Last article I introduced the game Saga: Viking Age to readers. What I left out of my ridiculous and meandering prose was discussion of how to get your grubby hands on one of the most important aspects of any miniatures game, the figures. See, historical games are a little different than the current incarnations of Warhammer, Malifaux, WarhmaHordes etc… in that there are often times a plethora of miniature companies that make compatible figures, and there is no IP infringement or cease and desist letters on history. It isn’t always as easy as just purchasing the exact thing they show in the book, but with this added effort comes incredible choice on how you want to spend your hard earned stacks of cash.
If you’ve been primarily coddled by the sweet retail presence of Games Workshop or Privateer press, you might find sourcing figures for Saga a different (and sometimes challenging) experience. The purpose of this article therefore is to quickly discuss a whole host of manufacturers, what Saga relevant figures they’ll have and some thoughts on their quality. Its a primer, a showcase of this particular period and some of the best (and worst) the internet will throw up on you. This is not meant to be a totally exhaustive list, but as close as I could come to with the knowledge I have. About 95% of these manufacturers I own miniatures from, sometimes from the ranges I’m picturing, so while this is my highly subjective opinion, it at least has some false grounding in experience. Finally, I’ll throw in some good pop culture inspiration to get your mind working and ready to jump on board the fad train as it once again leaves the station. First however, I’d like to discuss a couple realities for those new to the historical miniatures scene.
Metal vs. Plastic
If you’re used to getting the bulk of your figures in plastic with just a few special characters in metal or resin, well you might be in for a fucking surprise. The historical market is still dominated by single piece metal castings, which is an entirely different experience if you’re used to multi-part plastic or resin for your troops If you’re obsessed with plastic and want to continue that incredibly nerdy love affair, your choice of manufacturers and armies is rather limited (although far better than even just a few short years ago). Plastic figures for Vikings, Anglo-Saxons and Normans are kicking around the marketplace which allow you to additionally make Anglo-Danes and some Frankish armies mostly (if not entirely) out of plastic. If you want more options, or aren’t in love with those particular factions, you’ll be going with metal figures, and the realities of that. Be ready for the following on most (although not all) ranges:
Integral bases: aka those lumps of metal that make a shitty little base at their feet and make resin or custom bases tough as hell to use. Get used to them. You won’t see many slotta bases kicking around.
Separate weapons: Most historical figures for the period come with an open hand (or sometimes a closed fist that must be drilled out) meant to hold a spear. If you’re lucky, the figures you bought come with steel or brass spears and you can cut the back down to the length you want and glue away. If you’re unlucky they come with a cast weapon made out of softer metal (lead, pewter, some devilish combo). You have a couple options with these, smart folks put them in a drawer and use them to make weapon piles on casualty dioramas or on elaborate bases, pretty much anywhere they lay mostly flat. Poor cursed bastards use them on their figures and end up with the dreaded “noodle spears” because no matter how careful you are, those fucking things get bent, and straightening them constantly will drive a poor gamer nuts. Don’t glue soft metal spears to your figures. Axes, swords etc… are okay. Spears, don’t fucking do it. You’re better off collecting a handful and throwing them at a random passerby. If you’re even more unlucky, they don’t come with any spears at all. I know, who the fuck sells figures without weapons? This is just a normal convention for years in the historical market, they expected you to source or make your own. I suggest buying some steel or brass spears from either Northstar Miniatures, Perry Miniatures or some other spot that does hard metal spears with shaped heads (snicker).
Actual Bases: While Gripping Beast has made a play for the Fantasy/Sci-Fi gamer with their Saga figures, the norm for most manufacturers in the past has been not to include bases with their figures. This was due to the variable basing styles and sizes so there was no real standard on what to include. Be prepared to provide your own bases for many of the metal figures listed. These can be re-purposed GW bases, Litko Aero, Gale Force Nine, Renedra or some other choice. Pick what you want.
Sealant: Metal miniatures means a little more care with the paint. One coat of Testors gloss and two coats of Testors dull will do you. And don’t pick up handfuls of your figures at a time and toss them around like a sausage fingered barbarian. Be good to your troops.
What counts as what?
You want your opponent to know what is in your army. Essentially, most hairy European thugs start to look the same on a 28mm scaled battlefield. You don’t want situations where your opponent (or god forbid you) mistake one unit for another thinking those warriors were levy or vice versa. Since you buy points of troops for your warband, and then combine and split them into units, you’ll want to be extra clear. When shopping for your trusty ass kickers, keep the following in mind, it’s a convention I’ve found to work well.
Levies: Shieldless/Unarmored figures. If you’re lucky enough to have bow/sling/something else armed levies, they’ll immediately be obvious, but if you have javelin armed troops, be clear in how they’re different from warriors. I find keeping levy shieldless (or at least predominately that way) is a good indicator.
Warriors: Shields and spears (or hand weapons) without much metal armor (chainmail, scale mail etc…). They’re different than levy since they have shields, and also different from hearthguard since they don’t have metal armor.
