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New blog: mogsymakes by James Morris

Many years ago, Big Red Bat guru Simon Miller asked me why I didn’t have a blog to support the various games that I took around wargames shows. “Why would I want a blog?” I asked him. “You’ll get followers,” came the reply. I laughed.

I don’t really do this to get followers, but I love swapping ideas and photos with other gamers around the world. I seem to post on social media every week or so, only then to find myself unable to find my own pictures, battle reports or words of advice just a few weeks later. Questions like this crop up all the time: “Have you got any size comparison pictures with different manufacturers?” “What was the paint recipe you used on your wolves?” “Has anyone had a go at converting Elf cavalry/ Cretan gendarmes/ Sikh sappers?” “How does Muskets & Tomahawks II play?” And often, I say, “Yes, but…just let me find it…” Hopefully mogsymakes will go some way towards helping out with these senior moments of social media.

My chum Scrivs claims that one of his main reasons for having a blog is to be able to find his paint recipes several years down the line; I can confirm this, having used several of his colour schemes after looking them up online! I’ve gone for something in between a blog and a website, in that I have different pages and sections where I will hopefully archive posts to make them easier to find. It is still very much in its infancy, so any helpful suggestions about improving access and layout will be quite welcome.

And so, I find myself following Simon’s sage advice: get a blog. I hope you enjoy it!

Partizan Round-Up and El Cid Vignettes

It’s now a week after Partizan on the Ground and our big El Cid Battle of Bairen game. It’s been lovely seeing all the photos circulating on the internet – despite the fact that not everyone was able to make it to the show under the circumstances (several friends of mine included), being able to go to a show and run a big game was a very life-affirming experience.

This Andalusian command stand is a mash-up of models: the Emir is a conversion of various Gripping Beast parts clipped off metal figures. How much easier this would have been with plastics, eh? The Qadi is by Artizan and I think the standard bearer may be an old Black Tree Saracen – banner by hand.

If you enjoyed the game or the blog entry, here’s a round-up of some additional material and a number of photos of individual pieces from the weekend’s gaming.

One of the boats that acted as an archer platform for the Almoravids in the battle. This one is a generic boat by Barrage Miniatures with a mast added.

Chris Breese of Notts TV was busy on Sunday morning, filming and collecting interviews from a handful of games at the show. He put together a very positive short piece for Notts TV (Partizan features at the start and then 13-16 minutes is dedicated to the show) – see here. He also then created a longer version entirely about Partizan for his Youtube channel which you can watch here, with some great video of the Bairen game near the start. I had a good laugh at myself on camera (my daughter is now referring to me as ‘teacher by day, wargamer by night’) but was very pleased with the positive press. I’m old enough to remember some of the negative press reporting on wargames and role-playing games a few decades back (a particular episode of Central Weekend sticks in my mind) so it was a pleasure to watch this instead. It’s also good to see the recognition of the input of wargaming into the local economy and its mental health benefits.

This cracking figure is another 3d print designed by Caballero Miniatures and printed for me by Fenland. I left him off his base so that I could place him wherever I liked.

My compadres from Morris & Chums have posted blog entries as well. Tom WD took so many photos (with a proper camera, so expect something better than my iphone snaps) that he’s had to make three blog entries out of them. If you want medieval eye candy, go here and here for the El Cid game and here for some of the other games at the show.

More Almoravid commanders – a Gripping Beast Imam with leader and standard bearer from Artizan.

Martin’s blog (here) has some good shots from the Bairen game plus a number of others from the show itself. As usual, it’s impossible to see everything, especially if you are presenting yourself, so well worth a look.

Boat crew detail – these two are Caballero Miniatures. The green/ black colour scheme makes them fit with my Almoravids, probably Christian mercenaries.

Alex (Storm of Steel blog) did a video round-up of the show which is well worth a watch if you want to get an idea of the scope of the games.

Here’s the crew of the other boat (a repurposed 1/72 scale Smer Viking Longship). Gripping Beast crossbowmen and banner bearer with a pair of Artizan archers.
Two of the boats but out of the water!
Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, Campeador! This cracking model was sculpted by Mark Copplestone for Amazon Miniatures when the El Cid WAB book was released (you can still pick up secondhand castings though). The standard bearer is from Artizan, banner by hand again.
More boat crew: Caballero Miniatures commander with Gripping Beast standard bearer.
‘The Rescue’ – this Caballero Minis vignette drew a lot of attention on the day. Absolutely outstanding sculpting by Marcos!
Another angle of the rescue….
…and another! Why not?
More Moors (dad joke courtesy of Tom WD!) This is the Ben Yusuf model with an added adarga shield, plus a champion, both from Gripping Beast.
Another Almoravid command stand – both riders are GB, although the Imam has been converted from a foot figure.
Ibrahim Ibn Tashfin, heroic vanquisher of Pedro of Aragon! An Old Glory command model with two Gripping Beast retainers.
This chap served many years as commander of my Zaragozan army in games of WAB, but on Sunday did double duty as Alvar Fanez, El Cid’s right-hand man. He didn’t last too long! The standard bearer is the original El Cid figure from Gripping Beast with some conversion and a hand-painted banner; the hero is an Artizan Designs figure.

El Cid: the Battle of Bairen, 1097 CE

Sunday 10th October 2021 saw the return of Partizan, the showcase East Midlands wargames show at Newark Showground. To say that I was excited about this was an understatement. I had plans to run a game set in 1800s Alaska, but the return of Scrivs from the US with his substantial El Cid collection of minis put me on to a different track. When we did the Battle of Graus a few months back, we struggled to fit all the figures into Tom’s shed, let alone onto an 8×4′ table. Fortunately Newark Showground is a little bigger, so the plan was hatched: El Cid for Partizan!

Paul and Tom survey the battle as it commences. Christian forces on the left, Almoravids on the right.

