantry (48) and some Ansar (54) figures, that are included in the rosters indicated above. For the price of one collectors' metal figure, I can buy 3 or 4 boxes of plastic figures.

When building an army mass, plastic is definitely the way to go. I was skeptical about using plastic figures at first. My biggest concern is that the paint would chip off of the figures during use. However, I was soon persuaded that this was not a problem by Major General Pettygree, who had painted 100+ plastic Beja warriors. We used his Beja in several of our toy soldier games. They not only looked good, but they also proved to be sturdy and withstand paint chipping (i.e. the paint did not chip off of the figures).

I purchased a couple of boxes of Ansar Dervish from Armies In Plastic and gave them a go on my painting table. I found the figures to be nicely sculpted and animated, and very easy to paint. A heavy coating of gloss spray seems to protect the figures and the paint nicely. I plan to affix the figures to 40mm round bases and move them around the table on movement trays.

Dervish (Ansar) Warriors (Armies In Plastic)   -- 54 figures
Dervish Riflemen (AIP)                                     -- 20 figures

After finishing the above lot, I decided to double them up and I ordered enough boxes of AIP figures to build another 54 figure unit of Ansar and another 20 Riflemen. On a whim, I also ordered three boxes of Beja (Fuzzie Wuzzies according to Kipling, but we will be politically correct and not use this name for the mighty Beja and Haddendowa tribesmen).

The Project Begins To Take Shape

In searching for a theme to this pudding, I decided that I needed some Raison d'ĂȘtre to organize and paint so many figures. In other words, there had to be a reason to have a Sudan 54mm Toy Soldier Project.

I settled on the idea of hosting a toy soldier game as this year's Big Battalions Game, held annually at Kieth L.'s man cave. Kieth has three 6ft by 30ft game tables, running parallel  with each other. This provides a considerable amount of width and depth for running a game with large toy soldiers. There is plenty of room for maneuvering and siting an assortment of towns, villages and forts with plenty of distance between them all. We can even put a section of the Nile River on one of the tables and make use of the two 54mm Nile River gunboats that I own.

I am imagining that each player will command a force of approximately 100 figures. It follows then that there will be six Dervish players and 2-3 Imperial players in the game.

So, Bucko, how many more figures do you need to paint or buy in order to carry the project home?


The problem with declaring that the building of the armies is complete is that it violates one of the prime directives ("PD") of wargaming: thou must plan on needing more figures than what thou has for there to be a true game experience.

And one of the corollaries to the prime directive is that thou must finish the painting and basing of the new figures at least two days prior to the date of the war game.

We are ever hopeful that the PD will be violated.

The plastic contingent of my Dervish army will increase from 110 figures to about 200 figures. The Major General makes plans to add 30 reinforcements in time for the game. On the Imperial side of the coin there are those darn camel mounted troops to do. I have 6 of the 48 figures painted and I have another 10 unpainted figures. Trying to be sensible, I swear that I will not purchase any more camels until the next ten figures are painted.

A column of 48 camels, 4 abreast, will be a sight to behold.

There Is One Little Problem

Well Cosmo, you might think that Fritz and the Major General have everything buttoned down and ready to go for the Big Game. You would be wrong, of course, for there is that little matter of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing. We have no idea when the virus will pass and when we can congregate in any size group. If all goes well and the world is lucky, then we hope to have the game played in July, August or September.

Meanwhile, just think about those 48 Camel Corps camels in column, four abreast.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Fort Kandahar

Fort Kandahar
(Armies In Plastic)

I found a nifty looking 54mm toy soldier sized desert fort on eBay recently, and bought it, of course. It is now in transit and should be arriving this week, so I am really excited by this acquisition.

Major General Pettygree and I were planning on running a huge 54mm toy soldier Sudan game at this year's Little Wars convention, which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My original plan called for the construction of a scratch-built desert fort, to be called Fort Kefir. I bought all of the construction materials: foam core board, bass wood, balsa wood, coffee stir sticks from Starbucks and some pieces of very thick corrugated card board that I had saved from a shipment of various household items.

The fort construction is going to take a lot of time and I've been torn between spending my time building the fort or painting Ansar and Dervish foot figures. My discovery of the Fort Kandahar toy set from Armies In Plastic rather solved this dilemna for me.

While the model is ostensibly made as an Afghan Hill Fort of the British Colonial period in the 19th Century, there is no reason why the model can't be used in the Sudan. Case in point, AIP also sells the same model as a French Foreign Legion Desert Fort:

French Foreign Legion fort from AIP

The pictures above and below indicate that the fort model is the same for Afghanistan and the Sahara Desert, so why not make it a fort in the Sudan as well?

The packaging indicates that the model has a footprint of 18-inches square, which is about half the size of my intended Fort Kefir idea. However, this will be more than adequate for use on my 12ft by 6ft game table in my basement. I will prime and paint the model and trick it out with various bits and bobs, and then affix it to a wood base.

The set includes 20 British army figures, 20 Indian army figures, and 20 Afghan tribesmen. Initially, I probably won't paint any of the soldier figures because I won't need them for my Sudan games.

Rear side of the box that shows all of the pieces in the set.

Front view of the box.

The bottom line: Fort Kandahar will save me a lot of time that I can use on painting hoards of Dervish figures.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

More Camel Corps Reinforcements

Armies In Plastic Camel Corps

I finished six of the Armies In Plastic 54mm toy soldier British Camel Corps figures. I have two additional camels carrying the disassembled mountain screw gun, but these have yet to be painted. I liked how these figures turned out so much that I ordered another 10 camels and riders plus 2 pack camels. This will increase my mounted Camel Corps contingent to 16 troopers & officers, 2 pack camels and 2 mountain screw gun camels.

