Pathfinder Review: Pathfinder Battles: Rise of the Runelords Miniatures
This past January, we finally received the first of Wizkids' Pathfinder Battles pre-painted miniatures sets. Heroes and Monsters was for the most part warmly received and was nominated for an ENNie award. My review was -- for the most part -- quite positive.
It's been over seven months since the release of Heroes and Monsters and a few issues have surfaced over time. Before we look forward to Rise of the Runelords, let's look back at the issues which have arisen since the last major set in the Pathfinder Battles miniature line.
Firstly, it was made very clear to me by both Paizo and Wizkids that they took my comments about what I (and others) perceived was excessive packaging to heart. Privately, Wizkids seemed to go out of their way to express sincere regret at the Big Pile 'o Packaging that I showed off in my review of the minis here on ENWorld.
To their credit, Wizkids did not even try to make excuses concerning the reason for the surplus of packaging. And to be fair to Wizkids, after I published my review of Heroes & Monsters here on ENWorld, I discovered that Wizkids had some good reasons for their packaging choices. Chiefly, the need to package one small mini per "booster" was a packaging requirement dictated by the overall size of the 40 mini set. Paizo's and Wizkids' goal was to do all they could to ensure that a customer purchasing one factory sealed case of Heroes and Monsters was 90+% likely to receive a complete set. The only way that randomization math worked for Wizkids required that the Heroes and Monsters set be individually packaged. If a customer wants to buy a complete set in one case -- lots of boxes -- little boxes (not made of ticky tacky) was a practical necessity.
On reflection, that IS a pretty good reason to have all those little boxes in one case.
The other contributor to the Big Pile o' Packaging was the eggshell style inserted plastic holder which suspended the mini in each of the little boxes. By the time all of the little boxes were opened up and the eggshell plastic holders inside were pulled out, the remains of this packaging contributed mightily to the pile.
Turns out that Wizkids wasn't kidding about the necessity of that packaging, either. While my main experience with pre-painted plastic had hitherto been with WotC's nigh indestructible D&D miniature line, Wizkids' minis are a very different product. WotC sacrificed details on the sculpt of their minis in exchange for a bendable plastic which is VERY tough to break through casual mishandling. You might bend your mini into a shape it does not readily unbend itself from -- but you pretty much have to TRY to deliberately break a D&D mini in order to do so.
Not so with Wizkids Heroes and Monsters minis. H&M used a different calibration to the plastic that permitted them to hold much finer detail when molded when compared to the D&D mini line. The downside to this was that the plastic was brittle and more apt to break during shipping and even from transportation to and from the game.
I don't know what your experience has been with Heroes and Monsters over the past six months or so, but I have found that I have broken two of my minis just from chucking them haphazardly in a box for transport to and from the game. Turns out, you should not do that with such unrestrained zeal when it comes to Heroes & Monsters minis. If you bang 'em around inside the box -- they can break. Not easily perhaps -- but it's not very hard to do, either.
As a consequence, all that plastic eggshell packaging was there for a very good reason and the fact that my minis were intact out of the box was precisely due to all that eggshell packaging. So while the Big Pile O' Packaging was nothing to be proud of, it turns out that there were good reasons for it to be there.
Lastly, the one feature that the Heroes & Monsters set lacked was the use of transparent and semi-transparent plastics. We all saw how the D&D mini line was greatly improved by the addition of those features to the minis over the course of time. The lack of it in the Heroes & Monsters set was a notable absence from the otherwise excellent quality of the sculpts. As Erik Mona explained in a Friday blog, Wizkids would be using transparency in the Rise of the Runelords set - we'd just have to wait for it.
Rise of the Runelords
Next week's Gencon will be the release of the second collectible set in Wizkids licensed miniature line, Rise of the Runelords. Like nearly all things Paizo this summer, the product is principally about cross-supporting the release of the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition we looked at yesterday.
Like many of you, I've watched Erik Mona's Friday blog with great interest over the past months as he has previewed the pre-painted prototypes of the RotRL minis. The pictures every week had me greatly intrigued over the forthcoming set. At long last, the Paizo community was about to receive something that we've been asking for since 2005 -- a miniature set release intended to support and enable Game Masters to run an Adventure Path!
