Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Fistful of Ancients...

...Or, how our Protagonist assembles an army from his Baccus6mm scraps.

Yes, it's true: 6mm will always give better mass effect than larger scales. Roman Hastati/Principes from Baccus.

My big project for 2008 (or is that my really, really small project?) was painting up Carthaginian and Republican Roman armies for Commands and Colors: Ancients (CC:A). I wanted lots of figures. That meant 6mm, a new scale for me. A wise person going into a new scale would have ordered a small sampling, painted them up, drawn conclusions from that, and then worked from there.

I, of course, am not a wise person. I went for one gigantic order, smugly assuming that since I'd worked everything out using a spreadsheet, I would end up with exactly what I needed.

Lesson #1: Don't make one giant order.

AIR6 - "Roman generals". Most of the armies in Baccus' ancients range don't have generals sculpted for them, meaning these guys tend to do extra duty.

Needless to say, I ended up with several hundred extra figures. Wasted money? Well, maybe. On the other hand, I really like painting 6mm. Speedpainting for the big CC:A project was fun-- but the results didn't exactly thrill me. The detailing on the little guys was there; I just wasn't living up to their potential, and that was a waste. Long before finishing the CC:A project, I started thinking of all the things I could do in 6mm with only a little more time and care. This time, though, I wanted to experiment. Luckily I had all those extra figures in the leadpile...

Shades of Brown

First up was the Numidian cavalry. I ordered enough figures to replace all the blocks from the CC:A game-- which it turns out was unneccessary, as no scenario uses anything approaching the full number!

Lesson #2: Figure out how many figures you will actually need, rather than how many you think you might need.
Baccus AMO3 - "Moorish cavalry". This is one of the older ranges; there's only one pose, and many of the shields were miscast, as were the hands holding the spear.

From a distance, the defects are invisible. Of course, a lot is invisible, if you don't use contrasting colours!

With enough extra Numidians to make several units, it was an ideal opportunity for comparative experimentation. Although 6mm veterans always say to use bright colours, I wasn't convinced (after all, who listens to the voice of experience? Suckers, that's who!). I first attempted a 'realistic' approach, using various shades of brown (above, at left). It looked terrible, ameliorated only slightly by adding a white Tanit symbol on the shield. My second attempt (above, center) turned out better; lighter tones all around made them look less like sub-saharan Africans and more like berbers, while simultaneously emphasizing more of the details. The third attempt (above, right) took this approach even further, while also trying to add more colour. The blue Tanit symbols didn't turn out as well as the white ones.

Lesson #3: Paint adjacent areas in contrasting colours.

A mixture of AMO1 "Moorish infantry" and AMO2 "Moorish javelins". Again, the limitations of this older range were obvious: few poses, and a tendency for the castings to break at the ankles. The combined survivors from these two codes only produced this single unit.

Much ado about skirmishers

ASP2 - "Spanish Caetratii". Nice sculpts, with various styles of Iberian sinew headgear in evidence. Some of the shields were miscast, but the figures are far more robust than their Moorish counterparts.

Infantry units in CC:A are represented by four blocks apiece. In my original project I'd represented each unit by four 20mm square bases, but for my experimental units I decided to go with the same system I'd adopted for my 10mm figures-- two 40x20mm and two 20x20mm bases per unit. It's a versatile system, allowing combinations of 20, 40, and 60mm frontage, while the extra space allowed me to play around with figure placement.

The Spanish Caetrati arrayed for battle. Sources portray these troops as excellent skirmishers, bombarding their foes with javelins, often from ambush, before closing to finish matters at swordpoint. The bases are from Litko Aerosystems, with magnetic base-bottoms for saboting together.

In one sense the switch to larger bases was a success; I really liked being able to arrange figures in more aesthetic formations. But the revolution went even further, as those dastardly fellows over at Baccus6mm came out with their Baccus Basing System (BBS)! Naturally I had to have it; it was all too obvious that their way looked nicer than mine. Was it worth the switch? Well... the jury's still out on that one. For stand-alone bases I'll admit the BBS produces much nicer results. But for whole armies, doing three stages of drybrushing per base is a hugely time-consuming process. Furthermore, I discovered that the high-contrast drybrushing puts a lot of emphasis on the base edges, as is obvious in the picture below; there's no disguising that these units are made from four separate bases.

Lesson #4: It really can be easy to make a really good looking base! Making many good looking bases, however, is another matter.

