Standby for Action!
John Treadaway describes a game that will thrill children of the 1960s, bringing back memories of blurry TV screens and a narrator warning us to “Stand by for action!”
Some of you young ’uns might be scratching your collective heads at the moment but, for those old enough to have been a small boy in the 1960s, the TV show Stingray may well bring back fond memories. Stingray, the eponymous super submarine of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, was a puppet series by the same Anderson team that, in the following year, brought the world Thunderbirds. It was ground breaking TV, too: the first ever full colour TV series made in the UK (and so proud of that or men of a certain age (ahem!), that phrase immediately conjures up the sound of strident bongo drums and images of huge, unconvincing mechanical fish jumping out of the water.
makes for such sterling inspiration that I’ve already had one pop at this for a Salute game: in 1989 (gosh, over a quarter of a century ago! – I now feel even older...). We wrote a set of rules for playing games in this nautical environment using what was available at the time for miniatures: some (frankly unlicensed) white metal models in about 1/400th or thereabouts by Comet Miniatures, and a fun time we had, too, with cork scenery and based on a three inch hex cloth.
When we started doing research for this game (yes, non-historical gamers do research as well!) I found, to my delight, that at least two gaming groups in the UK were still playing the rules we created all those years ago (a shout out for Tel’s Kingdom www.telskingdom.wordpress.com and the North Ayrshire Wargames club www.northayrshirewargamesclub.co.uk), which was pretty satisfying, I have to say, and the original rules we did are still available to download (on www.werelords.com). But we were looking for a new challenge.
fact that’s it is mentioned in the titles), it told the exciting – if a little repetitive – story of the fast, agile underwater craft piloted by James Garner look-alike Troy Tempest of the quasi-military WASPs and their continuous fight against the various undersea races determined to wipe us air-breathing ‘Terrainians’ (as they referred to us) from the face of the earth or, at least, to reduce our dominance of the planet.
Stingray reflected Mr Anderson’s apparent love of militaristic – and often secret – organisations that had started with the likes of Fireball XL5 the year before and went on through Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and (beyond puppet shows) to the likes of his first all-live-action series UFO. On that basis, it makes a good candidate for a ‘wargame’. In fact, the subject matter
Stingray by Product Enterprises.
Base by CorSec Engineering.
In recent years, the Warlords have stirred the Anderson ‘bucket’ quite hard. Many years ago, one club member did a Thunderbirds game but, fun as the TV show was, a ‘wargame’ as such never really appealed to me (and, as Modiphius are about to release what looks to be an excellent attempt at a board game on that very theme, it’s probably best to leave it there). But we have done Scarlet Thunder, a Captain Scarlet road race and destruction game, and several UFO outings, all of which lent themselves to various conflict based games and – while we will undoubtedly return to UFO at some point (the space interceptors and mobiles trundling through the forests are just too great as concepts) – we wondered if there was any meat left on the bone with Anderson’s underwater extravaganza?
A few years ago, a company (now defunct) called Product Enterprises made some beautiful diecasts of various Anderson vehicles and one was of Troy’s fabulous sub. It comes fully painted and is spot on 1/100th in scale. I’ve had one in a glass cabinet indoors for a decade or more and wondered what to do with it, to be honest. I could carry on gawping at it (it is lovely) or I could put it on eBay (a mint in-box will fetch over £200 – not that I have the box anymore!) but I checked with my mates and several of us have one in a similar condition.
So, we thought: 1/100th; three of them between us; and we found a resin Terror Fish (the clunky, mechanical opponent to Captain Tempest’s sleek, finned wonder) and we pondered whether there was another game there, like the last one but bigger for a show...
The answer was “yes”!
We could have used the same rules as last time but we would have been left thinking that we could have done something a little slicker. I wrote some card based rules for the space interceptors in the UFO game I mentioned earlier which seemed to work well, so my colleague Pete Merritt and I worked up a variant of them, swapping the vacuum of outer space for the crushing pressures of the deep ocean. We did a bit of home casting and we found we had enough Terror Fish for the game, so all we needed was some cloths, some scenery and some finishing of vehicles.
