Thursday, December 18, 2014

Norse Gaels: Vikings in Ireland

The story of the Vikings in Ireland is a fascinating part of their history, but one that is not as often told as their role in England, Iceland and the New World.  Even Irish national histories minimize the effect of the Norse in their country. The Vikings deserve a great deal of credit for hastening the trend towards centralization and urbanization in Ireland.

Unlike England, the Vikings in Ireland were never present in such numbers as to effectively colonize and conquer large swaths of the country. Instead, they built coastal settlements and focused on raiding and trading. From these bases in the late ninth century, the Vikings formed alliances and fought alongside one Irish kingdom against another. These alliances shifted but could be strengthened through inter-marriage.  Most famously, in 999 AD the Irish High King Brian Boru was married to Gormflaith, an Irish princess who was the mother of Sigtrygg Silkbeard, the Norse king of Dublin, from her previous marriage to Olaf. Sigtrygg was then married to Slaine, one of Brian's daughters.  These Hiberno-Norse (or alternately, Norse Gaels) faded from significance after the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, though Sigtrygg held on to Dublin until 1036.

For SAGA, the Norse Gael faction is a mix of the Vikings and the Irish, leaning a bit towards the Irish.  The Norse-Gaels are fairly "shooty."  The Levy and the Warriors are both javelin throwers. Alternately, warriors and hearthguard can be armed with Dane Axes.  They cannot be mounted as the Irish can, but on the whole, their defensive values are a bit better.  Furthermore, their "gimmick" is the Challenge, in which significant combat bonuses can be achieved - if luck is on your side.

From some of my many unassembled Wargames Factory sprues, I threw together a few dedicated Norse-Gaels.  The first unit of warriors below is kit-bashed from several sets to achieve a mixed Viking-Irish look.

Norse-Gael Warriors with double-handed axes below.  The unit leader in front does not have a double handed axe, he has an axe in each hand. He was inspired by Floki from History Channel's Vikings - which is perhaps the only thing left worth watching on that channel. 

A six point Norse Gael warband below. If all goes well, this will be my army at my next tournament. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Irish Warband from West Wind

The Irish have been my preferred SAGA warband lately for reasons of both game style and familial lineage. While most of my figures have been from Crusader Miniatures, I picked up an army pack of twenty from West Wind on a sale a few weeks age.

West Wind's Irish warband is, judging from the rest of their offerings, aimed at the early Dark Ages or Age of Arthur. Nonetheless, it is not too much of a stretch to use these for the era of Viking invasions in Ireland, especially in the ninth century.

Below, a group shot of all twenty.  For a paint scheme, I stuck with a limited palette. The shields were all red and white and I worked on plenty of variations of Celtic crosses, some historical and some improvised in that style.

The rank troops are for spear or javelin (unsupplied) and come in four different poses. Hands will need to be drilled out in order to fit the weapon.  Heads are separately cast, and there are 10 variations.  Shields are separate as well (except for the musician).  

There are also four unique figures in the set.  Two are warriors with short swords, which are cast-on and not separate.  For a SAGA warband, these can serve as your Curaidh.  

The other two unique figures are a command character with a banner and a musician.  The rough and improvised banner is the detail that most distinctly places these figures in the pre-Viking age.  Using a separate staff and Viking-era banner is easy, but the metal-cast banner is nicely sculpted and unique among my collection.  I went with it. 

These are good figures but do require a bit of prep work.  Drilling the spear holes is a plus for long term stability, but it is an extra task.  Casting quality is good, but some cleanup of jagged areas is necessary.  The neck pocket will also need to be opened up a bit on most of the figures in order to get the head to glue in properly. That is a small price to pay for having some customizeable options.   

For SAGA, these twenty figures give you two points of warriors, a half a point of Hearthguard (Curaidhs) and a Warlord.  One would need at least 12-20 more figures to get a complete six point warband out of this box, so this could best serve as an expansion to an existing army in that game.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Open Combat by Carl Brown

Apologies to all for dropping off the blog for a while.  Work, family and church has kept me incredibly busy of late, and I can't promise that my pace will pick up anytime soon.  I do have a number of new painted figures to post, as soon as I have time to take some pictures.  In the meantime, here is a review (of sorts) for a new game I picked up and played recently.

