Sunday, 10 April 2011

Smurf Like Musings: Are Games Workshops Plastic Kits Really That Useful?

It has been quite some time since I last wrote a proper article under the 'Smurf like Musings' banner so I thought I would dust off the old thinking cap and have another stab.

So are GW's plastic kits really that useful?

As usual, this article starts with a question and a hypothesis. I propose that the GW plastic kits are not as useful as they first appear to be and in support of that I present to you the following arguments.

1) The Plastic Kits are Expensive

Ahh yes, as usual, a key point focuses on the monetary value of the models. Plastic kits have become seriously expensive recently, starting with the Empire Greatswords setting a worrying trend. However, this has not always been the case. Originally the plastic kits were a beacon of hope for the longevity of the wallet and represented serious value for money! With limitless construction possibilities and many including heavy and support weapons, the plastic kit finally made it possible to field a full unit without buying expensive blisters. But sure enough, over the years, the price of the plastic kit has increased to the point where they are just as expensive as their previous metal equivalents.

I return to my original example, the Greatswords. This 'landmark' plastic kit set the benchmark for warhammer elite unit pricing and finally laid rest to any doubt that GW was basing their prices on some sort of 'unit power level.' They even felt they needed to justify the £25 (for 10 models) price tag in white dwarf by saying something along the lines of 'this kit is slightly cheaper than the metal models and comes with 12 heads!' I mean wow, the ability to field 12 guys before head duplication occurs is definitely worth the extra £'s!

Seriously, the policy of pricing up units based on their impact in the game is completely unfair. They know that you are going to want to take at least a core unit of 20 Greatswords just to make it a viable option in the game! Therefore they know that they will get at least £50 out of you. Is that really value for money? It isn't just elite infantry either. It is now £18 for 10 Orc Boys! £18 for 10! Need I say more?

2) Character

This is a point I covered in a previous article where I discussed the advantages and disadvantages of metal over plastic so I don't want to discuss it at length again. However, I feel that it is important to state that metal models are just better quality in most cases. Not only do they 'feel' like better value because of their weight (and other conceptual and often insignificant nuances), but they are often more thoughtfully posed and ooze character.

With plastic kits we have to make them. That sounds good doesn't it because every guy can be different? Well I don't always think so. First of all building them takes time. Second of all, the majority of us arn't artists and therefore end up posing our guys in rather dubious poses?! You know you have seen it and I know I have done it!

Finally, plastic guys just don't click like metal ones do. There is always a cape not flowing properly, or every guy actually does end up looking the same (a particular problem in warhammer) because you need to rank them up. Metal models have been designed in detail from the start to look and feel a certain way. Thats why plastic characters always look worse than metal ones.

3) Details, Details, Details!

It is my opinion that the GW plastic kits are going way over the top in terms of details. The quality of the kits and the casting process is now so advanced that the plastic models you receive are festooned with extra nonsense. GW are happy to market this as a good thing. After all, an abundance of heads does justify the price tag now doesn't it?!

Well I argue that the extra details are both unnecessary and off putting. The example I will use is the ork storm boyz box. In my previous post, I showed you a few pictures of my work in progress ork stormboyz. Now that plastic kit is wonderful! Loads of character, plenty of extras, not that expensive. Did I just deface all my previous arguments?

Well no. They are so characterful and so packed with details that I have now spent 3 afternoons painting the bloody things and they still aren't finished! Now I'm no expert painter, but I am fussy about the details. And oh how there are details! They have bullets and teeth hanging everywhere. Glyphs, rockets and wires litter up the flat surfaces and make the whole package just look too busy! Imagine that level of detail on warhammer regiments. I would never complete an army.

And that is exactly my point. I love painting, but I am sick to the back teeth with these models. It just keeps going on and on and on. I don't think I am the only one feeling this way either. I have even heard people decline buying models because they are intimidated by the prospect of either 'never finishing the army' or 'not doing the models justice.' I think Ron made this very point at From the Warp (yay your back!) when the dark eldar where released. Those models are so nice and so detailed that they become almost impossible to paint well and quickly!


Now lets get real here. The advantages of plastic kits are massive and my arguments are actually fairly minor in comparison. But I am beginning to feel that the plastic direction is going too far. The detail and choice appears to be masking the fact that they are pricing their models based on some sort of fuzzy 'unit power' criteria. 'Don't worry about the price, you get more heads!' On top of the deception, the extra details are complicating the joy of painting and making it an almost impossibly long process to complete a unit.

I truly feel that the equilibrium between model quality and practicality has tipped too far to the former and it leaves me wondering if this is what we will have to endure from now on? I mean, they would never lower both the prices and the level of detail would they?



  1. Hmm a couple of valid points there and I have always thought GW's models were priced based on their points values (hey most things prices are based on what they are worth to the consumer and GW would be stupid not to take into account the points values of a unit when pricing it). One advantage I feel that plastic has over metal models though is they are much less likely to break. If they do it is much easier to fix them, once a a heavy metal model is dropped not only does it run the risk of breaking at the glued joints but also of being chipped which can be very frustrating to repair.

  2. I can understand your frustration (been there many times) but after all is said and done, GW is a business company that wants to make money.
    From what little I understand of the plastic kits' production, it's much more complicated and costly than metals. For the latter you just need a dude that can do a nice sculpt with green stuff and someone to make a mould after it.
    Plastics need CAD designers, 3-up models, sofisticated software and an investment to new technologies. So if GW's going to commit making a new plastic kit they must be absolutely sure they are going to make their money back AND also make some profit.
    I supposed that when they produce a plastic kit for a special or rare choice (i.e. someone would only need one or two boxes of it) they have to cost it a bit more since it's not going to sell many units. Fortunately I don't play Empire so I never had to buy Greatswords. I however need 30 of the new savage orcs now. Time to start saving up some money :)

  3. One solution is to refuse the squeeze, move away from the larger games and into 40K variants like Killzone and Necromunda. The same models can still be used and the detail get more fully appreciated, because it's more easily seen and the lower number of models makes preparing them more of a pleasure and less of a chore.

  4. Never thought about the 'Pricing based on points' theory. It does fit rather well though!

    As for the level of detail - i think that it is a good thing that they're putting more effort into their kits. If your gonna spend the money on the models, you might as well get more bang for your buck!

    Like Porky said, a move away from GW would put the squeeze on them. However, i think that this is a nice idea, but will never work. I think that they're are simply to many people out there who'll keep buying the models. There are some great companies out there that are producing some great alternatives, but not on a level that can macth the juggernaut that is GW.

  5. @ The GunGrave - There's a gauntlet thrown down! There's no need to match a juggernaut. It tires, and successors are always ready. Maybe you have an idea in mind? I'm serious. Your games and miniatures could be the next big thing.

  6. Im all for it myself, but its a big ask. I (like many others i suspect) already source material from different miniature compaines, and im slowly making my way through the Killzone rules. Is my out-sourcing going to make GW lower their prices? Im not so sure.

    As for making minis - PAH! I can barely fill a gap with green stuff neatly, let alone sculpt a mini! I'll leave that to those who are more able, whoever they may be!

  7. @TheGunGrave - consider, perhaps, that Necromunda is a GW product, and one which has done quite well for itself whenever it's received a commercial release. The issue with 'Specialist Games' is that they don't sport a continious release schedule - there's a finite amount of stuff that can be fitted in to small worlds, and a finite amount of miniatures sold for small forces.

  8. Don't get me wrong. Plastic models are great. But they are getting to fiddly to paint now in my opinion. Look at the warmachine miniatures, they are a great example of how less is more.

    Expert painters really have room to go to town on them because there is space for them to paint in. There isn't the clutter of skulls, bullets, rags, horns and teeth and so there is room to throw in light effects, nmm and freehand.

  9. 0_0 someone whom agrees with me!!!

    i wish the plastics now came with bare banners so you can paint your own freehand- !

    another problem is casting flaws! whilst some stuff *glares at tomb spyder* is impossible to put together MOST metals have the details properly.. with space hulk and the new DH kits there is a LOT of flaws with the casting such as:
    legs flowing into eachother/base (look at the SH marine who is ripping the floor- there is no dicression between foot,floor and leg)
    or the horrible terminator trim: plastic molds are molded in 2 parts- some parts (terminator legs/I shape part) and details are at the wrong angle and flow into the model without a seperation!

    //rant over


  10. i certainly understand your frustrations. i tend to be constantly irritated by GW for one thing or another however, here are some points to consider (as a chaos devotee i must play the devil's advocate);

    -as far as pricing goes, the elite/special/rare models cost more because you are (supposedly) going to buy less of them than core troops and the molds cost the same. plastic molds are really expensive. GW needs to get a decent return on investment. that being said, the plastic kits are still generally cheaper than their metal equivalents.

    -as far as detail goes, i like the extra details. if there is one i do not like, i cut it off, which is sooooo much easier than with metals. also, the new washes are a fabulous way to increase painting speed and pick out little details.

    -being a conversion guy, i LOVE all the extra bits that we get on our sprues. i use just about every piece i can from a sprue.

  11. those are certainly some valid points. Especially the last one, I am certainly an admirer of the guys you build over on your blog!

    In hindsight, I think I was just frustrated a little with my lack of progress. Having said that, I will try to balance the level of detail I include on my model. I tend to have quite a few bits left over from a kit when I've finished building it.

  12. I must admit, having seen what the crafty Asians and enterprising men of the former USSR can make - look up companies like Dragon Models Limited, Tristar, or even Trumpeter on its good days, plus Miniart and last, but definitely not least, MasterBox - I find Games Workshop plastics woefully inadequate. And sold at inflated prices. Compare, if you will, the latest Tigers and Panthers from DML, with zimmerit molded on them, to all the Land Raiders and Rhinos, and you'll see what I mean (and I am taking the fact that the former are intended for display, and the latter are gaming pieces). GW does try to compensate by overloading miniatures with detail, but still, it is way behind the times where plastic is harder, and slide molds are king of the hill.