Sunday, 24 June 2012

Blue Moon / Xan Miniatures Review

So, the other Sunday I was browsing TMP (because if I did that then I wasn't painting) and came across a thread in the Napoleonic Gallery by "Rafa", a talented Spanish painter, who was showing off some French Line Infantry by a new Spanish company called Xan Miniatures. The figures looked really good (very similar indeed to AB) so in a fit of enthusiasm I bought a 36 man battalion and a bag of six skirmishing voltiguers. €15.93 (US $19.99 / £12.81) for the figures and €12.50 (US $15.68 / £10.06 for the postage). The equivalent AB figure packs from Fighting 15s in the UK would be £33.00 without postage (Ian Marsh offers free postage for orders over £50.00) so, if the quality is good then these will be very competitive.

At the same time I rashly ordered some Blue Moon figures from Old Glory UK. I'd looked at them on the web but not actually seen them when I went to Salute. I ordered a pack of French Line Infantry Centre Company and one pack of Flank Company figures (and the same again of Peninsular British Line Infantry) - in the UK these are packed and priced as follows:

Centre Company x30 figures (£11.00 / US $17.16 / €13.67)
Flank Company x12 figures (£5.00 / US $7.80 / €6.21)     

After looking at the Blue Moon command packs I thought I'd give them a miss - for one thing I have a ton of spare French Line Infantry command figures left over from the "Big Box" and for another, I just wasn't that keen on them. Postage was a very reasonable £3.50.

So, both orders were placed on  Sunday 17th June, and were promptly acknowledged via (I assume) automated emails from both companies. Tuesday morning I received a second email from Xan Miniatures telling me the order (No 13) had been despatched.

Friday afternoon I happened to be home when the postman came (at five o'clock - a huge increase in postal charges and my package arrives when I'm almost certain to be at work, no wonder I'm wearing out my shoes beating a weekly trail to my local sorting office). It was the Blue Moon parcel - evidently despatched on the Tuesday afternoon. Four small bags of figures, wrapped in brown paper and placed in a padded envelope. They were a bit squished but essentially okay.

Today lunchtime the Xan Miniatures parcel arrived - recorded delivery. Six days from Spain. Similar padded envelope but the figures were in good condition.

So, before I talk about the figures I guess I'd better get my personal prejudices out in the open. 

I regard Anthony Barton as the finest designer of 15/18mm Napoleonic figures ever. Nobody else in the industry has such a consistent body of work to their credit. Okay, I'll grant you the Perries have produced some wonderful figures - but very nice people though they are their work has all been in 28mm - and even worse they prostituted their immense talent designing fantasy figures for GW - and for twenty or more years they have ignored God's Own Scale, 15mm. I do harbour a little fantasy of my own that the Perries will one day produce boxes of 18mm plastic Napoleonics (if they just did a box of line infantry for each of the major powers that matched AB's style...) but until they do Anthony Barton is the DADDY. The more I paint his figures, the more I realise just how subtle his designs are and marvel at how the quality of his sculpting helps me paint a better figure. His horses are just wonderful, his men look like men. AB is pretty much the reason why I paint (admittedly slowly) Napoleonics.

But, my love for AB is not unreserved. Like the Perries AB appears to have designed what he felt like designing rather than completing a range - leaving his fans dreaming of late Russians in greatcoats, and French line infantry wearing bonnet de police. He deserted us for some years for the wilderness of 20mm WWII (producing some beautiful figures) and recently returned - but seems to have wasted his time on that rather boring 100 Days period, and early Austrians.

So, if I love AB so much why buy other makers? Well, I've read that nymphomaniacs always seek out new partners because they believe that the next person they have sex with will give them their best orgasm ever. And there is something of the nymphomaniac about my relationship with AB - I feel like those guys you read about in the papers, you know, the one's married to a beautiful woman who get caught having an affair with some floozy. I love my AB figures, and I know they are the best thing out there - but I see some beautifully painted figures on the Net and I've got to give them a try. Mostly, this try turns out more a one night stand than a full blown affair. I'm just looking for a bit of variety mostly - I'm not looking to replace AB but to supplement his work with the better figures from other designers. I say "better figures" because some designers come close some of the time - but nobody has yet reached the consistency of Anthony Barton. 

