A Few Words about SAGA and the Norse Gaels

I walked away from ancients years ago. I didn’t like the competitive matchups the rules fostered. I’m a scenario person, dislike tournaments and there really wasn’t a lot of agreement on a set of ancient rules. I did go whole hog, well really the whole pigpen on the Hundred Years War, but they’ve been idle since before the pandemic.

A couple of months ago I reached out to some old game buddies to see what they were up to. They were playing SAGA: Age of Vikings. I knew of SAGA, that it was supported by Gripping Beast miniatures, but not a lot. more. I drove over to Scott’s house to watch ’em play a game. It looked fun, different. The dice, the battle boards offered nuance and complexity and it gave me an excuse to try something new–which I really need like a hole in the head–but I was in.

Got the rules, a Norse-Gaels set by Gripping Beast as well as a box of their plastic Irish. Norse-Gaels are those Norwegian Vikings who occupied the western isles off the coast of Scotland and many areas of Ireland. They established the Kingdom of Dublin. So the army is a mix of Vikings, Scots and Irish so who can’t like that?

SAGA armies are allowed points. Each unit is worth one point. The quality of the unit determines its size. The good troops, or Heartguards, are usually four figures. They are the hard bitten Viking raiders. They wear chainmail and are bad-ass.

The next unit type is Warriors. They are the bulk of my army and are composed of Irish bonnachts. The bonnachts, like the Hearthguards are either javelin armed or axe-armed and have eight figures. Axe- armed troops are considered heavy weapons, but have reduced armor value because they can’t fight with a shield. Javelin-armed troops are considered missile-armed. Not quite as cool as bow or sling armed, but there are stories of the troops punctured by javelins.

The final type is the peasant type, considered by the Norse Gaels as “slaves,” but I like to think of them as good old Irish kerns.

I’ve played a couple of games with them. They are interesting. A mix of shooters and hackers for sure. I’ve also learned a bit more of their Battle Board from a SAGA Thorsday YouTube video


I’ve had some success, but hope to try out what I’ve learned soon.

A March to remember, but perhaps not repeat

Yes, it; time for my end of month round-up. Yes, it’s late. But when you’re retired you lose track of time. Plus, my wife just had knee replacement surgery and is off work, When we’re both off an at home we can’t even remember the day of the week, so if I am a bit late, well, excuuuusssseeee me!

There was a lot going on in March. Lorri and I took an amazing vacation to Temecula, California where we did a lot of relaxing and took in a lot of the wine country of that city, tucked away in northeaster San Diego county. Yes, we drank a lot of wine, bought a lot of wine, tasted a lot of wine. It was a wine thing. We were gone a week, but preparations and recovery seemed to suck up a couple more days.

Five days after getting home, Lorri had her knee surgery. Let’s just cut to the chase, she’s doing great. Her ortho doc said it was one of the ugliest looking knees he’s seen and thinks she’ll get some immediate relief. It’s been ten days since the surgery, and even though there’s pain and struggle at times, a blind man could see she’s doing better.

I share all this stuff to make excuses for my puny paint totals for March. I say that, but I did paint, and I did get stuff done. I also really like what I got done too.

First, I finished all my Gringo 40’s Republican cavalry for Maximilian. The irregular horse can be used for the Mexican War too. They are miniaturas gigantes. Really big. But I love ’em. They will appear with the attacking Republican forces in my Enfilade game “The Matehuala Two-Step” and should literally scare the crap out of the Imperial forces they’ll be facing.

The last week or so of the month (which is all I had left) allowed me to shift gears and begin working on an army for SAGA. I have a couple of Tacoma friends who play SAGA, Age of Vikings, so I thought I needed to get in on the ground floor. I bought a Gripping Beast Norse-Gael army. I’ll do a review later. I’ve managed to get some of these figures done. There simply aren’t that many needed, something on the order of 45 figures for a typical six-point army. I’ve finished the first sixteen, plus a hero and a warlord figure. More are well down the road to completion.

Gripping Beast Irish kerns for SAGA
Gripping Beast hearthguard for the Norse-Gaels

This was also a month of many new purchases, sadly. Let’s settle up and see where we are

1 X 6 28mm Republican dragoons by Gringo 40’s

3 X 6 28mm Republican irregular horse by Gringo 40’s

1 X 4 28mm Norse-Gael hearthguard by Gripping Beast

2 X1 28mm Norse-Gael Warlord and Hero by Gripping Beast

1 X 12 28mm Irish Kerns by Gripping Beast

March total = 42 figures

2022 total = 257

Purchases (ugh)

Gringo 40’s Maximillian figures 30 figures

Foundry Maximilian figures 36 figures

Front Rank Limbers and Oxen 6 figures

Gripping Beast Norse-Gael figures (from Badger Games) 13 figures

Foundry Mexican figures (from Badger Games) 7 figures

Total figures purchased in March = 92

We’re going the wrong direction here

April plans are to wrap up the SAGA figures. I’ve actually already completed 12 for April. I have another 16 to complete. Eight of those will be plastic, but they all need to be completed before April 12th when I’ll get together with friends to play my first game of SAGA.

After that it’s back to cracking the whip for my Enfilade Maximilian game. I still have artillery and limbers I want to finish for both sides. There are also some Republican Rurales cavalry I’d like to get done. I have piles more figures to paint for this project, but those are the must-do’s for my game on May 27th.

Last, but certainly not least, I need to finish remounting all my Maximilian figures. I’ve been able to remount all the Mexicans. That is some seven units of irregular infantry, four units of regular infantry, and three units of cavalry. Only the French are left and I’ll start on those guys this week. It’s a big job. I’ve kept Kenneth Litko very happy.

