Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Of rules and miniatures

Partially revisiting my post on "the rules" from a few weeks back, and partly prompted by a comment in the Meeples and Miniatures Facebook group by Sigur Squrrl. Advance warning - this might be a bit stream of consciousness-y and rant-y :D
"[...] Wargaming is free to design and miniatures not necessarily attached to rules."
Some rules, clearly, exist to sell miniatures. The king above them all is, of course, Warhammer 40K, but if you cast your eyes around you can see countless other examples, many these days via Kickstarter, where someone's come up with a neat idea for a set of rules and a setting, and a range of miniatures to match.

The thing is, some of us are starting to get conditioned to this. We buy the rules, then we buy the figures because they're designed to work with the rules. Depending on how obscure and idiosyncratic the setting is, they may be our only choice. And then (naming no names), out comes Version 2 of the rules, or perhaps Codexes A to D, and we buy more figures, because...


We like to justify it as being because the new rules have given us new choices, and/or because the forces in Codex A are just super cool.

Is the truth perhaps actually that it's because at least in part we're happy sheep and we want to play against everyone else whe's doing the same thing? Not that this is of necessity bad: just.. y'know? Tie your figures to your rules, and the best way to sell more figures is to write more rules! (And then there's the sad knock on effect that this almost invariably results in the infamous codex creep, followed by a re-baselining of force balance in a new version of the rules, followed by new versions of the codices, both of which as previously mentioned cause more figures to be bought... Stop me if you've seen this before!)

Historical gamers have it a bit easier: our settings have a very important attribute, in that they're not anyone else's property. History is not going to get litigious (oo, good word) just because (for the sake of example) Artizan, Crusader, Warlord, Black Tree, First Corps, Foundry, West Wind, PSC, Wargames Factory and heaven knows who else all produce 28mm WW2 figures. (Even if Lucasfilm and TSR may or may not have tried to trademark "Nazi". :D) And, let's face it, this is, when it comes down to, why Warhammer Historical is no more. Because GW aren't a rules company. They admit it in as many words.

But yet, and perhaps bizarrely, we still do it. I'd be intrigued to know how many of the armies at Rushden Phoenix club's recent Bolt Action tournament (at which three members of our club came back with trophies - well done guys!) were made of nothing but Bolt Action figures, and how many of those players had even considered, or were perhaps even aware of, other ranges. I'm as guilty as the next guy - my Napoleon At War armies (ok, ok, I'll admit it - my several kilos of unpainted lead!) are entirely made by, you guessed it, Man At War. And I have no defence (well, except that they're cheap, they come in the right sizes, and they appeal to my OCD :) ).

Admittedly, tournament play can be different - companies can and have set restrictions on what figures you can use, and they are, like it or not, within their rights to do so. And I'm within my rights to choose whether or not to play as a result (and sometimes I do).


Let's look at this the other way round, because (as Neil and Sigur Squrrl point out), just because A requires B doesn't mean B must perforce require A.

It's an obvious fallacy, but... it was quite scary hearing the reports of groups of people who were selling entire armies of 15mm Flames of War in order to play Bolt Action in 28mm, without, apparently, giving thought to the fact that the rules could, with little or no tweaking, be used with their, and their mates', existing figures.

I probably own more Battlefront lead than several of the Flames of War gamers at our club put together (six full infantry companies and most of a seventh). I own part of the contents of three Open Fire box sets. Why? Well, it sure as hell isn't to play Flames of War! I own a fair few GW LOTR figures - one's the most talkative character on this blog, and he's certainly not being used to play LOTR! :D One of my options for a general for my Palmyran army is a Hell Dorado figure.

And this sort of brings us back to the whole thing about the rules.

The very word 'rules' implies a certain degree of inflexibility. And yes, for tournament play, this is inevitable: unless you have an agreed common framework of rules, you have chaos, and you thus pretty much have to go by the book, or at best with clearly documented variations. And it's very easy to slip into the mentality that because the figures go with the rules, the rules mean you can only use the figures with the rules.

Nuts to that :D

There are some brilliant, brilliant figure sculptors, ranges and concepts out there. We're all intelligent and imaginative people. Rules are made to be broken, or at the very least, tweaked. Knock yourselves out!


  1. I only ever buy the figures I want to purchase and use so mostly avoid the problem of our rules, figures, paints, brushes etc.

