Saturday, 14 April 2012

Review: NuCoal GP Squad (Heavy Gear Blitz)

They come in a very, very shiny box!

Well I guess this review (like so many other around here at the moment) is actually really long overdue. I've had my Heavy Gear Blitz NuCoal mini's sitting in their respective boxes for some time now and I just felt that it was about time I actually told you all what I thought of them. I've held off reviewing them for a number of reasons:

  1. I've been really busy, pretending I'm really busy (actually I have been really busy of late).
  2. I've actually been waiting on some magnets to magnetize these bad boys.
  3. I've also been waiting on some MDF hex bases from Sarissa Precision for another article I'm planning on bringing you all.

Honestly though? I got fed up of waiting for the magnets and the MDF laser cut bases have now arrived. So I don't have anymore excuses for holding off on the reviews now do I?

Product description

Right well the first thing to note is that these miniatures come in an exceedingly glossy shiny box that makes them quite hard to photograph, but very lovely to look at. If I was a shop owner I'd be very pleased at their presentation is to a very high standard and their petite size maximises that shelf space! As I say, it's a compact nicely presented product. The miniatures are multi-part white metal figures... when I say multi-part I mean it too. They come in a lot of different pieces do these miniatures, and are highly poseable. They also come with multiple weapon loadout options too. There's an awful lot of metal in this box, and if you're clever with magnets you can actually pose the miniatures so you can swap in and swap out the weapons options, which makes for a nice change and a great money saving option. I however got a little bit impatient waiting on magnets and decided to forgo that option. Each Chasseur miniature comprises of between 6 and 7 pieces, and that's without the main weapon options. All in all there are  roughly 50 metal components in this box, which gives you multiple weapons options, so it's actually quite a bit of stuff you get in the box. You also get 5 plastic 25mm Hex bases to stand them on... although I'll be going for something a little different myself.

Character 8.5 out of 10

I'm a big huge, nay massive anime mecha fan. No scratch that, I just love the idea of giant big robot smashing seven shades of brown stuff out of each other. As a kid I obviously had a love for Macross, Gundam and Appleseed. Now while there is no doubt that Dream Pod 9 have taken some of their cues from Japanese anime robots, it's arguably more from the likes of Patalabor and definitely Votoms, and yeah possibly a smidgen of the aforementioned Appleseed... but who hasn't been influenced a bit by Appleseed and the work of Masamune Shirow? So I'm not going to lie to you when I say as I put these miniatures together they raised more than the odd smile. In fact as I pinned them together and saw them take shape in front of my eyes I actually grew rather fond of them, with their rounded work hat heads and their boxy limbs. They look brilliant! I could see much of Kunio Okawara's design ethic in them.

Votoms Scopedog - Kunio Okawara.

But I really don't want to make it seem like these miniatures are just riffing on the design concepts of Japanese anime and other peoples work, despite their open homage at points. Because they're not, they have their own sort of industrial western charm about them. There's no denying where their DNA has sprung from, but these robots look a lot more rugged and stout than most of their influences. They look workmanlike, ready to go to war, far more so than the often slender and sleek designs of most anime mecha they take their cues from. They wear their rivets and their rugged mechanical appearance with pride. These are fighting machines rather than cartoon renditions of fighting machines. While in anime mecha always seem like sports cars these Chasseurs just seem to evoke a distinctly more diesel truck like appearance. Plus getting them into 3D sculpts does add a really nice sense of solidity to all those anime cartoons I used to watch. They also feel very different to the other mecha game I played in my youth, Battletech. I do feel that Dream Pod 9 have just about struck the right chord between homage to the giant robots I so loved watching as a kid, and their own take on them.

Chasseur CV - Primed and ready to be painted.

These miniatures are also relatively poseable too. Of course much of these Gears stances are restricted by how their legs are placed and also the need to carry their weapons. I still found though that I was able to twist torso's, replace arms and put heads on at jaunty angles and get the sort of motion out of the pieces that I wanted. In terms of poseability I'd guess these are right up there with Jes Goodwin's plastic Space Marines. Remembering that these are in metal, that's actually a commendable way to go with these miniatures. Although it does create it's own challenges that I'll talk about later on. However, from a purely aesthetic point of view I love them and I love that I have some control over how they stand. They're not going to be to everyone's taste, they simply aren't, because lets face it not everyone loves giant robots. But if you like your mecha like I do, then there's a lot of appeal and charm in these Chasseurs. However, I did decide to add some short range radio aerials to my Chasseur's so those aren't part of the original miniature, but I felt they set them off nicely.

