Tuesday 31 December 2013

Saga Four Points Viking Warband

My four point viking warband, with hand painted shields, completed in  less than a month. That's not a bad result, though apart from the shields, I can't say I enjoyed painting it that much. It was the poor sculpts that made it a chore, though en masse they look quite decent. I am not used to such mediocre models in my hands. I would not recommend the Gripping Beast starter warband as a product, but would suggest you look elsewhere. There are a few Foundry vikings in the mix and they are more dynamic models, though a little more chunky in build. At some time in the new year I will try the Drabant miniatures, which I first mentioned in this post.

I have already detailed my choice of the clothing palette (in this post). For the shields I googled lots of designs and used some of them as inspiration, sticking to a limited palette of mainly red and white, with black and yellow as secondary colours. I also looked at  viking jewellery, a couple of the shields have knots and beasts from images of pendants, one even from my wedding ring. The shields have really transformed the warband for me, I will definitely be enlarging it to six points in the new year. Until then, here's a few close ups of each of the four points.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Vikings nearly done

Just a very quick update to show that the viking warband is almost completely painted. It has already been in action a couple of times over the xmas break, which was the reason for rushing them through in the past month. Just the shields to complete on the last few and they are completely finished. In this photo they are packed tightly on to a piece of magnetic paper, which roughly shows how they would look in a conventional wargaming movement tray.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Vikings sighted

This is the first two points of my Saga vikings warband, fully painted. I stuck to a desaturated palette for the clothing, hoping that the shields bring them alive. Those on the left are the bondi, the basic troops available to the warlord. They are armed with spears and shields for the most part, with little or no armour. The four figures on the right are the hirdmen, the warlord's best fighting troops, with armour, swords and helmets and better decorated shields.

All the shields are freehand designs, from simple quarters to stylised birds, serpents and a quite ambitious knotted dragon (second from right). While this approach is more time-consuming than transfers, I do get a little "decal fatigue" when browsing images on the web and wanted to have a unique look to my own warband. They are not quite as polished as they could be, but for wargaming figures they are good enough.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Drabant Miniatures Vikings

If you have been following my posts on the Saga viking warband, you may have noticed that I have been a little curmudgeonly about the figures I have. I spent about a year looking at what the market had to offer and was a little surprised that the range by the historical manufacturers was less than inspiring. After all, vikings are an iconic part of European dark age history, so you would expect there to be plenty to entice the gamer.

I looked at Foundry, but find them a little chunky and leaning towards fantasy style. Gripping Beast are more historically accurate but fairly stolid, their range has barely been updated in twenty years (though the newer Jomsvikings look much better). There are a couple more smaller metal ranges which fall somewhere between these two. And then there are plastics by both Wargames Factory and Gripping Beast. I have held these in my hand, seen them up close. They are okay, not up to the standards expected by fantasy players, but cheaper than metals and so a possible starting point. In the end, after dithering for months, I went with the Gripping Beast viking starter set, mostly because I managed to get a deal with a rulebook and dice thrown in, hoping that I could make them decent enough with some nice shields.

The good news is that I have finally found what I was looking for. A very nice set of viking sculpts, leaning towards historical accuracy rather than fantasy looking, with good proportions and some dynamic poses. And with hands that actually grip their weapons. Drabant Miniatures is a Russian company with a small but very nice looking range of vikings. The UK supplier of the range seems to be Old Glory. My favourite set is those shown at top, but I would be very happy to include the others in my warband too. These three packs would make a unit of hirdmen and a unit of bondi, taking my starter warband up to six points. Something to look forward to in the new year I think.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Vikings WIP 3

With the first half of the four point Saga warband well underway, I thought I would make a start on the remainder. As I mentioned earlier, the warband is based on the Gripping Beast 4 point starter deal. I had my doubts about the berserker models from the pictures online; in the flesh they are pretty disappointing and I have decided to sideline them for the time being. This left a hole in the collection and I needed four substitutes. Luckily, I have the remnants of my very first viking force and was able to recruit some of them. This force was my first foray into historicals, many years ago. See if you can spot them in the photo, though no prizes for guessing that one of them is front rank, 2nd left.

The warlord is front centre, on the bigger base. Either side of him are a second unit of 4 hirdmen, while the remaining 8 figures are more bondi. I quite like the hirdmen, the non-gripping hands I can just about tolerate as long as the figure has a bit of character. The bondi are less good, I have to say I would probably not recommend the starter set to other gamers, the quality of the sculpts and figure poses are mediocre. The annoying hands can be remedied if you have some plastic bits, ironically I used Gripping Beast plastic Saxon bits. All is not lost, these figures form a reasonable basis for a warband, and I have recently discovered some excellent figures to add to them. More on that in a future post.

