Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Book Review: Foundry Compendium

Love them or hate them (or love to hate them), most miniature wargamers have a strong opinion about Wargames Foundry. For over 25 years, Bryan Ansell's company, in various forms, has been the powerhouse of the historical miniatures wargaming hobby, producing beautiful 28mm (and the odd 20- and 26mm) figures for nearly every historical period up to World War II. But there is a dark side to the Foundry as well. Always at the high end of price, the company justified its premium cost with the quality of its product, sculpted by some of the best artists in the historical hobby. However, regular price increases and other "adjustments" (like reducing pack size from eight models to six without a change in price) have infuriated customers. Likewise, the alienation and subsequent departure of talented sculptors like the Perry twins, Mark Copplestone, and Mark Sims, as well as a shift in focus to licensed ranges (2000AD) and fantasy subjects dimmed the Foundry's star with many hobbyists. Perhaps realizing this, the Foundry has brought back some long-dormant figure ranges and re-concentrated on its core business, and its star seems ascendant once more.

Part of the Foundry's diversification from strictly being an historical miniatures producer is its publishing arm, Foundry Publishing, which produces wargames rules (Napoleon, Rules with No Name, Medieval Warfare) and source books on topics ranging from how to paint the "Foundry Way", to colonial conflicts in Africa. The latest work to be published by Foundry is the volume under review, the "Foundry Miniatures Compendium".

The Compendium is a slim, handsome, perfect-bound A4-sized softback volume of 96 slick full-colour pages. Edited by Paul Sawyer (late of Games Workshop's house organ, White Dwarf, and boss of Warlord Games), the Compendium collects a number of articles previously published as broadsheets by Foundry or in magazines such as Wargames Illustrated.

The book's subtitle, "Pirates to Darkest Africa: Rules, Campaigns, Painting Guides and Terrain-making Ideas" handily summarizes the contents, but there is more to the book even than that. Personally, I'm not really that interested in Pirates or Darkest Africa in particular, but I do enjoy reading well-written, absorbing articles about wargaming. This, the Compendium has in spades. Chris Peers - one of my favourite gaming writers - contributes several pieces to the book, including rules for gaming with Pirates, Conquistadors, Darkest Africans, Roman Centurions, and Gladiators, plus flavour-filled companion pieces to accompany the rules. Howard Whitehouse, also a favourite of mine, contributes a piece on Victorian costume in Africa, and Mark Copplestone and Steve Saleh write beautifully illustrated painting guides for D.A. and Greek hoplites respectively. Gary Chalk, the well-known terrain maker, guides the reader through construction of Pirate ships and terrain boards. All of these articles are of course accompanies by vibrant full-colour photos and interesting layout.

It's easy to tell that I am enthusiastic about this book and would highly recommend it not only to Pirate and D.A. enthusiasts but also to any wargamer who enjoys a variety of period, likes entertaining writing, and loves looking at beautiful wargames models painted in "the Foundry style". Regular price on the Foundry site is a steep-ish US$31.50 but right now all Foundry books are on sale for 50% off... and at $15.75 this book is a bargain. Foundry even do free worldwide shipping on any order when a book is included, so take the opportunity to buy a few packs of models while you're there.


1 comment:

Greg B said...

Great review Dallas. I hear you on the love/hate with Foundry. Great figures, but you have to wonder about the daft approach to business. I have to say their new web site is a welcome development - you can actually find miniatures they sell. And those ranges, especially for the horse and musket periods, are some of the finest/most complete out there.

That books sounds cool.