The next question was, which battle to do? El Cid was involved in around ten major battles in his time and pretty much won every one. The classic Battle of Cuarte in 1094 when he destroyed the Almoravid force surrounding Valencia was an obvious one, but we’ve played this several times at shows before. However, the Battle of Bairen came to mind. We played this once at New Year about ten years ago using Hail Caesar, but it occurred to me that it would be an ideal game for a show. The most unusual feature of this battle is that it was fought right on the east coast of Spain, so close to the sea that Almoravid archers and crossbowmen in boats were able to shoot arrows at El Cid’s forces on the beach (very similar to the final battle scene in the Charlton Heston movie El Cid, except that this actually happened.) This would give us a nice slice of Mediterranean coastline and an interesting twist on a stand-up battle, so Bairen it was.

Bairen was, like Agincourt, a fight that the eventual winners really wanted to avoid. In Spring 1097 CE, Rodrigo Diaz (by now ruler of Valencia) and his ally King Pedro I of Aragon had been conducting a joint raid in the vicinity of Denia. They had taken booty and had already avoided one conflict with the Almoravid army under Mohammad Ibn Tashfin, nephew of the famous Yusuf Ibn Tashfin (‘Ben Yusuf’) . Trying to return north to Valencia along the coastal strip between the sea and the mountains, they found themselves cut off by the Almoravids and were left with no choice but to fight. (In a more vernacular version of the tale, the manuscript of which has long since been lost, it is understood that Rodrigo and Pedro had been on a bender on the Costa del Sol and managed to dodge the Guardia before being cornered on the beach after too much sangria.)

For a more circumspect view, we can have a look at the Historia Roderici, a contemporary chronicle of the Campeador’s deeds: ‘On the hill…was the Saracen camp. Opposite it was the sea, and on it a great number of…ships, from which they harassed the Christians with bow and arrow. And from the mountain quarter they attacked them with other weapons. When the Christians realised what was happening they were not a little afraid. When Rodrigo saw how frightened they were, he at once mounted his horse and armed himself, and began to ride among his army, greatly cheering them with these words: ‘Listen to me, my dearest and closest companions. You must be strong and powerful in battle. You must be fearless.’ …

‘At the middle of the day the king and Rodrigo with all the Christian army fell upon them and engaged them in strength. At length by God’s clemency they defeated them and turned them in flight. Some were killed by the sword, some fell into the river and enormous numbers fled into the sea where they were drowned.’

[This passage is taken from the Historia Roderici (available in English translation as part of The World of El Cid – Chronicles of the Spanish Reconquest translated by Simon Barton and Richard Fletcher, Manchester University Press, 2000 – well worth a look if you’re interested in primary sources for this period).]

Camel calamity: El Cid’s flanking jinetes are routed by the foul-smelling creatures, opening the path to the Christian camp.

Anyway, back to the plot. Translating this into a game wasn’t too hard, pitting Christian forces attacking uphill against Almoravid spearmen. El Cid’s leaders were all given a special trait called Today We Fight To Win, which allowed them extra combat dice once per game. In the end, it didn’t do them much good! We combined our collections and ended up with the following (give or take a couple of units):

El Cid, Campeador!

El Cid & Pedro of Aragon:

6 heroes (commanders)

10 units of knights

9 units of jinetes (light horse)

1 unit of Andalusian noble cavalry

2 units of spearmen

4 units of spearmen and archers

3 units of archers

4 units of skirmishers

Almoravids under Yusuf Ibn Tashfin:

5 heroes (commanders)

8 units of Berber spearmen

7 units of Berber spearmen and archers

4 units of Berber archers

1 unit of Berber heavy cavalry

4 units of Berber light cavalry

4 units of camel riders

4 units of Berber skirmishers

Plus 3 units of archers in boats offshore

Someone asked how many figures were on the table and I hadn’t the foggiest, but looking at those rosters again, I think we were playing with around 68 units, giving us over 1,000 miniatures on the table plus vignettes and heroes.

Rules were, once again, my own Midgard heroic battle rules. They coped pretty well, keeping the game moving throughout the day with several stops for chatting and explanations. We managed to get a decisive result by 3pm as well – quite a result for a demo game of this size.

Martin has been designing and 3d printing these nifty measuring sticks for our Midgard games. We needed slightly bigger ones for this huge battle so he got to work!

On to the scrappage. Having given ourselves a hernia lugging the boxes of metal cavalry out of storage and into the hall, we laid out the battle lines, going for a slight diagonal to represent the awkwardness of the Christian deployment (and to break up those linear 90 degree formations that seem to typify ancient and medieval wargames.) Having laid out a fairly classic battle line with light troops on the flanks and a double line of spearmen, archers and knights in the centre, Paul and Martin took charge of the Christians and pursued a cautious policy of probing both flanks while holding off the all-important charge of the caballeros.

The Christian advance. Paul runs through the game with Pete and Simon of Burton Wargaming fame.

The result of this was the Christians making headway on their left flank, but the virtual collapse of their right as the Berber camels and light troops pulled off a stunning victory, driving back the defenders before the camp assisted by the offshore missile fire.

The Almoravids throw down some overhead fire as they rain arrows on the advancing Christians.

This left the Christian centre in a potentially sticky situation, which I inherited as Martin had to leave early. It’s probably an exaggeration to say that my tactical aplomb and dice rolling then caused the downfall of the Christian forces, but it may not be too far off!

Almoravid archers and crossbowmen open fire on the Christian forces.

Having peeled off a unit of caballeros to try to deal with the Almoravid camels and the threat to the camp, I decided to charge with the knights all along the line. King Pedro of Aragon then went one better and took on Ibrahim ibn Tashfin in single combat (a great idea until I started rolling dice). Although wounded, the heroic ibn Tashfin took down the Aragonese king in the third round. Ouch! This caused some serious damage to Christian morale, I can tell you.

King Pedro gets taken down by Almoravid captain Ibrahim ibn Tashfin in single combat.

The other units in charge got stuck in but failed to break through, apart from El Cid himself who was unstoppable as he raced up the hill. His faithful lieutenant Alvar Fanez was also killed in the fighting. With the loss of the camp, El Cid’s reputation plunged and his army started to break off and leave the field. Rodrigo himself was last seen trying to fight his way out towards Valencia, but the field belonged to the Almoravids.

The charge goes in. El Cid’s red banner can be seen centre right.

On the Christian left flank, the jinetes make good progress towards the Almoravid camp on the hill.
For Aragon! King Pedro goes for it.

The pack camels begin to tremble as the Almoravid camp is threatened.

