Greetings shipmates! I've got something just a little bit different today. A first look at the plastic 28mm scale Desert Rats from Perry Miniatures.
First impressions then: Like all Perry boxes it comes in a nice, well presented format, nifty pictures and the like and interestingly... unsealed. You can open the box and check out the sprues before you part with any cash. This is welcome feature as there is only the one actual model on the front, I say welcome feature but also a double edged sword. Check the box contents before you buy lest some unscrupulous type chose to bolster the numbers in another box. Value for money? The Rats retail at about £20 but there are thirty eight of them in the box. Yup, 38 28mm models for your £20. That's 52p a model. Not shabby compared to - plucking a random example out of the GW new releases - a dire avenger box set for £20 that has... five models. Yeah... £4 plays 52p. Obviously then the models aren't as good right? Wrong.
Firstly, these are horrible photos. I am sorry for that. Hope you can still see enough detail. By the time I had noticed the astonishing albedo of the white surface beneath I had already cut off half a platoon's worth from the sprues and couldn't reshoot! The models are cast by Renedra - who are some of the people who used to do GW casting by the way. Citadel had their casting operation in Wisbech (my home town). So having a Wisbech miniature casting firm still going is a source of nostalgic glee. You'll notice a similarity to the way the Lord of the Rings plastics were designed - not surprising as they were also Perrys! - with the models being primarily one piece castings with only the gun arms and helmets being separate. This is very common amongst historical miniatures where for some reason it is considered essential to have plastics with the absolute minimum of parts. Probably to do with speed of assembly for the huge armies some games need.
Another nostalgic point was the plastic, somehow, seeing tan brown plastic soldiers transported me back to playing with the pound shop army men of my youth and later the airfix kits that went with them. Couldn't matter less to the quality but a pleasing frisson nonetheless. There are three identical sprues of regular infantrymen and a command sprue making up the numbers with enough weaponry to perfectly replicate the armament of a full platoon of the period (a mix of Lee Enfields, Thompson sub machine guns, the peerless Bren guns, a light mortar and even a Boys anti-tank rifle). It was this "platoon-in-a-box" feature that drew me to buy them in the first place, this along with the soon-to-be released Perry Afrika Corps platoon-in-a-box would give me a perfect wargaming microcosm. A platoon engaging their opposite numbers. But I digress.
The command sprue contains the officer and a signalman complete with radio set. You get a few options on the officer so not all your "Ruperts" look exactly the same. Given the pose though I'd probably replace with a metal alternative for subsequent platoons if I was building a company. Note the seperate leg on the signalman for ease of casting. I'll be coming back to that later. Before we get into impressions of assembling these lads I do want to mention one really bizzare decision in the packaging. The bases that come with these are almost all 20mm round bases from Renedra. Essentially thick plasticard that you glue the integral cast bases on the models to. However, for the lying down models they have included larger 40mm bases... that are square. Just weird as a decision because Renedra make round 40mm bases that would be perfect and wouldn't jar with the smaller ones. Confusing. Possibly a mispack?
Assembly is a mixed bag. The models have virtually no flash and minimal mould lines. The mould lines also (with one exception) go across the head from ear to ear rather than across the face. As I've mentioned, they are almost one piece figures so removal and clean-up is a breeze. Take care of the smaller componants though. These are true-scaled 28mm miniatures so the weapons are thin and delicate. The helmets in particular - kept separate in a cunning move to allow realistic undercuts - are easy to damage at the rim. Remove further along the sprue and then use a new scalpel to shave it smooth. The poses are nice and varied with decent unexaggerated movement. Something to note is how well the centre of mass is positioned. Some companies *cough*mantic*cough* are quite bad at this, creating models that look like they are falling over because the centre of mass is beyond one of the legs. No such problems here.
There are a couple of problems created by the one-piece casting, but only a couple. One of the lads has some very baggy shorts and the bren gun loader's right arm is quite badly distorted by the position it was cast in. Considering that they removed the Signalman's leg to make for a nicer cast surely we could have handled the arm being removed so that it too could be well cast? Some of the models also need pouches adding for the ammo (again not cast in place due to undercut problems). These are very, very small and fiddly. Use tweezers.
I also assembled the command section to show you the other varients of the lying down soldiers. The Boys rifle fits just the same as the bren gun, the mortar is simple enough as well. Both of these weapons do require the modelling of the teams lying down. It does mean that only one of the bren gunners in the platoon (there are three) can be modelled lying down and firing. The others need to be modelled moving (there is a spare arm with a bren gun held at the trail). The fit of the parts are all very precise, I had almost no problems getting things to fit, there was only one pair of arms that was a little awkward. Had the feel of being designed for a specific torso and I think I'd used it already. This brings me to my only major bugbear with this kit and it is one that I keep running in to. No decent documentation.
There are no real instructions for this kit, just a mention of which arms are paired for the heavy weapons. Granted, there is a handy diagram of the armament of a platoon but almost no assembly help. Considering how much effort was made in every other aspect this is a bizzare oversight. Seriously? Too hard just to assemble a couple of sprues and take some pictures? There are guys out there who will be happy to do loads of photos of assembled models, even step by step guides for no more payment than some free sprues. Heck, I'm one of 'em.
Having said that, this is a superb set. The ease of assembly, the quality of the sculpting from industry veterans for a mere 52p a model, the nice range of poses and armaments and best of all the platoon-in-a-box aspect all make this a real winner. I'll let you know how they paint but I can really recommend them to anyone interested in gaming some 28mm WW2.
Hope this helps some people!
*EDIT* Something I completely forgot. If you want to represent the Long Range Desert Group (forerunners of the SAS) they've included the conversion parts in the form of arab headdressed/soft hatted bearded heads. You can chop off the regular heads and add these. Just add a Pink Panther Land Rover or two and you are set.