Wargaming with Plastic Soldiers Part 2 – 1/32 scale
(Note: The piece below formed the basis of an article I wrote for Wargames Illustrated in 2018. It was put together around June 2018 so parts of it will date over time but I thought it may still be of interest, particularly to newcomers to the hobby. Rupert 24/09/19)
Having covered 1/72 scale plastic figures in Part 1 of this article (see link at foot of page) it’s now time to move on to their larger 1/32 scale cousins.
There is no industry standard for how tall such figures are with manufacturers interpreting it in their own way. Generally though we are talking about troops in this scale coming in at between 54mm - 60mm.
This size of figure most obviously lends itself to skirmish gaming but there are plenty of gamers who also use them for more substantial battles. For example I myself recently played out a big Roman Civil War game based on the Battle of Cremona and have also done smaller skirmish games using Games Workshop’s Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game rules.
There is no hiding it though that particularly if you want to do big battles you will need plenty of storage space for your troops & scenery and will benefit from having a larger table to play on. This is probably one reason why 1/32 is arguably a more popular gaming & collecting scale in the likes of the USA and Australia than in the UK and Europe as proportionally more homes there have sizeable basements and attics readily turned into larger size toy soldier dens.
Depending on the era you choose you may also need a greater degree of tolerance for finding, converting and improvising troop types that are not readily available off the shelf. Searching out what you need and making converted figures are both part of the joy of gaming in this scale. Many inspiring blogs can be found on the internet from very talented hobbyists such as Mike Blake showing you what can be done.
Other reasons folk like to game in 1/32 scale include the sheer spectacle, nostalgia and ease of painting – my own eyesight deteriorated a few years ago for example prompting me to do much more in this larger scale.
I won’t cover here in any depth topics such as painting & gluing, finding an opponent and rules as pretty much everything I said about these things in my Part 1 article on 1/72 scale figures applies to 1/32 scale soldiers as well.
One tip I will just add though is that if you get plastic 1/32 scale figures with bendy weapons or other parts try immersing them in hot water and then cold. This can often reset the “memory” the plastic has from when it was originally moulded and straighten out your problem. You can also use this technique to convert figures – say from a standing pose to a riding pose for example. Take care though not to scold yourself and not a tip for kids.
Price wise figure costs vary widely depending on manufacturer. For example the excellent Expeditionary Force sets of nine figures currently retail in the UK for £27 (£3 each) whilst the older but still very popular A Call to Arms sets come in at around £5.25 for 16 foot (33p each).
Unfortunately unlike for 1/72 scale there is no equivalent of Plastic Soldier Review for this size of figure offering an independent overview type website for them.
However I can set out some information for you here on what’s available based on my own hobby knowledge and business experience as a long standing toy soldier retailer.
Judging by the catalogue entries on some of the major US 1/32 scale retail websites my best estimate is that there are currently probably at least forty or more 1/32 scale figure manufacturers of varying output active in one way or another – either producing new sets or keeping old sets in production or a mixture of the two.
These manufacturers are based all over the globe most notably USA, UK, Singapore, Italy and Russia with much of the actual production done in China. Many if not most are sole trader or partnership type very small businesses doing it for the love of the hobby as much as for any commercial reason. It takes a great deal of time, money and effort to produce your own items and I take my hat off to all those who have done it.
So here’s a run down of some of the main players that I know most about. I can’t hope to cover everything but it should give you a good introductory overview at least.
A Call to Arms – UK based manufacturer who have produced around 36 good value sets most of which are still in production. Strengths of the range include Napoleonics, Zulu Wars and English Civil War. The ACW, AWI, Normans and Romans are also represented. Sets typically retail in the UK for around £5.25. 16 foot or 4 mounted being usual contents. I am not aware of any future plans but it would be good to see some of their currently out of production sets come back on stream. If more new sets were to be produced at some stage enemies for their Romans and Normans may be a good place to start in my view. Available from most regular plastic figure retailers.
Airfix – Familiar to many their old but popular WW2 1/32 scale sets have sadly recently gone out of production once again and are increasingly hard to source new, although not second hand. Hopefully they may be re-released again before too long – which is what is currently happening with some of their 1/72 scale output. Accessories such as their Desert Outpost, Forward Command Post, Checkpoint and Bamboo Jungle House are very useful kits with great potential beyond just WW2. For example I have used the Desert Outpost for medieval & ancient settings and made a Roman Alesia tower from parts of the Checkpoint set. Their original 1970’s sets covering other eras such as Napoleonics, Medieval and Wild West come up on ebay from time to time. When in production Airfix sets are usually very widely available from the regular plastic figure retailers and beyond into general retail.
