Thursday, 10 December 2015

Rus Princes for Saga

The completed Rus army
To my shame, it has taken nearly a whole year to finish painting this army, since being given the 4-point starter warband last Christmas (lovely present). The starter set comes with 12 Levy archers, 8 foot Warriors, 8 mounted Hearthguard and a Warlord. Probably not the most effective of army lists, but there you are! I added a few things to this for variety and playability - 8 steppe nomads, 8 more mounted Hearthguard, and two different figures to use as Warlords (I don't much like the psychotic look of the chap that comes in the starter set). All figures are Gripping Beast, either taken from their Saga range or from their Rus: Pagans to Princes range (many of which are actually the same casts).

Levy Archers

Levy militia arches
These figures represent city militia archers, and unusually for most levy are depicted with helmets and some armour. Nice castings that work well together.

Foot Warriors

Militia warriors
More city militia, but these are the ones who are more serious about fighting. Spears are made from 1mm brass rod. I wanted these chaps to be in some sort of uniform so equipped them with the same large teardrop shields which I painted with a cross design. I always find it difficult creating plausible (and paintable) shield designs and knowing next to nothing about the Rus beyond what I could find out from Osprey books (very interesting, but of fairly limited use determining painting schemes) had a search of the Internet for something suitable. This design is a simplification (so I could paint it) of a shield design used by a Rus re-enactment group. I probably could have done better, but there you are.


Malaia Druzhina
Junior Druzhina
My intent with the mounted Hearthguard was to be able to field two units of 8, both of which would be easily distinguished, but allowing each man to have his own unique shield design (as befits nobles). With this in mind, I gave each unit different shields, using round shields and small teardrop shields with bosses. It's cold in the steppes, so I added cloaks made from green stuff to each of them. The cloaks would be uniform for each unit as well, with the unit I would use as Malaia Druzhina having purple cloaks and the Junior Druzhina unit red ones. I added a simple border to each cloak painted in black with brass detail. Lances are made from 1mm brass rod. I gave one of the Junior Druzhina a standard which is loosely based on the one of the illustrations in the Osprey book, basically being a flag depicting a religious icon with added horsehair pennant.


Warlord #1 (nice hat)
Warlord #2
The warlords were mounted on half-armoured horses and equipped with axes to set them completely apart from their men. I added a green stuff cloak to the chap with the fez.

Bases were made up in the usual way but I used a darker static grass than usual (trying for a more steppe-like finish) and tufts in two colours. Overall, I really like the effect, as I hope anyone reading this does as well!

Friday, 9 October 2015

Muskets & Tomahawks

If you didn't already know, Muskets & Tomahawks is a 28mm skirmish game set in North America at the time of the French & Indian War. This was the North American theatre of the Seven Years' War, fought between British and French colonist forces.

The battle report here is the second time I have played this game. The rules are very quick to grasp as well as being fun and easy to play. Nothing seems wildly unrealistic and the game has a great period feel - though admittedly this is a period of history I know very little about.

The game we played was on a 6' x 4' table with a few buildings and relatively dense terrain. Nick provided (beautiful) figures and terrain and led us through the process of learning the rules as we played. He had set up around 400pts of representative opposing forces as follows:

French (Nick & Andrew)

Les French
1 French Officer [Regular, with musket]
10 French Grenadiers [Regular, with Musket - Firing Line, Elite]
1 Canadian Officer [Irregular, with Musket and Thrown Weapon - Scout]
7 Canadian Militia [Irregular, with Musket and Thrown Weapon - Scouts, Coureurs des Bois]
6 Canadian Militia [Irregular, with Musket and Thrown Weapon - Scouts, Coureurs des Bois]
6 French Indians [Irregular, with Musket & Thrown Weapon - Scouts, Native]

British (Howard and me)

Our brave English lads
1 British Officer [Regular, with Musket]
10 British Regular Infantry [Regular, with Musket - Firing Line]
10 British Light Infantry [Irregular (Regular for Morale), with Musket - Scouts, Elite]
1 British Officer [Irregular, with Musket and Thrown Weapon - Ranger (Scout)]
6 Rangers [Irregular, with Musket and Thrown Weapon - Scouts]
6 Rangers [Irregular, with Musket and Thrown Weapon - Scouts]
6 British Indians [Irregular, with Musket & Thrown Weapon - Scouts, Native]

