During my recent time at Scale Aircraft Modeller I was asked if I would be interested in producing some build reviews. Being a Yorkshireman the offer of free kits as long as I promised to build and write about the experience, seemed to good to
be true and so I accepted.
To be honest, it became a bit of a mixed bag, and not a little difficult at times. Consequently my career in this arena was relatively short. However, it taught me a lot about how to read a review and what it might
(or might not!) be telling you.
The bit I really enjoyed was there was no agonising over which kit from the stash to start next; you received the kit in the post and you simply got on with it. And no agonising over whether it was accurate, what
to rectify and what to leave and whether to try and source any after market parts. With a build review you build what you get, using everything in the box, as the readership want (and have a right) to know if what's in the box is any good. OK,
a few minor scratch-built additions, such as seat belts, antenna wires, etc may be necessary, but the addition of other manufacturers etch, or replacement resin seats, or aftermarket decals are a strict 'no-no'. You can still do some reasearch and communicate
your concerns; I did just this with the Italeri Gulf War Mirage 2000 over the decal options and the fact that one was a reconnaisance machine although only missiles, rather than a recon pod, are included in the kit.
If the kit goes together well, is
accurate and the instructions hold up i.e. give accurate colours and decal placement, then all is well. The problem comes when there is a major problem and being able to communicate this to the readership without offending the manufacturers; the modelling
press is very dependent upon 'free issue' kits for review and the associated advertising revenue from these suppliers. My stance was the readership need to know the challenges any kit presents, good or bad, and the potential severity of such and how
they might be overcome. I have brought several kits on the basis of what I perceived to be a 'non-negative' review, only to be very disappointed during the build. I have also learned to be aware of those reviewers whose outputs could be regarded
as generic i.e. 'I glued the fuselage halves together then glued the wings on', which could refer to any kit of any age. I had several discussions with my editor over this and developed a code which was meant to convey where the challenges lay.
Unfortunately ettiquette dictated the meaning of this code could not be 'spelled out'. This included how many bouts of filling and sanding were required on certain parts e.g. 5 bouts meant the part fitted very badly and need a lot of 'fairing in', whether
reinforcement was needed and the most severe: Whether it had spent some time on 'the shelf of doom'!
However, some of the kits received for review remained unfinished and no review was forthcoming in the magazine. This is not necessarily
because they were unbuildable but because it was not possible for my self and the editor to agree a suitable form of words for the challenges encountered to be conveyed. And so you can start to draw your own conclusions. If a new release gets, lets say
'generally positive' reviews from several sources then it is probably worth purchasing and having a go your self. If you see no reviews anywhere, or they are really rather anodyne, then purchase if you must but make sure your eyes are very 'open' when
its time to build.
The best, and most informative review I believe I provided was the second, succesive, build of the new Eduard 1/72 Fw 190. I encountered several challenges in the first build, including a location issue for the main wheel bay
which made assembly of the top wing less than ideal and the assembly sequence for mulitple part cowling. However, having learned I 'nailed it' for the second build and communicated such. Several modellers actually 'searched me out' at shows and
thanked me for such an informative build.