(Note: I review only figures believed to have merit. As you read reviews, please keep this in mind.
Those that are considered sub-standard, simply aren’t reviewed. - Mike)
September 6, 2001
Over the past few months, I’ve done quite a bit of painting and between the brush and computer monitor, my baby-boomer eyes are ready to mutiny. Needing a respite from the 10 mm’s and 15 mm’s, I ordered some SYW French and Austrian samples from Front Rank Figurines to see how their 28’s stack up against Foundry. 25 mm Foundry Napoleonics (purchased several years ago) were used for comparison.
I ordered the figures over the phone and the turnaround from the UK was twelve days. They arrived well-packaged. A 10.00 BPD charge seemed a bit hefty for samples; and the initial reaction was that the figures were Foundry ‘clones’. Measuring an exact 28 mm from eye level-to-sole, I assume the miniatures were intentionally designed to integrate well with their larger competitor.
The casting quality is very clean. There were a few rough spots noticed only when painting commenced. It was necessary to take a file to the musket straps and other areas. Foundry would get the nod on overall casting. (However, I can’t comment on their present quality control.)
In looking at the figures under a magnifier, the features lack the overly exaggerated and cartoonish facial grimaces often found on Foundry figs, and the bearing is more martial.
The faces are generally (though not always) superior to the Foundry French/Austrian Napoleonics A-B’d. The torsos, however, have the same squat, overweight look, though less pronounced. The limbs appear to be a tad longer. The hands of the Front Rank figures are their weakest feature… something shared with Foundry.
Several of the faces – notably the Austrian grenadier, marching – are excellent. You can see the inspiration of David Morier’s paintings. Others have an odd quality also noted in Foundry figs… faces that appear to represent men in their mid-forties to fifties. While not historically incorrect, most infantrymen were in their early twenties. It’s hoped future offerings will be less jowlish and angular. (AB’s Tony Barton nicely captured youthful faces in many of his figures. A minor quibble, but that’s what we’re here for!)
The uniform detail is not as good (by a hair) as Foundry’s. It’s not so much omission of uniform elements (both are guilty); rather the renditions are rougher. It’s as if the sculptor was not quite as interested in the uniform as in the face and compensates with an over-abundance of cloth folds. The metal plate on the grenadier’s cartridge box, for example, is little more than a smallish blank circle.
Some details, while not inaccurate, do not represent common practice during the period. Take for example, the Austrian grenadier officers: They wore their cartridge pouch in front, beneath the feldbinde. And the latter would not have been as voluminous. That said, this same officer quite correctly sports a musket.
A particular peeve is that the Austrian grenadier standard-bearer was sent with a snippet of wire for a stave that was not of the proper gauge, nor did it have a piece for the finial. I noted in the catalogue that you can purchase separate ones for Napoleonic figs, but saw no such option for the SYW line. Are you expected to create finials out of milliput?
In addition to producing figures for the SYW, Front Rank covers The Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, offers a range specific to The French & Indian Wars, The American Revolution, and Napoleonics -- primarily for the period, 1812-1815. At a time when few manufacturers focus on the 18th Century, their figures are most welcome for those of us who enjoy the period. (Foundry apparently has a SYW line in production, but their US. distributor could not provide any information.)
The big advantage in purchasing Front Rank over Foundry is the figures can be purchased individually. You are not obliged to buy a "bag" in order to obtain one figure!
And Your Total Comes To….
The price of both lines will make them too expensive for many. The samples cost $1.80 per figure, the manufacturer charges 75p for foot figures and £1.05UK for mounted. The overseas minimum postal charge is £4.00UK. Postage on orders to the U.S./Canada is 25% of order; those to Australia, 30%. A US. distributor charges $1.70. However, the catalogue quotes a variety of ready-made army sets which lowers the individual figure price.
My guess is that we have Foundry’s Bryan Ansell to thank for initiating the questionable pricing escalation in the hobby. Rather than focusing on increasing the the number of enthusiasts, it appears manufacturers are riding on the backs of those presently collecting. (I believe the US. market remains by-and-large untapped.)
It’s a risky approach. Foundry's price increase from $1.10 to $1.60 (how many months ago?), coupled with the bag scheme, cannot be justified unless they’ve determined that further growth of the hobby is unlikely. Do the math and you’ll quickly realize that building several regiments puts the hobby (in this "mm" scale) out of the reach of most young collectors… and some old ones.
It’s possible to compare the sculpting quality of 10’s, 15’s, 18’s, 25’s and 30’s. Beyond that, different sizes are so distinct that using the same 1-10 scale we’ve used for 15-18 mm’s doesn’t make sense. What I’ve established a benchmark by placing Foundry in the 6.5 - 8.0 range for figure design. on a 1-10 scale. In terms of casting quality, they’d be 9-10’s.
I haven’t particularly enjoyed painting either Foundry or Front Rank figures, but I may not have a choice. It’s a bitch struggling to make the unnatural look natural and the cute look realistic. Front Rank’s faces can be (not in all cases) the lone exception to the rule.
Foundry and Front Rank are pretty much on equal footing, but the latter would get the nod for the slight thinning down of the figures, some very good faces, and less ‘hyper’ poses. They score in a 7.0 - 8.5 range. If the body matched the face of the painted grenadier above, they’d be 10’s. The bottom-line in this scale is a face doth maketh the figure… so doth the diet.
I received a terse e-mail from a gentleman who pretty much told me I didn’t know squat about the evolution of gaming figures (he’s right… not a gaming historian). Paraphrasing the comments, he offered the ‘beefiness’ of 25-28 mm’s was intentionally done to give them a more "realistic" and solid look when viewed, as they should be… on a gaming table.
Unfortunately, as no one seems to be making anatomically proportioned figures in 25-30 mm, it's hard to gauge the merits of the argument, though I get the drift. Front Rank moves closer to a natural look.
Wrapping up, let me offer that while we’ve been waging the battle for more accurate figure anatomy, there’s little indication we’ve persuaded anyone in a decision-making position to rally to the cause. (I’d like to think we nudged a few manufacturers to post pictures on their websites!) Seeing this is the case, one can either wait, or collect what’s available.
I’m delighted Front Rank has an SYW option. Watch for a follow-up on their service and possibly reviews of Mirliton’s 25 mm’s and Elite’s 30 mm’s.
You can contact Front Rank at:
Front Rank Figurines
Daventry, Northants (there’s more)
Phone: 44+ (0)1327 262720 (delete the 0 in parentheses and add the 44 if calling from outside the UK).
Fax: 44+ (0)1327 260569
Alec Brown is helpful, so it’s worth the call.