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Miniature Wargaming 101
Introduction - Miniatures - Painting - Mounting

What is miniature wargaming? Miniature wargaming is when you use scale models or figures of real-life people or equipment to recreate battles from some period in history – or even the future. This is done with the help of rules which are used to create the actual conditions of movement, casualties and morale. Miniature wargaming rules range from simple to complex, depending on the goal of the rule designers. Complex rules usually move at a slow pace and require a lot of work, but the way combat plays out will closely match the results of real life combat. Simple rules can move at a faster pace and require less work, but they will be less concerned with historical accuracy for the various game steps or final results. These later rule types emphasize fast and enjoyable game play.

This is well known as the "Speed versus Accuracy" issue, which most designers resolve by creating a modestly accurate system that can be learned by most people. A solution used at WTJ is to speed up game play by abstracting mid-turn combat elements, while still assuring that final results are accurate. This hybrid approach has proven very popular.

Because there is no international standard for rating the complexity of miniature wargaming rules, it is up to individual players to decide for themselves which rules are too simple or complex for them. Rules used to be sold almost exclusively through hobby stores, but the advent of the Internet has brought a huge new selection on-line, some of which cost money and some of which are free.

So the two most important items for gaming are rules and figures. The rest of this section will address the issue of figures and how to prepare them for use. The actual process of painting figures and playing wargames is fairly simple, but where to begin can be a difficult decision. The best way to begin is to choose a period or story type which you find interesting. Your best incentive for historical gaming will be the reading of eyewitness accounts and narratives for the battles you re-create, so if you are already interested in the subject, it helps a lot. For science-fiction or fantasy, then the books or computer games themselves will usually be your best sources.

Another valuable thing to remember is that your interest in gaming or in a particular genre of gaming will vary over time. If you seem to lose interest in a particular period, don't worry about all those miniatures you bought. Humans thrive on variety, so you will probably develop interests in several different genres of gaming, and will bounce around from one to the other, alternately putting away and pulling out batches of miniatures to fill your most recent interest. You would be surprised at how many people I know who sold their stuff only to get back into it again a year or two later. Never get rid of your stuff, rotating interests is a normal thing.

Once you decide on a genre that interests you, contact local players or gaming groups which put on games for that period (if you have not gamed before). Try to play with more than one group so that you have variety in the games played. Beware of isolated groups made up of people who argue too much, or groups who have individuals that are allowed to capitalize on everybody else's time (a problem common to all hobbies). Wargaming involves a hefty investment of your time, and you should invest that time wisely with people or groups who are easy going and interesting. Most players and gaming groups are great, and they will usually have established miniatures and rules for game play, which will give a good clue as to which figures you want to buy and paint. This leads us to the subject of the miniatures themselves.

Most gaming miniatures fall into a few categories based on two basic factors: materials and scale. The question of materials is simple, since most gaming miniatures are made of metal or plastic. Metal miniatures are usually more attractive and durable. Plastic miniatures are cheaper, but the paint-job degrades over time as the flexible plastic allows chipping of the paint. The question of scale is more complex and requires some explanation. Most gaming scales are expressed using one of two standard methods: fractional and metric. Each standard of scale has it's own normal area of usage which we will outline below:

Fractional: Most lines of miniatures designed on a fractional scale standard will be centered on man-made devices, such as tanks, ships, planes, trains, etc. The fractional scale system works just like it sounds. The scale refers to the difference in size between the model and the real thing. So a 1/2400 scale battleship model will be 1/2400th the size of the real life ship. This means that the 863 foot long battleship Yamato would be about 4.3 inches long in 1/2400 scale (863 ÷ 2400 = .36 feet). Some of the more common fractional scales and their common applications are:

Scale Land Aviation Naval
1/72 x - -
1/76 x - -
1/287 x x -
1/300 x x -
1/700 - x x
1/1200 - x x
1/1250 - x x
1/2400 - - x
1/3000 - - x
1/6000 - - x

The most common fractional land war scales in use today are 1/76th (which corresponds to the metric 20mm scale) and the 1/287 and 1/300 "micro-armor" scales (which correspond to the 6mm metric scale). The most common air war scales are 1/72 for WWI combat, and 1/300 scale for other periods. The most common naval gaming scale is 1/2400, with the new 1/6000 rapidly closing in as a very popular scale for WWI combat and later.

