So you want to go to a model show…

With CapCon 2019 coming up, and with model shows being popular this time of year, I thought it would be a good idea to write a little article about what to expect if it is your first time going to a model show.

Do you want to compete?

While competition is generally a big part of these shows, you can have a lot of fun just spending the day looking at cool models. These competitions can be organized in a number of ways, and if you want to enter into the competition, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

If you want to have a serious shot at winning a medal, you need to do your best work. Take your time and do it right, fixing any mold lines, nub marks, and other imperfections. Also, make sure you get your alignment right if you are building any sort of vehicle where things are supposed to be straight and level. Work on your finish, and make sure any paint and decals don’t have any glaring flaws. These are the sort of basic things that separate the contenders from the also-rans. Finally, don’t rush your build; that can be a recipe for disaster.

If your model doesn’t live up to this high standard and you don’t feel it is competitive with your peers… enter it anyways! There is nothing wrong with putting a model on the table, even if you don’t really have a chance. Never feel like your stuff isn’t competition-worthy. People go to model shows to look at models, and anything looks better than an empty tablecloth. No one should ever make you feel bad because your model isn’t up to their standards.

Read the rules

Most rules are pretty straightforward, but giving them a quick read can help prevent any unnecessary conflict. Don’t put the contest organizers in an awkward position by bringing in something that violates the rules; forcing them to make a decision on whether to stick to the rules or give you an exception because you lugged your models out and they don’t want to upset you isn’t fair. Also, figure out what categories your entries go into in advance. If you have unusually large models or displays, give the organizers a heads up in advance so they don’t struggle to accommodate them on the day of the show. Finally, if you want to compete, reading the rules can help you understand what judges are looking for.

Prepare in advance

So, you have your models built and your schedule cleared. Now, it’s time to make a couple preparations before the day of the show. If you are bringing models, a few days before the show, figure out how you are going to get your models there. Transporting models can be difficult because they can be very delicate, and there will always be people who make it to the model show only to find that a little piece has broken off. Do a little research into model transport solutions. If your models are firmly attached to a base, it can be a lot easier as you can simply stick the base to the bottom of a big tub with magnets or some sort of temporary adhesive. If not, then you have to improvise with things like foam and homemade jigs to hold them in place in the box so they don’t rattle around. Regardless, by packing your models a few days in advance, you can ensure that you have time to arrange smooth transportation to and from the venue.

Also, most shows have entry forms available online in the form of fillable pdf files. Download them, fill them out, and print them in advance. This will help smooth your registration process and give you more time to enjoy the show as you aren’t wasting time filling out forms or trying to figure out which category your models go into. It also helps the show organizers because judges aren’t subjected to the poor handwriting of the entrants. If you can also pre-register or pre-pay, that will save you some time on the day of the show.

Aside from your models and your entry forms, it is a good idea to bring an empty cloth shopping bag or two to make it easier to carry any purchases, raffle prizes, or trophies you are taking home. Also, bring cash. A lot of vendors, silent auctions, and raffles will be cash-only, and not all shows will have an ATM on site. Or, in the case of one show I went to, the ATM might run out of cash partway through the show, which, while a good omen for the vendors, may be frustrating if you need to refuel before another trip around the vendor hall.

Finally, make sure you keep yourself well-fed. Your stomach can seriously affect your mood, and not all shows have great options for food on-site. If you can grab a decent breakfast before the show, that could help keep your energy level up. Consider packing a lunch (or even just some granola bars and a couple pieces of fruit if you are going for a “big breakfast, small lunch” strategy), or research nearby restaurants so you aren’t scrambling to figure it out when your stomach starts grumbling.

The show

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Image shamelessly stolen from HeritageCon

So, you’ve made it to the show, boxes of models in tow. Your first order of business is to head to the registration table and get yourself all squared away with the show organizers. From there, if you brought models, head down to the main exhibition area and plunk them down on the tables. The tables will be organized by category and will generally have pretty clear signage, so make sure you put them in the right spot.

From there, there are going to be two main attractions: the exhibition and the vendors. Feel free to explore both of these at your own pace, but keep in mind that some shows close the exhibition hall for judging, so if you want to take a close look at the models, do that before and after the judging. If you’re in the exhibition hall, take a look around and admire all the work on display. See if there are any new techniques you can learn from the models on display, as taking a close look at a model and trying to figure out how the builder did something is a good source of inspiration. Admire the handiwork on display, but don’t get too worried if someone plunks down an absolutely amazing model in the same category as yours. And if you do see someone do that… complement his model and try to strike up a conversation.

Also, don’t just focus on the categories you like. Take your time and look at all the models on the table. This can help broaden your horizons and maybe pique some interest in subjects you might not think of. What’s the worst that could happen; you could find out that you think gundams are cool?

The vendor hall can offer some good deals on model kits, tools and accessories. A lot of the time, particularly if it is getting later in the day, the vendors don’t really want to pack stuff up again, so feel free to do a little wheeling and dealing with some of the smaller vendors that are just a guy selling his collection. Also, if there are raffles or silent auctions, that can be a source of cheap kits and the like.

Competition

In model competitions, it is vitally important to keep things in perspective. Be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. By entering into the contest, you have agreed to accept the judge’s decisions, so no grumbling about which model should have won. No one likes a sore loser, and being a sore winner is even worse.

If you have a competitive personality, take some time the morning of the show and before the awards ceremony to get into the right headspace. Remember that in the grand scheme of things, awards don’t matter and in a 123 system, they are as much a measure of who else showed up that day as they are a measure of your objective skill. Expect to win nothing, and be pleasantly surprised when you do hear your name called at the awards ceremony. The worst thing you can do is get your self-worth all tangled up in awards and trophies; that way leads to ruin.

I think it is important to keep three things in mind at these shows:

  1. Everyone who is proud enough of their work to show it off at a contest is a winner. Period.
  2. Finding inspiration on the tables is more valuable than any plaque or medal.
  3. The real prizes are the friends you make along the way.

Conclusions

Model shows are a great way to spend a day, and if you play your cards right, you can go home with some sweet deals on model kits, inspiration for your next build, and some new friends. Don’t worry about whether you win or lose, but be happy and humble if you take home some hardware.

Bonus Content: King & Country Russians

A friend had some King & Country collectible figures that got banged up in shipping. They were pretty gnarly, with two broken barrels and numerous chips and scratches. So, I took it upon myself to volunteer to “restore” them. And by “restore” I mean drop them in acetone and repaint them how I want. I scratchbuilt a couple replacement barrels, hit them with Stynylrez, and got to painting. I airbrushed a base coat of green, and followed that up with some additional brushwork to bring up the highlights. Everything else was done by brush, and the metallics were done after the last layer of varnish just to keep them nice and shiny. The faces were a little tricky and didn’t turn out great because the sculpts were kind of dated and beat up, but the owner was happy with how they turned out.

The Skill Wall and Display vs. Army Painting

When I started painting miniatures and figures, it was for gaming. I had a bit of a false start with Reaper’s first Bones kickstarter, but eventually I got hooked by way of a Warmachine starter set I got for Christmas one year. However, as I’ve moved more and more into display painting and away from just painting for games, I’ve started to notice some differences between army painting and display painting.

The skill wall

One of the concepts I have been thinking about in my display painting has been a “skill wall.” This is a point where you look at a model and, even if it isn’t perfect, you don’t have the skills to really do anything to it which will actually improve the model. At that point, you are best to call it done because any further work is just futzing around with it for little to no actual improvement.

To use an analogy, think of the skill wall as a physical barrier that you are trying to run towards. As you get better at running, you learn to run both faster (representing how fast you can put paint on a model) and farther (representing how good the final product looks). A painting competition is measuring the distance you go, and it is up to you to take it all the way as far as you can. We all eventually hit that wall, but if you want to win, you need to drag yourself to the outer edge of your skill and not just say “meh, good enough.”

When you are just starting out, I would argue that you should push yourself to the max with every model. Let’s face it, all of us when we started barely knew how to get the paint onto the model. In the previous analogy, we were the equivalent of a 500 pound man huffing and wheezing as we struggled to waddle the 100 metre dash. At that point, you need all the exercise you can get. But as we practice and get in shape, we can go both farther and faster. Maybe after a month of training, our skill wall is 200 metres from the start line, but we can now jog 200 metres in half the time it previously took us to waddle 100 metres.

Ideally, as people who paint armies and hordes for games, as we paint more and more, we are both getting better at painting and getting faster as we learn the basics of brush control and all sorts of little tips, tricks and techniques to speed our work. We start producing better work, but it doesn’t take that much longer (and may even take less time) because we now paint faster as well. We might even find some shortcuts like using airbrushes, sketch style or contrast paints to take a different route which gets us better results faster.

However, once you start doing some serious display painting, things start to change. Eventually, you end up in a situation where, even though you have the brush control techniques to paint relatively quickly, your capabilities are so advanced that you could spend dozens of hours on a single model and not even hit your skill wall yet. But since dozens of hours per model times dozens of models in your army equals an unrealistic amount of time, the approach of always pushing yourself to the max on every single model may start to get problematic at some point.

