Painting Update

The El Cid project is coming along nicely. I’ve now sorted through the ordered figures and put together the units. It’s going to be 2 DBA bases for a cavalry unit, 4 DBA bases for an infantry unit and 2 for a skirmisher unit.

I only paint in small batches of maximum 16 figures. My scratch built painting rack doesn’t take more, but more importantly, I need the feeling of getting things finished. Mass-producing hundreds of figures at the same time would be a nightmare and I’d never finish!

So, what have I painted so far?

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Here we have two units of Spanish heavy cavalry and one of peones, which I will probably count as medium infantry for Hail Caesar. Incidentally, I didn’t buy the army lists and will base the unit stats on my own research. Also, I like the idea put forward by the rules writers that the stats should be adapted to the scenarios at hand, so if a small elite band fights against huge masses of ambushers you might give them some characteristics you wouldn’t give them if you fight a large battle. This is one of those ideas that immediately makes sense and one asks oneself why one didn’t think of this!

The cavalry are all Khurasan Norman Milites, very nicely sculpted figures with dynamic poses. At first I wanted to mix them with Splintered Light Normans to add some variety, but when I had them in my hands I realised that Khurasan horses are large – they are, in fact, considerably larger than those of any other manufacturer. So I will make separate units of Splintered Light cavalry and hope they will at least look ok beside their larger brethren.

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The spears are a motley crew of Splintered Light, Essex and Donnington. They go together quite well! I am also happy with the decision to go for four DBA bases for the infantry. If I had made IMPETUS bases of 8x4cm, I wouldn’t have stuck that many figures on it. But, as K. remarked, the mass of figures really makes them look dynamic.

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This is what was called a ‘phalanx’ formation and was used by the Almoravids. It consisted of a kneeling front rank of long spears and behind them ranks of javelin throwers. It was very hard to break and accounted for the many victories of the Almoravid forces. For Hail Caesar, I thought of giving them the Long Spears as well as the Pilum special rules, but this might be too powerful, so we’ll see. I’m going to do a couple of those, as they will form the bulk of the Almoravid army.

The front rank consists of Museum Miniatures figures. The second rank is a mix of Museum, Essex (second from left) and Lurkio (third from left). I made a litham, the traditional cloth worn by Berbers that covers the mouth area, out of green stuff for the Essex figures. This is an easy method of converting generic Arab figures to Almoravids.

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Here you can see some of the light troops. In the front we have light Berber cavalry. Those are from Lurkio and I like their poses – I’ve also got some Berber cavalry from Minifigs, but not only do they have only one pose, it is a very static one.

Behind them are tribal skirmishers from Essex and behind those Spanish skirmishers, a mix of Essex and Minifigs. I’m a bit divided about Essex: Some of their figures are quite bland, but some I find very charming. There was a mix-up with the order, but their customer service was excellent and they sorted it out without any fuss.

Well, that’s my progress so far. Next I will paint up more of the Almoravid spears and a unit of Black Guard, the Almoravid elite infantry. My aim is to have about five or six units per side so we can get in a first game. However, before that I will have to make some new terrain – English pastures won’t really do it for Al-Andalus!

Another Clash of Warlords

Sometimes, we are in the mood for a quick and brutal game – fortunately, there is SAGA! So K. awoke her Vikings from their mead-induced slumber and I gathered my Normans to have another go at the Clash of Warlords scenario.

We both fielded 6 points. I chose one unit of Levy Archers, one unit of crossbows, two units of mounted Warriors and two of mounted Hearthguard. K. also took Levy Archers, two units of Warriors, two of Hearthguard and one of Berserkers. We diced for terrain and only got to place two pieces, so K. took a wooded area and I the watchtower – mainly because I like how it looks.

For the set up, I again made up a cunning plan: I positioned my Warlord together with his Hearthguard and a unit of crossbows to the right of the tower, ready to strike into the Vikings flank. The rest of my men was positioned to the middle – I wanted to keep them back until the flanking force was ready to strike.

K. had her forces lined up with her archers facing mine. She kept to the center of the board, only one unit of Hearthguard was hidden behind the woods (it really was hidden, I didn’t realise it was there until she brought it out).

