Readers may recall the recent couple of blogs on the Tabula Rasa middle eastern buildings from Shiny Games? Well a conversation with a local gamer (hello Bob!) about low cost and simplicity persuaded me to buy some of the Blotz buildings at the Newbury show, so here are my thoughts.
First off, yes they are cheaper; the Blotz single storey small dwelling retails at £5.50 and the Tabula Rasa equivalent at £11.39, although it could be said the TR building has more character. That said what about putting them together?
Nicely packaged in a sealed plastic bag with picture the parts popped off the sprue easily with just a bit of filing needed to sand down the connecting lug. This is the moment for my traditional moan about no assembly instructions and no there aren’t any but it’s pretty obvious how it goes together and much to my embarrassment I found out after I’d assembled all the buildings there are instructions on the web site!
The base and the four sides create an open topped box very easily, as usual I dry built them first then applied the PVA and banged them together. While they were drying I tackled the outside steps; these comprise four laser cut sections that when put together form a run of steps plus an outside section and an end section to hold them against the building, all pretty straight forward, just make sure you get the steps to line up exactly. Once dry, or nearly dry in my case, glue the side and rear retaining walls into place and then slide the steps in between, it’s a pretty snug fit but I put a smear of glue on just in case. The instructions say to do it the other way round, steps then walls, but I doubt it makes any real difference.
One criticism at this point is that the steps are too narrow and in fact look vaguely out of scale (20mm steps on a 28mm building kind of look) which from a gaming point of view makes it on impossible to balance figures on the steps; we use 20mm bases and it just doesn’t work as you can see below from a recent game.
That just left the roof supports which slot into place in the slots in the wall no problem, the etched trapdoor to glue on the roof which then drops into place with a gap around the edge (handy for my excess tetrion later) and an etched door section which glues on the inside of the doorway.
The photo seems to show a decent upper floor parapet doesn’t it? sorry but no, this is actually quite insignificant so if you are skirmishing you couldn’t claim cover unless you were prone, by comparison the TR parapets could be said to protect a kneeling figure. However the etched door and trapdoor is a score for Blotz, the TR range has open doorways and plain mdf pieces for the trapdoor; I couldn’t work out why the Blotz roofs had an laser cut open hatch which you then put the trapdoor over, one laser operation you could get rid of I think.
Next up was the larger building again with steps but with a second storey over one half of the ground floor.
Dry building this was a necessity as I wasn’t completely sure which were the upper and which were the lower walls, remember dumb ass here didn’t go to the web site for the instructions.
Actually dry building helped as I realised I effectively needed to do two buildings to make one. I started with the ground floor, the four side walls and the one interior dividing wall once again forming an open topped box; I built the four outer walls then while still tacky peeled them back to manipulate the dividing wall into place, the instructions say to form a H shape out of the two long walls and the dividing wall, glue them to the base and then fit the front and rear walls. Guess what? they are right! The outer steps are the same deal (and criticism) plus the roof supports.
The upper storey was slightly more tricky as it’s not completely clear what you’re creating (even with the web site) although it is obvious that you build onto the roof section and the front door section can only go in one place but then I had to pause for thought even after dry building.
Essentially the remaining three walls are ‘in the air’ (there’s a gap) and this is because the whole thing slots into the ground floor section thus creating the appearance of a solid wall from ground to upper floor. This was a bit awkward to build especially with the end support at the rear forming a kind of false wall; even though it’s now built and terioned and gamed with I’m not sure it was worth the effort. Trapdoor (actually two!) and doorway as per first build.
Next was the single storey building with courtyard, a kind of sub boss hideout.
I built this wrong but it was an easy build and gives a building of some significance on the table. I built mine outside in, so outer walls onto the base then manipulate the inner wall into place while the outer ones are drying. The instructions say form a H from the two sides and the inner wall, glue them onto the base then follow with the front and rear walls.
The courtyard door way is kind of neat, an open doorway in standard 3mm mdf which is then made to look more substantial by gluing on a front section and rear section creating a crenellated archway, simple but effective. The only ‘problem’ with the finished build is that if you want to defend the courtyard you can’t as there is no wall parapet although I guess you could create a false one? I didn’t and I still like it and it was only £6.50.
