Category: 28mm

Review: Zona Alfa

Occasionally I get a bug up my butt to try out odd skirmish genres. I was interested in painting up some modern military figures but wanted to steer away from historical/modern conflicts and Osprey’s Publishing, Zona Alfa popped up on my radar. It’s heavily laden with sci-fi trappings but wrapped up in primarily modern weaponry and technology. Taking some inspiration from the Stalker PC game (and in turn, the movie), it truly draws its theme from the sci-fi book, Roadside Picnic. 

A classic russian sci-fi story, Roadside Picnic has an unusual premise. Aliens arrived on earth, poked around, and then left, leaving behind remnants of their technology. Humans can’t deduce their actual purpose with most items breaking the laws of physics and beyond human comprehension. To draw from the book title, we are like ants crawling over the leftovers from aliens that happen to stop by earth for a short “picnic.”

The site of the alien landing becomes a secluded area, heavily guarded by the military. Only select personnel and researchers can enter it. Even more odd, the Zone is littered with physical anomalies that twist time and space. Segmented off from the public, individuals (Stalkers) sneak into the Zone, seeking strange tech to snatch up and sell on the black market. Throw in the PC game theme, you also have the Zone hit with radiation and horrible mutants. It becomes a fun setting to game in. 

The skirmish rules are for 2 players that draft up a squad of mercs and fight against each other within the Zone. Crews are commanded by one leader type and typically have 3 to 6 other figures. Each figure represents a single man of varying tactical experience. Troops are defined by a simple stat line to represent movement, combat ability, defense, and Will, a catch-all trait used for both morale and task resolution. A nice departure from most systems is that varying levels of troop quality are also reflected in the number of actions they can take during their turn. It’s not just simply a change in stat profiles. So that lowly rookie can only do one action during their turn, while a hardened veteran can undertake 3 actions at the same time.

Players roll off initiative and alternate activating figures of their choice. All actions can be repeated multiple times, making veterans able to maneuver and fire effectively, while that rookie (limited to just one action) needing more turns to do similar tasks on the battlefield. Actions cover a range of abilities, from movement, shooting, melee, aiming (to improve a following attack), and rally, to interacting with the environment (like filling gas into a vehicle, or opening a secured door). There is also a special action that allows models to go into overwatch/ambush. But this requires 2 actions meaning only more trained troops are able to hold off and interrupt the opponent’s turn if desired.

Gear and abilities are also reflected in troop quality. Every unit will be able to wield one ranged, one melee weapon, and at least one peice of gear. However, more trained units will be able to carry more gear (up to 3 items) and have abilities that can help with other specialized tasks or particular combat actions. Gear and weapons are based on WYSIWYG (what you see, is what you get) of the model.

Shooting is a pretty easy affair. A unit must be in range and LOS, with intervening cover affecting how easy they can be hit. Pistols top off at roughly a foot, while rifles reach up to 36” and given that most tables are 3 to 4 feet square, you can easily throw out a lot of effective fire. Rolls are made against the attacker’s combat ability, trying to roll equal to or under their value. This target number is adjusted due to cover, with each piece of intervening terrain lowering it. Successful hits then have the defender roll for saves, trying to roll equal to or less than their armor stat (which is adjusted by any weapon modifiers). The number of attacks are based on weapon profiles, with your typical rifle throwing out 3 shots. So expect a lot of dice for those automatic weapons.

Unsuccessful saves result in wounds which will drop your typical trooper. If saves are successful, the target makes a Will check (again trying to roll equal to or less than their stat). If successful, they are fine, otherwise they take a pin. Pins penalize initiative rolls for the following turn and lower the melee combat ability of the figure. Removing them is automatic, but requires expending an action per pin. 

Melee combat is simultaneous and each figure can use their weapon of choice, even ranged weapons. The catch is that an attacker can use any additional successful hits to cancel strikes from a defending model. So it certainly pays to be the aggressor and initiate that assault, rather than be the defender in melee.

Additionally the game has critical hits and failures. Regardless of the target number and modifiers, a 1 is always successful while a 10 is an automatic failure. There’s a simple rule implemented that rolling simultaneous 1s and 10s for a particular action cancel out this effect, just using the die results as normal. This can throw a wrench into the game as that 1 will also allow a figure to take one additional free action. Conversely rolling that 10 adds a pin to the model.

The game revolves around a larger campaign goal of accumulating 10,000 rubles, enough to have your leader retire from the stalker business. The concept of actual missions are pretty loose and the emphasis is to strive for a narrative experience. There are a few random tables, but sadly this part of the book is rather sparse. Each scenario however needs to have some specific objective and commonly you’ll find yourself settling for looting from a particular location on the tabletop. In addition to mission objectives will be Hot Spots which can spawn enemies. Once any hostiles from a Hot Spot or mission objective are cleared out, the location can be looted.

