• Eyecast Restoration

Updated: Oct 7

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share with the hobby community my love for vintage miniatures and wargames. When I stumbled across this interesting piece of hobby history, I felt it would make an excellent article.

Back in the late 1960s, there were far fewer options than we have today for buying miniatures. The popularity of Napoleonic gaming spawned a desire to push into lower scales, so more troops could be on the field and mass battles could be gloriously recreated. That is where a wargamer and hobbyist named Andy Callan came in.

Mr. Callan wrote an article about the use of an everyday object to create mass amounts of small 3mm elements for mass battle wargaming. The object he was describing? A plastic hair roller!

I was just as flabbergasted at this ancient hobby wizardry! How!? So I read the article and many Google searches later I had my answer. Before I begin the tutorial, I suggest giving the original article from the late 60's a read. I have it on .pdf, you can access and download it here.

I want to stress that I give all the credit for this technique to those that have come before, I am not reinventing the wheel here. My aim to have you experience this super cool way of making your own toy soldiers. It also needs to be said that this method is archaic, as there are many fine producers of small scale miniatures out there today. My favorites being The Little Corporal, Baccus, Pendraken, and Alternative Armies. Please check them out!

A final note on this project. The proper type of curlers are very hard to find these days. They would have been readily available back then, but now they are vintage items found only in specialty stores and on eBay. I urge you to experiment, and if you come up with a cool way to use this technique on modern hair curlers, let me know!

On to the tutorial!

These are the only "how-to" images from the article, and I inferred a bit from them as I want along. Please see each photo for detail.

So with these two photos, I set out to recreate this for myself. I wanted to make some American Civil War Union Infantry and Cavalry. I also thought it would be perfect for Dark Ages gaming so I made some Viking Bondi.

To start you will need the following:

  • Plastic hair curlers of the proper type

  • A sharp hobby blade

  • Very sharp snips or scissors

  • Superglue

  • bases and basing materials

  • paint and brushes

  • well lit working area

  • paper if you will be making flags or banners

I also used the bristles from a plastic broom and some plastic 1mm rod, but those are only necessary if you want to make spearmen with shields.

The first thing you want to do is plan beforehand what types of troops you will be building. Infantry or cavalry? Both? Construction is similar for both and requires only a little cutting. You don't want to do more than three ranks deep for infantry, after that the natural curve of the roller causes the plastic to warp out of shape on the base.

Following the article posted, cut the roller into strips, like shown. You want to trim it so the infantry stands are about 10-15 "troops" wide, and three deep.

For cavalry, you will want maybe 10 wide and one row deep, two of these to a base. Feel free to do what makes you happy and to suit whatever rules you are using.

After cutting them, it helps to mount the raw strips onto a spool or holder with some poster putty. I find this makes handling them easier before priming and gluing on the base.

When making the cavalry there is the extra step of cutting out a single strip to make the riders. Just cut them out like so and superglue onto the horses.

If you are making spearmen or shields, then you will want to do the next step. Make a small dot of superglue on a surface, and cut yourself some thin rods of plastic from a broom or hairbrush. They should be the same as a cat's whisker.

Carefully cut this with your snips and glue it onto the infantry strips. You want to glue more than you will be using, and cut it to size after it dries.

The next step will be to make the shields. Take some 1mm plastic rod, and cut it into thin slices, and then apply with some glue using tweezers. It takes patience and lots of cursing.

When the glue dries, trim your spears to shape and attach the shields. You are now ready to prime and paint!

Before we paint, I want to show you an indispensable tool to work in this scale. They are cheaply found online and I suggest a pair for anyone with aging eyes like myself.

Use a water-based brush-on primer. I use Black 2.0 from Culture Hustle but Vallejo or GW brush on primer would be just fine. Prime up your stands of troops and let dry. As they are drying, paint your bases a neutral brown.

While the troops are drying, use some PVA glue and paint your bases with them, and then dip into all-purpose flocking. You want a fine grain of flock so it isn't too tall. It looks good with some ballast mixed in. Let it dry. Time for a cup of tea or coffee!

