April 20th, 2010
In Focus Review: MERCS Miniatures Yellow Jackets and KemVar Squads, and Interview
For being a new company out of nowhere, MERCS Miniatures is definitely one of the newer companies to keep an eye on in 2010. The website alone is a total package, with amazing stylized art, superb photographs of all of their products, and loads of information based on what they have going on.
At first I recall seeing just one figure from these guys about a year ago. I can't remember which one the first one was, but I remember it was quite eye catching. Now they have an entire squad of CCC: Yellow Jackets, and a whole other faction now called the CAES DE GUERRA: KemVar completed.
They were kind enough to send along both squads for review, so on with the coverage...
The CCC: Yellow Jackets squad comes with the Assault Leader, Assault Trooper, Sniper, Heavy Assault and Incinerator. The Assault Leader comes in two pieces, and a round lipped 30mm base, very much like the smallest base used in Warmachine. This I like. The lipped 30mm bases just look better all around. The Leader looks the part too, as he looks like he's holding the line with pistol in one hand, and assault rifle in the other.
The Assault Trooper is mostly a single piece mold, but the rifle and two different heads come separate. This is the only figure in the Yellow Jackets range so far to include an alternate head. So there's helmet, and no helmet options for the Assault Trooper. Sculpt-wise he's nice, and posed to unload a clip of whoop-ass, but of all five figures, he's probably my least favorite. He's not bad looking, just fairly average I think when put next to the rest of he squad.
The Sniper is 3 pieces, the body, rifle with partial arm/hands attached, and a backpack. He's wearing what appears to be baseball cap, and seams to be sneaking forward slumped over. I like this guy. This is by far the coolest looking sniper figure I've seen in a long time from any company.
Heavy Assault is three pieces, which include the body, big gun with arms attached, backpack/ammo reserve, and the ammo feed belt. Of all the pieces in the Yellow Jackets squad getting that ammo belt to line up perfectly was a bear. It took some bending and about 5 minutes worth of cussing like a sailor, and then I got it to line up. There's definitely room for improvement there.
Heavy Assault is unquestionably one of the most dynamic and amazing looking sculpts of all the Yellow Jackets, aside from the Incinerator. It's really hard to choose which one of the two I like best, so I'd have to say it's a very close tie between Heavy Assault and Incinerator.
The Incinerator comes with two pieces. The figure itself is one piece, and the 2nd piece is just the tanks with wire leading from it to fuel the flame thrower. This guy is fantastic. Incinerator is easily the best looking sci-fi miniature on the market with a flame thrower, bar none!
All of the Yellow Jackets cleaned up nicely, with little, to no clean up issues. They had some mold lines, but nothing out of hand, or more than the norm. They all come with 30mm bases, and my only issue with the entire squad was the ammo feed belt for the Heavy Assault guy.
The KemVar is a five man squad deal too. The Leader is a two piece figure, with the body and sword arm. Once again, very easy assembly, and sculpt-wise, he's one of my favorite KemVar pieces. He's jumping in the air, slicing at something with his sword with some sort of ultra-modern fully automatic assault weapon in the other hand.
The Trooper is pretty much another single body mold, with two separate heads to choose from. So it seams they offer the basic trooper types with an alternate head option, but this time there's the choice of two slightly different head types, both of which are masked. There's not a lot of variation between the two heads, aside from slight design of the mask differences.
Sculpt-wise he's charging forward into action, and his weapon is strange looking, with what looks like some kind of bladed teeth along the bottom of the barrel. I can't say I like the weapon design that much, but it doesn't look bad, it's just not my style.
The KemVar Sniper is a total one piece mold, so there's next to no assembly here, aside from gluing him to the base. I like the sculpt too. He's dynamically pulling off a kneeling-crouch, for lack of a better term. There's a crazy hair braid or something, connected to, and swaying from, the back of the head as well. The rifle isn't as nice as the Yellow Jacket Sniper's rifle, but this is still a really nice looking sniper figure nonetheless.
The KemVar Heavy guy is a two-fisted machine gunning beast, and is a three piece figure, who comes as the body and two ammo feed belts. I had a far worse time with these belts, than I did with the Yellow Jackets Heavy Assault assembly.
There's just not enough room to get the belts on there proper, without lots of bending, filling and dry fitting numerous times to get it right. This one had me really upset, but I eventually got it the best I could, and I'm still not totally pleased with the results, but if they stay glued in place it's all good. Aside from the belts issue, he's another nice piece, and is one of my favorites from this squad. His guns also have those funny bladed teeth underneath the barrels, so I'm guessing he can tear some things up as close range too.
