Monday, March 2, 2015

Martian Metals “Microtures”

This blog post has been a long time coming. The intention is to gather into one place as much information as possible on miniatures produced by Martian Metals specifically for certain Metagaming products. I hope this information is of use to collectors and enthusiasts everywhere!

IMPORTANT NOTE! IF ANYONE HAS ADDITIONAL INFORMATION, PICTURES, ETC. PLEASE SHARE! I will update and edit this post as appropriate to reflect any new information that is passed along, making this a living repository for this information.

Metagaming licensed Martian Metals, headed by Forrest Brown, to create dedicated miniatures for three of their products, called “Microtures.” O.G.R.E., The Fantasy Trip, and Rivets each had their line of Microtures. These seem to have been produced from late 1978 until January 30th, 1983 when the Martian Metals factory burned down due to an electrical short.

Forrest Brown, seen at Hobby Industry of America 1981 trade show

The factory was located in Cedar, TX, close to Metagaming’s headquarters in Austin. The fire that shut down their business really only destroyed the molds; the master models were not harmed. However, despite being fully insured, it appears that it was enough of a setback that they went out of business anyway.
The advertisement shown below features Microtures for OGRE in 1/300 scale and THE FANTASY TRIP in 15mm. Each package of the TFT Microtures contained an assortment of metal fantasy figures, usually about a dozen or more man-sized figures, and a smaller number of larger figures, and featured optional hex bases that were compatible with the facing and movement requirements of Melee/Wizard/ITL.
The first seven packages were to be available in December of 1978, per Space Gamer No. 20 (Nov-Dec 1978). An announcement in the “Where We’re Going” column stated “The first packages of Metagaming’s Microtures (trademark applied for) will be available by the time you read this.” and “The best we’ll manage is some miniatures produced under license in December, 1978...” (this last statement was in reference to new products intended for early 1978 release). Also, the advertisement for the Microtures on the following page made clear which ones were available. Here is a full list of all known TFT-related Microtures, compiled from several advertisements:

TFT 01        Heroes and Heroines $2.95 (2 ea. Man w/two hand axe, Man w/two hand sword, Man w/bow, Man w/sword, Woman w/sword, Woman w/bow, Woman w/dagger)
TFT 02        Wizards $2.95 (2 ea. Clerics, Clerics w/staff, Sorcerer, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Sorcerer w/pedestal, Wizard, Wizard w/staff)
TFT 03        Dwarves $2.95 (2 ea. Dwarf w/bow, w/spear*, w/axe, w/sword, leather, Dwarf w/chainmail spear*, w/hammer, w/crossbow, w/two hand axe)
TFT 04        Elves $2.95 (2 ea. Elf w/sword, Kneeling w/bow, Standing w/bow, Chainmail w/sword, w/bow, w/spear standing; 1 ea. Elf chainmail w/spear kneeling, Leather w/spear)
TFT 05        Labyrinth Dwellers $2.95 (2 ea. wolves, bear, gargoyles; 1 ea. giant, ogre)
TFT 06        Orcs $2.95 (4 ea. Orcs w/bow, w/sword, w/crossbow, w/poleaxe)
TFT 07        Hobgoblins $2.95 (2 ea. Hobgoblin w/sword, w/scimitar, Standing w/bow, Kneeling w/bow, w/axe, w/hammer; 1 ea. Hobgoblin w/polearm, w/poleaxe)
TFT 08        Dragon (One-Hex) $2.95 (1 ea. Dragon, Treasure chest, Gold pile)
TFT 09        Orcs No. 2 (2 ea. Great Orc w/sword, w/cree [sic], w/axe, w/swordaxe, Standing w/bow, kneeling w/bow; 1 ea. Great Orc w/poleaxe, Commander)
TFT 10        Hobgoblins No. 2 (6 bows, 6 axes)
TFT 11        Labyrinth Dwellers No. 2 $2.95 (2 ea. spiders, scorpions; 1 ea. slimes, molds)
TFT 12        Seven-hex Dragon $7.95 (1 ea. Dragon)
TFT 13        Halflings $2.95 (3 ea. Halfling w/dagger, w/sword & shield, w/sword, Standing w/bow, kneeling w/bow, w/axe)
TFT 14        Trolls $2.95 (2 ea. Trolls w/club, w/hammer, w/two hand axe, w/two hand sword)
TFT 15        Goblins $2.95 (3 ea. Goblin w/sword, w/axe, w/bow, w/spear; 1 ea. Wolf Rider w/axe, w/bow)
TFT 16        Dragon (Four hex) $4.95 (1 ea. Dragon w/treasure chest, Gold pile)
TFT 17        Giants

Most of the descriptions come from the ad run in Space Gamer No. 25, and are probably reasonably correct. It is to be noted that there are some differences between titles and contents descriptions from earlier to later ads.

As can be seen, dragons are covered pretty well, though nothing past 7 hex. Giants, trolls, orcs, gobins, hobgoblins, and most “adventuring” types covered. However, there are some glaring omissions. Octopi are not in any of these sets, nor does one find centaurs, reptile men, horses, elementals, demons, and so forth. Perhaps there were plans for such that were never realized.

