Sunday, February 5, 2012

Review of the Sarrissa Precision Explorer Habitation Pod

Today it’s a twofer!

Yes, like many others in this hobby, here I am plowing through a project and making progress when something shiny and new comes along to steal my focus.  This time it’s laser-cut terrain from Sarissa Precision.

I love good looking terrain almost as much as I like good quality miniatures.  Gaming with half-assed terrain just isn’t my style, so I’m always on the lookout for good looking, quality, reasonably priced terrain.  For fantasy and modern day there’s plenty of 28mm/30mm terrain out there, but when you get to sci-fi, things have always been more sparse.  GW did great things with their city fight plastic kits a few years ago, but if you don’t like your buildings with gothic arches and a more skulls per inch than a graveyard, they’re of limited appeal.  I’ve built CNC cut terrain from CNC Workshop out of Australia, but this is my first toe into the water with laser-cut terrain.
I can’t say that I’d heard of Sarissa before they announced they’re new “Infinity” system (they use the mathematical infinity symbol, but no I’m not going to spend the next five minutes to figure out how to type it) on Tabletop gaming news.  I had been checking out at least four different companies taking the plunge into laser- cut designs but the only one that had stuck out to me was Micro-Art Studios with they’re gantry system and building.  I was tempted, but the design scheme seemed overly busy with lots of shapes and layers.  Following the news announcement for Sarissa I almost passed as the Sarissa website only had up 3D render drawings of their new line instead of actual product shots.  This is always a turn off to me, but I gave them another chance and followed  a link to the Frontline Gamer Blog who has reviewed free samples of all of their stuff:

The Frontline blog posts had a satisfying quantity of pictures and I ordered three pods (Explorer, Settler and Wearhouse).  The order came to $80.50 (with free shipping and a free set of interior walls).  The order came all the way across the pond in about 11 days well packed in a nice flat box.  So far I’ve only looked at the small explorer pod and here is my take on it:

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS - The kit comes packed in a small bag with a one page set of instructions.  One thing I’d read from a couple of other reviews is the strong smell of burnt wood when you open the bag and it is actually pretty strong.  It definitely took me back a few decades to those boy scout wood burning projects of my youth.  I was a little surprised that the kit comes as just parts without any sprues or carriers.  As they offer free shipping this is probably to save on weight and space and it doesn’t take anything away from the kit.  Mine was packed tightly enough that nothing could rattle around and break.  You get 20 parts in the kit.  Be carefull taking them out of the bag as there is one small part for the hatch that can get lost easily.  The instructions are one letter sized sheet front and back using an exploded 3D render of the kit noting what goes where.

CONSTRUCTION (DRY FIT ONLY) – I first punched out all of the little bits that are left in some of the holes for the mounting tabs.  At first I used a hobby knife to cut around the plugs to make sure there wasn’t any tear out, but soon found it wasn’t necessary.  The best method I found was to use a blunt tool (I used the end of a scuplpting tool), hold your finger over the back side, and punch the plug partway out.  Then turn the piece over and punch it out the front.  I got through all of the plugs in a few minutes and only had one spot with any tear out, which is more due to my carelessness.  The next step was to remove a little fuzz here and there from  laser cuts that hadn’t gone all the way through.  This was most apparent on the struts.  A little 150 grit sandpaper cleared up these areas in just a few strokes.  After that it I did a dry fit of all of the parts.  It went very quickly.  From the point of laying out the parts to the point in the pics below it only took 15 minutes.  If I was planning to use these out of the box, I would have glued them at this point, but I’m going to be adding some interior details.  The assembly process was pretty self explanatory and about the only thing you might need the instructions for would be the hatch.  Two of the reviews flirt with the idea of leaving the parts unglued and relying on the dry fit.  While I find the dry fit is nice and tight, I wouldn’t rely on it myself.  The doors are almost fully cut, with just tiny tabs left over so that you can either leave them in or punch them out as you like.  This is one area that I would recommend going over with the hobby knife before punching the doors out as the corners seem to give a greater chance for tear out. The windows on the sides can also be left in or punched out as you see fit.  Unfortunately, the hole in the roof is pre-punched, not leaving you the option of not using the hatch.

1.        It’s reasonably priced at $18 U.S. (depending on the exchange rate on any given day)
2.       It goes together very easily with almost no tools or special skills needed.  
3.       The fit and design of the kit are top notch with no obvious gaps or problems.
4.       Great generic science fiction aesthetics.  This basic shape could work for anything from a backwater off planet colony to a refugee slum or an Antarctic base on earth.
5.       Modular compatibility.  This isn’t apparent from my work, but if you look through the Frontline pictures, you can see how you can mix and stack the various kits to make great themed tables.
1.        No Backside Detail - The laser cutting process is limited to cutting only one side of the sheet, so you don’t get any detail on the backside.  This isn’t a problem if you’re going to keep the pod sealed up, but if you want to use the interior, you’ll have to add your own details.
2.       Sarissa did not etch the floor piece, similar but different to the point above.  They cut the holes for attaching the walls and struts, but not any floor details.  Laser time costs money and I imagine the time saved not etching the floor is worked into the low price of the kit, but I would have preferred to see the etching on the roof mirrored on the floor.
3.       Separate roof hatch – The circular hole in the roof is fully cut out, unlike the doors and the windows.  I would have liked to see this left with tabs so you could have the option of not using the roof hatch.    
4.       Gaps at the side corners – To clarify, I don’t mean gaps in between the parts as the fit is excellent, but the fact that all the laser cuts are at 90 degrees, the angled corners on the side leave a 45 degree gap on the outside that I don’t really like and isn’t easily covered up.  Again it’s a limit of the nature of the process not design, but I think I’ll have a go at filling in the gap with putty.
5.       I think the struts between the floor and the base need horizontal cross braces.  They are designed so that you can take the pod off of the base and stack it on top of another pod.  That’s great in concept, but without some bracing between the struts, it will be a pain to transfer them between the base and other locations.
BOTTOM LINE – This is just my initial impressions, so I’ll need to play around with these kits much more, but at this stage I’m in love with this system.   I think I can knock together some interior details without a problem, which is my biggest issue, so I should be able to get some great results with out much additional effort.  These have my ideas flowing as the utilitarian design of the pods lends them to work for just about any human sci-fi setting I have contemplated over the last few years.  They work for AT-43, Dust, Gears of War, Star Wars CMG, 5150, Halo, AVP, 40K (although I’ll need to add a bunch of skulls J).  They could even be linked together and made into a spaceship (think the space ship levels from Mass Effect).  These kits really have my imagination working overtime.  Now it's off to work on some interior details.

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