Before we start, I ask that you share this article with anybody who you think needs to read it: specifically newbie wargamers.
When you’re new to the hobby, it can hard to discern the “right” way of doing things and “wrong” way. Much is depend on personal taste, but there are one or two hard rules newbies (and even veterans) break but don’t realize it.
Where do I begin?
Some wargamers might look at the picture above and see nothing wrong. Back when I first started playing wargames, a set up like this wouldn’t have bothered me as much.
Others will wail gnash their teeth like the sinners in a Hieronymus Bosch painting, because they see WARGAMING HELL!
What you see in the picture represents a lot of the shenanigans I’ve seen over the years in the hobby. Some of these are beginner mistakes. Others are intentionally done by people who should know better.
Let’s take a look at the usual suspects.
Unpainted and half-painted miniatures
When I first played wargames, I saw nothing wrong with fielding unpainted or half-painted figures. I didn’t have time to paint them, but I wanted to wargame anyway. I used to get upset with “miniatures snobs.”
Why didn’t they understand that not everybody has time or the talent? Why can’t people just play the game, enjoy themselves, and paint their figures later? Why can’t the hobby be more welcoming?
There’s some validity to asking these questions, and many veteran wargamers will put their unpainted metal, plastic, resin, or lead(!) figures and see no problem with it. Just go down to your FLGS during a tournament and you’ll see it happen.
I’ve, however, become a miniature snob. I don’t game with people who don’t paint their figures. There’s are several reasons for this.
Suffice to say, I got fed up playing against mooks whose miniatures hadn’t seen a touch of paint. (Or worse: half-painted or with sloppy paint jobs). Most of the time, it seemed, while I had painted my miniatures, trying to make them look nice, these mooks had studied the ins-and-outs of the rules so they could stomp anybody.
Yet if I made any objections, they’d ask me: “Why are you making the hobby more welcoming?”
Mixing Brands of Miniatures
The picture shows figures from Games Workshop, Reaper Miniatures, Wizards of the Coast, Front Rank, Black Tree Design, and others. Some wargamers are die-hards when it comes to “brand purity.”
I’m not, so long as the miniatures look nice.
The real danger comes from difference in scale. The new 28mm and 30mm scales by the more mainstream manufacturers look huge compared to companies who produce pure 25mm figures.
I also won’t show up to an official Games Workshop tournament with my Hundred Years’ War figures from Black Tree Design and Front and expect to play Bretonnians, Age of Sigmar or not. Nor would I expect to use those four Reaper ogres if Mantic Games ran Kings of War event at my local gaming store.
Proxies, Chits, Markers, and Bases
I’m a firm believer in “what you see is what you get.”
Players should be able to eyeball a miniature and have a rough idea of its capabilities in the game. There’s certain amount of common sense to this, and a player might have to explain his or her proxy before the game start.
Yet the line gets drawn when players start putting down chits, markers, and bases to represent miniatures.
The chits come from the old AD&D Battlesystem, the miniatures from the D&D Miniatures game. Here we see some Draconians, presumably from the Dragonlance campaign setting. Gamers familiar with the setting will know Draconians of different varieties exist–some can fly, some cannot. Each have different abilities.
The unit on the left has Draconians with and without wings. So can the unit fly? If so, that will make a difference in a sieges like this. But its unclear.
The unit on the right contains Draconian chits, but the miniatures are lizardmen or troglodytes. So are the Draconian chits proxies for the lizardmen or vice versa?
More chits. The humans appear to be archers, though some swordsmen are in their ranks. The player has also taken advantage of the small gnome chits and placed them the battlement crenelations, yet some have bows, others have spears. Is there a difference?
And what the heck is that off to the right, in the castle?
Is it okay to take a wooden base (this one by Litko), write “Mounted Knights” on it, and call it good? I’d say, “no.”
What about those chits? Is it okay to use those?
I’d also say, “no.”
What about black plastic bases to “round” out a unit so long as everybody knows what the unit is? Is that okay?
Again, I’d say, “no.’
It depends on the context…
In case you hadn’t figured it out, there isn’t anything inherently “wrong” with using proxies, mixing brands, or gaming with half-painted or unpainted miniature. (Well, there is one MAJOR exception, which you might have discovered if you looked closely, which I’ll point out next Mini Monday.)
Battlesystem had those chits so players could learn how to play the game. So did the third edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle.
Sometimes you might want to use proxies to learn how to play a wargame before you invest money into all its books and miniatures. It minimizes your risk. New wargames debut on the market all the time, begging for your attention, and they fade away just as fast, if not faster, it seems.
There’s no hard and fast rule on how to play wargaming “right.”
Yet a general rule is this:
What you use to wargame in the privacy of your own home is your business, but don’t expect other players to conform to your tastes.
A bit harsh, maybe? Something a miniature snob would say? Certainly.
Next time on Mini Monday I’ll share some more miniature shenanigans, and point out exactly what’s wrong with that picture.
What shenanigans have you witnessed on the tabletop? Do you believe miniatures should be painted in order to play?