Monday, July 11, 2011

Plastic Fantastic

My last post brought two nice comments from Ray and Jim, so I thought I'd start by saying a big "Thanks!" to them both. Normally I just add a comment of my own to say ta, but I'm in such a positive mood I thought I'd start by just saying hi in the next post. More WotR stuff is coming shortly, including the next stage of my refight of the Wars (yes, I finally have enough figures painted to launch into that again!) For now though, something totally different...

Further progress from the usual chin-stroking about what big project to pick up next, and an unexpected one has turned up (isn't it always the way?) I had been pondering an attempt to make the Waterloo Campaign in miniature, largely inspired from reading over the old 'Horse Foot & Guns' rules (by Richard Bodley Scott) that I used to use, based on the DBA system but extending them into the horse & Musket period. The Army lists he produced are actually very precise for the 100-days' campaign, listing the entirety of the French, Prussian and Anglo-Allied armies. As ever with some project with a definite 'maximum size' feature, I found myself drawn to it.

Next up was the purchase off Amazon at knock-down price of the massive hardback book 'The Waterloo Companion' by Mark Adkin. This proved to have even more interest and info (although just of the titular battle, not the entire 4-day campaign) which worsened things. I began to plan out how I could buy the miniatures.

They're not small armies, and quite varied & eclectic in the case of Wellington's lot. As the only thing more involving than painting an army is organising your purchases to start painting an army, I found myself sinking into an ever-increasingly complicated pile of spreadsheets, price lists, packaging systems, manufacturers, and scales.

Ah, scales. What a headache that is in itself! I could do it in 2mm, and be super-realistic. I could do it in 6mm and get scale and detail, or I could go into 15mm and get a bit more abstracted, going for the DBA 4-figures-representing-a-brigade style of basing. I pondered. A lot.

I don't know if other gamers out there have the same experience, but if I spend ages examining and planning something, there can come a point where you hit a wall. Then, if some new idea occurs, it can blow the whole thing up into the air again and make you look at the whole thing afresh. I was very nearly settled on 6mm as the scale of choice, giving the best balance between visually pleasing end-results and not bankrupting myself along the way. Then, another dark-horse option turned up. In my case, it turned out to be plastic figures.

I remember these 1:72 cheap, flexible plastic figures with some personal nostalgia, as they were my very first wargame models. From the local toy shop I would get boxes of figures (Italieri/Esci/ERTL as I recall) and I bought pretty much one of each, as back then I saw no point in wasting pocket money buying two of the same thing, and balanced force-composition wasn't my thing. I had various mixes of them, such as a box of Romans and a box of barbarians (lots of red paint on the axe-blades, I believe!); Colonial British and the Zulus , who I recall also had spears & shields which were maddeningly easy to knock off (gluing them never occurred, surprisingly!) Centre of the whole collection however were the Napoleonic figures, probably mostly through availability. Like no other set, I could get an entire all-arms army as they sold Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery.

My first proper 'Army' for wargames was Waterloo British infantry who would form square to face off against the French Grenadiers in Column (no, I didn't understand the tactical formations either) and probably amounted in total to:
British Infantry, which was about 2/3rds English and 1/3rd Highlander dress
Cavalry - Scots Greys, all of it. (The shop never stocked another type, so I thought the cavalry was 100% uniformed like this)
Artillery - All Royal Horse Artillery, with the natty little Tarleton helmet. No Foot Artillery, of course.

French Grenadiers - No common 'Line' troops here, which probably meant Napoleon had to annihilate the bear-population of Europe to equip his armies with headgear.
Cavalry - roughly 50% Cuirassiers and 50% Lancers. In a rare example of branching out, I bought two boxes of French Cavalry, probably because I judged Lancers as sufficiently 'different' to matter.
Artillery - All Old Guard bearskins yet again, and annoyingly through a packaging decision two guns were 12lb 'proper' cannons while the other two were 'broken' cannon with short howitzer barrels (I had no idea what they were.)

From this in auspicious and long-gone beginning, can I build something like a decent army to take to the wargames field? There's no arguing with the beast in question as all the pros and cons have been rehearsed at great length elsewhere. They're soft plastic, paint flakes off, they mould poorly, the poses are all over the shop (and sometimes ludicrously weird), etc. etc. etc. However, there's no arguing with the fact that you get 50 a box, and a box can cost around a fiver. There's just no arguing with that! The only question is where the hell to buy them so I am currently searching in to the weirder corners of the web on Ebay and so on, trying to track down anywhere that deals in them these days. A far cry from my normal one-stop shop method where the list is definitively worked out before I place the order!


  1. Welcome to the world of plastics, for inspiration check out out

    Have fun


  2. 'They're soft plastic, paint flakes off, they mould poorly, the poses are all over the shop (and sometimes ludicrously weird), etc. etc. etc.'

    I think you're going to be pleasantly surprised.

    To prevent paint flaking wash the figures, spray with Rust-oleum Plastic Primer (it bonds chemically to the plastic so won't flake, i get it at the local Homebase), and paint with acrylics (or even oils - which have even more flexibility when dry), varnish conventionally or coat the figures in plastidip.

    The design, molding, and posing of plastics has come on a great deal in the last 20 years - check out the likes of caesar and svezda for superb sculpting, and Hat now produce some wargamer friendly packs in consistent poses (e.g. all matching). Plastic Soldier Review is essential reading:


  3. Hello, Mel & DC - thanks for the comments! I wasn't sure if mentioning plastics would bring out a scornful or encouraging reaction, so it's nice to see the latter!

    I know lots of people have said plastic is bad, but frankly when my pre-teen self painted my original plastic figures, I can't remember having any difficulties at all. Pure wargaming snobbery, I suppose!

    Thanks for the plasticsoldierreview links - the site has already become my wargames-bible!

    Also, thanks DC for the tips on plastic care & painting. To Homebase I go!