The TVAG Price Reduction

My collection of Houston’s/TVAG/Viva Juarez Maximilian-era cavalry

This week Patrick Wilson, worthy proprietor of the The Virtual Armchair General, made a stunning announcement that he was cutting the price of his Viva Juarez range by 25%. That’s infantry, cavalry, and artillery. He also gave credit to me and my article about the Maximilian ranges available in his announcement on The Miniatures Page. While it’s nice to get some credit in Wilson’s decision, it is a great boon to those interested in this period.

First, though I don’t care for the Houston’s infantry scuplts, there are many who do. The breadth of the range is pretty complete and these figures are relatively compatible to the Foundry range for Maximilian. At $30 per bag of 20 figures including command, or a buck and a half per figure, this makes the TVAG offerings much less expensive than Foundry or Gringo 40’s, especially if you’re starting out and need a bunch of figures. A decent paint job will cure lots of the deficiencies.

However, if you’re really hankering for cavalry, this price cut is a huge deal. First, there’s tons of cavalry in this conflict. You have to have it if you’re serious. Since my last article I’ve spent a lot of time looking at my Foundry Imperial cavalry and find them severely lacking. They will be turned into Republican Rurales, and will be fine in that role. However, unless you’re only interested in the Empress Lancers or the Red Hussars, the Foundry Imperial cavalry just won’t do. And, it’s expensive. Like six bucks plus per figure.

On the other hand the TVAG Houston’s guys are quite acceptable. Size-wise they work fine with the Foundry range. They have lance-armed, sword-armed, or carbine-armed cavalry dressed for the campaign with kepi and havelock. These work for both Republican or Imperial forces. 12 for thirty smackers. That’s two units for Rebels and Patriots at $2.50 per figure. That’s an incredible deal for very serviceable figures.

Finally, the price is also reduced on artillery and equipment packs. These typically include a gun, crew, limber and draft animals. For the Republicans, this means ox-carts and oxen to draw the largely outdated ordinance available to them. Most significantly, it means proper Mexican gunners for those pieces which nobody else, well, check that, only Irregular Miniatures make. A gun, team and crew costs $12-14, which is very, very reasonable. Just by comparison, I recently ordered two ox-drawn limbers by Front Rank miniatures and the cost was 20 pounds plus shipping.

My unit of Imerial Line cavalry with swords. I think these guys are great, and much better than anything else available. More in my future for sure.

Would I order these figures? Absolutely. The next figure order I make will be to TVAG for a pack of Imperial cavalry with swords and a pack of the Republican artillery.

Figure Ranges For the French Adventure in Mexico: Does Size Matter?

I think I became interested in the French Adventure in Mexico, or Maximilian’s Empire or the Mexican War of Independence, or Cinco de Mayo or the action at Camerone, after my friend Dave Demick became interested. Dave is interested in all things obscure. At that time, looonnnggg ago there wasn’t much specifically available. You could do Franco Prussian War figures for the French (still a viable option) and the Mexicans could be some collection of American Civil War figures with I dunno what for the Mexican cavalry.

Eventually Frontier Figures came out with a range of Maximilian figures, but it was never complete. Completing a range for this period is a challenge because of all the different nationalities, and units and uniform changes. It’s tough. There is the early part of the war in which there are mostly French units, traditional line infantry with some Chasseurs de Pied, sailors, zouaves, Algerian troops, hussars, Chasseurs D’Afrique and others. Gorgeous Second Empire uniforms, though they mostly toss the most onerous elements of those as they go trudging through the dry, rocky terrain.

The Mexicans, in this early period, have beautiful blue uniforms with a little shako and pom pom, nice stuff. They chuck those for a white campaign uniform with a raised collar, some blue piping and a kepi. Much more practical.

There is a middle period of the war, say after 1864 when Maximilian is headed toward his coronation in Mexico when the French are reinforced with Imperial units. These take many forms. The Belgian Legion and Austrian Legion arrive from Europe. The emperor forms his own units with their own uniforms. Many of these soldiers are conscripts or deserters from the Republican army, or veterans from Conservative militias that fought against Juarez in the early days of the Republic.

During this period, the Republican army is wearing whatever it can get its hands on, but mostly in loose fitting white garments with few markings. Sandals. Combinations of kepi, kepi with havelock and sombreros. The super cool short shakos are probably history.

By 1866 the French have began to ship their troops home which was completed by the end of the year. Maximilian was forced to rely on his unreliable Imperial troops who were subject to desertion and changing sides. Some of the foreign troops, Belgians and Austrians, also joined the Imperial units.

The Republican Army gets new life as the French depart and they re-arm and re-uniform with help from the United States. Repeating rifles and carbines, rifled artillery provide a nasty surprise for Maximilian’s troops. Elements of the Republican army begin to reappear in Union blues.

So, it’s complicated and developing a range of figures for the period is complicated too. So who has stuff, how much is there or is this all just hopeless?

To my knowledge, there are three ranges of Maximilian figures. These are the old Richard Houston range cast by the worthy Patrick Wilson at The Virtual Armchair General. Wargames Foundry has a range and sort of a half a bonus range. Finally Gringo 40’s has a range. Each of these manufacturers have virtue. Each also has a problem or two. I have figures from all of these ranges and I will share photos of each as well as commentary.

Houston’s Figures: Wilson markets these as part of his “Viva Juarez” project. As with other of his ranges, there is not only some figures but wargames guides to the period. I can vouch for the Viva Juarez books as worth having because there is such a paucity of decent information on the military history of this conflict. Not cheap, but good stuff.

