Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In Lieu of Figures

Miniature wargaming remain a hobby with a high entry threshold. Aside from purchasing and learning the ruleset (and possibly army lists), potential players must also buy and paint the figures necessary to play. This daunting challenge can dampen established wargamers’ enthusiasm for trying new systems or genres and can deter newcomers from entering the hobby. (All this assumes players don’t already have a collection of appropriately scaled and based minis for the period.)

Some miniature wargamers might balk at the thought of anyone playing the game with anything but fully painted miniatures; but alternatives should exist to remove one obstacle in encouraging those seeking to enter and pursue the hobby, at least so they can play among their friends, become familiar with the rules, and begin forming some basic strategies of their own.

Miniature wargame players can try several strategies to create their own “pieces” to represent individual figures or stands of figures used in a game:

Flat: A flat piece can represent the area covered by a particular unit or individual figure (depending on the game system requirements). Mounting it on cardstock or corrugated cardboard can make it easier to maneuver than simple paper. Flat pieces remain the easiest to create, print, and mount.

Tented: Create a three-dimensional piece made from paper or cardstock folded three times into a “tent” with an appropriately sized base. These stand up from the playing surface, making them easier to handle and giving them more of a presence on the gaming table. They can also serve to hide their true nature in games using “fog of war” rules with the unit designation printed only on one side of the tent, with a blank side facing the opponent.

Cardstock Figures: Using a properly sized flat base (corrugate or foam core work best), mount a crowd of individual cardstock figures by sliding them into slits in the base, gluing or taping them in place, or using some other method of affixing them upright. This method is useful if the game rules require removal of figures from the unit base to show reduced strength.

Graphics on these pieces can vary depending on the amount of time invested and personal play preferences. The more time spent creating pieces, the better they look on the game table:

Tactical Symbols: Use standard military symbols to denote the nature of various units…infantry, cavalry, artillery, tanks, mechanized infantry, etc. Most military history books (such as the fantastic publications from Osprey) use these symbols to show unit movement during historical battles, so they have some air of martial legitimacy.

Mass Graphics: Though a single illustration representing the unit might suffice to clearly mark a piece (and would work for a piece representing a single soldier or vehicle), a graphic showing the mass elements of the unit looks more authentic on the tabletop. Printing, mounting, and cutting out cardstock figures to insert into a flat base takes mass graphics option one step further.

Illustration Sources

Searching online for “military symbols” brings up a wealth of resources, enough knowledge to players to create their own symbols for pieces. The more search-engine savvy might look for free fonts featuring military unit symbols or silhouettes for various soldiers and vehicles.

The Junior Generals website offers a host of figures -- both to cut out and mount on pieces or top-down views – for nearly any historical period. The site also provides wargaming scenarios using the pieces with basic rules intended for teaching young people about different historical eras.

Patrick Crusiau’s figures page archives a host of his past creations, all full-color figures intended to cut, glue, and base (and he includes a handy PDF guide illustrating this process). He offers an extensive variety of figures evenly distributed across historical periods (Greek, Roman, medieval, Renaissance, American Civil War, Napoleonic) and popular genres (medieval fantasy, science fiction, pulp, horror, consipiracy).

The Models and Miniatures in Paper Archive presents a range of figures, mostly for fantastic genres but including a few historical, including soldiers, ships, and even three-dimensional vehicle models. The quality sometimes vary, but the figure sets display a healthy diversity. History gamers might enjoy figures for Zulus, the War of 1812, samurai, and World War II forces.

Cardboard Warriors Forum offers a community for cardboard figure aficionados where one can also find links to sites with other figures, tips and templates for creating original ones, and discussions, advice, and requests about the hobby.

Miniature wargaming remains inherently a richly visual medium, one which stands out at conventions by the sheer scope of the terrain and military forces arrayed on the playing surface; creating original pieces to represent units not yet purchased and painted enables players to dive into a new game with minimal preparation and fuel their enthusiasm for full outfitting their armies.