Thursday, December 18, 2014

Song of Blades and Heroes Lego Game

Last evening my12-yr-old and I played Song of Blades and Heroes using our Lego collection. She likes Legos and Lord of the Rings, so it was a fun first game for her. In case you're not familiar, Song of Blades and Heroes is a tabletop fantasy wargame that needs only a handful of models to play. Typically players use painted fantasy models, but Legos work really well.

I had a lot of 1980s Lego Castle sets when I was a kid, which my parents returned to me when they moved. So, I have a good number of old Medieval/fantasy pieces to use, and I've been adding newer-made models. The Lego Fantasy Era sets are out of production (and super expensive on eBay), but I found some of the green troll heads to plop onto my old knights.

We played a game of orcs (me) vs elves (my daughter).
4 Orc Warriors, 4 Orc Archers, 1 Orc Warchief, and 1 Goblin Warrior.

1 Elf Hero, 2 Elf Warriors, 2 Elf Archers

The elves were defending a village as my orcs attacked. My kid initially complained that there were more orcs than elves. But I explained that her elves were each way stronger and more skilled than my orcs. It was an elvish victory, due mostly to several morale checks that my orcs failed (the Warchief was killed early on). I liked how my kid added narration: instead of simply hopping over the wall she explained, "My elf did a flip into the air and attacked."

So I'm very pleased with how well Legos work for skirmish games like this. We'll definitely do this again. Creating terrain was a snap, and it was easy to equip the minifigures to create the characters we needed. If you're playing with kids they will already be familiar with Legos. As opposed to typical plastic or metal miniatures, you don't need to spend time painting. For the game's scale I treated distances as if these were 25/28mm figures.

For measuring distance I used lengths of the flat Lego pieces.

Mixing and matching minifigure pieces was especially satisfying. For instance, I used the hun warrior body and helmet from the series 12 Lego minfigures set and added grey hands and a troll head. I randomly got the hun at Target, but you can choose specific minifigures from sellers on eBay. I'm excited to see that the upcoming series 13 Lego minfigures includes a goblin, which I will totally buy a dozen of. The head from the alien trooper will make a great D&D mindflayer, and who wouldn't want a female cyclops.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Scandinavian Christmas Nisse

Nisse miniature painted by myself (and mounted on a penny).

I just finished reading Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land by Kathleen Stokker, which is great because it has so much history on the julenisse. My wife is part Danish, so I've become fascinated by these Scandinavian Christmas gnomes. Kids leave treats for them on Christmas Eve, as with Santa in the US. But unlike Santa, these gruff nisser will cause mischief if they feel ignored and they leave no gifts.

Nisse History

The tradition of the Danish and Norwegian nisse (known as a tomte in Sweden and a tonttu in Finland) goes back hundreds of years. In pre-Christian Scandinavia it was believed that the spirit of the man who first cleared the land continued to watch over the farm. His descendants left an offering of beer or porridge during the winter holiday.

In the 17th century the belief in an ancestral spirit was replaced by the idea of a small ancient creature who guarded the farm and helped it to prosper. People continued offerings at Christmas, but now the gifts were for left this gnome-like fellow. This holiday custom was described by A. A. Flor in 1688:

“People have fallen into deep delusion when seeing the rich abundance brought to them by the hand of God; they cannot believe that such sweet profusion will persist unless they put out a bowl of porridge or other delicacy for the nisse.”

Nisse postcard by Swedish illustrator Jenny Nystrom.
Flor apparently believed in the nisser, saying that they took the offerings not because they wanted porridge, but because they wanted to be venerated. By the 18th century the word nisse became more widely used, and illustrations became popular in holiday postcards and in magazines. Besides children, few truly believed in the nisser, but they remained a part of Norwegian Christmas traditions.

Today decorative nisser begin to appear in Scandinavian shops as early as November, reminding shoppers that Christmas is coming. We have a friend from Denmark who explained that the nisser appear gradually, building in number as Christmas gets closer. The tradition of leaving porridge for the nisser continues in the Scandinavian countries and areas in the US where many many Scandinavians immigrated (such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa).

My favorite books about the nisser

Astrid Lindgren, author of Pippi Longstocking wrote two children's books (with lovely illustrations) about the a nisse on a Swedish farm: The Tomten and The Tomten and the Fox.

Christmas at the Tomten's Farm was written and illustrated by Harald Wiberg, the same fellow who illustrated Lindgren's tomten books. The pen and ink art is excellent. Wiberg's book describes traditional rural Swedish Christmas traditions (including old folk superstitions like the tomten). The book is out of print, but you can find used copies on amazon and

At the top of the post I mentioned Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land by Kathleen Stokker. It's a scholar study of Norwegian folk traditions, including maybe ten pages devoted to the nisser.