Even before Paizo created Pathfinder Adventure Path in 2007, the question of cross-support for Paizo's Adventure Paths had been frequently raised by subscribers and readers of Dungeon Magazine. The calls for cross-support were particularly loud during the currency of the Age of Worms Adventure Path in 2005/2006, when the dearth of appropriate minis for so many of the featured encounters in that AP was abundantly clear. At the time, WotC's miniature line was never more popular, cheaper or more plentiful, with 4 sets a year being released. Just six of those 60 minis per set dedicated towards the unique encounter needs of Paizo's Dungeon Adventure Path requirements in a year would have made a great difference at the time.
We all know it didn't happen. While we can debate the reasons why that did not come to pass, on reflection, it's easy to see what a missed opportunity that was. WotC minis in 2005 were of very good quality -- and above all -- they were very cheap. I'm sure that Paizo must have wondered how well their Adventure Paths in Dungeon would have been received had there been more robust support for the APs from the D&D Miniatures line.
With Wizkids Pathfinder Battles miniature line, Paizo now has the ability to support their Adventure Paths with miniatures specifically created to support their flagship product. While Heroes & Monsters provided a more generic set of monsters, the sculpts in Rise of the Runelords were selected by Erik Mona to permit a GM to run RotRL with a set of minis that more closely matches all of the encounters. Even drawing upon a significant collection of D&D minis to supplement those featured in Heroes & Monsters, the selection present in the new RotRL miniature set does not permit a GM to run every single encounter with a mini representing every actual encounter. However, with a large enough collection, you can come close to that goal.
Changes to the Product Line: Wizkids Gets it Right in RotRL
There are a number of changes to Pathfinder Battles: Rise of the Runelords, both obvious and subtle. It's the subtle change that is not immediately obvious from looking at the minis on Paizo's Friday blog which is the most important.
Firstly, the size of the set has changed, so that the complete set of Rise of the Runelords contains 65 figures, with 60 in the main set, plus 4 Huge minis and one Gargantuan 4x4 Rune Giant. This change in the set size has also permitted Wizkids to change the packaging so that each booster now contains 1 large and 3 medium/small minis. This, in turn, take a big bite out of the Big Pile O' Packaging refuse. Due to Wizkids' packaging and randomization choices, you are still overwhelmingly likely to get a complete set of the Large/Medium minis by purchasing a factory sealed case. So that's a plus.
Secondly, the lack of transparent plastic in Heroes & Monsters has been remedied. Transparency is on display throughout the RotRL line and the results look great. Sadly, I did not receive a Forgefiend mini in the sample of minis Wizkids provided to me for this review, but the prototype of the miniature in which is it used looks outstanding.
PFB: RotRL -- The Plastic is NOT the Same
Lastly, and -- most importantly -- Wizkids has changed the calibration of the plastic used in the Rise of the Runelords set. You can't tell this from looking at the minis, but the moment that the minis are in your hand, you can feel the difference. While still not as flexible as the softer plastic in the D&D mini line, the plastic used in Rise of the Runelords is nowhere near as rigid as Wizkids has used in the past. With Heroes and Monsters, the rigidity of the plastic was obvious and the minis even "clinked" in your hand when you picked up several at once. That aspect of the minis is gone and the minis now have some give throughout each figure. The sacrifice in rigidity does not appear to have impacted the quality of the minis at all and the sculpts and detail are still outstanding.
It is ironic that with the old rigid plastic in the Heroes & Monsters line, I received all my minis in perfect shape out of the box, whereas with the new Rise of the Runelords minis, an arm ended up being broken on one of the miniatures in transit. This was just bad luck due to the fact that the large Stone Giant in the booster had come free of its anchor in the eggshell plastic. Presumably, during transit, the large Stone Giant struck the ghoul's arm with enough force that it broke off.
Despite this bad luck, I am certain that the overall ability of this set to withstand breakage during normal use and transport has been greatly improved. Wizkids gets a Big Thumbs Up for this change in the set.
Quality of the Review Figures
I received a selection of miniatures in the box from Wizkids for this sneak-peak review. I received the Rune Giant, 2 Huge boosters which contained the "Treachery Demon" (read: Glabrezu) and the Karzoug Statue. I also received 8 of the normal boosters. I initially opened the Rune Giant and both huge minis as well as two random boosters when I first received these review minis back in June. I left the opening of the remaining 6 boosters for today's unboxing video.
