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Miniature Myth Busting

As you may know we are currently writing an article series for Beasts of War detailing the steps we’re taking as we approach the launch of the Shattered Earth Kickstarter on February 10th. A comment on our latest entry got me thinking about the ‘black box’ that is miniature production, and the reply I started writing quickly got out of hand, hence this (enormous) blog post.

Firstly, a disclaimer: this in no way constitutes professional advice – it’s just what I’ve learned over the last year or so of trying to do this for a living. Also, the numbers quoted are merely examples and represent the range of prices you might be expected to pay rather than quotes from specific manufacturers. Lastly, Massive Awesome are a UK-based company so all prices are in pounds sterling.

(Note: this is a very long post – you have been warned!)

Art and Design

The best way for me to debunk some of the myths around miniature production is to run through the entire production process with a couple of imaginary miniatures; let’s call them Bob and Kate. Bob is a standard 28mm human soldier whereas Kate is an intricately-detailed 54mm collectors’ piece.

Let’s start with Bob. Bob’s concept art was pretty straightforward to design and cost about £100. The sculpting was done digitally and again was a straightforward job – let’s call it £250. Bob was sent to the printers to have the master produced which cost another £100. Bob is now ready for casting; total investment so far: £450.

Kate on the other hand took some time to get right. Her concept art needed several iterations and ran to £350. The sculpting also took some time to get all the details right, and she’s a complicated miniature, so that ended up costing £1,000. Due to her size and the amount of different pieces required, the 3D print was also a lot more complex and cost £350. Total investment for Kate so far: £1,700.

The Casting Process

There are three main materials that miniatures are cast in: metal (normally tin), resin and plastic (specifically high impact polystyrene, often referred to as HIPS). Some miniature ranges and a lot of boardgames produce their miniatures in a different type of plastic called polyvinyl chloride, more commonly known as PVC. I have zero experience casting in this material so I won’t be covering that in this article. If anybody has experience of casting PVC miniatures please share your thoughts in the comments!

Right, let’s talk about metal. Metal is normally spin cast, which means you make a circular mould out of rubber or silicone and spin it at high speed to distribute the metal. You can use a 9″ mould for Bob and you can fit five of him in each mould. Each mould will set you back about £50, and let’s call it £3 for the metal (you pay by weight) and another £3 per spin. Assuming you get 50 casts out of each mould, your cost per miniature for Bob is £1.40 (=(3+3+(50/50))/5). Kate on the other hand needs an 11″ mould (£80) and you’ll only fit three of her in each one. She costs £5 in metal and £5 to spin, so her cost per miniature is £3.87 (=(5+5+(80/50))/3).

Cost Per Miniature (Metal)

Resin production is very similar to metal production, although the miniatures are normally vacuum cast rather than spin cast. Some companies (particularly in the US) still make spin cast resin; it’s often a little cheaper than vacuum cast, but the miniatures are more likely to get air bubbles. Vacuum cast resin miniatures are probably the highest-detail you will achieve, but that detail has an effect on your mould yield. Mould costs per miniature are also more difficult to ascertain as it depends on how each miniature is cut.

For our example we will assume Bob’s mould cost is £35 and Kate’s is £50, and you get 20 pulls from each one. Bob costs £2 in resin, therefore the cost per miniature for Bob is £3.75 (=2+(35/20)). Kate costs £8 in resin, so her cost per miniature is £10.50 (=8+(50/20)).

Cost Per Miniature (Resin)

Lastly we’ll look at plastic injection moulding. This form of production uses metal ‘tools’ to produce sprues, usually 6″ by 8″. Each sprue can hold multiple miniatures and, whilst the tools themselves can be very expensive, the cost of plastic is cheap. You also don’t need to worry about yield with injection moulding as each tool will last for tens of millions of casts. Working out a cost per miniature with injection moulding is quite difficult due to the large upfront cost, and the fact that you don’t need to replace the tool. The easiest way to reconcile this is to add the cost of the tool to your initial design outlay instead of factoring it into each miniature’s individual cost.