Post mission, crew members will gain experience that can be used to improve their stats and pick up new abilities. Loot gathered up can be sold and rubles can be spent to recruit new squad members and/or buy more gear. When creating your squad you also align yourself with one of 6 factions which can result in having allies, neutral parties, and enemies. Paired off on the table, you find your faction having an impact on how to approach the scenario. Allied squads work together to eliminate any hostiles and split the loot found (or try to make a Will test to break the alliance). Enemy factions will throw the scenario objective to the wayside and killing the enemy becomes the primary objective. While neutral parties can tackle the scenario and interact with the opposing crew as they see fit. Tagged with this faction system are discounts when purchasing types of equipment or free gear. It’s a nice wrinkle in these types of games.

The game can be ported to be a solo game pretty easily too. And there are optional rules out there to create co-op and solo games if desired. However it still revolves around a long campaign goal of hoarding enough rubles to make that 10,000 mark and retire. So while you can certainly play a one off game, it seems to offer a more full experience running an actual campaign to allow for advancement, getting loot, and more gear.

The Good – It’s a pretty fast and easy modern skirmish game revolving around light arms. The setting is certainly different and has room for more weirder hostiles if wanted. I like there is some gradation of troop abilities and equipment, but it’s not mired down in a long list of stat lines. The turn flow is fluid with alternating activations, and pins are a thing to think about. I also like that it’s based on d10 rolls, so you can get modifiers having an impact but it’s not as pronounced as you’d see with d6s.

The Bad – The rules are serviceable. But there are sparse areas that could use some tightening up. It seems to default back to that relaxed, reach a compromise with your opponent or roll a die, for determining odd situations quite heavily. It’s also unfortunate there are not more scenarios and detailed campaign rules. Even rules for implementing odd Zone anomalies seem tacked on and not fully developed.

The Verdict – Zona Alfa is a pretty fun set of rules. There are lots of bits I like in a skirmish wargame. You get a nice potential distribution of results using a d10 that allows for modifiers and slight tweaks from weapons and gear. There’s a good implementation of trained troops being able to do more on their activations. So what’s offered has some variety but not saddled down with extensive lists of gear, weapons, and units that just simply offer a different stat modifier. 

I also enjoy the critical hit and misses rule. I can see folks wanting a more structured range of outcomes, but for skirmish games I’ve grown to enjoy those occasional swings of fortune and disaster that lead to some memorable experiences. There is also room here to account for other actions models can take during their turn, opening up options for different scenarios. If you wanted to make the objective to retrieve a keycode, and in turn spend time trying to open a vault, while simultaneously disabling a bomb, the rules can account for this. That feels like what the designer was going for. To present a flexible ruleset that lets you play these fun scenarios while also offering a light arms skirmish engagement.

But this is also where the game falls flat. It’s a fun setting that strives for a narrative experience, but doesn’t have the meat in the rules to back up this design philosophy. I really wish there were another 6-8 pages for scenarios, expanded encounter tables, and/or hostile creature profiles. You have a slim number of pages with a few anemic tables, and most of the burden for creating scenarios is up to the player. I get having a simple campaign goal, but the lack of rules to offer diverse scenarios and a narrative campaign is glaringly absent. Especially as there are other games (5 Parsecs from Home) that have a wealth of tables to randomly make up a scenario that just feels like it’s telling a story and can lend itself to a longer, more engaging campaign.

What you get with Zona Alfa is a serviceable skirmish ruleset that’s a fun twist on modern combat settings. It is an interesting world that can provide a gritty, grounded merc experience, or lean more into fighting weird creatures, mutants, and radiation zombies. However it seems you’re expected to do all the heavy lifting to get into the world it describes. You get more of a framework of rules that will offer a few fun games, but not quite the breadth of material to build a string of missions and encounters for a fleshed out campaign, which seems a shame as the wargame parts are so enjoyable.

Review: Five Parsecs from Home

As I’ve gotten older and my schedule filling up with non-gaming activities, I’ve found my flexibility to game with other people waning. So over the past few years I’ve been leaning more towards games that have a solo component. It’s much easier to have a table set up where I can putter down to the basement for a few hours during the week, instead of trying to coordinate with folks on where and when to get a game in. For board games I’ve got loads of choices but for miniature wargames there hasn’t been many options. I stumbled on Modiphius Entertainment’s Five Parsec from Home and was eager to give this sci-fi skirmish game a shot.

