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What are Star Wars Miniatures?

By T. Rob Brown

Although the name might seem to give it away, there’s more to Star Wars Miniatures than just a name.

As you may know, there have been at least two previous sets of Star Wars miniatures products. The first that I can recall was manufactured by West End Games as part of a miniatures game system. This system used lead miniatures, at first, then later utilized pewter ones. The miniatures were a smaller scale than the current ones and were meant to be used either with the miniatures game or with West End Games’ d6 Star Wars Roleplaying Game. West End Games no longer holds a license to produce Star Wars products. For the most part, this series covered just characters and vehicles from the original Star Wars trilogy (Episodes IV-VI -- A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi). While in production, some of the expanded universe materials were included. Most of the expanded universe materials were based off Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy which brought Star Wars novels back into the spotlight after more than a decade without a new release.

The second set of Star Wars miniatures I can recall was a set of pewter miniatures created by Wizards of the Coast in about 2001 to 2002 for use with the d20 version of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. A seperate set of miniatures rules was never released. These miniatures didn't sell too well in our local area and were not kept in stock because of that. This set featured mostly character miniatures that would work well with the roleplaying game in most eras of Star Wars play but primarly seemed to focus on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace time period. That factor may be one of the reasons this set of miniatures was not as popular as previous or current renditions.

Besides these two previous sets of Star Wars miniatures, many RPG enthusiasts and Star Wars fans, such as myself, purchased a great number of Micro Machines’ series of micro Star Wars figures. Although these aren’t considered true miniatures since they weren’t labeled as such, they were often used as such. These came in two different scale sizes (but they didn't keep to scale very well within those two categories). The first was the original Micro Machines Star Wars figures that are quite small. The ships in this series are not to scale with the figures. Most of the key Star Wars figures were from the classic trilogy but some expanded universe materials were later included. Expanded universe materials covered were: The Thrawn Trilogy, The Truce at Bakura, and several others. The second size was part of Micro Machines’ Action Fleet series. These were just a bit larger than the earlier versions (although production of both sizes overlapped) and usually came with a plastic starship, land vehicle or riding creature. Most of these Action Fleet series figures could bend at the waist to sit down in the cockpits of the ships or their arms could be raised and lowered. Some even had plastic molded capes (such as Darth Vader) that would move independently of the body and I even have one Tie Fighter pilot with a removable helmet (I imagine they didn’t produce those very long because of the extremely-small size of such an accessory). A version of the ships from the Action Fleet were still being produced (and included ships from Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones) but they no longer come with figures.

In line with the Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith line of toys, a new set of miniatures toys were released, including plastic painted ships a bit larger than the Micro Machines line (but not as large as the Action Fleet line). This line also includes miniatures, though smaller than the Wizards of the Coast plastic pre-painted Star Wars minis, they still come with small black plastic circular bases just like the Wizards of the Coast variety (but, of course, lacking any designations underneath). This set might be a Target exclusive, as I haven’t seen them available anywhere else. This line includes six packaged sets that come with two mini figures and two mini ships (neither to scale with the other). Three of the six sets are devoted to Episode III, while the other three sets are a mix of the classic trilogy. In addition, there are two large deluxe sets: One includes a giant New Republic Cruiser and the other includes the Tantive IV, Alderaan Sen. Bail Organa’s Corellian Corvette (also known later in the series as a Rebel Blockade Runner) under the command of Capt. Antilles.

Of course, if you turn on your “Way Back” memory to 1977/1978 for the release of the original classic movie and the line of action figures that followed -- you will remember that the giant Star Wars figures (approximately 12-inches tall) were technically the standard line of figures. The roughly 3 1/2-inch figures were called “micro figures” at that time period -- a lot of the original 1978 packaging references them as the micro figure set. Later, during the Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back line of toys, Kenner released a new series of figures called “micro” and they were diecast metal, pre-painted miniatures with playsets. Playsets included several in the Hoth ice planet setting and several in the Cloud City setting (also called Bespin setting, named after the gas giant planet Cloud City orbits). Some Star Wars gamers still use these older metal miniatures in their games -- unfortunately, they're a bit more expensive due to their age and that they’re somewhat of a rarity.

So, where does this all lead us? The present. Star Wars Miniatures by Wizards of the Coast.

