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Bolster your imagi-nation

The following article first appeared on Henry Hyde's Wargaming Blog on March 6th, 2012.

“My Imagi-nation ain’t what it used to be!”

11 Ways to Keep Your Fictitious Wargaming Project Alive and Well

By Stokes Schwartz

Some years ago, during Henry’s series of articles on the Wars of the Faltenian Succession in Battlegames, the imagination craze took off.  For a while, it seemed like everyone and his dog jumped on the bandwagon, posting messages on The Miniatures Page or Yahoo’s Old School Wargaming like, “Hey, I’ve just started a new blog to detail the events and armies in my imagi-nation the Principality of Brauenburpf-Pabst!”  Fine and dandy.  Great to see so many guys enthused about their respective wargaming aims.

But certain trends soon emerged.  First, many of these blogs were heavy on narrative but rarely exhibited much in the way of fully painted figures and finished armies, to say nothing of actual games.  Second, many such blogs eventually ran out of steam, or disappeared thanks to an apparent lack of inspiration, overly ambitious goals, and the realization that those newly amassed mountains of lead or plastic weren’t going to paint themselves.  Finally, and this one might sting a bit, many of these so-called imagi-nations featured surprisingly little in the way of imagination.  So, the following eleven pointers are intended to suggest ways in which you can avoid these same pitfalls should you too decide to give the fictitious country thing a whirl.

1) Be realistic.
How much is on your plate right now, personally, professionally, and hobby-wise?  Consider the free time you actually have relative to your obligations and commitments elsewhere.  Also worth pondering are the time and funds required to indulge in an imagi-nation project.  Of course, you don’t need to be wealthy to enjoy wargaming, but massive armies and a huge permanent table filled with store-bought scenic goodies might have to wait.  You can still have a lot of fun in the interim though with somewhat more modest aspirations and a little bit of that do-it-yourself spirit.

2) Have a goal in mind.
Planning to paint up a bunch of figures from an historic era that interests you, and setting them into a fictitious world of your own creation is a lot of fun.  But without a definite aim in mind, your imagi-nation project risks crashing on the rocks before you manage to finish it.  So, give some thought to establishing a specific goal and keeping track of how you progress toward it.  That will give your project purpose and make everything more concrete rather than drifting aimlessly around the Sargasso Sea of Unfinished Wargaming Projects.  

3) Develop your own unique project.
The monkey-see, monkey-do approach might not be the key to wargaming happiness.  Instead, develop a unique project that doesn’t quite resemble everyone else’s.  Sure, the mid-18th Century is a fertile period in which to place a couple of vaguely Germanic imagi-nations.  But how unique are two more miniature armies based on blue-coated Prussian and white-clad Austrians?  What do you do?  Well, as the late, great Dr. Seuss wrote, “Think low and think high!  Oh, the thinks you can think if only you try!”  Mull things over before diving headlong into a new wargaming project.  Look around.  Consider other armies, colors, personalities, places and times in which to set your imaginary armies and their adventures.  Set out to create your own delightful mélange of color and flavor.  Develop an imagi-nation that is unique.

4) Inspiration is everywhere.
Your imagi-nation narrative doesn’t have to come from history books.  Open your eyes, and you’ll find useful fodder all around for your fledgling campaign.  Sources of inspiration might come in part from literature -- though not necessarily J.K. Rowling or Bernard Cornwell -- movies, newspaper and magazine articles, to say nothing of people you know, and the crazy things they do.  We all have that slightly unhinged cousin or neighbor whose exploits might provide just ‘the thing’ to serve as the catalyst for declaring war in your imaginary world.  As so many songs and films have suggested, not only is love all around if you just look for it, but so too is inspiration than can help keep imagi-nations afloat.  But please, look further than the name of your favorite beer.

5) Develop modest, well-balanced armies first.
Many of us envision huge corps-level forces of large units like we’ve seen in all those Wargames Holiday Centre photos.  Great stuff, but that kind of thing takes a long time.  And maybe a team of painters.  It’s far better to restrict your early imagi-nation efforts to a few units of infantry, some cavalry, and artillery.  A more gradual approach makes sense.  Even if you have the funds to assemble huge armies in one fell swoop, painting them is another matter.  After all, it might be a wee bit ambitious to entertain visions of painting and completing those 1200 vintage 20mm Ancient Greeks you just won on Ebay by next Thursday.

