If you're a wargamer with a few years of experience under your belt, you've probably run into one or more problems I want to rant about here. It's the small annoyances we are conditioned to take for granted. The crappy things we are led to believe simply come with the territory. All result from the logistics surrounding simulating battles with toy soldiers. And yet, these little frustrations slowly add up, sucking up our time, money and even the very space we live in like a magical vortex that feeds on inconvenience. See what they are below and learn why I invented ShapeShift...
Foam bag manufacturers go to great lengths to protect your precious collection from car accidents, angry or careless family members and airport staff to whom you should never ever give your models, even if they're insured. As awesome as it is to learn in ER that while your collar bone was fractured when you got rear-ended and your car is getting scrapped, your miniatures are mostly fine, this scenario of grand tragedy overshadows the mundane reality we all face daily.
Here's a fact: miniatures are sharp, foam is soft. Pointy bits get stuck in foam. Pulling on them, when you take stuff out of your case will test your glue-fu or the strength of the material the mini is made of. Not always, of course, and sometimes nothing is going to happen, but it does happen.
If your foam trays don't have custom-cut compartments, an additional problem is created by unwanted leverage as your mini bounces around in its slot. You will always have a slot that's either bigger or smaller than your mini. In the first case, parts that are heavier (such as smaller metal bits on plastic casts) might just decide to sit on the lighter ones and make your connection snap. If your slot is smaller let's hope you play Space Marines with no sharp bits, because otherwise your troops will get stuck eventually.
I swear to God, these two things are completely unrelated!
Today, of course, we can buy the most outrageous models designers are able to imagine. No one cares how you're going to carry your stuff around when they're sculpting a magical abomination that somehow still has boobs, or a physically implausible war machine from the far future.
That stuff won't fit in your vanilla slots. And if you scrounge your house for soft packaging supplies and use a lunch box to carry it instead you now have to carry an additional bag just for the lunch box. Or put it in your backpack along with your refreshments, which robs you of a certain volume of refreshments.
Let's agree to call it the "lunch box factor". Yes, the arm and tail were pinned. No, I don't know where the spikes from his back are now.
All of the above periodically generates the need for small repairs that are as annoying as they are inconvenient. Getting a dab of glue on your paint job because you had to glue an extended arm back on will have been in vain if you then put it back in the slot in which it broke. If you want to strengthen the joint with a pin, you risk damaging your brush work even further.
So you will waste precious hobby time repairing things you've already worked on, instead of getting to do the stuff you're actually excited about. As the years pass, that time will accumulate, and if foam trays could be malicious in character and snicker softly in the corner, they surely would. And there would be more of them because...
“Ha ha!” you might say “all of those problems are for plebs who didn't get custom trays for all their minis, like I did!” To this I can say that both the custom foam elite and the lowly standard-foam wargamer share a different problem. That is to say, both groups will have to keep buying additional trays until they quit the hobby or die.
It's just going to pile up. Whenever you buy a new release you will also, out of habit and the lack of better alternatives, look for an additional box or bag to carry them. Foam trays can't really be left out in the open if they are to protect your models, they need a container.
And, foam trays by their very nature don't use space very efficiently. They're designed to protect whatever is inside with a layer of soft cushion. You can't take that cushion away without sacrificing the primary function of protection.
Take that red cushion away and this will be one sad puppy, for reasons far less exciting than his religious affiliation.
So all those extra trays you're buying will simply take up more and more space in your house. They won't chip in for rent, or help you get groceries. They will simply join the other silent inhabitants of your household you invited in the past, such as that piece of training equipment you haven't used in two years (other than to hang clothes on), or the frying pan with a scratched teflon surface that you've yet to throw out.
Of course, this also translates to money. Since over time you won't be able to comfortably use the same bag or case for all the minis you buy, in the end you will spend more dough on that foam than you initially imagined. The cost will be more pronounced for people who buy small cases and bags for skirmish games separately. Now instead of having one bag where you change the load out for three different systems Kickstarted in the past two weeks, you have three separate boxes.
