Monday, October 29, 2012

Vikings and Rus

A quick review of some minis from two online retailers that I have used for the first time recently, Black Tree Designs and Magister Militum.

Out of the package, the finish of the Black Tree minis is very good.  There is some flash to remove. Also, the metal on some other (more expensive) companies looks a little cleaner than Black Tree's, but it's all covered by paint anyways.

The sculpting is where Black Tree really impresses me. The poses are lively and natural.  Their line of Vikings is heavy on characters, but the rank fighters are just as good.

I particularly like the wounded fellow below. When I ordered this pack, I did not realize he was bandaged. It's a very good example of some of the detail in their line.

Service from Black Tree has been excellent. Orders were confirmed almost immediately, I was notified of shipping dates, and the package arrived in about one week.

I have been interested in purchasing some Rus for a while.  They are a good opponent for the Byzantines, and combining a few dedicated Rus figures with some traditional Vikings could make a decent SAGA warband.  In light of the recent release of the Byzantine faction, I am willing to bet that a dedicated Rus battleboard is on Studio Tomahawk's three year plan.

These Rus are my first purchase from Magister Militum. I was impressed with their selection of eastern figures, including Slavs, Seljuk Turks and Byzantines.

The finish of Magister's figures is a bit lacking compared to some other miniatures. While the amount of flash was not excessive, the mold lines were prominent and took some effort to remove.  After that, though, these figures were a joy to paint because of their expressive faces, dynamic poses and appropriate details. A pack of six came with four figure variations. 

Service from Magister was excellent, with the packages arriving from the U.K.  about two weeks after I placed the order.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

SAGA Dice Redux

After painting a box of Conquest Norman infantry some Song Chinese crossbowmen last week, I have been giving my increasingly older eyes some rest. So I played a game of SAGA (Normans v. Saxons) and a new card game with my eight year old daughter. In Timeline, players are dealt a certain number of cards, and must discard all of their cards by placing them on the table in the correct order.  As more cards are correctly discarded, the complexity of the timeline increases.

The enthusiasm my daughter has shown for the game was very rewarding, and its a great way to teach  the history of technology.

I also stripped off the paper stickers from my homebrew SAGA dice and replaced them with waterslide decals in color.

Overall, the look is much better than the black and white versions, although a few dice faces show some fuzziness, either from too thin a sealer on the waterslide paper, or too much submersion in water before applying.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Conquest Norman Infantry, Completed

This week's update is a completed box of Conquest Normans.  Not pictured are four axe-bearers in service as Anglo-Dane huscarls and six figures converted into Breton skirmishers.

Ranked with the chain mail wearing knights at the front:

Pictured below are three of the four command figures.  The small banner is stock from the box, the large banner is from Little Big Man Studios.  

After having finished one box, I would suggest that the quality and variety of the finished product can be improved by having some bits from Conquest's cavalry on hand.  The cavalry box contains different helmets and sword arms that are compatible with the infantry.  This set was definitely a worthwhile addition. It is tempting to purchase another box, even though 44 infantry is more than enough for SAGA purposes.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Works in Progress: Terrain

Terrain is the weak spot in my wargaming layout.  Too many times, I have made the choice to purchase an additional army rather than spend money on houses, trees and other pieces.  Time, as well,  gets spent on painting miniatures rather than some basic scratch building projects.

This week, as a break from all of the plastic Normans I have before me, I decided to work on some terrain projects.  First, a Norman keep made from Hirst Arts plaster blocks.  The top front is almost at the height I am looking for.  I need to bring up the other sides, and maybe do some interior detailing.

My professor of Middle East history and the Crusades often stressed that the castle is better viewed as an offensive military structure rather than a defensive one; as a place from which raiding parties and newly established conquerors can strike out at neighboring enemies and a possibly rebellious populace.   Wargaming scenarios almost always use castles and buildings as defensible targets. It might be possible to come up with a campaign scenario that uses castles or manors in a different way, but one always comes back to limited table space and scale.

Next, is a storage building to be placed near the keep or in a village.  It was built according to the plans at the Too Fat Lardies blog: 

After these are completed, I will need a few more trees - which as much as I would prefer not to make, it's still preferable to buying.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Timeline of Norman Warfare

960 - Theobald of Blois, or Theobald the Trickster invades Normandy.  Duke Richard I of Normandy's army burns Chartres in response.

