Model Kit Reviews -- Observations and Comments

Looking at some of the newsgroups and discussion groups elsewhere, there seems to be a grave misunderstanding on the purpose and concept
of model reviews. To that end, let me present my own philosophy and criteria.
Bottom line: Should I buy it? Can it build up as what it says it is? And will I be happy with it? That's what a review should say!
First off, the review should be for the widest group of modelers, not a narrow few. It should convey what the kit purports to represent, its breakdown by materials and parts numbers (this reflects complexity; there is a big difference between a kid's knock-down kit from Wal-Mart with 15 parts and a full-up Tiger I with over 1,300 parts, and the prospective buyer should know that going in), probably retail price, and a photo of at least the box art to show which kit you are describing.
Sprue shots are nice, but few of us have the time to do a full-up photo shoot of all of the bits; depending upon your "day job" and amount of material to review, you may not be able to do even a box-art "glamour" shot. The review should be oriented at the intermediate level modeler, one who has a basic understanding of modeling skills and the use of after-market items like resin, turned barrels, track sets, etched metal parts, and finishing techniques. But it should not play to what should be considered advanced modelers, as many seem to think; many "advanced" modelers usually have little if any knowledge about more than one or two vehicles, and most of them are usually wrong about many of the points they claim to have expertise in. (These are the ones derisively referred to as "experten" on modeling web sites.)
Second, shapes, sizes, basic parts and dimensions are important, but only up to a point. Most people are not really interested if vehicle X has only twelve bolts vice thirteen, and they are right-hand thread vice left-hand, so this is the worst travesty to be foisted off on the public since Piltdown Man, etc. If you are really that concerned, that's what research is for (yours, not mine) and if concerned "Real Modelers" fix things; "Kit Builders" don't. There's nothing wrong with just building kits, but if that's all you want to do then don't bother the rest of us with more psychobabble about why the designers of kit X deserve to be hung, drawn and quartered as the clean-out openings are slightly oval.
Third, basic accuracy is fine, and what is presented should be correct. If the model has one particular type of track, it should be in the kit for that model of the vehicle. If it mounts twin 7.62mm machine guns on the cupola, ditto. Tools should have straps as they sure don't just stick on by themselves! Fine details should be, well, fine; but recall that injection molding plastic has its limits. If the model is a US vehicle with stars, bumper codes, serial numbers and a name or stenciling, it should be there within limits (e.g. if you can't see it on the real vehicle at 35 feet it doesn't matter on a 1/35 scale model.) But there's no excuse for a half-done job. Suggested colors should be close, but there is no perfect match as no two people have the same color vision.
Fourth, the idea that giving most models good marks makes you a shill shows that the poster or speaker is one of the "experten." While many of us like myself are now showing high mileage, this is the "Golden Age" of modeling where nearly all of the major items we had ever wished for are available and in reasonably good kits. Nearly all of the kits produced by recognized companies can be built up to represent the item they claim to be, and even a passerby can tell what they are with little trouble. Given that, the number of real "duds" is actually quite few, and people should realize that because the "experten" do not like it does not mean it's a bad model.
I use four ratings in a review: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Recommended with Reservations, and Not Recommended.
Highly Recommended: the kit, accessory, tool, or reference does what it claims to do or builds into what it purports to be. Accuracy is good, quality is high, and it is worth the cost of the item. If a model, it needs little or no extra parts to complete it, unless the modeler wishes to "upgrade" it on his own. If an accessory, it "drop fits" with little effort. If a reference, it gives good information (within its scope; photo scrapbooks don't have to have plans to be useful) and accurate comments.
Recommended: the kit, accessory, tool or reference is not bad but has some problems that must be addressed. Accuracy is okay but there are some minor errors which need "surgery" to correct or parts replaced, mostly from stocks or other kits (e.g. track types on tanks, decals, placement of parts on the finished model, etc.) Tools are hard to use or fragile. References have some caption errors or poor quality photos, but by and large are good.
Recommended with Reservations: the kit, accessory, tool or reference have some serious problems, but in many cases are the only one of their kind on the market. A kit may require serious surgery and scratchbuilding to represent what it claims to be, and is a difficult and particularly unpleasant model to assemble. Accessories do not fit, have major mistakes, and are exorbitant. References are recycled, obsolete, built on mythos or present incorrect plans or photos.
Not Recommended: the kit, accessory, tool or reference is a waste of time and money for a number of reasons. Kits are wrong, will not assemble (common among some low-volume resin kits), or in some cases literally stolen from other manufactures by pantographing the parts in another kit and "cloning" the molds. Accessories have no value as they are wrong, do not fit, or simply "pretty up" a bad kit while fixing none of its vices. Tools are overly expensive, complex, fragile and do not work. Finally, any reference that steals material from another author (common in Russia and the former Soviet Union countries) and simply translates it or presents as a new author's work is a total waste of money.
Many reviewers do this type of work and it serves the needs of the many, not the few. Most of the modelers who complain about this are notoriously absent from either photos of assembled and finished models, shows, articles written to show how to do a specific vehicle, or their own reviews. I have one simple statement for them: PUT UP OR SHUT UP! Either do a review or a built to show what you can do, or accept a basic kit review for what it is - what is it, what was the prototype, what does it consist of, how good is it, and what will it cost me?
Note that the last time I made this challenge in a well-known modeling publication the "experten" took me up on it, and produced his own model - showing that he was both mediocre on finishing techniques and unable to fix major problems with a "Recommended with Reservations" level kit. As the old saying goes, better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it correct.
When I was president of AMPS, I began to receive kits from various manufacturers and accessories for review, and I initially sent them out to such "experten" for reviews as they promised to build and review them. I think I only got three back, and found I was just providing free kits to these people. As a result, I changed my views on reviews, began doing most of them myself, and donated the kits and accessories to the annual AMPS International Show raffle. Some of the "experten" were miffed and quit AMPS, but I never felt I was missing out on great masters of the art.
Frank Desisto and I disagree about some things, but we review kits totally separately and for the most part come to the same conclusions. Ditto other reviewers on other websites, so we are more in tune with center-of-mass modelers than the carping "experten." Call us names and complain about the reviews, but what have YOU done other than pontificate on websites, burning up bitspace for little of value? If you have something of value, please share it - a new technique to assemble single link tracks, how to fix a turret with a bad shape, what to do about bad suspension geometry, etc. But don't waste my time - or Frank's, or Brett's, or Steve Zaloga's, or anyone else who SHARES useful information with diatribes.
Cookie Sewell President AMPS 1992-2004 Member, AMM 1987-1992 Member, IPMS 1966 - Present
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Damn cookie - when do you have time to make models ;)
snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

