Friday, 29 May 2009


This command base has heavily remodelled Warrior Miniatures figures, by Derek at the Phoenix Club. I have a few of his other figures from the range, specifically cataphracts and horse archers, to which I added some of my own as well.
Derek is a fine modeller and painter, and these figures have seen substantial work. He remodelled the cloaks, helmets and horse trappings.
He also does a lot of work on the base stands, making the pieces into individual works. The standard is also made by him.
At one point I'll post some of the basic figures that I painted so that you can see the difference Derek's work has made to them.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009


More Gripping Beast figures, this time a couple of command bases:
I used one of the glorious Sassanid flags from Little Big Men Studios for the commanding general's standard bearer.
The lance pennant is a smaller flag from the same range. It's more visible in the next photo:
The rule set of choice in our corner of the Phoenix Club is Tactica II, which requires command markers in addition to the c-in-c:
This guy is a surplus heavy archer I had left over, so I based him on his own. I use round bases so that these marking figures stand out on the tabletop.
A standard force is 2,000 points, which can mean large numbers of figures, so it's important that commanders are visually distinctive.
The c-in-c has various functions, but command markers are simply used to denote a radius of effect.


This lot is comprised of cataphract figures. Wargames rules usually classify the main heavy cavalry arm as mostly clibanarii. In the earlier period they are joined by cataphracts, replaced later on by superior clibanarii. I've seen these later aristocrats described in Persian terms as "Savaran" or "Asvaran".
I'm going to stick with Gripping Beast for the cataphracts and clibanarii. I already have Essex Islamic Persians that will do for the Asvaran; all I need to do is rescue them from their current state of dilapidation...
The Gripping Beast cataphracts work well for the earlier period. I don't know if you can tell from these photos, but they don't have stirrups - hence the overarm lance positions. I've mixed in one or two men with bows to make up the numbers. I must admit that I'm not entirely convinced by the wargames classifications of the various kinds of Persian heavies and how they functioned on the battlefield; I just like painting the figures. They do, however, take a great deal of effort.


We finally got some sunshine in Scotland! So I took advantage of it to photograph some Gripping Beast Sassanians. I think that taking pictures outside makes the figures look more as they do on the table - no artificial lighting needed.
These guys are those usually described as "Clibanarii" in wargames rules, the bulk of the army's heavy cavalry archers.
As usual, the transfers are from Little Big Men Studios. They can be a bit fiddly, but once you're used to them they go on reasonably well, and the end product is well worth taking the trouble. The fact that they are in full colour really does make them stand out.
I tend to vary the armour colours, alternating between bronze and gun metal type shades. There can be quite a few of these figures in an army, so I want as much variation as I can manage.
I tried to make the caparisons interesting by painting borders and such on to them. I didn't want anything too complicated or multi-coloured. I paint for tabletop unit effect, and I find that bold, simple designs such as the triangles on the figure at top left are more than adequate.
The same goes for the yellow designs in the shot above. I like these figures a lot...

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Standard Bearers

Here's a couple more Arabs, this time old figures used as standard bearers. Again, both were bought fom Graham. I have no idea of the manufacturers. The first has a moulded flag, which Graham painted with something approximating Arabic characters - I've left these alone: The second figure is an unarmoured cavalryman, to which I added a Little Big Men flag. Again, note the bendy spear!
I used my standard renovation technique to "update" the paintjobs. First, a coat of artist's varnish - quite a few old figures come with enamel paint jobs and varnish, sometimes gloss. This can be a real pain for overpainting, so a coat of acrylic varnish really helps. Second, quite a heavy ink wash. I use acrylic inks, 50-50 ink to water. Black ink for most colours, brown for skin details, leather, and any reasonably light colours. Then, touch up, again in acrylics. I'm not brave enough to use oils, mainly because of the drying time. The amount of time I have for painting is limited, and I can't afford to wait too long between colours. Finally, any transfers and then varnish:
With the figures finished, it's time for basing...

