Sunday, July 15, 2012

It's A Plastic Panther Fight!!! (Or is it?)

by Sandwyrm


Battlefront's John Paul has promised to 'think about' listened to their fans and compromised on their BF-only models decision for their own tournaments. But whatever comes of that (local money is was right on them switching to a percentage system as GW used to do), they're not relying on this ban alone to help fight off the gains that The Plastic Soldier Company has been making in the 15mm market. Because I noticed today that their latest update includes a new plastic Panther offering of their own. Welcome to the fight Battlefront! Let's take a look at what you have!


First up, the competition. The Plastic Soldier Company sells a pretty nice Panther sprue with parts for the A, D, and G sub-types either one at a time, or 5 to a box. If you buy them retail, the 5-tank box will cost you $26.

Pic From WW2 Wargaming
I've seen them assembled (and painted) at the FLGS, and I've been pretty impressed with the quality. Just as I have with my own Panzer III's and IV's that I've bought from them. The detail is crisp, and the parts fit together nicely. The only complaint that I've heard about them is that the tracks are annoying to put together. Since they come in 2 separate pieces that have to be fitted around the wheels. Notice the depth of the detail on the road wheels, and how the drive wheel in the front is a separate piece.

It's the same as the assembly on my own Panzer III's and IV's. There is a seam at the front and the back that breaks the pattern of the treads. And some of my own tanks (not from this kit) have had the 2 halves not quite fit together cleanly. Or have had the seam skewed, such that I have had to shave off some plastic from one side or the other to make them look right. Personally I don't mind that, but a purist might. You will find the occasional dimple too (the worst is on the commander's back), but most of these are subtle and are either in places that you won't notice, or are easy to fill with Liquid Green Stuff.

Pic From WW2 Wargaming
The sprue itself is well laid out and has the distinctive look of a CAD-modeled sprue whose mold has been digitally machined. It reminds me a lot of Games Workshop's digital plastics work, where there's no wasted space on the sprue at all, and the parts are tightly packed.

Note the 2 tank commanders on the left side, middle. They're EXACTLY the same as the ones on my Panzer III's and IV's.

CAD is nice like that, because if you're pumping out a bunch of similar products, you can save time by re-using parts between models. While you still have the ability to put them anywhere on the sprue that you want. You also get the ability to re-size the same design up or down into a different scale and make other molds for different markets very quickly.

And if you needed any more proof that it's made directly from a CAD model:


Hey look! 3D instructions!

Now let's look at what Battlefront is offering. Their Sprue is priced at $5.00 each, and can be used to build not only the A, D, and G models of Panther, but the Jagdpanther too.


Um... that's not digitally designed. It's obviously been done by hand. In fact it's distinctly old-school in appearance. It looks like every plastic model car sprue that I ever saw growing up. Where they arbitrarily placed parts within standard frame sizes when creating the mold. That can't be efficient.

Also, if I'm not mistaken, there's stuff missing. I mean, where's the parts for the body and the deck of the tank? Where's the turret? Where's the alternate parts for the Jagdpanther top? Those should be blindingly obvious, but I'm not seeing them.

Maybe there's a sprue missing, but the copy says it's one sprue for $5.00. So what's going... uh oh. The advert/announcement doesn't say 'Plastic Panther Tank', it says 'Plastic Panther Sprue'.

Now I get it. You're supposed to use these plastic parts with Battlefront's EXISTING RESIN KITS!


So I'm supposed to buy a Resin Panther or Jagdpanther for $14.00, then buy this kit for another $5.00 to replace the metal components with plastic ones. All so I can pay $19.00 for a single tank that I can use in the 8 BF tournaments next year that I MIGHT want to go to. Because obviously we'd all buy BF models if only there wasn't any metal in them. Oh, except for the pumkin-headed metal commanders. You still have to use them.

Or I can pay just $7 more and get 5 plastic tanks of superior quality from PSC and stick to independent events.

What's going on here? 

Even if Battlefront uses this new sprue to replace the metal parts in their existing blisters and boxed sets, what will that get the price down to? I'm betting $9.99. But even at $7.00 I'm not going to buy a resin model with crappy plastic glue-ons. Look at those 2-part gun barrels. That seam alone would dive me up a wall every time I looked at the model.

When I started this post I really thought that Battlefront had stepped up it's game (or at least started to) and finally addressed the Plastic Soldier Problem. But now I'm pretty disappointed. Not only in the product itself, but in the (lack of) strategy that it represents.

So here's what I think that Battlefront needs to do: It should buy the Plastic Soldier Company.

Battlefront, you obviously have no plans to go digital in your model creation process, and you REALLY need to. SOON! So the easiest way to get that expertise and experience is to buy it. Because you only have 2-5 years before you have to face the full fury of the 3D design and printing revolution. Which the small boutique plastics manufacturers like PSC are only the leading-most edge of.

Think about the upsides:

1) Model Once, Re-Use Everywhere

Model (on the computer) once, and kick out molds of a model for every single WWII gaming scale. Extreme changes in scale will require some additional details (or their removal), but you can then branch out of 15mm anytime that you please without having to completely re-model everything first.

