Monday, 16 June 2014

Star Fort 20mm Painted MDF 'Café de Normandie'

Owing to Star Fort's generosity I have an example of their new laser cut buildings, one of their growing range of painted 20mm MDF architectural scenics. Having been impressed by the initial 'ruined cottage' I had purchased from them I was very keen to add items of a similar quality to my collection.

Finding building models of this quality in 20mm (1/72 scale) is something of a challenge as the vast majority of such laser cut building kits seem to be in 15mm or 28mm to suit the needs of war gamers who seem to prefer these later scales. 20mm war gamers apparently make do with 1/72 or HO/OO scale card, resin or plastic constructions and the proliferation of these laser cut kits is, as yet, not so widespread in this marketplace. Star Fort seem to want to change this.

Description - "Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once..."
This new building model is a two-story affair of a commercial type typical of the towns of Northern Europe (including Eastern Europe) during the First and Second World Wars. I personally find it reminiscent of the sort of small-town or suburban Belgian or Dutch hôtel which would include a cozy café bar or restaurant on the ground floor.

Star Fort Miniatures have given the model the title of 'Café de Normandie', but they say that they will provide a choice of two cafe signs in the production model; Cafe Exmes (Normandy) and Krakauer Cafe (Berlin). Additionally, they will be pleased to produce custom signs to order so that '...if you want a personalised name or want a boulangerie, boucherie, drogerie or bäckerei, just let us know when ordering.' Now that's a very nice touch. The cost of this model is £16.99 (plus postage).

The key advantage of these MDF laser-cut kits, however, is their ability to be easily assembled and disassembled allowing easy access to the various floors during a wargame and convenient transportation to and from games. This model is no exception as it allows the roof, attic floor and first floor to be removed so that infantry can be placed inside.

Unboxing - "Oh, my God! The Gateau from the Chateau!"
The kit comes in a compact little box which fits nicely through your letterbox. Now this is a small detail but I personally hate missing parcel deliveries and so the fact this model can be delivered when you are not in is a good thing in my book! Though, of course, this may change if you go for one of Star Fort's larger city dwellings.

Everything is wrapped in bubble-wrap and organised into several small plastic bags. As I found with their 'ruined cottage' Star Fort give you quite a number of small delicate MDF embellishment with which to decorate you building.

The major components - being made from 3mm MDF sheet - are quite sturdy, but do be careful about how you handle the smaller components. The small architectural details have been beautifully and intricately laser-cut and there are some very fine and delicate pieces. Obviously these are intended to be glued to the main components so will eventually benefit from the mutual solidity that that joining provides, but until then do handle with care!

The four main wall sections are painted - on the exterior sides - in a browny-buff-cream colour (all interior or 'hidden' surfaces are white) and the base is done in a mid-grey colour. Floors are patterned with a floorboard design in a buff colour and have a hole cut in them to represent where a staircase might be. I say 'might be' because a staircase is not actually included in this kit.

The second packet of main components are the roof sections and the ground floor passageway. This is a particularly novel aspect of this building - Star Fort have chosen to give the cafe an entrance which is hidden down an enclosed alley which runs from the front to the back of the place. Inexplicably, though, they have not added the entrance itself on either of these alley walls. I know, technically, this is a 'hidden' feature but I would have liked to have at least have had a door etched onto the wall.

The two bottom panels are the alleyway walls with subdivide
the ground floor - note the lack of an entrance! The thin white
panels are the 'planks' that support the first floor. At the top are
the four roof sections. 
[Actually, while you might think that this alleyway is something of a strange design I have been to a pub in Brussels that is almost exactly like this. Access to the pub is by means of a little alley to one side of the ground floor...Only they do have a door!]

The 'fiddly bits' are next, and occupy two smaller plastic packets. One has the three small attic windows which must fixed to one of the larger roof sections, the stone alleyway surrounds and parts of the cafe window frames. The second has all the 'green' wooden window frames and shutters.

I particularly like the lovely decorative ground floor window frames. These are very delicately produced and are very effective. Also, the green window furniture and cafe signs are a lovely colour and really evocative of the period.

At this point I should point out that - unlike Star Fort's cottages - this building is apparently not being offered in a choice of colour combinations. I think this is because it is such a unique design of building that two in the same model town would be a little much. Though if you wish to add a second of these in a row of commercial buildings it would be easy enough to repaint it in your desired colour scheme.

Construction - "You may wonder what I am doing...."
My kit did not come with a printed instruction sheet. Star Fort, I understand, will be hosting all of the instructions for their buildings on their website but - as you can imagine - putting these little models isn't exactly difficult. Still, there are some parts which may have you scratching your head as to their final orientation so it will be as well that there is some construction notes somewhere.

All the main parts use a tab and groove system so you can dovetail them together or slot them into the base. This is, of course, central to the model's solidity and key in allowing it to be put together easily and then taken apart again - no glued required (in theory).

At this point you may wish to decide whether you want to glue on the exterior detail before you try putting together the main walls or do put them one once you have the main walls in place. I suggest gluing them on after you assemble the main shell of the building as some of the decorative items are designed to fit flush with the base so you will want to glue them on with the walls fixed in position.

Let's start putting up the main shell of the cafe - the exterior walls - and the two interior walls of the subdividing alleyway on the ground floor...

Having got those in place I can start to add some of the exterior details - at least those that I think would benefit from being glued in place with the main walls erected (the cafe's main ground floor windows and 'stone' arches that decorate the entrances to the alleyway).

