The Successors Project: Part One

So, we were ‘Thinking About Successors’ now its a project!

In our original thinking it was going to be easy (cue gales of hysterical laughter), buy solely plastic figures from Victrix, paint ’em up, choose a set of rules from the many available and boom! project done. Oh how naïve we were.

In this post we’ll just talk figures, mainly because our journey was a classic example of fooling yourself into an easy project when like every other project any wargamer has ever done there is always more to it than meets the eye.

Having said ‘Victrix it is’, we thought “well maybe some samples would be a good idea, but probably not a whole box”. Dave did a search of eBay and a couple of sprues were bought and built up and along the way we got hold of a Warlord sprue for comparison – mainly because they were cheaper 🙂 The Victrix pikemen are really nice, good detail well realised, nice crisp mouldings, certainly a good choice; the cavalry though? well it’s not that they aren’t any good, the detail is just as good as the infantry but the horses are massive! Now admittedly you might say the Victrix are a little bit on the ‘heroic’ side but with the infantry that doesn’t seem to matter too much as they are all bunched together and most of the allies and enemies – Hoplites, Galatians, etc are in the same range so no problem. The riders are of the same proportions but stick them on the horses and they look way out of proportion, like some kind of bizarre optical illusion, and the horses are definitely overdone. We tried to rationalise this by saying “well they’re all from the same manufacturer and it isn’t like we’re going to be mixing metal and plastic” but the more we looked at them the more they just didn’t look right and by then I’d done enough research to know that even at the most basic level we were going to need more than just the standard box of Successor Heavy Cavalry to cover just the various iterations of ‘Companions’, never mind the allied Greek heavy cavalry, Seleucid cataphracts, satrap heavy cavalry, Asiatic light cavalry and Tarentine cavalry. The figures are multi part so with a bit of effort and imagination we could probably get past most of the issues we saw but the elephant in the room (couldn’t resist!) was the size of the horse, we just couldn’t get past it, which was a bit of a problem as, a) you can’t have Successors without cavalry, and b) part of our cost analysis was based on £2.25 per plastic cavalry piece against around £3.30 per metal cavalry piece (unless you want to be robbed by Foundry at £4.60 per cavalry piece!).

On the up side we realised that the Victrix and Warlord pikemen were compatible, not in the same unit (the Warlord figures are a slighter build than the Victrix), but as side by side units the difference is lost in the mass of pikes, which was a pleasant revelation because we had thought it would have to be one or the other based on comments on LAF and Twitter. Also on the upside was the availability of Hoplite mercenaries from Victrix, four boxes potentially, which became important when research revealed that mercenary hoplites were in virtually every army and in significant numbers. Also on the upside was the availability of those pesky skirmishers, again four boxes that would cover all our needs for slingers, bowmen, javelin men and peltasts. So, given that the infantry contingent is by far the most numerous, and a Victrix pikemen came out at 75p compared to around £1.30 for the metal counterpart and we were looking at about 200 infantry per side (based on our projection of what we thought it would look like), the maths was definitely favouring the plastics and the range of figures was supporting that – phew!

But what to do about the cavalry? Well it was looking like we were going to have to go the metal route but what ranges were out there? What spread was there within any given range? How well would any range scale up against the plastic infantry?

A shout out on LAF and a a swift google search revealed we didn’t need to worry much about availability. Some of the ranges were the older offerings that had been around for some time like, Foundry, Essex and Old Glory, some were ones we just didn’t realise like, Gripping Beast and 1st Corps and some were new (to us at least) like, Aventine and Armorum & Aquila. Samples were duly sent for unless we already had the odd figure lying around in our lead mountains or the pricing was extortionate (Foundry at £1.75 per figure) and I put together a cost comparison sheet to help us understand how much we could end up spending, which was quite revealing.