The Smyth Holdings: I own 30 of the cavalry figures. Full disclosure: I bought these when this range was produced by The London War Room.

Virtues: This range is extensive and covers Republicans, French and Imperial forces. You could put together a pretty complete collection of all the combatants just buying from TVAG. The cavalry and artillery figures are inexpensive. Cavalry comes 12 to a bag for forty bucks which makes a figure about $3.50 a shot. That’s pretty inexpensive compared to other ranges. These figures are decent too. They’ve been eclipsed in detail by newer ranges but for the price they shouldn’t be overlooked. I don’t have any of the artillery but they come with a gun, crew, limber and draft animals for $16. Seems like a good deal to me without having actually seen them.

Drawbacks: I’m sorry, but the infantry figures are simply past their prime. Photos show they don’t proportion well. A friend bought the Austrian Legion and Egyptian figures and was quite disappointed. They come in a unit bag of 20 with command figures and flag which is nice, but they are forty dollars, so the price per figure is two bucks. That’s pretty steep for figures well past their prime. That’s in the ballpark for the cost of a Foundry figure ($1.99) and Gringo 40’s ($2.13), though that doesn’t include significant shipping.

Wargames Foundry: Wargames Foundry has the most extensive range of figures for the Maximilian conflict. However, it is not without complications. If you go to the Foundry site you’ll see two pages of figures in their range. These figures were sculpted by Aly Morrison, my guess is the early 90’s. This includes French, Republican and Imperial figures. You can get most everything you need here except the Austrian Legion In the Franco Prussian War range there is a huge variety of French figures to choose from including hussars, French infantry in light and campaign kit, Turcos and other figures not in the Maximilian range. These figures were sculpted by Alan and Michael Perry and are a tish bigger than the Morrison figures.

Foundry Chasseurs D’Afrique sculpted by Aly Morison

You’d think that’s it, but wait there’s more. In the Old West range, on pages six and seven there are 12 packs of various Mexican regulars, irregulars and command figures. There are also four packs of French Camerone personalities or filibusterers. These are more recent sculpts and are much larger figures. They might have been sculpted by Mark Copplestone, they have that large blocky look that is so much fun to paint, but no sculptor is listed. No cavalry or artillery are available for these guys

Smyth Holdings: Geez, where do I start? I have 150 of the Morrison and 100 Perry figures painted in my collection, including infantry and some (a few) cavalry, and more unpainted. I also have 40ish of the Old West figures. I’ve painted some of the Camerone figures and recently snagged a few of the Mexicans to at least get a look at the size. I also have some of the old Guernsey Foundry figures back when Foundry was trying to get its act together, and those are now in that Old West cluster.

Virtues: There are lots of choices here. The French are well covered. There are also sailors who appeared in the first siege of Puebla. There are a number of great cavalry choices. The Old West figures offer many different choices for regular and irregular Mexican foot. There are some good Imperial forces too, including the Belgian Legion, Imperial infantry and cavalry, the Egyptian battalion, and the Empress Lancers and Red Hussars. The Morrison Mexican figures, while all one pose, are well proportioned and have a variety of headgear. Great stuff. The Perry figures are also nice, more animated with more poses, though you have to buy each of them separately. The Camerone figures from the Old West range are terrific. They are much fun, and if you want to do the action at Hacienda Trinidad. They are large and well detailed and Foundry identifies each of the figures with one of the defenders.

French Infantry by Alan and Michael Perry

Drawbacks: Lots of figures, but not without issues. The first issue is similar to the Houston’s problems. These are figures from the 90’s that are scaled from that decade. They are closer to true 25’s. In most cases they are really nice true 25’s. If anything they are a great exemplar for why Foundry became such a superior brand during that time period. But they aren’t going to match up very well with the Old West figures or the Gringo 40’s figures, and those figures are very desirable. Another problem is packaging. I ordered a bunch of the Imperialist figures, kind of mix and matching, but they come with just some random guys which I find a little irritating. The same with the Imperial cavalry figures, and because they are pretty spendy at $6.21 per figure (14 quid for three figures,) I don’t want any confusing mismatches. To be fair, Foundry does have some somewhat cheaper deals on one type one pose figures too. Hey, and one more thing, what is with the utterly uninteresting command figures? Why aren’t there ANY standard bearers?

Note: I also have a pile of Perry French Foreign Legion figures I bought to fight Camerone. I’ve used these many times in many different games. These were great figures–biggish 25’s in havelocks, sombreros, kepis. Are they still available? Not so anybody could actually find them. Not in the Maximilian range, or the Franco Prussian War line, or in the Wild West. Sad, because this is a nice collection of guys.

Camerone defenders from the Wild West range by Wargames Foundry

Gringo 40’s

The Gringo 40’s range has some really nice stuff. They have a package of Camerone defenders that seem very nice. They probably have the nicest collection of Republicans I’ve seen. Because you purchase by-the-figure it really allows you to mix and match. There are also Austrian Legion and Belgian Legion figures, plus the Egyptian battalion (because everyone has an Egyptian battalion.)

Gringo 40’s Republican Line Cavalry
Gringo 40’s Irregular Cavalry

Smyth Holdings: I have the Mexican Line Cavalry, the Mexican Irregular Cavalry and some Republican infantry, about 60 figures in all.

Virtues: These are nicely cast, clean figures with just the right amount of detail. The cavalry are maybe the nicest cavalry figures I’ve ever painted. Wonderful faces and some great horses. The infantry offerings have some 21 different figures with a variety of uniforms and headgear. I would like to add more figures from Gringo 40’s to my collection.

