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Your Turn: Cool Minis…or Not?

Posted by HaiKulture {Avid Gamer} | 16-Dec-14 | 38 comments

Your Turn - A Discussion

Hi! I’m…umm…Hai! By day, I don Clark Kent glasses as a freelance writer and essayist for the geek niche, leaving puddles of muddy stream o’ consciousness to splash around in on the Interwebs.

But – I was raised around the hobby gaming table. Sugar and Spice and D-20 Dice. The Mechanics. The History. The Psychology. The Philosophy. The Smell of Fresh Cardstock and Cardboard in the Morning.

Your Turn is your chance to discuss what YOU think about a variety of topics related to hobby gaming. I’ll start the conversation, cook up a buffet of food for thought, and then it’s ‘Your Turn…’

So let’s talk gaming! Time to shrink down Willy Wonka style and get out the CGI blue body paint…we’re about to delve into the world of miniatures and avatars…

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Cool Minis…or Not?

image © CoolMiniorNot

Never step barefoot on a rogue zombie…

Words to live by – as it hurts!  A ‘one-footed hop’ dance craze courtesy of the plastic plethora that is Zombicide. While cursing an Abomination – as just that – I was also led to contemplate the tiny plastic invasion that has been amassing at the gates of the Cardboard Kingdom in recent years: Avatars.

Notice I didn’t say – Miniatures

Miniatures in gaming are nothing new under the sun.

A Brief History in Miniature

The Time of ‘Modern Miniatures’ and the birth of Historical Miniature Wargaming can be traced back to the Victorian era when tiny boys and tin soldiers grew up to be armchair warmongers with the publication of Little Wars: A Game for Boys from Twelve Years to One Hundred and Fifty and for that More Intelligent Sort of Girl Who Likes Boy’s Games and Books, authored by none other than H.G. Wells in 1913.

(Thanks for tacking my lot on the end there Wellsy – you were ahead of your time in quasi-gamer-feminism…


…or, at least, wrap around book jackets. :P).

Dungeon Metal

The Golden Age of The RPG in the late 70’s through the 80’s saw metal masterworks en masse by the likes of Ral Partha, Grenadier, and Citadel. From wizard to space rogue to eldritch shambler, 15 pages of stats and 30 feet of rope could be represented in varying scale on grid and hex. Master of all Dungeons, Gary Gygax helped pen Chainmail, a rule set for medieval miniature wargaming, and its High-Fantasy Supplement in 1971 as an early project before repurposing and role-playing the core elements with liberal doses of lizards and labyrinths. The ‘white metal’ of the day was running red hot.

The 80’s saw progressive game developer Games Workshop and their miniature subsidiary, Citadel, merge the tactics and tape measures of Historical Miniature Wargaming with the stat and spell filled source tomes of Roleplaying into the Skirmish Gaming of Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40K.

But none of this was considered boardgaming…

Historical Miniature Wargamers and the more fantastical, but no less fanatical, Skirmish Gamers fought for both the title of Tabletop Gamer’ and those spongy trees from model train shops. Roleplaying was about imagination, a game of pencils and paperwork, with miniatures as a nifty placeholder bonus. Even Games Workshop drew a line in the sand. Their ‘board games’ were fairly industry standard. Their ‘miniatures’ were skirmish sprawls. The rare merging of the two factions in endeavors such as Space Hulk, Heroquest (Advanced),  and Blood Bowl were few, far between, and in the ‘pricey minority’.

What was deemed ‘board game’ had come a long way since Parcheesi, but seemed to dwell for decades where it was born with Tactics – in the Twilight of the Age of Avalon Hill.  A two-dimensional life in Flatland. Boards, cards, and cardboard chits. Tanks, spacecraft, and mythical behemoths – all crammed in a half inch square punch out. A simpler game might dress up the landscape with a few colored versions and variations of the Staunton or Halma pawn, but complexity was measured in poundage of tiny chits of cardboard.

This was Boardgaming’s First Age. Board games and miniatures lived in a house divided.

No one had really taken heed of the most important lesson Monopoly teaches us: a discarded shoe or a schnauzer can be a real estate mogul.

Monopoly Moguls

Courtesy AP

Or an Avatar of sorts…

Then came the Cardboard Ice Age.

