I’ve been flirting with introducing at least some “tactical map” encounters in my upcoming face to face Midgard D&D game. While I like the flexibility of theater of the mind, and I think that sometimes setting up a battle map reinforces a meta-narrative (“the battle map came out, guess we have to resolve this with combat”), I can’t deny that for some set-pieces, having visual, tactical representation is a satisfying option.
I have a bunch of D&D minis from my 3rd edition days, but it always feels like it takes forever to sort through them. Even having them sorted by “creature type” baggies like I do, some minis just always seem to “hide” when I really want to use it for an encounter. Additionally, purchasing those minis still left me at the whim of random chance for what I had to use.
My first alternative was to start picking up the Pathfinder Pawns line of miniatures. I have the minis from the starter kit, the Bestiary Box 1 and 2, and the Villain Codex box. These are a lot more affordable than trying to buy the random pre-painted miniatures, and it’s easy to find out what is in the boxes. The artwork is high quality. But the cardboard thickness means that these still take up a pretty hefty amount of space, but nowhere near as much space as the randomized plastic minis I have.
Enter the Arcknight
I had seen the Arcknight Flat Plastic miniatures a few years ago when it hit Kickstarter, but I was definitely not running anything on a tactical map at the time. I mainly started paying attention to these again more recently because Sly Flourish helped to curate a starter set of miniatures, and I saw some of these in the wild at one of the local game stores last year.
Because of this, I dove in. I saw some pretty positive reviews. I saw some impressing looking videos unboxing these miniatures. So I invested in the DM Starter Set cultivated by Sly Flourish, the Flat Plastic Miniatures Core Set, and, because Midgard, the Southlands Bundle.
Some observations on purchases:
- While there are pictures of each of the individual sheets in the bundle, there isn’t a handy list telling you what is in each package
- The website can be a little overwhelming, with a landing page and a whole bunch of individual options you can click on, but not really a good “pitch page” or cross-selling descriptions
- I ordered the miniatures last weekend, and they came about a week later, so I’m pretty happy with the turnaround
I want to do an overview, but I got a lot of stuff in this order. I was really amazed that all of it fits in a box that was smaller than a normal hardcover novel, which boded well for the storage space for the miniatures. All of the following observations are based on about two hours of sorting, and it would take a lot longer to do an exhaustive analysis of each set, but I wanted to get some impressions out there.
The Southlands set was obviously a little different, because it utilizes art from the original Southlands Bestiary from the Midgard line. Because of this, the artwork is mirrored on both sides of the mini, instead of having a front and back, and instead of color line art, the artwork is a reprint of the painted art from the book.
- Overall, the art looks good on the miniatures, but there are a few where the detail level of the painting gets muddied when reproduced on the miniature
- The Southlands pack that I received all had thicker plastic sheets than the other miniatures sets, which made them harder to punch out–on one sheet I actually had to use scissors to cut the miniatures free because the perforation wasn’t deep enough
Sly Flourish DM Starter Set
The Sly Flourish curated DM Starter Set has a good range of miniatures in it, focusing on a lot of iconic monsters from D&D history. This seems to skew towards providing a good smattering of PC miniatures, some cultists, and a range of monsters that you might find in the D&D Starter Set for 5th edition, with a couple of other giants and dragons and a beholder thrown in for good measure.
Flat Plastic Miniatures Core Set
Then, we come to the Core Set, which is actually composed of the following sets sold as a bundle:
- Ancient Evils
- The Grove
- The Underground
The feeling I get from most of these sets is that they are less trying to emulate D&D or Pathfinder iconic monsters, and instead creating more general miniatures based on a theme. Lots of undead and tentacled things in Ancient Evils, lots of elves, centaurs, and druidic minis in The Grove, lots of random citizens and PC fantasy types in Mankind.
The Underground has a lot more D&D/Pathfinder specific miniatures, with drow, duergar, illithids, various demons, behir, basilisks, umber hulks, myconics, cloakers, oozes, a beholder, bulette, carrion crawlers, cloakers, troglodytes, aboleths, and gricks making an appearance.
