Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Kidrobot TMNT Ooze Action (Glow in the Dark) Raphael

Company: Kidrobot

Year: 2014

Price: $15AUD

Kidrobot have been producing vinyl toys since 2002, and are well-known within the art/designer toy community, a scene which I know very little about myself. I’ve never bought any of their stuff previously, as it’s an aesthetic I have mixed feelings about, and I could never quite justify the price even when I did see something I liked.

However, I have noticed that in the last few years – and it’s quite possible it’s been going on even longer overseas – they seem to have developed a number of products at a lower price point and with greater availability, presumably to appeal to the more casual collector. I suspect this has something to do with the growing popularity of Funko, a brand that has traded on the designer vinyl aesthetic very effectively, managing to snag a huge number of licenses and bring the whole scene a little more mainstream in the process, all while doing it at a very affordable pricepoint. 
Your own thoughts on this will vary of course – as with any underground scene there are always those loath to see things become “mainstream” or to have things “ruined” by “casual fans”. I’ve had many a moan about things over the years myself! But as someone who enjoys Funko’s work, I’m pretty happy to see the style gaining wider acceptance.   

Anyway, Kidrobot recently picked up the TMNT license, and have produced a number of products based on the 1980s TV series. The shop I picked this up from also had keyrings (approx. 1”), these “Ooze Action” figures (3”) and blind-boxed figures (also 3”), which cover all of the same characters in the Ooze Action set, plus a few more. Online I've also discovered that there are 7" Bebop and Rocksteady figures, and I suspect there may be more in future. Time will tell.  
Today’s figure, Raphael, comes from the Ooze Action subset. These guys are in the same scale as the blind-boxed figures, but have slightly different paint apps – including ooze splattered on their weapons or bodies, which is depicted via glow in the dark paint. Additionally, they’re not blind-boxed, which makes it much easier to get the character/s you want. Being a huge sucker for anything glow in the dark or TMNT related, I decided that I was going to make the investment. How did that pay off for me? Well, read on to find out!


I don’t often talk about the packaging much these days, but I thought this one was worth a mention. It fits with the 1980s TMNT blister packs, modernising the “green on brick” aesthetic, all printed on nice thick card with a j-hook. It’s printed with an open sewer pipe, over which the figure in its blister is positioned, as though he’s bursting out of a pipe to say hello, or attack. For a brief period I did consider keeping him MOC, but that brief period lasted only a few minutes. A second one to keep MOC would be good though…

The back of the card depicts the other characters available in this line – Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, Splinter and Shredder – while also including a few lines of flavour text about the ooze, which mutated the turtles and Splinter into their current form.
However, in spite of all the character designs being clearly based on the 1980s cartoon, it uses the logo from the 2012 TV series. Not wanting to create confusion among the (presumably) younger audience that this release is targeting, perhaps?

More strangely, the text on the back of the pack specifically states “this is not a toy”. This seems a little strange – if it’s not a toy, what is it?  But perhaps this is as a legal protection against some of the safety requirements that toys need to adhere to – types of paint, sharp edges, etc.

But these curiosities aside, the packaging really enhances the overall product. It’s not essential to enjoying it, but it’s a great bonus for those who want to keep it mint.

Kidrobot seem to use a base body for most of their creations, which can be seen on their rabbit-like “Dunny” and monkey-like “Munny”. Their products do cover a broader range, of course, but for the purposes of this review that’s all you need to know about.  

(Incidentally, “dunny” is Australian slang for “toilet”, so it gives me a childish little giggle every time I see Kidrobot stuff being sold around the place.)
For this range, that means all four turtles use the same body and head, with the differences coming in paint app form. Likewise, Shredder and Splinter use the same body, but have different heads. Splinter…did not turn out so well. The sculpt is not poorly done, but it just doesn’t look like Splinter – he looks more like a dog than a rat.  