Basically, at some point, no matter how good of a runner you are, it will still take a while to do a marathon.

From a practical perspective, since there are only so many hours in the day, you end up having to do one of two things when you are army painting. First, you start looking for techniques that save time rather than improve quality. You might do some sketch style or try out new airbrush techniques instead of slowly and carefully layering highlights. Second, you have to start saying “good enough” at some point, and this is where the whole concept of “tabletop quality” starts to come in (even though “tabletop standard” is kind of a confusing concept).

That sounds bad, but in the context of painting an entire army, it really isn’t. Yes, no individual model from your army will win a best single model painting competition (except maybe a centerpiece model you have kicked up to a higher standard), however that isn’t the point of army painting. To paraphrase Stalin, quantity has a quality of its own. A large decently-painted army with some uniformity in sculpts, colours and basing schemes, some nice pop on the highlights, and maybe a couple really nice centerpiece models looks rad as hell, even if random dude with spear number 37 isn’t the most impressive model.

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Pictured: Two small, rad-as-hell looking armies

All about the base

One other big difference between painting for a game and painting for display is the question of bases. In many wargames, base size serves an important gameplay purposes and measurements are made from the base. In Warmachine, this is a particular issue because tournament play requires round-lipped bases, which I am not really a fan of because the lip seems to take up a large portion of the area available for basing, and there are fewer third party scenic bases available than there are for the traditional GW style angle-lipped bases.

Gaming bases are generally pretty simple and utilitarian, often consisting of a flat plastic base with maybe a touch of simple texture or other scenic elements on top. There is an incentive not to build up too much height on their bases because taller models means they take up more room in your army transport bag, and it can get difficult at times to lug armies around to games.

Display painters often like to put their models on fancy plinths, which both looks nice and serves a practical purpose – where wargamers tend to handle their models by the model itself, display painters often don’t varnish their pieces and don’t want to touch them, so a nice plinth can serve as a convenient handle for when you do need to put them on the contest table.

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An early attempt at an almost-display level model that I could game with, before I started doing real display models. Note how the arc markings on the base are distracting from the model. This was basically my skill wall at the time.

In games such as Warmachine, there is also an issue with facing and arc marking. Since you are strongly encouraged to mark facings on your bases, this can become an issue because these markings can draw attention away from the model and towards the usually high contrast markings on the rim of the base. A plain black rim just looks better as it doesn’t draw attention away from the model and gives some nice separation between the table and the scenery on the base. This is why, in spite of encouraging players to paint arc markings on their bases, Privateer Press has plain black rims in all of their box art.

Finally, there can be practical issues with overly scenic bases. Games featuring true line of sight, where line of sight is measured to the model itself, can cause issues. It can be hard for your awesome character model to take cover behind a wall if he is permanently standing on top of a pile of the corpses of his vanquished enemies. In other games such as Warmachine, players tend to place an extremely high value on precision movement, so things like overhang and fancy, elevated basing can cause frustration. If you are trying to do something display-like that you still want to game with, the demands of the game can compromise your artistic vision.

Simply put, a gaming base looks underwhelming in a painting contest, and a nice plinth wouldn’t work on the gaming table. While you can sometimes get away with using the same bases, you eventually get to a point where you need to decide if you are going to use a piece for gaming or as a display piece and go one way or the other.

Varnish and protecting your paint

Finally, we get into one of the biggest differences between painting for a game and painting for display. Game models are meant to be touched and handled, display models generally aren’t.

This means a few things. First, display models can sometimes incorporate small, fiddly details that would be unsuitable for the sort of rough handling that a gaming model goes through, between transport and gaming. As one example, I saw a model of a tank for one of the WW2 combat games that came with two main guns – one to the proper scale, and a thicker one for gamers because the proper scale gun is too fragile for tabletop gaming.

And, we have to get into varnish. Since gamers tend to handle their minis a lot, they tend to appreciate thick coats of varnish. While I’m not sure to what extent the varnish actually protects the miniature (I would think primer adhesion would be a bigger culprit for chipping),

Unfortunately, when you are painting for display, a varnish can change the finish in ways that you don’t intend. Obviously, a matte varnish will destroy the shine of your metallics (do I really need to explain this one?). You can rescue it somewhat with a gloss varnish overtop, but it still won’t quite be the same as if you left your metallics in their natural state.

However, even with regular, non-metallic paints, a varnish can slightly change the finish of the paint in ways that you don’t expect. As a result, it is common for display painters to address this problem by leaving their models unvarnished, and simply not touch them, as they are not willing to risk sacrificing their hard work on getting the blends perfect only to have it be messed with by a varnish.

What does this all mean?

While they are very similar skills and incorporate similar techniques, I believe that army painting and display painting are different enough that we should recognize and celebrate both. There are people who aren’t going to win a painting competition because their skill wall isn’t far enough out yet. These people either don’t want to make the jump into display-only painting (especially when they are staring down a bunch of space marines they need painted for the next tournament) or they simply aren’t skilled enough yet to seriously compete. However, they can field very nice armies thanks to patience, practice and perseverance.

When it comes to wargaming, I’m a big advocate of rewarding and incentivising all aspects of the hobby. There is an attitude in some circles that tournaments are about game mastery and painting competitions are about display painting and never the twain shall meet in order to protect the sanctity of both. However, I feel this attitude is wrong-headed because it leaves out the army painters – the sort of people who may not have the skills to be competitive at something like Crystal Brush, but who have the perseverance to play it painted and to produce nice looking armies.

On the tournament side, this can be done in a variety of ways; some combination of best painted army awards, paint scores, or bonuses or raffles for fielding a fully painted army could work. On the display side, I think events like GW’s Armies on Parade are a neat way to allow army painters to showcase their work, compete, and get some recognition for a job well done. Space permitting, things like this could be incorporated into painting competitions, which would give army painters an opportunity to mingle with display painters and pick up some skills.

Final thoughts

While display and army painting involve a lot of similar skills, there are a number of significant differences that make them not always the same. However, that is not to devalue or diminish army painting; the patience and perseverance involved in painting an army is not unlike that of bringing a single model up to a very high display standard. And both should be rewarded and celebrated.

 

Bonus content: French Cruiser De Grasse

One of the raffle prizes I snagged at TorCan was a Heller 1:1400 scale kit of the French cruiser De Grasse. Construction started on this ship before World War II, and in the chaos of the war and the Fall of France, plans for the hull changed a number of times before it was finally finished as an anti-aircraft cruiser in 1956.

The kit itself was not very big and was showing its age. Instructions came on a single sheet of yellowed paper, and no decals were supplied. I ended up struggling to get the two halves of the hull and the deck in place properly, which caused a number of issues with seam lines. Most of the painting was relatively simple, with the exception of the helicopter landing pad at the rear which I painted onto the deck by hand. I used brass rod to fashion a pair of flagpoles at the front and back, each flying tiny French flags made of little squares of aluminum foil, and since I couldn’t find my ez-line, used one of my own hairs for the rigging.

Also, even though it makes no sense, I painted the plaque on the front using TMM shading because… reasons?

Thoughts on judging

Whenever we go to a modelling competition, one aspect that always gets a lot of attention is the judging. It seems as though everyone has an opinion on the judging, and rarely is it the case that those with the most vocal opinions think that the judging was fine.

Now, I’m not going to get into the controversy over whether Jimbo’s P-69 Thundercat should have beaten Cletus’ Blackburn Bastard for best in show at the East Westington IPMS show three years ago, but I do think it is worthwhile to explain the difference between different judging systems and the pros and cons of each, if only to help out new people. IPMS USA is currently discussing switching from 1-2-3 to open system at their nationals, and the style of judging (if you even plan to make it a competitive thing) is one important decision for anyone looking at starting up a local show.

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This guy gets it

There are a couple important caveats to this article that I would like to address up front. This article should not be taken as me being salty over any decision at a recent show, or upset that any show doesn’t use my favourite judging system. That is not the case, and I’ve intentionally saved this for publication at an appropriate time in between shows so it doesn’t read like sour grapes or criticizing any particular show organizers.

Second, I think at the end of the day, it is important to keep things in perspective. Everyone who is proud enough of their work to show it off is a winner, and the true prizes are the friends you make along the way. While competitions can be fun, getting too competitive about your hobby is a surefire road to misery and frustration (see: why I don’t do competitive Warmachine anymore).

Judging systems

The first, and probably the most established, judging system is IPMS style 1-2-3 judging. Here, there are multiple categories and a team of judges simply chooses the best, 2nd best, and 3rd best model on the table. While this may sound subjective, judges are trained to judge models according to standards laid out in the judging document. In these standards, craftsmanship is king. They have wisely chosen to avoid judging historical accuracy to prevent fistfights over the proper shade of RLM 69 or the number of rivets on the glacis plate on the real thing. And since they’re focused mainly on craftsmanship, they tend to be fairly objective – a missed seam line is a missed seam line, regardless of a judge’s level of affinity for the subject.

