The Cheap Gamer – Magnets!

Again, like many of the recommendations of the Cheap Gamer, this will involve investing a little more money up front … but it really pays off over time.  I’m going to mainly cover how to use the strategy rather than the practicality of attaching magnets.

You can get very powerful small magnets, drill holes or attach them to your models, and bam, you can use the magnets to attach the parts to each other.  Brilliant!   Of course, you could attach parts with glue instead of gluing magnets and then using the magnets!  So whats the advantage?

The most common use is to magnetise various weapon options, so you as an example, you can buy one dreadnaught, but can field it with any of the weapons in the kit, rather than having to buy a new dreadnaught every time you want to try a different load out!

Another common use, though, is to keep models in various part for easy and safe transport and storage.  Rather than gluing massive wings on a model, attaching them with powerful magnets lets you break up the model for transport to and from games much more safely and securely, for example, and its a lot cheaper over time than having to replace broken models! 

You can also use magnets in bases to attach models to metal trays or really solid metal carry boxes, or magnets in legs and bases to be able to use top end  display models on both display plinths and gaming bases.

One idea that’s all mine, as far as I know, is taking the interchangeability concept of weapons, but going a step further and applying it to icons and markings.  Have a silver rhino?  If your icons can all be popped off and replaced with other magnetised ones, you could use it with multiple chapters of marines like Silver Skulls, Grey Knights, some orders of Sisters of Battle, Inquisition, heck, even cross lines and attach chaos icons for Iron Warriors.  Have a black rhino?  Deathwatch, Inquisition, Raven Guard, Black Legion, Sisters of Battle, and so on.  Its a fantastic money saver if you want to be able to field multiple armies that have similar colours, as you’ll rarely want to play as both armies at once.  And if you’re willing to compromise slightly, works well across chassis options too, like popping turrets and sponsons off magnetised predators to use them as rhinos in a different army, or using a whirlwind as a Sisters of Battle Exorcist.

Its really effective for decorating fortifications, like bastions, or making terrain really modular too.  Use magnets on walkways and key points before painting, and whole chunks of terrain become reconfigurable.  If you have a few standard size ruined buildings, having a few interchangeable floors can really change up the options for your battlefield.  And having a few extra magnets at decorative points can let you have different board themes for minimal extra cost – imagine being able to swap out streetlights from the buildings for dead bodies, or imperial eagles for chaos icons.

Bam!   Mind blown!  Reusability instead of huge chunks of cash and storage space.  Even if you spend a little more on the models and scenery to start with, its a massive saving over time, and actually can improve your gaming options and facilities.   Thats thinking like a Cheap Gamer.

How do I actually add magnets?  Well, there are countless youtube tutorials that are pretty easy to find, often covering specific minis.  Essentially, you either need to drill a hole to fit a magnet, or be able to attach the magnet on the other side of thin plastic or in an indent where it won’t affect the rest of the joint.  One of the really important things when working with magnets is to make sure you get the polarity right – if you put one in wrong, the two magnets will repel each other, not attract, and you’ll have two parts that will never go together!  A useful trick can be to stack them up together, then take them off the stack one at a time and put a dab of paint at one consistent end, so you know it will aways go blank to paint.

The Lazy Mini Painter – Drybrushing

Drybrushing.  Its a technique that’s been popular for decades, but of late its been generally replaced by more layering, blending, and edge highlights.  So why are we mentioning it?

Well, first, its a really quick, easy technique to add depth to models, and quick and easy is really what we’re all about!   The results look very natural and organic, so these days they tend to be used only on materials like hair, or fur, but can be used all over a model for a quick result.

How can we use the technique to produce really nice modern looking minis?  Well, there obviously for natural areas like fur and hair, we’d probably use dry brushing anyway.

For armour, we’ll probably stick with a few edge highlights and a wash.  BUT!  There is a great sneaky way of using drybrushing that looks great on armour too.  Instead of using dry brushing as a tool to apply highlights on the raised edges, we can use dry brushing to simulate wear.