This back pack is slightly smaller than a Space Marines.
Detail 8 out of 10

Given that these are the same size roughly as Games Workshops Space Marines (possible ever so slightly smaller) part of me thinks I shouldn't be surprised at the level of detail they contain. However, I am. Let me explain why, firstly these Chasseur Gears are sculpted in a very different scale to those 28mm Space Marines, they're 10 to 12mm miniature scale in effect, and much of the really small details on the metal surface convey this fact brilliantly. Details like small air vents, rivets and metal panels are all nicely to scale if not 100% right because of artistic licence, they do convey that these are giant robots very well. The teeny tiny access panels are man sized and add a great sense of scale to these Chasseur's, as do all the little lights and sensors that seem to be stuck all over the place. All of it crisply and sharply reproduced. Is it up to the delicate lines and standards achieved by the likes of Corvus Belli and their Infinity range, or Freebooter Fate? No not quite, but then again given the subject matter is big boxy robots it wasn't ever meant to be, was it? I'm personally really pleased with the surface detailing on these miniatures and I think it's more than appropriate for what they are.

Some delicate pinning on a knifes handle.
Quality 8 out of 10

Right this is a tough one to judge, as there were no casting defects and the detail retention is actually very, very good. So why have I given them only 8 out of 10 instead of 8.5 or 9 out of 10? To be honest it was a very difficult call and one I'm still not entirely sure about. Let me explain myself though, because that score really does need a qualifying statement. These are exceptionally well cast miniatures, and I want to make that clear, the mould lines were minimal, there was no flash and all the pieces were fine. However, they are also multi-part metal miniatures that have a high degree of poseability in them. All good stuff in principle I'm sure you'll agree, and if you hobby-fu skills are as adept as mine are at pinning miniatures then you can whack that quality score up to 8.5 out of 10. Because although they'll require some careful work, you'll find it easy and enjoy the range of poses you can achieve. If you've been brought up on Games Workshop plastic miniatures, and metal miniatures scare you, then the score should be closer to a 7.5 out of 10. So I'm sitting on the fence right in the middle with my own score.

I personally felt the need to do a lot of pinning to make these suitable for gaming.

Because here's the thing, these miniatures require some work and for my money are aimed at experienced hobbyists, who have amassed the tools and skills required to make a success of them. If you have those skills you'll enjoy putting these together like I did. If not, you might find them frustrating to assemble. I used a power drill and some fine watch makers drill bits and it was a doddle, but with a hand powered pin vice and normal hobby drill bit? Well lets just say I hope you have a large CD collection to play as you're drilling away. I've had a bit of a discussion with some of my friends as to whether or not all my drilling and pinning was necessary. I take their point that maybe the torso and legs didn't require pinning, and maybe neither did the head, as the contact points for the size of pieces was probably good enough for a pure super glue bond. But those arms? Hell no they need pinning if you're going to be using these for regular gaming sessions even more so, and I didn't like the look of the shoulder mounted missile launchers either, so they got a damn good pinning too!

I chose to break the leg joint myself, to make it firmer.

I also had concerns where there was no join necessary. Most notably with the legs of these miniatures. The legs might look really chunky around the thigh and calf areas. However, the join between those two chunkier parts was itself very thin and delicate looking. Having played miniature wargames for as long as I have I know that such thin joins can often have stress fractures in the metal after casting, that can make them weaker and susceptible to bending, cracking and eventually snapping. To be clear there was  no evidence of this on these miniatures at all, but on the Chasseur's that were standing on one leg I decided to take no chances. Having been bitten in the ass in the past by such joints I decided to break a few of the weaker looking ones myself early on, rather than have to come back and repair miniatures after they've been painted. As I suspected it wasn't particularly hard to part the lower leg sections from their upper leg counter parts. I carefully cleaned the joint areas up with some neat and careful filing. I then carefully drilled out two very, very deep holes on both parts of the legs and inserted a rather large pin to make the leg sturdier in the long run. I also tidied the join up with some green stuff afterwards. Was this massive overkill? Possibly, but I was dealing with a quite chunky miniature that was going to put a fair degree of its weight through that narrow section, and a bit of stress and strain from gaming. So I would bear all of this in mind when looking to buy these miniatures, if you're adept at assembling metal miniatures it's not a problem. If however you struggle with Games Workshops plastics then maybe this isn't the product for you, or at the very least you should know what you are getting into.

