Tabletop miniature wargaming as a hobby is hard to hide. I know that because I’ve tried. Back in college I was sharing a flat with one of my best friends and we were identifying as “undercover nerds”.
While to the eyes of the careless observer we presented ourselves as the usual college students, hitting the pubs, drinking, dancing and doing all the stuff expected from young people away from their families for the first time, we harbored a secret desire.
And there were signs. Not even a small family, however clumsy its members, should’ve stocked that many bottles of superglue. And why were there so many paintbrushes lying around but no paintings to be found? And why did two guys in a small flat own such a ridiculously large kitchen table?
Lead Mountain and plastic crack
Our flat might not have been the cleanest of flats, student flats seldom are, but it tended to be quite tidy. We had many cabinets and these huge, white shelves made by a Scandinavian furniture company. Most of them had doors. And behind these doors hid our secret.
I still remember the emotional jolt and the brief silence falling on the room as one of our more nosy visitors opened one of those shelves and was immediately assaulted by a legion of tiny plastic men carrying laser rifles. Our secret was out.
We were wargamers. Nerds who have the strong desire to collect, paint and play with tiny soldiers made out of plastic, metal or resin. Semi-adults spending lots of cash and time assembling small armies to pit against each other on that ridiculous kitchen table.
A hidden community
Of course we were not alone in our hobby. At that point in history many people with all sorts of backgrounds had shared this passion and firmly established it as a hobby worth pursuing. The history of tabletop miniature gaming is rich and many people contributed to it, ranging from famous author H. G. Wells to the acting genius Peter Cushing. Still, even in the early 2010s, there remained a stigma.
When it came to people spending their time rolling dice and moving miniatures various unflattering stereotypes were floating around. The common denominator between them was shared with many other subcultures and hobbies, ranging from trading card collectors to players of Dungeons & Dragons. People indulging in these hobbies were thought of as weirdos.
While today I would happily acknowledge that I am such a weirdo to any person asking, back then I still felt different about this issue. I still held the opinion that to be considered adult or professional I would have to hide this aspect of my personality until people eventually got to know me better and see my worth regardless of my weird hobbies.
A world fit for nerds
My change in attitude is not only a result of personal growth (I do hope that’s part of it) but of a change in circumstances. Many hobbies which back in the day would have been considered nerdy have now successfully entered the mainstream. On top of that tabletop miniature games have not only become extremely popular but also extremely profitable from a business perspective.
Though the interest in this hobby (and revenue generated) certainly spiked when people had to spend more time indoors due to the coronavirus pandemic this march to success is no new phenomenon. Every year more and more people are discovering the joy of assembling miniature armies. The community is growing and that’s a good thing.
If I were to hazard a guess I would say that Games Workshop’s Warhammer, as the de facto industry leader, is very close to establishing itself as a multi- maybe even transmedia brand and achieving mainstream success.
Currently a TV series about one of the settings most beloved characters Inquisitor Eisenhorn is in the works and Games Workshop has recently launched its own streaming service. Things are looking bright for fans of this company specifically but also for miniature gaming enthusiasts in general.
It seems being a tabletop wargamer finally lost the unspoken stigma attached to it. At least by popular vote of the internet. Hey, even Hollywood superstar Henry Cavill is passionately painting his Adeptus Custodes. Great! But are we truly there yet?
Meeting the parents
Imagine this you are meeting your new partner’s parents for the first time. Things are going well. The roast which you have been preparing for hours is well received and your are bonding with the future family over a glass of wine.
So far it has been smooth sailing but you still fear that something could happen which could negatively impact your acceptance score. And then comes the question: What’s your hobby?
For all the love and attention the tabletop wargaming community receives these days there seem to exist situations in which spilling the beans about your somewhat expensive plastic addiction does not seem entirely appropriate.
Meeting the parents might be one of them, first dates (if not at GenCon) another . Job interviews also do not seem to be the best context. We want to seem professional and employable, right? And how employable is painting and playing with miniature space elves?