As for the TFT Microtures themselves, they are reasonably good, but not up to the contemporary standards set by, say, Ral Partha. Some of the poses do seem to based on artwork from TFT counters; for example, the giants in the TFT 17 package, seen here:



...look an awful lot like this giant:


One must, however, question the decision to go with 15mm scale, as opposed to 25mm, given that the hexes on the standard Melee, Wizard, and other maps and megahexes are ⅞” across, and yet represent a scale distance of “1-1/3 meters” across, making the minis grossly undersized. Indeed, if they were truly at the proper scale, 30mm minis would have been required! Presumably the scale was decided by the fact that 15mm minis are cheaper than 25mm, which is in keeping with the general Metagaming philosophy of inexpensive but fun products. This might have worked had they scaled down the hexes, to say ½” across (which, interestingly, was the usual size of most Microgame maps), but as released the TFT Microtures simply do not “fit” the hex grid that well.
Also, 25mm allows much more scope for detail than 15mm. Not to say that 15mm minis lack detail, but you can simply do a lot more with 25mm. Ral Partha, again, provides a good case in point.
While they are not bad miniatures, they are not great, either. As can be seen in the various attached photos the level of detail isn’t spectacular. Better than most of the contemporary Grenadier offerings, but not quite as good as Ral Partha, though some of the Martian Metal offerings in 25mm, such as the ‘Dragonslayers’ line, are actually pretty good. In any case, the standard cardboard counters are probably a better choice for regular game play, particularly when figures engage in HTH combat and so forth. Still, one cannot help but wonder what an appropriately scaled miniatures set, with an attention to detail comparable to Ral Partha, and based on artwork in various TFT related games, Microquests, etc., would have looked like...
Worthy of note is the fact that the 31 oz. silver dragon that was the subject of the Treasure of the Silver Dragon Microquest was cast by Martian Metals. It is not clear if this was a unique model, or if an existing mould for either the 7-hex dragon, or perhaps some other dragon figure was used. I've never seen a 7 hex dragon Microture, though I am pretty sure that is what would have been used. Two silver dragons were made, one of which was kept by Metagaming (i.e. Howard Thompson) and the other buried near the Sunspot, New Mexico solar observatory (and presumably still in the hands of its finder, Tom Davidson). It is likely that the Gold Unicorn was also sculpted and cast by Martian Metals, but this is only speculation. The fate of the latter is unknown; however, it is likely that Howard Thompson recovered it and, I suspect but cannot prove, probably sold or melted it for its gold content.
I know of only one photograph of the actual Silver Dragon, which I have reproduced below. It is taken from a news blurb in White Dwarf magazine (issue No. 23) mentioning the contest and the early finding of the treasure. And, no, apart from what is stated in the caption I know nothing of the two hotties in the picture...


As to the golden unicorn, there are a couple of Martian Metals figures that might have been used as a model for the actual figure:

  
Obviously, we will never know what the original looked like, which is too bad.
Also, sources (See Gypsy Comet's post referenced below on the TFT forums, and corroborated by a certain Leland R. Erickson) stated that Martian Metals was working on a set of Microtures for the Hymenoptera of Chitin:I. Mr. Erickson specifically stated that he saw pre-production figures for the Chitin I Microtures at Pacificon '82. These may well also have been useful for TFT, as those creatures are detailed in the Flora and Fauna of Cidri section of In the Labyrinth. However, the destruction of the Martian Metals factory put an end to this line of Microtures before it could be released (though, in any case, the cessation of operations at Metagaming would have put the kabosh on this project as well, even without the fire).
The TFT Microtures are rare;[1] they do not seem to come up very much at all on eBay and for those that do certain collectors are willing to pay beyond top dollar to obtain them.[2] Indeed, they seem fairly rare, and may not have been produced in very great quantity, though I do not have any production numbers to back that up.
Below are several pix, from various sources, showing photos of TFT Microtures in their packages:



Some close up pix of the unopened TFT Microture sets in my collection, specifically the Underearth Dwellers and Wizards:





Note that these next pictures may or may not be a 4-Hex TFT Microture dragon, since it appears identical to a similar 15mm scale dragon in the Dragon Slayers line:







Shown here is what I believe to be a One Hex Dragon: 

Here are several shots of loose TFT Microtures from various packages. Several of the pictures are courtesy of Robert Saint John on The Fantasy Trip Google+ community:







As noted above, Microtures were created for both O.G.R.E. and Rivets, the two “robot tank” games in the Metagaming product line. For the O.G.R.E. Microgame, the following Microtures were created:

OGR1         O.G.R.E. Mk V
OGR2         G.E.V.
OGR3         Heavy Tank
OGR4         Missile Tank

These miniatures were produced from 1979-1981 and were sculpted by Forrest Brown and Randy Hoffa. Production seems to have ceased sometime after Steve Jackson left Metagaming, taking O.G.R.E. with him. It is likely that the license was retained, but that Jackson later rescinded it and gave the contract to Ral Partha (I think - lemme know if I got that wrong). Below is a picture of an O.G.R.E. mini (a MkV, if I'm not mistaken):



