There are a few things about me that I tend to keep close to the vest. One is that I am an enthusiastic, if not particularly accomplished, war gamer. I enjoy the whole of the war gaming hobby: modeling, painting, gaming, and reading history books. The other is that I am a skinflint. I don’t know exactly why, but it is very difficult to get me to spend money.
War gaming is not a particularly cheap hobby. In fact, it is usually a pretty costly pursuit. Over the years, I have developed an approach to the hobby that allows me to save money and build armies of small metal soldiers. That is a big part of what Life During War Games is about: enjoying the war gaming hobby without spending an arm and a leg.
The other reason that I felt the need to start Life During War Games was because of Force on Force and Tomorrow’s War. The move to these two compatible rule systems gave me the perfect chance to change scales, from 28mm to 15mm. Since I am basically starting over with my miniatures and scenery, I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to help guide new war gamers into making educated decisions when it comes to their first war gaming purchases.
To start with, I am going to shine a light on a subject that veteran gamers often take for granted: paint. Paint can be a very personal issue for some people and this is by no means an exhaustive look at the subject. Instead, I want to point out what I personally use and some mistakes I have made over the years to help you not make the same ones.
When it comes to primers, there are more options now than I ever would have imagined even a decade ago. Games Workshop still makes the go to black primer and a solid white, but the market has opened up. The Army Painter make 19 different colors in their line, including a white that I prefer to GW. In concert with their Quick Shade, the Army Painter’s primers are great for speed painting. The only downside to GW and the Army Painter is price, with a can running $15.75 and $14.99, respectively. Luckily, there are options.
Familiar to car modelers, Testors Light Gray Spray Primer has the benefit of being cheap ($4) and ubiquitous. Arts and crafts stores are more common than gaming shops in my area. Additionally, Hobbytown USA stores always carry it, even the ones that do not stock gaming supplies. For tanks, particularly large ones, and buildings, Testors is my primer of choice. If you plan on weathering a vehicle, I really like the look of Testors peeking through the scraped outer coat.
My friend Shane introduced me to the more outré option: Camo Paint. Specifically, Krylon Camouflage Paint. The “ËœUltra Flat’ designation on the lid is no idle boast, this stuff lays down a smooth, flat surface on damn near anything you might want to paint. It comes in 6 colors (Sand, Black, Khaki, Woodland Light Green, Brown, and Olive), each of which has miniatures painting uses. The Khaki is my default color now, replacing the old GW White that I used for almost 15 years, because it makes organic color schemes more realistic. I could not imagine painting skeletons without it. The Black is an interesting paint, because it is a brown-black instead of a blue-black or a grey-black. When the light hits it, the highlights are warmer than any other black I have ever used. My favorite, though, is the Olive. For painting any non-desert camo American troops and equipment, Krylon Olive is great.
A lot of people swear by Duplicolor Sandable Auto Primer and Rust-o-leum Black, but I have no experience with either and can offer no guidance. The same goes for brush-on primers or airbrushing. I’m just a rattle can guy, I guess.
Building up a paint collection can be both daunting and expensive. People who use Vallejo or GW paints exclusively will argue until they are blue in the face about the relative merits of each, but I use both. I prefer Vallejo’s bottles, with their dropper tip and slight profile, to GW’s pots. This is a preference that goes all the way back to art school, so take it with a grain of salt. Both brands can get pricey in a hurry, but they can last almost forever, if properly taken care of. I have paints over a decade old that I still use. If you do buy GW paints, take great care to keep the lids closed properly and occasionally add a couple drops of water into them before calling it a day.
One way to defer the high cost of paint is to be careful which paints you buy. For black, white, and grays, I buy Apple Barrel, or the equivalent, from Hobby Lobby. At $1 a bottle, Apple Barrel paints are a cheap way to fill out your palette. Some of the more esoteric and purely GW colors, like the blue-grey known as Space Wolves Grey or the inimitable Red Gore, are best left to the brand name. Otherwise, feel free to buy a couple bottles of Apple Barrel for comparison to the pricier GW and Vallejo paints and I suspect you will be pleasantly surprised.
There is one Games Workshop paint product line I have to say there is no equivalent to and those are the Foundation Paints. The Foundation Paints seemed unnecessary to me when they launched. A high pigment paint to cover a black undercoat just seemed lazy to me. That was before I started using it. Being able to paint yellow or flesh right on top of any dark basecoat without any layers of white is something even a veteran painter can appreciate. For those looking to get miniatures up to table standards without to much effort will find GW Foundation Paints endlessly useful.
Do you have a cheap war gaming tip you want to share? A source for inexpensive paints not listed here? A miniature you painted exclusively with Apple Barrel paints? Send me any tips you’ve got and you might appear in a future Life During War Games.
Next week: Picking a 15mm army!