May 20th, 2010
In Focus Review/Interview - Micro-Art Studios
I've had my eye on Micro-Art Studios for a while now. At first glance, it was their resin scenic bases that sparked my interest initially. Now they have moved on into casting miniatures, and vehicles too. We're here today to take an in-depth look at the latest Iron Brotherhood miniatures, and some of their newest scenic resin bases.
Iron Brotherhood Infantry
First up is Iron Brotherhood Infantry. Visually the entire line looks like they could double for some cultist-like Chaos types, since their mostly hooded, and masked goons in greatcoats. There's a varied bunch of different Iron Brotherhood figures available from Micro-Art, as some are neat little Soviet Goblin troopers, another set resembles cyborg-wraith-like beings. They even have some angelic-winged versions, and a hell on tracks-looking one. I was sent the latest Infantry model versions for review.
The Infantry are hooded, with cybernetic gas masks, and what appears to be cybernetic arms, wearing greatcoats. Visually these are striking models. For the most part they're all a two-piece design, because the body is one piece with head and legs already intact, and you glue the lower arms already holding the rifle in place separately. Here's where they get big points too. The arms have rounded balls at the top, and there's a socket in the upper shoulder area to glue the arms into. Bravo! Why can't more miniature makers make things this easy?
They're flat-footed figures, as there's no slot under their feet, or anything to plug them into a base, so pinning or straight up gluing to a flat, or scenic base, will be required. Personally, I like the flat-footed design, it makes drilling to pin them, or just gluing them direct to a flat-base that much easier. There are slight variations in the sculpts too. The direction of the heads, and the head detail seams to be the only things to visually separate them from each other. So while they are for the most part slightly different, at a glance they do appear the same. I'd suggest they made some standing and some kneeling. I think that is the best way to offer variety in smaller sets like this.
These also come with no bases. This is what baffles me too... Micro-Art Studios is a company that makes very nicely detailed resin bases. I can't see how hard it would have been, to include even some simple solid 25mm round bases, or to have added some resin scenic bases.
.Cost-wise after doing the conversion from Euro to USD, this 5-figure blister pack ends up costing about $27 USD (or 9.76 Euro). I've seen a few retailers online here in the US who are taking pre-orders at $24 for the set of 5, but that's still somewhat expensive. I really think that's too high. That's cheaper than what GW would charge for 5 metal figures, but almost 40% more than the cost of similar 5-figure sets from say Pig Iron Productions, which are equally as nice.
All in all, I still like the Iron Brotherhood Infantry, as they really are nice sculpts, I like the cyborg-look, and the variety of unique looking sci-fi rifles they carry into battle. They just lack a little bit of individuality amongst each other, and some basic bases would have been a nice touch. For as much as they charge, they really should have included scenic resin bases.
Iron Brotherhood Stalker
This is a really wild, and totally unique looking piece. They call it the Stalker. It's a walker, but with crab/scorpion-like positioned legs. To me it resembles a scorpion without the tail more than anything else. Although since it has 8 legs, many could argue it would be better described as a spider in general. Size-wise, it's about as big as a GamesWorkshop Predator tank, maybe a little smaller in overall capacity at a glance, because the body is thinner.
It's a very strange-looking vehicle. I can't say I like it, or dislike it. I'm more right down the middle with this thing. On one hand, I think it's cool looking, and would make a nice Chaos vehicle, or even some crazy demon-hunter contraption from the Ordo Malleus. It could maybe pass for an Adeptus Mechanicus vehicle too. On the other hand, I look at it, and just think that the main turret is too small, and out of scale for the rest of the thing. Personally, I'm more of a tracked, or wheeled vehicle enthusiast, when it comes to Warhammer 40k too. Others mileage will vary I'm certain.
By design, I guess this thing is supposed to carry the troops underneath the belly, and there's supposed to be an add-on piece, to model this in more detail to be released at a later date. They call this variation version the MK.1. I saw an early picture of it, and it looked strange. Then again, there's a lot of strange 40k stuff out there, so this wouldn't be the first, and definitely won't be the last.
This is a full resin kit, so it's very detailed. Unlike most resin kits I've seen before, they even take the time to imprint each sprue with their logo, and a letter defining what part spure it is. I thought that was a neat touch, it's something you don't see anyone else doing. Cleanup wasn't too bad, but there's a lot of flash to clean up on the sprues, and from the pieces in general. It was mostly that really thin, film-like flash, not the thick annoying kind. Aside from that, the level of detail of each piece is crisp, which is expected from a high-quality resin kit.
Assembly wasn't tough, as they include some really nice instructions. Combine the marking of the sprues, and nice instructions together, and it couldn't be easier to assemble. The only hard part is getting the legs right, as some of these single pieces are very thin, and even once you combine them all together to create the legs, they still seam a bit frail. This is one of those models, which you might need to be careful with transporting around, and handling a lot once assembled. I also have the feeling that it won't take much to break the legs free from the body, if you don't opt to pin them during assembly.
