Friday, July 27, 2018

Are we experiencing a golden age in 28mm gaming?

I guess I’m getting a bit long on the tooth. I “started” wargaming back in the late 1970s with the ubiquitous Airfix 1:72nd scale HO/OO figures and kits. This was soon followed Matchbox with their 1:76 scale infantry, hanomags, 17pdr and Morris C8 tractor, pak 40 + SDKFZ11, Sherman firefly,  M16 half track, chaffee, wespe to name a few of the kits soon gracing my gaming collection. A year or two and I discovered Esci, which to my pre-teenage brain were light years ahead of both the two English companies in terms of detail on both figures and vehicles, and they became my first choice for infantry. I also liked their vehicles but they were a bit fiddly to put together and weren’t really in scale to Matchbox or Airfix, but that mattered little to my friend Ian and me.   

In those days Airfix kits and figures were readily available and building kits was a rite of passage for many boys. Military figures and kits were widely available in most specialised model railway and hobby shops not to mention more general toy stores here in New Zealand. HO/OO 1:72nd and 1:76th kits were the main scale used by most local wargamers I knew, and being pre internet and not involved in the local clubscene, that wasn’t that many! I guess that’s what in these globally connected days, we would refer to as the local meta. I know that Ian and I both looked with great envy at the beautiful metal figures and vehicles to fill out ranges available in the UK but with the prices in pound, the weak NZ dollar, exorbitant postage not to mention extremely limited gaming budgets they were right out of the question!

Over the years I built up a sizeable collection of 1:76/1:72nd plastic kits. In fact , the bulk of my first fulltime pay packet after leaving school went on buying 8x Hasegawa M3 half tracks to mechanise my US infantry forces!

But, as is often the way, in my later teenage years I put aside gaming for more appropriate pastimes- hanging out with mates, drinking, partying, girlfriends etc but never completely gave up gaming.
It wasn’t until just after I got married and I moved to Japan for three years that I really returned to the hobby. In my first few weeks in Japan I found a local gaming store that had a lot of Fujimi 1:76 scale kits. Pretty much the first Japanese I learned was how to order kits. The shopkeeper thought I was a crazy gaijin who didn’t understand Japanese at all when I ordered 12x T34s. Eventually he figured out yes, I was serious and so ordered them for me. They duly appeared the following week and I biked home (we biked everywhere in Japan) with two bags of models perched on my handlebars- having given the shopowner a second bulk order for the following week. I spent many, many evenings in Japan building 1:76 scale kits and would transport them home on my annual trips back to NZ as well as sending numerous repacked unmade kits back home Ian so we could fill large voids in our collections- especially for Eastern Front armour.

I returned to NZ in 1999 I then moved to Timaru and in time made contact with some other gamers a year or so later. A couple showed interest in WWII gaming and we started dabbling with Rapid Fire in 1:72nd scale. About that time a small company in NZ called Battlefront had their playtest version of the rules available online and were appearing to demonstrate the game of Flames of War: Company Commander at the NZ Wargaming Nationals in Christchurch (2002?). Ian and I had both checked out their website but the pictures of some of the 15mm staff looked pretty average at best so decided we’ better check them out in person. We did so and immediately decided to ditch 20mm/1:72 scale and so sold off all our staff and 15mm gaming became our main gaming scale of the next decade.

The local gamers embraced FoW and we ended up having a sizeable gaming community and many, many evenings of enjoyable games and I ran an annual FoW tournament for a decade. In time we started the Timaru Armchair Generals back up after more than a decade’s hiatus and I’m glad to say it’s still going strong some 15 years later.

I recall about 2010/2011 having a conversation with Kent of Galpy’s 15mm Painting Shed fame discussing 28mm figures. He’d just painted up some Warlord Games (metal) US paras and was sounding keen to get into 28mm gaming but we both concluded that the scale, and price of metal miniatures meant we’d stick to 15mm- so ended up building some 15mm Napoleonic armies instead and he sold his freshly painted armies!

I did have some Gripping Beast 28mm Vikings and Saxons I’d purchased in late 2000 when I briefly toyed with the idea of 28mm DBA but really hated the way the DBA basing for 28mm scale worked, it just didn’t look right so the project languished for a long time as no one I knew did 28mm gaming- it was too damn expensive-  and I wanted bigger armies and more dynamic basing to the DBA standard.  

