Saturday, 9 May 2009

Small Scale Sci-Fi: eM-4 Plastic Spaceships

As promised, a look now at the plastic spaceships available in the UK from eM-4 Miniatures. These are a relatively new discovery for me, but I realise that they have been around for quite a while, being licensed copies in plastic of the original "Silent Death- The Next Millenium" game starships.

The game itself, I believe, is now defunct, and I'm not sure about availability of the miniatures elsewhere, I know Metal-Express were supporting the line:

I'd been looking initially for some air elements to support the alien races amongst my Weird WWI forces, and was keen to get my hands on something cheap and cheerful that could do the job. Whilst there are some awesome small-scale craft in metal out there, they tend to be on the expensive side, so I hit the mother load for cheapskates when I came across the eM-4 plastics page!
These minis are the best kept secret on the web in terms of value, being a set of twelve individual ships for £2.50, that's right, £2.50 - around 20 pence a ship! Now I hadn't used plastics before (at least not since the Airfix models of childhood), so I wondered about the quality of what would arrive when I made my order. Let's just say I was very pleased; the sculpting detail on these is crisp and fine, and eM-4 even throw in the plastic flight stands for the ships, so you're ready to go. They are sprue-mounted, so I washed them carefully in soapy water, allowed them to dry, and then went for a black undercoat. The ships you see here are a work in progress, but so far I've found that they take acrylic paint really well, and although I'm not such a hot painter, give good results.

The ships were obviously originally intended to be used as deep-space fighters, but the multiple designs mean that some have a distinctly aerospace flavour, as well as a couple that to my eye would make good VTOL/ Ground Support types for either 2 or 6mm figure ranges, given that they measure from around 10mm to 37mm in length.
This abundance of types soon tempted me away from my original 2mm/ 1/900th Weird WWI ideas, and transmogrified into a need for a new generic small scale-sci-fi project.
I believe that in the original game, the ships were alloted type names, but I've gone with my own ideas on that, so will refer to them in my own way below:

First up, we have what I term 'needle' fighters, these could either be space or atmosphere craft, and have a great jury-rigged look about them, as if cockpits have been welded onto the drive engines of a much larger vessel, thereby creating a sort of hot-rod capable of high straight line speeds. perhaps they might be used by mid-tech colonists or rim-worlders, as pirate craft, or as a response to superior alien forces:

Talking of pirates, that is the scheme I went for with these next craft, again which might be comfortable in the atmosphere or in orbit, maybe these are older versions of the current technology available to the military of a planetary federation:

Next we have what I term the 'Phantom 4K' in that without a doubt, these have the look of a future-tech version of that venerable fighter bomber, the McDonnell F4; again, great for a force that has lower end technology, perhaps not operating beyond the planetary atmosphere.
These guys are still in their undercoat, not sure whether to go with an old school 'wild-weasel' type scheme, or something more futuristic.

Next, a somewhat more advanced craft, that I call the 'hawk' fighter, again, more of an atmosphere craft, although getting further toward the high tech end of things:

Then we have perhaps the first of the more alien-looking types, perhaps a direct competitor to the 'hawk' above, with a nice little top turret, or is it a droid co-pilot that is visible? These could even pass for much larger scale craft, if it's actually starships that you're after, they sort of bring to mind the kind of ships you might see in some B-movie sci-fi by Roger Corman Productions, perhaps "Battle Beyond the Stars" or something similar....

Now we have the first of the possible VTOL/Support or Gunship types, these I term the 'bug' fighter, and to me have a flavour of a future A-10 warthog, small, chunky and hung with guns!

Similarly, enter the 'black widows', a definite gun bus if I ever saw one! These would work well in all theatres, whether low over the planetary battlefield or cruising in deep space:

They might be accompanied by the 'salamander', a patrol craft that is just a tiny bit 'primitive Klingon' to my eyes, perhaps before they developed warp technology? :-).

Next we have another planetary fighter bomber type, it must be the next stage in evolution from the 'Phantom 4K' above, with some heavy duty missiles slung beneath the wings:

Next we have what I term an 'Alpha' fighter, these I see as being the standard small scale craft of an interplanetary fleet, clouds of them issuing from a carrier, manouverable and lightly armed:

Then we move to a distinctly more alien place, these long range fighters have a slightly organic design, with their arachnid style pod cockpit slung between two weapon/propulsion booms; might be seen in orbit or in the atmosphere, these look well armed and pretty fast, too:

Finally, the Weird WWI Venusians present their 'Frog' fighter; (What, you've never heard of the Vensusian Killer Tree Frog?), small and quick at dealing death to all those who oppose the Green Empire:

All in all, there are plenty of designs here to run with, that could be applied in a number of ways, and being so cheap, mean that you can easily build up a decent set of combatants; of course it would be great if they were individually available, but perhaps some might be found floating around on E-Bay or elsewhere.
I think if you're looking for a 'weekend' project, or just fancy painting something different, then you can't go wrong with these, and at the price- what is there to lose?


  1. Great job. Those painted up very nicely indeed.

  2. Thanks Mad Carew, like I said, still a work in progress, the detail on the sculpt, though, means that a good painter could make them look really great!

  3. Great insight, I've had these on my radar for quite some time. Your writing might be just the thing to make me get some. :)

    So, when can we expect to see em4's plastic mechs as well? ;)

  4. Very useful-looking craft . . . would make great small ships for a "Full Thrust" campaign . . . and the "Full Thrust" rules are free:

    Then go to Downloads; then Rules.

    -- Jeff

  5. Hi Jeff, I didn't know they were available free there; my favourite type of price!

    Have to have a look, means I could get a two-for one use out of these miniatures, both ground support and capital ships. Cheers, SteelonSand.

  6. There are a number of downloads -- "Full Thrust Light" (a training game . . . but should be lots of fun by itself).

    Then there are versions one and two of "Full Thrust" (which add onto each other) as well as "Fleet Books". And finally there are some miscellaneous add ons as I recall.

    Download everything, then decide what you want to use.

    -- Jeff

  7. I actually played Silent Death during its heyday; it's a great rulesset for fastplay, and even had good rules for crossing escort-sized craft (light carriers, destroyers, etc.) against fighters.

    Of course, while its mechanics anticipated some of the innovations of today, it doesn't have any of the elegance of the newest systems, nor the depth that SFB has always had cornered. You should look into whether there are scans of it out's a good game for kids and novices.

  8. Hi Justinian, thanks for the comment, I've recently been moving away from the idea of using these minis as support craft for the smallest scale Sci-Fi, so was thinking about how to employ them; perhaps I can look into the idea of Silent Death itself for a bit of space combat - I'll look out for scans of the rules as you suggest, ta!

  9. I was looking for info/opinions on EM4's miniatures when I found this. I have to say, it's a great article. The EM4 stuff is so cheap, I think it would be hard to go wrong anyway buit they seem to be quite good quality too...

  10. Hi Neil, yes, for the money these are some excellent sculpts, and if you can live with the predominantly Aerospace type designs make great space fighters, only trouble is having to buy multiple packs to gain numbers of each fighter type to form units, there being a single of each type in every box...

  11. You can get BAGS of these ships at a toy store near me for about $1 for 40 ships. Email looking at imagineimage dot org

  12. Reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated: