Thursday, April 20, 2017

Painted Vikings for Saga


Behold the warband of Gaukur Trandilsson! This is a 4-point Viking army that I painted for Saga, the Dark Age skirmish war game. These are 25 mean, nasty, ugly-looking people on the bench there. Mother rapers. Father stabbers. Father rapers! This week I want to introduce you to the rank-and-file warriors (or Bondi) in Gaukur's force, and next week we'll meet Gaukur himself and his elite hearthguard.



I've fallen pretty hard for Saga over the last few weeks. What makes it so good? In my view, there are two things. First, it is an extremely violent and deadly game. Once opposing units crash, they mutually annihilate each other like subatomic particles. Both sides are constantly rolling handfuls of dice and flicking figures into Valhalla. When you combine this with a simple but realistic mechanic for fatigue, the results are brutal. Soon you are left with a few survivors who fight out the climax in an agony of limping exhaustion. It's glorious!

A Saga battle board
The second thing that distinguishes Saga is it's use of "battle boards". In conjunction with special six-sided Saga dice, you use the boards to activate your units and trigger special abilities unique to your faction. The Viking's board usually makes melee even more bloody, whereas (for example) the Welsh board makes that faction more adept at hit-and-run raids. And so, these boards add a lot of faction-specific flavour to the game, and ensure that the way you play your army fits in with its historical model. 

But besides the flavour, there's another element to the battle boards that I enjoy. Many historical war games boil down to "advance to meet the enemy and then fight until one side breaks". Such games can be fun (especially when the lead is well painted) but there's not a lot of meaningful choice. And in my view, meaningful choice is the key to making any game truly interesting.

That's where Saga excels. The battle boards add lots of options, by giving your units access to special bonuses and devastating attacks. The game hinges on how each player exploits these advantages at the crucial moment. At the same time, the battle boards limit your choices -- if you roll poorly with your Saga dice, you may not be able to activate all your units. And thus, the player is always presented with fun but difficult choices that go well beyond "how far up will I move my troops". 

Not that Saga is a perfect game. The rules for moving into combat are unnecessarily fiddly. Cavalry is not handled well. And the battle boards add a level of complexity to the game that make it hard for newcomers. But once all those Vikings start fighting and dying, it's all worth it.

Well, enough talk... here are the Bondi of Gaukur's warband...






All my Viking Bondi are metal miniatures from Gripping Beast. These are superb sculpts -- they contain lots of personality and interesting details. The most realistic touch is that many of the warriors wear hesitant expressions or carry their weapons in oddly tentative poses. They hide behind their shields and otherwise convey the idea that they don't relish the idea of having their limbs hacked off.






All my shields feature transfers from Little Big Men Studios, who have a line customized for Saga. I've never used transfers before (and I guess there's a part of me that thinks that they're cheating), but I couldn't be happier with the gorgeous patterns. I added some battle damage and cracks to the wood to give them a less pristine appearance.






My goal was to paint these Viking warriors in a historically accurate way. They favoured bright or embroidered clothes, and were concerned with cleanliness and personal appearance. Apparently, combs are frequently found in archaeological sites. So even if they're Dark Age warriors, there's no call to make them "grimdark".






Above we see that standard of Gaukur Trandilsson, the "Bölverkr" (or 'Bale-Worker', one of the epithets of Odin). From the Channel Isles to Iceland, so war-banner is more feared. Stay tuned next week when we'll take a closer look at Gaukur himself...






Thanks for looking!


55 comments:

  1. Wow! Really looking forward to the project Matthew. Really great stuff here. ;)

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    1. Thanks ABG. I've got big plans vis-a-vis Saga! Just wait and see...

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  2. These look fantastic, with suitably dark ages colours. They make me feel guilty about my neglected vikings... :(

    I see what you mean about the poses as well, some of them are a bit hesitant!

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    1. It's nice to see some miniatures with a realistic view to combat... i.e. they find the idea intimidating.

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  3. Hail Odin!
    Fantastic work sir! your lovly style is masterpiece!

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    1. Well, your Saga minis are a big inspiration for me, Michal.

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  4. Jaw dropping... you're mini's are my go-to for "accurate" representation.