  2. Interesting post, Mike. What you've described is a bit of a strange concept to me. When I wargame a period, I hunt high and low for figures which are suitable whether or not they're tied or affiliated (in any way) to the publisher or writer of the rules. Part of the pleasure (at least for me) is discovering figures in ranges you never knew existed to use, adapt or convert to place on the table and have fun with. Even more fun when the ranges are ones which look (at least at first sight) pretty cruddy, but with a little attention and a decent paint job can surprise you. I know you're the same kind of guy when it comes to figures. But, come to think of it, I'm not sure I know many (or any) wargamers who aren't like this! (I'm very slightly playing Devil's Advocate here, but you know what I'm saying, right?)

    1. Heh. Absolutely.

      But then, your club probably doesn't have 75%+ of its gamers playing games of that ilk :D And to be honest, it's /much more/ prevalent in non-historical settings, precisely because the setting and the rules end up going hand in hand.

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  4. Great post. Big Lee is proving that you can play Flames of War in 6mm. As long as both armies are in the same scale, I see no reason why any rule set can't be adapted to any scale.

  5. I have to admit that I dont follow the rules and figure combo but I do seem to get everything Paul Hicks sculpts as I love his work. I am sure i am not the only one who armies are mainly from the one sculptor

  6. Steady on Mike, you're spreading anarchy here!

    This rules malarkey is utter b******s. My advice to anyone is buy the rules you like best and, if they need changing to suit you or your take on the period, change 'em. If you feel strongly enough about it, convince your club members to do likewise. I can't think of a set of rules you can't adapt to suit any scale, it's mostly only simple arithmetic.

    Figures? Buy the ones you like best or you feel are most suitable.

    As you say, tournaments are different and you stick to the rules if you want to enter, but the figures involved should be up to the player. As long as they meet the scale criteria, what's the problem? I wonder how it'd stand up in court? Restrictive practices and all that.

    Phew, I nearly went of on one there . . . .

  7. Interesting read.

    Well, it can be tricky. It isn't like miniatures gaming is a wildly lucrative business, and less so the rules-only aspect from what I have heard. So to make some money at it, companies are trying to use rules to promote the sale of miniatures. It makes sense. Someone might pay $40-50 for a rules set if it's very nice, but for that game they're likely to spend many hundreds on miniatures for it, and more likely to reinvest in for more miniatures than for more rules.

    The more economically successful companies have tried to encourage this and be the destination for that reinvestment money by creating rules-specific miniatures or flat-out insisting on those miniatures for tournament play. GW, Privateer Press and Battlefront come to mind.

    It's got to be a tough road for them, because a lot of gamers, like myself, enjoy collecting from a wide range of miniatures to personalize forces. Just for example: Blood Bowl. I love to create new teams but almost never build a team stock-standard from one manufacturer's intended team set. I almost always convert, source different companies, etc.

    But Blood Bowl is also a good example of a game that has very infrequent rules changes (in fact, GW has declared it dead) and in the last 10+ years there's only been 3 new teams added. Yet people are still making new teams and buying miniatures. Gamers love miniatures, there doesn't have to be new rules written to motivate new purchases.

  8. Until about a year ago I only really played 40k, so was very much buying the majority of things from GW (with the occasional conversion piece from elsewhere). With the growing prices I started to look at other games systems and am now firmly with you on this one. Loads of the smaller skirmish systems that I like, such as 7TV and Strange Aeons, actively encourage you to go out and buy from any manufacturer to make the story you want to make. It feels strangely liberating after all those years of paying through the nose for GW kits...

  9. Good food for thought Mike, as always.
    This post by Phil of The Wagaming Site blog is a good illustration of GW's maverick

  10. I spend plenty of money on rules sets and models. But which comes firsts?

    Really it is neither.

    More often than not it is what are they playing at club.

    So I have both 40K and WFB armies and I tend to keep up with the latest version of the rules - because they play that.

    I also have multiple WAB armies for the same reason.

    I have a pile of Wings of War/Glory WWI planes because I like them and I can get to play them at club.

    I am collecting WWII British because we play both CoC and Bolt Action.

    And so it continues.

    Now there are games I haven't played - even though they are popular (Flames of War being and example), and there are some rule sets I have bought and read and said to myself never, but normally is someone turns up with two armies and a rule set and says - who wants a game, I will say yes at least once!

    As Mike says many very good figure manufacturers and I have my favourites!

