Monday, February 25, 2013

Dreamforge Eisenkern Fire Team Built and Painted

I've been working for the last week and now have my first fire team built and painted.  I've got a box of twenty stormtroopers and one accessory box.  The Iron Core rules (for which these figures are intended) are still in the early development stage, but I certainly couldn't wait to start building up some figures.  I did manage to get some information from the DreamForge forums on how they intend (at this point) to break down the Eisenkern infantry.

The basic unit will be based around a fire team of five soldiers.  Each fire team will have one team leader, one weapon specialist and three riflemen.  There will also be an alternative fire team with just a single rifleman.  A squad will be made up of two standard or three alternate fire teams.  Once you get passed the squad level, it gets more complicated with command elements and heavy weapons teams.  It's early days, so for now I'm going to keep it simple with the standard fire teams.

Fire Team Leader
First up, I built a fire team leader.  Based on the forum info, he can either have a standard rifle or an SMG (which will grant some sort of assault bonus).  I decided to go with the SMG just for variety's sake.  Most of the basic parts are from the trooper box, but I tricked him out with extras from the accessory box.  I gave him ammo pouches on the right thigh and a cargo pouch on the left thigh.  You can't see it at this angle but he's got a stick grenade and sheathed knife on his belt.  Both arms come from the accessory box as well.  He's the kind of leader that leads from the front, so he's striding forward with the left arm pointing in the "Follow me!" pose.  The accessory box also contained heads with soft caps, but I'm going to reserve those for higher ranking figures that might be farther from the front lines.

The base (and all the bases I've done so far) were flocked with a combination of sand, model rail road ballast and aquarium rocks.

Weapon Specialists
Each fire team will have one of three weapon specialists, either an SMG with underslung grenade launcher, a SAW (squad automatic weapon) or an anti-tank rocket launcher.  I figured that I'll eventually I'd want all of them so I built one of each.

All three of them have bits from the accessory set.  Knives, ammo pouches and although you can't see it, the AT gunner has an SMG with a folded stock hanging off of his back belt.  I don't know if that will fit with the eventual rules, but to me it's logical.  The grenadier has one of the helmets with the targeting scanner on the right eye.

For all of the parts that the accessory set comes with, these guys point out that there are a couple of more I would have like to have seen.  There wasn't a pouch or any spare ammo for the grenade launcher.  I'd like to see if I can find some from the third party or bits sellers if I can.  For the AT gunner, I'm assuming that the launcher works like a modern day RPG, in that the launcher is reusable and the gunner would carry spare rockets.  The accessory set didn't have any spare rockets, but there are a number of spare rockets on launchers that I can cut off.  However, the spare rockets or the rockets with launcher, I don't see that there is room for them with the big back pack.

Standard Riflemen
Next up I built three riflemen to build up a standard fire team.  One of my biggest problems with the trooper box was that the heavy machine gun and the standard rifle use the same part (a gun that looks similar to a WWII German MG-42).  The only difference is that the machine gunner would have a drum magazine on the weapon.  I thought a while about using some third party rifles, but after searching around, I didn't see any I liked that would really fit the theme with the rest of the figures.  Plus at $.075 or more a piece, it would get pricey for one of the most common weapons I need to build.

I fell back to using the kit rifles, but to get a more assault rifle look, I cut out approximately a quarter inch between the front hand grip and the muzzle, which also cut out the folded bi-pod.  It wasn't much work and I think the conversion worked, but I'm still not satisfied with the look.  The large receiver on the but end still make it looks like a machine gun.  I'll have to ponder this before building any more.  Any thoughts, comments or suggestions are welcome.

Like the others I added extras from the accessory set, with knives, grenades and pouches.  I liked giving these guys the belly cargo pouches, but I won't have enough to go around for all the riflemen though.

I painted the whole team with a quick, tabletop standard scheme.  Here's what I used:

Primer - Army Painter - Uniform Grey
Armor Base - Vallejo 830 - German Fieldgrey
Under-suit, Boots & Gloves - Vallejo 995 - German Grey
Pouches - Vallejo 823 - Luftwaffe Camo Green
Metalic Bits - GW Abaddon Black drybrushed with GW Leadbelcher
I gave the whole figure a wash of GW Nuln Oil

Thoughts So Far
After building the first fire team, I stand by my original review.  These are well designed kits with well cast, good fitting parts and tons of options.  Now that I can see the the figures together, some of the right weapons hands seem to have odd looking poses, especially the right arm on the AT gunner.  Overall, the figures look great and I can't wait to get them on the tabletop.  With the Iron Core rules a ways out, I think they might see some use with either Dust or in a Game of 5150.