Take an Imperial Fist in yellow.  If we drybrush with a lighter yellow instead of highlighting or layering, it’ll look OK, but a little old school.  Its a quick result, though.  If we drybrush quickly and lightly with a metal, like silver or gun metal, it’ll look like the paints rubbed off on the edges in the battlefield.  Fast, quick, efficient, and looks great and also in line with a more modern look.  Do it after a few key edge highlights, and you have a modern looking, weathered mini in very little time.

We’ll also probably want to use dry brushing on our bases to add a little more depth quickly – drybrushing an ochre over brown is a fantastic mud effect and so easy to do.

Another useful trick comes closer to layering than dry brushing.  If you have a bit more paint on the brush than just the tiny amount you normally use for dry brushing, and apply it a bit more heavily, you actually get an effect much more like a slightly sloppy layer rather than dry brushing.  This looks pretty good on cloth – trousers, cloaks and the like, especially before a wash to unify the colours.  Quick, fast, effective.  Its the Lazy Mini Painter way!

The Cheap Gamer – Terrain Part 2 – Picking a Theme

In the last Cheap Gamer article, we looked at loads of different options for building scenery with a whole range of different price points and effectiveness.  The last point we ended on was that we should really pick a theme, and build or buy parts to work together for that theme to maximise the effectiveness.

This article builds on that concept, together with some fantastic conversations I’ve had online with some of the top terrain guys (like the fantastic Ray Dranfield, head of terrain design at GW), and some of my own bonkers ideas.  It looks at some really good ways to pick a theme and colours to maximise your flexibility and options.

The Battle Board

Traditionally, the Battle Board would be painted brown, drybrushed ochre, and flocked green.  My Realm of Battle board from GW certainly is.  It does look pretty good, but its also pretty limiting to a green grass, mud and stone affair.

Chatting to Ray, he feels the best colours for a single board are probably a dusty grey with strong brown undertones.  It works for an industrial wasteland, a desert scape, or dusty churned up fields.  The very neutral colours let you get away with pretty much any scenery or play any sort of scenario without it feeling very out of place.

Obviously, if storage space and cost aren’t a major drama, you can have several, all themed in different ways.  That’s not really what the Cheap Gamer is about though – we’re all about maximising our fun and the effect of gaming without breaking the bank.

Those neutral colours are fantastic, and would work great with a wooden board prepped with a PVA and sand mix.  Paint it brown, heavy dry brush it grey, and maybe look for a darker grey slate effect or a lighter white rock on an odd flat patch.  Easy to paint, easy to make, easy to base models to match, and very very flexible.

Terrain Choices

Well, a great terrain choice in general is ruined gothic effect buildings.  There are some really neat tricks you can do with ruined buildings, as Ray pointed out.  If you plan out ruined corners and make sure the bases work together, you can deploy small compact ruined buildings, or spread them out to make the outline of big cathedrals with the same sort of corner pieces.  Unless you actually look for futuristic fortifications, the gothic grim dark and the ruined worlds of AoS can look pretty good with the same basic ruined buildings too, again, maximising that flexibility.

You can also, if careful in putting the ruins together, work out options for stacking ruined sections up as well.  if a base works as a ruined floor, your could stack two ruined corners up.  If you get the heights right, you can tie that into more unique pieces you might already have or pick up from games like Shadow War Armageddon.

These are great options for flexibility.  You can deploy ruined woods or alien jungles on this sort of a board, or chaos temples.  Its really easy to add to, and still keep a general feel of a ruined city.  Add some water effect areas and turn the dusty greys and browns into a miserable swamp – particularly fantastic with the new Death Guard minis.  The trick is that dusty grey and brown combo on the board.

One nice trick is to liven areas up with a few simple foam tiles, painted to match the terrain board but with some unique paint schemes.  Maybe a Mechanicus area with vehicle bays like a modern carpark?   or a mine entrance, with a elevator down sprayed on or added with a few bits of Plasticard.  You can really play with a few simple, easy to store tiles to add to the effects.  And hills (particularly cheap plastic ones from Amera) can be added with matching colours to really add to the effect.

