Affiliated to the League of the Two Foot Wargamers
Is it me, or have we become too obsessed with the individual, and forgotten about the whole? Now I’m not talking about society here, but rather the trend for focussing upon the amazing painted detail of a figure, rather than the impact of the army as a whole? With the advent of digital cameras and cameras on our phones there are close up pictures of figures, or parts of a unit, posted up everywhere. It is rare to see the full beauty of a brigade of units in their natural habitat, or an entire army striding across the game table. Instead we have snapshots of little corners of games to highlight the amazing pant job of the individual figure.
It is unlikely that my figures will grace many peoples internet bookmarks, but hopefully my armies might. It is rare for me to get so up close and personal that I can enjoy the same perspective of the studio miniature photo shots of figures on the game table, but for the majority of the game I will be seeing them at arms length or further, so I think that my paint style reflects that. I think that my style sits more in the impressionist style of wargames painting, with the figure looking OK, though the unit looks good as a whole, and everything blending into satisfactory magnificent with the whole army on display. The irony is that most of the amazing paint jobs are barely discernible from my satisfactory standard at 3 foot.
So all of you barely competent and adequate painters out there, I invite you into the Two Foot Wargamers community under the banner of the Arms Length Brigade. Let us celebrate our painted armies in their entirety and appreciate the delight of simply getting it onto the table with the simple knowledge that painted ones do fight better, even if they aren’t painted amazingly. In this day and age we should just celebrate everyones accomplishments, and the fact that there is another army to play against.
I really like Ancient Greek history and mythology, I mean, I REALLY like Greek mythology. Over the years I have created various historical and fantasy armies to address this fascination. I have bought multiple rule sets to explore the genre and generally had a great time doing so. There is however one army which I find difficult to find figures which match my expectations, and that is the Amazons. Unfortunately most interpretations of these figures tend to be more along the lines of Raquel Welch from One Million Years BC, in minimalist fur bikinis, or is a more medieval theme, chain mail bikinis or miniskirts. It seems as if the figure sculptures are old interested in scantily clad women with excessively large breasts. Rarely has there been any attempt to portray the warriors which can be found in the Ancient Greek art.
Sometime in the early 90’s I bought into Grenadier UK’s Amazon army.Unfortunately they did have somewhat short skirts which resulted in me painting leggings onto the archers. These figures were more of a pseudo medieval fantasy range, and despite theme having big cat riders and chariots pulled by giant cats, these weren’t the answer I was looking for.
Corckodile Games did bring out a range of Amazon warriors who were wearing a more realistic set of clothing, at least seemingly more appropriate for battle, however these were more of an ancient fantasy interpretation, but not really Ancient Greek inspired.
Wargames Foundry did release a range of amazons for the Scythian ancient wargames range. These were a lovely understated set of figures which address the light cavalry types portrayed in the Greek pottery art.
In the brief existence of Wargames Factory it produced a box set of plastic Amazons which were in the same range as their Greek Hoplites and skeletons. Whilst being in the very affordable price range they did suffer from high skirts (or rather no skirts). They were however in a vaguely appropriate Greek hoplite panoply despite the lack of tunic or leather pteruges.
Around 10 years ago Wargames Foundry released a Greek myth range of figures to link up with their Tribes of Legend rules, which coincidentally worked out quite well for the Osprey release of their great Of Gods and Mortals rules. The Foundry range included Centaurs, Satyrs, Greek Heroes, Ray Harryhausen skeletons, harpies, and within the mix Amazons. These did have hoplite warriors in full armour, were fairly well endowed, but not to the extent that the figures were overly sexualised. Whilst not the best figures in the Foundry stable (now caught under their Casting Room Miniatures range) these were a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately the range was somewhat limited, and didn’t really get much support. They are still available though, and does even include a chariot (thought he rider is a bit odd).
With the advent of small hobby suppliers breaking into the wargames market with their niche resin ranges during the early teens I had expected to see someone address this area. There were the odd figures which might have worked, but most simply continued to provide skimpily clad female fighters. One company which has been earnestly attempting to address the poor representation of female warriors in the miniature market place is Bad Squiddo Games who have been slowly working through the historical genres filling in the gaps.
3D printing has become a reality over the last 5 years or so. I appreciate that it had existed prior to that, but the prices of the high end machines required for the standard needed for miniatures took a while to come down to the hobby gamer level. So I kept an eye open for designers addressing this gap. Unfortunately those who did provide designs tend to address the Raquel Welch end of the Amazon market.
