Southern Ontario Open 2019 recap

So, I went to the Southern Ontario Open for the third year in a row this past weekend. The SOO, which takes place in Hamilton every year around the beginning of May, is undoubtedly Canada’s premiere Warmachine event. Drawing 100-plus players in their Masters tournament, having a six or seven round Masters, as well as featuring Iron Arena, IKRPG, MonPoc, and hobby content over three full days, it’s kind of a big deal.

Champions

I chose to participate in Champions this year and forgo Masters as I did the previous year. I knew that going to both tournaments would be just too much Warmachine for me, and I wanted to focus on hobby lounge and iron arena. I ended up choosing Champions because I really didn’t want to pack three lists, and I thought it would be nice to get all the hardcore gaming out of the way early on then just chill the rest of the con.

My biggest apprehension about Champions, aside from the distinct possibility that I would be getting my face kicked in by Iona all day, was the lack of a painting requirement. Since I’m not a hardcore competitive player and there is about a zero chance of me qualifying for either the WTC or the Iron Gauntlet finals, the SOO for the past few years has been my one opportunity to attend a fully painted event. As someone who appreciates the aesthetic aspect of wargaming, that made it a particular highlight for my year in Warmachine and made whichever tournament had the painting requirement a can’t-miss event.

I know a lot of people disagree with me and have a serious problem with the above opinion, so if you are one of those, please direct all your hate mail to podcast@chain-attack.com.

Anyways, that all changed this year, with PP changing their official tournament packet in such a way that if a tournament organizer wants to have an official Masters or Champions event that counts towards their Iron Gauntlet qualifiers, they can’t have a painting requirement. As those Iron Gauntlet points are a big deal for top-tier competitive players and Warmachine celebrities, that basically precluded the organizers from doing a fully painted event, whether they wanted to or not.

However, it turned out to actually be less of an issue than I was anticipating. I was worried that with no painting requirements, it would open the door to a swarm of grey hordes. But when I walked around the tables, I was pleasantly surprised to see that at least half of the armies were fully painted and a lot of the others were clearly on their way there. Three of my four games were against fully painted opponents, so that was actually a pleasant surprise.

Regarding my army lists, I knew I wanted to do Sorscha3 with plenty of Man-O-War models, and I had those painted up and ready to go. Due to the ADR restrictions, the other list had to be in Wolves of Winter, which meant a few things. First, it meant that Vlad2, which is the only model in my collection painted by my sister and not by me, would be the ideal choice. Second, it meant I had to get a lot of models painted to make a coherent list. Third, my list wouldn’t be very good because I didn’t have enough Doom Reavers painted up to really swarm my opponent with them. Finally, it meant that since I hadn’t ever actually played Wolves of Winter and trying to follow the CID made my brain hurt, my plan was to put the Vlad2 army on my tray and make a show of thinking about which list to play, but actually just play Sorscha3 every game.

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I went 1-3 in the tournament, losing to Old Witch 2, Zaal2, and Ossyan. My one victory came against someone playing Deneghra in Slaughter Fleet Raiders. He had little opportunity to take advantage of drag, as my Shocktroopers were granted Sturdy from the unit attachment and I had a shield guard in the list just in case. I ended up catching Ragman with a spray from a Suppression Tanker early on, and from there on out, I pretty much just watched his army bounce off the heavy armour of my Man-O-Wars, smacking them around with retaliatory strike as they came in. I actually started feeling a little bad for him because once Ragman was dead and his alpha strike was denied by my clouds, he just didn’t have the armour cracking to effectively deal with my army.

Now, I’m not one of those people who loses one game in a tournament and drops out because there is no point to playing unless you’re winning. I typically stay in throughout the whole thing, outside of extreme circumstances. However, I hadn’t been to a tournament in a while and after four games, my brain was hurting and I had done enough Warmachine for a weekend, never mind a day.

However, in spite of going 1-3 and dropping, I still managed to win Champions, or at least the most important part, the best painted army award.

