Speed dating with manufacturing partners is… not that speedy. We initially intended to release ESR Napoleonics Miniatures in March 2022. We missed that. By a lot [about 15 months].
The reason why is straightforward: We struggled to find a production partner that could produce what we needed, at costs that support the prices we wanted to offer you our product, in the timeframes necessary to offer substantial ongoing releases. Over the last ~24 months we’ve engaged with ten different contract manufacturers and had various amounts of work done by ~6.
What broke? Everything at one time or another.
Production capacity might shift due to the necessity to prioritize the success of their own IP (I can’t blame em). Achieving high yield with small parts might turn out to be more difficult than achieving high yield the large parts they typically produced. Mold making capacity might be too low (we require a lot of molds). QC tolerances may not be tight enough when dealing with large numbers of small figures. You name it, there have been a lot of bumps in the road.
And, in retrospect, this is not surprising.
What we needed wasn’t easy. But we’re here. And we’re happy about it.
One Word, Three Options: Plastics
When we announced ESR Miniatures last year we said we were going to do them in plastic. There are [approximately] three ways to do plastics: HIPS, PVC, or thermocast [i.e. SiOCAST]. Arguably 3d printing could be considered a fourth, but there remains high labor involved in the post-print process that didn’t allow us to consider it at the necessary scale of production.
We looked at HIPS (if anyone else in the industry is looking for a great HIPS manufacturer, reach out, we ‘know a guy’), but unfortunately our miniatures line has a substantial number of ‘undercuts’ which can’t be produced in HIPS molds. This is because (1) our miniatures were not originally produced with HIPS in mind and (2) are 10mm, so tiny relief changes that aren’t visible in larger scales make the details of our figures appear soft.
We looked at PVC, but unfortunately it shares a lot [not all] the intolerance for undercuts. It also has long spin-up times and is largely an off-shore only solution while we favored domestic production in the US.
We looked at metal [briefly] but besides not being plastic, it doesn’t scale due to its high labor requirements, its material cost has risen substantially since 2020, and it’s weight increases cost at every point of shipment.
We settled on thermocasting using SiOCAST. It offers crisp and clean details even in 1:160 scale (10mm), similar durability to HIPS, is more scalable than metal, and can be produced in the US.
So what’s [were] the hurdle(s)?
All the Molds Up Font
We offer packs that include infantry, cavalry, artillery, guns, limbers, wagons, generals, etc… all in the same package and that requires a broad diversity of parts to be produced before we can kit and sell a single pack. That frontend loads the problem of mold production – a common choke point for miniatures manufacturing. In the days of “buy a baggy of 50-100 similar infantry” a manufacturer might only need 1-2 molds to produce that package. But our Force Packs require 15-30 molds for a single box set. So we’re basically telling the manufacturer “We need ALL THE MOLDS… immediately, before we can make anything“.
Even Simple is Complex
Those 15-30 molds are to produce ~30 unique parts for the initial Force Pack of each major faction. Then additional parts (and molds) are required to produce the Attachment Packs and Reinforcement Packs. Each part can contain up to five different miniatures – making mold balancing complex even in the simpler cases and potentially reducing yield even if the molds are uniform.
Give people ALL THE MINIATURES!
Most manufacturers were expecting us to offer homogeneous packs, i.e. “just line infantry” or “just light infantry”. But not only do our packs offer a wide variety of miniatures but they also include *a lot* of miniatures. The French & Russian Force Packs have over 400 pieces each. The combination of high complexity and high piece count was really difficult for many potential partners to address.
But Make Them Affordable!
A big hurdle was pricing vs cost. In ESR Napoleonics a player commands a Force, so that innately means a player is going to be buying a Force Pack to get into the game, right? How much should that cost? Well… honestly, as little as possible, because cost is a barrier to entry and we want as many people getting into ESR Napoleonics as possible. But that means the cost of producing it has to be similarly low. And that in turn requires a *lot* of creativity on the part of the production team. Thankfully we found a partner who is creative.
ESR Napoleonics Miniatures are debuting French and Russian Mid-War Force Packs at the special pre-order price of $79.00 USD with a regular MSRP of $99.99 USD. Each one includes over 400 pieces.
What’s the Status Today?
We have finally secured a manufacturing partner and ESR Miniatures are in production, being produced, real, actual, tangible pieces that can be packed into, well… packs. This is finally happening, and it is happening now! Pre-orders are open today (8 May 2023).
Fun fact: Our first e-mail to the first contract we partnered with to make this product line happen was sent on 9 May 2019. It has been a journey.
When will they ship???
We expect to have stock available for sale at Historicon 2023 (i.e. this coming July) and will be shipping pre-orders following the convention. Unless you choose “free pickup at Historicon 2023” in which case we’ll deliver yours there!
UPDATE: ESR Miniatures began shipping 2 August (unless delivered to Historicon) and all pre-orders are expected to have shipped by 12 August.