“This product is not a toy. Not suitable for children under 14 years old.”
This statement followed me around during my formative years. It was printed on every blister pack and box of Citadel Miniatures I ever bought. The warning comes back to me when I watch my seven-year-old playing with his Space Marines, like they’re the most amazing action figures ever. Which, arguably, they are.
In those days the warning had extra credence. The figures contained lead, and lead is not a healthy thing for children to be playing with. These day the figures are all plastic, so there’s no safety issue, except for the choking hazard, but I hope at seven my son is beyond the testing-how-things-feel-in-my-mouth stage of his development. The main reasons for not letting a seven-year-old use Citadel figures are their fragility and their cost.
I have to admire Games Workshop’s marketing technique for my boys’ current obsession. Out shopping one afternoon, my wife wanted to go and try some shoes on, a task not improved by the introduction of three boys, so I took them off somewhere else. My GW passion was latent at the time, but I liked to pop into a shop every now and again and imagine I still had the time and income to support a serious plastic habit.
The shop was quiet, just the obligatory group of teenagers clustered around one of the playing tables, trading tales of their “sick” (or whatever the kids say these days) army configurations. Sensing an easy prey, the manager came over to inquire as to whether we needed any help.
Before I knew it he had my older two boys sitting on a chair painting a figure. Unlike the sales assistants when I first used to enter Games Workshop, this guy knew how to talk to children (rather than scowl at them whilst wondering how they tasted). He patiently went through the steps of painting a Citadel Miniature. They loved it, and I was pleased as punch. I had to resist the urge to give the man my credit cards and say, “Take what you want.” The boys took their miniatures home (a Space Marine and a High Elf) and were thrilled with them.
My middle son is all about action figures. He plays endlessly with his knights. He’s hardly played Skylanders on the screen, but they too take part in his gargantuan tabletop battles, alongside Fett, Vader, and Solo. He likes LEGO, not so much for the kits, but the minifigures. They too feature in his world of (often bloodthirsty) imagination.
Now a Space Marine had entered the fray. But, as any serious geek with a collection habit will tell you, one isn’t enough. He wanted more. I was torn. Yes, I wanted to buy them, but years of conditioning had drummed into me that these are not toys! The figures aren’t cheap and, surely, he was just going to break them?
In the end, I decided they were worth a punt, so I purchased nine Space Marines. It was possibly the best £15 ($22) that I’ve ever spent (though the price has since gone up: 9 Space Marines now costs £18, or $30). Not only did we have a blast painting them, producing a new class of psychedelic Marine, but he has played and played with them.
Compare this with the Mega-Flip Bumblebee he wanted for Christmas (£25–$33), which has sat in the toy-box largely untouched or some Star Wars: Rebels action figures (Ahsoka Tano and Darth Vader, £16–much cheaper in the US at $11), then suddenly my £15 is starting to look like reasonable expenditure.
Now, you can’t do this with everything. My oldest son bought some Dark Elves, which, to be honest, he hasn’t really been captured by, but as these figures got drawn into his brother’s battles, bits soon started snapping off.
Space Marines seem ideally suited to being played with by younger children, as they are compact with few protuberances, meaning not much to snap off. We’ve since added a set of three bikes, which are little more pricey £20 ($40), but robust enough to withstand action style play (with the exception of their aerials).
Parallel to that, my older son has developed an interest in painting some figures, and so wanted some more Marines. This could get very expensive very quickly. They both enjoy painting, but, whereas three figures would take me several weeks to complete, for them, particularly the younger one, painting takes little time at all. This rate of consumption is unsustainable.
For now, they have invested some Christmas money on some Space Marines from the Dark Vengeance base set. Of course, they both wanted the same figures, so instead of buying a box, we bought two broken down sets from eBay. As buying Dark Vengeance is much the best value way to buy your models, lots of people buy multiple sets and sell the half they’re not collecting (the set has Space Marines and Chaos Space Marines). We got roughly 20 figures for £25 ($36) doing it this way. This included leader models and three motorbikes, so it is definitely the best way of breaking into the hobby.
One concern I had is that, in the wake of the release of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, Citadel seems to have upped the quality and intricacy of their figures (and therefore the cost). Brilliant news for the seasoned player (except for the cost bit), Citadel’s latest releases are breathtaking, but, if you’re buying for the younger end of the market, simple, robust, and cheap is what you are after. With their recent releases, it felt as though Games Workshop was increasing the age of their target audience.
Which is why I was thrilled to find Frank McKinney’s article on tinyplasticspacemen.com (via belloflostsouls.net). Towards the end of 2016, Games Workshop are set to release a “Build and Paint” range. Boxed classics, such as Space Marines and their Bikes, complete with paints, glue, and brushes, at entry level prices. (Starting at $15 if the flyers are to be believed.) I think this is an interesting development on the part of Game Workshop, showing they haven’t forgotten younger gamers. News of the Build + Paint range is still sketchy, but I’m hoping they’ll be appearing in this house in time for Christmas 2016. I’ll endeavor to bring you more information about Build + Paint as I get it.
So there you are, despite warnings that they’re not toys, my seven-year-old has loved using his Space Marines as toys. They have been great for firing his imagination, and long may that continue. It’s not financially viable for his collection to grow much more, but, for now, I have one happy child!
Does anybody else do this? What inappropriately aged toy, does your child love to play with? Do you find your X-Wing minis being flown around your house? Are your Imperial Assault Stormtroopers currently laying seige to some My Little Ponies? Please comment on your experiences, good and bad, below.