Today we're going back to the dark age again for a bit, as I review Gripping Beast's 28mm Saxon Thegns plastics boxed set.
First, a bit of backstory.
Who were the Thegns?
Thegns were the nobleman-warrior elite of the Anglo-Saxon society. Depending on their standing with the king, they received a certain amount of land (measured by yield rather than expanse), so rather than just being warriors or a sort of lifeguard they were feudal lords and formed a powerful class of society, not only being called upon in times of war, but also to administer justice. However, they still were much more vassals to their lord rather than knights of feudal times later on.
As the Thegns were established and grew as a social group further division between the Thegns began to emerge, such as king's Thegns being higher up on the social (and financial) ladder than Thegns serving a bishop. Over the course of the 7th century the number of Thegns had increased so much that the various landholdings they were ordered to administer were impossible to keep track to for the king, so they were written down in a book. This increased autonomy (by necessity) for the Thegns led to land being inheritable within a family of Thegns, but also to Thegns becoming organizers of Levy pressed into service in times of war. Thus they also became a sort of officer class.
During the Anglo-Saxon period in Britain the Thegns got replaced with the Huscarles who had virtually the same job the Thegns had done before then, so in many cases this was just a renaming of the position of a Thegn if at all. With the Norman conquest both the Thegns and the Huscarles were replaced with noble knights and the proper feudal system.
The Thegn's general equipment would consist of a shield made of wooden planks with cow hide stretched over the front (the use of softer sheep skin was banned by law!). The boss (the middle metal thingy) of the shield was made of iron. Copper and gold were only used for decoration of iron parts. The rims of Anglo-Saxon shields were made of leather. In earlier times a Thegn would carry with him a few javelins. Swords were rare and incredibly valued items, passed on between generations and usually had their own names each. Single-bladed axes (Seaxes) were more common a weapon as well as a tool.
The whole thing about the chainmail shirts is that they probably were very, very rare until the late Anglo-Saxon period. The king's lifeguard of Huscarles is depicted as all wearing chain shirts on the Bayeux Tapestry. However, this does not mean that regular warriors or even Thegns all wore them.
The first time I built and painted minis from this box was in late 2012 for my own 28mm Saxons. Now, as after the release of the German rulebook of Saga the game got incredibly popular (again) in Germany and Austria, I'm doing a bunch of Saga Warbands for several people. Cool stuff.
So I took this opportunity to finally get a review done of this plastics box. As always, let's start with a look at the box (because we're superficial like that).
These models are designed as a counter-part to the plastic Viking Hirdmen released by Gripping Beast around the same time and in the very pretty artwork by Peter Dennis we see the Saxons (probably in Anglo- form) defending, forming what looks to be a loose shield wall. The rather surprising tagline is "defenders of the faith". I am no expert on the period, but when it comes to the invasion/raids on the British isle by the hands of all kinds of vikings around that time I think that their Christian faith would have taken a lower priority than their land, belongings and families, right? Of course, faith having been an essential part of their lifestyle, but when I think of the Anglo-Saxons (or their mainland Europe cousins) I think they didn't choose to fight vikings because they were heathens. Of course the tagline "defenders of their stuff" doesn't work that well.
But then I might be wrong. Something for the comments, I guess! ;-)
Anyway, the artwork looks nice, the box gives us the info that you get 44 miniatures (yeah, yeah, I'm sure that's really impressive if you are only used to GW models. For historicals it's an okay amount. Just putting this there because in other reviews I read people getting really excited about this.) in this box and they show a life-sized picture of a built miniature from the box.
On the back we get some additional info concerning optional parts in the box, a little bit of backstory about who the Thegns were and an ad for the vikings plastic box. The boxes I got were not in any way shrink-wrapped. The boxes themselves are of the usual thin cardboard making. Nothing remarkable, but servicable.
Bits and Bobs
In the box we got a bunch of sprues and a little leaflet. On one side it shows the artwork again (nice touch)...
...on the other side we get assembly instructions for the miniatures:
The main part of this page is a beginner's guide to assembling miniatures and for how to prepare to paint them. There also are two paper flags to cut out, along with instructions for how to affix them to a model.. They look rather pretty. Given the thickness and glossiness of the page the material is less than perfect to make flags out of it, but it's not bad.
Let us get to the core of things now though - the sprues. In this box we get 4 large troops sprues like this:
The 10 torsi are in one piece and cast onto little bases. All of them are wearing chainmail shirts. These are elite warriors after all. There are 14 heads on the sprue, so you get some variety. The main differences on the heads is the varying amount of decoration on the helmets. Most of the heads, fittingly for Saxons, wear proper mustaches. Each Thegn gets a round shield too. Nice detail on the back of the shields. In the front they are all the same.
