Wargames Soldiers and Strategy arrived in the post and as usual I set aside some quality time to read it undisturbed (a rare commodity in my house). There's a great article this month by the Blogosphere's very own BigRedBat that is definitely worth checking out. There are many things about this magazine that I love but one of the highlights are the regular columns by the likes of Richard Clarke, Steven MacLauchlan and of course the great Rick Priestly. This months "This Gaming Life" by Rick got me thinking (as it always does) about miniatures painting and how it has changed since I got started in the hobby nearly 30 years ago.
Ricks article highlighted one simple and universal truth about wargaming that we are all aware of even if we haven't dwelt upon; namely the standard of painted miniatures and terrain has improved relentlessly over the years. Within our hobby we are bombarded on a daily basis by photographs of painted mini's that are so good it makes you cry with frustration because for the majority of us mere mortals such perfection is just a distant dream. But is this a good or a bad thing, and has Photography changed our hobby for better or worse?
"Some people have the gift of painting to an excellent standard. For them, playing with excellently painted miniatures is a simple matter. The rest of us can only dream of playing with such gorgeous miniatures, after we've cried ourselves to sleep at night, that is...." (Rick Priestly, WSS 65)
|Grainy pictures like this still have the power to inspire.|
The advent of full colour wargaming magazines and the growth of the World Wide Web (and of course Blogs) made the photography of our miniatures in increasing detail inevitable. Thirty years ago I would have been lucky to see a grainy black and white photo of a wargames table in a magazine. The quality of the painted miniatures contained therein was less important than the overall impression of the game table and the ranks of troops featured. Most of the photographs I came across back then generally gave what we would probably now call an arms length or 'tabletop' view of miniatures. For me that didn't matter because a large part of my enjoyment of wargaming has always been the grand spectacle of a game and less about the quality or even the accuracy of the individually painted figures.
Now I know I have just committed and act of heresy saying that accuracy isn't important and I guess I need to clarify that statement. Broadly accuracy is important, its the link between our 'toys' and the real history we are trying to represent on the table. So painting British redcoats in blue is just not on, but is it really that important to get the collar cuff the right colour? In the grand scheme of things, and looking at that arms length tabletop view, of course it isn't. But as I recently observed this is the sort of hobby that attracts the OCD type (me included) and even if we can't see the colour of the cuffs from four feet away on a 15mm mini we can while we are painting the damn thing from six inches away, and that counts!
|It looks like an Impressionist painting, but its still impressive.|
Ricks article seemed to suggest that for some gamers having the best examples of their work described as reaching a "good wargaming standard" could be taken as an insult. Me, I recognise the split personality in all of us gamers, but especially myself. I'm an aspiring but ultimately mediocre painter and I'm a wargamer that enjoys the spectacle and grandeur of an army on the table. These two aspects of my gaming character are not mutually exclusive and I'm fortunate that I'm a big chap and there's plenty of room inside for two personalities.
|My 15mm WWII US Paratroopers|
Gone are the days of enamel paints, block painting and gloss varnish and consequently today's "wargaming standard" is light years ahead of where it was just a few decades ago. I may never field an army painted to the same incredible standard seen in my magazines, but the fact that I am inspired by their work has improved the quality of my own figures and maybe narrowed the gap... a little.