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Friday, 20th January, 2012, 07:00 AM #1
The Great Druid (Lvl 17)
Review: Pathfinder Minis: Heroes and Monsters
After what seems like countless previews, design shots, mock-up 3d prints, test paints and factory painted previews, the next iteration of collectible minis are finally in gamers’ hands. It’s been a long time coming -- or at least it seems that way since the miniatures were announced at Gencon 2011 – but as of last week, the first set of Wizkids collectible miniatures for the Pathfinder RPG hit the shelves in your local FLGS.
I pre-ordered an entire case several months ago (along with the special Black Dragon mini available to those who pre-ordered) and the owner of 401 Games In Toronto, John, had dutifully set my case aside in the store-room for me to pick it up. As it turns out, while John was absent from the store one of his staff opened my case and removed a brick from it to sell to a customer. What made this worse was that there were three other loose bricks near "my case", so there was no excuse for doing this at all. *sigh*
This was not just a mere technicality that could easily be remedied. Wizkids packages four bricks to a case of Pathfinder minis. The distribution of miniatures within a case is intended to ensure that if you buy an entire case all at once, you will get a complete set (absent collation errors). My friend and co-host of the Chronicles: Pathfinder Podcast, Michael “Azmyth” Azzolino, received his case over the weekend and assured me that he was able to assemble a complete set of the 40 minis available in Heroes and Monsters from his case. However, his case was factory sealed, whereas my case had been tampered with and now contained only three of the bricks it initially was supposed to. (One of the bricks in my case was simply chosen at random and re-inserted back in to the case).
Supply of Pathfinder Battles in Canada is limited and John was not able to assure me he could even get another complete case. Did I want this one or not?
If I lived in the USA, the answer would have been a flat “no” and I would have ordered a case online from MiniatureMarket.com instead with free shipping. But as I don’t live in the USA and shipping of a complete case to Canada from MiniatureMarket.com is ridiculously expensive by the time customs brokerage fees are added in, I decided to accept the so-called "case" and see how a random brick added in to the mix affected my “complete set” chances. Did this interference in the case composition hopelessly screw up my attempt to get a complete set of Pathfinder Battles: Heroes and Monsters? Read on to the end of the article for the results...
The Ridiculous Packaging
The most obvious difference you see before you even buy the product is the packaging. Once you get past the ubiquitous plain cardboard box each is shipped in, you come upon something that those of us familiar with the D&D mini line have never seen before: the Wizkids “brick”. This “brick” is simply a shrink-wrapped intermediate level of branded packaging for the minis but serves a dual purpose. A retailer can use the brick as a disposable display case from which to sell individual cartons in the store.
For those of us who buy in bulk, a “brick” is just a smaller box, 1/4 of a case which contains 3 individual "large" miniature cartons and 16 small/medium cartons The brick cardstock is printed in full color so it’s somewhat expensive throw away packaging.
Within each brick of Pathfinder minis is still yet another layer of packaging. While D&D minis throughout most of the past decade came in cardboard “boosters” of 8 minis per booster, Pathfinder Battles minis are randomly bundled in two types of small cartons. The standard carton intended to be sold for about $3.00-$4.00, and another larger sized carton intended to be sold for about $6.00 each. The smaller carton contains 1 medium sized mini (or 2 small minis), while the larger carton contains 1 large size miniature.
The smaller boxes are rather small on the shelf. So small, in fact, that the display of boxes behind the counter in my local FLGS was stealthy enough that at first I couldn’t tell that that product was even in stock. How noticeable the boxes are is very much a function of breadth and depth of the number of cartons on the shelf and whether or not the retailer is using the brick to display the individual cartons. The product is small enough it can be missed depending on the set-up of your FLGS' store. Look carefully and if you don't see them -- ask.
And to add one further layer of packaging, the contents of each individual carton holds the miniature suspended in a thin-shell blister package style plastic which fits snugly into the box. This heat-moulded plastic is not recyclable where I live -- and probably not where you live, either.
By the time you get through opening an entire case of minis, one thing is clear: you just spent a lot of money on throw away packaging. The sheer number of trees that died to package an entire case of Pathfinder Battles: Heroes and Monsters is not simply wasteful -- it is embarrassing. Not only are we wrecking the environment with all this needless packaging, but I am paying for the privilege of doing so, too. All of this full color glossy illustrated cardboard comes at a significant cost – and I’m paying full retail for it. Was I happy to receive and throw away all of this crap? No and HELL NO. Would you be? Have a look at all this crap that now needs to be disposed of or (hopefully) recycled. Ridiculous. Everything shown on the table is the throw away packaging from one single case of Heroes and Monsters. For a sense of scale, that's a pile which is over three feet wide, about three feet deep and is about 20-24 inches high!
