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December 2008 Product Lab

Published: November 14, 2008
Learn to model and paint with Model Masters: Dragons
Product: Silver Dolphin, which produces a number of educational nonfiction lines for the 12-and-under set, has embarked into the realm of three-dimensional, educational mythology.

While "educational mythology" may seem like an oxymoron, it is not. The idea of this educational craft set is to introduce children, 8 and up, to a number of different types of dragons and their associated myths, as well as to very basic model building and beginner-level figure painting techniques. For the most part, this set does what it promises.

Performance: Mostly, the kit is complete, missing only glue to get your little model master started.

Included in the box, you will find four different dragon models: two different western dragons, a dragonet and a hydra.

The nicely illustrated 32-page book provides different painting instructions for each of the dragons within the set. The book also gives interesting tidbits of information regarding each dragon that's depicted by a model, along with other dragon myths from around the world.

Also included are a paintbrush, six small pots of paint and two pots of glaze.

There are a couple of easy-to-overcome challenges that were found once the figures were being painted, but they should be mentioned.

First, there is not enough paint or glaze provided to comfortably finish all four figures.

Second, the color mixes suggestted by the instructions to make other colors don't work out exactly as demonstrated. For instance, the mixture the book recommends for creating brown makes a strange purplish gray instead.

Finally, the acrylic paint provided takes a surprisingly long time to dry, which may tax a child's attention span.

Despite the small failings, the dragons do turn out nicely once finished.

Marketing: This kit should just about sell itself at $19.95, since the cover and its see-through panels are bright, entertaining and show off what a customer gets with the kit. However, make sure to offer glue for the figures and perhaps a few brushes and paints too.

Explain that kits like this, while great starters, can be made even better by adding a few extra dollars worth of "detailing materials." What's more, they'll thank you for providing enough paint to finish all of the dragons.

Reviewed by Daelen Johnson

VITAL STATS
Product: Model Masters: Dragons
Maker: Silver Dolphin
ISBN: 978-1-59223-772-2
MSRP: $19.95

BOTTOM LINE
  • Entry-level models, painting

  • Lots of dragon information

  • Finished models look good


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    Dice take Ticket to Ride express
    Product: The Ticket to Ride series of railroad-themed board games from game designer Alan Moon just got an exciting new component. Offered by Days of Wonder, the Ticket to Ride Dice Expansion provides a new mechanic to the familiar board game, greatly speeding up play. The Dice Expansion includes eight special dice, a dice cup and set of cardboard tokens. It also includes rule booklet.

    Performance: To use the expansion, you need one of the various incarnations of Ticket to Ride, which includes the original game (set in North America), as well as the Europe, Märklin, Switzerland and Nordic Countries editions. Note that this expansion is not for the Ticket to Ride card game.

    The game is set up according to the normal rules with the exception that the colored train cards are left out of the game. Also, the colors of the routes on the game board no longer have significance. Taking the place of the cards and the route colors is the set of dice from the expansion. During a game turn, instead of drawing or playing train cards, the player places the five white dice into the cup and rolls them. He may then reroll all, some, or none of the dice once.

    Each of the white dice has four possible outcomes: a single track, a double track, a station symbol (destination tickets), or a locomotive (wild) symbol. Once the player has rolled the dice, he may then group them to do one of three things: claim a single track route; claim a double-track route; or draw destination tickets - each of these actions is based on the number of dice he has rolled. Wild (locomotive) dice may be added to any of the three options.

    At this point, if you're familiar to the game, you're saying to yourself, "There are just five dice, and some of the routes are longer than five segments." That's true, and the expansion takes that into consideration. At the end of his turn, players may exchange any two unused dice for a single or double-track token (limit three at a time per player). Tokens may then be added to the die rolls on future turns to claim larger routes.

    The Dice Expansion also includes rules for all the other train-card-related game features found in the various versions of Ticket to Ride, such as tunnels (uses the three black dice), train stations, ferries, and moving passengers.

