Saturday, 12 October 2013

How to finish a wargames project

As Prufrock has asked the question I will endeavour to explain how I approach completing a wargames project. For the purposes of this post I will confine myself to the production of the painted figures to the point at which they can be deployed upon the table and used. For me that means everything painted and based to the same standard and requiring no further work. I'm afraid I feel that fielding units with partially painted figures is a bit of a cop-out unless you are developing and playtesting rules at the same time.

In practice there is nothing more difficult in completing a wargame project than there is in giving up smoking or losing weight. You just have to want to do it. There are simple rules you can put in place to help you, but ultimately it comes down to a matter of willpower*. These simple rules are the equivalent of not having sweets or crisps in the house if you want to lose weight, or not going to smoky places if you want to stop smoking. They're not the answer but they are simple steps on the way.

The simple answer is decide what you want to do, buy the figures and paint them. Don't buy anything else until you've finished what you've bought. At the extreme end of this spectrum don't even buy anything else for this army unless it is absolutely essential and you forgot it first time round (eg I forgot to order all the HMGs for my SCW armies). If going to a show tempts you too much that you just have to buy something Don't go to shows. If you get the same problems with reviews and adverts in magazines Don't buy them. If you have to, get your partner to cut out the review pages, or hide them away until your current project is finished. Then indulge in an orgy of magazine back issue catch up when the army is done. If this makes you feel uncomfortable or you think it is stupid you are showing all the symptoms of addiction and you need to beat it and there is no wargaming equivalent of methadone or nicotine patches. I'm not kidding. Buying figures you'll never paint is like buying cigarettes when you know they are bad for you. They give you a buzz, then you have to do it again, all the while it's making you feel worse. Warbored WarehouseTM, nice blokes tho' they are, are not your best mates because they seem to like you and talk to you when you bump into them at a show. They want to sell you stuff, and what's more they don't care if you don't paint the toys. That's why they're prepared to stand there and let you talk drivel at them. They know you'll be back to buy more of their latest game and figures because that's what addicts do. They are the equivalent of your local pusher. Put it another way, - do you think that all those celebrity chefs lose any sleep at night because their name branded pasta or ice cream maker is shoved to the back of a kitchen cupboard, never to see the light of day? Next year they'll sell you a boxed set of Boers, mounted & dismounted. I mean yoghurt maker. Or whatever. Well, you know what I'm getting at.

If you find this view tough,  focus on the prize at the end of completing this army, which is two fold:

  1. You have an army to play with
  2. You can now buy more toys
Okay, enough of upsetting everyone. What are my other handy tips?

Firstly, now, I buy all the figures I think I'm going to need up front. I'll have worked it out from the rule book or from what I think my rules will look like when I write them. That means, when I finish them, that I'll actually be able to use them. I do buy odds and ends to add to other armies when I see something that fits, but these are only odds and ends (eg I'm looking to add some Peter Pig Quad AA guns to the back of a Zvezda truck to go with my SCW stuff. I'll buy that and paint it when I see the bits despite me working on Indians. It is a minor diversion. I WON'T buy two or three regiments of Falange at the same time as that represents too much of a distraction). These are what, in project land, are called "quick wins". This is not the same as an impulse buy.

Secondly, when I worked out what I wanted I did it on a spreadsheet, so I know exactly what units I'm aiming to paint and can track them if I need to. For my current project Plastic Soldier Review was really helpful as it showed the contents of each box, including the poses, so I knew what I needed and what I was getting. When I finish the last three Sumerian units there will not be a single figure from the boxes I bought unused.

Thirdly, particularly with figures sold in packets, I open the packets and sort them into units and put each unit into a ziplock bag. These then go into a box, lined up so I can see what I've got to do. It'll often have the unit name on a slip of paper tucked inside, with any organisational bits that aren't obvious (eg "Add trumpeter to rifle base not command stand"). I usually also put them in the order they need to be done. Consequently I'm not just painting random stuff, I'm painting to a plan. I do, on occasion, make up small cards with what paint colurs I'm using for what so I can swap around between types of unit and still get a consistent outcome.