Going forward, I need to find some decals.  The big, broad should pads are just calling out for some rank and squad markings.  I think I should be able to find some good stuff from Company B.

DreamForge Games Stormtrooper Accessory Set Review

This is my second article reviewing the new plastic model kits from DreamForge Games.  In my first review here I looked at the basic Eisenkern Stormtrooper kit.  This kit has all of the basic parts to build standard stormtroopers.  In this review I will review the accessory kit that is available to add detail and options to a stormtrooper squad.

Printed Components
Like the main stormtrooper kit, this kit comes in a sturdy cardboard box with color art work on all sides as well as a one page, double sided instruction sheet.  The art is of 3D renders rather than actual models.  As with the stormtrooper instructions, the sheet in the box was a first draft that has been replaced by an updated electronic instruction sheet located at the DreamForge website.

Frame Breakdown & Components
The box includes three frames.  The first two frames include a staggeringly vast array of detail parts to customize your figures.  There are:
Pouches – There are six different ammunition and utility pouches.
Extra Weapons – There are numerous machine guns, sub machine guns, panzerfaust and pistols.  There are bare pistol grips that can be put on spare weapons, pistols in holsters as well as empty holsters.  There are also combat knives in sheaths and World War II style German Model 24 Grenades (also known as potato masher or stick grenades).
Replacement heads – There are non-mask heads with both soft cap (M43 Einheitsm├╝tze) and officer’s crusher cap.  Some of the faces have goggles and some are bare.  There are a number of different expressions as well.
Replacement arms – There are replacement arms in various poses from straight to bent give your figures a range of different poses.  There is a several pairs of arms specifically to hold the binoculars.  All of the other arms have no hands, allowing for greater flexibility.
Replacement Hands – There are a host of hands, both left and right.  There are hands with pistol grips, hands holding weapons, fists, hands pointing and hands with flat palms.  There are also hands holding a grenade.
Miscellaneous Items – There are six large and three small ammunition crates, a small field computer (with a specific pair of arms) and three sets of binoculars.

The last frame has three mechanical “mules” that represent cargo haulers that can accompany the squads.

Detail Parts, Construction & Use
Just like the stormtroopers, the frames are very well laid out and cast with great quality.  There are small but manageable mold lines on most of the parts, but there are two areas that require additional time.  There is a small amount of flash on the frames around the mule engine and all six of the panzerfaust have a mold offset that can’t be removed without taking some of the detail with it.  I found no sink marks on any of the parts.
This isn’t a complaint, only fair warning that these parts are very tiny and fiddly.  I strongly suggest that you put any details you want on the belt before attaching the arms; otherwise they are a huge bitch to get in the right place unless you resort to tweezers.

One small complaint is that there is a medical pouch (looks like the World War II gas mask container) that is supposed to hang off the back of the belt.  However the back pack comes down to cover the belt, leaving the medical pouch to ride at but level.  Another concern is that the contact point for the grenades is very small, and if you handle your models roughly, or paint with a vigorous dry brush style they can pop off very easily.  It might just e worth giving the grenades a pass.

Depending on how you use the parts, there should be enough bits to detail two big boxes of stormtroopers, or forty figures.  As mentioned above, the instruction sheet in the box was an early draft that is not entirely clear.  There is a better instruction sheet available on the DreamForge Website

Mechanical Mule, Construction & Use
The mules are actually stand alone models.  The legs come in three parts and can be posed multiple ways, but I found that to get the mule standing level and stable, you really want to have all of the legs posed the same way.  The designer has some helpful advice on this on the DreamForge blog.  There are also two head styles.  There is the “Command Control” head and the optional and more anthropomorphic “Smart Mule” head although there is no explanation as to what the difference is.

After assembling two of the mules, I strongly suggest that these are fore experienced modelers only.  For beginners, the legs could be an exercise in frustration.  The watch word fort these models is certainly “patience”.  To ease painting, I left the side cages off of the main body and the platform off the top and assembled everything when complete.

Overall Thoughts & Opinions
This is another wonderful kit and I think it dovetails in very nicely with the stormtrooper box.  However this kit certainly won’t be for everyone.  If you don’t enjoy modeling or just want to get the figures done in a hurry, I’d probably pass on this kit and just build the stormtroopers straight from the main box.  On the other hand if you like to build models just for the sheer joy, or want to achieve some characterful poses this kit is almost a must in my opinion.  As I said above, there are probably enough bits that you can get at least thirty or forty depending on what kind of detail bits you want on them.

