Friday, 7 September 2012

Figures Are Gonks

On Table Top Diversions blog there is a nice post on do we need figures for games?

But first I'm going to explain what a gonk is? A gonk is a something that looks like it would be a cool thing to have, but which turns out to be useless. So to somewhat paraphrase what Paddy Griffith's said in his article The Case Against Toy Soldiers from Miniature Wargames issue 13, " toy soldiers are a dead end as they add nothing to the wargame that can't be done better by other means". Funnily enough, here we are twenty-five years later after this pronouncement, and toy soldiers are still with us.

Given that inherently Paddy's statement is true, no matter how upsetting that may feel, what is the attraction of the toy soldier?

I read a post on one of my email lists where the writer likened wargame players to Mentat's from Frank Herbert's Dune series. Mentat's, for those who have not read Dune, were human computers; for in the Dune universe it was forbidden to make machines with an image of a human mind. The metaphor being that what miniature wargamers want is an immersive virtual reality like game, but without using computers and CGI. So, the more detail the game has, the more immersive it will become. Models are details and therefore elements that make the game more immersive.

So not so much the person with the most toys wins, but the person with the most toys has the most fun.

Let's take my two favourite games for example of this; BattleTech and OGRE/GEV. Both are boardgames, and both have a line of miniatures to go with them. The current box set for BattleTech has plastic miniatures in it. The new designers edition of OGRE will have laser cut self assembly miniatures in it. It certainly looks like the toys are "fun" model is at work here.

In addition, I have spent an inordinate amount of time painting up miniatures for both these games, as you can, or have seen see in previous posts. If I were to take all that time I've spent painting, modifying and adding magnets to make the turrets to my tanks how many games of each could I have played? A lot I guess.

So why didn't I just play the games?

Because while I might spend an inordinate amount of time making and painting figures up for a game, if I weren't doing this it wouldn't mean that I would be playing more games, because it takes time and effort to get everyone around to play a game. It seems to me  as you get older then getting everybody free at the same time on the same day becomes more difficult. Mostly down to having family, or work commitments..

Furthermore, I like toy soldiers, or tanks, or giant stompy robots, whatever really. I like the feel of moving miniatures around on a table. It's different to other forms of gaming, even boardgames, because the miniatures are in someway more infused with the character of what one is playing.

So is it just love the gonk? Yes it is. Love the gonk. Long live the gonk! Long live toy soldiers.


  1. Clive describes figures as nicely painted counters. I am not so sure.

    The counter have come a long way since the 70s. Nicely coloured with images of wht they counter is supposed to represent. I find it hard to treat a counter the same way I do a figure.

    I have usually put some effort into painting a figure which gives me a sense of identifictions with them is some small way. It looks more like a man, so I identify with it more. I think this is truer the larger the figure gets. If there is a face on it that you cn see then you think of it more as a person. Counters are made of card. Difficult to bond with a piece of thick paper.

    As you say "Long live toy soldiers."

    1. Just out of interest is that Clive from Contact!? What I'm saying is do I know you in the flesh, so to speak? :-)

  2. Have to say I'm torn on this one. I'm pretty bad at painting, and I tend to play varied games with varied sets of units - maybe this week I'm doing WWII naval with Victory at Sea, next week I'm playing BattleTech, the week after that Vietnam-era air combat. So I've tended to use card counters and even bits of paper. But when someone else has minis, they're an awful lot of fun...

    What I'm looking forward to is 3D printing getting cheap and quick enough that I can run up some rough minis for a day's play, then dispose of them afterwards. Something like a higher-resolution version of the candyfab would be ideal.

  3. I agree. I found that as I got older (before the whole painting for a living lark) I ended up spending more and more time painting and less and less time gaming. Because, you know, work, bills and the like. Painting and collecting miniatures for the games I play helped keep me sane and in touch with my hobby. Especially during the four year period where I worked in law enforcement and didn't manage to play a single game!

    1. Wargame that is. I still managed to squeeze in the odd RPG session here and there.

  4. I'm all for the 'nicely painted counters' approach. I don't invest massive amounts of effort in my 'counters' but I like them to look good and it's part of the experience of the game. I play lots of Hordes of the Things. In that and Orc horde is mechanically identical to, say, a peasant horde or a skeleton horde. So in game terms it doesn't matter how you depict them. The fun of the game comes from how you do it, though - because the mechanics are generic the interest comes in the way you depict them. There are role-playing games that are similar; one superhero game has characters that are, for practical purposes, mechanically identical. It's the descriptions of the characters, and how that description is applied to the narrative, that makes the difference. For miniature wargamers the figures are part of the description and narrative.

  5. Paddy Griffith was clearly wrong, and you are clearly right. Toy soldiers are a great deal of the point of playing wargames for most (miniatures) wargamers. Maybe Paddy was talking about wargames as a means of simulating warfare - now there you really do have a dead end, as far as recreational miniature wargaming is concerned.

    Perhaps we should call it a day and re-name the hobby 'playing with toy soldiers'. That's certainly what I am about.

    Best wishes, Keith.