From The Forge To The Table: Custom Minis From Hero Forge

Last November, I decided to do something I didn’t think I would ever do: I bought a custom miniature from Hero Forge. Miniatures haven’t exactly been my thing, and most of the minis I use in games usually came from something else (like my old MicroMachines from Star Wars being used in that game). Even painting was something I was waffling on until I finally did a mini at a paint and take during a local con, so I shocked myself when I did the order.

Before I did the order, I was tinkering with a number of different options on the site to see what it was capable of and to see if I could use it as a means of creating a few characters I wanted representations of without having the ability to draw, and when I had the crackpot idea of “Karasu Tengu In Power Armor”, I had to give it a shot.

And I succeeded.

Now that I’ve had it on hand, resolved some issues, and finally painted it, I think it’s time for a review.

==The Pitch==

Hero Forge offers the ability to create customized miniatures for your tabletop games that match what YOU want and not a pre-designated design by another company. Want to build a post-apocalyptic zombie wearing different bits of armor and sci-fi weaponry? How about an orcish mobster with two tommy guns? Who wouldn’t want a beefy minotaur sorcerer riding a pony, right?

Using preset poses, items, mounts, and even physical features, you can create the character that you’ve been playing at the gaming table over the last few years, or bring life to a brand new character that you have in mind.

Once you have your figure designed in terms of appearance (including height, weight, musculature, and more), you can order the figure, with options ranging from a file to 3D print it yourself to an array of materials (plastics and metals) and sizes.

And of course, being able to get screenshots as you go is pretty sweet!

==What You Get==

In my case, I ordered my “karasu tengu in power armor” in the (at the time) “beta” white plastic material. I spent about a half hour designing the character using the available resources, and once I felt it was just right, I hit that order button.

Within two weeks, my item arrived to my home near Charleston, WV, in a box from Shapeways.

Within that box was a postcard about the Hero Forge website (with a support e-mail listed), tons of bubble wrap, and a little figure that was also wrapped in bubble wrap, inside of a bag, which was wrapped in more bubble wrap.

Sadly, my figure was broken upon arrival. The chainsword I had him equipped with snapped in transit.

BLAST!

While I ended up gluing it back together anyway, I did send a report to Hero Forge as the material was marketed as “beta” (and I’m all for helping make a better product). Within 24 hours, they had ordered a new print for me, and a few weeks later, it arrived, this time safe and sound.

With my order, I got my custom 30mm scale figure, set with a one-inch circular base, and matched my design almost exactly.

Through the tail end of December, I went ahead and worked on the figure: I did a minor modification (I filed the beak to be more corvine than raptor), then spent most of a day painting, with minor touch-ups over the following weeks.

==The Good==

Before I even placed the order, I had to say that I do enjoy Hero Forge as a general resource. There’s just something about being able to play with every detail about your figure, even down to their expression, that is appealing to me. As someone who cannot draw to save my life, I love knowing I have a resource on hand to build a character’s appearance.

A figure on my “to print” list for either a villain or a nod to my first WoW character.

Said interface is also rather easy to use…if you’ve played a number of video games. You can control most details regarding your character, and many of them consist of using a sliding scale (like for height, shoulder size, “curves”, etc) or choosing from pre-set options (poses, expressions, etc). It’s not really hard to make an awesome looking customized character in a short amount of time. The above character took all of fifteen minutes after I knew the resource; the one I printed took the better part of an hour.

No lie, the customer support from Hero Forge is top notch. As I mentioned previously, I sent an e-mail explaining that there was a break in the figure I ordered with photos of the damage and screenshots of the original design, and they did another print of it for me at no charge (not even shipping!). The turnaround was fast as well; under 24 hours to resolve and submit the new order, and the item arrived two weeks later (seems to be the average print and ship time).

The quality of the prints are also pretty solid. In my case, I went with white plastic, which is their lowest cost material at this time. While the details were hard to see until after I put on a coat of primer, the results were still solid and looked great, especially once painting was done.

And even with my heavy (and untrained) hand, it takes paint wonderfully!

A friend of mine ordered a figure around the same time, but he went with the premium plastic option. The print for that was also gorgeous and well-detailed, with a reduction of the print lines we see in 3D printed materials. You can also see the details without needing to prime or paint the figure first, and again, they are lovely.

The figures are also durable enough to withstand SOME minor forms of abuse, but soft enough to make modifications happen; in my case, how filed the beak on mine. That’s a huge plus, right there.

