Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Is 20mm the new 15mm? Why isn't it more popular?

A little while back, we got hold of some 15mm soldiers.
We discovered that painting such little miniatures required a different approach to our earlier painting techniques. Then we got some 15mm zombies. But they were way out of scale.

Our soldier miniature was enormous and chunky, and the zombies - although well sculpted and full of character, even at such a small scale - tiny and puny. It turned out that our solider was nearer 20mm and the zombies were "true" 15mm scale.

For a large horde of zombies, we figured that 15mm would be a good scale to use. Except when we came to put terrain and build a bit of interest and detail into the playing surface, things looked a little odd. Our zombieville terrain includes some outdoor scenarios, so it seemed obvious to get hold of some little cars. Die cast Corgi cars would be great. Except they look massive compared to our 15mm zombies.

Now when it somes to model-making, miniature diorama building and the like, things like scale and size start to get a bit tricky. Model makers are sticklers for scale. Tabletop wargamers tend to work with miniatures of a certain size.

Tabletop gaming miniatures used to be 25mm. The idea being that an average human character would stand at about 1.8m (1800mm) high, and at a scale of 1:72, an 1800mm high himan would be scaled down to 1800/72  = 25mm.

Then, about fifteen years or more ago, miniature painters started to demand more detail on their models. Miniatures were more commonly created at 28mm, with the argument that a model which was 25mm high to the eyeline should be about 28mm in total height.

So far so good, but in the last few years, we've started to see heroic scale miniatures - these are basically "big and chunky" 28mm miniatures - which are nearer 32mm in size (with 28mm being the height to the eyeline). Because they are a bit bigger, the models have lots of nice detail, and are a little easier to paint. And as 32mm has become the popular "heroic scale" and with the advent of super-detailed, resin-cast miniatures, 35mm is becoming the new 28mm (or the new 32mm, or the new 35mm scale... you get the idea).

Likewise, 15mm miniatures are also seeing "scale creep" - with many 15mm miniatures actually measuring anywhere between 16mm - 19mm high. Having already discovered that "true" 15mm models are too small, and 25mm miniatures are too big to use alongside street furniture, like Corgi cars, what we need is something somewhere inbetween....

As luck would have it, Elheim Miniatures do a range of 20mm gaming pieces. Their website states "All our miniatures are 1/72 scale (20mm in wargame sizes)..."

Incredibly, Elheim sell a whopping 20 zombies for just £12.
Compare that to 28mm (or 32mm heroic scale if you like) where you can easily pay between £4 and £14 per single miniature(?!) and you can see that 20mm offers great value for money.


The sculpts are nice and detailed, but small enough to be quickly painted too (we eventually managed seven zombies in about two-and-a-half hours, not including Quickshade drying time).

And just as importantly - for a zombie apocalypse scenario with outdoor settings - they're just the right size for use with our terrain and street furniture. We're keen to stick to models that are easily accessible, so if anyone else wishes to play the same scenario(s), they can use easily-sourced "props" for the game (like die-cast cars from a local charity shop or supermarket, as we managed).

(included in the photo above is a Hot Wheels car, from Asda that cost just 99p)

With our scale now sorted out (seriously, why isn't 20mm more popular for tabletop gaming?) it was time to crack open the Army Painter Mega Set and see how they looked painted up. As the sculpts are a little larger and have a bit more detail than the "true" 15mm minis (though not so much as to require as much time and effort as the 28mm/32mm models) we decided to go back to our preferred painting method:

1. Prime the miniatures with white spray


2. Splash on bright base colours


3. Hit the miniature with Quickshade Dark Tone (we used Dark rather than Strong Tone to create a higher contrast between the edges and crevasses in the sculpt - these miniatures are still quite small, so a high-contrast approach works well)


4. After drying, coat with Dullcote to take the shine away, and add some very simple edge highlights. There is no need to spend a great deal of time on this stage, but picking out the odd highlight can really make the difference when the model is viewed from arm's length on the tabletop.

(once again, the flash on the camera makes the edge highlights on these models look much more severe than they are in real life - though we did use quite high contrasting colours)

5. Mix up some Tamiya Clear Red and black in and splosh on the gore!


For our cars, we simply coated the original vehicle, straight from the packet, in Quickshade Dark Tone. We applied the tone quite liberally to help reduce the effect of any brushstrokes, but took care to avoid "pooling" where possible.


This time we left the car, without applying Dullcote, to keep the slightly shiny effect (after drying, the Dark Tone wasn't quite as shiny as we expected). This is because most modern cars are finished with a metallic (rather than purely matt) paint, so the slight sheen simulated the car paint finish quite well. The Dark Tone picks out all the edges and door outlines and so on quite nicely.


Maybe we went a step too far this time - the orange edge highlighting just didn't quite work on this one. Maybe it was the choice of colours, or maybe it was just an effect that isn't suitable for this kind of model. But in future we're going to just stick to Dark Tone and call it done!

We think that the 20mm zombies (and survior) models look great on the tabletop alongside the easily-sourced die-cast cars. There's a whole raft of easily-found street furniture and terrain building materials available in 1:72 (and, if you really need it 1:76) scale and even model railway 00 scale. And it all fits in quite nicely with our 20mm miniatures.

Grumpy Paul even suggested using some old "Linka" moulds to make terrain and buildings for this new scale. Although not exactly a perfect match for our 1" square grid (a four-section terrace takes up almost 5" on the board), a short terrace of houses can be quickly and easily made up by casting just a few pieces, and they don't look too small or out-of-scale for the miniatures:


(painting the brickwork on these models was quite quick - mix up a red/brown paint and dry-brush directly onto the bare plaster; the white appears as the mortar between the bricks. If necessary, a quick sepia wash can tone the shade whole model down, but - since our zombies are so cartoon-y - we quite like the bright-and-clean look, for now)

20mm miniatures are almost as cheap, per unit, as 15mm miniatures (whereas 28mm are comparatively expensive) and terrain is cheap and easily found in a range of styles. Which begs the question - why isn't 20mm more popular for tabletop gaming??