In my view, this wasteful packaging is a direct result of the efforts of Wizkids to obscure the true comparative cost of the product and to make it more attractive -- and affordable -- to younger customers. In this regard, I think their efforts are misguided.
The Price -- Simply Put, Pathfinder Minis are Damned Expensive
Wizkids packages their Clix line of products in small individual boxes too. The difference is, Clix are aimed at younger gamers with smaller disposable incomes than most Pathfinder players who skew older. Perhaps an even more important difference is that a half dozen Clix can meaningfully be used to play a game, whereas that isn't really the case with Pathfinder Minis.
Add this to the fact that Pathfinder RPG currently appeals to a somewhat older segment of the RPG customer base and I'm not sure that the individual cartons for Pathfinder Battles is all THAT necessary. The gamers that I know who are going to buy these minis will buy them either by the brick or the case. All by way of saying that packaging these minis 4 or 5 to a box might have been a more reasonable approach and less wasteful of packaging.
Whatever the case, there is no question that these miniatures are quite expensive. There is a reason, after all, that WotC decided they would exit the collectible miniatures market. Rising costs for oil and to a lesser extent, for wages and the depreciating US dollar have certainly taken their toll over the past decade. In 2005-06, cases of 12 D&D mini boosters could be purchased for $120-150, let's call that about $1.40 a miniature.
In comparison, in 2012, even when buying from a deep-discount online retailer like MiniatureMarket.com, a case of Pathfinder Minis (without the black dragon promo mini) is $2.70 a miniature. So yes, the price has essentially doubled over the past 6 years. Ultimately, if there is a problem with the success of Pathfinder Battles, the problem will be about the price -- because there isn't a problem with the product itself.
The Miniatures - Good to Very Good with Flashes of Awesome
So how do Wizkids’ Pathfinder minis differ from the WotC D&D Mini lines with which you are probably more familiar?
For the most part, Pathfinder minis compare very favourably in terms of quality and presentation. Like the DDM line, Pathfinder minis use the same scale and identically sized / coloured bases. Put alongside a group of D&D Minis, the Pathfinder minis do not look out of place and look like they belong together on the tabletop. So that's all good.
Curiously, however, they do not feel the same as DDMs nor do they sound the same. Wizkids employs a plastic which is, for the most part, more rigid than WotC used in their minis. The elasticity of Wizkids plastic is not consistent throughout the miniature, however. As a result , the body of the mini is less prone to crushing or warping, but the weapons on the minis remain relatively flexible and so are far less likely to break had the same rigid plastic been used for that part of the miniature. Still, for all that, there are reports online that some weapons and shields have come off of the miniatures during shipping. Whether this is a consequence of the rigidity of the plastic or failed glue or some other reason, I cannot say.
There are other advantages to using a more rigid plastic, as the plastic bases on Pathfinder Battles minis are significantly more rigid than that on D&D minis. Warped bases on DDMs will cause a mini to sit unevenly on the table and look "off" and they was nearly impossible to fix without using very hot water to do so. With the minis in the Pathfinder Battles line this is no longer a problem. Oddly, the rigid feel to the bases in Wizkids' line is instantly recognizable as you pick the mini up in terms of the "feel" of the miniature in your hand. The difference is even recognizable in terms of the sound the minis make as you pick several of them up at once. Unlike DDMs, Pathfinder minis perceptibly "clink" as the bases touch one another in your hand.
It was a little disconcerting when I first picked a group of them up at once and discovered this new property my pre-painted plastic minis had acquired. I have not travelled with my new minis in the Heroes and Monsters line to discover whether or not this has an effect on their durability. I am inclined, however, to not overstuff these miniatures in to my cardboard boxes full of pre-assembled "encounters" that I typically use to transport minis to and from my PFS games.
Quality of The Sculpts
For the most part, the quality of the sculpts used in the Heroes & Monsters line is at least equal -- and in most cases a noticeable improvement upon the sculpts that appeared in most of the DDM line, even when compared to DDMs at the height of their popularity and quality in the 2006-2007 era. Still, not every miniature in the Heroes and Monsters line is an improvement on the DDM version. The DDM Chimera from the War Drums set, in particular, is a noticeably superior miniature to the Pathfinder version.