Of all the ranges the Aventine is without doubt the most exhaustive and if we had been doing the project in all metal with money being no object (remember this was a whim project) we would have absolutely gone for these, lovely detailed castings covering different armour types (6 for the infantry I think), different helmet styles, a plethora of cavalry castings covering Macedonian, Seleucid & Ptolemaic forces, early and late era, a virtual cornucopia. The only but (and of course there would be a but!) was the horses (again!), I thought they looked a little small, a bit like ponies (which is actually probably closer to history), in fairness Dave didn’t agree and against their own infantry it didn’t matter but against the plastic pikemen, even the Warlord it just didn’t quite work. A time wasting spin off from this was me then buying a pack of riders from them and then trying them out on different ‘bigger’ horses, a real blind alley I should never have gone up.

Ultimately it came down to either 1st Corps or or Gripping Beast that looked best against the pike, both did a fairly decent range with Gripping Beast edging it in terms of spread and theirs was the newer range but then we got into the cost and that was quite revealing, not just for these two but for all the ranges we considered.

Yes, I know cost isn’t everything, but when you are making a significant purchase in one go rather than dragging it out from one convention to the next I think it is. I wont bore you with the full analysis I put together but here are the highlights.

We looked at, Aventine, Essex, Armorum & Aquila, Old Glory, Foundry, Crusader, Gripping Beast and 1st Corps, and considered the depth of the range and the cost per figure. Where I use the phrase ‘cost per figure’ here I’m referring to horse and rider and comparing it to the baseline of £2.25 per figure for the Victrix Companion Cavalry and £15 for the elephant & crew.

As already stated the Aventine range is the most extensive plus it does various elephants but no scythed chariots. The cost per figure comes out at £3.23 and the elephants come in at £16.

The Essex range has a decent enough spread including Bactrians but this is an old range and to charge £3.75 per figure and £19.35 for the elephant is quite frankly a bit of a cheek.

Armorum & Aquila is a small range, not much bigger than the Victrix spread and the figures are a little bit on the smaller size; price per figure is £3.25 and no elephants.

Old Glory is a compact range, basically one of each of what you’d need and comes in at £3.20 per figure and £17.50 for the elephant.

The Foundry range is small so not a lot of use and at £4.60 per figure and £34 for an elephant they are just taking the piss.

Crusader is another small range with no elephant and rolls in at £3.30 per figure.

Gripping Beast is a nice range covering most of the bases and relatively new coming in at £3.30 per figure and £18.50 for the elephant.

1st Corps is again a decent enough range covering most of the bases although a little bit cataphract heavy which come in at £2.50 per figure or £2.25 if you go for the unit packs and £16.20 for the elephant and they also do a scythed chariot at £12.

As you can see 1st Corps absolutely aced it on price and even the slightly more expensive elephant beats most of the opposition and it’s part metal. We did a bit of working out using the unit packs and realised that two of their packs of 12 would give us three of our 8 man cavalry units and as we keep saying to ourselves ‘the cavalry are not the main ingredient’. We checked the samples again to make sure we were happy with the sizing and I reckon we’ve convinced ourselves it’ll be ok, so soon a couple of hundred quid order to 1st Corps will be sent off for at least the basic cavalry we’re going to need for most armies. We also mix and matched the other various sample figures we’d bought and sent out to be painted and reckon we can mix them in to flesh out the numbers so nothing wasted there.

So that’s the figure journey begun, some figures are being painted as we speak, we picked up some painted Warlord pikemen off eBay so that’s a bit of a start, what we really need is for Victrix to get their stock levels sorted so we can buy loads of pikes!!

Next post we’ll look at the quest for a set of rules – what a nightmare!

Thinking About Successors

Back in the summer of 2019, when the world was young and we were in the casual days of post 1st lockdown Dave and I were sitting in the garden chatting nonsense, like most wargamers do in an idle moment, when Dave posed the inevitable question “is there any period you wish you’d done?” Somewhat taken aback because we’d agreed back in 2018 that we were not going to do any more big periods, just additions to existing ones, and put our efforts into contained skirmish efforts, I answered without hesitation, Successors.

