Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Warriors of Germania?

If you have ever watched Russel Crowe in the opening battle sequence in the movie 'Gladiator', you will appreciate how easy it is to become completely fascinated by the drama of the wars between the tribes of Germany and the legions of Rome. Although 'Gladiator' depicts a full scale pitched battle, the appealing thing me is that most of the fighting between Germans and Romans was probably of the skirmish and ambush variety and skirmishing means an exciting tactical battle with a manageable number of figures, rather than having to paint entire legions and enough Germans to outnumber them sufficiently to create a balanced game!

To populate a skirmish game between Germanic warriors and Romans, you can not do better than turn to Warlord Games, as they provide figures for both sides which fulfil my primary criteria these days in that they are made mostly of hard plastic.
For the Germans I found a box of Warlord Tribesmen of Germania on e-bay, for a couple of quid less than you pay from the Warlord store. I've painted Germans on several occasions previously and have always loved them for their character, big beards, bare chests and nice simple geometric shield designs. I have to confess to being somewhat disappointed with the Warlord set, however, for three basic reasons:

1) When you have a bit of a passion for a particular wargames army, you expect to buy figures that are designed specifically for your army. In the past, I've bought my German warriors from Black Tree Design, and, indeed, I have a dozen or so of their wonderful Germans waiting on the painting bench to add to my current warband. However, what you get with the Warlord Warriors of Germania box is actually a re-packaging of their Celtic warriors. In fact, you get four plastic sprues of Celtic warriors with a bag full of metal bits thrown in to make them look a bit more Germanic! The figures are wonderful, indeed I've painted many Warlord Celtic figures in the past and they paint up very nicely, BUT, when you want to paint up a Germanic army, it's a bit of a kick in the shins to open up the box and find a load of Celts in there. I think what compounds the disappointment, is that Warlord make no mention of this on the website; you get the usual product description, but no mention of the fact that the set is made up largely of Celtic warrior sprues. It just seems a bit underhand really!

2) The metal parts you get in the box are very good, particularly the heads which look very similar to the heads of Black Tree's Germans, so I suspect that they will look very good together on the wargames table. However, the torsos that you are supposed to attach to the Celtic plastic legs are all bare chested. The problem with this is, the plastic legs come in three basic types; some are modelled with the bottom part of a mail hauberk, some with the bottom part of a shirt and some with just trousers. Obviously, the metal bare torsos will only attach to the legs which are cast with just trousers, which means you don't have enough legs for all the bare chested figures in the box. A bit naughty this one Warlord, because it clearly states on the box front that you can make 43 figures from the set, but, unless you are prepared to hack the mail or shirt casting from the legs of some of the figures, some of your bare chested warriors are going to look pretty silly having a bit of mail hauberk or shirt dangling from their belts! In addition to this, is the slightly annoying fact that you can't use your plastic adhesive to attach the metal torso to the plastic legs; super glue is the only adhesive that will do the job.

3) Associated with the above problem, is the fact that attaching the metal torso to the plastic legs makes the resulting warrior somewhat top heavy. This isn't really an issue if you are basing your figures on multiple bases, but if, like me, you want to use the figures for skirmish gaming, and you attach them to round plastic single bases, some of them have a tendency to topple over. Again, this isn't an insurmountable problem, but it does mean you have to think carefully about how you do your bases. At the moment, I'm thinking of adding 'rocks' to the bases of the most unstable figures to see if that helps to balance them out.
A very top heavy German! The plastic bases will need extra weight to add stability!
Having said all this, I already feel really attached to my German warband as, once the paint goes on, they cease to be Celtic cast offs and become proud and somewhat terrifying warriors of the frozen wastelands of the Barbaricum! When you add bits and bobs of captured Roman equipment and a smattering of severed heads, they very nicely portray the mighty and formidable enemies of Rome that they clearly were over a long period of time. It would be good if Warlord would address the issues which beset their Tribesmen of Germania boxed set, but as annoying as the problems are, it has to be said that the figures do paint up well and the variety of poses you can construct make them look like a really wild, ragged and ferocious warband. All in all, I like what the figures become with a little work with craft knife and paintbrush and will definitely add more in the future to build a massive horde of woolly barbarians.

You get lots of variety in the box, so no two warriors need be the same.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Bolt Action Assault on Normandy Starter Set

With the long Summer days ahead, thoughts begin to turn to games played outside in the garden; gaming table set up on the patio, long cool iced drinks perched precariously on the table edges, troops basking in the glorious sunshine as they battle their way to glory or ignominious defeat. Well, I seem to remember there was one day last year when the rain stopped long enough to get the shed door open and at least brush the dust off the gaming table before the heavens opened once more!

In the hope that the sun really does shine this year, I recently purchased the Bolt Action Assault on Normandy starter set, with a view to staging some 28mm World War Two skirmish games.

