Review: Alternatives to Games Workshop Paints

Vallejo Game Colours I’ll be blunt: this post is about finding alternatives to Games Workshop’s line of hobby paints. I’ve already discussed replacing their primer and varnish spray products, and now I’m going to talk about cheaper and frankly better alternatives to their paint line.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a knee jerk reaction: I still have a large collection of Games Workshop paints and have painted with them for at least 15 years, but I’ve also endured 15 years of increasing prices, meaningless package and colour range changes and have regularly discarded dried out, useless paints. I feel it’s probably time for a change. Unfortunately I live in New Zealand, so my options from local retailers have been limited to the Flames of War military range of Vallejo Colours. These are excellent paints of course, but are unsuitable for painting Fantasy or Sci-fi figures because of the small range of drab military colours.

Vallejo Game Colours

Maelstrom Games UK have an online webstore I’ve used several times in the past for figure purchases. They also carry a wide range of hobby products including the full Vallejo Game Colour paint line. Recently they had a hobby promotion on the site, so I picked up a Vallejo 16 Colour ‘Advanced Game Colour’ set, with an extra bronze metal paint. As Maelstrom have free delivery, this set cost me a total of $46nzd (excluding the additional bronze metal). That’s $2.80nzd per 17ml dropper bottle of acrylic paint. Compare that to the $7nzd locally for a 12ml pottle of Games Workshop paint from a local hobby store. That’s less than half price for more paint.

This set arrived earlier this week and I have to say Vallejo paints are just as good as everybody says they are. The pigment depth is astounding (I already knew that from the FOW lines) and the Game Colour range is absolutely chock full of vibrant, rich colours for Fantasy and Sci-Fi figure painting. For the first time in several years I find myself wanting to paint figures because it’s a joy to simply put a few drops of paint on a scrap of plastic and paint with lovely solid colours. Using Games Workshop paints in comparison is an exercise in frustration. The paints have very poor coverage in several colours (many of the yellows and several of the reds) and the pottles are awful to use, as well as being very prone to drying out. I tidied up my paint station when the Vallejo colours arrived and threw out no less than nineteen dried out GW paint pottles, most of which were over half full. That’s $133nzd of paint wasted thanks to awful packaging, or let’s say $66nzd since they were half full. I’m confident my Vallejo Game Colour dropper bottles will last for years, particularly since I already have a set of Vallejo military colours that have been on my paint station for years already.

I will never purchase Games Workshop paints again, instead I will concentrate on replacing old GW colours as I run out (or the bloody things dry up) with new Vallejo Game Colour paints. If you’re using GW paints today you are basically wasting your money unless you rapidly consume whole pottles of colour.

Army Painter Warpaints

Another option which has popped up locally is Army Painter Warpaints. Slave To Painting sell the Army Painter Starter kits locally in New Zealand. I haven’t tried this paint line, but read a very interesting Warpaint review from the “Tale of Painters” blog recently, which recommends them as a good paints as well. I believe the gentleman that runs Slave to Painting has plans to extend the range and types of paint he sells, so it’ll be worth keeping an eye on the site in the future.

In summary, if you’re still using Games Workshop paints for your Fantasy or Sci-Fi figures, do yourself a favour and try something else! Save yourself some money, and remember how much fun painting figures used to be…

Review: Litko Splash Markers for Dystopian Wars

Litko Naval Markers for Dystopian Wars My gaming buddies and I have been playing a fair amount of Dystopian Wars recently as you can probably tell from the blog posts. I was trolling through DW battle reports online when I saw somebody using these nifty resin splash markers to track damage, instead of the cumbersome cardboard counters that come with the game. The markers come from Litko Game Accessories in a variety of sizes and they’re pretty cheap for a baggie of ten.

I ordered a set of the micro markers with the white resin base, and a set of mini markers with the blue resin base for 20 markers in total. They were promptly shipped from Litko and arrived in my letterbox in good time. You have to assemble them yourself, which involves wedging the ‘splash’ marker into the base that holds it. This was fairly painless, although I damaged one of the clear micro bases by applying a little too much force during assembly, so just go easy on them.

We’ve played several games now using these as damage markers and I think the general consensus is they’re more visually appealing than dull cardboard tokens. It was a good idea to get a mix of marker types as we’ve started using the larger blue markers to represent two hits (typically awarded by exceeding the Critical Rating of a vessel), while the white markers represent one hit. This means there’s less markers to drag around with each vessel and conserves them for play, although we’ve not run out of markers yet during our 800pts per side games. The markers are also small enough that they can be balanced on top of larger Dystopian War vessels.