Republican infantry by Gringo 40’s

Drawbacks: Well, a couple of things. First, these figures are huge. They might match up okay with the Old West figures, but remember that range has no cavalry. They are a head and a shoulder taller than my Foundry Chasseurs d’Afrique. It’s not just the size that presents the real problem, it’s that the range is so incomplete. There are no French. There are no Imperial infantry beyond the foreign legions and no Imperial horse. No artillery except the tiny Austrian mountain gun. The figures are really nice but it’s almost impossible to match them up with anything else. And unfortunately the company has their attention directed elsewhere and likely won’t add the necessary bits. Few command figures and no standard bearers. What does everyone have against standard bearers?

Comparison photo shows Gringo 40’s figures left, Foundry figures center, and Houston’s figures right.

Summing up

All three of these ranges have virtues and drawbacks. First, to be clear, this is a very niche-y conflict with not likely to generate tons of sales vying in popularity with other little-known conflicts like the Taiping Rebellion, The Fenian Raids and the Second Ashanti War. It does have some cool units and the hypothetical conflict with American Civil War troops gives your Union troops something to do besides shoot at Rebs. But committing tons of resources to the period requires some faith that folks are going to buy ’em so there you go.

Comparison photo: From left-Gringo 40’s, Foundry figures by Aly Morrison, Foundry figures by the Perry brothers, Old West by Wargames Foundry. Note: Some of the size difference is due to thickness of Litko bases vs. washers.

The Houston’s range is pretty complete, but quite dated. The Wargames Foundry range is likewise dated but more complete and the sculpts are somewhat stronger. The later Old West range are quite nice but larger and incomplete. The Gringo 40’s figures are better still, but again very limited. Sadly all the ranges suffer from size incompatibilities. There is no way you could mix figures between Gringo 40’s and the older Foundry ranges in a unit and honestly they look kind of goofy on the same table. I will also add that I’ve moved past that and I take the figures and units as they are.

It’s an interesting, interesting period with some pretty good figures available to paint up in picturesque units. You just have to make some allowances for what’s out there.

Note: While reviewing web entries for this article I stumbled across one more range of the figures for this period. Irregular Miniatures in the UK also has a Maximilian range. Not a lot of entries in their range and they same to rely more on vaguely attired figures than trying to capture the feel of the period. On the plus side they do have standard bearers and Mexican artillerists. That can’t be all bad.

February Wrap

February is a short month, but that didn’t stop me from doing a lot of stuff. Got in some games, painted lots of figures and even placed my first order of the year.

Early in the month I renewed my friendship with some great guys from the old days, Scott and Kurt. They are playing SAGA. That was problematic for me because I’ve pretty much abandoned ancients. My last hurrah was DBA and I still have all my painted DBA armies. I haven’t done anything with them in more than five years and I’d honestly like to bid them farewell. Other ancient rules have come and gone. I’m not a Hail Caesar person. I don’t care for tournaments. But in watching the SAGA rules I was intrigued. I like the interesting dice and the use of the battle boards. There’s a lot of nuance in the game between the die rolls, the use of fatigue, some interesting choices to make.

I purchased a Norse-Gael army and some plastic Dark Age Irish by Gripping Beast to fill them out. The figures have arrived, but I’m waiting on some shield transfers to start work on them. Still need official dice and measuring devices.

Gaming with Scott and Kurt generated a couple of great games. I roped David Sullivan and Michael Koznarsky into getting together at the Game Matrix. We played Rebels and Patriots and David and I dragged out our Mexican War figures for a first trial. It went well. The Americans won, but Scott and Kurt played the rules for the first time. They didn’t utterly dismiss them, so it was a good day.

Last week we played Song of Drums and Tomahawks by Ganesha Games with our 17th Century Indians and David’s handful of Dutch. David, Scott and Kurt were able to slap Michael and I around pretty good after some bad execution on both our parts and some really bad die rolling by me. The most important part, however was renewing those connections and I really enjoyed it. They are great guys.

It was a pretty stupendous painting month.

1 X 6 Mexican cavalry by Gringo 40’s

1 X 8 Camerone defenders by Wargames Foundry

1 X 40 Von Bose Regiment for Regimental Fire and Fury by Old Glory

4 X 12 Imperial Infantry for The Maximilian Advenure by Wargames Foundry

2 X 1/600 ACW vessels by Brown Water Navy

114 figures painted for February

218 figures painted for the year.

50 figures purchased.

Gringo 40’s Mexican cavalry. Beautiful, if really huge figures.
Von Bose Regiment from Old Glory. Forty figures strong.
Brown Water Navy Cincinnati with protected wheel house. This is a wonderful model by Matt Lawson. The second vessel is a stern wheel transport in the background.

March promises to be strange because there is a lot going on. We leave for a welcome vacation to Southern California on the 11th and we are gone for a week. Lorri has knee replacement surgery scheduled for March 24th and I will be helping out with her recovery. I should still have plenty of time to paint, but gaming time might be thin.

The Joy of Glue Dots

Isn’t miniature gaming a wonderful hobby? I’m always amazed at the wonderful things I learn whether it’s from a great read or another gamer. There’s always a trade secret, a new painting technique or a new game store or a new set of rules. And gamers are great at sharing stuff too. I’ve never heard another gamer unwilling to share the way they do stuff, whether it’s mixing paint, or how to do the dip technique, or what material they use to make their bases.

So I’m going to offer something to the group. Glue dots.

You know how figuring out how to paint your figures without holding them in your hand is always a mystery. I know everyone has a magic way that works for them, but I’m going to offer glue dots as a suggestion.

