As we near the end of 2023 your timelines and social media accounts become bombarded by all sorts of “looking back on the year” posts and far too many Spotify Wrapped screenshots. Games Workshop does their yearly vote for their Model of the Year which mostly makes you say “that came out THIS YEAR?” and then vote for a space marine anyway, probably. Outside of Games Workshop’s dense release schedule is a plethora of companies also releasing minis every year so Goonhammer Staff talk about some of their favourites of 2023.
I’ve worked on a lot of kits this year, most of them outside of the GW systems. I’ve always thought GW did the best plastics, and that they were still very much head and shoulders ahead of the competition. Until this year.
This year Victrix put out a phenomenal number of kits for all their ranges – Napoleonics, 12mm WW2, Ancients, Medieval and even some teaser Siocast for a potential 28mm WW2 range. For sheer quantity of high-quality multiparts alone, they deserve plaudits. What has legitimately been astonishing though is that every kit has been a stone-cold stunner in plastic. It was hard to pick one, because I’ve made some fantastic kits from them this year, and the historicals team have just about made all the other ones too. My favourite has to be the 12mm Soviet Infantry.
It shouldn’t be possible to make 12mm plastic infantry look as good as they do. As dynamic. As full of character. As realistically interacting with weapons and equipment. Hilariously, other manufacturers working in small scales this year would probably say that it isn’t possible at all. But it is.
I waxed lyrical about them in the review, so I won’t go to the same lengths here, but what wizardry allowed this? When we see undercuts and smearing and all sorts of issues plaguing plastic small scale models elsewhere, Victrix have produced characterful, realistic, even beautiful small scale infantry that are easy to paint, look fantastic on the table or display shelf and come in a box of 144 for 20 quid.
Although I’ve painted a lot of minis this year when I wanted to put this article together I realised how few came out this year. Plenty of new minis sitting in my pile of shame, grey, ready for fresh paint; this will probably get me to paint them soon. Even with the few I have done it was still a difficult choice but I’ve landed on the Promethean for City States from Para Bellum. Honestly if their Werewolves came out at all sooner they’d probably get my vote here. I’ve been waiting for those for well over a year now and love the style they’ve gone with on them.
When the Promethean dropped back in May (I also couldn’t believe it’d been so long already since this came out!) I painted it up almost immediately in a nice simple statue theme, as opposed to the normal fleshy giant that it is in lore. Since this is a dual kit I had to choose between this guy or the trident-wielding Hephaestian. As a dwarf-lover it was an incredibly easy choice to do the first one as a hammer-wielding smith-like giant.
A relatively simple model that is just incredibly effective on the tabletop. Leering down at enemy infantry a quarter or less than its height.
Something much smaller takes 2nd place in my mind though, only because of what her release meant for the faction as a whole in a form of nearer completeness. I got into Star Wars Legion in 2022 but only really started playing this year with a CIS droid army. I also hadn’t even watched any of the Star Wars cartoons until this year, and boy am I glad I did. If you like Star Wars at all and haven’t watched Clone Wars yet because it’s a cartoon it’s absolutely worth the time investment. It’s so good. And one of those characters you might not recnognise is Asajj Ventress: Dooku’s Sith-trained assassin. “But there can only be 2??” I hear you say about the Sith. Well that’s never really true now is it?? Anyway, she rules and I’m very glad they made a model of her and gave her cool rules and everything.
Michael O “mugginns” – Great Escape Games General Purpose Wagon
While a covered wagon isn’t nearly as flashy or hard hitting as some of the other selections, this kit fills a vital need in our historicals hobby. We have MDF ones that aren’t as detailed, resin / metal ones that are harder to assemble and chip more easily, and now we have this very well detailed plastic kit that is easy to assemble and can be made to look like it’s in a ton of different eras and locations.
I liked this kit enough (check out the review here) that I had to grab three and I might get some more at some point. Having a big ole’ wagon train to defend would be super super cool. The kit is well-priced, goes together easily, and paints well. Grab this kit for your black powder era fights and go west, young goon.
For me it’s Centaur Avatara from Conquest: The Last Argument of Kings.
When I started working on Conquest miniatures they felt like they were 5-8 years behind GW in terms of plastic technology. Getting there but really distinctly a step down from what I’d grown to be familiar with. The Centaur Avatara were showstoppers for me – in terms of the composition, the structural stability, the build and the detailing they were in a purely technical sense a match for anything GW has produced. More than that, though, they were creatures of vision.
The Centaur Avatara are beautiful sculpts. Elfin and alien, nightmares not because of raw flesh-melting biohorror but because their biohorror is so flawlessly elegant. The long, twisted fleshy lance arm stands out as a highlight in that regard; there’s no clear transition point where the texture changes or the flesh tears to reveal the bone underneath. The barding is made of beautiful metallic diamond patterns, heavy with gold and jewels, woven with skulls and bones. In some ways I compare this kind of glorious gilded monstrosity to Warhammer’s Chaos Warriors, but Chaos Warriors have always had a ragged, scrappy, torn, barbaric edge to them that has never felt right to me when set against their golden trim. The Centaur Avatara feel like the kings and queens of faerieland, mutated as a fashion statement and not as a mistake.
I’ll also draw attention two two bits in particular I adore. The first is the shields, these monstrously glorious intricate marvels set with gemstones. If you just wanted to harvest the kit for parts, this is an insanely good single part. The second is the banner. Conquest in general has an unbelievably good banner game but these are the kings of it. I liked the banner so much I converted a Chaos Chosen with that piece and it fits perfectly.