If you’re playing Dystopian Wars I’d recommend picking up some of these cheap and cheerful resin splash markers for your table. The price is right and they definitely improve the look of a game in progress.

Review: Army Painter Matt Varnish Spray

Army Painter Matt Varnish Spray

The Product:

This post is a brief review of the Army Painter ‘Matt Varnish Spray’ can. This is a 400ml can of varnish with a large, wide spraying nozzle. It’s part of the Army Painter line of products and is designed to be used with figures painted with their ‘Quickshade’ dipping tins. Slavetopainting.co.nz were kind enough to supply a sample can for this review and they sell it for $14.90nzd a can.

How Matt is “Super Matt”?

A good matt spray varnish can be hard to come by if you’re a New Zealand war gamer. For several years most of us have been using the expensive, 150ml spray cans of ‘Moana’ matt artist’s varnish which frankly is most ‘matt’ spray varnish I’ve ever encountered. However Moana was discontinued in New Zealand this year, leaving people frantically buying up the remaining stocks (one local war gamer bought the last fourteen cans in store) and looking for a replacement in the local market. So the arrival of Slavetopainting.co.nz seems quite timely.

I’ve spent the last couple of nights varnishing a variety of dipped figures in the garage with the Army Painter can and have to say it compares very favourably to Moana matt varnish. I can distinguish no difference between the ‘mattness’ of my older figures varnished with Moana and the handful of figures I’ve varnished with Army Painter “Super Matt”. I took a bunch of photos to try and get a side by side comparison of Moana and Army Painter varnished figures but in the end haven’t included them here because the results are identical. I’ll say that again for clarity:

Army Painter Super Matt spray varnish is as good as Moana Matt Varnish in terms of finish.

That should be a big deal to any New Zealand war gamers because it means we still have access to an excellent matt varnish to use on our painted figures. The 400ml can also means you’ll also have a generous amount of varnish to hand, however be aware the nozzle produces a fairly wide spray so you should probably varnish groups of figures rather than individuals to prevent wastage. Army Painter Super Matt covers well and dries quickly with no unpleasant odour and the finished varnish feels as durable as the other spray varnish products I’ve used.

Value for Money?

Army Painter Super Matt spray is available from Slavetopainting.co.nz at $14.90 for a 400ml can. This is superb value compared to the discontinued Moana 150ml can selling for around $12NZ. It is also excellent value compared to the Games Workshop Citadel Matt Spray which is also a 400ml can however sells for almost twice the price.

In Conclusion

I’ll be using Army Painter Super Matt varnish on my war gaming collection from now on and have no problem recommending it to New Zealand war gamers. You should definitely pick up a can if your Moana stash is running low, or you don’t feel like paying twice the price for varnish from your local Games Workshop store.

Review: Cheaper than Games Workshop Skull White Primer

3M Automotive Etch PrimerI’ve been out of primer for a while now and after a recent purchase felt the urgent need for a new spray can. In the past I’ve used GW’s Skull White so I wandered into a local GW store in Auckland city and asked them how much a 280g can of Skull White primer costs these days. Apparently it now costs $30 NZD, after learning that I simply walked out of the store again. GW’s prices have been ridiculous for years now, and $30 for a 280g spray can is not acceptable to me. From memory the last can I bought cost me around $22 NZD and this is when the NZ/GBP exchange rate was considerably worse than it is today.

So I asked on our forum if anybody had a decent replacement option and Dustan chipped in with a suggestion. He’s using an automotive primer for his figures these days: 3M’s ‘Etch Primer’ which comes in a 400g can (see the photo). I nipped down to the local Super Cheap Auto and picked up a can for the low price of $19 NZD.

I’ve just finished priming my first batch of figures with it and it works just fine. I’ve finally primed my pewter 15mm Corvus Belli Romans as well as a box of resin Covenant of Antarctica ships for Dystopian Wars. I’ve noticed the spray coverage isn’t as fine as the Skull White can, but I’m only dusting figures and models with the primer, rather than trying to get solid coverage. A dusting of 3M’s etch primer doesn’t obscure any detail that I noticed and adheres well to plastic and pewter. It does adhere to resin, but not quite as strongly (you can scrape it off with a fingernail), but that’s fine as I’ll be over-painting it with several coats of acrylic paints. The primer has no negative effect on plastic or resin that I can detect and Vallejo and GW paints go over the primer coat just fine as well.

So if you’re sick of paying a ‘GW’ tax on their Skull White primer, try this product instead. It is just over a third cheaper, and you get more than an extra third of paint in the can as well. Thanks for the tip Dustan!