Vehicles as Terrain

All too often, the only ruined vehicles that lurk on the board are our own casualties.  Well, thats definitely true of my armies anyway 😉  What we forget, particularly if we’ve been in the hobby for quite a while, is that we can pop vehicles on the  board as terrain pieces in their own right.

Playing as Marines against Eldar, but have an Imperial Guard army?  Field a few Leman Russ tanks or Chimera transports as ruins, or in neat rows awaiting repair on the Mechanicus Forgeworld you battle over.  Its even more effective with some of the new Genestealer cult stuff, as their vehicles are civilian machinery, and the dusty grey terrain will look fantastic as a mining area.

We can add some really effective line of sight blocking terrain with a smoking Landraider.   it just works, and we’re getting use out of those models rather than buying more terrain.  Terrific!

If you have some spare torso bits from boxes from your armies (and honestly, you probably have a few), think about creating a few set pieces matching your board with dead infantry half buried in there.  Combine that with “ruined” vehicles (maybe just adding smoke effects, and taking skimmers off flying bases), you can do some brilliant xenos battlegrounds – a few dead Eldar around the board and some burned out falcons and wave serpents makes a fantastic backdrop for a Deathwatch mission, for example.  This works particularly well over the dusty grey and brown of a torn up battlefield.  Add some cheap craters too, and it can look amazing.

It actually tends to work best when you aren’t using the fallen army at all.  Using “extra” tanks from the armies you’re actually fielding can cause confusion.  Was that tank a kill point, or scenery?  But Deathwatch vs Tau over fallen Eldar?  No worries.

Incidentally, blobs of cotton wool dyed with a brush of black ink  can make great quick smoke effects for almost no cost!  Just make sure they are dry before you pop them onto your lovely vehicles.

Summary

There aren’t any right or wrong choices, really!  If you want to do a red mars field, you certainly can.  That will limits you to fighting over mars or similar red terrain, though.  Dusty grey and brown is a fantastically flexible, neutral combination.

Try to keep rocks and building materials in a similar set of colours, whether thats lighter whites or dark slate greys.  It’ll unify temples with hills.

The real key is working out how you can get the best effect, and, for the Cheap Gamer, minimising the cost.  For terrain, you can minimise cost best with reusability and flexibility.  If you need two sets of terrain for AoS and 40k, for example, that’s twice as much cost as a more general set that works for both.  Try to differentiate more by eye catching centrepieces than having to retheme everything.

The Cheap Gamer – Terrain!

Well, one of the big expenses of the hobby is a decent table and terrain to play through, and if anything, its a lot more expensive than the early days of the hobby.  In the past, it was pretty much expected to improvise terrain, or put it together yourself.  Now, there are tons of fantastic but very expensive terrain you can walk into GW and buy, and honestly if you can throw money at it, its an absolutely fantastic option.  But we can save huge amounts of money and still have some really, really good looking tables to play on.

There is a range of options at increasing cost:

  1. Build terrain in a Blue Peter style from household items.  This used to be the main way, and its generally quite lost these days, but it can be pretty effective.
  2. Find or buy, then print out cardboard/paper scenery.  This is actually really effective, easy to replace, and pretty cheap!  It does take a chunk of time assembling, but then its usually ready to go.  Its particularly good for RPG settings where you can tailor what you need for a particular session.
  3. Buy cheap scenery aimed for railway hobbying, kids toys or fish tanks.  Often quite striking pieces can be picked up for very little money, and things like trees and flock are far cheaper if you look for railway hobby stuff than the 28mm stores.  Generally in much larger quantities too!
  4. Look at custom scenery for gaming in cheaper materials.  MDF scenery is increasingly available at affordable prices, and companies like Amera do a fantastic job casting cheap great scenery pieces in plastic.
  5. Buy amazing pieces of terrain at the top end of the scale!
  6. Hire in professionals to design whole tables from scratch for you to rival Warhammer World.