The Box Cover.
If you buy the starter set from the Warlord Games on-line store, it will set you back £70, but you don't pay postage because of their free postage offer on spends of £50 or more. I side-stepped Warlord and got my set from Wayland Games and it cost a pretty brilliant £54! Wayland's free postage deal is on orders over £40, so I didn't even pay postage on that! If you've not encountered Wayland before, then I would definitely check them out; they have excellent offers and their speed of delivery is second to none. To have a browse round the Wayland shop, CLICK HERE.

So, what do you get in the fancy box for your hard earned cash? Firstly, you get a lovely brand new hard back copy of the Bolt Action rule book. The rules themselves are pretty standard World War II skirmish rules, which are easy to follow, with a couple of gimmicky attributes, which seem to be essential in any modern wargames rules set. The order in which players move their squads is determined by drawing some 'special' orders dice from a bag. Cynics may say the 'special' dice are a good way of making a bit of extra revenue, but I quite like them! You get eight of them in the box, four for your Americans and four for the Germans. The rule book is very glossy, with lots of colour photographs of nicely painted troops and vehicles on the wargames table. There are lots of illustrations to help you get to grips with the rules and a set of four army lists to help you build your 'army'. If you want to be British, American, German or Russian, then you are well catered for, but I fancied having a go at some Japanese and you have to buy a special book for them! Fortunately, if you have any sort of World War II gaming experience, the lists are pretty much redundant; your 'army' is a platoon with a platoon command of a lieutenant and one or two other figures, and two or three squads of five to ten figures or so, commanded by N.C.Os. Because of casualties etc. it doesn't really matter exactly how many figures there are in your squad. All in all, I really like the rules for their simplicity and their being quick and easy to learn.

Apart from the rules, you get 40 hard plastic 28mm Warlord figures, 20 Americans and 20 Germans. As with all hard plastic figures, you are going to have to do a lot of cutting and sticking bits together to get your figures ready for painting. Warlord have had the good sense to include some very useful guides with the figures which show you very clearly what all the bits are.

As you can see, there are lots and lots of bits that you can choose to stick or not stick onto your basic figure. The information sheets guide you through all the options and point out pretty vital things like which bits were worn in a particular theatre or period of the war. My main gripe about the figures, is that the bases come separately and you have to attach the figures to them. This can be a recipe for tabletop disaster, when your troops and their bases part company half way through a game. I'd not really thought about this when I painted my first sample group of figures, but since then, I've been drilling holes into legs and bases and using some cut up paperclips to join them together in a more secure manner.

After lots of fiddly sticking and occasional frustrating searching for dropped weapons, heads or entrenching tools, you do get some very nice figures to paint. I started by painting the platoon commands for both sides...
 The German platoon command group. The lieutenant armed with a pistol and a pretty loud bark, and his sidekick, wielding a Sturmgewehr '44 assault rifle.
I've never painted a cigar before in thirty years of troop painting! This is my lieutenant, with the two figures above the rest of the platoon command squad, although I think I'll swap figures around quite regularly, once the twenty are all painted up.
The final bit of kit in the box is a ruined farm house model, so you have something to fight over. So far, this still hasn't even come out of the box, so I can't really comment as to the quality, but pictures on the Warlord web site would appear to show a useful bit of terrain when painted up.
All in all, the set was good value for money at £54, particularly when the rule book alone retails for £25, but I'm not sure I would have paid the £70 asking price at Warlord. I'm currently busy painting up the rest of the figures in squad groups, with the plan being to get some skirmishing in during the Summer holidays. That said, I'm still looking longingly at those American marines and Japanese infantry sets. Perhaps if Wayland Games have an offer on I might just make the investment.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Duke of Somerset's Company.

Wars of the Roses armies in The Perfect Captain's rule system, 'A Coat of Steel', are certainly entertaining to put together. You don't need a huge number of figures to make up the contingents which are the building blocks for an army. In fact, I discovered that I had painted too many figures for the Duke of Somerset's Company and now I have a ready made contingent for the other company I'm going to paint as part of Somerset's Ward.
Below you can see the graphic of the company, containing just 24 figures! Each of these contingents is made up of my standard configuration of 1 bowman to every billman. To reflect the somewhat adhoc nature of the Lancastrians in 1471, other contingents will be made up entirely of Shire Levy archers, which require only 8 figures for a 4 stand unit.

I can find hardly any information about Sir Nicholas Hervey, except that he was born in Thurleigh in Bedfordshire in 1439 and that he was killed on the battlefield at Tewkwsbury. At 32 years of age, he may have been one of the more experienced commanders on the battlefield that day, but I can find no other references to him participating in any other engagement. He was outlived by both his father and his mother. He had two older and two younger brothers, two of whom, Thomas and John could certainly have fought alongside Nicholas at Tewkesbury, although this seems unlikely.

In 1471, Sir Nicholas was the Recorder of Bristol and when Queen Margaret arrived there on the 1st May, he joined the Lancastrians on their march to cross the River Severn. It is possible that Sir Nicholas was at the head of a contingent supplied by the city and so I imagine my contingent as Bristolians, but in the livery of the Duke, as company commander, rather than anything that may have been supplied by the city for them to wear at such short notice. Certainly, it was recorded by the author of the 'Arrivall' that Bristol supplied the Lancastrians with money, men and artillery.