Although the previous attempt at Star Wars miniatures by Wizards of the Coast wasn't as successful as they or the fans would have hoped, a second chance was given. Much as Yoda (on his deathbed) said to Luke, “There is...another...Sky...walker...” there's now another set of miniatures.

What brought about this change of heart by Wizards of the Coast to bring back a line of miniatures that thus far hadn’t been all that successful for them? Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures. In 2003, Wizards of the Coast (owned by Hasbro) released a new miniatures game called simply Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures. Its previous attempt, which was a new version of the old Chainmail game had a shorter life than anticipated. Back in the yesteryear of roleplaying and fantasy miniatures gaming, most players handpainted their own miniatures or paid someone to paint them for them. Back then, the miniatures were usually made of lead or pewter. With advancements in plastic technology, newer sturdy, yet maleable plastics have become popular in the miniatures industry. This proved to be a good way to go with the success of the MageKnight series of miniatures by Wizkids.

Dungeons & Dragons' Chaimail system and its previous series of Star Wars miniatures were all metal and unpainted. Today’s gamer leads a busier lifestyle than gamers in the ’70s and ’80s, or so it seems. More and more gamers enjoy the convenience of pre-painted miniatures. While Chainmail and Star Wars miniatures were going head-to-head with Warhammer's fantasy and 40K line, they were also getting stomped by MageKnight. The lesson? Pre-painted plastic miniatures have a much larger demand and are much cheaper to produce, which in turn also makes them more appealing to the consumer.

After this realization sunk in, D&D cancelled the Chainmail line of miniatures (they are still useable with the new Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures system with conversions available on the Wizards of the Coast website ) and the Star Wars line (the Star Wars line might have died about that time by coincidence, though). It wasn’t long before Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures hit the market in all its pre-painted plastic glory. They even re-used some of the molds from the Chainmail miniatures (such as the Goblin Sneak, Gnoll Archer and many others). The new miniatures game system and the minis themselves were an instant smash. Sales are up and Wizards is spitting out these minis as fast as possible. There have been some times where the local retailers just couldn’t get enough supply in to meet the demand. Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures has had many expansion sets including: Harbinger, Dragoneye, Archfiends, Giants of Legend, Aberrations, Deathknell, Angelfire, and Underdark.

With this smash success on its hands, Wizards of the Coast looked to its Star Wars license again with interest. Although Wizards of the Coast promptly bought the RPG license from Lucasfilm Ltd. following the fall of West End Games (which has reformed, by the way), the new d20 Star Wars Roleplaying Game hasn’t quite taken off as well as Wizards officials had hoped. Though the newest version, Star Wars Roleplaying Game Saga Edition, is a vast improvement over its predecessors. Personally, I enjoy the game and wish more people would play it. There was a Star Wars Living Force system played at RPGA-sanctioned events such as at most gaming conventions (unfortunately, that campaign had its finale at the end of 2005 as Wizards temporarily moved away from the Star Wars RPG). Wizards took the highly-popular D&D minis and combined them with Star Wars to bring out their newest smash hit: Star Wars Miniatures.

The Rebel Storm starter box comes with two rare miniatures (same two in every starter box), eight other pre-painted plastic miniatures (including commons and uncommons), a d20 dice, stat cards (same size as standard collector cards) for each miniature, a large playmat, room cards, counters, and the rulebook.

I first got my hands on a Rebel Storm starter and a booster pack (which comes with seven miniatures -- one rare (or very rare), two uncommons and four commons) during the pre-release tournament at Gen Con Indy 2004. The pre-release tournament was limited to 100 players. I made 12th place and won a free booster pack. My brother also played and made 19th place. Rebel Storm contains characters from the classic Star Wars trilogy (Episodes IV-VI). Clone Strike, which includes those from the newer Star Wars trilogy (Episodes I-III) followed. The third set was titled simply Revenge of the Sith and focuses on miniatures from the final installment in the new Star Wars trilogy. The fourth set was titled Star Wars Universe, was released at Gen Con Indy 2005, and features a wide array of miniatures from all six movies and even the expanded universe. In addition, each box of Universe includes on giant-size miniature. Of these, the most popular seem to be the very rare Rancor and Obi-Wan on Boga, in addition to the rare AT-ST walker. In addition, they released a collosal pack AT-AT (all-terrain armored transport) complete with Hoth ice planet map and special counters.