Monday 9 December 2013

Vikings WIP 2

After priming white, I set about getting the boring bits done first. Shoes, belts, pouches are all painted in orange-brown or darker brown, the two shades of leather most seen on any pictures I have looked at. I also painted the backs of the shields in these colours, to act as wood. Then I painted on the socks/garters and trousers and a few bits of clothing in natural colours, to simulate undyed wool. All these areas were then glazed with browns and greys to add some shade and texture.

The clothing was painted in a range of fairly desaturated colours. For most of these I toned down the intensity of the original paint colour by adding a pale colour such as grey or even white. I also used less vivid versions of some tones, for example instead of red I used chestnut. I kept the richer tones mostly for the more elite warriors, just a few bondi have any colour of note. These areas were then glazed with darker shades of the base colour. Finally, the armour and other metal areas were given a base coat of chainmail.

Friday 6 December 2013

Easy to make wargaming fields

I made these fields with Saga games in mind, but they could be used in any historical setting and maybe even in fantasy scenarios. They were simplicity itself to construct, made from a very cheap door mat, the cheaper (and thus thinner) the better. If you live in the UK and have a Wilkinsons nearby, a single mat will cost you the grand sum of 88p. A brown mat would be ideal, but I had to buy a grey one, it was either that or blue.

The mat has a backing of rubber/felt and is easy to cut into smaller sections with scissors. Then I quickly added some brown, cheap craft paints from my "terrain box" - full of bottles of discounted acrylic paints I use on most of my scenery. Freshly ploughed field done. Yes, the furrows are precise and straight, unlikely in the dark ages. And yes, the unplanted fields do just look like bits of carpet when viewed like this, but you have to imagine them with hedges, huts and maybe a few cattle roaming around.

Some of the fields I painted over the tops of the furrows with pva glue and then sprinkled with various colours of flock, to represent different crops. It's obviously early spring and they are just sprouting, or late autumn and they are freshly cut. When I turned over the mats and tapped off the excess, the flock stuck in the depressions, possibly because the paint was still tacky or maybe it just gets lodged in the fibres. The simple solution I found was to use the stick end of the brush to run down in the deeper areas, to remove most of the excess. One nice side effect of this process is that some of the fibres stand up and with the flock look like tiny plants, a bit too tiny for my camera to capture but you can see that they make a pretty decent impression of crops in fields.

One door mat made all these fields, enough to sustain a small hamlet I reckon. There's certainly more than enough here for a typical game of Saga. Now I just have to make a few hedges and other boundary markers to give them a little more polish. This is my complete collection of wooden boundary markers from my Warhammer collection, I need lots more so another cheap solution is required. I have an idea involving another door mat, hopefully that will yield results in the near future.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Viking Clothing Palette

Before I get started on painting the vikings I had a little browse around, to see if I could find any information on viking clothing. There's very little specific historical evidence, but there are plenty of re-enactor sites to peruse. These people spend their weekends dressing as vikings, saxons, etc., in medieval camps and events. There is a surprising amount of research and authenticity applied, so if you like your figures to have a dash of realism, then they are a good source of inspiration.

You might think that they look a dowdy bunch, but the photo is probably taken under a typical English sky and so not quite as bright as it might be! There are certainly plenty of browns and tans, creams and pale colours. But there is also a surprising range of other colours. If you are really interested, you can even find recipes to make dyes for yourself.

I remember talking to a re-enactor at one event in York, England, about his clothing. He was wearing a lot of brown leather and fur, but also a pale red, almost pink cloak. He explained that it had been made using natural dyes and that the colour faded quite a lot. There's no real evidence to suggest that vikings liked red (as they are often depicted in films and books), but even if it were historically accurate, it would quickly fade to a dusky pink. 

The most important point I learned was that the colours are subdued, desaturated. So I will be keeping the clothing fairly low key, particularly for the bondi (and even more so for the levie if I ever collect them). In any case, the main focal point of the figures is the shields, so keeping the clothing fairly unexciting will act as a good plain backdrop for the prominent shields.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Vikings WIP 1

The first day of the month of the vikings! The prep work on the first half of the warband is now done. I really don't understand why gamers prefer metals, removing the mould lines with files is far more tedious than scraping away plastic models with a knife. There's very little opportunity to repose too. I had major problems with the hands on these figures, they are more hooks or claws and just would not grip the weapons properly (and don't get me started on those bendy spears). In the end, I chopped a few hands off and replaced them with plastic bits from my Saxon thegns box, to finally achieve a reasonable pose. They are based on pennies (which are usefully magnetic) and then a couple of layers of a sand and glue  mix applied to hide the tabs.

Now that they are at this stage I do appreciate the heft of the model in hand, much nicer than a plastic figure. On balance, I prefer the ease and flexibility of assembly that plastics give, but I can understand why some gamers prefer the old metals.
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