Masai III



We looked at some background on the Masai in the last two posts. Now let’s have a look at how to collect, model and use them.

How many, what type?

That is not as easy to answer as it would seem…lots I suppose! But just how many exactly? This primarily will come down to what type of game they’re going to be used for. In my case I want to cover off on all the possible uses of the Masai in as many game settings as I can. I’m looking for maximum return on usability for my effort in painting them. Starting with the smallest size game and figures needed we would be looking at games with a decidedly skirmish flavour. The Masai are a pretty straight forward army. They consist of warriors, warriors and …yes, more warriors..not very subtle!!

They can have a unit or perhaps two of elder bowmen/young warriors and a few characters…that’s it! They are a totally warrior based, in your face, no shootin’ army! They don’t get rifles, muskets or bang-sticks of any kind as they are all considered ‘unmanly’ to use in combat. Further, the Masai developed a general disdain for firearms having adapted their ‘duck and run’ tactic against Arab Slaver matchlock musketmen, though this changed when they encountered German breech-loading rifles. Still, their warrior culture shrugged off the temptation to use the white man’s weapons to the very end. So near all of the army will be composed of moran warriors armed with spear, sword, club and reputation.

Chris Peers’ In The Heart of Africa is a staple rule system for the Darkest Africa period so that will be a good guide. However the soon to be released Congo rules by Studio Tomahawk looks quite promising for smaller scale actions. There is a bit of chat on them here. These rules seem pitched at a themed explorer type game not necessarily the later larger expedition and bigger clashes of rival clans, tribes and outside invaders, but at this stage we don’t really know so fingers crossed they’re usable in a number of settings. It seems by the chatter though that the figures needed are in the realm of 30-40 minis or so that gives us a ‘bottom end’ of the number of miniatures to collect.

Moving onto a slightly larger sized game, though similar to Congo, the army lists for In The Heart of Africa indicate that a force is comprised of up to 8 units. The game itself has a structured points system approach and this will give us a guide as to the size of force needed. A typical game is 600-720 points. If we leave out a few points for a unit of archers and the indicated ‘standard bearer’ then we have about 640 points to play with.

The Masai come in at 9 points a figure and there may be from 4 to 8 units with each unit being costed between 32 and 180 points. So some simple math indicates we can have 8 units (640/8) each at 80 points, each figure being 9 points i.e. about 8 units of 9 figures each 8×9=72 figures. So this will give us 72 moran figures which will provide a sound basis for a game of In The Heart of Africa. This number of figures is about right for any ‘mass skirmish’ type game.

A simple set of rules that Chris wrote before it evolved into his In The Heart of Africa system we’re called In Darkest Africa. Grab them from the archived library here. These indicate that a Tribal Herdmen force would be made up of 64 figures. So the 72 figures for ITHOA above will enable the use of both these skirmish systems. So what about larger engagements?

Chris Peers latest iteration of wargames rules for the Darkest Africa genre (we’ll get to available rules in the next post) is called Death in the Dark Continent. These are a battle system, not skirmish, and use figures mounted on bases though single figures can still be used if that is how your troops are based. Looking at the Masai army in this game the figure total increases somewhat.

These rules give a typical game of 300 points. List 41 of the Masai army indicates up to 9 moran unit may be taken and each elite warrior base is 9 points. Typically three figures are mounted per base so each figure cost 3 points. Therefore with a 300 point game you need about 100 figures. This would now seem to give us the top-end of the number of figures required to field an entire Masai army made up of moran warriors in multiple game systems. If we want to we can swap out some of these warriors for some archer skirmishers but even in Death in the Dark Continent only one unit is allowed using the lists provided. Using other games like Black Powder would still give us 8 units of four bases each which is adequate for those rules.

So it seems we need about 100 moran figures, 12 or so archer skirmishers and a handful of characters to complete a Masai army and be able to play any likely game for the period…not an insurmountable total.


Masai as allies?

Another option to look at to maximise use of your hard earned toil painting Masai is to consider how they can be used as allies in a non Masai army. This has the advantage of reducing the overall number of Masai needed to field an army yet still have the Masai on table, which is a nice compromise and offers up some variety. As the Masai are essentially a ‘one trick’ army in that the bulk of the force is a warrior troop type then being able to have them supplement another army allows for a bit of ‘combined arms’ will provide some nice variation beyond the simple warrior based army.

In DITDC allies can comprise 40% of an army i.e. 300×40%=120 points. So at 3 points a figure (as described above) we can ‘max out’ the Masai as an allied contingent with 40 figures. This quite nicely fits in with our use of the Masai in a small skirmish game such as Congo or a smaller game of ITHOA. This means a small force of Masai are still quite usable in a larger game system such as DITDC so you don’t have to go the ‘full Masai’ if you don’t want to. It also gives a nice small starting painting goal before you can field them on-table as part of another force. Ok, so who can the Masai be allies for?