It’s an interesting game as it leans heavily on roleplay elements. You create a crew of individuals, one of which will be the captain that much of the game revolves around. Each member will have a basic profile characterizing their movement, combat ability, how quick they react, and a general stat for non-combat events. There are options for different alien races and a bevy of gear and equipment, all of which is generated randomly on a series of charts and tables.

For the meat of the skirmish game itself, you play on a table somewhere between 2 to 3 feet square. A good amount of terrain will be needed to break up line of sight. You’ll have roughly 6 crew members matched against a random number of opponents (usually about 3-8). The game will have some manner of a win condition and is played over rounds. 

Each round you will roll for reaction, assigning each die roll to a crew member. You are trying to score equal to or less than a crew’s value. This allows you to act before your opponent. You can also have a crew member hold an action, interrupting the opposition’s turn with fire, or even just hold off till the end of the round. After initial quick reactions (if any), the opponent acts. Every figure activates once. Finally the player’s crew will have a turn with any remaining members activating if they haven’t done so.

An activation is a move and shooting or melee, just attack, or go on a full out sprint getting a little extra movement for the round. Ranged combat is dead simple using d6 and true line of sight. Close up, without cover hits on a 3+, 5+ to hit targets in the open at range, with most rolls needing a 6 to hit while in some manner of cover. The number of dice will match a weapon profile, adding the unit’s combat ability. Simple.

If a unit is hit another d6 roll is made adding the weapon’s damage value that is compared to the target’s toughness. Rolls equal or greater than the toughness will essentially take the model out of the fight. Otherwise they take a stun marker. Units with stun markers have limits on the actions they can take the following round (and then the stun marker is removed). But if a model gets 3 or more stun markers, they are removed from combat. Basically they are knocked out and removed as a casualty. Melee combat is resolved similarly but the opponent will get a chance to exchange blows.

Combat is brutal, quick, and easy to resolve. You’ll find yourself jockeying to get into position, hoping to get that quick reaction roll so you can provide overwatch while other members of your crew maneuver towards the objective. The opponent’s actions are governed by a simple AI that will dictate how aggressive they advance, adhere to cover, and what formations they will use on the table. The tactical rules are pretty bare bones and simple. What pairs wonderfully with this are the campaign rules.

See the game has a strong story theme. You are managing a starship crew and the resources needed to keep them going. You define a rough goal for the campaign picking from a list. This might be to earn so many credits, or as simple as playing a certain number of campaign turns. You measure resources as abstract credits. Each campaign turn you have to pay upkeep for your crew which increases if over 6 members. Your starship has a sort of mortgage that will increase until the debt is paid off. Damaged equipment needs to be repaired (or dumped as a loss) and injured crew members will need treatment.

Each campaign turn you’ll have crew members undertake different tasks. This might be to try to  barter for equipment, seek out information and opportunities for big scores, or recruit new crew members. Every campaign turn you will automatically get a job opportunity, but you really want to obtain patrons. Patrons offer more lucrative payouts and potentially other benefits for completing operations. Job opportunities dry up? Get too many local rivals? You can pack up and jump to another planet.

This leads to how the tactical game plays out. Each mission will have an outline of a random objective and forces you’ll be fighting. Objectives might be to obtain a specific item, get crew members across the opposite table edge, or simply eliminate the opposition. This is paired with a randomly determined group of enemies and other battlefield conditions. 

Complete the mission objective and you get a decent payday along with some loot. Fail a mission, you’ll get a few credits but it’ll mean losing a patron and a tighter budget for the next campaign turn. Crew members that survive will earn experience which can be used to improve their stats. Over the game you’ll have crew members develop, get better gear and weapons, and sadly, some will be removed as casualties. All of this is done through random charts that results in an evolving, narrative experience that makes the game shine. 

And the potential outcomes are so varied. You can gain rivals, suffer a planetary invasion, get information on a juicy job, or a snippet of data that leads to an extended quest where you’ll keep seeking out rumors until you get the MacGuffin, earning a big reward. Crew members can suffer a bout of PTSD and sit out a mission or two, gain a skill, or other noteworthy life event. There are a series of charts you’ll be rolling a d100 for, continually evolving the trials and tribulations for your crew.

It’s paired with light resource management. Aside from gear and equipment, you also have credits. This part reminds me some of the classic solo microgame, Barbarian Prince. You are ever striving to balance credits needed for maintaining your crew and ship, and spending them for better equipment and skills. A windfall job can help get you out of debt, paying off your ship. Or a mission can be disastrous, having crew members tied up in the medbay or with damaged gear, leaving the hard choice of either cutting them loose or spending more of your precious credits to get them on their feet again. As a solo experience, it’s a lot of fun. Best of all there are also other more narrative elements like luck and story points which can be spent to mitigate a bad die roll some. So if you think you’ve gotten hosed with a streak of bad luck, there are ways to counter it. But like credits, their supply is limited.