We can create a sprue for Bob and, because he is quite a simple miniature, we can fit ten of him on each sprue. The cost of the tool is £8,000 and each shot of plastic is £1; the cost per miniature for Bob is therefore £0.10 (=1/10) because we aren’t including the cost of the tool. Kate is much more complicated and takes up an entire sprue on her own. She’s also got some pieces with quite a bit of depth to them, so the tool itself is more expensive at £12,000. We’re still paying £1 per shot, which is how much it will cost us to produce one Kate in plastic.

Cost Per Miniature

(If you’re going to use plastic injection moulding, you’ll need to cut the miniatures differently than for metal and resin. This will obviously incur an additional cost which is not covered in this example.)

Making Money

Now you have a production-ready miniature to sell you need to set your RRP/MSRP. Production costs should normally run somewhere between 15% and 20%, so you can easily calculate your RRP/MSRP by multiplying the cost per miniature by 5 or 6 (note: this is where you need to decide who you’re aiming at; high-end boutique miniatures will obviously have higher production costs, whereas simpler 28mm humans will run closer to 15%). This will often produce a higher RRP/MSRP than you would like, so you’ll need to normalise that cost using other similar miniatures as reference, without undervaluing them.

For metal, at around 15% production costs, we’ll price Bob at £7.99 and Kate at £24.99. For resin our production costs are higher at 20%, so Bob is priced at £12.99 and Kate at £39.99. For plastic it gets a bit more complicated as you’re unlikely to be selling ten Bobs in one retail box, but for our example let’s assume that the sprue can be cut into individual miniatures. Our (ongoing) manufacturing costs are low, so we’ll price Bob and Kate at the same as metal: £7.99 and £24.99 respectively.

RRP / MSRP

(You might think that the resin price for Kate is especially high; wait until you see what happens to that price when we get to distribution.)

Now, this is where things get more complicated. Depending on where in the world your business is based, you will need to account for all appropriate sales taxes. As we are based in the UK we need to take off 20% to cover VAT. You will of course need to charge this to any applicable customers, but you have to pay it back so it works out as a zero sum. If you’re selling your miniatures direct (e.g. from your own web store) you can easily work out your income per miniature by taking the production costs off the net price.

Net Income (Direct Sales)

Selling direct looks good for your bottom line, but your product is only being advertised in one shop window, so your sales potential is limited. If you want to increase your reach you’ll need to start selling into retailers, who will obviously want to make their own cut on the sales. Let’s assume that every retailer buys from you at the same discount (note: normally you’d negotiate deals with each retailer separately and offer tiered discounts depending on how much stock they buy) which we’ll say is 70% of RRP/MSRP.

Net Income (Retail Sales)

Okay, so you’re in 30 or so retailers in the UK and sales are looking good, but you want to break into Europe and the US. You can of course start talking to retailers in those countries directly, but it’s far better (and less stressful) to have a distributor do it for you. Now, obviously, adding another link in the chain is going to impact your bottom line as the distributor will want to take their cut before the miniatures go to retailers, so we’ll say they all buy from you at 50% of RRP/MSRP.

Net Income (Distribution Sales)

Now you know why the RRP/MSRP for a resin Kate is so high! Selling into distributors looks super-painful on paper, but they can exponentially increase your sales potential. You have to ask yourself if you want 80% of a small number, or 50% of a massive number. Of course, you need to have a commercially-viable product to begin with, but that should be your goal from day one even if you only plan to sell small numbers from your own web store.

The Final Reckoning

Let’s remind ourselves of our initial design costs – this is how much we need to clear to make any profit. As noted previously, we’ve included the tool cost in the outlay for our plastic miniatures.

Initial Outlay (Design Costs)

In order to break even we have to sell enough miniatures to clear our investment. We obviously make the most money selling directly, but our customer base is limited. If we sell into distributors we don’t make anywhere near as much money, but we could increase our customer base exponentially. Ultimately you need to decide where your game sits in the market, and plan your production accordingly.

Break Even (No. Miniatures Sold)

Phew! I think we all need a sit down and a nice cup of tea after that.

