Wednesday, November 30, 2005

First Unit

Well, I bought my first unit at Warfare in Reading the other week. I was really intending to buy the Crusader figures but having looked at both those and the Gripping Beast figures I went for GB. I think it was the level of detail I was impressed by and the fact that the Crusader figures have rather odd proportions. The GB figures are not ideal and the faces, in particular, are very crude but we will see how they paint up. I have based a unit of twenty foot. But they also have nice Normans (which I hadn't looked at before-not as nice as the Perry Crusaders but still nice), Islamic figures, Rus and others which will all be compatible.
I bought:
BYZ05 Command with large teardrop shields 1 pack (I went into a panic when asked which type of shield I wanted as I hadn't thought about it-I think this is right for the period).
BYZ07 Armoured Infantry attacking 3 packs
BYZ08 Armoured Archers 2 packs
I have now based them as a unit of 20 with 5 archers in the rear rank. I used a mixed foot archery unit in an Armies of Chivalry game the other week and they work quite well but as you round down for the archers firing (only half can shoot) a five man rank will only give me two shots. I don't want to go down to four figure ranks as one casulaty means you lose rank bonus but 6 figure ranks tie up quite a lot of figures when most people in the club seem to use 4 or 5 figure ranks. Combats never seem to last long enough to bother about having figures for lapping around. I also prefer the look of figures with odd numbers of figures as it means I can have my command group surrounded by equal numbers either side. I can always build bigger units later.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Which Manufacturer?
My interest in particular armies is primarily visual: I have no great interest in the politics, history or economics of the Byzantine Empire; although no doubt that will develop as I read into the subject. I tend to buy my figures based on the sculptor and rarely find ranges where the sculptors are anonymous where I like the figures (an exception being the A&A 3rd Century Romans). I also prefer to buy my armies using one manufacturer. I think it is actually very rare to find two manufacturers whose figures really are compatible in one unit and I am constantly amazed when people say that such and such a figure works fine with another maker when I think that they have quite different builds and sizes. For this period I think I am going to have to mix however so it is just a question of whose figures I use for the majority of my forces.

Having looked at what is out there the choice for figures is going to be between Gripping Beast http://www.grippingbeast.com/shop.php?CatID=138 and Crusader http://www.crusaderminiatures.com/catalog_frames.asp?sub_range=DA . In order to decide which ones to go for I need to analyse their respective ranges. I don’t believe that the two are really compatible in size but I need to order a couple of packs to check. I have also heard via The Miniatures Page that the later GB figures are a different size from the earlier ones: an annoying habit of figure manufacturers which puts me right off!

First off I will look at the Varangians as they are likely to be the first unit I build as I love Norsemen and the only figure I currently own is Harald Hardrada as a Varangian officer which was a free gift with Beyond the Golden Gate. This figure was sculpted by Mark Sims of Crusader and is very nice. If all his Byzantine range is like this then it could be a good bet.

Gripping Beast offer 4 packs of Varangians:
BYZ01 Command (2 officers) a musician and standard bearer
BYZ02 Warriors (spearmen)
BYZ03 Palace Guard
BYZ04 Axemen

So sixteen different figures. Technically the palace guard wouldn’t fight in their full dress uniforms but I will need some for the Emperor’s retinue.

Crusader currently only offer 2 packs of Varangians:
DAB006 Varangian Guard with spears
DAB007 Varangian guard in parade dress.

However I believe that their will be 1 or 2 more packs of Varangians as DAB008 and 009 have not been allocated yet.

The GB spearmen figures are much more animated than the Crusader ones who are standing with spears upright. The poses of the Palace/parade dress figures are much more similar and one is identical ,based as they are on and Angus McBride illustration from the Osprey book Byzantine Armies 886-1118. The GB axemen are all in mid-swing but I have to say I don’t think that they are as nice as the GB Viking Double Handed axemen. These figures were much more anatomically correct than the more recent GB figures (Byzantine included) which are tending towards the dreaded (by me anyway) “big head syndrome”. I don’t think the current GB sculptors are a patch on the Pattens. I think I will pick up a unit of the GB axemen and the Crusader parade dress figures at Warfare in Reading in 10 days time and compare them for size. I suspect GB will be considerably taller.
Grippin Beast weapons packs also offer much more "in scale" gear. The axes on the Crusader figures are part of the moulding and so have pick-axe handle hafts. In addition GB offer Rus and other late Viking and Saxon Axemen who might boost the Varangians. So for this unit I am tending towards GB. I just need to see them in the flesh..

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Which Army?

The purpose of this page is to enable me to get my thoughts in order (and explore a new medium) as I build a WAB army rather than for any great educative purposes. Hopefully, by having this on line it will force me to concentrate on the project rather than get distracted by other things such as Back of Beyond, Elizabethans, Mountain men, Dutch Belgian Napoleonic and other things where a nice range of figures sends me off on a tangent.

I had been interested in doing a Byzantine Army since the recent new Gripping Beast and Crusader figures started to come out. When I bought the Warhammer Ancient Battles Byzantium: Beyond the Golden Gate supplement (very much the best of these, in my opinion) I realised that it was all more complicated than I thought and I would need to decide which period Byzantine Army would be best, as the troops look very different in different periods.

I was also inspired by several novels I have read recently. The first are Tom Harper's two books (The Mosaic of Shadows and the Knights of the Cross) set around the time of the First Crusade (around 1095) and featuring a "detective" from Constantinople and his Varangian associates. There is not much military action in the first one (although it does give a good feeling for Constantinople) but the second features the siege of Antioch and while more appropriate to building a First Crusades Army does have the Varagnians in action. The third in the trilogy, Siege of Heaven, is due out in February 2006 (not long to wait!) and will focus on the siege of Jerusalem.

The second book is Tim Severin's recently published conclusion to his Viking Trilogy (Viking: King's Man) which features a section set during the Byzantine campaign against the Saracens in Sicily (around 1040 I reckon). I have been vacillating over what sort of Byzantine army I should build for some time. In many ways a Justinian army would suit me better as I am planning to build a Sassanid army to take on my A&A 3rd Centry Romans, and this would provide an extra opponent. The only really suitable figures, however, are Old Glory, which I don't like (due to the variable quality and requirement to buy large bags) and Chiltern Miniatures (ex-Whitecross) figures. These are better but a little on the small side and lacking in variety of poses.

The passage in Tim Severin's book where regular Byzantine troops, including cataphracts and menaulatoi combine with Norman mounted mercenaries and Varangians to take on the Saracens at Syracuse has decided me, however. I now plan to prduce a Thematic army for the first half of the 11th century.