We also have the open system which is common in figure shows. Instead of competing against each other, modellers are competing against a set of objective criteria. There are generally Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals, and each entrant simply gets what the judges think their work deserves. This means that there can be any number of people winning any colour of medal – and zero is still a valid number.

Next, we have systems that are based on rubrics. This is common for Gunpla builders, and I believe it is often used for AMPS shows and paint scores in 40K tournaments, but I’ve never been to either of those. Here, there are a number of categories representing various aspects of a build – construction, painting, modifications, etc. Points are deducted for mistakes and added for things that are particularly well done, and at the end of the day, points are added up across all the categories and all the judges, generating a total score. This score can be then used either to rank the models most points to least, or give out awards to anyone who scores a certain number of point.

Finally, we have a simple people’s choice award, where attendees vote on their favourites and he who gets the most votes wins. The voter base can either be fellow entrants or the general public.

Of course, the differences between these systems aren’t always set in stone. Figure contests regularly feature best in show awards in addition to the gold-silver-bronze system. IPMS shows may use the open system for junior categories, so as not to crush the dreams of any young modeller. An open system can judge every model individually, or a modeller’s work as a whole, only giving out one award per category for his best work. And any show may incorporate a “people’s choice” award in addition to the judged criteria. Further, there are variations in these – IPMS contests can have “no sweeps” rules to prevent one person from taking home all the prizes in the categories, GSB style contests can judge and award every single model or an artist’s work as a whole, and rubrics can be either extremely detailed or very basic and can weigh different aspects of a build.

My thoughts

All of these systems have their pros and cons, and they are all heavily ingrained in the culture of the communities that have adopted them.

The IPMS style is nice and simple, and you can get a lot of judging done quickly. A simple glance over the table can greatly narrow down the number of models that are in contention and that a judge really needs to examine closely. However as anyone who has tried to organize a model show can attest, when you have very diverse builds, the sheer number of categories required to ensure that you have like competing against like, that there are not too many or too few entries per category, and that every possible thing that can show up has a category, ends up becoming a bit of a nightmare. Not to mention when the number of entries in each category is invariably much different than what you planned, judges often have to split or merge categories for there to be any semblance of fair competition. And then how the judges tweaked the categories on the day of the contest can be a bone of contention for those who didn’t win.

Further, there will always be some categories that end up being more hotly contested than others, so in some ways it is less of an objective measure. You can win first place in your category either by doing an amazing model and beating the other couple dozen amazing 1:48 aircraft, or you could be the only entrant in an obscure category and take home first place with a mediocre entry. I know that personally, the amount of hardware that I bring home at an IPMS show within driving distance depends about as much on who else shows up as it does on my quality of work.

There is also a risk of disappointment for those who don’t place. Anyone from 4th to last has no idea how well they did. As one example, I judged a competition a few months ago where we narrowed it down to the final four, figured out the winner and runner-up fairly easily, and then spend a lot of time deliberating over who gets the bronze and who goes home with nothing. If I hadn’t talked to the guy who was in 4th place afterwards, he may have been discouraged simply because he would have no way of knowing how close he was to placing.

Finally, because the IPMS style is comparing the models to each other, there are some logistical challenges. You need to have all the models on the table before you start judging, whereas with points systems and open systems, if the judges know they are going to have their work cut out of them, they can simply judge models as they arrive or get a head start before the entry deadline.

Open System

The open system has a lot of advantages. The main one is that you aren’t competing against each other, you are competing against yourself. How you do on the day doesn’t depend on who else shows up. This gives you a more accurate representation of where your skills are at, and it can help you set realistic goals, such as if you won Bronze one year, to go for Silver the next.

The open system also doesn’t require as many categories as the 1-2-3 system, which makes things a lot simpler. However, the judges tend to have a bit more work cut out for them as under a 1-2-3 system, a quick glance can often knock out a majority of the entrants who are uncompetitive and cut down on the number of models that need a serious look. The open system requires the judges to look at every model on the table (or, at least, everyone’s best work in a category) and give it its appropriate award.

I also think the prevalence of the open system contributes to the friendliness and mostly drama-free nature of the miniature painting community. When you are very rarely directly competing against each other, you are more invested in helping each other build their skills. When your friend wins a gold medal, it’s not bittersweet because he beat you to get it.

Rubrics and points

As for rubrics, to be honest, I’m not a big fan for a few reasons. First, I feel like they are popular because they have the appearance of objectivity, however I’m not sure they are actually that much more objective than something like the IPMS style, where there are no rubrics and the judges just confer and make a call. The theory is that simply choosing the best is open to favouritism, and points systems make things more objective. However, there is nothing preventing a biased judge from simply giving their favourites more points than the rest, either consciously or unconsciously.

Second, rubrics encourage people to build to the rubric if they want to be successful in the competition. Instead of simply approaching the build how they want, people end up having to tick off a number of boxes to get the maximum score or at least a competitive score in the category. For example, competitions that award points for conversions and customization may encourage people to do unnecessary modifications just so they can say that they did a conversion and get the points for that category. If the rubric isn’t well-designed, then you could have situations where it discourages creativity by rewarding certain specific style choices – for example, punishing an automotive modeller who enters a showroom clean car by giving him a big fat zero in the weathering category.

Can the people be trusted?

People’s choice is an interesting one and it makes judging a lot easier by simply removing the need for judges altogether. That said, in model shows as in democracy, the people can’t always be trusted. People tend to be attracted to the biggest, shiniest model with the most blinking lights. However, said model may, on closer inspection, have a ton of seam lines, alignment issues, and problems with the finish which are not apparent to the layman at a quick glance. Good models can get passed over simply because they aren’t the biggest, most eye-catching thing on the table. However, just having a show with a ballot can make for a much more chilled out atmosphere than a judged contest.

Feedback?

While feedback is good, not everyone wants feedback and not all feedback is useful. If you missed a mold line, being told to clean up your mold lines doesn’t really help you as a modeller. You already know you’re supposed to deal with that; that’s not new information for you. However, feedback such as new weathering techniques, suggestions on diorama composition, colour theory and lighting, etc., can actually help bring you to the next level.

I also feel that when it comes to feedback, some people are genuinely interested in improving their skills and progressing as a modeller, and some people just want to be salty that they didn’t win. They don’t want honest critique, they want to know why they lost and use it as ammo to grumble.

Again, I feel like the GSB system lends itself more to honest feedback because judges can tell you what you can do to bring yourself to the next level, rather than comparing your entry to other models and saying “well, Jim over there made something nicer.” Knowing what you can do to go from Bronze to Silver is much more valuable information than knowing which mold line you missed or what tiny flaw in your model caused the other guy to beat you.

If you really want feedback, track down a judge and ask him or her for it. Or, just talk to your friends and fellow competitors and get their feedback. Detailed feedback on a score sheet sounds nice, but it is onerous for the judges and it may not be as useful as simply having a conversation about your work with friends, regardless of whether they have a fancy judge title or not.

Prize Support

This is a tricky subject. I mean, upon initial glance, prize support is good, right? Everyone loves free stuff, and the more expensive free stuff, the better. If we can get hundreds of dollars of stuff and give it to the winner, then that’s great and it will encourage more people to join in, right?

However, there are some issues with large prize pools that may outweigh the draw of free stuff. When you have prizes like free trips to Japan to compete in the GBWC world cup or the $10,000 Crystal Brush, the stakes get higher and competition starts to get more intense. You can see this in things like Magic and Warhammer tournaments with large prize pools; by raising the stakes, you encourage people to be more cutthroat about things and increase the risk of salt and unsportsmanlike behaviour. IPMS deals with this by insisting that the prizes don’t have much if any intrinsic value – instead of wads of cash or expensive uber-kits, you are rewarded with a small medal or trophy, bragging rights, and the warm fuzzy feelings you get from recognition by your peers.

Further, in a smaller community, if you have a small number of people who are winning all the time, it can start to feel a little discouraging for the rest of the modellers. If you have entry fees and the same people winning all the prizes all the time, it can start to feel like same guy is taking your lunch money every day and this can encourage people who don’t have a chance to not show up, not participate, and not learn and grow by competing.

I’m not saying that prize support isn’t appreciated or that free kits isn’t a nice thing to have, but if people want the prizes badly enough that it starts to negatively affect their sportsmanship and attitude towards the competition, it can be a double-edged sword. How much is too much, and if you do have a generous sponsor, what portion of the prize pool should go to reward performance in the competition versus participation prizes like raffles, silent auctions, and door prizes, is worth some careful consideration.

