Last weekend I took the plunge and bought the Dark Souls boardgame. In case you’re not familiar with it, it’s based on a very popular (and very hard) series of computer games. The in-joke is that the one thing you can guarantee when playing the computer games is that you’ll die… a lot. When you open the box for the boardgame for the first time, a single sheet, overlaid on the contents, reads: “You Died.”
The game was on Kickstarter last year and achieved an astonishing £3.7 million in funding. This was partly due to the IP, no doubt. Now that the game has been made and is in the hands of gamers worldwide, reviews have been fairly mixed though. This is always a danger with Kickstarters that don’t feature independent reviews (as this one didn’t) – it’s hard to tell if the game is actually any good.
However, there’s one thing that everyone agrees on: the miniatures are stunning.
I’m sure many people backed the Kickstarter because of the miniatures. I think the theme is cool, although I’ve never played the computer games, but even I was swayed by the miniatures. I’m usually more interested in the quality of the underlying gameplay, but theme and components can make a big difference.
I used to paint Warhammer 40k miniatures as a teenager. I played as well, but seemed to spend far more time painting than actually playing! The best quality miniatures back then would be metal miniatures, but I never liked the way they felt in the hand.
The technology behind plastic miniatures has improved significantly.
Fortunately, the technology behind plastic miniatures has improved significantly over the years. Previously the trade-off was between how hard or soft the plastic was. Soft plastic lacked detail and the miniatures would frequently be bent out of shape when you opened the box. Hard plastic retained the detail better, but it could be brittle and would snap too easily. As the technology got better, the detail on these miniatures really came on without sacrificing flexibility.
So more and more games are being produced with lots of high-quality miniatures these days. They’re (relatively) cost-effective as well. I think that’s great. Who doesn’t love a nice-looking miniature on the table?
The question is, can nice miniatures compensate for a mediocre game? Would you rather have a great game with poor/no miniatures?
I know people who buy games just for the miniatures. They talk about playing the games, but rarely do. What they love doing is painting really nice miniatures. And that’s great for them, but for me? I want a good game more than I want good miniatures.
So here are a selection of my favourite games that have nice miniatures. They may not be the best miniatures, but the games are really good and the miniatures look cool on the table.
This is my favourite ‘miniatures’ game. It’s essentially a dungeon crawl, but movement and fighting is done with card play. There are some really innovative mechanics in this one, a large variety of miniatures and they look unique: slightly cartoon-like, but with flare.
A co-operative, programmable movement game. It can be chaotic at times, but it’s a lot of fun. The four hero miniatures come pre-painted and look great. There are absolutely tons of minions (baddies) and they’ve all been washed (painted with black ink), which really makes the details in the models stand out. The whole game looks amazing.
A two-player, tactical, dog-fighting game. The starter set has X-Wings vs TIE Fighters, but you can buy loads of add-on packs with virtually every ship from the Star Wars universe. The ships sit on these cool, transparent stands and they’re all pre-painted. The paint jobs are subdued, but fit the universe very well.
An epic, two-player, Lord of the Rings war game. The miniatures for this aren’t great, but there are lots of them and the game itself is really engaging. It has a large footprint and looks great on the table.
The classic, Fantasy Flight dungeon crawl. You need one player to play the bad guy. All the other players pick a hero and fight their way through a bunch of missions. Lots of nice miniatures in this one. Just asking to be painted.
This is the large-scale Star Wars struggle between good and evil. The Imperials are trying to hunt down the Rebel base and both sides get all the classic ships and ground units: AT-ATs, AT-STs, X-Wings, TIE Fighters, Star Destroyers, Corellian Corvettes – even a Death Star.
A co-operative, horror, adventure game filled with Cthulhian monsters. Explore the mansion and fight devilish creatures. The miniatures look great and really bring the game to life.
A multiplayer war game where each player takes a faction of giants. Each faction plays very differently and the actions are taken using clever card play. The more cards you play, the more powerful your later cards become, but you only have one attack card, so when do you play it? The miniatures look amazing, particularly the Storm Giants!
How important are miniatures to you? Which are your favourite games with cool miniatures?