Aerial view showing the arrangements of the troops. I wanted to portray the Spanish (bottom) as being ready to fight in either close or open order, hence the mixture of troops in line and scattered. I didn't like the big gap between the two groups, however, and improved upon the arrangement for my Numidians (top).

AGR10 - "Psiloi - Sling", from the Greek range. The sling on the 2nd pose is prone to breaking-- although to date it's always been my fault; I haven't had one come broken. Baccus offers proper Balearic slingers with bucklers, but for some reason I missed them when placing my order. Even more strangely, the Spanish DBx army I ordered also came with these instead of the Balearics!

AGR4 - "Psiloi - Bow", also from the Greek range. I needed a few archers for CC:A, but there aren't any in the Punic Wars range.

Slingers in action (top), and archers. All Baccus figures are cast in strips, but many light infantry are designed to be cut apart individually. Archers are designed to be cut into pairs, one standing behind the other; but dividing them into singles wasn't a problem.

How to ruin a good paintbrush, fast

I have two main issues with the Baccus Punic Wars range. The first is with the Spanish Scutarii, who are based in open order, contrary to how I imagine them. This is easily remedied, however, with a bit of extra cash outlay and a few minutes with the side-clippers. Not so with the second issue: those giant shields. Only a few of the codes really offend me-- namely the Roman Hastati/Principes, Triarii, Marians, and once again the Spanish Caetrati. The shields on these figures extend from the ground to above shoulder height; from the front their bodies and legs are completely invisible, making them look like spear-wielding shields with heads. They're kind of like oval versions of the playing-card soldiers from Alice in Wonderland.

ARR1 - "Hastatii/Principes", showing their truly enormous shields. The command group actually comes in a strip of centurion/musician/standard/trooper. I thought it looked dumb with a bunch of unshielded brass all at the front of the formation, and clipped them apart for a more realistic deployment.

ARR6 - "Marian Legionaries", displaying the same affliction. Astute viewers will also note that the command staff are all about a head shorter than their troops.

Most people don't bother to paint shield patterns at 6mm. Normally I wouldn't either, but in this case I felt obligated-- those giant blank spaces were galling me! Needless to say, it was an annoyingly time-consuming process, and I think each #000 brush is good for maybe 150 of these little guys before getting too bent and frayed for detail work. At about $7 a brush, it ain't the cheap solution either.

Don't get me wrong. I like Baccus. I like their website, which has tons of pictures and makes ordering simple. I like Peter who runs the outfit, because he's infinitely helpful and provides lots of useful (and free) information. I even like most of their figures; the new ones, especially, continue to get better and better. I just don't like these particular shields!

Lesson #5: Plan your army around figures you like, rather than headhunting figures for an army you want.

Late Republican cohort. With shield patterns, those oversized shields almost look good. Almost.

ACA2 - "African spearmen". See, now those are shields I can appreciate. Even if my #000 brush was evidently no longer up to the detail work.

...And they still look good en masse. The shields don't need to be gigantic to draw attention.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

So was all that extra effort worth it, I hear you wondering? Good question. I would estimate that I spent about twice as much time per unit trying to paint them up nicely, versus the speed painting used in my initial army.

Newstyle (left) versus speedpainting (right). The larger formation actually looks more numerous, but if you count heads you'll see that both units actually contain the same number of troops!

The extra work on the shields stands out, I think. The old ones were given a slathering of the base colour, followed by a wash for shading; the new ones were painted more carefully, to preserve the blacklining around the details. Again, it all comes down to maintaining contrast. Likewise, making sure the belt was a contrasting colour makes it stand out oh-so-much better at a distance.

As for the basing... I'm still not convinced switching to the Baccus system makes that much of a difference. Granted, my basing style before wasn't all that bad; my days of bright green flock are blessedly long gone. But I'm pleased with other aspects of my basing; in the example above, for instance, I moved the standards to the second rank, while the centurions occupy front and rear corners of the formation. One trumpeter is with the standards, the other at the rear. Looks good, having that uninterrupted row of shields up front, doesn't it? The larger bases and looser spacing also worked out well; details aren't obscured by crowding, while the army actually looks bigger. I'm pretty sure there's a Gestalt Principle to explain this.

Lesson #6: Don't crowd your bases-- it's pointless.

The whole army. Not much of an army, actually; it looks like it could use a few more maniples! Must. Resist. Buying. More! Maybe there's a Basic Impetus list for an army with only eleven elements...

Lesson#7: 6mm is addictive.