Price-wise you're looking at about $43 USD for the Stalker. That's the only price I could find for a pre-order on it from an online retailer here in the US, because I don't think it has been officially released just yet. That's reasonable, considering it is an all resin kit. Once it's built the Stalker ends up about the size of a GW Predator tank, only a little thinner and a bit longer, but if you count the legs, it takes up about the same size footprint.
Scenic resin bases is what put Micro-Art Studios on the map to begin with. Their BattleBases line of scenic resin bases, are some of the nicest that money can buy, and at present I believe they have the largest selection anywhere of scenic resin bases for miniatures in general. At their webstore I counted 181 entries! That's insane, and almost hard to believe there's that many products, but there is. They rarely slow down either, it seams there's a new BattleBase product popping up every time I turn around.
One of the newest additions to the line are the Bio-Tech bases. At first glance I'm totally reminded of the bio-mechanical mayhem that could only have came from the mind, of none other than Swiss artist/set designer extraordinaire H.R. Giger. There's no denying that the Bio-Tech bases are totally inspired by H.R. Giger's bio-mechanical, and somewhat Gothic/nightmarish artistic style.
The Bio-Tech bases come in a variety of sizes, and a few different variations depending on the size. We were sent a package of 5x 30mm, 2x 40mm and 1 single 50mm base, plus a variation package which contained a different 40mm variety. It's hard to describe these without oozing about how cool they really are. Fact is, they're so nice, that I'm having a really hard time deciding what figures would be best to use them with.
I should also mention that these are based on the lipped bases, so they look like those that Privateer Press uses, not the straight edged ones that 40k uses. These are the type of base that I personally prefer best too, since they look more like display bases.
These would look good as bases for Warmachine's Cryx army models, and quite possibly for some other sci-fi skirmish game pieces, like MERCs, Infinity, etc. Quite possibly, even Pulp City could benefit from some bio-mechanical mayhem below their super-heroes' feet.
I guess some 40k pieces could benefit from the larger bases, but the 30mm bases wouldn't look right on the smaller 40k figures, unless you did the entire army in 30mm bases.
The other bases I took at look at were the Winter Shale bases in the form of the 30mm x5 blister, and single 50mm blister pack varieties. These are also of the lipped variety, so they look more like a display base than the average 40k style straight edge round bases.
These are perfect for everything from Space Wolf Terminators and Vikings to Warmachine Khador pieces. Pretty much anything you want a nice winter snow covered base for, these would do the trick. These are snow covered bits of shale, which is essentially a rock with frozen snow and ice on them. One thing I liked about these, is that they're not terribly hard to paint, but they still aren't lacking in detail either. These are one of my favorite bases from Micro-Art Studios, because I never was very good at making snow covered bases myself, and this is a really nice way to cheat, and still end up with a great looking end product.
As you can see, Micro-Art Studios has a lot of excellent products to offer. I only touched upon a few of the items too. There are many other bases and Iron Brotherhood figures available, plus there are more to come. One good thing about Micro-Art Studio products is that they have strong availability across the board. Here in North American it's not hard to find any of their products at most well known online retailers, and brick and mortar shops both. Considering they're from Poland, that's a big plus for them, and us both.
On average the bases cost $4.99-$5.99 per blister pack, which is very reasonable, especially considering the quality, and how much they really can enhance the final end product. They also have the largest selection of scenic resin bases in the world. If you can't find a base that you're looking for, chances are they just didn't make it yet.
The Iron Brotherhood line is also looking like a more attractive option for 40k players than ever before, since GW is jacking their prices up again on June 1st. These look to be really attractive pieces for the newly released Faction Wars game too, and they even resemble some of the artwork in the Faction Wars rulebook. At any rate the sculpts are really nice, the socketed design for attaching the arms is sweet, but the one thing most gamers will have a hard time dealing with is the price.
At even $24 for the 5-figure blister pack, without any bases included, the Iron Brotherhood Infantry will be a hard sell for many sci-fi wargaming enthusiasts. They're still less than GW models, but other alternative options out there are in the $15 range, some even less, for 5 metal models.
The Stalker vehicle is also such a unique piece, that it's hard to judge how well it will go over with the sci-fi skirmish game crowd. It's one of the nicer resin models out there, but it's so strange looking that most will truly love it, or totally hate it. However, it's priced competitively with other similar models of the same quality and size.
I really think Micro-Art Studios is spot on when it comes to scenic resin bases, and they have some amazing sculpting talent, which is evident throughout the entire Iron Brotherhood line of products. It will however be some time yet before they can win over the entire sci-fi skirmish gaming crowd with their miniature models though. The quality is definitely there, it's the price that isn't as appealing on the Iron Brotherhood Infantry models.
As an added bonus, here's an interview I conducted with Jan Cieslicki from Micro-Art Studios...