But that's about the only instance of a noticeably superior sculpt in favour of the DDM product line to my eye. In every other instance, Wizkids' new minis take the prize. Moreover, the overall quality of the sculpts in the set is exceptionally high.
Quality of the Paint-Jobs
While the painting is also very good, the quality is somewhat uneven. Some of the exceptional sculpts are sometimes let down by poor or limited color choices. The Orc Warrior, for example, is a common mini with a sculpt of simply exceptional quality. The paint job, however, being a common mini, is iffy and is not helped by the use of a "goblin green" skin tone. In a similar vein, the rare Succubus is again an exceptional sculpt that it let down by the plainness and uniformity of the red color on its wings. The miniature would have greatly benefited from a wash and highlights used to pick out the bone spurs on her wings.
That's the bad news; happily that bad news is drowned out by the good news. The paint jobs on all of the rares, with the exception of the aforementioned Succubus (and perhaps the Werewolf) are all excellent in quality. To this "excellent" rating, I would also include most (though not all) of the paint jobs on the uncommon minis as well.
Among the common minis in the set, Paizo and Wizkids are to be commended for their selection of their "common" unit types. One of the advantages that the Pathfinder Battles line enjoys over the miniature selection in the DDM lines is that the choices of Pathfinder Battles' miniatures is not constrained by the alignment requirements which were integral to the faction design of the DDM minis game. As a consequence, the common minis in Heroes and Monsters are a great selection for a relatively small 40 miniature set: Goblin Warrior (Red), Goblin Hero (Red), Goblin Warrior (Blue), Goblin Hero (Blue), Orc Brute, Orc Warrior, Skeleton, Watch Guard, Watch Officer, Lizardfolk Champion, Zombie, Giant Spider, and Wolf. Not one Celestial Badger or Dire Weasel in sight!
While the common wolves are well appreciated, perhaps the highlight of the set for many Pathfinder fans are the lowly goblins. The goblins sculpts are faithful to Wayne Reynolds' iconic reference art. While the paint jobs are not expert by any means (the goblins being large in number, small in size and commons) I was very pleased to ultimately pull 12 of these little charmers -- a perfect number that satisfies my needs.
Best of and the Rest of
Favourite Sculpt: Orc Warrior
Least Favourite Mini: Gnome Warrior
Most Complimentary Paint Job: (Tie) Spectre & Half-Orc Barbarian
Least Complimentary Paint-Job: (Tie) Orc Warrior and Succubus
Most Problematic Sculpt: The Troll. While I am not a fan of the art for the Pathfinder Troll, the Troll mini is an absolutely faithful reproduction of the reference art, except for the problem of its height. When you order a "Venti", you don't expect to get a "Grande".
Most Improved Mini IRL: The Ettin. Initially, photos looked plain, featureless and dreadful. Current online photos do not do justice to the Ettin. When seen with the naked eye? It *rocks*.
Best Overall Mini: The Black Dragon. Hands down, the best large dragon miniature yet manufactured in a pre-painted miniature line.
All reports I have heard, both online and from those I know personally, confirm that a sealed case will provide a complete set of the 40 minis in the Heroes and Minis set. In my own (tampered with) case, this was not so -- but I must stress that this is not a reflection on the collation of a factory sealed case. As a consequence of the tampering, I ended up without the Lich, Werewolf or Large Cave Spider minis.
Not to worry! A quick visit to RPGlocker.com operated by ENWorld's own O'Ryan '77 was able to fix me up with the missing singles without any trouble at all.
Edit: Earlier today, Wizkids confirmed what I had heard informally earlier in the week, namely, that Heroes & Monsters has sold out at NECA/Wizkids' warehouse. While that does not mean that the miniatures will not be available in stores or through distributors in the near term, it does mean that this is a product that is facing supply pressures and that those supply pressures are certain to increase. If you are waiting to purchase this product -- you might not want to wait all that long. This is especially true if you are an international customer.
On the plus side, the strong demand at the distributor level is certain to strengthen Wizkids' faith in the product line, which can only be a good thing for gamers, generally.
Recommended: Provided the ridiculous excess of packaging is fixed in the future, I would recommend Pathfinder Battles: Heroes and Monsters to all Pathfinder GMs with sufficient disposable cash. If the current packaging style remains in the next Rise of the Runelords Set, I will not be inclined to purchase these miniatures again.
Last edited by Steel_Wind; Saturday, 21st January, 2012 at 07:44 PM. Reason: Updated for Wizkids Press Release
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