The objectives for each side were rolled randomly as per the rules. The British were to defend a small settlement, while the French were on a scouting mission. This meant that to win, the British required the game to end with no French troops within 4" of the buildings. The French had the tougher objective of needing to have had troops occupy each of the six 2' x 2' sectors of the table at the end of a turn and then retiring from the table with at least two thirds of their force. Game end is determined by a dice roll made at the end of each turn. Order of movement is randomised within a turn by the use of a deck of cards which contains multiple cards for each unit type present. This is a great game mechanic that overcomes the certainty of the "I go, you go" games but without overly complicating things and slowing the game down.

Deployed, staunchly defending the homestead
The British deployed first, within 4" of the buildings as specified by their objective. The light infantry and officer were positioned on the right flank with one unit of rangers and the other officer in the forward building on the left and the second unit of rangers in cover at the edge of terrain on the left. The regular infantry and the indians were held in reserve, and rolls showed they were not going to arrive on the first turn. The French began the game off-table.

Indians on the horizon
The French indians were the first to arrive on the far left.  (I am describing the view from the British side of the table, where I was sitting). They continued to advance and moved into the woods. The French irregulars advanced on to the table in the centre and the far right, followed by the French grenadiers, further to the right, as the British light infantry advanced to a better firing position. The French line fired and two of the light infantrymen fell dead.

The Grenadiers arrive
British morale held firm and the light infantry continued to advance - the intent to delay the French and deny their scouting. Returning fire at the French line, one of the grenadiers fell dead. The French irregulars moved into positions to concentrate fire on the British light infantry.

With no reserves in sight, the pressure was on the light infantry and with some lucky shooting killed
three of the Grenadiers forcing them to recoil - just not quite enough to push them off the table. Fire was returned from all directions, but the British held fast.

Indians vs. Indians
Meanwhile on the left flank, the French Indians had advanced across the table mid-line and just needed to stay there by the end of the turn to scout that sector. The British Indians arrived to face them off - just a little too late perhaps but some good shooting might put them to flight before the end of the turn. An all-Indian shooting match began, with many shots exchanged for negligible effect.

Time to fall back now, lads
The light infantry in the centre were suffering now, though. Concentrated shooting by the French forced them out of the woods, recoiling multiple times as their numbers dwindled to a single man, but never breaking, as the French irregulars took the central woodland block. Finally, the British Regulars arrived, advancing to the river - and attempting to cross it, which in hindsight was probably not particularly sensible. Taking up a firing position, with the intent of delaying the French advance further, they were surprisingly successful against the French irregulars on the first shot.

British infantry, not being particularly sensible
It wasn't to last though. As British casualties mounted, the French steadily advanced to the edge of terrain within a single move of the sectors they needed to scout. As the fourth turn drew to a close, they made their move, two units of  irregulars advancing into the right sector, one running up to the settlement walls.

...and there was a very big scrap...
In desperation the Rangers (whose shooting from the building had proved wholly ineffective) charged out of the building as the other unit of Rangers streamed around the other side of the building into melee with the same unit of the French in what was to be the decisive encounter of the game.

Three Rangers died to tomahawks on the charge in. Not a good start for the British. But despite Howard's dice rolling they just had the upper hand in the melee and forced the French to fight a second round. Again the British had the edge, and with a very poor morale roll the French took flight as the fourth turn ended. The French only had the central sector left to scout. But they were not to have the chance, as the dice announced the end of the game.

With no French within 4" of the buildings, the British scraped a win.

Overall, a great game, with straightforward rules and game mechanics that work very well for an evening game which is a lot of fun. We will definitely be playing this game again!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Beowulf and Grendel (in 28mm)

Beowulf and Grendel face each other off
It's perhaps the greatest and best known Dark Age fantasy of all. It's been the inspiration behind many modern tales, and numerous films, several of which are well worth watching. Not to mention the recent translation of the original epic poem by Seamus Heaney that won the Whitbread Book of the Year prize in 1999. It's a good story.

