Saturday, September 25, 2010

Testudo Miniatures - Hyperspace Delivery!!

Wow!  My Testudo Miniatures were waiting for me in my mailbox when I got home from the office on Friday!  That was flat out unbelievable.  I placed my order on Monday, exchanged a couple of emails verifying that my order was correct, and then paid via PayPal on Wednesday once everything was all set.  Late that same Wednesday night, Testudo sent me another email letting me know that the package had shipped.  I then expected I would have to wait at best 10 days or so for transit from Italy to the USA, but as a result of what I can only consider a hyperspace wormhole, it took less than 48 hours for the shipment to be delivered to my front door.  Now, I usually can't expect a delivery from an American company to come in less than two weeks, and I got these Testudo figures in less than two days!  I can certainly say, I'll never be poking fun at the Poste Italiane in the future.  That was sensational costumer service also from Testudo Miniatures, who kept me updated promptly on each step of the ordering process.  If any readers, knowing that there are no American distributors of Testudo products, are considering ordering from overseas, I can tell you that my experience has greatly exceeded my most optimistic expectations.

And what are the figures like?  In my opinion, absolutely sensational.  The equal of the best of anything in 25/28mm.  Yes, they are definitely on the large side (to the extent that I think I will use only 3 figures to a 40mm wide infantry base instead of 4), and there is a bit of flash to clean up, but these have got to be the only choice for the best figures to use for a 15mm, 17th Century Pike and Shot army.  My biggest concerns now are a lack of faith in my basic wargaming-standard painting skills to do these figures suitable justice, and that once I finish building an army with these figures I may then become incapable of ever again being satisfied with 15mm miniatures of a lesser quality.

Here are some sample photos representative of what I purchased, shot straight out of the pack, unpainted and uncleaned, in order to show you what the figures look like when they arrived:

TYC104 - Pikemen, breast-and-back

TYF109 - Musketeers preparing the arms

TYC205 -Cuirassiers, 3/4 armour, closed helm, pistol

As I get units for this army finished, I'll post some more photos to show how they turned out with some paint slapped on them.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

FoG-R Arrives

Well, I finally got it.  Field of Glory - Renaissance was sitting in my mailbox when I got home from work yesterday (9/23).  I immediately opened up the packaging to have a quick thumb through, but unfortunately, I had to spend the rest of the afternoon at my kids' sporting events followed by an evening open house at the high school.  It does look really nice and attractive though.  If you already own or have seen the original Field of Glory for Ancients and Medievals, then you will get the idea - hard cover binding, with lots of full color Osprey artwork and diagrams.  I have to yet give the rules a close reading, but they seem to be laid out a bit better than the original, and everything I was hoping would be included for troop types and formations seems to be in the book.  Of course, if you didn't care for the original rules, you probably won't like these either, but they are to my taste, and it seems that their publication will generate enough renewed interest in Renaissance gaming that it will be possible to get games in the period once again.

I'll post a more in-depth description and review once I get some quiet time to give them a good read, but in the meantime, here is another film clip from the Spanish film, "Alatriste", this one showing the full combat sequence of the Battle of Rocroi.



Seems that the movie doesn't show the complete battle, just the fighting involving a single isolated tercio.  The combat portrayal is a bit episodic, and there are a lot of what I am sure are inaccuracies, but the costumes and uniforms are excellently done - and is there anywhere else where you can see a relatively decent portrayal of pike and musket warfare?

Well, now that I have the rules, I have to decide if I'll be building an Early or Late Thirty Years War Imperialist army, or a Late Imperialist Spanish one.  I'll be drawing up different lists in the meantime while I await the arrival of my Testudo miniatures, which have supposedly just been shipped from Italy.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pike and Shotte Anticipations

As an American historical wargamer, there are times when one can't help but feel frustratingly envious of our UK gaming friends.  This week is just such an occasion for me.  Field of Glory Renaissance (FoG-R) is already available across the pond, but cannot yet be purchased here in the USA, and my pre-release order from Amazon.com is not scheduled to be delivered until September 24 next week.  As a regular player of the Ancient and Medieval version of these rules, I am very much anticipating the Renaissance version, most particularly for the chance to play some 17th Century, European, Pike and Shotte armies.

