Friday, May 22, 2015

The Shape(ways) of things to come: Infernal Machines ironclads from Black Army Productions

At the end of April 2015, Black Army Productions BAP unveiled their new line of 1:600 miniatures of warships of the American Civil War.  Those that know me and/or read  this blog know that I am a sucker for 1:600 warships - especially when the subjects are obscure models rarely produced by anyone else!

BAP has selected to produce this range using Shapeways 3D printing on demand services. You want one, you order it. Shapeways prints the design and ships it to you. No muss, no fuss. 3D printing is rapidly becoming the "shape of things to come" for miniatures production. The technology is rapidly advancing both in printer resolution and printing materials. This medium works well for certain aspects of the hobby. I'd ordered two 1/600 models last year from a different designer on Shapeways and was less than impressed with the 'stuccoclad' and USS Monitor.  

But as I say, this technology keeps rolling along. I perused the list of products available on the Infernal Machines storefront. The investment was not too steep, so I placed an order for two unique models not otherwise available - The Yazoo Monster and CSS Barataria. I took the BAP team's recommendation to order both models in Black, Strong and Flexible as they suggest it has a smoother texture than the standard White Smooth and Flexible (cost an addition $1.00 per model) The models arrived after several weeks - unusually slow for Shapeways, but it might speak to the demand for the BSF material and print runs. Regardless, it's not something BAP can control - the delay was all Shapeways.

So the models arrived on my doorstep. Opening the box, I found my two models. The Yazoo Monster lives up to it's name - It's a beast! One of the great things about 3D printing is that the model is a single piece. Hull, casemate, paddle wheels and stacks all one single piece. No assembly required! Try doing that with the conventional casting methods and see what happens!  Size wise, we are talking about a model in the same size range as CSS Nashville. It's similar construction as well, with a number of key differences. For instance - three smokestacks!

The Yazoo Monster (the black blob) lined with with Thoroughbred's USS Choctaw and Bay Area Yards USS Dunderberg gives you a good comparison of the relative size of the models.

Here The YM is in the middle with Dunderberg and the BAY CSS Missisippi model. 

The model is surprisingly smooth when printed in Black Strong and Flexible. It's a far superior medium than White Strong and Flexible and worth the extra dollar. Any of you that have worked with WSF and gaming models will appreciate the improvement that BSF offers.

This close up shows some of the surface detail (or lack thereof). My biggest worry was it would be a 'stuccoclad'. That turns out not to be the case - this should paint up nicely!

Bow aspect of the model. The forward gun ports are modeled, but lack any sign of the gun barrel or a shutter. Given the limited details available, I'm fine with the depiction on the model.

Okay - so this thing is tough to photograph in black!  Mea culpa!  But you get a sense of the size.

Now for the sticklers out there, the detail. I'd place this model on the continuum of being between Bay Area Yards and Peter Pig for detail and quality. The model has decent game table details - pilot house windows and gun ports are cleanly modeled. The deck and armor do not reflect the engraved detail you get from Thoroughbred or Bay Area Yards. But you know what? That's okay. This model should paint up very nicely.

The second model is CSS Barataria. This is another obscure ship that is not available in 1/600. It's so obscure that little information is readily available regarding this ship. It apparently carried some form of armor over the boilers and mounted a gun. A stern wheeler, she was captured by the US Navy and served as a Union ship for the remainder of the war.

CSS Barataria

A one piece model, the stacks are a little fragile, but the wheel was already assembled!

The model has a very narrow beam. It's comparable to the beam on a Thoroughbred blockade runner model.  The wheel looks like it would be better suited on a mill pond than a river boat. The model is small - about the size of a Thoroughbred tug boat  or the BAY Naugatuck models.For a model this small, it's maybe a tiny bit pricey, but you are getting a unique model available from now one else.

Bigger than a tug, but smaller than USS Fuschia from Peter Pig.

