Thursday, January 12, 2012

What Price Scenery?

I've been having a debate with myself (I recommend this practice, as one is always guaranteed an excellent and stimulating opponent) as to the merits of splashing out large sums on scenery for the wargames table.

A case in point are these river sections I bought myself as a birthday present last year. I bought a large bag of JR Miniatures 28mm rubber river sections from the local hobby store in Calgary, Sentry Box West. I think the price tag was about $70 Cdn and I thought it seemed a good price to get a decent sized water feature on the wargames table. I believe it's item 3224 in the JR Miniatures catalogue if you're interested.

Previously I had experimented with making my own river sections using some sort of clear polymer caulking material that I had bought from a building supply store, Home Depot, for one tenth of the cost of the JR product. The results of that effort can be seen here. I was somewhat satisfied with that experiment at the time, but was never sure how to paint it (green? blue?) so it didn't look like shiny plastic sitting on the table.

I think what swayed my thinking at Sentry Box West was that I have precious little time and would rather devote it to painting figures than to creating scenery. Besides, buying the river sections gave me an incentive to finish painting this bridge, also a JR Miniatures product, which I had bought on a previous trip to Calgary. The bridge is 15mm scale, intended for my WW2 collection. In that spirit, I grabbed two half-finished Staghounds from my painting table to illustrate the scale.

Around New Year's I took Mrs. Padre back to Calgary to shop at her favourite camera store, which, conveniently, is a few blocks from Sentry Box West. Leaving her to browse the tripods and filters, I dashed back to SBW and saw a JRM river section with a ford which I bought to expand my river system. A ford is always useful, and my get me to drag out my LOTR kit for a Fords of Isen scenario, with heroic Rohirrim holding the ford against the hordes of Sauron. Here are some LOTR stand ins.

So I was doing fine with my purchases and looking forward to getting them into a battle when I came across this post on Ross Mac's wonderful and well-visited blog, Battle Game of the Month. Yes, you guessed it, the "Bluegene River" is made of exactly that, old torn denim jean pant legs. Seeing Ross' pictures made me second-guess myself. Had I opted for an expensive and unnecessary purchas when, with a little audacity and imagination, I could have put down some old denim and said "voila, there's a river?"

I suppose it comes down to what we want to achieve. For me, after years of graduate school and clerical penury, I have some spare cash and the desire to make the wargaming table look pretty, something closer to the colour pictures one sees in the hobby magazines. Beung able to do something like that makes me happy. The table for the Plasterville Mills skirmish I blogged here in November is one of the nicest I've ever done. But that's me. A gamer like Ross, who I respect more than I can say, has his own style, something more consciously old school, perhaps, and that's the charm of his blog, because he achives that look consistently and does it well.

So perhaps the debate is settled for now. I will continue to do some scratch-built scenery (trees and hills, particularly), and buy some when it's pretty, and try not to feel too guily about it one way or the other. What about you, gentle reader? Do you have this debate with yourself? And if so, how do you resolve it?


  1. My personal experience is that investing some money and/or effort in scenery improves substantially the gaming experience. See the Stalingrad game in my blog for example, although in this case is a collective effort or more than a dozen people

  2. I am a bit cheaper than I like with scenery purchases, which is odd since I have also never regretted a good scenery purchase.

    1. Be damned to parsimony. I've thoroughly enjoyed building a nice wargames room and good scenery is a key part of it.

      I do some pieces myself and buy in other pieces. Many of the luminaries of the early hobby didn't paint their own figures, so I reckon it's fair game.

      My feelings on it are that wargaming is a hobby where you can please yourself without pangs.

    2. I tried saying this last week before heading off to Borden but time and money spent on terrain is never wasted. Unlike buying more minis you may never get around to painting.

  3. I'm buying most of the scenery. Prefer to spent my time painting instead of making scenery and I like to give my minis some decent terrain to fight over. I think they deserve it after all the effort we put in painting them and like Anibal said it improves the gaming experience. Once in a while I buy some unpainted buildings to do them myself but more and more I buy buildings pre painted as well. Nice river, I own it as well and it looks very good.

  4. Much wisdom from all of you, chaps. James, I noticed your post on your RIMB blog about scenery and I am sure it inspired my musings. And from the estimable Mr. Kinch, a wonderfully self-sure comment. "Parsimony be damned", I like that.

    An old school minimalist approach to wargames has a certain charm that comes from imagination and appeals to our childhood toys, but If one homes one's painting and builds well presented armies over the years, then the synergy of good figures good tabletop just flows naturally.


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