SciFi Saturday – Unwrapping UPF Minis

In 1983, when the Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks game came out, I was barely a teenager and didn't have money for paraphernalia such as the spaceship miniatures produced in conjunction with the game. However, I did stare at them lustfully for long periods at the hobby shop in the mall nearest to me (which was about a half-hour drive into the next state).

Nowadays I deprecate use of miniatures for role-playing like D&D (they hinder creative monsters or surprise encounters to the available miniatures, and at least as important, slow down the action), but I do think they're perfect for war-gaming situations where you have a fixed list of available assets for the players to choose from competitively (see also: Book of War for D&D-compatible easy-to-play miniature wargame rules).

Maybe about a decade ago I bought boxes of the Knight Hawks miniatures on EBay, but for whatever reason, I left them in the shrink wrap, and left them unopened in my closet for the duration. Then in the last few months (doing some research for this year's SFKH posts), I read a warning on BoardGameGeek.com that there was a problem with the packaging material inside that would potentially degrade the miniatures:
Due to the nature of the boxes the games come in, they react with the lead minis and start a self sustaining process of destruction. The lead dissolves and crystalizes into a fine powder and if left unchecked it can destroy a figure. It also makes the minis potentially *VERY* dangerous to your health touch! I'd strongly advise against buying the minis "Mint Sealed in Box" as that means you are very likely buying a box of little better that lead dust in worst cases. [http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/698529/kh-miniatures-and-lead-rot-warning]
So between this and the 30th anniversary of the Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks game, I figured it was time to end the suspense, finally bust these suckers open, and see exactly what we have inside. Below you can see some photos from a few weeks ago as I opened and assessed the box of UPF (good-guy) ship miniatures.

First -- Here's the "Federation Ships" box still in its mint shrink-wrapped state.

Starting to cut it open as carefully as I can. (Notice that in traditional X-mas-morning style, I'm doing this while still wearing my pajama bottoms.)

Removing the shrink wrap.

Finally opening the box after waiting 30 years!

First thing on top -- the "Rules and Conversions" booklet, with miniature-specific conversion rules and a cut-down game that could potentially be played by people lacking the SFKH boxed set. I'll post more about this on a future date.

Taking off the top layer of packaging material and here's how the miniatures are originally packed. Nothing looks to bad at first glance; now let's check out the individual ships.

Assault Scout -- The ubiquitous, UPF-only, PC-carrying scout ship, looking fine here. (At first I think I'm missing one of the two assault scouts shown on the cover, but then I find that the 2nd one's somehow fallen underneath the packaging to the bottom of the box. Which saves me from writing a 30-year late complaint letter to TSR.)

Civilian Freighter -- Looks fine, a little flashing and the struts just a bit out of alignment; easily fixed.

Frigate -- The nose is a little bent out of shape (is that a cliche?), but other than that this looks great.

Destroyer -- Now, this is described as a "Destroyer" on the box-cover and conversion rulebook, but it's a bit hard to make sense of that, since it's twice as long as the Frigate mini, and just about the same length as the Battleship miniature (in the game rules, the Destroyer is just minimally larger than a Frigate). It would really make more sense to interpret this as a Light or Heavy Cruiser, although the number of engines doesn't synch up for any of those types (2 shown on the mini, while the DD-CL-CA types are given between 3 and 6 engines in the rules). I'll probably call this a Light Cruiser of hull size 13 (which is more widely used by the UPF than the heavy cruiser). Additional point: It's practically the same size, a bit longer than, the Light Cruiser that comes with the Sathar Ships. In any case, it's a really nice sculpture with one of the engines just slightly bent.

Battleship -- So here's the mighty UPF Battleship with the whole fistful of parts that I've got to put together at some point, and can barely fit them in a photo all at once (plus, it's really heavy!). Kudos to the sculptor for creating the correct 8 engines as specified in the rulebook (again, one fell to the box bottom and didn't get in the picture). That's a really impressive piece of work.

Summary -- I actually can't find evidence of the lead "dissolving" on these miniatures at all, and they look really nice by my standards. Maybe the poster at BoardGameGeek is trying to drive down the perceived value of the boxes and corner the market, who knows. At any rate, I'm actually really glad to finally get inspired to open the boxes and check out the contents inside. Still to come: (1) opening the box of Sathar Ships, (2) checking out that Rules and Conversions booklet, and (3) actually painting, assembling, and playing with these classic miniatures.


  1. Glad your minis are OK. That Fed battleship will look great on the table once you get it put together. Careful with the Sathar, though--the multipart battleships that I got had some gaps in the fuselage when I tried to put them together. You'll need greenstuff or some other kind of putty to fill that in.

  2. I'd give 'em a good wash, just to be on the safe side. Can't hurt.

  3. I've heard the same about lead rot, and I think a lot depends on the batch of lead used for a given box. I picked up some sealed TSR blisters of D&D minis at a con in 2006, and all of them showed some lead rot on the surfaces that were in contact with the foam padding. There were a ton of them and I think they had been found in storage or something; the climate makes a difference too. So anyway I'm guessing your box was from a batch that used better quality metal. Things were not terribly standardized back in the day, and some mixes must have been more suseptible to lead rot.

  4. I did exactly the same thing as you ten years ago, and bought a job lot of KnightHawks miniatures off EBay. However, I never did anything with them, so I allowed my younger brother to have them, when he was living with me. I came back one day to find out that he have do some modding of the destroyer. He had cut all the engines off two destroyers, and then re-attached four of them to the other. I would have been really pissed off, but he had done such a nice paint job, I couldn't criticise him.

    1. I'm actually considering something pretty similar, namely casting some duplicates of the battleship engines and adding them to the destroyer/light-cruiser.