Enter the Nex-Gen Video Game explosion and the burying of the Cardboard Kingdom under the frost of a pixelated blizzard. Between the mid 90’s and well into the new century, gaming unplugged entered a strange Dark Age. Many bastions of board games, roleplaying, and miniatures fell and the lucky few limped along. Magic: The Gathering power-chorded through the Disc Wars of Playstation and Xbox to take the stage with a rousing rendition of “Booster Packs Killed the Tabletop Stars”. In a bizarre twist of Reverse Black Death,  Eurogames flourished during the Plague of Platformers– being almost literally the only game in town.

OOP became synonymous with RIP.

But cardboard and cardstock are more resilient than one might think and the latter half of Decade One began a slow return to the basement. Large coffin box games began to surface, slyly showing the hobby still lived. Board games were back and more importantly, gamers stood united. Board gamers, card gamers, roleplayers, and the miniature minded all gathered under one banner – Tabletop Gamer – to define the fact that they got their kicks at kitchen tables and not entertainment centers. And while there were still easily labeled niches and factions, lines between had begun to blur. There were dungeon crawl board games with light RPG elements. There were RPG’s with light board game elements. There were skirmish miniature games with…well…they pretty much stayed skirmish miniature games, but Clix made them a little more accessible. 😉

The past few years of the new decade have taken gaming out of the basement and into Barnes and Nobles. Tabletopping has entered a Cardboard Renaissance and Boardgaming has begun its Second Age and even entered a new dimension: The Third One.

It started out slowly. Almost as a running gag, Twilight Creations Inc dropped ‘hordes’ of cheap and thematic undead into their Zombies!!! line. The Double F’s, Flying Frog and Fantasy Flight, slipped figurines into more ‘character’ driven board games to give them exactly that – more character.

And now…

Miniatures seem to be everywhere!

But not as in days of yore.

Gaming is entering the Age of the Avatar.

The Dawn of the New Pawn

More and more boxes proudly herald “Highly Detailed Miniatures Inside!!!!!!” like a throwback to the siren’s call of sugared cereals. Hit up a dark alley or two of Kickstarter and you are bound to see them as a campaign selling point. If you don’t, you are certain to see rallying cries of “Minis!” or “Custom Meeples!” as an almost necessity.


Even the proudly minimalistic Eurogame isn’t immune to avatarism. A quick trip to Meeple Source is a peek at The Industry of Avatar and detailed meeples in all sizes, shapes, and flavors of wood.

Avatarism is creating a niche for the ‘New Miniature’. The ‘New Miniature’ isn’t about position, facing, and line of sight. The ‘New Miniature’ is about prettifying place holding.

Plastic surgery for the nondescript pawn.

For the moment, it seems definitely in demand.

25 years ago, something akin to Zombicide would have been cardboard by the poundage. Sprinkle with plastic and add a dash of ‘gotta catch them all’ psychology and you have an ‘overnight’ Cool Mini Million dollar franchise.

Krosmaster-figures-group21Look over there! It’s Krosmaster: Arena – the game of collectible playing pieces.

Pretty pawnage.

Decorative Meeples.

Even the popular ‘card shower’ that is the Pathfinder: The Adventure Card Game line is getting in on the act with the recent announcement of Iconic Heroes Miniatures for those that feel simple card avatars of the adventuring roster just aren’t enough.

In a way the Tabletop is Nex-Gen-ing itself with this Miniature Revolution. Internet Days are opening the niche wider. Hobbyists are no longer confining themselves to Basements & Bedrooms, but walking into the daylight with the new avatar roleplayer:  Twitter & Tablets. Social Media, Message Boards, Digital and On-Line Gaming, even here at dear old BGdot – we don different faces like cyber Lon Chaneys. Pictures and pixels become ‘us’ to ‘others’. Avatars are almost afterthoughts. We exist through representation. It stands to reason that this would bleed into the escapism psychology of games, creating a need for something more. Something representative, something tangible and tactile – the non-descript pawn and dimensionless cardboard just won’t do anymore.

Cool Mini or NotUpfront company branding even begs the question: “Cool Mini or Not“? The answer is – there’s a definite coolness about it. There’s something fun about a miniature. There’s something accessible. And there’s something definitely marketable. I’m almost certain that Mansions of Madness and Descent wouldn’t be rubbing elbows with the Munchkins, Unos, and Insert-Something-Here-Opolies at Barnes and Nobles, if a quick flip to the back of the box didn’t give one a glimpse of all the bite-sized plastic goodness inside.

Unfortunately, most of this ‘plastic surgery’ isn’t elective. The Little War of the Miniature Revolution increases manufacturing costs, drives up game prices, and takes a toll on the other plastic necessary for a gaming hobby/addiction: Le Credit Card.

