16 January 2024
Every board game is improved with painted miniatures. Christopher John Eggett delves into his feelings on why that is.
The Venn diagram* of the hobby is a bit of a weird one. One circle has wargamers, another roleplaying gamers, another has those who like extremely advanced spreadsheets masquerading as an economic simulation of a 16th Century historical craze for shipping parsnips by canal to Bremen. And then of course there’s family games, or abstracts, or miniatures games that are sort of between two stalls. All of these overlap. There’s space for everything in the hobby, of course. But for many, they have their circle, their little patch of the gaming world that they like to delve deep into, and when they take a look at other far-flung corners of the gaming map – they just don’t quite get it.
None of this applies as much as those who paint miniatures. While a lot of us have the ‘I used to play Warhammer but…’ as the opening line of their origin story it’s something very much consigned to history. Those of spend their evenings and weekend in a workspace with lamps, little pots of water, and a load of paint pots, bottles and brushes. You might see them in their non-painting time watching famous painters on YouTube create the perfect blend. You’ll hear them say things like ‘Slap Chop’** – with scorn or cheerfulness, depending on how old they are. You might even catch them sucking the end of their brush, literally.
Those who spend most of their time moving little cubes about, or flicking between pamphlets of random RPG tables, this looks a bit weird. Isn’t the hobby about meeting up with people and enjoying their company/crushing them through your superior control of canals of Bremen.
But we’d like to say that it’s not just that. There’s part of gaming that is the very quiet and contemplative exercise in getting better at it. Those who spend their time painting the miniatures from their games are not only enjoying the solitude of getting the right kind of shimmer on that laser sword – but also that they’re getting better. It’s probably the part of the hobby that’s most like a traditional hobby of, say, collecting stamps or knitting yarn-bombable festive bollard cosies.
And it doesn’t take that long to get good. A few evenings of mucking about with a beginner paint set and the miniatures from a game that you like enough to keep regardless of how you slap it on is all it takes to get the bug. Personally, I’ve begun painting a lot of the miniatures I have because it’s a pleasure to get the highlights just right. When the bones on the skeletons really ‘pop’ you have a real sense of satisfaction.
The other reason is you’re improving your games. You’re giving players a little gift when you break out your copy of Planet Apocalypse and you’ve painted up the demons in startling colours. You’ve already invested a lot of time into that game, and so they’re more likely to, too. And who knows, you could even get a compliment on your ability to paint blood stained swords.
So pick up a paintbrush, whack on a YouTube video about ‘getting started’ with miniature painting, and pick a victim from a game with miniatures that you love enough break out again. The best advice here is to pick a game with only a handful of miniatures to start with – that way you know that even if it’s not for you in the long run, you’ve at least got one completely painted game. ∗
* The centre of this diagram is probably ‘sitting down’ or ‘spending money’
** It’s just painting, but with a funny name