Variant: Painting War of the Ring | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Variant: Painting War of the Ring

So, I painted War of the Ring. Before beginning any paint job, I often like to look at what others have done. I get some really neat ideas and they often provide helpful advice. Two people said, flat out, don’t do it! Don’t begin the project. Well, I didn’t heed their advice and now I have a painted set. But, were I to give advice to you, my advice would be along the same lines. It’s a much bigger, more time consuming, and even more tedious process than you might anticipate.

I wanted to begin with the unique figures. That meant the Companions and Minions. Not only did they have (slightly) more detail than the army units, but the variety of figures kept my interest high. I was fresh on the scene, full of enthusiasm and vigor. Let’s tackle the detail projects first and show some good progress.

The Level 2 companions

As with all my projects, these are not meant to be show pieces (nor could I really paint something of such quality). They are meant to enhance the board game experience, and that meant that the units needed to be readily distinguishable on the map. So I painted all the bases solid colors. For the Companions, that meant white. And the Minions, black.

I really enjoyed painting the companions. Gandalf the Grey was fun to paint and allowed me to get into the folds of his robes with some techniques to bring out the subtle differences. I think my ink may have obliterated most of it, but it looks good on the table.

Suddenly, Hobbits!

I also made sure to paint Merry and Pippin with a similar theme as Rohan and Gondor, respectively. Likewise, Boramir got some touches of Gondor blue as did Aragorn. I went a little crazy with Strider (from Lords of Middle Earth) and probably put in too many colors. But I had just gotten my turquoise paint and really wanted to use it. Perhaps my favorite was Saruman. Not only did his eyes turn out nicely (always a difficult achievement), but I used a technique of painting him a little gray, then a little whiter and finally highlighting the high spots with pure white. It not only gives him some subtle dimension, but also stops him from appearing like a solid block of white.

A little too crazy on the mounted strider

Speaking of which, I hate painting all white and all black figures. It’s so boring. So that was a challenge with the Minions and with Gandalf the White (from the expansion). Especially since white Gandalf is on a white horse (yes, I did movie colors over book colors in some instances). I edged in a little grey hear and there to provide definition, and overall it turned out nicely.

With so few dwarves, I didn’t do much to distinguish elites from leaders

With the companions finished, it was time to turn toward the actual armies. Armies did not get eyes – there were too many and it was too difficult. I decided to start with the smallest and work my way up. So Dwarves were first on the painting block. The squat figures were armor clad and left little room for flourishes. So instead, I gave the leaders red flags with gold anvils and stars. Painting 14 dwarves was no big deal and I thought I was making good progress.

Whoever heard of green orcs?

Next up, Isengard. And I ran into a little problem with the orcs. I typically paint orcs green. But they aren’t green in the Tolkien world. I decided to try it on the warg riders anyway. And, though they would be great in most games, they do feel out of place a bit there. Nevertheless, the wargs turned out good and I got to do some teeth on them and really get their fur looking nice and matted gray. The regulars I painted with a light brownish skin tone, though they are wearing a face mask that covers most of it. I tried to pay careful attention to detail on the shield and make sure the white hand was represented.

Men of the North

Two factions down, I was feeling good. Time to start the North. And here is where the first inklings of repetitive tedium started to sink in. There are 19 figures, of which 9 are on horseback. The horses, even though they represent two different units (elites and leaders) are nearly identical models. So you end up painting the same thing over and over (and over). Because they have different game effects, I put leaders on white horses and the other troops on brown. The regulars were sort of fun and I used the Wife (an avid Tolkien nerd) to help with the hair and skin coloring. Unfortunately, it was here that my three year old wanted to help me ink my models. I didn’t really have the heart to say no. Needless to say, many of them turned out a heck of a lot darker than I anticipated.


On to the men of Rohan. Same thing with a different color scheme. The regulars were fun, but again the horses were so samey. And the models were such that it was easy to miss a spot under the hind quarters or between the legs. I had to constantly re-evaluate the paint jobs. And it got repetitive. Enjoyment fading … fading … fading…

Elves are mostly horses. Ugh.