This year was pretty packed for me, but I got the chance to dive head first into Marvel: Crisis Protocol and Star Wars: Shatterpoint. I was already super interested in Crisis Protocol as 2022 turned to 2023, so working on those models took no convincing. I enjoyed every one that I put together and the painting process was super fast without sacrificing details on my end. Then AMG announced Shatterpoint and I was beyond excited to have models of some of my favorite characters in a great scale.
That being said, my pick favorite for the year has to have been the Mandalorians from the Shatterpoint core set.
Specifically I had the most fun working on Gar Saxon. Mandalorians have been my favorite characters in Star Wars for as long as I could remember and getting the chance to review these models and tactics for the site. I enjoyed writing my HTPE for the models as well. I could have gotten a little crazy with it and painted the Clan Kryze Mandalorians with a little more personal flare, but I was focused on recreating characters from the shows and the box art.
The sculpts are simple, and they emulate the details from the shows using raised and engraved details rather than forcing the painter to rely on free-hand skill. The jet pack smoke was a great alternative to a flight stand (I know third party companies make them, but I would be over the moon if GW could design some accessory bit kit for kits like Inceptors.). I love Mandalorians and I can’t wait for more of these armored mercenaries in Shatterpoint.
I’ll admit I don’t work on that many non-GW models in any given year, but hey I had a bunch of fun with the Victrix and Battletech stuff I have done this year. While most of both were from my backlog from ages past, I did get some preview models courtesy of Victrix this year and they rule!
You can check out me gushing over them here, but if you don’t want to go that far, I’m happy to repeat that they are wonderful to build and paint. The infantry in particular stand as champions in what can be achieved in plastic at this size, really showing that you can get detail in single-piece casts without compromising in ugly ways. (Cough LI inf cough)
There’s got to be only a single place for this to head in my opinion and that’s Star Wars: Shatterpoint. It’s caused a big splash in my regular gaming group and the models themselves are outstanding. I think my favourite ones are outside of the core box and come in the form of Kenobi and Padme in her royal garb. Kenobi himself is in his classic pre-fighting stance which we’ve seen in various media over the years. Padme is more of a generic fighting stance but it shows her as a fighter which is really what she is. Sabe and Ashoka are outstanding models and every chance to play with them I’m currently taking. Outstanding models and a brilliant game, certainly give it ago if you get chance.
Stretching the boundaries of the rubric? Maybe… but I honestly think that the Buzz Lightyear Hyperspeed Series “Emergency Vehicle” Truck might be the single “model” that I most enjoyed painting this year. The joke had circulated for years – my dirtbag Orlock gang really needed a wizard van. None of the GW options had the proper canvas for my vision! One we stumbled upon the suggestion that these trucks were the perfect scale for 28mm-ish stuff, the path was clear.
While I took my sweet time with the freehand part of this, the rest was speedpainted with plenty of sponging and oils. It’s a fun vehicle to fly through. The process was so enjoyable that I ended up painting another one!
Very minimal work is needed to get painting – you could leave the clear plastic windscreen if desired, or put in some minimal effort to glue some corrugated plasticard or paper on to make it “wasteland-ier”. You can still pick these up in the states for a song – cannot recommend them enough if you are interested. The ATVs and dropship in this series are also great fits for scale. Check out our Lightyear Truck article from earlier this year for some ideas, tips, and warnings.
Honorable mention goes to the Wargames Atlantic Ooh Rah kit, which was a delight to knock out. Great models that were also incredibly quick to get painted up.
Oh, hey, another Para Bellum model kit. It’s almost like they make really good miniatures. The Tontorr and Drum Beast (yes, I’m picking two models, suck it) are operating at a technical and aesthetic level that not a whole lot of other companies or models have achieved in 2023. By working at a larger scale to most other systems, Para Bellum can create a swathe of cool toys that aren’t only awesome looking, but simple to build and fun to paint at the same time.
These two kits have done something special this year. I am, as many of you fine readers may relate to, the only real miniatures nerd in my family. I am one of few in my friend circle with miniatures on display, and most people tolerate this weirdo little hobby and smile and nod when I get all excited about Primarchs. Having these two guys changed that; multiple people who have entirely zero interest in miniatures normally have become so excited at what this cool little (massive) dinosaur is on my display shelf. These models, as simple as they are to build and fun as they are to paint, brought joy to people.
I am not a great painter; I am a painter by volume, who can get a full army done in under a week. I paint fine, but I don’t enjoy it; the purpose of painting to me is to have painted models, just getting it done. These are some of the few models I’ve actually enjoyed painting in 2023; the scale works so well for Contrast paints that there becomes something almost meditative about slathering it on. I’ve seen some true works of art with such massive canvases.
I’m just going to quote directly from my Wadrhun Model Review here, because it perfectly encapsulates how I feel:
“Aesthetically, I don’t think I stopped giggling at any point I was assembling or painting this thing. They’re giant brachiosauruses with the stupidest and cutest little faces, covered with pterradons and angry orcs. There’s nothing I can write here that will do justice for how awesome these models are.”
See you next year, nerds!
It’s been a pretty good year for wargaming. From historicals of varying scales, newer games and IP’s releasing new models, and long-standing franchises doing even more there’s really been something for every gamer. Looking forward 2024 is already lining up to look like an excellent year, too and I for one can’t wait to see what else we get across the year.
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