Each stat card tells you the number of hit points the miniature has, its name, its faction, its point cost, its defense, its attack rating, its damage, any special powers it has, its number of the total set, its rarity and the expansion it was a part of. For instance, An “Elite Rebel Trooper” costs 7 points to add to your army. He has 20 hit points, a defense of 13, an attack rating of +7, and does 10 points of damage when he hits his target. He has no special powers. He is number 6 out of 60 different miniatures, is common, and is part of the Rebel Storm set.

At present, most people are building 100 point armies (but that will most likely change in the future just as it did with Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures as bigger and badder creatures were released -- but I don’t expect the army size to increase until the third expansion is released). The best way to learn is to play a one-on-one game. The game can easily support 1-4 players or even more if you have enough play space. Rules for a 200-point army were released in conjunction with Star Wars Universe. The collosal pack AT-AT is a complete 200-point army in itself.

The armies are divided up into factions. You can play Empire, Rebel, Fringe, New Republic, Yuuzhan Vong, Seperatist, or Republic. The Empire, of course, is evil and includes such famous villains as Darth Vader, The Emperor, and Grand Moff Tarkin. The Rebels, of course, are good and include such heroes as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia. The Fringe is everyone else -- bounty hunters, mercenaries, or people who might have switched sides during the classic trilogy -- this group includes the infamous bounty hunter Boba Fett, Wampa (white beast from the frozen tundras of planet Hoth), Lando Calrissian and more. Fringe can be an army of themselves or can blend in with any army you build. Seperatists are the evil group for the newer Star Wars trilogy and include such famous villains as Count Dooku (Sith Lord Darth Tyranus) and Jango Fett. The Republic is primarily good (except for the clone soldiers when controlled utilizing Order 66), and includes such heroes as Jedi Masters Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Mace Windu. The New Republic and Yuuzhan Vong are factions from the New Jedi Order in the expanded universe. If you’re not familiar with Vector Prime by famed fantasy and sci-fi author R.A. Salvatore, this was the first novel to introduce the Yuuzhan Vong, a race from outside the Star Wars galaxy that goes there and another interstellar war develops. New Republic heroes include Jedi Master Luke Skywalker and Kyle Katarn (who first appeared in the Dark Forces computer game series).

You may either pick one of the seven factions, or you may add Fringe to any army. Fringers are considered neutrals and can be on any side they choose -- just as Boba Fett would work for the highest bidder on a job.

Once you have your army built, you each start at an appropriate location and follow the rules in the book. Some scenarios are your typical battle to the death; whereas, others have a mission that must be completed like “Save the Princess.”

The quality of the paint jobs on these miniatures is excellent -- they’re much higher quality than the first couple releases of Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures. When I spoke at GenCon Indy 2004 with the lady, whose name I cannot recall but said she was the head of the design team for both the D&D and Star Wars minis lines, said the new Star Wars minis have more paint steps on average than previous expansions of the D&D minis sets. She also said the giant-size minis from the Giants of Legend set were fun to work on because of their size.

My friends and I jokingly say the first set (Harbinger) was a good effort, Dragoneye was where they weeded out the worst painters or re-trained them, and Archfiends is where they really started to shine. Giants of Legend, for the most part, is a very beautiful set of minis -- they just keep getting better all the time. Now, the Star Wars Rebel Storm minis have even upped the quality another notch or two. Just when I think they've reached their prime, they go and top themselves. I anxioiusly anticipate D&D Aberrations and Star Wars Clone Strike. Aberrations will now feature color stat cards (they’ve been black and white only for all previous releases). I picked up two of the promo Aberrations figures at GenCon Indy 2004 and they're extremely high quality -- beautiful paints.

What’s funny is that if one of my old gaming friends, whom I used to paint metal miniatures with in the ’90s, would have told me back then I’d be buying pre-painted plastic miniatures in 2004, I would have strongly disagreed. With the exception of the Micro Machines line, there weren’t any well-done pre-painted plastic miniatures prior to the late 2000/ early 2001 release of MageKnight.

Hasta la vista,

T. Rob Brown

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