When the bases and the troops are dry, you can begin painting. I am crazy so I glue my minis to the bases and then paint. I don't suggest that route, so painting them on the holders is fine. Dab some super glue on the feet and push down onto the flocking. They will stick just fine.

I used some strips of corrugated cardboard for holders. It works great and is cheap or free and can be cut to size. Poster putty will hold them on tight.

Using your chosen colors, you want to apply multiple thin layers to your models. Less is more when painting at this scale. You want to give the illusion of detail because there isn't any! So pick three or four colors to apply and go for it.

In this case, I used a dark blue for the coats, light blue for the pants and brown for the horses. Apply in layers and don't worry about highlighting, you won't do that except for on the caps.

Next up we paint the horses a flat brown, and the heads a flesh color. The heads are a neat process. Paint them completely flesh, then let them dry.

When dry, we are going to take our very sharp snips and cut off about a .5mm slice off the top of the head. It is ok if these cuts are not consistent, it actually adds to the overall effect.

We will be painting black onto this cut, and it magically becomes caps! It works the same for helmets.

Paint the tops and sides of the head black. You can highlight this with a neutral grey drybrush, and then paint in any fine detail. The blaze on the horse's forehead, tails, and carefully painted jacket piping and gloves. Go wild! You can be as detailed or not as you like.

Keep in mind the strength of painting like this is to make MASSES of troops. You are meant to look at them from 4-6 feet away, so the overall effect of uniformity is what you are going for.

Give them a quick brush on matte or gloss varnish, and you are done! I added a flag to some of my ACW Cavalry, this helps to identify the stands on the gaming table and looks spiffy. It is just painted printer paper.

Here they are all finished. You can see the level of detail can vary. I went a little overboard with the Vikings, but I wanted to show what is possible with this simple project. I urge you to give it a try if you can get ahold of the materials. Please drop me a comment and let me know how you liked this article! Have fun!

  • Eyecast Restoration

Alternative Armies just might have the most diverse offering of any miniature gaming company that is active today. Whether you are a fan of historical, fantasy, or science fiction you will find something to suit your tastes. 

I contacted Gavin B. Syme of Alternative Armies to see if he would like to talk to us a bit about Alternative Armies and my favorite game of theirs, Flintloque.  

Happily, he obliged!

Eyecast Restoration: How did you come to work at Alternative Armies?

Gavin Syme: An unusual tale this one; not the norm. It came to me really. Alternative Armies has been a part of my life since about 1996, and I worked for the company as a student and travelled around a bit to various shows and conventions (Gen Con and such). Great fun and crazy times. It is a family business now, since 2000, and when I left university in 2002 I entered high finance and lasted about a year before I decided it was not for me. I went into insurance after that, and that was kind of the same.

The choice was made by me in 2004. Alternative Armies or moving to London or perhaps further abroad for corporate ladder jobs. I chose the family business, as I love wargaming, history, and writing fiction; plus life by the seaside is mighty fine. Making miniatures brings joy to people and that is a reward in itself. Here I am all these years later, and now I recruit fresh faces.

ER: Have you always had a love of history?

GS: You would be correct in that assumption, yes. I have a master’s degree in modern history, as well as a personal library of some 2,000 books, most of which are history titles. I must have been about 5 when the past began to fascinate me. After all, if you know where you came from, you can plan where you are going. Ancient Greece and tales of brave Leonidas, the legions of Rome and Caesar, the raids of the Vikings, Cromwell, and more. History is a friend to me and offers new stories and events every day. For the moment I am reading about the development of the Swiss Confederacy and the rise of pike warfare in the late 15th century.

ER: While further developing Flintloque what were some of the hardest obstacles you faced?