Now Dave is an C18th & C19th man who has very willingly indulged my desires for early time frames such as Arthurian and Italian Wars so I readied myself to snobbishly prattle on about the post Alexandrian world but was stopped by Dave’s response, “Oh yeah, Seleucids and Ptolemaics, that could be interesting”. Serves me right for trying to be all superior – shame on me! The conversation then gathered pace as I waffled on about having started the period twice but given up because I couldn’t find a set of rules that worked for me, it was expensive in 28mm (even back in the day!) and reminded him that one of our group who was doing Romans to face off to the later Macedonians I was doing at the time, left in a huff over a perceived slight taking his Romans with him! Undaunted, Dave brushed aside my pessimism and lack of excitement (actually I was really excited but didn’t want a 3rd failed project on my hands) and hooked me with “but there are all these plastic ancients now, surely that could work?” And I was in, ready to get researching and costing the potential of such a project.

Macedonian Phalangites - Victrix Limited

As everyone knows we are unashamedly 28mm players and when it comes to ‘proper games’ (ie not skirmishes) we like it to be a significant visual spectacle, not a couple of units and that’s your ‘army’, so this was going to be quite an investment in figures which meant quite a financial investment too. Our agreed going in point was therefore plastics from the two main suppliers, Victrix (above example taken from Google Images) or Warlord Games; the Victrix range is an extensive broad brush Ancients offering while the Warlord range is more Roman centric. Both offer a clear economic advantage over that of their metal cousins but could it be enough? More of this later.

Before we got too excited though and dived headfirst into something that could easily turn into a quagmire I thought I better do a bit of research so that I could remind myself what it was all about and also give Dave some detail so that he could back out if it wasn’t quite what he expected – the rest of the group were in deep pandemic hiding so this really was going to be a two hander.

The research was great fun and really got me fired up; I dusted off my old classics like Bar Kochva’s ‘The Seleucid Army’ and Scullard’s ‘The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World’, got out all my old copies of Slingshot (even re-joined The Society of Ancients), and indulged myself in some newer works like Waterfield’s ‘Dividing the Spoils’ and Robert’s & Bennett’s ‘The Wars of Alexander’s Successors’. From these and others plus good old Wikipedia I was able to put together a three page document for Dave detailing the various kingdoms, the different armies and the campaigns & battles of the Diadochi – so many of these! I’d quite forgotten what a brilliant (and short) period it is, murder, betrayal, shifting alliances, highs and lows of ambition and a whole cast of characters, all in 50 odd years! Once all the original Successors are dead it’s not so exciting as it settles down into the main kingdoms but still with battles and campaigns to be fought and we do have Galatians and we always have elephants! It all gets a bit boring once the Romans start interfering so I suggested we cut it off before that.

The document served it’s purpose, I was completely fired up and Dave realised there was a lot more scope than just Seleucid v Ptolemaic and as he rightly pointed out we could do standard pike blocks and standard companion cavalry and then just mix and match for whatever armies we fancied doing plus a few exotics to round out the specific army; this approach would also mean it would be a true joint project, no need for one guy doing Seleucid and one guy doing Antigonid, if we were clever we could just build a joint collection that we could just choose from each time we played.

There was still a lot of work to do; what actual figures, size of units, rules, terrain, the painting of that many figures, and I hope to do a couple more posts on these (what turned out to be) bumpy roads, but for us to get started the costs needed to work. Time for some simple maths. A box of Victrix phalangites retailed at £19.95 for 27 figures so 74p a figure and the Warlord equivalent at £22 for 40 figures so 55p a figure compared to metal foot figures anywhere between £1.20 & £1.75 a figure. On the cavalry front the plastic guys come in at £2.25 (less for the lighter stuff) compared to anywhere up to £4.60 for the metal; foolishly I also looked at the cost of metal elephants, OMG! This had become a no brainer, plastic it was with Victrix becoming the primary brand, mainly because of the range of boxes, we reckoned we could use around 12 boxes and the more boxes you bought the bigger the discount which was particularly attractive in terms of the pike.

So a project was born and all from a casual conversation in the garden – bloody lockdown! We’ve moved on a bit since then but cautiously so I’ll do another post on the rest of the journey regarding figures, which has had a few twists and turns, and a post on choosing rules which really has been quite an eye opener!

Stay tuned.