Moonbreaker is a super chill miniature painting simulator (and a strategy game too, I guess)

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If you’re like me, you’ll have lost a few friends to miniature painting. It’s subtle at first. Some photos on social networks. “Hey, that’s fun!” Then you know they created an Instagram account specifically to post close-up photos of all the little knights and goblins they painstakingly painted. I get it, though: it’s clearly a lot of fun, and from what I’m hearing, brilliantly de-stressing. It’s something that Moonbreaker, the next game from Subnautica creator Unknown Worlds, exploits. It’s essentially digitized tabletop wargaming, letting you indulge in this increasingly popular hobby without having to spend a fortune on models and paints, or getting Berserker Bloodshade all over your jeans. It’s such a great idea that I’m amazed it took someone so long to create a game like this.

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I saw Moonbreaker at Gamescom, and I’ll be honest: I kind of disconnected when the turn-based strategy part of the game was explained to me. It doesn’t look bad, but I I was so fascinated that the game also features a full-fledged miniature painting simulator. It’s so realistic, in fact, that all pre-painted units in the game have been colored, textured, and weathered by real miniature painters, using the same techniques they use in real life. With a 3D viewer, I was able to extract a selection of impressively detailed and evocative models, zoom in, rotate them and admire the precise brushwork of these talented artists. I’m not even into miniature painting and was blown away by them. I feel like this game is going to be a powerful gateway into that hobby.

I tried some paint myself. If you have a steady hand, you can completely freestyle it for an authentic experience. But I was glad I could hold on to a particular part of the model, which kept me from painting outside the lines, even with my so-called sloppy, amateurish technique. I used it to paint a character’s leather belt brown, then chose a darker shade to add some scuff marks. It looked like a child’s drawing compared to the masterful paint jobs of the experts, but it was extremely satisfying nonetheless. You can even use a palette to bring in different shades of paint and realistically mix your own colors. People are going to spend hours on this stuff, and the developer tells me he expects some players to choose Moonbreaker just for the paint, not the strategy layer.

It’s a surprisingly deep and comprehensive tool, reminiscent of digital painting software like Procreate. Along with the aforementioned color mixing, you can also switch between airbrush, dry brush, and wash, which helps you create interesting textures and compelling weathering. Oh, and there’s an undo button, which I’m sure many miniature painters wish they had IRL. I also like the designs of the models, which are elegant and expressive. They have to be, because there’s no animation in Moonbreaker, at least in the traditional sense. When you move a unit, you pick it up and drop it off just like you would a model in a real tabletop game. But the way he moves and attacks reflects the personality of the character in question: a neat idea that brings a lot of life and sparkle to these otherwise static boards.

Unknown Worlds has really gone all-in on the tabletop gadget. Even the levels have been designed to look like they’ve been cast in resin and painted, which is evident when one of the developers zooms in on a lovely plastic-looking waterfall. This studio makes great games, so I’m sure the turn-based strategy part of Moonbreaker will be worth it. But I was so enthralled with the painting elements of my Gamescom demo that I’ll have to wait until the game hits Steam Early Access on September 29 before I get a feel for how it actually plays. I’ve always been intrigued by the world of miniature painting, but never enough to jump in and order the required kit. This, however, seems like a good (and cheaper) way to satisfy that curiosity without splashing paint all over the place.

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