A quick glimpse at the Death in the Dark Continent supplement lists provides us with some nice guidelines that will conveniently serve our purpose for historical allies.

  • List #35 “Warrior Herdsmen” allows the Masai to be allies of the Turkana before 1880;
  • List #38 “Kavirondo” allows up to three units of Masai as mercenaries;
  • List #39 “Chaga” allows the Masai to be allies before 1890;
  • List #46 “Ruga-Ruga” allows the Masai to be allies if led by Mirambo 1883-84;
  • List #47 “Arab & Swahili” allows the Masai to be allies, though not Congo Arabs or with Yao or Tuta;
  • List #69 “British in East Africa” allows the Masai to be allies after 1892.

Off the armies above one interesting combination is the Chaga. They fought a series of campaigns against the Germans in the 1890s and took to the use of firearms due to their close proximity to arab traders. A thread on LAF nicely describes some Copplestone Castings (the man who sculpted all the Wargames Foundry Darkest Africa range) that are suitable for the Chaga and when combined with Masai this would be an impressive warrior army that also uses modern weapons…a nice variation on the close combat only style of fighting of the Masai.

So, it can be seen that the armies above would make for some colourful force combinations with near 2/5ths of the total figures made up of Masai warriors. This idea also means that a player who builds two smaller opposing forces for a game such as Congo/ITHOA can in fact put them together to form one single (large) army in a game like DITDC which further increases the utility of both sides, the Arab and Masai force as both enemies and allies being an excellent example…this is a real bonus and further stretches the utility of painting forces for both sides.



This one is pretty simple – Wargames Foundry! Beautifully sculpted by Mark Copplestone these are the only figures on offer….not that we’re complaining! At present no one else makes any figures with the distinctive Masai look of dredlocks and/or ostrich feather headdress warriors. The range as it stands has not been added to in anyway for many years and is all but complete, so needs little more.

The Masai range includes only moran warriors and no figures for elder or young men who could be armed with bows so you’ll need to look elsewhere for this figures. Suitable candidates are the Foundry Tribal Archers in the Darkest Africa range (code DA084 & DA085).






The figures I received required a little bit of cleaning up and for those not aware you do not get the Masai spear with the model. It appears that the Masai spear in the south tends more toward the look of the Wargames Foundry version of the spear with the larger lozenge tip in the manner of a Zulu assegai and an equally large butt-spike.

Further north the spear tended toward the style of the now modern Masai spear which is much longer. This would seem to suggest the longer spear is for longer range thrusting or possibly throwing where as the smaller spear is largely limited to a close combat thrusting role. Anyway, I decided that the iconic spear as cast by Foundry would be my choice.

As well as spears the moran used lozenge shaped swords and clubs (similar to the zulu knobkerrrie) and so these can be added for variety. The Foundry packs includes 12 weapons so you need to get quite a few for an army of any decent size.


Well that’s relatively easy as well! Your colour palate for the Masai is brown, black, red, white with a a few extra colours thrown in for variation. A few other colors are possible to get slightly more subtle effects. Note the Foundry site painting guide pretty much gives you all the details for painting a Masai army. A solid Google search will also provide much inspiration though the modern Masai garb is more vibrant than the 19th century Masai. That said, the warriors can look dull and not that appealing if painted in too muted a style so a slighter brighter color palette is a good thing IMHO. I prefer a mix of ‘richer, deeper yet vibrant’ colors all together and that is the look I’m going for, even if perhaps not entirely historical. I want my moran to ‘pop’ on-table, not turn into 100 cockroachess I can’t see!!

Some variation is possible beyond those colours described to what degree is personal choice however to achieve a less ‘regular’ black/red/white pristine look if that is your choice. Chris Peers goes into a little more detail on painting the moran and specifically their shields which do have something of a method to the way they were painted.

Here is the Foundry painting guide. Very useful to get you going. The figures have that ‘vibrant’ look I’m going for without them descending into gaudy…we shall see!




Enough talk!

So, with the above in mind how am I going to paint all these figures? The method and colour palette that I have chosen is as follows.

Clean up & undercoat

I’ll be using the Army Painter dip to cover the base Colors. Therefore I’ll need to ensure that any mould lines are cleaned away as the dip always settles in such places and looks very obvious doing so. So time spent getting the figure well prepared will be worth it.