Beowulf was composed between the 7th and 10th Centuries. It tells of the adventures of the Scandinavian warlord Beowulf, a Viking hero of the people of Geatland, who fights three monsters – a creature called Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and (in later life) a dragon.
As with many people, my own journey in wargaming began with fantasy games, and as my interest in the Dark Ages continues a desire has grown to field Beowulf and his band against the monster Grendel. Eureka Miniatures have made this possible.
The fantastic Beowulf and his Retinue range from Eureka Miniatures comprises two sets of figures of Beowulf and his companions (one set in action poses, one set standing). I bought the figures in the action poses at Warfare a couple of years ago - yes it has taken me ages to get them painted!
I bought figures for Grendel and Beowulf from Model Bunker Stoke. I prefer this Beowulf figure to the one in the Eureka set.
I also added a bard to complete Beowulf's band of warriors. This is a figure from the Black Tree Design Saxon King set
Grendel is a demonic fiend from hell, a creature of the night said to be a descendant of Cain. He is fearsomely strong and magically protected - "no blade on earth, no blacksmith’s art, could ever damage their demon opponent” – but despite this, eventually Beowulf rips one of Grendel’s arms off and, mortally wounded, Grendel runs off back to his lair to die.
Grendel. Grrr!
The figure presents Grendel as an oversized humanoid with claws and attitude. Consistent with the legend and very much along the lines of my concept of Grendel.


Brave Beowulf, hero of the Geats
I changed his shield for a more conventional Gripping Beast round one, and decorated his base with skulls from Black Cat miniatures. I'm particularly pleased with the shield design.

Close-up of Beowulf's shield
The Shaper: the Bard

The Shaper, singing Beowulf's praises, no doubt
According to John Gardner's novel Grendel, the name of the Bard in Hrothgar's Hall is The Shaper. I added him to Beowulf's band as according to the epic poem Beowulf was accompanied to Hrothgar's Hall by thirteen men.

Beowulf's Retinue

The twelve remaining men accompanying Beowulf are represented by Eureka Figures. They are lovely figures, crisply cast with very little flash, and although slightly on the small side of 28mm they will enhance pretty much any Dark Age warband out there.

And all of them together...
Beowulf and his men prepare to fight the monster Grendel

Monday, 27 July 2015

Battle Report: Vikings vs Skraelings

Somewhere in Vinland…

The Skraelings line up for battle
This was the first time I have fought using my Skraelings and so I honestly had very little idea what to expect. I played a six-point game against my friend Andrew who fielded Vikings.

I chose to field two points of Levy and four of Warriors, while Andrew went for six points of Hearthguard, including Berserkers. We played the Champions of God scenario from the Crescent and the Cross rule book.

Terrain comprised a large area of rocky ground, one large and one normal building, and a gentle hill.

The armies at deployment, viewed from the Viking side of the table
The Skraelings deployed two units of 12 Levy, one in the rocky ground and the other in the large building, with two units of 12 Warriors and the Warlord between. A smaller unit of 8 Warriors sat on the right flank, the intent being for this to advance and occupy the smaller building.

The Vikings deployed two units of 8 Hearthguard approaching the small building, and a unit of 4 Hearthguard, the 4 Berserkers and the Warlord  in the centre, out of sight of any ranged weapons, behind the hill.

The Vikings make a strong bid to take the small building
The Vikings had the first turn, so the Skraelings riolled three dice to place on their board. Not a great roll and so all three were placed in their Activation Pool ready for their first turn. The Vikings rolled their 6 Saga dice, placing three on Hearthguard activations, and dice on Frigg, Thor and Asgard. The Vikings began with an attack by one of the 8-strong Hearthguard units. With one activation they had occupied the small building, and with a second they had left it again and contacted the small Skraeling Warrior unit. Making use of Frigg and Thor, they were a little unlucky to only kill 7 of the 8 Warriors, but lost only one of their own. With a final activation, to protect themselves from any shooting they retreated into the cover and relative safety of the small building, job done. Using We Obey, the Warlord advanced onto the hill with the four Hearthguard, keeping out of range of one of the Skraeling Levy units.