Raph (and all of them) is articulated at 3 points – his neck and at both shoulders. All are cut joints, and the articulation on the arms is a little restricted due to the shell on his back. But this isn’t necessarily a minus; these figures are bought for their overall aesthetic as opposed to their Marvel Legends-esque contorting ability.
It’s a very basic, kiddie-looking thing, somewhat like a bath toy. Once upon a time, I really disliked the vinyl toy look, particularly during my prime comic buying days of 2006-2007. It seemed so pretentious – who would pay insane amounts of money for a toyish, under-articulated piece of crap?  Why not get a real action figure?

With the benefit of a little bit of exposure to stuff that was more to my taste – and a bit of general growing up on my part – I’ve come to appreciate it more. And of course, in this case the license definitely does a lot of the heavy lifting. Being inherently cartoony, the 1980s TMNT lend themselves to the aesthetic much better than say, Cthulhu does. But of course there’s a market for that too.

Raph comes with his two sais, which are spattered with “ooze”, which is actually glow in the dark paint.  Both of these fit neatly in his hands and will stay in place, though you’ll want to consider arm and head position before clicking them in – otherwise they’ll just poke straight into his face.

There isn’t a great deal of straight paintwork on Raphael – as far as I can see it’s restricted to his bandanna, the belt across his shell and possibly his sais. Everything else is tampographed, and they’ve done an exceptional job. Just about everything looks neat and clean, and doesn’t look likely to rub off anytime soon. However, the glow in the dark paint scratches quite easily, so be careful with it. I scraped a little bit off just by my thumbnail banging against it accidentally.

My only real disappointment is that Raph himself doesn’t glow. Given that the turtles are all primarily green, it seems like they could have done it reasonably easy – but perhaps a future series or variant/ComicCon/online only exclusive release will do this. And it’s certainly a viable project for any keen customisers out there.

I’m really happy to have picked Raphael up from this range. I have no real quibbles about the execution or the price, and as my perennial favourite turtle, Raph will make a fine addition to the existing TMNT collection. Nonetheless, I don’t plan on picking up any more Kidrobot TMNT anytime soon. Not because the figures are bad quality, but I collect enough stuff already and don’t want to funnel hundreds of dollars into completing a set of the blind-boxed figures – which I can definitely see myself doing, if I don’t nip it in the bud now!

But for TMNT and designer toy fans alike, these toys come highly recommended.   

Monday, 21 July 2014

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set – the unboxing!

Company: Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro

Year: 2014

Well, the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons has finally arrived. I’m still yet to play 4th Edition, but at this late stage it seems very unlikely that I’m going to. Never mind – on to bigger and better things with the new Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set!  
So, what’s in the box?

It includes:

*a 32-page booklet – the “Starter Set Rulebook”
The starter rulebook is for players and DMs alike. It seems the basic rules are more or less the same as I’ve been familiar with previously (i.e. roll a d20 and add a modifier) but there are a couple of new mechanics like “Advantage and Disadvantage”. Character creation rules aren’t included, but you can get them into the Basic Rules download, which will take you all the way up to level 20.
It looks easy enough for existing players to pick up, and reasonably friendly for new players. But for anyone who’s never played before, it’s still probably best to have someone take you through it.       

*a 64-page booklet – an adventure called “Lost Mine of Phandelver”
This adventure takes players from levels 1-5, and is set in the famous Forgotten Realms, along the Sword Coast. Greyhawk was the default setting in 3.5, but given that there’s now been around 49823592375903749235957903 sourcebooks and novels published in the Realms, it’s quite possible that they’ll change it over. We’ll see when the Player’s Handbook arrives in September.    
Both books are softcover, with glossy paper and stapled together. They’ll crease and crumple pretty quickly, I assume, but they should last at least the next few months.  

*5 premade characters – Two human fighters, a High Elf wizard, a Halfling rogue and a Dwarf cleric.
From a cursory glance at the rules and the Basic Rules download, it looks like the number of basic races and classes have been culled back from 3.5. As a barbarian player, I’ve got mixed feelings about this, but then again, there may be a fuller complement of character creation tools included in the Player’s Handbook.
Hopefully they don’t try and split these character classes across a bunch of supplements. The thing I really liked about 3.5 was that it played up fantasy archetypes very well – 4th edition had too much faffing about with weird creatures and classes. New players might say “I like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings – playing as a ranger sounds good!” I don’t think any new player has ever said “Yeah, I want to be a half-dragon who specialises in throwing axes and I a bit of a fighter but mostly a spellcaster who specialises in ancient orc spells!” I exaggerate, but it was one of the things that bugged me. Hopefully the new edition leans more to the 3.5 end of things.        

