Forward Observer 25

The Pleasure of Figures

Another month, more irresistible figures. The combination of my interests, current output and re-discovering 30mm and gloss varnish really leaves no doubt that this is a personal golden age. I’ll leave others to decide whether they are having one. Apart from the quiet period around Christmas, something tempting pops up literally every week. This does nothing for my project completion rate, or wallet, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes I daydream enviously about a one scale, one period lifestyle and realise very quickly that this is not going to happen. If I settle on Napoleonics I can never have Gripping Beasts. If I do Arthurians I can’t have tanks. If I focus on Western Desert, no Sassanids or Swiss for me. These are my irresistibles for March.

Victrix are, based on the evidence, on a roll. I await their classical Greeks with interest, and the announcement of plastic Napoleonic Austrians has filled me with enthusiasm for that one big army that I have not yet got round to. But more immediate, and even more exciting, is the announcement of early Russians. I have the initial metal officer packs and they are superb. Sculpted by the talented and very busy Paul Hicks, who will soon be ubiquitous, this project will be a pleasure to work on. I intend to mix these, and the other ranks, with some Old Glory early Russians I secured on eBay last year and in time, my Austerlitz period armies will finally march!

As I have said before, if I wait for six months, Eureka will have enough tasty stuff for me to fill out an order. This time I went for the lovely Andreas Hofer set of figures to build a standalone force for Sharp Practice; the 18th century musicians that are popping up around the hobby in ingenious guises and making the imaginations guys very happy; and the relatively unknown 40mm figures sculpted by a certain Mr Barton. The latter are top quality, as you might expect, and as they are wearing few clothes they will be ideal for conversions for my 40mm Feudals. I don’t know how far I can go with them – mail armour is probably beyond me – but I will certainly give it a try. The only negative comment I can make about Eureka is that their 28mm ‘house size’ is closer to 26mm, which is entirely their prerogative, and that the Aussie Dollar/Sterling rate is playing havoc with prices. Hardly their fault. Otherwise these are figures that stand with any being made in the world today.

Ian Marsh at Fighting 15’s is one of the nicest guys in the hobby. I am trying not to be swayed by this. As well as stocking Eureka in the UK he also sells some, umm, fringe stuff. That’s a good thing. Ian has sent me samples of two, frankly, exciting releases. The first is the new 3mm ACW range from Oddzial Ozmy. Until now this Polish company has done moderns and WWII in this scale, which I could comfortably ignore. Now, they are going horse and musket. Not as you might imagine in blocks, but as individual figures. Even more annoying is that the prices are reasonable, the figures are identifiable as slouch hats or kepi wearing, and the horses are very good! They are little gems. The deciding factor is that these figures proved unpaintable for me. Even with a magnifier I could do nothing more than poke the brush in the general direction of the face. I resigned myself to jacket, trousers and a wash, which actually doesn’t look too bad. In skilled (younger) hands they look amazing. So the news that they will move on to Napoleonics has left me in a quandary.

The second package contains Prussian Fusiliers from Ian’s own Huzzah! range. I thought this range had sadly stalled, but Ian is now back behind it. I have to say that these are lovely castings. The faces are beautifully done, and they take paint very well. As I don’t do Prussians, I decided to paint them as Battenburg Grenadiers who will fight in my FIW army. I offer a picture as proof of quality.

The Plastic Paradox

For context, I will remind you that I am a huge fan of plastics, see them as a great development (but not a cure all), love to convert them, and I look forward to every new announcement. For some public spirited reason I even try to champion them, whenever it seems appropriate. But here’s the thing. Travelling back from SELWG (a very good show, as usual) I was chatting about my latest projects. My mate asked me how the plastics were going. I paused. I had to admit, however surprising it was, that I had made, converted and painted only about twenty figures out of the dozen or so boxes so far bought (a Plastic Mountain, so soon!). I felt bad about this and by the Monday evening a 36 man unit and two guns were built. A week later there were over 100 awaiting primer. Even so, not a great start.

Two excuses. Firstly, I have been actively working on periods where the plastics have not yet ventured. Secondly, the boxes represent huge potential and, for certain projects, I fully expect to be working on hundreds of plastics in the future. Definitely. Yes.