Review: Lego Minifig Brickarms

Brickarms World at War This review is a little off topic, but I’ll post anyway as it vaguely relates to war gaming, particularly if you’ve ever tried Brikwars!

I’ve been aware of Brickarms for a while now. They’re a US company that manufacture third party weapons for Lego Minifigs. I hadn’t ordered from them until recently as they don’t ship outside the US. However a Makeblog post rekinkled my interest and it seems they have an Australian reseller which I missed before.

I couldn’t resist picking up the World at War pack to add to my Lego Indiana Jones figures. At $20aud for a small pack of plastic pieces they’re not cheap, but after spending a couple of hours playing with them last night with my five year old son I figure it’s probably money well spent. Here’s a quick review of the Brickarms pack.

The pieces arrived in a small baggie and include the set of weapons you see above. I’ve photographed them next to several bonafide Lego pieces for scale. The Lego pieces are the standard shovel, the grey plastic revolver and the Star Wars blaster rifle to the far left. Overall the quality of the Brickarms pieces is excellent. They’re cast in the same hard ABS plastic that Lego is made from. This means they have the same weight and general feel to them as Lego pieces, down to the finish too. It also means they should have the same excellent long life as normal Lego pieces.

The sculpting on the weapons is superb and despite the fact some liberties have been taken to make them work with Minifigs, most of them should be instantly recognisable to any WWII buff. It was the M1 Garand and Panzerfaust in particular that compelled me to buy this pack. In fact many of the weapons are more finely detailed than their Lego equivalents which is obvious from the above photo when you compare the grey Lego revolver to the various German and American automatic pistols. A particular high point for me was the fact the Lewis gun has been sculpted with a clip at the bottom which will fit a standard Lego lever holder. That means you can easily mount the weapon on a Lego vehicle for AA protection.

Brickarms World at War on Minifigs In terms of casting they’re also very good, although unlike Lego pieces you may have to do a little clean up with an Xacto blade to remove rough scraps of plastic where the pieces have been detatched from their sprues. The weapons can be used without clean up, but the anally retentive modeller in me had to spend five minutes just tidying them up so they’re perfect. That’s really the only comment I have about the casting. Like Lego pieces they do have fine, almost unnoticable mold lines and pin ejection marks, but you can mix them with Lego pieces without any visible difference, which is a sign of quality casting.

Here’s another scale shot of Lego Indy and Henry Jones Snr ready for action. You can see the weapons look great on the figures and as I mentioned my young son has already had fun with them, conducting terrible warfare across our kitchen table as all manner of hell was unleashed. The more politically correct amoungst you (I doubt many of my visitors are but who knows) may mutter something about glorifying war etc, however as many Lego ranges already come with weapons (Lego Indiana Jones, Lego Star Wars, Lego Agents etc) I’m going to happily ignore you.

To close, Brickarms weapons are excellent and although a little pricey compared to normal Lego are well worth it, particularly if you’re already a Lego fan and want a little more variety in your Minifig armory.

Review: Black Scorpion Tombstone Miniatures

Black Scorpion Tombstone Miniatures A gaming friend of mine recently picked up a copy of Warhammer Historical: Legends of the Old West, which is a Wild West skirmish wargame. Reading the rules it’s sort of a franken-game, combining the best features of Mordheim, Necromunda and the GW Lord of the Rings systems. Unfortunately it still retains the awful ‘I go, you go’ scheme that GW games can’t seem to escape from, but fortunately it has staggered rounds which offsets that somewhat.

As I’ve often admired Black Scorpion’s range of Tombstone range figures, I thought this would be an ideal time to pick some up. However I didn’t just want cowboys, but rather some figures that might mix into my Pulp collection as well. Black Scorpion have two groups of female figures that seemed like a good compromise, Tombstone 5 and Tombstone 6, most of which would work in a Pulp setting too. I ordered them from the Black Scorpion site a couple of weeks ago and they’ve just arrived, so here’s a quick review and comparison against a couple of other independent figure manufacturers.

Casting

On unpacking it’s clear the figures are well cast. There’s almost no flash (one figure of ten had some flash under an arm), and only visible mold lines on a couple of figures that had to be filed down. The mold lines are also well placed, with no lines crossing faces or other important details. One minor annoyance is the fact that I had to straighten the barrels on every figure holding a gun out of the box. I suspect this is because rough handling by international post, as the figures have travelled from the UK to New Zealand. As you can see from the photo the figures use a slotta base system and have molded on tabs. I’ll probably be cutting a few of these off so I can base some figures on wooden planks.

