Thursday, January 21, 2021

More Viking Bondi (Warriors)

    8 Viking Bondi (warriors in Saga) using 28mm Gripping Beast Anglo-Saxon figures
In anticipation of face-to-face gaming (and our Saga game days) resuming eventually, I have been filling holes in my loaner armies. Previously, it was a struggle to field both Vikings and Anglo-Danes (or a second Viking warband). I didn't have enough unarmored warriors, though I had plenty of armored troops to use as Huscarles, or hearthguard as they are known in the rules. Thus, the purchase awhile back of Footsore unarmored Vikings. And more recently, the 4-point Gripping Beast starter box of Anglo-Saxons.

    The kneeling guy with the shield was on of my favorite poses - I also like the shield pattern I painted
The good thing about Dark Ages is that one warrior often looked a lot like another. So, two Germanic/Teutonic warriors aren't that different when it comes to either equipment or clothing. So, I sorted through the Gripping Beast box and chose out 8 figures that looked particularly "Viking-ish." I enjoy Gripping Beast metal 28mm figures. The shields are often cast on and the hands are usually open to glue in the weapons. Contrast this with Footsore, where you must drill out the sometimes too small fists to accept weapons (which are purchased separately). Footsore figs are lovely, but I like to minimize assembly when it comes to my miniatures!

    Another of my favorite poses is the guy with the leveled spear...not so much his partner, though!
All but one of the figures I picked out to become Vikings had steel helmets. They also tended to have short sleeve tunics with long sleeve shirts and long pants underneath. I tried to streamline my painting with this batch. After doing the flesh, I did all the base coat on all three of the above articles of clothing instead of one at a time, followed by its dry brushing. Thus, I did all three base coats in one setting and all three dry brushing sessions on those colors in a second setting. I did have to "erase" with water the odd bit of splash over from time to time, but for the most part, it worked great. I will be doing this more in the future!

    The "strawberry blonde" hair of the guy on the right is one of my more recent hair colors I've used

I use mostly Ceramcoat craft paints, supplemented by Howard Hues and Iron Wind Metals acrylics. I've collected quite a palette of colors. For Dark Age miniatures, I prefer faded hues like "Wedgewood" blue and green. For what would be brighter colors, like red, I will often use an earthier, red-brown tone. Naturally, I work in various tans and grays, as well as dull yellows. I reason that people in the Dark Ages didn't have closets full of clothes like we do, wearing the same clothes day in and day out. That, combined with their method of washing, would tend have a dull down any brightness of colors over time.

    I like the intricate, Viking borders I've been putting on figures lately - such as this guy on the left
As with the earlier batch of Viking archers, I worked in decoration and ornamentation here and there on the figures, too. Slight more than half had bands or decorated hems. Those that didn't were more likely to receive a decorated sword sheath. Obviously, I don't want my Dark Age warriors to be as brightly and colorfully patterned as, say, my recently-finished Andalusian Moorish army. I want the decoration to be subtle, and show up mostly when you focused on a single figure.

With this batch, I'm done with Vikings for now. I have started 8 more figs from the Gripping Beast box, but these will be for my Anglo-Dane (or second Viking) army. After those, I will likely pull out the handful of armored figures in the box and supplement my true Anglo-Saxon hearthguards with those. Then...FINALLY...I will be on to the Carolingians!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Viking Archers by the Dozen!

 A dozen 28mm Gripping Beast Viking archers - my first batch of painted figures in 2021!

My first batch of painted miniatures for 2021 was a group of 12 Viking archers. I picked them up last year at one of our Saga game days at the Dragons Guildhall in Beavercreek, OH. Not only did I want to support the store by making a purchase, I realized I needed more Dark Age archers. My Viking, Saxon, Pict and Welsh Saga armies were all sharing archers from the same pool of figures. This would go a long way towards making sure I could field these armies without swapping figures back and forth between boxes.

 I used faded colors for my palette, but with a little bit of decoration that the Vikings were know for

I have since tossed the packaging that these figures came in, but I am pretty sure that these are 28mm Gripping Beast miniatures. The bows needed to be epoxied into the archers' hands, but otherwise no assembly was required. That's one of several reasons why I prefer metal miniatures over the new wave of plastic which require the gluing together of arms, torsos, heads, and so on. I've said it before (and close examination bears this out), I am not that good at supergluing or epoxying things together. So, less of that I have to do the better!

