Sunday, November 30, 2014

Berber Figures


In this post we'll look at figures that are available and the reasons for choosing one brand over another. The list below does not represent all the figures that can be used but rather the ones that fit my requirements for this particular project.

When it comes to figure choices there are lots! Here are a few points to think on....

Priorities – compatibility, variation and quality in roughly equal measure. With that list then what’s on offer?

Gripping Beast El Cid range – a comprehensive range that for mine lacks a bit of variety for skirmish games but with poses quite suited for battle games. That said, there is enough in this range for a good variety of types likely to be encountered in a typical Skirmish Game based force, but the size is a touch small compared to the Gripping Beast Arab plastic boxed set and Artizan figure. The plastic figures do size well with the Crusade range from GB and I suspect they were sculpted to match that 'heftier' range of figures.The metal arabs do mix well with most Perry and Crusader figures and are generally no problem in the same or separate units. 

One thing to watch out for is size variation across figure ranges. GB seem to employ different sculptors or at least sculpt different sizes for some ranges. I ordered some Norman command figures and they are tiny in comparison to just about everything I have in heft and to a degree, size. They are very slight and won't be seeing service in the Reconquista!

Those Norman Command figures are tiny...nice sculpts though!

Gripping Beast (plastic boxed sets) – The plastic Arab Infantry set provides a large variety of posing variation and conversion possibilities, so they receive high marks for my needs. Their price point for large armies also is a plus and they are compatible with the other GB Dark Age warrior sets so there is a good deal of variation possibilities here. They mix best with the Artizan range and some packs of the Perry minis (which tend to be a bit smaller overall). 

Perry Miniatures – by far the most comprehensive range for cavalry in their First Crusades range and many useful packs of infantry. Some are a bit small however, but the Armenian Archer pack (for one) are a touch bigger and do rather well for Spanish infantry archers (as allies for the Almoravids). These figures match the GB plastic arabs also. The cavalry from the Crusades range and from the Sudan range, using the Baggara Horse, provides a good deal of variation for Arab cavalry types. With some Green stuff face veils which can easily be put on they should come up well. The Hopitaller Knights fought in Spain and the Perry First Crusade Hospitallers will fit the bill for the early military orders of the 12th century.

the Perry archers and GB Warriors go together nicely for Spanish or Andalusian Peone infantry 'bow and spear' units.

Crusader Miniatures – these guys do a specific El Cid range! The figures are cleanly cast, a touch squat, but otherwise quite compatible and are lovely sculpts, quite easy to paint…these will find their way into the Christian Armies and Mercenary forces, often allied to the Almoravid/Almohades forces. The separate ‘Spanish Shields’ packs are excellent to pick up to add to GB plastic infantry and Conquest Games cavalry forces. I was going to add these Spanish archers to the GB plastic foot as Peone infantry for the Christians, but have decided the Perry are a nicer fit with more variation in posing as well.

Note - the pics below (and above) have shots with the plastic Dark Age Warrior sets, which are smaller and closer to the Perry's in size. The plastic Arab set is bigger and you can see the size of them in the shot with the Black Tree figures below, which are on the bigger side also. Please also note the pics are taken to give an impression of size. I can say all these figures have nice detail levels and reward a good paint job and take the army painter/wash style of camera work was not the best in these pics.

The Crusader figure are nice, but the Perry Armenian Archers mix better with the Dark Age Warriors,
which are a touch smaller and slighter than than the Crusader, Artisan and BTD figures.

Artizan – they do a specific Almoravid range, so at first glance they seem like the natural choice. However they do lack a bit of variation in posing for skirmish games for mine, and even if you want massed forces then the one or two codes for a specific type to me means these minis fall down in the 'variation' criteria I laid out as a priority (for me). However they are excellent figures and blend well with the GB plastic Arabs so there is still much to use in this range, so they are recommended. I plan on using the Artizan Black Guard shield pack for near all my Almoravid forces, ditching the more Arabized teardrop shield look, opting for the more sinister hippo shields that are quite distinctive.

Conquest Games – similar to Crusader, their Norman cavalry and infantry boxes will make excellent troops as allies for the Almoravids and enemies as well. The Norman cavalry box is particularly good and with enough equipment and armour variation the Christian Caballeros Hidalgos, Caballeros and Caballeros Villanos can, for the most part, be made from the one box. Use the Spanish shields packs from Crusader Miniatures to make the figures more Iberian will help in this transformation. The Norman Infantry box does nicely for more heavily armed or equipped mercenary types.

The GB Dark Age Warriors vs the Artizan show the largest 'size spread'.
The Artisan minis are chunky and the GB not so, but with a shield in a massed or dispersed skirmish unit, they will do fine.

…all of the above figures fall into a high standard of figure sculpting with the Perrys being the nicest anatomically, Artizan the most dynamic and GB plastics being nice, crisp, plastic sprue infantry.

The above manufacturers will be the bulk of what I will use with the variation and kit bashing possibilities meaning the GB plastic Arabs will form the bulk of the troops, suitably green-stuffed with face veils to give them more of an Almoravid look.

Other manufacturers –
Eureka Miniatures – Sometime after I had purchased my GB plastic figures I discovered that Eureka have a very nice range of metal Almoravids. They have spearmen and archers in a variety of poses and are pretty nice. They are on the smaller size and mix rather well with the GB metals, being just a touch smaller than the GB plastics. For Skirmish games the spearmen lack a bit of pose variation, though the archers are fine in this regard. In massed units the spearmen pose is fine. I have a unit and they are nice figures...worth getting for some variation. I believe the owner is looking to expand this line so it is one to watch.

