Saturday, December 10, 2005

Testing a Miniatures Bag

One of the biggest headaches going up to Gamecon was transporting my miniatures. For day to day travel, I transport them in metal biscuit tins (as shown here). All of my miniatures have a magnasheet layer on the bottom, so they stick to the tin, minimizing movement.

Long distance travel is another issue altogether. Carrying several heavy box of miniatures on a 5 hour coach journey is a challenge - even though the bases are magnetised, the boxes musn't be jolted or the bases will come loose and start scratching the paint off each other. On our trip to and from Kuala Lumpur for Gamecon1 last week, the bag with my armies had to be delicately hand-carried throughout. I use a bag with roller wheels, but have discovered that unless the floor is perfectly smooth (and even tiled floors aren't), the jolting and bumping from irregular floors was still enough to upset the figures. In the course of both coach journeys, bumps in the road were enough to cause 3 or 4 figures per box to be out of place after every trip. Each one is like a loose cannon on a rolling deck, liable to scratch other figures.

I mention all this because Damien, the proprietor of Paradigm Infinitum, showed me this bag when I dropped by the other day, and asked if I wouldn't mind reviewing it. "Sure", I said.

The Bag

The Bag

The bag is basically a holder for 6 foam trays, each with 30 cut-outs to hold miniatures. The foam trays are made with a harder layer underneath as a base, and softer foam on top. This sort of foam tray has been around for some time for the Warhammer players, but this one is cut more for the historical wargaming crowd. The bag zips open to allow access to all layers at once, has a pocket in front large enough to hold rule books in A4, and an internal zipped pocket for dice, tape-measures etc. There's a shoulder strap as well as a carrying handle.

The first thing to mention is the cut-outs in the foam layers are all 40mm by 20mm, whereas figure basing varies widely in historical wargaming (from Napoleonics to WW2 to Ancients). However, the majority of ancients and medieval wargames adopt the DBx basing, which (for 15mm figures, the dominant scale) is 40mm wide by varying depths (up to 40mm), and this is what the various layers of foam in this bag are cut for. In fact, at 40x20mm, they'll fit (in DBx terminology) Spears, Pikes, Warbands, Blades, Psiloi, Auxilia, but not mounted figures (which are 40mm by 30mm at least).

You could cut your own holes, which is not a bad idea: if I were using this bag, I'd want to store one DBA army (12 bases minimum, with up to 20 for some armies because of the options) in one layer for convenience, and the only way to do that would be to take knife to foam and customize it myself - no big deal, and most gamers have a do-it-yourself mentality anyway. With 6 layers, and maximum efficiency, one could transport an entire DBM army in this bag.

The Layers

The foam layers can be seen in this photo below:
The shallowest layer (Layer 1) is 25mm deep. A base of my Carthaginian Poeni spearmen fit with no problems. The Qin's spears stick out a bit, and the Spartans stick out a lot. This depth would fit most Blades, Psiloi, and non-spear types. Two of this layer came with the bag. The foam grips the sides of the bases quite well: even though these bases were 40x15mm in a 40x20mm cut-out, the snug fit means that you could turn the foam layer upside down and they wouldn't move. Why you would want to do so is another matter altogether.

The next layer (Layer 2 above) is 35mm deep: I've placed the ruler next to the chunk of foam that comes out to show you the depth. If you look closely at the photo, you can see that while the Carthaginians have sunk completely out of sight, and the Qin spears are sticking out by the barest millimetre, the Spartans are still sticking out. At this point, I should mention that the Qin are from Essex Miniatures, and are thus a fairly reliable guide to the length of spears out there, while the Spartans were equiped with brass spears of my own making, and are probably as long as most Pike figures. Two of this layer come with the bag.

Layer 3 is 50mm deep. No problems. This layer should hold all but the longest Pikes. It's deep enough that removing the figures becomes a delicate affair. This is where the 40x20mm size helps, with the extra room for fingers to manuever to grip the base for removal. At this point, I began to think that a 40x30mm size might be an even better idea: you can fit all types of bases in (excepting Chariots, Elephants, and Baggage), the foam keeps smaller sized bases snug, and the extra space facillitates removal. One of this type of layer comes with the bag.

Layer 4 is almost 80mm deep. If you have 15mm figures with Pikes that long, then you have serious insecurity issues. Switch to 28mm - you get longer spears there. One of this layer comes with the bag, but I can't see myself using this depth at all. Better to get two more of Layer 1 or Layer 2.

"Take it home, try it out, kick it around a bit ...", he said.

OK then.
Testing the Bag
I put one base of the Qin spearmen in the bag (in a 35mm deep layer, 3rd from the top, corner pocket - since the corner pocket is the most vulnerable) and proceeded to ... well, kick it around a bit. I threw the bag. I kicked the bag. I put the bag on a ledge and had it fall off (this is when I discovered the shoulder strap, which I used to tug the bag off the ledge. This is not, I should add, the normal use of the shoulder strap). I even exposed the bag to the savagery of my household cats. As you can see from the picture above, the cats couldn't have cared less about the bag - which is a shame, since I was looking forward to adding a section to this review along the lines of "Resistance to Attack by Wild Creatures".

The bag survived with nary a scuff (don't worry Damien). The figures?
The damage
Spears slightly bent, no other damage. Those of us who paint miniatures know that this is par for the course: lead spears will bend at the slightest provocation. The only decent way to get around it is to get brass or steel spears. I should also point out that I kicked that bag really hard, and when I say I threw it, I really threw it (see photos of said bag airborne, above), so this is not the kind of treatment you'd expect the bag to have to protect your figures from (unless you decide to check in the bag at the arirport and leave it to the mercy of baggage handlers - who will treat it like this). All in all, the foam did its job well.

More importantly, the biggest advantage of using foam like this is isolation of figures: bent spears I can deal with, but scratches and dings inflicted by one lead figure slamming into another are more serious.

In conclusion? Not bad at all. I can think of some people (including a friend who has always had problems transporting his delicate model tanks when he flies in from Hong Kong) who could use a bag like this (or at least the foam trays). Cons include the larger overall bulk (I could pack in 3 times as many figures into the same volume, but with obviously less protection) and the limited range of the cut-outs at only 40x20mm - but as I said before, if I were using this, I'd modify the trays myself anyway to customise them for my own army.

To be honest, I'd probably still use my metal tins for day to day movement in Singapore, but this would've been really useful for the 5 hour trip to KL last week. I sat in that coach with my bag under my chair, wincing at every bump in the highway and wondering what the damage would be like when I unpacked them at journey's end, an experience I'm not eager to repeat soon.


1 comment:

  1. I play warhammer 40k (and im new at it) and was looking forward to an article about this type of bags, your blog really helped me out with what I wanted to know, thanks.


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