Friday, 28 January 2011

Wargaming on a Budget: Scale

Well the first thing any one has to do when deciding to wargame on a budget is choosing what to compromise on. It can be a tricky one I know, but that is the harsh truth of it all. You have to decide to give up on something if you want to stay within a tight budget and since quitting my job I have had to make a number of these choices.

 Be it of model or of engagements, you may have to scale down on your operations so to speak. This can seem like a really hard thing to do but this is the easiest way to save cash.

When I looked at my piles of plastic and metal, contemplating how much money I had spent on gathering armies of hundreds of models (my Icini army is well over 150 models, and more on sprues) I realised most of those models were 'just in case' purchases and would gather dust for years before I used them again.

Two solutions presented themselves to me: change the scale of my models or change the scale of my battles.

You don't always have to play Apocalypse size
 games to have a good time
For miniature scale, the choice is staggering, from 1/72nd scale to 6mm minis. All are viable, but this was the hardest compromise for me to make. I love painting 28mm models. I love the level of detail, the choice, variety and character of this scale. Problem is apart from Games Workshop and two or three other manufacturers, you have to stick to metal models, which are becoming fairly costly these days (as are Games Workshop plastics as well for that matter).

To be blunt, I just plain don't like anything shorter than 28mm. I don't like how fiddly the minis are and I don't like the lack of detail. The only level I was willing to scale down to was 1/72nd scale.

And that was not a bad thing. Not entirely anyway. I have problems with 1/72nd scale. The main one being discrepancy in scale. You can go to two different manufacturers and buy sets of 1/72 scale minis, only for them to be of completely different dimensions (I will never forget my GIANT German Paratroopers compared to the poor panzer grenadiers). My other great problem is the quality of the plastics. Some have decent quality hard plastic, such as Italeri, and others, awful plastic drippings that make for a horribly moulded and highly rubberised finish, such as Revell.

Standard Ashigaru (left) and converted standing Ashigaru
This left a lot to be desired. However detailing is usually pretty good, especially Italeri and Zvezda kits. Zvezda's samurai kits really impressed me with their level of detail, however more varieties in poses would be very much appreciated. Conversions would be the natural way to go however the posing does not lend itself well for chopping and changing and at times the plastic really does not want to work with standard poly cement, but its not impossible. Just takes a little more patience and a sharper hobby knife.

A box of about 40-50 infantry is in the region of a fiver, and 18 or so cavalry is about the same price. All in all, a bargain it has to be said. One of my current projects is putting together two armies of samurai for the late Sengokujidai (for you who don't know what that is, to Wikipedia! Post haste!) my first army, representing the forces of the Takeda family and some of their vassals has so far cost me some £40, for a force of some 132 infantry, 52 cavalry and about a dozen command staff figures and characters. Since I am building two armies, I have a spare box or two of bits so I can make conversions or swap out some posses to get full units. Call it about £100 for two large forces with a good mix of unit, and you have yourself a bargain, especially as even when I had Games Workshop staff discount I could easily spend twice that on a Warhammer or 40k army depending on race and army list build.

A unit of Ahigaru ready to take to the field
I play Rules of Engagement on a fairly regular basis and the thought of having an entire force for that game for just about £5 makes me feel slightly dizzy with potential glee.

Visually, although these models do not look as impressive as their big brothers, they look impressive en mass, giving the tabletop an epic feel even on a GW standard issue 6'x4' table that most 28mm armies could only ever hope to achieve at conventions. I only just finished my first unit of 16 Ashigaru and I have to say, as a unit they look really good. Although they are not painted to the best of my abilities, I am happy with the final look of the unit.

The flip side is to reduce the scale of your encounters from a clash of armies and brigades, to a clash of platoons or even squads. Skirmish gaming can be as rewarding as larger scale battles, and in my opinion at times even more enjoyable than a large set piece battle.

I have been in love with skirmish gaming for a long time, ever since I first tried Mordheim all those years ago. I loved the freedom of movement and the narrative campaign elements to the game but found that to get the most out of it you had to be pretty organised in your campaign. Something a little beyond the scope of my 14 year old brain.

Mordor Orcs massing for war with the lands of men.
Since then my love of skirmish gaming led me to GW's excellent Lord of the Rings game and even more amazing historical version Legends of the Old West and most recently, Malifaux.

Legends of the Old West combined all of my favourite elements of Lord of the Rings and Mordheim into one sixgun shooting, black hat wearing gaming extravaganza. And you only needed about half a dozen minis in order to make the most of the game.

Campaign and narrative, almost RPG-like, elements seem to be the key to enjoying skirmish games. And as such gamers of the right mind set are needed. Gamers that won't 'beard out' their lists and play to the spirit of the campaign. And it cannot be denied that in a campaign like this the minis seem almost to take on characters of their own based on their tabletop antics.  Campaigns like these tend to work best with about half a dozen players to ensure that things stay fresh, possibly with a Games Master thrown into the mix to keep thing interesting. As such these types of games tend to work best in a club or store setting.

With so many varied rules out there its difficult to put a price on starting a skirmish game. On the whole because the number of models used its a lot cheaper than your standard wargame. Depending on rulesets you could get away with using something in the region of five or six models, so only a couple of blister packs should set you right. Conversions really come into their own in campaigns like this as a good conversion is a great way of adding that extra bit of character to your force.

Congo Jack, ready to deliver his message from
General Mutumbe
Both cuts in scale are good ways of saving you money. Both will still make for enjoyable games and still provide plenty of hobby projects.

As usual I have far too many hobby projects for my own good, and at the moment am working on a skirmish system for pulp action games. As a former archaeology student I have always loved the idea of skirmish gaming Indiana Jones like adventures. With that in mind I picked up a couple of Back of Beyond blister packs and set to work painting up Congo Jack and his fellow adventurers as well as rebasing and repainting some WW2 Germans to be the bad guys, plus some random undead and monster minis to use as random encounters.

Well I am very sleepy. Until next time,

-Banchou Badger


  1. Scale was one of the hardest parts of the hobby for me, since I started out as a gamer rather than a painter, and with GW on top of that. Since most of the regulars come ready to play at X points it can be harder to find really small games unless you're playing with other people who have already started. Then came the pressure to get to 2000 points and the changing of the mind halfway through and the subsequent drain on money. At one point it actually felt like I was bankrupting myself with my spending habits.

    It can be hard to get that stuff under control, but if you want to save money it definitely takes a tremendous amount of both creativity (using the models you have to achieve the results you want through conversions) and discipline, which not everyone has naturally.

    I like the layout by the way, looks good.

  2. Thanks Rabbit (starting to feel like Wind in the Willows here) This was intended to be the first in a series of entries on tips on how to save money in our hobby. I will cover stuff like scratch building, conversions and self disciplines later on. Thanks for the feedback!