End of Viking turn 1, and a lonely Skraeling Warrior on the right flank is watched by Vikings occupying the small building
Adding all the dice from their activation pool, the Skraelings were able to have a lot of useful Saga dice during their first turn. Three different dice were placed on Pathfinders and left for the next Viking turn, and one die was placed back in the Activation Pool. The rest were used to activate the Levy in the building to shoot on the 8 Hearthguard in the open, who were just in range. The Vikings used Asgard to raise their armour, and the shooting was ineffective. Then, one of the 12-strong Warrior units advanced, throwing Javelins into the 4-man Hearthguard unit to much better effect. With two Vikings dead, they used their final activation to pull back to their previous position.

Skraeling Warriors attack in the centre with javelins
The Vikings rolled their Saga dice, using Loki in their Orders phase to remove the 1-man Skraeling Warrior unit, only to see the Skraelings use Pathfinders as an Orders/Reaction and bring six more  Warriors on in much the same place. The Vikings decided to launch an all-out attack in the centre with the Berserkers. Advancing with We Obey, followed by two Activations, they charged into one of the larger Warrior units. With Frigg and Thor, they killed 9, but all died in the process.

Berserkers lead the Viking attack in the centre
With a poor roll of Saga dice, there was little the Skraelings could do. Levy shot twice to no effect this turn, and Fatigue was removed from the depleted Warrior unit, while one die was retained within the Activation Pool for future use.

Reduced to 5 Saga dice, the Viking momentum continued in Turn 3 with an attack on the other large Skraeling Warrior unit with their 8-man Hearthguard unit in the open. It was quick and bloody, another 8 Warriors dying, but this time for the loss of three Hearthguard. A bloody, but surprisingly even fight thus far. Fatugue was lifted from the Vikings in the building and the Warlord advanced with his small Hearthguard unit in the centre.

A lot of death dealing leaves a lot more space in the centre of the battlefield
The Skraeling Saga dice were a lot kinder. Three different dice allowed all units to be activated, with a few other dice handy to add to the carnage. Both units of Levy shot to good effect this time, killing two of the Hearthguard in the small unit in the centre.  Then the smaller Warrior unit charged into what was now a fatigued, two-man Hearthguard Viking unit . Giving the Vikings a taste of their own medicine, using Valhalla against them and using their fatigue to reduce their armour, both Hearthguard were killed in their sacrifice, and the Vikings found their Warlord with only two companions in the centre of the fray (though admittedly with only four enemy Warriors facing them).

The seven Viking Hearthguard lurking in the small building then made their move, charging the six Pathfinders that had appeared out of nowhere in front of them. Effective and bloody, all the Warriors died, but for the loss of two Hearthguard, which seemed quite a high price. They followed this up with an attack on the Levy in the large building, using Frigg and Thor, killing 9 of them, but losing three more men in the process. But they were now in possession of the large building, at least.  The Viking Warlord and the two-strong Hearthguard unit in the open advanced again in the centre, using Odin to remove some of the fatigue from their weary units.

Saga dice were now a bit of a problem for the Skraelings. With only three dice available, and an unremarkable cast of the dice, once die was put into the Activation Pool while two were used to shoot at the two Hearthguard in the open, but to no effect.

The situation had become desperate, but the Vikings had a plan to force the win. First, the Warlord would attack the Skraeling warriors in the centre to leave the enemy Warlord alone and vulnerable. A convincing plan, but rolling four F runes didn't help. Three dice were placed on activations, one on Frigg . The Vikings advanced together, then charged into the Skraeling Warriors using We Obey and Side by Side, the Warlord fighting without Fatigue and with an extra attack die from Frigg.The Skraelings focused all their dice on the enemy Hearthguard. All the Skraelings died, but one of the Hearthguard perished too. The Viking Warlord continued his attack alone into the enemy Warlord. The Skraeling, aware of his vulnerability, put all the dice he could into defence.  Mutual speding of Fatigue means that armour was not reduced, and he received three hits while dealing an ineffective one. The extra defence dice ensured that two of the hits were saved, and Resilience meant he survived. The Viking Warlord had no choice but to break off.

