This was a very difficult decision, one that I've been anticipating and contemplating since I started SMS back in July. I admit what you already know, that this exercise is inherently unscientific; I have my own personal interests and biases, and frankly, I didn't see literally every new model released in 2012. That said, I've tried to be as objective as I possibly can. I read several online forums and make mental notes of what I see, but at the end of the day (or...at the end of the year) I can only consider what I've seen in some form or another, whether online, at contests, or what I've actually purchased.
When thinking about the model I would select, I considered many factors. How unusual is the subject matter? (For example, do we need yet another Bf-109 or Sherman?) How detailed is the model? How profitable is the model likely to be? (I want manufacturers to be successful.) How versatile is the subject matter? Does a relatively good model already exist of the subject?
I tentatively selected Eduard's 110 when it was first released over the summer, but then Great Wall threw me for a loop when they released their 1/48 MiG-29 last month, and I was forced to reconsider my choice. After reading the glowing reviews from modelers on ARC and Hyperscale, I decided that I had to buy one myself to see if the kit lived up to the hype. And I'll be damned, it did! Friends, the MiG-29 is now, arguably, the best 1/48th scale model ever produced, an honor which I think most modelers would've ascribed to the Tamiya 1/48 F-16C Viper.
I looked very closely at both the Eduard Bf-110 and the Great Wall MiG-29. Both feature state-of-the-art, fifth generation detail and molding. Both are positioned to be profitable for their producers. Both effectively "replace" good, but imperfect kits (Fujimi and Academy, respectively).
Two features of the Great Wall MiG-29 almost swayed me to select it. First the rivets; there are two types of rivets, each molded to a different depth! Second, the armament. The AA-10s and AA-11s are works of beauty and rival any resin missile produced in plastic or resin. This kit sets a new standard that all other manufacturers will seek to meet in 2013 and beyond. I would pre-order every new release from Great Wall, even without knowing what it would be!
What the Great Wall MiG-29 is to 1/48th scale, the Eduard Bf-110E (and the other 110 variants Eduard has since released) is to 1/72nd scale. I selected the Eduard kit as my kit of the year because, frankly, I think it's more difficult to achieve this degree of detail and finesse in 1/72nd scale than it is in 1/48th. The 110 is gorgeous. It features detail that we typically see in resin and panel lines and rivets that are truly appropriate for the scale. (I hope we see that level of finesse on 1/144 scale kits next year.) That Eduard has released at least two other 110 variants and a bunch of aftermarket (photoetch and resin) tells me that this kit is positioned to be a profitable investment for our Czech friends. After their Bf-110, I'm even more excited about the promise of what is likely to be Eduard's best release in 2013, their MiG-15.
I should mention a few other models that are among the best of 2012. Tamiya's 1/72 A6M Zero is a gem, beautifully detailed and molded. (There's a review on Hyperscale.) On the armor front, Meng's A39 Tortoise and IDF Merkavas are wonderful, setting a new standard for 1/35 manufacturers, and Bronco is producing some very nice armor; hell, I've lost count of their Chaffee releases!
(Sadly, I cannot comment on ship or car releases. I hope to find someone in 2013 who can contribute commentary on those corners of the hobby).
As I look back to 2012 I feel compelled to remind everyone that scale modelers are living in the best of times. Despite a recession in the United States and economic uncertainty around the world, 2012 was a great year to be a modeler, in terms of releases and quality. Yes, the kits from the best manufactures easily exceed $50 and many approach $100, but ours is still a value-rich hobby. 2012 saw jaw-dropping examples of models produced with the latest technologies, such as computer aided design, rapid prototyping, and slide molding. Many kits don't need the aftermarket we've become accustomed to buying. Even the cottage industry is contributing to our nirvana, with innovative releases from small businesses such as Caracal Models, Barracuda Studios, Freightdog Models, and ET Model.
I've enjoyed each of the thirty-some years I've been in the hobby, and the only thing that bums me out as we enter 2013 is that I can't build models fast enough to keep up with all of the new releases we see every year. Happy New Year!