Hi, I’m Paul, and welcome to today’s Footsore Flashback.
Part of my editorial role at Sculpting, Painting and Gaming is mining the back catalogue of Footsore Miniatures’ blog posts for gems like the article below. I use the term ‘gems’ advisedly; these blog posts serve as perfect foils for Footsore’s miniatures. Sparkling with colour and detail, and these miniatures encapsulate what makes historical wargaming so compelling. Evocative and rich, wargaming—and miniatures—makes our past tangible, and it makes our histories interactive and malleable.
Few articles display these qualities as well as Carl Marsden’s article on his Byzantines. First presented on Footsore Miniatures’ blog in February, 2017, it not only shows off Footsore’s range of Byzantines to a tee, but also Carl’s consummate skill. I look forward to featuring more of Carl’s work in the future.
Having been a history geek and an avid collector and painter of miniatures as a kid, it was only a matter of time until adult me discovered Saga. Growing up in York immersed me in the Viking and Roman history of the place, and after a childhood spent collecting dwarves and undead, the discovery that I could collect and paint the very warriors who had lived and fought in and around my city was a revelation, and Saga was the game for me. I began with good old Vikings, with its forgiving battle board that not only gave me a great starting point in the game but also—after many attempts—my elusive first victory. From the beginning, however, my attention had been drawn to the Byzantines. I had seen the Footsore range of Late Romans and always loved them, and the chance to use them in my favourite gaming system was too good to miss. My trusty Vikings were duly consigned to the figure cabinet, and a new warband was mustered from the mercenary bands and city levies of the successors of Rome.
The Footsore range ticked all the boxes in terms of matching the models up to the army list, and the Late Roman theme really resonated with me. As a teenager one of my favourite series of books was the Warlord series by Bernard Cornwell, and the figures reminded me of those Romano-British warriors fighting a long, brave defeat against the invading Saxons. Those stories have remained lifetime favourites, and it’s an area of history that has always fascinated me as a result.
The Byzantine Battle Board is a deep one, and despite their obvious strengths I found them a challenge to balance into an effective force. Looking at the army list (and taking into account which models from the range were my favourites!) I plumped for a balanced mix of warriors, levy and hearthguard. Two units of spear armed Kontaratoi and two of javelin-weildng Psiloi were a great starting point and gave me the opportunity to pick up a good number of the armoured and unarmoured spearmen to represent them. Byzantine warrior units can also be armed with bows (Toxatoi), so I grabbed a unit of Archers to represent those too. The hearthguard units are always mounted and come with swords or bows, and I already had units to represent these Kavallaroi, but I’ll soon be adding a mix of the heavy, light and cavalry archers to match them up with my beloved infantry.
So how do they play? Balance is the key with Byzantines, and unlike many other forces in Saga they have no main strength. For me the key to success has been hitting upon a blend that utilises their shooting, melee combat and cavalry speed to the greatest effect. The warriors form the backbone of the force and, as much as a bristling shieldwall always had its appeal for me, a mix of bows and spears has always given me the necessary flexibility. Byzantines offer the unique ability to shoot into combat without hitting your own troops, meaning that your missile troops can give effective support to your combat troops without simultaneously thinning out their ranks.
Whilst the warriors are the mainstay of the army, my levy units have been key to several victories due to their Scout ability. Just one dice can activate up to three levy units at once and, as they generate no fatigue, that hail of javelins raining on your opponent suddenly looks quite formidable. The Massed Archery and Support Archery abilities maximise the effectiveness of missile troops, and I found them invaluable in supporting infantry units against superior warriors or numbers.
The hearthguard units’ mounted movement have always been key in managing the battlefield effectively, and being able to get these guys in the right place at the right time is always a challenge! Byzantine cavalry can be a bit squishy (I have never had any success with Kavallaroi archers) but the support that the lancers can give and, in turn, receive makes them the key to victory. I’ve found gaming with these guys to be fun, but challenging. At times they can be mediocre and ineffective, their numbers quickly dwindling as units get isolated and destroyed. However, with practice and learning how to get the right synergy out of your army, it can bring you some spectacular—and very personally rewarding—victories.
About Carl Mardens
A writer based in York, UK, Carl has been painting and wargaming for the last 25 years.
His main obsession is Saga (as fuelled by an unhealthy obsession with history) with occasional sorties into Malifaux and Guildball.
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