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Painting

While the main attractions for most people are the competitive tournaments and the Iron Arena, the SOO does have some excellent hobby programming, and I feel like everyone who attends the SOO should at the very least pop into the hobby lounge for a few minutes and check out the contest entries or see what they can pick up from their fellow hobbyists.

I managed to squeeze in a couple classes. I took one on polychromatic shading with Ben at Primal Poodle, where I learned some more about colour theory. While I may have been a slightly difficult student by asking questions like “is grey a colour” when told to basecoat a part of a model in a colour that interested me, I did take a lot away from the class. I also got the chance to show off some of my work with Ben and Faust and get some valuable feedback on what I’m doing right and where I can improve.

But even outside of formal classes, you can pick up a lot from just getting the chance to talk shop with your fellow painters. There was a fellow hobbyist who was having difficulty with a resin pour, and I was able to offer up a couple pointers on doing the formwork as I had gone through that pain a little while ago. And I did have to chuckle a little when someone said that she should look up some guy who did a Swamp Siren and read up how he did it.

I ended up spending an inordinate amount of time in the hobby lounge. Part of this was because I didn’t have a huge based model completed before the event, and was inspired to finish painting my Siege Chariot conversion and get it into the contest. Which meant that I stayed up until 6 am on Friday night working on it, then got up again at 9 and got back to work, eventually getting it banged out with a few hours to spare.

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Why did I leave this until the last minute?

However, my valiant effort was all for naught when a very nicely done Sea King, which is one of the coolest models in PP’s entire range, edged me out in that particular category. That said, I came away with victories in two of the four categories – small and medium model – with Sorscha0 and my Sorscha bust, respectively. And the Sorscha bust also won the best in show award, not to mention that it was Sorscha3 running my best painted army, so… Sorscha OP, plz nerf?

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Patrick Miller’s Sea King

In some ways, this was coming full circle. My first year at the SOO, I entered into the painting competition but came away empty-handed, and to be honest, I felt a few pangs of disappointment. By the time the next year rolled around, I had improved my painting skills and had some display only models to enter, and while I did win one category, the top prize remained elusive. Now, I know it’s unhealthy to compare yourself to others as a painter and get too competitive about it, but I decided I would make it a goal to win the painting competition this year. I upped my game with the skills I picked up over the past year and the classes I attended, and focused on getting that Sorscha bust looking good, and it really paid off. And, since Sorscha was my first warcaster and is my favourite character from the Iron Kingdoms, the fact that I was able to do so with her was a little poetic.

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In the categories I didn’t win, I got some good feedback from the judges, and to be honest, I can’t really argue with what they said. For the Siege Strider, they liked the conversion and a lot of the painting, however the main issue was that I had overweathered the upper half of it, which wasn’t super realistic and worked against the highlights I put in. This probably had a little to do with the fact that instead of putting it all together and then painting it, I painted and weathered the model in sub-assemblies, starting with the legs and working up to the gun and the driver. As such, instead of following a logical weathering progression tapering the weathering off as I went up which would have been much more effective, I just did a default amount of weathering on each part. While I did add some additional dirt and mud stains on the feet afterwards, it wasn’t enough to truly get across the story behind the weathering – that of a big walker stomping around the battlefield, with its legs getting beaten up as it grinds the filthy Cygnarans to dust beneath its feet.

Also, having stayed up until 6 am the night before working on the model probably didn’t help much with my ability to pull off a coherent weathering scheme while running on three hours sleep and three cups of coffee.

As for the group category, I debated whether to enter my Man-O-Wars or my Cygnar. I went with Cygnar because it was some more recent work, but then I ended up getting too hung up on what made a tournament-legal list, and included some models which were from when I was still working out the finer details of the scheme. This meant that Maddox, who was my first Cygnar infantry model, kind of brought the entry as a whole down a little with her mediocrity, as did my first Cygnar jack or two. And since consistency is important in group categories, that knocked me down a few notches. Had I not included Maddox in my entry and perhaps thrown in a couple of my more recent stormdudes instead, I think I would have been a little more competitive.