DreamForge Games 20 x Stormtrooper Box Review

With the imminent release of the new DreamForge Games Eisenkern kits to the retail market, I thought I would give my review of the figures for anyone looking to purchase them. 

DreamForge Games was started by Mark Mondragon in 2003.  To date their main property is the Iron Core science fiction universe with which it hopes to eventually launch into a full tabletop miniatures game.  You can find more information at their website.  The first physical project to reach market was a pair of large resin kits of Leviathan robots.  Later in 2001 they launched the “Are you man enough for Metal” kickstarter campaign to produce Eisenkern stormtrooper figures.  By all accounts the project was a modest success and the figures were delivered to a generally satisfied audience.  DreamForge was still dreaming of bigger and better things and last fall they teamed up with Wargames Factory to create a second kickstarter campaign, called “Something Wicked This Way Comes” this time to bring the resing and metal kits to plastic.

The centerpiece to the second kickstarter campaign was the 8.5” tall Leviathan Crusader kit.  The campaign was an even larger success and many new kits were funded through stretch goals.  Along with the Crusader kit, the first kits to be released to the kickstarter backers were the basic Eisenkern stormtroopers, the stormtrooper accessory kit and a set of stormtrooper heavy weapons. 

I was a backer of the second campaign and received my rewards in early February.  After having had some time to build and paint a squad of figures I decided to write up my thoughts.  I hope to get to the other kits in time, but this first review will focus solely on the stormtrooper box.

Printed Components
The kit comes in a sturdy cardboard box with color art work on all sides as well as a one page, double sided instruction sheet.  The art work on the box is of 3D renders rather than actual models, which is disappointing.  However, due to the compressed schedule of the kickstarter, the boxes were produced before DreamForge could get studio quality photos of the actual models.  Hopefully this will be rectified in future print runs.  The instructions are apparently only the first draft and a better revision was not printed before the boxes were shipped from the factory.  DreamForge has provided an electronic version of the updated (and clearer) instructions on their blog.

Frame Breakdown & Components
The basic stormtroopers come as either a box of ten or twenty figures.  The breakdown for the twenty man box has three frames.  The first frame contains bases, heads, weapons and shoulder pads.  The second frame has the bodies, arms and back packs.  There is a third frame with additional weapons and pairs of arms.

Starting with the body frame, there are ten torso front and backs, ten back packs and twelve sets of legs.  The torsos and backpacks are all identical and the legs have six unique poses from standing to crouching and running (although the other six are a mirror image of the first).  The frame has 10 pairs of left and right arms, all with a pistol grip in the right hand and an open palm on the left.

Moving on to the base frame, you will find ten 30mm bases cast on the frame.  The bases have the DreamForge logo cast in the bottom and a location hole that lines up with pegs on the feet of the figures.  While the bases have the same round lip shape as many other manufacturers, at 2.45mm tall they are noticeably shorter than what I’d consider the standard for this style (3.8mm tall).  There are ten heads with German World War II style helmets and full face masks.  Eight of the heads are identical while two have targeting recitals over the right eye.  The frame contains ten machine guns that look like a beefed up German MG-42.  The machine guns are missing the pistol grip (in order to mate with the hands) and some are missing parts of the stock where they will mate with the arms.  Lastly the frame contains ten pairs of left and right shoulder pads and ten drum magazines for the machine guns.

The third frame contains additional weapons and arm pairs.  There are eight submachine guns, some with folded stocks and some with under-slung grenade launchers.   There are four rocket propelled grenades that resemble a larger version of the German panzerfaust.  Last the frame contains another nine pairs of arms, again all with the pistol grip in the right and the open palm left.  The submachine guns are the first real departure from the German World War II theme.  They resemble more modern weapons like the fictional StA-11 or the real world PP-19 Bison rather than the iconic German MP 40.

One nice feature pioneered by Wargames Factory and carried over onto the DreamForge kits is to use tabs in the bottom of the frame that fit into slots on the top.  This makes it very convenient to stack frames one on top of another without worrying about damaging the parts.

Assembly & Construction
The plastic feels and works like standard model styrene.  It feels very similar to other Wargames Factory kits and in comparison feels slightly harder than Games Workshop plastic.  The parts bond well with standard solvent style glues such as Tenax and Testors.  For the best results you will want to remove the parts from the frame with sprue clippers and clean them up with a sharp bobby knife.