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K. started the game with shooting at my archers, which hurt them more than I would have thought. She also brought a unit of Hearthguard to cover the flank were my cavalry was advancing. Then she set her SAGA dice so that I couldn’t use my shooting abilities. I nevertheless decided to go for it and sent my first unit of knights to attack her flank Hearthguard without softening them up with crossbows first. The attack went ok but strained my cavalry – three points of fatigue meant that they suddenly were very vulnerable and all alone at the front!

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As was to be expected, K. didn’t show any mercy and massacred them with her Hearthguard, which at least went under with my knights. Meanwhile, my archers managed to deplete one of the units of Warriors. However, they themselves took heavy casualties from the pesky Viking archers! K. decided to give them the rest by attacking with her other unit of Warriors, which threw themselves at my poor Levies. The mounted Warriors were still waiting for the signal to attack.

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My Warlord with his flanking cavalry decided to abandon the flanking manoeuvre and tried to pull his men back. This was one of my classic capricious moments when I decide to change a plan in the middle of a game. Moving the troops around meant that my most powerful units were out of the game for quite a while. I did, however, finally attack with my mounted Warriors.

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However, K. grasped the nettle and threw her crazed Berserkers at my Warriors. Together with the Warlord, they made short shrift of the cavalry. Some ferocious dice rolling also meant that three out of the four Berserkers actually survived the attack!

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This left me in a dire situation. My approaching Warlord, seeing that none of his other troops were left, ordered his remaining Hearthguard to retreat and decided to call it a day.

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Another defeat for the Normans! I put all my eggs into one basket by putting my best units plus my Warlord on the flank. Unfortunately, the flanking manoeuvre got stuck – had I pulled it through, I might have caused havoc in K.’s units. But as it was, I panicked when it didn’t work out and decided to move my cavalry back to the center, which effectively took it out of the game. Meanwhile, K. could systematically decimate the rest of my forces, which were sitting like ducks in the center of the playing area. Nevertheless, the game was great fun, quick and brutal, just as we wanted it to be!

15mm Siege Scenery

I’ve long been fascinated by sieges and have thought about how to include them into our games. I guess that playing proper sieges isn’t really exciting: The long periods of waiting while your sappers dig a tunnel, your troops die of disease and your foragers struggle to organise enough supplies probably makes for a rather dull game – and this is already the part of the ‘active’ party, namely the besieger!

However, during many sieges, there were also dramatic events: Evacuating the surrounding villagers into the castle before the enemies’ scouts could get them, making sorties and, of course, the most dramatic of all, the direct assault of the walls. Some time ago I picked up a second-hand copy of the old Warhammer Historical supplement Siege & Conquest, written by Guy Bowers, who is now editor of Wargames Soldiers & Strategy magazine. The book is mainly a collection of scenarios that can be played single or as a short narrative campaign that doesn’t require any book-keeping, so this was a good start to think of some siege-related events that could make an exciting game.

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During the Wars of the Roses, gunpowder artillery had come to dominate sieges, although besiegers were reluctant to shoot the castles to pieces as they might need them themselves later on. Still, it seems that sieges didn’t take too long: In December 1462, Warwick besieged Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Alnwick castles at the same time, and the first two had surrendered within the month. The last one was relieved by a small Scottish force that enabled the garrison to sally forth and get away. However, the castle still fell into Yorkist hands.

Such small episodes can easily be made into scenarios for Sharp Practice. But what about scenery? At last year’s CRISIS, I bought a castle layout by Kallistra. I’ve also painted up some artillery. What else would you see around a siege site?

The landscape around a besieged castle would have been ravaged. The retreating troops would have destroyed any buildings near the walls so as to deny the attackers any cover. The attackers would have done the rest by building camps, ditches, mines and sometimes even counter castles. Wooded areas would have been cleared to provide timber for the siege works.

Well, ruined buildings are easy:

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So is an area of freshly cleared woodland. Especially as I was fortunate to get some cheap tree stumps at the local model railway shop’s sale:

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For the camp, I got some Baueda tents for knights and officers. The smaller tents for the troops were bought at CRISIS, unfortunately I can’t remember the manufacturer:

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One of the most common means of attacking a castle was to dig a mine. The aim was to get a tunnel underneath an important part of the wall or a tower and then bring it to collapse by burning the timber beams. Mine entrances were often disguised as small houses, so I decided to build one of those:

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The hill is made of styrofoam and plaster, the hut is made from match sticks. The guy carrying the empty bucket is an Essex artilleryman. The poor sod with the heavy buckets is a conversion: Originally a figure from Museum Miniatures, I cut off his sword and bent his arms a bit so I could add the pole with the buckets. The buckets are small pieces of a wooden dowel, fastened with wire.

We are almost ready to play a siege scenario now. There is only the tiny problem of the castle. Unfortunately, it still isn’t painted. I made a start by undercoating it with a grey spray primer, which was unpleasant enough. But when I applied some ink to bring out the details, it seems that the undercoat wasn’t thick enough as the ink didn’t stick in the recesses of the structure. Now the raised parts are dark while the recesses are light. Urgh! The whole business reminded me why I hate resin and, not without a lot of swearing, I put everything away. I might give it another go when my anger has cooled down a bit. After all, I’d really like to see it in action!

The New Project: El Cid

In another post, I’ve hinted that I was about to begin a new project. Well, it’s officially started: I am going to do early medieval Spain for element-based large battles. Yes, we dyed-in-the-wool skirmish gamers are going for mass combat.

Why this period, you may ask? I was looking for something medieval that includes non-European armies, that demands different tactics from what we usually play and that is colourful. By chance I read about Spain at the end of the 11th century and was hooked. For one thing, there are a lot of options for army building: The Christian kingdoms, the Islamic Taifa kingdoms of Al-Andalus and the Almoravids from North Africa. Even better, everyone fought against everyone else, so there are also a lot of options for gaming (more than with the typical crusader line-up of Christians against Moslems)!

For research, I first got the obligatory Ospreys (El Cid and The Moors), which are a bit disappointing as they cover a wide period and only contain superficial information on the stuff that interests me. I then read The Quest for El Cid by Richard Fletcher. This is a fabulous book which I can’t recommend enough. Even if you are not interested in the period, it’s a masterful example of historical writing, combining a lively, engaging and witty style with a critical approach towards the sources. I also got a second hand copy of the old Warhammer Ancient Battles supplement El Cid, which is inspiring and helpful for putting together armies.

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So which armies will I collect? I decided to go for a Christian one, as it allows to field Rodrigo Diaz himself, which in turn allows to field Islamic allies and auxiliaries, and an Almoravid one, as they have colourful and unique troops and interesting tactics. I will paint some Taifa units which can be used for both sides. Incidentally, I find the Taifa kingdoms to be the most likeable of all the factions, so I might paint up enough figures to field them on their own.

For figures, I ordered something from almost all of the 15mm manufacturers. Christian troops were no problem as Dark Age Normans work very well. For the Almoravids, it was more complicated. As they have a distinct look, most generic Arabs won’t work well. Some companies offer Berber troops, but only in limited poses. It took me a while to discover the Arab Conquest line of Museum Miniatures , which has just the right figures for the job. Those are now going to make up the bulk of my Almoravids.

Rules wise, I intend to use Hail Caesar. I’ve read good things about it and already bought the book. I like very much what I’ve seen so far: The style is laid back and the author stresses that the rules offer a tool box and should be adjusted to the players’ needs. They are scenario based and seem to give pretty fast games.

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Now Hail Caesar is explicitly written with large battles in mind. The recommended unit sizes made my eyes water – there is no way I’m going to paint that many figures! However, the author also stresses that, in fact, it doesn’t matter how large the units are as long as their frontages are consistent. So I am going to follow the DBA standard for basing as this will allow me to play all kinds of rules (not least DBA, which I played once and enjoyed more than I would have thought). But how many bases to use for one unit? After much humming and hawing, I decided to go for 4 DBA bases for an infantry unit and 2 DBA bases for a cavalry unit – I don’t think I am brave enough to paint more horses than that.

That’s still a lot of figures to paint. But then, I’m in no hurry. K. already told me that she is not too keen to learn yet another set of rules in the near future, so I will approach the whole thing rather relaxed.