Conclusion

Unsurprisingly, given my background, I like the open system. However, I feel like at the end of the day, too much competition can be unhealthy and perhaps there is something to be said for doing exhibitions and pageants instead of competitions. Aside from the occasional outburst of drama due to disagreements with a judge’s decision, it is all too easy to fall into a trap of comparing oneself to others in a hobby that should be about relaxation and, if you want to push it, self-improvement. Regardless of the format of the competition, one would be well served to go into it caring more for the friends you make and the inspiration on the tables than the awards you win.

Sword and Brush 2018 – Retrospective

Well, it’s been almost a month since Sword and Brush, and I figured I should actually get this article out there before it fades too much from memory.

Sword and Brush, held annually in Toronto, is probably the largest and most premiere miniature and figure painting competition in Canada. This was my first time going, and also this year was the first time they have expanded to include some wargaming tournaments in the same room as the painting competition. The painting competition and miniature show took place basically all day on Saturday with tournaments running simultaneously, while Sunday was set aside for tournaments only.

In addition to the show and the tournaments, there were also vendors, raffles, classes, and a buy and sell table.

The Show

I didn’t get a whole lot of pictures, but the level of quality on display was nothing short of amazing. There was a great diversity of models on the table, from Napoleonics to fantasy to sci-fi. The vehicle categories were also a nice touch, particularly the TLAV that came away with the theme award. Without going into too much detail, here’s a dump of some stuff that I liked.

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Nemo bust from Privateer Press. Only problem is that Nemo is some Cygnaran jerkface.

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Nice tartan…

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Did someone say “busts”?

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What is this I don’t even…

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Cool black and white figures on a colour diorama

Classes

One of the planned classes this year had to be cancelled, however there were still two very good classes. James Craig did a class on weathering, showing off how to paint on chipping and scratches as well as fun tricks with chipping medium. Colin Arthurs did a class on sculpting where he went over every step in sculpting a Napoleonic figure. Both these classes were interesting, though I think I’m going to be trying out the weathering techniques in that class a lot sooner than I’m going to try to sculpt my own figures.

Tournaments

Most of the tournaments were for games that I didn’t play and didn’t have any models for, but the exception was Necromunda, which I’ve been getting into as of late. The initial idea was that “Necromunda by night” would be a little tournament, but after one incredibly long, bloody and brutal game, I think everyone was a little tired. I had a blast; lots of crazy things happened in the game such as my leader sniping out the opposing leader with a bolter before getting insta-killed by a mook with a needle rifle, and Jaana, my shotgun-wielding champion, punching someone to death who tried to sneak up behind her and shoot her in the back.

A big tip of the hat here goes to whoever provided terrain; with multi-level catwalks and plenty of cover, there was a lot of very impactful terrain on the table. The aesthetics of this sort of terrain is something that I tend to miss in Warmachine, which is my primary game and which is usually played with mousepads on a flat mat.

Convention haul

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I managed to pick up some interesting stuff, both by doing fairly well on raffles and by being a little bad and spending some money at the vendors and the buy and sell table.

First, I stopped at the Badger table and picked up a few things. I grabbed some of their Minitaire paints, which are a line of paints that I’ve been wanting to try but haven’t had the opportunity to yet. I haven’t used them very much yet, but they seem to shoot through the airbrush fairly well (which is to be expected from a paint line produced by an airbrush company) and, if you can pick them up at a con, are an insanely good deal on a dollars per milliliter basis. I also picked up some needle lubricant (protip: don’t store this next to your super glue; I almost had an airbrush maintenance disaster) and a high roller trigger for my Krome. If your Badger airbrush doesn’t come standard with this trigger like the Xtreme Patriot, then I would definitely recommending picking up one of these.

IMG_0773.JPGI also bought an International Brigade figure from the Spanish Civil War in 75mm scale from Bent Bristle Miniatures. The Spanish Civil War is a perhaps unappreciated conflict, and the various international volunteers who went to Spain to fight for socialism and democracy are all too often forgotten in their home countries. So, this was one rare case where a historical figure really jumped out at me and demanded that I fork over some money and paint it.

On the buy and sell table, I picked up a giant resin inn to use as a piece of terrain, which is quite possibly the largest chunk of resin I’ve ever seen. Also, there was a Bombardier Bombshell from Privateer Press on the table which I bought because of course I did.

Finally, I did pretty good in the raffles, coming away with a Cerberus model from Aradia Miniatures, and a piece of a saloon from Pegaso Models for use on a display base. The Cerberus is far from my usual jam as I tend to shy away from more beastly figures, but it could be an interesting project. As for the saloon, I’m going to have to find a 75mm scale steampunk wild west model for this thing, which, let’s face it, is probably something that I want to do anyways.

My results

I entered into three categories this year. Amy Johnson went into their historical category, and both my pile of new Man-O-War solos and Necromunda gang ended up in the wargaming unit category. Finally, I put about six or seven models into the fantasy category because that’s my focus.

As mentioned above, when they do the judging, you only get awards for what they consider to be your best models. I managed to come away with two silvers, for my Mary Read and Amy Johnson busts, respectively, and a bronze for my Man-O-War.

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I know I say a lot that you shouldn’t worry about how you place compared to others or chase trophies, but I was quite happy with my results. With all the amazing stuff on display, I ended up doing that thing where you put your stuff on the table, then worry that your stuff is worse than everyone else’s and you’re just embarrassing yourself. Turns out that was just self-hating artist talk. Silver is good, especially for a first time. It’s something to be proud of, but also leaves some room for growth.

Conclusion

Sword and Brush was a blast. Anyone who is interested in miniature and figure painting and who is within driving distance should definitely go. Even if you don’t think you’re good enough yet, then go and learn because with this level of competition, there’s no shame in going home empty-handed.

Three thoughts on judging

As mentioned in previous articles, I had made it to a few model shows over the past several months. At these shows, people bring their models and place them on display on the table next to other models in the same category to be ogled at by mere mortals and judged by volunteers for awards. Categories vary across all different types of models, from fantasy figures to historical aircraft and everything in between, and can be either fairly general such as “Historical Figures” or as specific as “1/72 Single-prop Inline-engined WWII Axis aircraft.” Judges then decide on first, second and third place in each category. There are some variants to the rules such as whether one person is allowed to sweep the category, scoring first, second and third. And of course, there are pages upon pages of rules.

Generally, judges are instructed to be fair and focus on objective criteria like fit and finish, alignment, etc., rather than whether the model has the proper number of rivets on the glacis plate for the late war model. Also, scope of work is a secondary factor to technical competence, so someone who went above and beyond in converting, scratchbuilding, and doing a complicated paint job will only really help them if they did a really good job of it. Finally, judges are also generally told to ignore bases and the like, except for dioramas, which is fair – people who build armour want to build armour and be judged on the quality of their builds, not on their base.

Anyways, I’ve got three thoughts on judging in the context of the IPMS 1-2-3 system.

  1. Judging will always be a little arbitrary

judy.jpgSo, I’ve taken mostly the same models to a couple shows (my theory being they’re good for a season or until they no longer represent my current skill level) and have noticed something interesting. In one show, Nancy Steelpunch was my highest placing model, while in another, she was beaten out by Laril Silverhand.

I’m not complaining here, but I think this is an example of the limits to how finely we can objectively judge a model. There is always going to be a little bit of subjectivity in the judging process. Different judges will spot different things that they like and dislike about a model. Some may be more lenient on certain flaws and harsher on others. Finally, some (probably most) people may just have an unconscious bias towards certain subjects or colour choices, and a first impression can go a long way. On the two teams I ended up judging with, there wasn’t always agreement right away. That doesn’t take away from the accomplishment of anyone who is skilled and lucky enough to come away with an award, but it means that people shouldn’t get bent out of shape if they don’t do as well as they expected.

  1. How well you do depends on who else shows up

At HeritageCon, the busts section was extremely competitive. There were something like 20 busts on the table, and all but a couple were really good and likely in contention for at least the top three. In part because of the intense competition, and in part because I have no idea how to paint feathers, I didn’t place. Contrast that to Torcan, where there were only a couple busts on the table and my (slightly fixed up) Mary Read edged them out to take home first place.

Now, there are pros and cons to competitive judging systems like the IPMS 1st, 2nd, 3rd, versus the open judging where you are judged against a set criteria and receive whatever award corresponds to the level of skill on display. However, one of the properties of the 1-2-3 judging system is that it isn’t an objective standard that you can measure yourself by because you end up in direct competition with your fellow modellers and painters. As such, the exact same models may get you either showered with medals or going home empty-handed based on who shows up. And that’s without even getting into the possibility of different models being placed in different categories.

Again, this isn’t to say that people who won a sparsely-entered category didn’t deserve it. However, this is the sort of hobby where while there is some competition and it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling to be recognized, at the end of the day, we do it for ourselves. If you’re happy with what you made, there is no shame in coming home empty-handed because someone like Sergo Calvo Rubio or Kirill Kanaev decided to show up.

  1. Volunteer to be a judge

Often at these shows, they are looking for people to judge. I know there is the stereotype of a model show judge as a nit-picking rivet counter, so it can be a little awkward at times – especially when you have to judge models that are better than anything you can do. While judges sometimes do have to go down to tiny details and flaws in order to separate the first, second and third from each other and from the rest, it’s not quite that bad and judging can actually be quite enjoyable.

