Why is gaming so expensive anyway? Well, there are a lot of reasons…. cost of materials, time etc. But quite a lot of gaming expense is unnecessary. The gaming industry is rife with companies that put out a decent product for a while, then go out of business. This leaves their game unsupported and their former customers with a product that they may not even be able to use anymore. This causes a "get it while you can" attitude among gamers. If something cool comes out, you need to get it RIGHT NOW, because a few months down the road it probably won’t be available. In a way, most of the fault is based in our own attitudes when we buy into this mentality.
The larger game companies are immune to this for the most part. Most of them regularly put out a decent product, support it well, and make money in the normal rough-and-tumble of the market. Some companies have almost ruthlessly effective marketing departments that are quite adept in getting people to buy more and more and finally MORE of their products. This is accomplished, for example, by changing the game rules and unit consistency every two years or so, along with a full "makeover" of the base models, so you have to buy more minis – the old ones aren’t "in fashion" anymore.
Another great method of audience/market manipulation is to have some in-house propaganda organ –oops, I’m slipping here- err, magazine that will publish monthly rules revisions and additions. This allows the company to manipulate the market by re-designing armies on the fly, causing the latest published army to spank all the previously "cool" armies. That is, until the next edition comes out of course. Then you’ll shell out a healthy chunk of cash to start the process over again. Of course you don’t HAVE TO buy into this kind of scheme, but if you want to play in some sort of "official" gaming function, you’d better say yes.
So let’s get off this merry-go-round, shall we? Here are a few guidelines that might help.
1. Don’t play games from companies that tell you that you "have to" only use their stuff. In spite of what their marketing/quasilegal department would say, it IS YOUR GAME (you paid for it), and you can use whatever you darn well please. If you really want to play a particular game like the one above, foster an attitude of tolerance in your own game group with regards to this. If the people playing are okay with it, do it. If somebody wants to be a snob about it, don’t game with them.
2. Play miniatures games that make sense in scale. Here’s what this means: "Back in the day" there was a 28mm skirmish game where you could call in off-table artillery. You would buy the one-shot item for points, and it would drop in depending on the rule for the artillery piece. Years later, you would see artillery models for this support fire effect actually being fielded in the game. Along with tanks, hover vehicles, etc etc. The problem is, in this scale (28mm), these big guns really have no room to maneuver or move in any really tactically relevant way. They’re just a big pillbox that you have to take out, or you’d have to change your venue to some local parking lot if you wanted to run a strategic-level game. I was in one game that included a literal wall of tanks – each model separated by less than an inch, from table edge to table edge. Ridiculous! These big monsters really have no place on a small or moderately sized game table, other than to get gamers to spend large sums to purchase an additional product from the game company. If you’re going to play a game where larger vehicles are the focus, get smaller in scale. Otherwise, play smaller games with the larger figures. For the price of a couple of the larger tanks, you can get yourself plenty of the smaller scale models and effectively have "bigger" games.
3. Don’t pay full retail if you don’t have to. Cultivate bargain-hunting. When my game group started playing our "skank game" , we started off by using figures that we already had. Old oddball miniatures from a variety of lines were pressed into battle. Got some old Powhatan Indians that you don’t know what to do with? Paint the Mohawks green, put a stop sign in one hand and you have instant techno-barbarian tribals! These were supplemented by figures gotten at flea markets for pennies on the dollar. Two weeks ago, right here in 2006, I picked through a "bits bin" in my local game store and found 10 useful figures for 50 cents apiece. Click here to see them.
Right now, there are a lot of "Clicks" games out there featuring pre-painted 28mm (or so) models. Some game stores sell these as individual pieces for a dollar or less. So why not pick up a few of these? Get the cheapest version, pop them off their base and re-mount them on a penny. If the paint job is not to your liking, go ahead and re-paint them. Instant gaming miniatures.
Buying used minis on the internet is also good way to go too. Check out eBay auctions. You could, if you wanted to, buy entire painted armies here for the price of bare lead figures. eBay auctions are what happens when people buy miniatures and also buy in to the grand marketing scheme of the game company. A year passes and they have to buy the new stuff, so the old stuff has to go…. And their loss is your gain. Just don’t end up buying "lots" because you want one or two figures in the bunch. It’s just not worth it.
4. Make substitutions wherever you can. For instance, vehicles don’t need to be resin models to be cool. Many of the vehicles for our game were old die-cast cars that were picked up at flea markets and the toy aisle of the local department store. Check carefully, though, as many of them are out of scale. Take a mini along with you if you’re not sure. You may need to disassemble them, re-paint the pieces to suit your needs and put them together again. Re-painted or not, die cast toy cars make great cheap vehicles. Click here to see some examples. A lot of times, painting a die-cast vehicle is less work than properly doing up a resin one. In a lot of cases, they look better too.
5. Try to build your skill base so you can make what you need yourself, rather than buying something that will fill your current gaming need. If you’re a miniatures painter but don’t have much experience building models or making terrain, find another gamer who can show you how. A lot of the old graybeard gamers out there like myself could give you a lot of pointers, as their skills were honed "back in the day" when there weren’t so many cool terrain pieces or models around They were left to their own devices and had to make do. If you don’t have the skill or resources to successfully pull off a particular gaming project, pass on it.
6.Support your local gaming subculture. This is the flip side of the coin to #3. If you can get the item from your local game store at the same price, by all means do it! No need to go online and pay shipping when you can get it locally. This is not just a purely selfish economic decision either. By supporting your local gaming hangout, you will have a place to run games, B.S. with other gamers, learn new modeling skills… and if the place is big enough or grows big enough, maybe they’ll have their own swap meet, where you can get rid of what you don’t need anymore or find something that you can use.
7. Don’t impulse buy. This is my own great downfall, so do as I say, not as I do! Get a genuine feel for your game group’s seriousness about running a new game. It sucks to get all excited and buy (and start painting) a bunch of new figures, only to have everybody else lose interest in the game. Worse yet to actually complete the miniatures and run only one game and that’s all. Get miniatures that you can get multiple uses out of.
Let me conclude this article with a note on Contract Painting, which is painting other people’s miniatures for money. I’ve done this on and off over the years. First, you have to be a pretty good painter to even get in on the game. Even if you’re good, it still doesn’t pay all that well, particularly fantasy and sci fi. Gamers are generally not the richest bunch of folks in the world, so they’re generally not able to pay high prices for paint jobs. Historical miniatures painting might pay better, as historical gamers are usually a bit older and have higher incomes than the younger folks. Still, you can’t really make a good living from it.
But you can make some money to support your own purchases. The only difficulty with this is the huge amount of time it eats up, so you'd better be fast too. In addition to all that, you’ll have less time to spend painting your own stuff. I’ll leave it up to you.
Have Fun and Good gaming!
Stretching your Miniatures Gaming Dollar