    As for game play, the dice pick up the pace by 30% or more. While you still need to collect tokens to claim longer routes, much as you had to collect train cards in the original game, it doesn't take nearly as long because route colors are no longer a factor. And, it's now very easy to grab shorter routes quickly, making for a more exciting game.

    Marketing: While the Dice Expansion comes in a compact, easy to display box, and it has the same graphic look of the other Ticket to Ride products, the packaging tells you virtually nothing about itself. Also, the only real indication that it's not a standalone game and requires one of the Ticket to Ride board games is a small label on the bottom of the box. All of this could easily be fixed at the retail level by providing a sign on the shelf with the product, explaining what it is and what it does. (In fact, you could simply tape this review next to it, if you wish!) Despite it's packaging flaw, the Ticket to Ride Dice Expansion is a great addition to the popular series of games, and a good way to sell something more to those who already have the games.

    Reviewed by David Popp

    VITAL STATS
    Product: Ticket to Ride Dice Expansion
    Maker: Days of Wonder
    Product No.: 720110
    Price: $20

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Easy to learn additional rules

  • Solid playing pieces

  • Requires any of the Ticket to Ride board games to play

  • Adds a whole new element to the original game


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    Have fun with Mayfair's Verne-inspired board game
    Product: Descend into a dormant volcano, cross a turbulent sea and escape a volcanic eruption with Mayfair Games' Journey to the Center of the Earth. In this tactical game, players assume the roles of the three explorers from Jules Verne's classic novel and explore the inside of the earth, discovering fossils and other treasures in order to claim the best artifact collection and earn fame points.

    The game is for two to four players, ages 10 and up. Playing time is approximately 60 to 75 minutes.

    Journey to the Center of the Earth comes with a sturdy game board, three detailed explorer figures, one raft, 20 water-stones, 10 sea adventure cards, two bonus cards, 64 fossil cards, 16 event cards, 45 equipment cards, 63 explorer cards and a four-page rulebook.

    Performance: The game is played in three stages: descending a volcano, crossing an underground sea and escaping through an erupting volcano. The rulebook shows where to place card decks and game pieces on the board, so setup is fairly simple. Learning the rules and uses of the cards takes the most time, and the rulebook is a great resource with examples and illustrations.

    Each player starts with six explorer cards, three equipment cards and a water-stone. During his turn, a player can move any one of the three explorers or draw three cards (explorer cards and/or equipment cards). When moving an explorer figure, the player must play explorer cards of the same color as the figure moved. Each space costs the player one explorer card, and no more than five cards can be played on a turn. Some spaces contain obstacles such as ravines, granite and rocks. There are five equipment cards (rope, compass, hardtack, pickaxe and electric lamp) that players can use to overcome these obstacles. For example, a rope equipment card allows a player to cross a ravine. Spaces containing granite cannot be entered. If a player ends his movement on a discovery space, he can collect fossils by paying the equipment cards shown on the space. Should a player land on or move through a space with a question mark, he can draw an event card. These cards are always helpful to the player.

    Stage 1 ends as soon as a player moves an explorer figure onto the last space and receives the bonus "mushroom forest" card. Each player must pay one water-stone for every three fossil cards in his possession.

    In stage 2, the three explorers move together on the raft, and the rules change slightly. If a player stops on a discovery space, each player can pay the equipment cards to collect the fossils. At the end of each turn, the active player must draw a sea adventure card. The stage ends when a player moves the raft onto the last space and takes the "city ruins" bonus card.

    Stage 3 takes the least time to play as the explorers escape through a volcanic eruption. Any explorer cards in players' possession can be discarded. On his turn, a player flips the top card of the explorer deck and moves the raft up to the next space with a raft of the same color as on the card. If the raft lands on a space that has crossed-out fossil cards, each player will lose fossil cards unless he discards specific equipment cards. The game ends when a player draws an explorer card with no matching color above it on the track and must move the raft out of the volcano.

