I spend most of my day attached to a computer and when I get home I have kids attached to me so I appreciate that tabletop games get me away from my screen and sometimes my kids. There are a lot of ways to play games but unlike computer games you need friends, who are at the core of my gaming hobby. Tabletop gaming gaming comes in many forms,from Mole Rats in Space to Warhammer 40,000. For me, it’s historical miniatures wargaming, a cross between a hardcore tactical board game think Advanced Squad Leader and an elaborate train set. The hardest part is been determining which system I want to play, which period of history, painting the miniatures, building the terrain, finding players, and the time to do it all. I am being funny there, but I still don’t own a boat.
A lot of guys get there start playing Warhammer 40,000 universe and never leave. The franchise, known for its many pricey parts, feels more accessible, with boxed game sets and crossover products. There is an entire ecosystem of products and tutorials available from the manufacturer, Games Workshop to get people started. There is also Star Wars and Bolt Action for the historically minded gamers too.
The biggest mistake you could possibly make in miniatures wargaming is buying too many minis straight off the bat. As you learn about a given game, your tactics and your interests are likely to change. Your best bet therefore is to start small with just a handful of units. Take your time, learn as you go, and eventually you’ll be able to field the force you want. The other option is to get a box set and most companies make something; check out Warhammer Quest or Gloomhaven.
Most boxed sets comes with everything you need to field two small forces or in some cases, like with Gloomhaven it’s a complete game and includes everything you would ever need. Games Workshop’ latest sets come with rules, dice, Space Marines, and the bad guys, Death Guard, and zombie like things. For world war two, Warlord Games produces the Band of Brother Boxed set, which like the Games Workshop set include two sides Americans, and Germans.
Inside most boxed sets are all the things you need to play a quick game, including dice and a ruler. Some sets come with starter terrain and some the box is the terrain. You literally take it out of its decorative sleeve, flip it over and pretend it’s a building. Though, that’s how we all started so don’t worry I have a solution below.
If you have a little bit of extra money to spend, you could look into off the shelf terrain, it’s easy and some of it fantastic. Most of the companies make terrain, and there are plenty of third parties, like 4Ground that make great stuff. You will evenly make terrain, which is what most of us end up doing. All of that will come later, start with the dining room table, a few books for hills, and throw a green or brown cloth over it all.
Start small, the term most gamers use is ‘skirmish’, and is five or ten guys. If you are historically minded try Saga, Forager, for muskets era, ‘I Ain’t Been Shot Mum’ for WWII or Kill Team for Sci-Fi. It’s easy to grow from there and these games are well supported, don’t need a huge table or vast quantiles of terrain.
THE RIGHT TOOLS
Putting miniatures together generally involves cutting them free from their sprues, washing, trimming off mold lines (flash), gluing, priming, and painting. The right, high quality tools will make things easier. First off, if you’re building plastic miniatures, some are meatal too, like the ones from Warlord linked above, you’ll want to get a good set of sprue nippers. They look like wire cutters, but one side of the business end is flat so that you can cut close to the model without leaving any extra plastic behind. Nippers are commonly used in other hobbies, and can be picked from just about and craft or hardware store. One set made by Beadalon are available on Amazon for about $8.00. Be gentle with your nippers. Don’t press the blades together without anything in between, for instance, or you could bend the edge and cause them to misalign. Also, don’t use them for cutting anything other than plastic. If you’re working with resin or pewter miniatures, what you’ll want to get a set of dedicated files. They’re only a few inches long, but make quick work of rough spots and leavings from the molding process. Sets are available on Amazon for less than $10. These can also be used to clean up your plastic miniatures too.
Finally, read the directions for your miniatures carefully to determine what kind of adhesive, either plastic cement or super glue, is recommended for assembly. Using the wrong one can cause problems. For plastic cement, hit your local hobby shop, most companies have a brands works well and there are also dedicated manufactures. Some have symmetrical metal applicator, which can be removed and reinserted into the bottle upside down to remove fouling. There may also be situations where a brush applicator is useful, so consider picking up Tamiya’s plastic cement as well. Finally, for super glue I recommend Loctite. For a long time I went with the stuff you can find at the convenience store that comes inside a metal tube. Loctite’s gel stays where you put it, meaning it’s less likely to run down the sides of your model and onto your hands.
FIND A TEACHER OR NOT
There are plenty of painting tutorials out there, books, web sites and YouTube videos. There is a whole industry built around teaching people to paint. I watch and try to copy them all the time.
Or just jump in.
Brushes – When it comes to painting, you’re going to want a decent set of brushes, they are expensive but if taken care of will last a long time but in the beginning, but sort term you can get by on some cheap ones. Hit your local craft store and they will an isle of brush that will get the job done. Just avoid the thick-bristled, disposable brushes that come with children’s paint sets. When you’re ready for something a bit more sophisticated, there are plenty of options. Again most companies have a branded line, but I do like Windsor – Newton brushes. Games Workshop makes its own line of brushes as Games & Gears synthetic brushes but visit your local Art Supply store like a Dick Blick or Amazon. I recommend picking up a mini round 20/0 for detail work, along with three additional round brushes sized one, two and three for general work and a quarter, half inch and one inch brush for dry brushing.
Paint – Prime, paint and varnish, it’s just that easy. To start, get yourself some good primer, I use Tamiyas, and have been very happy with the results but everyone makes a primer, just don’t forget to shake it. Your local hobby shop should also be stuffed full with various paint and most of them are going to be good, Vallejo, Mig, Games Workshop, Army Painter and the others are reputable. For Varnish, I use Testors dull-coat, just make sure the day is warm and not to humid.
Basing – At its most basic level basing is adding some sand to you figures base and at its most complete it turning your figures in little dioramas. Again, there is an entire industry out there to sell you add ons to your bases, use them, basing really makes or break a figure.
TAKE TIME FOR TERRAIN
Even the most beautiful miniatures in the world won’t be any fun to play with if you don’t have any scenery to play on. Scenery can also be one of the most expensive and labor intensive parts of the wargame hobby, but it’s worth when a table looks like a massive diorama.
Buy it – Lots of companies out there selling terrain, plastic, resin, MDF, and paper. The major companies are pruOne option is to buy flat-packed laser-cut wood terrain. Companies like 4Ground, TTCombat and Sarrissa are all excellent options. Another is to invest in papercraft terrain. I have a lot of experience with Dave Graffam’s print-at-home line and highly recommend it.
While I was looking around YouTube for painting tutorials, I stumbled upon Mel “The Terrain Tutor” Bose. His videos are phenomenal, but I especially like his series exploring the different ways to use foam board.
Yes, he’s making top-notch terrain from the stuff you use for science fair presentations.
Bose is doing a lot more than just using white glue and pins here. He goes into extraordinary detail on how to hide joints and how to score, fold and sculpt the material to create all sorts of different effects.
The best part of these tutorials, however, is that they emphasize spending time on the hobby of wargaming rather than spending money. The Terrain Tutor’s methods jibe well with my own goals of spending as little cash as possible to get up and running. Now that I’ve got a decent number of miniatures painted up, I’m looking forward to spending the next year building out my collection of terrain to go with them.
This is far from an exhaustive list of tips. Please feel free to drop more in the comments below. I’m especially curious if you have recommendations for how to get started in other franchises such as Bolt Action, Flames of War, Infinity and Warmachine.