Saturday 30 March 2013

Newline Designs Pictish Cavalry

The sources (such as they are) tell us that Pictish armies had a cavalry element. There's good, concrete evidence in the form of a number of Pictish carved stones (groan!) showing armed riders. So, my Pictish army will have a couple of mounted units.

These chaps are all from Newline Designs. I have bought from Newline a number of times, and they have been great folks to deal with - helpful and very quick. Currently these minis retail at £7.00 for three, which makes them the cheapest mounted figures I know of by a long stretch.


Size-wise, I am quite happy to put them with Black Tree, Crusader, Gripping Beast etc, and their foot figures are included in the size comparison I did here. Newline castings are clean and easy to work with. A softish metal is used and a burnisher is often as much as is needed. It's a simple matter to drill the shield hand to take a few javelins. Poses and animation are generally OK, and quite believable. The riders actually fit the horses very well.  Compared to some manufacturers is a bit of a novelty, and others could take a cue form this!

Helms added from GS

There has to be a downside, and unfortunately there is. The biggest one is that frankly the sculpting and castings are not as crisp as you would expect from the likes of Crusader and Gripping Beast. You pay your money and take your choice. I would rather put nine perfectly acceptable riders on the table than about six near-perfect ones for the same money.

The other, lesser issue is that the range of poses in a set like this is quite small, but let's face it, Newline don't have any monopoly on this. If you are willing to trade time for money (and I almost always am...) you can remedy this quite easily. It's a simple matter to reposition arms and hands, add longer hair and beards, or sculpt in a hood or a helmet. In a couple of cases I replaced the heads with new ones from Redoubt's ECW bare heads packs, and I'm quite happy with the result.


All of that aside there is one other thing I dearly love about these figures. The horses! A lot of the time when you buy ancients cavalry the horses are slender, long limbed beasties that would not look out of place at a modern flat race. The horses from Newline, with their deep bellies, broad muzzles and thick limbs are exactly like the sort of "primitive" breeds Picts might have ridden around on. Pictish horseflesh was more likely to have resembled this, a Highland pony, than anything with finer lines.

What a Pictish horse should look like.

Another thing is that the sculptor has actually managed to put the eyes in the right place. On the side of the head. I bought some model horses once and the sculptor had put the eyes on the front of the face!

Here are the whole lot, with home-made shield decals, as described here. I tried making a banner the same way, but it didn't quite come off. OK, it actually didn't work at all, and was a total bust, so I put my hand in my pocket and bought a banner sheet from someone who really knows what he's doing: Steve Hales at LBMS. This worked an absolute treat, as usual, and looks fantastic.

The Wild Bunch...

Another view, with some foot figures for comparison. These Saxon ceorls have decided to mix it up with the Pictish horse. I don't see this ending well for them...

This could be very very bad...

Merry meet!

Sunday 24 March 2013

Last of the MDS's

With apologies to James Fenimore Cooper...

As you will be aware, I bought a number of Miniature Design Studios Pictish miniatures, and waxed lyrical about how great they were.

Unfortunately, just as I was about to buy a load more, the whole range disappeared! After some to-ing and fro-ing, they re-appeared, under the auspices of Caliver Books.

This is great news, that this fantastic range is still available. The down side is that the price per head has gone up about 40%...

So, here are the last of my MDS Picts, now finished.

Open order advance

And a close up, just to remind everyone how good these minis are.

Lovely mini's to work with!

Caliver are saying the range will continue to expand, and I know Dave at MDS had a number of additional figures at various stages of completion, so I hope this isn't the last of the MDS's.

Merry Meet!

Pictish Shields

I really wanted some eye-catching designs for some of the shields for my Pictish cavalry. Not for every figure, but at least enough to make these troops look a bit more exclusive than the rabble on foot.

There are of course two obvious ways to do this:
1 Hand-paint them;
2 Take your money to the nice man at Little Big Men Studios.

Now I'm willing to have a go at number 1. I mean, I hand painted the flags for my Anglo-Saxon and ECW projects! But having tried it I have struggled to get a nice, clean design on the small (9mm) Pictish cavalry shields. So, on to the second option.

There are two issues with using LBMS for this application. The first, and perhaps the most obvious, is that their range doesn't include any 28mm Pictish shield decals suitable for this size. I looked around at the various 15mm designs, but none were quite right, and Steve Hales at LBMS were kind enough to inform me before I handed over my money that the quite deeply convex shape of the shields I have might not work terribly well with their decals. I thought this was very decent of him!

Which left a dilemma. So, after due consideration, I made my own.

My experience of using various image manipulating software to make banners etc has been variable. Some have worked quite well, others far less so. Some of it might be the limitations of my entry-level Kodak inkjet, and some the limitations of the bloke using it, but some, I discovered, was more fundamental.

I had been cheerfully using PhotoShop to cut, paste, shrink and recolour images. The problem with this is that PhotoShop (and others!) use bitmap based formats. And as you shrink or expand images, the bitmap definition disappears... Armed with this information, I downloaded a copy of Inkscape  (it's free), which is a vector-based graphics package, and started playing with it. I'll put my hands up and say that I found it quite difficult, but then, other than some time doing digital microscopy, I've spent my working life NOT doing image manipulation!

