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H.Q. Dispatches Pt. 3
Justin Webb

Several of you asked about what the life cycle of a miniature is. Plus, many of you wanted to know anything about the next set. An article just about the production process would probably be a bit dull. So in a shameless attempt to make it more interesting, I’ve snuck in an actual unit from the Reserves set into the story. In an attempt to kill two birds with one stone, here is . . .

The Life Cycle of the T-35

The first thing that happens is that R&D comes up with some ideas for future set themes. Then, once the brand manager greenlights a new set, R&D already has a decent idea of the creative direction they want to go in. For the Reserves set, the general themes are secret weapons and oddities that didn’t see much (or any) combat during the war. (Like all Axis & Allies Miniatures expansions, the Reserves set isn’t totally defined by its general themes—there’s still new stuff, like Jets and Support units, plus some eagerly anticipated fan favorites too.) Each set has its own schedule—while several sets can be in different stages of production at the same time, each set is produced separately. The brand manager starts a name search for the set.

Once the theme has been decided, the design team starts putting together a set list. They try to think of all the miniatures that would be “naturals” for the theme and also any units that the game needs as a whole. The designers initially try and come up with a set list that is about 50% Vehicles, and, for a 45-unit set, design about 50 units. They also spend some time deciding what the “new things” will be for the set.

The design team decides to put the T-35 in the Reserves set. It’s a good choice because it fits the theme of the set and it’s a very interesting-looking and unique unit. Lets follow the T-35 through the entire production process.

As soon as the set list is final (about a third of the way through Design), it’s sent to the Art Director. He starts researching all the units in the set and creates a sculpture data file that contains all the specifications and dimensions of each unit with copious amounts of diagrams and photographs. The Art Director gets together with the Product Engineer and decides how many pieces the T-35 will consist of, whether any of its turrets will move, etc. This file gets sent to the sculptors who start creating an “initial sculpt.” The art director also commissions the art that will appear on the stat card at this time.

Meanwhile, design finishes up. They hand over the “card file” to the development team. The developers’ first task is to do a set overview and look at the “appropriateness” of the set. Is is true to history? Is it realistic? Is it fun? Are there interesting game play decisions? Then developers start playtesting the set. Are all the units costed appropriately? Are any units “broken”?

At about the same time as development is ramping up, an “initial sculpt” of the T-35 is modeled in resin (in China)—most one-piece units (like the Soldiers) are sculpted in clay.

For two-piece miniatures like the T-35, a determination of whether the smaller piece will “take” a metal screw is made—if not, a peg is used to attach the smaller piece. In this case, the T-35’s turret will get a peg. Initial sculpting takes places over two or three rounds— the Art Director, Product Engineer, and R&D Lead can make suggestions or request changes to the miniature during this step. After a couple of rounds, the initial sculpt gets approved, and two copies of the T-35 sculpt are created in rigid grey plastic. Once that has been approved, one copy is sent to “tooling” and the work to create a mold begins. This is the last time in the process that a change to the physical sculpt can be made easily.

With development now in full swing, the Dev team has had time to give the T-35 lots of attention. Its five turrets, while difficult to coordinate, represented a vast amount of firepower. The Dev team decides to represent this by giving the T-35 relatively high anti-Soldier attack values and both the Overlapping Fire and Multiturreted (new) special abilities. Unfortunately for the Soviets, this tank was thinly armored, difficult to steer, and wasn’t easy to maintain, which is represented by its low speed and armor values and the Poor Suspension limitation. Its sheer size meant it could have picked up some ability to evoke its robustness, but its relatively poor combat record influenced the Dev team not to go in that direction. Earlier versions of the tank had 30mm of front armor, but later versions were retrofitted up to 52mm—equal to either a 3 or 4 frontal armor rating. Playtesting convinced the developers to go with the 4 frontal armor—3 proved to be just too vulnerable. R&D also creates the flavor text now—those interesting nuggets of history at the bottom of stat cards—and the text for the rules insert.

Next up is templating, or “Does it make the Editor cry?” During this stage, the editor goes over the file and makes sure all the abilities actually work (they often don’t) and then makes sure that they use existing templates written in “house style” and “game style”. The T-35 has a new ability (Multiturreted), so the editor makes sure it works exactly how the Dev team wants it to. Meetings are held. “Da Rules” are followed. The difference between “behind” and “not in front of” is discussed. The editor also checks the units’ names and flavor text for accuracy and assigns collector numbers.

Meanwhile, the other copy of the grey plastic sculpt is sent to a painter who hand paints it, creating a “paint master”. The painter has a good idea of how many “deco ops” the T-35 is going to have and paints the tank by hand to give the art director an idea of what the finished version might look like.

At this point, the set name is official (it’s Reserves) and logos and expansion symbols have been designed. The editor puts together text files for all the printed components—packaging, checklist, and stat cards—and hands them off to the graphic designers, who generate proofs and make it all look fantastic. After a few rounds of proofing, all the printed stuff is finalized and sent to the printers. These eventually end up at the factory.

By now, the mold has been tooled for the T-35 and a several copies are created in black plastic (the plastic that is used for the end product). These are called “first shots”. A few copies are sent for safety testing to check for choking hazards, sharp points, etc. Do not eat the delicious miniatures! The rest are sent to the painters.

With the paint master approved, work begins on making “deco samples”. During this stage, using the first shots, the painters at the factory use their production-line deco-op painting techniques to try and emulate the paint scheme of the paint master, while trying to hit their target number of deco ops. These deco samples are checked against the paint masters to make sure nothing has gone wrong. It can be tricky—more paint here, less paint there, leave that wash on for a few more seconds, etc. This is the step where we messed up on the Spitfire. There’s two or three more approval rounds to make sure that everyone is happy with how they look—the miniatures are checked to make sure no fine detail is missing on the first shots, and adjustments are sometimes made to the number of deco ops—until, finally, we have a T-35 that is good to go.

The factory then starts production. When a sufficiently large number of miniatures have been molded and painted, they get collated (put into random groups of 9, with 1 rare) and packed along with the checklists and the corresponding stat cards into the packaging, which is then sealed. R&D gets shipped the first few cases off the production line, and checks them for collation (and other) problems. When the entire production run is complete, the finished product is shipped to our warehouse in the U.S. and appears in stores shortly thereafter.

The T-35 should look something like this.

Click here to reveal the stat card for the T-35.

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