Open Combat by Carl Brown is a new miniature rule system released through his website and company Second Thunder.   Having heard about the game from a couple of my favorite podcasts, Meeples and Miniatures and Fool's Daily, I decided to pick it up.  On the face of it, the game system is flexible for ancient, medieval or fantasy gaming with a limited number of models per side. It is easily customized to fit any miniature, and it promises to be quick to set up and quick to play.

What is perhaps the most unique aspect of the game, one that sets it apart from other miniature wargames, is the creation of your army list or warband.  Warbands are based on a point system ("renown") and can be set at various levels for desired length of play and size of the warband.  One hundred points will get you a small force with some average to good characteristics. Points are assigned to each individual model for five basic statistics - Speed, Attack, Defense, Fortitude and Mind.   Weapons and special abilities (Aim, Inspiration, etc.) add points as well.

The mechanic for combat is based on adding up modifiers to the character's attack value, such as cover, high ground and so forth.  The number of points greater than the defender's total (if any) determines the amount of dice the attacker rolls, with a maximum of three.  The attacker takes the best value, and this should give him a greater chance of scoring a hit.  There is no save roll if a model is hit, this is built into the modifiers and the fortitude (i.e. "hit points").  This makes for a quick resolution of combat.

Initially, I was a bit perplexed by the lack of lists or standards? What is the typical defense value for a Viking in chain mail?  What sort of attack would a Roman legionnaire have? And, if we're getting into fantasy, what about a goblin, an orc or a werewolf?

Lest you think the lack of lists can be attributed to the authoer's laziness or inattentiveness, it was purely intentional and it may be the key selling point of the game. In a true skirmish game, each miniature is an individual and all individuals are distinct. Not all Vikings were equally tough. A quick but naked Celt could have a defense of 6 and a clumsy Roman in armor might have a defense of 3 if you so choose.  This gives you the freedom to create a warband with a few powerful heroes or a swarming mob, or somewhere in between.  You could even create a warband made of a single god-like character (25 attack! 25 defense!) but the rules system naturally limits such pointless overpowering.  No matter how high your attack, you still roll only three dice and pick the best, and no matter how high you defense, your opponent still gets to roll a single die. Regular players of the game should find an equilibrium based on their style of play.

For my initial game, I decided to test out character creation and put some Skraelings up against Vikings.  The Skraelings were initially for SAGA, but I never had a great desire to play their battleboard. Loved the figures, so now I can play the Indians as I envisioned them.  The Vikings were led by an 11 year old son of a friend, a Boy Scout with an deep interest in history - definitely a future war gamer.

The Indians are low on defense and fortitude, but I spent points on Speed, Aim and Nimbleness. Run and Gun! 

Above, the Vikings advance to the tree line. 

Initiative is the usual IGYG system, but rolling a "1" during combat ends your turn.  The does bear some similarities to the Song of Blades and Heroes iterations, in that a poor roll ends your turn before all the models have moved.  

Position matters in Open Combat.  This Viking about to get shot in the back will only be able to apply half of his Defense value.  

Above, the Jarl successfully defends against a Brave attacking from the high ground and then pushes them back,  He has taken some damage, however and...

another Brave activates and takes him out.   

With their Jarl slain, the Vikings reach the breaking point on their renown, and the game is called in favor of the Skraelings.  Total game time is under an hour, not bad for two players, one completely new to miniature wargaming.  

Open Combat definitely fills a niche in my gaming habit.  The DIY nature of warband construction allows me to field some figures and forces the way I think they should be played, all within a balanced game mechanic.  It is quick to learn, and quick to teach, but not at all oversimplified.  

Currently, it is only available as a PDF from his website, though a published edition may be down the road if the game catches on.  I hope it is because Carl Brown is very supportive of his product through forums and outreach.  

Update:  Apologies to Carl BROWN for originally listing his name as Brand.  Not sure who I can blame for that, but if I find the culprit I'll be sure to identify him!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Vikings are bigger than your Vikings

On my last post about Black Tree Design Vikings, there were some comments and questions about their relative size and scale, specifically the fur clad Vikings.