Armies in Plastic – Including plastic colour variants this US based company must have produced getting on for 200 or so sets to date which is a significant achievement. Their range covers many historical areas including Napoleonic, ACW, AWI, WW1, Colonial and Modern. If I had to choose a favourite group of sets it would be their French & Indian War releases. Troop types covered include Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery. Forts and Elephants have also been released. Typically their sets retail for around £10 in the UK or $12.95 in the US with multiple purchase deals and sales often running. Infantry sets usually contain between 16-20 figures so this works out at around 50p-60p per figure. Their website is www.armiesinplastic.com. (09/20 update - I sell some of the range in my webstore)
BMC – They produce good value bagged figure playsets covering US based historical battles such as Yorktown, Appomattox, Alamo, Iwo Jima and D-Day. They also make tanks, landing craft, Amtracs, buildings and accessories. These are good intro type sets for kids but also can be painted up and used for gaming. The Yorktown set by way of an example retails at around £10.99 in the UK which for 34 figures works out at 32p per figure. Their website is www.bmctoys.com and includes a blog section where interesting future plans are outlined. I also stock some of their products in my own UK based webstore www.drumandflag.co.uk
Barszo – When I looked at his website a few months back owner Ron Barzso had written that due to supply problems he was not taking orders at this time. Looking again this morning I could no longer see that message and a Yorktown ‘Attack on Redoubt #10’ playset was scheduled for Autumn 2018 in conjunction with Lod Enterprises. You can still get some of his great older products at a few specialist retailers or through ebay. Barzso produce sets in a hard plastic type material and generally but not exclusively cover US related historical themes. As well as bagged figure sets they have produced some brilliant play sets (why did I ever sell my Last of the Mohicans set?) and scenery. Take a look at Nottingham Castle on their website for example. Website is www.barszo.com
Chintoys – This manufacturer has focussed to date mainly on character staff sets for the Napoleonic era and the American Civil War. Having said that most recently a set of Spanish Conquistadors and Mixtecs & Zapotecs Warriors have hit the market. Chintoys sets contain 8 foot figures or 4 mounted costing £19.99 in the UK where they are available from most regular plastics retailers.
Classic Toy Soldiers – As well as being a major US retailer CTS also produce many of their own figures, tanks, buildings and accessories as well as larger playsets. I counted getting on for 250 different CTS branded offerings on their website. Periods covered include the Alamo, WW2, ACW, AWI, various Indian Wars and Romans. Their newest CTS own brand product was a couple of Korean War sets – Chinese and North Koreans. Their extensive website is www.classictoysoldiers.com. I also stock some of their products in my own UK based webstore www.drumandflag.co.uk
Conte – Sadly no longer producing new plastic figures at present they made some excellent sets that still crop up on a few specialist retailer’s websites and on ebay. The range included Vikings, Saxons, Normans, Bedouins, French Foreign Legion, Zulus, 24th Foot and several WW2 sets. Hollywood movies being the inspiration behind their choices. They also produced several sets of fantastic articulated Spartans and some wonderful massive playsets with lots of buildings. STOP PRESS – Conte in their own words are “back from the dead”. They have a new website at www.contecostore.myshopify.com where some of their plastic sets are available to order – good news.
Emhar – UK based company that released five sets of 1:35 WW1 figures and a set of 1:32 scale Vikings. These are not recent releases but are still in production and still popular. The Viking set for example retails at £8.99 in the UK and contains 12 figures. (75p per figure). It is a great set and still a good seller in my store showing what can achieved in this scale at a very reasonable price. Be nice to see some 1/32 scale Saxons one day from Emhar to give the Vikings a bit of opposition. Available from most regular plastic figure retailers.
