Wednesday 29 January 2014

Veteran Ala

This ala of Roman cavalry will join the Impetus-based Early Imperial Roman army that I've building in spare moments between other projects.

I painted the Gripping Beast riders at least a decade ago, but they looked too small alongside the larger minis in my main EIR army, and consequently have languished unloved in a storage box for at least five years.  

They are, however, perfect for my new, smaller, EIR army. I decided that, just for a change, it would be fun to base them mostly on standing horses, and I found some foundry models on fleaBay.

I incorporated a casualty figure and a dead horse from the bits box; this poor wounded fellow is appealing to his colleagues for help, but they too busy, as preparing to charge.

I'm now past half way with this army.  A couple more elements each of cavalry and legionaries, and a general or two, should see it ready for the field!

Monday 27 January 2014

Redzedz' druids

I picked these up from Shaun, last year, along with some Goths that I will be basing later this week.

They are beautifully painted and composed, and so all I've done is to repaint and flock the base, so that they fit in with my system. I'm very pleased with them; now I want to get back to my Celtic army (but there are too many other things I need to do first...).

Friday 24 January 2014

Somewhere just south of the Wall

Last night a full contingent of the Muswell Militiamen gathered for a second game with my emerging Late Roman collection. The Picts have crossed the wall, and are threatening a fortified Roman town. The Roman field army formed up in a long thin line in front of the town's walls, leaving the town behind them un-garrisoned.  This latter was a decision that they would, all to soon, regret.

The Romans moved first and dashed forward, trying to take the ridge between the two armies. They only managed to get a toehold, though, before their movement activations ended. In the Pictish turn the northerners seized the rest of the ridge. They had a surprise up their sleeve, too; one of the stratagems they had drawn before the game indicated that one of their units, in this case the Saxon allied cavalry was off-table, lost. They diced to see if they would arrive, and where, and there was a collective drawing of breath as the cantered across the Roman baseline straight into the town, and commenced to loot the legion's baggage (below)! Presumably they had stumbled across an unguarded rear gate...

Above is a shot of the Pictish left, nervously awaiting the arrival of the Roman cataphracts, and below is the fighting for the ridge. Shortly after this shot was taken, the Roman unit in the right foreground had to turn around and march off, to attempt to assault and recapture their own camp!

Above, on the left flank, a unit of Roman skirmishers made skillful use of the terrain to hold up the advance of a Saxon warband (above), whilst a unit of auxiliaries contested a patch of newly-made heather with Pictish spearmen (below).

The game was very confused and very enjoyable.  The thin Roman battle line broke up very quickly (below), with several veteran legiones making for (and capturing some of) the Pictish baggage, whilst doing their best to fend off flank and rear attacks.  The Picts won by a fair margin, largely due to the instinctive looting abilities of their Saxon allies.

I've come away with a few more suggestions and rule tweaks, which I've been working on this morning. Mate Craig has very kindly sold me some beautiful Late Romans that I want to paint up before out next game, in a few weeks time, and I think we will play Longstreet again next week.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

A modest Roman reinforcement

In last week's game, some concern was expressed about the relatively small size of the Roman Field army. For tomorrow's game a small reinforcement has arrived; the Equites Sagittarii Parthi Iuniores, a vexillationes comitatenses unit which has traveled all the way from Africa. 

This unit, originally formed of Parthians, would have spent its time patrolling the borders of the Roman Province of Africa against nomadic incursions.

Three of these A&A minis were purchased painted to a high standard, in an eBay lot I bought from the USA. I painted 3 more to match, highlighted and based. Later I shall revisit them, and add small shields, painted with the appropriate designs.

I bought a load of Muskateer Gothic horse this week. At some point in the future, it would be terrific to use them game the Vandal invasion of Africa...

Friday 17 January 2014

Getting my Picts out...