GS: I came to Flintloque when the game was about to go into its second edition in 2004. I had a small amount of input into that edition but not much. I took over the full development of the World of Valon in 2008. At that time the hardest obstacle was the size of the story of the game. For 10 years, articles, magazines, web posts, journals, and several books had told a disjointed overall tale. Organising that and creating a definitive map of “Urop,” where the Mordredian Wars are taking place, was arduous. Frankly had I not had the training as a historian it may well have been impossible. That took nearly a year. It was a challenge to get to third edition as well.

In 2009, War in Catalucia was releasedthe first third-edition Flintloque book. I worked closely with my American friend Mike White, and there was a very tangible excitement from the fan base of the game… would the rules be any good? It turned out they were and in fact the best yet by a long shout too. Deepest, widest, solid, and with more and more. Three more books followed and I was so pleased.

I took a break from them at that point and will return to it. The hardest continuing thing really is that Flintloque has more than twenty different armies in it, and every week we are asked for more for each of them. We have to choose what to release next (we have a list and that list grows; then we choose the top requests). To keep any game in print and expanding for more than 20 years is an astounding achievement, to keep it fresh, to keep it vibrant. As always I extend my heartfelt thanks to the wargamers who have been players of Flintloque for so long; some from the beginning.

ER: Was educating as well as being entertaining your plan for Flintloque?

GS: Interesting way to look at it. It was not my intent but it is a byproduct of creating material for Flintloque that a deep knowledge of the time period 1750-1820 is needed, along with the same for the wars of Napoleon. I suppose my love of history seeps into the pages as each title contains a little element of the real world. I do recommend that every person who is keen to try Flintloque outsay using the Escape the Dark Czar beginners setreads up a little on the 1812 Russian Campaign to get a grounding. It is not vital but it helps. There are many general books on what was really the first global conflict, often for pennies secondhand.

ER: Humour is peppered throughout the gamebooks. Do you find humour to be an important tool when writing?

GS: For Flintloque humour is vital. It is a pivotal part of the game world. Since the World of Valon is Earth but not quite, the names of the nations and of the principal characters are twisted in a way to make them recognisable, and where possible, chuckle-raising as well.

Every real-world nation has its unique culture and history, and this allows for jokes, which are always meant kindly. And since we have players in virtually every real nation featured on Valon, I know they love the fact that they feature in the game. As a Joccian Ratman (a Scottish Man), I am a Lowland Rat fond of fighting and chasing women, loyal to my friends and liable to drink to excess if given a chance. Jokingly true.

Humour as a tool is useful, but I do not use it all the time. For instance in the Patrol Angis series of books, which are science fiction, there is little humour; instead, a more intense action form of writing is employed. In games such as Erin and Typhon, which are based on mythology, there is more invention but not a lot of direct humour… Fomorians don’t laugh much.

ER: How do you feel about the evolution of miniature games over the last twenty-five years?

GS: Twenty-five years is a bit longer than my involvement in wargaming as a living and a job, but I have seen most of that time. I have no feelings on the changing market really, as it is what it is. I just moved along with it.

My own way of working has changed totally in that time though, as has the company. Social media being the biggest change. I never used to interact with our customers so directly in such large numbers. I enjoy this, but it can take up several hours in a day at times, and I tend to be around seven days a week.

I would say that the rise of resin as a medium has been the biggest evolution of the last quarter-century, allowing the creation of models simply impossible in metal, such as bigger monsters and tanks. Though 3D printing is now fairly common, that will be an evolution over the next couple of decades.

The games themselves in my experience have become more streamlined and less complex than before, with sadly less of an emphasis on artwork internally (my favourite thing). There is now more choice than I can follow in the industry in choice of games and miniatures and that is a great thing. Alternative Armies has doubled and then doubled again its size of ranges as well as its print and virtual gamebooks all as part of this evolution. Overall the hobby is more fragmented now, but larger than ever and it's a positive change.

ER: What are the most gratifying and most challenging parts of your job?

GS: The most challenging aspect of my job is balancing time. I am the public face of the company, which commits my time, as well as the creative manager for choosing projects and designs and lead author for titles; plus I run the website too. I manage this by splitting my day into pieces and never working more than 11 hours a day… well, maybe 12 some days.

