Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Dark Ages "armies". Too many of course!

Some Gripping Beast Saxons: some of the first metal figures I painted, about ten years ago and not up to my current (however low that is) standard

The very first metal 28mm figures I painted were some Gripping Beast Vikings. I also painted some Saxons  and both have seen service in my early days at Guildford Wargames Club.  I recently discovered half a dozen of these early Saxons (technically, of course, late Saxons!) and they look very poor indeed.  I was hoping to touch them up a bit with static grass bases but they need much more than that and there is nothing more tedious than repainting figures!

Dark Ages figures are some of the most time consuming to paint because of their literal lack of uniformity.  There are armies which are worse, high medieaval and Celts, for example, but what with random colours and seperate spears and shields it is hard, for me anyway, to do a lot at a time. Added to this, other than Normans and Carolingians, the points value (in WAB at least) of many of the troops means you need large numbers of them.  So why do I keep buying them?

Partly the reason came out of a long interest in Vikings due, in large part, to my part Scandinavian heritage; one of my great grandparents came from Malmö. Partly, I was seduced by the splendid displays of beautifully lit Dark Ages figures I saw on the Gripping Beast stand at my first Salute.  Mostly, however, it was the appearance of the various WAB supplements: Shieldwall, Age of Arthur, EL Cid, Fall of the West and Byzantium: Beyond the Golden Gate.  All of these were full of lovely painted miniatures which I have been unable to resist. 

The number of WAB armies I am concurrently painting is a running joke with Mike Lewis (who owns Black Hat Miniatures) at the club and was my main opponent for Dark Ages games.  I've decided to list the ones I am working on just to try to sort out where I need to put in some more effort to progress, however, slowly, some more units.  Part of my problem stems from the fact that I always want to paint both armies; at least in the Dark Ages.

So, chronologically let's see where we are:

Late Romans

I bought some surprisingly nice figures from Black Tree Designs (their figures are very variable) some years ago and have painted, er, none (although I have started a few).  Part of the reason for this was that I was looking for a suitable opponent and didn't fancy Persians.  This has now been solved with Musketeer Miniatures lovely new Goths.


I bought a couple of packs of these from Musketeer when they first came out but have no idea where they are (I take all my figures out of their packs immediately and put them in boxes).

Gripping Beast Romano-British.  The first figures I based with static grass.  I had to hand paint the shields; no LBM then!

Romano British

The purchase of these was heavily influenced by my reading of the Bernard Cornwell Arthur novels and, of course, Gripping Beast's range is based on these, even including characters from the books.  I got these directly from Gripping Beast's shop when they had their brief stint in Richmond upon Thames a few years ago.  It was very exciting to be able to actually go into a shop and buy historical figures.  Even more exciting was the fact that I had an ex-girlfirend who lived just over the river in St Margarets.  Trips to Richmond were doubly fulfilling, therefore.  I have also bought some of Artizan's Romano British and am now tempted by the new Musketeer Late/Roman/Romano British/Early Byzantine figures.

Musketeer Early Saxons

Early Saxons

I also bought some of Gripping Beast's Arthurian period Saxons (not very inspiring) but then of course the Musketeer ones arrived and I bought quite a few of these.  I have actually painted a whole unit of these and, like all Musketeer figures, they are lovely to paint so it wouldn't take much persuading for me to do some more.  Whilst taking some pictures for this post I discovered I had also finished half of this unit of Musketeer Early Saxons, which I had completely forgotten about. I know I have the other half unit somewhere!

Gripping Beast Saxons, painted  a long time ago.

Mid Saxons

I read the first couple of Bernard Cornwall's novels set in the period of Alfred so I started picking up a variety of Saxons from a number of manufacturers but none of them were really satisfactory.  Surprisingly, the recent Foundry figures are very nice but it's an expensive way to buy a mass army.

