March 20, 2017

TOM STARK'S PLASTIC PASSIONS: Expeditionary Force’s Zulu Wars & Colonial Wars 1878-1902

Tom Stark takes a multi-part look at the Zulu Wars from Expeditionary Force...

The Initial Release 
Expeditionary Force’s (EF) historical theme of “British Colonial” are in my hands. They have begun with the ever-popular toy soldier conflict of the Zulu Wars. Excellent stuff here.

Let me start with the colors. Interestingly I have just noticed that the colors of the boxes, past releases and present,  mirror the colors of the figures. Using the same “stiff” but still soft and matte  plastic that makes the figures less subject deforming,  the Zulus are in a deep brown and the British in a most excellent deep red. For my taste, this red is so much better than the reds used by other makers in recent years that have been much  brighter, almost  glowing!   EF’s plastic is red enough to make the point, these are Brits, but deep enough not to blind you and not to obscure the excellent sculpting detail

Next scale. These hit the 54mm scale perfectly making them very compatible with what is already on the market, albeit, some of these are out of production now. Prior to EF’s entry into this conflict-rich time period, Armies in Plastic was the only source for a substantial number of figures. AIP’s plastics and animation left a fair amount to be desired and if EF continues to produce additional sets, they will be filling a considerable hole in the world of 54 mm unpainted plastic. This critique of AIP may be too general. The AIP Zulus were some of their best animated sets and they fit in very well with these new EF Zulus, being just a slightly lighter shade of brown.

Left: Ex-Force Zulu. Right: AIP Zulu
Left: A Call to Arms 24th Foot. Middle: Conte Right: Ex-Force 24th Foot.
Collectors should be quite happy with the alternative arm selections provided for the British. You get many more than needed for the 9 figures in the box giving you the option to customize the pose selections. If you want a firing line, you can make half the troops in this pose. This may in part be a response to negative feedback I heard on EF’s  approach on their WWII sets where to get more variety, in the WWII case provided only by different head/helmet sculpts, you had to purchase complete additional sets. For the British colonials, it remains true that to get the three “major” head varieties of sun helmet, badged sun helmet and spiked helmet, you have to buy individual sets but, unlike the WWII sets,  these headgear types are indicative of troops in different conflicts. I believe (not my prime period of historical interest) that the badged helmets are the most Zulu-oriented belonging, perhaps exclusively, to the 24th Foot. Un-badged can be used for almost anywhere in Africa in the late 1800’s, when the Martini Henry rifle was in use. I am not sure where one would have found spiked helmets on British Line. “Minor” head varieties in my set include bearded and clean shaven faces with one in a Glengarry cap thrown in. The arm combinations are much more significant.

For the cut and thrust Zulus EF has again provided  separate weapons in a harder plastic to remain straight. These include assagis, a longer spear, a knobkerrie club, a Zulu axe and another striking weapon I am not at all familiar with but I am sure was researched by EF as in use in the conflict and at least three shield varieties. This time the weapons come in a dark brown matching the figures exactly which I really like. I could have lived with a lighter shade of brown but the match is better. I don’t dislike the mis-match of gun metal weapons for the recent EF Greeks but I do find it distracts me from the unpainted plastic experience somehow; just a little bit.. Remembering EF’s plastic is also more paint-friendly than most older plastics.  Like the British arm sets, you get far more weapons than needed to arm the nine are figures in a box. This is a very good thing. I already lost my first assagi while doing these photos despite trying to be careful. In part this is the sculptor’s fault. He or she has not taken the easy way out making these” ring hand” figures molded with a hole through a ball at the end of the arm with some rudimentary fingers sculpted on. The Zulu’s right hand has each finger clearly articulated and the palm is actually open and sculpted with an opposing thumb. They hold the weapon of choice firmly and naturally. Fantastic artistry in my opinion. If weapons were limited I would be inclined to superglue the weapon of choice into each palm so as not to lose them but with the number of weapons supplied I don’t have to. I just have to be a bit more careful.