Final build was the compound which was frustrating and pleasing in equal parts.
This was a lot of parts and benefits from sub assembling as many bits as you can first; oh if only I’d taken my own advice!
I dry built the outer walls and the inner two storey building then thinking I was all set glued it in place. Next was the entrance way walls for the long low ‘barracks’ building and the adjacent single storey ‘main building’ followed by the ‘storeroom on the opposite side of the base. This all sounds great doesn’t it? but of course the PVA is drying on the outer walls as you’re trying to force the inner walls into place and I’ll admit the swearing did start especially as on this one model not all the slots and lugs lined up. The little squared veranda roof that goes between the two storey and storeroom was particularly difficult.
In fairness to Blotz the instructions offer a much more structured four part sub assembly which probably would have saved my cat’s ears and my own stress levels. Note to self, check to see if there are instructions.
The doorway was pretty nifty, again a crenalated assembly from front and rear but with an underside crossbar with holes matching holes in the floor to slot the gate doors into so that when fully assembled into the doorway the doors swing nicely but are secure enough not to fall off. Really liked this.
The problem with this building however is what is it for? Operations base? Prison? Barracks? I couldn’t really get a sense of it and that is not helped by a couple of problems. Firstly the two storey building; this has no way into it from the ground floor, either outside or inside, so I scratch built some doors using off cuts from another mdf building so that it could at least be accessed from the adjacent single storey building.
Also, it’s a two storey building with no upper floor and no way of getting to the supplied roof trapdoor which just seems to be a design mistake, no building would be constructed like this and from a gaming point of view it’s useless. My solution was pure luck, with my order I had bought one of the wooden staircase kits Blotz do but for another project; I realised that if I assembled this I could drop it into the tower and there now was a bona fide way up onto the roof which would fit most game narratives.
The other problem with this building is the lack of windows, none facing out from the three buildings that look onto the courtyard, none facing onto the outside world and none on the upper floor of the tower; even a prison or barracks would have something and if you want to use this as a big boss compound, as I did, then definitely a requirement. Reflecting on this with Bob after we’d both built the same model, buying some stick on windows would have been the solution and then terioning around them to hide the join. Oh well, it was only £11.00.
Once all were assembled it was the easier task of spray undercoating in grey (not sure this really helped), then applying a mix of watered down PVA, tetrion coloured by our in house desert masonry paint and fine sand, regularly stirred to stop the sand sinking to the bottom of the mix. Once set, dry brushing with several shades of brown, yellow and finally white. Some static grass and a few tufts placed to break up the plainness and job done.
So, overall impressions and comparisons:
The Blotz buildings are a bargain there is no doubting that and the range of nine buildings would suit most peoples needs whether for skirmish gaming or as a backdrop to larger games. There are issues around the steps, the lack of windows, the low parapets and perhaps the function of some of the buildings themselves but we are talking first world problems here and if the stuff I’ve mentioned continues to be a problem then I’ll fix it – I probably won’t. I did ask myself however if Blotz can make them for these prices and still remain in business and offer excellent service – forgot to mention how nice they were at the show, then why is everyone else twice the price? The TR buildings go together like a dream and I enjoyed building them both times but the price is significantly more, their double storey compound is £18, probably because they are Australian imports – not US as I originally thought. The range of buildings available through Shiny Games is around the same, eight or nine buildings, but the range from the manufacturer, Knights Of Dice, is more like fourteen and some of them are quite unique looking which would maybe justify paying a bit more.
Do they mix together on a table? Well yes (see below) and I guess that is the acid test.
Would I recommend one over the other? No, scenery, like figures, is a very individualistic thing and I wouldn’t want to point to one product over another when there is nothing quality wise to differentiate between them and the service from both Blotz and Shiny Games has been excellent in my experience. If price is the deal breaker then Blotz are the ones to go for but…..
Would I buy more? What a foolish question to ask a wargamer!
Until next time.