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

A mix of mounted types

This entry is the first of what I want to be a main feature of my blog, which is a photo record of my figures as and when I'm happy with them. Which will take some time: I have a large collection of 25mm ancients and medievals that need revamping, for various reasons. I'll explain these as I go along and make more posts. The Arab light horse in the first photo in this post are completely repainted figs I bought second-hand from Graham in our club; they were pressed into service as part of the Arab allies at Callinicum. One element of experimentation I tried with these guys is the shields, which are small bucklers. Even though these are 25mm figures, I used Little Big Men 15mm Arab/Sassanian shield transfers to brighten them up, and I'm quite pleased with the result. The trick was to avoid any figurative designs and go for the geometric and/or floral ones. You can probably tell that they are old figures because of the bendy spears, but it's an efficient way to get usable figures on to the table relatively quickly: The second photo in this sequence is of some nobility, which again are old figures re-done. I have no idea what makes are included! Graham originally put quite a lot of effort into painting some of the shields, so I tried to leave those intact. The guy in the right foreground is one of them:
The next two shots are of Gripping Beast camelry, with a mix of shield types. If you save these images and then zoom in, you'll very quickly see that there's a sheen to them. This is because I use artist's varnish to protect them, which comes out as a kind of silky effect. My figures see a lot of abuse, transportation and general mayhem, so they need protecting. I know that others swear by combinations such as hard gloss followed by dullcoate, but that's too much like hard work. Plus, it stinks, and there are certain little people running around while I'm painting.
The guy on the right of the second camelry photo with the blue shield is another experiment. My wife bought me a craft visor as a present last year, and I've started to use it almost all the time. Again, this is because of the Callinicum game. Gripping Beast Sassanian Persians are extremely well detailed, and I needed a good way to pick out the possibilities. Plus, my eyesight is getting middle-aged, and the craft visor really helps. I realised that a neat way to make a smooth surface a bit more interesting is to use a fine brush with lots of swift strokes, with a lighter colour over the darker base colour. I like the effect; it might not come out too well in photos, but at a gamer's distance looking down onto the tabletop, it looks really good:
The final three shots are of Musketeer Miniatures Bedouins. Like the camel riders, these are newly painted from scratch, with Little Big Men transfers added:
When we moved to our current house a few years ago, the deal was that we would get somewhere with a garden (my wife's hobby) and enough shed space for my hobby. Cathy suggested that I should take advantage of this when we did it to rework and sort out my figure collection properly. One of the ways I'm doing so is to base them all in a very similar way, although so far I've only tried it with mediterranean/semi-arid types. I'll worry about northern Europeans and such later...
These guys are all based in exactly the same way, and as I work my way through the rest of the old figures I'll base them like this as well. I use pre-cut MDF bases from East Riding Miniatures with sticky magnetic sheeting applied to the bottom. After the figures are glued on, I splurge Ronseal plastic wood (light oak), which has the important advantage of being acrylic. I found a long time ago that oil-based plastic wood eventually warps the bases, which is a real shame because it does look really good. But it stinks too. While the plastic wood is still wet, I add random bits of scatter, grass, cork for stones and so on:
The finishing touch on the bases is a heavy dry brush of sandy paint to bring up some highlights, and then some flock on any metal bits of figure bases still showing, and that's it. Nice, simple, and reasonably quick. It must look all right, because some of the best painters at the club have asked how I do them!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

May 12th 2009

For last night's game, Simon brought in his recently painted very ancient ancients - Sumerian types, no less. He was able to make two armies of half size to try them them out. Army composition for both sides was light infantry, warbands, massed infantry, skirmishers of various kinds, and battle carts. One army had many more skirmishers than the other. We managed to squeeze in two games, mainly because the first game was very short. Two players on each side; Gordon and I lost the first game spectacularly quickly, being massively outshot by the side with all those skirmishers and then crushed in the central melee. We did, however, kill the opposing king/chieftain/whatever he was called way back then. Then we swapped sides, and this time we won, albeit only just. Gordon set up our warband right in the centre, followed by all of our chariots in a massive assault on the enemy centre. This just did the trick and no more, and I managed to get lucky by killing the enemy general and finishing off the large block of massed infantry he was leading. William on the other side of the table was incredibly unlucky in response to Impetus tests and morale. I really enjoyed both games. It was nice not to have to supply anything, and to watch someone else set up the games. My orders in both battles were to hold on the right flank, which I did. Playing Tactica II multiplayer leaves plenty of time to chat and socialise a bit, which is definitely not the case if running a large army on your own. I must admit, though (and Simon probably wouldn't want to hear this), I still wouldn't go for the early period in any big way. I could see myself eventually getting very late chariot era armies, the kind with a few really heavy ones and cavalry that fought the early Persians, even if only to give them someone to fight other than hoplites. That's all a long way off, though...

