Monday, May 14, 2018

A Romanesque Shopping Experience

So, as previously warned I was rather completely unhappy with the Lower Class (Low Quality) shops obtained from Sarissa and reviewed previously on this site.  As a result when I noted that Empires at War had added a couple of new buildings to their Spanish/Italian range, one of which looked like it could be modified into a better Roman shop row (Convent/Monastery Dormitory).  I then purchased a pair of these buildings and have completed them.  Herewith the review. 

Here is one of the kits out of the bag.  Once again two growing problems reared their ugly heads as soon as I checked the items included.  First off, the directions are as my children would say "sketchy".  The pictures skip multiple steps, 16 pictures hardly does justice to explaining the construction of this model.  Second, a key part was missing, one of the three roof rafter/supports.  I assembled regardless and incorporated an extra cardboard piece from the Sarissa kits, hopefully everything will work out. 

 As I explained at the start I knew that these would require modification so I started the process with those modifications.  As you can see above there are four doors, each with a small window next to it for each ground floor "cell".  I would need to expand the door to achieve the style of entry way the Romans employed.  The basic plan was to cut from the window straight down.  Then cut across from the existing doorway over top of the windows and cut up from the window and meet the cut coming across from the door.  Properly done this would remove the window and expand the doorway to basically double the current size. 

I initially thought about using a hack saw with a lot of teeth to try and make the cuts, but then decided to try using the coping saw first.  I have two coping saws, one for finer cutting and one for rougher work; the difference basically being the number of teeth in the blade.  The finer blade is actually a transplanted jeweler's blade that I discovered fits on my older coping saws and works much better in the Coping saw than it ever did in the jeweler's saw.  If you look closely at the above picture you can see where I have used one of the doors to trace the outline of what I will be cutting on the back of the building front.  As it turned out my choice of tools "coped" with the job admirably! 

In looking at the actual building front I decided not to modify the third doorway/window.  This was done for two reasons.  First, E.A.W. as usual likes to make their buildings appear "used" and as such included three spots where the stucco had fallen away revealing the bricks underneath.  One of these brick reveals is located between the second and third doorways and my modification would have messed up the brick reveal as well.  Second, the Romans did mix both the large entryway store fronts with more conventional sized doorways in buildings.  Not every business wants the world to easily wander in and out of their shop.  There were many businesses in Rome that wanted to restrict access to their shop: goldsmiths, silversmiths, money changers, alchemists, and minor government offices like property records and tax collectors all were more concerned with security than "walk in traffic".  So I decided that I would make "a mixed business usage buildings".  The above picture shows the building front after the rough cuts were made. 

Here you see both building fronts after the rough cuts.  I decided to leave two doorways alone in the second building allowing for more mixed business usage. 

Here as a final preproduction step I have taken a general purpose wood file to the cuts to smooth the lines and try and match the general quality of the doorways. 

Here we move into the directions for assembly.  Step one is to glue in the brick reveals.  There are three as previously mentioned, one on the front, a larger one on the back and a small one on one side. 

The next step was to assemble the walls.  I knew this was a horrible idea as either the glue holding the bricks in place would not be dried causing the bricks to set up improperly, or a lot of time would be wasted waiting for the glue to set up, but I followed the directions and wasted the time for this review.  In the second building I went ahead to the stairs and then the roof constructions while the brick reveals dried and the whole assembly went MUCH more quickly (45 minutes for the entire basic construction instead of over 2 hours). 

The next official step is to glue the assembled walls down to the base board.  This should be done immediately after assembling the walls in either construction model as the walls do not really set up until they have the base attached I found. 

Again, following the directions the next step is to glue in place the corner pegs that the removable second floor tray rest on.  This can and should be done as soon as the walls are glued to the floors. 

Next, we turn to a novel feature of this kit -- STAIRS TO THE SECOND LEVEL!  Of all these kits reviewed, this is the first kit that actually includes a method for getting to the upper floors.  The Romans had two basic methods, stairs, usually outside the building, or a wall mounted ladder.  The previously mentioned Sarissa kits are implying the wall mounted ladder by their lack of an official method.  As well, since these are intended for skirmish games it can be argued that this is notional concept anyway so can be dispensed with, but at least some of my buildings have stars so I an pleased.  The stairs themselves start off with the two risers locked in place by two bracing pieces as shown above. 

To these risers the treads are glued and a landing attached at the top.  Unfortunately both the landing and the treads have the same stucco finish as the buildings, but I am not complaining mind you, just saying that it is a silly choice on the manufacturers part.  In case anyone is thinking it the opposite sides of the landing and risers was bare mdf so it would have looked worse and the stucco finished side is rough textured and would not have glued down smoothly so reversing things was not an option. 

Two more pieces of stucco finished mdf are then glued on two sides of the stairs and the third side is glued directly to the side of the building at the conveniently placed doorway.  And voila, everyone knows how to get to the "Upper Room" now! 

While not actually directed to do so, at this point the direction show the doors and doorways attached, so I did likewise. 