Hearthguard: Chainmail/Scale mail etc… If you have armored troops, they should be your hearthguard, full stop. This is the easiest way to differentiate. If for some reason your faction has no armored dudes, I’m a fan of using basing or something else to distinguish. Don’t make it to weird or specific, an opponent (and yourself) should immediately know these are the elites of your army whenever they look at them…that is what you’re trying to convey.
Warlord: Make this dude an obvious badass. Use a bigger base, put him on a rock, different manufacturer, even a slightly bigger scale all works. Do something to call him out as he’s extremely important and will spend a lot of time close to other units he might be confused with. Also, this is your chance to have some really fucking awesome figure chugging around in your warband…enjoy it.
Follow this advice and you’ll be able to just say before the game “Levies have no shields, warriors have shields, hearthguard have armor and the warlord is this fucking dude/dudette right here (point to obvious figure), lets play”
So what should I check out?
Factions Covered: All of them and then some
The most complete range of figures for the period as well as a frankly fucking amazing reference for their company name. They are the most “new player” friendly, offering boxed starter armies, plastic Vikings, Saxons and generic Dark Age warriors (the best of the historical plastics for this period). Gripping Beast has also released hero figures matching those in the books as well as mercenaries etc… It is the closest thing to a one stop shop in historical gaming offering rules, accessories, starter boxes and plastic figures. Everything is also arranged according to the Saga rules. The sculpting on the figures is inconsistent, with ranges containing some of my absolute favorite figures from the period, and others looking like lifeless lumps of metal with stump feet and pork chop hands. You’ll want to evaluate your purchases on a range by range basis as some of the newer stuff is excellent, while some older ranges require some warming up to. They’ve also opted for a possibly more realistic, but strange looking use of ponies on most of their British cavalry (Welsh etc…). I totally understand this is how cavalry of the period could have looked, but as a fighting force, it can be quite comical.
Overall the range oozes period flavor and standouts like the Jomsvikings, Anglo Danish and their Heroes of the Viking Age should get you pumped to battle. Worth also looking through their “Viking Age” section of the catalogue under the “Gripping Beast” section for some more variety and some cool vignette figures.
Factions Covered: Byzantine, Irish, Normans, Anglo-Saxons (Saxons), Anglo-Danes (Saxons and Vikings), Scots, Vikings, Norse-Gael (Irish), Franks (Normans).
Company of former Foundry sculptor Mark Sims and now under the North Star Military Figures umbrella. Consistent sculpts and well-rounded ranges that paint up a treat. Figures always look better painted and on the table than the photos. Tends towards beefy sculpts that give you good substantial models with minimal fuss. Lack the larger than life character of some of the other ranges but still great stuff.
Factions Covered: Franks (Carolingians), Vikings, Jomsvikings
Another ex-Foundry sculptor and another part of the North Star armada, Mike Owen’s sculpts are some of my favorites of any historical sculptor. These guys just delight me and I really need to pick up some more and get to work on them. His figures are unique in their clothing sculpts and proportions and remind me of a good animator or artist subtlety applying their own eye to the world. Cloaks, hair, beards, poses are all stylized but work together to stand out even at the 28mm scale and existing within the confines of the subject matter and market. They might now be to everyone’s taste, but they fit my exact aesthetic. The ranges are small, and really only serve a few factions, but even if you’re just supplementing, they’re a great addition to any force.
Factions Covered: Irish, Norse Gael (Irish), Anglo Saxon
New home of Bill Thornhill who previously ran Musketeer Miniatures, Footsore has a small but growing range of Early Medieval figures (in addition to a lot of other great stuff). I particularly like his Irish armed with axes as they look particularly dangerous and menacing. While he sells his warriors and Fianna (hearthguard) in packs of four figures, it is important to realize they’re selected from a larger number of variants. Look through the pictures to see a better idea of what you’re getting. He also does a few figures with the all-important severed head look, which is crucial for all Irish factions.
Factions Covered: Vikings, Anglo Saxons (Saxons), Anglo Danes (Saxons and Vikings), Normans, Some Franks (Normans)
For years Foundry was the gold standard amongst historical miniatures. They were the armies you wish you had as you made do with some shittier version dreaming of the day you could afford them. Times have changed a little, and a lot of other manufacturers have caught up to the Foundry catalogue in terms of quality, but their Viking range is still fucking incredible. They definitely round out the more characterful side of the Northmen image with hulking warriors, bushy beards and oversized weapons, but for a motley warband or historical enough figures, you can’t go wrong. The shields annoy some people, being ridiculously thick, but it’s a rather small complaint against such fun sculpts and unique characters. These figures paint up easily, give instant personality to a force and Foundry as a whole has treated the Corehammer folks quite well in our dealings with them. Good folks all around.
Foundry also has the old Perry sculpted ex-Citadel figures for Vikings, Saxons and Normans. These are quite old, so are a slightly smaller and show some of their age. But for 30+ year old sculpts they hold up remarkably well and would make a great nostalgic force on the battlefield. There are also dedicated Norman and Saxon ranges sculpted more recently that are solidly sculpted but not spectacular.