As I type this, this part is still a work in progress. We wanted different versions of these nine inch long submarines – we figured that, although only one is shown in the TV programme, they can’t all be Stingray with number 3 on the fin – and, anyway, it’d confuse the players! So, more research was done and, whilst not strictly ‘canonical’, the TV21 comic strip featuring Stingray that was published in the 1960s featured various other named and numbered ships, so the conversions would be pretty straightforward: all I did was draw up a set of custom decals which I had printed by a specialist company, and ordered some special colour matched paint.
So, between now and the date of the show, we should have three £200 collectibles, two of which have different names and (in the wacky world of ‘mint in box’) will be worth a quarter of what they could be. What we do for our art!
If you want to do this, mind you, this is not the route we’d suggest you take. Go on eBay or somewhere similar and hunt down the older Matchbox models (in a two-pack with a Stingray and a Terror Fish) and you’ll get ready painted models in about 1/300th for as little as a tenner the pair. Or you could go for the slightly nicer ones by Konami, the Japanese collectibles company: they’re roughly the same size but at least twice the price. In that size, you could use much smaller hexes too, which would be... sensible!
The Mighty Titan, Lord of the undersea kingdom of Titanica, has a fleet of nine of these resin model fish. Well, he probably has loads (he loses about one aweek on the TV series!) but we have nine. They are about seven inches long or so and are being airbrushed for the game by Kevin Dallimore to closely resemble the TV originals which, to be honest, is not an easy task: TV lighting and a very flat fish tank (full of minnows – and water) placed between the camera and the models means that getting a good colour steer on the originals is not easy. But Kevin will, of course, do his best...
Our Stingrays and the Terror Fish are mounted on clear acrylic bases by CorSec engineering, as you can see in the accompanying photographs. Smaller models of the sort you might buy as I suggested above could be mounted on anything that’ll fit your hexes.
The cloth is a quad of five-inch hex cloths from Hotz Mats in green and thick, pink insulation foam scenery has been cut to fit the hexes using a (very large) hot wire cutter. This represents the ocean floor with irregularities for the craft to steer around and – occasionally – to jump over, as in the original TV series.
Still in the ‘manufacturing yard’ (read ‘my garage’) are some components of an outlying element of Titanica itself: a bizarre collection of cylindrical habitats and submarine docks connected by a transit system, all within clear tubes. After cutting and shaping, the pink foam has been PVA glue-and-sand painted to give it some texture, then sprayed with Army Painter primers (and some car primers for the greys) in a selection of greens and browns. They were then dry brushed with ‘match pots’ from my local B&Q and using cheap, disposable two-inch brushes. They have then been textured with shells, small plastic creatures and lots of fish tank plants – the more bizarre the better (again, very much as per the TV show) and then ‘weathered’ with some of the excellent ‘dirt brown’ sprays from PSC.
We will place rules on the web as soon as we can but, in short, they are a card based game with the three Stingray accurately – Stingray Class Vessel) crews each represented by one player. Each of those players controls his ship via a deck of action cards, a number of which, determined by a dice throw at the start of each turn, can be played to manage manoeuvre and the firing of ‘Sting Missiles’ (torpedoes). If the Stingrays take damage via enemy action or simply bad navigation (i.e. hitting rocks), then this is generated drawing damage cards, the result of which will be the players losing some of their card options (some cards are removed from their ‘hand’).
The Stingray players’ opponents are the Terror Fish: moved but not actually ‘played’ by the umpires, these use an automated, card driven movement and firing system with a thick deck of random action cards that interact with a set of fixed rules.The Stingray players missions – and we hope to get participants throughout the day at Salute 2015 – will involve taking the WASP fight back to the Aquaphibians and attacking Titan’s undersea headquarters while, in the process, losing as few Stingrays as possible and, simultaneously, destroying any of the undersea dictator’s mechanical killer fish that foolishly stray into their path.
Stand by for action!