Travelling with your Army

Chris Brown is here to tell us all about the troubles and workarounds of bringing your models on holidays with you!

Chris: It was one of the traditional irritations of a new school term when I was a boy; the English class where you had to write an essay about what you did in the recently finished holidays. It was particularly irritating if you had done nothing during your break and there was always that sneaking suspicion that the title was a deliberate attempt to rub your nose in the fact that you were back at school.

This year we celebrated Pat’s retirement from teaching with a long-planned major trip to Asia, kicking off with a week in Arnhem before we headed to the Far East. We love to travel, but we are not the sort of people who go to bars or dance clubs, so what would we do with ourselves of an evening? Easy…play Bolt Action.

Hetzer Plastic Zug

Hetzer Plastic Zug

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Gamers tend to shy away from hauling their collections abroad, and there are several reasons why they do that. The weight and fragility of their figures, the space that scenery takes up, the challenge of finding a big enough table to play on and – perhaps most importantly – finding an opponent. I cheated and took my opponent with me, but we are not all married to avid wargamers, but there are wargame clubs and Bolt Action players all over the world so finding opponents is not as hard as you might expect. Facebook is your best buddy for this. With a veritable raft of Bolt Action groups and pages, it is easy to contact other players all over the world, though you may struggle if you are heading to Tibet or exploring the Amazonian jungle.

We had a splendid visit to the Battle Quarters shop in Singapore and had a big game with the group there – a great shop, a lovely table and a very welcoming bunch of people; a splendid evening!
Of course, if you are on your own or if your travelling companion is content to read a book or whatever while you get the soldiers out there, it is always an option to play solo and there are some suggestions about that in the new Operation Market Garden book.

British Commandos HQ

British Commandos HQ

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The other issues are logistical and really quite easy to overcome. The space issue is not as much of a challenge as one might expect. Firstly, restrict your armies to a modest size and focus on the things that you will use most often; your bridge-layer tank may not be the optimum choice. That does not mean your armies have to be tiny. We took company-strength forces (and 2 x medium mortars, anti-tank guns and MMGs for each side) of 1944 Indians and Japanese to Asia in one K&R multicase. As long as you pack them with a little care, you can put 72 figures into a 36-compartment tray; the figures weigh almost nothing, and we had no issues at all with breakages or chipping. In the past, we have used bits of folded-up kitchen paper towel to separate each pair of figures, but we did not bother this time and it was fine – just don’t do it with metal figures!

We also took a small box with 3 Shermans and 3 Chi-Has which were carefully packed with strips and patches of thick felt to protect them in transit. These are a crucial part of the equation; they are brown on one side and sprayed green on the other – that’s our scenery. We spread them on the table as required and if they are brown side up they are hard cover and green side up represents soft cover. It’s not especially pretty but it is effective enough and you must make some sacrifices! We use a 6×4 thin green canvas cloth to cover the table (a pack of three for less than 10.00 from eBay) and stick anything that comes to hand underneath it for hills… admittedly we did a surreptitious raid on the Hotel bookshelves….and we were sorted for terrain.

US Airborne 57mm anti-tank gun (1944-45)

US Airborne 57mm anti-tank gun (1944-45)

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Obviously, all this stuff does take up space and weight allowances, but we managed fine with a single large suitcase between us and one cabin bag each. It is worth doing what you can to keep the weight down – a single cloth tape measure instead of our usual clunky expanding jobs and small dice instead of our usual 16mm jobs, but that’s not a hardship. You could make smaller Bolt Action dice yourself, but it’s not worth the bother; two dozen activation dice is not a great burden. That said, we did put the heavier items into our cabin bags which are virtually never weighed – the rule book, the dice and a few resin buildings and other scenery that we picked up in Cambodia and Malacca…there will be more about that in another article.

Achieving a table can be a bit more of a challenge – few hotel rooms have a big table as part of the furniture. You can always use the bed of course, but the figures tend to fall over and it’s generally at a very awkward height to play on. So what is the alternative? If your room is big enough your hotel may well be happy to provide you with a table or let you use some out-of-the-way corner in another part of the hotel. Alternatively, if you can only get access to a small table you can design scenarios to fit – especially urban games – once again there’s some material about ‘Space saver scenarios’ in the new Market Garden book.

Char B1 bis

Char B1 bis

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We spent three weeks at the Golden Sands hotel in Penang and they were more than happy to let us use tables at the poolside cocktail bar. On a couple of seriously rainy days, we were able to use the dining room in the afternoon on the understanding that we were cleared away before the staff had to set the tables for dinner. Playing in the bar was actually a lot more fun. Our games drew a lot of attention from staff and guests alike, most of whom had never heard of – let alone seen – tabletop wargaming. A few people got involved in one or more games and hopefully we have brought a couple of them into the wargaming fold.

So there you have it – have toys will travel. Not very relevant if you are the sort of person who fills their all their vacation days with sight-seeing and all their evenings with night-life, but if that’s not your inclination you really can take your hobby with you – all part of a wider plan to dominate the entire world with Bolt Action. Of course, this is not limited to WW2. Since there is such a wide range of plastic figures these days you could take almost any period you like – though taking the entire Old Guard to Waterloo might be a bit of a challenge!