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.
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.
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 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.
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 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
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.
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)
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.