The Ballbusch Review: Splinter Light Miniatures Old Saxons
This time were going to take a look at some actual miniatures. Unlike the rules reviews I’m going to sprinkle my opinion throughout the review. The reason for this is simple: a miniature’s merit is a matter of aesthetics. Beyond stating its size and the fact that it exists there is little I can say without rendering judgement of some kind.
Sculptor: Rodrick Campbell
Price (in 2015): $8.00 (for a pack of 12)
Price per Figure: $0.67
The Character pack is full of…character
Mr. Campbell’s style is reminiscent of Antony Barton’s, being clean, detailed, and naturalistic. The sculpting is clean and details clearly recognizable. However, style is rather low relief (drybrushing and inking not really recommended), so it takes careful shading to add ‘weight’ to the figure and bring out the folds of clothing and equipment. Faces were surprisingly good and well portioned with eye-lids in evidence on some of the figures.
These are ‘thin’ 18mm miniatures. Tall, but the anatomy is not exaggerated or chunky. Flash and mold lines were present, but fairly minor and the figures cleaned up quickly. The metal is good quality and there were no miscasts. One figure’s spear was bent to near breaking, and I felt obliged to replace the weapon with a length of brass rod. Otherwise there was no damage.
Splintered Light divides their Saxons into medium (Geoguth and Duguth) and heavy infantry (Gedriht), which seems to serve as a short hand for common warriors and nobles. Both types can be purchased with swords, axes, or spears. The Old Saxons were not a wealthy society, so true swords would have been rare; therefore I opted for spearmen. Dark Age spears were formidable weapons and rather than a simple jabbing weapon, spears could be used to cut, thrust, and parry. In general, a far more effective and extravert weapon than wargamers (and role-players) commonly imagine. More of a sword-on-a-stick than a short pike. Every figure appears to wear the ubiquitous seax at this hip, but none have them drawn.
The medium and heavy infantry come supplied with large, round shields. Early Saxon shields are a matter of some scholarly debate. There is evidence that the Saxons did not adopt large shields (and with them shieldwall tactics) until the early 7th Century, and that ‘Arthurian’ Saxons used bucklers. This is, of course, by no means a consensus opinion.
Personally, I find that both sides make good arguments. Shields found in graves do tend to get bigger over time. On the other hand, there is no reason to assume that Saxon grave goods were used by the deceased and there is some evidence that the items and symbolic or ritual value. The presence of weaponry in the graves of women and children lends credence to the idea that the items interred with the deceased were not the personal property of the dead. However, it does not necessary follow that those items were non-functional. Then again different tribes or types of warrior may have utilized different war gear, or selected items based on the nature of the mission. Likely, we’ll never know.
Since the evidence is inconclusive, I stuck with the provided shields. If nothing else it makes the models useful for a longer period. Also, since other—presumably related—Germano-gothic groups fought in close formation with big shields, I find it more likely that the Saxons did likewise. However, Splintered Light does supply bucklers with its Saxon Javelinmen, so they will undoubtedly be able to supply you with smaller shields if that is your want.
Otherwise, the figures are suitable for Saxons in England from AD 400 to AD 655 (the death of Penda of Mercia). And for their cousins on the continent from the same rough start date until sometime after Widukind’s baptism in AD 785. Although sold as ‘Saxons’ there isn’t much to stop you from using these figure for any Gothic-Germanic tribe of the 5th to 7th Century. Material culture did vary, but only specialized historians would likely
notice the difference. The bigger problem is the lack of cavalry. Common to most other nations, but for opaque reasons seemingly never utilized by the Saxons who, it is implied, had some deep-seated aversion to ridding horses.
Saxons of both genders habitually layered their clothing with a thick and durable over-tunic (or over-dress) worn on top of potentially several sets of softer, thinner underwear. While some tunics were short-sleeved I’m not convinced of the universality of the garment. Surely this was an economic decision on the part of Splintered Light, but some long-sleeved tunics would have been nice, though maybe it is just a warm day. Yes, that is the pettiest complaint possible, and yes, I am slightly embarrassed to have made it.
In addition to rank and file warriors, Splintered Light also makes a charming personality pack complete with a pair of (crazed) priests, and a separate set with Beowulf confronting Grendel. Although not specifically billed as ‘Saxons’ there is a ‘Dark Age Villagers’ set if you want some civilians. However, be warned that this set contains a mix of pagan and Christian women, so select your camp followers with care.
This is a nice range that gives a little more cultural character than the generic migration era Germanic warrior figures widely available in all scales. I highly recommend them to anyone with any interest in the period, and to fantasy gamers looking for Dark Age-ish troops.