With the game over, we were very surprised and flattered to receive the Macfarlane Shield for Best Demonstration Game from the Partizan guest judges. They explained that they had appreciated the mix of old and new (1998 Gripping Beast metals alongside 2021 3d Caballero Miniatures prints), the presentation of the game, the sloping hill and the fact that we had somehow managed to talk to people and keep the game moving at the same time. I can only thank my companions Paul, Martin and Tom who made it all run so smoothly, as it’s well known that I spend 95% of my time at shows talking and no more than 5% throwing dice!

A prize! And a very emotional one considering the recent loss of Uncle Dunc. Thanks fellas!

It was an absolute pleasure to get back to a live show, albeit with several good friends missing due to the continuing pandemic situation, Hopefully things will improve and we will all be able to get back in the same hall soon.

As a final extra, I thought I’d share a couple of shots of the game set up. Since giving up terrain boards in favour of cloth playing surfaces, I have been experimenting with different ways to create contours and sloping battlefields. Here’s how we did the hillside:

Tables jacked up on 50mm wooden blocks to gain the effect of rising ground. It’s a lot simpler than bringing terrain boards.
The tabletop in preparation. After raising the tables for the hill, the slope is created with some foam sections and pieces of cardboard masking-taped into place.

Jinetes for the Age of El Cid

I’ve been spending a few hours organising units from my El Cid collection this week. We’re planning to put on a version of the Battle of Bairen (1097 CE) at the Partizan show in Newark on October 10th, giving my own Midgard rules their first public run-out.

Midgard uses a standard base frontage of 120mm for 28mm miniatures, although you can play with any size whatsoever as long as the frontages are roughly similar across both armies. Scrivs, Tom and I have painted rather a lot of stuff for this period over the years, so we decided to go for units on a 160mm frontage for the Partizan game.

Looking grand: the old campaigners feeling smart with their new 160mm bases.
Berber Cavalry from Gripping Beast, with a banner based on a period manuscript. This was one of the first ever units I painted for my El Cid collection.

My whole collection was orginally used for Warhammer Ancient Battles, with a variety of single and multibased figures. With all the bases being magnetised, it hasn’t been too much trouble to create suitable movement trays for them. The ever-wonderful Warbases provided me with some round-cornered 2mm MDF bases, which I have then tarted up with a layer of magnetic sheet before adding rocks (from tree bark chippings) and my usual basing mix and tufts.

Stage 1: MDF plus green ferro steel, then marking out the positions of the figures with a pencil.

The self-adhesive ferro steel (visible as a green layer in the photos) was acquired from Magnetic Displays (stalwarts at Partizan and Hammerhead shows and a super quick mail order service to boot, as I have discovered since March 2020). I’ve found that as long as you don’t put too much paint over it, and avoid getting flock or sand on it, magnetically-based figures stick pretty well and will stay in place for gaming and transport.

In progress shot with a layer of green ferro steel on top of the MDF and then bark chippings fixed on top with wood glue.
Here you can see the smooth areas of ferro steel, kept free of texture and flock to make sure that the figures stick well. The flat areas are just dry brushed and stippled to create texture.

I could have gone down the route of permanently basing all the minis on a single base, which I know looks amazing, but wanted to maintain the versatility to be able to use the figures singly as well. While the models’ bases can be clearly seen, I think that this method is a good compromise between the mini-diorama effect and playability.

Andalusian Jinetes – a mix of Gripping Beast and Perry Minis on GB horses with some minor conversions to shields and headgear.
The same unit from a different angle. This was a slightly later addition to my collection so didn’t get to make the photo sessions for the El Cid WAB supplement.

Horse archers, Gripping Beast figures.

Hand painted shields based on Spanish manuscript illustrations.

‘Wounded by Pedro, stood on by a horse’: El Cid rides again

Yesterday I was able to get in a game set in medieval Spain with old mucker Scrivs. Using my own Midgard rules (now into yet more testing), we were preparing for the game that we are planning to put on at the Partizan show in Newark on October 10th. 

Today’s game was to be a very straightforward battle to test some of the interactions between troop types, especially the balance between charging knights and Almoravid spearmen that is critical for games set in this era. On a less critical note, it was also our first game involving the feared Almoravid camel riders…

Scrivs provided both armies, having painted every single figure in his El Cid lead mountain over the last few years; my contribution extended to writing some army lists and putting in my El Cid mini and standard bearer. The gaming mat is the Geek Villain ‘El Alamein’ one with some trees by Last Valley, scatter terrain by Paul and a backdrop painted by the talented Mrs Scrivs. 

Paul took the role of the combined forces of Aragon and Rodrigo Diaz; I commanded the Almoravids. The two forces consisted of:

ARAGON/ RODRIGO DIAZ

4 heroes including Pedro I of Aragon and El Cid

1 unit of household knights

3 units of knights

4 spear and bow units

2 units of jinetes (light horse)

2 units of skirmishers with crossbow or javelin

ALMORAVIDS

4 heroes

1 unit of Black Guard

3 units of spearmen

3 units of spear/bowmen

2 units of skirmishers with javelins

2 units of jinetes

1 unit of noble cavalry

and…1 unit of camel riders. Spurious but entertaining!

We both deployed in double lines – supporting units are essential in Midgard, and archers are useful to shoot over troops in front.  Paul deployed his knights to the left and right, clearly looking for an opportunity to roll up either flank. 

The game started very cautiously- I resisted my usual urge to charge straight up the middle, hoping to hold on to the woods protecting the Almoravid left flank.  Instead, I sent forward my light cavalry and camel riders on the right to try to draw out their opposing numbers and disrupt the knights behind them.  There was some desultory bowfire between the two forces and an exchange of javelins but to little effect overall.

The scrap on the Almoravid right wing – knights go toe-to-toe with Andalusian nobles, jinetes and the dreaded camels

Everything kicked off in turn four though – my jinetes on the right flank got the breakthrough they were after.  The Christian knights facing off against them met their match in the Andalusian noble horsemen, then broke and fled from a hail of javelins and sustained pressure from my jinetes.  Even the camel riders trotted  through the gap, threatening the Spanish centre. Sadly they took on a unit of crossbows- on paper, an achievable task – and paid the price as they rolled appallingly and fled the field.  (In twenty years of playing Almoravid camels, this has been the result.  Clearly they were never meant to rule the battlefield.)

