I was going to write a fairly snarky post about some of the childish, narrow-minded, reactions in the community to the announcement of the Storm of Vengeance mobile videogame. On reflection I decided that rather than challenging one of the less desirable traits of the wargames community (or parts of it) I thought I’d go for a celebration of something altogether more positive.
With that said, I have to start with something of a lament, but I’ll keep it brief. From a design point of view, there are a lot of companies treading the same road and bringing out the same stuff that has dominated the sci-fi and fantasy miniatures market for the last couple of decades. A lot of it is either influenced by Games Workshop or more blatantly trying to cash-in on their worlds. As a business model I have my doubts about this, but it’s from the viewpoint of a creative that I find this most disappointing. There are some very talented sculptors and artists who are spending their time producing remakes of Citadel designs and imagery, and I would much rather see the boundaries of sci-fi and fantasy gaming being stretched rather than the same waters getting increasingly muddied. I think that it’s smart for a company to stand out and do something different rather stumble along the same well-trodden route taken by countless others before.
This is not to say that the classic fantasy archetypes of elves, dwarfs, orcs and the rest aren’t fertile ground, it’s just that so few companies have done anything new with them lately. The same goes for the plethora of Colonial Marines / Space Marines / Future Soldier clones, zombie and post-apocalypse gangs and other imagery that has been smeared so thin that the archetypes risk become clichés. Weird West, Steampunk and Dieselpunk have all come along and have now become part of the furniture, so where to next? It also goes without saying that many Games Workshop ranges are themselves iterations of very common archetypes and the whole ‘well they stole it first’ debates litter forums the breadth of the internet. This is isn’t about that. It’s about bringing new ideas to gaming miniatures in the same way that the game books and systems themselves have come on leaps and bounds in the last decade.
[As an aside, I have the same lament for many of the faux-medieval worlds that are the staple of a lot of modern fantasy, but that’s a different blog post].
The good news is that there are folks out there who are, as the title suggests, pushing the edges of fantasy and sci-fi gaming. Many of you might have come across some or all of these previously, especially if you hang out at places like The Shell Case, The Miniatures Page or Frothers Unite and other cross-genre forums and websites. Apologies if it seems like I’m telling you how to suck eggs, I hope there’s something you haven’t seen before.
Lots of manufacturers have the occasional oddball miniature or special piece, but I’ve chosen to have a look at companies that have whole ranges and games that are a definite step away from the fantasy and sci-fi I have seen so many times. It’s as much about the overall aesthetic hanging together as it is the individual models. Often I find that while faction ranges might have a coherent tone, the overall universe feels too hotch-potch. Of course, 40K makes a virtue of this, but that’s helped by the sheer size of the ranges these days; if there were only a handful of Eldar, Imperial Guard, Tyranids and Necrons it wouldn’t work as well for me.
If you have your own ‘out there’ ranges, feel free to suggest them in the comments.
[Another aside. I don’t claim experience of the companies’ production quality or customer service, this is just about their ranges as I see them in on the web.]
First and foremost I’d like to draw you attention to the World of Twilight. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to say these are heavily inspired by Brian Froud’s work, especially the Dark Crystal. It’s so far from the brash, over-the-top fantasy we’ve seen day-in, day-out that it’s a cleansing breath of air. The subtle charm is compelling. You can get in on the action with the new Kickstarter if you like.
My next big suggestion is for Flytrap Factory, who have a number of ranges that are most definitely approaching gaming from a different angle. With a vibe reminiscent of Duncton Wood, The Rats of Nimh and Redwall (and perhaps a dash of Ewok) the Netherworld’s Edge range has the right amount of whimsy without getting cutesy.
Similarly, the Warpod sci-fi miniatures could be all too cute for my liking, but somehow the drab military colours and subtle posing puts me more in mind of V.I.N.CENT than T-Bob. Simple but oozing with character.
And even more left field, Flytrap Factory have Caveman vs Wild. Personality is such a hard thing to capture in art, especially a miniature, but these succeed where so many po-faced muscle-bound barbarians, skinny elves and cloned dwarfs have failed before.
Going back to something a little more like Anyaral, Zombiesmith have their Quar range. I would describe it is a weird WWI, ‘tween-wars’ sort of look, but that really doesn’t do them justice. Even better, they’re available in a variety of scales depending on what sort of battles you like to fight.
Zombiesmith are also responsible for the War of Ashes setting, which is another entertaining take on populating a world without any humans or standard fantasy tropes. I’m not quite as taken by the Storm of Steel miniatures, but there are also some cracking (and barking mad) entrants in their sci-fi and fantasy ranges.
In terms of a setting that is striking out on its own, a mention has to be given to Antimatter Games and their Deepwars/ Shadowsea universe. Wet fun for everyone.
On the other end of the scale, here’s a shout-out for fans of big mecha. Fil Dunn’s Filbot kits look spectacular, with a futuristic but believable feel to his constructions. I’ve never been one hundred per cent convinced by the Battletech clunky-humanoid approach. I am, however, a huge fan of big robots blowing up other big robots and look forward to seeing Fil expanding the range in the coming months.
A curious mix of reimagined fantasy archetypes and a more fairytale-cum-folklore-ish whimsy can be found in Tor Gaming’s Relics range. While there’s nothing traditional about their Orcnar, somewhat Hellyboy Tooth fairy-esque Vaettir, and Nuem, it’s the Britanen that really caught my eye. These can also be used in your fantasy football game of choice.
Heading a lot further down the path to Bonkersville takes us to Eureka, and particularly their Pond Wars range. Battles between frogs, rabbits, turtles and terrapins? That is certainly something we don’t see every day. And if that is not quite your cup of tea (why not?) check out their Teddy Bears, Toy Town and Winged Fezzed Monkeys. Or another take on Warrior Mice. Unfortunately the website is clunky and in need of a serious makeover.
And if you need more Flying Monkeys, or perhaps carnivorous Blood Trees, there is always Fanticide by Alien Dungeon. With contributions from rules writerly types Rick Priestley, Andy Chambers and Alessio Cavatore that’s quite a by-line.
Lastly, because I grew up with Keep on the Borderlands, I’d like to point out that there was a time when orcs were not green and didn’t look like, well, those GW orcs/ks. There are still a few enclaves of these other-orcs out there (not including Middle Earth ranges) and I’d like to direct your attention to Otherworld Miniatures and their pig-faced orcs, if only because it takes me back to those pre-teen days.
This is by no means an exhaustive guide, nor is it meant to detract from the efforts and skills of anyone else, but I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing what lies beyond the run-of-the-mill knights and necromancers. One of the more depressing experiences whilst researching this article was the number of dead links to defunct manufacturers. Let’s celebrate variety, and reward not just rendering skill but design originality and creativity.
Don’t be shy, share a few gems in the comments, particularly any sci-fi pioneers out there.