The Alphastream Game Design Blog
Monster Menagerie II is the 6th set of D&D minis from Wizkids. The verdict for the 3rd set was a mixed bag: solid for most gamers but with a case configuration that was terrible for collectors. Thankfully, sets since then have corrected that problem. If you buy a case, you get a complete set (other than ultra-rares). Yay! (However, see Set Details below)
As with the 4th Set, Monster Menagerie, this set is not tied to a particular storyline adventure. However, that may be due to the timing. Monster Menagerie was later found to be tied to Curse of Strahd… is this tied to the next adventure? Or, like Tales From the Yawning Portal, is it tiding us over?
If you are new to minis, this is a strong set. You get a nice variety of core humanoid types and cool monsters. For the infrequent collector, this is a slightly weak set. The types you already have (goblins, hobgoblins, etc.) are good, but not outstanding… you can instead pick up just the few truly exceptional minis. For the collector that must have everything, this is a good to strong set. The exceptional minis will make you happy, even if this set is a step back from the previous (5th) set.
That previous set, called Storm King’s Thunder, was magnificent. You can see a gallery here. Two things really set it apart. First, a ton of huge-sized minis for giants! You may not be a fan of giants suddenly being much larger than older minis (I’m not), but the sculpts and colors were really excellent. Super-evocative. Second, the set came with variants. Many of the giants and some other figures came in an A/B variant. The variants usually had different colors and a different weapon. This made getting “duplicates” much more fun, because many of them were actually variants.
Monster Menagerie II doesn’t give us any huge minis, and the variants are more limited.
Monster Menagerie II consists of 43 unique miniatures (plus 15 ultra-rares), sold in booster boxes of 4 randomized minis. You can purchase a “brick” of 8 booster boxes, or a “case” of 4 bricks (32 boosters).
The booster’s $15.99 list makes it a relatively good purchase at your FLGS and I always like to support my FLGS when I can. You save a few bucks on Amazon. Case purchasers should look into sites such as Miniature Market, which has a case for $370, bricks for $95, and boosters for $12.
Within the set, there are 13 Common, 20 Uncommon, 10 Rare, and 15 Ultra-Rare miniatures. Compared to previous sets, there are far fewer Rares (10 instead of 12-17) and many more Ultra-Rares (15 instead of 5-10)! That is disturbing, because in a case we are guaranteed rares but not Ultra-Rares. Worse still, this set includes some Ultra-Rares (Mind Flayer and Uthgardt Barbarian) that would have been rares in previous sets, and they even have variants! To add insult to injury, we could use a bunch of those Uthgardt Barbarians when running the Storm King adventure! Ultra-rares are expensive, making the full set cost much higher. (In my case I landed 7 of the 15 Ultra-Rares).
The set also has a jaw-dropping “case incentive”, called “Adventurer’s Campsite.” It features Ezmerelda’s Wagon (from Curse of Strahd) and a host of useful terrain pieces, plus two large horses. The price has gone up as it sells out, with $85 at Miniature Market… and still worth it compared to other terrain sets. You normally receive it at a discount when you purchase a case and the case incentive. You can see the great detail on the wagon and the camp items.
This set has a variety of monsters, though it has almost no elementals and no evil outsiders. Is it meant to help run Yawning Portal‘s classic adventures? Perhaps. The mix is honestly a bit strange, duplicating both older DDM sets and newer WizKids sets at times, while adding a few new items. The distribution is a bit strange, with some minis being more common than we would want. You can find the entire list on the excellent Minis Gallery web site. If you want a way to track your collection, check out my D&D Miniature Collection Tracker.
This is evocative of the recent Gelatinous Cube, which improved upon the old DDM version by creating an inner ring into which you place the mini, but the ring itself is super cool and useful. As with the cube, the pudding is Uncommon, making it affordable!
Okay, but I can’t wait any longer. I have to share the mini of the set, the absolutely gorgeous Beholder! (Standing next to a cool monk) Wow, just wow. The colors suggest this is the Xanathar, the famous beholder crime boss found in Waterdeep and the North (seen in the background). Here is another great picture of Xanathar. So cool!
Back to that first brick of minis I opened. A box of 4 minis might contain these: Giant Rat, Worg, White Dragon Wyrmling, and Kobold (the one with the spiked club – there is another variant in this set with an axe).
Those are decent minis. The giant rat is a bit weak, but when I compare it to the other giant rats I have, it isn’t that bad.
There are several golems in this set, and they are all strong models that compare well to older golems in other sets. This box came with the strangely-over-tusked Orc (this is the variant with the warhammer), Stone Golem, and Hobgoblin. The Hobgoblin isn’t bad, comes in a variant, but this now makes 4 hobgoblin styles from WizKids and maybe we don’t need any more…
This is an underwhelming but not bad bugbear, the very cool rust-flaked Iron Golem, and a solid Galeb Duhr.