Nice rolling, camels…

Now it was all getting a bit interesting in the centre.  Paul’s Spanish archers and javelin men had been causing a fair bit of disruption, forcing my leaders to expend their Might Points to keep the troops in order; second-in-command Ibrahim ibn Tashfin had narrowly escaped injury after being struck by an arrow, causing consternation amongst his spearmen. 

On the Almoravid right, El Cid’s right hand man Alvar Fanez ended up in a gripping single combat with my cavalry commander, Salim ibn Ali. Alvar pulled it out of the bag and struck down his opponent, only to find himself fighting for his life as his battered knights were charged and routed by Almoravid cavalry and bowmen. However, the loss of their cavalry commander cost the Almoravids dear – they were unable to keep the momentum without his leadership.

Alvar Fanez takes down Salim ibn Ali, Almoravid cavalry commander

…but only just survives a horde of archers going for him

The main charge of the knights now came in on the Almoravid left.  King Pedro of Aragon stormed in and challenged Ibrahim ibn Tashfin, thinking himself the stronger.  Both leaders put up an impressive fight, bolstering their reputations while exchanging blows, but eventually Pedro landed a wound on the Almoravid commander, who dropped back into the protection of the ranks. The Aragonese knights crushed the front rank of African spearmen and the luckless Ibrahim was run down by a Spanish warhorse. Things were turning. 

King Pedro gets stuck in

El Cid goes in: Charlton Heston put his (mail) vest on

Now the Campeador himself joined the charge, taking his knights right into the Almoravid left.  With the expected verve, Rodrigo all but destroyed one unit and ploughed into another.  The last action of the battle was the misfortune of another Almoravid commander, al-Tariq, the captain of the guard, who found his unit taking substantial damage from El Cid’s knights.  Making the required ‘risk to heroes’ roll, he excelled himself with a double one – the worst possible throw – and expired forthwith. 

This was the end for the Almoravids – after a promising start, they had been decisively crushed by the Spanish.  From a game point of view, the charging knight rules worked very well, giving the Spanish a substantial but brittle advantage on the charge.  We had enjoyed two single combats which lent a real narrative feel to the game.  What we still haven’t quite resolved is how we’re going to fit everything on the table for Partizan, but there will be a way!

Reputation goblets: game over for the Almoravids

Thanks to Scrivs for hosting, providing both armies and playing. 

Glorfindel gets a smiting…

…or some more Second Age scrappage from the gaming table.  

Paul W and I notched up another test game of my Midgard rules this week with his Elves commanded by Glorfindel versus my Orc host under Akdar, Captain of Trolls. 

Game set-up before the first turn. Martin has designed and printed us some funky rulers for measuring!

While the basic flow of the rules is pretty much sorted, we were spending some time fine-tuning the different traits that give character to the troops.  I also laid out a large area of woods, rocks and swamp to force some of the fighting into rough terrain. 

Might Points, dice and Orc goblet of Reputation ready to go. When the goblet runs dry, it’s game over.

The Elves turned out to be the attackers (clearly oppressing the Orcs who had been minding their own business) and the two battle lines were deployed.  With the advantage of numbers, I decided on a cunning plan involving (a) an Orcish flank attack through the woods on the right and (b) hiding the shock unit of Trolls from Elven archery behind a screen of feckless Orcs.  What could go wrong? 

The battle lines close. Orcs actually follow orders for once.

The game opened with a mass Orcish advance in the centre where every single Orc actually did what they were told (for once.) This left the Elves facing what looked like an organised attack, so using their drilled trait, the main Elven line smartly stepped back and held off combat for another turn.  As the Orcs finally came into range, Paul’s dice failed him big time and what should have been a withering hail of arrows turned out to be a paltry trickle of shafts.  The Orcs laughed this off and charged in. 

All out-scrapping along the line, although Akdar couldn’t whip his unit of Trolls into shape (top of pic). At the bottom, the Warg riders are about to get a shock from some Elven archery.

However, the Elf swordsmen and spears took chunks out of the Orcs, staggering the advance.  The archer units on the ends of the line finally got their eye in – one of my Warg rider units was wiped out by Egalmoth and his archers in a single round of bowfire.  

Orcs come out of the trees and don’t quite make it = blade fodder for the Elves!

The bold Orc attack in the woods looked threatening and then stalled due to poor leadership – caught with their units halfway out of the trees, the Orcs were charged by Glorfindel’s heavy Elf cavalry.  Badly mauled, they fell back into the trees and didn’t play much more of a part in the battle. 

Single combat! The essence of Midgard.

As the front line of Orcs buckled, Akdar brought up his trump card – a unit of Trolls which cleaved its way through the Elves.  Challenged by Glorfindel to single combat, he accepted – both suffered a wound before Akdar dealt the decisive blow and battered the unfortunate Elf into the ground (despite Glorfindel being a fairly buff character, Paul’s dice rolling at this point was shocking ).  I was quietly thinking of Fingon vs Gothmog at this point! 

Casualties on both sides as the Elves hold firm.

However, this brief moment of Orcish hope was not to last. Although the battered Elven line was just holding the centre, they were winning on the flanks.  Ecthelion stepped up with his Elf warriors who finished off the Troll bodyguard, Akdar falling to a chance blow.  This was enough to break the Orcs’ Reputation and they fell back in disarray towards Angband, pursued all the way by Glorfindel’s vengeful riders. 

I was really pleased with how the rough terrain rules had worked (albeit to the disadvantage of my Orcs) – although it can restrict movement, the main effect was in loss of command and control.  The different character traits were also used to good effect, especially by the Elves.  Paul and I had a useful discussion afterwards about single combats and, as ever, I added a few notes about clarifications to add to the ongoing manuscript for Midgard.  

More soon. 

Elven Reputation is still at two, but the Orcs’ goblet is empty. Back to Angband for an early bath.

Greek Midgard 1: Basil and the Horn of the Minotaur

Continuing the current run of Midgard play test games, we ran a big Greek mythological battle using my rules, for which I constructed a plot line seriously inspired (i.e. ripping off) some of the most famous Greek myths (and Ray Harryhausen).

