Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: Happy Seppuku Basing Stamps

The impact of Kickstarter on the gaming hobby exploded in 2013 - judging by the amount I funded this year (6) compared to 2012 (2). Most of my experiences were good, but the Happy Seppuku basing stamps were the rarity that delivered on time and as promised. They delivered shortly before Thanksgiving, and after a month of use, I have some reasonably presentable results.

The stamps are in the form of a stiff rubber-like mold, about 3x5 inches.  A bit of two-part putty can be placed on a base and pressed into the stamp to give it a certain texture.  Also, some of the accent stamps can be used to produce small bits for your terrain or scenery.  

Across the top: swamp accent, brick, treasure horde and tavern accent.   On the bottom row: snow/mud, sand and the sampler stamp.  

Below are some bits assembled from the tavern accent stamp:

Above, a primed mini pressed into the wood grain texture.  Below, the finished result.  

The swamp accent stamp used to add a stump detail to a terrain piece.

Final recommendation: For the historical wargamers, these stamps are probably of marginal use.  Basing a large army of figures to this detail is not an effective use of your time. The swamp accent piece might be the best choice for adding details such as vines, limbs and stumps to bases. However, if you are also an RPG GM or have an interest in fantasy/sci-fi skirmish games, these bases become a lot more of a value.  

Speaking of value, two part putty isn't cheap and that is perhaps the main drawback of basing most or all of your figures this way. On the other hand, an $8 pack of Miliput could easily create 50 or so bases and bits so the cost might not be too much of a negative incentive.    

I am still exploring the potential of these stamps, such as combining or overlaying textures and pining figures flush to the bases.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bring Out Your Dead...Or Wounded...Or Maybe Just Drunk

This past week's painting project was to create some casualty markers out of wounded or dead figures I have acquired and not yet used.  The four following pieces were inspired in toto by a Rick Priestly article for Hail Caesar.  A dice sized square was cut from a 60mm plastic base, glued on top of a piece of heavy cardstock and then prepared accordingly.  The die face can be used to indicate fatigue in SAGA or casualties in Hail Caesar.

Below, a couple of vikings dead in the snow.

Above: I suppose he could be wounded, but I picture him as a drunk Varangian for a Byzantine urban skirmish I'll be running soon using Ganesha Games' Song of Shadows and Dust.

Above: a Viking casualty for a ship combat scenario. The basing was created out of putty pressed into a mold from Happy Seppuku. I'll do a full product review on their basing molds later this week.

One other note and a word of warning.  Most of the vikings that I have posted recently were purchased on ebay in a lot from a single seller.  They look to be Gripping Beast, Crusader and Wargames Foundry; not in blisters but shiny new.  The models also had a bit more flash than what I have usually experienced from those manufacturers.  With that, and the amount of figures the seller continues to offer, leads me to suspect recasting.  Not knowing more about manufacturing and casting prevents me from naming the seller and carrying it further, but it is something I will look closer at in the future.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Indian Warband Completed

Some projects and purchases take longer than we expect to finish. Case in point: I purchased this Skraeling warband for SAGA in the Summer of 2012.  It was definitely a one-off oddity for the game. Few people seem to use them, and there has been no strong call on the forums to include them in an official release, as was the case for the Byzantines and Steppe Nomads. But, I had to have them because the Vinland Saga is one of my favorite sagas and my interest in the Mississippi mound builders

It is probably not with the most politically correct intentions that I was in part inspired to finish by the Thanksgiving Holidays.  Before Thanksgiving, elementary schools in America put a happy face on relations between the early colonists and the Indians.  My two grade school age children both learned a bit about pilgrims and Indians leading up to the holiday, and I did my best to give them a slightly fuller view of the early encounters between Europeans and Indians, without getting too Howard Zinn on them.  

Of course, six centuries before the arrival of the English, an encounter between Europeans and the native peoples was less a cause for  Thanksgiving.  The European advantage due to metal working was there, but not enough to overcome the natives' numerical advantage.  Calling the people they encountered "Skraelings," we know very little about how they looked or fought.

Gripping Beast's Skraelings are a very well produced set of miniatures.  It contains six variations of 24 warriors and three poses for the 12 archers.  Flash lines are minimal Historically, they probably miss the mark. While there is much that is unknown about the "Skraelings" encountered by the Norse settlers, they were probably of the Thule culture. The Thule were precursors of the Inuit and had similar lifestyle, based on the hunting of sea mammals for food and clothing. With their light clothing and deerskin clothes, these models might be more appropriate for Mississippi period mound builders.

Here's the whole warband, minus a couple of figures undergoing conversions into Shaman types: 

The other reason I was motivated to finish the warband was attending a field trip with my Daughter's third grade class to the Etowah Indian mounds. Are any museum diorama builders also wargamers?  If so, they must surely be tempted to give their layouts a test. Pardon the glare, but here is a model of how the Etowah might have appeared at its peak in the eleventh century. 

