(Editor's note: This week's post is written by Karl, a prolific gamer, terrain builder and painter, and also one of the founding members of Chicago Skirmish Wargames. He wanted me to point out that the opinions below are his and his alone ... but if you perchance happen to game with us, you won't find an unpainted model anywhere on our battlefields. Also, a portion of this article appeared in Dakka Dakka.)
I frequent a number of forums, and periodically discussions arise regarding painting and whether or not it is a necessary part of the hobby. This often comes up among players of popular games like Warmachine, where players are rewarded for buying entire factions at once just to have a competitive option against every opponent. Similarly, Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 require a player to buy many dozens or hundreds of miniatures just to play the size of game most people at the local game shop will enjoy.
Some folks inevitably chime in with "it's just a game" or "it would be just as fun with chits." In the end, the discussion usually settles around a philosophy equivalent to: "Those who don't choose to paint their models have a different approach to the hobby and it's just as valid as yours."
Balderdash, I say! Pish posh and poppycock!
I will endeavor herein to make the case that painting is an essential part of the hobby, and a standard not to simply overlook. Like many here, I have a "live and let live apart" attitude towards folks who don't paint their miniatures. My philosophy is generally, "That's fine for you, but you'll have to find someone else to play against," though I'm wiling to make exceptions for folks whose painting is in-progress.
Still, I'm not so relativistic as to be willing to give some sort of tacit approval to those who don't paint and say that they're involvement in the hobby is just as good as mine. It's not, nor should we delude ourselves to think that it is so, simply for the sake of good feelings and avoiding offense.
Like any activity, there is a hierarchy of involvement. In the tabletop wargaming hobby, those who play with painted miniatures bring more to the table, and those with grey hordes bring less. It may sound elitist or harsh, and no one seems to like the word "hierarchy" anymore, but consider that every other hobby activity has standards by which they judge a member's degree of involvement and commitment to the hobby.
Why should wargaming be any different than other hobbies that require painting?
- If you're a part of a car club, but don't paint or keep your car up, you're going to be viewed differently.
- If you're part of a fine-scale modeling club, but just assemble and convert your models, and don't paint them, no one is going to think that you've "finished" them or want you to display with the club.
- -If you show up to a train club with a bunch of ready-to-run "Bachman" models with plastic wheels, eyebrows may be raised.
- In sports, it's the better players who make the varsity team.
- In music, it's the better musicians (or better promoted musicians) who get the gig.
- In business, it's those who get results and profits who become executives.
However, make no mistake, painted models are part of wargaming and have always been. If you're content to repeatedly bring your Bondo-patched Camaro to the car show, that's your choice, but don't expect the same degree of esteem and approval from your fellow enthusiasts. Like any hobby, there are loads of people out there ready with tips and techniques to help you get your stuff done, and many more are willing do it for you for a price, but it's up to you see that it gets done.
I do not hold myself apart from these same standards and fully realize that they apply to me as well. I paint most of my minis with fairly quick block paint schemes followed by a Minwax dip. It's a standard I'm happy with and looks good on the tabletop. I even have a few prepainted miniatures that have been rebased and dipped!
But I don't ever expect to get the same kind of props or respect as someone who paints their miniatures to a higher standard any more than I would expect a best-painted award at a convention. In fact, sometimes I'm actually a tiny bit disappointed when I receive kudos for my fully painted figures, because it means that so many gamers are used to seeing hordes of unpainted models at their local game store.
To sum up, the hobby has standards. If you choose not to meet them, or your local game scene chooses to ignore them, then that's up to you and them. However, they do exist. Pretending they do not may give a warm fuzzy feeling to a few people, but it lowers the the hobby as a whole and does no one any favors. As one of the thousands of players who was attracted to wargaming by the spectacle of painted armies clashing on a battlefield of beautiful terrain, it's simply not a standard I'm willing to let go. Nor should any of us.
-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member
(Photos from the four-year history of CSW and the many games we've played during that time)