Then I found Hero Forge. This is an online service where you can effectively design your miniature, equip and clothe it and even pose it to however you want. Initially the scope of the clothes and equipment was limited to the more in demand fantasy tropes, but gradually the library of designs increased significantly (and is still increasing). Hero Forge then allows you to either order a resin printed version of the figure which you have designed, or alternatively download the design as an STL file so that you can print it yourself. The only issue I find with the models is that they tend towards the ‘chunkier’ endomorphic body type. I presume that those who are expert with the printing tools can scale the x and y axis to ‘thin’ the figure somehow. but I haven’t got to that level of competency yet.
So through Hero Forge I have designed a few variants for archers, javelin throwers, a variety of phalanx spear armed troops in different poses, various heroes and musicians, along with standard bearers and seers. I waited to take advantage of one of their discount promotions which significantly reduced the cost before purchasing the designs to download. Now I can print off figures in batches of around 9 to 15 figures (depending upon how dramatic the pose is) and have slowly been building up my forces for Mortal Gods Mythic, which also double up for Oathmark, and Of Gods and Mortals. I’ve had mishaps along the way, but it has all been part of the learning journey, and given the unit price of the figures to print, those mistakes haven’t been as expensive as I had feared they might. The beauty of this system is that I don’t have to look for compatible ranges for figure poses to fit with my army, since now if I need a new troop type or another pose for variety, I can simply design a new one to download and print. This is particularly appealing for those games where characters or units evolve, so the figures can be modified; if your hero loses an eye, then add a patch, loses and hand, add a hook, gets a fancy new helmet, add a different helmet. There are of course issues with the tool. You are limited to what is currently available in their design ‘wardrobe’, and the clothing still has a chunky, somewhat cartoony appearance; I would like to see the clothes hang more naturally. That said though, as a free to use design tool for those who aren’t initiated in the art of using the real 3d design software applications, this is a great place to experiment and bring to reality your ideas in a very quick timeframe. I’m sure that these solutions will only improve a more people challenge the tools to improve.
What this has meant though, is I now have to decide whether to keep the older figures, or go completely with the new style. I think tat I can get my new figures to ride giant cats, and cat drawn chariots shouldn’t be too much of a challenge….
Manufacturers referenced (where they still seem to be available)
If you have dared to poke your head above the parapets in the modern corporate workplace you will no doubt had been inundated with the whole new ‘Agile‘ work methodology. It is a methodology which originated in software and product development, but has now exploded into the real work and can now be found in almost any process or work activity. So I thought that if the workplace can force this work idea onto anything, why not apply it to wargaming.
So what are the main principles of Agile?
To steal a quote from Wikipedia
Agile methodology involve discovering requirements and developing solutions through the collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams and their customer(s)/end user(s). It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continual improvement, and it encourages flexible responses to change.
So that doesn’t really help, since inevitably our army preparation is going to be a solo affair, without any teams, and to be honest the end user/customer will be us. Where agile is relevant is in the second part of the statement and how we approach our tasks.
Again t steal some basic principles I’ll attempt to apply them to the tasks in hand;
The Manifesto for Agile Software Development is based on twelve principles:
Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
Welcome changing requirements, even in late development.
Deliver working software frequently (weeks rather than months)
Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
Working software is the primary measure of progress
Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
Best architecture, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective, and adjusts accordingly
To be treated as the Manifesto for Agile Miniature Army Preparation with it’s own twelve principles.
Make yourself feel better by quickly getting usable units onto the table.
It’s OK to change your mind about what you want to include in your army, even later on in the process.
Deliver viable, table usable units frequently (days rather than weeks)
Ensure that you have your tools, paints and supplies ready, and that additional supplies can be sourced easily.
Believe in yourself, don’t be afraid of failing, since failure on this situation is about personal perspective and expectations. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Embrace failure as every failure is a lesson to be learnt from for future success. (Maybe I did swallow the corporate self-improvement handbook on that one)
Talking to yourself may be frowned upon but can improve motivation and mental focus, whilst often improving the standard of conversation.
Usable miniature units is the primary measure of progress
Seek to constantly improve the status of table ready troops at a maintainable constant pace. Try not to burn yourself out by pushing so hard that the exercise becomes an onerous chore.
Continuous attention to developing effective painting and good practice
Simplicity—the art of maximising the amount of work not done—is essential
The ability to complete armies quickly comes from constantly re-evaluating the completed army components. “Are they good enough?’