The big deal is, using Inkscape you can import bitmap images, and convert them to vector graphics that are (essentially) immune to losses in definition from re-scaling. Using my own hand-drawn images I scanned plus free content from the web, and background shield disks created in PhotoShop using the airbrush function, I made up a series of designs. Along with some inkjet decal paper, courtesy of Ebay, I was in business. Just remember one thing: inkjets don't (generally) print white - they use the background colour of the (white) paper! So, if you want a white, or off-white design, go with white decal paper.

So, via the magic of Inkscape, you can get from these:

To these, fairly easily. Ironically, saving them as a jpeg to put on here kills the resolution created in the vector package!
Shields designs...

 A bit more jiggery pokery gets you to this little lot! You can tape the decal paper to normal printer paper to feed it through, and so use small pieces. The upper set are printed to check everything seems to work, and the lower piece is the actual decal sheet.

The offending items - actual decals!

And here, again, in situ.

Pictish cavalry, with decorated shields

Personally I wouldn't describe it as easy, but to someone move savvy with image manipulation (i.e. most people!), it's probably a doddle. I managed to ruin one decal applying it, so had to scrape it off, print a fresh one and start again. On shields as curved as this, in days of old I would have gone with the MicroSet / MicroSol approach as used on model aircraft. However, I'm not sure that it wouldn't simply eat my decals if I did! A little trimming with a scalpel saved the day, though.

Even in close-up, I think they look OK. See what you think.

If you can read my shield, you are much too close...

The materials were under five pounds for two A4 sheets of decal paper so the cost per shield is almost incalculably small (you can get well over 250 decals this size from a single sheet). At the end of the day, I doubt this will scare LBMS, as they really do have the quality nailed down tight. But, the results here are all your own, and regardless of the price, there's a heck of a value in that. Oh, one further word of caution. I've found the whole process strangely enthralling. There have been a few times when I've started doing this (I have other examples now!), then looked up and found an hour or two has passed without me even noticing!

Merry Meet!

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Review of Dux Bellorum

I picked up a copy of these rules at Vapnartak in February, and having had them a month I've had a good read through them, so I'm going to give my views. Keep in mind what you paid for this review (nothing) and take it in that spirit if it doesn't agree with your views!

It's a Osprey imprint, so it doesn't take up a lot of space on the shelf, and the production values are pretty good, with plenty of nice colour artwork. It's also inexpensive. This is no bad thing. Buying a set of rules for thirty quid and finding you actually don't like them is not the sort of mistake most of us can make too often. The author, Dan Mersey, enjoys a high (and entirely deserved) reputation as an author in the Arthurian field as both a historian and a wargame writer.

Dux Bellorum looks back to some of the older rule sets, in my opinion. The game is set up around bases of figures, with 3-5 figures per base. The precise number of bases in an army varies. An army has a set cost in army points, and each troop type has a  cost per base. Hence you can field a small army of high cost troops or a large army of cheap troops as you wish. On average, an army will shake out at about 40-50 figures, which is decently affordable, both in money terms and in how long it takes to paint up and put on the table.

The number of troop types is manageably small, but sufficient to allow a significant difference in character and composition between armies that might otherwise be rather similar. Each base is intended to represent about 50 men, so the rules are obviously intended to represent the larger battles of the era, rather than small skirmishes.

To further add colour and texture, there are advantages (called "Strategems") that can be selected (at a cost in army points), a different list being provided for each army type.

Game set up looks rapid and the movement and combat systems are relatively simple. Both are dependent on using a pool of points to activate, move and re-order bases. All movement is in terms of base widths. These are deliberately not defined in the rules, so there is not compelling need to re-base anything. Provided both players' armies are based the same way you are good to go.

This is quite a neat touch. Many games now use individually based figures (I'm thinking of not just Saga and Dux Brittanarium but WAB too), and an argument has always been that this is more flexible. I agree with this view - an army based for one set of rules can rapidly become obsolete. With a "generic" base width approach, both players can base their armies of individual figures using movement trays and away you go!

Combat losses are scored as a loss of cohesion by units, and once a unit is totally disordered it is removed from the table. This can slowed or remedied by the use of leadership points, but since the pool of these is limited, you may be struck between activating a unit to fight or saving another one!

The book includes a list of armies for the period. These range from specific Late Roman, Welsh and Pictish through more generic "land raider" and "sea raider" lists. With the choices of army composition and Stratagems, this actually allows for more variation than the number of armies might suggest, as do a set of additional rules for the effect of animals, religion and alcohol on the battle.

Overall, it's well worth the money, I would say. To anyone familiar with (e.g.) Impetus, there probably isn't much novelty, but the additional depth put into the time period makes it attractive.

Merry meet!

Tuesday 5 March 2013

MORE Temptation!

I bought the current edition of Wargames Illustrated (#305) at the weekend.

Well, the features on 1066 were a bit hard to resist. What I hadn't accounted for was the wonderful modelling of a ruined Roman villa for one of the Saga games that formed part of the main sequence of articles.

The awful beast of temptation then reared its head. With a sub-Roman army to come, it said, you could justify building a villa. Actually, it added, you could build two versions - an intact one for immediately after the Romans left, and a ruined one as well!

I MUST resist!

Merry meet!