Tuesday, August 30, 2011

America! By jingo!

The only GW here is George Washington.

I've been buying Games Workshop models pretty regularly for the past 15 or so years now, and in that time I haven't purchased more than one or two products from competing companies. For the most part that's because the production quality and art direction of GW models are top notch, but recently I've been curious about what I'm missing. In that spirit, I recently picked up two boxed sets of the finest American miniatures made by Great Britain - the Federated States of America starter set by Spartan Games, and American Civil War infantry by Perry Miniatures.

Dystopian Wars

I'm generally a fan of things nautical, but ship-based miniatures combat games tend to leave me cold. That's why Dystopian Wars wasn't even on my radar until sometime last week, when my buddy Ian suggested I buy in. I was skeptical, but Ian  knows what he's tailing about when it comes to games, and a simple, easy-to-transport miniatures game would be an asset for our semi-regular long-range visits. I selected the Federated States of America fleet for its specialization in long range firepower and because, by Jingo, America is the greatest nation on the face of the goddamned earth.

Britain must be a close second, though, because Spartan Games has put together a fantastic product. At first glance, the packaging is attractive (the back of the box features actual size "schematics" of the models contained therein, which I imagine could be useful for modeling purposes or even for parodying a ship or two in a casual game). I wasn't prepared for the box's guts, though. Inside the box is a riot of resin and bubble wrap, metal and full-color glossy inserts.

There are a lot of models in the basic starter set - 25, if you count the fighter plane tokens. And you should, because they're detailed resin pieces. The detail on the ships themselves is excellent as well considering the small scale. The models are generally one piece although a few of the larger ships come with turrets. There's some flash to be removed due to the resin, but because each piece has a flat bottom, there are no traditional mold lines running over textured areas. I suspect cleanup will be substantially easier and faster than the models I'm used to, so the emphasis will be on painting. Overall, I wasn't particularly excited about the game before I bought the box, but now I can't wait to pain the fleet.

I'm not as thrilled with the metal bombers, partially because they're metal, partially because they do have traditional mold lines, and partially because their acrylic flight stands appear to be somewhat precarious.

That's a minor point of contention, though, considering the quality of the rest of the models as well as the quality of the extras. In addition to the ships and planes, the set comes with cards for each unit detailing vital statistics. It also comes with a variety of templates and token to support gameplay. It's obvious Spartan Games put some effort into these inserts, and they look great. My only gripe is that they're not perforated, so you'll need to cut them out, but that's a minor complaint in a hobby where assembly is expected.

My final impression: Spartan Games has exceeded my expectations. Now it's time to get these models on the table.

ACW by Perry

I've had my eye on Perry Miniatures for a while now, but I haven't been able to justify a purchase as I don't play any historical games. I finally decided that I'd really like to paint these miniatures even if they never see the table. I'm glad I did.

I was surprised at the size of the models. I knew they'd be a little smaller than the 28mm "heroic" scale the Perry Brothers worked in when they sculpted for Games Workshop, but I didn't realize what a difference that makes when the sculptors are free to consider realistic proportions. That's not a bad thing, mind you - it just takes some adjusting. Despite the size, these miniatures are attractive and have a nice level of detail. The box contains three identical frames of 12 models each, with a reasonable variety of poses. One cool detail: all models are hatless, but each frame contains enough forage hats and slouch hats for the entire unit, so a single box allows you to choose from a variety of historical units. I'm going for the 54th Massachusetts.

There are some mold lines here, and while there are a few different poses, the models were clearly designed to be displayed as a unit rather than individually. Also, due to the realistic scale, a few of the components seem a little fragile (especially the staff on the standard bearer).

Like the FSA set, the Perry Brothers' box is packed with extras - the second refreshing surprise of my day. In addition to a variety of different-sized bases, the set also contains a two-sided insert with rules for a simple age of rifles wargame. I probably won't use them, but it's a nice touch and goes a long way toward improving the value of the purchase (which was already high).

As I said, these probably won't see the table, but I'm still very happy with these. They're the big-boy version of the bag of plastic soldiers I begged for on a trip to Gettysburg as a kid, and I'm almost as excited now as I was then. Maybe one day I'll break down and make the next purchase I've been eyeing up, the Legends of the Old West book, and I'll rope someone into a skirmish.

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