Maybe you stick ’em to paint jars, or pieces of cardboard. I use craft sticks, kind of a throwback to using popsicle sticks for 15mm figures. But how do you stick ’em down? I always used CA glue because if it didn’t glue my mouth shut I’d brush my teeth with it. It’s my go to for everything. Of course prying the figures off the sticks again was a challenge at times.

Maybe you glue ’em down with PVA glue, or white glue for those who don’t track acronyms. Not bad, but it needs to dry overnight and who really wants to wait.

Jim at WarTimes Journal was reading my blog and he suggested glue dots to hold ships in place while I was working on them. I’d never heard of glue dots before, so I had no idea what he was talking about. When I made my weekly trip to Fred Meyer for groceries I dropped back to their ever-shrinking craft department and started looking for them and bingo there they were. Five bucks for 200 dots. Freddies sells the Permanent brand. They are also available on Amazon for a bit less, but they have other brands too.

They come on a big roll. They are dots of sticky stuff about a half inch wide. I put four dots on a craft stick. I just line my dot up where I want it to go on the stick and press it down hard and peel it off the roll. Sometimes the dots don’t cooperate and they make a sticky pile instead of a neat dot, but they still work just fine.

Glue Dots on their roll

Once I have my dots on my sticks, it’s just a matter of smushing my figures into the glue. These dots aren’t gooey or anything like that. They are firm and you do need to be equally as firm pushing your figures into the glue. You might even consider using the dull side of an X-acto blade, but I don’t usually find that’s necessary. Once that’s done, I usually give ’em ten minutes or so and I’m ready to spray prime my guys.

Foundry Mexican Imperial figures blued on to their craft stick, primed and ready to go. Now if they’d only paint themselves, I’d be truly happy.

Will they stay stuck? Yes. Will the figures come off if I drop the stick? Probably. My advice is not to drop the stick. I know this by experience. Can I paint cavalry too? Absolutely, but I use two dots for mounted figures. Can I reuse them for another batch of figures? I tried this once and things didn’t seem to stay stuck quite as well, so based on my experience I’d suggest it’s not a great idea. Could I try this with a different product like Blu-Tac or similar putties? I haven’t tried that but if you do let me know how it goes.

Removing figures from the stick is pretty easy. It’s usually fine to just pull them from the sticky stick. If they seem to be a little too firmly settled in the glue don’t try to rip them off and break their ankles. No, I haven’t done that, but I could see it happening, especially if you’re working with plastic figures. Just use an X-acto blade and give them a little encouragement. It doesn’t take much.

Just something else useful to try. Worked for me and was a definite time saver.

Getting Stuff Done and Why 83.33 is a Magic Number

Hessian Regiment Von Bose by Old Glory
At 40 figures, it’s a big ‘un

February is mostly gone. Not a lot of gaming, but a little bit. Even so, it’s been a fun month. I’ve reconnected with a couple of old friends down here in Pierce County. Kurt and Scott are friends from the old days of Escape Velocity and Fire and Steel Napoleonics. They are newly retired and they want to play some games. I aim to please.

They introduced me to a game of SAGA and not shockingly I’ve ordered the rules and some Norse Gael figures. It’s my reinvestment of my nibble from our tax return. In return I ran a Mexican War game using Rebels and Patriots and introduced them to David Sullivan and Michael Koznarsky. It’s important they meet the right people.

So I’ve done a little bit of gaming, but not a lot. Tomorrow we’ll meet at Dave Schueler’s house to walk through rules for the Battle of Lissa. But after that it’s going to be light. March is full of journalism conventions, vacations and Lorri’s big knee surgery. So it might be kind of thin until April. Maybe not. We’ll see.

But there is always time for painting. And so February is a great painting month. I’ve painted a little of everything this month. A lot of Maxmilian figures, a really big AWI unit, and even a handful of Games Workshop LOTR orcs. Scott is also interested in The Lord of The Rings figures and it just so happens I have a stash of them. In any case, I’m sitting at 76 painted figures. But I have another 36 Foundry Imperial Mexican figures I think I might be able to finish by the 28th. That would give me 112 figures on the month. Two of the three twelve-figure units are on the table and under way, so it is hardly out of the question. There might even be a little bit of wiggle room for another ten orcs.

This begins to shape up into something special. I’m looking at the magic number of 83.33. That’s the number of figures one would have to average each month to paint 1,000 figures for the year. I’ve always wished I could finish 1,000 in a year, but never had a real shot. Just to be clear, I did 102 in January and if I did get 112 done in February that would be a good head start. Long way to go of course. I’ll lose a week of March to vacation, so that makes things harder. But with me filling in as Lorri’s Nurse Ratchet, I may have some extra focus on painting stuff.

Something I’m considering: March may be The Month of the Horsemen–all cavalry all the time. Might throw a monkey wrench in the 100 figure months.

A January Recap

I hope you’ll indulge me my monthly recounting of what I’ve gotten done. January was a good month for painting, not a great month for games. The cold weather and Omicron really made it tough to get together. Four of us met at Dave Schueler’s house for a naval game as part of Dave’s Annual Naval Game. It was fun, but it was just the four of us instead of a dozen. That was it in the miniature gaming department.

But I did get a lot of painting done. 102 figures to be exact. That’s a lot, but I’ll take it. Here is what I finished in the month of January:

24 X 28mm 1st Corps Mexican American War figures. This was for a Rebels and Patriots group project and finished up my share of the projects

2 X 1/600 Bay Area Yard ships. Maria Regina Pia and Ancona. This finishes up my share of the ships for The Battle of Lissa.

24 X 28mm Perry figures for Regimental Fire and Fury, the American War of Independence. These were the 23rd Regiment, The Royal Welsh Fusiliers. More about this project later.

6 x 28mm 1st Corps figures, Berdan’s Sharpshooters for Rebels and Patriots

6 X 28mm Foundry figures: Camerone and Filibusterers. These figures are the personalities for the action at Camerone. There are 28 figures in all for this range. Yes, I have all of them.

24 X 28mm Foundry Belgian Legion figures. I’ve already chatted these up a bit.

12 X 28mm Gringo 40’s Republican Infantry for the Mexican Adventure. These large figures were much fun to paint.

6 X 28mm Foundry Chasseurs D’Afrique. These nice, mounted figures are part of the Maximilian in Mexico project.

That’s 102 figures altogether, and I didn’t buy any new figures. I expect to keep it that way until early March when I’ll either add more Maximilian figs or perhaps the Perry British Guards figures for AWI.

In addition to the painting, I did some remounting. I don’t love remounting, but I really do like using my figures. I also like Daniel Mersey’s rules, as do my friends, so I’m moving to a mounting system more usable with those rules.

In January I remounted many of my long-ignored ACW figures. I remounted three Union infantry units and two cavalry units. I also remounted four Confederate infantry units. Finally, I also made the move on two Mexican militia units for the Maxmilian projects. Not bad.

Looking ahead to February, here’s what’s on the docket.

First I have a Gringo 40’s Mexican Republican cavalry unit. These are lovely, but huge.

The von Bose Regiment was a Hessian unit at Guilford Courthouse. Old Glory figures. I’m painting ten stands worth (40 figures)

After that it will be the Foundry Imperial Infantry figures for Mexico.

I’ll also remount the last of my Confederates, wrapping up the ACW remount party. I’ll begin reorganizing my AWI for Regimental Fire and Fury. I have a lot and I don’t anticipate wholesale remounting, but they are not very well organized. John Gee likes this period even more than I do, and I just want to be able to say I have this, ‘n this, ‘n this. Let’s play.

The French Adventure in Mexico: The Belgian Legion

Foundry Belgian Legion in their early uniforms. The tall hat was frequently knocked off of “lost” on campaign. It was wrapped with a dark blue scarf trimmed in red for grenadiers or green for voltigeurs.

One of the ultra-cool aspects of the French Adventure in Mexico, or the Second French Intervention in Mexico, or the reign of Maximillian as Emperor of Mexico, or the Mexican War of Independence 1861-1867 is that there are a bunch of very cool units that take part in the on-again off again conflict. The conflict itself is pretty horrific with lots of guerrilla raids, reprisals for guerrilla raids, and war to the knife, take-no-prisoners nastiness.

This is not a new project for me. I’ve had my Maximillian figures at least since the middle 90’s. I started out with figures from the Wargames Foundry range. Then I added more from Guernsey Foundry when the company was in turmoil. I also included your basic militia types from Old Glory. I’d guess my painted collection at somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 figures. I actually didn’t have an unpainted pile laying around, unlike all my other projects. That is until recently.

One of those units is the Belgian Legion. The Empress Carlota was Charlotte the daughter of King Leopold of Belgium. In support of Maximilian and Carlota Leopold raised a “legion” of troops to fight in Mexico to support the imperial couple. These were volunteers, green as ripening corn, with little training. They were formed mostly into two infantry units. One was called grenadiers, the other voltigeurs, though those were fanciful names. In fact there was no shock infantry training for the former or light infantry ability for the latter. But they did have pretty cool uniforms and they fought for Maximilian almost to the bitter end.

There are some Belgian Legion figures available. Foundry offers a single pack of Belgian Legion. Unfortunately, there are no command figures. They are eight figures and are divided evenly between the uniform the Legion wore when they arrived in Mexico, and a later uniform they wore on campaign.

These figures are not true 28’s. They were sculpted in the early 90’s by Aly Morrison. They are all one pose, so very old school. That doesn’t mean aren’t nice, they are, but not up to today ‘s standard.

Foundry Belgians, early uniform. The tall hat, cooking gear and the odd back braiding clearly evident. The red indicates these are grenadiers

The figures with early uniforms have a tall round hat and full kit, with pack, blanket and enough cooking pans for Gordon Ramsey to get by. The Legion wore braided jackets, and the braiding is there to be picked out if the painter is careful. The braiding is on the front and back of the jacket. They wore voluminous pantaloons much as the Second Empire French did, but in a medium blue-gray instead of madder red. These figures should wrap their tall hats in a dark blue scarf, edged red for the grenadiers and green for the voltigeurs, the same color as the jacket braiding

The later uniforms lose the tall hat, which had a bad habit of being knocked off their heads. They replace them with kepi and havelock. These figures are also dressed for the field, and left their kit in camp.

Foundry Belgian Legion in later uniforms. I went a little wild with the trouser variety. I also added a Foundry French officer because the Belgians are not available with command. Sad. The green braiding is difficult to see in the crappy light.

I based my figures on the illustrations of the Legion in Campaigns Magazine 32 January/February 1981 by Fred and Liliane Funcken. I used a craft blue, Mountain Blue by Apple Barrel. I chose this because it is a darker blue gray. I lightened it with white for highlighting. I used Vallejo Grey Blue for the trousers. The red bits for braid and pants for the later units is Vallejo Flat Red. Honestly, if I had to do it again, I’d use Scarlet for the braiding because it is just easier to see. For the later unit, I kind of went overboard with the rainbow of pants colors. I used the Grey Blue, and included some red and white too. Should have just included a few of the Grey Blue and white only, which were adopted as the unit spent more time campaigning.