You can also build up a catalog of parts that can be re-used in any new release. So tank commanders, guns, stowage, and whatnot can be shared amongst multiple models at zero additional sculpting cost per sprue. Which also leads into the next advantage.

2) It Reduces Your Inventory Costs

Right now you're kicking out boxes and blisters that use a lot of standardized parts between them. That means that someone has to go through all that inventory and match up part X with product Y. This costs a lot of labor, and contributes to your quality control problems. Wherein tanks come out of the box with 2 left tracks or other such sorting mistakes.

But with digital, that problem goes away. If a tank shares something with another tank, just digitally drop it onto the sprue before the mold is made. Your new releases are then 1 sprue per product and don't have to be sorted at all. Your quality then goes up, and your labor costs start falling.

3) No More Pumpkin-Heads And Weird Hands

When a hand-sculpted miniature is made, there's not much that you can do later to correct it's proportions. But when you design a miniature digitally, you can re-size and modify the proportions of a model at-will. Look at the tank commander on the PSC sprue above. Or better yet, look at this pic that I took of my PSC PzIV commander:


That's more fine detail, and much better proportions, than even the best miniature sculptor can do by hand. And it's going to be the norm for every new plastics manufacturer and garage resin caster that springs up over the next few years. You simply can't keep sculpting your infantry figures by hand, casting them in lead, and compete once PSC and others start producing infantry en-masse.

Pic From Alpha Hobbies
But wait, they already have. At least for the most common late-war troops.

Sure, you'll still need to go non-plastic for a while on your lower-volume infantry sets. That's where resin (and not metal) can fill in. But you still need to design those miniatures digitally.

4) PSC Has Products That You Can Sell Right Away.

And that's the big thing. Buy them, mark the sets up a few bucks to pay the loan back faster, and you've got a running start into digital production.

I know you guys think of yourselves as the good-GW, and dream of having everything they do. Because many of your top guys started there. But times are changing, new technologies are here, and what worked for GW in the past won't work you (or them) in the future. 

And... GW is ahead of you on this.

They changed over to digital years ago, and have been reaping the manufacturing benefits for a while now. When the 3D printing revolution hits, they already have, on the design and manufacturing end, the technologies and techniques they need to compete using high volume plastics manufacturing to stay cheaper than what a home 3D scanner-printer will be able to reproduce their models for.

From a corporate standpoint, GW may not be able to cut down it's sky-high margins and stay in business, given their management and investor issues. But they do have that design and manufacturing capability. You need it too!

18 comments:

  1. I was just thinking the same thing about how BF should buy out PSC. Unfortunately that might require a substantial cash reserve that BF doesn't have. Something else BF could do is sell license agreements so that PCS could slap FoW approved stamps on their kits.

    Anything would be better than putting the customer in the position of having to choose between a good value and having a tournament legal army.

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    1. Yeah, I don't know if they have the reserves for such a purchase either. Given that they launched a brand new game and model line (FoW: Vietnam) that isn't selling; and then bought Wargames Illustrated (to save it from insolvency) when they really shouldn't have. Because there's no future in print periodicals, and they already have an effective web presence.

      At least they've backtracked now on the BF-only miniatures policy. Though my sneaky side suspects that the complete ban may have been a clever ploy to make the new 50% ratio more palatable. But either way, I'm happy now.

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    2. I believe they already tried to, and PSC told them to go on their way.

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    3. Well, if that's the case, then they need to invest in their own tech now.

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    4. That Vietnam game really tears me up. The US vehicle models are really cool, but the only thing the VC get are AK's. Plus it's Vietnam(though if any historical wargame is fair game then they should all be-still it's kind of icky-like playing SS in Flames).

      I think BF should do a hypothetical WWIII game set in the 70-80's. Kind of like a Red Storm Rising type scenario. That way they would have some unique IP and a second product line that people would actually play. Who wouldn't want to play T-72s vs Pattons while Hinds and Apaches are zooming around firing TOW's?

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    5. Yeah, I don't think that the Brits and New Zealand guys who came up with that one understand the raw feelings that folks in the USA still have about Vietnam. It's a war that literally ripped huge tears in our social fabric that won't heal for another 20 years at least. If ever. And even if you put that aside, tanks and Hueys vs. AK's just doesn't look fun. Even if it's perfectly balanced.

      Now, a wargame set between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, set in the 80's, would sell like absolute hotcakes here in the USA. There was a PC game called World In Conflict that had a near-collapse Russia invading Seattle to try and grab the Hanford Nuclear Labs in '91. Complete with Tears For Fears and other music from the time. It was great. Expand that into Europe too, and you're golden. :)

      Some of the Arab-Israeli wars from the 50's and 60's would be interesting too. With hoards of light and medium armor vs. some of the best tanks of the time.

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    6. Hey, if BF won't make it, maybe WE should.

