Skeletons. The ubiquitous fantasy baddie. Whether guarding some broke treasure in a cave or gathering by thousands at the will of a necromancer, skeletons have been striking terror into the hearts of the living for ages. In this article we will look at 28-32mm plastic skeleton infantry kits from Games Workshop, past and present, and kits that are commonly available from other manufacturers. First we’ll dig up skeletons from the Games Workshop vault and look at how they have progressed to the latest kit. In the second section we will explore the offerings of other miniature companies and offer a comparison of features and price.
The Line Up:
As an Undead fan who started the Warhammer hobby in the late 90’s, I already had the GW kits on hand. For the purposes of this article I bought one sprue of each kit from other manufacturers. It makes a lot of sense for wargamers to look at miniatures available outside Games Workshop when they’re looking for gaming pieces. Early on in my hobby days I often wondered how I could fill out an army without paying the GW tax for their ‘premium’ models. There weren’t many options at that time, and finding them could be difficult. Today however there are a variety of models available. Mantic recently released Ancient Egyptian styled skeletons in their Army of Dust, they look neat, but don’t really fit the flavor of this article.
1988 Skeleton Warriors
The classic skeleton warriors, designed by the Perry brothers. This kit came out in 1988 as part of the Skeleton Horde box set, which contained six sprues of four skeletons. These were among the first wave of Games Workshop multi-part plastic kits. Later they were available in a box of 8 for $12.99. Models were broken up into four pieces: Legs and torso, skull, left and right arms. They came with three hand weapon options, a spear and a scythe. These skeletons were later included in the Skeleton Chariot and Skeleton Horsemen. Looking at them today they are a little rough around the edges. Several of the poses are awkward and the upper arm bones bulge at the top to fit the socket. With a little extra work though most of their shortcomings can be fixed. I recently shaved down the shoulders on a couple of them and modified a spear hand for a more natural pose.
1998 Skeleton Warriors
This kit was designed by Aly Morrison and Colin Dixon. When I bought these in the late 90’s they came 20 to a box for $24.99. Each box had five sprue of with four models. It was a good update from an army building perspective and a better value compared to the previous kit. In this one bodies were split up into five parts: legs and torso separate this time, arms, and skull. This kit came with enough arms for all spears or all hand weapons. It also had some extra bits once the models were built: three skulls, a tombstone, and an arrow. Love it or hate it, these skeletons are quite stylized. They are quite a bit chunkier, and have the big hands and heads of the era. Their skulls are canted forward in front of their rib cages giving them a kind of scrunched hunchback look. They look a little cartoony with ‘angry eyes’ eye sockets that also characterized Aly Morrison’s metal skeletons from the 80’s, but the look has grown on me. This kit was later repurposed for Tomb Kings, with an extra sprue of skulls with ancient Egyptian style headgear, bows, shields and standard.
2008 Skeleton Warriors
Designed by Aly Morrison, Brian Nelson, and Mike Anderson. Here we have ten skeletons spread over two sprues. This box was also $24.99, making it quite the price jump in terms of army building. These were quite the departure from previous Games Workshop skeletons. They have a much more naturalistic anatomy, and are slightly smaller than the previous kit. This also has the first inclusion of on sprue musical instrument, standard, and champion. The posture is upright with head above shoulders. Again, they are in five parts: head, left and right arms, chest, and legs. They are leaning slightly forward, in a marching posture. Aly Morrison described them as having “an unearthly wind, blowing them along”. At this point they moved to a skull with realistic features that are very similar to the human skulls in the Citadel Skulls kit. This kit has more armored bits and tattered cloth, while the previous ones were mostly ‘naked’. There are a lot of great helmeted skulls in here too. Lots of extra bits in the box: extra shields, spear, and swords, quite a few leftover skulls, and making a repeat appearance- arrows. Over all this is a great looking kit. My only nitpick would be that the blades on some of the swords and spears are disproportionately large. Think about holding a sword the width of your head. I’ve seen some criticism of the forward motion they have too, all the legs are kind of the same. I find it fitting for the themes present in the kit and the intention that they would rank up on square bases.