During a discussion with Justin Ziran, President of Wizkids, Ziran was justifiably proud of the quality of the minis in the new line. "These may be the best pre-painted minis we've every made – the Rune Giant being the shining example. I have worked in the industry for 10 years and have been playing D&D for 15 and I can't remember a set that looked so nice. When discussing the line internally (before we went to Paizo with the idea) - I thought it would be best to treat the line as a "super premium" line. As such, we raised the bar significantly. We have to charge for that quality, but in hindsight it was the right decision."
I don't disagree with Ziran's assessment of the quality and agree that these minis are the most attractive pre-painted minis for an RPG yet manufactured. However, I do disagree that the Rune Giant is the "shining example", or at least, I disagree that the Rune Giant somehow exceeds expectations. Don't get me wrong, the Rune Giant is an awesome mini in terms of its size, sculpt, and painting detail. It is absolutely top-shelf. However, it is also absolutely top-shelf in terms of its cost, too. So while it's awesome -- I would argue that it should be awesome for the price tag. The same can be said for the "Treachery Demon" (Glabrezu) or the other huge minis. The Glabrezu is also an awesome mini, but for the price tag for a Huge mini in the Rise of the Runelords mini line, it should be. Sure, it meets my expectations -- but at that price, my expectations are pretty high to start with.
What impressed me more than the Rune Giant or the Glabrezu is the quality of the normal Large and Medium figures. In particular, one of the common minis I randomly received - the humble Lamia Kuchrima, stands out. This is the mini that impressed the hell out of me as my expectations are much lower for a common mini than they are for a premium figure like the Rune Giant. Wizkids absolutely knocked this common mini out of the park. Featuring the use of semi-transparent plastic on its base, the figure is dramatically posed with outstretched wings; it is a great sculpt with an excellent paint job. The new calibration of the plastic used on this set will also serve to ensure the wings and wing-feathers are far more likely to remain attached over the course of time, too. Simply put, this is an A+ execution on this common miniature. It looks - and feels - like a great rare mini.
For those who are interested in taking a look at the detail of more of the review minis, you can watch my unboxing & review video. [Warning: it's a rather lengthy video weighing in at about 45 minutes or so.]
The Downside to a "Super-Premium" Miniature Line: The Price
With Pathfinder Battles: Rise of the Runelords, Wizkids has provided a large set of miniatures that offers excellent quality with some truly unique and dramatic figures. All of this is great and well appreciated. The problem with the set -- the only problem -- is the price tag which attaches to all of this. Simply put, these are damned expensive minis to purchase.
Looking at the cost of these miniatures from one of the cheapest sources available, online discount retailer Miniature Market, the cost works out as follows:
Case of Standard Boosters (32): $330 for 128 minis (90%+ for complete set of 60)
Case of Huge Minis (6): $102
Rune Giant: $18
Shipping and Handling within USA: Free
Total cost: $450
No matter which way you cut it, that's a lot of money for a set of miniatures. Even when buying at a discount online reseller, the per mini cost of the base set works out to $2.58 per figure, with each of the Huge minis at $17 and the Rune Giant at $18 each. That ain't cheap folks. Though to be fair, it's actually less than the cost per figure of the 12 markedly inferior minis included in a box of Dungeon Command at your local FLGS. It's the size of the set and the extra minis necessary to purchase a complete set of 60 that drives up the overall cost for Pathfinder Battles: Rise of the Runelords.
If that is a cost that you are willing to pay, then you should buy these minis with confidence, knowing that the quality of the pre-painted minis is as good as it gets in the hobby games trade. But if that cost is not something you are able to afford, you may want to buy smaller amounts of these minis in booster form, or by the brick, in the singles aftermarket -- or not at all. As always, the final decision on making any purchase is your own.
Wizkids and Paizo are sensitive to the cost and the next set of miniatures in the Pathfinder Battles miniature line will be smaller at 55 minis and will not feature Huge minis as part of the main set (presumably, a Huge mini will still be offered as a case incentive in a non-random box). If the quality of Pathfinder Battles: Shattered Star is as good as those on display in Rise of the Runelords, I do not anticipate any complaints about the next set either -- other than the cost.
Wizkids has addressed every issue with their minis that has arisen to date with the Rise of the Runelords miniatures set. Accordingly, whether or not Pathfinder Battles: Rise of the Runelords will succeed in the marketplace is now wholly dependent upon the cost of the miniatures. At this stage -- the cost of the product is the only question mark left.
Pathfinder Battles: Rise of the Runelords debuts this Thursday, August 16 at Gencon Indy.