Let's get this one out of the way. First off, I am retiring in about six weeks. I am 60 years old (and I turn 61 in October) and although I planned on retiring October 2023, circumstances force me to retire early.
I am a computer programmer by trade (in the U.S. home mortgage software market – talk about niche) and I have always said that I could probably continue on even if my hands went, because there is such good voice recognition technology out there, but if my mind ever went, I was done for. I used to be known for my attention to detail, but lately I have not been able to focus. I am easily distracted. Worse, I don't just forget where I left off at, I forget that I was not finished with a task and my mind tells me I was.
This apparently happened pretty quickly. My company awarded me a huge bonus and raise last January for being a top performer in the company (Zillow); now I can't remember to complete a task.
I knew it last Tuesday when I was in a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) meeting – otherwise known as a "who screwed up" meeting – and someone was showing a result from my application and I knew it could not "have happened". The previous day I had changed the code at their request and there were three dates in the change. My documentation (rare for a programmer) noted all three changes. The comments in the code noted all three changes and the change number that ordered it. And the code was changed … in two places. I must have gotten an email, chat message, or phone call and by the time I was done, did not remember that I had not finished. But it was not just forgetting; it was my mind being sure that I was done. Not a single thought of "oh, I have to check to ensure I finished that".
Lest you think I give up easily you have to understand that this was simply the last event in a long line of them that I was not admitting to. In fact, I was started to even hide them. I would blame this or that for why things went wrong, but the reality is that it was me.
I called my brother (four years older) because I remember him saying about six months ago that he had been diagnosed with something, and I wanted to be sure what it was. He has Parkinson's. We talked about it and I am pretty sure I do not have that. I have none of the motor skill symptoms. Also, mine is not a feeling of forgetfulness. I am not one of those people always saying "now what was that I was trying to remember?" It does happen on occasion, but my problem is more an arrogant assurance that I have remembered something – like finishing a task – or not even thinking to do something.
So, I decided that I did not want to go from 2021's top performer to 2022's guy that we want to get rid of. I want to be able to leave with a little dignity rather than milk the job for every last dollar until they feel like they have to fire me.
Fortunately, I have been a lifelong saver and I married a woman more frugal than I am, so I can afford to drift the remainder of this year and all of next year. I can pull sufficient money out next year from my retirement fund (we call it a 401(k) in the U.S.) and draw on Social Security at 62, if I want.
So What is Next?
I decided to give my company four weeks, so that I could transition my work and archive of code to a new person on the team. If they get someone in to replace me, all the better, but I have pretty specialized skills. It took them nearly a year to find me.
My manager reminded me that Zillow pays out its bonuses partially every quarter and that if I wait an additional two weeks that means I accrue about 500 more shares of Zillow stock (which declines in value every day), so I decided to wait for that. I am already leaving a lot of money on the table, but no need to rush out that quickly.
After that I need to head to a neurologist and figure out what is going on. My brother, who is a research scientist (his specialty is mosquitoes and pesticides) thinks we were poisoned as kids (Florida was famous for spraying residential neighborhoods with "safe" pesticides in the 1960s and 1970s), so hopefully it is something treatable for me.
If not, well that I why I want to leave the workforce now. I want to spend the rest of my time doing all of those things that I always told myself I would do "when I finally retire". I am going to paint and game, of course, continue doing more blogging, but also travel more. The wife and I are looking at using AirBnB to visit various places in Panama, for example.
Another project is to get rid of old games and junk that have accumulated that I just know I will never get to again. We all go sometime and the last thing I want to do is burden my wife or the kids with having to get rid of "the crazy old man's toys". Not that I think I will get any money back for it. More that I would like to see it go into someone's hands that would us it. (One of my gaming buddies did the same to me about three years ago, giving me all his Spanish Civil War 15mm troops that he knew he would never get to. I never got to it either.)
Multiple Scales and Multiple Genres
Which leads me to this topic. I have long been pondering getting rid of some miniature collections. But which ones? I rarely considered, when looking at shiny new figures to buy, whether I had all of the necessary accessories to go with those figures. Largely I mean terrain. Sure, there are some things that work across periods, like hills and trees, but building, other structures, even roads can very much be period specific. (It is funny how many times I use roads with 15mm scale tank treads showing for roads in my 15mm Ancients and AWI games, and as foot paths in my 42mm Dark Ages games.)
What scales should I keep? (I have collections in 6-8mm, 15-18mm, 25-28mm, 32mm, and 42mm, with a few, rare pieces in 2mm, 3mm, 10mm, 20mm, 1/72nd, and 54mm.) What genres should I keep? (I have collections in … uh, never mind.)
I always thought about having one (smaller) scale for mass battles and one (larger) scale for skirmish games. But that is still potentially two sets of terrain. Here are the conclusions I came to so far.
