Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Gripping Beast Plastic Arabs - Review and First Look

Having good experiences with Gripping Beast's previous plastic releases, I preordered their Arab Spearmen and Archers boxed set.  A quick plug for my favorite online retailer - Architects of War - my order arrived on Friday, .

The box contains eight identical small sprues and there is no separate command sprue.  Each sprue contains five unarmored bodies and eight heads.  Three of the bodies have premodeled left arms for shield carrying warriors.  The other two bodies have attachable arms that can be used as archers or light spearmen.  The weapons on each spear are five right arms with spears, two right arms with bows, two quivers, three round shields, two teardrop shields, one right arm with a sword, one right arm with a horn and four attachable left arms in several positions.  Also included, is a green Renedra sprue with assorted base sizes for individually mounting a few figures and group basing the rest.

The quality of the figures is up to the standard set by previous Gripping Beast plastic releases.  Mold lines are minimal and the parts detach cleanly from the sprues.  The poses and stances are very natural; excellent for ranking up into large units.

I know some hobbyists do not like the preset left arm and prefer the adaptability of being able to attach more parts separately. For me, that's one less unnecessary gap to fill. Speaking of, all of the arms on my first batch attached very well. The gap line was so minimal that a little extra paint was sufficient to fill it in.

With any plastic release, a common complaint centers on the offerings - what's included and what's not.  I expect the lack of a command sprue with an armored officer and retinue will bother some as it has been a feature of previous previous plastic releases from this manufacturer and others.  In all honesty, I already have plenty of those figures in metal.  I appreciate forty low level troops for a reasonable price, saving the show pieces for metals.  And while the package and sprue size is very efficient, it means fewer add ons. For me, a few extra bits would have been a nice inclusion: small pennant banners, swords in scabbards and another shield variation.  
The five figures from a single sprue

As for uses, Gripping Beast obviously brought this set out in time for the SAGA Crescent and Cross release. Even without that tie-in, affordable Arab/Saracen troops is something the market has been demanding for some time.  The box touts the fact that the figures can be used from pre-Islamic conquest up to the Renaissance Ottoman battles.  I suspect with a little bit of conversion, some Colonial gamers could put these into a Mahdist uprising battle. But if a gamer wants to be most accurate, these are centered on the Crusade era.  The fully veiled heads will make good Berbers from the Almoravid invasion of Spain, while the beardless turbaned heads could be good for Ghazi era Persia - enemies of Seljuks. Speaking of Seljuks, I don't think these would fit Seljuk infantry for the Crusade period.  Eleventh century Seljuks might have been more likely to be bare headed or helmeted, and most would favor trousers over robes.

Outside of historical armies, lots of eastern themed fantasy options exist.  A Middle Earth gamer could use these for Easterlings. I have been itching to return to my Dark Sun AD&D game, and with some appropriate weapon changes, a few of these might do as NPCs.

The two archers.  The fully veiled figure will represent a Berber in Spain. 

For a size comparison with metals, the two on the left are Gripping Beast, on the right is an Artizan Moor and a Black Tree Design Arab.  The plastic figures are of the same size and proportion as my metals. 

For the archers: The Gripping Beast in the center is a bit a less bulky than the Artizan Moor on the left, but they should mix in well together.   The Essex Arab archer on the right is noticeably diminutive beside them.  It is an older figure, and obviously a victim of the "scale creep" in 25/28mm.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


It must be spring break.  How else could I get in two wargames in a week? This time, it was Ronin, a skirmish wargame that is fast becoming my favorite ruleset.

Ronin's rules for a warrior buntai (warband) gives two options - either hierarchical with more lower ranked warriors than samurai, or strictly higher class, with all rank 3 warriors or better.

In this game, we played the two options against each other. My buntai, holding a small country retreat, is composed of  a hatamoto (rank 4), a samurai (rank 3) and 4 bushi (rank 1 or 2).

The enemy, two mounted and two foot samurai approach from the opposite corner.

The samurai and 3 attendants stride out to meet the enemy.

The two mounted samurai execute a special attack, the ride-by.  They suffer a disadvantage on their attack rolls, but if successful, finish the attack out of contact with the enemy. One of the attendants falls, while the other survives the ride-by: 

My initial plan was for my hatamoto and his attendant to defend the gates, but my sub-commander (five year old son) who was only supposed to function as observer. rashly moved the two models outside the wall.  

I made the most of the decision, and hopefully could catch the enemy from the flank. Fortune favors the bold!  His horsemen fall due to some lucky yumi strikes from my samurai and my hardy attendants. The day is mine!

My opponents final model left is the samurai in blue.  

After taking out the attendant, I have two models left, an attendant and a samurai armed with a yumi (bow).  Feeling confident and a bit honorable, I decide not to use the bow and move into melee. He was after all, already wounded.   

Unfortunately, we tied on initiative.  In this game, this means that both attacks are simultaneous, and enhancing defense rolls is not possible.  And so...

Both strike killing blows.  Not a bad run for the last samurai.  

The lone survivor

I like Ronin because it is a versatile but quick system. Weapons have statistical variations - katanas have no modifier for example, but the the two handed sword give you a +1 attack modifier along with a -1 initiative modifier.  Which is significant, because initiative is key in this game since response attacks are not automatic .  Other combat details such as mounted combat, reloading, and disarming are handled efficiently without becoming too granular.  

My models were Assault Group and West Wind and my opponents were from 1st Corp. These are some of the better ranges for early samurai.  I'll post some closeup comparison shots and reviews shortly.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Byzantines on the Steppe

The day started with a number of unfortunate events - I lost my new glasses, almost set the kitchen on fire with a mislaid oven mitt - so I probably should have listened to omens and stayed off the field of battle.  But I was playing the Byzantines and good Christians should pay no mind to such superstitious nonsense.  But still...

We had to escort a pair of diplomats across the steppe to a friendly port on the Black Sea.  With us, was a unit each of Khataphracts, spearmen and levy.  We also had two units of archers and a sword for hire unit of steppe mercenaries from my own meager pay to guide us.

The escort pieces are in this case, two diplomats surrounded by bodyguard.  

The Khataphtacts take the left flank and archers and steppe nomads take the left.  Ahead of us, slave foot archers are in the center with warrior nomads at the wing.  The 3 points of warriors are broken into 4 units of 6 

With the heavy cavalry charging forward, a group of toxatoi move between a ridge and the raised road for cover. 

The khataphracts charge the steppe warriors, knowing that they will collapse immediately under 

The targeted unit immediately flees before contact is made thank to The Steppes ability on the battle board. As smart player of this faction will always keep a die on this ability

Next turn, my plan is to load up two activations for the hearthguard, so when one flees, I will hit the other.  However, thanks to the Wild Cats ability, another warrior unit from across the table pops in and I am now surrounded.

The heavily armored cavalry (6 v. shooting) had withstood missile attacks, but a string of lucky rolls from 3 units wiped them out.  

The Warlord and surviving units circle up and spend some defense dice.  At this point two hours in, I had to call it a game because of some commitments later in the day.  Unfortunately, I have no pics of my other archers still on the hill with no casualties, and picking off any models within range.  Possibly, the escorted units could have made it to the end of the road especially with a double activation.  Overall takeaway: if fighting the Steppe Tribes with Byzantines or Normans, have at least two units of hearthguard cavalry positioned to catch fleeing warriors in a pincher.  That, or shut down their activations with the Pagan Rus abilities.