Thursday, March 19, 2020

Painting Challenge Submission 18 - 28mm Byzantine Skutatoi

A Byzantine tribute to the Snow Lord masses in my kitchen...
The conclusion of the 10th edition of Curt's Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge is almost upon us - it will end at midnight this Friday.  This submission is therefore making it "just under the wire". Here are two new units of 28mm Byzantine troops. These are skutatoi, tough spearmen of the Byzantine empire.  These two particular units are armoured, and carrying kite-shaped shields, which would place them in the later spectrum of the Byzantines' long period in history.  There are 24 spearmen in each unit.

You will see behind each unit there are two small groups of four was often the case that Byzantine spear units had the direct support of archers (or troops with javelins) mixed in the unit.  Rather than mix the archers in among the spearmen, I opted to go with these small groups at the back.  This allows some flexibility - to remove the archers, or swap them out for troops with javelins or slings or other things.

When Curt gave me this specific goal - while in his guise of the "Snow Lord" of the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge - he noted, two years ago I launched a new project, and while there is no need to reprise the background here, it was one that was long overdue - see here for more on that.  I thought back at the time that I would indeed move ahead with a 28mm Byzantine collection, but after that initial burst of progress 2018, my efforts stalled and the prospect of painting more Byzantines faded...I have not painted a Byzantine since finishing that heavy cavalry unit back in AHPC 8.

When I saw the new format for Challenge X take shape, and I saw various Challengers receive their specific tasks from the "Snow Lord", I had little doubt as to which undertaking would come my way once I made my own attempt on the great peak in the centre of Challenge Island.  This premonition sharpened further once I saw Curt unveil his new Ottoman project...I pulled the old box of Byzantine bits from the pile in anticipation, even as I worked to finish more and more Winter WW2 Germans.

The "Snow Lord" did not disappoint, tasking me with completing two new units of 28mm Byzantine troops.  I suppose I could have squeezed a bit, and done a unit of skirmishers (six or eight models), but I always remember Curt saying to me "It is a painting challenge, after all" and I thought this would be the time to put a good foundation in place for my Byzantines: two main infantry units - the skutatoi - that would serve as a solid base for the force. It would be a big chunk of work, one that was out of step with my current brush whims, but I thought I was up for it.  And it was early February, there was still tons of time left in the Challenge, and I can paint pretty fast when I feel like it, right?

What is that saying about biting off more than one can chew...?

Fireforge Games

Fireforge miniatures make up the red unit.
I thought this was the perfect time to crack open the boxes of Fireforge Games' plastic spearmen - they had been released a few years ago, and looked quite sharp - for plastic models.  Fireforge had even released command kits to go with the units. What a great chance to give them a go! Yeah...

The plastic figures do not mix well into a unit with narrow frontage.
The bases are 50mm square...the figures barely fit, and don't work well together.
The basic spear-armed infantry have plastic tabs under their feet.  That is not unusual - a number of plastic figure sets do this.  The problem is that, first of all, it is not consistently done - the command figures don't have the same thing, and neither do the archers.  The second problem is that these plastic tabs are rather spacious, and would block the figures from fitting together on the narrower frontage I was hoping to achieve.  So I had to waste a lot of time cutting up the stupid plastic tabs off of 21 plastic spearmen...

Just to be clear, f**k plastic and f**k spray cans. 
And...well, we've all had the occasional encounter with bad primer and bad plastic.  Thankfully this was limited, and I was able to cover these sins with some paint, but still...f**k spray cans and f**k plastic. 

Then we have the command group.  These are NOT plastic, but rather a soft plastic resin, managing to combine many of the worst features of both materials.  The "restic" is super bendy, and the details are very soft, many of them fading beneath the base coat of black primer. Why do figure manufacturers use this useless material? Why?

