I just couldn’t resist to post a small piece on war gaming bases after reading a blogpost by Game of Travel. After all, basing is a part of the hobby process that is overlooked. A good base can enhance the feel and theme of a miniature or army. Think of an army of Dwarf based on snowy mountain terrain instead of green meadows, or jungle themed and overgrown bases for Lizardmen instead of the common ‘brown earth’ and static grass option often employed by gamers.
The fact that bases can enhance the look and feel of an army or model is even more apparent when a poorly painted miniature is placed on a good base. Doing so will immediately ‘raise’ the level of the miniature and will make the mini look good on the table. On the other hand can an exquisitely painted model suffer from being poorly based. So in my opinion do bases and models go hand in hand: they cannot exist without each other – leave alone the fact that most models would fall over without a base ;-). – The challenge is to balance both the miniature and the base because when a base is so ‘over the top’ it can distract from the actual figurine.
From flock to resin – a short history of basing
Looking back through the armiesbooks made by Games Workshop, it becomes clear that the presentation of miniatures has made quite a few strides in the last 20 years. In my first Empire armybook for example, all models were based on green painted bases. Bases that were then topped with a nice, fat layer of modelling flock. I´m not arguing that modelling flock is not a great material. In fact, flock is one of the best materials available for building scenery, diorama’s and model railways. Using this technique on gaming figurines however, not so good…
Around the move from the 5th edition of Warhammer to the 6th edition, probably a little bit earlier in late days of the 5th edition, Games Workshop changed their basing methods. Instead of clean green flocked fields, the bases were now covered in brown painted sand with small patches of static grass. As a kid I naturally followed this change, and what a change is was. Rebasing my models, the results were immediately apparent. The models just looked much more natural on these new bases with the small green patches of static grass breaking up the earth coloured soil in an aesthetically pleasing way. Up to this day, it is the ‘go to’ way to base your models as it looks good and is fairly easy to accomplish.
However, even though the ‘trampled soil’ technique – as I’d like to call the technique described above – offers great results for almost any army, some armies do just not fit thematically onto these generic bases. It’s hard to imagine the jungle dwelling Lizardmen walking through a pastoral landscape, and it is even harder to imagine an urban sci-fi strike force moving around a city on these bases. This is where GW made its biggest changes during the mid ’00s.
Around the time that the Lustria expansion for Warhammer 6th edition was released, Games Workshop took another step by presenting more themed bases instead of the generic trampled soil bases. With the introduction of the – rather poor I must say – jungle terrain, they also showed of armies with great looking and excellent themed bases. Imperial Guardsmen based on more urban styled bases, a simple change in which they simply exchanged the green patches of static grass with grey painted rubble made out of cut up sprues and small modelling stones. Lizardmen walking through richly detailed ‘jungle’ terrain using small bits from the ‘jungle terrain’ (although these were basically overpriced plastic aquarium plants). And Dwarfs and Space Wolves being put on snowy bases which simply meant changing the static grass for ‘modelling snow’. These were small changes, but they really added to the look and feel of the models.
The biggest shift came with the introduction of the ‘basing’ kits that GW released. Starting with the Urban Basing kit for the Cities of Death expansion, you could now buy themed sets that you could use to give your army that little bit of extra ‘oomph’. These kits included different sized modelling stones to create urban rubble or just some scattered stones on more pastoral bases. The most interesting bits however, were small resin bits that you could glue on top of your base: pipes, spilled ammo rounds, severed heads and so on. Adding these small bits to your base gave the model an instant thematic boost. Of course, you could also make these small bits yourself but by offering ‘bite sized basing snacks’ GW lowered the hurdle for less experienced gamers.
The current phase is most likely the most interesting until now. Not only has GW included themed bases with their (plastic) character models, such as the spiky Chaos star rock formation included on the sprue of the Chaos Terminator Lord, there is now also a large selection of third party manufacturers that make awesome resin bases. This means it has never been easier to theme your bases to your liking and army style. So what does this mean to making your bases?
