Battletech #8 – Kickstarter Model Review

Any Battletech fan will know that the models are not even close to being on par with modern day standards and companies.  Iron Wind Metals (IWM) is the only mainstream producer for Catalyst Game Labs (CGL) and their Battletech universe. They use classic metal molds and the vast majority of the designs are ancient.  Where most companies update designs either to improve their look or to utilise better materials, the Atlas you can buy now is still essentially the same design as one produced 20 years ago.  Compare this to the top wargames companies today (Games Workshop, Warlord Games, Battlefront, WarCradle Studios, to name but a few), it’s a wonder CGL has a brand that continues to be popular and attract new players.

The arrival of Mechwarrior Online along with the vastly updated designs of a wide range of battlemechs, the company’s gracious community support, and 3D printing, has created a perfect yet intensely frustrating environment for players.  Now, we can create beautiful looking battlemechs, posed in positions that we want, but at a stupidly expensive cost – we either have to use companies such as Shapeways, or we buy our own 3D printers.  I’ll admit that one can find MWO models ready-printed for sale, but I’m currently against profiting from work that isn’t your own.

It was no surprise that CGL chose to redesign the battlemechs they intended to release for their recent Clan Invasion kickstarter.  The sketches looked exciting, dynamic and modern!  Backers even got to see and hear about the process, from concept through to the previews of the final product.  What I will say is that Catalyst Games communicate very well with their customers and fans.  Which is also why we learned about their decision to use a Chinese company to produce their new models.  I was sceptical of this at first.  There is a reputation about Chinese industries that whilst they are good mass producers, they’re also cheap, and cheap rarely means quality.

The old style models – Iron Wind Metals:

A Kickstarter Urbanmech (left) next to an Iron Wind Metals version (right)

Pros :

Cheap – at most you’re paying on average £5, and at most £10.

Limited prep time – once you get your model, preparing it for paint and getting it on the table is relatively quick.

Cons :

Old look – whilst IWM has resculpted some of their designs, a lot still dont look modern or interesting (this point is contentious with the older BT community)

Detail – I find there is a significant lack of detail in the model compared to other modern models.

Static pose – spend £60 on a box of Space Marines and each Marine can be unique and exactly how you want them to look.  Spend £60 on battlemechs and you’re stuck with whatever pose it was sculpted to have and you’ll need some half decent skills to change/improve their look.

Verdict? : Cheap and easy.  But that’s it. Professionals are able to make these models look exciting, but the average Joe will struggle.  And just for how long will “Cheap” be a Pro against companies offering greatly detailed models at competitive prices?

Clan Kickstarter redesigns – CGL (via China):

Two Timber Wolves, on the left is the Kickstarter version, on the right is my 3D printed MWO version

Pros :

New look – taking design points from the models used in MWO, CGL have redesigned their battlemechs to look more like actual military hardware than 1980s Japanese manga.

Plastic – or not metal… lighter and easier to tinker with than the IWM versions

More detail – compared to the IWM versions.

Cons :

Static pose – buy two of the same model and they will look exactly the same (save for your paint scheme)

Poor molds – whilst there is marked improvement over the IWM models, when compared to the rest of the market these are still poor.

One-off production? – Will these models be regularly available?

Verdict? : They’re definitely better than the IWM models, and it’s been a loooong time coming that we got these updated looks.  However… compared to the rest of the market, they’re still years behind the curve.  The molds used were better than IWM, but they weren’t great as mold lines and flashes were visible.  The way the models were put together also looked haphazard and wonky.  I also don’t want to be restricted to one-pose models.

Not really the original aim of my post, but because I can, 3D Printed at home:

A Kickstarter Dragon (left) versus a 3D printed Dragon (right)

Pros :

Customisable – Quite simply you can do what you want with the model, pose it in any fashion, apply any weapon to it, scale it in any which way

Unlimited – By this I mean that you can print as many as you want, when you want.

Cons :

Expensive – Whether you use a printing company or your own printer, each model costs… a lot!

Patience – and acres of it.  Frustrations with print errors or even just setting up the model will test you.

Technical experience – it’s a steep learning curve to get to grips with when preparing your model for print, from customising it in Blender to the final stages before printing.

Verdict? : No one would blame you for regretting this path at first.  However, I must say that the results are astonishing and the freedom, for me, is definitely worth the cost!

With the expected cost of these models and the fact that the rest of the market offers far superior product, I can’t help but be disappointed.

To me, the gold standard is something similar to the multi-part products offered by practically everyone else.  Yes, Battletech is 6mm scale, but take a look at GHQ and their WW2 and Modern ranges – for competitive prices you get amazingly detailed 6mm models.

Ultimately, what I want is for CGLs Battletech to have a dominant and consistent presence in any good gaming store.  The rules are phenomenal – both the Classic and Alpha Strike versions are fair, balanced, easy to learn, and relatively unchanging.  The lore and story development are rich and detailed, and CGL is great with the community.

Can CGL achieve this?  Possibly.  A lot of their product is mostly online or only really available for customers in America (international shipping rates are bloody expensive).  Yet there is a huge international fan base and with the successes of Mech Warrior Online and Mech Warrior 5, perhaps now is the time for CGL to capitalise and really push the development and distribution of their franchise.

As a brief and critical look at the new Battletech Clan Invasion models – in summary – they are an improvement!

A selection of models to compare against, including a stupid looking Iron Wind Metals Kintaro (far right)!

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