Fourthly I have a streamlined painting system using tinted varnish to finish the figures off. I wrote about the method in November 2009: Painting Toy Soldiers (1) is the first posting, I thing there's about 5 in total. One of the key points is to devise a methodology that has breaks at appropriate times to allow drying overnight when needed. I long ago gave up trying to paint all that detail on 28mm figures, or even to paint like people who paint them. The currently accepted modern technique produces something that doesn't look real, same as a child always painting water blue. We all agree it, but it doesn't make it true. Having said that you could still finish such armies if you apply enough will power and organisation to the project.


Fifthly make sure you have a regular painting slot and your partner agrees that it is your painting slot and not just a block of free time to be filled up with other stuff. The advent of record and catch up TV means that you can still spend time with your loved one watching your favourite soap or crime drama. It just doesn't have to be done when it's going out live. I used to paint for an hour every evening Monday - Thursday from about 7:30pm to 8:30pm. By that point we'd have had dinner, done the washing up and tidied away. When I'd done that Mrs T and I could sit down, play a board game or watch a couple of Star Trek episodes on DVD (I know how to live). Fridays evenings are reserved for family time. At other times of my life it's been two hours on Sunday morning. One of our group who is retired gets up an hour earlier than his wife and just "potters about". He then complains he doesn't have time to paint. Why not do it then, before breakfast? The important thing is that everyone who has calls on your time understands that this is your time to do this one thing. The Quid Pro Quo is to have time for them when it isn't that time. Otherwise you have a painted army and a note telling you you're being divorced.

Finally, look for the affordable short cuts. use pre-cut bases so nothing stops you on your quest. No need to go off and cut the board. Just stick and go. It'll save you half an hour you can spend on painting. Use hot melt glue when you can. It's nearly as strong as PVA, and fixes immediately so you can paint it. Use acrylic paints. Use quick drying varnish. Every 15 minutes you shave off here of there is more brush on figure time.

Oh. And don't write a blog. Takes up way too much time.



* Or cash. If you can pay someone to paint your figures for you, you can finish pretty much anything.

28 comments:

  1. Many thanks, Trebian! Very interesting to see your approach, but rather than spam up your comment box, I shall do a reply on my own blog. Stay tuned!

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    1. I'd never regard your comments as spam! I'm not looking for a reply any way, just your admiration and gratitude.

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    2. Admiration and gratitude indeed! Here's link to my own Trebian-inspired thoughts... http://prufrockian-gleanings.blogspot.jp/2013/10/musings-on-projects-their-start-middle.html

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    3. There are ways to deal with some of the other issues you speak of; I learned them when I had a year's coaching at work. I'll do a blog. It's about creating new paradigms.

      Yeah, I know. I thought it was management speak b*ll*x too, until I realised it worked.

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  2. I think this may be one of the wisest articles I've ever read. I too shall be referencing it on my blog!

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    1. Thanks. I'm a bit un-nerved by being described as being wise!

      I feel I should also draw reader's attention to an article in Junes Miniature Wargames called "Think Tank". The author sort of covers the same ground but he gets the causes of unpainted armies and the solution wrong.

      In my opinion.

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    2. Just out of curiosity, what does he feel the cause and solution are? MW is hard to find in these parts.

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    3. Causes: Too much detail on the figures, exaggerated expectations of what can be achieved, impulse buying.

      Solution: Proper project management like that practiced by railway modellers.

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    4. Hmmm... the over-expectations is true, a bit. But the advent of great, readily available dips and washes mean fast, excellent painting can be done by anyone!
      I know nothing about railway modeling, so can't respond to that one.
      Anyway: I have painting to do! Cheers, again.

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  3. Dear Trebian,

    I cannot agree more with your philosophy and there is a lot of wisdom (Thank you for that phrase, Soldatetain!) in what you say. One thing that I definitely do is get an overall picture of the period that I'm gaming and commit to making a collection which reflects the period. That might mean that you have to do additional research beyond that provided by the internet or Osprey or the rules set attracts you.
    Curmudgeonly yours, The Celtic Curmudgeon

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    1. I agree, you should research the period first to have an idea of what you are up against.

      Of course I ignored this principle when I impulse bought the Sumerians.

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  4. http://soldatetain.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/i-am-a-miniatures-addict-but-i-now-have-a-plan/

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  5. Much food for thought, Trebian. I find that one of the biggest stumbling blocks for my projects is my constant dithering on the 'perfect' rules for the project. In one case, I have rebased the handful of painted miniatures for a certain project six maybe seven times now.