First, spending an hour or two staring at models in detail together is a great way to meet new people. Doing some judging can help break up a long day, as there is only so much to do at these shows once you’ve looked at all the models seven times and lightened your wallet at the vendor tables. Also, since we learn a lot in this hobby by making mistakes, being a judge gives you the opportunity to learn from mistakes without making them yourself. Finally, you might get a free lunch or something out of the deal, so bonus.

Just make sure you know how many rivets are on the glacis plate of a late-war model.

May 2018 – Model Show Update

One of the advantages Ottawa has over Winnipeg is the fact that there are other major cities within less than an eight hour drive. As you’re not completely surrounded by hundreds of miles of wheat and canola, you can actually do day trips to other cities and attend events put on by other clubs. The month of May was a busy one with a number of clubs within not too long of a drive putting on model shows. In addition to the first local Gunpla group’s first contest (which I won first place in with my Zaku), I managed to make it to two model shows, the IPMS Montreal’s gala and Torcan, put on by Peel Scale Modellers.

IMG_0314.JPGMontreal was a fairly small show, with probably somewhere a little under entries. I did well with my figures and Gundam; they didn’t allow sweeps but I won first and second in fantasy figures, and was the only entry in busts so I won by default. There were only two Gundam entries; mine won first, but the second-place was a nicely assembled Real Grade Zaku of some sort reaching out to pick someone up from a busted up concrete shell of the corner of a building.

The really nice thing about the Montreal show, however, were the two presentations they put on by local modellers. Laurie Norman did a presentation on figure painting, including fantasy creatures like dragons. I think a lot of people managed to get a lot out of it, because painting figures is one thing that a lot of scale modellers feel intimidated by, and a lot of armour builders struggle with. Her session also reminded me that I’ve never actually done a dragon, and maybe I should try something like that sometime (hello, Reaper Bones…). Xiao Yang, who is an excellent naval modeller and won best in show at CapCon last year, did one on rigging ships which was very informative. I know I took away an important lesson from it, which is “don’t build anything that requires rigging.”

Highlights

At Montreal, there was the usual smattering and some interesting subjects, including a Saturn V that had me clenching my buttocks as it swayed back and forth on the table as people walked by. The highlights for me, however, were the dioramas. That, and a big CN semi tractor-trailer. Automotive isn’t usually my thing, and less so big industrial vehicles, but this was impressive in the finish, the scale, and the detail that went into the sleeper cab underneath a removable roof.

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Note the roof on the base next to the truck; it is removable

As mentioned, there were a number of dioramas with a number of focuses, including aircraft, armour, and civilian vehicles. They were all great, but here’s a couple standouts.

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Torcan

Torcan was a larger show, with almost 500 models on the tables. Again, these were spread out over all categories and had a nice mix of aircraft, armour, ships, etc., with a strong space and sci-fi section. I had a really good day at the awards ceremony, probably my best to date, sweeping the Fantasy Figures category, winning first place in Busts, Humour, and one of the Gundam categories, snagging third with my old Victor in the other mecha, and winning the Best Overall Figure with my Dana Murphy. So, overall, one sweep, as well as three other firsts and a third, and a Best Of award – quite the haul. The rest of the Ottawa crew also did well at the awards table, snagging about thirty awards across all the categories including one other sweep.

For some video coverage, check out this link.

Again, there were a lot of great models and dioramas on display. I didn’t get a lot of photos, but I managed to get pictures of a few that caught my eye, including the following.

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This egg tank was one of my favourites in the show because of the weathering. I just loved the use of that purple; it adds so much dynamism to the colour and really makes this piece stand out. The one criticism I have of it, though, is that it’s a shame that the builder didn’t carry some of the weathering over onto the decals. Seeing beautifully weathered pieces with pristine markings is one of my little pet peeves, but apart from that, this was a great example of taking an egg kit and running with it, and using interesting colours to create fascinating colour variation.

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This Lanchester armoured car was a unique subject, and in my opinion, it was a great use of colour modulation to highlight it. I know there is a debate over how much colour modulation to use, particularly among historical modellers, but as someone who started out in tabletop gaming, I’m a fan of it and I think this is an example of an appropriate application of the technique for a historical subject that really helps make it pop.

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Without getting too political, this diorama, titled “Happiness” was not only well done, but I felt that the portrayal of the triumph over Nazism and the end of the war is a refreshing alternative to a lot of what we see on the tables, and sadly poignant in 2018. But I like the hope that this diorama shows, as the nightmare of Nazism and war is finally over for this town and for the people in this scene.

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The Throne of Sprues was a humourous touch, as were the wedding cake columns on this base, but the weathering on these gundams were top-notch.

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Finally, someone brought a collection of Roman miniatures in what looked like 15 or 20mm scale. They were nicely done, and represent a scale that is just a little too small for me, so I have to give a shout out to my fellow wargamer for bringing these in.

I didn’t get a picture of everything that caught my eye, such as the 1/2 scale BB8 from Star Wars complete with lights and sound, or the historical crusader figure that I would assume really gave me a run for my money in the best figure award, but there are some photos and videos kicking around on facebook and the broader interent that one can probably find with a little looking.

Conclusion

If you have the opportunity to go to one of these model shows, do it. You will see a lot of fascinating models, and learn a lot just by looking at how people did their stuff. Better yet, bring some of your stuff. Even if it doesn’t win, you can get some valuable feedback and meet some new and interesting people, which is more important than any piece of hardware you might bring home.

Not that bringing home some hardware isn’t nice…

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Southern Ontario Open 2018 – Recap

I alluded to this in my last post, but a couple weekends ago, I attended the Southern Ontario Open in Hamilton. For those that don’t know, the Southern Ontario Open is a three day con and probably the biggest Warmachine convention in Canada, and it features both a Masters and Champions tournament, Iron Arena, hobby programming, IKRPG, and some other events like Steamroller scrambles and Company of Iron. It’s attended by a lot of big names in the Warmachine community, and is getting more and more popular among Americans, in part due to the high caliber of competitive play and in part because the exchange rate on the Canadian dollar makes it a relatively inexpensive con.

I headed out on Thursday, and I decided that this year, I would moderate my goals. Last year, I went with high hopes, only to be crushed repeatedly by bad dice as well as my own suckitude. Protip: never say “All right, I need a six, so I’m going to boost to make sure.” I went 1-4 in Champions, lost a good chunk of my Iron Arena games, and lost every single game where I played a caster other than Harkevich. Knowing that the SOO has a very high caliber of player, I decided that I would just try to equal my previous record, and try not to get frustrated over silly things like dice.

Champions

Champions is an interesting limited format in Warmachine. The two big differences between Champions and other tournaments are that players are restricted to warcasters who are on the Active Duty Roster list, and official Champions tournaments have a painting requirement. I enjoy Champions, because the limited meta means that you don’t have to worry about some of the boogeymen out there and you have to worry less about tailoring your list to defeat the Mad Dogs, Una2, Denny1 Ghost Fleet/Coven Dark Host, Gaspy3 Nine Slayers, Nemo3, or whatever list is running roughshod over the meta at any given time. You get to see some casters and lists that you don’t usually see in other formats, and ironically, you might even have a little more freedom beacuse you don’t have to worry as much about whether you can deal with that boogeyman list out there. To quote Tim Banky from this year’s State of the Game address, one could say that the format is very Hegelian.

I know this is probably a controversial statement, but I also like that Champions is a fully painted format. The painting requirement is one of the big reasons why, when I decided that I would do one of the two tournaments and spend the rest of the time in the Iron Arena or hobby lounge, I settled on Champions instead of Masters. There is something about two fully painted armies duking it out that makes the whole experience a little more enjoyable, and it was nice that seven out of my nine games at the SOO (six Champions, and one Iron Arena) were against fully painted armies.

I know there is talk about removing the painting requirement from Champions, and I do kind of see an argument for it. After all, it can get awkward when you combine a limited format and a painting requirement because it is possible for players to end up in the unfortunate situation where they are limited to models they don’t have painted yet and aren’t allowed to play their painted stuff due to the restrictions in the format. However, I hope that PP keeps the painting requirement in at least one of their official tournament formats, both to encourage painting and to make it so that events with painting requirements are run once in a while. Even if they don’t, I hope people who run big events like the SOO will consider retaining it for part of their official programming. It’s nice to have the occasional fully painted brawl and a convention where there is plenty of other programming going on like Iron Arena and hobby classes is the perfect place to implement a painting requirement for one of the two big tournaments.