6-8mm: I like this scale for one reason, and that is because I now have a tendency to play games on smaller areas, like 20" x 30", 2' x 2' and 3' x 3'. Figures that are 6-8mm work great for this size table. There are just two problems: 1) my eyes are failing so painting them is hard; and 2) I find it very hard to identify what the troops are, especially if I try and use 'realistic' basing with flocking, sand, etc. Some of the best terrain I have for this scale are old Monopoly houses and hotels, which you can buy very cheaply on eBay.
15-18mm: I have a lot of troops and terrain in this scale. The largest collection is probably Ancients/Dark Ages/Medieval, but they are in DBA-army size groups, i.e. about 12 stands per 'army'. Second is AWI and third is WWII. Terrain is largely for WWII. (My terrain for DBA was always flat felt or foam rubber because no one used realistic terrain, as it got in the way of game play.) The ability to paint this is better than 6mm and I can recognize troops better. I keep telling myself that this is what I will focus on.
25-28mm: For me this is the nostalgia scale. I started miniature gaming with 25mm Napoleonics. I still have miniatures that I painted back in the 1970s and 1980s, plus too many old (valuable) Citadel miniatures from the 1980s and 1990s. What I do not have anymore, is terrain. Further, the little terrain I do have is Space Gothic. (You know what I am talking about.) This scale is very paintable, vision-wise, but due to their larger surface area it takes more time. Also, manufacturers are cramming the details on these things. Finally, if you decide to go with this scale, storage of miniatures, and especially terrain, starts to become an issue. On the positive side, other people are more likely to be using this scale. (But I generally provide both sides anyway.) Also, there is the question of whether I can play anything other than skirmish games at this scale if I do not have a 6' x 4' board.
On a side note, Marvel United is basically somewhere around this scale (or 32mm), but I consider it an exception to the 'keep or dump' decision. Unlike traditional miniatures, the figures in Marvel United are very much tokens for a board game and thus the idea that you need terrain for them isn't true. So, I will keep these as they neither fall in the skirmish or mass category for tabletop wargaming. One might include all miniatures from board games, in which the terrain issue doesn't exist, in this same sort of category. That would mean my Star Wars figures from Imperial Assault could be kept.
32mm: Although the new figures from Games Workshop might fall into this category, for me it was Star Wars: Legions. As a rule set it is definitely something I no longer play, nor will pick back up, so these are a definite candidate of figures to clear out.
42mm: The only miniatures that fall into this category are my wooden soldiers that I make. I have a Napoleonic and Dark Ages collection, along with appropriately scaled trees, but not much else in the way of terrain. Felt always works for roads, rivers, plowed fields, etc. As long as I stay away from structures, I am good. Ironically, I have found it easy to play skirmish games with these figures, but mass battles require a 6' x 4' table. I tend to use smaller unit sizes (6 figures or so) anyway I tend not to put a lot of figures on the table. The largest hassle with this scale is the larger surface area requires more paint and time, with a tendency to want to add detail as it is so visible.
I know one of the first tasks once I retire will be to get rid of all my 32mm Star Wars Legion troops, followed by the 28mm Bolt Action, Warhammer, and Warhammer 40,000 figures, both painted and unpainted. If I get rid of all of those, I may not have to make the decision between 15mm and 6mm. The 6mm collection is actually pretty small, physically. Also, there are some incomplete line in my 15mm collection to get rid of like the Marlburians, Polish 17th Century, Renaissance WoFun figures (experiment that failed), and even Napoleonics (my 6mm Napoleonics collection is far larger and more consistent).
My goal is truly not to buy any more.
Recent Painting Videos
As part of my resolve to move away from 25mm to 32mm figures strengthens I realize that I need to either paint or sell all of the 15mm figures that I already have. I have a number of random AWI figures that need treatment, plus have a number of WWII troops from the Flames of War days to be painted, but by far the largest collection is unpainted Ancients. I remember Brookhurst Hobbies had a 50+% sale on Xyston Miniatures – and I love those sculpts – and I purchased a couple hundred dollars worth at sale prices. Maybe 100+ packs? Some insane amount. I have a whole 33 liter/35 quart storage tub filled with these packs. (I admit temporary insanity.)
Nonetheless, I saw a painting video using Army Painter's Speedpaint – which I bought as soon as it became available, in order to give it a try – for historical miniatures and I decided to give them another try.
My initial complaint with Speedpaints is that it was too blotchy, like Citadel's contrast paints. Added to that the paint reactivation issue that Youtubers talked about and it seemed like it was off to a bad start. I gave them another shot anyway and I must say that I think they work better for 15mm because there are no large, flat surface areas (unless you are paining vehicles), so you just don't see the problems. As for reactivation, well I just make sure I seal them with a spray varnish rather than a brush-on one. The one thing I do know is that they do not like traditional acrylic mediums and flow improvers. I would also use a separate set of paint brushes with them (as I do with Citadel contrast paint, India inks, acrylic inks, varnishes, and gesso).