Now, I’m assuming option 6 isn’t really an option, or you probably aren’t going to be reading my cheap gamer articles!  However, it is often useful to take bits from the various options to put together an overall table.  Maybe buy a more expensive terrain option to use as a centrepiece.  Add to home made terrain with a few railway style trees and flock to really bring it on.  Reduce the cost of flocking a whole GW battleboard by buying a massive bag of flock for decorating a whole railway layout.  Bear that in mind when we look at the options below!

The Blue Peter Approach!

I must confess, I love this option!  It brings me back to the early days in the hobby, where frankly scenery wasn’t even thought of by GW, and they released guides on how to make your own.

There are two main styles you can take here.  Use cheap parts, like lolly sticks or wooden stirrers, and put them together to create terrain (like this!).  It looks great, particularly for fantasy and barbaric stuff like orks, but you do need to either find plans to follow or have a pretty creative outlook to visualise what you want.   Polystyrene packing with a heat cutting wire can be fantastic for rock outcrops or hills.  (like this!).  Cardboard tubes sprayed silver can make fantastic oil pipes )and you could use wooden stirrers to build a frame!

The other approach is to find household items that look pretty much like an item of terrain to start with, spray them up, add some flock and basic drybrushing, and be ready to go!  Easter Egg plastic packaging can look great as a generator – spray it silver, maybe touch up a power plant look, and flock the edge.  Sorted!  The cardboard packaging that comes in electrical goods boxes and the like is often perfect for this sort of ready to go terrain.   Spray it white or grey, use some Army Painter Dip, and it looks pretty good from the start!

You can go a bit more expensive with the Blue Peter approach and start raiding hobby shops for things like foamboard and other parts.  Definitely worth it if you have time and a creative bent.

Papercraft!

Printing a building, folding it up and using it as scenery?  Won’t that look rubbish and boxy?

Actually, not anymore!  Things have moved a heck of a long way since the simple card sheets you may remember from the older GW games.  Companies like Fat Dragon Games have absolutely amazing ranges of fantastic products you can use to knock up custom boards with all sorts of options.  They use tools like Adobe layers to actually let you select styles of wall, adding creeping ivy and all sorts of brilliant tweaks.  You can produce sci-fi bases, fantasy cities, underground caves and all.

It can be a bit fiddly to assemble, and you will be running through ink and paper/card in your printer.  Depending on those resources, it can add up.  Heck, these days if you have a 3D printer, you can take this to the next level and print out your own plastic walls and minis – again, you will be spending on the tech and resources!

Toys, Railways and Fishtanks

These are fantastic, cheap resources for quick, easy and unique looking scenery, that after some extra painting and tweaks can look utterly fantastic for a fraction of the price of official terrain.  Toy castles when spraywed, washed and added effects like ivy can be a perfect scale and really cheap.  rocks and little temples to look like undersea scapes for fish tanks can look fantastic on the battlefield.

fish tank plastic plants can look amazing as alien jungles, and cheap trees from railway hobby lines often look more realistic and far cheaper than 28mm gaming woods.  And you can often pick up molds and casting stuff for railway scenery, as will as really cheap grass flock in bulk.

Just be careful when you look at this stuff about the scale!

MDF and cheaper Plastic terrain

I love this stuff. You can get all sorts of amazing scenery, it doesn’t feel too expensive, and its still really solid and durable.  Terrific!

A fair few companies do MDF terrain these days.  I can recommend TT Combat as a company – their Sheriff station for Malifaux or the Wild West is amazing.  I also really like the Terrain Shed.  There are lots of good alternatives out there, though.  You can get buildings for £12, with amazing laser etched details.  Superb stuff, especially if you cherrypick a few pieces to act as centrepieces.

Amera Plastic Mouldings do absolutely fantastic plastic wargaming terrain, as single cast.  They look good, and are really cost effective.  Unlike terrain kits in the top bracket, though, they are single use kits as a one piece ready to go bit of terrain – the top end normally has a lot more assembly and options within a single kit, and often a load of customisable little details.  For me, though, that’s not a major drama – having 2 identical pyramids isn’t an issue if you want two big pyramids!

