Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What IS Miniature Wargaming?

Hi y'all!

So, I'm planning to make this the first in a series of posts about my foray into a wonderful hobby: assembling and painting miniatures! Over the next few weeks/months, I'll report the progress
on my current project: assembling a box of plastic French Napoleonic Infantry by Victrix. This first post will serve as a brief introduction into the wider world of historical wargaming, of which painting miniatures is just one small part!

BTW, click on the pictures for the full glory!

So, what's all this about miniatures?

soldiers! Soldiers for the painting and wargaming hobby are produced in a variety of sizes, materials and styles, and are designed to represent nearly every conflict imaginable. The historical settings range from cave-men-times to Alexander's successor states, from the English Civil War to the "imagi-nations," made-up German states of the eighteenth century, from Napoleonic button-counting to WWII and modern conflicts. Essentially, wargaming brings history to life, and seeing other people's projects on the web has introduced me to whole conflicts and nations I hadn't known existed!

Familiar with the Battle of Blenheim, 1704? I certainly wasn't until I saw this!
Figures painted b
y Matt Slade and Martin Holmes.

Beyond the historical, there are hypotheticals: the "imagi-nations" mentioned, "pulp" gaming, and "near-future" moderns. And then there are the sci-fi and fantasy sides of the hobby, whole huge communities within themselves - me and my buddies back home have enjoyed painting Games Workshop's Lord of the Rings (LOTR) figures for many years before I was even aware historical minis existed!

But what about the minis themselves? Again, they come in a whole slew of flavors. As far as scales, the smallest I've heard of are 2mm high, though those are stuck together in units. 6mm is a popular scale for small individual soldiers - if you want a superb example of what can be done with 6mm figures, head over to Mike's Leadpile, love him, and despair!

Yes, those are 6mm tall, just over half a centimeter! Courtesy of Mike's Leadpile.

Other popular scales include 15mm and 28mm. I only have experience with the latter - Games Workshop produces 28mm LOTR figs, and almost every Napoleonic soldier has a lead 28mm counterpart.

Wait, did you say Lead Figures?

Until now, historical miniatures have always been made of lead or some white metal. But recently, there has been something of plastics revolution, and I'm very lucky to have jumped into the hobby at a time when plastics are just beginning to offer a cheap, safe(?) alternative to pricey metal lumps!

High-detail "hard plastic" fantasy and sci-fi miniatures (the LOTR minis I paint!) have been available for a long while in 28mm plastic, but historicals were apparently too much of a high-risk investment, since tooling the machinery for detailed hard plastic is prohibitively expensive. "Soft plastic" 1:72 historical miniatures, which stand about 20mm high, have been available for decades, but many of these are less-than-optimal for wargaming. I used to purchase sets of 1:72's from my local hobby store, and they are quite fun to play with. I can vouch that some are "hard" enough (not bendy) and detailed enough to paint - I was always just put off by their small size - but, supposedly, paint and glue do not take well to their surfaces.

Plastic Soldier Review shows that painting these soft-plastic figs is quite possible! I own a set of these Brits and they are beautifully detailed.

However, "Hard plastic" miniatures, detailed enough for easy painting and scaled to fit existing historical lines, did not emerge until 2o08, when the Perry Brothers released 28mm American Civil War figures in hard plastic. Since then, the Plastic Craze has been sweeping the hobby! Hard plastic Napoleonics (so far, British and French), Romans, barbarians, "Pike and Shotte," and most recently WWII Germans have all emerged in the last three years. Victrix, which I ordered my first historical miniatures from, just announced it is preparing plastic Napoleonic Austrians - WOW! What an exciting time to be entering a new hobby!

Yeah yeah... So, what do you DO with these "miniatures?"

There are a lot of reasons to paint miniature soldiers - the most obvious of which is to have them DUKE IT OUT!!! Enthusiasts have published a wide range of wargaming rules, designed to accurately simulate battlefield conditions or just to let the players have a romping good time! H.G. Wells helped found the wargaming hobby with his 1913 book
Little Wars, which provided one of the first simple rule sets for battles involving infantry, cavalry, and artillery. One of my university professors was a wargamer back in the 70's when the hobby was still in its infancy - he told me that he used to have a basement full of thousands of Napoleonics. Today, the style of the 70's is considered "Old School," and magazines like Battlegames are devoted to "Old School Wargaming."

Gamers of the new millennium can wage war in a variety of styles. Some enjoy epic set-piece battles like Blenheim above, which involves painstakingly researching the Orders of Battle and the dispositions of the various units (often getting someone to translate them from foreign sources) and faithfully reproducing them on the tabletop. For these large-scale engagements, a single mini can represent hundreds of soldiers. Smaller actions require less abstractions in the rulesets, and tend to be more pleasing on the eye because soldiers aren't crammed in everywhere. And then there are "points battles," which put emphasis on crafty force composition and crushing the enemy beneath the weight of your tactical genius!

Reconciling unit frontage, movement rates, weapon ranges, and ground scales is a real problem at anything larger than a 1:1 scale! Game and minis by Perry Miniatures.

Personally, I am a modeler and painter first and a wargamer a (distant) second. For me, the spectacle and novelty of having historical figures marching around is the primary draw, so I'm particularly attracted to more dioramic setups:

Wow! That's just freaking amazing!
"Meuse or Bust" by London Warlords.

I said earlier that painting miniatures is only one small part of the experience, and hopefully these pictures demonstrate that simulating natural terrain, vehicles, and structures is a huge and enjoyable part of the miniatures hobby!

Berlin 1945 by Loughton Strike Force.

Chemis De Feu! Multi-story!

“Ride the Divine Wind” by Herne Bay Wargames.

Siege of Tenochtitlan, a fanciful Spanish/Aztec brawl by "Société de La Grande Armée

"Jurassic Reich" by Spod, a fellow LOTR-er!

And this is just the half of it! I hope the pictures have inspired a few people to learn more about the hobby! So, in the coming weeks I'll be chronicling my modest progress assembling and (eventually!) painting my first set of historical minis - Victrix Napoleonics that I'm doing up as soldiers of the French Revolution! I'll also talk about how I went from toy soldiers to LOTR figures and my present project - a bit of a Blast from the Past! Til' then, adieu!

- Lafayette

Pictures are all courtesy of Joe Dever, taken at Salute 2009 and 2010. Salute is an annual British wargaming convention.


  1. This is so cool! You have to show us once you are done =)


  2. Glad you like it Ying! And you'll get to see the whole process - this will be my first time doing historical figures and my first time trying out a bunch of new techniques, so we'll experience the triumphs and tragedies together! :D