By Rob Morgan
The scientific name for this is an Orrery, but as this is largely plastic and less than mechanical, I won’t be pedantic. I still operate on the principle founded by the late Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, one of the greatest Welshmen of the 20th century. He said, ‘Buy it when you see it. Not when you need it!’ Here’s an example.
I bought it for £3 in the Danish chain of stores called Tyger, which has spread across Europe in recent years. It is a ‘DIY Solar System’ as the box states, but it provides something useful for the wargamer, given a little thought.
I lay aside the base and arms of the device, and concentrated on the ‘planets.’ All bar Pluto are present, and there’s a Sun for the centre of the structure. Nine in all. You’ll see them in the photographs.
The diameters are, from the largest, the sun (yes, I know it’s not a planet!) 38mm diameter; then Jupiter, 30mm diameter; Saturn, 26mm diameter. The smaller planets are 18mm, 14mm, 12mm in diameter. The surface of the sun is plain, but the others have either a ‘pitted’ or ‘swirly’ (cloudy?) surface to them. Each has a hole at the base to be mounted on a metal spike provided. Assembly of each is by use of a little polystyrene cement — you don’t actually need much — and they fit together perfectly. Saturn, by the way, has a card insert for its rings which is 46mm diameter. You can use it, or not.
Cemented together, you have nine orbs, and they do have some potential. A solar system for a galactic wargame? Or they can become space stations, a sort of ‘Babylon 5’ if two are attached by a single length of sprue, or several strung in a row. The hole in the base gives potential way beyond that. I am working on my Sun orb as a Death Star, well, a smallish Death Star, but all I need is to add some small mechanical surface detail — death ray, etc., and spray paint the model. All of them will take a standard Games Workshop plastic flying mount as a base, by the way.
The other planets can be used in all sorts of ways, as asteroids, as small space stations or defences. There are five which have non-standard cloud strewn surfaces, which offers another possibility, as living moons or space objects. The Saturn ring makes a very different planet of course, but it is only card, though it could have features, buildings or weapons built on to the ring itself.
A few have more mundane uses, as terrestrial balloons for instance, and I’m playing with an idea for near-future wargames. Remember the TV series ‘The Prisoner?’ It featured an opaque large balloon which was used as a security device to prevent escape from ‘the village.’ It has potential for perimeter defence, for pursuit or for observation among others. I’ve not attempted to exhaust the ideas for this unusual set, but just give a few.
There’s a pile of other components I should mention — a set of enamel paints in small pots (vivid colours, one luminous) and a large base, rotation pillar and arms, see the box lid photo. I haven’t worked out uses for them yet, but they will come in useful at some stage!
Worth consideration, eh?