I’d recommend both of these options for gamers looking for awesome kits on a bit of a budget.

Top End GW and similar kits

Well, we’re Cheap Gamers!  Why are we talking about the expensive stuff?  Well, often it can pay to have a really nice piece of terrain to act as the focal point of the battle.  MDF or Amera stuff can certainly work with enough time and effort on the paint job, but having a lovely centrepiece from GW will often draw the eye away from cheaper pieces through the rest of the tabletop, and be a great backdrop for photos and the like.  Don’t go mad, but one or two key bits can really make a plain table feel like a cinematic experience.

Theme

The real key, though, is to pick a theme and stick with it across all the pieces you buy and put together, so they look good together on the table top.

You might have a couple of papercraft starships acting as drop points for the objective.  You might have a load of colourful plastic plants for a fishtank acting as an alien jungle, and a selection of Eldar MDF kits scattered across the board, making it look like an overgrown exodite world.

What doesn’t work is having earth style trees from a raliway hobby shop next to bright pink fish shop plants, with a wild west sheriffs office and a scifi set of walkways from shadow war, and the whole thing flocked in autumn reds.  Try to think how pieces will go together.  Rocks, chaos temples and the like are nicely generic, particularly if all the stone is pretty consistent in colour across the pieces.  Alien jungle or earth like looks for plants and trees can work, but stay a bit consistent.  And try to have a consistent timezone for the pieces you’ll put on the table together – 40k models playing over a fantasy table and castle can look great.  40k models in a wild west town and a fantasy castle with futuristic cars just looks odd.

 

 

The Lazy Mini Painter – Basing

Well, its time to explore basing miniatures the Lazy Mini Painter way!  We want the bases to look reasonably good, and take very little time.  Whats the best way to do that?

Well, for me, the answer is – 

GW texture paints, specifically the microbead options.   Its effectively doing a layer of PVA and glue, at the same time as laying down the colour.  You can get colour matched paint (Dryad Bark matches Stirland Battlemire perfectly) to colour the base first (or just do the outer ring afterwards), and then a quick drybrush when dry with an Ochre looks fantastic, and really matches the early GW terrain packs colours magnificently – which happens to be the colours of my Realm of Battle Battleboard!

You can use the crackle options like Agrellan Earth or Martian Ironcrust, and put a wash over it instead!  That also looks pretty sharp!  Again, quick, easy and simple to colour match.  The problem with the crackle option is it often doesn’t work very well if you’ve used a very grippy primer.

I like to finish any of those with either a little PVA and flock, or some self adhesive tufts.  Quick, simple, effective, done.

No messing around with cork or slate.  No fuss dealing with PVA and sand.  No painstakingly painting tiny resin bases.  Just quick, simple effective techniques that look pretty bloody good over an army.  A Lazy Mini Painter win!

The Cheap Gamer – Buying your minis!

This is probably the real heart of the Cheap Gamer series, so is likely to be updated periodically with new ideas or notes.   Generally the expensive part of this hobby is really buying the miniatures themselves, so how do we really reduce the costs there as much as possible?

Plan what you need, and plan for costs

This point is a bit of a spiral that can drive you to madness 🙂

The real key to saving money is, more than any other tip, just to plan what you actually want, and just do that.  Its easy to see lots of shiny things and just start buying models, or see big box sets and think “oooh, I get so many models for so little”.  In either case, you can often end up with tons of models you never really need, and still need to buy all the models you want for your army separately anyway.

Having said that, you can take advantage of some of savings too – read through the following options and bear them in mind when actually planning your army, and if you take them into account you can really double down on maximising efficiencies.

It does build down to you as an individual – if the prospect of fielding marines in ancient armour is fascinating, you can just go out and grab a couple of Horus Heresy box set games.  If you like Space Marine tanks though, that isn’t a good thing to do.  Balance savings with your enthusiasm for the army, and lean more towards enthusiasm, as it will save you more in the long wrong.  You don’t want to either give up or go out and buy your first choice models after spending loads of money on “deals”

Know what you have

It sounds really, really obvious, but especially if you’ve been in the hobby a while, you’ll have extra boxes of things here and there, maybe a half finished hobby project or two, and definitely some bits boxes of all those extra little bits of models on sprues that you didn’t need for the squads you’ve built.  Seriously, before starting a major project, take some time to go through all of these, sort them out, and note down 

a)  Anything that might be useful for the project directly.

b)  Anything that might be worth trading or eBaying to offset the costs of the project.