About the nisse miniature

I found the tiny pewter miniature (pictured at the top of this post) on eBay. It was being sold as a fairy garden decoration. I got a bag of 25 of them, but I don't know what company made them. I painted a similar (and slightly larger) nisse a few years ago. You can see that mini here.

P.S. "Julnisser" are the Christmas gnomes, while "Julenissen" is the Norwegian name for Santa Claus.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

1/72 Rogers Rangers WIP

I saw that the Song of Blades and Heroes rules recently released a French and Indian War version, Songs of Guns and Tomahawks. For years I've been patiently waiting for Imex to release their 1/72 Rogers Rangers set, but it looks like that's never going to happen. BUM has several French and Indian War sets, but they are super expensive by typical 1/72 standards. Waterloo does have a Rogers Rangers set, but the models aren't very accurate, historically speaking.

So! I realized I could build my own rangers using sets that I already have. In the front row I'm using some of Italeri's excellent Indian Warriors. The two on the right are remaining as British allied Indians. On the left I made simple Scotch bonnets to turn them into rangers in Indian garb.

The brown models in the middle row are Red Box British Infantry. These models are intended for the Jacobite Rebellion, but that's only a decade before the Seven Years War (so the uniforms work well). I added another bonnet to one, and I trimmed away the brim of one of the tricorn hats to make a jockey style cap.

And in the back row I'm using grey figures from the Revell/Accurate American Militia set. I'd love to have a 1/72 scale wolf to accompany these guys (Rogers had a wolf-dog that would accompany them on raids). Unfortunately, I can't find anything suitable. My 25mm wolf in the background is way too big. And the dog that comes with Imex's Eastern Friendly Indians is too small.

P.S. That's my Ben Franklin in the background. He's also from the American Militia set.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Completed DBA Misty Mountain Goblin Army

(click for much larger image)
And here's my completed 1/72 scale Misty Mountain Goblin army to play De Bellis Antiquitatis. It's a mix of 1/72 plastic minis (mostly Caesar Miniatures) and metal 20mm goblins by Splintered Light Miniatures and Rebel Minis' Bag o Orcs (now sold as Armored Ogres by Splintered Light).

I followed the fan-made Misty Mountain Goblin army list that you can see on David Kuijt's site. His list has some felixibility in which elements you field. Mine goes like this: 3 Warband elements (one is the general), 3 Wargs (a fan-made unit similar to Light Horse), 1 Bows, 5 Psiloi.

You can see close up photos of the general element, the wargs, and warbands, bowmen, and psiloi.

These goblins are ready to fight my 1/72 Viking army (who can easily be Middle Earth humans), but I'm also starting an elf army.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

DBA Goblin Army Command

(click image to enlarge)
Almost four years ago I started building this Misty Mountian Goblin DBA army using 1/72 scale minis. Pictured above is my completed warband command element. If you look at this in-progress photo from 2010 you can see the simple conversion I made, and you'll notice that I made a couple model replacements since then. This month I found an excellent goblin warboss in this set of medieval Lithuanian-Russian Heavy Infantry by Mars.

Check out close-ups of my other completed elements:
Wolf riders (Light Horse)
A Warband, Psiloi, and Archers

Friday, November 7, 2014

Splintered Light Miniatures Goblin Wolf Riders

Splintered Light Miniatures 20mm Goblin Heavy Cavalry
This week I painted some wolf riders to join the 1/72 scale DBA Goblin army that I left incomplete three years ago (see previous post). I'm pleased to say I finally finished all twelve of this army's elements (more photos to come). These 20mm metal wolf riders from Splintered Light Miniatures mix well with the 1/72 scale figures making up the bulk the army. Their 20mm fantasy range is a great way to supplement the 1/72 plastic sets that I'm relying on to build my fantasy armies.

The fan-made Misty Mountian Goblin DBA army list calls for three elements of wolves (really just Light Horse from regular DBA). The first two elements are from Splintered Light and my third is composed of wolves from the now defunct Mega Miniatures.

Splintered Light 20mm Splintered Light Cavalry
Mega Miniatures wolves (now sold by TurnkeyMiniatures)
Running in the background are some old Grenadier wolves.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Queen Boudicca Book Reviews

I've been reading about the Celtic warrior queen Boudica. Until recently I didn't know much beyond the fact that she lead a revolt against the Romans. Shortly into my first book I learned that there are actually very few details known about her and her battles (even her name has been confused). To build a more complete picture authors combine the surviving Roman accounts (by Tacitus and Cassius Dio), archaeology, and general descriptions of Celts and Romans. Books on this subject are all pretty short, the differences lying in how the authors choose to fill in the blanks.