The photo below is a sampling of my various BTD Vikings.  Even without drawing a reference line, the bald guy with the axe is noticeably (but not excessively) taller than the rest of the warriors.  The archers were, I think, the slightest of all the BTD Vikings.

Vikings are perhaps the most ubiquitous ancient/medieval range of miniatures.  They offer a lot of reward for collectors who like variation in their painting routine.  Plus, they can often do double duty in fantasy gaming.  That may explain why there are so many Viking manufacturers out there. 

Here is a size comparison of the BTD Vikings with some other popular manufacturers.  From left to right: Gripping Beast plastic hirdman, Gripping Beast metal (?), BTD and Crusader hirdman,  Again, the barbarian Viking comes out the tallest.  

On the last big Black Tree sale, I also purchased a few packs of Dark Age/Viking villagers. Below, a group of Viking elders (DA1011).  It offers a nice social cross section, from a poor thrall to a well off village elder. The wealthy beardless gent on the right would make a more than passable Njal from the great Icelandic Saga.

The pack (DA1070) shown below is the only one to offer a female figure, and it was out of stock for quite awhile.  Apparently, a mold was lost, but it is now available.  

Finally, mixed pics from a couple of other packs that I have multiple copies.  Useful for populating your village with artisans and workers.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Vikings from Black Tree

This past summer, Black Tree Designs had one of their massive 50% off sales. I hardly needed anymore Vikings (as if "need" is a word any wargamers ever needs to utter) but I really liked the look of some of their packs.

I've been rereading some of the Icelandic Sagas lately and these Vikings seem to fit into the aesthetic of those tales. Survival was more precarious in Iceland, and minor transgressions could be a cause for murder. With their furs and axes, these Vikings seem more like men out to settle a feud rather than hop on a longship.



The unit below will be fielded as Norse-Gael hearthguard in SAGA, which I hope to focus on in the future. Their Challenge mechanic is interesting, but I've not played them enough to make the most of that faction's abilities. 


I also purchased three packs of the Viking villager packs that should be finished soon.

Reading Recommendations

Any of the Viking Sagas are recommended. On one hand, many can be tough to read, for they contain genealogical lists and side stories that are tangent to the narrative. Overall though, the sagas are a fascinating look the social values of the Norse people in the dark ages - as viewed through the lens of the thirteenth century Christians who wrote down the sagas.  Two of the best (and most violent) are Egil's Saga and Njal's Saga. 

I have previously recommended Finn Gall by James Nelson . The second book in that series Dubh-linn continues the story of Thorgrim, a dour Viking and his son Harald. Tired of raiding, Thorgrim is stuck in Ireland without a way home and becomes caught once again between Vikings jarls and Irish kings and princesses. The books bear some resemblance to George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series with its multiple POV characters and political machinations for control of a throne. However, Nelson's books are fast moving and efficiently-told tales that have come out twice in two years.  Sorry, George.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Khitans in SAGA

I've seen the Steppe Tribes faction do some pretty nasty stuff in SAGA and have been thinking it would be fun to give them a try. Where to begin, though? "Steppe Nomad" is very broad and nonspecific compared to, say "Norman" or "Welsh."

Nonetheless, warfare in late Antiquity and early medieval was similar across the Eurasian plains. It's just a matter of picking which variety of horse warrior you prefer or can find.

As it turned out, I came across a sizeable number of Khitan, Chinese and Tibetan figures on closeout this summer. Here is the first completed set from that purchase.

The Warlord - This Khitan commander with his falcon is a really nice sculpt. Hunting birds should be seen more in character minis, given their popularity in both Europe and Asia.

The banner was lifted from the Osprey book on Medieval Chinese Armies. Steppe armies, both pre and post Mongol era used color names for the divisions of their armies.

Hearthguard - The Noble Cavalry shown here here are heavy cataphracts. The Khitan's control of northern Chinese towns gave them access to artisans and markets. With this, their weaponry and armor was of better quality than most steppe armies.

Warriors -or Ordo, were free warriors who served for honor, status and plunder. They were expected to provide their own horses and weaponry. 

Here are 3 points of light horse I've posted before. They are a mix of Khitan and Jurchen warriors from Essex.

Levy - for the Khitans, skirmishing troops were drawn from tribal archers to Chinese and other conscripts. 