Metric: Most metric gaming scales emphasize recreating the human form, hence the wide use of the metric scale models for use for land based combat. In this system, the scale refers to the height of a single human. So a 20mm scale model series will be based on the calculation of a scale human figure being roughly twenty millimeters tall. However, different model designers use different measurement standards to design their figures. Human figures are always created mounted to a small base, and some designers include those bases in the overall height. Others do not. The result is a wide variation in size, even among theoretically identical scales. For example, the very common 15mm figure range features some manufacturers who offer figures whose scale "humans" are only 13½mm tall, whereas some other makers of 15mm figures offer miniatures whose scale humans are nearly 18mm tall! The variation when placing two such differently designed figures side by side is very noticeable. This is why we offer a WTJ "Man Height" standard, which measures from the top of the base (bottom of the scale figure's feet) to the approximate top of the scale figure's head. This offers a rough standard which allows comparison of figures from different designers. The chart below offers a rough outline of the most common metric scales and a few related periods of land warfare.

Scale Ancient & Medieval
(before the year 1453)
(1454 -1865)
(1866 and later)
6mm x x x
10mm - x -
12mm - - x
15mm x x x
20mm - x x
25mm x x x
30mm - x -

As can be seen, the most common scales used are 15mm and 25mm. The second most common are 20mm and the 6mm "micro" scale, which corresponds to the 1/287th and 1/300th scales. 10mm and 12mm are new scales which are increasing in popularity due to their combination of economy and detail. Since the main designers of 10mm figures design their figures slightly oversize, and the current designer of 12mm figures design figures which are very slightly undersized, both scale are currently very compatible with each other. Maybe they should get together and rename the scale 11mm!

Painting figures can be divided into four steps: deburring, temporary mounting (holding), priming and painting. We will cover each step separately, discussing supplies and equipment, basic steps and recommended techniques. We cannot recommend how many figures you should attempt to paint all at once, since figures vary in size and type (infantry, naval, aircraft, etc.). But most people paint anywhere from 10 to 30 infantry figures at a time, depending on the sizes of units being used in the rules they play. Painting one figure at a time is not advised, since your brushes are probably not cheap, and the repeated cleanings which come as a result of such small groups will shorten the life of your precious commodities!

Deburring - When you first buy your figures, they will often have bits of metal left on them from the molding process. These will have to be removed before you prime the figures.

Equipment: X-acto knives (large and small), nail clippers and sandpaper.
How to: Use the shearing strength of the nail clippers to remove the largest chunks and easy to access pieces. Then use the X-acto knife to clean up the detailed areas, and for infantry bases, to slice the bottom of the base smooth. In the case of metal tank models which need to be assembled, forming the tread segments or at least examining them for consistent form is advised. Make sure to use a small X-acto knife to clean up the basic outline of infantry figures, in case there is flashing along the parting lines (where the mold halves met).

Temporary Mounting - Instead of trying to hold onto each miniature separately as you try to paint it, it is common to temporarily mount miniatures on small disposable chits, sometimes even the cardboard chits out of board games. My preferred method is to use the extra wide wooden popsicle sticks sold at most craft supply stores. Instead of gluing the miniatures in place, I use clear adhesive glue-dots which are also sold in most craft supply shops. 15mm human figures can readily be lined up three or four per stick for easy holding and access. Also, the wooden sticks double as good paint palettes.

Priming - If you paint figures without primering them, it will usually cause a number of different problems. The colors of the paint will not be as vivid, and the paint itself will come off easily unless sealed. Some very finely detailed models can be painted without primering by using two thin coats of paint, followed by careful sealing. For most infantry and land war figures, primering is advised since they will be handled a lot. In the case of plastic figures, primering is more important to give the figure some extra resistance against flexing (which causes paint to chip off). Make sure to wash plastic figures in a strong solution of detergent before attempting to prime and paint them.

Equipment: For metal figures, Floquil primer is highly recommended. For plastic figures whose paint jobs are somewhat more at risk, a less expensive primer used for utility painting is probably fine. Do not use automobile spray primer on plastic figures, as it can melt them. Always test prime a single figure and check the results.
How to: Priming figures is fairly simple. Find a large, flat piece of material such as cardboard or an aluminum pizza pan, line of your figures up on it, and take it outside (Remember to paint outside, or in a well ventilated area, no huffing on the job!). Shake the primer can very, very thoroughly before you spray. Also allow each side of the figure to dry before flipping it over to spray the other side. Priming your figures in warm weather, or under warm conditions, is best. If the weather is really bad, then buying a bottle of brush-on primer and painting it on may be the best solution.

Painting - The two most important items you will need for painting will be paint and brushes. You should try to buy the best possible paints and brushes because the results of your labor will be better rewarded. Cheap brushes do not coat evenly, they shed their bristles onto your work and their tips quickly curl over into imprecise hooks. They also do not last very long, and you end up having to spend more money anyway. Cheap paint has less pigment and leaves things looking uneven and washed out.