Here's the short story: Boudica was married to the ruler of the Iceni, an independent tribe bordering Roman-occupied Britain. In 60 AD he died, and in his will he called for joint rule by Queen Boudica and Emperor Nero (in far off Rome). The Romans (who had invaded Britain only 17 years earlier) took this opportunity to annex all the Iceni territory. When Boudica protested she and her daughters were assaulted by Roman soldiers. Boudica and the enraged Iceni began an armed rebellion, joined by the neighboring Trinovantes tribe. They destroyed three Roman towns (including London), but within a year they were defeated by the Roman governor's legions in a single decisive battle.

The Boudican Revolt Against Rome by Paul R. Sealey.

(published by Shire*)

As a professional archaeologist, Sealey focuses on what can be learned from physical discoveries. For instance, we're able to map out the precise borders of the Iceni territory because the coins and ceramics they left behind were in a different style than neighboring tribes. We can tell the size and layout of the Roman towns that were destroyed because they left a distinct layer of ash and ruin. Sealey ends his book with a chapter on the Roman rebuilding and reconciliation after the war.

*This book was first published by Shire in in 1987, but it was updated and reprinted in 2004. It appears to be out of print now, maybe because Osprey (which now owns Shire) released their own book on Boudica.

Boudicca’s Rebellion AD 60–61: The Britons rise up against Rome by Nic Fields

(published by Osprey Publishing)

Nic Field's book includes the same chapters as all books in Osprey Publishing's Campaign series: an intro, a timeline of events, Opposing commanders, Opposing armies, Opposing plans, The Campaign, Aftermath, The Battlefield today, and a bibliography. In the introduction the author makes some extreme statements about soldiers in general. I guess he was trying to be clever, but it was just distracting. The rest of the book, thankfully, doesn't suffer from this.

A discussion of typical Roman and Celtic armies of the time augment the Boudica story. The chapter is skewed a bit too much on the Roman side. There are more photos and descriptions for Roman military equipment. The Celtic section focuses heavily on their use of the the chariot, while giving little attention to shields (the most most important piece of defensive equipment used by the Celts). Fields dismisses the idea of sophisticated Celtic battle tactics, but I'd say the captured Celtic standards and horns seen on the Arch of Orange imply they did indeed have the capabilities for battlefield signaling and coordination. The military background of the Roman governor Paulinus was welcome, as were the explanations of the financial pressures and need for natural resources that drove Roman actions.

The text is supported by four large well-research illustrations by Peter Dennis (I really like his style), as well as numerous color photos of artifacts and reproductions.

Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen by Richard Hingley and Christina Unwin

(published by Continuum / Bloomsbury)

I almost passed this book by because the cover somehow looks like a self-published novel to me. But, I'm glad I got it. Hingley and Unwin are both archaeologists. Their book is a careful investigation of the evidence, divided into two parts: "Boudica," the ancient history and "Boudicea," a discussion of how she has been perceived in culture through the ages.

The first section opens with a overview of Iron Age British and Roman society. The authors then thoroughly analyze the three ancient texts that mention Boudica and her rebellion. Lastly they take a critical look at the archaeology, stressing how misleading some of the finds can be. (I didn't bother with the second section about the cultural Boudicea since I'm only interested in the historical Boudica.)

P.S. Boadicea, Boudicca, Boudica?

Misspellings made by ancient authors and errors made by scribes are to blame for the incorrect spellings of Boudica's name. The rediscovery of these ancient texts texts during the Renaissance made the incorrect "Boudicea" spelling popular. This lasted until mid-twentieth century linguistic studies strongly suggested that "Boudica" is the correct spelling. In the Celtic language her name translated as "victory".

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Celtic History of Halloween

I stumbled upon some interesting scholarly articles about Halloween's origins. Our modern holiday draws from ancient Celtic traditions surrounding their Samhain festival mixed with some reactions to early Christian attempts to supplant the holiday with All Hallows. I'm a great fan of ancient Celtic history, so I thought I'd share the articles here:

"Halloween Customs in the Celtic World"
by Bettina Arnold, Co-Director, Center for Celtic Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
(see a photo of a traditional carved turnip jack-o-lantern in the Museum of Country Life, Ireland)

"Samhain: How Ritual Formed and Formation of Irish Celtic Identity"
by Jessica Richard in the Proceedings of The National Conference on Undergraduate Research
(The introduction is on the above link to, but you can download the 5-page pdf of the article. )

"The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows"
by Jack Santino on the Library of Congress American Folklife Center website

Unfortunately, the details of historic Celtic traditions are foggy. Iron Age Druids insisted that history be passed along orally (no writing down anything). That said, this book A Brief History of the Druids Peter Berresford Ellis is a good read for ancient Celtic beliefs.

