Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Favourite Units of Mine No.1

Given that the painting output has slowed to a crawl again, I thought I would start an occasional look back at some of the units, figures, models in my collection which have been either fun to play with, won a spectacular combat (not many there I'm afraid) or have been fun to paint.

So first up are - "The Stupid Pechenegs"

Way back in my first year at Dundee University, a few of the guys in the Dundee University Wargames and Role Playing Society were playing WRG 6th Edition Ancients with 15mm figures. I have to say that over the years that I have played wargames, 6th Ed WRG has to be pretty near the top of my favourite rule sets.
As a newcomer to the club and never having played Ancient wargaming before, initially I had to rely on borrowing an army from 1 of the guys or being a sub-general if the game being played was large enough to accommodate more than 2 players. I knew I had to get my own army but the question was what to get?

I spent hours pouring over the 3 Army List Books that WRG produced for the rule set. Early Libyan was quickly ruled out as a possibility. We already had Carthaginian, Aztecs, Early Imperial Roman (which was then replaced by Late Imperial Roman when the army's owner, Jim "The Mad Doctor" left his tool box of figures on the train between Dundee and Aberdeen and never recovered it - God that was a day of national mourning I can tell you), Swiss, Mongols, Indians. I wanted something different but, and I freely admit it, had to be good enough to win with, despite my terrible Generalship.

So the decision was made to go for the Nikephorian Byzantines. Reading about the thrashings handed out by Basil "Bulgar-Basher" to the Empire's Bulgar neighbours, the blinding of 10,000 Bulgar warriors which led to the Bulgar Tsar, Samuel, dying of grief at the sight of his maimed army, the intrigue and plotting of the Byzantine Court, they were the Superpower of the 10th and 11th Centuries, the professional Cavalry army including the fully armoured Klibanophoroi Cavalry which looked totally cool on the battlefield, the Varangian Guard with their 2 handed axes, the impetuous Norman Allied Cavalry, the Greek Fire siphoners and the drilled ranks of the Skutatoi Infantry, the army had everything, I could not fail to win with these guys, they were hard as nails.

But they also had the Pechenegs.

Okay, under the lists, you didn't need to include Pechenegs, but given that the Regular Byzantine Cavalry, the "Trapezitoi" was 2 1/2 times the cost of a Pecheneg Light Cavalryman, and given that the flanking and scouting ability was so important in the game, the Pechenegs, almost by default, became obligatory in the Army List.

The bulk of the figures that I purchased for my army were from a company called Asgard Miniatures. They are long gone now but the moulds live on, having been purchased by a company in the States called The Viking Forge. Unfortunately, I don't think they ship to the UK as they only seem to accept payment by way of cheque (check for our colonial readers) or money order. Still it is comforting to know that they are still available. Not that I need any more figures for the army, for at the time I purchased enough figures to field every possible option available on the list, including the full 40 Pechenegs allowed plus General. I supplemented some of the units by buying some figures from Minifigs and also from Mikes Models, although the latter were noticeably smaller than the Asgard and Minfigs models which were nearer 18mm in size as opposed to 15mm .

I had also obtained the excellent Men at Arms book from Osprey Publishing entitled "Byzantine Armies 886-1118". The Minifigs Pecheneg models were very closely based on the plates of the Pecheneg warriors included in that book which were drawn by the late, great Angus McBride.

The Pecheneg Light Cavalry by Minifigs

The Riders are depicted as having a knee length coat, which on the Minifigs figures was sculpted pretty well but which on the Asgard figures looked like a pair of pyjamas, not helped by the bright colours these coats tended to be

The Pecheneg Light Cavalry by Asgard

But I quickly got a unit of 16 cavalry painted up - in 6th Ed WRG, you did use figure removal, 1 figure being removed for every 20 casualties suffered and as Light Cavalry units could use such wonderful formations such as the "Cantabrian Circle" and the "Skythian" formation, they were originally based singly (they are now based for DBM).

And they were terrible.

Being Irregular "C" light cavalry, they were very, very fickle and if the slighest thing went wrong in their vicinity and I was forced to take a morale test for them, I would inevitably roll so badly that they would flee off the table. Eventually, it became a standing joke that I didn't need to roll the test, I should just pick them up and place them off table as inevitably that's where they would have ended up. But as a result, they did actually become fun to play with as their unreliability meant you never knew what to expect with them.

In their own army list in Book 2 of the lists (list no.109) Phil Barker describes how the Pechenegs inspired the proverb "As stupid as a Pecheneg" and so that is how they came to be known as in my army.

With the transition to De Bellis Multitudinis and the dropping of the morale classes, the Pechenegs did become a bit more useful, being now classifed as "Irr LH (F)", but they could still be relied on to do something stupid. And they no longer form part of the Nikephorian list but instead take their place in the Konstantinian Byzantine list which covers the period 1042AD to 1071AD, so no longer would my Super Heavy Klibanophoroi Cavalry have to look on in mild amusement as a pile of Pechenegs ran past them, usually in the opposite direction towards the nearest friendly table edge.

1071AD, saw, of course the Battle of Manzikert, but as a Byzantine player we don't talk about that..........


  1. Good post made me laugh, that unit is similar to using conscript Neapolitans in our Napoleonic rules where to even move them you have to dice and the further away from the table edge you can deploy them the better as it takes them longer to reach theor own friendly edge.

  2. Thanks Angry! What Nap rules do you use? If they involve rolling dice to see if a unit moves then they sound like a set I should stay well clear of!!