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Group winner – Vincent Beaulieu’s Dreamer

I also want to give a big shout-out to the competition. There were some real top-shelf entries this year, and in particular, I want to recognize Vincent Beaulieu’s Captain Ahab bust from Scale75. It was pretty awesome and I feel like it really gave my Sorscha bust a run for her money; in fact, I would say there are some aspects where it outshone my entry. However the nature of winner-take-all or ranked judging systems means that sometimes, amazing models that get edged out by other amazing models don’t quite get the recognition they deserve.

The Final Word

The SOO is always a great show, and is kind of a highlight of my year in Warmachine. Even as someone who isn’t a hardcore competitive player, you have to appreciate the passion for the game we all love that is on display in that room. This year in particular, I was feeling some frustration with the game and the community and the SOO kind of reinvigorated my love for this game. If you are a Warmachine player and can possibly make it to the SOO, circle the calendar and make sure you go. And, while you’re there, pop by the hobby lounge for a few minutes and say hi.

I’ll be the one still painting at 3 am.

How to stay motivated at painting

One of the things that a lot of people talk about when it comes to painting miniatures is motivation. A lot of people want to get miniatures painted, but find themselves lacking in the motivation department and as a result, end up with grey unpainted miniatures on the tabletop week after week. Personally, I’m hooked on painting to the point that I start getting the jitters if I go on vacation for a week and don’t bring some paints, so the idea that I lack motivation may be a little odd. However, I do occasionally find myself in a little rut with my painting or end up with a project that I have trouble bringing myself to start.

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When you’re this hooked on something, you don’t need motivation…

So, without any further ado, here’s some stuff that I have found helps with painting motivation.

1. Try New Things

Variety is the spice of life, and doing the same thing over and over is boring, which is why working on an assembly line gets real old real fast. If you’re getting bored with painting, perhaps you need to mix things up a little?

This can be done in a number of ways. You can take a break from painting an army in all its uniform colours and paint something like a mercenary model or just a random figure that you kind of want to paint as a palate cleanser. Or, you can mix in things like vehicles, warjacks, and special character models in between all your mook infantry wardudes. Or, within similar models, you can try new techniques.

Trying new techniques is also how you improve as a painter. Maybe this next model could be your attempt at learning two-brush blending, or non-metallic metal, or a new type of weathering or basing, or just some sort of new technique that would be good to add to your arsenal. This advice isn’t limited to aspiring competition painters either; even if you are just painting to play, there are plenty of techniques you can try out which will help you pump out better models faster. Things like rattle can tricks, new dry-brushing techniques, or sketch style are all simple techniques that cater to people trying to speedpaint an army. Or, you can try out new products such Army Painter’s colour-matching primers, or textured acrylic mediums for basing instead of sand.

2. Know your limits when assembly-lining

In most large-scale wargames, you have to paint a lot of mooks to fill out your army. While it can be tempting to line up 30 or 40 infantry models and paint them assembly line style, having too long of an assembly line can actually be detrimental to your motivation and result in you taking longer to finish the project. It’s pretty easy to get bored when you need to paint 80 boots, then 40 pairs of pants, then 40 tunics, 40 guns, and so on. Further, by doing it this way, you’re delaying those wonderful moments of satisfaction when you call a miniature finished, take a deep breath, and put it in its rightful place on your shelf or in your army case.

Yes, sometimes you have to just put your head down and get a lot of models done. I know that feeling; I’ve painted more than enough Man-O-Wars over the past several weeks to seriously need a break from steam-powered, heavily armoured medium-based Warmachine models. But I also know that while it is theoretically more efficient to make a big assembly line, my limit is about ten or twelve models at a time, and even less for very intricate models like my Necromunda gang. More than that, and I’ll have to split them up and finish a few at a time to prevent myself from going crazy. Not to mention that it starts taking up a lot of room on my painting table.

3. Manage your WIP

Speaking of having too many models on the painting table, managing your work in progress is a good idea. By this, I mean making sure you have the right number of painting projects on the go.

If you have only one thing on your desk, then that can help you focus and get it done, but it can also delay your progress. There are a lot of steps in miniature painting which involve waiting for something to dry, so if you only have one thing on the go, you’ll end up sitting there twiddling your thumbs while the wash dries, or more realistically, booting up some video game and then not coming back to it for the rest of the night. Or, there are times when you just mentally get stuck and can’t look at that one thing anymore, and you can take a break from it by working on something else.