Also, the size of the trays you buy will be dependent on the manufacturer you choose, and the line each manufacturer offers. It's better for business (duh!), but it's not exactly optimal for you.
And so, the silent, imaginary snicker of the stacks of foam continues. Meanwhile, a sizeable portion of readers are enjoying themselves because they went with magnets. But guess what?
There are two types of magnets: rare-earth and ferric. The former are incredibly strong for their size. The latter are what you use to put pictures of your kids on the fridge door. Obviously, ferric magnets suck when it comes to carrying heavier models because they're too weak. You need a really thick sheet to handle a metal mini, which elevates your model and makes it look like crap.
Naturally, gamers have tended towards using rare-earth magnets instead. The problem they've run across is that these magnets are almost too strong. Since you can only buy pieces of a certain size, what happens is that the magnet is either too thick or too thin to fit under the base (who measures the exact depth of the space under each type of base?). And that, combined with its strength creates issues.
First of all, the magnet works constantly. If it's too thin, it will exert force on the glue that's holding it like a stubborn dwarf that can't let bygones be bygones. This will weaken an imperfect connection until the magnet finally snaps off. If it's too thick your base will wobble.
Picured: the results of six unrelated incidents with different causes that had absolutely nothing to do with the magnets doing their job and the glue deciding to bail.
In both cases, each time you put your mini in a case lined with metal, and each time you take it out, you have to struggle against the magnetic force. That's bad in and of itself, because the last thing you want to do with your fragile troopers is pull at them like a methodical madman. But it also implies that you need a very strong connection holding the magnet to the base. Because if it snaps off in transport, the loose model might bounce around inside the case, wreaking havoc upon its brothers-in-arms.
Standard “super glue” will fail you in this task, sooner or later. It's brittle and it doesn't hold up well to continued strain from various angles that will occur when you handle your minis.
What's that spare magnet doing on that tray?
Ideally, you'd want a two-part glue, such as epoxy, and you should lodge the magnet in a way that it's supported from the sides as well. So what's the big deal?
“Fast” epoxy glue sets in 5-20 minutes and actually achieves maximum strength after 24 hours. Considering the fact that regular CA used in the hobby bonds in seconds (let's say 10 seconds if you want to be super generous), that's 30-90 times slower for your minis to be kind-of ready to go. And your connection can still fail, due to other factors that I won't list here.
Also, do you have resin display bases? You know, those fancy bases with molded terrain already on them that you only have to paint to have a killer-looking unit? Maybe you're looking to buy some soon? Well, the undersides of those aren't hollow. So to magnetize them, you'll need to drill holes, or attach ferric magnets. So now you're choosing a drill bit of the appropriate size, clamping your base down, drilling a hole, cleaning the hole and the magnet, mixing up a batch of glue and attaching the magnet. And after 24 hours it's totally ready... Fun times!
But if you're prepared to go the extra mile(s) it takes to make magnets work for you, please note that they aren't nearly as strong in the horizontal plane as they are perpendicular to the base. You probably noticed that you can slide magnetised minis on metal sheets quite easily. Otherwise no hobbyist in their right mind would ever use rare-earth magnets. You only have to struggle when you try to pick the mini up normally because of course you do, that's what this article is all about.
Thus, heavier minis can still slide around in your case, and bump into each other occasionally. And that produces…
Whether you go with magnets or foam, don't be surprised to find spots on your mini where the paint chipped off. It might be because two minis bumped into one another. It might be because a model got stuck in the foam and the paint rubbed off of the problem area through wear. The third option is that you use a cardboard box with some toilet paper in it to carry your one big miniature (what's the point of buying a new case if it's just for one guy, right?).
Right... Well, at least these weren't painted!
