Friday, May 14, 2010

Fluff and Miniatures

A recent post over at Dropship Horizon got me thinking on how important the fluff or backstory to a particular line of miniatures depicting fictional subject matter really is. A lot of resources go into producing miniatures and companies put more or less fluff into the mix along with the actual physical miniatures. It does occur to me that sometimes companies let their fluff get in the way of producing viable product lines.

I realize that some lines are completely dependent on their fluff as in the case of the various Games Workshop and Privateer Press games. In their cases they are producing miniatures for a specific game set in a specific universe and to adhere to a specific fluff context makes sense there. These are the exceptions, however and the vast majority of fantasy and scifi miniatures are created for a more general audience and it is these places where I can and have seen fluff being more harm to a line's viability than in others.

Now, this is not to say that there is no place for fluff in miniatures production. It is my preference to see this handled in more general and vague terms to establish theme and style more than the direction of a force. If you construct a miniatures line that is not attached to a specific set of rules but which seems pigeon-holed into a specific thematic niche, it is less likely to draw as broad an audience as others. I know that I have been hindered or even halted in my purchases of certain miniatures by the lack of the troops I need to make it a viable force for my needs.

Sometimes, the holes in the line are not based on what isn't made, but what is made. There are lines out there that are glutted with repetative or nonsensical posing and sculpting in their figures. Some lines feature poses that have no place on the battlefield or that feature weapons or equipment choices that defy reason (I do not mean personal preference here). A line may have far too many of a particular pose or far too little variation on the same pose repeated over and over so as to make the variation pointless in the first place. It has been commented by bloggers and forum posts time and again that there are packs of figures out there that they would buy if it didn't mean tossing every other figure into the bits box.

I will accept the reality that a miniatures designer cannot hit the sweet spot of the customer 100% of the time and that even the best efforts still leave room for individuals to find fault and lacking pieces. There must be, I'd imagine, a way that manufacturers could design their lines to hit on the greatest bredth of possible sales without compromizing their thematic choices.

I really think the key, especially for the smaller producer, is to focus on the essentials to make a force appeal to the widest audience and let the buyer weed out what doesn't fit his theme. I would also suggest that manufacturers try to make these basics as available as they can within their fluff and find ways to add the specific flavors on top of this. If you are going to make an alien race that prefers to get in close ans fight, fine, but keep them wielding guns. This way, the player who likes the race but doesn't want to use them as the assault monsters, can just apply his own theme to the weaponry. What you intended as a short-range assault gun or SMG could easily be re-themed as a compact, advanced assault weapon.

Anyhow, I have put up a couple of poll questions that tie into this post to see what the readers' thoughts on the topic are. If you are going to select one of the more ambiguous answers, do me a favor and post a comment to add a little insight to your answer.




  1. Good post! I've become disillusioned with GW mainly because of the "nerfing" of armies in the new editions of the codex and the constant changing of the rules. The fluff is also another way to keep you buying there products.

    I just bought a copy of Two Hour Wargames' 5150 and I also ordered Rebel Minis new 5150 First Contact box set. The minis are great and the THW system is simple and very fun to play. There is some fluff in the book but it isn't necessary to follow the story line.

    I'm actually going to be using the Titan Marines as the Earth Force (which I'll depict as an expansinve empire) and the Earth Force Marines as part of the break away colony. I'm not sure on the Sahadeen though, maybe I'll use them as rangers or something.

    There's something to be said for leaving things out. And Two Hour Wargames are pretty open ended with their products.

  2. Well said. I'm ok with the fluff as long as that is all it is fluff!
    However, when it drives the line and more importantly attempts to dictate how I play my games then I take issue with it. That's one reason why I quite playing GW years ago, suddenly my army was no longer valid "just because".

  3. We're going to be releasing a line of minis to go with the core armies in WTNW!

  4. Rob, who is we and how the heck did you swing that?

    So jealous!



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