Wildlands is kind of a mixed bag, being both “general fantasy” with lots of goblins, orcs, large animals, and ogres/giants that don’t look like they are meant to map 100% with how any giant/ogre species are portrayed in the most popular level based fantasy games, and a few elementals. There are a few minis in the set that look like, say, a tentacled cat monster, or the kruthiks that first appeared in the 3.5 Miniatures Handbook. Oh, and some dinosaurs.
As a true core fantasy set, I think it functions well, but as a core Pathfinder or D&D set, it does feel like its missing a lot of variety of “uncommon and/or not as exotic” monsters that are staples of level based fantasy games, like gnolls, some giant types, genies, bugbears, etc.
I’m happy with the quality, the art, and the product, but I feel like the variety and utility could have been a little better in the “mid-range,” even though I’m having a hard time properly defining what that is without creating an exhaustive list of whats in the Monster Manual for D&D or the Bestiary for Pathfinder.
The various sets have different bases provided. Without getting a bundle, you generally only get the “medium-sized” bases, but the bundles have larger bases, with what might be termed “large” and “huge” bases. All of the bases are clear, and one of the things I like about how the bases work is that it is very easy to take some of the larger miniatures and use either the large or huge base. The miniatures don’t look “wrong” on either size base, and if base size matters for the game, you can easily scale the “not medium” miniatures up or down. This can be handy for monsters like dragons and their age categories, or the shift in monster size between 3rd edition D&D/Pathfinder and their large giants, and 5th edition D&D’s huge giants of that same giant type.
There are also flight stands with two different height elevations. While they won’t be extremely effective at showing exact elevation, they are handy for showing when a monster just isn’t sitting in its space, and so isn’t affected by ground terrain or damaging effects. The biggest downside is that the base for the elevation markers is a “medium” base.
Lots of affordable, attractive minis that are easy to store. Lots of versatility when it comes to using the bases to display different things like flight or the size of a creature.
This could just be a massive failing on my part, but with the miniatures bundles on the website only showing pictures of what is included, its hard to remember what picture went where, and it feels like a list naming miniatures, even if they didn’t use the “brand name” of some of the creatures, would be a lot more useful and functional.
Underdark creatures get the lion’s share of “unique to level based fantasy” monsters being represented, with a lot of mid-range creatures lacking in representation. Of the sets I looked at, more modern PC player race options like tieflings or dragonborn don’t get a lot of love. That’s not to say there aren’t sets on the website that feature them, but not in the core or DM Starter sets.
The vast majority of the miniatures were in easy to punch out plastic, but the whole Southlands set, and at least one sheet in the core set was on thicker plastic that was more difficult to punch out.
Because This Deserves Its Own Category
There are a lot of humans, dwarves, and elves in this set, as well as a few halflings/gnomes. With the exception of the duergar/drow miniatures, there is not a lot of variety of skin tone on the miniatures. Some of the human minatures have more of an olive complexion, and a few have lighter brown skin, but the vast majority are pale to average white complexion. None of the elves, dwarves, or halflings appear to have darker skin tones.
I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush, so I will point out that if you look on Arcknight’s site, other lines, such as the Supers or modern Civilians line do include people of color. Its hard to evaluate some of the lines from their website, because they don’t have pictures of the individual sheets posted for that product.
That said, if you are a person of color looking for representation in miniatures, or even if you aren’t, but you want to represent your PC as having a wide range of skin colors, the miniatures that I have seen aren’t going to serve you particularly well.
I’m not framing this entirely like one of my usual reviews, because I haven’t had time to dig into the individual miniatures, and because I wanted to encompass the entire process of shopping and sorting the miniatures that I bought. So I don’t want to give any level of recommendation, other than to point out the positives and negatives of these miniatures.
I love how these look and how portable they are. I really wish I could give a stronger overall recommendation, but between the difficulty in finding exactly what is in each set, and the fact that some gamers aren’t going to find the representation that they desire in the sets, I can only say that these have an amazing amount of potential, and you may want to give them a look, but there are areas where the line could improve that would make me feel much better about directing others to them.