If you follow my wargaming blog, daleswargames.blogspot.com, then you have probably seen a number of attempts on my part to solve that problem. In the past I have:
- Created paper armies where you print and cut out paper figures and mount them to bases. Generally the figures are all side-view, so you have to play from the side, rather than from behind your troops, otherwise it does not look very good.
- Created paper armies where you print groups of top-down figures and mount them to bases. These are essentially fancy boardgame counters. No reason not to use flat terrain too!
- Created elaborate drawings using computer programs like Battle Chronicler to register the moves of the electronic versions of the counters I used above.
- Bought and painted (or had painted) 6mm metal or plastic figures and mounted them to bases.
The first part of our discussion centered around reducing the scale of the figure. By making the guys little:
The real beauty of these seems to me to be rapid construction and ease of construction, and the flat surfaces allow you to focus on what you want to paint for each figure and putting the signature detail there rather than worrying about all the little fiddly stuff on the smaller figures that no one sees on the gaming table even with highly detailed metal sculpts. You can see them when you hold them up 6 inches from your face, but on the table? All you really see is what you painted on your guy, which is the helmet, the covering for the horse, and the weapon/shield. The point of these wooden warriors in my view has always been less about making an equivalent wooden figure in detail compared to a metal sculpt, but instead to create a quicker to paint, lighter to carry figure that on the table in a gaming situation allows the person playing from 3+ feet away to say "those are knights" or "those are American WWII GIs" or "those are Macedonian skirmishers" or whatever.The second part of that thought is that because the detail is not cast on the figure, there is a lot of incentive not to paint that detail. If you have ever painted old Scruby figures, you know what I mean. Scruby miniatures conveyed the shape, but rarely had cast details. So you could ignore the elements that would not normally be visible, like buttons. If the buttons are cast on, however, they will likely be wildly out of scale (in order to be visible) and will be noticed as not being painted when the figure is closely inspected as the detail casts a shadow.
Another issue with cast detail is that even when you want to paint that detail, say the shako cords or a metal device on a cartridge box, if you don't paint dead on "between the lines" you will notice it and try to correct. It is just human nature because when you are painting you are looking at the figure up close – probably closer than anyone else ever will – and these "flaws" leap out at you.
Without the detail cast on it is very easy to paint the detail where you want, how thick or thin you want, and how straight or rough you want. The non-uniformity of the figures then actually looks more realistic.
One set of rules that I wanted to try out, but had no armies for (despite having a number of DBA armies), is Dux Bellorum. They looked interesting, but later I heard that there was a flaw, but then others said that no, it was a great game. I wanted to find out myself. But how much time, effort, and money did I want to put into a period that I had no troops for, for a set of rules that may be flawed? Not much. So in comes the idea of making my own miniatures, using this minimalist approach.
First, I set off for the local Hobby Lobby and purchased several packs of beads. You can see the product of maybe an hour's worth of labor as I was still figuring out how I wanted to build these new figures. (I will do a construction article next time, after I return from my business trip.) Basically I have a Saxon shield wall on the left and a group of Norman Knights on the right. Each Saxon figure consisted of two beads, one-half of a round toothpick, and a sequin for the shield. The horses are actually made up using six beads, and with two beads, one-half of a round toothpick, and the top of a flat toothpick for each rider.
There are 16 infantry to a shieldwall base (12 for loose-order infantry and eight for skirmishing infantry), mounted on a 3" by 1 1/2" wooden base. There are six Knights to a base, but there will only be five for lighter cavalry and four for skirmishing cavalry.
Of course, the key to minimalism is to paint minimally! I could not resist painting the eyes. I can paint eyes pretty fast and I think it does matter, especially with the horses.
As Matt was saying, the principle items that you eye sees are the distinctive or "iconic" elements. For a Norman Knight that is the teardrop-shaped shield, the helmet, and the spear/lance. Everything else is essentially de-emphasized (surcoat is a simple blob of paint on the front and the back) or unpainted (using the black gesso primecoat to act as shadow).
There are so many details that could have been added on or painted, such as horse furniture and tack, swords, rider legs, horse's hooves and ears, etc. but even with these close-ups did you initially notice that they were missing? Does it really matter now that you have been alerted to take note?
To me the idea of minimalism is not minimizing the detail you do paint, but maximizing the number of details that you don't paint.
These guys took very little time to construct and paint up. The only thing I would change is that I would construct them with Gorilla Glue-brand super glue, rather than with hot glue. These figures are just too small for wielding a glue gun and the strings get to be a constant pain to remove. Where hot glue comes into its strength is to fill gaps between parts. These can be painted with black gesso and then they become shadow.
While I am away on my trip I will definitely be sitting in the hotel room with a few bags of beads and some super glue, making my Dux Bellorum army. Then I can start painting them when I return home.