Monday, January 20, 2014

Monolith Designs/Graven Images 40mm Prehistoric Europe review

My order from Monolith Designs arrived at last on Wednesday, just shy of four weeks in transit from the UK. The wait was worth it. I first saw the range online a few years ago and was immediately intrigued. I'm a fan of arcane things. Neolithic-Bronze Age Europe falls right into that niche. I have books and books on that era in the library here at Stately Chez Dave. I wanted to buy the figures when I first saw them, but was a bit put off by the price. 40mm figures aren't cheap. Last year, I saw on TMP that Jim Bowen, the sculptor of the range, had died suddenly in April. The sad news got me thinking about that range again.

When I learned that the range was still being sold, I resolved to buy and in mid-December contacted Steve Mussared at Monolith Designs and sent in an order. I was delighted to learn that even more was available than what was listed on the site. In all, I was able to order 16 swordsmen, 8 slingers, 4 bowmen, 8 spearmen, 4 champions, 2 standard bearers, and a nice little cult group of prancing priest and priestesses with a musician keeping the beat. That's a nice stash of 46 figures, but it came down to a daunting £157.00 GBP—or about $264.00 USD (including shipping). (That comes out to $5.73 per figure!) I'm awfully glad I love these little lumps of lead.

So, when they arrived on Wednesday, I eagerly tore through the package and oohed and ahed at each figure as I pulled it from it packaging. These are truly lovely figures.

Cleaned, primed, mounted, and awaiting the brush
Sculpting, casting, and detail

The figure size is 37M/H on the Barrett Scale, which was developed by Toby Barrett of Thoroughbred Figures to classify figures within a given scale. 37M/H means that the size from foot to eye level is 37mm and the weigh or heft of the figures is Medium to Heavy. (From foot to top of bare head is exactly 40mm.)

The detail is quite good overall and the distortion is minimal. Most figures wear a kilt of some kind, which might be supplemented by some kind of armor. Only the champions and one of the standard bearers wears a bronze corselet. Otherwise, the armor consists of a bronze disc front and back. Some wear helmets, others wear various caps of cloth or leather. Figures are either barefoot or wear shoes and stockings. One figure has fur leggings.

Weapons are mostly cast on. However, the spearman figures have a detached hand holding the cast spear. The hand has a long tang that can be inserted in a hole drilled in the handless arm. I'm concerned about whether that will be a weak point on the figure. I haven't assembled any yet, but I think they'll hold. There are some other hands grasping weapons, like swords and hand-axes, that can be used instead of the spears.

Shields are my only gripe. Overall, they're quite nice. There were four types that come with the figures: a large round plain shield, a large round shield with studs, a small buckler, and a large round shield with concentric rings on the front. Except for the last shield type, they all come with convex interiors and places hollowed out for attachment to the hand holding the shield.

Shield types
The concentric rings shield is also kind of thick and slab-like. I figured it requires some work to make it usable. I filed down the back using a metal file in order to reduce the thickness, which takes a while and leaves a fine gray film of metal shaving all over my hands. After that's done, I drilled a hole in the center back, and then used a larger drill to create a kind of counter-sink that would work for a hand-hollow.

Slab-shield before and after
The only other problem with the shields has to do with how the shields fit. Several figure types are sculpted with their left arms tucked in close to their body. Since the shields are designed to fit together with the figure's fist, the larger round shield cannot fit because the rest of the figure stands in the way of getting the round shield close enough to fit hollow to fist.

Tucked in close
The small bucklers are ideal for these figures. However, there aren't nearly enough to match the number of figures with tucked-in arms. The order contained a variety of the shields I mentioned above, but only three of them were bucklers. That leaves me with a lot of figures who can't be given a shield. The solution will be to ask for a separate batch of bucklers when I make my next order (and I will be ordering again soon). That's better than any other solution like filing down the impeding bits on the figure until the larger shield fits.

The casting on the figures is very clean and minimal filing and trimming is required. The metal seems to have a high tin content and is harder than the metal for most other figures I've worked with.


Painting the figures is a pleasure. I've only started a first batch of 20 figures that I have cleaned, primed, and mounted on 25mm x 30mm Litko bases.

First fruits in progress
The sculpting lends itself to washes and highlighting, which is pretty much my style of painting. My only agony is painting the eyes. I hate painting eyes and I figured I would have to do it with these larger figures—but that being larger, they would be easier. Alas. The eyes on several figures seem to be sculpted squinting, which obviates the need to paint the whites and irises. Other figure have their eyes kind of open. I notice that the figures in the pictures on the Monolith site, painted by Steve Mussared, use a darker wash for the eyes and don't provide detail. I feel like I'm cheating by not providing eye detail. I have done it with 28mm figures in the past, but I've given that up. If you paint eyes well, they really make the figure come alive. If you painted them not well, well...

One of the nice extras for the range is a set of religious figures celebrating some kind of obscene pagan rite. It's that or something out of Burning Man or Woodstock.

Which way to Yasgur's farm?
What will I do with them?

I've started a series of blog posts about skirmish gaming, which gives an idea of my plans for this range. So far, the leading contender is Andrea Sfiligoi's Song of Blades and Heroes, available from Ganesha Games. The rules have the advantages of providing enough distinction on a figure-by-figure basis to make things interesting while being fairly quick playing and allowing for multiple players in a game. A basic warband for the rules requires 6 to 10 figures.

Whither Monolith?

The figures are currently only available from the Monolith site, which requires emailing Steve Mussared to determine what's available and arrange shipping and payment (through CC or Paypal). It took about a week of trading emails until the order was sent. That actually proved to be a good thing since I was able to learn from Steve that there were more figures available than advertised. I also learned that there are masters yet to be put into production.

From what I have gleaned in emails, set to be released are more bowmen, more slingers, some long-spearmen, civilians, another chariot, horsemen, and two-handed axemen. I'm not sure when they will be available.

More recently Crann Tara Miniatures announced that they will be casting and selling the Monolith/Graven Images ranges. The 28mm Border Reivers and 40mm Disturbia, Cliffhanger, and Gotterdamerung ranges are already available. I understand that the Prehistoric Europe range will follow suit.

There is a Yahoo! Group for the Jim Bowen figure ranges available called JimbowensDisturbia. Steve Mussared is a regular poster and responds to any questions about the range. Graham Cummings of Crann Tara Miniatures is also a list regular.


  1. I am delighted that your figures have arrived and have lived up to your expectations.
    They look splendid and I can't wait to see the finished.
    Do you know the short story by Poul Anderson called "The Bog Sword" well worth a read...

  2. Those are some great looking figures. The shield does look a bit thick, but you did some nice mods to it. Best, Dean

  3. Thanks. I just ordered a Kindle version of the anthology "The First Heroes - Tales of the Bronze Age" edited by Harry Turtledove. It contains Anderson's story "The Bog Sword." I'm looking forward to reading it after work today.

  4. Mine is in the same book albeit a paper copy- enjoy.
    BTW I wonder if their is any chance of a look at your Pikes and Perriwigs rules? I have been looking at back posts on your blog today and am considering a imagination project circa 1680...

  5. I have a WIP version (heavy on the IP) of Pike & Periwig that's a 10 MB PDF file. There are a lot of diagrams in Adobe Illustrator format that tend to bulk it up. Are you on Scribd? I have an account there that I can post it to. I'm afraid it's too big to send by email.

  6. Re Sribd
    Alas no, I don't have such an account .Never mind, thanks anyway.

  7. Try here: