More DBA Elements

In between painting up DBA armies and Uncharted Seas ships, I sneak in a few random DBA elements to round out my other armies. These are all Essex figures this time around.

In the lower right is an element of Greek peltasts (4Ax, auxilia) for my Spartan army that I forgot to show last time around. Not very exciting, so I figured I’d get it out of the way first.

The two Macedonian elephants are intended for use to morph my Alexandrian Macedonian army into an Alexandrian Imperial army and/or any of the earlier armies of Alexander’s successors that happen to require elephants.

Unfortunately I mounted the drivers back too far, they should really be on the elephant’s neck. I mounted the pikemen facing rearward, based on convincing arguments I read in a recent issue of Slingshot: Elephants can take care of themselves up front, they don’t need pikes up there. And those model pikes are about half as long as they should be in real life, they don’t even reach the ground. Unless you’re facing rearward it would be nearly impossible to swing a 20′ long stick from one side of the elephant to the other, to protect the beast’s vulnerable underbelly and hind quarters from someone else’s pointy sticks.

In the front is a ballista, the artillery element for the Alexandrian Macedonian army. It’s not as impressive as a Trebuchet, but it was all there was those hundreds of years earlier. The only case I know of where Alexander used artillery was in the siege of Tyre, which is completely inappropriate for playing in DBA anyway, so I didn’t paint this element initially. But it’s easier to build some of the successor armies with it, and it was easy, so I painted it.

Coming soon: DBA II/2, Mountain Indians, by Museum Miniatures. These guys are indestructable! Ha!

Game report: Uncharted Seas

Games Workshop’s Man O’ War has been out of print for a long time. After failing to find any reasonably inexpensive copies, I started looking for alternatives, and came across The Uncharted Seas.

Uncharted Seas is a fantasy naval miniatures wargame released a year or so ago by Spartan Games in the UK. The ships are nominally 1/600 scale, but since they’re fantasy themed and there are no humans to compare them to, it’s hard to tell. The largest ship in the image above, the Dragon Lords Battleship, is over 6″ long, and the smallest ships, frigates, are just under 1.5″ long. The sails are metal and the hulls are separately cast resin.

Frank and I liked the look of this game, so we bought a starter set each and the rules. Frank chose Iron Dwarves, and I chose Dragon Lords. The dwarven boats are almost identical copies of some of the better looking Civil War ironclads. The dragon lords ships have sails patterned after dragon wings.

Each starter set comes with one battleship, a squadron of three cruisers, and two squadrons of three Frigates. The game is new and Spartan Games is fairly small, so they have a few additional ships available for each fleet, but certainly not an overwhelming volume of “stuff you need to buy.”

The models are quite pretty, and are high quality castings. The resin parts are cast very cleanly and needed minimal cleanup, but the bottoms needed a pass over sandpaper to flatten them out. The only flaw I had with the resin was evidence of its brittleness: the railing was cracked off in a few places, and I had to repair this with putty. The metal sails needed a bit more cleanup on their edges, and didn’t fit perfectly to the shape of the hulls. I chose to solve the problem with epoxy, but drilling the hulls and sails and using pins might have produced better results.

My initial color choice, shown in the oddball Frigate squadron above, was disappointing. The switch to a brown hull and dark yellow spines on the sails improved things immensely. Painting the ships was quite fast using standard inking and drybrushing techniques, but not as fun as I had hoped. The textured surface of the Dragon Lord takes drybrushing very well, and the boards in the hull show ink perfectly. The only real fiddly bits on the Dragon Lords ships are all of the tiny ballistae on the decks of the ship, which are smaller than crossbows for 15mm figures. Everyone else gets cannons, which would be much more fun to paint.

The rulebook has quite high production quality. It’s printed in full color and is very glossy. There are many inspiring photographs of painted fleets, as well as digital images showing other paint scheme ideas.

Unfortunately the text itself isn’t very good: this is YAUBR (Yet Another Unintelligible British Ruleset). Some rulebooks put 10 pages of rules in a 100 page book and fill the rest with fluff and exposition, making the rules hard to find when you need them. Others put 10 pages of rules on 1 page using tiny font sizes, arcanely terse writing styles, and a heavy dose of omission; an index is impossible without the use of line numbers instead of page numbers.

