Miniature Ordnance Review looks at the world of historical and fantasy miniatures wargaming and model building. From 15mm Flames of War, to Warhammer 40K, to 1/35th scale tanks, with some potential surprises on the horizon - you'll find them here!

Friday, July 3, 2020

To Paint or Not to Paint, That is the Question!

With the 9th edition of Warhammer 40K set to drop a mere few weeks from now, the rumor and leak mills have been running overtime. One of the changes to match scoring leaked in recent posts is the fact that a player can receive 10 "bonus points" for having a "battle ready" painted army. Granted the other mission scoring elements are in the 15 to 45 point range, so the 10 points for having a painted army is likely only going to serve as a tiebreaker in some rare instances. Though its impact is minimal, the move appears to be more than a bit controversial for a variety of reasons. That being said, I personally think this is a net positive for the game and the hobby as a whole.

One of the first criticisms leveled at Games Workshop for moving in this direction is that many people lack advanced painting skills. This is completely true, but the requirement for the 10 point bonus is something that's "battle ready," not ready to enter in the Golden Demon competition. Citadel Colour has a great website that goes through what "battle ready" entails, which is essentially a very basic paint job. So while this criticism seems frequent, it rings a bit hollow. In fact, most of the major tournaments, like ITC, already require a 3 color minimum for consideration. In fact, they even require factions to be painted coherently (so you can't call a mix of blue Ultramarines, blue-gray Space Wolves, and red Blood Angels all Blood Angels for instance).

Other criticisms have indicated that GW "wants to sell more paints." However, there's no requirement that Citadel paints be used to achieve that "battle ready army." I tend to use several brands of paint, including some Citadel, but I have a lot more Vallejo, a whole lot more Ammo of Mig, and even some Army Painter and AK interactive (among other more obscure brands). These all work equally well for getting an army painted and ready to go.

I have no doubt that there are many players who sincerely don't like the rule because they, quite frankly, don't like to paint. They like to play. However, I firmly believe that many of the people upset over the rule are extremely competitive players who tend to chase the meta. In any gaming system as varied as Warhammer 40K, it is impossible to playtest every combination of list, stratagem, and formation. Eventually one (or many) players will find a combination that provides a significant tabletop advantage over most (if not all) other armies. Competitive players will flock to that list which will invariably result in rules modifications or updated Codexes for other factions that negate or remove that advantage making today's "no brainer" unit tomorrow's "worthless point sink." They will then move to the next hot army in rapid succession. Games Workshop updates points values at least annually through their Chapter Approved releases, but they have also updated the FAQ or made other "hot fixes" when something blatantly unbalanced is identified.

Given how quickly the tournament meta can change, there is frequently little time to paint entirely new armies (or radically change the paint schemes on existing models). Most of the top players will show up with decently painted armies regardless, but there is a hefty portion of the player base that will show up with unpainted miniatures. They're good players, but their enjoyment comes purely from setting up and playing winning lists. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, as everyone likes to win. The bonus points for painted armies at least throws a bone to players who spend more time painting, and less time chasing the meta.

I'll be the first to admit I have a bit of a bias when it comes to this issue. Whether the system has been Flames of War, Team Yankee, Warhammer 40K, or a host of other miniature games I enjoy, I frequently spend more time painting (and making crazy conversions of) models than actually playing the game. Don't get me wrong, I like to win, I like to create effective lists (I've written and playtested for Flames of War - so I do indeed have the competitive gene), but nothing gives me the same satisfaction as taking home an award for my painting. With this new rule, it feels as if Games Workshop has at least acknowledged in a tangible way that there is more to the hobby than creating an über-competitive list and "to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of [your opponents]" - and that it should count to the overall game score.


  1. With you all the way on this. When it comes down to it, this is a hobby first and a game second, else we’d be playing with prepainted figures or with card chits.

    It’s always sad to me to play any minis game and be forced to suffer an opponent’s army that is bare plastic/metal. All fine if it’s a PIP army (I paint painfully slow so have shamefully played with a partially painted army) but I feel I want an immersive narrative gaming experience not a waac affair.

    1. I've played with bare/primed/partially painted stuff from time to time at the local club for pick-up games. Any time it's an official setting or a tournament, though, if I'm not painted, I don't go.