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The Tactical Ramblings of a Mad Miniature Player

Updated on May 16, 2015

The gamer-culture is extremely varied and intermingled; not merely constrained to role-playing games. However, counter to this fact, pop-culture focuses almost exclusively on role-players and role-playing games in media, film and television. Among the numerous "obscure" niches of gamer-culture resides the miniature gamer (or miniature player) and, by extension, miniature games. Always tactical, often strategic, and ever creatively expressive, miniature gamers are not unlike role-players in many respects; in fact, the two formats are closely linked historically and psychologically. This will be an exploration of the miniature gamer: touching on the rudimentary basics of miniature gaming; talking about the quintessential definitions and necessities; and an opportunity to compare role-players and miniature players.

The Inevitable Disclaimer: this article is for informative purposes and is not intended to pass judgement on gamers and non-gamers alike. Information will be presented with the intention of objectivity and without bias towards any point of view. This is not a solicitation for any particular manufacturer, corporate entity, or business. Any such identities are to be presented with the intention of highlighting historical facts and observable contemporary trends.
Now since that is out of the way . . .

Cover of Chainmail, 3rd edition
Cover of Chainmail, 3rd edition | Source

What are miniature games anyway?

A brief definition
Miniature games are games played on a surface (typically tables) using figurines of a standard size or other representative figures (e.g. tokens, dice etc). Most notably about miniature games is they are always in a confrontational setting; chiefly, two or more opposing forces/armies engaging in open warfare.
This is the bare bones of it and the common element behind which all miniature games share. Each games has its own nuances, game mechanics, genre, and other distinctions; listing each variance in model scale, army size, and game objective goes beyond a cursory purview.

A brief historical overview of miniature gaming
Arguably the oldest usage of miniatures to represent soldiers on the battlefield is by commanders enacting battle plans and wargames. These would be to help develop tactics and strategies for practical use in actual combat.

However, considered the earliest publication on the topic of miniature gaming is H.G. Wells' Little Wars. Wells' book was intended as an expression of his pacifism and as a game, but not as a hobby. Miniature gaming as a hobby didn't start until afterwards in the form of historical figurines used to recreate famous battles by individual hobbyists. Even by this point nothing of the contemporary miniature gaming industry would emerge until the 1970s with Chainmail. With supplementary material, Chainmail would give rise to role-playing games, but more on that later.

From these humble roots, miniature gaming eventually took off on their own in the 80's and 90's. The most prolific diversity of miniature games and gaming would not come into being until the new millennium. Here and now is a great diversity of games, businesses, and manufacturers distributing and supporting the miniature gaming hobby.

The Hobby

One of the most defining characteristics of miniature gaming, an important one that separates it from other gaming formats, is concept and ideology of the Hobby.Miniature gaming allows for an outlet of creative expression both similar and dissimilar to other games. While all games encourage, to one degree or another, the players to express themselves in constructive manners, miniature games permit a wider palette and canvas for participants to ply their artistry and vision. This expanded range of artistic expression is the Hobby; and it is because of the Hobby that many miniature gamers are both player and artist.

The Tools of the Hobby

As an artist, the miniature player requires certain to shape the medium of their creative outlet. The fundamental canvas for their expression is . . .

The model (some asembly required)

Models are the collective term for the miniature figurines used by players in miniature games. Models vary in scale (based on the manufacturer and game), materials, and assembly.
The oldest hobby models were originally cast in lead until rising health concerns in the public influenced the miniature hobby industry into using pewter, an alloy primarily composed of tin. Because of the use of lead in the earliest models, many miniature players refer to their models as leads regardless of their composition. As a longer term and cheaper alternative to metal figures, many miniature manufacturers cast their models in plastic or, more recently, in resin; the exact formula/composition of the given materials vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Different manufacturers (and by extension the games themselves) use different scales for the models. Broadly speaking, all models are measured in millimeters (mm) with models ranging from 2mm to 54mm in size. This measurement reflects the distance from the bottom of the model's foot to the model's eye-line and is indicative of the average height of a human being.

Glue

Simply put, not every model is made as a single piece; models made as a single and whole piece can be referred to as single-cast models by the way. Instead, many models are cast into several parts. This requires players to assemble their models (if not at least partially) before they can be used in the game. Various brands of super glue are common to use for this assembling purpose as the bonds have to be strong enough to transport the figures, withstand the wear of gameplay, and to bond to the various materials used by different manufacturers.
Health and safety note (and brief historical tangent): super glue bonds nearly instantly to skin, so caution is warranted when handling and when assembling models. This is also why certain formula of "super glue" are used medicinally as a "liquid bandage" and this was among the earliest intended use of super glue.