A recreation of a ceremonial deer mask, based on fragments approximately 900 years old.  It should make for an interesting priest character. 

Stone axe heads from the Mississippi period: 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Odds and Ends, Vikings and Pilgrims

This past week I have been attacking the pile of unpainted figures.  The pilgrims were an impulse buy, and I cannot explain why I keep purchasing Vikings...maybe some secret desire to do the Great Pagan Army in 1:1.

First, here are some Perry Brothers pilgrims from their First Crusade line.  While not planning on any Crusade era battles, I always need more civilians. These pilgrims could easily fit in an eleventh century Spanish or Byzantine scenario.

The Perry Sculpts are excellent, as their reputation suggests. While slightly thinner and more truly proportionate, they are not out of place with my Gripping Beast and Crusader Miniatures.

Speaking of Gripping Beast, here are some random Vikings from GB and Wargames Foundry, I think.

Finally, in trying to come up with some more uses for my sprues of Wargames Factory Numidians is this Dark Age Irish Warrior.  It is a Numidian Body and a Gripping Beast plastic head.  It was thrown together fairly quickly as a test to see if it was feasible to put together an Irish warband for SAGA.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Saxon Church

The  church was central to village life in the Dark Ages and so it is an almost mandatory element of a town game board.  I have already built a small stone chapel, and I was interested in a larger piece that could hold about two dozen figures, possibly large enough to have a portion of the combat inside the church.

Small early medieval churches that are still extant are rare, and rarer still are those that have been unaltered in subsequent centuries.  Nonetheless, a general purpose church for western Europe is not hard to put together. The basic elements are a rough stone walls, and a small tower of stone or timber frame.

For this church, the stones are cast from Hirst Arts, mostly molds #70 and 71.  The tower is made of foam core and craft wood, and the removeable shingled roof is from premade plastic sheets used by model railroaders.  

The good Brother points out a roof in need of repair to the local noblewoman, hint, hint...

For the interior, I am looking at purchasing an altar/pulpit and benches from some fantasy makers. Temporarily, I might go with some papercraft furniture.  

I am make no claims of full authenticity, but it fits in with the period.  Some research I did (post construction) showed that most of the pre-Norman invasion Anglo-Saxon period churches used double windows on the belfry tower and more rounded windows. A link to the article (with illustrations) is below: 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Game Day at Giga Bites

I took SAGA to the big city yesterday (11/2), the big city being Marietta.  Giga-Bytes is a combination game store/cafe that I read about on The Miniatures Page recently.  There was some coordination with Two Fat Lardies, with a Chain of Command official demo on a beautiful North African desert board. A diverse gaming crowd showed up with a  mix of games - mostly science fiction & fantasy but also some WWII and even an 18th Century naval combat game.  Devlen and I showed up with six points of Vikings and Normans to play the Homeland scenario, Vikings attacking of course.

Above, the Vikings deploy, as blisters of Dark Age and Malifaux look on.  Below, the Normans rush out to protect their village.

Above, two groups of Knights slam into some Bondi and Beserkers.  Below the knights are eliminated, but with a high loss of Norsemen.  

Here, the Normans make a strategic movement to the rear.  The Dropzone Commander game that emerged on the adjacent table makes an interesting backdrop to the medieval village.  Great bunch of guys who gave me a quick primer on the game.     

Two unit of Sergeants (crossbowmen and spearmen) remain to protect the village.  Below, a group of Viking archers sprint to the closest building in the last turn, barely fulfilling win conditions.  

Most of the people who stopped by the table had heard of SAGA, but none had ever played it. Hopefully, we drummed up some interest for the game, and we exchanged some emails to arrange future matches. 

Giga Bites is a must visit gaming venue if you find yourself in the north Metro Atlanta area.  A gaming store that brings great sandwiches to your table sounds like a double win to me even if it is almost an hour's drive for me. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Byzantines are Back in Town

When life happens, blogging doesn't.  Honestly though, a month off from the blog does not mean I abandoned the hobby.  So while I was a bit busier with job and family commitments, I have painted a few units and almost finished a fairly massive terrain piece that I will post later this week. In gaming, I played some SAGA and Song of Blades and Heroes, and ordered the Hail Caesar rule book when I caught it on sale on Amazon for 34% off.

In the meantime, I am trying to build up a couple of my skirmish armies into the sizes necessary for more massive battles, starting with the Byzantines and Normans.

Below, are Crusader Miniatures' Byzantine Kataphractoi with spears and maces.  The troops are nicely posed and detailed, but my one critique is that the armored horses had far more flash on the rear legs than on Crusader's other horses.  Whether I got a bad batch, or if its typical of the bulkier barded horses, I cannot say.

