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…

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Skraelings for Saga: The Dark Ages

A dramatic image of Vikings fighting Skraelings
Since I first heard of Gripping Beast's limited edition Skraeling boxed set, and realised it was no longer available, I've been hankering after some of these, and recently reading The Vinland Sagas has only made me keener.

You can download the rules and a battle board for the Skraeling faction in Saga from Studio Tomahawk.

The Vinland Sagas - the original tales of the Viking adventures in North America - are two separate documents, both of which are recommended reading that won't take you more than about an hour to get through. The Saga of the Icelanders and The Saga of Erik the Red are both very short, and the bits that take part in Vinland even shorter, only a few paragraphs in each tale in fact. Both sagas also tell pretty much the same story, at least as far as Vinland is concerned.

The Vinland map (which may well be a fake)
Vinland (named so after the vines that were found there) refers to an area of coastal North America and Newfoundland beyond Greenland. Its precise location and extent is still subject to controversy. Vikings referred to many indigenous peoples they came across in their travels as Skraelings (a derogatory term meaning something like "barbarian", or "foreigner"). The Skraelings we are talking about here were most likely to have been woodland Red Indians of a culture that was later to become part of the Iroqois nation. They might have looked something like the later Mohicans, although there are no contemporary depictions to confirm this.

With the Gripping Beast Skraelings unavailable, all is not lost. Two manufacturers currently produce 28mm Skraeling figures, and there are other figures available that are strictly more modern but which could be used with some conversion, for example, those made for the Muskets and Tomahawks game, which I am not going to go into here.

Footsore Miniatures (formerly Musketeer Miniatures)

These look to be very nicely cast figures, depicting very (stereo)typical Red Indian types, which are on the large 28mm side. They're priced similarly to Gripping Beast and there's a good choice of figures to use giving a reasonable amount of variation of poses. I chose not to use these simply because I preferred the look of the CP Models Miniatures, but that's just my preference.

CP Models Miniatures

These are on the small 28mm side and have a really tribal look about them, most of the figures wearing loincloths and very little else. There isn't a huge amount of figure variety (only three different archer figures, and six different poses of warrior, excluding the command figures), but once the army is put together this really doesn't matter. They are lovely figures and  I think they look superb.

Army List

CP Models sell their figures in packs of three, which may not be ideal for Saga, but they're great value, and even better there was an offer when I placed my order, so I bought a few more than I had originally planned.

To give plenty of flexibility, and to minimise the surplus unused figures I would end up with, I set out to make a Warlord, four units of 8 Warriors, and three units of 12 Levy. A total of 69 figures (23 packs) altogether, giving some flexibility in the 6-point list I might field, and coming in at an extremely reasonable price.

Some CP Models Skraelings, straight out of the box (plastic bag, in fact).
Neat castings with very little flash and no significant mould lines.

These were simply cleaned up, based and painted as is. Nice figures all in very similar positions standing with a bow at the ready, three different figure poses altogether.

I painted their skin in Valejo Mahogany Brown highlighted with a slightly lighter brown, hair Black Brown and clothing a variety of dull cloth colours.

Levy unit #1

Levy unit #2

Levy unit #3

The CP Models Warriors come with separate weapons and shields, which allow for more variety in their finished poses. I decided to replace their weapons with scratch-built javelins made from brass rod. To get a tribal effect (similar to the look of the spears that came with the figures) I tied dressmaker's wire around the bottom of the spear head and fixed it with a drop of super glue to give the impression the spear point was tied in place. I made some extra javelins so that some of my warriors could carry spares with them in their shield hands.
Spears during construction
The figures were painted as the Levy. Shields were painted black and dry-brushed with grey to get some texture, after which I added some home-made tribal designs - lines of spots, zigzags and hand prints, to give each Warrior a unique design.

Warrior unit #1

Warrior unit #2

Warrior unit #3

Warrior unit #4

To make the Warlord stand out from the rest, I gave him a rock to stand on (along with a bit of dead vegetation), and equipped him with a mace rather than a shield. The mace is a weapon head from the weapons supplied with the CP Models figures but with its shaft replaced with a short length of brass rod. I also gave him a few extra feathers made of green stuff in  his hair and tied to his javelin, as befits a minor chieftain.

Skraeling chief, from front and back
War Paint

After one failed attempt to get this right I decided not to paint war paint on the bodies and faces of any of my Skraelings. While it initially appealed to me (in my appreciation of the stereotypical Red Indian) my efforts to paint it on just didn't look right at all. Anyway, after checking images of early native Americans (from the time of the pilgrims and conquistadors, at least) there are very few illustrations that show war paint or the like at all. So if I am asked, I'll say my Skraelings have been caught by the Norsemen by surprise and haven't had time to put their war paint on yet.

The completed Skraeling army. Six points for Saga comprising four units of Warriors and two of Levy.