So, it is good to have at least two projects on the go at any given time, but much more than that and you can start running into issues. Having too many on the go will clog your paint desk, and you may lose efficiency switching from one to the other all the time. Further, it can be a demotivator – when you have seven things to do, even just deciding which one to do first can be stressful and prevent you from doing any one of them.

 

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This is why my FLGS doesn’t accept credit cards.

4. Manage your backlog

 

This is related to managing your WIP. I made the laughable resolution last year that I was going to end the year with fewer unpainted miniatures than I started.

Again, this is related to the idea that having too much on the go can demotivate you. When you have a whole shelf full of unpainted miniatures, it looks like a monumental, if not Sisyphean, task to finish them all. Further, it can be hard even deciding which ones to paint, as any time you pull one model off the shelf to paint, you’re forgoing getting dozens of others painted.

While I don’t always pass my will save on the “purchase something shiny and new” check, one thing I do to manage my backlog is to avoid assembling and priming my models until I’m close to painting them. This way, with them still in their boxes, they aren’t sitting on my shelf, staring at me, begging with their cold, grey, lifeless eyes for some paint.

5. Set yourself up for success

A little while ago, I rearranged my painting desk. The big change was that I placed my portable spray booth for my airbrush on top of my desk and left it there. The result of that was that I now use my airbrush more, and because I’m using the best tool for the job, I’m more productive.

Sometimes, just making it easier to start your painting session makes you more likely to paint. If you have to clear off room on your kitchen table, pull out your models, pull out all your paints and brushes, get your paint water, and so on and so forth just to start painting, then you’re not likely to start painting because it’s easier to just boot up a video game and waste your whole evening doing that.

While not everyone has the luxury of having a permanent workstation where their works in progress can sit there undisturbed by pets and toddlers, the less you have to do to get started painting, the better. If you can get yourself a painting table, do it. And while you’re at it, set yourself up with a workstation where everything you need is within arm’s reach. This way, you don’t get distracted or lose your motivation because you have to get up and walk all the way across the room.

6. Do a little each day

The #hobbystreak tag, where people post what they’ve done each day on the painting front and try to get the longest streaks has been popular since late last year. Some people are up to 250 by now, which I don’t think even I could match. However, it is a great motivator to at least do a little each day. Not everyone can commit to hours-long painting sessions, but if you can squeeze in even a half hour before you go to bed and make painting part of your routine, you’re going to get a lot more done and you’re going to be less likely to lose motivation.

7. Celebrate small victories

When you finally bang through that unit of a dozen or more, you should celebrate that. Bask in that warm feeling of accomplishment. Take a picture, post it on the internet, and show your friends – you might even motivate them to paint, or get some valuable pointers. Maybe even reward yourself, such as buying yourself something like a new paint or basing product that you’ve been eyeing, or paint yourself a model that you’ve been wanting to paint but doesn’t fit in your current army project.

8. Join leagues and groups which promote painting

Extrinsic motivation is good, and leagues and the like can be a way to incorporate that into your gaming. I once was part of a league where you would get experience points for a model which could be used to purchase upgrades for one of your models on the table. As a result, I got Alexia and the Risen – a character model, a couple solos, and about 20 zombies – painted and my insanely powerful Marauder put the hurt on a lot of fools on the tabletop. Things like journeyman or slow-grow leagues which incorporate a painting reward are great for a community because they motivate people to get their stuff painted.

Alternately, there are plenty of groups online where miniature painters can challenge and motivate each other and celebrate each other’s work. There is the aforementioned #hobbystreak tag, but also there are things like the monthly Warmachine/Hordes painting challenges and various facebook groups where painters work to challenge each other.

9. #playitpainted

When it comes to Warmachine, I think it’s been over a year since I fielded my last unpainted model. Nothing motivates quite like a hard deadline, and if you really want motivation to get your models done, commit to only playing it painted. I’ve written before on why it’s good to play painted, but one thing I didn’t touch on is that if you tell yourself that you’ll only play with painted models and you have a new army list that you want to play, that’s going to motivate you to get them done. Especially if there’s a tournament coming up that you want to play that army in.