The most gratifying part of my job is rather simple. Two things: Firstly, seeing a project from conception to release, and secondly, getting nice messages from customers in thanks and so forth for what we do.

ER: If you could impart words of wisdom to a budding author, what would they be?

GS: Keep trying and expect the first book or series or articles you write to be poor. It takes a lot of practise to get good at prose, at dialogue, at setting, and of course at article- or interview-writing such as this.

Try to write for an hour a day. You will develop your style and improve, and when you get the first word in print it is a big moment. The market is more open now for authors than ever with virtual books outselling print ones and ground-floor access to platforms such as Kindle. That is half the battle already won. I myself do what I can for new authors and also new designers with things such as “write an article,” which we publish with your name on it, or the SHM Range, where we mold a miniature which would otherwise never see the light of day. Both of these are “toe holds” in the public eye giving exposure. It helps you on to more work, and it helps us, which is totally fair. Alternative Armies always rewards those who create for us.

ER: What are your favourite games?

GS: Now that is a question. My favourite Alternative Armies game… well that would be telling… the answer would upset fans of all the others! I do not play as much as I would like to, as with this job and three children (and now a puppy too) time is not an ally most days. I still get a real kick out of Rogue Trader, Dark Future, and especially Space Hulk and Adeptus Titanicus, all games of my youth. I also like Gruntz. Beyond that my eldest son and I play Minecraft Dungeons which is enough like Heroquest to make me smile.

ER: Will the timeline of Valon be moved forward toward the present?

GS: Never say never, but it is not likely. There is so much to do with Flintloque that I am not tempted to move towards the 20th century or beyond. We have moved back in the timeline of Valon with DarkeStorme and forward a bit, with Frontear covering the Amerkan Civile Warre. The 18th and early 19th century have the perfect balance of technology and science to blend with fantasy and magic. I can see me being Georgian for quite a while.

ER: Thank you for agreeing to this Interview!

GS: It was my pleasure. If anyone is keen to ask me a question or to know more about Alternative Armies, Flintloque, or what we do, then they are most welcome. You can find me all over the place but by email to sales@alternative-armies.com is sure to reach me. Thanks.

Alternative Armies has so much to offer the wargamer and hobbyist. This is usually where I break down the different miniatures and games available. There are so many amazing miniatures and rules to choose from!

I will break from the norm here and list my favorites with a quick blurb, and enthusiastically encourage you to visit Alternative Armies and click away and explore. Enjoy!

Photos courtesy of Gavin B. Syme and Alternative Armies.

Kitton lies far to the east of Urop, shrouded in mystery. The Kitoka live there, honorable and valiant. These feline samurai, ashigaru, and others are amazing miniatures. I ordered them when they first released and I am super happy with them. You can check them out here.

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of the "oldhammer" movement and vintage games and miniatures make me happy. Alternative Armies manufacturers to this day some of the most classic of miniature lines. I especially love the Asgard Science Fiction miniatures. Do check them out. A great way to collect vintage miniatures without breaking the bank!

Saving the best for last, we have Escape from the Dark Czar starter set. This was my first foray into the world of Flintloque and Valon. It is amazing and a fantastic value. I fell in love with the scenarios. It pitches desperate survivors fleeing from the Czar's undead through the haunted woods of the Witchlands. Moody, exciting, and the miniatures are absolutely top-notch.

Thank you for reading all about Alternative Armies, and I hope this spurs you on to check out some of their amazing games and miniatures. Please give us a follow on Instagram @eyecastrestoration and on Facebook here. Thank you!

Our first giveaway is coming up fast, so look for a post next week.

Editing by the amazingly talented Brian White.

Pictures by Alternative Armies, used with permission.

Founded in the summer of 1975 in Jericho, New York by Scott Bizar, the company's first publications were the wargames Gladiators and Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age. Upon the sudden appearance and massive popularity of Dungeons & Dragons from TSR, the company turned its attention to role-playing games. I had a chat with Scott about those games and how it all came to be.

