The Rise of the Miniature!

I love miniatures. It is not unknown for me to purchase a board game chiefly because I love the miniatures in it (Labyrinth), or to buy miniatures from a game just to paint and display (Batman, Guild Ball). I’ve spent hours painting my Mansions of Madness miniatures, I drool over the Malifaux faction boxes (damn, those Neverborn are so cool!), and I still have a vast army of Wood Elves tucked away at home, ever hopeful that despite the death of Warhammer Fantasy at the hands of Age of Sigmar, I’ll get to dig them out and display my beloved dryads and wardancers on a tabletop once more. I love assembling them (especially when you can vary their poses), I love painting them, I love the way they look on the game board. I love miniatures.

It seems that many other people share this love, as more and more games are being produced with miniatures these days! The miniature wargame market is rapidly expanding, with games like Relics, Runewars, Space Crusade and many more emerging or re-emerging into the market. You can play with sci-fi models, fantasy models, historical military models, steampunk models, horror models, comic book models and probably other variations! And let’s face it, when you get a Harry Potter variant of something, you know it’s big business.

There’s the companies who create miniatures specifically for use in tabletop RPG games such as Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons; Wizkids have a vast line of miniatures for D&D, mostly sold in blind booster boxes to tap into the collectible market; or you can go to places like Otherworld Miniatures and pay a little extra for some truly outstanding models that are tiny works of art!

Then there’s board games with miniatures, with games like Zombicide, Doom, Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Arcadia Quest, and so many more being produced with miniatures that are arguably the biggest selling point of the games because they’re just so damned pretty! Us nineties kids out there couldn’t help but salivate over the chance to get our hands on fully formed miniatures of our favourite Turtle, Ghostbuster, or monster from Doom; the Arcadia Quest minis have a cartoony charm that brings in fans in its own right; and the stylized Zombicide minis are just as beloved with the series’ players. I mean, there’s a game company literally named for our love of the miniatures – Cool Mini Or Not!


Where did this miniature madness start? Arguably, it began with the much-maligned Monopoly. While games have had pieces and tokens for about as long as there have been games (which is almost as long as there have been people), Monopoly was the first to provide individual tokens that represented something. And even though the boot, the hat and the dog didn’t represent a character or even have an awful lot to do with the game or how you played it, you still had your favourite. How many times did you start a game by arguing over who got to be the top hat? Admit it, we know you did.

The thing is, individual miniatures call to us. Even when it’s as simple as preferring the top hat to the dog, or even the green one to the yellow one, we are by our nature drawn to the things we like the look of the most. So a game with miniatures will appeal to many of us (the same argument works for game artwork, of course – it might seem like a luxury aspect, but good artwork is an important part of a game for this very reason). Star Trek: Ascendancy has very basic miniatures – just coloured tokens that look like your race’s ships – but they’re undeniably nicer and more evocative than a bunch of coloured blocks or cardboard circles would be. It naturally follows that we’ll be more drawn to better looking miniatures, and this is where the miniatures business has taken off – with advances in technology, games companies are able to produce higher quality miniatures, with so much more detail and skill, and as a result we’re spoilt for choice! You can have the fantastic miniatures from CMON, the pre-painted awesomeness of FFG’s Star Wars: X Wing and Armada games, or the incredible detail of Steamforged Games’s miniatures (I am so excited for Dark Souls!), as just a few examples; and substandard offerings are starting to be left by the wayside because we just don’t have to make do any more.

This is good for us players, as we’ll get higher quality miniatures, and companies will be forced to get competitive with their pricing (though the industry has already proved that we’re not afraid to pay big money for a game if it’s worth the price tag – Kingdom Death: Monster, anyone?). But what about the games behind the miniatures? Are we losing sight of game quality because we’re so dazzled by the models?

It’s definitely a concern. The Labyrinth board game, for example – which I own and I love – has gorgeous miniatures and appeals to anyone who loves the movie. That’s why I bought it, after all! The game? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun game, with a pretty board and lots of cool movie references. But the gameplay is fairly simplistic, and while fans and younger players will love it, for veteran players it can’t hold a candle to some of the games already mentioned.

Labyrinth The Board Game Miniatures

But for the most part, we seem to be getting the best of both worlds! The Zombicide games are incredible for both miniatures and gameplay, as can be evidenced by just how many games are now part of that series, either as direct sequels (seasons) or spinoffs (Black Plague and the upcoming Massive Darkness). Mantic Games‘ new offering, The Walking Dead: All Out War features miniatures that recreate the graphic novel artwork in amazing 3D models, and gameplay that manages to brilliantly capture the themes and tensions of the storylines of both the comics and the show. X Wing has grown and evolved since its arrival in 2012, with constant rules revisions and organised play spanning from store tournaments to the World Championships, and continues to do so, with their other Star Wars games following suit. Malifaux is about to launch its third edition of the rules, and its universe is so well written and loved by fans that it’s spawned an RPG system and a bigger miniatures game, The Other Side, taking it from skirmish game to full on wargame!

What can we do to ensure that the games don’t suffer at the hands of our beloved miniatures? Vigiliance, dear gamers! We live in a world where each person’s review can be online and read by hundreds, even thousands, of people within minutes! Review the games you play. Join forums to discuss them. Call out companies who produce sub-par miniatures or neglect the gameplay for the plastic. So many companies are demonstrating that great miniatures can accompany great games – there’s no excuse to do any less!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more painting to do …


What do you think? Do you love the influx of miniatures in your games or do you long for simpler times when cardboard and tokens were enough? Let us know in the comments!

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2 Comments on The Rise of the Miniature!

  1. Great article Tracey. I’ve just bought Mansions of Madness 2nd Ed and thinking about painting the minis – would love to see your please for some inspiration!! Any chance of a post?

    Many thanks – keep up the great work!

    Baron Fel | February 19, 2017 at 8:51 am () ()
  2. Great article Tracey,

    I can only speak for myself, but coming from an RPG background (AD&D, Traveller, CoC) back in the 80’s, when I had in excess of 300+ miniatures, and having recently discovered the delights of Eldritch Horror (a 50th Birthday present), I long for a quality set of miniatures to paint and use on the board.

    I’m aware that there were some Arkham / Eldritch Horror pre-painted miniatures available a few years ago, but from what I’ve seen on the ‘net, they appear to be very poor quality and sub-standard to the quality of miniatures available from the likes of Copplestone, Reaper, Pulp Figures to name but a few. It’s just a pity that miniature manufactures haven’t brought out a range of minis that are a good match for the Arkham / Eldritch Investigators, as I really think that they’re missing a trick, given the fan-base for both games.

    I remain hopeful 🙂



    Rob Nuttall | February 22, 2017 at 1:34 pm () ()