Monday, June 23, 2014

Predictably Unpredictable: Norse Gaels v. Irish SAGA AAR

At this weekend's SAGA game we decided to put the Norse Gaels against the Irish, especially with this year being the millennial anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf.

The scenario was called "To the Green Fields Beyond," a custom "hold the pass" variation from the Studio Tomahawk forum.  The pass between the hills and rocks is open ground, but impassable for 6" on both sides.  Beyond that, the hills and trees are considered rough going.  The faction that gets the most figures (counted by victory points) on the other side of the board after eight turns wins.

Here's the board after deployment. On the left the Irish have a unit of war dogs, six Fianna with Dane axes, two Curaidh, the warlord and a unit of eight warriors.  On the right, beginning closest to the camera, my Norse Gaels are fielding the warlord, four hearthguard with Dane axes, twelve slaves with javelins, four Vikings and unit of eight warriors.

The Irish move first, and their warlord, Fianna and two Curaidh approach the pass.  My levy take two moves, fire their javelins... 
and three Irish fianna are gone.  If the slave levy does nothing else this game, they have already done more than enough.  Fortunately there is more fight still left in them.

Meanwhile on the left, my Norse jarl climbs the hill with his bodyguard, and the Irish leave their wardogs on the other side to await his arrival.  

On the Norse Gael right flank, the warriors are moving to press through the trees, but the Irish beat them there, and pepper them with javelins, doing some damage.

I approach their warriors with reduced numbers, but with a successful Challenge  followed by Ostmen's Fury, I should be able to overcome these Irish.  Unfortunately, despite rolling more dice than the Irish champion, the Norse champion falls.  It is a pattern that will be repeated.  
Then, the four Viking hearthguard move in, and surely this challenge will be won...Again, no and another Viking goes down in the subsequent combat.

On the other hand, all of my luck must have been going to the slave levy, because these guys manage to take out all six hearthguard, with one of them even surviving combat with a curaidah.
As fortunate as the levy were, my opponent decided to move the dogs across the table to take out the last survivor. Meanwhile, the turn counter is drawing close to the end.

Fortunately for me that meant my Warlord was able to cross the treeline uncontested. For the Irish to win, their player needed to take out both remaining Vikings on the right with a single of warrior and make it back through the trees. He killed one, but failed to cross to the other side in time.

Final victory points: Norse Gaels 8, Irish 7 1/2.

With a Viking army, you have the option (with some figure variations) of running them as traditional Vikings, Jomsvikings or Norse Gaels. I like the offensive power of the Vikings, but find the Jomsvikings too limited, perhaps requiring too  much of a long game to build their rage. I want to like the Norse Gaels but, I have to say I am disappointed. All five of my challenges failed and on three of them I was rolling more dice than my opponent. My most useful unit turned out to be the Levy and that is without the Norse Gaels having a single shooting ability on on the battle board. If you're on good terms with the dice gods, this may be your faction; I think I will stick with their more predictable Viking cousins. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Knights of Islamic Spain

Gripping Beast's Plastic Arabs are good for the bulk of your force, whether you are skirmishing or doing mass combat, but you are going to need to supplement them with some heavy infantry.  And for that, metal figures are currently the only option. My first era of interest in wargaming was El Cid Spain and over the years I have picked up a decent variety of ranges from a few companies.

Gripping Beast produces several lines of Arabic or Islamic themed miniatures.  Below are some Andalusian infantry, the Arab or Arab-Spanish warriors of early Medieval Spain, which I painted recently.

The knights of Cordovan Spain were poets as well as warriors. Christian warriors from Europe including the mighty El Cid often took up service among the rival emirates in southern Spain. There, the Christians were exposed to ballads, poems and refined court manners.  After returning to their own lands, the influence of Muslim Spain can be seen in the culture of troubadour songs, chivalry, and courtly love that developed in feudal Europe during the high Middle Ages.

Andalusian warriors were also showy in their dress and armor. The poem below, from eleventh century Spain, makes note of the brilliant styles:

The Two Moorish Knights

Upon two mares both strong and fleet,
White as the cygnet's snowy wing,
Beneath Granada's arching gate
Passed Tarfe and Belchite's King.