These six representative archer figures are a mix of Khitan, Chinese and Tibetan ranges.

Far East SAGA

This is the first of three Asian forces I'm putting together for SAGA. No custom battle boards this time, because I will use existing battle boards that are most analagous.  The Khitans will obviously use the Steppe Tribes board, and I have some ideas about China and Tibet.  The goal is the end of the year.

Later this week, more Vikings!

Saturday, September 27, 2014


The Gripping Beast plastics are a fantastic product, and I have purchased at least one box of all of their releases.  However, the Saxons were one that never caught on for me.  Originally purchased for some Viking and Saxon matchups inspired by Bernard Cornwell's Uhtred series, I assembled the Saxon Thegns, but never got around to painting them.  Other new shiny things caught my eye and a couple of years passed by.

As a firm believer in delayed gratification, I thought I would attack the Lead and Plastic mountain from the direction of items that had been in it the longest, rather than recent or more desirable projects.  So pulled them out last week and got to work.

After painting up a unit of 10 (SAGA's magic number for Saxons), I based them on 25mm round bases from Proxie Models.  Then I hot glued the figure, and filled the lipped base with some PVA glue:

I then added some bits of rock leftover from a Woodland Scenic kit:

After drying, I add bits of moss (green foam) and grass clumps.  

Now only 30 more to go...

I have no real plans to ever play the Anglo-Saxon board in SAGA nor do I have the time or money to build a Hail Caesar size army so maybe they will end up for sale.  I might interested in seeing what is the going rate for some painted minis on eBay or TMP. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Product Review: Proxie Model Bases

Miniature bases are not something that I will make a fuss about. I have bought plastics from various manufacturers, wood discs from craft stores and of course, metal washers.  Plastic is my preference but if it is 30mm round or 25mm square, it will probably do.  Occasionally however, the search for bases leads to a genuinely cool find.  

I stumbled across Proxie Models on eBay, but their webstore is just as good and probably better for the company's return on the dollar.  The bases themselves are black and with a slight textured surface.  That possibly helps material adhere better to the plastic, or it may just look good.  A $4.50 package contains four sprues of eight bases.  Added bonus - the round center sprue makes a good stump or log for terrain builders.  

The bases have a slight lip, which is convenient if you are adding some kind of basing material.  I like a mixture of fine sand, latex caulk and paint. The base edge creates a nice border which holds the material better than a flat base.  

Their products are made in the USA and shipping speed is excellent.  I have placed two orders with them so far, and my bases arrived in less than a week.  They also have some 28mm modern/futuristic terrain, including a pre-fab building that makes me want to play Fallout 3 with miniatures.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

SAGA Tournament Sept 13

We do have game stores in small towns of Georgia, though they tend to focus on Magic and other CCGs.  I am starting to see some X-Wing in local stores, but if the miniatures are pre-painted, aren't I losing half the fun?

Gigabytes, my favorite game store in the Atlanta area, is a great place to visit when I can get away and look for an authentic game store experience. The store supports a wide variety of sci-fi, fantasy and historical games and they have a new, larger location. Yesterday (Sept 13), the store was the location for a SAGA tournament and so me and another local player made the trip down the interstate to the big city.  It was a great day all around, largely because of the expertise of Richard, the tournament organizer and the other players, all a great bunch of gamers.

I had been playing the Irish a lot lately, and I felt like I had a good feel for what they could do.

Game One - Clash of Warlords

Here I played against Vikings.  We chose terrain according to bid system in the basic rules and I went for maximum, with four being the result.

I made the most of the terrain throughout the match.  Most of my SAGA dice were spent on Sons of Dana (a free shooting) and blocking the opponent with Heirs of Mil (which prevent units from approaching a unit if it is S away). If I had to stand and fight, I tried to make sure I could use Sidh on them.

On turn six, I was probably leading in victory points, and so the opposing warlord took a risk  and attacked...but the dogs won.

If this had gone the other way, I did have a unit of hearthguard in reserve that could have double activated and hit the warlord - but as it turned out I was far enough ahead in points to win. In addition to my warlord and two curadhs surviving, a whole unit or warriors and hearthguard survived untouched. 

