I am sure I am not alone when I say “I use my hobby time as an escape.”
Be it the annoyances of work, the woes of real life, or the oppressive 24/7 news cycle – tinkering at my hobby desk is my little slice of mindfulness and calm. There is no doom scrolling, only the panacea of mould line removal or the careful application of polycement. The restorative powers of this hobby always struck me as complex. The time-intensive and somewhat megalomaniacal collecting, assembling, and conducting of simulated carnage doesn’t always seem the most chill thing. It is called WARgaming, after all. However, with a social media account dedicated to just this pursuit, I was able to curate a feed free from the aforementioned doom. When opening the app I would be greeted with just beautifully crafted miniatures and photographs of expertly made battlefields.
Summertime 2021 however, that doom I had so carefully hidden away from, started to creep in.
The largest corporate player in this particular game (you know who) has a famously unstoppable release cycle. Every week this behemoth enterprise releases more kits, books and games. Their products are incredibly popular, and rightly so. The detail and quality of their injection moulded plastics are unsurpassed in the wargaming industry and their very popularity means you’ll probably be able to find someone to play a game with, irrespective of geography. They are the gateway to this hobby for many people and their commercial success makes this accessible for normal people. If it wasn’t for venturing into “that scary shop” (my mother’s description) that we find on so many high streets, I would not have bought my first box of Space Marines as a lad.
In keeping up with this endless release cycle – a hobby in its own rights some would argue – I was alarmed by a specific set of product developments. I watched a battle report for the latest edition of Kill Team (the low model count, skirmishy sibling of full Warhammer 40,000). I was utterly horrified by the number of special counters, trackers, special dice and general gubbins needed to play the game. Most games do need some furniture and housekeeping to work, be it a roster sheet or maybe some templates. But the designers of the new version of Kill Team took the decision to abandon inches as a unit of measurement. The game’s rules make reference to various colour-coded polygons, which then correspond to a special plastic ruler with matching shapes, for measuring distances. And due to that endless product release cycle – twinned with the usual planned obsolescence – I had an unpleasant thought.
In 5 years time those special, “compulsory”, plastic rulers will all be in landfill. It seemed like such a reckless and irresponsible design decision. Most households have a tape measure. All wargaming households definitely have at least 3. The decision to make a proprietary measuring device from something non-renewable and non-transferable really got my goat. The item is useless for any other game system. This was just silly greed – a product you don’t really need, but they want you to think you ought to buy. And it was the type of silly greed that’s systemically at the expense of the planet. Within a decade or two, how many particles of a totally unnecessary alternative to a tape measure would be accumulating in the ecosphere and our food chain. I do not want to live in one of the dystopian realities we use as an escapist setting for our games. Being a millennial I took to social media and wrote a short post along similar lines to this one, venting my frustrations. It received a lot of support and I coined a hashtag – “#hobbyneutral”.
But a hashtag alone will not save the planet, so what tactics have I actually been employing to do my bit in a sometimes very polluting or wasteful hobby? The ‘3 Rs’ of reduce, reuse and recycle seem an appropriate way to share with fellow hobbyists some of my thoughts in this arena.
Two words – Skirmish Games. Despite Kill Team being the triggering point for this whole endeavour, fundamentally low model count games are greener. They use less stuff! They take less energy to move about and manufacture. You’ll be doing yourself a favour as a hobbyist by fretting about painting fewer minis and taking up less room. There are more skirmish rulesets out there than you can shake a sustainably sourced stick at catering for all imaginable tastes. If you’re after the grand spectacle of a huge battle – try a smaller scale? The same stunning effect can be achieved using 10mm/15mm minis, but with less stuff!
On a broader point I cannot emphasise enough the joy “miniature agnostic gaming” has brought to me in my hobby. By being a bit more generic with some miniatures or terrain, or playing games in settings where product IP isn’t a requirement of entry, I have been able to use fewer minis to play more games. It also means I can get a bit weird and wacky with some particular choices, but more on that in “reuse”. Also this affords me the luxury of exploring multiple rulesets without worrying I don’t have the right minis. Also avoid rulesets that are overly prescriptive on basing standards to ensure maximum transferability of minis between systems. This agnostic approach is particularly true for Science Fiction and Fantasy settings. My band of 28mm “space ruffian” types are as at home in Stargrave as they are Planet28, Space Station Zero or Kill Sample Process.
