Games Workshop has been a monumental force in tabletop gaming since the 1970s, as one of the first companies to see the potential in large scale fantasy and science fiction war games.
Beginning with traditional boardgames in the early days, they recognized an interest in the TSR games ‘Chaimail’ and ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ in the late ’70s, not only licensing RPGs – such as Call of Cthulhu and Runequest – but producing their own line of Citadel miniatures to compliment them.
GW’s first stores were a haven for the free-thinking youth of the early ’80s, with computer games, figures, boards, terrain, and the likes. However, as the market developed and the number of available games expanded, the watering down of output required something of a rethink in the nature of the company.
In a move which is still debated by Oldtypes in pubs around the UK, in 1991 Games Workshop divested itself of all its products save its Warhammer Fantasy Battle game, and the Warhammer 40,000 line of science fiction models which developed from it.
This latter game, set in the ‘grim darkness of the far future’ suited the mood of the age in which it was developed: nihilistic and outrageously mythical, it synthesized all that was best in the fantasy gaming scene and added to it the sort of aesthetic which was being projected by creators such as Chris Foss, Syd Mead, and George Lucas.
Ridiculed (at least by me) at launch for being little more than Lord of the Rings in space (well, it did have space elves, future knights, Space Orks, demons and so on), the game soon won over converts because of the universal nature of the lore and the simple, well-understood nature of its battle mechanics.
However, beyond the lore, the models produced for the game over the years have been one of its real draws, and no matter what one’s opinion of the company might be, it cannot be denied that even in the face of stiff competition from a variety of outfits (especially so today), Games Workshop still produces some of the best game minis in the market in the 28mm range.
Though the current game contains many factions, the Adeptus Astartes – the super-human space marines of the Imperium of Mankind – have always been at the forefront of the system, representing a good, all-round army which exemplifies the nature of the game.
The range contains all manner of models – tanks, assault carriers, transports, specialist infantry, and so on.
I’ve always liked the Marines myself, perhaps because I was a confirmed Imperial Army player in WFB – and a lover of the late medieval era – in 25mm scale when playing WRG’s rules.
Though mainly cast in metal during the ‘Rogue Trader’ era of the game, the journey to the plastic we have today began with the very first release – in the form of a pair of battle-boxes (Orks and Marines) which contained enough elements to make a variety of multi-pose figures.
Though costly at the time to make and rather quickly suspended as the game went into a metal-figure supported second edition, the principles established by the first releases have grown into a vast range of traditional styrene figures and vehicles which are sturdy enough for table-top use.
These days, and possibly as a result of a desire to streamline production as much as possible, most GW kits can be made in several variations.
When the Figures Don’t Add Up
I’ve been painting models as long as I can remember, and model figures for only a little less.
I began with those epically memorable Airfix 1/32 scale model soldiers, made of some sort of arcane mix of poly pro and that, no matter how I primed them, rejected paint like I reject salad…
However, as ropey as these things might have been, there was no use asking if the air was good when, in Sheffield in 1975, there was nothing else to breathe. So for years, badly-painted, drooping paratroops daily stormed up the ramps of my castle to (rather unequally) take on my Britain’s Knights in immortal combat.
That’s the way it might have stayed, had not my uncle one day directed me to a Japanese company of his acquaintance, who has begun marketing a series of multi-part, styrene 1/35 scale model soldiers to the UK. Oh, Tamiya… What did you do to Mrs. Ashmore’s eldest? 🙂
It mattered not that I slapped glue around like it was wallpaper paste. It did not seem important that I only had gloss Humbrol enamels. Nor did I care that I had to mix ‘flesh’ color by mixing red and white… Yes… Yes… I did that very thing.
My father and my uncle persisted, however, and kept buying the figures and slowly poking me in the right direction.
I’ve never been the best modeler in the world, and my time at Tamiya and Volks proved that, but I did pick up a few things along the way, especially when I fell into that sort of casual employment that all semi-talented wargamers seem to get into at some time: contract figure painter.
I quickly caught on the idea that what customers wanted was not Golden Demon winning paint jobs (and the price tags that went with them), but cheap, cheerful, and pleasant figures – and a quick turnaround.
And that’s how I’ve managed the figures here: quick and dirty for good results, and quickly.
Everything but the Kitchen Sink
Though these particular figures are of an older generation, they will help show you the steps involved.
I stick to plain old Tamiya base coat, as I can get it locally, but if I could get hold of it easily, I’d prefer to use cheap matte auto paint undercoat (back in the day, it was Halfords for me).
A simple base coat establishes the most dominant color. Not the best way to get a show-level finish, I’ll admit, but what follows will I think revel the crude wisdom therein.
The key is a series of washes and drybrushes, used to provide contrast and highlights to the figure. The principle of solid wargame painting (known as Block Paint in my youth) for me is about making sure the figure looks ‘right’ at a distance, without requiring the painter to spend too much time fiddling about with the details.