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Top secret tech; do not steal

Anyways, getting back to list construction, my choices were two of Sorscha1, Kozlov, Old Witch2, and Vlad3. Since I don’t have the model for OW2, and didn’t feel like acquiring and painting enough cavalry to make a Vlad3 list, my pairing was basically made for me. For Sorscha1, I went with a Winter Guard Kommand list, featuring a Grolar and a Demolisher in her battlegroup and a Juggernaut on Andy, as well as Aiyana & Holt because magic weapons are a thing these days. The battlegroup is a little unusual, however with this list, I was gunning hard for a pop and drop assassination so between the d3+2 POW 12 shots on the Grolar, and the two POW 15 shots on the Demolisher (as well as Bulldoze, Girded, and ARM 23), I figured I would have plenty of additional guns to finish off any enemy caster who survived Sorscha’s assassination run.

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Also, these lists barely fit on one tray, so that’s a bonus

When it came to Kozlov, my list build was relatively simple. Go in Armoured Corps, and take two of all the good models. Double Shocktroopers, Double Drakhuns, Double Kovniks, and Double Forge Seers. Fill out the battlegroup with cheap jacks, and take Saxon Orrik for Pathfinder and a unit of Kayazy Eliminators as my second merc choice because they are Friendly Faction and good. Kozlov is usually not considered a competitive caster, but I feel that the toolbox available to her basically gives an Armoured Corps list pretty much everything they need to get up the table, hit hard, and be obnoxious to remove.

I ended up going 3-3 in Masters, losing to Denny2, Heretic, and Vlad3, and defeating Borka2, Kozlov, and Rhyas. While going into the tournament, my theorymachine told me that my Kozlov list was probably kind of meh, I actually really enjoyed playing it and ended up dropping it five times, playing my Sorscha1 list only into Heretic. I went 3-2 with Kozlov, and I’m happy with my 3-3 overall record. It’s probably better than I excpected, and definitely exceeds my goals for the tournament.

In my Vlad3 game, I was cursed with bad dice, but I also had good dice in the Kozlov mirror match and my opponent’s dice in the Rhyas match absolutely went out the window and his Blightbringer couldn’t kill anything. I also had two games go down to tough rolls – Kozlov failed his tough roll against Deathjack, but had he survived, Denny2 was about to get POW 22 Juggernaut to the face, but next game, Borka2 failed his tough roll after almost facetanking an entire unit of MoW Shocktroopers and a Juggernaut, both with Fury cast on them.

I’m not going to do a play-by-play of all my games, because quite frankly, I don’t think those are all that interesting and the details are starting to fade from memory, but I have five general things to take away from my experience in Masters.

1.   Warmachine is a lot more fun when you aren’t getting frustrated over things like dice. Last year, I didn’t have the best time because after getting my face kicked in four times in a row, I was starting to get a little frustrated. This year, I resolved not to get salty and to try to stay positive no matter how bad the game was going, and while I got frustrated my first game over losing Saxon early to an arced spell, I was able to recognize that and get myself back into the proper state of mind to enjoy the game by the end of that game.

2.   Dice happen, but while I had individual games where they didn’t do what I wanted them to, in the long run, it all averaged out. It’s important to not get frustrated over them, and try not to get yourself into situations where you really really need to make any single roll. It’s easy to say you lost because of dice, as in my game against Vlad3 when there were a couple important rolls that I didn’t make. It’s more productive, if you want to get better at Warmachine, to ask yourself what you could have done differently to not have your game hinge on a single die roll, no matter how good the odds. In that game, I missed some critical die rolls and flubbed some damage rolls, however, I could have been a bit better at playing the scenario and then I wouldn’t have been so far behind on points that I needed everything to go right on my turn to not lose.

 

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Kozlov mirror match? Only in Champions…

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My Kozlov. Yes, the axe is unrealistically large, but this is Khador.

3.   Kozlov might be better than everyone thinks she is. Yeah, she is your average, kind of dull, straightforward battlebox caster, but she can give an Armoured Corps list a lot of what they need to pose a serious threat. Under her feat, Shocktroopers can charge with a threat range of 13” which isn’t bad for a slow unit. Unyielding is great on Shocktroopers, as it can give you a turn of ARM 23 against melee in shield wall. Fury makes them hit harder, and Tactical Supremacy can help them get up the board without running and lets them stay in shield wall. No-knockdown and pathfinder on your battlegroup is legit, and a no-knockdown tough warcaster is just icing on the cake. Pending soon-to-be-released CID changes, something like this list might actually make it into my competitive pairing for unrestricted formats.

4.   Especially on Spread The Net, you need to consider the scenario starting on deployment. In my game against Vlad3, I managed to win the list chicken and get a favoured matchup and also take a commanding lead on attrition, but I still lost in scenario. No doubt part of this was due to dice (see what I said above about not saying “I need a six, so I’ll boost to make sure” – it’s hard to win any game when you roll multiple triple ones in a turn), but had I managed to position my solos a bit better from deployment and either score one more point or contest the opposing flag one more time, I wouldn’t have lost on scenario and then with a massive attrition advantage, I would have likely been able to come back and win.

5.   Models with 2” reach are really good at denying countercharges. In my game against Borka2, I managed to only take one countercharge the entire game, and I had factored that in when I moved my unit in. Part of this was because of experience playing into Karchev, but part of it was the fact that I had a lot of models with 2” reach. It gets easy to prevent enemy models from being able to countercharge by engaging them when you can take advantage of long reach to engage multiple models at a time, particularly if you have fast models like Drakhuns who can get to the sweet spot they need to tie up multiple beasts.

Iron Arena

I managed to get three Iron Arena games in this year, playing Kozlov twice and my old Strakhov1 list once. I mentioned in my previous article how my Strakhov1 game was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a game of warmachine, but the other two games were pretty good as well. The first was playing the brick of MoW into Circle, where I managed to win by scenario via attrition. Finally, the last game was also without a doubt the drunkest opponent I’ve ever played against in Warmachine. He could barely move models or do math, but since it was on Spread The Net, I figured that accurate math or measurements didn’t really matter because he was also too drunk to effectively play scenario, so I won 5-0.

By the time I went to trade in my Iron Arena points, the prize table was pretty picked over with a most of the stuff there being for factions that I don’t play, so I picked up something for a friend I thought he could use and which I know he will enjoy painting.

Hobby Lounge

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WIP: My Fenris conversion. This is going to be fun to transport…

I spent a good chunk of my time at the SOO in the hobby lounge, working on my Fenris conversion and trying to pick up what I could from the more talented painters in there. The hobby lounge at the SOO is a little out of the way so there are a lot of people who don’t set foot in there the entire weekend, but it’s a great place to have a seat between rounds and paint some models to unwind from an intense game, or just to hang out and learn from the masters. It’s almost criminally under-utilized by the mass of attendees, and I think more people should at least pop in check it out over the weekend. Personally, I got a lot of progress in on Fenris, probably getting the mounted version at least half-finished there alone. Which is good for me because I don’t paint mounted models very often and tend to get frustrated when painting horses.

Painting competition

I also entered in the painting competition again this year, entering Nancy Steelpunch in the small models category, Mary Read in large, one of my Man-O-Wars in Medium, and a whole pile of Man-O-Wars in the group category. The competition this year was more intense than last year, but I managed to eke out a victory in the small models category, and win a Bradigan Pitt model, which I will probably convert into a Kayazy Assassin Underboss because I’m not a huge fan of the movie Fight Club. Will from Moosemachine won best overall with his Borka bust, and there was an amazing Cyclone in the medium category. More importantly, I got some really good feedback, particularly on Mary Read to help me get the bird right and on doing eyeballs. The only suggestion I might have for the painting competition is that since it takes place in the out-of-the-way hobby lounge, it might drum up more interest in the hobby aspect of the game to have a display case in a higher-traffic area for entries.

Overall

The SOO was a blast, and I would say that if you are anywhere remotely near Southern Ontario and vaguely interested in Warmachine, you should really consider going. With Masters, Champions, Iron Arena, and the Hobby Lounge, the SOO has a little bit of something for everyone. I had a lot of fun, and in terms of my win/loss record, I exceeded all my goals and had a lot of fun and got some experience with a new list. The event definitely re-ignited some passion for Warmachine that had been fading as of late, and I would definitely give it five Hegels out of five.

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You don’t even know who I am, do you?

Nancy Does NMM

As I mentioned in my last post, my Nancy Steelpunch miniature from Scale75 did well at HeritageCon this year, pulling in a silver in the Fantasy Figures category. In addition to being a cool sculpt with the punkish undercut, goggles, and steampunk robotic arms that she is named for, Nancy represents an important milestone on my hobby journey. She was the first model that I had done using a non-metallic metal (NMM) technique, which was on my list of hobby resolutions for this year.

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Nancy

 

What is NMM?