I first got interested in the Thirty Years War, due to stories told to me by a charismatic high school German teacher with a broad knowledge of historical events.  Later, it was viewing the musket and pike battle scenes from the epic 1970's movie, "Cromwell" that sparked an additional interest in the English Civil War.  At that time, I was only a RPG player and board gamer who had not yet started using miniatures, so wanting to indulge my gaming desire for some pike and shotte, I took up playing for awhile the SPI Tactical Series game, "Musket and Pike".  Eventually, I gave this game up, but I always continued to harbor a desire to some day eventually getting around to playing miniature games set in this period.  Unfortunately, I've never been satisfied with the available rulesets.  DBR seemed okay for 16th Century games, but I don't think it modeled the complex nature of 17th Century warfare correctly. Gush's rules are overly complex, and not really commonly played any longer.  I don't like the individually mounted figures and morale rules for Forlorn Hope, and WAB English Civil War (just like WAB for Ancients and Medievals), always seemed too much like a skirmish level game to me instead of a big battle one - regardless of the fact that these games are really only designed for English Civil War battles and not suitable for the Continental warfare of the period without significant modifications.  The closest thing that I have seen for a tactical level wargame modeling Pike and Shotte warfare published in the last decade or so, hasn't even been a miniatures game, but the series of "Musket and Pike" boardgames published by GMT Games, including "This Accursed Civil War" and "Gustav Adolf the Great".


So, it has been that my desire for playing miniature battles in the 17th Century has pretty much gone unfulfilled for the last several decades.  Now, though, I am very optimistic about how the FoG-R rules can be used for these kind of games.  I've seen some advanced copies of the Beta rules, and in my opinion, this is the first set of rules that I've read that does what I consider a reasonable job of handling all the complex infantry formations of the period, along with the multitude of cavalry types from Croat raiders to knightly Cuirassiers.  And from what I can tell, if one is already familiar with the mechanics of the standard FoG rules, then the learning curve for these rules will be minimal.  I will certainly be checking my mailbox all next week in the hopes each day of finding that the rules, along with the first army list supplement covering warfare in the 17th Century, have been delivered to me.

Complementing the Musket and Pike theme of this post, below are a pair of videos of the battle scenes from "Cromwell".  My recollection of this movie is that it was okay - at least I enjoyed the combat segments - but most of the rest, what with endless arguing over the divine rights of kings, and the religious fanaticism of the Puritan Roundheads, was just a bit too tedious for my taste.





For something a bit more Thirty Years War, here is the trailer for the movie, "Alatriste".  A Spanish film that supposedly is not that good, but it does show some clips from the last stand of a Spanish Tercio at the pivotal battle of Rocroi.  And try to find another film showing a battle scene from the Thirty Years War.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Roman Army Talk

My primary inspiration for gaming in the Ancient and Medieval worlds is my longtime interest in these historical periods.  Because of this, I've been digging around the internet in search of websites and forums covering Ancient and/or Medieval history or historical fiction.  Disappointingly, there is much less of this kind of information on the web than I anticipated.  Of course, there is The Miniatures Page, and many other gaming forums, but I've been looking for content that was not necessarily gaming specific.  There is a forum at the website for Ancient Warfare magazine (a highly recommended publication, btw), but it doesn't appear to be very active.  So, I was getting a bit discouraged about the state of general interest on the internet in all things Ancient or Medieval, until I finally found RomanArmyTalk.com.

RomanArmyTalk is specifically a forum for just this kind of thing.  There is a small, relatively inactive section on gaming, but there are also extensive areas on Roman and Greek Military History and Archeology, Allies and Enemies of Rome, Ancient Civilizations, and References and Reviews.  It seems that the participants include amateur historians, professors, scholars, re-enactors, and historical gamers.  I've only been a visitor to this forum for a couple of weeks now, but I've already found quite a few interesting threads to follow.  If you are a "Sword-and-Sandal" type, you might yourself also find a visit to RomanArmyTalk worthwhile.

You can reach RomanArmyTalk at:  http://www.romanarmytalk.com/rat/index.php

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hadrian's Wall at Dork Tower

Check out the latest Dork Tower comic.  Seems a bit like the ending of "Centurion" to me, except that this guy did safely make it back to Hadrian's Wall.



I guess it's a bit of a goof on those wargamers who can't use a figure if it has the wrong cuff colors or bow case covers.  And those history enthusiasts who can't have fun at a movie unless everything is historically accurate.  This one gave me a good laugh, and I just had to share.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Murder in the Mud - Agincourt

Lately, almost all my reading has been no-nonsense history books, some being a bit dry and rather academic.  As summer has been winding down, the mood struck me to lighten things up and engage in the comparatively guilty pleasure of some fiction...but at least historical fiction that is.  It's been awhile since I read a novel of historical fiction, and I didn't have anything particular in mind, so I just hit my local book store to browse the shelves and see if anything would strike my fancy.  After a good cup of black coffee from the in-shop cafe, and an hour or so of thumbing through a variety of selections, I finally left with a copy of Bernard Cornwell's "Agincourt" tucked under my arm.