Once you know what you already own that you might be able to reuse, you can really narrow down what you need to buy to get to your project goals.  Have a spare tactical squad of marines and building some Deathwatch?  Buy almost any Deathwatch character or vehicle and you’ll get enough pads to equip them.

You might not have anything relevant at all.  If you’ve been collecting Tau and are now starting an Eldar army, for example, your spare bits and any unused squads won’t really help!  But if a friend is starting Tau and been collecting Eldar, you’ll probably be able to trade for some more useful bits and pieces!

You might even find you actually have a few boxes of models you’d forgotten about that would fit perfectly!  Fantastic!

Buy or Trade for Secondhand Models

If you are part of social media communities like Facebook and Twitter,  you can often find great bargains or trades with people in the same boat as yourself.  There are fantastic bargains available on models, some built, some painted and some still on sprues.

In addition, eBay is fantastic for some great bargains (though often some very badly painted and assembled miniatures too).  You can really get superlative deals if you are willing to spend more in one go and pick up a complete army, though you will lose out on your own custom choices if you do that.

Some FLGS actually make a point buying and selling second hand minis too, and these can also be fantastic value, especially as you’ll be able to see exactly what you’ll be buying.

The disadvantages of this approach is that often the models will already be painted, and you’ll probably need to reclaim the models, like our recent goblin guest post.  We’ll cover the techniques in detail in a different article, but you will have to invest in the tools to refurbish them, and the time to do that work.  In addition, you can’t guarantee what models will come up.  If you are determined to field a particular force, and want to do it with second hand models, it might be some time before you can get a particular unit or hero.

One note, though – don’t forget that you can use these channels to sell minis too.  They might be from previous projects that you don’t need, or models from a big box set (like death guard from Dark Imperium if you want Primaris).  You can offset a fair chunk of the cost by getting rid of the bits you don’t need.  It can really reduce the costs of your hobby projects if you are ruthless.

Buy Specific Parts to Augment Kits

You can often get away with augmenting basic cheaper kits with some tactical purchases, rather than spending a lot of money on the more elite options.  Its particularly true if you already have some of the bits you’d need for conversions in your bits box.

What do we mean?  Well, here are some specific examples:

  • Orks!  If you buy a lootaz/burnaz kit, you end up with a complete spare set of weapons.  If you buy 2 of those kits and some Ork Boyz for much less, you can  kit out 8 Lootaz, 8 Burnaz, and 2 Meks.  For £49, you get the equivalent of £62 of models.  And that’s GW prices – if you buy from online GW sellers you can probably get another 20% off that too.  And if you went the Start Collecting box for £75 total, you get a Painboy, a unit of Nobs and a Deff Dread too for under £30 extra (again, before any 20% discount).
  • Space Marines!  if you want a unit of 10 sternguard marines, you can buy 2 boxes of 5 man sternguard for £60.  Or you could buy a unit of Tactical Marines at £25 and a legion Combi-weapon set from Forgeworld at £15, and you have a full unit for £40 instead.  Or go the Start Collecting box and the combo-weapons at £65, but get a dreadnaught and terminator captain as well!
  • Necrons!  If you have a box of Immortals or Death Marks, you have a load of spares for the other.  If you buy 2 of those kits and one box of warriors, you spend £63, and get 2 stands of scarabs, 10 Death Marks and 10 Immortals that all look pretty good, instead of £82 without the scarabs.  You can save even more if you go for the Start Collecting Box instead of the warriors – you spend £91 and get a Triarch Stalker and a Necron Overlord as well as 10 Death Marks and 10 immortals, and the Scarabs.  And thats before looking at online sellers with another 20% or so discount.

