Monday, October 26, 2015

The Last Kingdom and Sagas of the Northmen


Bernard Cornwell's Saxon series features a Saxon born, Viking raised hero named Uhtred at the time of King Alfred. It has been a great series to read, and one that probably inspired me to collect Viking and Saxon miniatures.

Here's a link: The Last Kingdom

 The first two episodes do have a lot to recommend, primarily the acting. Matthew MacFayden as the main character's father is spot on with the book, as is Ian Hart as Beocca, the kindly priest. The actor playing Uhtred, Alexander Draymon,  is fine for the young version of the character. If he can mature into the steely and brutal character from the novels remains to be seen. And any scene with Rutger Hauer is eminently watchable.

My main critique with the first episode is with some of the pacing and story direction. If this is the first episode of an eight part miniseries, and this miniseries intends to only adapt the first book, The Last Kingdom, then this first episode has churned through quite a bit of the book. The heart of Uhtred's story is his internal conflict between his Saxon heritage and his assimilated Viking identity. A great deal of character development is lost when we advance so quicly from Uhtred's childhood abduction by Ragnar into his late teens. One key childhood event that sets up later conflict is shown, but very little of his embrace of the pagan religion. I understand that devoting two episodes out eight to a child may alienate action-seeking viewers, but I think it is essential for understanding Uhtred's torn loyalties between Saxon and Viking.

On a more positive note, the battle at the end of the first episode showed shieldwall combat as two forces pushing and jabbing at each other. Whereas the History Channel's Vikings, a good show with great characters, shows shieldwall combat as two armies forming into walls, and then running like crazy at each other.

Here are some remaining Gripping Beast plastic Saxons I painted this week with the Last Kingdom as inspiration. My color choices are a bit brighter than the series - thank you Peter Jackson for turning all medieval themed costuming into blacks, browns and greys.

These are one of the oldest plastic Dark Ages sets available, and I think it shows. While better than the Wargames Factory line, the posing and options are limited, and the definition on the chain mail is muddy, especially on the sides.

Nonetheless, they are great for building up an army in a Hail Caesar type game, but for your elite troops in a skirmish game, one might want something with a little more distinctiveness.


If you are looking for some more Viking themed media, I highly reccomend a new graphic novel I received recently through a Kickstarter I backed.

Sagas of the Northmen is a 64 pages black and white graphic novel. An anthology format, it contains a number of seperate, unconnected stories by multiple artists and writers. Anthology can be hit mess The writing is consistently good and most of the art is excellent - with a few exceptions,

It is a $6.99 digital download currently, with a print edition promised later.

Sagas of the Northmen at Drive Thru Comics 

Monday, October 12, 2015

AAR: Moors versus Byzantines

After almost a year of owning the expansion, I finally got around to playing a game using a new army from Crescent and Cross this past Saturday.

1x4 Mounted Hearthguard
1x4 Mounted Hearthguard
1x4 Blackguard (Hearthguard)
1x8 Spear warriors
1x12 Bow Levy

The Byzantines have three warrior units, one armed with bows along with a unit of mounted hearthguard and steppe nomad mercenaries. The warlord is accompanied by a priest.

Below, setup at the start of the game. The Moors are on the left, the Byzantines on the right. I spread out, and my opponent tightly groups his units. I should have saw that as an indicator of what was to come.

Another view, with the Byzantines behind the small hill. 

On my turn, I advance my mounted hearthguard, possibly to use the building as a screen. 

As his steppe mercenaries advance from around the oasis, one my hearthguards wheels toward them. Hopefully they could throw javelin, engage the nomads and allow the Blackguard and supporting warriors to close in. Of course, they are halfway across the board before that can happen, but not before we take two from each unit. Bad news when that's half your unit. 

More bad news for the Moors. I tried to bribe the steppe nomads away from the Byzantines for a turn ("Corruption"). Unfortunately, my opponent took the three fatigue on the Warlord option. Weighing the possibilities, My warlord and hearthguard was within striking distance of his warlord in a couple of moves. Hit 'em while he was down, I thought. These warriors intercepted me - but maybe hearthguard against warrior? Not too risky...However, since his formations were so tight, he drew half the attack dice from a nearby unit (Strategikon). A good roll and four Moors down, taking only two spearmen with them.
Know your opponent's battleboard, folks.  

The Moors fortunes improve. The blackguard hit the steppe mercenaries, taking out all but one with no cost to themselves.  Some great melee abilities are on the Moorish battleboard. A unit of Moorish spearmen do about as well against some Byzantine infantry.

As so often happens in SAGA, it comes down to a battle of warlords. In this case, two battles. The Byzantine warlord moved within distance of the Moorish general, triggering this first encounter. I
only received one hit (ignored) and I put four on the Greek. He saved on three (or was it four?) and took no damage. As the attacker, I was pushed back, and he followed up with a side by side attack with spearmen. I think I took something like six or seven hits and only saved three. The nearby unit of levies couldn't take any of the hits ending the game.

For my first run through on the Moors, I am overall pleased. I like the faction and will play them again. Most of my problems were in my unit composition and not paying attention to the Byzantine abilities. The Moorish hearthguard have javelins, and the lower armor penalty that comes with it. I don't like shooting hearthguard, especially if it is with javelins, a rather poor trade-off in my opinion. In light of bow armed cavalry, the javelins are a weaker weapon with the same disadvantage. Next time, I will go with a full eight Blackguard; they did the job when required. 

All in all a fun game, and a great start to Crescent and Cross. 

Later this week, I will have my review of BBC America's The Last Kingdom