*6 dice – a d20, a d12, a d10, a d8, a d6 and a d4. They’re a midnight blue colour, with a lighter shade of blue marbled through. They’re nice, and it’s always good to have another set of dice.
There’s also a flyer for D & D Encounters, which seems to be something that you do down at your local card/games store. Probably something like Friday Night Magic, I assume. This is probably a thing that’s been running for ages, but has passed me by. 
Everything comes packaged in a black, slightly glossy finish box. The illustration is great, with a massive green dragon taking on a warrior. It’s a nice mix of retro and modern fantasy art. This illustration is replicated in smaller form on the book covers, and is a little more zoomed out.     

The Verdict
At first glance, the Starter Set seems a little bare-bones in comparison with the 4th edition Starter Box, or the revamped Red Box. But closer examination shows that while it lacks some of the cosmetic extras, the adventure that’s included is substantially larger than previous starter sets I’ve seen. I’ll take this over nice – but unused – map tiles any day.

Actually, the absence of map, tiles or tokens may indicate that Wizards is moving away from the miniature-based gameplay that 3rd (and from what I’ve seen of 4th) encouraged. As someone who’s never really been a miniature-based player (or DM), I tend to think this is a good thing, though it’s bound to upset a few players. It will be interesting to see if the Player’s Handbook that’s coming in a couple of months includes the relevant rules, or whether it will be relegated to a separate expansion book further down the line.

Overall, the whole presentation of the box is great, and I hope it encourages many new players to join. I’m keen to get into trying out the new rules, and running the game with a group of players. But will it tempt me away from my beloved 3.5? Well, we’ll see when the core books – and specifically the DM’s Guide — arrive in the next few months! 
(Just as a side note, Liv Tyler seems to have turned up in the rulebook too)

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Playmobil Dimetrodon - 5235

Company: Playmobil

Theme: Dinos
Year: 2012

Price: See “Availability”
Today we look at a birthday present I received a couple of weeks ago that’s very dear to my heart – a Playmobil dimetrodon.

The dimetrodon is one of my favourite prehistoric animals. Living between 298 and 272 million years ago during the Permian period, it was an early precursor to mammals – though sadly, does not have any direct living ancestors today. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the dimetrodon is not actually a dinosaur. You could be forgiven for thinking so, as it does kind of resemble one and it’s often featured in books about dinosaurs, not to mention in amongst dinosaur toys – much like woolly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers. I didn’t even realise it wasn’t a dinosaur myself until a couple of years ago! But it turns out they lived around 40 million years before the first dinosaurs walked the earth.
One of its most distinct features is the large sail on its back. Theories behind the sail have changed over the years; when I was a kid, one of the most common theories was that dimetrodon was cold-blooded and the sail was for heat regulation. But thought has shifted and it’s now more commonly thought to have been used as a mechanism for sexual display. But until we clone a couple of living specimens, Jurassic Park-style, we’re unlikely to know for sure. That means there won’t be a lot of discussion of “historical accuracy” – which is usually quite silly when it comes to dinosaur toys – though I’ll make sure some gets in there.  


Playmobil playsets are new territory for me. I had a handful of Klickies as a kid, but never any of the playsets, and don’t remember having any great awareness of them either. It’s a shame really, as Playmobil is a great brand and often overlooked.  

This one is pretty simple as they go – it’s a sort of swamp scene – but it’s loaded with accessories with the dimetrodon itself serving as the centrepiece. 
Everything is placed on an irregularly shaped green base, which has a trench cut into it. What’s that for? Well, you have two choices – leave it empty and it can be a dried-up swamp. Or do as the box suggests and click the translucent blue piece into place. Then you’ve got yourself a simple stream flowing in and pooling. It’s so simple, but looks so great!