The Foundry range has a real lack of command figures-no officers, standard bearers or musicians for the Belgian Legion, so I glommed on to one of my French figures and added him to the later unit. That is a real weakness in the range.

Gringo 40’s also has a decent range of Belgian Legion figures. They are all in their later campaign gear with kepi and havelock. Several different poses, plus they have a drummer and the Legion commander Baron Alfred Van Der Smissen. I don’t have any of these, but hope to acquire some later this spring. They will be much larger than the Foundry figures, but they look quite nice with the very distinct jacket braiding.

The Belgians performed reasonably well during the French Adventure. They suffered quite a blow at Tacambaro in April 1865 when a significant portion of them were killed and captured by a larger Republican force. They took their revenge on their tormentors in the action at La Loma three months later. They proved to be reliable troops and remained in Mexico when the French forces were gradually sent home. Many Belgians entered service in the Imperial army and remained loyal until the end.

Kevin’s Re-base-o-rama

Re-basing figures. Some love it. Some hate it. In the past I’ve put myself in the latter category. But in my later years, I’ve mostly adopted just a couple of rules families and I’ve decided to rebase accordingly. This year is going to be a major re-basing year.

I’m currently re-basing for Daniel Mersey’s Rebels and Patriot rules. Mersey has a family of rules that all purport to be skirmish rules. I almost never play them that way and envision them as semi-skirmish rules in which a 12 figure unit is equal to about a company or 50 men. The family began with Lion Rampant, set of medieval rules. Continued with a fantasy version, Dragon Rampant. Pikeman’s Lament for the pike and shot era appeared. The Men Who Would Be King covers colonials. Rebels and Patriots covers a fairly wide range of the horse and musket period up through the American Civil War.

I really like these rules. They are fun to play and easy to learn. They’re great convention rules. There are some details that are quite annoying that I won’t get into here. They are all somewhat different from one another, which is another frustration as I attempt to apply a rule from one set that doesn’t apply at all.

As I said, these are skirmish rules, and as such I mounted a gillion figures for the Hundred Years War and my Aztecs on single bases. These are Litko bases 20mm X 25mm. And that’s fine if you’re doing a cute one on one scenario with a handful of figures. However, anyone who knows me knows I don’t do cute one on one scenarios and moving 400 figures just takes a lot of time.

So for Daniel Mersey rules I’ve implemented 3-2-1 basing. For a twelve figure unit, which is pretty standard, a unit would have 3 x three figure bases, 1 X two figure base, and 1 X 1 figure base. So we’ve gone from twelve bases to six. There are six figure units and 18 figure units, your combinations may vary, there certainly aren’t rules here. I’m just trying to reduce the amount of fiddling as well as the amount of handling the individual figures get.

So how do I get from one basing system to another? What do I need? Does it cause intense pain and burn lots of valuable time? Well, I’ll let you be the judge, but I’ll take you through it step by step.

I have a number of projects I want to re-base. They include my ACW figure, my Maximillian project, Hundred Years War (600 figures) and Aztecs (400 figures) I think the key is to do them one at a time. I usually have several things going on my painting desk at one time. However, while I’m doing the remounting I continue to paint whatever I’m painting and I’m still getting about 24 28mm figure per week done.

Step 1: Unmounting

A unit of good ol’ Dixon ACW figures bathe in warm water. These are the VMI cadets, painted in about 1993, mounted for Regimental Fire and Fury. Let ’em soak overnight. I pop ’em off the bases before I get in the shower the next morning.

This is super easy. I just take my figures and put them in a receptacle that holds water and let ’em soak. The water should come up over the base. Just get their wee feeties wet. I usually do it overnight. No, if you sprayed those figs with some sort of matte coating it won’t hurt the paint job. When I’m ready, I just pull them off the base. Some require a little more coaxing than others. I’ve done this with plastic bases, plywood bases, though not metal bases. It should work. P.S. I mount my figures with CA glue. It still works with a minimal amount of effort.

No tools were used to unlock the VMI Cadets from their plastic bases.

Step 2: The Bases

My go to Litko bases. Three 50mm bases, one 40 mm base and a single 25mm base sets up a 12 figure unit.

You can use whatever basing material you like. I strongly encourage you to use something that’s sturdy that will endure. I have some lovely figures that were painted some 30 years ago but were mounted on artist’s board. Unfortunately it’s had its day and is on the verge of death. Some good .050 plastic, bass wood, something sturdy and hard. It all works.

But I just keep it simple. Kenneth Litko and I have a symbiotic relationship. I send him money and he sends me bases. Yep, I feel a little bit dirty about it, but the 3mm plywood circular bases had me at hello.

My three base sizes are as follows. My three figure bases are 50mm in diameter. They’re big, probably too big, but that was the size I chose. You could probably get away with 40mm. 50mm is also big enough to hold a gun and four man crew, or two mounted figures. It’s a good size. My two man bases are 40mm in diameter. Again, plenty roomy, but I don’t think 30mm would cut it for two. My singles are 25mm.

No, you don’t have to use circles. Squares, rectangles, pills, octagonals, there are lots of choices, or you could just make yours in irregular shapes. Whatever you like.

Step 3: Glue Those Figures Down

The VMI Cadets safely affixed to their bases

Before gluing, take some time to examine the bases of your figures. Be sure they’ll stand up on their own. use a hobby knife to remove excess yuck from the base bottoms. I probably don’t need to tell you this. When that’s done you’re ready for gluing.

