Monday, July 06, 2015

Top ten - Miniature Ranges!

Time for another top ten, just as personal as the last one but this time focused on the models that let us play these games of war!

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!)
And let's be clear, this is no awards list, these are not necessarily the best models out there, but they are my favourites.

So let's begin.

10. Dixon's Samurai

From Dixons' Website 
Now, I have no photos of my own collection of Dixons Samurai, as they currently live in a box in my brothers' inaccessible loft, not that they were ever that much to look at.  But one of my earliest collections of metal miniatures was these.  They were a popular subject for gaming at my first club, and the shop I worked in sold them too.  On top of my teenage fascination with all things Japanese these were always going to be popular.

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:

Professional Cavalry
These are to ignore the more eccentric choices as well, when a range includes naked troops, child soldiers, media crews and looters you have to agree that whatever the morality of the topic, it gets it's theme and chooses to cover it comprehensively.  Such a shame they spoilt it with a po-faced second edition of the rules.

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:

Image result for elastolin gauls
Compare the two left hand models here... the bottom right here
But not so many as the Revell Romans; who were entirely copied from Elastolin.  Revell rather used these old figures to fill out a range of genuine Gallic warriors in a range of suitable clothing and with nicely detailed shields and weapons.  I managed to score a few packs of both these and the Romans when I was getting back into gaming after five or six years away.  

Overall the set was a pleasure to paint and had lots of conversion potential - at a time when precious little was available in the 20mm plastics field, and I was a poor student with little money, I managed to turn these and the Airfix Ancient Britons into all manner of Celtic troops.

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:
Tools used to make these moulds.
They seldom looked this good out of my mould...
If you could afford white metal they were as good as many models of the eighties, I however like many was using scrounged plumbers lead and whatever alloy I could get my hands on (wheel balancing weights were a popular alternative and I'm pretty sure some people made fine armies out of church roofs, something I can't condone).

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
I've picked their Napoleonic French, as they offer great variety and good value for money; and permit me to produce units for my Peninsular War army with a decent range of options.

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)

f4mercenarieswd948710.jpg (38282 bytes) f4mercenarieswd948710.jpg (38282 bytes)

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:

As the title suggests, the models in the game range are anime inspired (along with a hefty nod towards Japanese role playing video games like the Final Fantasy series), one thing I like is how frequently the models are designed to match the concept art quite closely, many exactly; this figures themselves are full of character and enormous amounts of detail.  They reward patient and high quality painting, and doing so for my own collection (not shown above!) helped improve my skills no end.

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 largely 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
Early Roman
and so on.  I've seen them mounted too and they could serve as a basis for troops well beyond the ancient period too.  They come with a good range of weapons options and are reasonably cheap too.  Having permitted me to start my long aspired too Jewish Revolt project I had to put these on the list.

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 they served a Grave Guard in my old Warhammer Vampire Counts army.
Better than mine ever looked
These were certainly some of the nicest fantasy models of their time, and in my opinion anyway, still remain so.

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...
No soldiers stood around fighting like this in World War Two I'm now sure, but as an effort to present the poses in the box in a dramatic and evocative context it was perfect.  The Matchbox sets for me, more so than Airfix of the same period, little packages of magic.  And then I got it home, and inside were 50 of these beauties:
So lovely!
All mine for the princely sum of 99 pence!

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.


  1. You need to order some RSM95 Seven Years War figures. They are wonderful and the price cannot be matched for quality metal 25mm figures (36 foot for $29; 12 cav&rider for $25.80). Take a look:

    -- Jeff

  2. Bravo! An excellent post.. Like you I remember the Airfix figures with great fondness.. Highlanders... First unit I ever painted.. :-)