Also, the size of the weapons supplied will make fitting them after painting a bit of a problem. So it’s going to be best to ensure there is a solid clean bond between hand and weapon. I drill out the hand and then apply some super glue to the open hand, fit the weapon and ‘clamp’ it in place to attain a firm grip. This should ensure the spear doesn’t break off with normal usage….you really want to avoid glueing spears on figures after they are complete…it ruins the paint and looks unsightly.

Once they’re all dry I’ve chosen to undercoat the model with the Army Painter spray can colour Chaotic Red. This is very close, if not the same, as the Wargames Foundry ‘African Flesh’ triads of paints which are excellent colors. This will give me the dark, rich flesh tone typical of the Masai. If anything the Masai can be darker skinned people but the deep red once gooped with the dip works very well IMO.

Here you can see most figures have the Chaotic Red undercoat and a few have Fur Brown to give some figures a more ‘red colour’ look. The Masai often coloured their skin with a red ochre color and this kind of captures that look.



Once the figures have been undercoated I mount them on their bases and touch up any missed parts of the figure wit the base color African Flesh paint. Then to the figure itself. These are fairly straightforward to paint but a few tips of how I did mine are in order. There is a lot of ‘fur’ detail on the figures so thin your paint down slightly when applying as this will assist and speed up the painting to allow the paint to flow into the detail. It’s better to get the first color blocked in quickly and then run back over the the colors once dry to bring them up. For the fur I use Wargames Foundry Canvas 8B.

The fine details on the figure like the wrist bands can be painted before dipping as these are very fine details. I use WF Terracotta for the hair of the Masai as they ‘pasted’ a red-ochre coloring to their hair. Hair beads can be painted in after that in red, white, yellow, blue,  with red and white predominating. Block in the spear point and butt in black and then paint with Vallejo natural steel. I leave out any white ‘fur’ coloring as I want to paint this using a traditional layer paint technique to get a really nice white effect. I find the white with dark tone dip does not produce a nice effect though this certainly speeds things up if you choose to do this.

The entire figures are then brushed with Army Painter Dark Tone dip. To get a more subtle effect on the fur use the Soft Tone dip for animal furs or at a pinch the Army painter water based ink. This will create a nice bit of difference from the Dark Tone dip shading effect.

Once the entire figure is dry (24hrs) I use the Anti-Shine spray to get a ‘flat finish’ to the figure. Then I paint in the White fur with the WF white triad color and go over the detail with a touch up of belts, bangles, beads, etc to make the figure ‘pop’. I also highlight the flesh here and there but this in not necessary…personal choice. Once all these extra colors have been been applied hit it once more with a quick Anti-Shine spray again and it’s all done.


You often here online that people baulk at painting a Masai army because of the shields…they can be intricate!! That said many of the Masai shields can be painted in a simpler design and there is no point getting to wound up about tribal colors, etc, as there seems endless variation when it comes to Masai shields!! After a bit of faffing about I went for the classic white, red, black colour pallette one often sees on these shields. In reality they were more like off-white, ochre and black-grey but I wanted a striking look and chose my colours accordingly.

One of the advantages of doing this is you can get fine marker pens in black and red so you can do intricate detail quite painlessly and kind of go to town just drawing on the shields. After you get a few done you start to get the hang of it and get a bit more adventurous with some of the patterns you can make. A bit of extra work here really makes these figures stand out as the shields are large, very visible and bold in colour. A couple of tips are worth noting.

When the shield is painted I use the Army Painter Dark Tone ink to wash the ribbed-edge of the shield and ensure the ink settles in around the outside of the white rim to give a nice crisp look to it all. Ensure the shield is laid flat when you do this as so the ink settles nicely. Also, let the shield motif pen-ink dry properly and then spray to seal it all – do not paint a varnish on the shield  with a brush as it will smudge the ink even after it’s dry…just a light matt spray varnish does the job and locks the design on the shield for good.




When putting the shield on be sure you scrape away the shield back and shave of the hand so you have a solid metal-to-metal join with some super glue to ensure a strong bond.

Back of the shield not yet inked, but the hand hold has been scraped away to ensure a sold glue join.


So how do they turn out….here they are!











With this figure I painted the upper body red to reflect the red ochre smeared on the skin. The same stuff was put on the end of the spears to make them look even nastier…not like they really need to!


Always bring along enemy dead for your opponent!…well, in this case they are doing double duty as they are actually Zulu dead (Black Tree Design). A bit of an experiment..they came up well I thought for quasi-Masai dead and they’re always good to test skin colour samples on!



Other people’s stuff….

…and just for a bit of inspiration I always find it’s good to see how others have done it. Some of the best Masai figures painted I’ve found online are tucked away here for your viewing pleasure…thanks to all those who’ve trod this path before so well.


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