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    7. I think the world needs a grimdark alternative much worse ATM. :)

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    8. But I want to play with Abrams tanks NEEOOOOWWWWWW :( /Cartman Voice

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    9. I think BF should have / should venture into Korea, or What if Yalta or Potsdam had broken down, and WWII continued as West vs. East?

      assuming of course, that Japan surrendered. or heck, since we're re-writing this... Make Japan a 3rd belligerent faction. The Western allies would have their hands full enough with the Soviets, that the Japanese army was able to make some gains. The Japanese still hated the Soviets, and vice versa. Out of necessity, they have an uneasy truce.

      USA, Britian, and a Broken France continue to fight it out in Europe, and in Asia.

      or Korea was a much easier war to transition to than Vietnam, and had a lot more time to cool off in people's memories.

      it seems peculiar to me to watch guys old enough to have served in the Nam playing Nam as a miniature wargame. Let alone, what seems like such a one-sided fight.

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    10. Korea also had much more interesting battles and campaigns. With multi-national tank battles, daring landings, and then the Chinese wave sweeping down the peninsula.

      Model-wise, a lot of the FoW range could have been re-used. And they could have released all of the new shiny tanks that barely got to fight in WWII itself.

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  2. Just got this in an email:

    "Battlefront Official Events Update

    In all the years we have been in business we have had an open and honest policy about listening to our gamers and genuinely taking their views on board to the extent of sometimes changing our plans. We apologise for the confusion and angst our announcement has caused as it was never our intention. We did not see this change as a big problem as we were simply formalising something we already thought was existing practise, albeit informally.

    In the interests of compromise and fairness to everybody’s opinion we will change the word “all” to “majority” (meaning over half) in the tournament rules for the 2013 season. Although we were not clear enough about this last week we did not consider die cast planes, scratch built models or objectives (assuming they are the right size), terrain or models we do not currently make to be covered by this. As is always the case, if you are unsure simply get in touch with your tournament organiser and clarify the situation but we are going to revert to the best option in all cases, common sense.

    The new season rules take effect from the masters in December this year and only apply to the officially run Battlefront tournaments listed on our site. Independent tournaments are free to choose their own system, as they always have been.

    One of the feedback ideas that did come back from our weekend conversations that we really liked was to also further reward people who came along with 100% Battlefront armies. This is an idea that we will definitely work on for the future.

    We are committed to supporting and growing the Flames Of War hobby and want to invest more in the future, in events, the website and programs like the Rangers all of which we are happy to spend money on to provide this to you for free.

    We want to thank our moderators for doing such a sterling job this weekend especially given they had no warning at all. We appreciate all the civil comments whether for or against. We feel that our compromise shows that we believed all views have merit. We hope this once again proves that we do listen.

    ~ Pete, John & John-Paul. "

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    1. AWESOME! Good for them!!!

      The local club guys figured that it would end this way. This isn't the first time BF has done something boneheaded. But they do listen to their fans and admit their mistakes. My good opinion of their character is restored.

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    2. Here's the updated statement on the FoW site:

      http://www.flamesofwar.com/Default.aspx?tabid=57&art_id=3380

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  3. Sandy with the scoop!

    I've been a big fan of PSC stuff for a while now. I own 15 PSC Panzer IV's, 15 Stugs, 4 Panthers (one broken- I blame cat), 5 halftracks and 2 boxes of infantry (which easily make 2 grenadier platoons, 1 engineer platoon and 5 MG stands each- 28 stands!).

    I can't even do 50% BF at this point, sadly.
    :(

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    1. Let's see, I've got 5 PSC PzIII's, 10 PSC PzIV's, a Zveda PzII, and 7 Zveda Pz38T's. All but the Zveda PzII look great.

      On the Battlefront side, I've got 5 Tigers that look pretty good when the barrels aren't bent or the fenders haven't snapped off because I picked them up wrong; and which are using PSC commanders in place of the BF ones. And then I have 5 BF PzII's that are warped all to hell. One is bowed downward in a u-shape if you look at it from the front. Another is twisted along it's length.

      I've got 4 Stugs from the old starter set who are floating in mid-air because they have resin 'feet' that protrude from the lower body, and I don't have the respirator that I would need in order to grind them down safely. Two of them have broken Shürzen because the resin used is so brittle and I picked them up wrong. I've had to cut on them to try and make it look like battle damage.

      Last but not least are the AA trucks where one's barrel snapped off when I tried to straighten it back out after it got bent. Or the very expensive transports that didn't come with any passengers, just a driver. And which have badly casted bases.

      So yeah, none of those BF figs was, I feel, worth the money compared to what a PSC version would cost. PSC is both higher quality, and lower priced than what BF currently offers, by far.

      As for tournaments and the >50% rule, my current 1625 list is safe because more than half of my models/bases are BF Infantry, transports, AA trucks, and 88's.

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  4. ...and there was great rejoicing in the FoW corner!

    CK

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  5. On the original point - I'd actually like a plastic conversion kit if it let me change my IS-2s into ISU-152s. That'd double the usefullness of each tank for a reduced cost. I'm tempted to just plasticard a box for the top though, it's not much less than what the Ruskies did themselves!

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