What to expect from wargaming

For the newcomers

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Buying miniature kits has been an interesting learning experience for me as a newcomer to the wargaming hobby. There are lots of miniature designers and vendors out there, and I don't know of an easy way to get a feel for each one without buying a box of models to find out. I don't have the time, money, or stores to make that a realistic goal, so I'm learning slowly as I go. So far, I've found that when you buy from different miniature designers, you tend to find variety in aesthetic, design, and quality. This blog post has very few definitive answers to the question of what to expect when you purchase miniatures for wargames or tabletop roleplaying games, and instead lists the variables involved in making a choice of what to buy.


When I wanted to buy generic sci fi miniatures, it took me a long time to find any to buy (and I'm still not entirely satisfied with my options). I could easily find Warhammer or Star Wars, but both of those are science fantasy, and both are set in a very specific fictional universe. It wasn't until I heard about Wargames Atlantic from Tabletop Minions that I managed to get some non-Warhammer miniatures. I couldn't find them locally, though, and had to order them sight unseen from Australia.

Lesson: By definition, it can be hard to find products from small manufacturers compared to a big multi-national vendor. Buy online, or save your purchases for the times you're near a hobby shop.


Not all miniatures boxes contain intructions. There may not even be a manifest of parts, just a bunch of components on some sprues. You might get little photos of some assembled models on the box, but they're often photographed to sell the box rather than to demonstrate how to assemble the models inside. Puzzlingly, I have sprues where the parts are numbered, but there aren't any instructions on what the numbers mean. I've had miniature parts that I suspected were mistakenly included in the box, arms that don't fit any torso, a right leg with no left, even tiny little parts that to this day I can't even identify.

When I got my first miniature kit from Wargames Atlantic, I'd only built Citadel push-fit models plus one Citadel model that required glue. Solving a 3d 28mm puzzle isn't at all what I'd expected. But it didn't take long for me to accept what I'd bought into, analyse the parts on the sprue, devise a plan of how to piece it together, and then build.

Lesson: Small manufacturers may not bundle instructions with miniature kits. Be prepared for a 3d jigsaw puzzle. Protect yourself from serious errors by buying a practise miniature kit to build and do wrong before building a miniature you really care about, or build your first miniature with the help of an experienced friend.

Spare parts

I don't think any wargamer is ever going to complain about extra parts. Regardless of vendor, it seems to depend on the box whether you get a bunch of spare parts for options. I've had some boxes with lots of spares bits, and others with very few.

The reason spare parts are exciting, though, is "kitbashing", when you take parts from one kit and use them on models from another kit. This can be simple, like taking a spare head meant for a daemon and gluing it to the body of a train conductor. It can be a little complex, like chopping off some chain mail from a knight and the head of a mace wielded by a cleric to create a ball-and-chain melee weapon, and then gluing that assembly onto the clenched fist of a wasteland raider to grant that miniature a unique melee weapon.

Basically, the more spare parts, the better. I don't know of a good way to anticipate what box has more spare parts than others, aside from reading the box text, which usually notes whether options are included.

The trouble with kitbashing is that not all miniatures have the same proportions. This surprised me when I discovered it through trial and error, but even when a miniature is the same scale (28mm, for instance), there's no standard for what that means to each body part. If it's not in the same box (and sometimes even in the same box, depending on the designer and vendor), there's no guarantee that a body part of one 28mm is going to fit on the body of another 28mm miniature. As my worst example, I once purchased a box of wasteland raider models and was surprised to find that the heads on the same sprue varied comically in size, and that the torsos were so big that I could use the backpacks of another line of models from the same vendor as utility belt packs. All's fair in hobby and war, and the models themselves are working well as enemy tokens in my Fallout board game, but be aware that there aren't standard proportions across miniature lines.

Lesson: Miniature kits aren't Lego bricks. Even within the same scale, size and style varies, so don't buy a box just for spare parts without confirming that they're the right proportion for the rest of your models.


Some gamers like for their miniatures to have action poses while others prefer a neutral pose. It's a matter of taste, and I'm not sure I've yet settled on what I prefer. I like neutral poses that express the personality of the model, but honestly that works best for specific characters, and less well for 20 troops (cannon fodder) whose personality you just can't care about.

Some miniatures I've purchased find themselves in an awkward no-man's land middle ground (so to speak). They're just sort of standing around, or at best mid-stride in maybe a cautious walk. This isn't always a bad thing, it's just odd to put on a tabletop because it's hard to imagine that miniature is doing something useful in the game world. At least when a miniature is posed for action, you have the illusion of (in-world) power. When a miniature appears to be out for a lazy Sunday stroll, it's hard to want to send it into action.