Now, while figure painters may know what I’m talking about, I can already hear the scale modellers who read this blog scratching their head, so let’s take a step back hear and talk about shiny things. Take a look at this picture of a hatchet I found online. When our eyes look at it, without even thinking about it, our brain detects the pattern and registers it as a somewhat shiny steel colour. We instinctively know that the surface of this axe head is a more or less uniform, somewhat reflective grey metal. However, if I open up Microsoft Paint and use the eyedropper tool, we can see that the colours that make up the shininess are a little more complex. If I wanted to draw a picture of this axe head, instead of just taking out a silver crayon and running it over the entire shape, I would have to play a little with shadow and highlight colours to represent how the light hits and reflects off of the wavy surface of the axe. As you can see, particularly in the third and fourth colour I’ve picked out, the actual colours that make up this image are not uniform and run the spectrum from almost white to almost black.

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The strip on the bottom represents the colour of the pixels at the location at the end of the red line

Another thing you can do is simply take a hobby knife, ideally one with a scalpel blade, hold it under your work lamp, and turn it around in your hand while looking carefully at it. Look at what you see, not what you think you see. Your brain will tell you that the blade is a uniform piece of metal. But depending on how the blade catches the light, you might see a particular part of the blade appear as bright white or almost black or any shade in between, depending on if that particular piece of the blade is reflecting the light into your eye or not. If it helps, take a picture with your phone and look at that, looking carefully at the glints of light bouncing off the blade.

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Now, getting back to miniature painting, one of the keys to painting at this scale is that light doesn’t interact with objects quite the same way at these small scales. It’s why so much of miniature painting involves painting in highlights and shadow colours in order to convey how the light would interact with an object at scale. It’s also why just slapping a coat of metallic paints onto the blade of a sword just doesn’t look right.

Non-metallic metal is one way (but not the only way) to address this issue when it comes to models with a lot of metallic pieces. Non-metallic metals allow the painter to take full control of the interaction between light and the object and make it look more appropriate at scale. To do this, instead of relying on shiny paints, you paint the metal piece with flat colours, painting on all the glints and shadows. It’s called non-metallic metal because you are using non-metallic paints to achieve a metal effect, and it is similar to the techniques a 2D artist might use if he were tasked with drawing something shiny.

Sharp Highlights

Just saying “oh yeah, just paint on the glints and reflections” sounds like one of those things that is easier said than done, but if you understand lighting well, you can get a grasp on it. Even moreso than regular miniature painting, non-metallic metals are an exercise in lighting and contrasts. In order to be successful, you need to figure out where you want to place the light and apply some really sharp contrasts. Looking back at our scalpel blade, we can see that it is mostly a fairly dull, dark grey, with some near-white highlights where the light catches it. The green circle represents an area which is reflecting the light towards the viewer, while the red circle represents edges that are just catching a glint of light. By painting on this highlight and these edge highlights, we can convey the reflectiveness of the surface even by using flat paints. Further, the edge highlights also help the viewer pick up on the shape of the blade at a glance, which is good for making details pop.

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See how the circled areas look almost white due to the highlight.

Steel and Brass

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Not mine, just something cool I found CMON

One of the other interesting things about non-metallic metal is that you can easily paint metals in any colour using this technique. If you want to paint up, say, a figure of Iron Man from the Marvel universe, you can just use the various shades of red you have kicking around instead of trying to find red metallic paints.

This is something that is useful in the world of steampunk fantasy. One of the things I really like about Steampunk settings is that there is a lot of brass present on machinery and metal parts. This means that when you are choosing a colour scheme, you can add some contrast to your metallics by “alternating” between silver and brass colours. You can do steel parts with brass trim, brass parts with silver trim, brass rivets on steel plates, and so on. This allows you to really make details pop, and is something that I chose to take advantage of for Nancy’s mechano-fists. The steampunk mechanical arms are a key distinctive element on this model, and they are filled with plenty of little mechanical details that I wanted to be apparent even at a glance.

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Ultra close up of the mechano-fists

The Process

I was a little intimidated when it came to actually doing the NMM, so it was one of the last things that I had done on this model. When it came to choosing colour, as I mentioned above, I knew I wanted to have both brass and steel to pick out the mechanical bits. But for the steel, I decided to go for something with a bit more blue in it than traditional grey metal. This, I felt, would do two things. First, the blue steel would go well with some of the blue in her clothing and the hints of blue in the highlights on the black parts of her clothes. Second, the blue and brass would give me some nice contrast on the fists themselves on a cool/warm dimension.

So, to start off, I laid down some base colours. For the steel, I used a couple coats of Reaper’s Blue Liner, which is a dark blue that is very near black. Reaper’s Liner paints are formulated for blacklining, a technique where you paint thin lines in the cracks on models to separate distinct parts, and tend to have a little more flow to them than regular paints. However, I have found them to be good not only for priming Bones figures, but also as base coats for things that I want to paint near-black. I use their Grey Liner a lot for painting black, for example, as it is close enough to black to read as intended, but not quite black so it allows me to go into the shadows with a darker colour such as pure black.

Anyways, starting with a base coat of that Blue Liner, I next worked up to Gravedigger Denim and Frostbite from P3, two colours which are somewhat desaturated blues, with the denim being a midtone and the frostbite being almost white. I applied the Gravedigger Denim to areas where I wanted it to be lighter, then followed up with some very sharp highlights with the frostbite — mostly just thin lines where the metal is catching a glint of light. Finally, I edge highlighted the figure with frostbite as well, to represent the areas where the light is catching an edge.

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Progress on the mechano-hands

For the brass, I did something similar. I did an initial base coat in brown, but didn’t like that so I went back to the drawing board and mixed some Tanned Leather from Reaper with some grey liner to get a dark, desaturated colour that still has some of the yellow-orange that I want to it. From there, I highlighted up to straight Tanned Leather, then Blond Hair (Reaper), and then a Menoth White Highlight (P3) for the highest highlight. As always, these are just the colours I used; you can use whatever you have on hand and mix on your wet palette (you are using a wet palette, right?) to get a similar effect.

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Colours used — Blue steel on left, Brass on right

Final thoughts

Non-metallic metal can be an intimidating sounding technique. However, once I got down to it, it actually seemed to be a little easier than I thought it would be. The main lessons I took away from it were:

  1. Understand where the light is coming from
  2. Go all the way from very dark to very light
  3. Use sharp highlights to convey glints of light

It’s also easier when you have something to go off of, so taking a close look at miniatures that have been painted with this technique or even just art of the figure that you are trying to paint can help you understand it better before taking the plunge. Even if you don’t plan on using NMM as a common technique in your repertoire, doing a few pieces in NMM can help you understand how light interacts with reflective surfaces like metals, and in turn help you with painting metallics in general.

As for me, I’ve got the Nancy Steelpunch 1/12 scale bust as well, so that’s going to be an interesting project…

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HeritageCon 2018

This past weekend, I made it out to sunny Hamilton, Ontario for HeritageCon, a large scale model show with a category for figures. I had a fun time, learned some stuff, and came home with a full shopping bag and an empty wallet, so I would say it was a successful couple days.

The convention was held at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, which, similar to CapCon, made for a cool experience to look at a 1:72 version of something on a table and turn around to see the 1:1 scale version behind you. The venue was great, though my one little piece of advice is that someone should really make sure to stock up the ATM with cash before opening a venue to a bunch of scale modellers and people selling kits. Lighting was good; perhaps not as great as CapCon, and you could tell by the fact that almost all the figure modellers faced their figures in the same direction that there was definitely one side that had better light, but still pretty darn good.

There were hundreds of models at the convention and it’s impossible to do it justice, but I’ll show off some of the highlights for me — things that either were particularly well-done, or subjects that I found particularly interesting.

IMG_2583.JPGFirst off, in the bantam category for modellers under 10 years old, there was one kid who entered in some scratchbuilt and kitbashed models of imaginary future weapons that were all delightfully Orky. There were a couple tanks made out of random bits and bobs, a mash-up of a MiG 15 and some sort of straight-winged aircraft, and what looked like a Dalek rolling around under propeller power with a couple missiles on stubby little wings. Whoever this kid is, I hope he or she keeps up the level of creativity and passion that encourages him to put a propellor on the back of a Dalek and a radial engine behind that.

IMG_2634.JPGSpeaking of stuff that looks like it’s straight out of the Warhammer universe, the T-35 was a Soviet multi-turreted tank that is probably the closest thing to a Warhammer tank in real life, in that it was boxy, had guns sticking out everywhere, and turned out to be horrendously impractical in actual combat. Still, this five turreted beast makes for an interesting model. There was also a very nicely weathered… some sort of German thing (I believe that is the technical term, though I have no doubt that some armour modeller will correct me) that caught my eye and will be going in the inspiration folder for the next time I do some weathering.

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In the world of aircraft, one of the little games I like to play at model shows is “spot the roundel,” where I look for roundels of aircraft from smaller nations and try to figure out where they come from. In addition to an Irish Hurricane that I remembered from CapCon, I saw roundels from Spain, Colombia, Austria, Thailand, and Czechoslovakia, but I think my favourite was the Iraqi Me-109 from the Anglo-Iraqi war. I am pleased to report that not only was the model nicely done, but a quick google search confirmed that I managed to identify the rather strange looking roundel on the first try.

