As many regular readers of this blog will know (if there are enough regular readers to be called ‘many’ that is) I am oft want to take a stroll down memory lane to the much storied ‘good ol’ days’ of this hobby. What can I say. Sometimes I get a little whimsical and, given that there isn’t a huge amount of news about 40k doing the rounds at the moment, I thought today I would do similar. So lace up your boots, have a good stretch, and let’s take that stroll.
Today, I want to do two things. I want to look back at some real classic miniatures and talk about why they were so great (or maybe why they weren’t…), and I want to look at their modern equivalents to see what’s changed. It’s not necessarily about whether the new sculpts are better or worse, but more about what they say about how the direction of miniature making and the hobby have taken. This article is also just an excuse to look at some sweet old models so let’s jump right in.
Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka is one of the game’s icons, and his first sculpt is an iconic miniature, especially with little Makari there holding his boss’s banner. The orks went through a lot of mini identity crises during their early years and by the time Big Ghaza came out, they were in their Central American/Mongolian/Viking/Pirate phase. Ok, that’s not exactly true but when you look at this mini, you can see all of those influences. There is a pronounced ‘tribal’ tone there. He’s big, bulky and he’s definitely in the mould of a great chieftain.
You can also see some truly classic sculpting traits here as well. Front facing wide stance? Check. Arm held out to the side at shoulder height? Check. It is a static looking model but that’s rather charming and almost fits with his stature as the biggest Boss of all the orks – other people move for him so that he doesn’t have to.
Ghazlghkull’s current incarnation has lost a lot of that charm, but by doing so, has brought him firmly in line with the rest of the ork army, and given him a modern orky identity. He now looks more like a junkyard giant, fearsome and huge, but a couple of hints at that former glory have remained. True, the tribal nature is gone (due to ork culture now being better defined and far more original), but he still has his horns, his boss pole is still topped with a strange-looking skull and he’s still missing an arm – Yarrick’s using it to flip him off somewhere. He now looks orky, and that’s what he needs to look like. I may miss the old model, but the more recent one is a far better fit, and a much more dynamic sculpt – he looks way cooler striding forward than standing still.
Blood Angel Librarian
Now, can you truly compare a model in MkVI armour to one in TDA armour? Well, I’m going to do it anyway because this is what has happened to the Blood Angels Librarian in 25 years. Old Beaky is one of my most favourite models ever, for reasons I don’t think I really understand myself. I love the way he clutches that scroll as if Sanguinius himself wrote it. And his weird barbed sword is oddly charming too. I really like the way it is held, attached to the leg as it was just so much easier and stable to sculpt it with the support of the thigh, rather than have it out on its own.
The newer model is almost brand new, released just a few short months back, and it really is one of the finest looking characters GW have ever done. It’s so dynamic and poised – you can almost see his trigger finger tensing on the combi-weapon! It shares a little of what Beaky had – obviously similar colours, the librarian scrolls, psychic hood and winged icon far above his head, but that’s about it. This right here is the perfect example of how far model design has come over the last couple of decades.
Tyranid Hive Tyrant
I remember this guy being released, and I even remember buying him and painting him. In fact, by the standards of my young self, I seem to remember doing a relatively good job too. He was an absolute beast at the time and was as colourful as a RT era Noise Marine. He was released around 1995 and despite being a big lump of metal, he had a bit of movement to his pose. Look at the old wide stance facing forward minis, and then you can see this guy is actually taking a step forward – quite the revelation.
When you look at the latest incarnation, you can see that actually, rather than being a complete change, it’s more of an update. It’s taking an existing concept and simply bringing it inline with modern standards, rather than overhauling it. The weapon options from the older model remain, as do the chitinous plates and carapace armour, along with the hooves and many other bits and pieces. The head probably shows the biggest changes, as there is little similarity between the two, but the rest of it is far more an update than a redo.