The Uncharted Seas rules don’t fall completely into either of these categories, but have some problems nonetheless. The rulebook constantly comments on the rules, explaining how simple they are and that they were chosen to make the game fast and exciting. Much of this would be better if it were left out, or put into a “designer’s notes” section. Unfortunately we came across questions which seemed to be unanswered in the rules, so we basically just made stuff up or decided how to handle things on the fly until we could consult a FAQ… except, there isn’t a rule FAQ, only a forum.

Another downside to the rulebook is, the rules have changed since the first printing. Updates are freely available on the Spartan Games website, but this is inconvenient. The new rules make sense where the old ones didn’t, at least. I’m not sure how much has been fixed in the second revision of the rulebook, but I’m going to wait for the next revision before I buy another copy.

The rule book comes with templates and counters you can copy and cut out, and third parties have already produced laser cut plywood/acrylic alternatives. At first I thought it might have been nice to have some thicker cardboard templates in the rules, but at this point I think I prefer the thin cardstock: the templates often get in the way of other ships, and you can slip the cardstock under another ship or bend it out of the way fairly easily.

Although the rulebook is not perfect, the rules themselves are quite good, and not difficult to learn or play. The basic feel of the game is very similar to Battlefleet Gothic (BFG), but it’s simpler and faster to play. Luckily, not much is lost in the process.

There are a few basic tactical problems you face in “broadsides” naval games like this:

  • Maneuvering a ship while taking into account the effects of wind
  • Lining yourself up for good shots, even though you move forward and shoot primarily to the side

We didn’t encounter the first problem, because both Dragon Lords and Iron Dragons are immune to the wind (human, elf, and orc ships are not). The “broadsides” problem was present in Battlefleet Gothic and showed itself here as well. The ships themselves felt faster than I remember ships being in BFG; the 4’x4′ board felt crowded with 5 islands and the two starter fleets, and the edge of the board came a lot more quickly than I expected.

The basic combat mechanic is well known to anyone who has played a Games Workshop game: roll more d6’s than you can hold in 2 hands, and hope you get a lot of 6’s. However, as anyone familiar with statistics knows: despite superstition, rolling more dice produces a much more even distribution of results than rolling only a few. Rolling lots of dice doesn’t necessarily make the game feel more random, and this combat system works quite well for its suited purpose.

In terms of ship effectiveness, it’s clear that the battleships kick butt and frigates are mostly useless. You can effectively take on a ship one class larger with several of your boats, but it would be very difficult to put much of a dent in a battleship with your frigates.

Overall, we both liked the game enough to be interested in buying more ships. I’ll likely get a Dragon Carrier, which launches dragons instead of airplanes, and a squadron of Heavy Cruisers. They also have a Flagship for each fleet, a slightly larger battleship, but the rules for those aren’t finished yet and the rough draft looked unimpressive. I may just get another battleship for variety though.

DBA Army II/7: Later Achaemenid Persians

Here is the Later Achaemenid Persian army, finished. These are Essex 15mm figures from their DBA army pack. The only optional elements I didn’t paint are the scythed chariot and the cavalry general.

The color schemes are all based on images in the Osprey book on the Achaemenid Persians, which are taken from the Alexander Sarcophagus and the Alexander Mosaic. “Yes, they really did wear that much purple and (saffron) yellow.” But also notice that almost everyone is wearing expensively dyed fabric instead of armor.

Here is the general on his light chariot. Since this army will be playing primarily against Alexander the Great, I consider him to be Darius III, king of Persia. I almost displayed him facing backwards, since he always seems to be fleeing from Alexander in historical images.

Two Cavalry elements. I’m least happy with the shading on these guys’ hoods. I should’ve used a lighter ink, but I didn’t. It’s not as obvious in pictures. I’m also not sure about the armor; it doesn’t match anything I’ve seen in books.

These are the two elements of Light Horse.