The next step was to attach the divider to the removable upper floor.  I used this opportunity to attach several "bits and bobs" of  spare mdf saved from all the previous kits to create a hall on the upper floor and several "Upper Rooms" for potential game use.  In the Sarissa kits the upper floor is subdivided into four rooms over the four lower rooms with no hallway allowing lateral movement.  Both of these systems (hallways and boxes on boxes) were employed by the Romans, but Hallways were usual in the taller buildings.  The boxes on boxes system was very low class as it would require a third floor resident to walk through a business, climb a ladder to an apartment, and then climb another ladder out of the first apartment to their apartment.  Such an entrance would also make leaving under emergency conditions quite hard - not to mention dangerous! 

Here is the "room" side of the floor.  One of the great things I discovered about the spare Sarissa mdf is that it is so thin that you can cut it with a decent pair of scissors.  This makes shaping the remains to cobble together some apartments and business divisions really quite easy. 

Here is an aerial view of both floors with partitions attached.  The ground floor is a simple four cubical business spaces.  The "Upper Floor" has four rooms 'for let' with the one on the right being slightly more 'posh' possessing an entryway. 

Here is the front of the basically constructed building. 

Here is the back at the basic construction level. 

Here is a good view of the stairs once constructed. 

And here is the other side wall showing the brick reveal. 

Once again, thanks to the magic of photography I have completed both buildings (here shown from the front) now and added a spot of paint to the upstairs partitions (room side is showing).  The paint took two coats, but really improved the look of the "Upper Rooms".  Meanwhile, in the foreground I have assembled the chimneys left over from the timber framed houses and added some "bits and bobs" of left over mdf to create some Taverna and Popina drink and food stations.

Here we have a rear view of the finished buildings and the hall way side of the "Upper Rooms".  Again the restaurant paraphernalia is in front. 

Here is the front of building one and rear of building Two with the "Upper Rooms" out of the way.  You will notice on building two I have attached some small window sets that came with the timber framed buildings.  Romans had glass windows and those windows could be opened.  I decided to include them to create a more upscale feel on the second building. 

Here we have the clear views of the rear of building one and front of building two.  Again the windows can be seen on building two.  In addition I had in my "bits and bobs" a square piece that fit into the window openings on the building so I decided to glue it in place and create a more secure store front in building two.  This is in the lower window of store front two (L-R). 

 At first it seems a trivial matter, but Pompeii revealed that about half of the businesses in the city at the time of the eruption were food services.  The two standards of the Roman world were Tavernas and Popinas.  A Taverna was a bar, that usually offered some food.  A Popina was a "fast food restaurant" that offered some alcohol.  Amazingly Rome lived as a fast food culture.  People just stopped as they went through their days and bought whatever they could afford to eat.  There were all levels of these eateries in all sections of all cities.  Needless to say I am going to need a fair number of restaurant set ups for my town. 

The two in the front of the above picture are for alcohol.  The Romans would display the wine they carried in large pottery amphorae stored on the walls.  Each style of wine had its own specific shape of pottery vessel that it came in so at a glance a customer knew what was available.  Meanwhile, in a stand on the floor cheap wine would be available from a chilled stand.  In a proper eatery the wine was chilled by hooking up to the city water supply and letting the water flow into and through the brick and mortar stand.  I have no idea what I am going to do for he display amphorae, but these are the "table wine" stands.  One of the cold vessels would be Rome's infamous "Posca".  This would be the largest container and was made up of spiced vinegar and water (the original Gatorade).  The others would be mixtures of the ends of multiple amphorae lumped together for quick sale as no one wanted the dregs of an amphorae and chilled wine sold better on hot days. 

The back row would be from the food stands.  These usually consisted of some sort of stew, and some sort of casserole that customers would buy by the ladle based on personal preference.  There would also be the "Roman Ranch Dressing", Garum, available to be added to taste by the customer.  Garum was made from fish guts and vinegar allowed to 'fester' in the sun for a couple of weeks.  All of these would be kept in separate sunken containers in a brick and mortar stand.  This time instead of hooking up to the water supply the store would simply put charcoal in the stand and allow it to burn slowly to keep the food hot (and safe to eat). 

So that brings the majority of my Roman buildings to a close.  On the whole I highly recommend the Empire's At War Spanish/Italian range for Roman buildings.  The company is working on a range of Roman buildings, but currently only have a rural villa available for purchase.  I do not like to color chosen for the Roman range so in general would say that even when it does come out the Spanish Italian range is better.  Although some quality control issues are showing up and their directions leave much to be desired the building are fairly easy to assemble.  The building can be modified if desired.  And the building look very good coming in a range of heights and styles. 

The other company offering buildings in this arena is Sarissa.  This company has the direct market tie in to the Gangs of Rome skirmish game recently on the market.  However the quality of most of their buildings reviewed leaves much to be desired.  That said they also offer some excellent specialty buildings like their temple, slave auction, and market sets which do not have any competition so unless you want to scratch build the items you either have to buy from Sarissa, or do without. 

Speaking of unique offerings, Sarissa just released some boats.  A Trireme and a cargo boat.  I have purchased a couple of the cargo boats so there will be a review at some point in the future of those. 

Finally, Sarissa also offers an amphitheatre kit, an actual gladiatorial amphitheatre kit.  That will be my next build.  It is bigger than anything I have thus far constructed so expect that review in pieces.  But that will be the next thing in my docket. 

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