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On 16 May 2006 18:17:30 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

That's an *excellent* point that's not mentioned often enough. Great post overall too, Cookie.
--
Al Superczynski, MFE, IPMS/USA #3795, continuous since 1968

My "From" address is munged - use 'modeleral (at) swbell (dot) net' to respond
  Click to see the full signature.
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My major caveat is build reviews always count for more than in-box reviews. Too many times have I read "glowing" in-box reviews only to find the kit has molding and fit problems common to 1960's era Revell/Hawk/Pyro/Lindberg/etc. kits.
snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

A review should also be honest and not gloss over any problems.

You mean like the clown I overheard saying a Focke-Wulf 190 shouldn't have a hole behind the canopy?

But an inaccurate, ill-fitting dog is still an inaccurate, ill-fitting dog no matter if you're a "real modeler" or "kit builder"

However, if there *is* a color specification it should be called out if for no other reason than an accurate reference. It should also be based on the actual color standard and *not* FS-595 unless the standard in question *is* FS-595.

True but there are a few who give only good reviews and one has to wonder (for some reason the term "ne plus ultra" just popped into my head). Trumpeter's current crop of tanks kits are gorgeous and build very well, their current crop of ship kits suffer from poor fit, so-so accuracy, stupid engineering mistakes and overpricing (if these were tanks or planes the web would be lit up by the torches of the villagers heading out burn Frankenstein). By contrast WEM's 1/350 resin ship kits are gorgeous and most reviews can be summed up in less than a paragraph (excellent fit, accurate, fine detail, little or no overpour, slightly fiddly assembly for some of the finer PE items).

I've won my share of regional IPMS awards in several genres and up to intermediate gold at AMPS, so I can build them (I honestly don't give a crap if I win an award or not). I do archival research for ship related publishers and kit manufactures. My first master pattern for a resin kit maker is almost ready (if I can ever get remotivated that is). I've sold several articles recently and am about to start releasing my own line of photo CD's. So yeah, I have put up and my research is all primary source.