 The pose variety of headgear was great - archers in helmets, knitted or fur caps or bareheaded

The variety in the package was marvelous! A little less than half the figures had metal helmets, others were bareheaded or had fur or knitted woolen caps. There was also some variety in the posing, with archers leaning back, forward, kneeling and even running. I highly recommend theses figures. There was very little flash, they are clean and easy to paint without too much equipment festooned over them. 

 Many of the tunics were painted with fancy borders even if the material itself was a faded color

I mixed in faded colors -- gray greens and blues, dun yellows -- along with a few brighter reds or blues. In Saga, the Viking archers are typically considered Levy troops (which would be the poorest members of society). However, I think that is an oversimplification because archery was a valued skill in Viking training for war. So, I made sure my Viking archers had a splattering of fancy borders on their tunics. They were a colorful group of people known for their love of fine clothing, good grooming, and wearing their wealth. So, I even decorated some of the quivers with stripes, swirls, and runes.

 I think the detail on the borders and quivers balances with the solid color tunics, shirts, and pants

Although I am posting all 12 archers at the same time, I divided them into two batches of six when painting them. I usually divide my painting into batches of six to eight figures. That way, I don't get bored painting huge numbers at the same time and feel like I am making progress as I finish them more quickly. I also base, flock, and seal the figures as I finish them. There's something satisfying about incrementally watching your army of usable figures grow that keeps me inspired...usually!

 The home page for Saga Ohio on Spotify, one of a number of platforms you can listen to it on

What else have I accomplished in 2021? Well, my Saga Ohio podcast just published episode 4, yesterday. The podcast is available (free, of course) on various platforms, including Spotify, Anchor, Apple Podcasts, and more. In my latest episode, my guest was Jim Randall - a local Saga gamer and big fan of the Byzantine Empire. I like the format, talking to my guest and getting them to explain to listeners how they field their army, what tactics they use, and how they best take advantage of the army's special abilities. I find listening to a podcast (or something similar) is a great thing to do while painting miniatures. I eagerly look forward to the newest episodes from my favorites -- Northern Tempest Saga Podcast and Saga Thorsday. If you haven't done it before, cue up one of these (or if I may be so bold, Saga Ohio!), next painting session and give it a try!

Saturday, January 2, 2021

2020 - Gaming & Painting Year in Review

 Probably my favorite model I painted this year - my Moorish warlord (with bodyguard & pet cheetah)

I sit here in the sun room of my new house (moved in October 2020) and look back on the accomplishments of this past year. First and foremost is the new house, of course. Not only does it have the cozy sun room with its view of the neighborhood, but the new place also has a dedicated painting/crafting cubbyhole down in the basement. No longer do I have to use my desk in the office as a place to paint or organize my projects. What's more, the house has a huge finished basement with lots of room for gaming. That is, once face-to-face gaming starts up again! In fact, I just ordered two 8'x30" folding tables for that area, and there's room for even more gaming down there! I've joked that we can host an 8-player Saga tournament down there, and I think it is pretty close to true.

 Rival Samurai gangs battle it out in one of our last, face-to-face Sunday evening gaming sessions

Of course, year in review wouldn't be the complete without mentioning the 800-pound gorilla in the room: COVID. Our last Sunday evening, face-to-face gaming was on March 15, 2020, when Mike Stelzer ran a playtest of his Samurai miniatures rules he's writing. Yes, March 15...perhaps we should have followed the seer's advice to "Beware the Ides of March!"? Still, we met at our usual spot, my friend Mike's Brewpub/Basement (he usually has two of his homebrews on tap!). His wife, a nurse, had hand sanitizer on hand and we all made sure our grubby fingers were germ free. Allen resisted a bit, but knew we were serious, and after those preliminary precautions, we sat down to game. None of us knew that would be our last in-person Sunday night game session of the year. We were all worried about what was to come, and with good reason considering how this year played out!

Our Saga game days were one of the things COVID curtailed in 2020

COVID also clamped down on our twice-monthly Saga game days in Columbus and Dayton. After our meeting on March 1st, we didn't game together at the game store again till July. We were able to get in meetings until November, when the second wave once again closed the gaming areas of Guardtower East and Dragons Guildhall. I started 2020 off playing my Welsh warband in Saga, which had an amazing success record. I switched over to the Picts (Scots from Age of Vikings) partway through the year. I had a good run with them, too. On a whim, I tried the Carolingians, and enjoyed playing them well enough to pick up a 4-point army Gripping Beast army box from Game Table Adventures in Newark, OH. I also got in a game each with the Pagan Rus and Norse-Gaels using my Viking miniatures. I closed out the year playing my newest army, the Moors.