Eyecast Restoration: How did Fantasy Games Unlimited start and what were your first publications?

Scott Bizar: Like most game companies, I'm sure the idea came from seeing the games that were available at the time and not being fully satisfied with many of them. Though I did like Avalon Hill's board games (note that we did not initially do board games), I had been dissatisfied with many of the miniatures rules available.

My gaming group was primarily miniatures gamers who also played board games. RPGs were just beginning to appear with the first versions of Dungeons & Dragons. Having purchased a number of TSR products at a convention, we found "Chainmail" silly, did not like TSR's Martian rules (I'm a big Edgar Rice Burroughs fan and collector), and found D&D incomprehensible.

I had lived in Texas for a time and gamed with Scotty Bowden, who had published several sets of miniatures rules, none of which I really liked very much. My roommate at the time was Lin Carter, who was one of the Conan authors. With Lin to consult with, I set out to write miniatures rules for the Conan stories. That was our first publication: "Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age," which got its title because Lin "needed" a title beginning with the letter "R," as he tried to use all the letters at the start of his book titles. The playtesting with my own gaming group led others in the group to also begin work on their own rules for periods where they felt the need for improvement in the hobby. From this, we did "Legion" by Al Margolis (a professor of statistics) and "Broadsword" by George Schneider. Our other early titles were "Gladiators" and "Citadel," which were written by friends in the NY area.

ER: Was there much competition back then and how did you plan a niche?

SB: Back when we began (1975) there was not really much competition, nor were there many shops. As we were miniatures gamers by choice, we all believed that miniatures rules would outsell RPGs (which were just beginning). There were not really that many sets of miniatures rules written in the USA, and none of us really liked the British rules that all depended upon "referees or umpires"⁠—the style of gaming appeared to differ greatly between the US and the UK. So, our original "niche" would have been American miniatures rules, though that was always changing as our interests changed.

ER: (Chivalry and Sorcery) was your first RPG. How did it come to be?

SB: I had attended GenCon in 1976 with our line of products, which was probably six to ten products at that time. Ed Simbalist (head of the C&S design team) was also there seeking a publisher, and he came by our booth. When he showed me his original version (entitled "Chevalier") I liked the idea that it was historically based for accuracy and far more complete than previous RPGs. We got along well and agreed to areas where the game needed expansion.

Ed agreed to do the expansions and send off a completed manuscript for editing (not much required as he was an English teacher) over the next six or so months. I agreed that we would try to have the game/book published for the following GenCon in 1977. That was a bit of a challenge as no company had produced so long a book at that time. We looked into binders and other formats and finally decided on a thick, perfect-bound book, which Ed had retitled "Chivalry & Sorcery." All of his design team at that time was from his own gaming group in Edmonton, Alberta.

ER: How do you feel about the evolution of the RPG community over forty-five years?

SB: I really don't know as I don't play any of the newer games. My understanding is that they are usually backgrounded, stories, or "worlds" that use a limited set of standardized rules (explained to me recently). As we always believed that each genre was completely different and required its own set of unique rules, this does not appeal to me at all.

ER: There is a big gaming company that made the phrase “Space Marines” a common name in the gaming community. Do you feel there was a healthy amount of borrowing of ideas in the early days of gaming?

SB: You ask about the wide use of the term "Space Marines" today, especially by "a large gaming company"—you refer to Games Workshop. Games Workshop had been our agent in the UK for a number of years and were the UK agents for Mark Ratner's company, FanTac Games before he sold it to Fantasy Games Unlimited. They were well aware of the title, and "Space Marines" had been the national tournament rules for science fiction wargaming in the UK in the mid-to-late 80s.

By that time we were no longer selling through Games Workshop in the UK but were working with Games of Liverpool.

Games Workshop was careful at first and only used the term "Space Marine" in the singular.

Only later did they use the term in the plural on their army lists/books. They have not used it as the title for the rules/game. Then again, British game companies have never shown respect for US game titles that were traditionally shown in the United States.

