Monday, 14 July 2014

Little boxes made of ticky-tacky

As the results of my recent eBaying storm dies down, I find myself the proud owner of around sixty O gauge plastic buildings, a mix of Plasticville, K-Line and others, in varying states of disrepair.  Four of these are on the worktable being prepared specifically for the BBB, restoring and refurbishing the rest will probably keep me busy well into 2016 :-)

Work on the BBB game is nearing completion, those four buildings are in fact the only things left to be done.  I'm going to keep the nature of the game a secret until everything is complete and I can take some decent photos of all the terrain, vehicles and figures.  However to tease you further with what it could possibly be, for the accompanying barbecue dinner my freezer is now full with an order from, and I've been experimenting with a certain sort of American cuisine, including biscuits, sausage gravy and grits.

In the comments to the last post, R1ckatkinson (who I should point out is a non-wargamer) posed an interesting question..
I'm curious, how much does detail play in your enjoyment of the hobby? If you had generic building shapes where you could print out slip-in wall decals as required, would you still feel like they were good enough to play with?
The answer is, it depends on the game, who and where I'm playing, and indeed why.  Back in the day, my preferred terrain for sci-fi games was mid-to-large polystyrene packaging, simply painted grey or black, and assembled into a sci-fi cityscape.  These "buildings" had no detailing whatsoever, yet the overall effect was good enough.

Nowadays I think I prefer something that's a little more pleasing to the eye, yet I always balance that with major concessions to practicality.  For example, I've often assembled buildings without chimneys, since they're an extrusion that can easily be knocked and broken in use and transport, and make it harder to stack buildings together for storage.  I don't add the fine detail that some talented modellers do, like guttering and drainpipes, though little touches like those really bring a scene to life.

There are a couple of absolute baselines for me - figures must be painted.  I used to happily game with unpainted miniatures, but now I find it spoils my immersion in the game.  (they don't have to be painted particularly well, see my constant references to "daub and dip")  Everything must at least roughly resemble the thing they're representing.  While I've no problem using various wheeled and tracked sci-fi vehicles from Old Crow, ex GZG or Marbeth as proxies for real-world generic vehicles in Paradiso, I couldn't bring myself to use a model bus to represent a tank, for example, as it would just break the illusion of the game for me.

A lot of wargamers favour fully sculpted terrain boards, by that I mean a thick polystyrene base that can be modelled into ditches, trenches, river and streambeds.  They look superb, but I'm sticking with my traditional "green sheet" base tabletop with all terrain being placed on top of that flat plane.  It means that things like river banks are actually raised above the surrounding land rather than being sunk down, but that can be worked around and for me the advantages in flexibiity and practicality far outweigh the aesthetic cost.

That's for 28mm games, where generally 1 figure is representing 1 man or woman on the battlefield. Games with smaller scale figures that portray larger battles tend to be more abstracted, and for those I'm happier with a more abstracted terrain.  When I was playing Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame, in which I had one stand of 3-4 figures representing a company of men, for built up areas I was using a little wooden toy village like this, which if anything was much smaller in scale.  The abstraction works somehow, giving a different aesthetic to the 28mm games, but that's still pleasing to the eye.

For 1/300 micro-armour I have used (and would again) houses and hotels from a Monopoly set scattered on a piece of grey card to represent a built-up area, rather than trying to model actual streets  and terrain.  Putting myself in the role of the battle group commander, I don't really care about the exact layout of the streets and buildings, I just know that if I order my troops to take up positions in a built up area, they should gain a defensive advantage.  How to exactly position the troops and vehicles to maximise that advantage is for the platoon commanders on the ground to sort out.  The wargame terrain just has to support that, any extra detail that gets in the way of that starts to become a negative.

Finally, there's the when and why.  Let's come back full circle to those boxes of slightly grubby and tatty Plasticville buildings sitting in my front room.  If I wanted to play a solitaire game, or if one of my wargaming friends dropped by and we wanted to have a quick-fun game, I'd be quite happy throwing down the green cloth and laying out a selection of those buildings as-is for a fun few hours of bantering and rolling dice.  They would be perfectly good enough.

On the other hand, for things like the Big Birthday Bash, where I'm inviting people who are having to re-arrange their schedules and then travel, in some cases hundreds of miles to participate, I really feel I owe them a slightly higher level of aesthetic quality, so I'd plan to put in a couple of hours on each building restoring, repainting and weathering them.  I'm not a world-class modeller, painter or crafter and I know I'm never going to approach the diorama-like level of detail that some can manage.  I want people to look at the game in progress and find it visually appealing as a whole, even if a closer inspection would reveal that those little boxes are indeed just hollow shells made out of ticky-tacky.

Does that answer the question?  And to any other wargamers, what levels of visual detail do you want/need in your games, and where do you sit on the spectrum between practicality and aesthetics?


  1. Well Doc I have to say I fall right in the middle of what you are saying! When I am playing with close friends I usually will just put down the bare necessities but I have been known on occasion to "treat" my guests to something special. When I have guests coming from a long distance I feel I owe them something to remember! BTW I am a huge fan of yours. The "daub and dip" method has seen me through many a painting session. Thanx for the inspiration!

  2. I think that's a fair answer, I think back to when I was a kid and I would build airfix model aircraft but never felt a strong need to paint them. (I painted a few but never felt I did a good job, and those little paint pots turned out expensive when each model needed half a dozen colours). So to hear it's a balancing act isn't unreasonable.

    It's all about building a fancy board game (if you excuse my over simplification), and so I can imagine if you go too realistic you'd have problems with figures not able to stand correctly. Then I think back to that computer software you were using for games played over the web, it was top-down maps and simple counters. I can imagine this killed some of the magic, but served a purpose at the time.

    As for wanting painted figures then I can only assume the practical side of this makes them easier to play with. The only similarity I can think of is with a game of chess, where the pieces are exagerated. Saul (my oldest son for those that don't know me) has a starwars set which looks great, but makes for a difficult game that can cause you to misread the board. So your pack of unpainted soldier figures is likely to look very samey and your using your bus to represent a tank is also just going to confuse.

    You need to be free to concentrate on the strategy and the game play, and not worry about trying to identify objects correctly.

    Asking for a comments is an interesting point. I've found that this blog tends to get a smattering of comments as a matter of cause anyway. But I've found it very hit and miss in my blogs. Sadly there's never enough feedback,... everyone should be made to blog for a month so they can feel what it's like to get nothing! :-)