Monday, 11 May 2009

May 5th 2009

This is the first of weekly posts (so I hope) listing the games I have played at the club. There won't be any photos, since the terrain there isn't very good and the lighting is terrible, but I wanted somewhere to keep a record of the games. May 5th was a practice game of Callinicum, reduced to 1:100 from Tactica II's 1:60 figure scale. The plan is to try this out a few more times as practice for running the game at Claymore in Edinburgh this August. In this particular fight, the Romans triumphed, mainly because the Persians couldn't shoot straight and forgot their lances. Translation: Persian shooting and melee dice were less than average right across the board for the whole game. And, to add insult to injury, the Ghassanians wiped out the Lakhmids. We have introduced one tweak as a result: the Persian right flank needs to be better able to contain the Roman infantry and help out in the centre, so we will divide the Persian light horse into a larger number of smaller units. This should make them more manoeuvrable. It does go against our initial decision to keep the units as large as possible for public participation purposes, but that wing is important. If it comes to it, we'll make sure that the light horse are played by a veretan of the rules. This is not unique to Tactica II; many players find it hard to make maximum use of a purely light command under many other rulesets as well. The only other comment might be that if Roman command control problems make them unable to advance in proper formation, then the Persians might want to delay contact as long as possible so as to take advantage of their missile superiority. The corollary for the Romans would be to try to close as quickly as possible and play for a draw without taking too many hits from archery.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

The Granary at Aspern-Essling

This the first in a series of very occasional terrain or scenery pieces. They are not something I make or paint frequently at all, and when I do end up with them it tends to be a job I've agreed to do for somebody else. In this case, it's the granary at Aspern-Essling in 15mm, which I have just finished for Willie at the Phoenix Club, he of the unfeasibly large shed. The first four shots are of the basic paint job, along with the detailing on the doors and windows:

They're not great photos, but they give an idea of the basic technique I use, which is to basecoat a shade below the final colour. Hardly a new idea, I know, but I was pleasantly surprised by how it turned out in the end. The piece is well detailed, and I hadn't realised how much work would be involved. The next four shots are of the finished item, after varnishing:

I hope these give some indication of the difference between the first coat and the top coat. I must admit that I do find taking photos of buildings even more difficult than figures. I can manage the small people okay, at least in 25mm. I haven't tried 15mm yet! In the future, I may also fiddle around with a different photo editor so as to get a better result, but my main interest here is in documenting for myself (if nobody else...) the stages in the paint job so that I remember how to do it again next time around! I'm pleased with how it looks in real life. I have no idea where Willie got the model!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

