Sunday, September 16, 2012

First impressions: GrandManner terrain

So my GrandManner order arrived last week, delivered less than a week after I placed my order. With the descriptions and photos of the items somewhat lacking on the GrandManner website I will describe my first impressions of these items in this blog post. Hopefully this will be useful to those who have been reluctant and wondered whether they should purchase some of the GrandManner buildings. This post is longer than usual because I am trying to be honest and thorough, so best make yourself comfortable with a cup of tea or coffee. I'll try to make up for the many words with plenty of interspersed photos.

Note: The following is about the GrandManner Wachau Meeting House, the Farm House with tile roof and dormer windows and the Gatehouse with tile roof and dormer windows from the 28mm Napoleonic Europe range.


Packaging
I have never received a package with damaged terrain yet - no matter whom I ordered from. Therefore packaging has never been much of a concern to me. But for those who care to know: The terrain pieces were very well packaged with styrofoam and mutliple layers of bubble wrap. No danger of damage there.

Size
The first thing I - obviously - alway take note of when unpacking terrain is the size. This is also one of the most important factors, of course. Is the terrain large enough to stand next to 28mm figures? Since I am a big fan of Black Scorpion miniatures many of my figures are more on the 30mm side, which makes size even more relevant.
So what about these houses then? Actually I had expected the buildings to be bigger. When you see the houses on photos, standing there for themselves, they look large and impressive. This is probably due to the excellent job Tony of Dampfpanzerwagon has done creating them (see next criterion). Maybe it is also because of the prices which are - compared to other company's products - rather high so that I also expected to get more "meat" for my money. For comparison here are photos of the Wachau Meeting House  and the Farm House with Stronghold Terrain's Guildhouse and Tabletop World's now out-of-production Medieval Inn and Merchant House:


The buildings are the smallest in my collection, but they are definately not horribly small or anything. With the figures standing next to the doors it sure does look okay.

Detail
The next important factor is the level of detail. You can clearly see it on the photos, but in reality the houses are even more stunning. The walls, the woodwork, all the little details - I could just sit there and stare at these beauties for hours. On the GrandManner website they talk about a "wow factor" and that's certainly no overstatement. I did get 'wow' effects from Tabletop World's buildings, especially the Ruined Coaching Inn because of it's sheer size and all the additional items. And I still love looking at the great DIMA Coaching Inn. But no building so far has had the WOW from its details and structure like these do. They are truly stunning sculpts.

 The front of the Wachau Meeting House


 The Farm House (right) with the Gatehouse extension (left)

The only competitor when it comes to design and detail quality that I can think of in the market today is Tabletop World with their current (2nd edition) line of products. However, as my very personal opinion I prefer the historically authentic appearance and modest greatness of the GrandManner buildings compared to the fanciful Fantasy-style pieces by Tabletop World.

Interior
This is a frequent question when it comes to wargaming buildings: What about removable roofs and interior? This is of special importance to skirmish gamers like me. So the great answer is: Yes, you can physically enter them. But what's more, these houses are just as detailed on the inside as they are on the outside. Just look at these photos (make sure you take a seat first).

The inside of the Wachau Meeting House:



The inside of the Farm House:



The inside of the Gatehouse:




Considering that their primary use is intended for Napoleonic era army games, where interior is not really that relevant, this is all the more surprising and it's a testament to the sculptors self-esteem to produce only the highest of quality. It is also surprising since GM provides few if any photos of the insides. This is definately something that they should go advertising with.

Something that you also cannot take for granted is that these kits don't need assembly at all. No filling, no cutting walls, no glueing walls together (well, except for that sign post on the Wachau house, which has some superflous resin). It's just one piece for the entire model plus one removable roof plus one removable floor piece. You can't have less work with a terrain piece than this. On the downside I'd prefer to have these buildings without bases. These are impossible to remove so I will have to find ways of properly integrating them into the board later on.

The Wachau Meeting House set


The Farm House set


The Gatehouse set


Material
The resin GrandManner uses is quite heavy and seriously stinks. It reminds me of some older Old Crow/Ainsty(?) pieces I have. The material is definately one of the disadvantages of the models. Comparing to Tabletop World once more, TW has the best resin I have encountered yet: light, clean, doesn't smell and paints up nicely. Forge World resin is also okay; a bit smelly but not like this and still lighter. I assume once I have given these things a proper undercoat the smell will disappear. Now this aside I have seen very few to no air bubbles on the models so the quality in that aspect is very good.

Other
There is one last drop of bitterness I have to mention. When I placed my order the Farm House was depicted on every single photo with the Walled Garden, which is (also) available as a separate item. Apparently it was assumed that the mere existence of an individually purchasable item is enough to make it clear that the Farm House does not come with the garden section. Well, to me it looked like one big complex so when I opened the big box, unpacking one item after the other I kept looking for the garden piece in vain. I contacted GM about this and they have now adjusted the Farm House's description (which was empty before) accordingly, so no other customers should experience the same disappointment.

