As of a little less than two weeks ago, Catalyst finally released their awesome new Battletech Box sets. And, from what I hear, supplies are already running short. Also, as part of my "yearly gaming order", I picked up a handful of units from some "unofficial" third-party manufacturers which have been added to my already decent collection of plastic minis from other production runs. Because there are some notable differences between them, I thought I'd do a little comparison here. Such a thing would have been useful to me, I think.
Battletech 3rd Edition
While I only really got into the miniatures game 4ish years ago, my oldest Battletech minis harken all the way from 1994. I am, of course, talking about the Battletech 3rd Edition Box Set. The 3rd Ed set came with 14 plastic minis of fairly poor quality. I mean, that was like 25 yeas ago - your expectations probably shouldn't be *super* high. There are a fair number of holes and warped/mis-shapen surfaces. My Warhammer was actually missing part of the shoulder such that the right arm couldn't be attached. Most of this was readily fixable (the rebuild on the WHM's arm was a bit arduous, but turned out well), but it's not indicative of superlative production quality.
The thing is, however, basically all of the 3rd Ed box minis, shabby as they are, are also Unseen minis: if you want an official, old-style Marauder or Warhammer in plastic, this is pretty much your option. Also, I found that good paint work can really make a so-so sculpt look good. My Crusader from this set is, I think, still one of my best minis.
The scale of some of these minis is a little wonky, tending toward overlarge size compared to the later box sets (though not the most recent, see below) - particularly the lights and mediums, such as the Phoneix Hawk, which seems comically oversized for a 45-ton medium, especially standing next to the Battlemaster from the same set.
Battletech Introductory Box Set
The next box set with plastic minis arrived via Catalyst in '07. This one had 24 plastic minis, plus two "premium" plastic minis. While the "premium" minis were nice, the other minis in the set are, well, pretty poor quality, suffering from most of the same problems as the 3rd Ed box, but without the appeal of Unseen units. Still, if you were just getting into the game, 26 minis would give you a lot of play for $50-$60, even if it wasn't particularly "pretty".
The sculpts on these are what some would characterize as "classic", and what others might deem "silly". The two are not mutually exclusive. The units are modeled around older designs, and some of them show their age more than others.
I have a set of the minis from this first intro box set production, but I haven't bothered painting any of them. I have, however, let my 7yo paint a few, in her typical rainbow fashion.
The scale of these is what I use as a baseline, as the sculpts and sizes are similar to the metal minis of the time. In general, the scale seems "normal", though some units are maybe a little too big or too small.
In addition, this set came with some really nice folding cardboard maps. I have two sets of these, and they are what I prefer to play on. After having the thick boards, playing on creased paper seems like a downgrade.
Battletech 25th Anniversary Introductory Box Set & Alpha Strike Lance Packs
This one - the one with the Atlas on the cover - is what I would refer to as the Holy Grail of plastic Battletech. The "premium" minis in this set are different units from the previous and, ironically, maybe not quite as good - but the other units are the *real* story.
This set contained the same impressive array of units with identical sculpts as the previous release, but with a major improvement in quality. Aside from the "premium" units of the former release, these were probably the first "good" plastic minis for Classic Battletech. I have two full sets of these minis, and they form the backbone of my collection through sheer numbers. The Alpha Strike Lance Packs had units of the same quality (all of them including at least 2 units from the box set), and at ~$15, they were a decent value as well. To this day, if you see a copy of the 25th Anniversary Box Set for anything even close to MSRP, it's a great value.
Since they're the same sculpts as the original Intro set, the scale evaluation is identical. There are a few minis from the Alpha Strike packs - like the Stalker - that seem to be a bit "off", but overall the line feels *fairly* consistent.
Battletech Beginner Box and A Game Of Armored Combat
And that brings us to Catalyst's most recent offer: the new, much-anticipated box sets that came out just a couple weeks ago.
The sculpts on these units are pretty amazing. Maybe not *perfect* quality, but they are definitely the best to-date. The only "complaint" on I have on these minis - and it's a comparatively small one - is that they monkeyed with the scale. The minis from the new sets are noticeably larger than they should be - some, like the Awesome and the Catapult are pretty dramatically different. While they are taller, mostly the new units are just thicker - beefier.