Then it’s time for the plants – two trees, a patch of leaves/moss/lichen, some reedy-looking things and a flowering bush. I’m no good with modern day botany, and much worse at prehistoric stuff. I couldn’t begin to tell you whether this is an accurate representation of a Permian Age swamp or not, so bear with my ignorance.  
One tree resembles a palm tree with two separate batches of leaves. Both have lots of fronds, which are created by inserting multiple leaf pieces into the top of the two trunks.

The other one looks more like some kind of dead Australian tree – it has two bits of foliage on it, which serve as mounting points for two creatures that we’ll get to shortly. The instructions and the box differ slightly as to how this tree should appear on the display, so I just ended up going with the image on the box – it better facilitates the angle of the vegetation. This tree can also be displayed standing straight up, or lying flat as though it has been knocked over.  

The moss is a single piece, nicely textured to break up the single colour. The reeds are cast in a slightly lighter green, in a flexible plastic. Particularly interesting is the flower bush. Each little flower needs to be put onto the bush separately, which was enjoyable for me but will no doubt annoy many children. The end result looks great though! 
Last but not least is a lilypad, complete with white flower on top. This is an excellent little piece, and you can easily set it “floating” on the river.  

In among the accessories are various fauna to populate the swamp environment – a snake, a scorpion, an enormous dragonfly and a flying lizard. The snake could be a contentious inclusion – evolutionary knowledge surrounding these guys is apparently a bit on the vague side. But consulting with Bob Strauss’ page here seems to suggest that they first showed up in the early Cretaceous, with some arguable precursors well before that. Gasp! POTENTIAL ANACHRONISM!! Scorpions though? A quick bit of Googling seems to suggest that we're in reasonably safe territory.


Now we come to the flying creatures. The first is a large dragonfly-looking creature – probably a Meganeura. Related to the dragonflies of today, they were absolutely massive in comparison to our modern specimens. It’s cast in a translucent plastic, with some slight tampographs. The only thing I don’t like about it is that it doesn’t actually glow in the dark, despite looking like it might. It can be mounted on a couple of different spots on the playset, but the fallen tree is the most logical place for it.
The second flying creature to mount on the tree is a Xianglong – or possibly a Coelurosauravus or Kuehneosaurus. The Coelurosauravus or Kuehneosaurus are probably a little more likely as they was first described in 1926 or 1962, in contrast to the more recently discovered Xianlong, which was first described in 2007.

All of these are species of gliding lizard that you’ll see decorating many a page in dinosaur books. These lizards are almost never the focal point of the images they’re in, but they still look really cool and help set the prehistoric scene. It’s a nice touch, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a toy of one before. The Xianlong lived in the Cretaceous period, in what is now China, while the Kueheneosaurus lived during the late Triassic – and the Coelurosauravus lived in the Upper Permian, so we may have avoided the dreaded HISTORICAL ANACHRONISM on this occasion. 
Jokes aside, my only real point of criticism of these accessories is that there are so many that I can’t help but wonder whether this set is really intended for kids. Maybe you’d give it to a slightly older kid, 9-10 or older, but any younger than that just seems like a recipe for disaster. It does come with a couple of spare flowers, but you can almost guarantee these will get lost too.  The suggested age of 4-10 seems a little on the low side.

As cool as these elements are, it’s the dimetrodon who is the centrepiece of the set, so it’s important that he turns out well. He’s got movement at 3 points – his jaw, and his two forelimbs. It might be nice if the back legs moved too, but Playmobil has always gone for a pretty simplistic aesthetic, and this design fits that aesthetic nicely. Not to mention that younger kids would probably just get incredibly frustrated if they had to try and balance the thing constantly. 

Most of him is cast out of the usual solid Playmobil plastic, giving him a nice chunky feel. However, his fin is cast in a rubbery plastic, presumably for safety reasons. It’s fine, but I would have preferred the whole thing be cast in the same solid plastic – I don’t want the rubbery plastic cracking and ruining the toy and its paint job as it ages.  Still, I’m very, very pleased with this toy.
With the dimetrodon alone, I feel the (reduced) purchase price is justified – I love dimetrodons and am glad to have an awesome one for display. But the swamp is a great set in its own right, and all the accessories are fantastic. Stripped of its prehistoric beasties, this playset could easily serve as a swamp setting for any Playmobil figures you chose – and if you’re willing to fudge the scale a little, it could work for Lego, too.