For me, that translates to levels of enjoyment. I don't pick up and daydream about a boring miniature. A miniature with an expressive pose, though, I'll set out on my desk as a I work, I'll pick it up and look at it and ponder its backstory and future adventures. If I'm going to spend money on a miniature, and spend time assembling and painting it, then I want to be inspired by it for years to come.

Lesson: Miniatures aren't action figures, so more often than not a model's pose is going to seem inappropriate for what it's currently supposed to be doing in your game. A model of a soldier not actively firing is probably more appropriate more often than a dynamically posed superhero who's constantly punching the air. It doesn't look as cool, but it's probably a more accurate portrayal of that model's default setting.


Not all models are sculpted by expert craftsmen. Some are designed by a person with just enough knowledge of 3d modeling to get the job done. Others are designed well, but produced as physical objects on a device that can't handle fine detail. These miniatures often are successful at portraying a character as long as you're just glancing at it, but upon close inspection you realize you're filling in a lot of definition that the model lacks. If you're just using the miniature as a game piece, then that might be fine.

However, it can matter a lot when you paint. It's hard to paint a hand that's melted into the hilt of a sword. You end up having to make up your own lines, but like bad 2d textures on a 3d model in a video game, you can always tell when you've faked definition with paint.

One workaround for this is to paint to create an impression rather than photo-realism. If your miniature isn't photo realistic, then it's better to just acknowledge that it's a playing piece in a board game. Give it a basecoat of one colour, dry-brush a second colour onto it to highlight whatever crude details it does have, and call it done. It's an attractive (and easy) way to avoid playing with an unpainted model while also not bringing attention to its lack of detail.

Lesson: Not all models have the detail you might prefer to have in your miniatures. Try to get a close-up look at a miniature before buying. If you've got models that lack detail, try some painting hacks to produce an attractive but abstract miniature.


Miniatures often have seams in really obvious places. A seam line can be a plastic molding artefact or it can be the place where two pieces of a model get glued together. Some seam lines come across pretty naturally. For instance, a hairline gap between the torso and an arm looks more like a seam in fabric or armour than an assembly gap. A molding line across bare skin or hair looks exactly like what it is. You can and should scrape molding lines off before you prime your model for painting, but assembly gaps are sometimes difficult to conceal.

I've used "sprue goo" (bits of sprue melted in cyanoacrylate glue) to fill in gaps before, and it works nicely although I find it difficult to work with. Must of the time, the best solution is for the model designer to incorporate gaps into the design of the miniature. Depending on the designer and the complexity of the model, though, this isn't a sure thing.

Lesson: Not all models place gaps and mold lines in conventient places. Try to get a close-up look at a miniature before buying. Scrape off mold lines before priming, and consider filling in unsightly gaps with sprue goo.


It turns out that not all bases for miniatures are the same. Obviously some are square and some are round, but there are different heights as well. I once bought a pack of 25mm bases, only to find that they were half as tall as the Games Workshop bases that I'd come to identify as the industry standard.

Once again, consistency is key. The important thing is that all bases for all miniatures within the same game are the same. And frankly it's not a total disaster to mix and match. You really only notice the disparity when miniatures are next to one another, at which point a few millimeters in height actually makes a noticeable visual difference.

Lesson: Consider what kind of bases your games require, and buy only bases you have measurements for.


Citadel miniatures for Warhammer, the Malifaux miniature line, and Corvus Belli are generally considered expensive. €42 for 3 Corvus Belli miniatures (that's €14 each) is more expensive than a Citadel miniature pack of 10 for €50 (€5 each), but cheaper than a single character model for €55. And all of that's more expensive than the €7 for 2 Reaper Bones miniatures.

There are lots of options. The world of wargaming isn't pay-to-play. You can legitimately wargame with cardboard cutouts, or on paper (in fact, I play a wargame of my own on paper).

Obviously "expensive" is a function of your own tolerance, but I think it's probably safe to generally say that "generic" miniatures are less expensive than "premium" (where generic and premium are essentially undefined terms). I purchased two boxes of "generic" miniatures, one containing 20 models and the other 24. I got 48 models (and 60 bases) for less money than one box of 10 skitarii for Warhammer. All in all, the quality was not quite what I've grown used to from Games Workshop, but it better than what I used to think was fine in board games.

Lesson: Look at lots of miniatures and get a feel for what quality and price ratio you're happy with.

Easy wargaming

I don't think this blog post will prevent you from buying one or two duds as you explore the exciting world of miniature wargaming. It may, however, alert you of some things to consider before buying.

If you want a predictable and consistent experience, pick one brand and stick with it. If you're happy with variety, then shop around, paint a bunch of random miniatures, and play with the ones you enjoy the most.

Header photo by Seth Kenlon. Creative Commons cc0.

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