Greek hero Basileus has been set three (highly dangerous, possibly fatal) tasks by the King of Athens in return for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Fortunately, Basileus is favoured by the Gods and has a large crew of warriors in a small fleet of ships (the Argianauts).

Left: Hagne the Harpy and Typhus the Steersman locked in single combat. Reaper Bones and Foundry figures painted by Martin H.

I shan’t go into the battle in great detail, as gaming compadres Martin and Tom WD have already covered much of the action in their blogs (click on their names above to see their reports.) However, I shall chuck in a number of pics, a few individual shots of the newest models in the collection, and some game development chat.

Basileus (Basil) and the Cyclopes’ leader, Tossus. Basil is the plastic Jason and the Argonauts figure from Salute 2013; Tossus is a 3d printed Cyclops designed by Artisan Workshop and purchased from Etsy.

The scenario for this latest game was None Shall Pass, one that we’ve played several times before and always gives a tight game. However, this time the defending force would be holding two passes in a mountain valley rather than river crossings. Sailing to Crete, Basil and his Argianauts have raided the Horn of the Minotaur from the ruins of the palace of Knossos, but now they need to escape the irate attentions of King Minossos and his unsavoury followers to get back to their ships.

Start of the game: Basileus’s hoplites (a mix of figures from Martin and Tom WD’s collections) line up against the passes defended by Cyclopes.
Hoplites pressure Tossus and the Cyclopes

Heracles and the Argianauts take on the Bronze Giant. Hoplites and Heracles are by Foundry and from Martin’s collection; the Giant is actually a tourist souvenir of Achilles that I bought for 10 Euros in Crete and repainted.

Suffice to say that the Cretans and their beastly allies put up one hell of a fight, putting Heracles out of action, killing Typhus the Steersman and holding one of the passes right until the bitter end. However, with the death of King Minossos and his Cyclopes, a much-relieved Basil broke through one of the passes and made his escape.

Testing the flying rules was one my key intentions for this scenario. Flying creatures are by no means the focus of the game but I wanted Midgard to have sufficient rules to allow some flying heroes and units on the battlefield (e.g. Perseus, the harpies, the odd wyvern, dragons and so on.) I also wanted to create rules that would allow the flyers to be highly manouverable and a nuisance to the enemy, but not to dominate the battlefield.

Harpies causing trouble, mounting a swooping attack on Basileus and his bodyguard.

Paul and Tom (controlling two harpy units each) caused a lot of consternation amongst Basileus’s troops, in particular picking off archers with swooping attacks. However, the one ground attack where the harpies landed and took on a hoplite unit ended in disaster. We were all agreed that the balance felt about right for these light, harassing flyers.

Harpies on their unit base for Midgard

Some of the new toys for this game included a bunch of harpies – these ones are 3d prints from Artisan Workshop and purchased from FullyCycled on Etsy. There are only two poses but I varied them with different basing heights and angles. The paint job is 95% GW Contrast Paints: the skin is various mixes of Guilliman Flesh and thinned-down Wyldwood with a slight highlight of acrylic flesh. Wings are various layers/ mixes of Gryph-Charger Grey, Talassar Blue, Wyldwood and Black Templar before being dry-brushed with a light grey acrylic.

Artisan Workshop harpy facing off against a Warlord Games plastic hoplite for scale.
Three of the harpies from Artisan Workshop. Number 2 and 3 are the same model, varied by paint job and basing.
The troublesome harpies elect to land and attack in the rear, resulting in destruction by Basileus and his men.

Other new models were a box of Dark Alliance 1/72 plastic Cyclopes that my son had bought me for my birthday. These were great fun to paint (another quick job using mostly GW Contrasts again) and made some tough units for the Greeks to take on. There was a good natured discussion about whether the Cyclopes should have a penalty for throwing rocks given their lack of binocular vision – one to ponder for the army lists! 🙂

One of the Cyclopes, a 1/72 soft plastic figure by Dark Alliance. At around £8 for a box of 12 of these guys (3 each of 4 poses), you cannot go wrong! To give an idea of scale, the base is 40mm round.
Cyclopes hold the pass

Another of the Dark Alliance Cyclopes – this chap has a minor conversion, replacing his right hand and club with a spear.

Challenges to single combat feature heavily in Midgard and this game was no exception. Shockingly, Heracles (the most powerful hero in this battle) lost out to Minossos, showing that sometimes the dice just go against you! There was a fine narrative moment when Hagne the Harpy slew Typhus the Steersman in a challenge, but Typhus managed to down the harpy leader with a final stroke of his sword. Exciting stuff.

Heracles triumphs over the Bronze Giant…

…only to be decked by the much smaller King Minossos a few minutes later!
Hagne the Harpy and Typhus the Steersman slay each other in bitter combat.

Overall, I was very pleased with the game. The scenario gave us a very tense conclusion following the loss of Herakles, with both sides suffering heavy losses. Single combats worked a treat and the flying rules were just about right. I went away with a number of notes about things to clarify in the rules as play testing continues. Hopefully we’ll be able to play Basil and the Argianauts episode 2 in the not too distant future.

Battle of Graus, 1063 CE – Enter El Cid!

I’ve been working on Midgard – my heroic battle wargames rules – for some time now. Medieval Spain and the age of El Cid have long been popular in my gaming circle and it wasn’t long before Tom WD (king of the pun) started cracking jokes about ‘El Cidgard’. Therefore it was only a matter of time before I pulled my finger out and ran a game. The safe arrival of Scrivs and his collection of El Cid minis in the UK offered us the perfect opportunity, so here it is…

El Cid has fascinated me since I was a kid, so much so that I ended up writing a WAB book and several magazine articles about him back in the noughties. Recently, the release of the Caballero Miniatures 3d printed models (just amazing) and the Legend of El Cid series on Amazon Prime (rough in places but great Spanish locations and stirring battle shots) has rekindled my interest in the Iberian Peninsula.