Service 9 out of 10

I've had two interesting deliveries from Dream Pod 9, who lets not forget are based in Canada, while I reside in Britain. This delivery came as part of the NuCoal super bundle deal and was actually with me inside of 7 working days. In fact it made it to me in 5 working days and as far as I'm concerned that's exceptional customer service. They came really well packed and there was absolutely no damage at all, which is good considering how international parcels normally get handled in North America (I think it's mandatory to throw them around wherever they go). So for this particular delivery the service was outstanding. However, please bear in mind if you do live in Europe that you could end up with your parcel sitting at customs for a week or two, and then stuck in a distribution depot for a further week or two, like the other parcel that was sent me. But as I say, on this order it was a great service.

Price 7.5 out of 10

The Canadian dollar exchange rate has not been kind to Canadian manufacturers over the last few years. The last decade in particular has seen their weak dollar gain in strength against other global currencies, so while it used to be great for exports, it has somewhat hampered things of late. The previously weak Canadian dollar actually made purchasing Dream Pod 9's miniatures quite cheap here in the UK, that's not so much the case anymore. I brought this GP Squad as part of the NuCoal super bundle deal, which represents roughly a 20% saving overall and I think is a pretty good deal at $299.95 Can or roughly £190. Individually the GP Squad costs $43.50 Can or £28, so as part of the deal that works out at £22.40 for 5 decent sized metal miniatures with options. Or £4.48 per miniature, which is more than comparable to other companies metal miniatures. The only other issue to bear in mind though is that you need more of them than your average skirmish game. Currently I think we're looking at between 15 to 25 miniatures at the scale we want to play at. So as a rough guide an army in Heavy Gear will look to set you back about £84 to £140, which isn't quite as expensive as say Games Workshops two main products, and possibly on a par with a 35 to 50 point HoMachine force. It's not Mofaux cheap, but it's not as expensive as it might first appear as a product either when you first start looking at it.

Here's the completed studio paint jobs
Overall 8 out of 10

What can I say? I've always been a sucker for bit robots, gears, mechs or whatever you want to call them. My first real wargaming love was probably Battletech, which itself did a nice line in giant robot battling death. These are a significant step up on those particular miniatures I owned in the 90's, of that there is certainly no doubt. They're not quite as nice as many of the glorious individual sculpts I have in my current two skirmish games of choice Infinity and Freebooter's Fate, but where they do score over those products is the scale of the game on offer... that, and they're big robots! Hevey Gear Blitz scale is set to full on Battle scale if you will, as opposed to the minor skirmishes many of my other games seem to represent. That counts for something with me, because I do quite like the idea of grander scale battles taking place, but at 12mm scale it's not as daunting a prospect as a game of 40k is. On the evidence of these specific miniatures, and indeed the others Heavy Gear miniatures I own and have seen I'm really pleased I decided to take the plunge with the game after all. Peace out!


  1. Nice one again, i'll be having my first game next tuesday with Rich-b. Not pinned any or used magnets. But thats personal choice. A good idea, i just can't be arsed. I think our game will just be GP squad on GP squad. Untill we understand the rules better. Cheers

    1. You lazy, lazy bugger!!! :P

      May all your Gears fall apart and be cursed by super glue failures!!!

      Or alternatively I'll keep my fingers crossed for you and remember them in my prayers. ;)

      You'll have to let me know how the game goes and what you think. Any chance of roping Jake in yet? I can always nag him a from another angle... perhaps if we tag team him he'll fold? :)

    2. He may be around on Tuesday so we'll see on that score. It's a rare event when he isn't intrigued to hang his nose over a new game ;-)

      I went the opposite route and pinned everything - by hand X-D Yeah, it took ages and I have blisters in places you shouldn't! I did pass on pinning the heads though, the ball and socket joint was deep enough to not need it as it won't be handled normally in play. Great models and fun to assemble and pose, definitely need old school cleaning, pinning and assembling skills though. At least the metal isn't as hard as GW's white metal they used to use, that was a drill bit destroyer!

