Thoughts On Judging Army Painting

I am lucky enough to have a friend who runs Warhammer tournaments near me, and he often asks me to come along and help him judge the best painted army. There’s always an award for painting, as well as for placing highly in the tournament and for being a favourite opponent. I really enjoy doing this, not least because I get to feel like I’m an expert at something, even though I’m definitely not. Still, it made me give some thought to what makes an army really well-painted, and potentially a winner, in my eyes.

Firstly, the painting. It sounds obvious but it’s possible to lose sight of that. Snazzy themed armies with lots of conversions are really cool, but if they’re sloppily painted they’re not going to win anything. Marrying a cool idea to high levels of skill is the killer combo, but very good painting will beat fun conversions. It’s a painting contest, after all.

It’s also important to be consistent. The quality of painting needs to be on show throughout the whole army. That doesn’t mean everything has to have the identical colour scheme, although the army should work together as a whole. It means if the army has a squad or two that isn’t painted as well as the rest, it’ll really hurt the army, even if other parts are excellent.

If two armies show similar levels of skill, one potential tiebreaker is whether the units are easily differentiated. That is, if an army has, say, two units of Space Marine Intercessors, it needs to be immediately clear which model belongs to which unit. This might be through squad markings, trim colour, or something else that makes it impossible to get the two mixed up during a game. That’s often a requirement in tournaments and, in the absence of a clear winner, it’s something that might tip the balance.

I should point out these criteria come in when there is a similar level on show across more than one army. If one is clearly painted better than any other, it will probably win. However, I have yet to judge at an event where there one army was far out in front of the others. Standards get higher, techniques are easier to share and hobbyists get more experienced, and there are always multiple great-looking armies on show.

I also can’t vouch for how everyone judges best painted armies. Everyone will have slightly different criteria and there’s no single book of rules for how to judge them (as far as I know). Nevertheless, I hope this advice will help a painter focus on how to kick their army to the next level and maybe even duke it out for the top spot.

Combat Patrol

I might actually play Warhammer 40,000! This is a pretty big deal for me since I have a lot of difficulty actually finishing enough models, at a level I’m happy with, to field a wargaming army. However, the new Combat Patrol format introduced by the 10th Edition of Warhammer 40K makes it all the more possible that I’ll actually drag my miniatures case down to the local gaming shop and bounce some dice.

I feel miniature gaming has a high barrier of entry. I’m not just talking about money (although that’s certainly part of it), but also the time and energy it takes to put an army together. You don’t have to paint your models but most people want to, and you realistically have to at least assemble them. Multiply that over an entire army’s worth of models and you’re looking at a significant investment of time. That’s before looking through the rules, setting up a table, finding a time and place to play, and so forth.

Combat Patrol, which pits two introductory boxes’ worth of models against one another, seems a way to lower that barrier a little. Without this being an established format with the ‘sanction’ of Games Workshop, I probably wouldn’t be up for playing Warhammer 40K. I’d still paint models, but for smaller model count games or purely for display. With Combat Patrol in play, I have a couple of armies ready for a game. Specifically I have the Death Guard box finished (that’s a lot of zombies) and I was even motivated to paint up enough Leagues of Votann to have a patrol box worth of stunty space warriors mustered for the fight.

I’ve played Marvel Crisis Protocol more than any other minis game recently, I think precisely because it’s so easy to get a serviceable roster assembled and painted with the small model count and flexible force construction. Lowering that barrier seems like a really good way to widen the appeal of tabletop games and miniatures in general. At the very least, if it gets me to finish painting an army (even a tiny one), it’s achieved something impressive.


I just bought the core set for Shatterpoint, the new game set in the Star Wars universe. I promised myself I wouldn’t buy into any new games for a while but such oaths are meant to be broken. The main appeal was the miniatures, which are slightly larger scale than in Star Wars Legion and significantly better in terms of sculpting and moulding. In addition the publishers, Atomic Mass Games, make Marvel Crisis Protocol which is probably the miniatures game I enjoy the most.

I was reminded how fun it is to let myself ride a wave of hype. Selecting a small number of interesting miniatures or games, and getting pleasantly stoked up until it comes out, is a simple pleasure that I have come to really appreciate. Instead of buying everything, or impulse purchasing at random, it feels a lot better to make an informed choice about which forthcoming models or games will be fun to make a project out of.

Of course, nothing is really going to stop me having a moment of weakness and buying something on impulse. But it’s always best to have a plan, even when it comes to indulging in my love for tiny toy spacemen.

Salute and Painting Musings

This weekend I attended Salute, a miniature wargaming convention in London. I go there primarily to enter its annual painting competition and scout out new and interesting miniatures and painting stuff, along with blow a pre-determined budget on new toys. The experience included fun, frustration (at not winning anything in the competition) and the aforementioned impulse buying, but it also made me think.