Before 2005 I painted a fairly large Pictish army.  This has languished, unloved, in storage for the last 8 years for want of a historical opponent.  Happily, now that my Late Romans are quorate, they can take to the field again! I was pleasantly surprised to find that the painting is not as good as I do now, but not too shabby, either. The basing is similar to my current standard, and just needs a little TLC and tuftage to bring it into line.

Ian and Jay played a 100 point game using my rules.  I won't go through this in too much detail, because I hope to run a similar game next week.  A massed Roman attack in the centre, led by the elite Herculaini and Lanciarii Sabriences legiones, was inexorable and eventually split the Pictish army in two (below).  

The Picts were unable to capitalise on their superior numbers, but came close to winning, early on, when a warband broke into the Roman camp. Unfortunately these settled down to looting (=several failed activation rolls) and were eventually routed by a flank charge from some Roman archers.

Neither side's cavalry got into the action, except for one late flank charge by the Gentilium Seniores. Below is the only closeup I took of a Pictish unit, which gives an impression of what they look like; they are a mixture of Gripping Beast and foundry, with some Old Glory and a few conversions.

I'll take more photos next week, when I hope to have the terrain looking a tad more Scottish. The rules worked very well, we had a good laugh, and this morning I've been able to polish a couple of sections, especially terrain placement and fortifications.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Iulianus, Centurion.

I will need a few singly-based "hero" figures, to use with the rules I am developing.  This one is, I believe, a Warlord figure, from among the small collection that I recently bought off Saxon Dog. I've named him after Julian, a centurion who met his fate on the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem.  Lovely paintwork... and a suitable reminder of the heroism expected of the centurionate.

"But there was one Julian, a centurion, that came from Eithynia, a man he was of great reputation, whom I had formerly seen in that war, and one of the highest fame, both for his skill in war, his strength of body, and the courage of his soul. This man, seeing the Romans giving ground, and ill a sad condition, (for he stood by Titus at the tower of Antonia,) leaped out, and of himself alone put the Jews to flight, when they were already conquerors, and made them retire as far as the corner of the inner court of the temple; from him the multitude fled away in crowds, as supposing that neither his strength nor his violent attacks could be those of a mere man. Accordingly, he rushed through the midst of the Jews, as they were dispersed all abroad, and killed those that he caught. Nor, indeed, was there any sight that appeared more wonderful in the eyes of Caesar, or more terrible to others, than this. However, he was himself pursued by fate, which it all not possible that he, who was but a mortal man, should escape; for as he had shoes all full of thick and sharp nails as had every one of the other soldiers, so when he ran on the pavement of the temple, he slipped, and fell down upon his back with a very great noise, which was made by his armor. This made those that were running away to turn back; whereupon those Romans that were in the tower of Antonia set up a great shout, as they were in fear for the man. But the Jews got about him in crowds, and struck at him with their spears and with their swords on all sides. 
Now he received a great many of the strokes of these iron weapons upon his shield, and often attempted to get up again, but was thrown down by those that struck at him; yet did he, as he lay along, stab many of them with his sword. Nor was he soon killed, as being covered with his helmet and his breastplate in all those parts of his body where he might be mortally wounded; he also pulled his neck close to his body, till all his other limbs were shattered, and nobody durst come to defend him, and then he yielded to his fate. Now Caesar was deeply affected on account of this man of so great fortitude, and especially as he was killed in the sight of so many people; he was desirous himself to come to his assistance, but the place would not give him leave, while such as could have done it were too much terrified to attempt it. Thus when Julian had struggled with death a great while, and had let but few of those that had given him his mortal wound go off unhurt, he had at last his throat cut, though not without some difficulty, and left behind him a very great fame, not only among the Romans, and with Caesar himself, but among his enemies also; then did the Jews catch up his dead body, and put the Romans to flight again, and shut them up in the tower of Antonia."  

Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book VI

Saturday 11 January 2014

Martenses et Lanciarii Sabrienses

The Martenses are an auxiliary unit from the Magister Equitum's Gallic command. They are pseudocomitatenses; border troops promoted to join the field army. Both photos are clickable.

The Lanciarii Sabrienses are another unit from the Magister Equitum's Gallic Command, but of  higher status as, like the Herculiani, they are one of the dozen Legiones Palatina.

Both units are repaints of ebay purchases. They took perhaps 6 painting sessions each; I kept the basic colour scheme but did a good deal of overpainting.  I'm really pleased with the "wear" I painted on the shields, especially on the Sabrienses. The Gripping Beast figures are very nice; the large shields are excellent, and there are a huge variety of poses that I hope to use in future units.  They also work well, in terms of size  and style, with the Muskateer range.

Luke Ueda-Sarson has a fantastic site featuring the designs of the Notitia Dignitatum.  I have spent many happy hours clicking through it, and I would commend it to anyone who is researching a Late Roman army.

And finally, LBMS Steve has very kindly (and extremely promptly) created a beautiful new transfer for the Ioviani, the sister-unit of Thursday's Herculiani Seniores.  If collecting Late Romans, please go forth and purchase some, and then perhaps we can persuade him to make some more Late Roman designs!

Thursday 9 January 2014

Herculiani seniores

The Herculiani Seniores (Herculians) were a Legion Palatinae (guard) unit in the Western Late Roman army, that were originally formed from the VI Legion, from Illyricum.  Brigaded together with the Ioviani (Jovians), who I will have to paint later on, they were usually in the thick of the fighting!  Please have a click.

I bought 18 on the minis on eBay, and painted 6 more to match, using the excellent LBMS transfers on the shields.  I've decided to stain and daub all my shields with mud, because I prefer an "on campaign" look.  

I have just consulted my Late Roman expert mate, who says they might well have retained an eagle standard; I'll remedy this a little later on!

PS I mixed in a few Crusader minis, to add a little variety.  Although slightly stockier, they fit in very well!

Tuesday 7 January 2014

I did it one piece at a time...

(This article was originally published in issue 69 of the excellent Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy magazine).

“One day I devised myself a plan, that should be the envy of most any a man...”

In the country classic “One Piece at a Time”, Johnny Cash’s character describes how, over a 21 years period, he built a Cadillac, from a mass of ill-fitting parts that he stole from a production line.  I’ve employed a broadly similar (but happily entirely legal) strategy, to assemble the very large armies that I use in my ancient gaming.  My technique involves acquiring masses of painted miniatures from many different sources, and later, retouching and rebasing them so that they work together as an army. 

Firstly, I buy painted miniatures for the ancient armies that most interest me, whenever I can find them at an affordable price.  More often than not, these come from eBay.   I also buy entire armies when I can find them on forums, or trade with friends for their unwanted miniatures.

I only ever buy miniatures from ranges that I really like, as there are few things more frustrating than spending hours painting ugly miniatures.  Luckily, my catholic tastes embrace pretty much anything sculpted by Marc Copplestone, Steve Saleh or the Perry twins, or Aventine’s Adam, amongst others. 

As the precious brown-paper-wrapped boxes of precious minis plunk heavily onto my doormat, I open and check them, and store them, by army, in box files up in my loft.  I track the approximate numbers in each mustering army in a spreadsheet, because it’s so easy to forget what’s up there!   The quality of such purchases can vary from the sublime (superb miniatures painted by Andres at Einar Olafson Painting or Redzed) to the ridiculous (hideous train-wrecks of paint jobs from eBay, fit only for the stripping jar).  I do my very best to avoid poorly painted purchases by looking carefully at the photos on the eBay items, but one sometimes just has to take a punt.

(At the time of writing the author has accumulated some 1800 28mm part-painted ancient or Napoleonic miniatures.  Here are some Perry Romans...)

