There was a time back in the 1980s when I read Dragon magazine and pined over every ad of a game. It was during this time that I saw a picture of a mini-dungeon with some really cool miniatures included. I must have stared at it for hours and finally, when the Sears & Roebuck catalog came and I could pick out my Christmas present, imagine how happy I was to see the set featured in those pages.
My mother ordered if for me, and the day finally came when I opened my gifts and discovered the box I’d been waiting for. Now imagine my shock and disappointment when the incredible color version of the set was this dull grey plastic. It was in that moment that I was both duped by miniatures and also intrigued. Someone, somewhere, had managed to turn that grey plastic to Technicolor gold… but alas, I wasn’t to try myself and so I dumped it and forgot.
When I moved to Frederick, Maryland, back in late 1997, I ended up going into the downtown area to search out a gaming store. I found a good sized store called The Gaming Realm. Although the store would only last another year and a half after I found it, I still have many fond memories of my times there and all the people I met.
The reason I bring this up today was because it was the first time I’d ever seen miniatures in action. Sure, I’d played board games with miniatures, but those were the prefab kind without true ‘flavor’, and I was still kind of stung by that Christmas gift so long ago.
At The Gaming Realm, the designs of Games Workshop ruled, and so I took the time to sit and watch players enjoy this rather strange competition with miniatures that trounced those I remembered seeing in that old Dragon ad.
For a role-player like me, it was thoroughly intriguing to see players with these huge thermonuclear-proof briefcases come into the store and produce some of the most fantastic pieces of gaming art I’d ever seen in person.
The color, scope, and detail involved in the painting of fantasy and science fiction miniatures are astounding. As I watched these experienced players, a massive piece of terrain was brought forth and set on a table, the precision involved in the piece unlike anything I had seen.
Terrain, for those of you who don’t fully understand, would be the gaming board on which these miniatures are set for the game in question. Much like train modeling of yesteryear, the ability of the players to painstakingly create a smaller version of a world makes you shake your head in wonder. Rivers, buildings, woods, barbed wire, trenches, hardened bunkers, you name it and it can be found on one of these boards somewhere across the globe.
I’m ever amazed that the time spent on the board must be in some degree equal to the task of painting the miniatures that play upon it.
Still, the miniatures themselves are the true gem of the game. The ability to create whole units, armies, vehicles, and epic leaders is what helps bring players back again and again. I’ve watched this over the years and have seen a rather fantastic business model emerge.
Where table-top gaming is concerned, especially RPGs, there is a point of diminishing return for any company. Once you produce your core books, typically a player’s book, gamemaster’s guide, and monster book, there is little else a player needs to continue play other than their imagination. Supplementation of the game is then mandatory, and continuing sales falter. Within a couple of years, a new ‘revised’ edition of the game is needed or the company producing it will fail. For all intents and purposes, RPGs are designed on an untenable business model where consumerism is concerned.
This is not true with miniature gaming, and the business model is sound as certainly Games Workshop, the founders of Warhammer and Warhammer 40K can attest. They’ve far surpassed the like of TSR in the gaming genre. This model was once again proved correct in the mid-00s with the launch of Privateer Press and their hit Warmachine.
These two companies have weathered the storm of changing physical game markets and are doing exceptionally well because their products are both highly creative and ever-changing.
To build an army in one of their worlds, a player must purchase the miniatures, and as armies are organic and evolving with each new release, there is always more product to buy. Add in the fact that the ability to paint the armies is both an acquired and highly addictive skill set, and miniatures become a force for collectors.
When you witness the kind of devotion to the craft that many of the grand master painters of these armies have, you begin to understand just how talented the art is. There isn’t a static sense here, each figure having the ability to be changed, posed, and accessorized as they are being built.
It’s truly a magical event, and I salute anyone who has ever taken up a brush and tried to paint a figure. Your artistic talent cannot be denied, and I hope people will take that into account. Nowhere else in the market of genre gaming can so many artists be found, or should therefore be featured as such. What miniatures have done to the fantasy gaming envelope is a blessing to the genre as a whole, and it helps float all other ships in the field.