Chipped paint takes the dried-out cake in the category of most laborious miniature repair. Matching a colour you mixed three months ago just to fix a patch that's roughly half a millimetre in diameter, at the same time trying not to get a dab of the base coat on the adjacent highlights and shadows is enough to sap my hobby enthusiasm to below-zero levels. I usually just leave it unfixed. And then it stares at me from the gaming table, so that I have to position the model in a way that I won't see the bare metal.
See, this one makes it easy since the bare metal is on the underside, 'cause his front is slanted slightly upwards. Hooray, I guess?
About the bare metal or plastic, if your undercoat falls off as well you're: 1) using normal paint instead of real primer; 2) !@#$ out of luck, because real primer is sold in cans and you spray it on. Only some hobby paint manufacturers actually bother to sell primers that bond to the material they're designed for. If you replace a layer of good primer with paint, you can imagine that the result will be far less durable than the stuff that fell off in the first place.
Unfortunately, the biggest bummer regarding paint job damage that happens in transport is that eventually it will happen again. Because to prevent it, you'd have to change the way you carry that particular mini. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is why rushing fast units to the table edge usually ends in them not participating in the battle instead of outflanking the enemy, like you envisioned in your hazy plan.
I'm sorry, I didn't understand that analogy. What was your point?
It's also why certain pointy bits continue to get stuck in foam, and why the huge robot you carry in your home-brew box requires periodic repairs.
It's really not that bad, the Stalker's arms weren't glued on purpose to make him fit in the box...
Let me show you just how much of a difference you can make in your hobby by switching to a new carrying method. I'll go point by point through each of the questions you saw above. You will see for yourself that a positive answer to each question exists in the form of the ShapeShift tray. It's strength comes from an adjustable mechanism for holding bases in place. Also, it looks nice.
The ability to adjust foam slots on the fly depending on your current needs simply doesn't exist in this universe. Maybe one day Elon Musk will start playing Warhammer and he'll come up with an amazing protective polymer that will maintain its shape only as long as you want it to. Maybe you'll be able to control it with an iPad, or with pure willpower.
In the real world however, you can only reuse the same tray for wildly different models with magnets. Unfortunately, that means all your minis have to be securely magnetised. What if you could bypass all that work, yet still save space and money on foam boxes?
Well, that's entirely possible with an adjustable system that holds only bases. Just like magnets, only instead of magnetic force you're using good ole'-fashioned, rudimentary mechanics. In our case, a profiled bar whose very shape physically prevents a base from falling off.
Behold! A really, really simple idea!
You can kind of see in the picture that the profiled edges are lined with rubber. This increases grip, and provides a bit of cushion between the polymer-on-polymer action. Add a tray with some slots in it, a bunch of fasteners to hold the bars in place after you adjust them, and presto, a patent-pending result:
Minis of various sizes...
In the same space. And no magnet in sight!
Of course, in the pictures above there's a ton of space left on the tray because I wanted my promotional images to look pretty online. But take a peek at how Chris, a Battletech player, was able to condense his army of mechs after switching from foam to this tray.
The “custom” foam for mechs. Trust me, Chris knows the outcome of using this method for longer periods of time. I will hasten to add that almost all of these robots are metal, not plastic, and therefore quite heavy.
A merrier band of mechs on the tray.
Had he put all of the stuff from the tray inside the foam, he'd only have 3 slots left. In a direct size-to-1980s-giant-robot-density comparison, the tray is a clear winner:
The black colour also helps them look a little bit more modern.
This is a rather straightforward point. It doesn't need much elaborating, but it's a good place to show you more pictures. I promised, so I'll deliver!
Here's some 40k courtesy of Gary Natfka from Faeit 212:
To be honest, I don't know what these are, since I don't play the quintessential tabletop wargame. Which probably means I'm the nerd version of a hipster.
This is a point that single-handedly solves practically all of the problems I ranted against on the previous page. There's no option for guns or spears to bend or break since you can position them so that they don't touch anything. The bases don't slide around because of the rubber-lined edges, so minis won't bump into one another.