One day, my interest in a particular army will suddenly be piqued by a film or book, or plans to put on a display game at a show, and I’ll climb the ladder, find the appropriate file box and open it to see what’s in there.  More often than not, I’m pleasantly surprised to find some decent purchases that I’ve long forgotten making.  Next, I sort the minis out into their respective units.  When there are several very distinct styles of painting, then these will go into separate units.

(mustering the cohorts of an Early Imperial Roman army)

When a unit is short of minis, then I “climb the lead mountain” to find the necessary miniatures required to bring it up to strength.   As I (all too) regularly buy unpainted miniatures that look like “bargains” to me, there’s a pretty high chance that I’ll find what I need!  If not, I more often than not find that I can often swap for the required minis with one of my fellow leadaholic mates. 

(figures selected for a test cohort on which to try out basing ideas)

Before painting, every painted miniature will be removed from its base.  I must have cut a thousand or more minis off plastic WAB bases!  Where possible, I like to retain some of the grout and flock around the feet, as this saves time later on, when basing. 

I should remind readers, at this point, that Dante Alighieri reserved a special corner of his Inferno for those gamers who superglue miniatures onto coins or washers.  It is very difficult to remove these safely, and so I try very hard not to buy such figures.  Personally, when I need to stick a figure to a coin I use wood glue, which is quite sufficient and facilitates re-basing. 

Any unpainted miniatures are assembled, cleaned and primed.  This is also the best time to effect repairs on broken weapons and to replace any missing shields.  I temporarily mount all the miniatures on my trusty wooden Jenga blocks, ready for painting.

“Now the headlight’ was another sight, we had two on the left and one on the right, but when we pulled out the switch all three of ‘em come on”

If one has accumulated a bunch of miniatures from a number of different painters, in a number of different styles, there isn’t a great deal of value in trying to finish them off so that they all look identical.  This would take a great deal of time as many would need to be substantially repainted.  It’s far better to capitalise upon the differences in style by giving the unit an “on-campaign” look, with different coloured tunics or trousers, and a variety of different shield designs.  I find that others paint miniatures in imaginative ways that wouldn’t necessarily have occurred to me, and I try to retain as many of these quirks as possible.

Some paint-jobs will invariably have taken some punishment, either in use on the table, or in the post, so next, I touch up any chips.  Sometimes, I’ll repaint lurid tunics, or over-paint flesh when someone has gone overboard with the black-lining style.  I’ll usually go on to add a single highlight, where none exists.

Stains, such as the sadly defunct Games Workshop Devlan Mud, and Army Painter Strong Tone ink wash, are excellent for bringing out detail on figures that have been simply block-painted, and also cover a multitude of sins.  Moreover, a thin ink wash, delivered in a medium such as Klear floor polish, will very usefully darken the skin tones of lighter-skinned figures, so that they better match other darker-skinned ones from the brush of a different painter.  

(The cohort temporarily based for painting, retouched and stained with Army Painter Strong Tone)

Next, the retouched miniatures will all need to be varnished.  I usually use a Halfords spray gloss lacquer, for protection, flowed by a couple of coats of matt Testors Dullcote spray varnish.  After matt varnishing, I always spend a few minutes highlighting metallics as it really makes the minis “pop”.

“Now, up to now my plan went all right, ‘til we tried to put it all together one night”

The final stage is basing.  Having saved a great deal of time by using ready-painted miniatures, I feel I can afford to lavish time on the basing, which is the part of the process that turns figures I’ve bought into a unit that feels my own.  Moreover, with the miniatures having come from so many different sources, it is critical that the basing is both uniform and of good quality, so that the army works together, as a whole. 

I’ve talked about my basing techniques in a previous article (WSS 65); suffice to say that the key elements are: a large magnetic base; pre-coloured grout; dry-brushing and the use of a great many different varieties of flock and tufts.  I also find that incorporating scenic elements, such as rocks, shields and even small trees, can add a great deal of character.