Third party resin bases
Third party resin bases are most likely the best thing that has happened to basing since the introduction of static grass and modelling sand. The resin bases made by non GW companies – such as Micro Art Studio or Secret Weapon Miniatures – offer some clear benefits. First of all is the fact that you do not need to do anything to use these bases as they are the same size as a GW base (or a Warmachine or almost any other sized and formed base available). Second, after you glue your model onto the base, you only have to paint the base as these bases have all the detail you want sculpted onto the base. Finally there is such a huge selection of themes available, that it is almost impossible that you won’t find a fitting theme for your army. There are ‘lava’ bases, urban bases, cobblestone bases, jungle, forest, ship deck, underworld, deamon world and so on and so forth.
If there is one clear downside to using third party bases, it is the fact that these bases are fairly expensive. They are not the price of a new box of lovely miniatures, but they do not come cheap. If you want to base your entire ‘mass battle system’ army such as Warhammer (40k) on it, you’ll have to think big money. However, the best thing about these bases is the fact that you don’t need to base all your models onto them. Simply buying a couple of these bases and adding them to a few models in each unit already gives that little bit of flavour that adds to the look and feel of an army.
In fact, it might be wise not to do so. This is because some basing themes can be a bit overwhelming and unnatural if you use them on every model. The great looking ‘forest’ bases made by (among others) Micro Art Studios are an example of this. All the crisscross laying tree stumps just look out of place in a ranked up unit. Using a couple of these bases in a fully ranked up unit makes the unit look much better though and adds just that bit extra to set a tone.
Make your own bases
Resin bases offers great looking, easy to use and very flavourful opportunities to theme your army. But as I said before, all this goodness comes at a considerable price. In addition, even though you will likely find bases that fit your needs or theme, not every type of base is available, nor is every possible theme for sale. This is where making your bases come in. Designing your own bases is considerably cheaper, offers infinite modelling possibilities and you are not fixed to the bases that are available to the market place.
Looking at the splendid bases that accompany competition winning miniatures, it’s easy to get too ambitious. These bases are simply top of the line, but also require a huge investment in time and specialised modelling materials. Of course, the question is if you want to go down that road when you intent to base an entire army. After all, who can see all your work if your models are tightly ranked up? My suggestion is therefore to keep it simple and stick to one coherent style throughout your army.
Basing and theming your models can be as easy as replacing the standard static grass with modelling snow, some small stones or a couple of bits from your bit box. By using spare heads, arms, legs and so on, you can give the impression that your models are actually fighting a real battle. In addition, it’s always fun to use some of your friends – do ask politely! – bits to base your army and see their faces when your army features decapitated heads and chopped of arms of their own favourite army.
A step further is the usage of terrain bits that you add to your bases. This can give a real 3d look to your bases, and allows you to incorporate your army in your own gaming table at home. Spare parts from scenery kits are great for this, as not only does it merge models and scenery, it also allows you to add ‘unit fillers’ that fit with your table. Cheap plastic aquarium plants are great for jungle bases, while bits from urban kits such as GW’s Cities of Death line instantly add that urban style that matches the look and feel of a 40k hiveworld.
My advice is then to look out for small bits and pieces in shops and in and around your house. Simple house hold materials or DIY material like wall paper all offer great opportunities. Balsa wood and a sharp pencil can be used to create the deck of a ship. Textured wall paper – one of my favourite materials – is another ordinary material that has tremendous possiblities. It is available in all kinds of patterns, ranging from cobble stones, to intricate ‘Dwarfish’ roads. A the same time there are textured wallpapers available that, when painted up, look like a concrete or asphalt road. Mix this with a couple of small stones, a little bit of sand and maybe a bit from your bit box and you have some awesome looking urban scenery at the fraction of the cost from resin bases. So give yourself the opportunity to be surprised and try out varying materials for your bases. You’ll be amazed with what you can accomplish with some cheap everyday products.
Stick to a theme
The most important think to keep in mind is that you stick to a theme. This is maybe an open door. But with all the lovely examples you can find online, the sheer amount of choice available from third party base manufacturers and all the temptations you might run in to, it is easy to get distracted from your initial goal. A goal that should be to establish a theme and feel and keeping one coherent look throughout your army. If you do this, the rewards will be plenty and you will end up with one great looking army. And army that just has that little bit of extra oomph and a great feel and theme.
So what your experiences, thoughts and ideas on basing your models? Do you still use modelling flock because it is so easy or are you fully into the scratch building, Golden Deamon winning awesomeness? Let me know in the comments!