See the paragraph immediately above.
Now in general your own in-box reviews give me fair idea of what's in the kit and if it's well molded. Having build a reasonable number of AFV's by most of the current manufacturers I can then use your in-box review to decided whether I want the DML or AFV version of vehicle X. What ifind funny is all the griping about fit problems with the DML PzIV-E, except for one goof caused by me, I had no fit problems at all on that kit.
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wrote:

<snipped>
One of the guys at our local model club has started providing short build reviews of the models he brings in each month.
Have a look at
http://www.nesxmodellers.org.uk/members/members-mh.htm
David SBX Model Shop http://www.sbxmodelshop.co.uk Suppliers of Montex Masks to the world!
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My take on build reviews is that they can be misleading. Depending on the level of skill, a reviewer's "simple" build may not be so simple to the average modeler. While most modelers will expect the normal OOB type of modifications (filler, opening holes, etc.) sometimes build reviewers snatch this and that from various kits or the parts box. The builde review then becomes more of an accurization article. I'd rather know if the kit fits and builds well and when completed is a reasonable representation in the accuracy department.
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Just one mans opinion. I always laugh at reviews that have 3 paragraphs talking about what is wrong with a kit and then "highly recommend" it. I like the reviews in FSM because they are done by the builder not just an open box peak. You get a more accurate picture of potential problems and what time and effort and skill is required. You can usually tell if the builder is a "rivet counter" or someone who basically just built the kit. What is important to me are things like.
Are the instructions clear and complete? Does the kit contain all the parts on the instruction sheet? Does it fit / go together reasonablly well?
If the answer to those 3 questions are yes, I have enough skill to complete a decent model. If any of the answers are no, I don't want to endure the brain damage necessary to try and complete the project. I don't build for museums. It doesn't matter if the splinter shield is .00025 too thick or a gun barrell is .00075 too long. Who cares....
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I think one of the funniest reviews of recent years was in Scale Auto (Enthusiast). The fellow was reviewing the recent re-issue of the '76 Dodge Dart coupe. Apparently he was not let in on the fact that the company selling them (RC/Ertl) had the kit mislabelled as a Duster. That's the second time that kit has been released that way.
Considerable anguish was expressed by the reviewer over the fact that too many parts in the kit were for a Dodge instead of the Plymouth Duster. I can't believe that the editor allowed that to be printed. Why didn't someone there clue the guy in? (OK, so it was good for some knowledgable snickers. ;))
The right way would have been to mention the fact that it wasn't what was presented on the boxlid and blame the seller, then go on and talk about the merits of the kit on its own terms. I guess you can't justly criticise the seller anymore or risk losing their business.
Bill Banaszak, MFE Sr.
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Mad-Modeller wrote:

A while back one of the mags did a build review on the Testors platinum series diecast bucket T. I happened to like that kit, the Testors platinum series are pretty decent, for diecasts. Anyway, he had some grief getting the engine to fit right when sitting on the mounts in the frame which marred the ease of assembly etc. etc. I thought it was funny, because I had had the same problem too, until I realized that the mounts are C shaped because the mating tab is supposed to slide into the slot in the middle, not underneath. D'oh.
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