996 - Death of Duke Richard I of Normandy, succeeded by his son Richard II, or Richard the Good.

1001 - Anglo-Saxons, on orders from King Ethelred, raid Normandy in retaliation for Duke Richard's harboring of Viking raiders and were quickly repelled by Norman cavalry.

1002 - Ethelred marries Duke Richard's sister Emma

1018 - Normans arrive in Italy in 1017, becoming mercenaries to Lombards seeking to oust Byzantine rule. At the Battle of Cannae a year later, Byzantines with a strong contingent of Varangians defeat the Lombards and the Norman ruler was killed.

1026 - Death of Duke Richard II.  He was succeeded by his eldest son Richard III, who died shortly and suspiciously after an insurrection by his younger brother, Robert.

1027 - Robert named Duke of Normandy

1034-1037 - Approximate arrival date in southern Italy of William and Drogo, sons of the minor Norman noble Tancred de Hauteville.

1035  - Duke Robert of Normandy died in Asia Minor, returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and leaving an illegitimate minor, William, as his heir.

1047  - Norman barons with the support of King Henry of  France rebel against the tenuous rule of the twenty year old Duke William. William defeats the rebels and French King at Val-des-Dunes.

1052 - King Edward of England, the son of Ethelred and Emma, exiles a number of Normans from his kingdom to appease English nobles bothered by their growing influence at court.  A number of these exiles take up service with MacBeth, King of the Scots.

1053 Battle of Civitate.  Normans defeat a papal army of Italians and Swabians, even capturing Pope Leo IX and extract a peace treaty confirming the right to their Italian holdings. (23 June)

1055 - Earl Ralph of Hereford, Edward's Norman nephew, leads an unsuccessful invasion of Wales, and is repulsed by Welsh King Gruffyd ap Llewellyn

1057 - Robert de Hauteville succeeds his brother Humphrey as Duke of Apulia, preeminent ruler of the Italo-Normans.  For his inventive, and often devious strategies, he earns the nickname Guiscard (the weasel).

1061 - Messina, Sicily captured by Roger de Hauteville.  Italo-Normans spend the next three decades dislodging Saracens from the rest of the island.

1064  - Duke William campaigns against the Bretons, led by Conan II.  Accompanying him is the visiting (?) Harold Godwinsson of England.  Before leaving Normandy, Harold supposedly swears to uphold William's succession to his relative Edward's throne.

1066 - Claiming to be the rightful successor of the English King Edward through his aunt Emma, mother of Edward, William defeats an English army led by the Anglo-Dane King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastins (13 October)

1068 - Rebellion in York against Norman rule. Saxon resistance continued for two more years.

1069 - King William invades Scotland, for harboring English fugitives.  King Malcolm Canmore comes to terms before the Norman army reaches Perth.

1071- Normans led by William FitzOsbern extend their holdings into Wales.

Italian Normans capture the city of Bari

Battle of Manzikert - Byzantine forces are defeated in Asia Minor and the Emperor Romanus Diogenes was captured. The Norman mercenary Roussel de Bailleul avoids the battle and claims his own territory in Ankara. (26 August)

1073 - War between Norman lords in Italy, Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia and his brother in law, Richard, Prince of Aversa.

1077 - Roussel de Baileul is defeated by Turks and handed over to the Byzantines, and presumably executed.

1081 - Battle of Dyrrachium (Durazzo), Normans led by Guiscard and his son Bohemund defeat a Byzantine Army with a strong contingent of Anglo-Saxon Varangians.

1083 - Byzantines under Alexius Comnenus defeat Bohemund at Larissa and retake lost possessions on the Adriatic.

1085 - Death of Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia.

1087 - Death of William, Duke of Normandy and King of Enlgand.

All together, from 950-1087, the Normans fought Bretons, Franks, Vikings, Saxons, Scots, Welsh, Lombards, Sicilian Arabs, Byzantines and each other.  Strangely enough, they also fought as allies or mercenaries with almost that entire list as well.

For the historical wargamer, a Norman army can be plausibly used in most any historical matchup set in the tenth and eleventh centuries.  With their pioneering use of disciplined cavalry charges, they were highly sought after as mercenaries across Western Europe and the Near East.  Unfortunately for their employers, Normans had a tendency to not remain contented with their role as hired swords and instead seek land and autonomy.  By the end of the eleventh century, Norman kingdoms spanned the breadth of Europe and the Mediterranean, from England to Antioch.