Like beauty marks the dames they serve;
Like colors at their spear-heads wave;
While Tarfe kneels at Celia's feet,
The King is Dorelice's slave.

With belts of green and azure blue
The gallant knights are girded fair;
Their cloaks with golden orange glow,
And verdant are the vests they wear.

And gold and silver, side by side,
Are glittering on their garment's hem;
And, mingled with the metals, shine
The lights of many a costly gem.

Artizan Designs also produces a line listed as "Moors," an overly general term, for their offerings include Andalusians, Berbers and Sudanese Africans.

This pack of eight included two poses, one of whom wears chainmail under his robes and the other quilted armor.  I painted these a couple of years ago (or more) but did some retouching, especially on the shields.

Overall, I think the Artizan wins the shoot-out.  The Gripping Beast figures have less distinct facial features and some of the chain mail detailing is a little muddy.  And while the splayed arm pose on the Artizan figure is awkward, it is dynamic on the game table.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

In the City - A Byzantine Urban Skirmish

Very little figure painting was accomplished this past week. Non-hobby related duties took precedence, but I managed to put together a few movement trays.  I did also play a new skirmish game which I think shows some uses for paper terrain for the historical wargamer.

The rule set was a Song of Blades and Heroes variation based on urban violence in the Ancient era - think HBO's Rome TV series.  It did not take much effort to convert some of the character types to medieval Byzantines.

Different characters have different special abilities, and what appealed to us was game mechanics involving the civilian characters.  If violence occurs near civilians, they may either run or join in.  Also, characters with certain abilities can try to recruit civilians to their side.  Buildings can be entered and exited, and rooftops can be an additional combat surface.

As with all of the SBH rules, it is fast moving and easy to pick up.
 In this scenario, an emperor's relative has stopped at a small Mediterranean or Black Sea port and is heading from the market back to the jetty where a small boat can take him to a ship.  Unfortunately, somebody high up wants him dead and the local governor, the Praetor, and some spearmen are to eliminate him.  The town guard (archers on the wall) are not in on the plot, but might be recruited to either side.

The emperor's brother and his Varangian bodyguards at the market:

The two side's assassins pursue each other through an alleyway.  

Shortcut through the alley now that the enemy assassin has been taken care of: 

And, like most skirmish games, strategy and tactics devolves into a melee free-for-all in the end: 

The terrain is mostly from Fat Dragon.  Many of Fat Dragon's PDFs have different layer options so tile roofs and shingles give the buildings the medieval Mediterranean look.  It's not exact by any means, but even with the cost of inkjet cartridges, it is less expensive than resin buildings and streets. On the downside, construction is time consuming and getting an exact fit can be fussy as some of my pics show.

Ganesha Games has Song of Shadows and Dust  as does RPG Now, which is where I bought the Fat Dragon terrain.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Arab Infantry in Unit Colors

One of the main reasons, I focus on the Dark Ages, rather than earlier (Roman) or later (Gunpowder) eras is that I don't usually like painting units.  I started out in miniatures in my teen years as a fantasy RPG player, so even in wargaming, I like the individuality of the figure.

However...maybe I am of a different mind now.  While working on my Gripping Beast Arabs, I also decided to hit the lead mountain and paint this unit of Arab infantry from Essex.  Colors and heraldry may have entered Europe through exposure to Muslim armies in Spain or the Near East, so uniformity of colors may be appropriate in this instance.

Essex is one of the older players in the historical miniature market and the figures are a bit dated.  The posing is stiff, the hands are poorly formed and they are a bit "flat" which was a necessity in older casting tech.  On the positive side, fabric folds and belt details are finely done and hold up alongside recent lines.

I like the look of a 15 man unit (two are not pictured) lined up in identical colors.  A unit of identically painted Holy Order Crusaders might match against them nicely.  The movement tray is from Litko and the printed flag was found at the DBA Fanaticus site: Flags and Banners for DBA

Bonus pic below is another easy conversion of a GB Arab head on a Wargames Factory Numidian body for a light skirmisher.