It wasn’t till a year or two later that Kent and I changed our minds and decided to get into 28mm Napoleonic’s for the 200th anniversary of Borodino project and the rest is as they say history. Metal 28mm figures were a hell of a lot  more expensive than our traditional scale of 15mm but painted up nicely and were a damn sight easier to see than 15mm figures seemed to be becoming to my 40 something year old eyes.

So I guess my foray into 28mm has coincided with a bit of a renaissance in 28mm gaming. In the last six years or so we’ve witnessed a real growth in popularity for 28mm historics, driven in no small part by the ever increasing ranges of plastics out there that are making 28mm gaming cheaper and more accessible than ever before. Companies like Victrix, Warlord Games, Gripping Beast, Perry Miniatures, Fireforge, and for fantasy Games Workshop, Mantic and Oathmark to name a few. In fact the GW Lord of the Rings range were in truth probably the first to start this process with their excellent LoTR releases accompanying  Peter Jackson’s movies. Thy are still some of my favourite figures. 

However, some of the early plastic ranges were a bit hit and miss but the quality of sculpts (and increased use of computer aided design) has continued to improve and has meant some companies are producing really outstanding stuff. I’m still a bit of a metal snob in some eras- preferring metals to plastic in WWII for instance- too many bad experiences with subpar Warlord Games plastics and frustrated that they ditch very nice metals ranges for pretty average plastics ones. But other manufacturers, such as Victrix historics I buy without second thought as the quality is as good as, if not sometimes better, than the higher end metals available.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have a deep love for metal figures and there are a number of outstanding companies out there that I buy but the plastics make it easier and cheaper to bulk out armies and get larger forces on table. The more dynamic/individualised metals can be used for special character and to add variety to rank and file units and many of my forces are a mix of both plastics and metals which I’m sure is the same for many gamers. As ranges increase options of mixing and matching and kitbashing new figures by combining parts of different manufacturers kits has also become easier and easier, not to mention ease of customising plastics in general.

I think a number of outstanding blogs- some of which I have links too, have also made 28mm gaming more attractive and there is nothing like the spectacle of a well organised 28mm game on beautiful terrain. My own participation in the Borodino and Gettysburg events in Christchurch a few years back being my first chance to take part in the truly majestic spectacles of massed 28mm figures on table with fellow wargame enthusiasts that I’d only till that point ever really ever seen in UK and US wargaming magazines.

So where is this post heading? I’m not really sure except to say that I think the development of the modern 28mm plastics has lead to a revival of interest in the scale and also in historic gaming in general. Great figures at more affordable prices for creating larger armies, coupled with a range of outstanding blogs,  not to mention a wide range of excellent rules available means that in my opinion we are indeed witnessing a revival, or renaissance of you will in gaming in this scale, long may it prosper.



  1. A golden age for many aspects of gaming, I think. Huge diversity in rules, some great figures and kits, all we need is more time :D

  2. I agree with you it is a golden age for gaming products but I think it’s because technology now allows small cottage manufacturers to reach a global audience and with something as niche as wargaming that’s critical.

    Plastics are a huge factor in my desire to to 28mm both from a cost and quality viewpoint - i’m A bit of a heretic and find painting plastic easier than metals. Oddly, most of my current projects are in 15mm - I think that’s just for a change of pace. 28’s will remain the mainstay of my efforts

    1. Gone are the days of small ads by the cottage industry in the back of Military Modeller etc- the internet has definitely helped in that respect- as has kickstarter type funding.

      Some plastics are easier, some of he earlier ones (eg Perry WWII and ACW) have soft details that are a pain to pick out/paint, I guess the same goes for some metals companies too, I love Artizan metals the details are easy to pick out & paint.

      Good luck with the 15mm projects.

  3. Great post. We are spoilt for choice. But I still love my Airfix and Matchbox kits.

  4. Cheers Sun of York, and ain't that the truth!

    I'm my quest for the nostalgia of youth, I've even started collecting some of the old Commando comics I used to enjoy as a kid!

  5. The shop I used to go to in Tsudanuma,Funabashi,Chiba had wondered why their sales of 1/72 went up. I would buy whatever they got. After I got married and moved away, sales dropped off and they stopped selling.
    I then had to go to Akihabara in Tokyo.
    Now back in Nova Scotia, I have to order my stuff online unless I go to Halifax

  6. I was down in Kochi in Shikoku supporting local business down there :)

  7. I think for the Airfix generation, the new plastic 28’s certainly plug in to that nostalgia hit in pulling out sprues from a box.

  8. Good point! A bit easier to customise though.