2008 Grave Guard
Designed by Mike Anderson and Brian Nelson. Released at the same time as the 2008 skeleton warriors, these are heavily armored elite skeletons with options for sword and shield or great weapons. Much like their skeleton warrior counterparts they have an unearthly wind blown feel. This kit has five skeletons spread over three sprues. Bodies are split into six parts: Skull, front of torso, back of torso, left arm, right arm, and legs. They also come with pauldrons. Musician and standard are on the sprue. Extra bits on this one are: four helmeted skulls, daggers with little bags (I’m imagining they’re filled with grave dust), and a couple long bones. Amazingly these are still the official models for Age of Sigmar’s Soulblight Gravelords. They are smaller than the new deathrattle skeletons, have the same amount of armor, and clash stylistically with the new range. Most of the weapon arms are bent at the same angle making them appear stiff next to the more dynamic Deathrattle Skeletons. This kit is currently $50 for 10 on the Games Workshop webstore, which is utter madness in terms of relative model quality compared to the new deathrattle skeletons. Secondhand sellers offer quite the discount on these though. Despite that, these are still good looking models on their own.
This is where I will introduce the metric of dollars per skeleton (DPS) going forward with the in production kits. These prices are based on official company webstores.
Grave Guard DPS: $5
2021 Deathrattle Skeletons
By the Citadel Design Team. These are the latest skeletons available from Games Workshop. These come it at $60 for 20 skeletons, which isn’t much of an increase in price (and maybe even a slight discount!) considering inflation over the last 13 years. There are ten models spread over two sprues again. This time bodies are in six parts: heads, left and right arms, front of chest, back of chest, and legs. The kit is much different from previous ones. Skeletons are armored up, with lots of flowing cloth and an almost marionette-like posing on many of the skeletons. While the standard remains, musicians have been dropped from the kit. The arms attach at a flat plane rather than the ball on shoulder/ socket in arms of previous GW skeletons. Upon first seeing pictures of them, some of the posing looked awkward and kind of turned me off. However after building and painting them I can appreciate better how they are designed. Care must be taken when clipping them off the sprue, their leg bones are quite thin and fragile. They do gain some strength once they are assembled. Extra bits are slim this time around (other than the leftover spears or swords depending on assembly): a few heads, and yes, the arrow.
Deathrattle Skeletons DPS: $3
Skeletons by other miniature companies:
First up is Mantic’s Undead Skeleton Regiment for Kings of War. They come ten to a sprue. These are the biggest departure from the Games Workshop style of build than all the kits covered. Most of the bodies come in two parts: Legs with some lower spine/cloth, then upper torso with head attached. Several of these already have weapons in hand too. The rest have separate heads and empty hands to put weapons in. Shields are also molded onto the bodies. Connections are large and easy to glue. This makes for quick and easy building. Included are 8 loose spears and 7 loose swords for the bodies that have empty hands. A box contains two sprue, both have identical lower bodies and six same upper bodies. One sprue has champion, standard, and musician bits. The other has the remaining upper bodies and lots of flavor bits. There is a skeleton rising from the grave and some kind of skeletal beast. These skeletons look like they’re having the most fun out of all the kits. They have their own thing going on, much more cartoony than the rest. There is an Army of Darkness vibe going on with them. Each box has 20 skeletons, and comes in at $37.50. They can also be bought in a set of 40 skeletons for $47.50.
Mantic Skeletons DPS: $1.87/$1.18 for 40
Next up is Oathmark Skeleton Infantry by North Star Military Figures. There are five skeletons to a sprue and a box contains thirty of them. They are in four pieces: skull, legs with rib cage, left arm, right arm. This kit contains enough gear to outfit the skeletons with swords and hand axes, spears, shields, or bows and quivers. There are enough skulls to do all bare heads or all helmeted. Also included is a standard. Their gear and weapons give a Bronze or Iron Age feel to them. These are the smallest out of kits I’m covering, but not by much. This is my favorite of the non-GW manufacturers, and I would be perfectly happy with them using the stock bare skull. Some of helmets seem a little off to me though, something about them make the skulls look too narrow. By size, they would mix and match well with the 2008 Games Workshop skeletons, and the helmeted heads from the GW kit look especially good on these. Citadel Skulls also fit nicely on them. These retail for 25 pound on the North Star site, which is currently $28 USD. However they average about $35 in the US for a box of 30 skeletons, so I’ll use that for my per model cost. Also, there are single sprues available on EBay for around $10.