Conclusions

Motivation is a fickle thing – sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t. And part of the reason why I’m writing this article right now is that my motivation to paint yet another Man-O-War is flagging a little. However, there are a lot of things you can do to help keep yourself from falling into a rut and falling behind in the ongoing war against the unpainted grey horde. Just rearranging your workstation and committing to painting a little bit each day can help with motivation and get your armies done in no time.

Should you #playitpainted? (spoiler: yes)

I’d like to preface this by saying that my views on this subject have changed over time, likely in proportion to the percentage of my army that I have painted.  Also, as a single guy with no children, I recognize that I have a little bit more hobby time than some other people. Finally, I’m not writing this article to judge anyone or shame them for playing with unpainted armies… okay, maybe a little bit.

Warmachine has a bit of a reputation as a game focused solely on the tournament scene, with painting being an afterthought at best. Most tournaments don’t have any painting requirements, and there aren’t any soft scores like in Warhammer games. While the Steamroller packet strongly encourages the use of painted models and best-painted awards, this doesn’t always happen. Finally, between the complexity of the game and the focus on the competitive aspect, the sheer time requirement for someone to get to the level of “internet microcelebrity” can preclude someone from developing their painting skills because they’re spending their free time studying War Room rather than painting techniques.

Personally, while I recognize that when they started out they had to do a lot to distinguish themselves from their main competitor, and while I see Privateer Press putting more of a focus on the hobby aspect in recent years, I feel that it is sad that Warmachine has that reputation. It’s not fair because there are a lot of great painters who play and paint Warmachine and a lot of really nice armies out there, but it’s also not totally undeserved given the number of grey armies out there and the fact that most Warmachine media focuses more on competitive tactics rather than hobby content.

Anyways, it’s a reputation that I think we need to shake off, and we need to do that by getting our stuff painted.

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A fully painted battlegroup advancing up the table, led by Kommander Strakhov

Why should you play it painted

First, painting is fun. It’s a great hobby, and I honestly don’t see it as a chore to paint my figures for a tournament. In fact, lately, I’ve been enjoying it so much that I’ve been having a hard time pulling myself away from the painting table to squeeze a game in. There isn’t much in this hobby that is more rewarding than admiring a fully painted army, and that sense of pride and accomplishment when you bring it onto the battlefield only to get mulched by some Cryx-playing jerkwad.

Second, aesthetics are a vital component of any sort of wargaming. While I’m not the sort of guy who is such a stickler for immersion that I will accuse someone of ruining a D&D game for cracking a Monty Python joke, it is a hobby which more fun and immersive for both parties when you both have fully painted armies. That fun and immersion is why we spend hundreds of dollars on models instead of playing with cardboard chits or just playing on Vassal. As such, striving to play fully painted will make the experience that much better for you and your opponent. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement; even the Steamroller document, bible of the hardcore competitive scene, agrees with me on this.

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The document also “highly recommends” Best-Painted awards, and lays out alternate rules for tournaments with painting requirements.

Playing it painted also makes the game more attractive to bystanders. The visual aspect is the first thing that a newbie to tabletop wargaming in general or Warmachine in particular sees. It’s why companies like Privateer Press and Games Workshop put so many resources into art and sculpting; nothing sells models like cool models and pictures thereof on the box. We all want to grow our communities, and playing with painted models can help add some visual interest to our tables and catch the eye of potential marks to be suckered into this money pit of a hobby.

Finally, in a game like Warmachine, fully painted armies can make it easier for your opponent to distinguish models from each other. Our miniatures aren’t very big, and when they are just a big blob of black-primed infantry, it can be difficult to make them out at a glance from across the table. Especially for newer players who may not know the subtle differences between models enough to spot them on a black-primed miniature from a couple feet away. Further, sometimes you can paint your army to make it easier for both you and your opponent to distinguish the models. Personally, I have a system that clearly identifies my leader and attachment models with the most cursory of glances, which is of benefit to both me and my opponent.