For Rivets, the following line of “BOPPERS” (i.e. Battlefield Oriented Pre-Programmed Eradicator Robots) were marketed, also in 1/300 scale:

MM-8001   Rocket BOPPERS (4)

MM-8002   Jack BOPPERS (4)

MM-8003   Dive BOPPERS (2)

MM-8004   Tiny BOPPERS (4)

MM-8005   Big BOPPERS (4)

MM-8006   Light BOPPERS (12)

Below are pictures of assembled and painted miniatures along with an unopened package:





Martian Metals also produced miniatures for Traveller and Runequest (sculpted by Paul Jaquays, who also did some artwork for Metagaming and TSR) along with several lines of generic 15mm and 25mm fantasy minis for use with any system. Note that Martian Metals lost the Runequest miniatures license due to slow debut of their releases, and soon after the license for Traveller was lost, as well. Interestingly, Grenadier bought the Traveller line from Martian Metals, and received them not too long before the fire. It would seem that the fire only put the coup de gras on an already dying company.[3] As a matter of purest speculation, it is to be wondered if the sudden destruction of Metagaming’s sole producer of miniatures contributed in some fashion to Thompson’s abrupt decision to go out of business, or at least the timing of it. The sequence of events does make one wonder, though I tend to think that the failure of Starleader: Assault! was a more likely catalyst, as outlined here.
 

References:

Different Worlds No. 28, Apr 1983 (“Gossip,” pg. 54)
Post “Re: (TFT) Hymenopteran do you use them?” on tft.brainiac.com/archive/0303/msg00019.html dated March 9, 2003 by “Gypsy Comet”
Space Gamer No. 20, Nov-Dec 1978
Space Gamer No. 23, May-Jun 1979
Space Gamer No. 24, Sep-Oct 1979 (ad on pg. 29)
Space Gamer No. 25, Nov-Dec 1979 (ad on pg. 25)
Space Gamer No. 33, Nov 1980 (“News & Plugs” p. 40)
Space Gamer No. 61, Mar 1983 (“Scanner” p. 28)
White Dwarf No. 23, Feb/Mar 1981. (“News” p. 25; picture of the Silver Dragon and the 'Meta-twins')


Appendix:
Known Martian Metals Sculptors and Artists

Forrest Brown (O.G.R.E.)
Randy Hoffa (O.G.R.E.)
Paul Jaquays (Runequest)
George Freeman (Dragonslayer)
Scott ---- (Dragonslayer)
Jim Zejedia (?) (Dragonslayer)
Mary Peralta (?) (Dragonslayer)
Steve Lortz (Dragonslayer)
Nieal Erickson (artist)


[1] At the least, if they do come up on eBay, the sellers do not know what they have and perhaps mislabel them. Not a surprise since, prior to the release of this article, there was no published information at all on this subject that I am currently aware of.
[2] Let me tell you all a story: in early March of 2007 I had bid on two TFT Microtures, sans packaging, that had come up out of the blue on eBay, a One-Hex Dragon and Four-Hex Dragon, both apparently complete with treasure chests and so forth (though I had to ask the seller about the accompanying items, since they weren’t originally listed). Checking my e-mails to see if I had won the first auction I found that I indeed had, however, the second auction (for the Four Hex Dragon) had been relisted and my bid cancelled. Checking the relisted item I found that it had sold with a “Buy it Now” for $100 (!!!). Going back through my messages more closely I found one from the seller, who told me that this collector had come out of the woodwork and was literally willing to pay not only $100 for that Four Hex Dragon, but was willing to pay me $100 for the One Hex Dragon I had won! While ultimately nothing ever came of this, it was a serious offer nonetheless. Definitely illustrates just how scarce these TFT Microtures are... I shudder to think what one of the boxed sets, in its original packaging, might fetch! ADDENDUM 7/21/2009: I just won two sealed packages of TFT Microtures. I paid a little over $150 for them - and that was only because I put down a $212.72 bid 30 seconds before auction end (there were several last second bids, including the one for $150. As expensive as they were, it was satisfying to stuff that bid down my adversary’s throat!
[3] It does make one wonder if the owner deliberately torched his own business just to collect the insurance and move on… since no evidence for arson was ever mentioned that is unlikely, but given the circumstances the timing of the fire does seem rather “convenient”.

7 comments:

  1. Loved this article. Many thanks. I have a complete collection of the Martian Metals RuneQuest Minis. Let me know if you would like pictures.
    rmeints-at-gmail-dot-com

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  2. Great article! Thanks for posting it. There's a section on the Lost Minis WIKI that is missing lots of pics if you let us use them it would be great.

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  3. A link might be useful!

    http://www.miniatures-workshop.com/lostminiswiki/index.php?title=Category:Martian_Metals

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  4. Many Martian Metal miniatures can be found at Granddadsattic.com

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  5. I've looked at his site before, very interesting but out of my current budget.

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  6. Yeah, I looked at his prices as well and found them to be rather high. Also, no TFT Microtures, though he did have Rivets

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  7. Just posted about a couple of unreleased MM pieces I came across;

    http://deartonyblair.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/martian-metals-unreleased-minis.html

    ReplyDelete