Armies of Middle Earth

The Armies of Middle Earth - an impressive sounding name, to be sure. One envisions legions of Orcs, Rangers and Uruk-Hai rumbling over a hill top. This is the name of the new small scale Lord of the Rings figures developed by Play Along in conjunction with Art Asylum.

And there are plenty of Orcs and Uruk-hai, but there's hobbits, elves, dwarfs and wizards too. There are three packs of figures (retailing for around $9), single packs of a figure with a beast (retailing for around $6), and larger scale sets including the Bridge at Khazad-Dum and the huge Battle at Helm's Deep playset. The idea behind this entire series is to build cool dioramas based on scenes from all the films. All of these are in just a 3" scale, making it easy to display huge scenes. Kick that train set to the curb and start setting up your own Middle Earth!

They are hitting a variety of retailers right now. You can find them at lots of on-line stores, but if you'd prefer to go the bricks and mortar route, Target, Toys R Us, and Meijers are all carrying a decent supply. As is common with small scale figures, there's tons of exclusives and variations as well, including the Ambush at Weathertop exclusive at Action Figure Express, or the single pack Gollum, exclusive to a handful of retailers. 

This review has photos from a miss-mash of sets, and the review is generalized across the whole line. If you have any questions about anything specific, just drop me a line like always.

Packaging - ***
The packages follow the new blue color scheme that we also have with the Toybiz larger scale figures. They are very attractive, and also sport the rounded front cards over a rounded bubble. While this looks great on the peg, I suspect MOCer's find it more than a little annoying to store. Some of the larger sets are boxed of course, but all follow the same general look. None of it's collector friendly, but that's not surprising considering the market. These are intended to build dioramas, not fill boxes.

Sculpting - ***1/2
There's some variance in the sculpting, but considering the scale they are extremely good. Frodo and Sam really do look like Frodo and Sam, and really the only problem comes in with the paint application. I'll get more into that in a minute, but if there's issues with the appearance, it's not with the sculpting.

The detail work on the beasts and diorama pieces is also very good, although it can vary a bit as well. I thought the horses were excellent, while the Warg's could have been a little more detailed. Overall though, it's great work in such a miniature scale.

If there is one thing to complain about, it's the scale amongst the figures.  For example, the mounted Ringwraith is quite a bit smaller than the standing versions.  Likewise, some of the Uruk-hai, Orcs and Goblins seem out of scale with each other and with the Hobbits.  It's not extreme, but it is noticeable with certain key figures.

Paint - ***
While the sculpting is better than expected, the paint is a little worse. It's not awful by any stretch of the imagination, but it can be very difficult to paint real detail in such a tiny scale. Faces take a particular hit, but even then it's not as bad as some much larger scale figures we've seen recently.  The paint does take away a little from the detailed sculpts, but not much, and not surprisingly so considering the scale.

Articulation - **
These are small figures - how much articulation could there be? Most have shoulder articulation, some have waist, and there's the odd joint here or there. But for the most part they are already posed in running or fighting positions, ready for the battlefield. Would more articulation be nice? Sure, but at this scale it's not something they can take much of a hit for leaving out. 

Accessories - ***
Most of the figures have some sort of accessory, usually a weapon such as a sword, but sometimes a shield or other item. Some of them have nothing, but that's more of the exception. All the accessories make sense, and the sculpting is on par with the figures. Often the paint application is better, since less detailed is required.

One of the sets pictured here is the Battering Ram, a large accessory in itself. This shows the kind of work that the extras have, and they look
great and function fairly well with the figures. I had a bit of a tough time getting them to hold it at first, and had to play around a little with the position of each figure, but eventually it was smashing time. My only complaint here was the odd colored arrows, but the rest of the sculpt and paint application was great.

Value - **
This is the category in which these really take a hit. Let's take Target's prices as our baseline, since the product showed up en masse there first. The rider with beast sets are $6 each, and while some are single buys, like Gandalf, others like the mounted Ringwraith or the Warg really require buying multiples. The triple packs of figures are $9 each, and while this tiny scale is perfect for diorama building, that price point isn't. The beauty of this entire line is the ability to make a kick ass display, but that requires lots of Orcs, Uruk-Hai, humans, elves and other cannon fodder. At three bucks a figure, it gets extremely expensive very quickly to build the kind of display most folks would like.

The larger sets are the best values, but most people will still balk at the price. Helm's Deep is at least $45, and the smaller sets run $25- $30 each. That's an awful lot of green, and most people are going to want a lot of this series, or none at all. Not many folks will pick up just a handful of figures, since that completely defeats the purpose of the small scale. If anything hurts the success of this line, it will be the price point that they had to release these at.

Overall - ***
This scale is going to appeal to gamers and modelers, folks who are into setting up these type of dioramas in general. The sculpting is great, with decent paint ops, articulation and accessories. The price is rough though, and is likely to turn off lots of completists and casual buyers.

Where to Buy - 
Target, Toys R Us and Meijers are the best large stores. There's some on-line choices, and some exclusives floating around:

- Action Figure Express has the exclusive Strider figure in their Ambush at Weathertop for $25. There's 8 figures in the set.  They also have quite a few of the other sets available.

- Entertainment Earth has a ton available as well, including the Comic Con exclusive set with Twilight Frodo.


Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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