Very employable. At least if you ask me. If you’ve come this far I’d like to invite you to spend five more minutes in finding out why tabletop gaming is a marvelous activity and why you would definitely want to hire that wargaming weirdo. If you’re not convinced then that’s fine. At least you got to know a subculture. Cool? Cool. So let’s dive right in with the first reason why you should hire a tabletop wargamer:
1. Strategy and tactics
Given that tabletop miniature games are mostly about armies in conflict it comes without saying that playing them includes a good amount of strategic thinking. Seems obvious but this often is lost to people having no connection to the hobby. If you have no idea what a tabletop miniature game is you usually arrive at one of two very different conclusions after observing a game for the first time.
The first possible conclusion is that this is basically two people playing with toys. And I do hope my introduction might already have persuaded you that this is not the case. The second conclusion is that this is a horribly complicated affair. What on earth is happening here?
Applied strategy and tactics that’s what. Imagine a game of chess combined with a healthy dose of calculated gambling and bluffing. Because commercial wargaming is distinct to strictly military wargaming you should not count on tabletop gamers in actual armed conflict but in all other circumstances you can rest easy with a hobby general at your side.
2. Abstract thinking
While there are a few rulesets out there which are only one page long most miniature wargames come with an extensive set of rules which you would have to understand before being able to play your first game.
Many of these sets of rules are so complex that passionate and dedicated players take the time to prepare excellent rules summaries for quick reference. Active members of the miniature gaming community have created content specifically aimed at helping new players get into their game of choice. In general the community is very supportive, a quality which we will be discussing later in greater detail.
All of this however does not take away from the fact that rules for tabletop miniature games themselves are intricate systems which rival the most stunningly painted miniature. Designing theses rules is a an art in itself and fully understanding them no small feat. In case you don’t believe me I’d invite you to give it a try and play a game.
3. Planning for victory
When you are facing off against another hobby general you are entering a game of wits. Every turn of the game could be the decisive moment leading to victory or defeat and you constantly have to think a few turns ahead. That is what the aforementioned strategy and tactics is all about.
More often than not however the reasons for defeat or victory have been planted much earlier. Before the game even started. While we could count this as just another aspect of strategic thinking I think the preparation phase of any game deserves special mention.
Many popular games in this hobby demand that you carefully consider how you select and assemble your forces. Army composition is a crucial aspect of most miniature games and all tabletop miniature games reward and teach forward planning. Like Sun Tzu said in many cases the battle is won before it is even fought.
4. Negotiation and compromise
Before new rulesets are published they (should) go through a long process of rules-design and playtesting. As usual with complex endeavors it is impossible to account for every issue which could potentially come up once the game gets into the hands of the players. It therefore is a regular occurrence at gaming tables that a dispute arises between players how some situation or rule should be interpreted.
Most rulesets these days include meta-rules for arbitration which help players to solve these issues but even with those in play players often face the issue of interpreting rules differently. When this happens negotiation skills and the capacity to find a compromise working for both parties are required of the players. At least until the next errata.
Players lacking these qualities are often decidedly un-fun to play with and may soon have difficulties finding opponents. For tournaments there exists a certain gaming-etiquette allowing for smooth play which is rewarding and fun for everyone. The qualities demanded here – transparent communication, being polite and striving to find a compromise – are essential to success in professional life as well.
5. Grit and Perseverance
Most people start playing a tabletop miniature game by buying so called “starter sets” which usually contain the rules, some dice and one or two armies of miniatures. In general the core rules and at least one army are the absolute minimum necessary to play a particular game.
Taking only a cursory glance at that minimal cost of entry should be enough to realize that understanding the rules as well as assembling and painting the miniatures is not something you could do in a day. At least with the bigger games it takes days, if not weeks, before you could play your first game and every player showing up with a fully painted army deserves a medal for grit and perseverance.
So if you are looking for an employee who does not lack patience or doesn’t shy away from difficult tasks taking an extraordinary amount of time you might be looking for tabletop wargamer.
6. Attention to detail
Building and painting your armies for many of us is an essential part of the miniature gaming hobby. Some miniature painters perfect miniature painting to such a degree that it can’t be recognized as anything but art.
Miniature gaming is called miniature gaming because the models involved are tiny. No matter the scale of the game you are playing, painting miniatures will always involve hunching over and staring at details requiring a magnifying glass to be fully appreciated.