    Players then add up the fame points for their fossil cards, bonus cards and sea adventure cards. Remaining water-stones from stage one are worth one fame point each. The player with the most fame points wins.

    The difficulty of the game depends on players' tactics. The game can be very competitive when players move the explorers strategically to prevent other players from collecting fossils and points.

    Marketing: With all the different types of cards, game pieces and rules, Journey to the Center of the Earth might intimidate those who aren't regular board-game players. Learning the game is the most difficult part, since there are a number of rules to synthesize. However, once a player has a feel for the game, play speeds up tremendously. Suggest Journey to seasoned board game enthusiasts, rather than beginners.

    Reviewed by Jenny Maaske

    VITAL STATS
    Product: Journey to the Center of the Earth
    Maker: Mayfair Games
    Stock No.: MFG3306
    MSRP: $49

    BOTTOM LINE
  • 60- to 75-minute game length

  • Steep learning curve

  • Quality game pieces


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    E-flite's F-15 Eagle worth the effort
    Product: E-flite has replicated the F-15 Eagle as a sport scale, twin EDF model. This military fighter model boasts the Edwards Air Force Base Safety Chase trim scheme, making it a very attractive and highly visible plane. Since the 36-inch wingspan F-15 Eagle is a highly prefabricated foam ARF, the customer will spend less time building and more time flying.

    The model comes out of the box fully painted red and silver on white foam with custom decals applied. It even includes retracts! The main fuselage, wings and stabilizers are pre-painted and ready to install. All the loose parts are bagged; the retracts are packed separately. The 35-page manual is accompanied by additional decals for covering the main wing after installation.

    A closer look at the fuselage reveals that the hatch latch is pre-installed. The battery tray, straps and included twin ducted-fan units also come installed.

    To power the F-15, you need two E-Flite 40A brushless ESCs (No. EFLA312B), BL420 ducted-fan outrunner motors (No. ELFM1340DF) and 2100mAh 3-cell 11.1V LiPo battery packs.

    Eight sub-micro servos are required if you plan to use retracts; five servos if you don't use retracts.

    Performance: The assembly was fairly straightforward, but should not be attempted by beginners. I found that the pre-installed outside and inside plastic bushings did not line up properly, so I simply drilled through both of them with a 7/64-inch bit and the stabilizer fit fine.
    The electric ducted fan (EDF) unit and supplied 2mm x 6mm motor mounting screws are intended for the original E-flite 420 motor. Since I used the improved 3800Kv DF420 motor from E-flite, the mounting screws (not supplied) need to be 3mm x 6mm.

    I drilled the motor holes in the EDF unit larger with a 7/64-inch bit and also slotted them toward the outside as the DF420 motor mount spacing is farther apart. Note that the DF420 motor comes with the three, pre-soldered connectors.

    To help ensure good performance, I balanced the rotors using the Du-Bro Tru-Spin Prop Balancer. The rotors were a bit out of balance, so this step can only help the power level. I then used my Dremel grinder to create a flat spot on the motor shaft and could feel that the adapter was properly over it when tightening the set screw.

    I applied Pacer Z-42 thread locker during the tightening of the set screw. The last step was to sand the ducting between the rotor blade and the inner duct wall using 220-grit sandpaper. I did this until there was no rubbing on any rotor blade.

    Note that since the factory defaults of the ESCs are set to auto LiPo voltage cutoff and brake off, no programming is needed. Further, the BECs on both ESCs can be used at the same time, via a Y-harness to the throttle channel of the receiver, to allow you to run more than four servos. This not only simplifies assembly, it saves weight and ensures trouble-free radio operation.

    The F-15 comes with both fixed landing gear and retracts for enhanced flight performance. The retracts require four S75 servos: two for the rear wheels and two for the steerable nose wheel. Experience and patience is recommended for installing the retracts.

