Friday, July 24, 2015

Powered Play Light Up Bases Are Here

A while back Powered Play held a Kickstarter campaign to launch a line of kits for adding LEDs to miniatures. I went in on the campaign, and the kits just arrived. So here are my impressions.

Powered Base Kits
Basically, these kits contain a set laser-cut wooden spacers for different base sizes, a small PCB with a battery holder (a CR2016 battery is included), switch, and 3 LED connectors, and three LEDs of your chosen colours.

The small white things there are the LED side of the connectors; they slip onto the LED wires easily enough, but I believe they were left off to make the LEDs easier to install. Here's a shot of the spacers next to a 30mm and 40mm base for comparison:

The smallest spacer is for a 40mm base. The outer diameter is pretty much spot-on, however it's not very robust as it's quite thin; this seems to be necessary in order to allow the PCB to fit and leave enough room for the LED wires etc. I would suggest adding a bit of milliput if possible for added strength. The larger spacers are much more robust and should be more than strong enough on their own.

As you can see in this photo, the PCB is actually higher than the spacer; normally it won't be a problem since it was designed for bases that are hollow underneath, but if you're trying to add it to solid resin bases or something, you might have to figure out a solution; either milling some material from the bottom of the base or fabricating your own additional spacers, for example.

The kit comes with 3mm LEDs. These should be find for larger models like Warjacks, Dreadnoughts etc. For infantry models you might need to look into getting something smaller; check ebay for "wired 0603 LED" for example. To be completely honest I'm not sure about the voltage (I haven't spotted anything on the website, but you can always email Powered Play, I've found them to be very responsive in the past), but I assume the kit's PCB feeds 3V directly to the LEDs, so you will need to select LEDs that are happy with that voltage or add resistors as needed.

The LEDs fit fine once assembled, but there's a bit of a problem. The ends of the wires are specially prepped for the connectors that connect them to the PCB. That means that if you want to reduce the length of the wires or use your own LEDs, there's a bit of awkward soldering work necessary. Personally I would have preferred it if they had used some form of connector on the PCB that just accepts raw wires (I'm not sure if such a think is available in sufficiently small form though). Also, when fitting the small connector pieces on the wires, make sure to insert the green wire into the slot with the triangle above it, otherwise you will need to pull the wires out and insert them again, which is a bit tricky to do.

As you can see in this photo, there is not much room around the PCB in a 40mm base. I don't think it would be possible to remove the battery if you glued the PCB down, so I recommend using some form of sticky tack or something to hold it in place. I'm not sure about the 50mm base; it might be possible to glue it down while allowing enough room to change batteries, although you might want to remove some material from the spacer to make it easier. In fact I found it extremely difficult to remove the battery from an un-wired PCB that I was holding in my hand, even when using a metal tool; I would recommend leaving the PCB completely removable (especially since Powered Play mention that they may release PCBs with special effects like flickering in the future). I think that it might be easier to remove if the two metal retaining tabs are snapped off or something; if this is done it might be feasible to permanently attach the PCB under larger bases, but I can't say for sure.

Overall I think the kit should work fine for Warjacks and larger models (if you can figure out how to pass the wires up the legs...), but it looks like it will take a fair bit of work to use it with anything smaller than that. I don't see why they didn't design the PCB around a smaller battery; that might have made it easier to use overall.

Lit Objective Markers
One of the optional extras offered in the Kickstarter campaign was lit objective markers.

Each objective marker comes as three laser-cut 40mm wooden discs, and a battery holder with a LED already attached, and a clear acrylic flag. My kit came with plenty of CR2032 batteries. There was a vast selection of colours, shapes, and logos for the flags, so it was easy to find something appropriate to just about any army.

Assembly is very easy; just stack the discs and glue them together. You probably don't even need to glue in the battery holder as the fit is tight enough to retain it reliably. The flag then just slots into the top, meaning you can easily select the right flag for the occasion. There is a problem though; due to a pair of retaining tabs, the battery holder doesn't actually fit into the bottom spacer correctly:
Either the battery holder sticks out a bit from the top...
... or the tabs stick out from the bottom.

This problem could probably be resolved by removing some material from the middle spacer. It might also be possible to remove the two plastic tabs; however these seem to be necessary for retaining the battery connector, so you would need to securely glue it down at least, and even then I would be a little worried. I wonder if it would have been possible to use a smaller battery holder, perhaps one that uses the same (thinner) batteries as the powered bases (although this holder can use the same batteries as they are the same voltage and diameter).

Overall I really like these objective markers. They are easy to assemble and use, and they look pretty good straight out of the box. Of course you can paint and decorate them as you wish. You can easily sit them on top of 50mm round-lipped bases if needed.

Clear Lava Bases
The last of the goodies I received from the Kickstarter was a set of 5 clear resin lava-themed bases.

These are cast in a deep red, which personally I don't see the need for; if they had been cast in clear resin then the end-user could have easily selected the colours he wanted for the final base using appropriate coloured LEDs and washes or inks. Perhaps a white LED shining through red tinted resin comes out brighter than a red LED shining through clear resin? I don't know.

These are not really suitable for use as "base toppers" for 50mm recessed round-lipped bases due to them already having a flat bevelled rim, and the diamater is too large to top normal 40mm bases. The diameter on the ones I received was just a hair smaller than a GW 40mm base or a PP round-lipped 40mm base:
You can see the the bottom of the PP 40mm base is a bit wider than the lava base.

This means that they really want to either be used as a stand-alone base (which they are not quite suitable for in some games due to their diameter being a touch too small), or sit on top of a straight-sided 40mm base, like the 40mm spacer provided in the powered base kit. Unfortunately, because they are completely solid with a flat base, they won't fit on top of the kit due to the PCB being too high; plus the diamater difference is a problem since the spacer is so thin:

They could conceivably be used on top of the lit objective markers (at least the bottom two discs), although a bit of material should probably be removed to allow the LED to better light the base:

Overall I'm not entirely sure how I'm expected to use these bases. Of course I personally have the means to cut out plasticard spacers of the necessary diameter and height to use these with the powered kits if I really want to, but that's more work than I expected and some hobbyists might have a harder time of it than me. Plus the bases will end up quite high and changing batteries will be a pain. The bases really should not have been completely solid, and should have left enough room for the PCB since they were custom-designed for this Kickstarter campaign. Perhaps the best option would be to use them on their own as a model base, and have a "display plinth" with lights in the base, so the model lights up when it's on display. I can see that being worked into a display board for Armies On Parade or something, although you'd probably have to light up half the board with lava if you want them to fit. That would look amazing, though the models probably wouldn't be the focus at that point.

I really like the lit objective markers. The powered bases have potential, but I think they could use a bit more refinement, and I wouldn't want to use them for anything smaller than a 50mm base. I don't see myself using the resin bases at all unfortunately.

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