I can hear the skin of display painters (right, Mark? 😉 ) creeping from here, but this is a valid and practical process for people (such as I) who are not gifted with the talent, eyesight, or even time to do work like this:
This insanely good Titan vs. Tyranid diorama was created by professional modeler, Winterdyne and represents some of the best 40K modeling out there.
More examples of epic-level Warhammer paintwork can be seen here.
However, back to the back-alley… The key to my process is the sort of commercial washes that are available today. Heavy, translucent colors which impart stain and contrast to a model, and have become a convenient way to bring the sort of definition to miniatures which which a master can do with normal paint, blending, and mind-bending patience.
Though many companies make such washes, I still prefer the ones made by Games Workshop itself.
Once the base wash has dried in a bodged-up drying chamber, made in true Blue Peter fashion from a cheap hair-dryer and an old shoe box – on low heat mind you, these being plastic – the first contrast layers go down.
Keep it simple, keep it straight, and do not be too worried about details at this time. The next washes will show you where you need to focus on the few fiddly bits. At the table level, details don’t matter that much, and especially when considering a group of small figures collected together.
This may seem like shoddy workmanship, but after 30 years of painting for folks, I’ve developed a settled technique which seems to satisfy my clients, especially when it comes to the wallet. However, this is not stated to justify trash painting, or say that those with the skill to produce display quality minis are elitist snobs (indeed, I revere such folks). I only state it to make it clear that the vast majority of modelers who, let us be honest are of what Shakespeare would called ‘middling folk,’ CAN do good work, that will look good on a gaming table and on the shelf.
Consider these then: subject to a base coat, a prime wash, secondary block colour, final wash, drybrushing, some detailing and decals.
Average painting time per miniature: 30 mins (with hairdryer, as noted to speed up drying time).
Even on these basic, entry-level figures (these come from a ‘taster set’ which GW produces) the basic techniques of base coat, wash, and highlight work very well indeed, and on the table they look as effective as they need to.
However, on the newer, finer figures of recent years, they shine.
The Tactical set did come with some dedicated decals. However, they were rather fragile (not a normal state of affairs with GW decals) and came apart. Thankfully, I had enough Adeptus Mechanicus images left to dress these chaps up as rather doctrinally confused Iron Hands.
I am sure the Inquisition will not mind at all.
Not at all…
In short, these are fine little figures, designed for an excellent game which has proven itself through many iterations for nearly three decades as of 2015. Perhaps not as detailed as some – and increasingly facing stiff competition from companies like DreamForge – but still, in my own view leading the pack in lore, legacy and sheer appeal…
It is not just the Imperium however that gets decent models at Games Workshop. Indeed, it might be said that the Marines are relatively bland, visually, when compared to the the other races in the Warhammer 40K line.
The Tau, for example… Introduced as Games Workshop began to break deeper into the Japanese market (and as the West became more attuned to Mecha Media), here we have a species based around a series of battlesuits.
As a fan of Shirow Masamune’s ‘Appleseed’ and Oishii Mamoru’s ‘Mobile Police: Patlabor,’ I was in on this range like a shot.
Here we look at one of the most interesting suits in the range – the Broadside anti-armor Crisis Suit.
Sadly, thanks to the loss of a camera, we have no unboxing and buildup photos for this kit – for which I apologize to Ryan and Kuni.
However, the finished model photos clearly demonstrate the important elements of the build: in that the same basic techniques used for the small figures can be applied here.
Beginning with an overall dark grey coat, I washed the whole lot back, with Citadel Nuln Oil in the airbrush, before going in and picking out the plates with the color scheme chosen (red, white, and light grey).
In this case, with the model being so large, I felt confident in getting out the airbrush to get some weathering onto the suit and added some grime to lower surfaces and round the moving parts.
I also popped out the Tamiya Weather Master and dusted the seams, especially along the sharp edges with a variety of metals, to both suggest wear and give highlights. Oh, and I dragged out the Bandai lining pens as I am sadly addicted…
No matter what one might think of Games Workshop as a company (and it has had its ups and downs with fans over the years), one cannot deny its appeal in a broad sense. I reject accusations of parody, copying, and simply being ‘Lord of the Rings in Space.’ The Grimdark ™ has proven a fertile ground for wargamers across many generations and the charms (if that is the right word) of the bleak, horror-filled 41st Millennium are legion – from the Iron Bullwark of Humanity, through the passion-driven hordes of Chaos, the implacable Necron and the wary, cautious Tau.
For me – and do remember I have been a reasonably loyal slave to GW for as long as it has existed – there is no better game overall on the market today… With the possible exception of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and I’ll get to that in the next feature.
For the Emperor!
Or, for the Greater Good…
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