Forward Observer 5

A Paean to Plastic

There is a strong theme running through this column, and it should not be that difficult to spot… there is quite a big clue in the title. Although we regularly talk of our mandatory lead mountains, and discretionary paint lakes, I also have a considerable plastic plateau. Box after box of tank kits, planes, vehicles, 20mm and 1/48th figures, buildings and more Wills Scenic products than it is strictly legal to own. This month, I am here to fire a 21 gun salute for plastic.

In my humble view, plastic is lead’s poor relation, and rarely gets asked round for tea. Why this should be is still a mystery to me. I prefer working with plastic – especially conversions, gluing and flash scraping…, on the whole I prefer the figures’ anatomies, and I think the standard, detail and range of kits these days is truly amazing. About the only thing plastic doesn’t have is heft, and we can offset that in most cases with ballast or metal bases, if it is that important to you. It is to me. Overall, I can safely say, I Love Plastic.

So why is it not a panacea?

It must be either snobbery or perhaps negative nostalgia, or embarrassment, if you prefer. There may be something in the view that plastics are where many of us started out, with Airfix kits and figures, and perhaps in our grown up, misguided way we want to leave all that behind, to improve ourselves, to show our friends we can spend £1 per metal figure without even flinching.

Well, I flinch. Regularly. And as the years have progressed and the mortgage payments have arrived, little lead soldiers have become a rarely purchased luxury. Rarely, not never. I will not be able to resist the latest Perries (just look at those Nile Arabs, wow!), or the desire to own every Willie figure ever made, but I can now be found looking lovingly at Italeri, Zvezda and Revell figure boxes, and regularly making purchases. And I spend an awful lot of time at Plastic Soldier Review, which is surely one of the best sites on the web. Lay the figures out clearly, let everyone have a look, and write some commentary. Next! Wonderful resource, and much needed with the steady stream of new products and re-releases.

Ultimately, from my end, I think it comes down to putting my money where my mouth is. So I am going to try and regularly feature plastic figure commentary here, with Henry’s agreement, and my next army will be in plastic. I have yet to decide on the subject matter, and as you know in this hobby that can take weeks or months! But I am leaning towards late medievals, eyeing up the many boxes of knights currently on the market. I just need to be sure I can do the heraldry to my satisfaction. More news as it happens.


I have long since gone off Rackham figures. One cannot dispute their technical brilliance, or their undoubted French style, but what was once a never ending sequence of desirable figures has become very erratic, design wise – some of the pieces released recently have left me scratching my head. Still, there are a few wallet tempters. This was all changed at the recent Essen game fair, where I was very pleased to see their new AT-43 project in the flesh. This is a new development – their first sci-fi game, and their first pre-painted plastic figures. The box contains everything you need to play, including several ‘grunts’ for both sides, and a handful of very cool looking robots. I have to say that the figures are not collector standard, but then they are better than many painters can achieve, plus they are ready to go. Based, everything. The robots however are good enough for the display shelf and with a bit of weathering will make for fine models.

The Trend?

With Dragon and others making simply superb painted tanks for fluppence more than the equivalent kit, and Mongoose and Em-4 blazing the trail in pre-painted figures, not to mention Heroclix and D&D, with (one assumes) Games Workshop possibly to follow suit, it could be a very interesting time for miniatures gaming in the near future.

GW are an interesting one, and I think these market developments by rivals will quickly expose whether the core support (and spending) of their Hobby really comes from the painters, or the collecting and gaming factions. My money is on the fact that enough customers can’t paint for toffee and will welcome perfectly coloured Ultramarines and Squigs that can be unpacked and instantly deployed. In fact, at the store clubs, this could easily happen mid battle. “Quick! Sell me another Predator! My flank is collapsing!” As of now, there is no sign of such a departure for the hobby’s giant, but I can’t believe they haven’t at least looked at the potential. If not, my consultancy rates are very reasonable. As our wonderful politician types say, give the people a choice.

So, in my strategic vision for the hobby (largely worthless given the success of my life strategies, which tend to go somewhat awry) I see the Chinese production facilities tested and then stretched in pursuit of the ultimate ready-to-game figure, with techniques improving, prices falling and volumes rising. I duly look forward to receiving my painted Talavera 200th Anniversary boxed set in 2009.


Blazing another trail entirely are Valiant Miniatures. This company is the brainchild of well known hobby faces Julian Blakeney-Edwards and Colin Rumford. They will soon be producing a range of 20mm WWII British and Germans. The twist is that these figures will be multipose – so you get to swap and stick on arms, PIATS, and Brens. As one of the great joys of life was making mix and match Airfix Multipose figures, and converting Afrika Korps into Huns or Nuns (there was a minor industry built around such conversions in the 1970’s), I could not be looking forward to this more. I have been given a pre-production sprue of the Tommy masters and everything is looking good, we even get spare heads, so I am awaiting release of the first packs with great interest – especially to see the all important price point. They should be with us in early 2007. There is also talk of further ranges to follow, possibly even in 28mm – what price those long awaited hard plastic interchangeable horse halves, and, ooooh, Dark Ages or ancients? Exciting times. In plastic.