 Nechtan Mac Fergus' Picts racked up a phenomenal 8-0-0 record over their 2020 streak of games

It was a pretty successful year of generalship in the Saga games. Here was my record with the various armies I played over the course of 2020:

  • Army  Wins-Losses-Ties
  • Picts (Scots), 8-0-0
  • Moors, 4-0-1
  • Carolingians, 2-0-1
  • Welsh, 1-0-0
  • Pagan Rus, 1-0-0
  • Norse-Gaels, 1-0-0

 I began 2020 playing Saga with my Welsh army, led by Lord Gwendawg, here

My run of success is probably in danger, as my luck can't go on forever! Seriously, I have really enjoyed the tactical challenge of playing Saga, though. Learning how to maximize the special abilities of my army, while simultaneously watching out for what my opponent's can inflict on me is a lot of fun. I like poring over a battle board and trying to think of combinations of abilities that can help bring victory on the tabletop. I usually type them into a Notes page on my iPhone and keep it pulled up during the game. Otherwise, I might forget to use a stratagem. 

 My Picts face Jeff F's Huns led by Attila -- a tough, tactical puzzle that solving makes Saga enjoyable

Still, winning at Saga is not all about using your battle board abilities. You need to have a plan for your army, and the ability to change plans in midstream. Two of my more challenging games this year were against Dayton area gamer, Adrian John. In both, he showed up with a superior tactical plan, in my opinion. My usual methods weren't bringing success and he was winning through the first three turns. However, I recognized that and changed tactics. I went with a backup plan (shooting with "Reach" with the Scots and charging home instead of skirmishing with the Moors). Both times, my halftime adjustments eked out a victory. So, Saga requires you to be flexible and adapt your tactics to your opponent and their army. 

 One of my first painting accomplishments of 2020: Finishing off my Pictish army for Saga

As far as painting miniatures in 2020, it was a moderately productive year. Ever since our school switched to online learning in April, and with my decision to teach the students whose families chose all online in the new school year, I have been incredibly busy. Adapting lesson plans to an online format is a constant process. This has impacted my painting time, of course. I kicked the painting year off last January by finishing up the Pictish infantry I needed for that warband. The army requires a LOT of infantry figures. I used four army points of warriors (32 figures), and 1 point of levy archers (12 more figures). Some were done already from our previous Dark Age skirmish games using both Song of Blades and Heroes and Tribal rules. However, a lot of the Pictish spearmen were newly-painted for the Saga force.

 The cover of my newest rules set - Mean Streets (inspired by the 1979 movie The Warriors)

I then switched modes back into terrain building for my gang warfare rules, Mean Streets. Another major accomplishment of the year was seeing them through to publication this past May. I created a number of things to fill my modern cityscape, including

 Wallace's Brewpub - named after one of our Sunday gamers - is one of the buildings I created in 2020

I did some other odds and ends, such as 28mm carts or wagons and their "loads" for Saga objective markers.  I also did some pack mules and handlers for my French & Indian War games with my Song of Drums and Tomahawks rules. I created some more terrain for Saga -- bogs or fens -- with material found inexpensively at Hobby Lobby. 

 The Indianola Mohawks was one of the two new street gangs I painted up this year

Inspired by March's successful final playtest of the Mean Streets rules at Cincycon 2020, I painted up two new gangs. The Indianola Mohawks were a "punk rocker" gang with colorful mohawk hairstyles, punk music t-shirts, and a good bit of black leather. The figures are from Casting Room miniatures, and I really liked them. I modified most, giving them weapons like chains and knives. This was also when I purchased the Wiz Kids gasoline station accessory pack, which you will see the Mohawks posed by if you click on the link. I bought this from Fun Factory Hobbies in Mt. Gilead, OH. Knowing how badly COVID was hitting game stores, I made it a point to buy things I might not have otherwise to help support them.

 Julio is the leader of the final (and 9th) gang I've painted, The Santanas (using Casting Room Minis)

When I ordered the figures from Casting Room Miniatures for the Mohawks, I ordered three packs total, which I had planned into using to create two different gangs. The second gang was your classic, leather-jacketed gang of street punks. Since I am trying to be ethnically inclusive in my portrayal of street gangs, this one would be my first Hispanic gang - the Santanas. I really liked how these came out, though they ended up being the last street gang that I'd paint for the year. With nine gangs painted up, I had enough for about as big of a game as I wanted to run.