My opponent in this match was Henry at Plastic Pirates.  He was a great guy to talk with, and was enthusiastic about the game.  Hope to meet him again! 

 Game Two - Escort

I really, really, really did not want to be the baggage player in this scenario.  It was determined by low bid and I stupidly bid 5 points.  My opponent was playing Anglo-Danes and with their intimidation and cancellation abilities his desire for the attacker should have been a given.

The set-up:  Anglo-Danes closet to the camera, the Irish and baggage on the other side.

Mu whole strategy was to whittle down his units with Sons of Dana. Then, open a lane with levy or warriors protected by Heirs of Mil, and then move the baggage behind it.  His strategy was to place fatigues on my baggage, and half their movement or cancel it entirely until the turn count ran out.  But, he still had to destroy all three units for an uncontested win.  

So I just moved and shielded baggage as best I could.  I would like to say that I was intentionally playing for a draw because that was the best I could do against the Anglo-Danes.  I could say that, but in reality a good dice roll saved me from a total loss. On the last phase of the last turn, I lost two of the three baggage pieces, and barely survived the third.

Game Three - Sacred Grounds

In this round, my opponent was Skip, who I drove down with and he is my somewhat regular gaming opponent.  He brought his Old Glory Normans.

Winning initiative and following the scenario rules were critical in determining the victor. At the end of each player's phase, the number of opposing models on the three terrain pieces are scored.  I won initiative, and my opponent had no chance of scoring at the end of my phase.  By doing a double activation, I placed two units on a terrain piece, played Heirs of Mil on them, and they remained there at the end of his phase, scoring me eight points. This extra score was very significant, although I did not realize it at the time.

The Norman cavalry scored a lot of points when he put two units of six on a terrain piece, but then lost some of those points, as eight was the maximum scoreable amount per area. 

The most dramatic moment of the game was showdown between the two warlords.  I played Blood of the Kings and sloughed off three hits. My warlord then brought up three warriors who were (I think) able to take out two of the knights with a missile attack.

After eight rounds, the points were added up and it was a more close than comfortable win for my Irish.  Skip is the most gracious and friendly gamer I have ever met.  He is the type of opponent who reminds you when he has fatigue and asks if you want to use it against him.  In fact, he won the Favorite Opponent Award, and walked away with a hero figure pack. 

Game Four - Homeland 

The pre-game portion of this scenario was again based on bidding - Each player offered a number of points they were willing to be the defender.  With the Irish, I announced that I wished to be the raider, and would bid six.  My opponent saw things the same way, so we had to roll off to play defense and I lost - but I at least got my six points.  I played no curadhs and no dogs - I needed more bodies to occupy the buildings.  My opponent had the choice of terrain and he chose none.  Didn't want to get hit by random missile fire in the underbrush.  

I was easily dislodged from the small house, and put two units of hearthguard and the Warlord in the large church. When one unit + 1 hearthguard were wiped out, I moved a unit of warriors into the church that I was keeping by the backdoor.  

Again, my win was based on playing the victory conditions and I still held one building, in which was a unit of warriors, and encircled by javelin throwing levy.  But, I was slaughtered in kill points.  I lost the warlord, three units of hearthguard and a unit of warriors.

The Saxon player was Sean and we laughed at the amount of dead Irish and Saxons that must have been filling up the doorway of that church.  A great guy to talk to and game with, and in fact, everybody I met that day was welcoming and and a pleasure to meet. 

End Results & Summary

I won three and tied one match, which won the tournament by win/loss record, though I don't think I was even in third place in terms of number of kill points or bonus points.  I believe Henry took that honor. The last two wins were based on those particular scenario victory conditions.  Which is a fair win, I guess, and nobody should ever expect the Irish to stand and fight shield to shield.  We hit, run and hit some more.

Also, I need to get sharper for tournament play.  I realized that I had been playing movement through uneven ground a bit wrong, and I have a bad habit of not remembering to put fatigues on friendly units if a unit was wiped out within S.  I also thought that Warlords were immune to that particular fatigue, but I may have been mistaking it for the special ability of a named hero.  Those might be common mistakes, I sometimes see players using the Warlord's Activation for shooting or resting, which is not allowed.  So it is good to get out, play with others, learn some new tricks and, most of all, have fun!