There’s not a huge amount of paint on any of this set – the vast majority of items are cast in the relevant colours, with the dimetrodon receiving most of the paintwork. Most of the paint has been tampographed. Whether it’s colour-accurate is of course entirely open to speculation, but it’s a good colour scheme that still makes the sail a bit of a spectacle, without being garish. The same goes for the Xianlong’s wings.

The only real dud paint in the set is the snake. Seemingly hand-painted, in contrast to the tampographing elsewhere, it’s a little on the sloppy side. But it’s a tiny accessory, so it can be let slide.  

Though it’s a couple of years old now, this set is still reasonably easy to find at your local Toys R Us – and I saw it at the Australian Museum recently, too. The problem is mainly that it costs an arm and a leg in Australia, usually around $50AUD. I paid about $USD20 – an on-sale price, admittedly – for this guy on Amazon, which seems much more reasonable.

Playmobil is great, but I don’t plan to buy a lot of it. I’m already collecting enough stuff, and there’s only room for so much of this stuff in the house. Add in the relatively high price (not that Lego and NECA figures are cheap, mind you), and it’s just not really feasible. 

But on this occasion, everything was just right – the price, the timing and my mood. So I’m very happy with the Dimetrodon. Dimetrodons rarely seem to get a look-in outside of the lower-end dinosaur toys, so I’m thrilled to see one in a more prominent role. Here’s to more public awareness of the dimetrodon!


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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

40 years of Dungeons & Dragons


It’s now been 40 years since Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson published a small set of rules, designed to be used in conjunction with wargaming miniatures. It was primitive, crude and assumed that players were already familiar with the mechanics of miniature wargaming. That game would eventually take the world by storm – and I assume you’ve all guessed from the title of this article that the game I’m talking about here is Dungeons and Dragons. And on the eve of its 40th anniversary – and with the impending release of the 5th edition, D&D Next – it seems appropriate to recollect a few of my own experiences with the game.

I started playing Dungeons and Dragons “proper” in 2006. Though I’d played other pen and paper RPGS previously – most notably Vampire: The Masquerade and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay – I was yet to try the original. I had grown up hearing many of the stories surrounding Dungeons and Dragons in the 1980s and early 1990s – it involved the occult, devil worship, etc. Many of you who have played the game will find this laughable, but I suppose that the 1980s it was much harder to fact-check things via the internet and urban myths have a way of finding a life of their own. While many of the claims were grossly exaggerated, TSR didn’t always help their own cause, either, with some of the material that has been published for the game. 
But once I did start, I very quickly came to see why it had inspired – and dominated – the RPG scene and filtered through to wider pop culture. Though there was a default game world – Greyhawk – you were just as free to ignore this, and use one of the many settings that had been developed. Or even better, construct your own!

I loved it. In fact, it became one of my main forms of entertainment during a period in my life where I was at university, living out of home and struggling to feed myself – one of the few respites from what seemed a harsh existence at the time. For this, I will be eternally grateful to the game, its creators, and to the people who attended those Friday night gaming sessions. 
The longest campaign I ever ran was still relatively short by some people’s standards – around 6 or so months. The party journeyed across the continent of Rathen, in search of the evil minions of the One-Eyed Black Dragon, an evil deity who had made his home in the dread Skull Mountain. The game would eventually fall apart for all the usual reasons – people couldn’t make it as regularly due to new commitments, interpersonal conflicts, etc. So the epic final conflict that would have (hopefully) seen them slay the dragon never took place, unfortunately. The campaign notes have also been lost, likely due to moving house multiple times in the intervening years, so I can only recall the very broad strokes – but most of the games I have run since take place in Rathen, even if its geography has changed many times. Skull Mountain still appears in the odd game, usually as a one-off dungeon where everyone is expected to die.