Now for the weapons included. Quite historically accurately the most numerous weapons on these sprues are spears. Eight thereof, with arms cast on. The six shield arms can be converted to hold axes or swords if you like. There are not any more single shield arms because four of the bodies got shield arms cast on already.
The fact that you can't equip all of the guys with spears may not please everybody, but 38 spearmen will have you covered for most games anyway. On top of that I like the variety of having some swords/axes as well. If you use these for regular warrior units in Saga for example some people like to tell them apart from Hearthguard by equipping warriors with spears and hearthguard with hand weapons.
There are plenty of sheathed swords as well on the sprue. Those are a bit of a pain to glue to the models because most of the sheathes are very long and it's not quite clear where and how they are supposed to fit. Somehow they do, but it takes a bit of looking through pictures online. Don't forget to clip the sword hilts off the sheathes if the guy holds a sword in his hand!
To top it all off there are some single knives and small pouches on the sprue to glue to the models as additional detail.
On top of these troops sprues there are two command sprues to be found in each box:
Each of them contains two more bodies (one of them standing very upright in a dramatic fashion), two shields, more sheathed swords and sword arms, two more heads, an arm with horn for a musician (Toot, toot. The front has to be drilled out or at least needs a black spot painted on.), a Drakostandard and first and foremost: The cloak. I'm never quite happy with the way the horn is held on this arm. Maybe it's just me not 'getting' it, but for me it neither quite works as a pose for the horn to be blown, nor as just being held in a relaxed fashion.
The cloak is to be glued on before you attach the head and in my experience works really well to make leaders stand out properly. If I remember correctly, there should be a WHOLE lot more cloaks on Saxon warriors of the time, but oh well. If you want those, you can buy metal minis. The way I see these plastics, they are a cheap and workable way to get your warband together fast and without too much investment (in terms of seeking out cool models and in terms of money).
The parts on the command sprues are perfectly compatible with the models from the troops sprues of course, so feel free to mix and match.
Apart from that we get one of the renedra base sprues, the same as they got in their Dark Age Warriors boxed set:
I prefer round bases on skirmish games, so these go in the box along with the many, many other bases sprues which don't fit my peculiar tempers.
The parts fit really well, the heads can be turned to some degree (necks are cast onto the bodies). The arms have rather large connecting surfaces to the torsi due to the chainshirts hanging down a little. This makes for nice and believable poses and a proper look on the chainshirts (which is not a given thing with some plastic kits). You may have to experiment a little with which arms fit which torsi the best.
The casting and sculpting quality is of the usual Renedra standard. Good stuff, nothing to complain there. On some folds the chain shirt details are a bit muddy, but once they're painted it is not appearant any more. Mold lines are present and have to be dealt with, as on all minis. On these sculpts specifically this can be a bit annoying on the wraps around the ankles.
Due to the nature of the models there barely is any gap filling required. I strongly suggest keeping the shields off the models until you finished painting them.
I painted those really fast as I had to get them ready for gaming back when I painted them first.
Painting those models is really fun and - so you want - rather quick and easy due to all the chainmail parts and the fact that on the table 80% of what you see is helmets and the shield.
I found that it helps a lot to paint a bit of extra details on the tunics such as simple geometric patterns. Due to the fact that most of the torso is covered in chainmail a simple stripe in a contrasting colour will do the trick. But of course feel free to do more complex patterns if you like.
I'm a miniatures painter, so I didn't use decals on the shields, but freehanded them. Saxon shields will often display a variant of a cross pattern, so this is what I went with mostly. In pictures these shields light up. Maybe a bit too much for the tastes of some, but I think it's just right for the gaming table where lighting usually is quite a bit different to what it's like in the photo setup.
Hope you like the look of those! :-)
Unless you're a metal-only guy (and if you are - more power to you.) this set is an essential buy for any (Anglo-) Saxon player. Even if you play other Dark Ages or Medieval games or Fantasy games (in case you don't like the Chaos Marauder figures, want a more rural Empire army, if you want to play Norse, and so on), it's just a very convenient and inexpensive way to get a lot of bechainmailled dudes on the table.
Size-wise they are along the lines of GBP's Dark Age Warriors:
The price point is pretty good. For 44 figures (as you can see the poses are dynamic and varied enough and there are weapon options between spears and hand weapons, plus extra equipment for command figures) you pay GBP 18.00 to 20.00 per box. There is another Saxon Thegns set of plastics out there too by Wargames Factory. That set has a bit of a bad reputation because it's kind of old and despite the fact that of course the latest plastic sets by WGF are really, really top quality, some of the sets released before 2010/2011 sometimes are a bit iffy. From what I hear, this set by Gripping Beast is generally preferred.
I hope that you enjoyed this review, found it interesting, entertaining and so on. If you have any questions, comments or indeed commission inquiries, feel free to let me know via the comments section, the Battle Brush Studios Facebook page or via e-mail.