Now, none of the above covers things like warehouse space, staff salaries for picking and packing, stock insurance, etc. but it should give you an idea of where the money goes, and what the different production processes are like. If this has triggered any further questions in your mind, please post them in the comments below. And, if you have your own experiences to share, we’d especially love to hear that.

Drekavacs, the Scurriers

“A door was left ajar. And through that door, darkness poured out.”

Shattered Earth - Drekavacs - Concept ArtConcept art by Marco Caradonna

As the last of the day’s light winked out from behind the trees, Iosif closed his door and set the latches. There was a chill in the night, he thought; the snows would come early this year. He took up the lantern and carried it through into the main room of the cabin, setting it down on the centre of the wooden table. He fetched his pipe and tobacco from the inside pocket of his jacket, and began to pack the small clay bowl. The light from the lantern flickered slightly, casting unusual shadows against the walls. Iosif stopped momentarily and sniffed the air. The moment passed and he set to packing his pipe again.

The sudden gust of wind nearly knocked Iosif off his feet, scattering books and ornaments and taking the pipe from his hand. An orange light flew across the room and died against the wall as the lantern shattered. The wind was followed by the strong, acrid smell of meat left too long on the spit. As Iosif steadied himself and his eyes adjusted to the near-darkness inside the cabin, he caught sight of a dull grey-green light spilling out from his bedroom. Pulling himself upright, he made his way out through the doorway.

What greeted him was a sight he could scarcely believe. Where his bedroom had once stood there was now nothing – a vast hole had been carved out of the surrounding material, as if a massive sphere had simply deleted whatever was there before. In the centre of the sphere, suspended several metres above the ground, was a pulsing greenish ball of what looked for all the world like electricity. As the ball pulsed it cast strange shadows across the broken earth, shapes that made Iosif’s mind reel, but he could not comprehend the source of these penumbra.

Making the sign of the cross, Iosif began to back away. It was then that he heard the first terrified scream, followed by another, then shouts of alarm and the sharp crack of gunfire. He turned to run and was suddenly engulfed by many limbs, barbed and hooking deep into his flesh, dragging him down into the wet dirt. His own scream soon joined the others, but was cut short, dying in his throat as the darkness enveloped him.

Sculpting by Glauco Longhi

In Slavic mythology, Drekavacs are said to be the souls of unbaptised children cursed to roam the world forever. In Shattered Earth, they are the lowliest foot-soldiers of the Deathless. Whether the old myth is true or not is largely irrelevant; whatever ‘role’ they once had has now been largely forgotten. Instead, ‘Dreks’ as they are called by most of humanity were the first beings from the immateria to set foot on Earth after the Breaking of the World – the herald of what was to come.

They manifest as small bipedal creatures, more bone and sinew than most Shadow-aspected Deathless, their smokey-skin stretched tight across their forms. They are utterly alien, devoid of reason save for the instinct to hunt and kill, swarming over their prey and tearing them limb from limb. On its own, a single Drekavac poses little problem for a trained soldier, but in numbers they can decimate the unprepared.

Coyote Assault Troopers

“Give me soldiers who can think and I will give you victory.”

Cpl Maria Perez lay flat at the top of the bluff and peered down through the early morning mist at the target building. From their vantage point, Perez and her fellow Coyotes had a clear view of the former school that UNM intel revealed to be a forward operating base for the Cult of the Dragon. They had observed the structure for twelve hours now and, although they had not witnessed any movement or signs of life, Perez noticed that the walls were pockmarked with the signs of a recent firefight. The Ether readings from the nearby village were also off the chart, so she knew that this was exactly the sort of location that she would expect to find the Cultists lurking.

“All units, ready up”, Perez ordered over the closed loop comms system, and was aware of dozens of hidden bodies rising to their knees, ready to move on her command. “Sharp eyes, CATs, it’s gonna be pretty tight in there. I want everyone in, two by two, standard CQC. If these Cultists really are here, you know what to do. Weapons ready, let’s move”.

