I had at first considered restricting this subject to individual figures, literally my top ten models, but this I realised might by nigh on impossible as how on earth would I pick ten figures from the tens of thousands that'd passed through my hands? Making the subject broad enough to encompass specific ranges was the only sensible choice. Still I am not simply going to list ten manufacturers, especially as many of my older choices are from manufacturers with patchy at best output, at that time or since. We'd best have a couple of conditions to this though:
- A range constitutes a single miniature range as listed by a manufacturer; or, a single boxed set of miniatures - plastic or metal. So for example (not that they'll be on the list) Marauder Miniatures Dark Elf range could appear on the list but not the entirety of the their fantasy figure range. Similarly Essex 15mm Rus would be ok, but not all Essex 15mm models.
- I personally must have bought models from the range (or the identified box) at some stage, even if I have subsequently sold them on.
- If I can't prove they exist by finding a photo of them, they don't get on the list (sorry!)
So let's begin.
10. Dixon's Samurai
|From Dixons' Website|
I think the actual style of these models would divide modern buyers, they are chunky to say the least, which on the plus side made for easy painting. Personality and animation were the bywords of the figures, and helps get them into the top ten.
9. Peter Pig AK47 Republic 15mm
One of the key's to whether a range works and is memorable for me, is character, do the models exude something in the way of personality, are they dynamic, evocative of theme and so on. This is parsonally far more important than whether or not they have the correct number of lapel buttons for the 1756 reformations or whatever.
Of course this sort of thing tends to mean that smaller scale figures struggle to be favourites of mine; they can be well detailed and cute but honestly at less than 20mm scales they tend to feel rather impersonal. One manufacturer this does not apply to for me is Peter Pig, and their AK47 miniatures were a huge selling point on my playing the game:
8. Revell Celts
Now the backstory to this range must be the longest on this list, as the Revell Celts- at least some of them - began life long, long ago with Elastolin:
|Compare the two left hand models here...|
|...to the bottom right here|
7. Prince August self-cast 'Dark Ages' warriors
Once upon a time home casting your armies was a very real thing, people everywhere were doing it. At a time when the quality of manufactured metal miniatures was a long way off what it is today, these were genuinely a reasonable alternative:
|They seldom looked this good out of my mould...|
In an age when a range of miniatures might be a handful of models Prince August had a respectable 5 or 6 moulds suitable for dark ages warriors (even if branded as part of their fantasy range), making a dozen or so useable poses. Cheap lead is also super easy to cast and convert, so I soon had an army of some 200 generic dark ages men; and the molten lead scars to show for it.
6. Perry Miniatures Napoleonic French Line Infantry
It would be remiss to not mention the revolution that injection plastic has brought to historical gaming in the last few years. It is of course hard to pick a favourite amongst so many excellent efforts now available, but lets say that runner up for me had to be a Perry set, and from a purely objective technical standpoint, Perry leave every other manufacturer in their dust.
|Great box art too|
|One of my own efforts|
Not the only 28mm plastic on this list but certainly the prettiest. There are different reasons as to why they are not higher though as we'll see.
5. Games Workshop - Feudals (1980's)
Specifically the C26 and F4 ranges from the mid to late 80's, I managed to pick up a fair few of these over the years (back when 4 for £2.50 was expensive!); and some of them are on my painting table at this very moment, getting the love they deserve to join the ranks of my Lion Rampant force. Ignoring the somewhat off plastic shields of the period these were nicely accurate and well made models for their day.
Now available from Foundry at prices GW might be proud of they are still cracking sculpts, even if levels of detail have moved on since. For nostalgia value, which is clearly a major feature on this list, they hold their place over modern replacements
4. Cipher Studios - Anima Tactics
In terms of sheer complexity, nothing else on the list will come close to these gorgeous sculpts from one of the many Spanish miniatures companies out there:
Sadly I understand these are no longer in production, and so it is likely to be a game which I never get as many games of as I would've liked, which is a shame as it is a really nice system.
3. Wargames Factory Numidian Infantry
I've long hailed these as the most useful set of 28mm plastic figures ever, and that is simply because of their simplicity. A lack of anything more than a tunic means they can be turned to innumerable roles. Thus:
|Slave Revolt warriors|
|My own Jewish Guerillas|
Wargames Factory, unlike the Perrys', use Computer Aided Design rather than physical sculpting, the limits of this technology, or at least how well WF can implement it, do show in these models, but as a tool for putting a wider variety of armies on to the table, these leave most of their more detailed and specific brethren standing. The converter and kit-basher in me loves them.
2. Games Workshop - The Nightmare Legion
When I started getting in to fantasy games, I definitely had a thing for two evil races; Orcs - due to the Lord of the Rings (and so my Orcs were always more of an Olive colour than a garish green) and thanks to Ray Harryhausen, skeletons.
I used to have a horde of Games Workshop plastic skeletons but the models I really wanted were the Nightmare Legion, a swarm of heavily armoured undead warriors.
And I managed to get hold of a box, long cherished, latterly joined by another dozen or so models from a friend. For many years the served a Grave Guard in my old Warhammer Vampire Counts army.
|Better than mine ever looked|
But they don't make number one, and partly that's because my first encounters with toy soldiers were older, smaller and more historical than these could ever hope to be.
1. Matchbox - Afrika Korps
I must confess these were not the first ever toy soldiers I owned. I had of course a fairly random collection of 1/32nd scale soldiers - Russians and Germans as well as cowboys and knights that did random battle in the garden for a few years. But as a precocious eight year old I read my first wargame book and it well informed me that to play toy soldiers properly I must scale down to 20mm.
My first purchase in that scale was the Matchbox Commando set, and it was a tough call as to whether they should occupy this top spot, but my second purchase was Matchbox's Afrika Korps, and these to my childish eyes were perfection. It began with the box:
|Oh lord! The memories...|
With enough troops to take charge of both sides my future as a wargamer began, with scrappy rules and mismatched forces, but I was sold, and despite several hiatuses over the years, I've never stopped.
Matchbox's gorgeous little models have more to do with that than anything else to be honest, and so they rightly deserve top spot in my list.