Last but not least is the Assassin. He's two pieces. All you have to do is glue the pistol hand on to the body, then the body to the base. Sculpt-wise, I'm not feeling it with this guy. He looks sneaky, with a knife in one hand, and a pistol in another. I guess he is ready to strike and slash someone's throat, or stealth-like pop a cap in someone's ass, but he's about the most uninspiring piece I think of all the KemVar.
He looks like an assassin in pose, so I can't complain too much. I just think a longer blade or something would have been a better option for this guy. The blade just looks too plain, and not even like much of a combat knife. It's just too short, and doesn't look intimidating at all.
Now overall the KemVar are a unique looking bunch as a unit. They all appear to be wearing what look like some crazy stealth suits, and masks with NVGs (NightVisionGoggles) and respirators built in. If that's armor plates, they're razor thin, and made of some sort of space-age composites. Think Splinter Cell meets ultra-modern sci-fi, techie-ninjas. Very cool stuff.
The Yellow Jackets remind me a lot of some of the military human figures from the Infinity miniatures range, only nicer. The sculptor of both of these factions is Tom Mason as well. I hadn't heard of him before, but by looking at these figures, it's clear he's an A-list sculptor.
I poked around, and was able to find that he's done some HeroClix and Reaper Miniatures in the past, and I bet the MERCS stuff will really put this guy on the map now. They're that nice.
MERCS Miniatures have put out some really nice figures for their first attempt to break into this market. It usually takes a few years of trial and error, just to put out something this nice, and these guys did it on the first try.
Cost-wise you can buy any of the figures reviewed for $9.99 each from their website ($9.49 for 2x or more), or $44.99 per squad of all five. They're running a deal at the moment too, which gives you both squads the Yellow Jackets and the KemVar for $84.90, which they call the MegaCon Deal.
If there was one game they'd fit into best visually, it would be Infinity. They look like they're from the Infinity family, more than anything else out there, but I think they have a slight edge over most of the Infinity figures sculpt-wise.
Ironically, MERCS comissioned studio painter is also none other than Angel Giraldez, who is the official staff painter for Corvus Belli SLL, makers of Infintiy. This explains some of the similarity to Infinity.
What's more, MERCS Miniatures are making an entire game out of MERCS, and based on what I've gathered, it may be ready as soon as this summer. This is great news. More factions and figures are planed as well, and they recently secured well known miniature sculptor Bobby Jackson to create one of the next factions. That's good news for miniature enthusiasts everywhere.
The future for MERCS miniatures is definitely bright, and as I said at the start of this article, these are the guys to keep an eye on throughout 2010.
As an added bonus, we had the chance to interview MERCS Minis' Keith Lowe and Brian Shotton...
WarGameGuru: What inspired you to create MERCS Miniatures?
Keith: MERCS grew out of some pretty humble origins. During my last year in college I was really getting into video game concept art and Tom quickly became a very good sculptor.
A lot of credit goes to Tom here in that, at the time most of my sci-fi concept art was being done simply to grow and develop my drawing skills, but Tom was very interested in sculpting some of these concepts into figs.
When we saw how well people responded to the first figure, the CCC sniper, we were kinda like...hey this is great, you want to make more of these? Thus MERCS began.
WarGameGuru: Why did you opt to create 28mm miniatures in an already crowded market?
Keith: Part of the thought was that we wanted to create figures that people could use to supplement with their already existing miniature games figs. So 28mm seemed logical in that regards. We hadn't really considered a game yet.
It also has a lot to do with the fact that Tom sculpted primarily in 28mm. It was the scale he was comfortable with, and his stuff looked awesome.
WarGameGuru: The sculpts are absolutely amazing, based on what I've seen first-hand. Where did you find Tom Mason, and what inspired the design of the Yellow Jackets, and now Kem Var?
Keith: Tom and I met my freshman year in our college's (Indiana Wesleyan University) art program. At the time, we were both undergrads and pretty much wanted to be comic book artists. While Tom was already big into minis, and could paint really well, he wasn't sculpting just yet.
The CCC's design comes from my love for Unreal Tournament style power armor. I really like the contrast of the heavy armor against the fabric and clothing. I also dig lots of equipment, like packs, pouches, tools etc. The CCC feels very post modern Sci-Fi to me, but not too crazy future nutty Sci Fi (which is also cool).
The KemVar have a weird combination of almost tribal like armor around their legs and lower torso, and hi-tech equipment on their chest and backs. I like the creepy emotionless look they have with their masks.
Certainly inspired by night vision goggles, and Sci-Fi gas masks. The KemVar also has the added advantage in that Brian had come on board while we were developing them, as the writer and game developer . His mind is a plethora of crazy cool ideas!