The Good – It offers a grand experience that borders on being a roleplaying game. There’s a lot of choices with a touch of resource management each turn of the campaign. It’s matched with a tactical wargame ruleset that is fast and engaging. With varied opposition, battlefield conditions, and objectives this randomness increases the replayability. Best of all the actual battles flow pretty quickly with just enough tactics to make it enjoyable without bogging the experience down with lots of simulationist rules. It’s great fun expanding the abilities and gear of your crew, ever on the hunt for that next big payout.

The book is colorful with pleasant art. While an index isn’t present, the rules are sectioned off in different colors making it easy to go through after some familiarity. Another huge plus is the game is miniature agnostic. Any figures will do and the game works well in 28mm or 15mm without having to turn rules into pretzels for ranges.

The Bad – The rules are pretty well laid out but it can take some time to fully grasp everything. There are a lot of procedural charts which are rolled on and the first few times can be difficult to navigate everything. You are going to have a fair amount of bookkeeping to keep track of gear, cash, and other game resources. Lastly, the actual rules for playing the wargame portion are pretty thin. Some fights can be blown through so quickly, it might border on being anticlimactic. I could see the argument that as a skirmish wargame ruleset, it would be too light for some tastes.

The Verdict – Five Parsecs from Home is a wonderful solo sci-fi game. You aren’t going to get a meaty tactical AI experience here like with Star Army 5150. But it’s enough for a quick, brutal gun fight with enough gear and abilities to keep it interesting. Plus I love the idea of units sticking to cover as much as possible, risking that mad dash across open ground to get to an objective. All the while hoping your mates can offer enough suppression to stave off any incoming fire.

It’s paired with an enjoyable campaign ruleset. You will have a few random events, but also each turn mull over the choices to send off crew members in hopes to achieve some task. Do you settle on taking the regular opportunity job? Or do you put time and resources into finding a patron that will offer more lucrative pay? Do you spend credits and time trying to repair equipment? Or let it go and see what a crew member can find on the local market? Lots of fun choices. Lastly, if you think you’ve garnered too many enemies and dried up your prospects, you can always fly to another planet to see what awaits.

The battles also have a fair number of core objectives you need to achieve to win. And on top of that are several profiles of enemies you’ll be fighting against. The variety is impressive for such a modest rulebook. For me that is the selling point. It’s not some deep story, but Five Parsecs from Home sells a narrative experience. Over time you’ll see your plucky crew of adventurers and mercs improve, get better gear, and slowly accrue riches and fame. I am pleasantly surprised how much is packed into the rules. Well worth checking out if you are looking for a solo, sci-fi, skirmish wargame.

Packing Miniatures for Shipping

A while back I’ve moved and ended up relocating on the other side of the globe. I had quite a bit of trepidation moving all my miniatures. I use a fast and loose way of storing my figures in plastic boxes, layered on bubble wrap sheets. Good enough to keep the paint job protected but only if the box is kept upright. If I dump it on its side, the figures are going to shift around. Throw in a bunch of jostling of the box and you can expect figures to be clanking against each other (and on the inner sides of the container). I totally expected that my shipped stuff would be tossed around like a beach ball, and stacked sideways or upside down in a shipping container that would make any Tetris player proud.

So I had to try to work out a solution and stuck with bubble wrap. Cutting small sheets, I rolled each figure in wrap with a bit of tape to keep it in place. The key is to make sure it’s lightly snug and not wrapped too tightly. For plastic figures especially, you can inadvertently bend or snap off fragile parts like rifle barrels so don’t wrap too tight. Some figures can even be wrapped two to a sheet, particularly prone figures by having the bottom of their bases facing each other. I dumped them in hard plastic containers, sealed the tops in packaging tape, and was good to go.

It did take some time. Don’t expect to do this in a night. Set time aside to do it. At a leisurely pace, I was able to get about 300 figures completed in a week. I cranked out a lot of figures just watching TV an hour or so a night. You certainly want to get this on your to do list for early packing though. Vehicles and tanks were done similarly, but I made sure to remove turrets and wrap them separately.

How did they ship? Just fine. Granted you have to be prepared to snip tape and unwrap a ton of models (more things to do while watching movies). But I can say my figures, both metal and plastic, made it across the world in one piece.

So if you have the time, consider this a solution for packing your miniatures. While you can buy expensive cases that can keep your figures snugly packed individually in foam it can be costly. For a budget (and a ton of models), wrapping minis in bubble wrap is a cheaper workaround.