I use CA glue. There, I said it. I know folks say not to do this, that CA glue can get brittle and crack over time. Whatever works best for you do it. CA glue has the advantage of immediate results, which means you can move on to the next stage:

Step 4: Base Build-Up

For years I’ve experimented with different types of basing material to build up my bases and avoid that balls on a billiard table look. I used Cellu-clay, which was papier mache-like, but took a loonnng time to dry. I’ve used various Liquitex products and I can highly recommend those products, though they aren’t as readily available as they once were. I have a friend who makes his own basing goop out of baking powder and something else. You just want something that A) builds up your bases, B) is easily paintable, and C) isn’t going to chip with normal wear and tear. I use modeling paste which, like the Liquitex coatings are acrylic, i.e. plastic, are resilient and dry quickly. There are lots of different brands of modeling paste, Liquitex, Goldens, lots of different generic brands. A giant tub o’paste costs about twenty bucks and lasts me about a year.

16 oz’s of Master’s Touch Modeling Paste from Hobby Lobby. Labeled at $19.99, I got it for ten bucks during a Master’s Touch sale. It will at least last me to this summer.

A use an artist knife to apply the stuff. I prefer the metal ones over plastic. They clean up better and I can see it better through the white paste. You could use a plastic knife rather than investing in other tools. Be careful not to get the stuff on your figures, or at least where you aren’t going to be putting your basing materials. Be comfortable with ridges. Don’t try to make it flat. Just get the coverage and try not to leave any holes .

I usually allow eight hours or so for the stuff to dry. It actually dries much faster than that-no more than two hours. Then you can paint it. I try to do my basing first thing in the morning so I can finish up in the evening.

VMI Cadets fully pasted

Step 5: My Secret Affair with Ceramcoat Burnt Umber

When you’re ready and more importantly when your basing material is ready, it’s time to paint your bases. For me this has two stages. I paint a base coat over my base. Your tastes may differ, but I always use Ceramcoat Burnt Umber. That’s a really dark brown. I don’t use tons of craft colors, but this is a go-to for me. It’s a great color, it covers well. I use it for two things, as a horse color and for painting my bases. I just slop it on there with a #2 Dick Blick brush and let it dry. That won’t take forever, but it’s important that no part of the base is remotely wet before going on to the second paint phase. I’ve used other craft Burnt Umber brands, and they just don’t work as well. They don’t cover. They aren’t as dark. It’s the Ceramcoat stuff for me.

Next, dry brush the base with Ceramcoat Trail Tan. Your goal is to highlight the irregularities in the basing material. It was really hard for me to learn dry-brushing, and I still don’t feel like I’m very good at it, though I do it all the time. The goal is to get a nice contrast between the base color and the raised areas on your figures or bases. It just takes practice. And maybe some repair thrown in there. I like to use inexpensive (but non-shedding) flat brushes for this. You can usually pick up sets of these in different sizes at Michaels or Hobby Lobby fairly cheap. Remember you want to dip your brush in the paint and wipe it back and forth on a rag or a paper towel until you’re not getting much off the brush and then in lightly continue wiping the paint off on your base. Always wipe in one direction if at all possible. Practice. You’ll get it.

Step 6: Basing Material-You Choose

You can do as much or as little with this as you wish. Maybe you’re a tuft person, or a static grass person. Perhaps you like to add rocks, or railroad ballast. I’ve had trees on my bases. I like clump foliage for my ACW figures. It’s really a matter of personal preference.

Generally I like to cover my bases with stuff. I usually start by mixing some PVA glue and water. However, if I’m going to use clump foliage or tufts I’ll glue them down first. PVA glue to supplement the adhesive on the tufts. Clump foliage really works best with Hob-E-Tac, which is like a delayed reaction adhesive. Very sticky stuff that goes on white and dries to its stickiest when it’s clear. That takes about twenty minutes. Then you can put down your clump foliage and really mash it into the glue. It’s not coming off trust me. Usually I have to order that on Amazon.

Clump foliage in place. Next I’d put down the tufts. Wrap up with ballast and Woodland Scenics earth.

When you have your plant life accounted for you can decide what’s next. Maybe you just want your painted/dry brushed base to speak for itself. Or maybe you want part of it to show through. I usually just go to good ol’ Woodland Scenics earth. I paint my diluted PVA blue around my tufts/clump foliage and fairly carefully apply my earth. I usually throw down some brown stuff and some blended green stuff that I often mix with the coarser green stuff. I feel like I get a nice effect. Allow about a half hour and you’re ready for the final phase

A final look at the VMI Cadets before spraying them with Krylon Colormax Crystal Clear Flat. Mix of clump foliage, tufts by Gamers Grass, and ballast, earth and green blend turf from Woodland Scenics.

Step 7: The Final Spray

I always use a final coat of clear matte enamel spray. I was a Testor’s Dullcote devotee for many years. Then it kind of went away, though it’s back now with a Krylon label. I’ve gone cheap these days and use Krylon Colormax Crystal Clear Flat. It’s cheap. It works. It’s just important you use something to hold down all the super cool stuff you just applied.

Final Optional Step

This is what I do because it works for me. I’ve taken to using the art storage bins available by any number of manufacturers available from Michael’s, Jo Ann’s, Hobby Lobby. They even had a great deal on some at Costco this Christmas. To keep them from rolling around, I slide in two sheets of steel roofing sheets. Then I take my magnetic Litko bases and glue them (don’t rely on the sticky stuff on the bottom,) glue them on to the wood bases and they stick quite nicely to the roofing sheets. Not perfect, but they do offer a modicum of security.

That’s how I’m going about my big remount. I do my remounting at the same time as my painting. My goal is to paint about twenty-four 28mm figures per week. I also try to remount two 12-figure units per week. So far so good.