I wish there were more painting contests, and more varied. In particular, I imagine what could be done with a format where painters had, say, an hour, to paint the same miniature, rather than the ten or twenty minutes for regular speed painting, along with rigorous judging standards, to make for a more ‘mind sports’ feel so competition painting included more than the normal ‘bring the thing you’ve been working on for twelve months’ format.

It also made me wonder how many people paint primarily, rather than game with miniatures. Most of the exhibitors were showing or selling wargames, but there is always a number that are selling models and products for display instead of or as well as gaming, and these are always the most fascinating to me. Both Moonstone Miniatures and, confusingly, Monkstone Miniatures had some beautiful models mainly for display, and theirs were the kind of miniature lines that excite my imagination the most.

I hope miniature painting continues to expand beyond its wargaming origins, while still including more than enough for anyone who wants to field armies of tiny people. And in the meantime, the journey to Salute 2024 starts now.

Miniature Ranges That Aren’t Warhammer

I love everything Warhammer, but I love the miniature painting hobby in general too and here’s a few miniature lines I love outside Games Workshop. They all have their own reasons to seek them out, and it’s exciting to find something out there completely different to Games Workshop’s offerings while still showing beautiful sculpting. This isn’t an exhaustive list, just a few lines that came to mind while pondering tiny model people.


This is a current miniatures range by Spanish company Corvus Belli. They have a distinctive aesthetic influenced by anime and hard science fiction, beautifully crisp sculpting and casting and some gorgeous designs. Their mechs, called TAGs, are particularly spectacular.


Not the ancient Games Workshop hive gang game, but a range of miniatures by French company Rackham. Confrontation isn’t around any more but some companies have access to their sculpts and originals can turn up on eBay (but expect to pay through the nose for a complete boxed set). Confrontation was a range of fantasy miniatures with amazingly characterful sculpting, especially in some of their non-human races (the evil dwarves are amazing). The casting wasn’t always up to scratch compared to the sculpts so flash and lumpy bits of random metal can make preparation a headache. I fondly remember ordering these models from France in the late 90s/early 20000s and being amazed there was a world beyond Space Marines.

Marvel Crisis Protocol

MCP is one of the few games I play semi-regularly. The main attraction of their miniatures is the fact they’re superheroes, which have been ill-served by the miniatures world except a couple of dedicated games. The models are pricey for what you get, but you don’t need many to play a game.

Kingdom Death Monster

For some reason, I am cursed to finish perhaps one out of every five KDM miniatures I get. I keep breaking or losing bits of their limited-run boutique resin figures, which have a mix off anime aesthetics and extreme strangeness along with excellent detail and dynamism. One day I will actually finish two of these in a row.

Warhammer time!

As someone with a great deal of history around Warhammer, I don’t get to play it very often. Tonight I managed to do exactly that when I bounced dice with a good friend trying out the new Boarding Actions format. My Leagues of Votann force covered the decks with blood against their Adeptus Mechanicus enemies. They were victorious, but more because of my opponent’s generosity in pointing out rules interactions and lines of play than my supreme generalship. Kinfolk of the Match was my Grimnyr who incinerated a good chunk of the opposition with her mind bullets.

My thoughts on Boarding Actions are very positive. The format is much more manageable than a full game of Warhammer 40,000, both in terms of the length and size of the games and the amount of information a competent commander has to cram into their head. I’d like to play more games, both of Boarding Actions and other smaller-scale miniatures games, including some more Marvel Crisis Protocol which particularly suits my tastes.

I feel the only thing really missing from Boarding Actions is a sort of narrative element where units open a door to a previously sealed section of spacecraft, only to be confronted by something horrible, dramatic and possibly fatal. Mixing an unfolding story with a traditional objectives-based wargame seems a rich vein of design space to mine.

NPC Charity Project

And the end of last year I began a charity project, inspired by the humanitarian crisis surrounding the war in Ukraine. It came about from trying to work out what I could possibly do to help, given that I had no relevant skills to providing aid in a crisis zone.

My solution was to stick to what I knew, which was writing. I wrote a fantasy novel, entitled NPC, dipping into the LitRPG subgenre and using some ideas I had been nursing for a while about a story with an emotional core as well as fantasy trappings.

The resulting novel can be found at for Pay What You Want. All the proceeds go to Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders), who are not only working in Ukraine but in crisis-hit areas all over the world. I am hoping I can do more projects like this in the future, finding out what writing can do for me beyond what I have done previously.


It’s Space Year 2023, which seems to have happened without any intervening time between now and the turn of the millennium.

Goals? Resolutions? I’ve got out of the habit of setting myself must-haves for the New Year. Instead, I’ll go through some thoughts that occurred to me on this entirely arbitrary marking of the passage off time:

I might get a 3D printer. As complicated and troublesome as it seems to bee, this would let me print model parts for conversions and dioramas.

I want to incept some larger personal creative projects, along with the regular writing work. Art? More writing? Who knows? I’ll decide when I get the free brainspace to start something.

I am aiming to attend Salute this year, to give me an excuse to paint some competition miniatures and spend a whole lot of money on toy soldiers.