The CATs fell immediately into their well drilled formation and made their way quickly down the hillside, weapons pointed at the school’s main exits, their eyes darting from window to window as the building filled their field of vision. Halfway through the 300m sprint, there was still no movement in front of them as they fanned out and slowed to a quick march. As they drew to within throwing distance of the front wall, the silence of the previous minute was broken by the shattering of glass as a dozen tattooed and snarling Acolytes burst through the first floor windows and hit the ground running full speed towards them.

Perez grinned to herself as she dropped to one knee and fired a burst through the chest of the leading cultist; “All units, weapons free! Let’s send these bastards back to school”.

Coyote Assault Troopers (CATs) are an amalgamation of U.S. Marines, Canadian Army Rangers, and Russian Rifle Troops. They are the work-horses of the UNM military, moving into previously-scouted areas in large numbers and with well-drilled effectiveness. They move mainly on foot, covering ground quickly, and are experts at finding and holding strategically important points on the battlefield.

CATs are lightly armoured and, due to the effectiveness of their lightweight composite armor, they have a great balance of defensive strength and maneuverability. They carry mid-range automatic, projectile-based weaponry – mainly assault rifles – which can project a solid offensive force whilst maintaining flexibility. In addition they all carry a machine pistol sidearm and a trauma pack. Whilst all CATs are bio-engineered, they have few visible augmentations. Reflecting the overall ideology of the UNM, most advanced or Ether-based technology tends to be worn or man-portable.

Lt Mitchell Ward, Veteran Coyote

“Death carries no burden but duty weighs heavy on the soul.”

Shattered Earth - Lt Mitchell Ward - Concept ArtConcept art by Anthony O’Donnell

Now a veteran soldier, Lt Mitchell Ward was part of the first class of post-event trainees at the newly created Special Future Tactics (SFT) Advanced Training Facility at Fort Bragg. He rose through the ranks when the U.S. fought alongside the European Socialist Collective (ESC) in numerous battles against the Deathless, against violent religious proselytizers, and in skirmishes against the early Cult of the Dragon cells.

A valuable leader of the US Special Forces at the time of the founding of the United Nations of Mankind (UNM), Mitch immediately became one of the UNM’s most crucial battlefield assets. Despite feeling comradeship for some individual soldiers of the Children of the One True God, and having empathy with some of the more progressive political ideas of the Humanist Rebellion, he remains a loyal UNM soldier. He knows that the chain of command is sacrosanct and that the Earth’s best hope of wiping out the malevolent forces from the immateria is with a strong UNM guiding the way.

Shattered Earth - Lt Mitchell Ward - SculptSculpting by Seth Nash

Although having enough experience and respect to hold a senior strategic position within the UNM Army, Lt Mitchell Ward is a particularly strong leader of soldiers and so chooses to remain on the front line with them. He is at his most effective leading by example, his troops lifted by his steadfast manner and his calmness in the face of horror. On the battlefield, Mitch is a force to be reckoned with. He is a veteran Coyote Assault Trooper, and packs a number of additional upgrades beyond the standard Coyote loadout.

He favours the tried and tested over the latest available equipment, his armour and Ether Matrix having seen him through countless battles, and his cybernetic exoskeleton guided him over thousands of miles. He carries a rifle with underslung shotgun, advancing on his enemies until he can look look them directly in the eye whilst sending them to their grave.

Acolytes of the Dragon

‘Sometimes fire must be fought with an inferno.’

The Cult of the Dragon rose to power through the blood and sacrifice of its unwavering Acolytes. Where once Lee Kyong-Min had commanded legions of adoring fans, he now led an army. These are the devoted servants of the Dragon, dedicated to spreading chaos and entropy – ‘do as thou wilt’ taken to its chilling conclusion.

Deployed on the front lines, the Acolytes of the Dragon are a fearsome and deadly opponent. They experiment with technology and body modification, enhancing their human abilities and turning themselves into ‘living weapons’. Oftentimes these enhancements are unstable, causing massive neurological damage and shutting down their hosts’ pain receptors.

