Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Gettysburg ritual

As I continue to occasionally review various brands of toy soldiers I want to give a nod to the place I usually acquire them from. Now there of lots of outstanding places to buy toy soldiers, including: the dollar store, ebay, online, etc. But my usual place is surrounded by a special ambience.

Every time I visit Gettysburg I make sure to drop by my favorite place for buying toy soldiers.

Gettysburg Miniature Soldiers is very nearly, itself, a miniature store, I've seen sidewalk newsstands that are larger. However the proprietor, John Zabawa, manages to pack every square inch of the place with a variety of soldiers.

All eras are represented, mostly 54mm (which I prefer), and 1/72. His stock also runs the full spectrum of the really expensive hand painted King and Country line to the super cheap cannon-fodder of BMC/Americana (I'll be doing a review of BMC at a later date when I find a suitable replacement for the term "sucks" which I assiduously avoid using).

I picked up a box of IMEX 7th Cavalry (to be reviewed soon) and while it was getting rung up I struck up a nice conversation with Johnny Zabawa (the younger).

One of the things I like about this shop, beyond their wide selection, is the friendliness with which they treat their customers (something you don't find at all niche shops). Whether you're buying or just browsing the conversation is always upbeat, knowledgeable, and friendly.

And I would imagine, working at a tourist mecca like G'burg, it might get tiresome being asked the same limited range of questions thirty times a day: "When is BMC releasing their Irish Brigade?", "Why don't these come in light blue? lighter.", "The guy down the avenue has these for thrity-nine cents less." Yeah, that's gotta be tough. But somehow, even at the height of the season, on anniversary weekend, the guys behind the counter manage to keep their good humor.

I also like the fact that you can root around and find some real bargains especially among their bagged Marx and Imex recasts.

You can never have enough reenforcements, especially at six (ish) bucks a bag.

They've been in business for ten years, and I hope they have many, many, more.

Who knows?, one day they may nail an old phone booth to the front of the building and expand the floorplan by 30%!

Playing with army guys, just north of Boonsboro.


(next post June 1)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Reviewing the troops: Toy Soldiers of San Diego

(disclaimer: This post is in no way an endorsement or plug for any particular product or vendor.)

Every year for my birthday (for the past three years) I treat myself to a trip to Gettysburg to visit the battlefield and buy some plastic Civil War soldiers (54mm).

Plastic Civil War Army guys have been a staple of my existence since I was nine or so, I see no reason things should change.

I've amassed, over many years, quite respectable armies of both yankees and rebels, perhaps 1,200 or so.

By the way, if you are a fan of toy soldiers, check out Scott Mingus' blog: Charge! Civil War War gaming and News

(a fraction of my opposing forces)

One fine day I hope to sucker good friend and fellow ranger (and plastic army guy enthusiast) John Hoptak into a plastic army guy war, at which time my fearsome phalanxes of federals, not to mention my steadfast scores of secessionists, will reduce his forces to nothing more than a bubbling puddle of plastic.

In the meantime I thought I'd do a semi regular posting which may be of interest to other ACW toy soldier enthusiasts out there; an occasional product review of toy soldiers that are, or have been available on the market.

This month's review:
Toy Soldiers of San Diego (TSSD) Union Cavalry

This is a fairly new release for Toy Soldiers of San Diego. TSSD represents a leading edge of the new generation of manufacturers. Like other newer companies (most notable would be Conte Collectibles) TSSD strives for a superior level of detail, bulk, anatomy, and animation. And, generally speaking, they exceed the mark on all points, except for one which I'll get to momentarily.

Toy Soldiers of San Diego's 54mm cavalry horse is head and shoulders better than any other. The sculpting and animation are wonderful, and the horse is not like the undersized Americana/BMC (later post) cayuses or those spindly Marx horses we grew up with, this is a hefty war horse completely tricked out for battle with convincing tack, saddle, and ancillary furniture. The balance of this horse is also superior. Perched on a nice, thick, rectangular base this horse will stay upright even if your trooper has to lean far over to snatch up an errant chicken.

As pictured in this close up the high degree of detail becomes very clear. These figures are beautifully sculpted with great attention to detail. Note the hand groping for a cartridge as well as the realistic rolled-up sleeve. How refreshing to see such naturalistic and believable poses on a plastic soldier.

This pose of a trooper at the charge typifies the superior animation of TSSD figures. This company clearly has very imaginative sculptors who have mastered both human and equine anatomy. Again, here the mass of the soldier matches perfectly that of the horse, the two sculptings are perfectly paired.

Bravo TSSD on the animation, sculpting, attention to detail, and bulk,

the faces however...

As Chubby McJowels here demonstrates, perhaps TSSD is not modelling its figures off photographs of actual Civil War soldiers but rather, the current crop of aging reenactors. And here, in miniature, is just what we needed, another fat reenactor.

The soldier's faces are occasionally the bane of TSSD's otherwise outstanding efforts.

Here's some more:

Crazy McHippy, in perhaps an altered state.

That guy who lives next door to you who wears the same wife-beater day after day while rebuilding engines in his front yard all the while threatening to kill your cat if it doesn't stay out of his yard.

Buffalo Bill Cody wearing some WW1 French colonels hat.

And finally, My Favorite:

Mister T!

"I pity the fool who says there was no black Confederates!"

Kevin Levin, call your office.

So, on balance, I think that TSSDs ACW figures are excellent, I'd give them an enthusiastic B+.

Thus far they have Union and Confederate infantry as well as cavalry. All of their figures are available in blue or gray. The only TSSD ACW figures that I've passed on are their Fredericksburg soldiers.

So heavily bundled-up in greatcoats and mufflers these obviously chilly troops just don't look at all right campaigning with all of the others.

Perhaps TSSD will take a crack at artillery, I would certainly welcome that being a gun-weenie, though if they do, I'd caution them to take care that their gun and carriage avoid the chunkiness of some (very few) of their figures.

The figures showcased in this post I acquired today at my favorite soldier store, a little corner storefront on Steinwehr Avenue called something like "Gettysburg Miniatures".

I look forward to more ACW releases from TSSD.

See you in the toy aisle!

(next post May 15)