Equipment - Paint: There are two types of paint; water-based acrylic, and oil-based enamel. Water based paints are by far the easiest to work with, because you can clean up the brushes using water. Water clean-up also extends the lives of those expensive little brushes. Some of the best known paint manufacturers for miniatures are Citadel, Vallejo Model Colors and Testors. If buying the later, make sure to buy their Model Master series and not their cheap "department store" level paints which are not really suitable for gaming miniatures. Make sure to seal your completed work with a good clear seal coating. The best to use is Krylon UV-Resistant Clear Acrylic Coating.

Equipment - Brushes: Many people use a combination of "throw away" synthetic brushes for unimportant work, and good quality kolinsky brushes for high value precision paint work. Of the later, the best brushes you can buy are the Da Vinci Maestro series of Winter Kolinsky brushes. They are outstanding quality and have long bristles that extend deep into the ferrule, which prevents the brushes from pulling out during cleaning and also makes for a longer lasting brush. If the Da Vinci are too expensive, there are several lines of sable and taklon brushes made by Loew Cornell which also work well, and they are much more widely sold at major craft supply stores than Da Vinci. Buy at least five or six different sizes of brushes, from tiny to medium-large, and keep a small cup of water and paper towels and toilet paper nearby for cleaning them. Never leave your brushes .

How to #1: The first painting example is of a French infantryman for the Napoleonic Wars. A World War Two figure will use much the same technique, except that the variety of colors used will be different. Begin by painting the one or two most dominant colors present on the model, in this case the white pants and lapel and the dark blue tunic. Once these basic colors are painted, you should next paint the areas which are recessed, and therefore most likely to be painted over. So for an infantry figure, you might want to paint in this order: pants/tunic, face, rifle/boots, backpacks/bags, headgear, straps, hands, buttons, etc. After you paint your figures, coat them with a light coat of Krylon UV-Resistant Clear Coat, remembering to shake well before using. This takes away the glossy effect of some paints (who ever saw a glossy paratrooper?) as well as protecting your paint job against heavy handling. Make sure not to use a glossy sealer, as this will leave a thick layer of shiny muck on your freshly painted figures!

NOTE! It has come to our attention that some people purposefully coat their figures with gloss sealer because they enjoy the shiny depth that the gloss coat lends to the appearance of the finished figures. It should fairly be noted here that a heavy gloss coat does indeed accentuate the vividness of paint schemes, especially those for periods already known for brightly colors uniforms like the Napoleonic, Seven Years War and others.

How to #2: For ship models (both historical and sci-fi) you should start by painting the basic hull color. Some ships, such as those from the turn of the century, have elaborate painting schemes which require careful painting, or at least attention to what colors the various section of the ship were painted. Painting the deck and other hull details almost last usually works well. For this, use a flat brush, with strokes going outward, from inner edge to outer edge. Trying to paint the deck along the edge (down the length) of the ship usually results in an uneven border. As before, coat finished vessels with a coat of Figure Flat sealer.

Once your figures are painted, or mostly painted, you will often need to mount them on bases. For infantry figures this is a fairly easy process. The set of rules you use will give the dimensions for the bases, and all you need to do is either cut bases out of thin sheets of balsa wood, or buy pre-cut metal bases. Some gaming rules use individual figures for combat, and so the number of figures attached to each base may be important. Other gaming rules use bases for calculating combat results, and in those cases, the number of figures attached to each base doesn't usually matter. For naval models, painting the base dark blue with white dappling patterns for the wake adds a realistic effect. Below are shown an assortment of miniatures of various scales and periods. This gives some idea as to appearance and final mounting technique, which can vary greatly

Above is a closeup photo of the 1/3000 scale French battleship Carnot. Painted in her late Victorian era black and ochre livery. The model has been mounted on a thin styrene plastic base, with water texture added using Vallejo Pastic Putty. The plastic putty surface (which is fast drying) was then painted dark sea blue with some various white highlights, and then generously finished with a gloss sealer. As with most gaming miniatures, this model was received as a raw, unpainted pewter casting. For those not fond of the idea of actually painting, there are countless painting services available worldwide.
Above are shown two "levels" of paint jobs for 15mm Napoleonic infantry. The top level would be considered a good, average "wargame grade" paint job for these Austrian line infantry. The bottom photo shows how a good professional painter would paint some French guard infantry. Note the detailed shading and facial highlights.
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