In early 2022 I invested in a 3D printer. I’m not suggesting this is a course of action everyone should take. But shipping a bottle of resin to my house every few months is a lot more efficient than several boxes of off-site manufactured plastic minis, several times. I can also be very specific and particular about what I chose to fabricate – again reducing waste and unwanted material for those special kitbashing projects. There are water washable resins on the market now too. Just make sure you fill your build plate to get the most out of any print run that’s being undertaken. And keep those funky looking supports (more of that in “Recycle”).
My Friendly Local Gaming Store has recently started “Warboot sales”. People have sprue bins, half-finished models, unopened games, unused paints, out of production rare minis, collectible card games – all sorts. It’s like eBay but with your friends! Whilst it may be virtually impossible to circularise such a niche hobby at a local scale, we can at least knock some of the corners off. A sustainable course of action is to keep our wargaming assets usable for longer by swapping, trading, or even giving them away.
We need to talk about “Oldhammer”. I was fortunate enough to first be exposed to the dopamine hit of garishly painted Warhammer miniatures in the mid-nineties. The older (cruder) sculpts are particularly evocative and nostalgic for me, and are now deeply ingrained into my hobby subconsciousness. These out of production minis are an ideal hobby neutral endeavour. A product like Paint Blitzer is a great way to quickly and cleanly strip both metal and plastic minis back to their bare unprimed state. Buried sometimes under multiple layers of car spray paint or numerous strata of Humbrol enamel lie the chunky details and hand sculpted finishes many of us fondly remember. The models are there, they already exist! They don’t need manufacturing, packaging and shipping again. They just need a quick clean and a fresh coat of paint. It’s worth highlighting that Paint Blitzer doesn’t need to be exclusively used for such esoteric or archaeological endeavours. Secondhand modern armies are a greener, more sustainable way to engage with your hobby, and you can still experience the joy of painting them all over again.
If you cannot reduce consumption, if you cannot reuse existing assets, then how can you go about recycling things?
Sprues – historically – have been a tricky one. Some plastics have been hard to recycle in certain territories’ main recycling schemes, and most modern injection-moulded kits come with an absolute tonne of the things. I was overjoyed by the recent announcement from GW that they would be trailing a recycling scheme for sprues! This is exactly the sort of circularisation in our economy that can assist sustainability. I hope other companies in this industry follow suit.
Alternatively you can use the sprues themselves as a hobby resource. Chopping the frames into chunks can make compelling debris and rubble for basing and terrain. You can go further – Tiny Conflict 3012 is a space based combat system that gives you designs for making spaceships out of sprue offcuts!
Modern sprues also tend to give you a lot of extra bits. Keep them and use them! Swap them with your mates. Make your minis as unique and personal to you as you like. The “28” community online is fostering a burgeoning community of kitbashers and all those spare bits are going to come in very handy when you’re making a unique creation.
It is difficult to talk about an optional, “nice to have”, ultimately luxury consumerist hobby, whilst at the same time sincerely engaging with the ongoing environmental crisis. A crisis that is robbing people of essentials in their lives be it food, water or shelter. There are many things in the world far more damaging than painting toy soldiers for an evening.
I’m not saying “stop”, or boycott or anything drastic. But small changes can help and hopefully this short article will prompt discussions in your hobby circles. We also need to remember why some of the big companies are pursuing such aggressive and comprehensive release schedules, or the product design decisions they have taken. These deliver surplus value for them, not the planet. We can all make small but impactful changes. By pivoting even a relatively small percentage of your regular hobby budget to support companies like Unto The Breach Hobbies, and buying their products like Paint Blitzer, we can make real change to the impact our “for fun” activities have on the planet, whilst also saving ourselves some money. Do wider society – and the planet – a favour and get yourself a bottle of Pain Blitzer. Breathe new life into perfectly good old models without generating oodles of waste.
If you happen upon a particularly green solution for a hobby topic, plaster the #hobbyneutral hashtag all over it!
Many thanks to the esteemed @apocrypha_now for this great piece – Please give him a follow on Instagram for some wonderful hobby projects, creative musings and more #hobbyneutral content!