WarGameGuru: I was also reading that Bobby Jackson of Reaper/Privateer Press/Ral Partha (just to name a few) fame is onboard to sculpt some miniatures for you guys as well, what can you tell us about that?
Keith: We're excited to have Bobby J. aboard. He was recommended by Tom as a good prospect to tackle our next upcoming faction: USCR. They are an intimidating, super heavy armored group of soldiers. These guys should be cool!
It also free'd up Tom to sculpt another upcoming group, the FCC.
WarGameGuru: I was reading the blister packaging for the Yellow Jacket Assault Trooper, and it reads like you guys are also working on a rule set, and making an entire game out of MERCS now. What can you tell us about that, and how is that coming along?
Brian: It is coming along quite well. It has some pretty unique elements. I designed it with some specific goals in mind. One, it has to be fun. Two, make it more tactical. Three, create a system that feels real. I tried to incorporate many of the things I learned in the U.S. Army. Movements, tactics, but make it enjoyable.
We've been in a close beta for about 16 months at this point. We have people from all over the world playing this thing. The rules have gone through a couple iterations, and I am very pleased with the final product.
I hope to open the Beta in the coming weeks. Rip it apart and fix it until there is nothing wrong or misunderstood. We are going to launch the game end of summer in digital download, and hope to get a print book out 2nd quarter 2011.
WarGameGuru: What other factions do you have planned, and what separates them from the existing Yellow Jackets, Kem Var and USCR?
Brian: The CCC Yellow Jackets are a very solid middle of the road, standard squad MERCS. Their advantage is clearly their armor is well built and doesn't fail as easy in the game as some of the other MegaCons. KemVar are a very tricky squad.
As one of the Beta-MERCS posted on our super secret hidden beta forums, "I will say that the KV are a unique faction to play. The CCC seem to be an all around 'good' squad. They have some neat abilities and play well with one another. The USCR are a heavy hitting group of fellahs with some nasty weapons.The KemVar on the other hand are like playing a piano. When played correctly, they are beautiful."
KemVar takes some getting used to and is not really recommended for an inexperienced tabletop gamer. USCR are strong; hit hard, and can control the battlefield. They are less flexible than KemVar or even the CCC, but perfect for people new to the hobby or like area control tactics.
The last of the launch factions is the FCC. They are a ragtag band of non-corporate do-gooders that are a bit of a mix and match for the player. They are extremely flexible and offer a MERCS player the most customization. Of course this comes at a price, in that if you make poor decisions in setting up your FCC squad, you run the risk of getting run off the table.
All the squads have been matched against each other over 300 times each and are pretty balanced. It is one of the things I am most proud of. With that said, MERCS has a little learning curve. If you play MERCS like you would other sci-fi skirmish games, you will find yourself missing a lot of targets and might get frustrated.
However, after a couple games, players begin to recognize the value of the positional modifiers and begin to play more intelligently, and really have a lot of fun playing.
MERCS has the potential for 6 other MegaCons. However, the viability of MERCS as a system needs to be tested before we fling ourselves over that cliff.
WarGameGuru: Tell us a little about the fluff, overall background story, and the world in which MERCS takes place?
Brian: Heh, that is originally what Keith asked me to do. I was tasked with writing some fluff for the website and I went a little nuts. Not long afterwards, he shared his desire for a game and to go after this thing with both hands and throttle it. I obliged. I made the game; showed him and Tom Mason, and they loved it. It has been in beta ever since.
The world of MERCS is a "What if?" of today. The world as we know it is now controlled and ran by 13 world mega-conglomerates--MegaCons. MERCS act as security forces with military grade training and weapons. The FCC (Free Corporate Control) uses guerilla tactics to try to destabilize MegaCons, but there is a symbiotic relationship between the two to say the least. More will be revealed with the expanded history in the book.
For now, there is a small timeline on the website. You can also find tidbits on our forums if you hunt some of the old posts and discussions.
WarGameGuru: Are there any larger pieces planned, like vehicles, fliers, mechanized robot types, etc?
Brian: Not at this time.
WarGameGuru: So far all of the figures have been metal, do you plan to go the plastic route as many others have been doing any time soon?
Brian: You know, I think we like metal. I grew up playing metal and, call me old school, but I like the way they feel better.
WarGameGuru: Is there anything you want to tell us about MERCS that we may not have touched upon?
Brian: Visit the site, we have so many little hidden things all over with kernels of information about what we're doing and what the future holds.
Visit your local hobby store and ask if they order stuff through Warpath Games (they are MERCS U.S. distributor), and if they don't tell them to. If you like what we do, help us. This business is a labor intensive place. You are our mouths. Welcome to the cause.
Manufacturer: MERC Miniatures