When it came time for elves, I was crying a little inside. Especially since the elves have 14 horsey models. So I decided to try something a little different. The riders have a weird bulge that sort of looks like armor. I’m not sure what it is. But I decided to just paint it like armor. Sure some detail might be lost, but it would blend in. I did, however, give the horses a lighter color. They are elves after all. They should be more regal than the human riders. That helped break up the tedium, but only marginally. Excuses to avoid painting started sounding really good.

Just keep painting … you’re making progress…

On to Gondor. Gondor has more troops. Fifteen regulars and nine horsey guys. Painting the same figure over and over fifteen times was not super exciting. The novelty wore off quickly. It was around this time, perhaps with the elves, that I began to regret my project. In fact, I would dread starting a new faction. After it got going, I was motivated to finish it. But starting a new one, ugh. It felt like a chore.

These guys used a lot of different colors

Finally the Free Peoples were finished and it was time to do the remaining  Shadow Armies. Southrons and Easterlings. Six oliphants and twenty-four regulars. Here is were I went a little crazy. The oliphants were actually a lot of fun to paint. Good detail (comparatively) and the southern/eastern theme really went well with them. The regulars I decided to dress up a bit. Things had gotten a little dull and I was eager to put in some real detail and mix some colors. Purple pants, red shirts, brass armor and weapons, desert scarf, leather boots, fur lined hats, and wooden bows. I think they turned out great! But what I didn’t count on was how long the project would take. Oh. Em. Gee. Because I used so many colors, it took forever to get it all finished. This is when my enjoyment cratered. It was now, officially, a chore. Not something to be enjoyed – just a task to be completed.

Cave trolls and orcs.

Finally, Mordor. With it’s 42 units. Ugh. I was not looking forward to it. The six cave trolls were actually sort of fun. They were a little larger and that made them easier to paint and with greater detail. The regulars, though, were obnoxious. I greatly reduced the color palette, having learned from the southron faction, but the sheer quantity was huge. Metal armor, grey skin, black shields, and red eyes on the shield. I never want to paint another Mordor orc for the rest of my life.

The picture’s flash brings the purple out a little stronger than normal on the witch-king’s steed’s wings.

As has become my custom, I used Army Painter inks to finish the figures. Generally I used Dark Tone for the good guys and Strong Tone for the bad guys. It really helps to bring out the details of the crevices and cracks of the figure. But it does darken the model – especially the Strong Tone. Mordor orcs look a little monochromatic after the application. Of course, my three year old’s assistance contributed as well.

So, I now have some of the figures from the expansion to paint: Galadriel, Elrond, Gothmog, Balrog, and the alternate Mouth of Sauron. But, I’m not going to. I’m done painting for a good long while. And, I haven’t come close to playing the base game enough to even want to introduce the expansion yet.

Nazgul are still awesome, though.

If I had to do it over again, would I? I’m not sure the answer to that. On the one hand, I now have a painted set which really pops on the table. Not only is it far more evocative, but the colored bases make the game a lot easier to play. It is a big enhancement on all levels. On the other hand, by the end of the project, I just didn’t enjoy it any more.

What makes War of the Ring different from, say, the D&D adventure games is that you paint the same model over and over and over. Instead of having three orcs, you have thirty-six. Instead of heroes with unique models, you have armies of the same model. The unending repetition sucks a lot of the joy away for me. So, my advice is this: a painted set is better in every conceivable way. But know that it is a big, not fun project to get there.

Painted minis at game start

There is 1 comment.

  1. Andrew said on July 15, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    Your painting has come along really well man, good job!

    Tip on horse eyes: unless something has scared the shit out of a horse, you won’t see the whites of its eyes. I loved myself a lot more once I realized I could just do the entire horse eye black and call it a day. 🙂

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