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Weekend Warrior: Painting Board Games

Miniatures are becoming ever more prevalent in board games these days, even games that don’t need them will slip one in, maybe as a first player marker, just so they can get a piece of the miniatures action. Those of you who follow along with my work at The Duke of the Blood Keep will know that for the last several years much of my painting time has been dedicated to board games but it wasn’t always this way.

Many moons ago I wrote a treatise on miniatures in board games, lamenting their use as they often were substandard meaning you had lumpen grey plastic pieces that were not worth painting but looked out of place on a beautiful board. I even suggested that games could be released in a card standee only format allowing players to get started straight away without the need to paint or to reduce the cost for players like me who would substitute models from their own collection in instead of using the ones that came in the box.

So what changed? I guess it is three things…

Firstly my own gaming habits have shifted away from miniature combat games like Warhammer and roleplaying games like D&D and swung heavily in favour of board games. A lot of this is due to time constraints but also the sheer variety of games now available, why play one miniatures game when you can play any of a hundred flavours of board games.

With this shift away from miniatures games I found myself with more time to work on other projects and as I was playing more board games it made sense to make them look prettier. Previously I had seen painting pieces for games as time I was stealing from painting “actual miniatures” but now I can reconcile this feeling knowing that the pieces I’m painting will probably see more tabletime than my lead and pewter collection.

The second reason is the change in quality. Time was a board game that came with miniatures came with either poor quality sculpts, bad casts or hundreds of identical single piece models. This is simply no longer the case. Taking just some of the games I’ve painted in the last year or so as an example, Stuffed Fables, Zombicide Invader and Super Dungeon Explore all have excellent miniatures that I am as proud of as some of my “real” models. Sure, not every company can afford such good sculptors and so the quality varies but, across the industry as a whole, things are improving.

The final reason is that my own painting skills have changed and improved. There was a time when painting board game pieces would irritate me. I would spend hours trying to get a perfect result and be frustrated by how bad it looked despite the time I had put into the project. This was time, remember, that I was stealing from my real hobby. However I have now developed several speed painting techniques, which coupled with advances in paints and brushes mean I can churn out very acceptable paint jobs in very little time.

With all this said, I still won't paint every game I own, there simply isn't the time. Games where the plastics are substandard, like Cry Havoc for example, I simply won't bother as the time to results ratio doesn’t work for me. I also don’t think that every game needs miniatures. I am perfectly happy with the standees in Dead of Winter or Comanauts, where the sheer variety of characters would have made plastic an impossibility. With my euro style games I am content with the wooden bits, they add an elegance to the game that plastic takes away. But in those games where the plastic is the focus I will usually try and paint it, to help deepen the immersion of my players into the world of the game.

Do you guys paint your plastics or would you rather games used alternative means, like wooden bits or standees? Let us know in the comments or over on the facebook page.

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