Regularly, reflect on how to become more effective, and adjust your techniques and style accordingly
Applying the principles
OK, so how can we really apply this to what we do?
The most sensible place to start is the beginning, which ironically means looking at where you want to be at the end. What do you want your final army to look like, how much time can you commit to it, and how much are you willing to spend? It would be all to easy saying that I want a GW Golden Demon standard of painting, I want to finish it in the next couple of weeks, and I need to do it on a shoestring. So it is at this point that you really need to be honest with yourself and determine what you would be satisfied with since what you produce will be a compromise between quality, time, and money. (However, if you do have oodles of all three then this is probably less of an issue for you),
Army finish standard
The better the finish required will either mean more time invested by yourself, or paying someone to do the work for you; with the more you pay hopefully getting you a better quality product.
The less time you have to undertake the task then the more you’ll have to be realistic about what you can hope to achieve, or the more money you’ll have to pay someone else to do the work. If there isn’t a looming wargames tournament or club event adding time pressures, then be realistic about how quickly you want to get units onto the table before you lose steam and interest?
Of money isn’t an option, and you don’t have a desire to paint then why not pay someone else to do it all. However if you do want to do some of it, then work out whether paying someone to do some of the work would help. I dislike cleaning up plastic miniatures and sticking the fiddly bits together and get the figures primed. If I could off-load that part of the process for a modest fee then I could invest my time and effort on the bits I do enjoy (or at least dislike less). Am I the only person who prefers finding a box of assembled unpainted plastic figures rather than a brand new unassembled box on the bring-and-buy?
The Beauty of a Minimum Viable Product
Agile revolves around delivering a minimum viable product to the next step. Understanding exactly what this is is a major part of the challenge. In wargames unit painting standards this will be a personal value judgement which will change through the time of the project as each unit progresses toward its final state.
My final state is whether it passes the two foot test. Does the unit look good when it is presented on the table when the closest figures are effectively at arms length. I’m not so concerned as to whether the individual figures will stand up to close up scrutiny, because, to be quite frank, I won’t be looking at by figures up close and personal. This is the end state though. I also have to determine what will be the MVP at each of the stages in my army’s evolution. I have many friends (honestly, I do have friends) who wouldn’t countenance putting unpainted figures on the table, even for a friendly club evening session. I have other friends who are so intimidated about being judged on their figure painting that they never even take their figures beyond the basic assembly, and resign themselves to forever play in the bare plastic so that they never have to worry about the fear of failure.
The pervasive fear of failure
Perhaps it’s worth derailing this conversation slightly by quickly referencing this fear of failure. When I started wargaming to be quite frank the standard of figure painting was basic in the main. Having a painted army was the objective, and everyone seemed to celebrate your success in finishing an army, no matter how poor the quality. My first armies were painted with Humbrol enamels with a fairly poor brush. Getting a nice clean paint job was the ambition, then ensuring it was well varnished so that you never had to paint them again was the main order of the day. Things changed however. As Games Workshop’s reach extended and the White Dwarf magazine became more pervasive, so did the expectations for figures to be painted ever better. The tools of the trade did improve, so acrylic paints became more accessible and detail paint brushes affordable. Technical paints were produced, along with sprays and devices to aid in your pursuit of better painted figures. I was soon a convert to acrylics, and the various washes and shades. I learnt all about highlighting and dry-brushing and my collection of brushes was soon more than ‘the good one’ and the ‘bad one’. My bases evolved from simple grass green painted cardboard, to textured and flocked, to eventually static flock, tufts and scatter. For me this had been an evolutionary process. and my expectations were still tempered by what I had experienced in my early formative years in wargaming (thank you Mike Carsons). For new comers to the hobby though, they have significantly high expectations from the onset. This is only re-inforced through the Warhammer Shops (when did they stop being Games Workshop?) with their beautiful shop armies, the fantastic figures on display in the various magazines, and with the advent of social media the plethora of stunning figures which always seem to be on display. It is the rare individual who posts up some basic painted figures to support their narrative of the great game which they had played. Now, the whole environment seems to have focussed on form over function with the game playing second fiddle to the ‘miniature hobby’. And so, to my concern from the beginning of this diversion, I find many new comers who simply don’t try due to the fear of not being excellent.
So how do we apply the MVP in practice? More of that next time
A somewhat disjointed rambling set of thoughts looking for ways to not rebase
What follows now is a completely unstructured rambling set of observations without any real conclusion. It may get edited at some point, or more likely just added to.
