Monday, May 7, 2012

Review: Forge World's 'Imperial Armour Model Masterclass Volume Two'

I have been waiting a long time in eager anticipation for the second in Forge World's painting and modeling books -  the expansively titled 'Imperial Armour Model Masterclass Volume Two'. I even got to Salute a couple of weeks ago, expressly to have a chance of picking up a copy at the FW stand. Sadly I was still too late on the day but FW were happy to let me order a copy for home delivery :) Cue another week and a half of waiting - and it has arrived!

I loved the first volume and have used or adapted several of the techniques described therein on my models (I even got the wife to help build and paint a Baneblade with me, using the techniques FW described). I'm a big fan of learning new stuff and expanding my repertoire and the book certainly had lots of new challenges and things to try. But would the second volume in the series be as eye-opening? Would I be as inspired to hook up the airbrush and dig out the oil paints and varnishes? Most importantly, how expensive would the new toys I would feel obliged to buy be?

The answers to those questions are, it turns out, 'kind of', 'a little', and 'probably not much'.

Its not that Vol.2 is bad by any means. It contains lots of well shot photo's of gorgeously painted miniatures. There are quite a few different models shown as well. The problem really is that it doesn't feel like this book really develops the hobby. It doesn't add as much to the world of painting 40k miniatures as Vol.1 did. Many of the techniques described in Vol.2's guides have already been described in Vol.1. If you already know how to use layers of varnishes, apply decal, sponge on weathering,  you may not learn much more here.

You may think that the chance to learn the colours used in painting some of the gorgeous FW models you've seen at shows or on the web is good enough reason to buy this book. Which brings me to second, and probably biggest, problem with Masterclass 2: it uses the old Citadel paint range. You would have to be either very lucky or strangely prescient to still have a stock of Bleached Bone, Scorched Brown, Khemri Brown, or Mechrite Red, but these and many others are used in the painting guides.

This leaves painters hoping to replicate the schemes presented therein with a dilemma - do you attempt to map those mentioned colours over to the new ones GW describes as their replacements, bearing in mind the new colours are not identical to the old ones and are in some cases, I am told, quite different? Or do you just go with Vallejo's Game Colour range, in which case you can get more or less identical shades with purposefully similar names, albeit possibly of a slightly lesser quality than the original? Given that if I were to follow FW's guides to the letter I would already be buying several Vallejo paints (as FW don't seem too squeamish about mentioning they use colours and products GW don't do), add the fact I hate and fear change and, well, the choice is clear for me.

That said, the guides are nicely laid out and photographed, if a little casual in their descriptions. At times this can be a little silly. In the guide to painting a Reaver Titan there are some lovely pictures of the upper surface of the carapace. This is a gorgeously marbled piece and FW suggests you achieve this effect by airbrushing paint 'in subtle marbled patterns'. But this is a 'Masterclass' book - you are supposed to have some experience/ability/brains before buying it and more often than not the pictures and descriptions are detailed and good enough to enable you to do something quite cool with your next big project.

The question then is, 'if I already have Masterclass Vol.1, do I need Vol.2?'. My suggestion would be this: if you are alread au fait with the techiques described in Vol.1, you probably don't need this book. That is, unless the list of models shown contains some you really like the sound of.

 If you don't have Vol.1 but are interested in discovering and trying some new painting and modeling techniques, I would suggest checking the list of contents of each book, then buying the one with the most interesting models to you in it. That is to say, if you just buy Vol.2 but not Vol.1, you won't be missing out on any secrets of the Universe guaranteed to win you power, money, and Golden Demons.

Be aware though, not all painting guides are created the same. The guide to the Brass Scorpion in Vol.2 is quite detailed and has lots of cool stuff to try out. The Phantom titan bust 'gallery' by contrast, is only a couple of pages long, the largest part of which is big big pictures. If you buy this book hoping to revolutionise your Eldar painting, you may be disappointed.

I was also a little disappointed by the choice of what models went into this book too. The weakness of Vol.1, I felt, was it was fairly traditional tank-heavy. Lots of muddy and rusty Imperial and Chaos cans that is, not so much Xenos stuff. I hoped Vol.2 would therefore switch the focus from the lumbering human technology and show us some tips and tricks for painting Eldar, Tau, and even 'nid models. But, apart from the aforementioned Phantom gallery and a few shots of the Mymeara models, there are next to no xenos in the book.

Essentially the, Vol.2 is 'more of the same'. None of the content is bad, much of it very very good and well presented. But it is also very very similar to Vol.1, uses paints that aren't being made any more, and may not feature models or races you are interested in buying or playing. Not a horrible product at all, but a missed opportunity to develop a brand and a series into new directions.

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