(snip)
    As a modeler who's written a few reviews, I disagree somewhat with these three points. While they seem reasonable, how can the review or reviewer determine if I should buy an item as all modelers are different (especially given the widest audience for the review) and have differing needs/desires/budgets and most importantly, abilities.     How can a reviewer determine if I'll be happy with it (the purchase of the kit, accessory, etc.)? Only by building can the modeler determine if he/she can be happy with it - that's why we *build* models, isn't it?     You've been around a long time, Cookie and I'm not here to question your background, knowledge nor veracity on what you write. That said...     What I like to see in a review is a full-build to actually see what is what and how the thing goes together. I'm not too interested on moldings and refined areas; the complete kit turns into a completed model. If the finished model is built, how easy/difficult can the build go? The reviewer is reviewing the kit and how it becomes a completed model, the individual parts being of lesser importance than the sum of those parts. Here's where in-the-box reviews fall short as they cannot tell you if the tracks are too short, the chassis too long or the fit of the components. The kit may have a beautiful Zimmerit panels but if the hull is canted in the wrong direction, where do these Zimmerit panels prove their worth? I respectfully submit you cannot give an accurate report of a kit unless you build it.     The same goes for aftermarket accessories; if the photoetched canopy details don't fit the curvature of the canopy, any glowing, in-the-box review is of dubious worth.     I'm no "experten" and side squarely with those who poo-poo a reviewer who'd claim shurtzen are too thick for the scale or complain the aircraft model is a tailsitter; I can sand to thickness or add sinkers when needed.     The devil is in the details. Without the details on how the model kit becomes a model, any review lacking an actual build - to me - is nearly worthless.     That's what a bonafide kit review should be.
Frank Kranick
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I have to agree that many in-box reviews are not very informative in the whole picture view. I can appreciate that there is information gained from it, but very little really. My main point is that too often I find them to be a quick and dirty, get it out the door, I was first affair.
Build reviews are more interesting. I learn from them- new techniques, things to look for, or what kind of additional materials I may expect to need. There also just more fun.
Finally, I do appreciate the time, eeffort, and dedication that my fellow modelers are expending on a review. Even an in-box. It takes guts to put something out, knowing that someone will snipe at it. And I do want to know that it is not cratered with ejection marks or sink holes. It is just that in the end, I have ways to fix these things, and will gain more from following someone else's story.
Rich
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---snippage---
Sounds like you're comparing in-box reviews to full-build articles, which are very different things. I agree that full-builds are more valuable, but they tend to lag behind the in-box (internet modeler, for example) reviews.
I like to know, since I'm not an industry insider,if the 'new' kit is actually new or not. There are so many re-pops of other company's kits now that it's difficult to assess a kit's quality based on the name brand alone.
I disagree that being able to build a kit means that it's an acceptable one; we frequently get so far along a nasty project that we figure we might as well see it to the other side, or we want to build that one subject so badly, we don't mind that it's a sub-standard kit. Might as well call the damn thing sub-standard right off the bat, and spare other people the associated pain.
--- Stephen
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wrote:

I'd be happy if they'd just go back to putting untouched photos of the model on the boxtop and let me decide from that what I think of their kit - instead of airbrushed illusions or pics of the 1:1 real McCoy that only serve to remind me what my model will never exactly look like.
WmB
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If it looks pretty on the tree and the detail looks fantastic but the parts don't fit together well, what good is it? I do agree that knowing if the kit is a re-issue is valuable. There are way too many old things being rolled out in new boxes. If I read a build review claimiming good fit and finish I will consider the project only if it is a subject that interests me. If the build review describes lots of problems with fit or finish, even if the subject is one I am interested in, why would I buy it? Every time we buy a kit we vote with our dollars. Why reward a company that produces unbuildable products? What is worse, some innacurate detail or something that flat doesn't fit?
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One more comment and then I will rest. When I quit this hobby many years ago, I remember the last project very well. It was a 1/8 scale XKE Jag by Monogram. I spent quite a few hours painting and building all the sub assemblies. They looked great but, when I started putting it together, it was obvious there was no way it would ever happen. I wound up heaving it into the trash in despair. I then put this hobby down for more than 25 years. When I picked things up again a couple of years ago, I made myself a couple of promises, one was I would never buy without first doing some research on the kit. The internet is great for this. In the words of the infamous Johnny Cochran, If it doesn't fit, it's just plain shit" (:>
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I would love to do full-up build reviews of kits, but that will not happen as I still have a "day job" and other interests. Something has to give, and alas it turned out to be the full-court-press builds. Also, while I give every item submitted to me by manufacturers or distrubutors the same fair shake, many of the subjects are not of interest to me and I have no desire to build them to my standards (100-150 hours on a kit to get something as close to right as I can.)
"Box rattlers" are better than nothing, as it at least gives you an idea of what the kit is and what it will be. I've built a fair share of models over the years and while I have made some horrendous mistakes (the initial DML Nashorn being a real low point!) most of the time the reviews I write at least place the kit in the ballpark.
Cookie Sewell
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I didn't intend to deminish your effort. I, like you, stll have a full time day job. There is substantial value in your reviews and obviously, there would be no time to build everything you review. I read every one of them and they have, in fact, led me to do further research and actually buy two of your recommendations over the past year. Fortunatly, there are other resources on the internet and print media that deal with builds and compliment what you do.
I remember when I quit building, my "bone yard" was enormous. I would say it was about 50/50 my bad work versus bad kits. I try to keep my expectations reasonable but I do expect things to actually fit together. There is no way the manufacturer can cater to the perfectionist. If they did, kits would be 10 times more expensive then they are now and, by the way, the perfectionists probably represents less than 1% of their available market.
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