I suppose that I’m like most wargamers in that I’d rather not have to rebase my figures each time the next best ruleset comes along, because given the erratic nature of our club rules seem to come in and out of fashion fairly regularly.
It’s not as if it is simply a matter of basing your figures individually. Even in that reasonably safe space each rules writer seems to take delight in establish new base sizes, or even shapes!. In 25mm or now 28mm, or as most seem to now acknowledge 32mm (or the undefined ‘heroic’), the once 20mm square base is insufficient. Apparently corners seem to have been an issue, or perhaps it was the straight edges? Now bases tend towards being circular, I suppose helped by the demise of Warhammer Fantasy Battle as players evolved to its new off-spring as Age of Sigmar. OK, I can appreciate that circular bases have been the normal for most skirmish games for a few decades now, but it now seems to have become an option within historical and unit fantasy games, oh, what joy. So, getting back to the old 20mm base size which seems to have bitten the dust, most likely due to the constant figure scale creep. Now figures seem to fall into either the 25mm base, or a 32mm base, or dare I say it, even larger?
So, where do we start?
I recently got involved with Mortal Gods (it’s a consensual relationship), and wanted to reuse figures from my existing ancient armies. I did try sabot bases involving mdf bases, magnetic sheeting and steel paper, with 25mm circles with 20mm square sockets, but it was very clunky and not very satisfying (OK, the added depth from the sabot base meant that the figures looked like ancient statues raised up on plinths). So I ended up looking at rebasing. OK, I admit the headline was about looking at ways not to rebase, but this is where the dilemma started. I resigned myself to rebasing a component of my figures to play the game, but it started me thinking about how I could re-use these figures going forward without the need for rebasing again (or even worse, buying a second set of figures to base in the different way!).
With the plethora of mdf laser cutting companies in the war-games universe larger unit trays are an easy solution. New game system, just get the necessary mdf unit trays to take the figures. This has worked for me to re-invent my Lord of the Rings armies to play using the A Song of Ice And Fire rules from CMON. By simply having a series of unit trays in the appropriate size cut for me by Blotz, I now have armies of Gondor, Rohan, Mordor and beyond to fight using the new rules. A far simpler system than rebasing, and cheaper than buying a new set of armies. Unfortunately this solution only really works one way; going from small bases to larger bases. Don’t ask me for my solution for going the other way.
But what to do with individual figures? With rare earth magnets being fairly cheap, they offer opportunities to the more capable members of our cohort. I’ve seen solutions using thin 20mm bases which could be discretely put onto larger bases for other systems without any appreciable increase in base depth. Others have gone even further by applying small rare earth magnets to the actual feet or hooves so that there was no actual base as such, but relied upon a more engineered solution for the unit trays having hidden rare earth magnets for the figures to attach to. This facilitated figure removal in game, but also allowed the figures to be ‘reapplied’ in other game systems with the simple (OK, maybe not quite so simple) expedience of a new unit tray with magnets in the appropriate places.
The other elephant in the room with war-games is the actual base cover itself. I believe that wargamers become ‘base blind’ as we see the beautiful figures on their level bases, but ignore how incongruous the army looks upon the wargames scenery. Even when the figures have beautifully textured rural bases it would be a rare even that they actually looked similar to the wargames table which they were being used upon. Even when they do for one table, on the next they will look completely out of place. This was apparent which I first started playing sci-fi games because the extremes of basing style were increased significantly. Now were weren’t just seeing traditional Earth flora, but now we had any colour or texture imaginable as players sought to apply the full might of their artistic capabilities to their imagination. So what to do?
Figures from the Siege of Barwarie where none of the figures seem to have suitable bases for the terrain which they’re standing upon.
I play Star Wars Legion, or rather I have collected a fair few figures, painted them up, and had a very limited number of games. From the onset I wanted my armies to be for Hoth. I loved The Empire Strikes Back and wanted to collect the figures for the battle. Whilst it would have been a simple matter to use the provided bases and have a snowscape battlefield at home, I would forever be playing on a variety of battles capes when I played elsewhere. I didn’t want my armies to look so ‘wrong’. So it was that I took advice, and along with Phil, my comrade in arms, we decided to go clear. We sourced clear acrylic bases cut to the various required sizes and shapes (the larger bases have indents for the measuring rulers to slot into). Our figures are now all based in a similar standard. This means that my figures have fought in the streets of Mos Eisley, the snow fields of Hoth, the city streets of Theed on Naboo, as well the more generic wargames generic plains and farmland. And on all of them the figures have looked like they belonged there.