There are some mold lines but they are generally minor and easily removed with careful cutting and back scraping.  For the most part I would not advise sanding or filing as that would remove too much detail.  The one exception is the helmets.  There is a small but noticeable mold offset along the top and back all of the helmets that will take some work to remove.  Scraping works, but sanding might be faster.  Just be careful to rock your tool back and forth to keep from creating flat spots.

The parts assemble fairly logically with pegs on the feet and locating tabs for the crouching leg halves, torso halves and the back packs.  The part that might cause confusion is the arm and weapon combinations.  Each set of arms is meant for a specific weapon on the frame.  The instructions in the box rely on some part numbers, but mainly they color code the proper left and right arms to go with each weapon.  There are reports around various forums that some have found this a little confusing.  My problem is that I am partially color blind.  For the bold colors like red that’s fine, but for some of the more subtle colors, I just couldn’t tell them apart.  Fortunately the updated instructions provided on DreamForge’s blog use part numbers in addition to the colors, making the whole process of matching up the right weapons with the right arms much simpler.

The rest of the parts go together easily.  I had no fit problems with any of the combinations or poses that I tried.  As with most of these types of multi-pose kits, it’s best to work out what you want the final pose to look like before starting to assemble the parts.  I found it best to assemble the legs and torso first, letting the glue cure for ten minutes, then adding the arms and weapon.  This will still give you the ability to tweak the rotation of the torso on the legs if they aren’t lined up just as you want them.  Only after these parts are fully cured did I add the head, shoulder pads and back pack.

I prefer to paint the figures separately from the base so I did not glue the feet to the base at this stage.

Size & Proportion
The most upright pose you can build results in a figure approximately 32mm tall to the eyes and 34.5mm tall to the top of helmet.  Making assumptions for the stance, average height etc, I come up with a figure scale of 1/53 which is slightly larger than the 1/56 stated on the box.  From the perspective of other popular figure lines, they generally fit, being slightly taller than Games Workshop Imperial Guard.  

In terms of proportions, the head, hands and weapons are more realistic than the cartoonishly exaggerated style of Games Workshop, but I wouldn’t say they are “true” either.  I think they strike a good balance.  Figures with more realistic proportions, such as Wargames Factory World War II Germans, end up thinner and more fragile.

Overall Thoughts & Opinions
From a strictly quality perspective, these figures are very well designed and cast.  The part breakdown is logical and the sprue attachment points are in well thought out locations that will be easy to clean up or hide.  There was no flash or sink marks on any of the parts.  As I said above there are light mold lines and a few parts with mold offsets, but they are minor and easily cleaned up.  From a quality perspective, these kits are equal to the best kits that Games Workshop is producing today and I think they rival the quality of main stream modeling companies such as Tamiya and Bandai.  When complete they result in a solid gaming figure that can stand up to normal play and even an occasional trip to the floor with trouble.

However good the quality is though, it is only one aspect of the figures.    From an aesthetic point of view I do have a few issues with the kit.  First, and foremost, the look and feel the figures is clearly “space Germans”.  People can honestly quibble about whether they resemble more an alternative Weird War look such as Dust, or an updated post World War II look projected forward like the movie Jin Roh.  Either way this is ground well trodden in the gaming figure industry.  What sets these figures apart is that they are the BEST space German figures I have ever built, and I have built a few.  They are better than the Dust Germans and better than Wargames Factory Shock Troopers just to name a few.  They may not be original, but they are well executed.

My next issue is with the rifles.  The intent from the instructions seems to be that the larger machine gun is the standard rifle for the squad.  The only difference between the riflemen and the support machine gunner is the drum magazine on the side.  For me this causes two problems.  From a gameplay perspective, it is always best to make figures distinctive and easily identifiable.   If Iron Core follows the normal direction of tabletop games, a machine gunner will be a higher value target than a standard rifleman.  With the drum magazine being the only identifier, this might lead to confusion and misunderstandings.  Secondly, the machinegun just looks off as a standard assault rifle.  It’s always dangerous to bring real world sensibilities into a science fiction universe, but as a US army vet with deployments to Iraq, the machine gun seem too long and bulky to serve as the standard rifle.  The exclusion of an assault rifle from the kit like the StG 44 seems to be a large oversight.

Even taking those issues into account, this is a wonderful kit.  I highly recommend it to anyone that likes building great models or needs generic future armored soldiers.  The kits can be built with little difficulty even by the most novice of modelers.  Even with Iron Core being at least a year or more away from reality, these are great figures that could stand in for many games on the market for now.