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    1. I am very flattered by that comment, thank you JG.

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  5. Most impressive job, love the shields, faces, flag...everything actually!

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    1. Cheers Steven! I just check out your own work for the first time, and you're doing some lovely stuff too.

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  7. Gasp!! That's a most impressive (and different!) project, yet in your personal painting style, which is perfectly recognizable. Simply amazing, I love them all!!

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    1. Thanks Suber! I'm happy to hear that my painting style is recognizable.

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  8. Your vikings look great! Regards, Karl

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  9. Matthew, these are so cool. Easily up to your splendid painting standards. Have been a bit apprehensive about the use of decals on my own shields, but I'm leaning more toward getting some after seeing these lovely designs.

    I have unfinished Jomsviking and Saxon warbands that really need my attention.

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    1. I can't wait to see what you do with the Jomsvikings and Saxons.
      I was quite apprehensive about the transfers too. They are not a total cheat, insofar that it takes a lot of work and careful painting to ensure that the transfer is properly blended in with the edges of the shield, and that any gouges in the wood look realistic.
      I think one big downside is that the transfers are often so dramatic, they take attention away from the rest of the miniature. So that also takes some planning in order to avoid.

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  10. "All my shields feature transfers from Little Big Men Studios"... oh thank god. If you'd freehanded those, I'd want to just cut my own brush hand off.

    A great looking bunch; I'm off to listen to some Amon Amarth now ;)

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    1. "We aim to please. You aim too, please!"

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    2. That sounds like graffiti that might be associated with the penises of Guelph.

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    3. I'm torn: sad that I haven't anything new to post there, but somewhat proud that my town is quite dick-graffiti-free.

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  11. I love some Vikings and I live your models! Did you use a transfer for the banner too, or was that free-handed?

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    1. Oh my goodness, no, I did not freehand that banner. I thought about doing something freehand, but decided that the banner should have a similar feel to the shields or else things would look awkward.
      In any case, I'm happy you like the Vikings, Andrew!

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  12. Fantastic painting and yes, Saga is an excellent game indeed.

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    1. Thank you Alan! I'd be interested to read your thoughts on Saga if you have ever played it.

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  14. Aw, dammit. Another great game to fall for. Arrgh. Stay away, Saga, Stay away! Beautiful figures, Matthew! I love Viking stuff, and you've done some lovely work on these GB figures. I've been admiring their Viking minis for years.

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  15. Beautifull figures! Lovely bright colors, and great job on shields!

    Regards, George.

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  16. "They hide behind their shields and otherwise convey the idea that they don't relish the idea of having their limbs hacked off." - And who can blame them, given how you've described the Saga rules? :)
    Matthew, these are seriously good figures. Quite lovely. Are the shields your own work, or did you use transfers? Sorry if that answer offends, if you did paint them! The banner is most cool.
    BTW, it was terrific to meet you in Stratford last month, hope we meet again soon.
    Cheers,
    Mike

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    1. Thanks very much, Padre! It was great to meet you too and I'm looking forward to more games in future Hot Leads. I also owe you a game of condottieri! I will bring it next year...

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    2. Oh, and to answer your question - no the banners and shields are transfers from Little Big Men Studios. I'm really happy with their stuff.

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  17. Fantastic painting Matt! I will have to finish my Viking band now!
    Patrick

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    1. Patrick! Great to hear from you. I would LOVE to play some Saga with you. If you get them done before the next Hot Lead, maybe we can get something going on a day before the convention.

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  18. Great stuff. Haven't played Saga myself but those Vikings look excellent.

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    1. It's certainly not for everyone. If you ever do try it, I'd love to know what you think of it.

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  19. These are simply stunning and look better than GB's official paintjobs in my opinion. I was at Salute yesterday, and didn't see any historical viking figures as well presented as yours! Well done!

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    1. I am thoroughly chuffed by that comment - thanks Orlygg!

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  20. Absolutely lovely vikings! I second your choice of color, when saga first came out all the battle reports we're undifferentiated masses of grimdark. The shield transfers and banner look great.

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    1. I think the Grimdark movement was funded entirely by the manufacturers of black spray primer. They are the only ones who ever benefited from the fad.

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