As one bad example of this, I had a game a long time ago where I was playing against a Circle opponent who had both an Argus and a Winter Argus in his list. These are both two-headed dogs with a little bit of barding each, and the main way to distinguish them is by the fact that in the art, Winter Arguses have white fur like a husky. As you can imagine, “this one has brown fur, this one has white fur, and neither of them are painted” made it a little more confusing for me than necessary and resulted in the untimely death of some poor Winter Guards who made a tactical error as a result.

Are there excuses?

All that said, there are some legitimate excuses for not playing painted models. First, new players can’t be expected to have a fully painted army. It took me several months to manage to have a decent fully painted list in Warmachine. For a lot of new players, playing and painting motivate each other, and being told to pick up an army and then go away until they can come back fully painted means that they will never come back. So, it makes sense that a lot of new players are going to be rolling with unpainted miniatures for months while they feel out what kind of army they want to play and get up to speed on painting it.

Also, none of us are perfect, and sometimes life happens. Occasionally, we will have a unit that we really really want to play but is still on the painting table, or perhaps we want to try something out to see if it “earns its paint” before going all in on committing to buying and painting that list. Or we may forget a model at home and have to borrow or buy one on short notice. I don’t think committing to playing it painted necessarily means that 100% of your figures will be completely painted 100% of the time. While that may be a worthwhile goal to strive for, other factors get in the way sometimes, and that is completely understandable.

Further, not everyone paints to the same level of quality or at the same rate. I like to think my army is painted to a pretty high standard, so it does take me a little longer than someone whose idea of painting involves dipping a miniature in a can of wood stain. As a result, it may take me a little bit longer to get my army painted because I’m putting a lot of care into every highlight rather than just banging out something that meets the bare requirements. Being too strict on painting requirements can actually have an adverse effect, where players half-ass their paint jobs just to get them done and end up with something that they are unsatisfied with instead of taking the time to do it right.

Finally, there are formats such as journeyman leagues or other escalation type campaigns where collecting and painting new models are part of the game. I’m thinking of starting up a Minions army next time there is a Journeyman league locally, and quite frankly, I doubt that I will be able to stay completely caught up on my painting while participating in this league. That’s also completely understandable, because the whole point of the Journeyman League, aside from welcoming new players, is to collect, paint, and build more and more plasticrack.

When should you commit to playing it painted?

Between those very good reasons to play it painted and those few caveats, I feel like we can lay down some rules as to when you should play it painted. Again, these are more personal things than anything hard and fast in the ruleset, but I’m throwing these out to start the conversation.

  1. You are playing on a stream on the internet. Seriously, if you’re trying to show off the game online, at least do it fully painted. The internet lasts forever, as will the shame of video evidence of your unpainted miniatures.
  2. You have been at this for a while. It’s totally okay for new players to not be fully painted, but if you’re coming in week after week with the same unpainted army for years, it might be time to pick up the brush and at least give it a go.
  3. You are playing in a very public place where you are showing off the game. If you’re at a big convention with a lot of people walking by, one of the goals of being there is to try to attract bystanders to check it out and maybe hook them into buying a battlebox and coming out on game night. However, if you have a bunch of grey plastic armies duking it out on flat terrain, you’re not going to have the same level of visual interest that is going to encourage new players to check it out.
  4. You are a community leader. With the destruction of the Press Gang program, who exactly is a “community leader” is not so well defined anymore. But this can include people who do all sorts of different things, whether it is organize tournaments, run painting sessions, volunteer to show new players the ropes, or talk about stuff a lot on the internet. However, these people tend to be ambassadors for the game, and as such, they should be leading by example and promoting the game. And part of that involves holding one’s self to a higher level of painting and sportsmanship than the average player.

Conclusion

Wargaming is better for everyone when we can all #playitpainted. It may not be a goal that we will ever reach, but it is good to aspire towards fielding only painted models. After all, the most important battle on the tabletop is not the fight between Khador and those filthy Cygnaran pig-dogs, but the ongoing war against the forces of black primer and bare plastic.