Wave Two 
Expeditionary Force releases just keep them coming. The British Dragoon Guards for the Zulu wars and beyond are a treat. Once again EF has provided 5 mounted figures in a box, in this case with two  torsos; sitting straight in the saddle and turned slightly to the right. Without looking closely you could overlook this difference. Pose variety comes primarily from the arm selections; striking with saber (3 sets),  holding saber at ready (3), firing pistol (2), holding carbine in right hand (2), holding carbine at ready (2) and firing carbine (2), so you get plenty of arms to use as you see fit.  A left arm holding reins is also provided. There are two horses, running and  walking, but the walking horse has two head options and two left rear leg options. Like the torsos, the optional horse elements are only subtly different so don’t transform the poses available but they are clearly different nonetheless and the “fit” of these parts is excellent, almost invisible. You get one of each “major” horse in light and dark brown and the officer’s horse, always running as far as I can tell, in white.

A separate saddle/saddle blanket and a separate carbine boot with gunstock protruding is supplied for each horse but the horses also have a molded in saddle. I suspect the horses will see use for a number of future releases where the heavy dragoon saddle equipment would not be appropriate, like Natal Native Horse. The riders fit a little loosely on a horse without the separate saddle and a little tightly with the saddle; note how the striking pose in my photo appears to be standing in his stirrups. Neither fit is perfect but both work without fuss.

There are three sets distinguished exclusively by the type of pith helmet; dress with spike, plain and wound with a “turban” as seen in the Anglo-Egyptian wars. I suspect we will see the later in khaki sometime in the future. The heads, or which there are at least two and perhaps more variants, are molded separate from both the bodies and the helmets. This would not seem to make design sense to me but it was the same approach taken with the WWII sets so I guess it makes sense to EF. It does however result in an extra assembly step, albeit a very simple one as all the part fits are clean and tight.  Given that small parts are not a concern to EF, I am surprised they did not supply separate hilts for the swords since all torsos have an empty sheath molded on but  those using their carbines would typically still have a sword to fall back on. A very small matter but one that made me wonder.

Expeditionary Force Colonial Wars 1878-1902
Zulu Wars
British & Colonial Forces
EXP-54ZBR01-M British Infantry 1879 in Badged Sun Helmet- Zulu Movie Version
EXP-54ZBR01-P British Infantry 1879 in Plain Sun Helmet
EXP-54ZBR01-S British Infantry 1879 in Spiked Helmet with Metal Strap
EXP-54ZBR04-C British Auxiliary Carbineers in Spiked Sun-Helmets (Dismounted)
EXP-54ZBR04-F British Auxiliary Frontier Light Horse in Slouch Hats (Dismounted)
EXP-54ZBR05 Natal/Boer Volunteers
EXP-54ZBR06–H Naval Landing Party in Sennett Straw Hats
EXP-54ZBR06–S Naval Landing Party in in Sailors Flat Cap

EXP-54ZBR02-N British Dragoon Guards Cavalry - Helmet with Pugri
EXP-54ZBR02-P British Dragoon Guards Cavalry - Plain Helmets 
EXP-54ZBR02-S British Dragoon Guards Cavalry - Spiked Helmets

EXP-54ZBR03–P British Artillery in Plain Sun-Helmets w/9-pdr RML Field Gun
EXP-54ZBR04–S British Artillery in Spiked (Ball) Sun-Helmets w/9-pdr RML Field Guns
EXP-54ZBR06-G Naval Landing Party – Sailors with Gatling-Guns

Zulu Kingdom
EXP-54ZUL01-M M Zulu in War Dress (Married)
EXP-54ZUL01-U M Zulu in War Dress (Unmarried)
EXP-54ZUL02–C Cetshwayo’s inGobamakhosi Zulu Regiment
EXP-54ZUL02–M Mpande’s uThulwana Zulu Regiment
EXP-54ZUL02–S Shaka’s uGibabanye Zulu Regiment
EXP-54ZUL03 Natal Native Contingent including Natal Native Horse EXP-54ZUL04 Zulu with Rifles including Zulu Officers in coattail kilts
View & order the current range HERE

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