The Vikings lined up and ready for battle!
Since I got into viking-age miniature gaming I have been hoping for some plastic miniatures. Not only for the inevitable savings that plastics facilitate, but for the fact that there's no lead in plastic miniatures! Naturally I was overjoyed when Wargames Factory released their vikings in plastic. I picked up a handful immediately! Then, when Gripping Beast announced theirs, I pre-ordered a box straight away! Once I had both in hand, naturally a comparison article was required, and so that is what you will find below!
First, a little background on the companies. Wargames Factory is a new company to the mini wargaming world. They produce their miniatures with computer assisted design software (CAD), no sculptor and no putty are used at all. Their philosophy is a socially conscious one as well; they have recycling programs, they use a non-profit company designed to help those with disabilities for packaging, and they are responsive to the desires of their customers through the liberty and union league. Overall, a pretty cool company to get behind as far as companies go.
Gripping Beast is a miniatures company that has been around for a while. Their product lines go back for some time, being based soley in lead-filled pewter figures until the release of the plastic vikings. Their old vikings started aging after a few years, and it is my opinion that they decided to go into the world of plastics instead of remastering their pewter moulds. All of the plastic historical figures out these days, with the exception of Wargames Factory, are done by Renedra. Renedra is a plastic injection mould company that was started by a former GW employee. The owner worked under GW for many years until he retired from them and started his own company doing basically the same thing. The process for creating miniatures is first to have sculptors sculpt figures that are three times larger than the 28mm version (called 3-ups) and then use those to make metal moulds and plastic figures. So, as you can already see, the production paradigms for each company differ considerably, and it shows, but more on that later.
Wargames Factory left, Gripping Beast Right. Note the difference
in proportions and weapons sizes.
Firstly, I will say that these two sets are highly compatible. On the table top during game play you would be hard pressed to notice any differences. It's when you get up close and personal that things become obvious... which tends to happen during painting :) Here I will discuss the sculpting style and scale differences.
The Wargames Factory figures are based closely on the 1/56th scale, which is the true scale of an average person if they were 28mm tall. Gripping Beast is more along the lines of standard 28mm scale. What's the difference you ask? See the list below for a comparison of the various features of each set:
Hands: More or less the same size. The WF figs all have open hands, while the GB
figs only have a single set of open hands for the two-handed axe pose.
Bodies: The GB figs are slightly more bulky, but not too much.
Heads: The GB heads are bigger, the details are bigger, and the helmet details are
thicker and more pronounced. The GB figs are less reaslistic, but closer to your average
28mm metal historical fig.
Height: The GB figs are 28mm from foot to eye, even if their legs are bent. The WF
figs height varies proportional to their bent legs! Yes, it's true! The WF figs actually
take into account the bent legs when defining the height of their figs! Overall though,
this difference does not effect compatibility.
GB weapons are larger and thicker, while WF weapons are scale appropriate and
thus thinner and not as bulky. Unfortunately this works against the WF stuff, since it breaks more easily.
So, in short, the WF figs are not as bulky or 'dwarfy' as the GB figs because the WF figs
are closer to 1/56th scale, and not so much based on the 28mm scale gamers are used to! That being
said, the figures are still very compatible on the table top. No doubt, the size differences of the
weapons could be accounted for by being crafted on different forges or by different weapon smiths.
Wargames Factory on the right,
Gripping Beast on the left.
I think it's a good time to look at spru contents. It's not actually fair to compare the number of bodies, since the GB and WF sprus all have different body counts, but I will express the number of weapons/heads/shields/etc in terms of absolute numbers and in per body numbers for comparison.
2 hand axes - 1/4 figures can be armed with hand axes
2 Dane axes - 1/4 figures can be armed with Dane axes
4 swords unsheathed - 1/2 figures can be armed with swords
3 sheathed swords - 3/8 figures can have unsheathed swords
8 hand axes - 4/5 figures can be armed with hand axes
2 Dane axes - 1/5 figures can be armed with Dane axes (only arms enough for one to hold)
8 swords unsheathed - 4/5 figures can be armed with swords
6 sheathed swords - 3/5 figures can have unsheathed swords
Overall, they are very similar. Given that the numbers aren't all that compatible, it's worth pointing out the difference explicitly. The notable differences are:
There are no duplicate heads on the WF sprus, while the GB sprus have only 10 distinct heads out
GB offers 1.6 times more swords and 3.2 times more hand axes than WF
WF offers 1.25 times more spears than GB
WF offers 1.25 times more Dane axes than GB
GB offers and extra shield with javelins
WF offers two bows/quivers and GB offers none
GB offers attachable seax knives for every figure, while WF has seax knives sculpted on 1/2 of their figures.