I'm not sure why they did this. Perhaps the larger size made controlling for errors in the plastic easier or less expensive. Or perhaps they're looking to make more and they're seeking to "invalidate" previous models. Given the not-quite-consistent array Battletech seems to have with regard to scale anyway, the different unit sizes are likely only to be distracting when fielded with the same units from other productions. So, while not a "perfect" addition to existing mini collections, they're acceptable - and, again, the quality on these is outstanding, and the sculpts are considerably cooler than their predecessors (especially that Thunderbolt).
The new paper maps in these sets are pretty nice - the shading on the levels makes a flat map way more playable. That said, I'm unlikely to use them as-is: the cardboard maps are just too nice, and I like the hex terrain levels I've made. I will probably chop these maps up to make more hex terrrain. I *did* find the inclusion of some cardboard tiles with terrain bits on them a nice surprise - this can add some additional variation to the otherwise static maps.
The quality of the other materials in the box are all superb as well - rulebooks, fiction, etc - but the minis are what I came for.
And now we move on it 3rd-party and "unofficial" sources for Battletech:
Some time back, Palladium made a Robotech miniatures game called Robotech Tactics. From what I understand, it wasn't a huge success. However, several of the miniatures for this game were perfect stand-ins for Unseen Battletech 'mechs claiming the same design. By the time I discovered these, they were getting to be hard to find. I'd still love to find a Spartan/Phalanx (Archer/Longbow) set for $Decent, but alas, those seem to be long gone. I did, however, pick up a Tomahawk/Defender (Warhammer/Rifleman) box - and, as of the time of this writing, you can still find these here and there.
These minis are good quality, but they are a nuclear pain to assemble. One miniature of this scale should not be composed of more than a dozen pieces, especially when those pieces have precious few tabs or sockets to help with their assembly. They also leave some gaps in unwanted places.
That said, once you've won the assembly battle, you've got some pretty nice-looking units, and the scale is pretty near identical to the original Battletech minis - at least for most units.
When I ordered my set off Amazon, I noted that it had 5 reviews. Three of them mentioned that they were bought for Battletech. I wonder what percentage of Robotech Tactics minis ever see a Robotech Tactics game.
I follow the #battletech hashtag on Instagram, and through this discovered that you can get some unofficial and/or 3d-printed minis of newer sculpts (such as MWO versions) from various places online. Warhansa seemed to be one of the better liked sources.
Given that the company is in Russia, it takes a minute to get deliveries here in the states. That said, they have a pretty impressive catalog of "Robomechs", scaled to the same(ish) size as standard Battletech minis - so I ordered a few minis unavailable in plastic from anywhere else.
Overall, the quality is good, but there does seem to be some variance from unit to unit. I don't know if some of their models are just better than others, or if the production of said models is inconsistent, but I found that my Black Knight, Crab, and Urbanmech are pretty precise, while the Highlander and King Crab have considerably more...fudge...in the rendering. Still, they'll all look good once they're painted up.
The minis come disassembled and with a bit of material to be trimmed, but they're quite easy to put together - probably the easiest I've done to-date.
Scale seems to be fairly accurate to standard Battletech overall - which is to say, a little bit smaller than the current sets. One or two might be slightly too big or too small, but again, within standard deviations.
The names Warhansa gives to their minis are obvious tongue-in-check references to official Battletech units: the Crab and King Crab are "Shrimp" and "Jumbo Shrimp" respecitively, the Black Knight is a "King Arthur", the Highlander is a "Mountain", etc. It does make identifying them fairly straightforward in most cases.
Strato is a Polish company that makes some generic-ish sci-fi minis of a generally comparable scale, but some of them are obviously inspired by Battletech units. These minis might be the best looking ones I own. Very precise casting over 95%+ of the surfaces. And the sculpts - particularly the one for the Marauder (which they call "Bull Shark") - look amazing. When I saw that, I knew I'd be giving them some cash.
These minis come disassembled and with some material to be trimmed - particularly from the bottoms of the feet - but they're not too bad to put together, and the final product looks great.
The Stratominis scale is a little bit too big, but that actually puts it in the right ballpark for the current Battletech minis from the new sets. While those units are really "beefy", most of the Strato units are sleeker - just tall.
So, there you have it. My findings in the realm of non-metal Battletech miniatures.