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Friday, May 27, 2011

On Painting Scores in Miniature Gaming Tournaments, Part I

Well, not that kind of tournament painting

Over the past few days, I've been attempting to gather my thoughts on painting scores in miniature game tournaments, specifically Warhammer, into a cohesive mass.  Soft scores in general, and painting scores in particular, are some of the most contentious parts of the Warhammer tournament scene, so I believe that they deserve a good bit of thought.  I'd love to hear your opinions and thoughts as well.  I'd also like someone to actually show  up to a tournament painted as in the picture above.

Part One - The Advantages and Disadvantages of Painting Scores in Warhammer Tournaments

Painting scores in tournaments offer both positives and negatives to players and tournament organizers, and those factors have to be recognized in order to determine if an event should or shouldn't use painting scores. 

The main argument that I often hear for including painting scores in tournaments is that war gaming is a hobby, which consists both of playing miniatures and painting and modeling those miniatures.  Certainly, the miniature companies push this idea of a "complete hobby", as they produce paints, brushes, and modeling tools along with their models.  Games Workshop in particular seems to emphasize this model, using heavy painting scores in their own Throne of Blood tournaments and providing a magazine that heavily features well painted models and tutorials on painting.

While I personally fall into the "complete hobby" category, and really enjoy painting, there are many people who have an equally valid hobby of playing war games, and either having no interest in the painting side of things or seeing painting as a less enjoyable and important side effect of the hobby.  From their perspective, playing Warhammer is similar to playing other games.  A couple hours of playing Portal 2 on the XBox doesn't require one to slap a coat of paint on the console, so why should playing a miniature game?

A second, less used but in my opinion more interesting argument for the inclusion of painting scores is the idea of immersion.  I once had a tournament organizer argue to me that he had players coming in from around the country and from other countries to play in his tournament, and his responsibility to those players was to provide the very best experience possible for them to participate in.  This included visually appealing games, both from himself as a TO in term of terrain, and from other players in terms of painted armies.  Many players enjoy games on an aesthetic or, for lack of a better term, "fluffy" level, and nothing jars those sensibilities harder than gray or primed plastic, metal and resin across the table.

 This picture, for example, wouldn't be as neat without any color.

There are also several valid arguments for passing on painting scores in your tournament.  Painting is an arduous and disaster filled learning experience for newer players, and there are already many factors such as cost and assembly that make war gaming (and especially the bigger games like Warhammer) intimidating to new players enjoying the hobby.  The idea that players need to buy and assemble two hundred or more models before playing is scary, but then add the idea in that they'll need to spend several months painting before being allowed to show up and play on a Saturday tournament, and you'll turn off many new and aspiring players.  The counter to this argument is that in requiring or heavily rewarding painting at tournaments, new players will be drawn in by the good looking armies on the table, and will want to join in on the fun of the complete hobby. 

Painting scores may also eliminate or discourage highly skilled players who aren't as skilled at painting or who paint differently from your painting score system from attending your tournament.  Often, the argument is that the winner of of a tournament should be the player who performed the best by winning the most games in the tournament.  This, in my opinion, can be resolved by offering a "Best Overall" prize which includes your soft scores and a "Best General" prize which does not.

 Sometimes, you just want to smash your opponents.

So, in preparing a tournament, I believe that one should look at all of these arguments, and then determine the best way forward in order to both promote your beliefs and ideas as a TO and to reach out and provide the best possible experience for your target tournament audience.  Are you personally promoting the "complete hobby" or just the game?  Are you aiming to provide a great looking experience or provide a more 'Ard Boyz style experience?  Are you aiming to include many newer players, such as in a smaller "newbie" tournament?  Who are you targeting as your potential player base for the tournament?

I hope you've enjoyed these initial thoughts, which lay the foundation for further parts of this argument on Monday and Tuesday of next week.  On Monday, I'm going to look at different kinds of tournaments and my personal opinions on when painting scores are appropriate as well as why I believe that is true, as well as weighting painting in relation to battle scores and other soft scores.  On Tuesday, I'll look into paint judging, different ways of scoring painting, and opinions on how to approach actual implementation of paint scoring in tournaments.


  1. There's a part of me - not even a small part - which always wants to ask "do Golden Demon entrants have to submit their win records? Then why do tournament winners have to be good painters?"

    I favour events that don't have an Official Best Nerd prize to give away and get all contentious about. Warmachine Hardcore's a good example - prizes are awarded for the most games won, the fastest victory, the most carnage caused and the best looking army, but no prize is loaded as the 'Best Overall'.

  2. I don't really take a side on this. I personally enjoy well painted armies fighting each other, and I certainly see the benefit of at least having a basic sportsmanship scoring system, but I really have a "to each their own" philosophy and think that a wide variety of event types should exist to fit a wide variety of preferences.

  3. I think at some occasions, it could be solved by not counting the painting score in with the gaming score.
    I am more for building a fancy-looking team than actually winning any games, so I would like to at least have a painting judgement on the side, so you have the chance to compete for "best painted" even if it doesn't help your overall score.