Sunday, 29 May 2011
Finecast! Seems to be the buzzword just at the moment. Games Workshop's replacement material for metal and it's been a source of much conjecture over the past few weeks. High expectations. Assumptions. Doomsaying. Revolutions. Information and misinformation. Well, yesterday it hit stores and finally we can take a look for ourselves and form opinions. There are reviews of the new figures popping up everywhere and I'm going to shamelessly jump on that bandwagon. I took a trip to GW Truro yesterday and grabbed a couple of figures to have a play with.
I'm imagining most of you will know what all this is about but here's a quick explanation anyway. GW have decided to stop producing their figures in metal and have switched to a new resin product. Not going to go into much about the technical changes regarding the production of this new material as I'm operating on a lack of knowledge and there'd be a lot of assuming going on. Instead I'll simply approach this as an end product as that's all that really matters.
Well, I purchased a Wood Elf Lord with Great Weapon and a Vampire Counts Varghulf.
First up, the Wood Elf. There were three on the rack and, as I always do, I inspected all of them to pick the nicest casting. All three were fine and I grabbed one. Now, here's where my review will differ from most out there. I'm seeing loads of pictures of the sprues. They can be pretty scruffy and horrible looking things it seems with sprues that seem to be messy and warped and a fair amount of flash with lots of cut in sprueing. I really don't think the sprues should be what we're looking at. It'd be nice if they looked more attractive but, in the end, I don't think it's especially relevant. Instead, I have sat with nothing more than a pair of clippers, a modelling knife and superglue and seen how they look after a cleanup and assembly. The resin flash is very different to metal flash in general. It pulls away cleanly, usually with just a finger so don't panic too much bout it. Looks much worse than it is. In the case of the Wood Elf I actually spent around twenty minutes cleaning up but that's me being obsessive. I could have had the figure in close to this shape in five minutes. So, how does it look? Well, pic time.
I'm very happy with the result. The material is quite bizarre as a resin. I've used a few over the years and nothing like this. First up it's flexible. Very handy for fine parts. Unlike most resins it isn't going to easily snap and that's important given GW figures are meant to be gamed with. It's very soft to cut and clean up and really you're best off with a sharp modelling knife rather than files. The material cuts very cleanly and doesn't tear which is very useful. All in, cleaning was a pleasant process compared to the usual swearing at metal, plus the non-reflective nature of the resin means it's easier to see mouldlines and, hopefully, you're less likely to discover ones you missed after undercoating...
As for the quality of the figure itself, I'm also very happy. I had a metal version of this figure and this new version has a slightly more dimensional quality as resin doesn't typically shrink in the same way as metal. Lines are clean and sharp. It's also very easy to glue as the resin really grabs the superglue. Not sure I could break the superglue joint where the sword is glued on if I tried...
So, that's the Wood Elf. I'd say it's pretty much a success and exactly what I hoped for. Now, onto my other purchase.
The Varghulf was something of a worry. I'd heard rumbling and seen pics of quite a number of miscasts and the Varghulf was a boxed set so I couldn't see the sprues ahead of purchase. Upon opening the box things looked okay. Possibly not quite the level of casting quality of the Wood Elf but nothing to really worry about. One of the outer sprues was massively warped but the wing component on it was perfectly okay. I spent about half an hour cleaning the figure up and gluing it together. Like the Wood Elf this was me being pretty meticulous and I think I could have got it in good shape and assembled inside ten minutes. And here are the pics...
As you can see, it's in pretty good shape. I'm certainly pleased with it. No major areas of miscast and the parts fitted well. Absolutely no need for pinning on this one. Little bit mucky around one of his back feet but nothing a few swipes of my modelling knife didn't fix. Noticed a couple of rough areas on the pics where I could clean up a little more but that's pretty much how it is with most minis. Happy with my Varghulf? Yep, very much so.
So, a good experience all in. Now, to wider thoughts. At the basic level I'm happy with these minis and I think the switch is a great plan, the material chosen is excellent and practical and I'm hoping it'll be a bright future with Finecast. Unfortunately, as yet, it's not all wine and roses (not sure why I say that. I don't drink wine and I'm not especially into flowers).
From looking around at many blisters yesterday, the quality of casting I saw varied pretty dramatically. I was lucky that the two figures I wanted were both in good shape though I saw a few that weren't. I'm quite glad I didn't want an Avatar as the one on the shelf were not looking good at all and had all the hallmarks of being cast in a mould way past it's useful service life. The resin had apparently been eating at the surface of the mould rubber (resin tends to do this) and there was rubber mould material buried in the casting. Not a good thing.
On the other hand I saw some figures looking utterly remarkable. The Commissar Yarrick's were lovely. Probably the best example was a Black Orc Warboss (the normal one, not Grimgor) who was next to absolute perfection. It's a figure that I'd never really liked at all but I was almost tempted to buy as he looked so lovely in his clamshell. Definitely a figure that made me sit upand take notice.
I saw an unboxed Azhag the Slaughterer on his Wyvern. Not so perfect as the Black Orc but I remember thinking that this was a huge and complicated model and I remarked that if I'd bought it that I'd have been very pleased with the casting quality.
All-in, the majority of the figures were 'good'. Not remarkable and utterly wonderful but of a quality that would clean up to the required level with a little time and a modelling knife. Considering the boasts of this material I'd like to see a slightly higher average quality but the best casting were certainly everything I could have wanted from the new material.
Something really needs to be done with the worse ones. It's okay to say that they will be replaced but there are blatantly a noticeable number of castings getting out there that really shouldn't have made their way into public hands. I don't know the situation but my opinion (and we all know what opinions are worth) is that the casters are working too quickly and the moulds are being run past the point where they should be replaced. This needs to be dealt with. It's good that GW are quick to replace the bad ones but it's surely a better plan to make sure that they don't need to (yes, there will always be bad casts that need replacing but this needs to be minimised). And should you get a bad casting that is beyond your ability to fix up then absolutely it should be replaced with a better one.
Looking from the outside in I generally feel that this grand plan of pulling metal from stores and releasing over a hundred new products worldwide on one day was massively over-ambitious. As far as I can see, yesterday was the largest product release by GW of all time and by quite a margin. I was doing some conservative sums on how many blisters and boxes have been cast over the past few months for this release and, no matter how you estimate, it's a staggering amount of casting. Perhaps unsurprising that there are issues with some of the product. But then my natural mindset on something like this isn't to push so much out at once but to phase things in. Perhaps pilot Finecast with new releases for a few months, coupled with a few popular kits from past armies to allow people to get the new stuff and for the company to build slowly, hopefully avoiding any major problems. I quite understand the lure of getting metal out of the stores all at once but it might not have been the practical solution. All in, I have to feel that producing less product with less miscasts is the way to go. Better to produce a thousand minis that are all good than to produce eleven hundred where a hundred of them are problems that need to be replaced. Otherwise it's more work for the same result (and yes I'm perfectly aware that's a gross oversimplification, but the point holds).
In summing up I have to ask myself the big question. Is Finecast the future and a good thing? You know what, I'm siding with a hopeful yes. In theory this new material is precisely what I'm looking for in my figures and I think is practical for the wider market (be careful of looking back at the metals with rose tinted glasses. I haven't been happy with GW's metal output in some time). So, it's over to GW. You've dropped something utterly huge into the middle of the hobby and, for better or worse, it's shockwave is being felt far and wide. What happens next is in their hands.
And, cutting through all this, back to basics... I have a lovely Wood Elf and Varghulf upstairs on my painting desk. That's a positive and I'd very much like to end this review on a positive as that's what I'm feeling. Is the future bright? I certainly hope so.