A shot from the Amazon Prime series The Legend of El Cid before the Battle of Graus – stirring scenery if slightly dodgy action!
3d printed 28mm model by Caballero Miniatures, printed for me by Fenland Miniatures

The Battle of Graus was fought on May 8th, 1063 CE. The exact circumstances are unclear but the bare facts are that Prince Sancho ‘The Strong’ of Castile rode with his father’s Muslim tributary, the Emir of Zaragoza, to defend the town of Graus from the Aragonese. The Aragonese were defeated and King Ramiro I of Aragon, Sancho’s uncle, was killed. As Richard Fletcher wrote in The Quest for El Cid, ‘The Graus campaign is a fine example of the complexities which arose in the age of the taifa kings: a Castilian prince defeats and kills his Aragonese uncle in order to preserve the territorial integrity of a Muslim ally.’ It is also notable because, according to his chronicler, it is the first recorded battle in the life of Rodrigo Diaz, later known as El Cid, fighting in the service of Sancho of Castile.

Snippet of a map from my El Cid WAB supplement drawn by Jon Hodgson, showing the location of Graus in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Although part of the taifa of Zaragoza, the Aragonese had designs upon it in 1063 CE.

In wargames terms, I decided that the most likely scenario would be the Castilians and Zaragozans trying to raise the siege of Graus. I therefore elected to have the Aragonese on a hill overlooking the town of Graus with the relief force trying to storm the camp before reinforcements arrive.

Our reimagined Battle of Graus layout. The town of Graus is off to the left, flanked by orchards and vineyards. The Aragonese camp is on the hill with three tents which were the objectives for the game. The army of Zaragoza and Castile is entering from the right.

Armies were drawn up involving five heroes a side, obviously including Rodrigo Diaz at the side of Sancho of Castile. As this was near the start of his career, I didn’t make him too powerful, but added in several traits to make him dangerous in single combat (he had a reputation for this early in his career) and an inspiring leader of men. The Christian knights were the toughest units on the battlefield although I made sure to back them up with plenty of lighter cavalry.

Having lugged our metal armies out of storage (after a few years of playing with plastics, a box of metal 28mm cavalry is a full-on wargamer workout) we sorted the following forces out for the game. Although all my Midgard games to date have been played with units on a 12cm frontage, we mostly had pre-existing 16cm movement trays for our El Cid collections (based for WAB), so we used bigger units than usual. Midgard is measured in ‘Spear Throws’ (the width of a base) so that meant we also increased our basic measurement to 16cm for the game.

ZARAGOZA/ CASTILE:

al-Muqtadir, Emir of Zaragoza (army general)

al-Mutamin, Prince of Zaragoza

Sancho ‘the Strong’, Prince of Castile

Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, Alferez to Sancho of Castile

al-Tariq, Captain of al-Muqtadir’s guard*

2 mixed spear/ bow units

1 spear unit

1 household caballeros hidalgos (knights)

3 units of caballeros

1 Andalusian heavy cavalry

2 jinetes

4 skirmishers with bows and slings

The Zaragozans/ Castilians deploy facing the Aragonese camp. Commanders are marked with named banners – the Emir of Zaragoza is centre with Rodrigo Diaz and Sancho of Castile to his right.

ARAGON:

King Ramiro I of Aragon

Sancho Ramirez, Prince of Aragon [started off-table with 1 x household knights and 2 x caballeros]

Fabien del Urgel*

Garcia de Pamplona*

Pedro Alvarez*

(*these commanders were invented for the scenario)

King Ramiro of Aragon and some of his caballeros, later in the battle (the red marker shows his wound suffered in the last hour of the battle). Some of Scrivs’ superbly-painted collection – command stand by Crusader Minis, caballeros from the Perry Miniatures First Crusade range.

2 household knights – caballeros hidalgos

4 caballeros

4 spearmen

4 mixed spear/ bow units

4 skirmishers with bows and slings

We were playing a version of my ‘Take The High Ground’ scenario for Midgard, whereby a force (the Aragonese in this case) has to hold a strategic hill against superior numbers (Zaragoza and Castile) until reinforcements arrive. Reputation (the measure of victory or defeat in Midgard) could be earned by holding on to the strategic salient points on the hill – marked by three tents – from Turn 3 onwards. Prince Sancho Ramirez of Aragon would arrive in Turn 4 with his knights, but at a randomised location on the Aragonese side of the board. As it turned out, these two elements gave a nail-biting conclusion to the game.

Aragonese archers and crossbowmen hold the vineyard against the Zaragozans. (Perry Miniatures painted by Scrivs). In the background can be seen a red and white tent, one of the objectives for the game.

Tom WD and I took command of the Zaragoza/ Castile force and, predictably, ‘razzed them up the middle’ (our default tactic). In this scenario, it’s critical to get to the hill and contest it while the attacker has the advantage of numbers. Wary of archery, we opted to send al-Mutamin up front with the infantry while the Castilians formed the second wave with the more vulnerable caballeros. I’d chosen to have one end of the hill in the vineyard/ orchards to test out the rough terrain rules, which actually worked a treat (much to my frustration!) Al-Tariq, a low-level commander of the Zaragozans, was tasked with breaking through the Aragonese skirmishers, which he did before being repeatedly repulsed!

Al-Tariq of Zaragoza sets out on his exhausting task to break into the vineyard!
Fabien of Urgell organises the defence of the vineyard and orchard.

On the Aragonese left flank, Garcia of Pamplona sent a unit of knights to sort out the Zaragozan jinetes backed up against the foothills. In true jinete style, the Zaragozan light cavalry evaded the charge, then encircled the caballeros and shot them to pieces with javelins!

Zaragozan jinetes do their thing and hold the Castilian right flank
Al-Mutamin (a 3d printed Caballero Miniatures figure) takes command of some veteran Foundry spearmen at least 35 years older than him!

In the centre, full-on scrapping was breaking out as al-Mutamin of Zaragoza pressed his spearmen and archers forward into the Aragonese line.

Turn 3: the Zaragozans clear the main part of the hill, apart from King Ramiro’s Aragonese knights

Ramiro’s knights take on Zaragoza’s mercenary Sudanese spearmen; Ramiro is wounded in the fight

Al-Tariq gets driven out of the orchard for the umpteenth time. A better commander would have probably carried this off, but with his single Might Point (metal token on the right), al-Tariq’s leadership is limited.