Even in the case of the less talented painters (like me) this means that miniature painting enthusiasts tend to be detail-oriented. This detail orientation on the physical levels pairs well with the mental attention to detail required to fully grasp the rules of the game. Tabletop wargamers will find the needle in your haystack.
Now that you know that it takes a lot of time and effort to assemble a miniature army it might come as a surprise to you that most players do not stick to the bare essentials or to just playing one army. For many of us the opposite is the case.
Most players will eventually become collectors and will keep acquiring new armies or start looking into other games. Take a look at any website dedicated to this hobby and you will find people talking about “beginning a new project“.
Assembling and painting a new miniature army can be a daunting task which requires a good amount of planning. Some sections of hobby forums could easily be misinterpreted as classes in project management. A few people even use apps specifically designed to help them plan painting their new miniature project. Organizing your miniature painting with a Kanban board? Been there.
8. Productivity hacks
As said project planning and perseverance are strengths found in many tabletop wargamers. There is however another element of note applying to this hobby as well as professional life which deserves special mention: Productivity.
The fact that in this hobby nothing can be gained without at least some amount of effort has led to a culture which celebrates and supports productivity. Whether you are low on motivation or time, you will find the community at your side and giving you tips on how to best power through whatever project you are working on.
Even when stuck with a particularly tough case you can count on the community to show you how to tackle even the most challenging tasks. I have nothing but respect for my fellow players who make it their mission to help others get stuff done.
9. Culture of Support and Excellence
This readiness to support and encourage fellow members of the community to be their best does not only extend to the quantitative level, it also extends to the level of quality. Maybe it is the physical aspect of the hobby, the focus on craft, which inspires this behavior but it can also be observed in regard to rules questions or improving tactical skill. Tabletop miniature players just love helping each other out.
Whenever I feel disillusioned about civilization or society I have bookmarked a good number of content creators who exude so much altruism and positivity, maybe even sagacity, that I can’t help but feel better about people in general. There are some of the loveliest people out there in this community and I feel honored to be a part of it (as in any community there also some dark and unsavory corners which we’ll cover in a different article).
While the talent on display in this community knows no limits (seriously, check out some of these artists) this comes combined with absolute readiness to share the secrets of success. Anyone familiar with using YouTube could learn painting techniques usually to be found in painting masterclasses. And should you ask the community how to get better it will always respond with helpful tips. These people are supporting each other on their path to excellence and mastery. What workplace could not use more of this?
10. The head and the heart
While we started this list with an emphasis on strategic aptitude and intellectual prowess, qualities quite useful in highly competitive settings, we have finished this list on qualities which would be useful in any social context. In my experience of this – my – community both the head and the heart have a place.
In my mind this duality, the ability to think strategically and competitively, while at the same time keeping an eye on fair play, fostering community spirit and helping each other succeed is central to the tabletop miniature gamer’s mindset. Many times have I played with people who – without any air of arrogance or condescension – pointed out my tactical blunders and how I could improve my game.
Because these games are strategic and competitive, there may be real tension, emotion and excitement during the game, but because the game is situated in a wider community context you will rarely see people throw their gaming pieces at a wall or be genuinely angry. Love of the activity, love for the community and sportsmanship are central to the experience. If that’s not the definition of a great team what is?
Back to the table
Now that was a lot of words to basically tell you that tabletop miniature games are pretty great and the people playing them even more so. What I’m asking myself is whether this article made any difference in regards to your attitude? Maybe you considered these games to be a childish hobby, maybe you simply did not know a lot about them, maybe you are a passionate gamer but never looked at your hobby from this angle?
Reading the reactions to my article on Dungeons & Dragons brought me as much joy as writing it, so please feel free to pop me a message.
It doesn’t matter whether you intend to tell me that the doubts and misgivings of college-me were well founded and that nobody should ever include tabletop gaming in their resume or whether you just want to tell me about how cool it was to organize a gaming group at the office. Every opinion or experience is welcome.
Whatever your perspective I hope you at least enjoyed reading my personal take on the subject and I am looking forward to exploring many more nerdy topics with you in the future. But for now I would ask you to please excuse me, I’ve got some orcs to paint.