 This cut-off bush on the Farm House's backside is waiting for the separately available Walled Garden piece

Another minor minus: One side of the Gatehouse's roof is obvously not meant to stand alone as it is just "flat". But even with the Gatehouse being intended to be used in conjunction with the Farm House (read designer's comment here), since both are available separately I think they should be fully designed to work as standalone pieces. Both the bush and the roof show that the Farm House is actually one huge piece consisting of three pieces (for 80.00 + 44.00 + 22.00=146.00 GBP total). I don't mind that much because I will use the two together as intended anyways, but it could be frustrating suprise to those who wish to use the Gatehouse alone, as entrance to a large walled area or something.

The proper side of the Gatehouse roof (left) and the other side which is not meant to be visible (right)


Summary
So far the houses have been somewhat of a mixed bag of feelings. On one hand I was disappointed initially to find the houses to be smaller than expected with the resin being heavy and smelly and one item "missing" to boot. On the other hand the houses are some of the most beautiful designs I have seen to this day with stunning attention to detail, and I almost feel honoured to be in the luxurious position of painting this terrain extraordinaire. I think after a bit of time I will have gotten used to the slight downsides and nothing but fully appreciating these deluxe wargaming items. As for other wargamers it will probably all come down to whether they will accept the fact that quality comes at a price and that terrain as the visually most dominant aspect of the tabletop deserves the most of the players' attention and effort and gaming budget.

5 comments:

  1. I feel I have to comment.

    Firstly as the designer and constructor of the main masters - they are usually altered by Dave at some point during the making of the mould, the Farm and Gateway were intended from the outset to be used together.

    They were very closely based on an actual farmhouse which was in fact thatched - hence the original model being thatched - while this one is an alternative and tiled.

    Grand Manner have a very distinctive style, one where the detailing is a little understated compared to some Fantasy terrain builders. In addition I have always tried to include just as much (correct) detailing to the interior as is possible.

    When I build terrain for myself I usually exaggerate the surface detail.

    As far as size in concerned; this is where the historical wargame customer and the fantasy wargame customer vary. The historical wargamer will want a true representation of a building but not too over powering as he (or she) will want the main action to take place around the terrain. In addition scaling issues mean that the actual footprint is too large compared to the historical figure bases - where 4 figures could represent up to 100 actual soldiers. This is always a compromised made by the sculptor.

    Fantasy terrain tends to be used in smaller games - more skirmish games and as such tends to be larger and due to the sculpting style of the figures have more exaggerated detail. One other point is that the doors tend to be too large when compared to the rest of the building. Something that historical gamers find wrong and dislike!

    Finally basing. Dave at GW has a house style, which includes small sculpted bases. I actually like larger sculpted bases (see my Blog) other like no bases at all! Each to their own.

    Thank you for the comments. It is always interested to read what gamers think of the models I have sculpted and Dave has cast.

    I hope you get as much satisfaction in painting them as I had in sculpting them.....

    Tony
    (dampfpanzerwagon)

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  2. Christian,

    I think you definitely convinced me to buy some of there buildings. Their interiors are very sexy.

    I fully agree with you concerning your comparison between tabletop world buildings and those. Even if last buildings from TW are extremely detailed. I also enjoy this historical aspect of the buildings.

    Thanks also for your advice concerning the garden that miss. It looks great.

    Have a look on my under construction tabletop here : https://sites.google.com/site/saintpatern/. It doesn't look as beautifull as yours but step by step I will change horrible hown made buildings by ordered ones. Soon will be added the castle walls and entrance made from hirst arts pieces.


    Have a look on my scratch built "espiegle ship"... I hope you'll like it...

    Maël


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  3. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Tony!

    Naturally a review is always subjective. Obviously readers have to decide for themselves what aspects of my opinions apply to them and which are irrelevant or where they may even fundamentally disagree.

    I know that the size aspect is very subjective and opinions on this differ dramatically. My focus is of course on the use for skirmish gaming. I do know wargamers who find properly sized houses way too impractical for moving their 28mm historical regiments around them. I also understand that army gamers are GrandManner's prime target group.

    I indeed very much look forward to painting these buildings.

    ------------

    Mael,

    I'm glad you found my little pseudo-review helpful. I had been contemplating purchasing GrandManner terrain for a few years before I finally went for it. This was only partly due to their prices - it was also due to the lack of proper documentation of what you really get. While I can't help the first I tried to remedy the second for other gamers.

    That's a very impressive city board you have there. And I don't think there's anything wrong with you home-grown buildings - to the contrary! I actually find it a bit "cheap" to only purchase resin buildings like I have been doing so far. To me this hobby is a lot about personalization, expressing yourself, being creative. So I think including at least a couple of your own houses is a must. That is why I definately plan to scratch-build some houses at some point in the future.

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  4. Thanks for the review, Cianty. Really useful, as always, giving us relevant insights on these products from a customer and more importantly, hobbyist's point of view. I was always reluctant to get GrandManner products because of prices and insufficient information. After your review and attending a few conventions where I saw some of the buildings live, I changed my mind. Now all I need is to make some extra cash to get a few of them. :)

    Joao

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  5. Mael, I visited your website. Those buildings you made and painted look great! I love the stonework you've produced. I agree with Cianty; having a mix of bought houses and your own is a great idea.

    Joao

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