Saturday, 19 April 2014

A Mounted Reserve for my Wars of the Roses Lancastrians.

I'm not really sure why I've spent time and effort painting a mounted reserve for my Lancastrian army. After all, the only occurrence I can think of where a mounted unit played any part in a Wars of the Roses battle was at Bosworth in 1485, and that didn't really end too well for the person who instigated it! I suppose I just like painting horses and there aren't too many opportunities to do so in an army where most nobles dismounted to fight on foot along side the infantry masses.

The commander of my Mounted Reserve is Sir John Giles. I can find very little information about Sir John, other than that he was pardoned after the battle. This may indicate that he wasn’t such an ardent Lancastrian supporter as some of the others he lined up with during the campaign. My main reason for making him commander of my mounted reserve was simply that I had designed a standard for him, based on his coat of arms. There is no evidence to suggest that standards had any connection to a coat of arms, but I liked the blue lion and thought it would make a good badge for a standard. The red roses are, of course, a connection with the Lancastrian dynasty and the motto was entirely my concoction, made by running an English phrase through a Latin translator on the internet! I am now beginning to believe that standards carried during the Wars of the Roses were much more transient affairs than I had previously imagined. I suspect that they were often made to be carried for a specific campaign, rather than being permanently stored and brought out every time a new campaign began.

Sir Robert Whittingham was a long-time supporter of the Lancastrian cause. He came from Hertfordshire and was the son of another Sir Robert who was a merchant and financier. He served under the Duke of Bedford in the latter years of the Hundred Years War and became Captain of the city of Caen. Whittingham fought alongside his monarch at the First Battle of St. Albans in 1455, was at Wakefield in 1460 and participated in the great Lancastrian disaster at Towton the following year. When Margaret of Anjou returned to re-claim the throne for her husband in 1471, Sir Robert  once again returned to the Lancastrian cause and, as such a loyal servant to the House of Lancaster, I have given him a place of relative safety in my mounted reserve!
 The final cog in my mounted contingent is, Sir Gervase Clifton. Sir Gervase came from a Nottinghamshire family who had estates in Clifton (not surprisingly!) and Hodsock, now famous for its snowdrops in the springtime, and which is only about ten miles from where we live! It appears that he served the Lancastrians as Lieutenant of Dover Castle and Captain of Pontoise in France. Prior to the commencement of hostilities, Clifton left the north and settled in Kent, where he held various posts, including Mayor of Canterbury and High Sherriff of the county. During the 1450s, he rose to become Treasurer of the Household to King Henry VI and, when the time came, he nailed his colours firmly to the Lancastrian mast by declaring his support for Queen Margaret in 1471. This commendable act of loyalty to the House of Lancaster, ultimately lead him to face the headsman’s axe after the Battle of Tewkesbury.

So, that is my mounted reserve. Only six figures but a lot of fun to build, paint and research the history of the men who make up the ranks. All the figures come from the Perry Miniatures mounted men-at-arms set, which, as usual with Perry plastics, is a wonderful set of figures to work with. The Clifton flag is from a set I bought from Freezywater Flags, but I'm not massively keen on the shiny paper they use; it tends to crack when you form the flag into a 'blowing in the wind' sort of pose. The Giles standard and the Whittingham flag are home made, using a combination of Serif's Page Plus and Photo Shop, as described elsewhere on this blog. Lets us pray that the God of Battles ensures great victories for the Lancastrian cause and the nice shiny armour of my mounted knights is never tested on the field of battle!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Huscarls have Arrived!

It seems like ages since I ordered my Huscarls from Gripping Beast and, in fact, it is! I decided to use Gripping Beast metal figures for my Northumbrian Huscarls because I wanted them to have the longer mail coat; longer than the one you find on the Gripping Beast plastic figures. I bought them last October and had them painted by Christmas (which is pretty speedy by my normal standards) but then, they sat patiently waiting on the painting shelf to be based, ready to join the rest of my Saga army. It could have been the weather that delayed this final stage, after all, it doesn't take long to apply some basing medium and then stick on some flock! It could have been the arrival of a box of Fireforge medieval sergeants that caused the delay, but, again, I suspect this is just an excuse as, the completion of the Huscarls signalled the completion of my Saga army and I'm not renowned for actually completing any project involving wargames figures!

However, complete they are and that marks the end of this stage of my Saga painting project. I may add to my Northumbrians at some stage or I may paint a second army to use against the Northumbrians. I have a blank set of dice ready just in case! To mark the occasion of their completion, here are a few snaps of the Huscarls. Not the best camera work, I'm afraid... not quite sure what was going on... perhaps I need to invest in a more up-to-date camera.


 The Huscarls doing what they are supposed to do... protecting the boss.
A few more of the guys turned up when they heard the warlord was having a photo shoot with the Huscarls.