Oathmark Skeletons DPS: $1.16
Here we have Wargames Atlantic Skeleton Warriors from their Classic Fantasy line. Each box contains eight sprues of four skeletons. As you’ll see in the line up these are about the largest skeletons, inching out the latest Deathrattle Skeletons, but probably about the same scale as the 1998 Skeleton Warriors from Games Workshop if those were standing upright. They are big boned, the most robust skeletons of those covered, but unlike the 1998 GW kit their hands and feet are more appropriately scaled. Their heads appear too large when directly compared to other kits, but on their own they look fine. Skulls from most of the other kits look fine on them too. Three of the bodies are divided up into four parts: Legs and torso, left arm, right arm, skull. The last body has its legs separated from the pelvis for six parts. I guess this to allow for some customization but it will make that last body tricky to assemble. There are an odd mix of weapons on each sprue; one sword, one pike, one bow and quiver, then three spears. It also has a horn instrument and a sheep or goat skull that be used on one of the warriors or turn one of the polearms into a standard. There are four bare skulls and one with a crested helmet. The weapons, helmet, and shields here are also heavily ancient greek flavored.
These come in at $35 for a box of 32.
Wargames Atlantic Skeletons DPS: $1.09
The Warlords of Erehwon Skeleton Warriors have been around since at least the mid to late 00’s. Originally released under Wargames Factory, they are now under the Warlord Games label. Twenty four of these come in a box with six skeletons to a sprue. They are split into six pieces: Skull, ribcage, legs and pelvis, left arm, right arm, and feet. That’s right, you have to glue their feet on. The feet are connected to each other by a strip of plastic. So, you glue the feet to the base first and clip off the tab holding them together. Next you insert the posts at bottom of legs into the feet. On the sprue I bought, the posts don’t fit into the feet though without some shaving off mold lines and a bit more plastic. This is pretty fiddly and really doesn’t add anything to the kit, and maybe contributes to their overall awkward posture. The pelvis on them is canted forward, and the lower spine of the ribcage is angled differently on each one, leading to some funny looking poses. The ribcage often ends up leaning forward in front of the hips. These have some of the most slender bones (probably the most realistically sized), so care must be taken cutting them from sprue. There is enough gear in the kit to outfit the skeletons with all spears/javelins, all swords, or three with bows and quivers. The weapons and shields have some ancient greek style to them. All the hands are empty, so weapons can be mixed and matched however. This does add a little to the awkward look though, I found the fit of the weapons to be a little loose in the hand. Extra bits are: four skulls, and two bits of broken ground with a socket for the ribcages for that rising from the ground action. Ultimately, it feels like too much effort when there are better looking kits with more skeletons that cost less. That said, the webstore build/paint job doesn’t do them any favors. Kev Dallimore has some you can see here on instagram that look pretty good. Boxes come in at $33.50 for box of 24, or you can go for the big box of 90 skeletons and a necromancer for $94 (bringing the price per skeleton to $1.04!)
Warlord Games Skeletons DPS: $1.39/$1.04 for 90
If I were looking to raise a skeleton army with the best looking miniatures for the best price, I’d be going with Oathmark. If going for classic, unadorned skeletons I’d do Wargames Atlantic and just give them spears as the Ancient Greek look doesn’t do much for me. I don’t think any of these kits look terrible, there is a wide variety of styles at play. As far as mixing and matching bits, most of the GW skeletons use a socket on the arm that fits over a ball sticking out of the rib cage, and the other manufacturers use a socket on the ribs and a protrusion on the arm. This will make switching up arms between GW kits and the others take some extra work. Heads for the most part are interchangeable, with the exception of the Warlord and Mantic kits. The Warlord have neck vertebrae attached to the heads, whereas the rest have necks on the torsos. Mantic has heads attached to bodies already, and the ones that aren’t have a big flat section at the bottom of neck. It’s worth being aware of the difference in skull sizes too, Wargames Atlantic are the largest, and Oathmark are the smallest. Citadel skulls are about the right size to look decent on most kits.
Stuff of Legends: http://www.solegends.com/citadel/catindex.htm
Stormcast Podcast interview with Aly Morrison: https://youtu.be/5ivybQCK-9I
Warseer Forum/EEFL Forum Games Workshop Fantasy release timeline: https://eefl.freeforums.net/thread/1622/games-workshop-fantasy-releases-timeline
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