The Good Old Days: Heavy Metal Rules

Images like this really takes me back - the 1970s box art.

I've spent the better part of this long weekend painting British Napoleonic Infantry and what an old familiar joy it's been. When I reflect, I've been painting British Infantry on and off since I was about 13 years old - so over 40 years egad! The old 1/72 scale or HO Airfix plastic Waterloo British Infantry set were my first, like so many in my generation but I've largely turned my back on plastic a long time ago.

Today I'm painting 28mm Elite Miniatures British Infantry with a scattering of Perry Miniatures for my expanding early Spanish Peninsular army - up to 1812. It's been quite a while since I painted the Elite British figures and I have to say I had forgotten how much I enjoy painting them in particular. They are not as super-detailed as some others like Front Rank or the Perry Miniatures ranges but they are nicely animated and have a lean, almost spare look to them with just enough detail for the massed battalion games I build toward.

I also just realised they make the best looking British stovepipe shakos on the market - tall and slightly battered. I've also always preferred their muskets and they have the best bayonets going - solid without being too thick and crisply angular. I often file other manufacturer's bayonets down a bit (such as Front Rank) but the Elite ones are just superb and they last forever.

I believe so far my Peninsular army numbers 475 figures, six guns and four rockets and nearly 400 of which are Elite Miniatures. I have no plastic figures in my Peninsular army and I've been building it since the 1990s.

Heavy Metal

Whilst I am a fan of hard rock and heavy metal origin groups as it happens; I'm talking about the chat underway in our hobby media about the industry shift from metals to plastic figures. Like much of my vast music collection, I'm a die hard fan of metal in figures also.

I wargame in 1:20 representative troop scale in all of my 28mm periods and armies. Some call this 'big battalion' wargaming or even wargaming in the 'grand manner'. The smallest battalion I have in Napoleonics is 18 figures (the only one) and I have more than two which number 48 figures. I will continue to build them predominately in metal figures.

One of the reasons people express a preference for 28mm plastic figures is their ability to construct multiple poses and get a wider degree of variation within the look of a single unit. Whilst I take their point and a realistic human representation is important to me also, a more limited range of poses (but a range nevertheless) seems adequate in units of the larger sizes.

Also, I have no desire to construct 48 figure battalions with multi-part plastic figures - it takes me long enough to prep my units as it is. My British Peninsular army is also conspicuously infantry dominant and I am far from convinced on the structural integrity of plastic bayonets.

The plastic figures have truly come a long way and I'm far from prejudiced. My Caesarean Roman civil wars army is almost entirely made up of Warlord Games 28mm plastic Romans - and a fine range it is too. I don't much like the look of almost every other Ancients plastic range except the Imperial Romans as I think the anatomy all too often looks off to me - especially the exposed musculature.

I have invested in plastic Napoleonic cavalry for my 100 Days armies and really like them. The plastic swords of the Perry Miniatures ranges of French Hussars and British Hussars are just dandy and better than a lot of clubs you see being swung about the place with other manufacturer's ranges. Again, Front Rank swords always get a good thinning with the files.

Of course, in 20mm WW2 wargaming plastic vehicle kits still rule so there has always been a niche there in my collection. The vehicle ranges in plastic kits are limited of course and I have many resin, resin-and-metal and some completely white metal models which make up the ranks. When it comes to 20mm infantry; however, I've gone the opposite direction to the community trend and abandoned plastic figures for metal ranges. When it comes to 1/72 scale figures, the plastic ranges have always been sub-par compared to the metal ranges of SHQ, AB Figures, Mirliton and even the slightly cartoonish but irresistible Britannia figures. The metal minis are better posed, better animated, better detailed and just paint up better.

Of course, I'm so far an exclusively historical wargamer. I'm not advocating metal figures over plastics ... just sharing why I prefer one over the other in most instances. I also paint relatively slowly (I think) and don't need to worry about amazing huge armies in quick time to follow some trend at my club - I couldn't if I tried. Not that I don't have several boxes of unpainted white metal in my shed - let's not talk about that. I mainly just keep adding to long established armies - okay, not exclusively but a new unit here and there can definitely afford to be in metals.

Yet if I was starting new I'd still be buying metals over plastic minis. When it comes to 28mm millimeter historical figures, plastic releases are still creating a polymer market in a metal world. They are aiming to release the most generically popular sets into the most gamed periods and that's often not where my interests are heading these days.


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