Excellent dice rolling, just when you need it
With only two dice in the Saga pool, and no Warriors left, on turn 5 in a last ditch attempt the Skraelings moved their large Levy unit into range of the Viking Warlord with We Obey, and they opened fire on the isolated Viking Warlord. Six dice, needing sixes - the gods looked on kindly - resulted in four hits. Only two saved - one removed because of Resilience - and the Viking Warlord fell to the ground dead.

But for that shooting, it would have been a draw, and by all expectations should have been. In the end, a very lucky victory to the Skraelings, and a very bloody fight.

Skraelings are certainly a challenging faction to use, I suspect particularly against Vikings who have nothing on their Battle Board they can use to increase the effectiveness of shooting. In this game they suffered from a shortage of Saga dice, and in particular a shortage of rolling three different symbols, but any such shortcomings were more than compensated for by the luck of the combat dice. Next time round I will consider fielding four smaller Warrior units and perhaps a Warlord Priest to increase the pool of Saga dice available.

I'm also not fully clear whether I have been using the Skraeling Activation Pool ability quite as intended and will raise this as a query on the Saga forum to check.

"Victory is ours! (You may now collect scalps)"
***Apologies to Andrew for any inaccuracies in the detail - this battle report was compiled after the actual events and the photos are my attempt at a faithful reconstruction. Any inaccuracies are mine, and are unintentional (and anyway, history belongs to the victor!)***

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Revenants: Something Different for Saga

You just can't keep a good zombie down…

Revenants, if you didn't already know, are raised, recently-dead, warriors - in this case, zombie Vikings, if you like. Quite a few of the sagas, in particular the older ones, relate tales of undead warriors risen from the grave fighting for some nefarious, evil purpose. And this is just what the Revenant faction represents.

I wasn't able to make it to Salute earlier this year but that didn't stop me sending one of my minions to get hold of one of the new limited edition boxes of Revenants for Saga from the nice chaps at Gripping Beast.

The box set come with 48 Revenants (four units), two grave markers, a necromancer, bases, special rules, battleboards and a set of eight unique Revenant Saga dice. It's all very nice indeed.

The figures are well designed, in the style of the Gripping Beast Dark Age figures but with (I think) added sense of humour. The necromancer is particularly nice. Very much an evil fantasy wizard, he is made special with his skeletal dragon staff and the raising gravestone he is standing on.

As I write this I see there has been a very positive review of this set in Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy magazine. This review says that there are 48 unique Revenant figures. Not so with my set - 24 poses, two of each, not that this is a major issue at all, but I'm flagging it up for anyone researching the faction so they don’t end up disappointed. Of slightly more concern is the way the box is marketed as a 6 point Saga faction when this is only the case if both grave pit markers are fielded along with all the Revenants. If you want to field more than four units of Revenants or change the mix up a bit you will need to purchase extra figures. Gripping Beast now sell these as booster packs, but they didn't when I had bought mine, so my extra two units of Revenants are made from a box of plastic zombies to which I added Dark Age bits and pieces from the Gripping Beast Dark Age Warriors box set and some odds and ends from my bit box.

Regardless, the Revenants look like a fun alternative to the usual Saga factions and even if they aren't official I'm still looking forward to playing games with therm.

So here are some images of my finished Revenant army.

Revenants from the box set

Unit #1

Unit #2

Unit #3

Unit #4
Scratch-built Revenants

The last two units of my Revenants were made from a Mantic Kings of War Undead Zombie Swarm box set, modified with dark age additions from the Gripping Beast Dark Age Warriors box set. To this I added weapons from my bit box, tattered clothing made from green stuff, and delapidated chain armour made from netting material soaked in PVA glue.

Unit #5

Unit #6
Grave Pits

I added Renedra plastic bases to both of these to make them site better on the table. Almost certainly totally unnecessary, but there you go.

Grave Pit markers

When attaching the gravestone base to the Renedra base for this figure, I raised the level of the back so that it didn't look like the necromancer was gazing abnormally into the sky. I decorated his base with a few scattered Black Cat miniatures skulls for added effect.

The Necromancer
If anyone has worked out exactly what it says on the gravestone he's standing on, I'd love to know. I suspect this might be some sort of Gripping Beast in-joke.

The complete Revenant army
Zombie Vikings - they just keep on coming…