Here are four elements of spearmen. I’m not very happy with the choice of figures here, because I’m intending to use this for a very late army. These “Dipylon” shields are a hundred or more years out of date by Alexander’s time. The rear ranks are “immortals” from earlier Perisan armies, and it’s kind of weird that they’re carrying bows as well as spears and shields. They’re shown wearing older long Persian robes instead of the shorter Median style tunics and pants they adopted later. The front ranks are painted like Darius’ spear bearers (bodyguard).

They look nice, and work the same way on the table, but they aren’t likely the spearmen faced by Alexander.

In the front are 4 elements of Auxilia, Takabara. These are fairly good figures, but I think the shields are too small. I made an attempt at adding a few shield designs, but it didn’t work very well. In the rear are three elements of Psiloi: Persian slingers and javilenmen. I’d rather have bows tha javelins.

Overall, I’m happy with the way it turned out. I can’t bring myself to spend a lot more time on 15mm figures, but with only rudimentary shading.

Persians, almost done

Here’s an in-progress picture of my latest painting projects. This is another DBA army, II/7: Later Achaemenid Persians. There are also three frigates from Uncharted Seas in there, they aren’t Persian ships.

This shows how I hold the figures for painting. Similar figures are hot glued onto a stick, far enough apart that I can reach all parts of the figure. Horses are primed in brown or grey since that’s the primary color they’ll be when they’re done. The rest are primed in white, grey, or black depending on which color I think is best that day (and somewhat depending on what color is going over the primer).

For cavalry, sometimes I glue the riders on before painting, but sometimes I stake the riders on pins and paint them separately before epoxying them onto the horses.

These figures have just come in from being sprayed with matte varnish. After that, they’re removed from the sticks, and glued to bases. Then I paint and decorate the bases. These will fill 16 stands of figures (4 cavalry, 1 chariot, and 11 infantry elements).

I’ll have pictures of the finished army soon. This looks like it’ll be a fun army to play with, except for the fact that they’ll always have to lose against Alexander the Great.

New Elements

I painted up a few extra elements to augment my existing DBA/HotT armies.

First is two elements of Greek cavalry. This is intended for use with my later Spartan DBA army. It turns out I may have needed some allied cavalry instead of greeks, to be strictly correct; and I really only need one of these. But they’ll help me fake a non-Spartan later greek hoplite army. These are 15mm Essex figures. I got one pack of medium cavalry and a few packs of light horse, so there is one unarmored cavalry figure per element. The rest of the light horse figures would eventually let me paint up 3 2LH elements.

The other recent additions are 10mm Dwarven cannons. These are Citadel Warmaster figures, based as Hordes of the Things artillery elements.
I based these up years ago when I painted the rest of the Dwarf army, but only got around to painting them now. I think I still have a few elements of blades to paint, but that’s not on the schedule yet.

I’m making some progress on my Later Achaemenid Persian DBA army, but not enough to take pictures of yet.

DBA Army I/43a: Skythians

I finished painting another DBA army. This is a 15mm Skythian army, DBA I/43a, with all options.

These Skythians portray a skill that definitely falls outside the realm of the Jack: riding a horse with only a horse blanket, before stirrups were invented, while using both hands to fire your bow, and simultaneously avoiding being killed by your enemy.

The bulk of these figures are from a Falcon Figures DBA v1 army pack. The two stands of light horse with riders facing forward and the Auxilia are Essex. The Falcon metal was very brittle, so I mounted these on thick Litko Aerosystems plywood bases with plasteel on the bottom, to pick them up without touching the figures. I’m not that happy with the base edges, I’m more of a thin base sort of guy.

The general can be either cavalry (3Cv) or one of the light horse (2LH) elements. Just like in real life, it’s hard to tell who the general is. Skythians were famed for their hit and run horse archers, and in DBA the army can be fielded with all 12 elements as light horse. This can make them very difficult to control. I think they might also work better on a 30″ board instead of 24″, for extra room on the flanks to avoid the “end of the world” phenomenon.