The Acolytes of the Dragon wield vicious cybernetic implants, each one a unique and personal creation. Forearm blades, powered gauntlets, even razer-sharp scythes where legs once were. They attack with extreme aggression, engaging the front ranks of the enemy and causing chaos and panic. They eschew defence in favour of all-out attack, working themselves into a frenzy of blood and steel.

Whilst capable of rational thought, once they are engaged in battle it is often difficult for Acolytes to react with any tactical awareness; to this end, and despite their numbers, they are utilised primarily as shock troopers. Each Acolyte has sworn a blood oath and would rather die than be captured. In a barbaric symbol of their zeal, each one carries an implanted explosive device, activated in their death throws as a final devastating attack on their enemies.

Czernobog, the Black God

“All that awaits is oblivion.”

Czernobog - Concept ArtConcept art by Marco Caradonna

The Deathless arrived without warning. Creatures of nightmare, beautiful and terrifying, they fell upon us while we were still struggling to comprehend what was happening to our world. The loss of so much life, the landscape forever altered, the vast tears in the fabric of reality bleeding Ether like raw wounds; we were not prepared.

In the remote northern territories between what was once Russia and Scandinavia, the isolated pockets of survivors living there stood no chance. Fighting for their lives against an enemy they could not even comprehend, they were wiped out within hours. The Deathless had taken first blood, and it would not be long before the rest of humanity learned of this new threat.

Since time immemorial they have watched our world through our own eyes. And they have shaped the thoughts and feelings of many; from gifted artists to deranged killers, all have been at the whim of the creatures from the realm of dreams. Clear motives are as difficult to ascertain as the personality of any single Deathless. That is to say, we simply do not know. What we do know is that the Breaking of the World has shattered whatever fragile peace existed between the species – and humanity is under siege.

Shattered Earth - Czernobog - SculptSculpting by Glauco Longhi

From what humanity has uncovered, it appears there are different ‘aspects’ to the Deathless, almost a distinct ethnicity. Where mankind has divided along cultural and geographical lines, each aspect of the Deathless is reminiscent of certain personalities or creatures from human folklore, usually from a particular region or culture. To date, the two aspects most frequently encountered by humanity are that of the Shadow and the Beast; the former resembling creatures from Slavic mythology, the latter closer to Western European paganism.

Czernobog, literally the ‘Black God’, is the de facto leader of the Shadow Deathless. He was first across the breach, leading an army of shadows in an inscrutable crusade. Manifesting in the physical world as a large winged creature resembling a demon of some kind, he is the nightmare vision of mankind’s destruction.

Like all Deathless born of Shadow he is almost intangible, like smoke coalescing into solid, physical form. His very nature, along with that of all Deathless encountered thus far, is anathema to modern machines and technology. For humanity’s frontline soldiers, this presents a unique challenge. Sweeping in under a cloak of shadows, Czernobog and his followers strike without warning, devastating their foes and leaving behind no trace but for the corpses of their enemies.

Jormungandr, the World Serpent

“I am Jormungandr, master of the ocean and poisoner of the sky. I am the World Serpent, and you now belong to me.”

Shattered Earth - Jormungandr - Concept ArtConcept art by Iwo Widuliński

During the Breaking of the World, where the land cracked and splintered, and the continents were reformed, the barrier between the material world and the immateria was at its thinnest. Breaches began to appear across the globe, leaking Ether and altering reality, with one of the largest opening a great rift near Alta in northern Norway. Curiously, the vast crack that formed stopped at the base of a single ash tree, leading some to believe that the tree was actually Yggdrasil, the World Tree.

After years studying the occult and his subsequent search for power, Lee Kyong-Min was well aware of both the breach’s location, and its significance. He knew that a great destiny awaited him there, so he travelled west across what was once northern Russia, now controlled by the UNM, with a small band of elite warriors.

For the entire journey there, Kyong-Min hallucinated with visions of Ragnarök and the battles between the gods that were foreseen to take place. He felt the World Serpent calling to him in his subconscious and he followed the voice to its source. The Ether around the breach was so strong it straddled the boundaries between the physical and the immaterial, warping reality and preventing any human from approaching. Any human except for Kyong-Min. In an enraptured state, he stepped past his followers and entered the rift.