Mantic Games Ghouls

Now that I had gotten a few warbands together for Frostgrave, I wanted to round out my collection some with extra creatures. Looking for appropriate models for ghouls was a challenge, especially those that would work on a budget. I was able to track down a few loose sprues of Mantic Games figures for their Kings of War line.

The minis are pretty nice and offer an overall feel of the model scrambling forward in a full out run. It’s not some figure making a static pose. These look like they are hauling ass towards someone. While they don’t have a lot of variation, I like the lively action the figures portray.

I gave them a quick coat with a wash and a bit of drybrushing. You’ll notice I steer away from your typical ice and snow covered scheme. I use an alternate world for my Frostgrave games. Mostly to stretch out the figures I already had for other systems.

They assembled well and you could easily swap out heads and torsos from the legs. The minis appear to be impaled with knives and other hand weapons which are jutting out from their arms and legs. The figures also have a fair amount of ripped clothing and cloth which break up the skin. Easily you could put more detail on the clothing to make them stand out more over the model’s flesh. I just went with a simple color scheme though.

Decent detail, easy to assemble, and a good price. Worth picking up for Frostgrave critters.

Desert bases using talus

Slowly been painting through my Perry WW2 British. I decided to work them up as the 8th Infantry Division from the British Indian Army. Partly as the 8th Division had action in the Middle East, North Africa, and a good chunk throughout the Italy campaign. And partly because for WW2 North Africa, it’d be cool to work on something different as UK commonwealth force instead of your typical British 8th Army.

I was in a pickle somewhat with how to model up my bases though. Typically I use a simple flock technique but wanted a different texture that would fit in with a desert theme. I decided to use some railroad modelling talus which I’ve used on my 15mm Sahadeen.

The problem is even though they look nice, the material is a bit fragile. Even with a good amount of PVA glue you can rub it off. For 28mm figures I’ll have more material on the larger bases and regular handling during gaming means more of the talus flaking off.

To work around this I decided to add some superglue to the talus. For my Algoryn this worked great as the modelling material easily adsorbed excess glue. For my Indian troops, I used a PVA mix to initially get them based, then gave the models a coat of primer and a base coat. I finally followed up with adding instant curing glue to the textured bases.

For the most part it looks okay. Above the figure on the right has the talus adhered to the base only using PVA glue (after a spray base coat of paint), while the one on the left has been coated with superglue. Comparing the figures above, you can see the base material for the left mini has some glossiness compared to the right. There’s also a subtle lack of texture compared to the right figure that just has PVA glue. It’s not too noticeable after a good drybrush and will be even more so after a layer of matte sealant. However if I were to do it again, I’d coat the talus with superglue first before priming.

Regardless they look pretty good. I’ll be sure to give a more step by step paint job post once I get through the platoon.

Painting Miniatures: Varnish

This is the last post of my miniature painting series. Last time we touched some on varnish, especially if using flock on your bases. A critical final step for your miniature is sealing the model in a coat of varnish. Even with a good coat of primer, typical handing of your mini during gaming can cause the paint on your figures to rub off.

With a varnish coat, you can protect your models and have them keep their amazing paint job for years. There are two routes people go with varnish. Some use a gloss spray, and then give it a quick layer of dull coat. I go the lazy route and simply use a single coat of matte varnish spray.

I’ve used more expensive stuff for models like Tamiya and Testor’s, but found Krylon a good choice. Like spraying on primer, you want to mix the can well and do it in weather that is not too cold. Go for an even coat, spraying not too close to the figure, and making sure to cover all the angles of the model.

A matte spray varnish will dull shiny paint jobs. Something that can happen if using ink washes. The varnish will also act as a sealant and adhesive for flock on the bases of your mini. There is one critical point with giving models a coat of varnish though, beware of humidity.

A decent amount of humidity can result in a horrible white misting or ‘frosting’ on your mini. There are some ways to restore your paint job if this happens. However it’s best to avoid it in the first place. If worried about humidity, you can paint a popsicle stick black and give it a test coat of varnish to ensure humidity won’t be a problem.

If you live in an area that has months on end of high humidity, you can try using a brush on or airbrush varnish. Vallejo matte varnish is formulated for airbrushing. However I’ve thinned it out and used is as a brush on varnish too. It will give your figures a slightly glossy look if applying by brush but provides a good protective coat.

That concludes my painting tutorial series. It’s an enjoyable hobby. While it might be daunting when starting out, if you stick with some key techniques you can produce some nicely painted figures. Just an even application of base coats, a wash, and highlights, you can get several miniatures done that can certainly rise up to tabletop standard. So don’t let painting anxiety keep you shackled to pushing around unpainted plastic. Get cracking and spend some time at the paint bench!

Painting Miniatures: Bases

So we’re pretty much getting into the home stretch of this series. Last week I talked some more on highlights. This week I want provide some tips on the final part of your miniature paint job, the base. Flat out you need to give your miniature bases some attention. It can be quite jarring to do a fantastic paint job on a mini only to have it sitting on a flat piece of plastic covered in green paint.

Your main tool with sprucing up your base will be PVA glue (aka white craft glue or Elmer’s glue). Adding a good amount of water you want to thin out the glue to a consistency of milk. You can add some sand to this to give it more texture. Then carefully paint the glue-sand mixture onto your base.

Once dried, give the model base a simple coat of paint and then drybrush with a lighter color. The small bits of sand will have enough of a rough surface to gather up the lighter highlights. This can work well if you want to mimic asphalt or concrete. If your base has a lip, I suggest only focusing on the top surface. You can add texture to the sides but wear and tear from handling miniature will commonly result in material getting rubbed off some.

If you want rougher texture, the base can get a coat of watered down glue and then dip the model into a small jar of sand. Gently tap the bottom of the figure to remove any excess and set it aside to dry. The sand texture can be painted over and then drybrushed. This works well if you want to mimic grass and rough ground.

Personally I bypass the dipping in sand and go the route of using flock. Flock is a railroad modeling material which mimics vegetation and comes in a variety of colors and textures. I paint the base with a solid color. Then I give the surface a coat of watered down PVA glue. Finally I carefully set the figure in a container of flock. Tap off the excess, let the glued on flock dry, and you are good to go.

Eventually you will be giving your model some varnish which seals the flock even more, but in general once the glue dries it’ll be pretty set. Note that the flock will rub off if you run your fingers over the surface. But the glue will give a good adhesive base to the flock. With normal gaming wear and tear, I’ve done this with figures and had flock stay on my mini bases for decades.

If you want an even more textured surface, you can use railroad modelling talus. This is a clay material with rough edges. It can work great representing rough ground and rocks. I usually add some to my flock to represent the odd stone or two. Like with flock you can set it using watered down PVA glue. Be mindful though that it’s a little more prone to rubbing off.

If you want a more solid bond, you can add drops of superglue to the talus. As the material is clay and porous, it will draw up much of the glue. You may get some pooling and a little bit of a sheen to the base. However the stuff once dried will be rock solid. You can even paint over the material and drybrush to represent grass or other rough ground.

Painting Miniatures: Drybrush and Highlights

The previous post I talked some on washes and shading. I’d like to move on discussing a tad more about drybrushing and highlights. Drybrushing is a subtle technique. To use it best, you want to be patient and work on multiple layers of lighter and lighter colors. It can be a time consuming process but eventually you’ll get wonderful results adding a tremendous depth to your miniature.

I suggest when adding highlights to work with a strong lamp or paint in copious amounts of natural daylight. You want to use the light and how it catches details on the figure to select areas to highlight. Those parts that capture the natural shadows and deep recesses you want to skip, and instead identify the edges of the mini that hold the light. When you touch those areas with a lighter shade of color over your basecoat, they will dramatically emphasize these raised parts, adding more contrast and give the miniature a more life-like look.

Even if using a drybrush as a base coat of sorts, you can use different shades to add more highlights. For chain armor, a fair technique would be to drybrush a metallic shade over base coat of black. But by using a brighter silver color on areas like the shoulders of a miniature, or edges of a sword, it’s possible to squeeze out more detail.

A slightly different take on drybrushing is something I call high contrast highlights. Here instead of dusting edges with paint, you add small lines of lighter color on edges of the figure. You are going for stark contrasts instead of a gradual layering. Unlike drybrushing, you want to do this before applying a wash. Shading after helps blend the colors some. It is a great tool for speed painting instead of traditional drybrushing and blending, but has some limits. In the pic below you can see the figure on the left has high contrast highlights, while the figure on the right doesn’t. Looking at parts like the legs you can see the armor standing out more compared to the figure on the right, where the color of the armor is more muted.

Another type of highlight which can add a fun look to your mini is Object Source Lighting (OSL). This is adding highlights of stark contrast colors to mimic light emitting from a source on the mini. Blending is pretty much a must here. Pick a part on the figure that you picture emitting light, then add the lightest color to that area. Raised edges and other areas on the figure that you think would catch that light source will have darker shades of that same color. Avoiding deep recesses, you want to pick out the edges that would collect the imagined light and use a darker tint compared to the one used for your ‘source’ of light. In the undertaker figure below, you can see how this high contrast highlight is used to create an OSL-like effect from the lantern.

OSL is something you want to use sparingly, but for some details like glow effects on weapons or ship engines. It’s a fantastic little effect that can add so much to a mini. Next post I’ll cover the final step to your paint job, miniature bases!

Painting Miniatures: Washes and Shading

I’m going to spend the next few posts adding a bit more to the 3 basic techniques I covered last time. I’d like to focus some more on washes and shading. If you want to quickly add something to a basic paint job to make your miniatures stand out, adding a wash will offer more than drybrushing. So if you wanted to add a little bling to your board game bits and didn’t want to throw in a ton of effort, a simple wash or quick shading will do wonders.

A basic means of making a wash is to add water to a paint thinning it down. You are going for a consistency of paint that is very fluid like water. This will add just a tinge of color to upper edges but allow more pigment to pool in the recesses and deeper details. This is a pretty simple means to make your own wash, bypassing the need of purchasing dedicated washes.

I first have to offer an excellent overview of shades, inks, and washes by Dr. Faust’s Painting Clinic. He covers one issue that can creep up sometimes when doing washes, especially if just using thinned down paints. Occasionally you can get an uneven layering of color due to pigment depositing higher up on miniature details as the wash dries. This usually crops up in smoother transitions of detail like tunic smocks and cloaks. It also is more common when covering lighter base colors with dark shades of brown and black.

One way to get around this is creating your own special wash mixture of Wet Water. Use about a drop of soap per 1-4 ounces of water in an empty bottle. This results in a solution with reduced surface tension, allowing for more uniform mixes of wash. Be sure to add soap sparingly. Too much and you’ll get foaming. A tiny amount will provide just the right amount of surfactant needed. Using this to mix on a palette in place of regular water, you end up with a wash that has a more uniform flow of pigment.

If you are using a particular color repeatedly, you may want to consider making your own wash solution diluting with wet water. That way you can simply get your wash directly from the bottle. If you have a lot of figures to go through and want the most consistency, this is a good option. However you may want to consider looking into purchasing washes if you have a pile of figures you want to paint in a similar scheme.

Inks are similar to washes, except the pigment is more intense. They are excellent if wanting to impart more color to your shading, particularly for brighter colors. Like with paint washes, you want to dilute out inks quite a bit as even diluted they can provide a lot of color. Glazes can be used for shading but work more for blending colors. Glazes are a great means to add subtle transitions of color like folds of cloth on a miniature. One thing about inks, you might end up getting a gloss shine to a figure. Don’t panic. If you are following through all the steps of miniature painting, using a matte varnish to seal the figure will cut down any glossiness from ink washes.

A good technique for working with washes is to use different colors for sections of your figure. Using different color washes can bring out a great amount of detail to add some intensity to parts of a model. However single washes with neutral tones can provide a fairly easy means to add shading to a mini.

I highly recommend getting some Sepia Ink for miniature painting. This is a fairly neutral shade that you can use as an entire wash for a miniature. For flesh tones this can add a good amount of color to faces and still work well for clothing. You can see with some 28mm Russians below, just a single wash of sepia ink can bring out details on faces and add some shadow to tunics and clothing. Instead of working with various brown and green washes for these figures, a single wash of this neutral brown works well enough.

Be mindful though this can sometimes mute your colors too much. You can see with the orc below that a sepia ink wash certainly imparts a dingy look to the figure. However it also lessens the transitions of color like from the skin to layers of the figure’s clothing. Sometimes this is an effect you want to go for. But if looking to emphasize portions of a miniature, you have to put extra effort into blending and highlighting those parts when working with a single wash.

[EDIT: So Games Workshop has introduced Contrast Paints which look like an interesting product. They might replace the need for washes entirely. For new painters or people looking to get a slew of minis painted to tabletop standard, these paints might be worth a look.]

Painting Miniatures: The 3 basic techniques

We talked some about using paints and tools to have at your bench to help with painting, but now I’d like to go over specific painting techniques. I call these the big 3, three main techniques that can be used to create nice looking figures. If you can get some technical proficiency using these painting skills, your miniatures will look great on the tabletop. These panting skills are (1) the base coat, (2) washes, and (3) drybrushing.

Briefly, the base coat is just what you’d think, adding a foundation color to parts of your miniature. Drybrushing is a technique to bring out the highlights of the model. And finally washes help bring out details of the figure, adding some depth to areas. Combined, these 3 techniques can make a ho hum paint job with just base colors get some real zing.

You will first be applying a base coat to the miniature (or sections of it). A good process to follow is consider working details from the inside out on the model. That is, start with the ‘naked skin’ and work out to layers of clothing/armor, moving on to details like webbing, belts, boots, and finally other accessories like weapons, jewelry, or other small details.

This can vary from miniature to miniature but it’s not a bad process to start with. The key point is to focus on applying a single base color to a particular part of the figure before moving onto other sections. You don’t want to paint the face, then the leather vest, then go back to painting the skin on the arms of a figure. You want to get the face and all the naked skin first, then move onto other areas of the mini. Work on having a clean transition from one part of the mini to the next. If you make a mistake and paint one color over onto another part, you can go back later and give a touch up if needed.

When adding a base coat work with thinned paints and apply multiple coats. If the paint is too thick, you can leave brush strokes (uneven coats of paint with lines from the bristles). It is also quite possible to have paint obscure details if applied too heavy, where it pools up in areas. So thin out your paints and go for 2-3 coats if needed. If your paints have about the flow and viscosity of milk, you should be fine and maybe (depending on the paint) even be able to get away with a single coat. You can see with the Reaper Bones miniature below I’ve applied a green base coat to the cloak.

As I mentioned earlier, have two containers of water. One for cleaning, the other for washing your brush. Periodically be sure to clean most of the paint from the brush. After about 10 minutes or so while painting, you might actually have paint on the bristles dry. So a brisk cleaning in water once in a while will avoid this. Also if working with metallic paints you want one small dedicated wash jar. This will reduce the chance of metallic flakes getting into your other paints.

For the other two techniques I will go into them in more detail in future posts. A wash is a thinned coat of paint or ink. This might alter the base coat hue some, but it is really to add shade and darken areas that have details. This can help bring out parts of a figure’s face or accentuate fine lines on the mini. Washes pool and create shadows of deeper color. If you are making your own wash from a paint color, you want to add more water to really thin out the paint.

Commonly you want to use a darker shade of your base color. It’s also possible to go with a neutral color depending on the effect you want to go for. In the photo below I’ve really added water to thin out a darker green color paint. It has altered the base coat some, but you will notice that it really pools in the recesses of the cloak and brings out the cloak embroidered edge.

You can go overboard however and have some areas that might get too much of your wash as gravity sets in. After applying a wash, use the same brush and tap it on a paper towel, allowing the liquid to be drawn away from the bristles. Then use the brush in areas that have pooled up too much wash, and through capillary action the excess will be sucked into the paintbrush. Simply dab the bristles on a clean section of paper towel and repeat. You will leave plenty of wash behind and still be able to get that shading effect you are looking for.

Drybrushing is the opposite of washes. Where applying a wash brings out the shadows and dark lines of the miniature, drybrushing highlights the raised parts of the figure. This is a little more technique driven. You want to use an older brush, or possibly a flat brush, and get paint on the tip of the bristles. Then gently stroke the brush on a paper towel or other clean surface (like the back of your hand) to remove most of the paint. Eventually you will have a trace amount which you can lightly bring across the edges of a figure, dusting it with color.

Use a brighter color compared to your base coat. Work on areas that you expect to catch the light. Like for a cloak, the folds would be dark, while areas that would billow would be much lighter. Be patient. Unlike washes which can give an immediate result, drybrushing is slow to develop. Go lightly and build up areas slowly. Note that this is a technique that works best on edges and parts of a miniature that have intricate details.

The cloak I am working with can be difficult as larger areas can be hard to apply effective highlights, unlike the sharp edges of the cloak and crisp folds. It’s a subtle technique (and likely may not photograph well with a crappy phone camera) but you can just make out some of the upper folds having a lighter tint. Obviously the lighter shade of color compared to the base coat, the more dramatic the effect.

I would be remiss to not mention blending. I consider this a more advanced technique. With blending you are working with a dark shade and adding lighter colors to gradually blend the hue into a brighter color. The idea is to give a uniform base color, and as you move up towards areas that are raised, the color increases in brightness. This is especially good on large, smooth surfaces or rounded edges. In particular 40K space marines have shoulder pads, legs, and arms that don’t have a lot of detail and are curved which don’t highlight well. So blending is a way to give the models some life and make them pop.

Don’t worry about adding blending to your painting repertoire initially (or at all). A good base coat, wash, and drybrush will give your figures a lot of pizzazz and are powerful techniques. Combined they add depth to your miniature. The can be tweaked and altered to really bring out details on a figure. Using these techniques can also allow you to do some interesting things for your model.

I like to highlight a quick tutorial from Sonic Sledgehammer. This chap gives a great example of all 3 techniques being used to add a pleasant weapon glow effect. He also demonstrates how washes can alter the look of a base coat if used appropriately. Watching this brief clip you can see how all three can improve your results, just by applying these basic painting skills.

[EDIT: So Games Workshop has introduced Contrast Paints which look like an interesting product. They might replace the need for washes entirely. For new painters or people looking to get a slew of minis painted to tabletop standard, these paints might be worth a look.]