Side view of the camels and riders.
Toy soldiers of any size always look better when they are in a mass. For example, a 24-figure infantry unit is hands down better looking than a similar 12-figure unit. So 16 Camel Corps and a pack train of 4 camels ought to be joyful to look at.

But wait, why stop there?

Close your eyes for a minute and picture 24, 32 or 48 mounted camels. Wow! Imagine a column of camels crossing the desert wargame table in a column of fours as they head out into the forboding desert in search of the Dervish. I already have about 50 or more William Britain's War Along the Nile Camel Corps foot figures and in my crazed mind I am visualizing each of those figures having their own mounted camel version. The scouting party rides pell mell back to the Desert Column and reports that the Dervish are massing on the other side of the sand dunes and are headed our way. So the Colonel orders the Camel Corps troopers to dismount, put all of the baggage and pack camels in the center, and form a square to fend off the impending attack.

"Dervish Sir, Thousands of them!
(Connoisseur Miniatures from Peter Gilder's personal collection)

Armies In Plastic 54mm Dervish figures that I recently painted (54 of them).

Ansar riflemen

So why am I suddenly painting hundreds of 54mm plastic toy soldiers for the Sudan? This will all be revealed in an upcoming post that will lay out, in detail, my plans for a 54mm Toy Soldier Sudan set up.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Armies In Plastic Camel Corps

Armies In Plastic 54mm Camel Corps

Reverse view.

I painted a test sample Camel Corps camel and rider the other day.  These are 54mm toy soldier size plastic figures that I am painting for my Sudan Toy Soldier Project. I hate to call them "toy soldiers" because they are anything but...

Whenever I paint a new figure I always paint one sample from start to finish to get a feel for the figure, how to paint it, in what order to paint the uniform and equipment, and to find any little figure difficulties that might arise during the course of the painting.

I had never painted a camel before and was a little uncertain of which colors to use, but I think that I nailed my first camel perfectly.

I have five more Camel Corps and two transport camels carrying the components for a mountain screw gun.

The Camel

The Camel and The Rider
I used Reaper Master Series paints on the camel:

Base color or shade:  Bronzed Shadow (09259)

Main color: Blond Hair (09257)

Highlight: Blond Highlight (09258)

The brown fur on the camel used Ruddy Leather (09109) and the afore-mentioned Blond Hair dry-brushed to highlight the fur.

The red shabraque, which was unique to the Camel Corps, used a Reaper triad of red colors:

Base Color: Blood Red (09003)
Main Color: Fire Red (09004)
Highlight:    Phoenix Red (09005)

The figure was then finished with a heavy coating of gloss spray for a sturdy protection.

I also painted 20 Dervish riflemen:

Dervish riflemen - ten wearing skull caps. There are also ten figures wearing a red head scarf and sash.

The last of the Egyptian infantry figures - there are now 32 figures in the regiment.


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Armies In Plastic Egyptian Infantry in Sudan Figure Review

Some of the AIP Egyptian infantry that I recently painted.


AIP Egyptian Infantry in Summer Uniform
A week or so ago,  I received my first two boxes of Egyptian infantry in summer uniforms, from AIP. I wanted just a small order ($9.00 per box won't break the budget) to get a first hand look at the Egyptians before committing to a larger number of figures.

AIP 54mm Egyptian Infantry in Summer Uniforms

The Egyptians are not as good looking as the Dervish, primarily because some of them have a 2-dimensional look to them (see the officer on the far left in the picture below) that reminds me a bit of the 40mm Prinz August home cast figures. (Well, the AIP figures are a little more rounded than Prinz August, but you get my point).

Armies In Plastic Egyptian infantry in summer uniforms.
There are two each of ten different poses in each box, total of 20 figures per box.

The figures all have flimsy bayonets that should be cut off and replaced by a piece of wire. When I use the word "flimsy" I only mean that the end of the rifle and bayonet bend rather easily, which would eventually cause the paint to break, chip and flack off. Replacing the bayonet gives the weapon a little more stoutness that should withstand the wear and tear of play.

I did a test sample on the two charging figures, reasoning that if I screwed up on the hole drilling and decided that the figures didn't have enough plastic to convert the bayonets, then at least I hadn't messed up any of the other figures that I wanted to keep. Fortunately there is just enough plastic in the bayonet to rifle join to accomodate the drilling of a hole.

I'd say that about 8 of the poses are useful. There are two charging poses that look
rather silly being in a box of figures poses in a firing line.

One of the boxes included a British officer for the regiment.

Last evening I painted three samples (pictures to be provided later) - the officer, standing firing, and standing at the ready. The figures are easy to paint with no difficult bits to paint. I used Krylon grey primer to prime the figures. One nice thing about these figures is that you need not glue them to pieces of card so that you can hold onto the figures whilst painting them. The plastic bases are large enough to suit that purpose.

I did a test painting using a cream/ivory scheme on the left and a more traditional white on grey scheme.
I decided to go with the creamy white version for my Egyptians.

A couple of silly poses: using rifle butt and charging.

I like this figure very much. I have another version where I did a head swap and gave him a head with a fez.
Add caption

On the whole, I like these figures and plan on painting a 32 to 40 figure regiment of them to use in my Sudan Project.