Here are some things your new case won't make you do any more. Annoying last-minute repairs. Annoying repairs back at home. Repainting small patches of a colour you mixed on Christmas in 2014. Fixing chipped paint in general.
The non-metallic metal will remain as pristine as when you first got it from your commission painter... Okay, okay, you painted it yourself.
Yes, that is a point worth mentioning. You will no longer find yourself crafting home-brew boxes for carrying that one model you bought half a year ago online. Or, in fact, for carrying your painstakingly-created conversions or favourite proxies.
This is a point that's well-known in the 9th Age community. If you haven't heard about it, it's a fan-made rule set for playing games of what once used to be Warhammer Fantasy. Since the game is no longer in production, the armies are a collection of GW's and a vast array of other manufacturers' miniatures. Chad, who goes by the handle Oncebitten360 on his YouTube channel is a member of that community.
In his review of the carrying system I'm describing here, he pointed out that he was able to attach his custom made chariot to the tray without a hitch. It's this thing:
With the arrow pointing to it, next to the giant.
Do you have any minis like Chad's converted chariot? Don't we all? Wouldn't it be nice if you had a carrying case in which you could just pop it in and go? Also, do note the crazy combination of miniatures of different sizes that fit on this tray! You have a giant, five minotaurs with a banner and a custom chariot. And he can switch all these minis for something completely different whenever he feels like it.
Or would you rather stick to this:
A picture really can tell a thousand words. I'll keep reusing this one, since this is what a thousand profanities look like.
As I said, magnets are the only comparable solution to the ShapeShift system. But you need to glue them to all your minis just right, or they will snap off. So not only do they require extra work, they also come with some risks. These two factors have kept many gamers away from using magnets on their models.
Well, ShapeShift conveniently gives you the key advantages of magnets in transport without any of the drawbacks. No sliding around, no work, no struggling with delicate miniatures, no snap off accidents. But also no touching anything on your way to the game. And you get that elasticity in carrying minis that magnets are prized for.
Just as an aside, you could totally use a ShapeShift tray to transport a magnetized unit that's already attached to a metal movement tray. If you've already done the work, you can combine the benefits of both systems and get all the convenience.
Remember when I said that the saddest thing about damages resulting from transport is that they're bound to happen again? Because if they happened the first time, it means that whatever you were using just doesn't want to cooperate with the mini you're giving it. Probably there's a weak spot somewhere that presses on something, or the slot is too small, or the way you glued your magnets just doesn't work.
But if you eliminate all those weak spots and all those other factors, you will stay safe. No damage in the first place, no damage later. Unfortunately, you can't retroactively remove damage that's already there.
Well, at least he'll avoid the "lunch box factor".
I said my bit, here's what others think. Below, you'll find reviews of the ShapeShift Trailblazer case written/recorded by other people.
Here's an excerpt from a review by Gary Natfka from Faeit 212:
So the trays I really enjoy. In fact not only do they hold down the models well, but the trays look amazing. I can easily see if you have some models you want to show off, that this is the tray for just that. Over all, they hold a large amount of models, and my dark eldar have over the years constantly broke due to foam issues. These models have pokey bits, and bent guns, broken guns have plagued me for years despite lots of different trays Ive tried. Any foam that those guns can poke into meant broken or damaged guns. These trays really solve this issue.
Overall the Shapeshift case is quite beautiful, with an amazing design and follow through with the trays. In fact I will be using them this weekend when we set up multiple tables here in the studio to set up games, and for future events (like Nova). The box is also nice, and holds both trays well, but beware of drops onto floors. Normal banging around from transporting it will work just fine, even if the box is upside down. In fact after taking with me once, I enjoy the smaller size and capacity of it.
And here's a video review by Chad aka Oncebitten360. I mentioned him in the previous section.
And here's a feature by Ash from Guerilla Miniature Games:
Hopefully, I'll be able to add more to the above in the near future!
You can also download a free ebook I wrote on the arcane technicalities of gluing minis. It's worth getting if you don't want your models to break as often.
© 2017 by Phobos Foundry