All this ‘coolness’ in the air can leave a things a bit chilly too. Less might not always be more, but it certainly can be meaningful. Miniatures used to be a rarity. They were quested for as one delved deep into niches within niches. The magic of what miniatures stood for is beginning to wane. What was once toted about in a dice bag as near sacrosanct, could be setting forth from the tavern on a slow quest to blase’.

What was once a totem is now becoming merely a token.

The Miniature Invasion is at the Gates of the Cardboard Kingdom.

Miniatures from Myth by Megacon Games

There seems to be quite a bit of plastic underfoot these days – should we be treading carefully? To tweak the vernacular of the ‘Cult of the Entertainment Center‘: Are we just setting ourselves up to be ‘pawn’d’?

Should we be wary that the ‘New Miniature’ is less founded in tactics and more grounded in cosmetics?

Beauty, after all, is in the Eye of the Beholder.

But on the other hand, those highly detailed resin Beholders do look so, so beautiful. 😉


[***End Transmission***]


Avatar Miniatures are definitely big now, but is this a game changer for the better or worse?

Is this ‘Dawn of the New Pawn’ creating a beneficial aesthetic accessibility to boardgaming? Or just pointless price point pushing?

What games are in need of ‘plastic’ surgery? What games are just a pretty face with little else to show for it?

Your Turn…

Comments (38)

Gamer Avatar
Mask of Agamemnon
The Gold Heart
Cooperative Game Explorer

I remembered 2 games that I was amazed by the miniatures when I started to play: Chaos in the Old World and Gears of War.

Gamer Avatar
I play purple
Explorer - Level 6
Cryptozoic Entertainment fan

Great article!! I love the mini’s! Fun to hold in the hand. Battlestar Galactica needs mini’s of each character instead of cardboard in a plastic stand!

Gamer Avatar
Tasty Minstrel Games Fan
AEG fan
Mage Wars fan

Do I own games with minis? Of course I do! These days, it is impossible not to. However, I have NEVER thought they were the selling point of a game. While they do make theme much easier to portray, even with cheap 3d printing, they cause the price of games to go up. I will have to make certain I am going to enjoy a game these days before I can get the crow bar into my wallet and give the nice man 60-80 dollars for a box of cardboard and plastic. I think that companies like Victory Point Games do a good job of helping out the balance by offering quality games with a “no frills” attitude. New companies should be wary of putting out less than amazing games with highly detailed minis, because in a golden age of gaming that we currently live in, great games are everywhere and people will be able to tell quickly if a flawed design is simply painted to look pretty.

Gamer Avatar
Old Bones
Explorer - Level 4

You who love minis and love to paint them, I get it. Playing a world in micro on your table is rather cool.

As someone who has no problem collecting things like books and postcards and tiny sculpted trinkets from around the world, I get collecting things, too.

But minis just don’t rock my world. I look at them and think “more stuff” that someone is going to have to deal with getting rid of one day.

So if a game comes with them, I don’t care. If it doesn’t come with any, I don’t care. If a Kickstarter starts with a core box of 50 of them plus KS exclusives…I just think ugh. I don’t want bigger game boxes; I want more compact game storage!

All I care about is how playable and enjoyable the game itself is and can I get anyone I know to play it with me.

Gamer Avatar

Great article. At the rate games are released these days, I don’t think that minis are hurting the hobby as there are so many coming out with traditional components. While I do agree that they can make a game more marketable, I certainly don’t see them as a necessity.

I hadn’t really seen minis as a huge asset to my games until very recently when I decided to jump in and learn to paint them. What I found (besides exercising another part of my brain) was that I found enjoyment in the process and loved having enhanced minis when we played the game with the customized pieces. Now my games truly feel more “mine”.

While I don’t think that all games “need” minis, I certainly see it as a benefit to the hobby. They give the game a 3d feel and can enhance the immersion while you are moving them around the map or play area.

