‘I want to go a Viking’
So how does one of the perennial favourites of dark age war gaming ‘The Vikings’ stand up in Swordpoint.
Like the Anglo Danes that I reviewed last time up they seem to have quite limited troop choices, but the upgrades they can get mean that you can create a flexible and balanced force that will prove a formidable opponent if handled well.
Let’s start with Commanders as they have a special type of commander the ‘Beserker’. This is an innovative way of bringing this troop type into the list. As befits a raving lunatic they provide no leadership benefit to your troops, just an extra attack, which can be lost all to easily. You will need to think carefully about where and when you want to use these chaps. They have to be attached to a unit of Hirdmen and my reading is that they can’t leave the Hirdman unit that has been upgraded.
Unless I had a specific purpose to use a unit with a Beserker, I would normally go with the Hersir. They only have one less attack, but they provide that all important additional cohesion bonus and they are far more flexible in how they can be used as they can be added to a Bondi unit to provide a little more back bone if required. The really good news is that you can have up to ‘8’ commanders in your Viking army. Most only have six and some only allow 4! If you are playing games at 1,500 points this can become a distinct advantage.
You must take at least 50% of your force as infantry.
With just Hirdmen and Bondi to choose from you might think this quite limiting. However, there is the ability to field both of these troop types in either Close or Open order helps to provide instant variation. (The comment in the rule book ‘All of the troops in a contingent within an army must be the same order.’ Has caused some confusion – a contingent is not all the Hirdmen, but where the Vikings came from. So, the Danish contingent may be close order whilst the Dublin contingent could be open order. It would often be the case in a Viking horde that you would have different regional groupings)
Both the Hirdmen and the Bondi have the Shieldwall rule. With the Hirdmen also being superior fighters this will make them a tough nut to crack. They will both be able to absorb a lot of shooting and then be hard to shift in combat.
If you want to go for a more manoeuvrable force you could give everyone the riding horses rule and make them open order. That way they can be a long way across the board at the end of the first turn and putting real pressure on your opponent. Whilst open order units are more fragile I have often found them just as effective as close order troops when standing in the battle line. If you are surging across the board and, thus not using the shieldwall ability all the time, you may want to think about pushing a Bondi unit or two out front to become arrow magnets, rather than the more expensive Hirdmen.
Alternatively, you may want to advance mode sedately making full use of your shieldwall ability against incoming fire.
It is possible to upgrade both units, and I have already mentioned riding horses. Both can have throwing spears, the Hirdmen could alternatively go with Double Handed Weapons and add the Veteran ability. The more addons you give the Hirdmen the more expensive they become. Without any upgrade, they come in at 132 points for a six-base unit. (You could potentially get away with five base units, but they are then too fragile to my way of thinking – the odd unit on flank duty maybe, but not your main strike units!) If you give all the upgrades possible to a unit of Hirdmen they come in at a whopping 162 points.
This means that if you go down the elite route in army selection you are going to be outnumbered and your flanks will be vulnerable. This is not a good thing! So how do you overcome this? The answer is that not all your Hirdmen have to be close order the open order is 5pts a base cheaper and the strategic use of the Bondi.
Having a unit of 8 bondi armed with bows in open order comes in at 72 points. These can make excellent flanks guards, most cavalry will not want to get too close to them as 10 shots could spoil their day. They can also be used offensively in the battle line, although you do have to bide your time and not commit them too early! I know to my cost the havoc that an open order bow unit can cause when they can use their 8” move to suddenly move to the flank of an elite close order infantry unit that is already engaged.
You will have to experiment with the right mix of Hirdmen and Bondi, close and open order, spear and bow armed that will suit you.
The troop type that the Viking list lacks is Cavalry. This can in part be compensated for by the use of open order infantry or by going to your allies. Latter Irish or Later Saxon are your options here. I am not sure that you can cherry pick from both lists at the same time, it is one or the other. (Happy to be corrected on that point.)
The Latter Saxon can give you mounted Thegns. They are nothing to write home about and you would have to be desperate to use them in a main strike role. They can help provide flank security and if the opportunity arises to threaten the flank/rear of an enemy force. The Later Irish cavalry has even less to commend it unless you really want to have skirmishing cavalry to throw Javelins. The Later Irish list does give you access to Kerns who can have the Ambush rule if that is your thing.
So, to sum up, the Vikings are a good infantry army with lots of leadership support available. If you go just with the good stuff then you will have a small and quite compact army, so you will have to think about denying a flank to make sure you are not overwhelmed. It is possible to build a more balanced army that can have a reasonable amount of missile fire, but will need more careful handling to make sure you get the right match ups.