Like most geeks, I like things. I really like shiney, pretty things. I LOVE shiney pretty things that directly relate to my various geekdoms. With this in mind, let’s talk about miniatures and their uses in various games.
The precursors of games like Dungeons & Dragons, historic wargames, were all about the miniatures. If you happen to be in the Gettysburg, PA area (where I just was on vacation1), you can stop by a wargames miniatures store like Gettysburg Miniature Soldiers, and get all sorts of minis of different sizes for different simulation games, from all sorts of historic battle groups (from Spartan warriors to Civil War soldiers to WW2 tanks).
When Gary Gygax & friends brought D&D onto the scene (see my recent review of the book Of Dice & Men for more on that fun time in gamer history), people naturally wanted miniatures that would match this new gaming genre. In the 30+ years since that time, many folks have put forth a wide variety of efforts to achieve that goal.
When I first came onto the gaming scene in 1992 or so, all the miniatures were metal. Some were pewter, some were cheaper metals. While the minis were all pretty detailed in sculpture, you could also buy paints to “bring them to life”. Many were of a generic fantasy variety, but could be used in games like D&D (which, at the time, didn’t have any official grid-map system, so miniature size was less important than it was with later editions). Others, like the products coming out from Games Workshop, were specific to games like Space Hulk. Some of them were expertly modelled, while others had big bits of metal you’d have to chip away or cut off with X-acto blades. At a minimum, you were probably going to pay $7-8 for a small single miniature, or $30 or more for bigger miniatures2 or sets3.
In the 20 years since then4, the field of gaming and fantasy miniatures has exploded. We’ve got board games with custom minis, massive fantasy battle systems like Warhammer, and a whole slew of minis made specifically for roleplaying games. For a while, D&D was putting out pre-painted minis, though now the only way to get them is by purchasing their new miniatures skirmish game Dungeon Command. Paizo has licensed some fantastic pre-painted plastic miniatures for use in their Pathfinder game (a new pirate-themed set was just released and is on the shelves at Modern Myths right now). And the Heroclix game has exploded into most every fandom imaginable5.
But throughout all of this, the pricing structure of minis didn’t really change. It was still a fairly expensive process to build up a collection of miniatures for your games. Even sets of plastic minis, like the Warhammer boxed squads, will run $25 or more. Seeing this trend, a longtime miniatures company, Reaper, launched a Kickstarter campaign to change the face of fantasy miniatures. Or, more accurately, they wanted to keep the same face, just make it out of a different material. Specifically, a cheaper plastic resin. However, they used their huge catalog of highly-detailed metal miniature molds to create many of these new, economical figurines.
The Reaper BONES Kickstarter was hugely successful, based largely on the idea that supporters could get lots of cool minis for very little (comparative) investment. It did so well, in fact, that they are now selling a wide variety of their popular Dark Heaven line as BONES miniatures in retail gaming stores (both Modern Myths stores have large displays with a wide variety to choose from). As I said, many of these are the exact same super-detailed molds of previous popular Reaper minis, but at a fraction of the cost. With BONES, a single miniature might cost $3-4, while a larger one could reach maybe $15.6 The important thing is that they are a fraction of what you’d pay for the same mini in metal, or even the same type of plastic mini from another company.
The response to the Reaper BONES line has been mostly ecstatic. I’ve heard one or two people complain that the plastic sometimes might bend (more on the Kickstarter sets than on the ones they’re selling now), but some re-bending by hand after submersing the figure in hot water usually takes care of any bent swords.
The minis all look great on their own, but the true beauty comes out when you add paint. Reaper has made claims that these minis may not even require primer coats beforehand. That claim is a little dubious, though I found it’s only 100% accurate if you’re using Reaper’s specifically endorsed paints. If using Games Workshop or other paints, I’d recommend throwing a base coat on first like normal. But even then, the detail on these minis is so great that even a quick ink wash will reveal awesome details (as I did with the Purple Worm BONES mini pictured). Some of the BONES minis are new sculpts, too. A few use translucent plastics for ghost or fire minis, which really don’t need any paint whatsoever (though you could probably add some cool highlights.
If you’re interested in learning about painting minis, our resident artist Matt runs a great painting workshop at the Northampton store every 2nd Saturday of each month at 4 PM. The BONES line is usable for a variety of fantasy roleplaying games, or just for display, if you like pretty things. And really, who among us doesn’t like pretty, geeky things?
1. Seriously, if you’re looking for an awesome vacation spot, Gburg is economical, full of awesome history, and has numerous cool attractions, like haunted story tours, wineries, and battlefield tours on horseback, foot, bike, car, or even Segway. But I digress…
2. An oxymoron, I know. Excuse me while I eat some jumbo shrimp
3. Amusing story: The first D&D boxed set I bought was the 2nd ed “Dragon Mountain”. Being new to the game, I thought that you also needed the Dragon Mountain metal miniatures set to play the adventure. I didn’t fully grasp the “theater of the mind” concept at that young age. I realized my error later, but had already spent $30 on the minis. They weren’t amazing models (especially not the red dragon), but they did have what I still believe is the coolest ever miniature: an Invisible stalker… the mini was just a base with two footprints on it. Hilarious.
4. Has it been that long? Jeepers. Stupid linear progression of time making me feel old…
5. Batman vs. the X-Men vs. Dr. Manhattan? Sure!
6. See store for actual prices. These are just ballpark figures.