A mixture of Gripping Best, Foundry and Artizan Vikings


I bought Gripping Beast of course but many of their figures are not really compatible with each other as regards size.  I bought some of the Foundry ones, despite them being a bit "fantasy" and also quite a few Artizan ones which go well with the Foundry ones and aren't quite so fantasy-looking.  Despite all this I can only field two units of them.  Vikings are a useful Dark Ages army, though, because of their multiple opponents (including each other).  I have about 75 painted. Incidentally, the medieaval history tutor of one of my ex-girlfriends at Oxford insisted it should be pronounced "Vikkings" with a short "i"!


When these Artizan figure came out I bought quite a few thinking they would make a good opponent for the Vikings.  I have only painted a dozen though, although I do like them as figures.  The cavalry are lovely but the spearmen just won't rank up as they are waving their spears around at funny angles.  I will need to re-base them and maybe try to bend their arms a bit.


I bought and painted eight crossbowmen in a week for a game we were having at the club but then I was ill on the day and they never got used.  I'd like to do some more and recently watched El Cid on DVD which led me to buying a pack of four spearman at Colours last month.  I actually based them this week so may get them done soon.  Very nice figures indeed!

Late Saxons

Fortunately you can use the Middle Saxons for these with the addition of some axe wielding Huscarls and the odd kite shield.  The big problem remains the unexciting Saxon ranges around. Still, I have around fifty painted figures.

I have a few of these Crusader figures somewhere but in WAB you neeed buckets of them as their points value is so low.


I was never that keen on Normans, as I thought they were a bit stolid and colourless, until my poor Saxons took a pasting at Guildford from someone's Norman milites.  I think I bought the first pack of Crusader figures at a big discount at one of the shows prompted by my son doing the Battle of Hastings at school.  I finished my first unit this week, have done some archers and some mounted milites.  The new Conquest Games plastic mounted figures are very nice and, apparently, foot figures are on the way. These are gradually building into what could be a functional army and they can be used, of course, to bolster El Cid Spanish (except I haven't got any yet).


Guildford were participating in the Society of Ancients games day when they did Dorylaeum.  I painted 30 Perry Miniatures Turcomen horse archers as my contribution but never made the game (although my figures did) as I had to fly to Los Angeles on the day. This is my biggest cavalry unit from any period and I am often tempted to use it as the basis of a full army.

Perry peasants


Of course I would then need some Crusaders and I painted a few peasants for the SoA game. I would love to buy some more of the Perry figures but that would mean, essentially, collecting two Norman armies at the smae time.  I wouldn't mix the manufacturers as their proportions are so different and I paint the bases different colours.  Can't have European muddy bases in the Holy Land! 

Crusader Byzantine archers


This was going to be a great project and I even set up a seperate blog for them but I got frustrated with the quality of the figures available; particularly unsatisfactory cataphracts (nothing worse, of course).  I painted a few and keep wondering about going back to these.  The new Musketeer figures are from a much earlier period but at present they have only done infantry and what are really needed are bow-armed cavalry with lances.  Unless these come out I'm not setting off down that route.

Early Gripping Beast Early Saxon (as opposed to the more recent range)

So that's 14 armies (13 if we amalgamate the mid and late Saxons).  None of them can yet be fielded as a stand alone wargames army although I have enough Vikings and Saxons to contribute a small force to a bigger game.  Of course if I had just stuck to one or even two armies I could have fielded a proper army by now but that would be boring! I'd like to do another unit of Dark Ages figures, having finished the Norman unit recently, but am not sure whether to do more Normans, some Vikings or some Early Saxons.  I have quite a lot of based Normans on my workbench at present but think I will put the Norman spearmen away and perhaps do a unit of eight crossbowmen who should be quicker to do as they have no spears and shields.  There, I have talked myself into it which is what these blogs are for really, to help me think about what to paint next!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Another Carolingian Knight

The file box I keep my Normans in also contains my very small collection of painted Carolingians from Artizan. I noticed that I had painted five mounted figures so knew there was another one around somewhere.  After a bit of digging around in my "Dark Ages under way" box I found him and finished him off today. Like their successors, the Normans, the Carolingians need a lot of heavy cavalry. Artizan make one more pack of heavy cavalry and I just realised that it is Colours at Newbury next week so maybe I will be able to find it there.