First Post - Callinicum 531 CE

I spent six months painting fresh figures to add to my 25mm collection, intending to contribute in some way to the Society of Ancients Battle Day. I already have a large number of veteran Byzantines of various kinds that could serve at a pinch for the Eastern Romans. Warrior Miniatures Parthians would do for the Persian light horse and the elite aristocracy. I also have a bunch of Essex Islamic Persians purchased from another gamer a while ago. In order to put the game on properly, I needed more Persian heavy cavalry, which I bought from Gripping Beast. I also needed plenty of pre-Islamic Arab allies for both armies, some of which I bought from another gamer and repainted and rebased (something of a theme with me...); I purchased the rest from Musketeer Miniatures. I decided to include some camelry for the Lakhmid Arabs who were Persian allies, mainly because I already had a few lying around (Gripping Beast figures again). I managed to get it all together with a couple of weeks to spare. The venue was the hut of one our club members, which has a 16' by 5' sand table. We needed 10' for the battlelines, plus space for the Euphrates, the islands and something to represent the town of Callinicum itself, so there was more than enough room; see the Society of Ancients website for the Battle Pack setting out the details. We played the game on April 26th 2009. The rules were a pre-publication set of Tactica II; our lot in Glasgow is one of the playtest groups. The shot below shows the whole table, taken from the location of Callinicum and looking out across the Euphrates towards the rising ground in the distance: Rather than duplicate too much, the sequence explaining the relative deployments is mostly taken from behind the Persian lines, looking towards their Roman adversaries. The first is of the Persian right, with the Euphrates just off the extreme right:
The Persian deployment was symmetrical, with two large commands of heavy cavalry in the centre, and a command of lighter troops on each wing. Some of the light horse on the right wing can be see in the photo above, along with the first of the central heavy commands. The shot below continues along the rear of the Persian army, from right to left:
Next comes a closer look at the Persian aristocracy as they face the weakest point in the Roman line, the light infantry linking their own centre with their Ghassanian Arab allies on their right flank:
The figures in the left foreground are Warrior Miniatures Parthian cataphracts, remodelled with differing cloaks, helmets and arm positions. I bought these years ago from one of the other painters in our club. The mass of cavalry to the right are some of my newly painted Gripping Beast heavy archers. The next one is the penultimate in the sequence, showing the same command as above, but from an angle looking uphill to the Persians' Lakhmid Arab allies:To round off the Sassanian deployment, we have the Lakhmids on their hill. The guys to the centre right of the following shot are recently repainted old heavy cavalry figures doubling up as armoured light horse; hence the base spacers. To their left are newly painted Musketeer Miniatures Bedouins, and to their left some of the Gripping Beast camelry:
The entire Persian army was mounted. By way of contrast, the Romans were set up in rather a peculiar manner, based upon the historical information summarised in the Society of Ancients Battle Pack. Their left flank rested on the Euphrates and was composed of heavy infantry. Their centre was divided into three heavy cavalry commands. To their right were the light infantry and, finally, their Ghassanian Arab friends on the high ground facing the Lakhmids. Here we have the Roman left:

The Romans did have a few skirmishers, but their force was also mostly mounted. Their main problem on the day seems to have been some kind of command control problem, which Belisarius' biographer Procopius blames on jealous rivalries among the generals. We simulated this by making the Romans roll to activate their various commands. The next shot is from behind the Roman centre:

The Roman army was larger than its Persian foe, but it suffered from several factors in addition to command and control problems. The Sassanians deployed with a strong following wind, which acted to the detriment of Roman missile fire. Also, we felt that the Sassanians have been unfairly downgraded by gamers over the years due to something of an unavoidable bias in the historical sources; we gave their heavy cavalry a further advantage of horse armour against missile fire. We were hoping that the combination plus the poor initial Roman setup would compensate for their superior size - in effect, we wanted a close game. We were even hoping ultimately for a draw that would approximate the historical outcome. Both sides' missile fire was pretty poor as the armies closed. The Romans advanced piecemeal in the centre, and were suitably punished, forcing them to commit their only reserve (the elite Bukellarii) to try to shore things up:

The Roman figures are a real mix of Old Glory, Minifigs and Hinchliffe. At the top right you can just see the impending clash of the Arabs. The next shot is from behind the Roman left. They easily pressed back the Persian light horse, allowing their heavy cavalry in this sector to overlap the Persian heavies:The battle had now reached its crisis point. The Ghassanians on the Roman right had refused to move all game. Here they are being charged by the Lakhmids:

The Ghassanians surprised everyone by winning this fight. As this was happening, the Romans caught and destroyed the Persian light horse and the battered Persian heavies fought their way through the Roman centre. Both armies reached their break points in the same turn, so we declared a very bloody draw, although the Romans felt that the Persians deserved the honours. All in all, the outcome we desired, although not quite as it probably happened in 531. And all in just over two hours, not bad for a large game like this one. Just after we played the game, I received Issue 263 of Slingshot, the journal of the Society of Ancients, which includes an interesting article on the battle by Stuart Hey. He argues that Procopius misrepresents a great deal of what happened at Callinicum, and theorises that the Romans were caught in march column as they pursued the retiring Persian army, which turned and took them by surprise. This would explain the Roman deployment and the poor performance of the Ghassanians, who were at the head of the column and so were the first troops exposed to the attack. We will take these comments into consideration when we run a scaled down version at Claymore in Edinburgh this August, probably with a more staggered Roman deployment to simulate the turn from column.