Next, are some shots of armored skutatoi and archers.  The variations on leather and chainmail armor kept the painting process interesting, while still maintaining visual cohesion.  Admittedly, Byzantines are a bit of a challenge, as I am more accustomed to painting generic Dark Age Vikings, Saxons and Normans.  Someone coming at them from a Roman Imperial direction would find it standard practice.

Historical Fiction Recommendation

I am not sure if anyone else in the hobby has this compulsion, but I like to read what I am painting.  While painting the Byzantine Cavalry, I read some fiction and non-fiction set in the Byzantine Empire, mostly some Osprey titles, but also this new discovery:

I found Strategos: Born in the Borderlands and Rise of the Golden Heart by Gordon Doherty through a Goodreads group.  The two released books of a trilogy tell the story of Apion, an orphaned Byzantine raised by a Seljuk farmer in eleventh century Anatolia.  From a childhood in slavery, he rises to a commander in the Byzantine army in the years leading up to the Battle of Manzikert. Doherty writes compelling battle scenes and builds the air of conspiracy and danger that gave the alternate meaning to the word Byzantine.  On equipment and tactics, the novels are well researched, but he makes some assumptions about the organization and activity of Byzantine thematic armies that I have not read elsewhere.  It is nothing disruptive to the plot, but it did pull me out of the narrative occasionally as I wondered if it was history or invention.   He also admittedly invents the shadowy enemy pursued by the main character, but it is based on an earlier Roman imperial practice.  Both books are available on Kindle.

Strategos: Born in the Borderlands

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kit Bashing Dark Age Skirmishers

SAGA's push to the east, beginning with the Byzantines and Rus in Varjazi & Basilieus has pushed further into Asia with the release of the new Steppe Tribes board in Wargames Illustrated 311.  It is a welcome move, for it is a time period and location in which I have a a great deal of interest and background.

As I have been putting together levies for SAGA and Hail Caesar lately, my expectation is that cheap (low quality) troops need to be acquired cheaply (low cost).  While there is no perfect, dedicated solution for plastic Eastern European and Central Asia armies in the Dark Ages, there are some acceptable substitutes.

A Byzantine Army was one of the first historical armies I began putting almost ten years ago.  Most of my psiloi were archers and a few slingers from Crusader and Gripping Beast, but no javelin-bearers, as SAGA specifies.  Below is a half-unit of Byzantine skirmishers put together from Wargames Factory Numidian bodies, Saxon and German heads as well as a couple of Gripping Beast plastic unarmored heads.  As with any mod, it is a bit of a compromise.  Byzantine troops with standardized tunics and shields would probably have had better footwear and trousers, but I think it works well enough for a game.

Steppe tribes used slaves, captured enemies and even women and children as foot skirmishers.  A favorite tactic of the Khitans and Mongols would be to drive captured enemies towards their own city's walls to create confusion and hesitation among the besieged.  With that in mind, these steppe skirmishers were meant to be a diverse and poorly clad lot that could have come from anywhere between Kievan Rus and Mongolia.  Again, the bodies are Wargames Factory Numidians and Gripping Beast heads.  

More brightly adorned and better equipped are the archers pictured below.  They were intended to look like city militia or merchant guards for the Silk Road cities, such as Samarkand or Bukhara.  These bodies are from Wargames Factory's Persians along with various German and Viking heads.  

Thanks for stopping by, and my next post will be some historical fiction recommendations for Byzantium and steppe tribes before the Mongols.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Samurai for Osprey's Ronin

I now have a few points worth of Samurai to fight the Sohei monks for Ronin. Below are three early Samurai from The Assault Group. In the Gempei Wars (1181-1185 CE), mounted Samurai considered the bow, not the sword, to be the elite weapon.

 It would be very difficult to use all three of these horsemen in all but the largest Ronin games. By my reading of the rules , a samurai on a horse (Hatamoto) with a yumi will cost 42 points each and are Rank 4.  Three of them adds up to 126 points.  Additionally, the faction rules for Bushi require that for each Rank 4 model there must be at least one Rank 3 model, which will add in another 72 points.  Then, there must be at least two Rank 1/2 models for every Rank 3+ model.  That means 12 Rank 1 Ashigaru, costing 216 points.  The minimum to get three mounted Samurai into a game is 414 points, which might be good for the campaign rules in the book, but not in any match I plan to play this early in my learning curve.  The photo below is a more modest 150 point force of just six models.

Below, is a samurai from The Assault Group flanked by two bushi by West Wind. While they are not as crisply detailed as TAGs, they are also not as hefty and are more realistically proportioned.

Playing with a photo filter for some faux-Kurosawa.

In SAGA developments, I picked up Wargames Illustrated 311 in my local game store this weekend for the Steppe Tribes faction.  I already have a number of Khazars, Seljuks and Pechengs to fill out the mounted troops, and will try this week to knock out some levy archers from Wargames Factory's Persian and Numidian bits and bodies.