WarGameGuru - Can you please feel me in on how Micro-Art Studios originated, and a little about your background in miniatures, and wargames in general?
Jan Cieslicki - Micro Art Studio was founded in 2003 by several wargaming enthusiasts. At the beginning we were mainly a painting studio rather than producer. In time it changed and currently we concentrate more on production than painting commissions though we still accept them. Our bases range started as an addition as we always wanted some cool bases for our miniatures. We thought "Why don't give a try and start selling them?". This proved to be a good idea. with the bases came terrain and then miniatures.
WarGameGuru - So what's your favorite miniatures/wargame to play, and why?
Jan Cieslicki - I can tell that currently about 1/3rd of our employees play wargames. Those are mainly people responsible for design of new products. Mostly we play Warhammer 40k. Our seniority varies but for me it's over 15 years, from the beginning of 3rd edition so more than a half of my life spent on wargaming :)
Why Warhammer 40k? This was the first table top game introduced in Poland. I started with Warhammer Fantasy but since 2000 I play only 40k. The game's universe is the one I like best. We also try new systems - recently Hordes/Warmachine and Infinity became quite popular here.
WarGameGuru - What do you think about the recent announcement that GamesWorkshop is planning yet another price increase set for June now, do you
think it will help Micro-Art sell more alternative products like the Iron Brotherhood line?
Jan Cieslicki - I express only my own thoughts but I don't like GW policy and especially rising the prices to earn more. They should think of some other way of achieving this... We have several friends that run stores here. From the beginning of April they are forced to pay their invoices in our national currency [PLN] and not pounds in an exchange rate calculated by GW. The difference is almost 20%
Will this help us to sell more Brotherhood minis? I hope so :)
WarGameGuru - I see that more and more really impressive miniature manufacturers, and accessory companies are popping up from places like Poland,
Spain, Italy, and so on. How has being from Poland helped, or hindered you, if at all, in getting your products to the rest of the world?
Jan Cieslicki - Tough question :) I will tell you straight - I think that being here helped a lot at the beginning. The reason was the difference of prices and life level in Poland and western countries. It's no secret - it was much cheaper here. Surely helped us to start the business. This doesn't mean we lacked on quality - it always was and will be the main goal. When Poland joined EU the prices started to rise. It's still cheaper here but the difference isn't so huge as it was. So currently we benefit from being known around the world rather than from being placed in Poland.
WarGameGuru - Who are some of the sculptors for your models, and scenic base products?
Jan Cieslicki - Each of us has something to do with new products. When you look at our store each product has a label by whom was it created. The list is pretty long :) We all have artist spirit :D
WarGameGuru - With Europe in general being a breeding ground anymore for great sculpting, and even painting talent, is it ever hard to find a new sculptor, or painter when needed for future projects, or do you stick with working with the same people all the time?
Jan Cieslicki - This is connected with the previous question. We very rarely hire sculptors from outside the studio and we never hire painters. So I may say that we work with the same people. We also work together on different projects which is more inspiring than working all by oneself. When we consider something big there is always a braistorm here at the studio involving several people.
WarGameGuru - Do you have a long list of projects to be created next, and how do you go about figuring out what model, or what type of scenic base to choose to be put into production next?
Jan Cieslicki - We don't have long term projects but I can tell that we'll be currently focusing mainly on three - more Discworld minis, more foam Terrain and - I can tell a little secret - we're starting the cooperation with Corvus Belli - the maker of Infinity - cannot tell more :) yet...
How do we decide about new products - this just happens :D seriously, someone has an idea he talks about it at the studio and suddenly we have an idea for the project :) We are inspired by different things. Sometimes during a gameplay someone says "hey, I think we would need some new terrain, this old hill looks crap.. maybe I'll make something new" :) In other cases a customer asks for particular bases for his army [as it happened with Wasteland bases] and we make a deal with him if we like the idea.
WarGameGuru - The Stalker is a really strange and unique model, do you plan other Iron Brotherhood vehicles, or other vehicles in general?
Jan Cieslicki - We're being asked these questions from time to time so probably we'll have to do something ;)
WarGameGuru - Aside from the bases, and Iron Brotherhood line, what's next for Micro-Art Studios?
Jan Cieslicki - As I mentioned in previous question - foam terrain. We experimented with it for over a year and currently we are finally starting with the production so you may expect many to come in the near future. Being gamers we'll try to make them useful and not to expensive. We don't want to release pre painted versions as the level would be far from what we expect. We'd rather make them several euros cheaper as probably people would prefer to paint them by themselves [I would ;)]
WarGameGuru - What else would you like to tell us about Micro-Art Studios, that we may have overlooked, or just not touched base on?
Jan Cieslicki - I can only say that I hope people will like our stuff. Of course the money is important but being an artist - I'm very glad when I receive an email with something like "Hi, I just wanted to tell you that you do great stuff, keep up good work :)" This is really an award for us :)