Here, the Essex light horse figures are in the rightmost column. The Falcon horses were separate from their riders, which made them easier to paint and then assemble later. I epoxied the riders on, after clearing a spot down to bare metal on both parts. The epoxy is transparent, and not really visible even where there’s too much. In fact, I used epoxy on some of the bows to help prvent them from snapping off as well.

I used Essex figures to fill in the figures missing from the DBA v1 army list, to bring it up to DBA v2 standards. I was surprised to see the skins on the backs of the Essex light horse: I thought they all rode with saddle blankets. Reading about them in the Osprey book, it turns out those are “the flayed skins of their enemies,” thus the general lack of hair. On the other side of the horse, there’s also a scalp. The Falcon figures were portrayed as much more civilized.

Here is one element of auxilia (3Ax, Skythian javelins) and two elements of psiloi (2Ps, the archers). The auxilia are Essex figures.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any female horse archers. Apparently they rode side by side with the men, which would be wonderful to portray if the figures were more readily available. Skythians wore colorful tunics, with decorative stripes down their arm and leg seams, and around their necks, and goofy Smurf hats. I might have preferred to see more different horse and rider poses for the Falcon light horse, but they’re so colorful that it hardly matters.

I had fun painting this army, and I’m quite happy with how well it turned out. When I finished, I decided not to paint another DBA army for a while, but I think I’ve already changed my mind.

But after I finish painting a few DBA camps, I’ll most likely be painting fantasy naval vessels for Uncharted Seas.

More Middenheimers

I figured out how to push “painting miniatures” into the “thing I do now” slot: I just needed to listen to music or movies, and that made all the difference. I painted my second batch of 4 Middenheimer figures in no time at all, compared to the first 5.

After actually playing Mordheim, I decided to adjust my warband somewhat, and this required a tenth figure: Mack is on the left in this picture. In the center, One-eyed Mitt is named after his eyepatch and gigantic left hand. Mick is on the right.

These two figures are metal Middenheimer Youngbloods: Marion and Mike, aspiring carpenters. The metal castings have a lot more detail than the plastic figures, but these ones turned out not to be harder to paint.

These are the Henchmen: the no-name dudes who are most likely to die. The two on the left with hammers were painted more recently.

As far as Mordheim the game goes: we’ve played twice, and we enjoy it. It’s definitely a Games Workshop game, and can be abused if you let it. We’ve been playing 3 player scenarios, and we end up with a lot more casualties than I expect we should.

One of the good things about Mordheim is the fact that the rules are now freely available for download from the Games Workshop web site. The figures aren’t really available anymore for the most part, but you can use just about any figures you want, for them.

DBA Army II/12: Alexandrian Macedonians

Several years ago, I bought a 15mm Essex Miniatures Alexandrian Macedonian army for DBA. This is the army Alexander the Great used to conquer “the known world.” I wasn’t particularly interested in Alexander the Great, but he was a contemporary enemy of the Later Spartan army I already had. Conquering the known world tends to accumulate enemies, so there would be plenty of options for fighting reasonably historically matched battles with these guys.

Except for one thing: no one else actually plays DBA. At the very least I’d need to paint all the armies and bring all the terrain. So when it actually came down to painting the army, I basically finished the two Psiloi elements (two foot bowmen each, on the flanks) and stopped.

Now, years later, I’ve started painting again. I decided to sneak a few of Alexander’s troops in while I was painting my Middenheimers, but then I ran out of Middenheimers to paint, so I just finished these instead.

Alexander leads the cavalry charge from his right flank. Light troops link the cavalry to the pike block in the center, and prevent them from being encircled.

Wargamers tend to be pretty picky people. You can’t paint your American Revolutionary War British troops yellow without being ridiculed, for example. So I spent a lot of time researching what color Alexander’s troops should be painted. But I discovered something interesting: this happened so long ago, no one really knows. In the Ancients period, people don’t seem to be all that picky about getting the uniform colors perfect.

Alexander was a successful conqueror, so many of his documents survived long enough for historians to write about him in the following centuries. We know where he went, how many troops he had, and how they fought. But apparently no one bothered to write down what color the uniforms were. There are a few sources useful to extrapolate uniform colors, but there are only a handful of examples, and their pigments have surely changed color in the last 2300 years.