Not long after this campaign had fizzled out, in early 2008, Gary Gygax passed away. Arneson would also pass away the next year. Games had been less and less frequent for some time, but in 2009 I hung up my dice bag and filed away my books for a number of years, due to a variety of circumstances – moving house, adjusting to a new job, going to a new church, building new circles of friends, etc. As a result, I’ve never played a game of 4th Edition, though I’m assured by many that I’m best to stick to 3.5, the edition that was doing the rounds when I was in my prime playing days. 

But my love for the game remains undiminished. I’ve recently started playing again, across a few different groups of friends, and it remains as engaging as ever. So here’s to the past 40 years of fun it’s provided to people all over the world, and here’s to many more decades of fun to come!   

The Starter Set for D & D Next is released on July 15th, with the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual -- among other supplements -- to be rolled out over the upcoming months. The Basic Rules can also be downloaded directly from the Wizards of the Coast website, here.
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Sunday, 6 July 2014

Lego Monster Fighters -- The Mummy (9462)

Theme: Monster Fighters
Pieces: 90

Construction time: 15-20min

Year: 2012


Well, I’ve moved on from being fairly unimpressed with the Monster Fighters theme through to owning most of the range. Funny how that works, isn’t it? So today we look at my latest (and likely last) purchase from the range – The Mummy.   

There are two minifigures in this set – the Mummy himself and Ann Lee. Both of them are okay, if not great. The Mummy has printing on the front of his head, chest, back and legs, but the arms are blank. He fits in well with the Pharaoh’s Quest sets, but as a standalone figure, I still prefer the Mummy from Minifigures series 3 
Ann Lee completes my set of the Monster Fighters themselves. She’s the only female fighter among the gang, and has a similar kind of visual aesthetic – Victorian-era meets combat fatigues. Ann Lee has two printed faces – a stern, determined one, and one with more of a smirk on it. She’s got some cool little details on her, like the garlic and stakes printed on her trousers (though it won’t be much use against a Mummy, of course). But overall, I’m not really sold on her. I think my main problem is with her hair – she reuses the same hair as the Cave Woman from Minifgures series 5, but styled with a crossbow bolt instead of an arrow. It’s a good piece, and it worked fine for that character, but here it looks a little strange. Maybe they should have just given her a ponytail or something.

There are two vehicles this set – a one-person helicopter and an Egyptian-style chariot.

Like most of the Monster Fighters vehicles, I wasn’t overly impressed with the helicopter on first glance, but it’s grown on me since. It’s got a cobbled-together look that ties in well the overall theme – the Monster Fighters are facing deadly supernatural foes with very little in the way of resources. Of the vehicles I own from the range, but it’s still kind of cool – just a little too specific to be used in other settings too, I think.    

But the real centrepiece is the Mummy’s chariot. It’s got lots of ornate little details – the golden scorpion, the moonstone, the spears put on the side of the harness, the gold horns on the front and the green “lamps” on the chariot itself. There’s a lot going on, but never so much as to overwhelm the eye.    
I can’t speak for how “historically accurate” it is – not very, I suspect – but it nonetheless conjures up a great pop culture idea of what an undead Ancient Egyptian chariot should look like.  

I first saw the Monster Fighters theme in stores around Halloween 2012, and apparently they had their American release in May that year. Most of them disappeared pretty quickly from stores; Halloween isn’t that big a deal in Australia, so I suspect that most retailers didn’t order a huge amount. However, since late last year, Kmart stores have had the range popping up in larger quantities than I ever saw them during their “official” release period. I can only assume that they got a good deal with an overseas warehouse or something. Still, they’re thinning out in numbers now – if you’re keen to get this set I would suggest grabbing it ASAP.  

Apparently there are two versions of the set – initially the Mummy and the skeletal horse both glowed, but the later runs of the set have only the horse as a glowing piece. Mine appears to be from the later run, which isn’t surprising that I bought it about two years after initial release! 

I bought this set as a birthday present for a friend earlier this year, but I fence-sat on it for a long time for myself. However, with my recent acquisition of the Rise of the Sphinx and the Scorpion Pyramid sets, I thought the chariot would be a cool supplementary piece. Taken as part of the Monster Fighters range, it’s not my favourite set (which would probably be the Vampire Castle), but it’s a great Egyptian-styled piece and a welcome addition to the collection.