Miniature painting can be a time-consuming and challenging pastime, and it’s not for everyone. Luckily, there’s a growing number of games using miniatures that bring them to you pre-painted in the box (or for an additional purchase). So if you can’t be bothered spending hours hunched over little models with a paintbrush in hand, try one of these games out and enjoy the experience of gaming with painted miniatures—with no effort!
The great thing about pre-painted miniatures is that you can get them on the table and start playing a spectacular-looking game right after opening the box, but if you do like to do a bit of painting, you can add a touch of shading and highlighting to improve them even more. Check out my earlier article on miniature painting for some tips. Even the quick application of a wash can do a lot to define a figure’s detail; add a few highlights and it will look even better.
There are some great combat and adventure games that are coming out now with pre-painted miniatures. One of the most impressive is the dungeoncrawl game Claustrophobia (Asmodee, 2009). This comes with a bunch of troglodyte figures, three different sculpts of human warriors, and a fantastic demon figure. The paint jobs on these figures are really setting a new standard; they’re neatly done, and the colour choices are excellent.
Tannhauser (FFG, 2007) and its expansion Operation Novgorod is another game that comes with an impressive selection of pre-painted plastic character miniatures, and once again the quality is excellent. These miniatures really have a lot of character, from the demon-tainted Nazi Stosstruppen to the TNT-toting Corporal Tala Aponi. I recently had the opportunity to play the game with the new Fantasy Flight rules, and I can tell you the game is vastly improved and is a now really good, fast-moving combat system.
If you’re looking for the full tabletop miniatures experience but don’t have the time and inclination to do all the painting required, check out AT-43 (2006) and Confrontation (2007) by Rackham Entertainment. These sci-fi and fantasy (respectively) tabletop games use beautifully modelled miniatures that are all ready to do battle right out of the box. They can be a bit hard to find in Australia, but there’s nothing like buying a big tank for your scifi tabletop game and not having to spend ten hours or so painting the thing before using it to wipe out your opponent!
A game that’s been churning out the pre-painted figures for some time now is the Heroscape system from Hasbro. Starting with the base set, Rise of the Valkyrie (2004), there’s a mammoth range of figures available for this game, and because it incorporates all kinds of different genres and time periods, you can find everything from revolutionary war soldiers to werewolves to samurai warriors to robots. The paint jobs are generally pretty good, and there’s no lag time between buying your figures and playing a great game game (except for the time required to set up that board of interlocking hexagons, that is). Don’t forget the various boxes available of trees, bridges, jungle terrain and of course the castle— and remember you can also get Marvel Superhero and Dungeons & Dragons variants of the system!
Some games ship with standard unpainted miniatures but then make available sets of painted ones if you don’t mind the extra expense. The Adventurers (AEG, 2009) has very characterful miniatures, and if you don’t feel like painting them, you can buy a pre-painted set direct from the publisher. The Days of Wonder game Shadows Over Camelot (2005) also has a set of pre-painted miniatures available under the product name A Company of Knights.
Wings of War (FFG, 2004) is a World War I airplane dogfighting game for which you can buy an series of really impressive pre-painted planes (along with a pile of expansions) and there are planes on the way for the WWII set, Fire From the Sky (2009), as well. There’s no doubt these planes really bring the game to a whole new level; I can’t imagine playing the game with just the original cards!
Occasionally a ‘normal’ boardgame comes with pre-painted plastic to enhance the experience. The Avalon Hill games Monsters Menace America (2005) and Betrayal at House on the Hill (2004) had some nice, simply-painted figures included. Even just a bit of colour added to the miniatures can make a huge difference to the visual appeal of a game.
Finally, no discussion of pre-painted miniatures would be complete with mentioning the behemoth that is the War of the Ring Collector’s Edition (2010). If you have the spare cash, this is the ultimate purchase for those non-painters out there. Personally, I’ve started on my original set, but the daunting task of painting all those plastic hordes is almost enough for me to thrown down brushes and just buy the Collector’s Edition … and you not only get painted figures, but a huge redesigned board, larger cards, redesigned components, and a big wooden box to store it all in.
The Nexus/FFG game Marvel Heroes (Nexus/FFG, 2006) had a nice selection of pre-painted hero figures, featuring all the Marvel favorites like the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, and the X-Men. Privateer Press has a great giant-monsters-ravage-cities game called Monsterpocalypse (2008); it’s a collectible miniatures game, and, you guessed it, there’s no painting to do. The big feature monsters are particularly impressive, whether it’s a tentacled Lovecraftian monstrosity like Cthugrosh or the green Martian Ares mothership!
It’s out of print now, but the collectible miniatures game Dreamblade (Wizards of the Coast, 2006) had a spectacular range of really unusual pre-painted figures. It’s also a fantastic game, and it’s well-worth checking out Ebay to get yourself a starter set and some extra figures. I’ve mentioned the Mutant Chronicles Collectible Miniatures (FFG, 2008) game before, now also sadly out of print. The collectible miniatures genre is of course full of pre-painted miniatures that can be used both for the game they were designed for, and with a bit of work—maybe just a bit of re-basing—for other games too. There’s a long tradition of rebasing figures from other systems for use in Heroscape, for example. Check out D&D Miniatures, Heroclix, Horrorclix and Axis & Allies Miniatures, just to name a few, but don’t forget to check to see if your scales are compatible.
So for those of you casting longing looks at your friends with the painting chops, don’t despair! You too can have painted beasties gambolling about your tabletop, and without the long hours, bad back and failing eyesight that inevitably come with years of miniatures painting!
For more information about the games mentioned in this article, visit the publisher sites or BoardgameGeek (www.boardgamegeek.com). You can also find rules summaries and reference sheets for many of these games at Headless Hollow (www.headlesshollow.com/freebies_games.html).
by Universal Head
Universal Head (www.universalhead.com), has been designing for clients across the globe for more than twenty years, and playing games for much longer than that. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent an entire year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for a computer game. In between he’s designed just about every form of visual communication: corporate identities, websites, packaging, brochures, even postage stamps. He also created the game websites www.tekumel.com and www.battleloremaster.com. His blog site www.headlesshollow.com is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.