As an example of this process, over the last few years, I’ve been accumulating odd batches of painted Foundry Perry Early Imperial Romans, when they have come up on eBay at the right price.  Recently, I managed to purchase a small and quite nicely finished army, which gave me the critical mass I needed to push the project on to completion.

I gave a little thought about how to make the army different to several other EIR armies I‘ve collected over the years.  Inspiration struck; why not emulate the look of the extremely grungy Roman army at the start of “Gladiator”?  Re-watching the battle scene at the start of the film, I noticed that Ridley Scott filmed with an extremely subdued colour palette.  The wet, dirty, clothing of his legionaries could easily be simulated by ink washes.  Moreover, their shield designs could barely be made out through mud and water staining (which would helpfully conceal the unevenly-applied transfers on my minis).  I also noticed that the vegetation was sparse, with little grass, and that there was a great deal of sticky-looking mud. 

To add flavour, I decided to make a few strategic purchases including a 1st Corps “General of the Northern Armies”, complete with hound, and a Gripping Beast “Aged Roman Emperor”.  I also quickly discovered that 1st Corps also manufacture some handy battlefield debris, which would add interest to the bases.  I also bought some Wargames Foundry horses on eBay to match some Gripping Beast Roman auxiliary cavalry riders, that I had left over from a previous project.

I decided that the large scenic bases used with the Impetus rules, would enable me to use the miniatures to create attractive dioramas.  Before painting the entire army, I thought I’d finish two elements, to check that my approach would work.  The figures I selected (shown in one of the photos above) represented the work of at least half a dozen different painters, of varying degrees of competence. 

I went for a darker earth colour than usual on the bases and used satin washes to make them look wet and muddy.  It only took three painting sessions to lick the miniatures into shape, and two further sessions to base them; perhaps 15 hours of work, in total, far faster than I could have painted them from scratch. 

(the two completed test elements, together, form a battle-hardened Roman cohort for Impetus)

“I’m gonna drive everybody wild, ‘cause I’ll have the only one there is around”. 

To sum up, I much prefer working with painted miniatures, compared to virgin metal, as I find that the different approaches adopted by other painters get my creative juices flowing, helping me to produce a uniquely characterful end result. Re-using such “pre-loved” minis, also enables me to get an army on the table far more quickly than if I had painted them from scratch!   

(Since publishing the original article, I've completed another 4 elements of this force using some lovely figures that I bought off Saxon Dog.  I hope to have the army finished by the end of the Spring.)

Friday 3 January 2014

Thessalians, and plans for 2014

Here's a unit I finished last week. They are later Thessalian cavalry in a rhomboid formation, cantering across the Boeotian plain. Mate Nick Speller painted 6 of these Foundry Miniatures, and I painted 3 more to match, shield transfers, basing etc.

Thessalians often fought in a manoeuvrable rhomboid formation, that could easily change direction through 90 or 180 degrees.  Below, here they are brigaded with my previously-painted Thessalians, who will shortly be re-based in the same style. They'll mostly serve with my Ptolemaic army.

In terms of 2014, I hesitate to plan too far ahead, for as they say "no battle plan survives contact with the enemy". However, here's the first seven months loosely sketched out.  

  • Finish swan-necked trade ship “Ceres”
  • Finish and base a final unit of Late Romans
  • Finish and base two units of Shaun’s Goths
  • Finish two elements of Impetus-based Roman cavalry
  • Buy and build 5 large gaming boards

February to April
  • Paint  100 EI Roman Legionaries, finish and re-base 100 other EI Roman Legionaries
  • Finish and Base 12 British Auxiliary cavalry
  • Paint and base 6 Auxiliary cavalry
  • Finish and base remainder of the Impetus EIRs.

  • Pontoon Bridge and other terrain for possible Partizan game

June to July
  • Finish and base 200 more phalangites for possible Other Partizan game, and the Southern Autumn shows
In terms of resolutions, this year I only have one, which is to finish play-testing and publish my rules!