Some foot from one of the 3 remaining 15mm armies after my selloff, Caledonian/Pict (still for sale!)

In July, I made a major decision to hone down my miniatures collection. I decided to put all of my 15mm Ancients and Fantasy armies up for sale. I post them here on my blog, and then also took them up to the Fort Meigs flea market, where unfortunately, none sold. However, I began to have success selling them online by posting them in various Facebook groups. The biggest score was when a single buyer purchased all of my remaining fantasy armies (built years ago for Hordes of the Things, which we didn't play anymore). I had been saving them in case we got back into it or a new set of rules took off, but we simply didn't play them for years. It was the same for my Ancient armies. I had been saving the Fall of Rome collection of DBA armies. However, with Saga taking off and me building armies in 28mm, it simply didn't make sense to keep storing them in my closet. I sold a number of them, but still have three left, if anyone is interested (Pictish/Caledonian, Germanic Barbarian, and Briton/Celtic). The Picts in particular are some of my best 15mm work ever, I feel!

It took me 5 months of 2020 to complete my latest army for saga, The Moors

July was also the month I began painting my newest Saga army, the Moors. I ended up completing 24 archers, 16 spearmen, 20 cavalry, and a command stand. I know I talked about this before on my blog, but this army was one that gave me faith in my painting skill, again. Prior to that point, I was honestly feeling that my skills were deteriorating. I felt I had passed my peak, and that the eyesight and hand steadiness needed to do superb work was no longer within my range. I made a commitment with this army, though, to using the lighted magnifying lamp I have attached to my painting desk. I bought new brushes with finer points. And much to my surprise, I found my hands could be steady when I held the figure under the lamp. One thing that help was cutting half of the stem off of my fine-point brushes. That way, I didn't have to deal with the tip banging against the top of the magnifier. Holding this golf pencil sized brush was much easier, and I found I could paint very interesting and colorful patterns for the robes of my Andalusians. I finished the army just a few weeks ago, which brings us up to present.

 Berserkers! The first of the figures from my Viking interlude after finishing my Moors

Although I have a Carolingian Saga army waiting in the wings to be painted, I decided to sneak in some other things I felt I needed. I had no berserker figures in my Viking army, so I painted four fantasy figures up for them. On my table right now, is the second half of 12 Viking archers. My Viking army is probably my most popular loaner army. I had a limited number of archers, so if more than one of my armies was being loaned out, I was scrambling for figures. This should solve that problem. I will also do a couple units of unarmored warriors from the Anglo-Saxon Gripping Beast box that I bought. I have plenty of infantry in chainmail -- which I like to use for hearthguard in Saga. I just don't have many unarmored Saxon/Viking ones, which I like to use for warriors. And speak of Saga, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Saga Ohio Podcast which I began late this year! In homage to the wonderful Northern Tempest Saga Podcast and the Saga Thorsday video blog, I interview and discuss Saga with one of our players. We talk about their favorite army, analyze the special abilities of the battle board, and future plans for other Saga armies. Give it a listen on either Spotify, Anchor, Google Podcasts, or several other platforms!

Other bits of 2020: 28mm Iron Wind Metals Policemen and a Miniature Building Authority dumpster

But wait a minute, this was supposed to be a year in review article! Here I am, discussing future plans!! All in all, I felt 2020 was a productive year in both terrain making and painting miniatures. I had hoped to get more time to work on the next supplement for Song of Drums and Tomahawks (covering Hernando de Soto's march through America), but writing and research was only just underway when prepping for school sucked away nearly all of my free time. Another First Command Wargames product that I had planned to start in 2020 that did not get done was the aerial supplement for the rules. I am pretty happy with the helicopter rules as they stand. I think the fixed wing aircraft rules need a little more work, though. I want to include shoulder-fired Surface to Air Missiles to the rules. That will require a lot more playtesting, which of course, is exactly what COVID conspired to limit this year.

 Owner Steve of Smith's Smoke Shack seems unimpressed by The Santanas anger at his prices

Still -- nothing wrong with a few unfinished projects at the end of a year, right? For such an awful year that COVID-ravaged 2020 ended up being, hobbywise, it could have been a lot worse. How was your hobby year? Feel free to add your comments below -- I'd love to hear!