Blue Moon French Line Infantry 
Well, to be honest I wasn't expecting much from these figures - I'd seen some pictures on the Blue Moon site, TMP and ScoMac's Blog and where an Anthony Barton figure would be a solid 9 or 10, these were clearly not in that league. But having said that, my initial reactions were very positive. These are solid workmanlike sculpts that will fit in with AB figures - they aren't as clean or well defined sculpts as an AB but they are okay. 

I stupidly hadn't realised that the three figures you see in the pictures on the Blue Moon site are the three figure variations in the pack - so you get pose A, B, and C, each repeated 10 times (for the centre company) or 4 times (for the flank company pack). I was rather disappointed by this - I expected there to be head variants for each pose at the least. One of the pleasures of AB is that the variants are subtle enough to give variety but the unit still appears to be uniform. 

One pose in both Blue Moon packs has the guy leaning forward - he isn't going to fall over any moment (like his ancestors in the Old Glory packs tripping over a tussock of grass) but he will be standing out from the rest of your line. Where I'd score the other poses a solid 8 I'd deduct a half mark or so for this pose - if Blue Moon want to produce figures advancing at the double they should produce a different pack for that.

The figures didn't have much flash - frankly, with new castings like this I'd be fairly unimpressed if there was. One issue I found was that the metal didn't appear to flow into the pom pom on some figures - they are just vestigial in some instances.

I also realised (after I'd been looking at them for some time) was that I had ordered infantry in the Bardin uniform rather than the 1809 outfit - I suspect that this was due to my consuming most of a bottle of 2001 Roda Reserva Rioja before placing the order (absolutely wonderful wine - way too good to share with anyone else!). Fortunately, I have a unit of Campaign Game Miniatures in the Bardin uniform that I can mix these figures in with - and I'll mix the balance with late French in greatcoats.

I'll see how these figures paint up - if they don't drive me crazy I'll probably get some 1809 Blue Moon French.

Blue Moon British Infantry  
Again, these figures were rather squished by the Old Glory UK packing (or lack of it) combined with the tender mercies of the Royal Mail. The Blue Moon figures are made of a flexible metal so bent back pretty easily. My first impressions were again pretty favourable - these were good solid sculpts, allbeit with rather more flash than the French. 

Sorting out the figures (again three poses per pack) it became clear what the source of the flash problem was - the sculptor, presumably to suggest motion, had sculpted the right arm held out and back (out to avoid the cartridge box, back to suggest the motion I presume). Unfortunately this seems to have produced an undercut that the Blue Moon casting process can't handle - each figure has flash from the right arm to the cartridge box and tail of the jacket. There are three variants in this pack and each has the problem to a degree - it is clear that the further out the arm is sculpted the worse the flash. It cleans up without too much bother but, it seems to me, displays poor sculpting skill. I'd suggest this was foreseeable issue for the sculptor and the sculpts should have been returned for more work when test castings showed the issue, and possibly also poor research  - I think British Army drill said the arm not holding the musket should be held at the side. If the arm had been sculpted in this position it would have been more accurate and avoided the flash issue.

Additionally, one of the three sculpts in the centre company pack appears to have an issue with the musket. One millimetre or so below the bayonet socket and one millimetre above the point where the sling attaches to the musket is a crack - this seemed to affect seven out of nine examples of this sculpt. None have broken - but I'm now conscious of the weakness and will be thinking where I can place them in the battalion to minimise the risk of clumsy fingers (mine) breaking off the end of the musket and the bayonet.

So, I like the British figures, will paint them up and commit them to battle but I won't buy any more (I might change my mind after actually painting them) - at an average of 38p (US 59c / €0.47) per figure they are half the price of my ABs.

Xan Miniatures

This is a brand new Spanish company set up by a guy called JAGomez Bautista (but to make life easier for the rest of us he calls himself "Xan") in Leon, Spain. After seeing the figures painted by Rafa (aka Archduke Painting Service - click on the link to see much more of his wonderful work) I had high hopes for these. Rafa is a Spanish painter of great skill who does wonderful work on AB figures. The sign of a great winemaker isn't that he can make good wine in a good year from a good site - but whether he can make good wine in an awful year from a run of the mill vineyard. And in my view, it is the same with the best painters, whether they be producing works of art like Rafa, or more workmanlike (but excellent quality) miniatures meant for wargames like ScoMac. Scott MacPhee can take a unit made up of figures that I'd consign to the bin (well okay eBay) and produce something that looks good - give him AB figures and he generates something that looks wonderful.

