Hello again! Today, I take a detailed look at a product that I am quite excited about: Topside Minis. I feel that this product represents an important development for naval wargaming, making it much easier for gamers to get into the hobby. Topside Minis (TM) has been a going concern for a couple of years now, and in that time the company has been steadily expanding its range of ships and aircraft.
Late last year, TM initiated the biggest expansion to their inventory yet via a Kickstarter campaign. This campaign focused on the Atlantic and Mediterranean theaters of WWII. Naturally, I jumped into this in a big way, and my long-awaited package arrived not long ago! So I figured the time was right for an in-depth look at these minis.
Essentially, TM are two dimensional markers that consist of a laser-cut wood base and an adhesive label with artwork that depicts a specific ship or aircraft. However, there is a big difference between a traditional chit marker and a TM. Whereas traditional markers tend to be very bare-bones, the artwork on a TM is simply beautiful. Small details are worked into each one, to include wakes, smoke coming from funnels, aircraft sitting on catapults, and the like. And best of all, there are slight differences in these details between ships of the same class, helping players to tell them apart and adding more visual interest. These differences could be in the markings, deck coloration, or even the train angle of the main battery turrets.
These minis are a good size; the founders of TM, John Czarzasty and John Giacchino, are big fans of Axis & Allies War at Sea, and have made the ships to the same scale as the minis in that game (about 1:1800). As a result, the larger battleships and carriers are a handful, about 6 inches long by an inch and a half wide! TM renders their aircraft at 1:450, presumably to allow for greater detail in the artwork. However, the aircraft are still only about an inch to an inch and a half on a side, so I don’t expect they will take up too much room on the table.
Assembling a TM is very straight forward; you are essentially putting a sticker on a piece of wood. However, there is a few things to keep in mind. First, the artwork comes printed on sheets with multiple ships on each sheet. Each individual ship has to be cut from that sheet, as they do not come pre-cut. This is not hard to do, of course, but it can be a bit tedious (especially when you have a couple of hundred ships to do!). Additionally, some care must be taken to avoid over-trimming each ship, and with placing the labels on their wood bases. I’ve found that using a guillotine-style cutter and making long cuts on full sheets of paper make this whole process much more efficient. Additionally, I’ve found that if I have an alignment problem, I can carefully peel the label back off the base and it will still have enough stickyness to it that I can try again. And, I’ve inevitably cut a few of mine too small, which leaves a sliver of bare wood showing along one or more edges of the label. This doesn’t look terrible, and probably would be fine to leave as-is. However, that sort of thing brings out my modeling OCD, so what I’ve done in these cases is to use a blue permanent marker to color in the bare wood, which helps camouflage the mistake. I suppose one could also get the same effect by base coating the wood bases in black or dark blue before assembly.
Right now, TM boasts over 800 units in its range. With the release of the Atlantic and Mediterranean sets, TM now has a mini to cover the majority of the major warships which took part in WWII. They are also beginning to expand into the WWI timeframe; a limited number of WWI German and British ships are available, mainly from the early battles of the war. In the works is a set that will cover all the ships both sides had at Jutland! The company has not quite gotten to the point where it has universal coverage of all the famous ships for the war; the Iowa-class battleships, for example, are missing from the lineup. Likewise, some large classes, like the Essex class carriers, do not have all their sister ships available yet.
I cannot say with certainty that TM are the least expensive option out there for naval gaming models, but they have to be close. Units range in price from $0.40 U.S. for destroyers, all the way up to $2.20 for large battleships. In addition to being available individually, players also have the option to purchase sets that cover specific battles or theaters. This makes it handy to grab a good selection of units to match what you might be interested in. So, for around $50-$100, you can easily get a couple of good-sized fleets that will give you plenty of gaming fun. As discussed above, these minis look great, and their plywood construction makes them quite durable.
As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of TM. These things look great, are highly cost-effective, and seem like they will hold up to years of use. Now, that being said, they may not be for everyone; after all, while these are great looking markers, they are still not full-fledged 3D miniatures. Additionally, while the variety of ships and aircraft types available is impressive, there are still some holes in the lineup waiting to be filled (such as the Iowa class). Still, if you are looking to dip a toe into WWII or WWI naval gaming, or, like me, are looking for a secondary set of minis that are easier to move and transport, TM deserve some serious consideration!