Recently I have been watching more painting videos about all kinds of subjects. One came in my feed from an artist named Warhipster, whom I had never watched before, and he talked about why Citadel contrast paints produce blotches, pools, and stains, and how to use them properly. I swear, if all you do is watch the opening sequence you will see someone paint the smoothest finish with contrast paint I have ever seen, all without dilution or mediums.
It was this video that had me break out the contrast paints once again. Of course, just when I do that Citadel decides to increase the size of their line of contrast paints and have changed their Shades line to use contrast paint formulation, so they are weaker (wash) versions of contrast paint. It makes sense because washes and contrast basically do the same thing, which is appear stronger in the cracks and crevices and weaker everywhere else. With washes (Shade) we just want that tint to be as weak as possible while still maintaining sufficient color strength in the cracks. The bad part about the new line: I hear it will cost $195 to buy all of the new contrast paints. (I am not even sure that includes the new shades.)
I started by priming him bright white rather than the typical black then white zenithal. I spent some time inking him with a black micron pen before sealing it with varnish (so the ink would not reactivate from the solvents in the contrast paints). At that point I was ready to color the figure, much like the process in old school comic books (draw, ink, then color). You can see the blotchiness of the colors – I clearly need to watch the video above again, and practice more – but I think the overall effect is acceptable, especially given the time it took to get the figures on the table.
In addition to all of this I reconnected with Matt, my co-author on the Wooden Warriors blog, to see how things are faring with him. (Things are fine, but he finally caught Covid after dodging it for more than a year of teaching classes.) Neither of us have made a post there (I hope to rectify that soon), so I wondered whether he dropped out of the hobby or whether he was simply not making figures anymore. It turns out he has revived his interest in old board games, like Heroquest, and had obtained a set and was merrily painting away. He told me about a Spanish YouTuber living in Malaysia and his channel Rush the Wash. His technique to is zenithal prime and then use contrast paints to get his figures out on the table quickly. (Previously he white primed and used Citadel shades, glazes, and inks – the latter two some very old products – to paint his figures.) Ironically, this was a style I had been trying to accomplish for a long time. A long time ago – we are talking late 1980s here – I used to paint a number of things with Higgins, Windsor & Newton, and Bombay India inks. These days it seems like few places, other than online art supply stores, carry a decent range of colors, so I drifted away from it. However, I purchased a DBA army or three from Timurilank in the Netherlands and I saw that he had a transparent color glaze look to his figures – you can see an example in the first picture of this post on his blog – that I have been trying to replicate for awhile. Rush the Wash was all about that style. Also, you can find videos from a few others on the "slap chop" painting style, but I think that is less distinct. I think my 15mm ancients, above, reflect that style, only without the gloss varnish.
More Marvel United
We have been playing a lot more of this board game, both as a group, face-to-face, and virtually using Tabletop Simulator. The former games give me more incentive to paint my miniatures while the latter allows me to play a campaign with other people around the country.
Here is what I completed on my painting table. First up is Silver Surfer. We played him once and he was powerful, almost too powerful to play against anything but the strongest villains (like Thanos).
Because he comes pre-paint in this chrome silver, all I did was add black ink lines to define him further, and paint the space-y base.
I decided that the first set from the Marvel United X-Men series that I wanted to paint was the Fantastic Four expansion. So I started with the Human Torch. He comes cast in an ugly transparent orange plastic, so I primed him white and used Pro-Acryl transparent red acrylic paint and Bombay crimson India ink for the body, and Pro-Acryl transparent yellow and orange acrylic paints and Bombay yellow and orange India inks for the flames. The base is contrast paint and Pro-Acryl acrylic paints for the highlights and base rim. The only thing I might add is thickening the black to outline the eyes.
In order to try and keep my "one new figure painted a week" schedule I decided to tackle The Thing next. He is contrast paint for the body with acrylic paint highlights. The shorts are Pro-Acryl blue transparent acrylic paints with acrylic paint highlights and the belt is all acrylic paints.
Last up is the villain Killmonger. On one hand I wanted to try a new technique, but on the other I was reluctant to use a different technique than I used for all of my other heroes and villains. This was a black prime with white zenithal and heavy use of contrast paints, shades, and transparent acrylic paints. There is very little opaque acrylic paint used, and it was only used for the highlights.
One of my gaming buddies is the person behind Smooth Blend Studio and is the one who painted many of my Warhammer Underworlds figures, plus the Guardians of the Galaxy expansion for Marvel United. He has opened up his schedule to paint 30 more figures for Marvel United, so expect to see more in the coming three months.