      While I think about it a good tip for pinning is to use a flexible material rather than a stiff one like brass rod. It'll let you bend the pin slightly as you fit the parts together and is more forgiving if you're slightly off angle with your holes. We've got a big reel of 0.8mm welding flux at the club that was donated to us and it's brilliant for it. I must have got through a few metres of the stuff by myself over the last few years and we've still probably got 25 metres or so left! In the past I've also used thick electrical fuse wire as well, although it's getting harder to get hold of nowadays.

      Another one is to keep wetting your drill bit with cold water as you go, it helps reduce friction, heat build up, sticking and bit breakages.

    3. lol.

      Thanks for the tips, but I keep an old pump spray bottle full of water nearby when I'm pinning!!! It's a trick I learned many moons ago... and you're right it works wonders. :)

      I too have blisters and one particularly bad blood blister on my fingers after pinning these and a few other mini's together. But as I stood back and looked at them I thought it was totally worth it. :)

      I also totally agree over brass rod, which is why I use paper clips. Dirt cheap, stiff, but not too stiff and bendable. Mot that I'm often 'off' with my pinning. Never used welding flux myself though, which is odd as that's exactly what my father was, a welder. Hmmm, I shall ask him why he never taught me this trick, I feel like he's let me down. ;)

  2. I really like the heavy gear figures myself, but I have to agree with you: they are NOT for novices. The metal they use in casting is outrageously solid. It takes forever to file away mould lines let alone drill holes for pinning. A pity in some ways, since Heavy Gear would be a pretty good rules system for novices to pick up if not for the expense and modelling skills needed to put together a starter pack.

    1. My titanium tipped drill bits have served me well for years and years... yet after putting 10 to 15 miniatures together I've blunted 3 of my very fine drills. They're made of stern stuff that's for sure!!! lol. I think it's good that Dream Pod 9 have clearly tried to make a high quality product, and for my money they've succeeded.

      But I personally wouldn't have it any other way. I'm glad they're clearly made of good quality stuff. Also with mould lines I didn't have too many of them actually on these miniatures and they weren't very bad at all and gave me no problems. I like them.

  3. Love the new NuCoal stuff, if I had money, I'd add them to my northern and black talon forces.

    I'm assuming for the metal it's either what they've chosen, what's available or part of the law, in the same way lead was phased out. It is pretty solid, it can take a while to file, even with diamond files I've found. Still gorgeous miniatures, and I like you love giant robots (in case it wasn't obvious from the name) and have loved this game for a long time.

    1. Do you know what? I kinda thought you might be a fan of giant robots!!! ;)

      I've seen some of the Northern Gears as one of my friends has that Northern starter set I got, and I like those. I also loved the look of Black Talon stuff too. However, I'm really glad I went with NuCoal in the end as I think they're bloody awesome. I love their stylings and I've already decided on a paint scheme for them. I'm even going to make my own resin bases for them. Yep I think I'm hooked at the minute.

  4. My glue has never let me down yet. Jake should be along so i'm sure i can rope him in for a game :)

    1. What bloody glue do you use? lol.

      Everyone's glue has let them down at some point, no matter what the hell it is. :P

      When we've got all got our stuff put together we'll have to meet up and smash each others Gears apart!

  5. NuCoal was almost going to be my first army, but PRDF just won the day in looks and theme for me (Plus I was a huge fan of PRDF since the Heavy gear 2 game years back). The Hussar's are absolutely stunning minis and one of the biggest draws of the force.

    If I am to start a second force, it'll be a hard choice between NuCoal or a Northern force lead by a Chaplain in a Grizzly. Hard choice indeed.

    1. My mate has a Northern force and I think he's wanting to do warrior monks. I have to admit I'm tempted to do the city state that actually can have some Northern Gears because I actually really like some of the Northern mini's too. In fact after seeing my friends Grizzlies and his Kodiak, I might have had a pang of Gear envy... but shhhh... don't tell him.

      A friend of mine is keen on doing a PRDF force, but roping him in is proving difficult because he doesn't really want to start a new game and he thinks it'll be expensive. I know it's not the cheapest game on the market but I also think it's not as bad as many people think.

  6. Mad pinning skillz, yo.

    Well, now I've gotta go find the Appleseed movie and watch it again.

    Total side note-
    Crackle, the XBox live app (which is free) has tons of anime AND a lot of Godzilla movies 'n' stuffs.
    Completely awesome for modelling/painting sessions.

    1. Trouble with me watching anime and painting mini's at the same time is that I can't bloody do it. I get totally sucked in by the shiny anime and forget to paint. I can listen to music and work on my mini's no problem at all, but watching TV or films? No chance.

      Oh and thanks, I know my pinning-fu is good. Believe it or not their is a single pin in all these mini's that holds the legs, torso and heads together. And a number of them have a single pin holding both arms on as well. Awesome!!! :P

  7. The pinning looks great and will be needed with these heavy minis especially around cats or small children. You mention you have magnet on order how small have you found and where. Personally the smallest I have been able to get a hold of is 2mmx2mm which is difficult to fit into the hands of a gear.

    Also I was wondering what type of force and what city state you are building your nucoal to. I haven’t yet purchased the Nucoal book yet but looking at gear garge there are alot of options. In the past have found the different sub factions to really bring out the character of the armies. Personally I love the feeling of the MILCIA and the Western Protectorate forces.

    1. Try these guys, amazing magnets:

      they do magnets at ridiculously small sizes. I'm not too sure on what type of force or city state I want to do. I really want to do one of the city states as opposed to doing a PAK force, although I might at a later date turn them into a PAK force too. I've still got time to decide though! :P

  8. I want to play this game! I just cannot afford to start yet another minis game. Especially now that I'm writing for two of them and I'll have to support both those games by buying / collecting / painting forces for them.

    1. What do you mean writing for two of them? On your Blog or actually writing for the game rules etc?

      Any who I personally think HGB is worth the asking price myself and I'd have no hesitation in recommending it as a game and product. I really, really wouldn't. But if you're hard pressed for cash I can understand your unwillingness to get involved in another game. ;)

    2. I am in the process of writing to sets of miniature wargames rules. One for a game of my own creation (Extinction), and the other for a company who has licensed the IP, but currently has my ass covered by an NDA.

      You did know that I was a writer in my spare time?

      So I guess I'll pip my latest book...

      I am heavy involved in RPGs but since my blog isn't really about that I don't mention that sort of thing, perhaps I should?

    3. Honestly Angus, I had absolutely no idea you were a writer at all. Yep, you should definitely touch upon that in your Blog. It'd be interesting to hear about what you have done and how you approach it... well I'd be interested in reading that sort of stuff. :P

  9. My glue is ace, it can be a bugger to get stuff to stick first time. But when it does its solid. Its from work, and good it is too. Meeting up for a scrap sounds great.

    1. What glue do you use then?

      As to getting together for a few games we'll definitely have to arrange something at some point, could be a laugh! :)

  10. Its called ( EVER BUILD ) industrial grade super glue.

    1. Cheers, I've looked it up. I'd need a trade account to be able to get the stuff apparently... o.0 ... while I know plenty of jewelers and watchmakers to get their tools, I sadly don't know many builders personally.

  11. I've always liked the Mechs that DP9 has had on offer, the Jovian Chronicles mechs that I saw about 10 years ago were awesome but I could never afford to get them (importing = expensive at the time)
    This however is a game that I will never play, mainley due to no one else I know being interested. I love the designs and I have always loved my mechs, ever since I saw Harmony Golds Robotech (Macross).

    Battletech again was a game that first got me into wargameing. LOL Though that's because it had a picture of a mech from Robotech on the box. I didn't buy it, though I would have missed the Space Hulk that was sitting next to it if it wasn't for that Varitech Fighter.


    1. Don't you darken my door with talk of Robotec!!! x_X


      Not a fan of Harmony Golds 'adaptation' of the original Macross content. You know what? I thought getting people interested in HGB would be a bit of an issue at first, but it hasn't been. We're all geeks, and geeks love giant battling robots, it's in our DNA. So download the free rules off of DP9's websote and have a look at them, and then maybe try to rope a few people together for some proxy games. Trust me, after a while they'll start wanting giant robots!!!