Wednesday, June 29, 2011

GW Pricing: It ain't that bad, folks

Sure, the topic has been beaten to death, but I figured I'd throw my two inflation-adjusted cents into the ring. There have been some good comments and postings about comparing the price of the miniature wargaming hobby to other hobbies, but quite often they're comparing apples to oranges. What about comparing apples to apples? OK, with that we'd wind up comparing Games Workshop to Mantic or Privateer, which would defeat the purpose. Therefore, I'm going to compare peaches to apricots: Miniature Wargaming vs. Scale Modeling.

For example, lets say you want to buy a Rhino transport. That's about $33 on the GW website. Kind of expensive for such a small kit, right? Compare it, then, to a 1/35 Sherman tank from Tamiya. That'll run you about $35. Moving on- check out the infamously expensive Land Raider. That little brick will set you back $66. A 1/35 Maus (super-heavy german tank from WWII) from Dragon will run about $55.

I use these two examples because once assembled, the vehicles are similar in size, so it's relatively easy to compare the pairings. So, what do you get for your money, other than a brick of plastic?

Historical armor kits from a major manufacturer will provide astounding levels of fine detail. You'll probably get link-and-length treads and quite often a set of crew figures. Some newer kits even come with limited photo-etched parts. The finished piece will be very accurate to it's subject and more often than not bee too fragile to do anything besides sit on a shelf as a permanent display piece.

A wargaming kit, on the other hand, will be an odd hybrid- halfway between a replica and a toy. Not detailed enough to match a historical kit but not sturdy enough to be a toy. Still, you'll get a lot of plastic- just not anywhere near as many pieces as you might see with a regular kit.

Companies like Tamiya, Dragon, Monogram, etc., don't have to pay licensing fees (usually, though it may change in future) or creative designers to manufacture their kits. GW, on the other hand, has to generate unique new designs, market the kits, and protect their intellectual property. Though not huge, it will impact the overall pricing of the kit.

The same applies to figure kits. Going with the 1/35 scale, being pretty close to the 28mm gaming scale, you can usually find an infantry squad in a box, fully equipped, for around 10 to 12 dollars. If you get two sets to equal the standard 10-man infantry squad in 40k, for example, you'd be paying $20-25. This, though, is where the bang-for-your-buck equation is often inverted. I rarely see infantry sets that can match wargaming squads for what I'll call "bulk". I'm not saying you get a greater value, but you do seem to get "more" in the wargaming box for about $28. Like the 1/35 vehicles, 1/35 scale infantry are more delicate and detailed than their 28mm cousins, but not as robust.

I have subscribed to Fine Scale Modeler for years and read the new kit releases every issue. That being said, I haven't really looked at the prices listed for a long time. So, when I decided to take a look recently, it ocurred to me that Games Workshop- the perennial villian, isn't pricing their product as exhorbitantly as we might like to gripe about.

Movie Quick Take: Cars 2

Spoiler Alert!

First off, I'll lead off this review with the caveat that I left about 20 minutes prior to the end of the movie. I went opening weekend, on a Sunday morning, with my two nephews, ages 4.5 and 2.5, and their dad. After no less than SIX previews, the younger only lasted about 25 minutes. The eldest stuck around for another 40 minutes, but eventually burned out as well.

I'll also say that I don't think Cars is one of Pixar's better films- in fact I think it's perhaps their weakest. Don't get me wrong- it's entertaining. The plot is simple. The characters are simple. Mater is ... simple. On the other hand, it's Disney's merchandising Golden Goose. The global sales of Cars merchandise has already surpassed eight BILLION dollars, so a sequel was a no-brainer.

And of course, no movie review on my blog would be complete without bitching about the practice AMC and Regal cinemas have of not replacing 3d lenses with 2d lenses when showing digital films. I saw Cars 2 at the Regal up in Rockville, Maryland, and it was DARK. The cars are painted in freaking neon paint and they still looked dark. As usual, I snapped a photo of the projection booth. Wannaseeithereitis...

I digress.

Cars 2 had to move beyond the basic Making Friends with Different People / Be Humble and Respectful / Be Good and Good Things Come To You storyline. So they went with the Environmental Message / Let People be Who They Are / Kill Lots of Cars option.