For all my interest in things historical, I have never actually gotten around to reading a Cornwell book.  I know that he has his detractors - I've heard that his work is formulaic, characters are one-dimensional, plot lines are repetitive and predictable, and that his prose is ordinary.  But Cornwell's books are very popular, he has written many of them, including all the Sharpe books set in the Napoleonic Wars and the more recent Saxon novels, so I figured that there must be something to his stuff  if so many other readers enjoy it so much  Anyway, if I had nothing else that I desperately wanted to read, I said to myself, why not give him a try.  I didn't want to dive into the middle of one of his multi-book sagas, and since Medieval history is more interesting to me than the other periods he writes about, of the books in the store, Agincourt (which is a single volume book) seemed the most obvious one to pick up. 

Turns out, I very much enjoyed the book.  I agree, Cornwell is probably best described as a "middle-brow" writer.  In other words, his book is aimed at an audience with enough of an interest in the history of the era the story is set in to want to read this kind of book in the first place, but it isn't of a serious enough nature to satisfy academics and scholars.  The book is fairly well research though - there are notes at the back describing his sources, a further description of the battle and campaign, an essay on the longbow, and a transcript of a BBC interview with the author - all of which show that the author has a more than basic grasp of the documentation surrounding this pivotal battle that contributed so much to the English national myth.  If you have read John Keegan's Face of Battle, you won't get anything here that wasn't in that book, but Cornwell's narrative of the battle doesn't conflict with that interpretation either.

Cornwell's characters are all one or two dimensional certainly, and are painted with very broad brush strokes, but I did appreciate his cast of heroes and villians.  The protagonist is a common archer, Nicolas Hook by name, in Henry V's expedition to France.  He was outlawed for striking a rapacious priest, and now like all his fellow warriors, doesn't really care why he is fighting in a foreign land, just knowing that his king wants him to kill Frenchmen, and he is more than happy to oblige him.  Hook is not a character with modern sensibilities plunked into a medieval story, but is really a man of his own time - he has no problem engaging in murder, in intent and deed, his conscience never seems to be disturbed over all the violent acts he witnesses or commits, and he is for all intents and purposes, a bit of a psychopath, responding to voices that only he hears in his head (allegedly those of Saints Crispin and Crispinian) that tell him when to run, when to hide, and when to kill.  The cast of supporting characters is entertaining also - evil priests, lusty priests, noble tournament champions, honorable enemies, religious fanatics, damsels-in-distress - everything you would expect from a tale set in the later Middle Ages.  King Henry V in this book never actually delivers the famous Shakespearean "Band of Brothers" speech, (although he does say things a bit similar in front of his army just before the French attack), but as an example of what made this book involving to me, his character is a bit more interesting than the one that the bard gives us.  Henry is a religious fanatic, literally believing that God himself has sided with his dynastic cause, and for this reason, in his mind, he cannot lose even when leading his army into what any sane person would see as a French trap with no way out.

I could give some criticisms - the prose is not of literary award quality, the plot is predictable, and things do get resolved somewhat abruptly,  but the story here is really all about the battle itself - and of describing that, Cornwell does a marvelous job.  You really feel as if you are right in the middle of the fighting of a battle of the nastiest kind - mired in knee deep mud, killing armored men with hammer blows to the head, or lifting the visor of a stunned and prone opponent to thrust a dagger into an uncovered eyeball.

When all is said and done, "Agincourt" is not a work of classic literature, but it is a guilty pleasure (a cynic might say a bit of war porn) for anyone desiring a characterful description of this most well known of Hundred Years War battles.  The tale is told very cinematographically, reminding me in its plotting and pacing of a Michael Crighton novel - so if that kind of thing appeals to you, this book will too.  In fact, there is supposedly a British adaption of this book starting filming very soon, with a screenplay by Michael Hirst, who gave us also "Elizabeth", the Cate Blanchett breakout film, and the Showtime series, "The Tudors".  The talk is that this is supposed to be filmed in a "Saving Private Ryan" fashion, showing the brutality of 15th century combat without romanticism and with a graphic first person point of view.  Something maybe to look forward to in 2012.

I don't know if I am a convert to all of Cornwell's works or not, but "Agincourt" was more than worthwhile, and I may now someday give his "Grail Quest" and "Saxon Stories" a try.

For a bit of additional color, here are links for the "Band of Brothers" speech from two previous film versions of Shakespeare's Henry V.

First, the Lawrence Olivier 1944 version:



And here is the 1989 adaption directed by Kenneth Branagh:



I don't know which one I enjoy better - Olivier's delivery is I think a bit more inspiring that Branagh's, but the English in the 1944 film don't look gritty and muddy enough to match the actual descriptions of the battle.  The 1989 film is a bit more accurate in that sense.  But these are both good movies to get you in the mood to read "Agincourt", and to wet your whistle while waiting for the film of the novel to get made.

Thinking about those long ago archers, commoners all, taking down an army of armored aristocrats does also make one want to put together an English Hundred Years War army of one's own.