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Fan turns Heironymous Bosch painting into fantasy wargame army

‘The Garden of Unearthly Frights’ is a custom army for Warhammer rival Kings of War, inspired by the mind-bending medieval artwork of Heironymous Bosch.

Army for Warhammer rival Kings of War inspired by the art of Heironymous Bosch - a birdman with a cauldron on his head sitting in a tall chair

Wargamer Tim Croft spent 146 days creating a custom Night Stalkers army for Warhammer rival Kings of War, inspired by medieval artist Heironymous Bosch’s three-panel painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. Croft’s elaborate army won a Judge’s Prize award at the Clash of Kings 2023 tournament for sheer creativity.

Kings of War is a miniature wargame for armies of fantasy infantry and cavalry, supported by monsters, warmachines and heroes. It has a similar focus on maneuver and securing favorable combat match-ups to Warhammer: The Old World, but plays far faster.

Army for Warhammer rival Kings of War inspired by the art of Heironymous Bosch, facing off against a fantasy army at the Clash of Kings tournament

Official Kings of War tournaments organized by publisher Mantic Games permit players to use any models that they like, so massive conversions like Croft’s aren’t unheard of – but ‘The Garden of Unearthly Frights’ really is a huge overhaul.

Initially, Croft had planned to make a Forces of the Abyss army: “basically devils, daemons and creatures from the pit of Hell”. He says he “scoured a number of art books and the internet for classical paintings representing hell”, before he (re)discovered Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. “I must have totally blocked [it] out of my mind since seeing it as a kid at School”, Croft says.

Army for Warhammer rival Kings of War inspired by the art of Heironymous Bosch - The Garden of Earthly Delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights is a triptych of three scenes, created by Netherlandish master painter Heironymous Bosch between 1490 and 1510. It is – without putting too fine a point on it – absolutely batshit loco, and one of the coolest pieces of art you’ll ever see. Wikimedia hosts some truly enormous scans of the piece.

It was exactly the aesthetic Croft was looking for, but it didn’t suit the fire and brimstone aesthetic of the Forces of the Abyss. He chose to pivot to a different army: “as this painting gave me nightmares as a kid, why not give it to an army that’s all about nightmares and night horrors – The Nightstalkers”. Croft has focused in on the third panel to inspire his army.

“The most difficult part of the whole project was deciding which Nightstalker Kings of War units would represent what in the original painting”, Croft says. The commitment to reproducing items from the painting also limited Croft’s army choices: he says he couldn’t “choose a cavalry option, as no cavalry units [are] represented in the painting”.

Croft’s favorite parts of the army are also parts where he’s deviated a little from Bosch’s original. There’s a pizza delivery subtheme running between several models, including “pizza producing Phantoms”, “ice skating pizza-delivery Butchers”, and a “Knight-topped pizza-loving Shadowhounds troop”.

Detail from Heironymous Bosch' Garden of Earthly Delights, a pack of dogs devouring a knight on a round disc held on a knife

The pizza came from a small detail of the original artwork, a pack of dogs devouring a knight on some type of disc: “That disc ‘naturally’ became a pizza!”

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Croft is very enthusiastic about Kings of War, giving it the kind of write-up we might put into one of our best-of guides: “Since being first released in 2010 as a simple free ruleset… it’s grown to become a fully fledged world-respected mass battle system. The background and world of Pannithor [is now] a fully fleshed out realm with at least 26 armies to choose from”.

We’ll add that Mantic Games has consistently improved the quality of its miniature sculpts: check out the recently-revised Dark Elf range to see how the firm is establishing a distinct identity among well-worn fantasy tropes. While old Warhammer Fantasy Battle players will be tracking the Warhammer: The Old World release date, there are far worse uses for your Warhammer Old World factions than playing Kings of War.