Gamer Avatar
Tide of Iron fan

Good discussion, first of all, I prefer board games-with minatures! I’m talking about games like Memoir 44, Axis and Allies, Tide of Iron, and Duel of Giants types of board games. The advantages are that I don’t have to paint them, and I don’t have to spend a ton of money as the game nickle and dimes me to death to get enough miniatures to play the game. This way, I get the appeal and eye candy of miniatures without the major cash outlay of having to sell a kidney or other body part. Some board gamers have the time and inclination to paint their miniatures for the board game! I don’t usually, thought there have been exceptions (I’ll go into detail later). I feel that as long as I can tell one army from another, I’m good to go. I did, a couple of years ago, buy an “expansion pack” for Memoir 44 that included miniatures that were all off-white. There were 186 miniatures in that box of tanks, cavalry, artillery, trucks, Kubelwagons, snipers, and other pieces in that box, all off-white. I did paint most of them (cavalry still needs painting), but instead of painting real looking camouflage, I painted the German Elefants and Tigers dark gray, the Italian artillery pieces brown and black (brown carriage, black gun), and the American M-7’s olive green. I got a little artistic with the kubelwagons and the snipers. I painted the body of the kubelwagons dark gray, but gave a blue windshield, and a light brown top (canvas). This is the extent of my miniature painting for about ten years now. I used to collect Battletech miniatures and paint those. Still, no great paint jobs, but at least I tried to give the a “cammo” look (I was younger then and cared more about what they looked like). Good discussion!

Gamer Avatar
Gamer - Level 4

My feeling about minis was unfortunately shaped by my first “bought for mini’s” game when I returned to the hobby. Battue. While Battue had elements of a cool search the city game in it, the problem came in the fact that the golden pillars which were the game’s goal were all on one of 3 shapes, of which there were only 1 of one shape and 2 of the other two shapes. The game would be better served if the tiles of the city were all a 2 x 2 shape so that there was a real sense of searching the sacked Roman city for the golden pillars. Instead, it was uninteresting as everyone went straight for the 3 shapes they all knew ahead of time were where it would be.

It got worse when Sentinels of the Multiverse Tactics came out and managed to disappoint me further. Again I was dazzled by the superhero minis concept but the gameplay fell flat.

There are games with flashy minis I love, like Blood Rage, Age of Discovery, or In the Name of Odin. By and large though I see a big stack of minis I think “well that is compensating for something abysmal” But I also feel games with big flashy minis are not for me overall because I go in more for the dry crunchy euros with victory point salads.

Gamer Avatar
I Am What I Am

Excellent article well articulates the points. Little Wars is still a slog and a joy to read and worth any wargamers time.

Game play over miniatures is something that wins in the end but a good balance is where you really hit the sweet spot as you end up getting that fun game you want to replay and enjoy what you have. It has also been the curse of Kickstarter with to many companies feeling that throwing cheap plastic miniatures at a project at the sacrifice of good game rules and play is a must and that is where things fall down.

And who doesn’t like the idea of more meeples.

Gamer Avatar
Miniature Painter
Intermediate Reviewer
Master Grader

You cant hate having a choice and the rise of minis is just another way to enjoy a game or express yourself. Only people afraid of the new need fret!!

Gamer Avatar
Reviewed My First Game

Though Purists may love to hate on the rise of the Mini, I gotta say– I’m a fan. I love that I can pull out a veritable army on my kitchen table and add a little extra life to the evening adventure.
Minis are fun, and all too often just wicked cool. I will, however, shout out to @Lord_Quinn – a lower price point for simple tokens with the option to purchase quality minis later is pretty good idea, though there is a part of me that gets Kid on X-mas level butterflies when I get a new game like Myth or Descent and know that inside that cardboard box, just inches away lie toys….

@HaiKulture Thanks for the sweet history lesson

Gamer Avatar
My First Heart

I am pretty much on board with a lot of the comments made. Gameplay is everything, but good looking mini’s enhance the game as well. I think almost everyone stated that. I have recently really bought into a lot of games from CMON, and I have been happy with most that I have played from them.

To show an example of CMON’s mini’s NOT enhancing gameplay would be Kaosball. Tried it at PAX this year, and although the minis looked great, the gameplay was less then stellar. Zombicide and Arcadia Quest are 2 of my favorite games to play, and the mini’s make it even better, but the game concept, game mechanics, and game themes are what make me play them.

@ Account deletion : Your problem with the unpainted mini’s can be solved, depending on your OCD or level of perfectionism. There are many different colors of primers for plastic/metal minis you can use. I know of at least eight that are sold by hobby shops. That would help with your differentiating many different armies or teams on your games. We used to use that tactic back in high school when we played the original Warhammer Fantasy or 40k table game because none of us were good at painting.