Paints

Very few models are every commercially sold completed. Even the overwhelming majority of single-cast models are not painted; instead they are bare metal/plastic/resin. To express themselves and make their unique mark, the miniature player paints their models to whatever scheme they decide upon. The most common form of paint to use on miniatures is water-based acrylic paints. Acrylic paints dry faster than oil-based paints and bond better to the materials used for miniature making.
Many neophyte players opt to paint their miniatures along the lines of the studio paint, or how the manufacturer painted the models for commercial promotion/advertisement. As their skill grows, many players choose to go beyond the studio paint and design their own schemes; in fact, many (if not all) manufacturers actively encourage players to come up with their own paint schemes.

Before . . .
Before . . .
 . . . after
. . . after

Conversions (making the model your own)

Beyond simply painting the details on the models, experienced players will seek to tailor their models to suit their unique taste/scheme. Customizing can be as simple as assembling the model in a way unlike how it was intended to radically altering the design with an amalgam of other parts (or bits) and/or crafting their own bits onto the model. A customized model is referred to as a conversion; with the preceding action of customizing the model called converting. As with devianting from the studio paint scheme, many manufacturers actively encourage the conversion of models.
"WARNING": the biggest risk of conversion is confusion in gameplay. If a player converts a model too much, then it may make the model unrecognizable as the intended miniature. Some manufacturers express their awareness of this concern and encourage to "convert safely" as it were.

What Miniature Games do you know?

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The Game

The main overt purpose of any game is to have fun within the structure of a set of rules; miniature games are no different. Rules will vary wildly from game to game. However, there are a few key elements shared among nearly all miniature games; with this common grounds are tools used to facilitate gameplay.

Distance

Every miniature game is played on a surface whereupon the models can be shifted (moved) around. Models within a game are moved based on the confines of the rules naturally. Doing so typically requires accurate measurements of distance; so most miniature players use tape measures for this purpose. Distance is almost always a factor in for game effects or attacks (most miniature games are war-based games after all); so tape measures fill that necessity as well.

Chance

The success and failure of a player's choices within the game is almost always left to a randomizing factor. Modifiers/rules within the game will always sway the probability of success, but there is always a chance of failure. Most games use dice to randomize the results of a player's decisions. The six-sided die (or d6) is the most commonly used as they are readily available. However, other games utilize dice with various number of sides (e.g. eight-sided, ten-sided, twenty-sided, etc); the number of a given die to be used also various from game to game. Lastly, many games opt for a novel approach and use other means to generate randomized results for player choices (e.g. using a deck of cards).

What Role-Playing Games do you know?

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Role-Playing Games and Miniature Games

As implied above, the history of miniature games and role-playing games are intertwined. In fact, the first fantasy supplements for Chainmail were used for the first edition of the iconic role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons. Even though they share a history (and many traits), the two formats have evolved in different ways . . .

The comparisons
The differences in the game formats is fairly obvious. While miniature games provide a wide palatte of artistic expression, that is still limited by the medium of the models. The adventures and stories in role-playing games (RPGs) however are constructed with the imagination of its players; and is not hindered by the limitations of a medium. Also, the choices players can make within RPGs are likewise limited only by their imagination; whereas miniature gamers are limited by the game's rules. Miniature games are also games of battle and warfare; while RPGs can be combat-oriented (aka hack-and-slash), they are not limited to that. RPGs can be games of political intrigue, paranormal investigation, or dark mystery and many more possibilites.

The similarities
Fundamentally, both games are concerned with telling stories. Yes, miniature games are games of open conflict, but they are still warstories. Both games are expressions of imagination and sometimes considered a healthy outlet for the players. Also as a healthy outgrowth, both games are inherently social. RPGs are social because of the constant discourse and interplay by the players. Miniature players are more casually social in their interactions during games. The time investments typical of miniature games allow players to open up to each other in a casual social manner; they can take the time to just talk about the day, upcoming events, or any other topic of interest.



If you've enjoyed this, then you may want to check out my fiction as well.

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    • Arioch profile image

      Gordon D Easingwood 20 months ago from Wakefield, United Kingdom

      Interesting hub, fan of a few games myself particularly Warhammer (until the recent edition/changes).

    • profile image

      L. Simpson 3 years ago

      Good job Kevin. Very well written and informative. Looking forward to future articles.