There I was varnishing some refurbished old lead dudes and a thought came to me- well it happens once in a while - and this singular occurrence prompted another thought. Wow two thoughts joined together I'll be doing stream of consciousness next ! But no, I am not James Joyce nor was meant to be, the thoughts were in fact idle musing upon the Visual Aesthetics of wargaming and how much they have changed and morphed over the years and equally how much my own views and attitudes to the visual side of the hobby have changed .
Now to be accurate I have always viewed "the look of the thing" as somewhat more important than the actual dice rolling.
After all, if this was not so, then I would not bother with the model soldiers in the first place but would stick to screens or little bits of cardboard. I am aware that this is heresy to some who view the actual game play as the epitome of their hobby. Fine. No problem, enjoy yourselves, that is the point do not involve yourselves in the rest of our hobby there is no need you can get your painted armies delivered to your door and begin fondling your numbered cubes over the table almost immediately.
Now I am not(well not much) having a go at people who use painting services. I have done so myself. and, once in a while still do. There are some fine chaps providing these services. I have units painted by Steve Skinner, James Main, Darren Taylor and Jez at Shakespeare Studios to name but four and I have never been less than pleased with their work. There are of course other fine painting services out there who do sterling work to judge by the amount of gear I send to them repeatedly on customers behalf's.
Mind you, I have also several times encountered painters who are complete pillocks and seem to spend half a lifetime telling you why they have not completed your order on time, or even started it yet, and the quoted "6 weeks" inevitably becomes 6 months or more. This is especially galling if you have been daft enough to pay them a deposit. I know of one customer who has been sorely tried by the fact that for various reasons "Painter X" simply will not finish his commission and has half painted units scattered about like confetti... ten months and counting for some of them .As my Granddad would have said "Sod that for a game of soldiers". Buying it done, is not always the simple option.
No hopefully this goes a bit deeper. The problem , for me at least,with buying your stuff "ready to play" means that if you are not careful you are buying someone else's view of how YOUR collection should look someone else's vision , someone else's aesthetic. Now if you are a games player you may not give a monkey's about this and that is all well and good for you. But not me. Being only a games player would be to deny much of the interesting "other stuff" that makes up the idea of the "Compleat Wargamer" (to misquote Isaac Walton) and yes in some very small way possibly a more complete, thoughtful and rounded human being- something that seems to be in shorter supply now than formerly, though mostly(only mostly) , in my experience, outwith the wargaming hobby.
However, let us not be too precious about this, let us simply, for the sake of discussion, assume that you think the look of the thing has some importance for you . Okay so that is decided . Where do you go next?
|Sikh Cavalry painted in the "received style" of the 1990s. These by Dave Jarvis.|
|Indian Mutiny figures. Painted and based by me again in the 1990s received style.Though I always undercoat white or grey rather than the colour killing black.|
Surely the next thing to do is to decide what kind of look you want for your collection and for your tables when you use that collection. Now when you go to shows or read a magazine or up to a point browse the zillions of wargaming sites on the internet the does seem to be a certain "received look" followed often seemingly by worshippers at the "Church of the Bloody Expensive Rulebook" and those who kneel to the altar of the "eye candy" within said B.E.R. Now don't get me wrong, sometimes this is appropriate and even necessary but somehow these days I find all of these set ups looking very similar to each other so that you can barely tell one from another- especially when they have been bought and paid for rather than built by the owners fair hand. I've done a turn at "received look"myself, sometimes alone sometimes with significant help (though never by simply buying it done) and sometimes still do, but I have never been a slave to convention. After all the "received style" changes every so often as a new B.E.R. appears Indeed rather the opposite- "The Resistance Lives On" so to speak. I want something a little different something a little closer to unique. Not always, but sometimes when the mood takes me, I want out of the current wargaimng rut.
The Need for Individuality.
This is one of the reasons why I have- for some games and periods, some of the time- reverted to older "retro" rules. They have a different feel to them . It is the same with "retro" figures they frequently have more individuality. They lack the tediousness of "perfection". With many of today's plastic(or indeed metal) perryclones you are hard put to tell one make from another, still less when all are painted in the "received look"- often with extra knuckles. I like models and units with a little style and a little individuality so, in some cases, I mix makers in the same army or even in the same unit. The idea of having the same army based in the same way for the same rules as every other chap has absolutely no appeal whatsoever. One of the advantages of older figures was that you could tell a Lamming from a Minifig from a Garrison from a Willie . Variety was the spice of my earlier armies.
Even within my own pretty modest collection I don't want all the armies or games to look the same. Up to a point each period should have its own look . Sure. there will be similarities and sometimes even a bit of crossover- especially with scenery - but the idea is to create something with a little individuality rather than another same old same old. In terms of the look of the thing this might sometimes mean a more "stripped back" and simplified terrain more consistent with the "retro" look of some of my armies.
|An example of a somewhat more "stripped back" terrain style which seemed in keeping with the retro feel of "Charge!. by Young and Lawford. |
So my "retro" ECW collection looks subtly different from my "modern" one even though they have sometimes appeared on the same table for a bigger game. Its the same for the retro and modern AWI groups too. Though for these , being smaller collections by far -are not quite stand alone yet, but once they are will be used for different style games. The "modern " set being used for rules such as British Grenadier and the "retro" set for Featherstone. Of course they can, at need, come together for larger games in either discipline where a "pure" look for either is not needed during er... playtime .
|"Retro" E.C.W. painted in the style I used in the 1970s- though these days hopefully with more skill. Most of the figures in this unit are Les Higgins 30mm castings out of production since the late 1970s.|
|More "Retro" E.C.W. This time mostly Hinchliffe Foremost- still available. Again painted in the shiny 1970s style .|
You may have gathered by now that the actual game play is the bit of this hobby I treat with the least seriousness. The reason is simple, the actual dice rolling is of no consequence. I don't do competition so I don't often care about such minor matters as win or lose. Win UNHISTORICALLY mind, now that is of some matter -at least to me but in our group that is very difficult to achieve in Umpire controlled games where the Umpire knows his period and the rulebook is merely a toolbox for him to select the bits he needs to run the game. No army lists no points systems simply a scenario and a narrative.
|The more usual "look" this time a 15mm game our group did at the Durham show in 2019. Models Blue Moon Marlburians from Jim Mains collection|
My point here is that each wargamer should be free to choose his own "look". I have for instance "gone off" - for some periods the heavy terrain boards in the Marlburian game photos in favour of the more portable cloths and "assorted things to stuff under cloths" to make hills and dead ground. For some games that approach is simpler and more effective. I have -in this case- reverted to an earlier time.
|Another demo game at Durham- this time 15mm moderns. Those MDF boards do weigh a bit- but look good. |
|A similar game using the same models but with a different look. That "desert cloth" fits in a holdall rather than a van ! |
The choice as they say is yours ... discuss!