Are we at the second phase of plastics production? Certainly the recent sets appearing have been of very high quality. I can detect better and sharper detail, and fewer lumpy undercuts. I suppose as the producers, sculptors and mould makers increase in experience we will see gradual improvement, even if there are currently barriers to what is possible – I remember the Perries’ statement that samurai armour was not a realistic option. Where is the gold standard? In 28mm I would suggest Games Workshop still reign. Just! In 1/35, the most recent Dragon miniatures are stunning.

My ‘for review’ pile reveals five recent boxes of hard plastic. The Gripping Beast Saxons, two Perry releases for their late medieval ranges, the HaT 28mm Bavarians, and one of the Zvezda 20mm WWII sets. To start with the latter, this is an interesting development. To complement their excellent soft plastic sets, Zvezda are now selling very small boxes (easy to miss!) of mainly specialist types – MGs and crews, engineers, paras, recce teams and so on. My set is two Russian Maxims and while very useful, is not that inspiring as far as the sculpting goes, while the MG is quite crude. The same is true of the Russian infantry, but the German sets look a little better – the MG34 being very nicely done. Either way, Preisers they are not. These figures work out at 50p each or more, so at the moment I would say Zvezda are not yet on message. I hope they get sorted before the promised Samurai are produced.

The HaT 28mm French figures were causing me a problem. Unlike everyone else, they have gone the anatomical route. This means, like Minden to an extent, one follows that route or resigns oneself to mixing slim, tall figures with the others. The Bavarians, rather than the French sets, largely solve this because one can easily segregate them into a brigade or division on their own, and this is what I will probably do. They are an acquired taste, but look a lot better painted up. I like them. I concede that others won’t.

And the rest I can hardly fault at all! The Saxons are well up to the standard of the Viking set (i.e. very high), and of course allow a degree of ‘body part interchange’. As I don’t intend to do many Vikings, the rest will likely sacrifice themselves to the spares box! I would like to know what is coming next. I am hoping it is Normans. The Perries boxes are just full of potential. Even a few simple conversions will get you some lovely figures, and that unique quality some of us seek. Those of us who ‘get’ plastics are now starting to post conversion examples on the web, and if any advance into the metal stronghold is to be made, this will be the weapon of choice. But frankly, I don’t care if the metalheads don’t weaken. I like both forms and sometimes it is okay to be selfish!

Active or Passive?

I am lucky enough to have a job where it is allowed, within reason, to browse the web. This means that I can both live without t’internet at home (believe me, a huge time saver), and spend a fair bit of time checking out new releases, blogs, fora, galleries, and general hobby chat. I’ll be honest and say that sometimes, perhaps once every two months or so, I hit the, ‘too much of a good thing’, barrier and break off for a week, do some reading or painting, and happily return. I am happy to get an enthusiasm boost this way.

I suppose there are a dozen or so companies that I follow, by actively visiting their site and, where available, forum. There are others that I am interested in, but like to be kept up to date by newsletters or news releases. As you will know, there is a limit to how many companies you can stay ‘across’, as they now say in media land.

What I am not happy about is the trend towards passive feeds. Basically, companies saying that if you want information, news and offers, you the customer must come to us and find it. Worse, this can mean joining yet another forum with those annoying sign up routines – I can’t be alone in struggling with those weird letter gateways? And believe me, I do not want to do Twitter either – the egos have landed!

My view is if you want me to keep an eye on your company and its products, it is your job to keep me posted. Send me an email, once per week or month. With clickable pictures. I would rather have too much email than have to visit a site or forum. This is not spam, this is information I want: I am buying in to your product. If you want me to buy as well, keep me in the loop.

Something for the Weekend

Despite attracting the scorn of many, Wash and Highlight is here to stay as a painting technique. I was always relatively fast as a painter (though often requiring months of rest between jobs!), but this technique has sped me up even more. Not for me the brutal dip method, but a basic block paint in considered colours, followed a mix of by Games Workshop, Vallejo, Coat d’Arms or oil washes brushed on, and then highlighted back up to give the ‘required’ three tones for tabletop standard, whatever that is this week. It is quick, simple and – I never thought I would say this – effective. For even faster results you can sometimes drybrush the last highlight, but I try to avoid this as it spoils the otherwise ‘smooth and painted’ look. If I do it, I tend to wetbrush. Drawbacks? Sometimes the depth of layers can look a little odd, and you have to be careful not to work up a satin finish. There is also a tendency for the figure to darken too much, so you need to keep an eye on this and use lighter base coats. That said, for some figures, a restrained, dull look is a positive – my LotR Rangers look nicely camouflaged.

Mike Siggins