Preamble: A kind of ramble, before getting to the point.
Anna and I don’t make much of a secret of the fact that we like to splash around in the nerdy end of the pool. However, we’re well aware that not all who follow our little blog here will identify themselves as nerds, per se. That’s cool. We’ve been getting views from all manner of folks. (Thanks, we hope you’re enjoying the posts!) Anyhow, in case anyone out there chose to skip the past decade or so, here’s a little clarification…
Nerd is no longer a term reserved for the basement-dwelling, obsessive sociophobe of yore. Language changes. Social attitudes change. In this age of social networking and iPhads, nerd is a far more innocuous label, most commonly used to refer to the friendly and approachable domesticus variety. Notable for their fearless curiousity, sense of fun and – most importantly – their desire to share their creative techniques and results. (You know who you are.)
It’s worth noting here, that while they often epitomise the concept of getting one’s hands dirty on a project, they’re usually more than happy to shower afterwards.
Alrighty. Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s get to the promised minis. (I’m writing this in a pretty introductory way, if you’re already familiar with minis: Look, pictures!) By a nice loose definition we’re talking about painted models of any manner of character, vehicle, building, what-have-you, scaled down until they can fit in the palm of your hand – in many cases significantly smaller.
On a technical level, it’s not too far removed from designing and decorating model railroads. By the same token, there are various scales used to ensure different minis in a scene or game are sized consistently (with a fudge factor between accuracy and practicality). Many miniatures series in which the main unit is a single humanoid character, tend to fall on or around the 28mm (1:58ish) scale. By way of example, the frogman at the top of the post comes in at just shy of 3cm (1.2″) tall. [Note to self: Put a ruler in the photos next time!] Naturally, a scene based around a naval battle is going to use a separate scale altogether (1:2500ish), unless you have a jolly big table.
Many of the minis on the market do tend to be designed to fit a specific game system, wargames and strategic titles for the most part. The level of detail on the figures is often very impressive though, and there’s nothing stopping you from using them as stand alone pieces.
In fact, I got my first taste of mini painting when a former housemate attempted to introduce us to the fantasy wargame, Warhammer. (As an aside, ‘taste’ is a rather fitting term here, as I have a nasty habit of using my lips to shape the brush to a point – usually mid-coat). I can’t say that I ever really got around to playing the game – I found myself with a veritable army of little elves to paint, and that was hobby enough for me.
When buying minis, bear in mind what they’re made of. If you buy a boardgame or box set, you’ll usually find them made of a hard, injection-molded plastic. I have a bit of a preference for these, as they’re light to work with, and allow for some really nice, crisp details. For reasons (presumably) of economics and mass-production, minis bought individually are often made of various soft alloys referred to as white metal. The material makes little difference in terms of technique or finished product, but metal and plastic do have a very different feel, and you may well find you prefer one type to the other. Recently there have been a few product lines released in resin. It’s intended to be a compromise between the metal and plastic, but the jury’s still out on whether it’s the godsend it was hoped to be. (Haven’t tried it yet.)
- Pretty much anything made since the late nineties should be fine, but have a care with older metal models, as they contained lead. Less reputable ones still may.
- Some fancier minis require some gluing. It’s glue, people.
- Provided you use any of the readily available acrylic paint lines, the paints themselves tend to be harmless (in tiny doses).
- Of course, if you use an aerosol spray for a base coat, or any kind of gloss/enamel… You know what? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say “Don’t let anyone/thing chew on any of your minis”. Just saying.
While preparing this post, I came across a filler article in the local freebie newspaper. It was one of those three-sentences-plus-awkward-photo deals. Basically, it was showcasing an elderly lady and her miniatures. In this case, a collection of scaled-down furniture and homewares. I guess what struck me as interesting here, is that it’s subject matter rather than any technique or philosophy which splits the crowd on this one. (Perhaps the good lady would be interested in fitting out the local inn for our next Pathfinder campaign.)
So, if drop-ships & dragons don’t spark any interest for you, there are plenty of quirky, standalone models out there. Failing that, there’s no good reason you can’t make them yourself. For the digitally inclined, the field of 3D Printing (Rapid Prototyping, etc.) is producing some incredible work these days. Check out sites like Shapeways to get an idea of what’s feasible. Alternatively, for those with a steady hand, grab some fine modelling clay and a bunch of pointy things to shape it with. You now have our permission to go nuts.
Anna didn’t really take to the hobby at first go, but while attending Gencon (Brisbane) a few years ago, it suddenly sank its claws into her. Since then, she’s produced some awesome little characters. Platypod and the Bast cat, below, are both her work – and further proof that not all minis are designed to populate blood-thirsty battle scenes.
The shiny fellow on the right, is still in the planning stage. I picked him up while revisiting London last year. He was part of a pack of four English Gentlemen – albeit, kinda creepy ones – and I thought they’d make a fitting souvenir. As I recall, they were from a vampire-themed game, and they have a generous dash of mad-victorian-professor to them.
I’m thinking of making a little steampunk scene for him. I have a few shoeboxes full of (let’s be honest) junk, from when I’ve pulled apart old printers, cameras and the like. From these, I should be able to find more than enough tiny gears, levers and pipes to make him feel at home. Besides, I’m rather digging steampunk styles lately.
Let’s none of us hold our breath, but I’ll post an update if I go ahead with it anytime soon.
Related Links (Not looking to endorse anyone, just some fun starting points) Shapeways - Awesome site to see what 3D printing techniques can do these days. Games Workshop is the company behind the Warhammer games mentioned above. Probably the most well-known fantasy/sci-fi tabletop wargames. Privateer Press produce Warmachine (and its sister-game Hordes). Similar concept to the GW games, but with a futuristic, yet steam-powered setting. Gaining in popularity. Reaper Miniatures supply all manner of minis. (Yes, a lot more fantasy stuff, but also a decent source of 'quirky' items)
Even better, find a local game/hobby retailer and see what they can show you.