Monday, October 27, 2014

SpoOoOoky Plastic Reaper Minis Bats and Rats

I visited a hobby store for the first time in a long time and saw that Reaper Minis is now selling plastic figures. They had a big display of these 25mm (more like 28mm I'd say) Dark Heaven Bones minis. I bought a bat swarm and a pair of rat swarms. Each pack was under $3.00.

I mounted each model on a 1-inch (25 mm) metal washer (from the hardware store). This adds some weight to the bats and keeps them from falling over. The packages said that the models are ready to paint, but I primed them with black paint.

A while back I remember looking at some bats for 15mm models, but now I can't remember who made them. I think they came on a transparent post to look more like they were flying in the air. Real life bats come in all sizes, so I figured 15mm bats would work well with my 28mm figures.

P.S. Check out these witch and cat minis I painted for Halloween 2009 and ghosts from the year before.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rip Van Winkle Picks Up the Brush Again

About three years ago I put mini painting and any thoughts of tabletop gaming to the side. I was trying to focus my productive hours on work (I have kept up with reading, though). Lately I've had some more free time, and I've been feeling burnt-out with work, so this month I started looking up my old favorite hobby sites. Browsing for models was always relaxing, and the idea of breaking out the old paint box really appealed to me. But I was a little startled to see how much has changed in just the past couple years:

Warhammer Ancient Battles is gone
When I first got into mini painting like 15 years ago WAB really impressed me (ancient history is my favorite time period to read about). I never knew anyone locally who wanted to play, but I bought the rulebooks and painted some Celtic and Roman armies anyway. Based on what I saw online WAB seemed really popular, so it was a surprise to now see that the rulebooks are out-of-print and The Miniatures Page doesn't even have a message board for it anymore. The WAB Forum still looks active, though. I wonder why WAB lost popularity in favor of the more recent ancient rules like Field of Glory and Hail Caesar.

Lots of mini manufacturers are gone
I was bummed to see that Mega Miniatures went out of business. They made some really nice animal models and villagers at a really low price. It looks like their molds have been scattered among other manufacturers. Amazon Miniatures had some nice animals and monsters, but they're gone too. The lesson here? Hoard as much lead as you can because you never know when someone will close shop.

Game Workshop's Lord of the Rings game has diminished
About a month ago I visited a bookstore that just happened to be next to a hobby shop. My local hobby shop went out of business a few years ago, so I hadn't been in one for a while. I expected they would have GW's The Hobbit models to go with the movies, but the guy at the store told me no one plays that game anymore. You can barely find them on GW's website. Online I did notice that GW sells the Hobbit minis, but they're more expensive than the old LOTR minis used to be. I guess fewer people are into them, so the price has gone up to make the most profit from the few remaining fans.

Some of my favorite hobby bloggers are gone
A lot of the blogs I used to frequent are either gone, or they haven't been updated in 6 months to a year. Of course, I can't blame them—I'm equally guilty of that.

My paint is dead
I dug out my shoebox of Citadel Paints. Most of my colors are dried solid. I had one color in their current paint bottle design, and it's still good. So, it's nice to know that these modern bottles are really air-tight. And when did Citadel Paints change all the paint names? So confusing for a guy trying to replace his paint supply. And one little bottle is four dollars now? Ugh. (check out this video on various model paint brands) I went into my local hobby shop for new paint, and when I walked in the shop every head turned to look at me—just like when a cowboy from out of town enters a saloon for the first time.

It's not all bad
So, anyway, I'm looking forward to getting back into painting and gaming. There are lots of new minis and models out. And I thought this was interesting: Wargames Strategy: Soldiers and Strategy magazine held a recent poll of 7000+ wargamers. The results are an interesting way to see what's going on in the hobby today.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek by Barry Cunliffe review

The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek is a good read for anyone into exploration and ancient history. Sometime around 330 BC a man from the Greek colony of Massalia (now Marseille in France) began a years-long journey through Gaul, Britannia, probably Iceland, and possibly Demark. He explored lands which were completely a mystery to those living in the Mediterranean.