You can also look at third party sellers for some of these augmentation options.  If you do, though, you have to be aware you won’t be able to take you models to official GW tournaments or enter some of the more official painting competitions.  This is a particularly good option though if you need some specific parts for conversions for specific odd weapons, especially if you want to improve older armies.  Buying a set of 3 miniguns to add to a box of rubric marines to add a soulreaper cannon to old 9 man thousand sons units is a fantastic way of bringing them up to modern standards, at comparatively low cost, for example.  They are also often fantastic options to convert kits you already own – if you have a leman russ tank already but want a different turret, buying a third party turret is cheaper than buying another tank kit just for a gun!

Buy kits from online sellers where possible

If you buy from places like Games Workshop directly, you’ll be paying a premium.  You can get pretty much their entire range of kits from 10-25% off from online sellers.  Brand new, exactly the same.  If you’re a cheap gamer, it just doesn’t make sense to pass that up.  

There are some models you can only get from the GW store or from Forge World, but they are pretty rare – most of the core lines are available from these suppliers.  You can instantly knock 15-20% off your costs just by planning and buying carefully.

This really maxes out savings when you combine this with the value sets like the boxed games or the start collecting sets.  Fantastic!

Consider alternative models

There are pretty much 2 types of alternative model out there in the marketplace – ranges of models that would fit in 40k but GW simply don’t produce them, and are usually GW prices or actually higher.  As a Cheap Gamer, we’re not too interested in those!  And there are also ranges of models that pretty much overlap with GWs model range, and happen to be far cheaper.

These options are really no good at all for GW tournaments, of course, but for casual or club play, can be a fantastic way of having a different custom army and spending less on it.

Take the Enforcers Mega Force from Mantic.  For £90 (£100RRP) from Firestorm games you get effectively a marine stormtalon (£33), 2 units of tactical marines (£50), 3 dreadnaughts (£84), 8 bikes (£60 for 9), 10 Scouts (£31), a Devastator Squad (28), A sternguard squad (£30), and a unit of terminators (£35).  Thats about £351 at current GW prices.  You may not like the models as much, but that is one heck of a saving.

Dreamforge Stormtroopers make cracking Tempestus Scions, and can be picked up for around £32 for 20.  Tempestus Scions are £21 for 5, or £82 for 20.

You can save a lot, but the models may not be as good, you won’t be able to use them against all opponents and it may be awkward making it clear what weapons the models have in your games.  On the flip side, you can field an army that looks a bit different, and spend a heck of a lot less!  Its not a bad choice, but only recommended for more casual or relaxed club gamers.

Summary

The real key to being a Cheap Gamer buying minis is planning, and the research to support that planning.

Sit down and ask yourself: 

  1. What army is exciting?
  2. What particular units in that army are exciting?
  3. What’s my desired list based on the first two?
  4. Where will I game?  Will I want to go to tournaments, or can I use unofficial minis or bits?
  5. What bits do I have at the moment that are useful or can offset the costs?
  6. Are there any cheeky ways of buying units I like that maximise bits?
  7. Can I see any of the bits I need on eBay, second hand options or through friends?
  8. Can I make any savings on buying box sets for the rest of the models I need? And can I recoup some money by eBaying or trading unwanted bits of the sets?
  9. Can I get the remaining models and box sets from online sellers or for a decent discount from a FLGS?  
  10. If I have to get a model from GW or FW direct, do I really need it?  Is it a key part of the army in my mind?  Or can I kit bash alternatives from bits?

If you go through that process, you can probably reduce the overall costs of your project by a massive margin, and buy parts for a focussed list from the start.

The Cheap Gamer – Saving money building models

Erk, this is a tricky one!  Its pretty difficult to save money actually assembling models.  After all, you already have the models to assemble.  If anything, you probably need to spend MORE money on this bit!

Why?  Well, top quality tools for cutting things of sprues are worth it – though you can pick them up cheaper in a hardware store than a hobby store.  You still need to make sure they are fresh and sharp though, or you’ll be ruining expensive models.