    I think that I have finally locked down the way I want to base, and have narrowed down the list of rules to fit that decision. Progress is sometimes measured in small units!

    Now, to make an actual list for my projects of the specific units needed...



    Thanks, Greg

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    1. The rebasing thing can be a problem. In ancients ther's a solid group of rules based round DBx basing, but even so some of the Sumerians have been rebased three times in quite a short space of time.

      As I normally paint and supply both sides it's less of an issue for me. Furthermore he plastics are very simply one, - no modellig material, just painted the same colour as the wargames table. This is surprisingly effective. My metals tens to be polyfilla & dry brushing & scenic bits They're a pain to rebase so I ry to avoid it.

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  6. Good, thoughtful piece. I must say that discipline is the core attribute required and if you have this the method used doesn't matter. However, if you don't then these ideas will help you focus.

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    1. Being aware you have a self discipline problem is the first step to solving the problem. I eveloved this way of working precisely use I'm terribly untidy and ill-disciplind.

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  7. Hmmmm . . .'willpower', 'selfl discipline', 'railway modellers' all mentioned in the same post? This can't be good. It'll be 'project management' next. What? He's said that as well? God help us, we're doomed!

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    1. Be fair, railway modelling was in the comments, not in the post and I was quoting someone else. Ditto for project management...

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    2. O.K., I'll let you off, but only to a point. You've caused ripples of unrest in my comfortable little world. I'm sure that people at the trade stands really do like me. They can't just want to sell me things.

      And now you're talking about paradigums or something. It's very worrying . . . .

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    3. Gary, - of course they like you, it's all the others. In your case the selling is incidental.

      As for paradidilligums, that's for another day.

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  8. Excellent, lots of good tips here. And I do agree that blogging and looking about at other blogs is a time stealer from painting. I should get back to it! ;-)

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    1. Yes, stop reading all blogs except for mine. I'll tell you when it is okay to start again!

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  9. Trebian, as always you offer some sound advice - some of which I will actually try to follow when mustering my next armies!

    I have recently come up with a rather clever - no false modesty here - rationale to excuse/justify my extremely mediocre painting, which has barely progressed since I used to plaster Humbrol on Airfix 20mm figures with eleven year old enthusiam.

    Having read of wargamers painting figures in shades of grey to mimic the black and white photography of the Great War or 'B' movie '50s Westerns, which seemed to be received with some approval, I intend henceforth to explain my unshaded/unhighlighted, simply block painted figures as an homage to the style of the 'penny plain, tuppence coloured' aquatints of the early nineteenth century, such as the plates in Jenkins' Martial Achievements of Great Britain &c.' because these were the visual images available to the general public immediately after the battles of the Peninsular and Waterloo campaigns...

    I await the reaction of the proponents of the 'wargaming is all about painting the figures' heterodoxy with interest!

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    1. No need to worry about no shading...just buy some Ronseal like me and away you go.

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  10. Good post. I hope I can put some of the advice to use. I have slowly let myself give up and just throw things on the table to get in a game.

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    1. Sean,

      If you're happy with just throwing stuff on the table to get a game, then do it. The balance in most people's lives between painting and gaming is all wrong anyway.

      Trebian

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  11. Fine post, which I really enjoyed reading, Trebian! There are some very sound and wise thoughts in the post!!

    I've thought a lot about wargaming projects, and how to progress them. I used to dabble in half a dozen at the same time, but in about 2009 I tried to reduce that to one main project. I've stuck to that (sort of) ever since. I find that the main problem is being tempted by "what I could have", instead of focusing on "what is realistically going to be finished". In the end, we all fall off the "single project" wagon sometimes - mainly to help on a club project. When that happens, I try and not beat myself up about it, but return to the main project having learnt something which I can transfer across.

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    1. I think having clear aims is the main thing. The aim could be "I have 5 different FoG armies, all need extra heavy cavalry units". Or "My terrain collection is inadequate, - I require buildings for 5 17th century villages". The important thing is to have a clear idea of what you're doing rather than just meander about.

      The only reason for beating yourself up if you work on more than one projectat once is if it makes you unhappy. Plus, if you do work in an unstructured way don't whine at the rest of us that you never get anything finished. There are legitimate reasons for not getting any painting or wargaming done (eg when the length of my working day extended by four hours I had to adjust my approach slightly), but otherwise it is down to you.

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