Why I play wargames, collect and paint minis

WARNING: this is a more intimate and self centered post than usual, with few if no pictures of minis at all. It may not be very interesting for people who do not know the stories already. Sorry for this, promise I’ll post some cool stuff later to compensate.

The how

I have known for a very long how I started collecting minis. I have my mother, father and uncle to thank for this.

Being born in a family where all boys played with « petits soldats » I was predestined.

Oddly enough my first box of toy soldiers did not come from my the people who played with them when they were younger. All of this is in fact my mother’s fault (she would say mothers are responsible for everything that happens to her kid). One day in a remote town were I was bored waiting for my father, we entered a toy shop. Since they had no Lego (and I was quite disappointed) she pointed me to these plastic wonders.

Of course I had it in french…

It is only later, when I showed them to my father, that I learned the secret: there were more…in the attic. A wonderful attic full of 1/72 models. There were Romans, Gauls, Trojans, Egyptians, ACW,… I am responsible for all the napoleonic nonsense (well my mother is).

The attic was a treasure chest. I did not raid it in one expedition. It was my father’s treasure and he shared it one coin at a time. From time to time he would bring something back, always by surprise and it was wonderful. We had Ceasar and Pompée and their legions, Agamemnon and black Greek galeys…and to complete what was to be found in the attic we bought napoleonic, lots and lots of them.

My uncle was the man for dioramas. He made incredible scenic pieces. I spent hours contemplating them at my grandmother’s. My father was not a diorama enthouthiast because « you can’t play with the models once they are glued in place ». My father loves toys, because they are alive and move before your eyes (when you pay attention).

My uncle once made me a castle. It was huge, with towers, secret stairways and so on. That was the first time I discovered terrain could be so detailed and great to play with. Like all castles, this one ended up in ruins after having changed hands more than once (it was on a disputed frontier), but I remember it, all black and menacing. Wherever you are, thank you for this.

The napoleonic collection ended up being a family thing, with my father and I collecting the « Grande Armée » (do you want to know more?) and my uncle and cousin the different coalitions. We would meet from time to time and play battles for days. We used very simple homemade rules, but these were epic for us.

In a nutshell that is it for the how.

The why

It took me a long time to understand why I collect minis.

I only started to think about that some ten years ago when, after a rather short pause, I fell back into the hobby.

Before that it was kind of obvious to an me. When a child I collected minis like other toys, to play. It was the same during high school when I started playing with people outside my family.

I met two of my high-school best friends because one of them sat next to me on the first day and had Space Wolves pictures on his school book. We started talking about it and agreed to play together. I was eager to make friends and very pleased to find partners in crime (my father never was very found of the warhammer set of rules so we seldom played).

To play with my friends to be I had to switch games (WHFB to WH40K) and build an Eldar Ost in no time while pretending I always had them. Thank god my parents voted the war credits without hesitation and I was able to meet my foes with brand new Ulthwë guardians, wraithlord and Falcon tanks.

I collected the minis to play.

I did not play to win though. No mistake, I like to win, but I prefer an epic and scenaristic defeat than a flat and easy win. Vicoty in itself is less appealing to me than what happens during the game.

Maybe it has something to do with French military iconography which is, in my opinion, heavily influenced by what I call the « sublime défaite » (glorious defeat). Sure we share this with other Nations, but it is striking how many of our national heroes become immortal in defeat and not in victory. Remember Bayard « Sans peur et sans reproche », well the Garigliano was a French defeat…and do not even get me started on Vercingetorix!

« Bayard defending the Garigliano bridge against foes » – Traditional picture of his bravery
Vercingetorix memorial, near Alesia (Alise-Sainte-Reine today).

There is a more personal, and less romantic reason, that I do not play to win: I owe this to my father.

One christmas I got « Seigneurs de Guerre » (« Battle Masters »). It was a wonderful gift and the first time I got fantasy minis. We tried the game during the holidays with my father and my first battle (I played Chaos) was…a crushing defeat! I struggled with the game mechanics and tactics was not my best skill at the time. My father, on the contrary, had some years of wargaming behind him and I got what I deserved: my orcs guts were used to paint his knights horses’ legs red. The battle was short, gore, and not at all epic. It was a bloody massacre!