Sculpting

The figures are well sculpted with a nice variety of clothing and hair styles. For female 28mm figures they have fairly realistic proportions with only a single figure displaying an enormous chest and cleavage – I guess there had to be one! They’re generally statically posed, with only four of the ten figures actively aiming or drawing their weapons, but it’s a nice mix of poses I think. The static figures are presenting their arms in a gun-safe but threatening manner.

They also have a nice mix of firearms, with two shotguns (either of which could be filed down to make them sawn-off), two recognisable Winchester repeaters, four armed with a variety of single and dual revolvers and two unarmed ‘showgirl’ figures (maybe they have derringers). This mix of weapons makes them ideal for putting together a couple of Legends of the Old West posses.

In terms of detail the figures are passable. Period costume of the Old West was pretty simple and this is reflected on the miniatures, with decoration consisting of tassled fringes and the odd bow. In terms of detail I’d say the Black Scorpion figures are comparable to the Copplestone Casting ranges, but not as detailed or crisp as the Artizan Designs collection.

The wide mix of clothing, hats and hairstyles will keep the figures interesting to paint though. I particularly like the figure that looks like a gentle homemaker, in a full dress and leg’o’mutton jacket, clutching a sun umbrella in one hand and a Winchester repeating rifle in the other…!

Scale

Black Scorpion Tombstone 
Miniatures Comparison Black Scorpion state their figures are ’32mm’ scale, which equates to the so called ‘Heroic 28mm’ that Games Workshop use. Here’s a photo comparing several of the Black Scorpion figures to an WWII Artizan Designs 28mm German and a Copplestone Castings female archaeologist. I’ve chosen the tallest of the Black Scorpion ladies for comparison and as you can see there is a noticeable scale difference. However as it’s not often you see figures lined up like this on the tabletop I can’t see any problem mixing and matching these slightly larger figures with the rest of my Pulp collection.

Cost

At GBP7.50 for each group of five figures, plus 15% for shipping internationally they’re a pretty good deal and I’m perfectly happy to recommend them to anybody after some 28-32mm Western miniatures. I ordered directly off their site and had no problem getting the items shipped international air to a New Zealand PO Box.

Black Scorpion also have several other interesting looking ranges, in particular their Pirates, Fantasy Pirates and Iraqii Militia all look good to me.

Dustan: HeroQuest Redux – Part 1

Stu: In this post a gaming buddy Dustan, talks about his current project – painting a set of HeroQuest figures for gaming with his young son.

Way back around 1989 Games Workshop and Milton Bradley got together and produced HeroQuest. Set in GW’s Warhammer Fantasy world it recreates the adventures of four Heroes who battle the minions of the evil wizard Morcar (Zargon in America). I decided to paint up this set as something to play with my son who is turning six soon. This is the fourth set I’ve painted, for some reason they always seemed expendable when it came clearing out the cupboards, now it’s out of production I wont let this one escape me!

HeroQuest is a game for 2-5 players and comes with 35 miniatures, 15 pieces of furniture, 20 doors, a large game board and a host of cards, counters and dice. The rules are brief and simple and the quest book contains 14 Adventures. There is no system for creating dungeons as you go however a blank game map was supplied and later an adventure design kit was released.

The board consists of a grid of floor tiles with fixed walls, rubble tokens would block access to some areas to help change the shape of the map. In later expansions overlays were used to radically change the map by adding grassy caves, chasms and other special features.

The Heroes (Barbarian, Wizard, Elf and Dwarf) move around the board with 2d6 movement and are able to search for treasure, traps and secret doors. Combat is resolved using a special set of combat dice, the number of dice thrown in attack or defense was dependent on the combatant’s stat lines.

Searching for treasure allows the players to draw a random treasure card which could be anything from potions, gems, gold, items and even traps or wandering monsters. Each quest has an objective for the Heroes to complete, if they failed either by leaving the dungeon or being killed the Evil Wizard claims victory.

The game is not without its flaws. These issues were addressed by the later GW release of Advanced HeroQuest, which sadly is a little to complicated for casual play. HeroQuest’s flaws are:

  • It’s designed more as a board game rather than an RPG it seems to suggest the Heroes  are competing against each other for treasure, this is of course dependant on your players.
  • The random movement distances can really slow down this game, particularly if you are a low roller.
  • Due to the use of equipment and treasure playing cards expanding the game relied on MB releasing expansions.

Despite this HeroQuest is a good gateway game and I hope it will encourage my son and later my daughter into the hobbies that have permeated my life.

There are many resources out there with new quests, printable tiles and house rules. I have included a few of my favourites to get you started.