It goes to show how some of those old designs were so good that they didn’t really need to be completely redone (Ghazghkull being a good example of one that definitely did). It’s also why there are still a fair few models from the mid-90s that are still available from the GW store. Think of all those CSM characters, Space Wolves characters and Phoenix Lords that haven’t seen an update in more than 20 years, and many of them don’t need one. Some definitely do (poor Ragnar), but some remain true classics worthy of a place on today’s painting tables. It’s nice to know that, in a way, that old Hive Tyrant lives on in the look of the new one.
(Edit: It has been pointed out to me, quite correctly, that this was actually called a ‘Gargoyle’ in Heroquest. So you could argue that technically it’s not a Bloodthirster, but it’s so Bloodthirstery (in a bad way) that I’m keeping it in. Just letting you know.)
Right, I’m going to cheat a little bit here. Technically speaking this old Bloodthirster isn’t 100% GW. Back in the late 80s, MB Games, in collaboration with GW, released a game called Heroquest. If you like Boardgames with a D&D twist, it’s not that bad, and it does have plenty of really old school GW minis with it. One of which was this Bloodthirster (I can’t remember if he was from an expansion or not so bare that in mind if you’re searching for him). Of course, Khorne’s Greater Daemon is GW’s property but they had to tone him down a bit to fit into a more mainstream game. What we ended up with is something that looks more like a rejected Disney character – the bastard son of Goofy and a sado-masachistic bat. There’s not much point in talking about how bad that miniature looks, because it’s really bad.
It’s a little unfair to compare this halfbreed mutant to one of the most impressive miniatures in GW’s current range that came out just last year, but there is a point to this comparison. Heroquest later morphed into Warhammer Quest when MB decided they didn’t want any part of the franchise anymore and Warhammer Quest was a billion times better both in terms of playability, enjoyment and miniatures. With Games Workshop’s new Specialist Games devision, we’re going to see a lot of new versions of old models (hopefully) and while they obviously won’t need to do a new Bloodthirster, you can imagine how good those new miniatures are going to look. From Bloodbowl teams to Necromunda gangs, with no need to compromise, we should see some real improvement.
And, just as with the old model, I don’t need to spend much time talking about how good the new one looks because it’s immense. It’s like comparing a stone wheel to a Ferrari.
Ok, I’m just putting this one in here because the image of the Eldar Dreadnoughts makes me giggle. They look so sad. Like, genuinely upset that they exist. ‘Master, why have you created me to suffer such agony? Also, I look ridiculous!’ I imagine them saying. I don’t mean to be disparaging of the model or its creator (I’m going to guess Jes Goodwin given his longstanding connection to the Eldar and we all know how good he is at creating miniatures). This is simply what happens when you try to create something that is the epitome of grace in a metal that is the epitome of being a lump.
The newer model is beautiful, and an incredible kit to work with that is full of options and posable like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve seen some incredible things done with this kit and it really shows off the huge advantages that come from working with plastics rather than metals, and modern casting techniques. Plastic allowed the Eldar to have tall, elegant and powerful wraith constructs that have lead to us now having Wraithknights and even the resin-caste Eldar Titans from Forge World. Thank the Emperor they persevered with plastic, or we’d still have those Eldar Dreadnoughts derping around, looking troubled and wrong.
So, there you have it. Progress has been made, and is continuing to be made. Both in terms of the artistic skills and abilities of those making these models, and also in the technology being used in the process of their creation. Of course those of us in the hobby who are rich enough in years to recall those really old miniatures have soft spots for them, and every now and again we like to revisit them, but we know that the newer ones are better. True, a little character has perhaps been lost as things become more uniform, but that’s a small price to pay for the sheer quality of miniatures that are being produced in this golden age. And if this trend of improvement continues, imagine what we’ll be seeing in 20 years! Our miniatures will probably be able to walk by themselves and answer back!! What I’m trying to say here, as much to myself as anyone else, is that it’s fine to enjoy the old ones, but the new ones really are so, so much better.