So I was a bit concerned - was I going to open the envelope and find I'd been humbugged by Rafa's skill with the paintbrush? Well overall.....I'd say no. These are really good figures. No flash, natural proportions, and a good variety of poses. I've no idea of Mr Bautista's track record in sculpting but these figures are similar to the best efforts of Fantassin (Warmodelling) - I'd say they vary from good to excellent (whereas Fantassin varies from appalling to good in the same bag with the odd spark of genius once in a blue moon).

Blue Moon, CGM, Fantassin, Old Glory, AB, MiniFigs, Battle Honours, Xan, Xan, Xan, Blue Moon, AB.
The grid is 5mm.

AB, Blue Moon, Xan, Xan, Xan, Battle Honours, Minifigs, AB, Old Glory, Fantassin, CGM, Blue Moon

The Xan figures are cast in a metal that is harder (and a bit more brittle) than Blue Moon and I lost two muskets straightening them. This is a problem as I certainly wasn't being rough with the figures - it could easily be solved with a move to a slightly softer metal. I'd asked for figures with covered shakoes and as Xan kindly included samples of some marching figures with uncovered shako (which are just lovely) this won't be a problem - even if I didn't have hundreds of French Line waiting to be painted already.

The marching infantry are very good indeed - as a dyed in the wool AB lover what I was mostly looking for was the answer to the big question, would they fit with AB in the same battalion? For me the answer is most definately "yes". The faces are well done, the belts and turnbacks are well defined which should make it easy for me to paint them. The cuffs aren't up to AB standards but I could do a basic job with what is there.

There are several officers (in shako and bicorne) which are nice but possibly lacking in elan - the bicorne guy suits the marching battalion better. Two standard bearers, drummers and so on. All are good.

Essentially, imagine a talented sculptor sitting down with the AB French 1807-12 range in front of him and setting out to get as close to it as he could - so bayonet lengths work, figure height and general build mostly works, detail is crisp. It's all very good but not quite great (measured by AB standards - compared to other makers these are really good) - I'd still rate them a solid 8 or 9 out of 10 and will be buying more of these figures.

I ordered a Batallón de línea marchando "Lasalle" B (which has 36 figures) and a pack of skirmishing Voltigeurs. The battalion pack contained 1 officer, 1 drummer, 1 eagle bearer, 19 marching centre company soldiers, 4 marching grenadiers in bearskin, 4 marching elites in shako, and 4 elites skirmishing. Not being familiar with Lasalle I'd assumed that I'd be getting 6 grenadiers, 6 voltigeurs and 24 centre company and command. Hence ordering the voltiguers to get a bit of variety in my skirmish screen.

This means I'll need to go back to Xan and add a pack of grenadiers (and as the figures are coming all the way from Spain I'll need to add some other figures too - of course).

I'm not too sure just what Xan Miniatures has planned next - but these figures deserve some love. So why not buy some toys for yourself with the excuse that you are helping the Spanish economy?


  1. Thanks for writing this great review. I'll have to check these out.

  2. Many thanks Malc for your comments and for put the pic!!!
    Thanks also for trying to help in this way to the economy and the Spanish artists.


  3. Those Xan figures do look very good, Malcolm. Have you lloked at Campaign Miniatures as well?


  4. Giles,
    I've included a Campaign Games Miniatures figure in the comparison shot. Second from the left marked "CGM". I've got to admit - when I picked up some of these from eBay I liked the French Dragoons and was very impressed with the French Line in greatoat pack but the basic French Line didn't appeal at all. I'm convinced the proportions are a bit off. So they have sat rather unloved waiting for me to get around to them.

    When I slapped on the wash the CGM figure looked much better so I might have to bump them up the painting queue and see how they look - of course they are still intended for the 100 Days which I think a rather dull campaign.

  5. Very good review,
    Your thoughts on AB compared to other manufacturers is the same as my own and also I had the exact same thinking with Rafas superb painting of the Xan figures.

    Great to hear they are of high quality!

  6. Wow - those Xan Napoleonics are painted superbly by Rafa. I've only done Napoleonics in 28mm and a long time ago plastic 1/72nd - 18mm looks great. Best, Dean

    P.S. Thank you for visiting my blog and also for your kind words about Changun.

  7. I totally agree with your thoughts about AB compared to others except that I feel painting takes so much effort so why bother with anything but the very best?

    However, if Xan did some Spanish irregular lancers I'd probably buy a unit to mount on AB horses.