Dragoons! The slightly awkward child of Napoleonic cavalry, the solid middle between the immense Cuirassiers and Heavy Cavalry and the dashing Light Cavalry, the ones that everyone playing in 28mm needs, but noone is really excited about building. In the French army at least they were occasionally hard-as-nails combat cavalry, and occasionally still used in their slightly sad waddling mounted infantry role, managing to experience the worst of both worlds.
Every mini manufacturer makes dragoons – they’re an iconic French unit, and an important part of the order of battle. As a result, it’s a crowded market – do we really need another dragoon kit? Stepping up to argue the case comes Victrix Ltd’s French Dragoons 1807-1812, a newly released kit up to their habitual high standard.
Before getting into it, I’d like to thank Victrix for sending a set of these guys over to us to review.
Packaging and Plastic
We say it every time we review a Victrix kit, but there’s something special about the way Victrix package. It’s not a big box, but a tough plastic bag with sprues inside. You can see what you’re getting, and what you’re getting is 3 main sprues and a command sprue, each with three horses and riders. They’re cast in high quality hard plastic with enough flexibility that swords and scabbards can be beautifully thin without being brittle. As always with Victrix, the level and quality of detail is excellent. Nothing is blurry or muddy, detail stands proudly from surfaces to make painting easy and even very small details, like the buttons on undercoats and turnbacks of the habite-longe jacket are perfectly formed.
In the kit, you get 12 Dragoons with the option to build a “command group” of Officer, Trumpeter and Sapper, with plenty of fringed arms and bearskin heads to build them as an elite company. To my fairly trained eye, the sculpting is historically accurate to the pre-Bardin regulation uniforms (give or take a cartridge box or two), and given the absolute shitshow that was French uniform logistics after Russia, these guys will do you fine from Austerlitz to Waterloo. As they’re in standardised French uniform, they’ll also work for cavalry from Italy and several minor nations.
As excited as I am about new kits, and more Frenchmen, I also have a deep and abiding dislike of horses, so the question for me with any cavalry kit is what do the horses look like, and is it possible to have the kit without any horses at all. Victrix might have done the impossible here and made a kit with great horses. They aren’t all casually standing with one leg up in the air, or in the same two poses, differing only by a head, but are flat-out charging. Dynamic posing, a real sense of speed and that the impression the riders are only just in control of their mounts allows you to model the last second before impact, and that’s both unusual and welcome in historicals.
Much is made about the appropriate speed and level of control of Napoleonic cavalry, and too many manufacturers err on the side of “never go above a canter”. There’s any number of armchair generals who will tell you that cavalry moved relatively slowly to retain mass, but there’s any number of infantry memoirs that describe charges hitting home at the gallop – and this kit really sells that. The horses are charging, foaming at the mouth, leaping and going generally hell for leather. If I could buy these horses separately for other units not available in plastic and stick every single one of my 28mm cavalry on them, I would.
Each rider is separated out into 13 pieces, with options for arms and heads depending on the squadron you’re building. Including arms with and without epaulettes, bearskins for elite squadrons and plumes, there’s a lot of options. I built mine without the helmet plumes to represent a unit fighting hard – and losing fancy pieces of uniform – in those chaotic days of 1813. Cleanup is minimal and while mould lines do occasionally go in prominent places, they are not so large as to be an issue. The sheer number of pieces per trooper means that your build speed is quite low, but very posable and satisfying. There’s some ingenious construction with sword scabbards that once you figure it out seats them safe and snug lined up with the sling belts, which I found strangely cathartic and joyous after so many Napoleonic kits where you’re left wondering exactly where this strange belt end is supposed to go. Given the options and the modular building, you could easily ensure that even with multiple sets you’re not duplicating a single pose, letting you do a full sword-swinging squadron at the charge with bags of character.
The riders themselves are well done, with the separation of legs, torsos, arms and heads allowing for some really dynamic posing. Each torso matches with a set of legs and this allows, without conversion, forward and backward leaning poses that are particularly impactful on the command models. Even where the effect is subtle, the troopers lean into the strike, with their weight clearly forward, shoulders braced and reins clenched. You can’t do this when most of the limbs are cast in a single piece with the torso, and by going multi-part the kit really stands head and shoulders above other Napoleonic plastics manufacturers.
All that posability comes with a cost, though and it’s the perennial Victrix bugbear of the building instructions. With a coded but clear list of which horse and set of rider-bits belong together, we can clearly see that this is not a beginner kit. You should know how to put together models, and probably even have some specific cavalry experience before doing this one. I personally like having those split legs as they allow for putting different horses under different riders – a little more “give” in the building stage and you can do away with perfectly standardised horses. Some sprue layout and casting decisions like having separate “face” and “head” pieces do add a doubtfully-necessary level of overcomplexity though, and this does mean that you’ll struggle if this is one of your first kits. Making cavalry isn’t too different from making infantry, but there are some extra considerations like matching arms to reins and making sure your models are leaning the right directions, which are made slightly more difficult by the multipart nature of this kit. If building isn’t the bit of the hobby you love, you’ll need to take your time over each soldier. If this was a comparison to the Perry plastic Dragoons kit, this is the only place where I’d suggest the Perry – you get a more visually satisfying kit here, but the Perry models go together much, much quicker.
I like to model my cavalry on large multibases, and this kit really lends itself well to that approach. While the horses and riders are individually dynamic, charging in, leaning back, brandishing swords with all the appropriate shoutyness, together they add up to more than the sum of their parts, transforming into a giant brick of man-and-horse-flesh that looks absolutely terrifying. I think this is something Victrix, more than any other Napoleonic plastics manufacturer really understands. You want individual models to look great – and they certainly do – but what you need is them to look fantastic in their unit. With 12 models in the bag, I can do one large base of eight and two bases of two, letting me go from line to column as required on the battlefield.
The models were really fun to paint, particularly, (astonishingly for me) the horses, though now I’ve photographed them for this article I’m seeing the occasional bit that could do with another go! If you’re picking these up, an Osprey or two on Dragoons or Guard Cavalry wouldn’t go amiss and helps to confirm that the kit is a good representation of the period. The eagle eyed will notice that I painted these as Guard Dragoons – when I get another box (24 of these charging down the field would look amazing!) they’ll get the extras that mark them out as belonging to the Imperial Guard.
Overall, this is a great kit up to the usual Victrix high standard, and alongside their French Lancer kit, would make a fantastic addition to any Napoleonic French (or nations in French Uniforms) army. While a more difficult build than some people may be used to for cavalry, in terms of dynamism, posability, options and clarity of detail they’re on another level to to the nearest equivalent kit, and their sheer presence on the tabletop is hard to beat. While there are lots of options for your French Dragoons, it turns out we did need another Dragoon kit – and this one firmly occupies the top spot!
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