I was a child, I lost a game, I cried. My father told me: « If you cry because you’ve lost, we won’t play again! » (I suspect him now to have lied, because I could tell he enjoyed the game, but the sentence made quite an impression on me). I replied: « I am not criing because I lost, I am criing because the game did not last long enough… » (was I liing at the time? The story does not tell and honestly I do not even remember). I do not know if my father believed me either, but he acted like he did.

We played a second game immediately. I do not remember who won that one. I just remember we played all afternoon and it was wonderful. We had many games after that one and I never cared who won or lost since then, as long as the game is fun and the battle glorious.

« Seigneur de Guerres » / « Battle Masters »

At one point in my life I had to go to university. I did not make the mistake of selling my minis, but I made a pause in my hobby life.

I got back into it thanks to the nice girl who would become my wife. She helped me understand that I needed this, that it was ok to play with toy soldiers even when you are an adult and that it is a great way to express your creativity. She has always been the patient witness of my joys and frustrations, she was kind enough to learn who Horus Lupercal is and keep track of my many (many [many]) projects, and she always gives me great advice on how to paint my minis (eventhough she always push me onto the steep path, which is painful but rewarding).

At that point my hobby was about building and painting stuff.

It took someone else to make me realise I was about creating something. All of this is a dear friend of mine’s fault: Pigeon du Canal (you saw many of his pictures here and you should watch what he does when he is not helping me for this blog, you’ll find it here).

I won’t say what I do is artistic, but it is defenitly a creative process. I came to realise that I paint minis (and play wargames as a matter of fact) to tell stories. Sometimes the mini itself tells the story, sometimes the game is so epic it becomes a story good enough to be told, sometimes it is just anything. Every one of my armies (even the one I use to play) has a story and this is what makes them interesting to me.

So basically this blog and my tweets are an excuse to tell you stories (and listen to yours). Hope I do not bore you to death with them…

I paint minis to tell stories.

If you want to continue reading about how people get into our hobby, see here.

Banner picture: « Napoléon à Arcole », lead miniatures collection, musée de l’Armée (Paris), picture by me. Picture of the Vercingetorix memorial by me.

Pictures of the Esci soldiers box and Bayard were found on internet. Picture of « Battle Masters » found here. For more about the game, see here and there.

11 réflexions sur « Why I play wargames, collect and paint minis »

  1. A wonderful written piece, and many attitudes I personally share.
    Interestingly on the topic of « celebrated losses », I have read about how most Victoria Cross awards in history have been given in the face of defeat.

    Aimé par 2 personnes

    1. Thank you very much. The piece is very « special » to me (as you may imagine) and I hesitated a long time before posting it. I am very glad that people are reading and enjoying it.

      I did not know that fact about Victoria Cross. The « celebrated losses » as you say (« sublime défaites » as I tend to call them) always struck me as a very strong part of French historical culture. It may not be specific to us I guess, it is just the cultural background I have evolved in most of my life.

      I could go on and on about this topic, I find it truly fascinating, as defeat shape memory and feelings even more than victory.

      Aimé par 2 personnes

  2. Great article. I always enjoy reading how people got into the hobby.

    I also agree about defeat. I like to win (who doesn’t?), but like you I will take a hard fought loss over an easy victory. Also, it’s all about the story, as you said. I have models in my Chaos army who I have named. The ones that I have named earned their name from a game, some epic moment. They told a story that game and earned their name for it. That is so much more gratifying than a simple victory.

    Aimé par 2 personnes

    1. Thank you! Great minds think alike 😉

      I totally agree with you on the « naming » process. I tend to name my minis when they are done (all of them in small scale games like Mordheim, the officers and specialist in larger scale games), but they get nicknames and stories as time (and battles) passes. I have a post in my to do list about that.

      Really love to read about the names and nicknames people give to their mini and how they got it.

      Aimé par 1 personne

    2. I should probably do a post like that as well. I realize the only people who know why my models are named are the people I play against. Nobody who reads my blog knows, and I use the names all the time.

      Aimé par 2 personnes

    3. I, for one, would love to know. The name and nicknames are part of the story. It is especially true for « gaming » models. But I find even for minis that are destined to a life in my cabinet, the naming process helps create a character.

      Aimé par 1 personne

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