Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sculpting Miniatures

Seeing what some of these guys are doing on KickStarter as far a miniatures go is pretty amazing.  An example of this is the guys at Mercs Miniatures in there successfully funded Myth game, for the $100 level you get around 150 minis, which the prototypes of look incredible.  Plus, in addition to the 150 minis you get a lot more components that allow you to actually play the game.

What gets me is I look at the most basic of playing pieces, which is the Meeple, which the Game Crafter's sell for $0.40 each.  Now I realize that Merc is a miniature design company, but other games do essentially the same thing.  Zombiecide KickStarters also included a huge number of minis for the cost of the game.

What I'd like to know is how these companies design and manufacture minis of such high quality and add them to their games with other high quality components and do all this at half the price that I can do the same thing with crappy components and the most basic of game pieces.

I realize that I just need to spend some time chatting with game designers to figure out this magic formula, but I know that it essentially comes down to it being their full time job, and for me it's just a one person part time hobby.  To get the costs down as much as they do, they must be doing runs of tens of thousands of the common figures, and these runs are done in China where they end up costing pennies per final product figure.  Where for my stuff it'd be a run of like 10 or 100, from someplace in america where everything cost much more.

So, my solution for at least my prototypes has been to learn how to sculpt.  I agree that is sounds silly, especially since I have enough (actually more than enough) hobbies as it is, but when you look at the cost of even dopey looking custom meeples, they are around $1 to $4 per figure.  So, i figure an 8 oz. block of Sculpty Putty is about $5 from the local craft store, and a set of tools was another $10...So for an investment of around $50, I've got enough supplies to make an army of mini-figs and even if they are dopey looking, they beat the crap out of resorting to a standard wooden cube for $0.10.

My first project was a 4X game I'm calling Eternal Wars, where each player controls an Arch-devil and manages resources to be the one to a mass the most victory points while building a palace for themselves and increasing their personal power.  This is essentially a typical resource management game with each player requiring 8 Devil Meeples, a custom Meeple for representing each of the three resources and and another 3 place holder figures, so basically I was originally thinking a standard meeple for most of these, which came to about round $7 per player plus another $7 for the demon hordes...So $35 in meeples alone.

So, I basically nearly made back my $50 in sculpting supplies in my first project.  I made simple devil meeples out of the putty, which consist of a ball for the head on top of tapered cylinder body, with horns, eyes and a goatee.  Yeah, they are some what dopey, but also sort of cute, and actually look much better than the meeple alternatives.  Then I made the resource trackers: a crown for power, a tormented soul and a demonic slave, and crafted the demonic hordes similar to the slaves.

So now I have a set of 50 or so custom meeples and still have hardly dented my putty supplies, which also includes allowing the kids to craft a whole bunch of creatures and items of their own design.  The sculpting is something that I can do late into the night while I catch up on a Netflix series, which otherwise would be, lets face it, wasted time.

In addition to the dopey looking demons and devils, I've also started making custom 25mm figures of heroes that could be used as characters or NPCs in a fantasy campaign.  Now I'm not sure what my original motivation was here, seeing that I have nearly 2500 minis as it is, I think it was more to see if I could.

I admit that my first two were less than desirable, but looking at some of the WizKids minis, even my crappy ones are on par with some of these crappy minis.  My third attempt is already looking like an actual usable mini, even in the middle stages of creation.  It really surprised me how fun and easy it was to get to this point.

Now, the 25mm figures took considerable more time than the ball and cylinder devils and demons, but to rough out a mini takes about twice as much time as the very simplistic meeples.  The good thing about the 25mm heroes is that the wire frame takes up a fair amount of the overall model volume so that they take hardly any putty to create, in contrast to the devil and demons with no internal structure so their entire volume is putty.  The other good thing about the hero figures is that since they will eventually be primed and painted, so they can be sculpted out of any material that is left I typically just mix all my scraps together for use in mini creation.

I'm only on my forth hero mini (the archer), but already I'm feeling like its something that is an enjoyable hobby, and can't wait to display my own custom creations at the gaming table once I have them painted.

I still have some work to do on the minis before I consider priming them for painting, and am liking going to be switching to "Green Stuff" on any future additions to the characters, to avoid having to bake them over and over (plus I just want to see the difference in the material).  I like the idea of being able to add layers to the minis and only having to wait for the green stuff to dry.

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