No one is sure what happened to him whilst inside but, when he emerged, he was no longer entirely just Lee Kyong-Min. His appearance had changed giving him an almost glowing quality, his outline a kind of haze and his voice cracked and much deepened. Somehow he had merged with a being from the immateria, an ancient creature of dream and thought. And it had a name: Jormungandr, the World Serpent.

Shattered Earth - Jormungandr - SculptSculpting by Seth Nash

There is a certain unpredictability when using the Cult of the Dragon, and Kyong-Min himself does not have full control of his own soul. On the tabletop, he is represented by two models: one of himself, and one of the mighty serpent god Jormungandr. Throughout the game, certain rules and battlefield conditions will determine which model is in play, representing Kyong-Min’s internal struggle for control of his own mind.

When enough blood has been spilled, the World Serpent is called forth, bound to Kyong-Min’s soul and tethered to reality by his will. The beast’s jaws can rend even the thickest armour, and the ancient Norse god has an almost peerless mastery over Ether. Able to call forth a poisonous rain to weaken his enemies, Jormungandr can tear through multiple foes in a single attack.

But it is Ragnarök that gives Jormungandr his most devastating power. With enough Ether siphoned from the nearby breaches, he is able to tear apart the very fabric of reality, and destroy the minds of those caught in this fell conflagration.

Lee Kyong-Min, the Voice of the Dragon

“There is a natural order to things – every system falls into chaos eventually. Why struggle against the inevitable?”

Shattered Earth - Lee Kyong-Min - Concept ArtConcept art by Iwo Widuliński

It was his eyes that set him apart. His eyes had a deep blackness that burned into the camera lens. Meeting him in person left people awed at his presence, and this charisma transferred over the airwaves to the millions of teenagers convinced he was speaking directly to them and them alone each night. In the years before the Breaking of the World, Kyong-Min had risen to become one of the most recognisable pop stars on the planet, with his own devoted army of followers.

But his eyes held a deeper darkness. Throughout his rise, Kyong-Min kept secret his obsession with the paranormal, the occult, and the ancient Gods. He read copiously on Greek and Nordic mythology, on Wicca and folk religions. He studied Zoroastrianism and Hinduism, the history of Mesopotamia and Antiquity, and read about the magi of the Renaissance all the way up to the present day. He was looking for something – staring into the abyss and waiting for something to return his gaze and answer his questions.

By the time the first disasters struck, Kyong-Min was fully immersed in his own belief system, a construct of unexplainable powers and the worship of unknowable ancient Gods and legends. As the world crumbled and Ether began to permeate, Kyong-Min sought out these breaches between the real world and the immateria as others ran from them, terrified. And where he led, his army followed. The cult of celebrity had been transformed as the world itself changed, and Kyong-Min took on the mantle of a prophet, his fans now acolytes of this new religion.

Shattered Earth - Lee Kyong-Min - SculptSculpting by Seth Nash

Lee Kyong-Min is the leader of the Cult of the Dragon, and perhaps the most infamous personality in the world of Shattered Earth. He is a gifted orator and carries about him a strange charisma – the kind that psychopaths seem to uniquely possess. His devoted army of followers – once fans, now soldiers – were galvanised in a violent political coup that destroyed the Pan-Asian Alliance (PAA) and allowed the Cult to take control of the Pacific Archipelago.

On the tabletop Lee Kyong-Min is a gifted swordsman, and his heavily-augmented body, utilising the most cutting-edge Cult technology, has allowed him to maintain his youth over countless decades. He espouses the core ideology of the Cult, and sees the only future for humanity in chaos and anarchy. He leads by example, manipulating Ether to rile his own soldiers into a battle-frenzy, and charging into combat with his Ancestral Hwando.

But there is madness in those deep, dark eyes. At times Kyong-Min appears in the midst of an internal struggle, fighting to maintain control over his own body. Despite his pre-eminent position within the Cult, there are those who wonder at the bargain that was struck, when a man became a God. What price was paid to the Dragon?