Until now, I had heard of but never experienced broken minis from WizKids. This Androsphinx was my first broken mini, with a broken tail. The Halfling Rogue is very strangely sculpted with perhaps a pie in her hand… but I guess it is meant to be a sling stone? The Human Cleric is cool. Oh, and that Goblin? It is one of 2 variants. Here you can compare the fur and axe version vs the sword variant.
The Clay Golem is decent and doubles as an earth elemental. The bullywug is puny compared to earlier models (see a comparison further below) and my very cool Half-Gold Dragon Sorcerer was snapped at the feet! The Orc with sword is shown next to the other variant.
There is a Planetar in this set, which uses an interesting flying stand that connects in the back. It holds up fairly well and avoids jokes about where the pole is going. However, this is the third WizKids angel and is an Uncommon… so you might get a lot of these. I certainly don’t need all 4. The Elf Fighter has some very cool armor, though the Sea Hag has a very splotchy paint job and looks very thin and frail.
When reviewing the Rage of Demons minis I mentioned how many models were low-mass/puny compared to older models. The Bullywug is an example of that. Yes, the far left is the old Mud Lord boss, but the center one is just a Bullywug that looks far more impressive than the little new one to the right. The new one also has far less detail, with paint applied heavily and without allowing for sculpt detail.
There is a neat Mind-Flayer, which is an Ultra-Rare and has variants (one has a strange claw hand, the other has a normal arm). Mine unfortunately came broken – my third broken mini! There are several dragon wyrmlings (small dragons) in this set, including the below Brass Dragon Wyrmling. You can also see the hooded and un-hooded Bugbear variants.
Two very cool minis are the Ghast and the Half-Orc Barbarian! Really cool. Wizards continues to make their player minis very diverse with gender and skin tone, which is awesome.
The Red Dragon Wyrmling is really cool. There is a lot of detail to this Rare. The Gnoll is Uncommon but has nice paint elements (not as good as the rare gnoll in Rage of Demons).
The Uthgardt Barbarian is sadly an Ultra-Rare with a variant and I only landed this one. The large uncommon Young Black Dragon is cool, though it lacks the paint qualities of earlier WizKids black dragons or their chimera.
A few more to mention. The “Jazz Hands / Spirit Fingers” Tiefling is cool, using smoky colored plastic to create a casting magic effect we first saw in the Human Red Wizards in the Tyranny of Dragons set. The Gynosphinx looks very imposing – I want to use that in an adventure! On the other hand, the Grick is bizarre.
If we compare this Grick to earlier sets, it looks a lot like the DDM on the far left, but is smaller and wimpier in every way.
Overall, this set has great sculpts and good paints. I did see more paint mistakes (including two really bad paintbrush mistakes that made it through quality control) and more broken minis than I expected, but that could just be my bad luck. There are some gorgeous minis in this set. I like that WizKids continues to make their minis less cartoony (a problem with early WizKids minis), using fewer overly bold and unrealistic colors. There are still many minis that sorely need a bit of detail (drybrushing, wash), and some need more mass (they look thin, though this has improved from earlier sets).
The change to Ultra-Rares is confusing. As you can see below, I now have a bunch of invisible minis. But, I’m not the average person who might get a single one and think it is cool. I do like that I don’t feel I have to chase them. The new decision to have a non-invisible Mind Flayer and an Uthgardt Barbarian, each with a Variant, as Ultra-Rares… that really is strange and not something I like. I would like to have 5 or so of those barbarians… but not at ultra-rare prices!
Overall this is a great set of minis. You can’t go wrong grabbing a few boxes or picking up some singles. I look forward to the next set, and I’m already drooling over what the case incentive might be!
It would be to:
D&D has had many iterations of metal minis, going back to 1977. Prepainted plastic minis began in 2003, with a whopping 17 sets of DDM miniatures. The economy changed drastically, with the raw materials escalating in costs. The line was changed in various ways for four more sets as WotC tried (and failed) to find a profitable model. Lords of Madness was the last DDM set in 2010.
Wizards then searched for other ways to sell minis, including 2012’s Dungeon Command, a perhaps too-complex-for-RPG-players miniatures game which was bundled with some fantastic repaints and a few new minis. 5 sets were released before the line was canceled in 2013. (I highly recommend finding these and buying them!)
In 2014, Wizards launched the Icons of the Realms series, this time as a license to WizKids. WizKids also has the license for Pathfinder miniatures, and both miniatures share the same benefits and problems when it comes to quality, sculpting, and paints.
We have had the following sets under WizKids:
An important takeaway for the D&D fan is that making miniatures is surprisingly challenging. WizKids can leverage their size to reduce costs, but it is no guarantee that the line will continue or that it won’t change further.