My Thoughts on Scale and Quality for 10mm, 12mm and 1.144th scale Wargames Kit
As a preface to both of these, its fair to say I'm not an "expert" in this stuff - I couldn't tell you the difference between a M4a1 and M4a3 Sherman, or how to tell a PzIV E from a PzIV G at 100 yards, so I'm not making any judgments or comments on the basis of "accuracy". I just like owning and painting nice looking toys !
See all of ebays 10mm & 1/144th scale listings now previewed on this site!!
Whats the Best?
When setting up an army, in my opinion the key point to bear in mind is not so much "who makes the best stuff" as "best is highly subjective (at best!) - but more "how do I get a broadly compatible set of mini's from different sources" . Or, put another way, some vehicles are "10mm scale", and some are "12mm". However, just to make life interesting it's not totally obvious which are which.
Even within the same manufacturers range there is sometimes a large variation. From the vehicles I have bought myself, I'd GENERALLY - but not always - put the plastic Japanese kits at the "largest" end of the scale, Wargames South and Minifigs next, and closer to "12mm" (especially the "newer" Wargames South stuff, which is being remodeled at what they say is 1/144 scale), and then Pendraken and Perrin together as both closer generally to "10mm". From a limited number that I own, Pithead tanks seem closer to the 12mm scale as well.
Skytrex/Davco are the only manufacturer that is consistently much, much smaller than the rest, as they are 1/200th (instead of 1/144-1/160th). From the ranges I have seen at shows this is de-facto a totally different scale which can't be mixed with the others - although I have seen comments on various web discussion groups saying they can be mixed with the Perrin / Pendraken ranges - so don't take my word for it!
Wargames South and Minifigs look OK together on the same Sherman for instance (the WS one is chunkier), but stand them next to Pendraken's and the Pendraken one looks like its their little brother - its at least 10% smaller overall ! In fact, add in Perrin and the difference is even more clear. However its not so clear with the Minifigs vs Takara comparison here;
These Japanese 1/144 scale tanks (Dragon, Takara, Can-do etc - from www.tankzone.co.uk, or from eBay are usually among the larger mini's but generally look very good, either ready assembled or built-it-yourself. Dragon are the best finished by far, but Takara are the most numerous - but sometimes if you buy ready-assembled ones you may find that the pre-done paint scheme is a bit more "toy" than "wargame miniature".
Personally I think Minifigs or the new Wargames South stuff is best in metal for "sharpness" of casting (after the plastic kits - usually!) and detail overall, Pendraken are arguably next and the older Wargames South 3rd. Perrin are somewhere in between on "sharpness", but are generally smaller although I haven't got enough of them to really make a compelling judgment. Pithead armour sits midway on the sharpness scale as well, and the infantry are almost spot on match with Pendraken.
The problem/catch/opportunity is that there is always the odd tank where someone has designed it slightly oddly. For instance, the Minifigs Sherman 17pdr seems to have a tiny turret, their Panther looks good until you put it next to a Takara one, and likewise the Tiger 1 I loved until I got a Wargames South one, after which the Minifigs one looks a bit squashed!
So, it may be a rubbish answer, but really your choice comes down to a fudge between balancing size, availability, cost and personal preference. Or, to be more pragmatic, get each type of tank from the manufacturer you like the best for that model, try and choose support vehicles from someone making stuff in a similar scale but don't be dogmatic about it, however be very, very wary of mixing manufacturers within the same marque of vehicle.
The size issues are not such an issue for the infantry - see my comparison photos for evidence. Part of the choice on infantry is to do with your painting style - I tend to have a drybrush-based style, and the Wargames South and Pendraken ones are best for this.
There seems to be a broad consensus that Pendraken are probably the best out there for casting, animation and detail - but they do come in one-pose packs of 10, so you need to be buying a few to get variety.
Pithead is a very close second in quality behind Pendraken, but the models I have are not as deeply carved, so its harder to drybrush them - the poses in my US infantry are also a bit samey (but the British Paras seem well mixed) so they are good to mix with Pendraken.
Minifigs are also good, and a better bet if you want a more anatomically correct figure (or, as a non-wargaming mate of mine commented on some non-minifigs figures "these are all a bit fatter and troll-like than normal people would be") . This means they can sometimes look a bit skinny next to the others - they do however come in larger packs of mixed poses, and offer some support weapon packs as well, and have good pose variety in each pack.
The "new" infantry from Magister Militum (it's sold alongside their Perrin range of AFV's, but has been designed by MM in the UK, so it's not actually Perrin designs/castings) actually looks very good and is close in size to Pendraken - but its currently a German & Brit only range - hopefully they will expand it soon
The Wargames South infantry is fine when painted, but be warned, they do look not so great compared to some of the others when "bare metal" - and some of the heads are prone to fall off (I have has this on both Wargames South and Pithead - but both come in big packs, so you can afford a few casualties!).
However, when it comes to infantry I firmly believe that the bottom line is that they are all pretty much compatible, so have no fear of mixing and matching unless you are really fussy.
I'd give most of the Pendraken guns the edge over Minifigs, but only because the crew figures can be a bit weedy (to my taste!!) with Minifigs - so its my personal preference for trolls over people really !
However none of the manufacturers have a complete range - you will end up doing some mixing and matching whatever you do - so probably the only hard advice is to try and avoid mixing manufacturers in the same type of AFV wherever possible !!
What about Scale ?
The issue of scales is probably so varied because wargamers tend to use
"10mm", "12mm", "N-gauge" and "1/144" as
interchangeable terms, when of course they are all quite different. Add into
this mix that any scale (like "10mm" or "12mm") where the
term describes the height of a figure has in-build variations as to what is
"average" height, and can also be measuring feet->eyes,
feet->head, feet->hat, or even base->(any of the above) and you have
lots of scope for variation.
However on the flip side infantry at this scale are fairly tiny figures and so even 10-15% differences for infantry works out as only 1mm in height on the table so it simply won't be that noticeable - whereas they would be with 25mm or even 54mm figures. And all the guys are in camo anyway.....!!
physically bigger, so whereas a 10-20% difference in scale on an infantryman is
1-2mm, it can be 5-10mm between 2 different tanks. One is noticeable from
wargaming distances, one isn't!
So, apart from a few obsessives who get fixated on buying the same scale (ie the same manufacturer) for everything, most people seem to stick to the rule of "get the same marque of vehicle from the same manufacturer, stick to one supplier for infantry and get buildings from anywhere and you are broadly OK"