September 2, 2002
(Regular readers should read the associated article, "Confusion in the Ranks", to put the following review's comments into context. - Mike)
I've recently purchased some Front Rank figures despite prior reservations about the gnome-like appearance. The brand simply offers the most comprehensive range of 18th Century figures, has an ardent following, and it's time to build something large! While I haven't settled 100% on a period, the inclination is to create the Continental Army during The American Revolution. I'm relatively ignorant of the conflict's military history and that's one of the goals of the hobby... filling in the knowledge gaps.
I ordered FR's selection of choices for American Militia and Minutemen, from Miniature Service Center (Front's Rank's US. distributor). They were shipped in a timely fashion and carefully packed, as is the custom with MSC. (The number of sub-par service incidents is on the rise of late, and that may send me into a rant shortly!)
The order included a couple of American regulars in the regulation 1779 uniform. The infantryman with the bandaged head (photo above) is an example. I was struck by the fact the "regulars" are better sculpted than the militia, and assume they could have been designed more recently. In comparing the militia figures to Front Rank SYW figures I already have, there are definite pluses and minuses for this group.
Compared to My Other Front Rank Figures
On the plus side: The minutemen/militia options (of which there are 10), are better balanced anatomically (if chunky), when compared to the brand's SYW Austrian grenadiers. Measuring 28 mm from foot to eye-level, they don't have the huge shoulders and bulk found on some of the Kaiserlichs. On the minus side, all Front Rank figures have large heads. The militia have particularly prominent craniums and round faces. That said, Alec Brown (FR's designer) produces some wonderful expressions.
While a key mark of Front Rank figures is undulating folds of material (reminds me of the pleats in my kilt!), it's often a case of too much of a good thing... particularly on the linen shirts. There was indeed a popular a style that had numerous sleeve pleats, but they weren't deep. Most of the figs also wear buckled shoes, where a sprinkling of half gaiters or barefooted options, would have been more realistic.
These are quibbles. What has been rendered is accurate, if light on detail.
The figures are fun to paint. Anatomical issues aside, moving from 18 mm to 28 mm allows for more relaxed painting sessions. For you creative types, the number of "uniform" options during The American Revolution is also a plus. I'm placing certain constraints on myself, in this regard. If there was a common Continental uniform color, it was brown rather than blue. This, in part, was due both to the inexpensive and common dyes used to produce a red-brown, burnt sienna, or what was called fawn brown on the European continent. Fashion varied based on colony. For example, in the Puritan or Congregationalist states of Mass., Conn. and Rhode Island, brown predominated. In adding figures from New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and the Carolinas, etc., things will be a bit more colorful.
(One note on painting Front Ranks: The edges are sharp, and paint will lift quickly. Be sure to put down a thicker-than-usual coat of primer before painting.)
Correcting Anatomical Anomalies
Probably the most noticeable gnome-ish features are thick calves, thick arms wide shoulders, and oval faces. You can address these concerns by (1) using a black primer or wash to mask some of the heft; (2) add plenty of shadow areas; (3) or get out the Dremel! I wish to paint a bit, before modifying or converting future figures. The fact that they do offer large surface plains on the face, etc., allows for an alteration of features.
Score and Summation
My comments have been consistent with earlier reviews of Front Rank and many will find it ironic I am now collecting them. Several considerations came into play: (1) What is the depth of a range?; (2) Will the manufacturer be in business three years out; (3) Do they manufacture quality product?; (4) Do they manufacture periods I'm interested in?; (5) Are the figures fun to paint?; (6) Are they easy to order?; and lastly (7) Are they consistent in style and size? Front Rank is the only 18th Century figure manufacturer meeting the criteria.
Our rating system is becoming harder to maintain as we move farther and farther away from the site's launch date. Something's in the works to make it more manageable. In the interim, I plan to score figures within the brand itself. These figures are 7.5-8.0 when compared to other Front Rank figures I've seen.
The American Revolution is an interesting period and ideally suited for wargaming. The size of the armies involved allow for manageable games. You would do well to check it out and what Front Rank has to offer.