6) Divide your units into manageable batches.
If you’re like many wargamers though, you’ve purchased much of your initial army at once.  It has arrived in the mail, you’ve unpacked, organized, and lined up those shiny new several hundred castings along your desk or table.  This is where I think a lot of aspiring wargamers, and imagi-nation enthusiasts in particular, start their long, slow walk down the boulevard of broken dreams.  It’s that old, familiar sinking feeling.  “Now, what?  How will I actually paint these darn things?”  Unit by unit of course.  But break each down into smaller, easier-to-handle batches.  Say, 5-10 figures each.  Paint each small batch to completion before starting the next one.  That will go pretty quickly, and your sense of accomplishment, plus the will to continue, will be palpable each time you complete another half dozen figures and prepare to tackle the next batch in waiting. 

7) Paint and finish one unit at a time. 
Avoid hopping around between periods/projects.  While some in the hobby seem able to keep many such balls up in the air at once, most of us need more focus, or we risk never finishing anything.  So, if you need a small break from painting something that is part of your imagi-nation project, fine.  But keep things moving ahead by working on another part of the project for a little while.  Paint a mounted general and a couple of aides.  Maybe some cavalry, or scratch-build and paint a small scenic item or two.  Or try your hand at a Phil Olley-style vignette.  The main thing is to maintain forward momentum and keep your imagi-nation project from floundering.

8) Paint routinely.
This is another area where I have noticed difficulties among many imagi-nation bloggers.  They seem to paint very sporadically.  Now, not everyone is born a Doug Mason.  And while some might love the hobby’s visual side, they might simply not care to paint figures themselves.  Fair enough.  But, if you aspire to a modest collection of painted figures, imaginary or otherwise, and you’re not going to commission a professional painter, you’ve got to sit down and do it yourself.  Regularly, or you’ll never get anywhere.

9) Enjoy your hobby.
Don’t hold yourself to impossibly high standards though.  More than a few of the one-time imagi-nation enthusiasts, who have since fallen by the wayside, were overwhelmed by the misguided notion that they had to paint their newly purchased figures to a pristine collector’s standard.  As a result, their will to paint seized up, eventually atrophied, and faded away altogether.  Guys, relax!  This is a hobby.  You needn’t paint the eyes, buttons, earlobes, and fingernails on 10mm figures to be considered a worthy human being.  Have fun with your painting.  Use some artistic license, and leave tiny details to the imagination, if you’ll pardon the term.  And if you make a small mistake, and forget to color that golden earring in a grenadier’s earlobe, so what!  It’s not the end of the world.

10) Re-visit the classics.
Enthusiasm sometimes wanes and with it, our drive to remain diligent with figure painting and related imagi-nation activities.  When that happens to me, I head straight for the ol’ bookshelf.  There, I pull out The War Game, and Charge! plus additional titles by the likes of Tony Bath, Donald Featherstone, and C.S.  Grant, or Terry Wise and Charles Wesencraft.  Issues #1-12 of Miniature Wargames also provide a boost to my spirits whenever I wonder, “Now, why am I doing this again?”  Remind yourself of that initial spark of enthusiasm you felt for your own imagi-nation project by revisiting the classics yourself occasionally.   It works.  

11) Strike a balance.
Embrace every feature of your imagi-nation.  Create its geography and make colorful maps.  Populate your world with quirky characters.  Develop whimsical uniforms.  Paint the colorful and glossy armies that wear them.  And by all means, share your enthusiasm for the wargaming hobby with others.  But, be careful with blogs and online discussion boards.  The instant communities provided by both are great in theory.  But, you inadvertently risk wasting considerable time, some of which might be better spent painting figures for your envisioned armies.  Don’t go so overboard with one part of your hobby that another suffers.

“Waterloo. . .  Couldn’t escape if I wanted to. . .”
Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll go a long way in the imagi-nation game.  Undertaking and completing any wargaming project is really more a question of planning, organization, and persistence than it is an abundance of cash or special ability.  The advice offered here comes from my own hobby activities and experiences -- ok, half-baked foibles -- during the early 1980s-early 2000s.   I finally noticed self-defeating patterns and decided, therefore, to make some changes before starting the Grand Duchy of Stollen project, so it would see completion and enjoy some longevity.     

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