    Since I am using a 6-channel Spektrum AR6100 receiver, the AUX1 (flap) channel was used to mix with the landing gear channel instead of the recommended AUX2 channel (which is only available on 7-channel or more Spektrum receivers).

    The last step in assembly was to install the batteries and check the balance. In addition to the supplied hook-and-loop straps that come with the F-15, I used some Velcro strips on my battery packs and tray. This technique keeps the packs from shifting and lifting off the tray during flight.

    To balance my F-15 at the recommended 33/8 inches back from the wings' leading edge at the fuselage, I needed 1 oz. of sticky-back lead weight under the nose. I also secured the weight with some multi-purpose cement.

    We tested the F-15 Eagle on its maiden flight off a side street near a local park. Although the 10-15 mph winds were a bit high, the F-15 performed very well with the stock setup. We learned that only a short take-off area is needed on pavement and that the F-15 can slow up nicely for easy landings. After a 5-minute flight, the batteries still retained half their charge.

    On the second flight, we could loop, roll and fly inverted. Although the winds were still 10-15mph, we managed to fly the F-15 for about 8-10 minutes while performing aerobatics.

    Due to the lack of rudder, the plane must be lined up on both takeoff and landing. Once the nose wheel gets light, you lose steering until you can fly with ailerons. When landing, you instinctively want to use rudder to correct the slow speed alignment but have no control until the nose touches down. Other than the lack of rudder control, this twin EDF model is a great- performing flyer!

    The F-15 can be hand-launched and belly landed in grass or even landed in grass with gear down. When using retracts, it will cover all surface conditions and look better in the air. If you don't use gear at all, you need to add runners on the bottom aft fuselage so the stabs don't get pulled off when landing in grass. Lining the bottom of the fuselage with clear shipping tape will protect the foam from dents and scratches.

    Marketing: The F-15 DF ARF was created for the ambitious sport scale pilot looking for a versatile electric model capable of park flying. I recommend that the hobbyist have at least intermediate building and flying skills.

    Since there are a lot of products needed to complete the build, all of which add to the overall cost, the F-15 is best left to a serious hobbyist with some experience.

    As long as the customer knows up front that this model, made from injection-molded EPS foam, may look like a parkflyer foamie but is really a more complex (and costly) EDF jet, it will meet his expectations in performance.

    Reviewed by Greg Covey

    VITAL STATS
    Product: F-15 Eagle DF ARF
    Maker: E-flite
    Stock No.: EFL7050
    MSRP/MAP: $204.99/$159.99
    Other items used: 2 Thunder Power 2100mAh LiPo batteries (No. THP21003SPL), 8 E-flite S75 sub-micro servos, JR Sport 6" servo extensions (No. JSP98110), JR Sport 12" servo extensions (No. JSP98030), JR Sport 24" servo extensions (No. JSP98040), JR Sport 6" Y-harness (No. JSP98020).
    Availability: Horizon Hobby

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Complete kit with retracts

  • Superb flying performance

  • Targets intermediate flyers


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    Say Anything a good party game
    Product: A bit like Apples to Apples, Say Anything is a new party game from Dominic Crapuchettes and Satish Pillalamarri, the designers of Wits & Wagers. For three to eight players, ages 13 and up, the game comes with 80 "In my opinion" question cards, a Select-O-Matic 5000, 16 player tokens, eight dry-erase markers, seven dry-erase boards, a dry-erase scoreboard and a four-page instruction booklet.

    Performance: The game is easy to learn and plays in 30-45 minutes.
    Players take turns choosing a question from one of the "In my opinion" cards. The questions cover a range of topics. A few sample questions:

  • What would I consider my most valuable possession?

  • Who's the best-looking movie actress ever?

  • If I was invisible for the day, what would I do?


  • The other players write an answer on their dry-erase boards and place the boards face up. Players can say anything; this game draws out different (and sometimes outrageous) opinions. Once everyone has answered, the chooser uses the Select-O-Matic 5000 to secretly choose his favorite answer.

    Then comes the wagering: players use two tokens to guess which answer the chooser picked. They can place both tokens on the same answer or split their tokens between different answers.

    The chooser then reveals the answer on the Select-O-Matic 5000. Players earn points for submitting the chosen answer or guessing the chosen answer. The chooser earns points for each token that was placed on the chosen answer. The object of the game is simple: to win the most points.

    Say Anything makes for a fun, lighthearted party experience. The cards contain a total of 400 questions, giving many choices and making the game suitable for a variety of groups.

    Marketing: Say Anything does not require much space to play and stores neatly in its cardboard box. Though the game is intended for people ages 13 and up, players should choose questions that are age-appropriate.

    For example, "Who was the best '80s band?" might be challenging (and not very interesting) for younger players. Similarly, "What's the worst thing to say when your partner catches you cheating?" is intended for an older crowd. With that said, each "In my opinion" card has five questions, so it's easy to tailor the game to the interests of the group.

    Say Anything is an engaging game that requires constant player involvement, so no one gets bored waiting for a turn. And because players wager and take turns being the chooser, children also have a chance to win against adults. The game encourages conversation, competition and creativity.

    At $24.99, the game is reasonably priced and worth adding to your collection of party games. You may also want to offer extra dry-erase markers to your customers, since the ones in the box do tend to dry out after moderate use.

    Reviewed by Naomi Fujimoto

    VITAL STATS
    Product: Say Anything
    Maker: North Star Games
    Stock No.: 4102826
    MSRP: $24.99
    Availability: E-mail satish@northstargames@com for distributor information

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Easy to learn and play

  • Fun and creative

  • Good for children and adults


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    21st Century's Stuka builds into a big, fearsome model
    Product: The Stuka, the face of Germany's World War II dive-bombing attack, is always popular with modelers. Now, 21st Century Toys joins the fray with a 1:32-scale Ju-87B/R. It's a simple kit that builds into a large, impressive model.

    Performance: If you have not seen one of 21st Century's kits before, you'll be surprised - no sprues! All of the parts have been cut loose and divided into bags with no identification other than the assembly drawings. But it's actually not that hard to figure out what parts go where. Two sheets of decals provide markings for three aircraft.

    Assembly is divided into eight steps. An RLM color list references Model Master and Polly Scale paints, and the instructions (some in text) are complete and error-free.

    Step 1 covers construction of the 13-part cockpit in which the seat can be adjusted fore and aft. My kit was missing the control column; I replaced it with florist's wire and a couple of shaped pieces of sprue.

    Four screws join the upper and lower wing surfaces. I closed gaps with glue and bar clamps. One wing had some flash on the upper surface leading edge that I sanded to fit. On the same wing, the lower trailing edge seemed to fall short. The flaps were warped, and fit was sloppy. The vinyl screw covers were too small for the openings.

    For a Ju-87B variant, install the bombs; for the R, install fuel tanks. However, hold off attaching the tanks, bombs or dive brakes until after applying the under-wing decals.

    The landing gear presents a choice of what to install in the siren location. I selected the siren fairing (no propeller) as shown in the side profiles.

    The propeller blades swing freely on a knurled metal pin. I used a hammer to drive the pin to its stop, but the prop remained a tad loose. I was able to shim the head of the pin with styrene to tighten it up. The spinner is too small and fits poorly on the nose.

    I postponed the canopy, tail wheel and trapeze bomb until other assemblies were complete. Don't forget to install the cooling grille in the nose before joining the fuselage halves. To install the trapeze, you can twist the forward ends of the rack with a tweezers so the locating pins will pass the slots in the fuselage without damage.

    The fuselage halves are held together with several locating pins and three screws. Once again, the screw covers were poorly molded and ill-fitting; I made new covers from card stock.

