GWS 2023: Unpainted figures

By Jon Freitag

One of the new questions asked in the 2023 edition of the Great Wargaming Survey explored the number of unpainted figures awaiting a slap of paint. Perhaps an innocent question for some, and possibly traumatizing for others.

The range of responses from having none or very few unpainted figures all the way up to having more than 1,000 unpainted miniature in the ‘pile of potential’. While estimating the number of unpainted figures one holds may be a difficult, if not impossible, task, where do YOU fit into the larger scheme? Let's see what the survey says...

The number of unpainted figures in a wargamer
Graph of the division of answers to the question

By counts, less than 4% of survey respondents maintain no, or hardly any, surplus of unpainted figures. Almost 41% of respondents have between 100 and 500 unpainted figures. About 82% hold fewer than 1,000 unpainted figures in their storeroom. Still, that means that the remaining 18% of wargamers hold more than 1,000 unpainted figures. Why maintain a stockpile of so many unpainted figures? When is enough "enough" to have on hand?

While the survey totals above illustrate the distribution of these unpainted figure piles, can the survey offer any more enlightening insight? To help in answering that question, these numbers are broken down by a few demographic attributes.

Age group

When stratified by Age Group, what does the survey suggest? Broad themes seem to rely on the notion that younger gamers have fewer unpainted figures than older gamers. Focusing on the extremes of the unpainted figure count distribution offers an interesting observation. Once a wargamer reaches the 41-50 age cohort, the share of respondents having unpainted collections of over 1,000 figures doubles.

While small inroads are made into reducing the unpainted figure pile down to nothing as one ages, the share of gamers having more than 1,000 unpainted figures remains stubbornly high at about a quarter of all respondents. This observation suggests wargamers never really paint down their pile of unpainted figures.


Share of responses per age group

Primary Interest

When stratified by Primary Interest, gamers tend to bifurcate into two groups. Fantasy/Sci-Fi gamers tend to hold fewer unpainted figures than the Historical and Mixed groups. This tendency is likely due to the nature of their games and gaming. Notice that Historical / Mixed gamers hold collections of over 1,000 unpainted figures about twice as often as their primarily non-historical counterparts.

Share of unpainted figures by primary interest

Collection Size

Examining the relationship between painted and unpainted figure collection sizes, produces an unmistakable correlation. This finding illustrates that as painted collection size grows, the percent of respondents having an unpainted pile exceeding 1,000 figures grows. Often dramatically. By the time a collection reaches 20,000 figures, more than half of those gamers have unpainted figures totals exceeding 1,000 figures.

Share of unpainted figures by collection size

What can we deduce from looking at these results?  

Survey results reinforce the anecdotal notion that wargamers never really manage to address the elephant in the room. That elephant is the large, unpainted pile of figures growing silently in the background. Is the accumulation of a large pile of figures, seldom seeing a lick of paint, a misallocation of resources? Why do we tread down this path? Do these piles of figures slowly and silently accrue over time, unbeknownst to the holder?

How large is your unpainted pile of figures? If the pile is large, why? Do you ever intend to fully paint down this stockpile of unpainted figures?

Where do I fit into this scheme? For those who know me, the answer is clear.


You are right in that figure size does matter and the longer we remain in the hobby, the larger our collections tend to grow.

Jonathan Freitag

I certainly found as I moved into smaller and smaller scales to do bigger and bigger battles the amount of individual figures grows at a remarkable amount! In 6mm 1,000 unpainted little men is a trifle compared to 28mm!


Thank you for your response.

Has the move from metal to plastic really increased figure supply? If you have data supporting this hypothesis, please share your findings. That, in itself, would be an interesting result. I also challenge the notion that the calculus has changed in the balance between cost vs effort. The cost (in money) to acquire has always been much easier than the cost (in effort) to paint. For me, the cost of figures, themselves, remains a fraction of the total cost in effort. Nothing has really changed. Well, with the exception that my number of figures has grown.

Jonathan Freitag

The numbers are interesting, but I can’t see anything surprising here. Whilst it would be lovely to have zero unpainted miniatures, that’s going to be almost impossible in practice. The move from metal to plastic has increased supply (e.g. you buy a box of 30 models even if you only want 10) and also increased the time-to-finish (plastic models have to be assembled, whereas metal models need very little preparation), armies may be smaller but that is compensated for by more variety. Overall, I would say the formula has changed – the cost and time to buy models is now fairly insignificant compared to the enormous time and cost to get them ready for the table, so inevitably we end up with a pile of ‘in progress’ models. That’s not necessarily wrong, it’s just the way it is.

Mike Adams

Superb response! I reckon you make wargamers with large stockpiles feel just a little less guilty. Thank you!

Jonathan Freitag

Based upon survey results, you are not alone. Stockpiling for a Rainy Day is a prudent practice but only if you return to those old projects. My Lead Pile may, likewise, emit its own gravitational field.

Jonathan Freitag

where do I start…?

I think there is a particular mindset or pervading characteristic of a majority of wargamers and this encourages a range of behaviours, not least of which is collecting but not necessarily painting all the figures they buy. Other characteristics may include ultra deep knowledge on aspects of the hobby, the ability to remember facts, figures and how many mm’s your opponent’s cavalry moved 3 turns ago. I could go on but you get the drift…

In regards to the unpainted pile of figures we are not alone. By analogy we can compare the collection of unpainted figures to similar traits exhibited by others. For example, some people buy huge amounts of clothes and shoes. They cant possibly be able to wear them all and in fact will, upon gentle questioning, admit that they have things in the wardrobe that have never been worn and yet have been in there for years. Others will buy stacks of books (and some will buy stacks of rulebooks!) with the same observation that they probably (not always though) never get around to reading them. I could go on but I think you get the point.

My analysis of the above leads me to suggest that perhaps it is the thought that drives many (but not all) of us to buy lots of wargaming figures and yet not paint them all. The thought of a wonderful array of figures triumphantly displayed on the wargaming table. I think that many of us (and I most certainly include myself) are guilty of this process whereby we get a thought or a desire for a project and then do the next step which is research and buy the figures. The middle bit (the execution or action phase of painting them) gets lost along with enthusiasm when the huge pile of lead thuds through the letter box. I mean, look at all those figures, it’ll take ages to paint them. So, we either return to a half completed other project as this is closer to finishing or we go through the process again and convince ourselves that it will be different next time…

Now I am not suggesting that some (many?) of us behave exactly in this way although I will cheerfully admit that I am guilty of it. Additionally, on top of the thought of the finished project, the knowledge that I have all these nice figures just waiting for when i get the urge to paint, I have everything there and ready. That for me is a comforting and nice thought. It is also the same for books and rulesets of which I am equally guilty of buying heaps of. I know they are there waiting for me to read them or use them and because I have the attention of a gnat, I have plenty of options to choose from.

So, after all that, I can certainly say that I am one of the 1000+ unpainted figure brigade (although this is slightly unfair as I mainly do 10 or 15mm not 25mm!) and I know personally the reasons why. My wife, if she did read this confession, would probably put her arm around my shoulder, smile gently and then whisper in my ear “you forgot to add DIY projects to the list”.

Dave Hollin

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