    As a final point I can see GW creep when on a forum you see - where do I get the official figures for X game, and in most cases the response is a very healthy list of suitable quality figure suppliers plus a note a that Y supplier did do special packs to match (but were not obligatory).

    I was disappointed a few years ago when a certain Manufacturer - who are trying to break the GW grip on Fantasy and organised a tournament for their new rule set and basically allowed any figures except GW - sad because they were excluding the biggest part of their potential future market, but that is their choice.

    We can all choose.

    I at this point choose to stop typing!!!!

  11. I can see the appeal of going with a single manufacturer for visual consistency, but otherwise... I've never been all that heavily into minis, and the idea of a rule set specifying that you MUST use models from a specific manufacturer is entirely alien to me. (In fact what I really want is a very cheap-to-run 3D printer, so that I can run up suitable, if crude, models for a particular game without committing to long-term storage of the things. I play a lot of different games.)

    Jon Tuffley of GZG reckons his is almost entirely a miniatures business; Full Thrust is given away free as PDF these days. (And even those rules say "well, we make minis we'd be very happy for you to buy, but here are some other places you can get stuff".)

  12. I am a cheap b_st_rd with a small gaming budget. If rules and figures don't serve more than one purpose or tie into what I already have, I won't buy them. Even Chain of Command ties into figures I bought for VBCW.

    However, when I started gaming, rules and figures both were tough to get hold of. The first FLGS in Ottawa was driven by D&D (first edition) and what a god-send that was! You bought the rules that were available and used the figures that were available because you had no, or very little, choice. I am not saying this was a good thing but it instilled a certain mind set that is missing in the current era of relative plenty.

    I saw a quote on a North American Go (igo, weiqui, baduk) site that pretty much sums up gaming in general for me: "Go is a conversation between two players, each one creating a new puzzle for their opponent on each move." santafegoclub.org/what-is-go

    For me, the rules of a game set the boundaries of that conversation. For tournaments that conversation may be a highly structured debate with rigid limits but for most of my gaming it is a free flowing chat with a friend.

    For me, success in a game is not marked by wins or losses but by whether or not we had a good game. From CoC this Monday last, I will always remember Captain Mainwaring rallying the remnants a section shot off a hill by my evil parachutists; then under Richard's steady hand, taking the hill back. Marc, my regular gaming buddy, re-tells the story of the game of HotT where his rampaging god was struck down by a single unit of my warband sitting in swamp (as near as we can tell, he interrupted their drinking session). These were good games.

    1. I want to pick up on that puzzle thing, because I very much agree: the great thing about the sort of puzzle that a wargame throws up (and indeed about programming, at least the way I think of it), is that, unlike a crossword or a sudoku or an adventure game on a computer, one is not assured that there is a solution. Nobody has come along and said "I want this one to be medium difficulty". Or even "I want this one to be possible". Maybe there is no solution. I like that feeling, that I am not walking someone else's path but breaking new ground.

  13. Part of the beauty of fantasy and sci-fi gaming is the amount of thought and effort that some companies put into their background material, and I include GW in that camp. Whether you like the background or not, you have to respect the amount of effort that has been put into it over the last 3 decades. But that inevitably leads to miniature ranges designed to match that background and the more unique troop types and makes it harder to find "generic" miniatures that will fit in and feel "right".

    That doesn't stop me trying of course. I use Mantic and Avatars of War miniatures for Warhammer and God of Battles (along with a healthy dose of GW miniatures of course), but then there's a lot more leeway when it comes to "classical" fantasy wargames. When it comes to sci-fi you only tend to get away with it when companies deliberately produce miniatures to look compatible with other ranges (without looking similar enough to get sued of course).

    Historical ranges shouldn't have the same restrictions of course, since they all use the same background material. My own Bolt Action army that I took to Rushden is predominantly made of PSC infantry, while my T-34 is a random plastic model kit in the right scale. The only actual Bolt Action miniatures in the army are some that I won and it'd be silly to waste them. :-)

  14. I know, right? My reason to play Those Games(tm) however trumps all else. It has very little to do with the gaming community. Actually I have so far, in 3 years, only played them with one person (two, but she plays much less so far as her attention span at her age is a bit too short). It has nothing to do with how many people play it.
    Yes, I tried to get him to play other games. He didn't want to. He has no friends who play it, so that's not it.
    Your arguments on the subject of the Microsoft/Facebook/Google of gaming are valid. I actually agree mostly. But my universe is quite different. Different laws of physics. Different motivations. Motivations that run very deep.


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