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28mm Review: Wargames Factory Ashigaru Spearmen

A whole box painted up
A whole box painted up

Large armies are awesome. Carrying them around, and paying for them, is not as awesome at all. The last couple of years have seen an explosion of plastic historical miniatures, which are cheaper and lighter than metal miniatures. The first company to venture into 28mm samurai is Wargames Factory, so I had to try some out and see how they compare to their competitors.

I tackled the ashigaru spearman box first. Personally I think that the biggest advantage of plastics is the ability to buy big, cheap units. To see how well this box suit this role I decided to try to paint up the entire unit of 25 ashigaru in around one month. This meant less effort on the small details, and more focus on getting it finished at all. Time for some speed painting!


Each sprue comes with parts for one conch blower and one drum team
Each sprue comes with parts for one conch blower and one drum team

Historically, there's not too much to complain about. The nagae-yari spears are long enough to show that it's not the normal spears carried by samurai, but not the 5.6 meters that Nobunaga's troops would use. The armour is a mix of breast-plate styles, and the box is suitable for an army during the later wars of the 16th century: they pass my modest layman scrutiny.

The overall quality was a pleasant surprise after seeing the computer rendered box cover. Being cast in plastic means that some details are much better than in metal miniatures: the swords and scabbards are much thinner and more realistic than what is possible in metal. The general proportions are also well done, they don't look at all as bulky as many metal miniatures are prone to be.

While the proportions are nice, the details sometimes suffer a bit. I'm not completely amazed by the faces, and some details are a bit "smudged" due to the nature of plastic casting. Certain parts are a bit stretched, like the shoulder straps and some of the hands. The other problem I have is that the poses easily get a bit wooden. This is a typical problem with multi-part plastic miniatures, but I noticed that the worst offenders where among my first attempts. I found that finding properly matching arms made a big difference, even if the matching arms are rarely positioned on the sprue where you might expect them, and least of all next to each other!



There are some other inherent pros and cons with the sprues. The box comes with five identical sprues. This means that you can, if you want, make 15 musicians and 5 banner bearers. This is an appreciated boon if you are a nut for banners like me, and giggle with glee as you to cram your units full of banner bearers. Why else would you collect samurai armies?

One the less fortunate side, your choices of legs are more restricted. If you only have one box, five of your ashigaru are going to be sitting down, and five will be charging forward. This, of course, tend to look silly. The easy solution is to not buy one box, but two, which you mix and match (cue diabolical laughter from a marketing executive somewhere). Two boxes of spearmen could make for a "defensive" posed unit and an "offensive" posed one. Or you could get one of the archer/arquebus box, which comes with the same legs and torsos, and make some dashing units of arquebuses with a kneeling frontline. This is the solution I've settled with, as the charging poses you get in the arquebus box will look just as out of place if you arm them with guns.


The two banners used by Kobayakawa Hideaki
The two banners used by Kobayakawa Hideaki

Each sprue comes with a banner, and on this one I settled for the Kobayakawa clan. You might know them as the sneaky gits who switched sides at Sekigahara, tipping the scales in Ieyasu Tokugawa's favour. In a bit of ahistorical fancy I went with white details on red background, which actually was used by his missile troops, instead of red on white. I already have enough white banners for my Tokugawa units!


It's just a flesh wound!
It's just a flesh wound!

The advantage of plastics is that it's quite easy to modify it with a simple hobby knife. Repositioning arms is an easy way to add a bit of variety to your troops. Most of the Wargames Factory units that I had seen painted up were a bit too uniform to my taste, which made me worry a bit. Once I had the box in hand I quickly realized that there were plenty of ways to spice the unit up so that it doesn't look dull next to my metal units.


From left: The Assault Group, Wargames Factory, Perry Miniatures
From left: The Assault Group, Wargames Factory, Perry Miniatures

So how do they stack up to my other miniatures? Pricewise they are a strong contender, currently 25 miniatures (including bases) for just 20 USD. They look a bit thinner, but the height is quite similar to The Assault Group and Perry Miniatures, so I think they look fine on the same tabletop. Some of the details are generally better, and some are worst. But overall they look much better than what I expected! I was quite cautious after seeing some of the poorer entries in Wargames Factory's lineup.

The biggest advantage is not aesthetic, but practical. I love my metal samurai, but to play with them I have to carry them back and forth to the club on a bumpy bus ride over cobblestones. Needless to say, even the best of transport bags will leave me a mess of broken off back banners and lost pikes. Not to mention that they are quite heavy! Plastic, on the other hand, is a lot more resilent in certain way, the lightness means that even if I dropped these buggers on the floor plenty of times, banners and spears would very rarely fall off. I look forward to taking these out of a transport bag and not having to glue banners for half an hour before deploying.

The downside is, though, that the plastic used in this kit will easily break if it is bent. I almost managed to break one pike already as I happened to put down my hand on a hedgehog of raised pikes. Since the pikes are the most vulnerable part of this kit I'm quite happy to have some steel pikes around that I can replace broken plastic pikes for.


That's 56 hand painted heraldric marks on the banners! *phew*
That's 56 hand painted heraldric marks on the banners! *phew*

So there you have it: roughly one month of painting, and a medium sized finished unit. While not the prettiest belle of the ball, I can't deny that they were quite fun to put together, and that they look good as a unit. And what more can you ask for when you want to bulk out your army with crappy peasants?

I started with the ashigaru spearmen box first, as I thought it looked the most promising of the three available kits, but I promise to tell more about the others once I've painted them up.


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2013-02-17 New Review
I uploaded a new review, this time covering the 28mm Ashigaru Missile Troop box from Wargames factory.
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Did you know...

The horses used by the samurai had an average height at only around 130 cm, and could barely come up to 7-9 km/h when carrying an armoured samurai.
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