Upon his return Pytheas wrote a book detailing his voyage. Unfortunately, On the Ocean has not survived, so author Barry Cunliffe has pieced together the tale using references in ancient texts, archaeology, anthropology, and geography. The evidence he provides to explain his theories is always fascinating.

Cunliffe is an archaeologist who has written many articles and books on Iron Age Britain. He is an expert in this period, but his writing can be a bit dry: more informational and not so dramatic. Sailing the rough Atlantic and meeting unknown Celtic tribes must have been exciting and dangerous, but any thrilling tales Pytheas might have shared are lost.

I bought the hardcover edition (Walker & Company, now owned by Bloomsbury) because I love the dustjacket design. Penguin released a less expensive paperback version.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir review

I haven't studied Medieval politics and conflicts much (most of my Medieval reading has been about daily life). To be honest, I wanted to learn about the Wars of the Roses because I heard that G. R. R. Martin drew inspiration from them. Alison Weir's book (published by Random House / Ballantine Books) is intended for a general reader like myself, and it was a useful introduction to the period.

In reading the reviews of other books on the Wars of the Roses it seems some other authors don't offer enough detail on the principal players. Weir was skillful at portraying the histories and personalities of the multitude of characters. This is an unenviable task. The number of competing families was large, there were many important members of each family, positions held by these individuals changed frequently, and a single title applied to different men after death or loss of inheritance. Not surprisingly, there were times when I was confused, especially when the author referred to someone using his title and his surname. Overall Weir did an excellent job of presenting the ever-changing alliances and reversals of fortune which characterized the Wars of the Roses.

For more on the Game of Thrones / Wars of the Roses connection check out these articles on Mental Floss and the Daily Mail.

P.S. I'm looking forward to reading Dan Jones' Wars of the Roses (Penguin) when that book comes out later this month.

P.P.S. Front Rank Miniatures has a very nice Wars of the Roses line in 25mm metal.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mithril Miniatures Dwarf Pony

I bought this Mithril Miniatures model back in the 1990s from my local hobby shop, and I painted him a just few years ago. Mithril still produces Tolkien minis, but I think this particular model is out of production. They have had the official license for Lord of the Rings miniatures since about 1987. I read somewhere that Games Workshop is allowed to produce its LOTR minis at the same time as MIthril because they are for use in a game (as opposed to Mithril which are for display).

I mounted the this guy on a Games Workshop cavalry base. Mithril minis have very rounded features as you can see in this super-zoomed in photo. Their dwarves mix pretty well with GW LOTR dwarves even though the average Mithril man is supposed to be 32mm.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Barbarian Lord by Matt Smith review

I love the illustration style and the fantasy-Norse setting of Matt Smith's new comic book Barbarian Lord, and there is some very nice dry humor. The main character, however, is completely two-dimensional. A quest is usually written an opportunity to grow and develop a character, but the man known as Barbarian Lord just kills thugs and monsters. Still, the book was a fun read and a visual treat.

Barbarian Lord is published by Clarion Books.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Roman Britain by Richard Russell Lawrence review

Roman Britain (2010) by Richard Russell Lawrence is the first book in the Shire Living Histories—short introductions to the different time periods in British history. Each well-illustrated book offers a social history addressed in the same chapters: Family Life, Home and Neighborhood, Work, Food and Drink, Shopping and Style, Transport, Leisure, Education and Social Service, and Health. Books in this series are small 5.8 x 8 inch books, and no more than 80 pages long.

Lawrence covers the period 40-400 AD, giving a broad overview supported with a few specifics to illustrate his points. I feel the author was imprecise and may have overstated the influence of Roman agricultural techniques over the native British*, but overall he steers clear of the outmoded historians' concept of "Romanization" (the imposition of Roman culture on subjugated people).

There are numerous history books on Roman Britain, and Lawrence's book is a good one for the general reader to start. Unfortunately, Shire's series lack bibliographies for further reading.

*Archaeologists who specialize in Iron Age agriculture tend to say that the Roman plow did not replace the native ard, pigs were widely eaten in pre-Roman Britain, but sheep were raised mainly for wool (not food).

P.S. Wargames Foundry sells some very nice 28mm Roman civilians models—farmers in tunics, men in togas, townspeople, etc. Paul painted some 1/72 scale Roman citizens made by Linear-b, which produces a lot of unique Romans sets.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Samwell Tarly visits his local library


Spoiler alert: Samwell Tarly does some reading at his local Night’s Watch library in A Feast for Crows.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Abbey lubber drawing

I drew a Medieval abbey lubber (or butter spirit), which were believed to tempt monks into gluttony and drunkenness.