Archers at the back...these are also multipart plastic figures from Fireforge...
The final issue with the Fireforge figures is that they don't mix very well together as a unit. Some of the poses are fine for close ranks, but others certainly are not, and it was a terrible thing to come up with a way to fit them on the bases.  I like spear units to appear dense - the soldiers close up for protection and maximum effectiveness.  I wanted a frontage of a little over 15mm for each figure.  It was a hell of a thing to make that happen with these Fireforge figures.

I can't get over the size of the musician's horn...presumably he can summon Cthulu with that thing...
Anyway, this very first unit of Fireforge plastics will be my last.  I think they would make great figures for individually-based skirmish games like "Lion Rampant" (and this is the plan I have for the second box of plastic Byzantine spearmen I have from this company).  Getting this bunch painted, built and based took way more time than I expected,but I got this one unit done...and hey, I still had several weeks left in the Challenge...

Crusader Miniatures

Crusader Miniatures Byzantine spearmen.
Crusader is a well-known miniature brand in the gaming hobby, so I was looking forward to this.  First of all, the figures are metal, and we all know that metal > plastic.  But Crusader has a number of frustrations too, ones that I did not expect.

First of all, they don't include spears, but sell them separately.  This is a terrible habit - when you sell spearmen, you should include spears, full stop.  I don't care if they are available separately...they should be included in the pack too, no exceptions. 

It was also tough to find the right sort of metal or steel spears for the figures...many of the steel spears out there these days are so skinny and thin that they look, at best, more like javelins than long Byzantine kontarion.  Curt helpfully suggested getting some steel pikes from Wargames Foundry, and just cutting them down slightly, so I did this for the bulk of the spearmen in this unit, although there are a few soft metal spears from Gripping Beast mixed in.

As with the other unit, a group of archers at the back, providing direct support.
Having found weapons, I then discovered that getting the figures to hold the spears was quite the obstacle in itself.  The right hands were cast poorly, and I found I had to carve/hack each hand in order to create a "channel" of sorts so each spearman could hold the spear.  The results were uneven, and in some cases the spears appear to almost be levitating near the hand, as opposed to actually being in the grasp of the soldier...even now, many of the spears snap loose easily, and I have re-glued a number of them several times...they won't last on the table.

There are a few metal spears from Gripping Beast, but most are cut-down steel pikes from Wargames Foundry.
The final obstacle to enjoying the Crusader miniatures is the shields - they mix up the shields! Why, why, why? First of all, it makes it very hard/impossible to use shield transfers and's just stupid! Let me pick one style and use it consistently! F**k.

You can see the variety of small differences in the shields...this, in my opinion, is NOT a feature.
And so for weeks the Hobby Gods have mocked my hubris and overconfidence, and something I thought I could knock off with ease has taken more than a month of hard slogging.  Throw in travel challenges and work demands (which are OK - I like work, because it pays for figures!), and it was starting to look like I might miss the deadline all together.  Some late nights this past weekend helped me close the gap...and these units are now ready for action on the tabletop. 

For God and the Emperor!
There were a lot of hobby headaches finishing this bunch, and yet it is a painting challenge after all! I probably would have just moved on to something else at another time of the year, but the Challenge held my feet to the fire. Now that the headaches are over with, I'm thrilled to have these finished - and to have made a major contribution to my dormant Byzantine-collection ambitions! The next steps, when they come, will seem a little easier I'm sure. 

Thanks for looking...I hope all folks, friends and family are safe and healthy, and that these challenging times might allow for some hobby time to take the edge off...


Millsy said...

Despite all the issues with materials these have come up a treat Greg. Lovely work especially the standards.

Dallas said...

Figures look great Greg. I enjoy the commentary on the foibles of the various manufacturers. Totally agree on the spears BTW - they should be included in the figure packs, full stop.

Phil said...

Cracking job...and these shields are superb!

Bluewillow said...

Cracking Greg!

Did you wash the plastic? I find the release agent on fireforge to be the problem, had something similar with thier knights

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Neil Scott said...

despite your issues with the figures, they look great