Sunday, August 5, 2007

Just one word: plastic

I've been painting miniatures off and on for many years. Back in the day, I looked in awe at the Dungeons & Dragons boxed sets of miniatures by Ral Partha. They came in a special cardboard box with beautiful artwork and blue custom foam inserts. They were themed, so we had boxes of various wizards, small folk and monsters, for example. The miniatures were always painted poorly, without primer and usually with Testors enamel paints. We knew nothing about dry-brushing, washes, and modern miniature painting techniques. Regardless, we thought they looked swell. I never owned them as a kid because they were too expensive. I had a friend, Stefan, who had all the box sets and we would ogle over them when we came over to play D&D. We rarely used the figures to play D&D (why would you?), but they were cool to look at.

Later in life, when I had money, I started buying my own miniatures. That initial impression from 20 years previously stuck with me. Miniatures should be these heavy, metal, substantial things. Value was measured in weight. Even today, at the store when I check in new miniatures from Reaper and Privateer Press, I can play The Price is Right in my head and guess the cost of the miniature based on its weight in my hand.

This week when I recently started building my army for Warhammer Fantasy, I wasn't looking forward to all those sprues and plastic bits. I felt cheated. I felt my money wasn't being spent well. Plastic is something children's toys are made of, while men work with metal, preferably toxic metals that cause children brain damage. Preferably while drinking a beer and watching a sports event. It's just how it's always been. Metal miniatures are manly.

When I finished my first box of plastic miniatures, Ogre Bulls, I was pleasantly surprised. The assembly went significantly faster than metal. I figured the sprues would slow me down, but no, it's like someone pre-sorted my parts. I could snip them, trim them, and then the best part, fit them together effortlessly and glue them in place without any problems. Assembly was a minor nuisance instead of an onerous task.

This is especially a big deal with my large ogre figures. Putting together large Warmachine figures can be a nightmare. You either need a pin vise or infinite amounts of patience and glue accelerant to get the large pieces to stay in place. I looked forward too it sometimes as a meditative process. With the GW ogres, regardless of size I would assemble, glue and often move on to the next piece while the glue was drying. The lightweight plastic meant I didn't have to sit there in a contorted position, breathing evenly, waiting for glue to dry.

The cost of the plastic sets was reasonable as well. $35 bought me 4-6 large sized figures with lots of details and options. The sprue layouts are a little confounding though. When I was all done, I had more left arms than right arms, lots of extra weapons, heads, etc. I know some of these are customization options, but it does seem like some strange combinations. $6-8 for a large figure is a bargain though, however you look at it.

The joy of plastics was reinforced when I built my metal ogre tyrant yesterday. What an ass pain. Oh, I thought, this is Games Workshop at it's worst. This is what people have been warning me about for years. The figure, one figure, was $35. Gulp. Why? Conspiracy theorists will tell you it's about the figures value in the game. High point value or rare figures cost more money. Apologists will say it's because it's a low production item; supply and demand. I'm guessing the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The tyrant was a nightmare to assemble. Blood was shed. Pieces didn't fit together properly. The model bits were very similar to the construction of the plastic models, but you couldn't get away with the same physics with metal. For example, attaching a hand with a weapon on a plastic arm is easy and a few seconds later the glue will dry and you're done. With metal that's wishful thinking (wristful thinking?).
I cut myself trying to scrape off dried glue from parts that failed to bond. Rookie mistakes.
Then my bottle of Vallejo liquid mask exploded across the table and the model when I tried to use it to help with the putty. After three years, the bottle went bad (all the bottles were bad). One customer came in while I was cleaning up and staunching the bleeding to commiserate with me. He had also had built a tyrant before, so it wasn't just me with the assembly problem.

In the past I used to promote Warmachine by saying everything was metal, as if you were getting your money's worth on the purchase. There were no charlatan models of plastic in these boxes. Here, pick that up. See how heavy it is? I'm now a plastics convert. Resin, ala Flames of War is crap, I think, but plastic is the word. I still get that feeling that I'm not quite getting my money's worth when I'm working with plastic. After all, if they can paint collectible plastic minis, why can't they just sell me the ogres pre-painted? Knowing that there are pre-painted plastic games like AT-43 out there and pre-painted Confrontation in the works, makes me feel slightly foolish for all the effort. It's still in my brain that metal has value and plastic is for children. Nevertheless, I'll gladly paint plastic if it means I can leave my metal frustrations behind me.

I went with the giant club option and alternate head

From The Graduate:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

Benjamin: Just how do you mean that, sir?

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