Asking the Big Questions; Metal Vs Plastic


Believe it or not, there is a universal topic that can divide gamers. It’s rare to find anyone that straddles both camps, normally feet are planted firmly in one ideology or the other. There are two main options and while others do exist the majority held by the first two camps dismiss any others into obscurity so that they are rarely, if ever, considered a part of the argument. What can this argument be? And how does it relate to the seemingly random image posted at the start of yet another diatribe from your favourite undead buccaneer?

The models that we play our games with generally come in one of two flavours, metal or plastic. Historically our metals were made out of lead but due to namby pamby european sensibilities new alloys are used in many cases. Plastic comes in many forms and formulas, from the hard resin style favoured by Privateer Press to the “normal” plastics we love from our friendly northern Sherriff.

When I first thrust myself into the fantastical worlds of our hobby it was metal models that dominated everything, plastics were virtually unheard of except for vehicles and some larger boxed sets. The boxed editions of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 introduced more mainstream plastic lines and (in GW’s case) the propensity towards plastic models has increased. While there are still plenty of metal models around no longer do you have to play a game where you carry a metric ton and a half to each game. Games Workshop have led the way with this and now we see such offers as Kings of War from Mantic being entirely plastic, Privateer have recently released their ‘Jack kits in plastic with troops and starter sets also having ditched the metals.

Plastic sets on the whole tend to cost less than their metal counterparts although the dastardly Sherriff is doing his best to rectify this with the oft maligned, inflation-busting price increases for which the Nottinghamshire-based villain is renowned. Yet, there are die-hard fans of metal models, I know first-hand from the older Confrontation community (before all this pre-painted rubbish) that the fact the models were metal was one of the great selling points for their range. The fact the models were fantastic also helped. Therefore the metal vs plastic debate tends to polarise the gaming community while supporters of one stick vehemently to their medium and vice-versa.

For example, esteemed writer and Space Marine suicide machine Servitob is a lover of all things plastic (quote not to be used out of context!). Show him a metal model and normally he goes a funny shade of green! I myself have tried to remain neutral in this fight, I’ve appreciated some metal models for a long time but the simplicity of plastics is a great boon when you’re putting together hordes of figures. However, I have now chosen a side due to an experience I had recently when assembling my Warhammer army. I don’t want to ruin the surprise of what is included in my Fantasy force I’m hoping to break out this weekend (only one model left to build!) therefore I’m going to leave some of my details deliberately vague.

Sunday afternoon/evening while enjoying watching the NFL coverage on Sky I gave myself the task of assembling all the metal models I needed for my army. These tend to take more time and effort than the plastics due to the difference in their construction medium. Some of the models I have in my collection are renowned as being particularly difficult to assemble due to small contact areas and fiddly parts. With plastic this is not an issue, slap on some liquid poly and the glue melts the two halves together and forms a solid, nigh-unbreakable bond. Superglue by comparison however, seems to buy the two parts a drink and then involve itself in an overly elaborate scheme to get the two parts to hit it off, perhaps over a romantic dinner at an expensive restaurant, walks on the seafront and romantic getaways for far off exotic lands. Eventually getting the happy couple to tie the figurative knot and bind themselves in a blissful union until someone bangs the table and they fall helpless to the floor.

Anyone that has put together a metal model will have their own set of horror stories to share regarding some fiddly part or another, a sadists idea of how a model should be split up for assembly causing almost suicidal thoughts from even the most expert modeller as the horrible maelstrom of metal, green stuff and superglue combines into what you hope is the way in which the model is supposed to look. It’s a bonus if you manage to avoid gluing any body parts in these situations!

By comparison plastic is a joy! No matter how small the part a dab of glue can hold it in position for centuries, even the death-dive floorward will not faze a bonding area smaller than a flea’s testicle. Luckily the majority of my Fantasy army is plastic, the same is true of my impending Dark Eldar. While the odd metal model here and there is almost inevitable (I have a lot of them coming up for War of the Ring) the joy of plastic really does stand in stark comparison to the sometimes brain-addling, super-human efforts required to get metal to stick to metal.

In many ways a plastic model these days is almost indistinguishable from their metal counterparts once painted. See below;

"The spikes tell you I is metal!"
Plastic fantastic! And no loss of detail.

I know some people prefer the weight of a metal model as it is harder for them to topple over but once they do go over you are going to at least bend that spindly part or even worse, see it plunge in slow-motion towards a spirit crushing impact on even the most soft of cushioned carpets. Unless of course you add even more metal than a road traffic accident victim in terms of pinning the living crap out of it.

Plastic provides many more benefits, with current modelling processes they can be as detailed as metal and are a lot easier to clean, trim and assemble. The great strides that have been made in this regard contributes to the increasing frequency of plastic models and I for one am grateful for this. I cannot think of a plastic model that has ever frustrated me as much as some of my metals have. I’m an almost 20 year veteran so would like to think I am pretty experienced in assembling these things by now and after all this time I can firmly place myself in the camp that unashamedly declares;

“Plastic is better!”

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5 thoughts on “Asking the Big Questions; Metal Vs Plastic”

  1. Plastic FTW!

    Metal models are always covered in crappy flash, rarely fit together flushly and are paint phobic!

  2. It’s a good thing the models I’m planning on making are plastic, then. 🙂 I had wondered, and at first blush, figured metal for being a pain in the neck, but it’s nice to hear from someone with experience.

    Incidentally, how important is customization? Gluing pieces together isn’t a problem if there aren’t any pieces to glue, but then, you can’t splice on different arms or change positions or whatever. I’m of two minds on that one as a designer, but as a user, I *like* the option to change things a bit, just like I like the option to paint however I like.

    1. Games Workshop are really good in this regard, their main kits are chock full of extras allowing you to customise your model even without snipping arms at the elbows and reposing things. Their Lord of the Rings plastics are less so as you get 3-4 poses per sprue and that’s it unless you do the reposing yourself using a knife, cutters and green stuff.

      Speaking personally I like to try and achieve some dynamism in a unit even with just the normal parts off the sprue. Unless you are playing an army of Cyberdyne Terminators of phalanxes of Greeks you’re unlikely to have a unit that looks the same as it moves across a battlefield but overall it’s down to personal choice, there is no right or wrong way.

  3. As a guy who mostly collects minitures to paint, and slowly at that (the Sphess Mahreen battle force and command squad has taken a year!) being able to customise alot is important, so for me its all about the plastics. I’d rather take the time and lovingly craft my own sternguard that look unique than paint the GW ones.

    Not that I’m adverse to metal models, and I do plan on buy Telion soon. Shame I then have to go to the effort of de-smurfing him!

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