The obligatory ‘photo phase’!

Sancho of Castile ready for action in the second line. At the top, a unit of Aragonese knights can be seen being pincered between two units of Zaragozan jinetes!

The game was properly teetering at this point, as the Aragonese goblet of Reputation dropped to zero during Turn 3. However, hanging on to two of the three objectives put some Reputation back in the pot to stabilise their losses. Could they hold on?

Reputation goblets in Turn 3 – Aragon in red and Castile/ Zaragoza in green. The Aragonese are struggling here but swung back soon after

Turn 4: Sancho Ramirez arrives from Graus with the reinforcements!

At the start of turn 4, Sancho Ramirez arrived with the Aragonese reinforcements. There was a tense moment as Scrivs diced to see where they would arrive and they turned up on the Aragonese left flank – at the top of the table. The Zaragozan jinetes – placed there by Tom to counter that exact possibility – went into combat, fighting a rearguard action to delay the arrival of a wave of angry tooled-up caballeros. They did well, but both units were broken by turn 6.

Sancho Ramirez’s knights charge forwards to clear the jinetes.

Rodrigo Diaz challenges and defeats Pedro Ansurez in single combat but takes a wound in the process.

In my enthusiasm to take the orchard (and hold the tent objective within it), I’d carelessly let Fabien of Urgell jump the wall and bring a spear unit into the main battle on the left flank of my Castilian knights. This went badly (units being hit in the flank have a short life expectancy) and they were dispatched in short order, losing yet more Reputation – knights are worth more than regular troops, so this was a faux pas on my part!

The Aragonese jump the wall (centre) before getting a flank attack on the Castilians

Turn 6: Fabien of Urgell mounts a decisive flank attack on the Castilian knights

Al-Muqtadir of Zaragoza brings up his rearguard to face Sancho Ramirez of Aragon. Dead knights and horses litter the battlefield.

With the game near its end, al-Muqtadir’s guard crashed into Sancho Ramirez’s knights, and I got talked into issuing a challenge to single combat, which didn’t go as planned! Sancho Ramirez struck down the ruler of Zaragoza (four Reputation points lost in two minutes), but suffered a fatal wound himself as his knights were destroyed by the Andalusians.

Have a single combat, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.

Several other units also broke in the final turn, including the heroic Zaragozan jinetes, leaving both sides bloodied and battered. However, the loss of the Zaragozan Emir and the unit of Castilian knights charged in the flank by Fabien of Urgell meant that the Aragonese had snatched a bloody win. King Ramiro was wounded and his son killed, but he held the field and the town of Graus. Al-Mutamin (now the Emir of Zaragoza), Sancho of Castile and Rodrigo Diaz would have to retreat with their bloodied forces. Victory to Aragon!

The end of the game – a bloody victory to Aragon

Well, this was a corking game, and, I think, a successful first venture into ‘El Cidgard’. The single combat rules gave the right level of heroism for this battle and the Reputation mechanic meant that game swung from an impending Aragonese defeat in Turn 3 to a victory in Turn 6. I was also pleased with the rough terrain rules – despite the continued attacks by the Zaragozans into the orchard, the Aragonese skirmishers managed to hang on until the end of the game. There’s still a few minor tweaks to unit profiles that might happen but the game engine is doing its job.

Do I need to paint any more figures for this? Probably not – although the Caballero Minis 3d prints might see me getting a few command figures done! Do we need to play more El Cidgard? Hell, yes. It’s telling that we all had boxes of unused figures for this game and Tom’s Berber army didn’t even come out of the box.

Celtiberians

My recent Ancients gaming gave me the push to investigate the back of the painting cupboard, where I knew I had squirrelled away one of those projects of shame – 30-odd half-painted minis from 2017. On the back of my Battle of Tribola game, I’d bought some Crusader Miniatures from Nick at Northstar – some rather combative Celtiberians to add to my Iberian forces. I’d got them all undercoated and started, only to abandon them for a new enthusiasm for the Second World War. Weird!

Left: Celtiberian command, all by Crusader Miniatures. The spearman on the left just reminds me of Roman sentries in Asterix, so I felt he had to get based up protecting his boss!

A quick count-up showed me that I needed a few extra figures to pad out the Crusader models to units of 12 (my standard collecting size at the moment), so I assembled some of the Victrix plastics that I’ve had hanging around (my original army is entirely metal). These new figures got a white Halfords spray undercoat in preparation for a quick paint job using mostly GW Contrast paints (my current go-to for speedy army painting); the older ones had been sprayed with Army Painter Fur Brown, which made a good base for the flesh and bronze which is such a large component of these models.

Charge! Three 12-figure units plus the war chief. This will be a contingent in my battle games, or will probably serve as a faction for Saga with a few slingers added in.
I love mixing up different models in my forces (and can’t actually help myself, to be honest). L-R: Crusader with a GB spear, Crusader, Gripping Beast Pict with a Warlord Games Celt head swap; Victrix with a Warlord Games head; Crusader. The shields are a random Celtic selection from my bits box.

Painting was a pretty straightforward affair, just a bit repetitive for this number of models. The brown undercoated models had a basecoat, a wash of Windsor and Newton Nut Brown ink, and then a single highlight. The new white undercoated plastics were faster, with a single layer of GW Contrast (the Guilliman Flesh paint really speeds up my work on skin areas) and the odd highlight where needed.

A Victrix Celtiberian. The tunic is GW Contrast Black Templar – a really quick way of getting dark tunics painted for these tribesmen.

Although I have been known to use transfers on occasion, I really enjoy painting my own shields. The designs are based on various surviving Iberian and Celtic patterns with a bit of artistic licence – what I’m trying to do here is to create easily identifiable units for the gaming table, not an exact authentic representation. I’ve always associated blue with Celts (I think it’s the woad business) so I went with a variety of designs in blue, black and white.

Plastic warriors form the front ranks of this unit – these are Celts by Warlord Games and Iberians by Victrix.

I chop and change how I varnish models – in the past I’ve hand-varnished to avoid dulling the metal areas. This time around, I decided to spray varnish with Testors Matt Dullcote, but I left the wash and metal highlight until after varnishing. This made the metal ‘ping’ and I hope that you can see this in the pics!