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L-R: Roundels of Spain, Czechoslovakia, Austria, El Salvador, Colombia, and Thailand

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Iraqi Me-109 – note the hastily painted over Iron Crosses, which totally make sense in the context of a campaign that only lasted about a month.

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Sadly, this model did not survive the show

There was a beautiful P-39 Airacobra at the show. The Airacobra is an interesting aircraft because unlike most fighters of that era, its engine is located behind the cockpit and drives the propeller by way of a long drive shaft. This leaves room in the nose for a 37mm gun shooting through the hub of the propeller as well as nose-wheel landing gear instead of the tailwheel landing gear of its contemporaries. Finally, instead of sliding backwards to open, the cockpit has car-like doors on the side. While it wasn’t the most successful aircraft of the war, it put in some good service, particularly with the Soviets on the Eastern Front. This particular representation was well rendered, with nice weathering and panel line detail, as well as all the doors opened up to reveal details like the engine and the gun. I was lucky to get this photo as unfortunately, in what was probably the biggest tragedy of the show, I saw a dejected-looking builder packing away the model and a ziploc bag full of pieces that had broken off. Clearly, it had taken quite the impact and I just hope that it is fixable, as it is was a wonderful model of a subject that, in my opinion, is much more interesting than some of its contemporaries like the P-51.

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In the world of motorcycles, there was one that had what looked like a cool chrome non-metallic metal effect. I think it was a decal, but if you look closely at some of the chrome on that motorcycle, you can see that the reflection is not a result of shiny finish, but is actually drawn on the motorcycle. This is a more advanced version of the non-metallic metal technique, which I hope to master at some point in the future. Also, someone made a couple cool looking motorcycles out of miscellaneous metal bits and bobs, partly from broken electronics, which made for some unique models.

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Now, to paraphrase Sir Mix-A-Lot, I like big boats and I can not lie, which is good because there were two very nice large-scale U-boats on display. Submarines are always good to look at because if you look closely, you can see a lot of interesting detail in the weathering, as any vehicle that submerges under salt water and resurfaces many times is going to have some interesting weathering patterns. There was an excellent diorama of a sinking submarine, complete with lifeboats, escaping sailors, and realistic looking wave effects, which won best ship.

The winner of the Arthur Redding trophy was one of the locals, for his representation of U-190, a German submarine that ended up being captured by Canada at the end of the war and impressed into Canadian service. I’ve seen this piece before, but this was my first chance to get a really good look at it in some really good lighting and… damn, that weathering.

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That weathing, and all those fiddly bits on the guns and radars… ouch.

Finally, when it comes to science fiction, the gundam guys were out in force, with a lot of gundams done to a pretty high standard when it comes to shading and weathering. There was a red one (I believe that is the technical term) that had some really nice shading and highlights on it, as well as some sort of non-gundam walker thing that was pretty cool. Finally, there was also a robot spider from Johnny Quest which brought back memories of watching cartoons with my sister.

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Gundam

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Not a Gundam. Pretty cool though.

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Figures & Busts

Now, lets get to the important stuff — the figures and busts. There were six categories: historical, fantasy, busts, mounted, vignette and diorama. This was where I made most my entries, and there were a lot of very diverse figures and vignettes and dioramas. One of my favourites was this… well, I don’t know what it is, but it’s cool.

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Nice.

The competition in the busts category was intense. There were nineteen entries, the majority of which were painted to a very high standard. Almost all were historical, though in addition to my entry, there were one or two other fantasy busts.

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Very cool. A+ for composition.

Judging

I was recruited to judge some of the historical figures, obviously stepping aside for the fantasy and bust categories that I entered. This was my first time judging, and it was an interesting experience. At IPMS shows, models are judged in direct competition with each other, so instead of an open system with set criteria, we had to pick out a first, second and third place.

It was an interesting experience. Really taking the time to look at other people’s work closely enough to fairly and impartially determine who is the winner was an interesting challenge, and in the process, I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and it sort of demystified some of the cool things I saw on the table. Of course, I also think I may have dodged a bullet in that one of the categories that I had to recuse myself from was the hyper-competitive busts category. With 19 entries, the other two judges had to spend a long time looking at it to narrow it down to a first, second and third.

My main of advice to figure painters who really want to compete is to focus on eyeballs. The main thing that distinguishes figure painting from scale modelling is the flesh tones, particularly on the face. When I go to look at a figure (or even a piece of armour that has a figure sticking out of the hatch), my eyes naturally go straight to the face. Further, if I’m judging a figure, the first thing I will do is kneel down and look him or her in the eyes. If it doesn’t look right, that’s not a good first impression. And if the category has a lot of entries, a bad first impression might mean that your model doesn’t survive the initial cut where the judges narrow down the field to the few that they think are really in contention.

Similarly, if you have a piece that has certain elements that “pop” and draw the eye, make sure those are well done. In one of the categories that I judged, there was one piece that just narrowly missed out on placing in part because of its bayonet. It had a shiny bayonet which was bright enough that it drew the eye, but was also just done up in plain silver paint with no highlighting or definition to it. This, in turn, pulled my eye towards the gun, where I found a couple more little things to nitpick, and long story short, the piece ended up just barely not making the cut to top three. Of course, this also came around to bite me as well, as one of the weak points of my Mary Read bust was the bird, which also drew a lot of attention with its bright colours.

My results

I entered a few figures, my aforementioned Mary Read bust, as well as throwing in my Victor colossal warjack into the Gundam and Mecha category. Between Yephima, The Black Sheep, Laril Silverhand, and Nancy Steelpunch. My main competition in this category was two large-scale female figures and a nicely detailed Sphess Mahreen from 40K.

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The competition

Against this backdrop, I thought I would be lucky to even place, especially considering the fact that I was working at such a small scale. At 35mm scale (about 1/48), Nancy was dwarfed by even the space marine, never mind the two large-scale ladies. I have to give some credit to my fellow judges on this one; it can’t be easy to look at a 30mm figure next to something a foot tall and try to determine which is better. In the end, Nancy edged out Mr. Space Marine Guy to come in second, behind one of the big ladies.

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More importantly than any ribbon or medal, I talked to one of the judges afterwards and got some good feedback. Basically, I needed to go a little sharper on some of my highlights and get my blends a little smoother, perhaps even trying out oil paints instead of acrylics. On the plus side, the judge told me that my metals are a strong point — which reminds me, I should write that article on TMM Brass that I’ve been talking about for months…

I also have the bust of Nancy in my stash, and I’ve had a lot of ideas rolling around in my head about what to do with her, so hopefully by the next big competition I’ll be able to bring both versions of her. I think she will be done in the same colour scheme as little Nancy, though with a few pink highlights in the hair, and I haven’t decided whether to do the punchy fists in NMM, which worked well for little Nancy, or TMM, which I’m a lot more comfortable with and got some kudos on on Mary Read.

My stuff

Finally, it wouldn’t be a convention if I didn’t spend too much money buying stuff. First, I had an idea for a project for a future contest for a unique take on the Me-109B. I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find, as one can barely walk around in a hobby shop without tripping over a 109 kit. Boy, was I wrong. Apparently the early marks of the 109 are actually not that popular, and it’s the 109E and 109G that comprise almost all of the kits out there. Fortunately, the staff at Wheels and Wings in Toronto were helpful and hooked me up with the only 109B in the store, a somewhat pricy kit from AMG that includes rubber tires, photoetch, and lots and lots of tiny parts…

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Also from Wheels and Wings, I picked up some figures in a box marked Skull Clan – Death Angels, which were just too cool looking to pass up, as well as a book from Angel Giraldez, one of the top miniature painters in the world, on his techniques.

At the show itself, I found some interesting stuff. One of the vendors was selling stuff from Green Stuff World, so I managed to pick myself up a second, smaller leaf punch, some of their colourshift paints, and a couple textured rolling pins for sculpting pavement or cobblestone patterns.

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The spoils of war.

However, I think my best find of the day was some flats that I picked up. Flats are, as the name implies, flat versions of figures which seem to blur the line between painting figures and just straight up painting. My research tells me they had their heyday about 100 years ago, before three-dimensional figures became a popular thing, which is a fact that is corroborated by the vendor telling me that the were being sold from the stash of a nonagenarian. These are going to be an interesting challenge as they will really force me to up my game when it comes to painting in light and shadow, as I will have to represent three-dimensional people with a mostly-flat two-dimensional object.

In short, I’m going to have to pretend to be an actual artist on this one, so it’s going to be tricky.

Final Thoughts

HeritageCon was a great event, and I will definitely see if I can attend next year, as well as start looking around for other model shows that I can compete at. I know there is TorCan coming up in Toronto, as well as the painting competition at the Southern Ontario Open that I’m going all-in on, as I think I have a much better chance of doing well at that than actually coming out with a winning record at playing Warmachine. Even for people who have cut their teeth on wargaming figures, if you can make it out to a scale model show, there will be something there for you and a lot of techniques you can learn just by staring closely at the models on display.