sabato 7 febbraio 2015

Review: Baueda Carolingian Frankish and Lombards

Although I am a big Middle-earth fan, my primary interest these days is the historical period often called Post-Carolingian (roughly from the end of the imperial Carolingian dynasty in 887 to the beginning of the imperial Ottonian one in 962). This is a particularly dark period for Europe, but also a crucial one because it's the time Saracens and Magyars get repelled from the South and East; the time when Normans start to mix with other Europeans and absorb their civilisation; it's the time the old nations of Romans, Franks, Lombards, Saxon etc. start to lose their identity, and the new nations of Italians (Italici), French (Francisci) and Germans (Teutisci), based on language, arise. 

These below are the first 15mm miniatures I got, with a sample order to Baueda. It was my first attempt to build a Post-Carolingian armed band. I was, and I am, very happy with them.

Baueda is a company based in Vedano Olona (Varese), at the feet of the Italian Alps. It does a lot of products, specializing in tabletop accessories such as camps, fortifications, buildings, etc. They also produce a wide range of miniatures. In the 15mm scale they have a pretty interesting offer.

Now, prices are all right and although delivery is not cheap (EUR 12.5 flat rate, but hey what can we do with Italian mail service?), it works pretty well. I got my order in just a couple of days - granted, the shipping place is about 50km to the delivery place, but still. Service was fast, efficient and extremely friendly.

Here's a picture of what I got:

Now, although the order was just a sampling, the idea behind it was to recreate a force of Italic Kingdom under the reign of king Berengar I (888-924 AD), and the miniatures have been painted accordingly.

The quality of figures is extremely good: the scale is 15mm foot-to-eye, so that they may vary in size, if they crouch or wear a tall helm. The sculptor is Marco Campagna, who achieved a pleasant balance between realism and stylization, meaning that the figures look realistic enough but they are still very nice to paint in detail.

Now, let's have a look in detail at some of the products:

The "Charlemagne command" was chosen to represent king Berengar and his herald. The pack also contains the two characters dismounted, which is quite useful if you plan Skirmish Games where a horseman can be dismounted and still continue to fight. The figures are very, very nice as you can see, and the detail is deep and historically accurate.

The "Swabian, Bavarian or Thuringian caballarii" can represent basicly any post-Carolingian heavy cavalry armed with sword and shield. I painted with the same colour pattern to represent them as high level retainers who received their weapons from a common Lord. As you can see, 3 different figures in one pack, and again amazing detail.

The "Frankish heavy horse archers" represent heavy cavalry armed with bows. 2 poses in a pack of 4 pictures, still good and good detail. Again, I used the same colour pattern as if they are the personal guard of a Lord.

But what about the little guys on foot? Here are the "Carolingian Archers", or any archers drawn from the rural, working population in western Europe at that time. 8 figures and 4 poses is quite good, and I also like the detail. The archers were painted all differently to represent the fact that they are a militia with no regular equipment. Colours are quite garish as I wanted my archers to be prosperous massari (peasants) proudly defending their lands (well, their liege's lands!) from the enemy, and not the muddy, poor kind waiting for the first chance to run away from the fight.

"Lombard Mounted Followers" are perfect to represent middle-class milites (warriors), who own enough land to equip themselves for war with sword, shield, spear and, most importantly, a horse, but not rich enough to own an armour (which was quite expensive at the time). They were painted in different patterns to represent the origin of their equipment. Here we have 3 poses on 4 figures, and the detail! I especially love the guy on the right and his beard and hair.

"Lombard Foot Command": again great detail, and many poses (3 different ones on 8 figures per pack). Here I used them to represent middle and high level milites who will lead the battle groups. In Carolingian and post-Carolingian Italy, the higher milites were often of Frankish, Burgundian, Bavarian or Alemannian origin, while the middle and small milites were typically local Lombards (with a few Ostrogothic elements). Peasants were mostly "Romanic", that is descended from the pre-barbarian population: a mix of Celtic, Etruscan and central Italic blood.

The "Lombard Urban Militia" is perfect to be used in post-Carolingian times. This heterogeneous group represents a force of Freemen, most probably craftsmen (smiths, taylors, carpenters) or bureaucrats (small judges or scabini, inspectors, secretaries and messengers). They bring a shield, a sword and a spear, but they aren't rich enough to ride a proper horse. Here we have 4 poses on 8 figures, and nice detail.