Let’s face it: how awesome is it that you have a custom figure to match the character you want?  Not only can you customize the appearance, but you also have flexibility regarding the base (square, hex, or round), random details (ground texture), and pose, so you could do an entire line of a specific figure for multiple games if you felt so inclined.

==The Bad==

The one major concern is the durability of the plastics involved. While Hero Forge has excellent customer service, there are concerns regarding the durability of the material in transit and also for general use.

In my case, I had a broken sword, which I was thankfully able to glue back on. I couldn’t do much else with it otherwise, as the Warhammer 40k minis and bits are MUCH thicker/studier in comparison, but it was easy enough to fix. Not the BEST fix, but still a fix.

A friend of mine has ordered figures in the past, and had similar issues; the weapons just kept breaking, especially swords. He’s given up on ordering any mini with a sword from Hero Forge, but loves the rest.

Another friend had a mini, fully painted, and when it was time to put it into the varnish, it fell on the floor and snapped off the base. It could have just been bad luck, but it’s a concern considering we’ve both dropped other minis that had to be put together and didn’t have issues.

A nitpicky moment, but there’s some minor concerns about scaling (which also ties to durability). When the chainsword on mine ended up breaking (and broke again after gluing), a friend of mine and I were talking about just gluing on a chainsword from a Space Marine; sadly, the thickness of the Warhammer 40k weapon was at least four times thicker, which make the figure look oddly proportioned and skewed the weight, so we opted out of the whole process.

For scale. A “beaky” from an old Warhammer 40k set I picked up side-by-side with my Tengu. A Foo Dog from Bones off on the side.

==The Middle==

One of the concerns that comes up with Hero Forge is price. The prices are set based on the size of the figure (30mm base vs the “statue” prints), if there is a mount involved, and of course the material. A 30mm figure, without a mount, would run $19.99 for white plastic, $29.99 for premium plastic, $34.99 for steel, and $99.99 for bronze. These prices double if you are adding a mount, and multiply when you go for the XL category; $59.99 for a plastic statue, $199.99 for a steel XL, and both doubled when a mount is added.

If you want to print the figure out yourself with your own 3D printer, you will need to pay $10 per character to get the files to print them. This is surely more cost effective if you have a decent printer and if you are like me and lack the ability to create your own designs.

While some will say this is a small price to pay for a custom mini, it does make it challenging if you want to make your own squad for a tabletop game, or if you are pulling a Final Fantasy or similar style game and need a group of awesome recurring villains. At the lowest side, making a five-person squad (even if they are all the same figure) would run you a minimum of $100+shipping if you go with the white plastic option, or $50 in cost for all of the files for the figures.

Also, the cost of your figure does not change as you add more details. You could have your base of choice, textured, with a mark on the bottom, an object on the base, the tallest figure with the widest shoulders, and have items on EVERY part (two on the belt, two hand objects, boots, pants, chest, hat, shoulders, back object, and wings) and it will be the same price as your gnome zombie in tattered rags and a blank base. This isn’t bad when you have tons of detail, but it is frustrating when, again, you need a pile of something that’s unique compared to what you find in stores.

==The Verdict==

Even with my concerns, and as someone that doesn’t do much with miniatures, I’d still have to give my experience with Hero Forge a solid 4 Buns.

The idea of getting a custom-created, custom-printed figure to match your character type, in and of itself, is amazing. It’s even better considering there’s excellent customer support and a solid set of tools to make this very task a reality, even for someone who is inept at actually creating visual works.

While it is a fun experience, there are limitations regarding what your figure can look like, and some options just don’t quite exist yet (I’m having a really hard time making a Red Mage type character with a proper coat). There’s also the idea that this is truly best for a single, unique figure, and is not meant as a way to create a squad (even if that’s your goal).

My attempt at a Red Mage; not too happy with the coat, honestly, but capes just don’t work as well…

Overall, if you like miniatures and want something unique for your gaming table, absolutely consider making it at Hero Forge, but if you need squads of mooks or are on a really tight budget, you may be better off getting figures elsewhere.

==What’s Next?==

While I have many things going on (including a fractured radial head), I am mostly back to write for you all.

In two weeks, my next review will be the Quickstart for The Princess Bride RPG, as the Kickstarter is scheduled for February 13th (finally). I have a group ready to play next week, so stay tuned!


Anthony, better known as LibrariaNPC, wears many hats: librarian, gamemaster, playtester, NPC, and our Editor-In-Chief. You can support his work on Patreon, his tip jar, or via Ko-Fi.