Maybe that’s what the next mini’s game should be, a new War/Skirmish game like the old Warhammer, but you buy your whole army together. (instead of spending thousands to complete one army…**** you Games Workshop!) Bring out a new game like that with some amazing mini’s and you could make a fortune. Cool Mini Or Not, you may hire me at any time…

Gamer Avatar
Sentinels of the Multiverse fan
Plaid Hat Games fan
Platinum Supporter

Well it was fun to be a Guest Writer Holiday Helper Elf…

May @Andrew L maintain his abandoned playground in future

Gamer Avatar
Dragon Clan - Legend of the Five Rings

I am an avid collector of miniatures and have a large collection of both lead and plastic miniatures. I love to paint them but many of the miniatures I have seen in boxed games are not suitable for painting. Don’t get me wrong many games have good miniatures but some games need the miniatures sold separately because poor quality miniatures in the box may raise raise the price of the game out of some players price range. A choice to buy good miniatures separately would give the player the option to buy a less expensive games and later buy good quality miniatures. I am all for putting miniatures in a game but make them good quality miniatures.

Gamer Avatar
Advanced Reviewer
Rosetta Stone

Great article! While I do enjoy nicely sculpted plastic or pewter minis, great minis does not a great game make. In games like Descent and Imperial Assault, I feel that this enhances game play as cardboard chits can’t effectively demonstrate line of sight. And lets face it, if your going to put minis in a game, they might as well be beautiful minis. Given the substantial improvements in boardgame component quality over the past 15 years, I think there was a certain inevitibility of the inclusion of minis into the realm of boardgaming.

I went through a period of about 5 years where I was fanatical about Games Workshop both Fantasy and 40k. Like so many others, the fatigue of trying to keep up with Games Workshop ever evolving rule changes and minis development finally killed it for me. I ended up on a 7 year break from minis caused by the consternation created by GW.

Now that I have have Imperial Assault, I have been inspired by some of the painting that fellow enthusiasts have undertaken regarding these minis. Time for me to dust off the paints and brushes. I will make the caveat that if FFG conducts themselves in the area of their projects with the same marketing gusto as GW, I’ll pull the plug here as well.

In my mind, the emphasis needs to be on enhancing the gameplay with great minis and not just reliance on the minis for their sake alone.

Gamer Avatar
The Bronze Heart

Man I love me some minis. They’re lovely when you’re playing monopoly, customize able with a little paint or some stickers, and if you play D&D you can have a lot of fun playing with an assortment of minis to represent your character on a map or board.

Gamer Avatar
Miniature Painter
Stone of the Sun
I'm Completely Obsessed
Novice Advisor

Great article Hai! For me, I am a sucker for a mini more often than not – though it isn’t strictly a requirement. I can relate to much of what has already been said here. Personally, I’m especially drawn in by cute or chibi miniatures (Mice and Mystics, Super Dungeon Explore, Rivet Wars, Arcadia Quest, Krosmaster). I especially enjoy painting miniatures, so games that come with unpainted miniatures tend to appeal to me on a deeper level. While games that provide cardboard tokens still can work well and be appealing (yes, I’m thinking of you, Dead of Winter), I do like it when games make available optional miniature upgrades. Ankama made Krosmaster Arena’s tokens available as resin upgrades that, while pricey, were absolutely beautiful replacements of the cardboard. This would allow mini-philes to scratch that itch and replace 2-D tokens with high quality, 3-D tokens to make for a much more immersive experience.

Gamer Avatar
8 Beta 1.0 Tester
Mythic Kingdoms Backer 2020
Platinum Supporter
Advanced Reviewer

Brilliant article @Hai!! Love it!

I’m of the “bring on as many minis as you can” mindset. I love em!

Gamer Avatar
El Dorado
Professional Advisor

Miniatures for King of Tokyo would be awsome only if they were pre painted. The game is so colorful that the grey unpainted miniatures wouldn’t give the same feeling of bad cartoon monsters

Another game that I really like and doesn’t have miniatures is Legend of Andor.

Gamer Avatar
El Dorado
Professional Advisor

I just finish gluing the first core set of Shadows of Brimstone and I dont think I would love minis that much if all the miniature games needed to be glued.

I really hope that the game is as good as it seems and that it worth all the trouble… including my glued finger tips.

Gamer Avatar
Miniature Painter
Rosetta Stone
Advanced Reviewer Beta 1.0 Tester

I have been on the fence about the Rum and Bones Kickstarter. After reading this article and looking at it again, I honestly believe that this is a game that falls under the category of minis used to drive the price up. While C’MON’s minis are undeniably cool, I think this game could have been done cheaper and just as well with cards.

I could be wrong.

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