Overall, the Wargames Factory spru has fewer hand weapons. It would have been nicer to have more axes on the Wargames Factory spru, but they are correct since chain mail armoured warriors wouldn't be using axes! That being said, they would have had more swords as well. Of course this doesn't negatively impact the composition of the figures, especially since there are so many spears available, and spear above all would have been used by pretty much everyone.
The two lines of figures are certainly compatible. The sizes fit well, including hands and heads, especially from a table-top view. As said before, the thickness and bulkiness of weapons differs the most significantly, but not so much that it effects the compatibility of the figures.
Wargames Factory offers four distinct poses, while Gripping Beast offers five. Wargames Factory went with the separate and absolutely posable paradigm with the arms. They did this because there was a lot of pressure from the community for them to implement their figures this way. As a consequence, each body can choose from three(!) sets of arms. Along with this there are two additional sets of arms designed to hold the Dane (two-handed) axe. This is a change in the style of the Marian Romans that Wargames Factory released. With the Romans, Wargames Factory had attachable arms that had to pretty much be put in the same place on all the figures, with the ability to make only slight variations.
The Gripping Beast figures on the left face down the Wargames Factory figures on the right.
Note the size of the weapon shafts and the style of sculpting on the beards and hair.
Having arms that are absolutely posable is certainly beneficial when it comes to creating infinite variety in your figures. However, it produces a drawback in that it is easy to make unnatural-looking poses when putting the figures together. By putting the arm at an angle that is too far turned forward or back, or that puts the body off balance can make the figures look a bit strange. Also, little things like hanging chain mail can't really be modeled, and so you notice the the chain mail on the upper arms is quit tight (which isn't all that unrealistic, but more on that later).
The Gripping Beast figures offer five different poses. The paradigm that Gripping Beast went with with their vikings is very close to the Wargames Factory Romans: some of the bodies have one arm already attached, and the detached arms are all designed to go on in a specific way, offering minimal variation. Although this seems like a drawback in that there are fewer than an infinite number of poses, it makes it very easy to make natural-looking poses. Also, the hang of chain mail sleeves looks natural, and the flowing of cloaks and tunics is a bit more natural as well.
Despite the differences, when the figures are put together, they are very compatible. The only wide-spread difference really is that the Wargames Factory figures are on the move. They'd have been classified as 'charging' vikings if they were sold in the old days, while the Gripping Beast figures are standing, ready to defend. So, mixing the two together is really the best way to get a variation in pose style!
Now it's time for the pedantic fun! Yes, lets go into the minor little details and historical accuracy bit, for all of those who like to keep it real! But before I do, I will first say that both sets are well within the realm of realism. There are no historical anachronisms of any kind... well, that's not entirely true. The Wargames Factory spru does have a single viking head with a horned helmet! The horns can easily be clipped, or you can simply choose not to use it... but they added it in for the fun of it. So, aside from that, both sets are historically accurate!
Starting with Wargames Factory, the figures are relatively age independant; aside from the fact that they are obviously from the viking age, they could easily be used for early or later period vikings. The helmet styles included that correspond to both the earlier and later viking age are the ones with frameworks: they have a horizontal rim around the lower edge of the helmet, and one or two strips going across the top. These helmets were used in the earlier period as well as the later period. There is only one helmet that would be strictly and earlier period helmet, and that is the spectacle helm. Of course, who's to say that style wasn't used later as well, so I wouldn't hesitate to use it for any period during the viking age; it also helps differentiate between vikings and saxons, since they looked very similar. Finally, the later style helmets are the smooth, single piece helmets. Also, it's worth noting that all of the helmets, with the exception of the spectacle helm, are very generic to the dark ages, which is a good thing.