Wait...did I just say Kill Lots of Cars? Yes. Yes I did. Basically, Cars 2 is James Bond on wheels. Almost more like Get Smart. Mistaken identity. International intrigue. Lots of vehicle on vehicle violence via guns (yes, guns), missiles (S8 AP4), and internal explosions. It was rather disconcerting for me to sit next to my nephew and watch a car voiced by (the always awesome) Bruce Campbell get his innards boiled and violently combusted by a camera-mounted microwave doohickey. But by then the (auto)body count was at least 2 dozen, so I was already a bit numb.

Anyway, there was one fairly solid race sequence that captured my nephew's attention for a good 15 minutes. The rest was standard fare...but kind of convoluted for a younger viewer. I was just starting to get interested in where things were going when I was told it was time to go "sit with Daddy". Being the favorite uncle, I had to oblige. Bottom line, though... I really didn't care too much about missing the conclusion.

Cars 2- not as good as Cars 1. Cars 1- not as good as Toy Story 3...etc.

Vehicle Detailing

When I started putting together my Death Korps army, I began with the armor. Since I picked up the Apocalypse sets back when they were released, I had 3 Leman Russ and 3 Basilisk kits already on hand. I also picked up a few Forge World goodies, including the Bombard, Salamander, Vanquisher Turret and Exterminator Turret. Not being a fan of the standard Leman turret, I decided to upgrade it with extra detail.

The first thing I did was extend the Battle Cannon. The standard Battle Cannon is too short for my tastes. I prefer the Ryza pattern that the Death Korps uses. Simple enough conversion: Cut out the mid section of the barrel and replace with styrene tube of similar diameter. No fuss, no muss, and you get an extra 3/4 inch or so of length. I could have removed the muzzle at the end of the barrel and made the gun look even more like the Ryza variant, but I was doing it on the fly and didn't think about that option till well after the fact. Oops.

The next thing on my to-do list was to trash the regular plastic hatches. I do not like the high profile at all. When GW released the Steel Legion kits (so I believe), they included metal replacement hatches that were much more flush with the top of the much so that the cupola was almost entirely gone. Since the Forge World turrets used this style, I was able to replicate it in styrene. Using a compass to measure, I was able to cut various thicknesses of styrene sheet for the cupola and hatch. The bolts were cut from lengths of octagonal styrene rod. The handles were also cut from lengths of round styrene rod. The periscopes were cut from thicker styrene sheet, then beveled to match the Forge World turrets. It was a LOT of tedious work, but worth the effort.

After the hatches, I went at the glacis plate. The standard glacis on the Leman Russ looks kind of doofy. Again, with Krieg as my baseline, I went with the Mars-Alpha pattern look. I knew that modifying the rear/engine deck was out of the question, but felt that back-filling the forward hull and glacis plate would be simple enough. I was able to cut sheet styrene to fit behind the mounting point for the forward sponson, and then add some strip styrene above the new plate to make it look more solid. In the case below, I used a modified Space Marine lascannon to replace the Imperial Guard lascannon. The lascannon was extended a bit, then glued into place. Around the base I built up a blast bag using green stuff. Octagonal bolts were added afterwards. On another Russ I used a Heavy Bolter instead of the Lascannon.

Finally, I added a bit of extra armor on the relatively naked turret side. Again, sheet styrene cut to shape, surrounded by octagonal bolts came to the rescue. For that extra level of detail, I added a slightly thinned down Aquila. As before, the idea was to up-detail the tanks to be a better match to the Forge World turrets.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Death Korps of Krieg: Shadowsword

When you absolutely, positively gosts to kill every mother-lovin tank on the board...accept no substitutes.

This is the Shadowsword variant titan killer. I messed around with the main hull a bit and managed to make it and the primary weapon removable. I can replace the turbo-laser with the vulcan mega-bolter, and also move up the main hull to expose the troop compartment behind. Pretty easy due to the excellent fit of the kit.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Death Korps of Krieg: Bombard

I picked up the Bombard before the new IG release provided rules for the Colossus. The mortar is identical, but the Bombard uses the Leman Russ chassis while the Colossus seems to use the Chimera. Forge World provided all the parts necessary for the Bombard- plastic treads and skirts from the Leman Russ, and resin replacements for the hull, mortar, and manipulator arm.

As you can see in the photos, I wound up with a "pebbly" finish on this model. In retrospect I should have re-primed the whole thing, but I was painting a whole armored company "assembly line" style and didn't have the inclination. Overall it came out fine. The manipulator arm was tricky to pose, so I eventually just used thin brass rod to act as both structural support and flexible joints. Since I put the time in to the arm, I went ahead and left the breach unattached so it could be posed either open or closed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Damn You AMC!