The front lines – tufts on the bases and movement trays are by Gamers Grass, supplied by Northstar.
Old and new: Left – metal by Crusader , Right – plastic by Victrix

I always get asked about basing so I thought I’d pop in a photo of two of the units on and off their movement trays. While I admire the incredible diorama effects gamers like Simon Miller get on their unit bases, I need some kind of halfway house where I can play both skirmish and big battle games. I’ve therefore adopted a standard where I have a mix of individual and group bases (in this case, ones, twos and threes). The bases are 2mm round-cornered MDF from the incredible company that is Warbases – I stick a layer of 0.5mm self-adhesive magnetic sheet onto the bottom of this. To get the unit trays, I’ve again used a 2mm piece of MDF (120 x 60mm in this case). These have a layer of self-adhesive steel paper on the top, trimmed to size and then painted to match the bases; finally, another piece of magnetic sheet goes on the bottom of the tray so that it can stick straight into one of my steel paper-lined Really Useful Boxes. It feels like a lot of investment in magnets, but it speeds up my gaming no end as I can just pull a box off the the shelf and know that the figures are already on their unit trays ready for battle.

The current basing arrangement: 12 figures on magnetic bases on a steel-paper movement tray, which in turn is magnetised underneath to stick into a Really Useful Box for transport. Individual figure bases are 20 x 25mm – I’ve always found the extra depth handy to fit large 28mm figures. The overall movement tray is 120 x 60mm.

All my magnetic supplies come from the ever-helpful Trevor and Paula Holland of Magnetic Displays/ Coritani, regular friendly faces from the UK show circuit who also run a mean mail order service.

A Tale of Two Caballeros

Although I’ve resisted getting a 3d printer myself, I’ve been very aware of the explosion in STL files and Patreons, and none more so than the most recent work of Spanish-based Caballero Miniatures. Sculptor and owner Marcos has been hard at work on a project that happens to be a shared passion – the age of El Cid and Medieval Spain.

My friend James at Fenland Miniatures printed off some of the Spanish caballeros (knights) for me. I was expecting to be impressed, but the quality of these blew me away. The phrase ‘extraordinary levels of detail and animation’ feels barely adequate to describe these incredible models.

As an experiment, I thought I’d pick two identical knights and paint them up; one as an 11th century Spaniard, and the other a First Age Noldor Elf from Middle-earth.

Spanish knight (left), Noldor (right)

The minis arrived printed in grey resin with an intricate network of supports which was removed with warm water and a pair of clippers. As James warned, there is some really fine detail on the models and I accidentally broke off several of the tassels on the Elf’s saddle (which is why he hasn’t got any – not because he wouldn’t like some!) I trimmed a few areas with a scalpel and added Northstar wire spears for lances. It was an extraordinary experience after years of drilling out hands to take spears to find that there was no need – the precision of 3d printing had left a perfect hole to glue the lance into!

Having decided to convert one rider to a Noldor, I removed the original head and swapped it for a plastic one from the Oathmark Elves boxed set from Northstar/ Osprey. A cloak was added from green stuff along with an appropriate shield and some feather plumes, also from the Oathmark kit.

Riders, shields and horses are all separate pieces but were straightforward to put together using superglue. However, none of the minis came with bases (I understand this is usual with 3d prints) so I had to cut my own from plastic card.

You can really see the astonishing detail in this close-up – note the stirrups, tassels. reins and shield strap – detail that would be impossible in a traditional metal mould. There are some slight layer lines on the horse’s body from the printing, but these were barely visible after painting.
First coats of paint. Both models have had an undercoat of Halfords white primer followed by base coats of GW Contrast paint and standard acrylics.

I won’t go through the painting process in detail but currently I’m using GW Contrasts over a white undercoat and then highlighting them up with acrylics. I decided to go for different colour schemes to emphasize the different cultures, so it was white for the Elven horse (GW Contrast Apothecary White) and blue/ black / grey for the rider; the Spanish horse went chestnut (GW Contrast Gore-Grunta Fur) with green and black clothing.

Having got our caballero painted, it was time to see how he measured up to his companions in my El Cid army. Being mostly collected 20 years ago, my force is entirely metal. On the left you can see a Perry Miniatures knight (from the First Crusade range) and on the right, a Gripping Beast Spanish knight (from the El Cid range) with original GB horse.

L-R: Perry , Caballero, Gripping Beast (old horse)

The finished Noldor is due to join a unit with my other converted First Age cavalry, made from Gripping Beast plastic Arab heavy cavalry with Oathmark bodies, arms and heads. I was very pleased with the match between these – they are easily similar enough to mix. I guess the big question is whether I expand the Elven cavalry using more plastics or more 3d prints? A difficult question!

Converted Elf cavalry: Caballero (L), Gripping Beast plastics (R)

Les Poilus

WW1 French soldiers going into action. Woodbine Designs miniatures (by Gripping Beast), trench by Amera, background by Jon Hodgson Maps

At the end of last year, I penned a short article on painting World War One French in their mid-late war horizon blue uniforms, and it has recently seen print in Wargames Illustrated magazine (Issue 403, July 2021). The theme of the issue is ‘Vive La France’ and has a wide range of articles about wargaming with French armies from various periods of history.

Here’s a few out-takes from the photo session that I posed with some of my 28mm figures. The French are lovely sculpts by Soapy from the Woodbine Designs range by Gripping Beast, with a trench section by Amera and a photo background downloaded from Jon Hodgson Maps.

These chaps are patrolling the area just outside the bunkers of Fort Vaux, Verdun. For more on this, see my Fort Vaux page

I’m not going to do a step-by-step painting article here, as that’s available in the magazine, but I will say that the key ingredient in painting these poilus was Army Painter Wolf Grey, available in both dropper bottles and spray cans (handy for doing whole platoons, as I was doing a few years back at the height of my WW1 gaming).

A difficult job in May 1916 – driving Germans off the escarpments of Fort Vaux.

Getting the article done has reminded me that my WW1 project is unfinished business – I have a small bag of soil from Ypres that is just waiting to be used for basing up the next phase of this! More soon, I hope.

Les Poilus in the act of capturing a trench.