In the US, game companies did respect each other's titles and did not create confusion over relationships between games. Companies did not use titles that had been used by other companies within the same game category (miniatures rules, board games, RPGs, or miniatures/figures). If a miniatures manufacturer wanted to use a title to show a line of miniatures were for a specific miniatures rulebook or RPG, they arranged a license with the game publisher.

As for the spread of ideas and systems, we all knew that a system could not be copyrighted. Each new game (regardless of type) built upon the earlier games and might use some systems first used in an earlier game. No game fully copied an earlier game, as game designers worked on a new game simply because they liked a genre or period and believed they could do a better job representing the genre or period than the earlier games. That appears to be equally true today, though they seem to primarily be working on backgrounds rather than game systems. Of course, publishing is also far easier now with print on demand publishing and computers to do typesetting and layout, plus no longer having to pay a ton for color separations for printing purposes.

ER: What are the most frustrating and the most gratifying parts of your job?

SB: I would first say that the most gratifying things about running a game company have been the sense of satisfaction when a project is completed and we are all pleased with the end result, its appearance, and feedback from gamers, and the friendships that develop, as several of our original writers/designers still work with me.

There have been two frustrations, which are no longer really extant. The first was at gaming conventions when groups of D&D groupies would circulate and try to start discussions of Dungeons & Dragons with anyone running a booth at the con. I'm sure they simply thought every other gamer was a D&D fan like they were. But, I never liked Dungeons & Dragons (though I admit the game changed so much over the years that my objections were to the early editions and the idea that gold/money/treasure led to leveling up and backstabbing). We used to attend GenCon with the understanding that we'd be located on the opposite end of the dealers' room from TSR to limit that annoyance.

The second frustration would appear in the mail when some gamer would write us a letter (remember, there was no email back then) complaining that one of our games appeared to be a copy of some other game they already owned.

Invariably I would have to write to them that the game they played first had, in fact, been published years after our game. It was annoying to be accused of copying something that appeared years after we had published, but these individuals never bothered to look at copyright dates.

ER If you could impart words of wisdom to a budding author, what would they be?

SB: My advice to aspiring designers/writers is simply don't expect to get rich. If you write a large number of gaming products, your royalties will add up, but not to riches. You should also limit your writing to topics/genres you are truly and deeply interested in or the quality will suffer greatly.

ER: What are your favorite games? Any kind of game applies.

SB: I will list several in each major category, but none of them is a "new” game.

Thank you, Scott!

Fantasy Games Unlimited publishes some fantastic titles that cover many genres. Below I have listed off some of my favorites. Please go to their website and check them out for yourself.

"Space Opera is an exciting game of interstellar adventure. Space Opera includes complete rules for character and planet generation, human and alien races, skills and professions, starships, individual and ship combat, etc. Also included are summary charts, tables, ship, and planetary record sheets, and character reference sheets. Space Opera is the most complete science-fiction role-playing game ever produced."

"The sun hangs low on the horizon illuminating the ruins of civilization with a bloody light. Is it the sunset of the earth or the sunrise of a brave new world? You can decide as you boldly stride the rubble-strewn streets of the AFTERMATH!

You can download some free aftermath assets here.

"Flashing blade work, brave warriors, martial mastery, wise priests, honor, stealthy assassins, demons, magicians, spirits, war — the stuff of Legends, the Legends of Japan. Bushido is a role playing game that allows you to adventure on the Misty Isles of Nippon."

"The classic SF miniatures rules that form the background to the Space Opera universe – now available as a PDF!"

I hope you have enjoyed this peek into the multiverse of Fantasy Games Unlimited's library. I think it's pretty awesome and am a fan. Please check back with us weekly! The next post will be on July 2nd.

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Copyright 2020 Eyecast Restoration. No art may be duplicated without the express permission of the artist.

Eyecast Restoration is a blog about vintage games and miniatures, Warhammer,and the hobby.