Black Tree Design - they do some nice figures in their Muslim Warriors range, which are on the slightly larger, but compatible size, with the GB plastics. They do a nice crossbow arab archer pack (the only one AFAIK) and picking bits and pieces out of the range will give extra variety. There are some nice medieval character packs that make excellent figures for skirmish games. The camel warrior range is the most comprehensive out there and quite nice, though I haven’t got many as they were used in limited (if any) numbers in Spain. BTD often have good sales and there range has many gems in it so I shall be picking the 'eye teeth' out this range for added variation. A back issue of Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy 'El Cid special' had many beautifully painted examples of BTD Muslims warriors and is worth tracking down for the article and pics.

Warlord Games – not much I could find though their Roman Camel warrior is very nice and will probably make its way into my force (converted) as the only camel unit (simply because it looks good!).

Fireforge Games – sadly they do not make any Arab cavalry types yet but their Military Order knights will be used for the later period military order troops for a Christian Army. The figures are very dynamic (maybe a bit too much) but overall they will work well, particularly for the later period 13th century stuff, not so much the El Cid period, which has troops more typically Norman-esque in style.

…I'm sure there are other figures out there around the First Crusade period but those above are the bulk of what I'll be looking to use for the period under consideration. One thing worth mentioning is that alot the above figures suitably painted and based will blend together in the same or opposing question. You just need to be a bit careful when mixing within units if such things catch your eye.  For El Cid era collectors, there is a lot of good quality stuff to choose from.

So the plan is to use the Gripping Beast plastics for the bulk of the foot troops and the Perry Miniatures for the cavalry, all the rest for the tricky bits... post we will look at some conversion work on the Gripping Beast plastic figures to take them from Saracen types to Berber types....

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Medieval Spain in the time of El Cid....

“The Prophet has commanded us to rule the world. Where in all your land of Spain is the glory of Allah? When men speak of you they speak of poets, musicmakers, doctors, scientists. Where are your warriors? You dare to call yourselves sons of the Prophet? You have become women! Burn your books! Make warriors of your poets! Let your doctors invent new poisons for our arrows. Let your scientists invent new war machines! Infidels live on your frontiers. When they are weak and torn, I will sweep up from Africa, and the empire of the One God, the true God, Allah, will spread, first across Spain, then across Europe, then the whole world!”

…with these words the Berber warlord Ben Yusuf entered popular culture in the epic film, El Cid….

The following series of posts will chronicle my efforts of putting together an Almoravid/Almohades (Berber) army for the invasion and conquest of Medieval Spain in the time of El Cid (plus or minus a good many decades). 

This was a fascinating era in Spanish history, of which I confess, I knew to little but for a recent trip to Spain that saw me atop several Moorish castles wondering what it was all about. Everywhere I went from Granada in the south up to the line of the Duero and finishing in Toledo, Al Andalus, Christian, and Moors history was dotted around.

The first thing to do was to chase down some good books to read and find out more. In this, from a wargaming perspective, the easiest inspiration was to drag out my old copy of WAB El Cid that I picked up at swap meet which for the uninitiated, rates as one of their best. I devoured it from cover to cover and quickly got a handle on who was doing what.

 From there the standard entry point book was to get Richard Fletcher's 'Quest for El Cid' and start to get some solid history into the equation with a full discussion of the times of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, El Cid, and the many others that populate the scene of 11th and 12th century Spain, of which the Cid is but the most well known in the English speaking world. 

Further digging reveals many other titles and articles on the internet and a nice assortment of Osprey's and all at reasonable cost such that a very good picture of Spain and the contest between Islam and Christian Spain, the numerous taifa and regional warlords along with the many mercenary bands that blended together that make for such fertile 'gaming' opportunities at this time in history. Off course one cannot miss out on the epic 'El Cid' as portrayed by Charlton Heston in the 1960's classic movie of that name to light the imagination, even if some details are 'Hollywood' (who cares!)

Having got up to speed the question of which lead and/or plastic was available and a check for multiple manufacturer compatibility and then to decide on which and what sized armies and for what rules I intend on using these troops...if the title picture didn't give it away, I am going to try my hand at something different....a Berber army of invasion in the late eleventh century (though it will have uses both before and after that time as little changed excepting some small details).

This will form the basis of a series of posts to help others who may be looking to go down the same path. In a nutshell, they will start as a force to be used in Lion Rampant games (maybe Dux Brittaniarum as well) and ultimately one large enough for a grand sweeping force in the vain of James ‘the Cid’ Morris’ armies in his WAB supplement (if you haven’t got it, track one down!), suitably inspired by Scrivs’ Cid armies and GuitarHeroAndy’s stuff…all cracking good gear...great work guys!

In fact these chaps have almost cornered the market on quality large scale El Cid games so I can't hope to reach the dizzy heights their group can put together. However I can offer some tips for others that might be in easier reach for them to construct a force reasonably quickly for this fascinating period.

...who could not be inspired by this! (photo from here) post we will look at the figure choices I'll be looking at to create my Berber army.

Rhodesia, plus

Rhodesia.....Not much blogging but stuff going on behind the scenes. Playtesting amongst a few groups and tightening of the rules and steady, but slow, progress on that front.

...for something completely different.....other things grabbing attention has been a surge of interest in the Reconquista and 'El Cid' era medieval Spain.....building armies and using rules such as Lion Rampant, Dux Brittaniarum and Hail Ceasar.

...more to follow on that front...