You can opt to disassemble the main walls again now to add the rest of the exterior detail if you wish as the windows and shutters might be more easily glued in place while the walls are laid flat.

Next I reassemble everything and add the first and second floors. At this point you might - like me - have a bit of a grumble about the lack of interconnecting stairs between the floors but this is something you can easily remedy yourself if it bothers you that much (this may be a future project).

Incidentally, I didn't worry too much about gluing the windows on too straight. If they are a bit wonky it just adds to the rustic charm!

This shot of the interior shows other the subdividing 'alleyway' on the
ground floor and the supporting 'planks' which you place the first floor on.
As mentioned, Star Fort do not include sets of stairs but do put stairwells,
in the form of two holes, in the two upper floors.
Finally we come to the roof. I have to say that while I understand that Star Fort have come up with the simplest and most logical design for this sort of roof the gaps left between the apex of the uppermost roof section is a little unattractive.

Again, due to personal preferences I might have to do something about this and add a simple decorative peak just to finish it off. And while I am at it I might add a chimney. But neither of these two items affects the function of this model at all.

The attic 'dormer' windows, however, are another story. These are a little bit more fiddly, both to put together and to fit to the appropriate roof section. PVA is a particularly slidey glue after all!

For me, in a way, these additions are the least satisfactory parts of the model IF your priority is for the model to fold flat for transportation and storage. The dormer windows should be constructed and glued permanently in place, there are no slots to temporarily fix them to the roof and so make them detachable. Is this a big deal? Not really, they only add a little more space when you pack the kit up.

Be sure to leave these components so that the glue has time to dry before
attempting to fix them to the roof section. I would have preferred an additional
 set of slot and tabs so you could fit them securely to the roof.

Well, that didn't take long! Before you know it you have a fully painted and ready to go cafe. Am I happy with the result? Mais bien sûr, il est magnifique! [That's a big 'yes', by the way!]

In conclusion - "Simple plots are always the best."
René Artois - Cafe owner
The purpose of Star Fort's range of MDF laser-cut buildings is, I think, pretty specific and as such will appeal to wargamers looking for a particular set of features. They are quick and easy to build, require little modeling and no painting skills, are sturdily constructed and can be assembled and disassembled very simply.

This sort of model will appeal to the travelling wargamer who is perhaps more interested in playing his war games than spending time producing historically accurate and ultra-realistic period architecture. Also, 20mm wargame aficionados will appreciate this addition as the availability of such kits in this scale is still a little thin on the ground.

As to style, I know some modellers and gamers criticise MDF building models as being too simplified and somewhat 'cartoony' for their liking. But as I remarked when I made my first Star Fort model, I think this sort of characterture of a building lends itself well to the less serious and 'casual' styles of tabletop wargaming, like Warlord's Bolt Action. To my mind these sort of games are to wargaming what publications like 'Battle' and the 'Commando' comics were to war fiction, they aren't meant to be realistic takes on what war is - they are pure escapism.

For people like myself who are wanting to get into Bolt Action via the cheaper - and more varied - route of 20mm instead of the full-blown 28mm Star Fort Miniature's range of buildings are a very welcome addition to the marketplace indeed.

Finally, a note on quality. As I pointed out earlier the components are cut from 3mm MDF sheet so the larger supporting items are very sturdy indeed. With the decorative embellishments firmly glued on - with a strong PVA - these buildings are a lot more hardy than cheaper card or plastic models. Also the paint seems to be quite durable and I don't think it will be apt to chip (I guess it's washable too, by using a moist cloth if that's important to you).

Star Fort Miniature intend to produce a 'ruined' version of their cafe, as
they have done with their series of cottages.
At the end of the day it is a case of horses for courses and whether Star Fort's offering will suit you has much to to do with what kind of wargaming you do. If you are one of those chaps who painstakingly recreates historical battlefields down to authentic period landmarks and buildings for club demos and events then perhaps these are not your 'cup of tea'. But for people like me who have a more casual interest in tabletop gaming and where storage space is a crucial consideration and want to spend more of their time making little armies and playing with them than they do making little towns then these charming little buildings will be right up your street!

I cannot wait to see what the chaps at Star Fort come up with next. In the meantime here's the link to their new website (which they are still working on):

Price: The cost of SF's Cafe is £16.99 (which is markedly cheaper than the 20mm MDF buildings made by 4Ground, and yet I can see very little difference in quality).

Link to Star Fort's official web site and online store:
- Please note: This site is brand new and still under construction, therefore you might be as well contacting Star Fort by email and asking about availability until their online store is fully populated.

Star Fort email: | Telephone (UK): 078580231362

A special 'thank you' goes out to Colin from Star Fort Miniature
for supplying me with the review model.


  1. Alot of promise with their range all I can say about the majority of mdf buildings is that they get the roofs wrong and as you so rightly commented Star Fort have also got it wrong with the notches.

    1. Hi! Yes, it's a shame that it was the very last section of the kit - the roof that was an issue. The rest was excellent. Anyway I forwarded the link to my review to the Star Fort guys so you never know. Having said that, compared to the next building I made this one is near perfect!!!

  2. Hi Thanks for the review. I am adding new buildings all the time and I now have a facebook page - Star Fort Miniatures

  3. Hi, just to let you know I have read your feedback and have now changed the roof design. Thanks Colin ( Star Fort Miniatures)