Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Year, new scale, new games, new painting

Just before Xmas we received a parcel of PCBs from a manufacturer in China. What with real life and Christmas and New Year, we've not really had much chance to do anything with them, other than test the functionality a few. But with a New Year comes another raft of resolutions - and one of ours is to get some games finished!

Here's how we can fit six boards together to make a football sized/shaped board game, perfect for a fantasy football game

Laying them out slightly differently and we get a more "square" shaped board, perfect for small scale skirmish games

As well as our fantasy football game, we're planning a zombie co-op game. This is pretty daunting though, just because of the number of miniatures we'll need! There's barely time to paint up a football team, and finishing our Space Marines seemed to take ages, so the thought of having to paint up 30 or 40 zombies, as well as character "heroes" is pretty overwhelming.

During 2014 we noticed 15mm becoming a popular scale for tabletop gaming; it's only really when you've decided to give the scale a go and come to actually buy miniatures that the reason why becomes clear:

We decided on 15mm for our zombie skirmish game, really just as a way of proving that our electronic board game would be suitable for scales other than 28mm. But it also provides a cheap way of amassing zombie hordes (£4 for 8 zombies, a fiver for 12 compared to almost four quid per individual miniature at 28mm makes it  a substantially cheaper scale to collect!). Smaller miniatures mean we can also fit a larger map onto a smaller playing surface - ideal for playing a game set in a modern town with lots of buildings and streets.

And smaller scale miniatures also mean quicker painting times (in theory) so we decided to try a couple of different approaches. In almost all painting guides for 15mm, the general consensus is to start with a black undercoat. It's noted also that painting schemes for 15mm tend to be very "high contrast" - the creases and crevasses on the miniatures are almost always black, with brighter colours used in place of highlights (because of the much smaller surface area available to paint).

We started with some 15mm "army solider" miniatures we had hanging around - compatible with games like Flames of War - and began by gluing a 3mm magnet onto the base of each. Although not normally associated with zombie-based games, they're the first 15mm minis we had to hand, and they can always come in useful for other games - as well as for imposing martial law during the early days of a zombie outbreak!

 (Shown in the photo are some 15mm characters that have been cut off their bases, with a view to mounting on clear acrylic bases. In the end we gave up on this approach - cutting the miniatures off is a very time consuming process, the miniatures are easily damaged during this process, and the surface area of the feet for attaching to the clear bases is tiny)

Centring the magnet can be tricky while the glue is wet. It's important to use something non-metallic to push the magnet into the centre. Try to use your fingers, and you'll just end up with magnet and miniature super-glued to your skin!

With the magnets mounted, it was relatively easy to place these on a metal tray and spray paint them with Army Painter black primer. The magnets lifted the entire base off the tray a tiny amount, allowing the paint to get all around (and under) the bases as well as the model.

(although the flash on the camera makes these minis look grey, they're actually a dark, matt black)

Our first attempt at 15mm painting was to block colour, leaving areas of black between the plain-coloured panels. This gave a pleasing result, but we felt that a lot of detail was being missed. And the painting method was almost as slow as for painting 28mm, with the constant correcting and touching-up areas where the brush slipped and dotted paint in the wrong places!

Although the result was quite pleasing (in a super-bright, cartoon-y like way that we're quite fond of) the process was simply too fiddly to use for a zombie horde; we needed a quicker, easier method of bulk-painting, not just repeating our current method but on a much smaller scale.

Another method we'd seen was to dry-brush the black miniature with white, then use thin paints, almost like a glaze, to add colour over the highlighted parts of the model.

This method actually worked quite well at the start. But as we got beyond basic block colours, and applying highlighted edges, we found the thinned down paint difficult to control and suffered lots of paint overlap. And that the miniscule bits of white still occasionally left showing gave the miniature a slightly "dusty" look - although the miniature did manage to keep a bit of the "realism" of the sculpting.

Our final approach is more akin to combination of our method of painting for 28mm, with Army Painter Quickshade, and this second method. Firstly, we undercoated the miniature in black, then drybrushed with a mid grey - this is not to provide a base for the top coat, as with the white-and-glaze approach, but to simply point out where the details are on the model (with the camera flash, the photos seem to show a lot of detail, but it is difficult to pick them out an entirely black model when painting).

We then painted the tiny areas on the miniature, using plain block colours - taking care to leave areas of black still showing, in the deepest recesses of the model.

Then we added a wash of Army Painter (water-based) Strong Tone. This is the A/P version of GW's Nuln Oil apparently - either would suffice; because speed is of the essence here, we used the water-based ink, rather than the original Strong Tone in a tin (which requires a 24 hour drying time and then Dullcote to remove the shine - all adding to the time taken to get a miniature finished).

Strong tone darkens down all of the colours - the water-based version more-so than the varnish-in-a-tin - but enables a surprising amount of detail to still show through. So we picked up  the original colours and repainted them over the ink-washed model, using them almost like an edge highlight, leaving lots of the underlying, darker shades showing.

Although the camera flash has de-saturated the colours in the photo, the miniature retains the detail, while appearing quite colourful, using this hybrid approach. It's not as quick as painting using glazes over white (a technique we just couldn't master) but is much quicker than using our "traditional" approach as for 28mm models.

If we get some time over the coming weekend, perhaps we'll be able to paint a batch of 10 or so soldiers, and time how long they take, as we did for our Space Marines. At least then, we'll have an idea of how long to set aside for painting a zombie horde of 30 or 40 miniatures!