For much of the 15th century no soldiers enjoyed a higher reputation in Europe than the Swiss. This was a period when the mounted knight was in decline as better tactics and weapons gave infantry the advantage in battle, and the Swiss were in the forefront of this change thanks to the large scale usage of first the halberd and later the pike. The pike came to dominate European battlefields and was adopted everywhere, but the Swiss remained the acknowledged masters of it and were both feared as an enemy and much sought after as mercenaries.
Each man carries a pole and the set is provided with a number of separate parts to add to that pole. There are four copies of our pictured sprue, which means there are enough pike heads for all 48 figures. In addition there are eight halberd heads and four flags. These are all attached to the poles by means of a connector just like that used in the Zvezda Macedonian Phalanx set. As can be seen from this picture, the results are not particularly great as the connector is not a historical feature, but at least this does provide some choice of weaponry.
As can be seen, there are basically just three poses in this set, with each one having several variations of costume and exact stance. Clearly the focus of the set is pikemen, and when placed side by side the variety of similar-posed figures makes a very pleasingly realistic scene, avoiding the absurdly perfect formations often seen on table-tops. However the poses in this set are by no means sufficient to depict an entire Swiss defensive phalanx. None are suitable for the first or second rows, and while those with levelled pikes work for the third row, the shoulder-high pikes of the fourth row are also missing. The rest of the figures are suitable for the rear ranks, who waited to fill gaps in the front and whose upright pikes gave some protection from missiles. When the phalanx advanced the pikes were held on the chest, so there are no figures in this set suitable for that manoeuvre either.
It should also be noted that Swiss armies were by no means exclusively made up of pikemen and halberdiers. Crossbows and handguns were certainly used, and other more crude weapons would also have been seen, so this set is well short of depicting the whole Swiss infantry.
This period is still long before uniforms, and the Swiss were mostly distinguishable, when they were distinguishable at all, by their choice of weapon or a white cross some wore. Otherwise the choice of clothing and armour was dictated by general fashion, what was available and, most importantly, what each man could afford. There seems to have been no great preference between German, Italian or any other style of armour, but particularly in the earlier part of this period armour of any kind was less common. For obvious reasons the better armoured men were put in the front ranks, and that is nicely reflected here, with the men with lowered pike being much the best protected. The other figures wear less or quilted armour, and some seem to be unarmoured. The various styles of helmet, armour and clothing are all quite appropriate for the 15th century period, and have been quite well realised.
MiniArt tend to be quite variable in terms of sculpting quality, but this is one of their best efforts so far. The figures are well proportioned and nicely animated, and the detail is pretty good and clear enough. Flash is something of a problem, but this is mostly limited to a few large pieces rather than an abundance of excess plastic around the whole join. The connectors for making up the weapons and the weapons themselves are not tightly enough engineered, so on occasions the pole is a little too thin, or too thick, to go inside the connector, and the same goes for the weapon head. We found it necessary to file down some tips, a task that is not easily achieved on such small pieces. When put together the pikes are 58 mm (4.18 m) in length, which is a bit short compared to the historical article but nothing too bad. The pikes are nice and straight however, which is very important. Adding a halberd head to the poles makes an excessively long weapon, but this can be easily rectified by cutting down the pole.
Clearly this set should be called 'Swiss Pikemen' as it does not reflect all Swiss infantry. Sadly it also fails to fully reflect Swiss pikemen, with a number of key poses missing, which means the full effect of a phalanx can't be reproduced. Since MiniArt were concentrating on this century other sets could have filled in some of the other arms, so it was hoped that a further set, perhaps German pikemen, would one day provide the missing poses and complete the job, but it never happened. As it stands then, this set is not the complete deal, but it must be said that the figures themselves are very attractive and if you can overlook the rather ugly bulge then this is quite a flexible way of offering multiple weapon options. A few more halberd heads could have been included in our view, but this should appeal to all enthusiasts of late-medieval warfare and is a much-needed collection of figures.