Provided Freemen were only bound to serve in the army in times of defensive war, in those occasions they weren't only drawn from the city-dwellers. A lot of them actually dwelled in the countryside, remnants of the old Lombard farae who now lived by tilling the land or herding pigs in the woods. They were poor, but they were still free. Most importantly, they were pretty bad-ass, and they went to war armed only with axes and crude swords, and round, coloured shields with the colours of their lineage. The "Lombard warband" was perfect to represent them: here quality is not as high as with other products, and I guess these were sculpted earlier than most. Still, there are 4 poses on 8 figures, and their crudity matches well the characters they represent.

So, in the end two thumbs up for Baueda! I'm gonna get more miniatures from them and expand this army.
Did some of you try this range too? Leave a comment, and let me know.

sabato 10 gennaio 2015

Review: Woodland Scenics Tree Kits

If you are playing in any historical or fantasy setting, trees are probably the most useful scenic elements you can add to your battleground (or diorama, if you are not into playing but just into modelling).
Trees can be put almost anywhere and they add a great feeling of realism by their simple looks, which is more complex than any wall, bridge or architectural element.

Being fond of trees, both on the battlefield and in the real world, I was looking for some resources to get (or make) good ones, and I tried Woodland Scenics. Now, this is an U.S. company, based in Linn Creek, Missouri; their focus is, as their name suggests, scenics for dioramas, especially vegetation elements for train dioramas. Their range is huge, and includes also buildings, vehicles and many modelling tools like special glues.

For my trial, I ordered from EC Scenics, which is a dealer conveniently located on this side of the Atlantic: they stock almost all the tree products from WS, and the service is fast and efficient. My selection included different kind of foliage to see the difference they made.
Now, let's look at the result, so you can judge by yourself: 

This is the basic tree you can make with the Fine Leaf Foliage (this is Medium Green, F1131). The box includes a sample tree armature you can twist. The concept is nice, since it is really easy and quick to do. The result, however, is not particularly exciting: the foliage doesn't stick very well to the plastic trunk (I tried several glues, not including the special one from WS, which might work but is really expensive), and above all the trunk looks plastic. Maybe it would be better if I painted before.

On the other hand, the Fine Leaf Foliage can stand alone very well: in the box there are several large chunks which can be separated from the main body, and become trees in their own right:

Stick them on a base (I used some Das Colour from FILA covered in grass) and you have extremely realistic trees. All in all, this product is probably the closest you can get to a real tree on a small scale. The bad news is that a box costs a lot of money but, hey, quality isn't cheap.

Since my issues were mainly with the tree trunks, I tried to make do by myself with several experiments, finding that it's really cheap and easy (and fun), to make your own tree trunks with just some twisted copper wire (extremely flexible) and papier-mâché. After painted they look realistic enough, and the surface is really easy to stick with glue, so that you can apply a variety of other products.

Look at this example of poplars: on the left, WS Fine Leaf Foliage; on the right, self-made tree trunk covered with WS Poly Fiber (Green, FP178), with a thin layer of WS Foliage (Light Green, F51) to add realism. Yes, the right one is not as cool, but the right one is really cheap. Several times cheap. Also, if you do your own trees, you can get more flexible with shapes.

Take this old, twisted oak: the foliage is made of WS Clump-Foliage (Medium Green, FC683). Not as cheap as Foliage and Poly Fiber, and not as expensive as Fine Leaf Foliage, it's still very nice since it creates a mass, and it can be used both for trees and shrubs.
Now, the samples above were made with copper wire and papier-mâché. When unpainted, they look like this:

Great also as dead, burned or simply winter-time trees. But, if you like, you can experiment with other materials.

This is, for example, an ancient Poplar, with a trunk made with staples and Patplume from FILA. It looks quite good and it was easy to model, but on the other hand it doesn't get hard: it stays soft indefinitely, so you have to be careful when handling it, and ideally don't leave it close to sources of heat. Also, after a few months the original brown colour whitered. The leaves are WS Clump-Foliage and the ivy is WS Foliage.

This is, instead, a gigantic oak with trunk made of staples and Das Colour, and the leaves of WS Clump-Foliage. The ivy is simple Poly Fiber. Das Colour has the advantage to be self-drying, and to keep the shape and colour nicely; unfortunately it isn't as easy to model as Patplume.

Final judgement? Very good! I heartily recommend the tree products of Woodland Scenics. If you're into trees and looking for some quality items, definitely go for it, you will not be disappointed.