Here is Barataria next to a Thoroughbred blockade runner for comparison.
My verdict: Good solid gaming pieces! I'm happy to use both on my gaming table with the rest of the collection. The detail is not at the high end work done by Thoroughbred or Bay Area Yards, but I'd class it as a "show" in the classic "Win-Place-Show" ranking of a horse race. I'll be keeping my eyes on these guys in the future! 


  1. Do you think they are scaled properly? They look huge (meaning heft-wise) compared to the other companies' offerings.

  2. They are true 1/600s. Some will be smaller than other offeringa, others will be larger. I take my measurements from the actual length of a ship if known, not "between the perpindiculars" which is incorrect. Yazoo is simply a huge ship. She was more than 270 feet long.

  3. Wanted to thank you for taking time to write a review. Also thanks very much for making an order from the store. I am very grateful for your kind words for your support and honest assessment of the models we offer. if I may, I would like to address 2 or 3 the points you make in your post. my apologies for any errors in grammar as I am using a voice from a mobile at the moment. first, as regards material: I agree with you that black is the superior material. it simply prints cleaner and holdsbetter detail. as an added bonus, it is simply a superior medium for the purpose of painting. next you raise the issue of surface detail. it is true that in some cases I have opted to avoid surface engraving; this is because of scaling issues. In some cases, I have done more intricate detail work, and sometimes it works; most of the time, however, it is grotesquely out of scale if rendered large enough to be visible. I am working on better ways to deal with this, but at the moment, it seems logical to try to remain true to what one would see at this scale unless the ship was very poorly built or with very large overlapping plates (North Carolina, for example). Guns: I typically include them if they are exposed or very prominent (the 15 inch guns in the Passic class, for example) but otherwise I leave them in ready position because of differing data in terms of armament, and confusion that visible gun tubes can leave with certain rulesets; gunport shutters/stoppers actually do come on the models that had them, its just that neither Barataria nor Yazoo used them!:) One other thing that may be of interest to you or your readers and that is price. most people don't realize this, Shapeways adds a number of fees to any models that I sell to anyone other than myself. First, there is a material fee, which is charged for every cubic centimeter of material used. Next, there is a service fee which seems to vary from model to model with no real discernible pattern so far as I can tell in regards to size of the model. after that, Shapeways charges an "upcharge" fee for any items are sold above and beyond the production price charged to the maker.I'm not sure why this is, but I am told ir may have something to do with Shapeways attempting to encourage makers to charge more for the models they sell. in the case of bottles, you are quite literally paying Shapeways' cost to me plus no more than $5. In the case of bases, its three bucks more. I am hoping to be able to reduce my costs further in the near future; I have had my own printer on order for quite some time. anyway,thank you again for taking the time. It means a great deal to small companies like mine when people take the time; I am extremely grateful and I hope that you enjoy your models!

  4. In the case of "models" not "bottles" yeesh!

  5. Buckeye - to echo Alex's comments - in the case of the Yazoo Monster, it really was going to be a monster! What can be gleaned from the historical record indicates that this was to be a very large ship. The Confederates did not shy away from attempting big projects (examples include Mississippi, Nashville and Tennessee II). Problem was a lot of these big projects never made it to commissioning thanks to the lack of resources (human and physical) and the deteriorating situation on the ground. The monster was burned on the stocks to prevent capture and the work force dispersed. The Union Navy never got a complete description of the project from the locals they did interview.

    I think the model is a fair approximation based on what is known of her description. You'll find architect/artists renderings of what they envision she would look like and the model lines up with those. It is perfect - no, but I challenge anyone to find a documented historical source giving better detail. Interpretations differ - the Thoroughbred and BAY models of Arkansas are very different. The one stack / two stack descriptions of Manassas is still with us.

  6. Alex,
    First off - thanks for investing the time in creating the 3D models schematics! It's a lot of work for what is essentially a niche period in miniature gaming. Second, thanks for being open to feedback. The great thing about 3D is the ability to make changes and edits and apply them to future items. I'll continue to check on your progress - I keep eying some of those what if models I'd like to add to the collection.