Engineer Basevitch – From what I know of this producer they have made about twenty or so sets to date with many covering various aspects of Russian history plus some figures from other eras. Assyrians, Ancient Jews and Ancient Slavs for example. Latest releases include Caucasian Warriors and Nomads. Sets look to be about £27 in the UK for 12 figures or so. Available from www.plasticsoldiers.co.uk
Expeditionary Force – Based in Singapore this relatively new company have produced some of the best 1/32 scale figures I have ever seen. So far they have covered Napoleonics, ACW, WW2, Zulu War and Greeks & Persians. From late 2018 The Wars of the Roman Empire is their next project – with Ancient Britons, Gauls and Galatians amongst the planned sets including some great looking chariots. Their figures usually require some degree of assembly as they provide various head, weapon and arm options etc but the pieces fit together very well and even I can cope with it. Figure heights vary between ranges from 54mm to 60mm – this done I believe to compliment the prevailing norm in the hobby for that particular era. Typical sets sell on their website for around USD $32.50 including worldwide shipping. (09/20 update - I sell some of the range in my webstore)
HaT – US company that produced around fifty 1/32 scale sets the majority of which are still in production. Most sets are either for the Punic Wars of Republican Rome vs Carthage or for the Napoleonic era. Price wise their Bavarian Infantry Marching set for example retails for around £8.99 and contains 18 figures making them 50p per figure. I have seen pictures of a large scale Napoleonic game the Skirmish Wargames Group ran using many HaT figures and it looked splendid. HaT have recently started using crowdfunding to gauge interest and support for some new products. One set to benefit from this is their Seven Years War Austrians which look to be proceeding. Other 1/32 future sets still showing on their site included Greek Hoplites, Balearic Slingers, Byzantines, Napoleonic Austrians and Napoleonic Spanish. Be great to see Hat starting to issue 1/32’s again before too long. Hat’s website and forum can be found at www.hat.com. Their forum increasingly encourages hobbyists to influence ideas for future sets which can only be a good thing. Available from most regular plastic figure retailers.
Imex – At present only a few sets remain readily available (in the UK at least) from this US company. Their range included ACW, AWI and the Alamo and if my memory serves me correctly I think they also issued a castle in 1/32 scale as well. The ACW range was pretty comprehensive covering Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery – with caissons. Hopefully we may see re-issues again from them at some stage.
Italeri – As with Imex most of this Italian Manufacturers 1/32 scale range are sadly now out of production. However some sets are still available including Battlefield Accessories, Gladiators with Quadriga, WW2 German Pak & Crew, WW2 Russian Zis & Crew, Medieval Arab Cavalry and Napoleonic Austrian Infantry. The Caesarian Romans and Gaul Warriors were a couple of my particular favourites and still crop up on ebay.
LOD Enterprises – Another US company who have started out by focussing on the Trojan War and have really gone for it with some great Trojan and Greek figures including chariots and character pieces. They have not stopped there though as you can get the Walls of Troy, a Trojan Horse and warship! They have also taken over the Robin Hood and Revolutionary War figure sets from Barzso which are well worth a look too. www.lodtoysoldiers.com
Mars – Mars have quickly got up to 13 sets now in this scale with their latest set being WW2 Waffen SS in Normandy. Their other sets include several good Vietnam releases, a set of Napoleonic Russians and sets covering modern conflicts in Afghanistan and Somalia. Mars sets are widely available from most regular plastic figure retailers.
Marx – Very well known particularly in the US and many of their sets are still available – mainly as modern re-issues. A wide range of historical eras covered from Ben Hur to WW2. Some of their figures were reissued by Glencoe – US Marines, WW2 Japanese and Pirates for example but supplies of these are beginning to dry up of late. A good place to view the range is on the Classic Toy Soldiers website. www.classictoysoldiers.com
Paragon – Sets for the Alamo are the most recent releases from this US company with Plains Indians in the pipeline. Their other figures cover the ACW and US Cavalry vs Apaches. (09/20 update - I sell the range in my webstore)
Pegasus – Based in the US Pegasus Hobbies have only released four sets to date in 1/32 scale with many more in 1/72 scale. The four are worth covering here though and are Gladiators set #1 and set #2, WW2 Russian Naval Infantry and WW2 German Fallschirmjager. Available from most regular plastic figure retailers.