All my Carolingian milites so far

Carolingians had distinctive winged spears so I use the Gripping Beast cast spears, drill a hole in it and insert a cross-piece from thinner brass rod.  A bit of a fiddle but worth it, I think.  Like all Artizan figures that I have bought they are very nice to paint and so if I find them I will probably put them in the pile of Normans I have underway at present.  I think I may have some more infantry somewhere too. 

Artwork for The Song of Roland from Look and Learn, 1971

Key opponents for the Carolingians, from my point of view, were Vikings and Spanish Moors although I am not certain of the differences between the uniforms and equipment of the 11th century and the 9th century for the latter armies.  When, for example did the helmet with the nasal piece appear in Europe?  I first became aware of the Carolingians from a picture series in Look and Learn magazine depicting The Song of Roland.  They are an unusual and distinctive Dark Ages army and, like the Normans, I will continue to work away at them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Norman Knights

Two Crusader Miniatures figures flank a Conquest Games figure

I've just finished a trio of Norman Knights and, enthused, have based up some more infantry and Bishop Odo today.

I never intended building a Norman army; mainly as several other people at the club already have one, but I continue to paint the occasional figure when I want a break from something else. One of the main advantages of them is that they are quick to paint, especially if you are using Crusader Miniatures chunky figures. On the whole I don’t like the increasingly old-fashioned looking squat appearance but in this case it makes the Normans very purposeful looking.

I have painted quite a few Anglo-Saxons (mainly Gripping Beast) and have always fancied doing Hastings and Stamford Bridge but Normans have a lot more uses than that. They are, of course good for the First Crusade and even the Spanish Reconquista as well as actions in Italy.

The problem I have with the Crusades (and I have thirty Perry Turcoman horse archers painted which I did for a Society of Ancients battle day) is that the Perry figures are so nice but really wouldn’t mix with the Crusader ones. So I would feel that I have to buy the Perries crusader cavalry which would be crazy given I am painting virtually identical figures for Hastings (except the bases would be the wrong colour for the Holy Land). So I am in the position where I am contemplating painting two separate Norman type armies. Madness!

One thing which may come to my rescue are the Conquest Games plastic Norman knights. I have just finished my first one of these and have some more on the way. These look much more compatible with the Perry figures I have so I would be able to mix them in much easier with theirs.

Conquest figure with added shield boss

The only fault the Conquest figures have is that, for some reason, they didn’t put a shield boss on the kite shields. This is easily remedied, however, as they include an equal number of round shields which do have bosses. It is straightforward to cut of the boss from a round shield and glue it onto the kite shield as I did for this one. The treatment of chainmail is not at all bad for plastic, given it’s about the hardest thing to do in this medium, and whilst not as crisp as metal figures is quite adequate.  I have to say that I enjoyed painting this figure, which is something I rarely say for plastics, although filling the seam where the head and neck of the horse joins the body wasn't easy (and in fact I didn't bother on the first one).

Crusader, Conquest, Crusader

Although the horses are noticeably more slender than the Crusader figures I wouldn’t hesitate about putting them in the same unit. The option to have some round shields will be useful as I vaguely recall reading somewhere that some of the Frankish cavalry in the Crusades (the Provencal contingent?) had round not kite shields. Even if there is no evidence for this it is a good way to differentiate them from the Normans. I might do the same with Bretons at Hastings.

Perilously close to being a unit! Conquest figure in the centre.

So I will definitely be buying some more of these Conquest plastics for use in Britain, the Mediterranean and the Holy Land.  Next I hope to have Bishop Odo done.  here I have gone for the recent Foundry figure rather than the Crusader one which I will explain next time.