You don’t have to paint to play

At the beginning of the year there was a movement on the Privateer Press forums to only play Warmachine and Hordes with painted miniatures for one year. I didn’t blarg back then; the only opportunity I had to express my opinion on painting and gaming was on a smaller fan forum I’m a member of. Now that my opinions are read by… well… three if not four whole readers, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my thoughts on wargaming and miniature painting.

The Fully Painted 2006 movement was started by the members of the Brushthralls – a group of fans who promote miniature painting with an emphasis on Privateer Press products. Let’s make this clear first: The Brushthralls are an asset to the Privateer Press community and their website is a great resource for miniature painters. The goal they set with their movement is lofty one, and I’m not about to begrudge someone for attempting. But in the thread where they announced Fully Painted 2006 there were posts from other community members referring to playing as unpainted miniatures as somehow substandard, as if those that played but didn’t paint were lesser individuals and were unworthy of playing against them.

I love painting. I would even go so far as to say it’s one of my passions. If I was forced to rank my hobbies, I’d say I’m a roleplayer first, miniature painter second, and wargamer third. That said I have to take issue with the attitude that if I place an unpainted miniature on the table then I’m somehow less of a player.

I’ll be honest; I’m not what you would call a fast miniature painter. I go slowly, take my time, and I try to do the best I can within reason. I might not go through a dozen layers of highlights on a basic unit, but there are still a few layers of shading and highlighting on each one. I could speed through a unit to get it on the table then redo it later, but the old adage holds true here: “If you can’t find time do to it right, when are you going to find time to do it over?” ย  I have enough unpainted pewter queued up that adding painted pewter to the queue and expecting it to get done is simply unrealistic. So if I have to field an unpainted unit because it hasn’t reached the top of my queue yet, I will. I don’t paint to be able to field a painted army. I paint to have fun. I also play miniature wargames to have fun. Although closely related, these are ultimately two distinct hobbies. Wargaming is a great gateway to introduce people to the hobby of miniature painting, but you don’t march them through the gateway at gunpoint.

Sure, there are companies out there like Games Workshop who require painted figures to play. And I can understand their desire to sell their painting products, but what are they really doing with their requirements? A Games Workshop figure has to be painted in at least three colors before it can be fielded in a sanctioned event. Does this promote truly promote the hobby of miniature painting? It may motivate some people, but those who really don’t want to paint are simply going to spray paint their figures one color, paint the shoulder pads a second and slap some paint on their weapons for a third. So what it comes down to is that people who want to paint will go through the trouble anyway, and people that don’t will work around the rule. In the end the so-called “painting requirements” wind up as just one more hoop a non-painter needs to get around in order to play. In fact for me the painting requirements are one of the biggest turn offs of Games Workshop games. I don’t want to be able to wait the time it takes me to paint an army to be able to play it.

For the most part, games like Warmachine are wargames, not painting games. People who buy miniatures, slap them together, and play with them without ever touching a brush are just as valid participants in the hobby as anyone else. Looking down on them because they simply choose to favor one of the two possible hobbies that can spring from the game is snobbish and elitist. I won’t argue that a fully painted game is prettier. But I much rather play a game that’s fun, one that goes back and forth, one which either side can win at either time until the final round when both people go “Woah, that was cool,” shake hands, and re-deploy for a rematch.

I’ll agree that painted miniatures look nice on the table, but how is that mandatory? Simply because they look nice? What about terrain, then? Sorry, your piece of blue felt is insufficient. You have to have a pond crafted of resin and stained to the appearance of bog water vs fresh water and stagnant vs. flowing as appropriate! That green piece of cloth isn’t going to do it, either. I need to see a stand with at least 6 trees to count that as a forest, mister! Where does it end? What about those dice? I don’t think so, son! That’s not pretty enough; they’re not your faction’s colors!

Some players may just be slow painters like myself; some players may just choose not to paint their miniatures because they don’t want to. I’ve seen other players tell the non-painters they aren’t fully participating in the hobby because they’re not painting. To those players I ask, who are you to judge how someone else spends their time on their hobbies?

“I’m sorry, little Jimmy. If you haven’t beaten that latest video game by now, you’re just not trying. Your legos have to wait, Mister!”

Really, isn’t that sort of attitude silly? When it comes down to a completely voluntary hobby, why does anyone feel they have the right to judge how much time someone else is willing to devote to it? I’d understand if it was something important like… oh, I don’t know… heart surgery? If someone cracks open my chest I want to be pretty darn sure they take all the time that’s necessary to put everything back where they found it, but painting is just a hobby.

“But if you’re not going to paint your miniatures, why even buy them in the first place?”

Some people might not realize it, but there are plenty of reasons for the non-painter to purchase miniatures. Perhaps they like the models. Perhaps they just want to support the company that makes a game they enjoy. Maybe they’re collectors. Maybe they want the stat cards that come in the blisters. Maybe they’re just compulsive. Ultimately I don’t know exactly what motivates every non-painter, but what’s important is that it’s not my place to judge them.

The point is, the why doesn’t matter. I’ll appreciate painted miniatures when I see them, both if they’re done well and as an appreciation of the time and effort that goes into doing them. But I’ll accept anyone who wants to play bare metal for whatever reason as equal participants in the hobby, too. It’s their choice, not mine. You don’t have to paint to play.


  1. Timmy can’t play basketball unless he sews up his own uniform. ๐Ÿ™

    But anyway, your snobs are looking at it completely backwards. They shouldn’t be harping on those playing the game without first painting the miniatures… they should be harping on the company that sells you incomplete equipment!

    “Part of the fun of baseball is sewing the leather onto the ball of cork and yarn yourself!”


  2. Yeah, that was pretty much my response to the initial claims as well. That and to ask if requiring me to have a fully painted army to play them meant they were going to paint my army for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Rackham is taking an interesting approach for their AT-43 game. They are giving, I believe, real metal minis that are pre-painted. The options they give you are to either (1) play as is, (2) add touchups, highlights, etc., or (3) nuke the paintjob and do your own.

    I think this is great, and could shift the hobby slightly. I know it had already been done (and is being done) with WizKids and Wizards’ collectible mini games, but I think this takes it a step further.

  4. The AT-43 miniatures are plastic, but they’re not bad looking. I saw a boxed set while I was up at a painting competition recently. Mongoose is doing this with their modern game, too. I think it’s definitely a possibility, but AT-43’s pre-painted plastic miniatures seem to be about the same price as most unpainted Pewter so I don’t now how economically feasible it is. We’ll probably find out in the next year or so.

  5. I just started playing Warhammer LOTR I have this big army but only like 5 painted each one takes 10min and if you make one mistake in detail thats hard to get at with the brush like between the arm and head you have to start over. I want to play at a local store but it might take up to 2 months to paint all of these but i really wanna play what should i do

  6. I’d try explaining to the locals that you’re working on painting but doing it is taking a while and you’d like to play with in-process pieces. They’re likely to be flexible assuming it’s casual play and not an official event. If painting is an absolute requirement for any play at the store then you may have to accept painting fast to a lower standard with the intent of going back later to upgrade models at your convenience. The other option is to decide that people that are that uptight about painting might not be the kind of people you want to play with anyway, but that’s a decision you’ll have to make if it comes to it.

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