Replicants – These are made in the UK and Steve Weston is the sole distributor. He states on his website that Replicants is “the only company in the world which individually hand-injects plastic figures one at a time using traditional plastic material”. Great for use in skirmish games and for characters the range includes ECW, ACW, Nelson’s Navy, Wild West, Culloden and Medieval plus others. Latest release is a pair of Mounted Commanches. Find them at www.plasticsoldiers.co.uk
Toy Soldiers of San Diego (TSSD) – Their website states they current have over thirty TSSD figure sets available. These excellent figures cover WW2, Romans & Barbarians, ACW, Indian Wars and the Alamo with Vietnam the latest subject I believe. TSSD also offer their own accessories and buildings etc as well as being a retailer of many other 1/32 scale figures from assorted makers. (09/20 update - I sell the range in my webstore)
Waterloo1815 – Italian manufacturer Waterloo1815 currently offer seven different 1/32 scale sets. Three cover WW2 Italian troops, another covers WW1 Italian Infantry and there is also a set of Napoleonic Prussian Infantry. The remaining two sets are re-issues of some of Italeri’s Napoleonic figures – Napoleon’s Staff and French Dragoons. Most sets are widely available from the regular plastic figure retailers.
Weston Toy Co - I mentioned UK retailer Steve Weston earlier and do so again now as he has also produced his own figures and tanks under the Weston Toy Co name. Figure sets still available include Trail Drive, WW2 British Infantry, Foot & Mounted Mexican Bandits and Mexican Peasants. The latter as well as being excellent figures in their own right I have a particular soft spot for as I convert them into Ancient Gauls , Germans and Dacians to fight my A Call to Arms Romans. Two great ready made WW1 plastic tanks are also available – a German A7V and a British Tadpole. Website www.plasticsoldiers.co.uk
I could go on - there are many other similar makers I have not had a chance to mention but I need to stop somewhere. Do ‘Google’ some of the following though - Technolog, Warhansa, Publius, Prikaz, Austin Miniatures and Plastic Platoon. Also checkout some of the Russian plastics on ebay. I’ve not mentioned the likes of Britains Deetail, Forces of Valor, 21st Century, DSG or Toyway as pre-painted sets takes us into a whole different topic.
A Few Words on Fantasy
One exception I will make to this concerns the now out of production Lord of the Rings c60mm Armies of Middle Earth (AOME) figure range from Play Along which was quite extensive covering Mordor Orcs, Isengard Uruk-Hai, Moria Goblins, Rohan, Gondor, Haradrim, Easterlings, Army of the Dead, Elves and more. These very well done factory painted figures were sold primarily as children’s toys to tie in with the films. They regularly come up on ebay at pretty good prices and can make great skirmish figures if fantasy is of interest. Their siege towers, ballistas, catapults and Helms Deep sets also come up for sale quite often and are great scenic pieces for medieval scenarios as well as LOTR.
If Game of Thrones is more your fantasy cup of tea then all is not lost as the AOME LOTR figures have great potential as conversions. Orcs as White Walkers, Rohan as Stark, Gondor as Lannister, Haradrim as House Martell and Elves as Targaryens for example with varying degrees of surgery and imagination required as well as paint. Add in some historical figures such as TSSD’s Barbarians as Wildings or Expeditionary Force’s Phalangites as Unsullied and you can quite quickly assemble many of the different armies.
Lastly I should say something about metal Del Prado, Fabbri and Eaglemoss part-work type figures. These pre-painted troops often mix well with plastics and can allow you to add specialist, character or leader figures to your armies that you might otherwise struggle with. I have complimented my plastic 1/32 scale Roman armies with several low cost metals of this type sourced from ebay Italy, Spain and Germany for example. See my blog for more info https://www.drumandflag.co.uk/blogs/news/tagged/1-32-scale-blog
Ok so that’s it – an overview of the world of 1/32 scale toy soldiers that can be used for wargaming across a wide variety of historical eras and even fantasy genres.
You can find out much more by surfing the web. There are also several toy soldier shows in the UK each year, 1/32 scale demo games at some wargames shows, blogs and forums on Facebook and the wider internet such as LittleWars and Treefrog Treasures. Plastic Warrior magazine is also still going strong which specialises in covering 1/32 scale plastics.
If any 1/32 scale (or 1/72) figure manufacturers wish to send me information on new & future releases or figure sets to include in forthcoming articles please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author - I am a 1/72 & 1/32 scale plastics collector, gamer and painter. About 12 years ago I let my hobby get the better of me and turned it into a business spawning internet retailer Drum & Flag. Some of the products I mention in my article are available at my webstore www.drumandflag.co.uk
LINK TO PART I OF ARTICLE: https://www.drumandflag.co.uk/blogs/news/wargaming-with-plastic-toy-soldiers-part-i-1-72-scale