In the next post I’ll show you my work on painting the Heroes and furniture.

Review: Wings of War – Famous Aces

Wings of War Famous Aces I recently borrowed a copy of Wings of War: Famous Aces from my mate Griff because I was curious to see if my four year old son CJ would be interested in playing it. As CJ will happily play a number of the Cranium range of board games (Zooreka being a favourite) that involve standard card and dice mechanics, I suspected he could handle Wings of War which is entirely card based.

In Wings of War you dogfight various WWI single and double seater aircraft. The game supports any number of players (although 5-6 players is a practical limit) who all act simultaneously. Each aircraft is represented by a card which you move around the playing surface – which can be any flat, clear tabletop. Each aircraft only has three basic statistics: the amount of damage they can receive before being shot down, the deck of cards they use for movement, and the deck of cards they use when firing their machine guns.

The real beauty of the system is the way the decks of cards work. The various planes use different movement decks which reflect the historical flight abilities of that plane. So for example tri-planes like the Fokker DR-1 which were very maneuverable have a set of cards that give you quick side slips and sharp turns, while planes like the Albatross D-III tend to have a smaller set of more graceful movement cards. The various movement decks work well to give each plane a distinctive feel while gaming. Famous Aces comes with four distinct movement decks which enough to give you a fair range of planes to fly.

Continue reading Review: Wings of War – Famous Aces

Review: Hasslefree Sci-Fi Weapons

Hasslefree Sci Fi Weapons I recently ordered some 28mm sci fi weapons from Hasslefree Miniatures on a whim. The vague plan is to use them to try scratch building a Necromunda Scavvie warband, and maybe just random sci-fi figures in general, which was the same reason I lalso picked up some sci-fi heads from Pig Iron Productions..

I ordered two baggies of Squad Support Weapons and two baggies of Sci fi Human and Halfling guns from Hasslefree. They arrived promptly and well packed in a bubble wrap envelope. Nothing was damaged or required straightening which is good considering the distance they had traveled to reach me in New Zealand.

In the photo above you see a couple of the white metal sprues as I took them out of their baggies. There was a moderate amount of venting spikes on both of them, but they were all easily flicked off with an Xacto blade. There were no prominent mold lines, but I did spend around five minutes per spure taking the weapons off and tiding them up with a needle file.

Continue reading Review: Hasslefree Sci-Fi Weapons

Review: Pig Iron Kolony Rebel Heads

Pig Iron Kolony Rebel Heads Sprue Following on from an earlier post I couldn’t resist picking up some Pig Iron Kolony Rebel 28mm heads from Scrap Dragon in Australia. They arrived late last week, so here’s a quick review of them.

I ordered two packs, and each came in a small baggie containing two copies of the white metal sprue you see in the above photo. In each pack you get twelve of the basic gas mask wearing heads, plus two each of the four ‘command’ style heads for a total of 20 heads per pack. Possibly ordering two packs was a bit of overkill, but they’re so cheap – working out at less than $1NZ per head it seemed a shame not to!

Pig Iron Kolony Rebel Heads Comparison The heads are well cast with a reasonable amount of detail on them and I expect them to paint up well. There’s some fine mold lines to clean up, but sensibly no mold line crosses any face. Scale wise the heads are a touch smaller than related plastic 40k heads from Games Workshop. This second photo shows two Pig Iron heads compared to plastic GW Cadian and Catachan heads.

Personally I find the Pig Iron heads to be an acceptable match to the GW plastics. In fact I intend to use these metal heads to convert up a Necromunda Scavvie warband from various GW WHFB and 40k plastics. I think it’s a nice touch that the heads are fairly bare around the back (most of them simply have a strap) as it gives you options for converting on helmets or hoods. For my Necro scavvies I do intend to add tattered green stuff hoods, which I should be able to do without having to cut anything down.

Pig Iron Kolony Rebel Heads Sprue Here’s another shot just to show you the head scale on a GW Cadian and Catachan bodies. I’ve left the arms off so the head/torso ratio is obvious and, given that we’re dealing with slightly oddly scaled 28mm sculptures, the heads looks fine. If anything the slightly smaller heads actually make the over-sized GW figures look more realistically proportioned in my opinion.

So in summary I’d happily recommend Pig Irons sci-fi head ranges to any 28mm converter or sculptor out there. They’re excellent quality and the price is perfectly acceptable given the quantity of heads in each pack. On a related note I’d also happily order from Scrap Dragon again too, in fact my receipt came with a 5% discount coupon code of my next order, which is a excellent way to guarantee return custom!