    Using a yardstick to measure - it's the only tool I have that's big enough - I found the dimensions of 21st Century's Stuka remarkably accurate.

    Marketing: The manufacturers indicate that this model is for beginners with a kit or two of experience. I concur. It's a basic model that reminded me of the old Matchbox kits. Making it a contest winner would take an awful lot of work - but if all you want is a big Stuka for your shelf, it's just fine.

    Reviewed by Al Jones

    VITAL STATS
    Product: Stuka Ju-87B/R
    Scale: 1:32
    Maker: 21st Century Toys
    Stock No.: 22105
    MSRP: $11.99
    Availability: Call 510-483-5700 or visit www.21stcenturytoys.com

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Well sculpted and cast

  • Historical and fantasy appeal

  • Nice intro to 54mm scale


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    Icon History's Roman Aquilifer good intro to 54mm minis
    Product: Sculptor Alex Lopez enters the ranks of miniature manufacturers this year with Icon History. A 54mm Roman Aquilifer, in white metal, is one of its debut models.

    Performance: The miniature arrived packed in a sturdy, reusable plastic box, cushioned with foam. Five parts plus a base were cleanly cast with minimal mold lines. They assembled easily with superglue. No instructions were included, but they weren't really necessary for such a simple figure. The very soft alloy suggested a high lead component. This made cutting and filing a snap, but modelers may want to replace the aquila pole with a brass rod.

    My pole arrived bent - not uncommon or unexpected - but straightening it weakened it considerably. (I also pinned both hands in place, as my minis get handled a lot.) Details were crisp and facial features good. The texture of the lion skin and chainmail made them easy to paint, though the mail could have been sculpted a bit more accurately.

    A light coat of gray spray primer followed cleanup. For convenience in painting, I left the shield and standard unattached until the mini was mostly completed. Many painters choose oils for 54mm figures, but I found this piece perfectly suited to water-based acrylics.

    I followed my usual steps in miniature painting: basecoat the section in a midtone, layer on a shadow, layer on a highlight, continue intensifying shadow and highlight until I'm happy with the result. The modeler definitely will need a good detail brush for eyes and other tiny bits.

    When the mini was complete, I gave it a couple of coats of spray matte sealer and mounted it on a larger display base (for presentation and, again, for safety in handling). The stock base is very simple with no particular details. The modeler likely will want to add some ground cover for interest. Using superglue, I applied two kinds of grass products.

    The box art and enclosed card were a bit blurry, but adequate as a painting guide. While it was easy to find reference on the Web, I would have liked the box to include a bit of historical background and some notes on color and materials.

    Suggestions for alternate shield devices also would have been useful; I ended up just copying the well-known laurel wreath design.

    Marketing: The aquilifer with his eagle standard and lion pelt is indeed an icon. Even in a static, relaxed pose, this guy is eye-catching. If you're looking for a few representative minis to introduce your customers to this type of figure, he'd be a good choice.

    Many elements of the model will appeal to fantasy painters as well as to the historical and military crowd. Display the mini if possible, even unpainted, as the box art doesn't do it justice. (The box photo is useful in that it's just a few millimeters short of actual size.)

    Wargamers often shy away from "large-scale" models, but the paints and techniques I use for 25mm tabletop minis transferred nicely to this piece. It dried in minutes, not days or weeks, and was painted safely in an unventilated work area. This figure is likely to overwhelm a complete novice, but the intermediate painter can finish it attractively with simple techniques, while the face and shield give the experienced modeler opportunity for intricate detailing.

    Reviewed by Jennifer Haley

    VITAL STATS
    Product: 54mm Roman Aquilifer
    Maker: Icon History
    Stock No.: ICN54-01
    MSRP: $36.99
    Paint used: Reaper Master Series, Vallejo Model Colour
    Availability: R&K Productions

    BOTTOM LINE
  • Well sculpted and cast

  • Historical and fantasy appeal

  • Nice intro to 54mm scale


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