Factions Covered: Vikings, Anglo Saxons (Saxons), Anglo Danes (Viking and Saxons), Normans, Franks, Rus
Cheap and plentiful. You get a bag of 30 metal figures usually for about $36 USD. Some of them aren’t that bad and can bulk out a massive army. Ultimately though…Shit sculpts, shit website, shit casting. Look at them in person if you want and pick the good ones but generally not worth it for a skirmish game like Saga.
Factions Covered: Normans, Some Franks (Normans)
Haven’t built or painted any of these myself so I’m going off internet pictures, reviews etc… They do Plastic Normans and are your only choice for those. They supplement with metal figures as well. Not as great as some of the other plastics out there (Gripping Beast, Perry Miniatures) but do the job I’ve heard. These were part of a new wave of historical plastics that had everyone excited but the company hasn’t progressed as much around this as some others. Maybe they shifted focus, can’t be bothered to look into it though.
Factions Covered: Irish (Hibernians)
1st Corps is a decidedly old style historical miniature manufacturer. Very much a small operation putting out figures they want in their own style. They have a range of Irish figures for the period that are serviceable and animated, but don’t quite suit my style. They’re a little soft in the details and doughy which frustrates me while painting.
Factions Covered: Anglo Saxon (Saxons), Anglo Dane (Saxons and Vikings), Vikings
Sculpted by Colin Patten, who was an Ex-Gripping Beast (I believe, I don’t have any real clue the relationships) and Ex-Vendel Miniatures head this small but tightly focused range is a good alternative for those looking for a different style. Colin’s distinctive sculpting (it can be seen still in some Gripping Beast ranges) is divisive amongst collectors, but can create some great looking warbands. Posing is compact and figures are executed with minimum fuss and maximum menace. Take a look at what they offer, it will instantly be either exactly how you imagine a Viking/Saxon warband, or you’ll want nothing to do with them.
Factions Covered: Vikings, Jomsvikings (Vikings)
Housed as a sub-label on Gripping Beasts site (look under the “Other” tab), this is another range sculpted by Colin Patten that more closely resembles the main Gripping Beast ranges. Some cool Viking figures sporting a slightly more eastern flavor that will mix in well to make Jomsvikings or even Rus. Some great personalities as well including a “Chubby Warlord” and an identical twin to my favorite Angus McBride warlord defending the bow of his ship.
Factions Covered: Vikings, Anglo Danes (Vikings and Saxons), Anglo Saxons (1-2 figures)
Annie Norman from Bad Squiddo Games is doing the lords work by growing the number of available believable female miniatures in historical games, which is sorely needed. She has a small but growing range of Viking shield maidens and berserkers, as well as a couple Saxon figures. She also sells female heads that can be added to other sets (GB Plastics come to mind) to do simple conversions and vary your forces. Great figures to make an all-female force, or to just mix into your existing warbands. Seriously, kicking the shit out of people with Viking berserker ladies is just as much fun as with male Viking berserkers. Equality.
She also carries a full range of Saga stuff from GB and other places, has good international shipping rates and helpful customer service. Check it out.
Factions sort of Covered: Rus, Jomsvikings
The plastic Frostgrave soldier box is a great piece of kit, so I apologize for pimping it here as well but fuck it. With some shield swaps, and careful selection of heads, weapons and helmets you can actually make a pretty cool plastic Rus or Jomsviking foot force. If you’re really feeling the game but can’t shake your plastic addiction, this might work for you.
Factions Covered: Anglo Saxons, Anglo Danes
Big chunky figures with good poses on a healthy selection of Saxon figures. Standouts for me are the Huscarls menacingly holding axes in front of them ready for battle (but not mid swing). Also really appreciate that their packs are separated by head gear. This allows you to buy helmeted figures and bareheaded ones and avoid the distinctive Saxon cap if you’re trying to keep your collection slightly more agnostic (as I spoke about in the first article).
Factions Covered: Normans (Crusaders), Some Franks (Crusaders)
The Perry brothers are legends in the miniature sculpting business working at Citadel, Foundry and now off on their own. They’ve sculpted so many great ranges and recently (well, not so recently anymore) worked on pretty much the entire Lord of the Rings range for Games Workshop. They only have one sort of relevant range to Saga: Viking age, that is their Crusaders range. Since the First Crusade was a scant ~30 years after the Norman invasion, these guys work great as Normans in Saga. Perry miniatures are more realistically proportioned than most 28mm figures out there, so will appear a bit slight compared to others. If you build your whole army out of the range though they can look amazing, so it is up to you. If you plan on mixing and matching between different ranges though, the Perry’s smaller size can show up and look a little off.
Hasslefree, Games Workshop, Reaper Miniatures etc…
Good sources for some original Warlords. Get something that looks Early Medieval enough, put them on a badass base, enjoy.
Watch: Valhalla Rising, The Last Kingdom, 13th Warrior, Beowulf and Grendel, Vikings (if you must)
Listen: Amon Amarth, Bathory, The Sword
Read: The Saxon Stories (Bernard Cornwell), Northlanders Comics, Eaters of the Dead, Icelandic Sagas