The Gripping Beast helmets are predominantly early style; there are no smooth, single piece helmets. About half are also quite distinctly viking style for the most part as well; they have little viking decorations based on historical finds, which is very cool! This adds some character to the figures as vikings certainly. Despite having no single piece helmets, they could easily be used for later periods as well for the same reasons described above.
A rear view of the two sets. The details are very similar, thanks to the very well documented understanding we have of vikings! Not that the Wargames Factory vikings are definitely on the move, while the Gripping Beast figs are pretty much set for the defence.
As for the chain mail, both sets are accurate. The Wargames Factory figures have noticably less chain mail than the Gripping Beast figures, who seem to have flowing mail in abundance, especially around the arms. In the early viking age, chain mail was extremely rare, and so those who did wear it were very fortunate. Those who had it made would likely have had very short and narrow sleeves and a short shirt length. So, the Gripping Beast figs are either extremely wealthy or later period vikings. The Wargames Factory figures could be late or early as well. It is worth noting that both set are made to represent wealthy warriors, so obviously there's no surprise there.
As for accuracy, I have to say that the Wargames Factory figs have the upper hand in the sword department. The cross bars an pommels on the WF swords are actually based closely on viking finds, and have a lot of accurate detail. They are a bit slight and so somewhat small and thin, but very nice none the less. The Gripping Beast swords on the other hand are oddly generic. They have decorated cross bars, but not typically viking; I've never seen a viking age cross bar like some of the ones on the GB figures. I imagine this is because it is easier to recreate an accurate sword using CAD software than it is with a sculpting tool on a 3-up? Who knows, but kudos to Wargames Factory!
Axes on both the kits are historically accurate, but since GB has more axes, they have more axe variations. Both kits have excellent spears as well, and both sets have great shields. The one extra detail with the WF shields is that they actually show the tops of the nails/rivets that were used around the leather rim and shield boss, while the GB figures didn't bother with that detail! It doesn't make all that much difference though, but I personally appreciate the rivets. Finally, both kits have pretty nice and generic pouches that look the part.
The one aspect of the Gripping Beast figs that is really nice though are the seax knives. The Gripping Beast kits comes with a separate seax knife for each figure... well, almost separate; a couple of them are attached to pouches. The GB seaxes are large as well and can be put pretty much anywhere on the figure. This is really a nice perk for the pedantic. The Wargames Factory figures include attached seax knives on half of their figures. The WF knives are attached to the belt of the vikings at the top, and the sheath/blade hangs straight down from there. Although this isn't terribly innacurate, it goes against the popular idea that the seax knives were worn on the front of the belt resting horizontally with the blade up. With the GB figures, you can put your seax knives on any way you like.
Finally, I want to talk about hair. Both kits have pretty similar viking hair; some braids, lots of beards of various lengths, etc. It's all pretty nice. But both kits suffer from the same problem: hair that is generally too short. Both sets tend to cut off the hair at the lower neck, or force the long hair into braids that dangle toward the front. This is not at all that accurate, since vikings should have long hair flowing down their backs. The reason they both suffer from this issue if due to the way moulds work and their separate head format; essentially they have to choose between long beards and long hair, since the moulds can't support both. Gripping Beast and Wargames Factory both chose beards over hair, and many have both short beards and short hair! It's not great for sure, and I wish that at least one or two heads have longer hair down the back, but alas, neither kits does! That being said, I really appreciate the long braids. I find that most viking figures aside from these two kits are woefully lacking in braids, even the old GB metal figures! It's great to see so many braids on these two sets.
Overall, both kits are quite excellent. It is so cool to have plastic vikings, and it's that much better to have two kits! It isn't that you have more choice, but that you have the resources of to companies to produce that many more options for you viking army! Both kits work well together, are historically accurate, and have a different but complimentary style.
In short, I would recommend using both Wargames Factory and Gripping Beast figures together. The WF figures are great for moving and charging poses, while the GB figs are good to prepresent a solid defence. Any large army with a good mix of figs would be pretty nice to look at on the field, with perhaps the WF figures in the units more likely to charge, and the GB figures up on the hill waiting for the Wessexmen to charge up an move them off!
I hope that helps anyone looking for guidance on what to buy for your next big viking project! For more comparison shots, check out the Swedish Viking Gallery.