So, it’s impossible to tell whether all of Alexander’s pikemen were dressed in lavender with yellow stripes, or whether this was reserved for only certain troops, or special occasions. In any case, everyone seems to agree that Alexander’s uniforms were quite ugly.

The pike block in the center was the backbone of Alexander’s army. It formed the anvil against which the Cavalry’s hammer slammed the enemy.

While researching uniforms, I’ve learned a lot more about Alexander the Great’s major battles and overall conquests than I intended. It has been interesting.

On the left flank, more cavalry prevents the enemy from encircling the pike block in the center.

Alexander’s recurring major enemy seems to be Darius II, king of the Persian empire. He had huge numbers of troops, and almost always outnumbered Alexander (sometimes by more than a factor of 10). But Alexander always won because of Daruius’ weakness: he was very eager to run away whenever he saw Alexander anywhere near him, and the rest of his troops followed him even when the battle was going well.

This makes it difficult to accurately wargame battles between Alexander and the Persians, without making it seem contrived and broken. “Roll a die to see if Darius runs away this turn” isn’t very fun. DBA sacrifices numerical accuracy for playability: all armies are represented by exactly 12 elements (my army above contains a few different options that I’d choose 12 from before I started a game).

Hopefully I can convince some unsuspecting newcomers to play a game or two of DBA. In the mean time, I’ll start painting another of Alexander’s enemies: the Scythians. Horse archers, anyone?


I decided to try painting some miniatures again, to see if it would capture my attention as my next “thing to do,” or not. The verdict is still out, but I did finish this batch of figures at least.

Here we have: one goblin, two treasure chests, and five Middenheimer warriors armed with axes, swords, and crossbows.

I never manage to take good pictures of my figures, most likely because I can’t produce enough light.

I did an adequate job painting these, but not a wonderful job. They’re fine for table gaming, which is all they’ll ever see (if they’re lucky). I haven’t painted anything in several years, at least since Ezra was born, and these figures I’ve had sitting in a box for probably 5 years or more, waiting to be assembled.

I have no clue where the goblin came from. It’s a random metal casting I picked up somewhere, not a Games Workshop piece. I started painting it last time I was painting, and decided to finish it while I was working on the rest, so it’s really out of place here.

The rest of the pieces are plastic models from the Games Workshop game Mordheim. I like the “mix and match” and posing you can do with these multi-part plastic models. In Mordheim terms, these are human mercenaries from Middenheim, but I tried to make them passable as pirates as well. I chose a civilized blue and green color scheme: maybe they pirated a shipment of fine French high school band uniforms?

There’s an equal likelihood that we’d play Blood and Swash with these. Martine’s just getting old enough for this, so maybe my secret plans to create a new opponent will finally reach fruition? She can handle the rules, but probably won’t like it when her guys start dying. Last time I tried playing with Martine, she convinced me the guys were going to start talking to each other instead of fighting. We’re going to have to work on her social skills. *

Blood and Swash is always really fun at conventions. It’s a simple, fast-paced skirmish scale miniatures game, originally designed for recreating barroom brawls in the age of Pirates. We played most recently on a regular Saturday game night, using some of Martine’s Playmobil soldiers and terrain (after she was in bed: she didn’t mind them dying when she wasn’t around). It worked really well: when Andy and Theresa’s guys died they took over a snake and a T-Rex, and chased Frank and I until we fled with the loot.

Blood and Swash has the fast gameplay of a miniatures wargame without any of the rules lawyering, combined with the open-ended nature of a role-playing game without any of the role playing (or rules lawyering); but the rules can be explained in 5 minutes and played by anyone who can count to 20. So it makes a great introduction to miniatures wargaming, but it can also be great fun as a light hearted wargame where how you kill someone is at least as important as whether you succeed or not.

It also doesn’t require many figures per player, to get started. However, I could probably use a few more just in case…

* Just kidding. Remember that post where I mentioned I like to say obviously false things for ironic effect? Besides, I think she has become much more caustic since last time we played.