04 November 2011

What's the deal with miniature wargaming?

I’ve thought about writing a 2 part entry talking about the appeal of miniature wargaming and boardgames .Finally got some time to do so. And I will start out with miniature wargaming, next week it will be about boardgames.

So what’s the deal with miniature wargaming?

Friends and relatives not into miniature wargaming only see the end result stocked on your shelves. Painted armies, lined up neatly organized in units and ready to be picked up for the next game. You get a lot of “ooo” and “aaa”  when they see the painting, someone might as how the hell you paint eyes on such small miniatures. It is rarely however that you can get people to understand the full aspect of the miniature wargaming hobby. It is hard to explain the appeal to an “outsider”.

My thoughts, it got to be a remnant from your childhood playing with small plastic toy soldiers. When I was a kid I had bags of WW2 single colored plastic soldiers, basically filled the room with them spending hours positioning them ready for combat. I actually spent more time organizing the setup for the battle than with the battle itself.  I remember one time my dad came in and asked me if I was actually playing or just deploying soldiers.

In adult life, the miniature wargaming hobby kind of allows you to get back to that childish joy of deploying an army and move small soldiers about (though you now keep the rifle and explosion sounds in your head because making those, well, now THAT would be embarrassing).

Another thing that might fuel a miniature wargamer is the relationship between the miniatures and either a piece of history and fiction. As a kid I was also hugely interested in WW2, miniature wargaming is kind of a bridge between what you see in movies and learn from books to actually recreating it at home with some miniatures. When I played Warhammer 40.000 and Warhammer Fantasy Battles it wasn’t really the rules and potential future game sessions that made me glue and trim hundreds of models. It was the backstory of the faction I was playing, the fictional history that got me pumped to recreate or make a continuation of that fictional history. Creating your own story to make your own army stand out a little, my Empire army for WHFB was a mercenary warband travelling the empire and hiring themselves out to local barons to defend villages and stuff for money alone.

Having the army ruthless and greedy made the games a lot more fun since every victory was a payday and every defeat was simply “too much trouble to be worth it”.

And I can’t really think of any other means of recreating history or creating a story the way you can do with miniature wargaming in a satisfying way. Sure you can watch movies, which make you just sit back and be contempt with what the movie makers choose to show you, or play a game that might recreate something that is of interest for you. But miniature wargaming is a much more user controlled story telling element, and allows a pretty much endless scope in what you want to do.

Because in the end I think miniature wargaming is about highly refined storytelling, you always know who everyone is, what faction they belong to, what their beef is with each other and what their goals are. I can’t think of a single game that was generic dudes just fighting without reason.
Depending on your interest and what fiction or history you like, those will be the stories you will want to tell and in the end those will become the type of games you play.

Miniature wargaming is also a huge investment in time, space and money. You spend hours of researching your army, painting it up, reading into scenarios but you also have somewhere to play. So you have to either buy or scratch build your game table and terrain pieces because at this point if you have been pumped up to replay the battle of Waterloo playing it on a bare kitchen table with books for hills ain’t going to cut it.

Not all, but a majority of gamers really want to make their battles come alive with terrain and tables matching the realism of their armies. Your apartment start filling up with buildings, fences, woods – when you bring these things with you to a game you have so many cardboard boxes in your car the neighbors think you are moving out.

Terrain is often overlooked, but time spent on terrain is always worth it because your armies and games may be different each time but your terrain will most likely remain the same. 
The greatest obstacle I think in this particular hobby is the difficulty to find someone as dedicated and willing invest into the game as much as you do.  Harder still, to find someone that matches your personality. You don’t want to spend a total of 60 days of building and painting stuff only to play against an asshole. 

Think about it, you have to find someone playing the same game as you, preferably with the same amount of interest as you to get games going more often. Preferably both of you will need to have the same attitude towards the rules, if one is a casual gamer and the other a hardcore rulebook thumper it will be frustrating for both in the long run. Ideally you will have the same attitude towards miniature painting and terrain building. If one really wants to play on a realistic table and the other makes buildings out of cardboard boxes it will annoy the hell out of at least one of you.

It really is a strange hobby. It certainly isn't a hobby for everyone. Those who "get it" however enjoy the hell out of it. But all everyone from the outside sees are the pretty models (and sometimes your childish excitement when the mailman drops off another small cardboard box filled with metal and plastic pieces).


  1. Very didactic: you'd make an excellent teacher!
    Thanks for such attractive & interesting presentation of our hobby.

    Btw, when I learned about Carnevale I thought immediately of you!


  2. The Carnevale stuff is just amazing, I think it has even more appeal and more of a focused theme than Malifaux. I love the setting and timeframe in which that game takes place, would be interesting to read the rules. Miniatures are fantastic , hope to get some of them if only to paint them up :-)

  3. Excellent post, it nicely sums up the curious creature that is the hobby gamer.

  4. Great Post, really quite a nice view on the hobby and its strange allure. Like you when ever parents, friends etc ask why I like it I struggle to explain what it is that I enjoy about collecting and painting lead so much.

  5. A 'plus' of Carnevale over 'Malifaux' [besides the fact that the shop is not currently closed :) ] is the wealth of figurines that can be thrown in: not only all known Cthulhu monsters and then some, but for the 'humans' the bewildering diversity of 18th C. (or 'quasi 18th C.') figurines. While some Wyrd miniatures scream to moonlight in 18th C. Venice, for instance the performer 1 -and of course various monstrosities.
    My only regret concerning the Carnevale figurines is that some male 'civilians' are in 'other periods' hats (slouched hat, bicorne, top hat...: the first can pass as part of a disguise, but the others imply that people 'saw the future' to design their costume).

  6. Very insightful post from different perspectives. xtine


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...