So last night I went out with the GF to see the Lord of the Rings extended directors cut at the local AMC theater. They're showing each of the three movies, in succession, in order to promote the forthcoming Blu Ray releases. I had been looking forward to this for a while. Sure I own the DVDs and already have the Blu Rays on pre-order, but seeing the film on the big screen is more of an event to be enjoyed and shared, if possible. Anyway, since Super 8 had been such a visual disappointment, I was wary that AMC might pull the same shennanigans again with their digital projection equipment. Here's another article about it.

As I feared, AMC dicked me over again. I took a photo of the projection booth during Peter Jackson's intro to the film. He says that the film has been re-mastered and looks better than ever. On Blu Ray, I'm sure it's true. In the theater, however, it looked like crap. I'll be writing a letter to AMC which I'll cc New Line and Wingnut. Suffice to say, I will not be attending the second or third LotR movies, nor will I go to any subsequent films at AMC theaters if they are being shown on a digital projector.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Death Korps of Krieg: Salamander

Another Forge World model. The fighting compartment is the resin conversion component. The remainder of the vehicle is the standard Chimera. I magnetized the auto-cannon in case I want to throw in a heavy mortar instead and make it a Griffon.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Movie Quick Take: Super 8

I've been heads-down painting details on the Yu Jing Agent (Pheasant) and had to take my eyes out of the magnifying lenses for a bit, so I decided to post a quick review of the movie "Super 8". I watched it last night and would give it a 3 out of 5 stars (or whatever).

I can't really get excited about the film. Fairly well written, fairly well acted, fairly well get the idea. The main character is a young boy who builds model kits as a hobby, so odds are if you are reading this, you'll get a kick out of that aspect of the story. The most noteable performance is by Elle Fanning. Not much of a spoiler when I sum up the plot by saying "ET with a vengeance". There are some sub-plots that don't add much to the story, and most of the characters are pretty 2 dimensional. It's a Summer "blockbuster", not a Merchant/Ivory flick, so no surprises there.

There were a few cute lines that made me laugh, but overall I just couldn't get too into the movie. The "student film" that is the namesake of the movie runs during the credits, and that's worth seeing. One thing I'll say about the cinematography; J.J. Abrams sure does love his lens flare effect. He went overboard on Star Trek and shows his affection for the flare in Super 8 as well. Dude- stop it.

On a side note, I went to see this movie at the AMC Theater in Tysons Corner, VA and was keenly aware of the dim quality of the picture. Having to pay extra for a digital showing and then having to squint is not my idea of good value. Why do I bring this up? You may not be aware, but AMC uses Sony 3D digital projectors which have been retro-fitted with updated hardware to be albe to show 2D films as well. Problem: AMC Theaters do NOT switch lenses when they switch between media types. So when you see a 2D digital film at an AMC, you are watching a movie that is losing about 50% of its luminosity due to the fact that the image is being split by the 3D lens. Don't believe me? Feel free to check online for the info (example). Want to know how to confirm that they're using the "wrong" lens? Look up at the projection booth...if you see 2 distinct images behind the're getting screwed over.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Photos and Images

I've only recently started to take pictures of the work I've done over the past year or two. On my website there are many older photos of kits that I've built, but they aren't all that great. My pal over at 23Lines got me hooked on 40k about 3 years ago, and since then my regular scale modeling has pretty much been put on hold. I'm hoping to "catch up" a bit now that I'm at a stopping point. OK, if you are a tabletop wargamer, you know there's no such thing as a stopping point.

The Infinity figures were shot in a small photo lightbox...I'm still trying to get the hang of it. My digital camera is fairly old, and even with manual settings which allow for color correction, I still have to pull the photos in to Photoshop for additional balancing. So far I've had decent results, but as you can see I could do better.

Another revelation is how Blogger allows me to upload directly to a Picasa album but will only allow a maxium image size of 1600px (v axis). As a result, I think I'll leave the miniature photos as-is, but anything of a larger subject, like the Vanquisher, might benefit from being cut into paired images, rather than the stack of 4. So many little time.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Yu Jing: Imperial Agent- Reindeer

The most dreaded of the secretive Imperial Agents. Rarely seen, rumored to be able to change his appearance at will, blending in with any environment.