The same is true with glues.  You can probably save a little by getting plastic glue from general hobby stores, and superglue from hardware stores rather than gaming shops, but you need decent quality glues to keep your models together with a good method of application to stop you spraying glue everywhere and ruining models.

Where you can save money, though, is making sure you are taking full advantage of your bits box and kit bashing.  Assemble models you can use, and save money to do it.

Need 2 units of Rubric Marines, one with warpflamers and one with bolters?  If you have a unit of unassembled chaos marines floating around, you can pick up a few heads from either bits resellers or their parties, and kit bash them up. I have absolutely tons of unassembled chaos marines from previous projects, so its a no brainer for me.  Its not worth going out and buying all the bits – that’d cost more than just buying new Rubrics, but if you have them lying around, think about reusing them.  Be careful if buying third party bits though – you aren’t going to tournaments or official painting competitions with those.  If its for casual gaming though, go for it.

One of the single best money savers when it comes to building units is to know exactly what models and parts you actually have already.  Need a Chaos Lord for a game?  You can probably knock one one if you have a fair few custom parts across marines and chaos already.  Seriously.  Spend a few hobby sessions just sorting out your extra bits and boxes of unused models.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve accidentally doubled up on a cool model it turns out I already had.  (I may have 3 Eldrads… and at least 5 Dark Elf Sorceresses.)

Kitbashed models may not look quite as good as some of the brand new models … but then sometimes they can come out looking even better to your eyes, and be genuinely unique.  In addition, moving beyond the Cheap gamer for a moment – practising kit bashing for this sort of thing really improves your conversion skills for actively putting something really special together, without costing much right now.  Save the money for all the bits for your unique centrepiece … but practise putting bits together now.

In addition, there are lots of techniques to improve the finish of kitbashed models.  Drilling out gun barrels is fantastic for top end models, and its better to practise on knocked together bits than a forgeworld special character!  Assembling odd bits often needs filling with green stuff, zap a gap glues or liquid green stuff, and this sort of thing can ruin a model.  Practicing on these simple cheap options can really raise your skills.

The Lazy Mini Painter – How to save assembly time

Honestly, there are only so many things you can do to minimise your assembly time, but it is worth thinking about those things in advance!

First, make sure you have decent, high quality, sharp tools.  If you have really good, sharp sprue cutters, you’ll waste almost no time in cleaning up the  parts afterwards.  If you have old, blunt cutters, you’ll spend more time cleaning up the kit than you do actually cutting the bits off!  Or waiting for replacements if you’ve buggered them up.

Using sharp hobby knives and mould line cleaners also help.  And …. though it burns my mouth to say so … if you are doing a quick tabletop job with modern quality minis, you don’t even really need to worry about mould lines.  At 3 feet distance with modern kits and paint, you won’t see them.  For display and close up photos?  Oh god yeah, and I hate the sight of them.  But honestly, you probably don’t need to bother with the cleverer placement of mould lines on modern plastics, or at least just tackle just the worst examples.

Drilling out gun barrels?  A slow precise task that you can replace by dabbing a little blob of black paint on the end of the gun later in the painting process.  Again, not quite as good, but more than adequate for tabletop level armies.

How can you speed up assembling a unit?  The best trick I’ve come across is the use of the humble egg box (ideally an empty 12 egg box).   As you cut parts off the sprues, put the bits for each man into one of the egg  bits.  It makes such a difference sorting it out and assembling each one rather than trying to cut and glue, or sort through a big mound of parts.

You really should prepare and wash all your models and make sure they are thoroughly free of any oils and release agents, particularly resin.  If you are feeling very lazy, you can actually normally get by without this if you have a really good grippy primer, like Halfords grey.  If you are using GW or Army Painter primers, you can still get away without it for plastics or metals, but you should still clean resin as it can be quite oily.

Other assembly tricks?  Well, if you want to be really lazy, make sure you plan your models out in advance, during non-hobby time.  Try to get parts in one consistent material if you want to kit bash stuff – its a lot easier to glue plastics to plastics than resins to metals!  Don’t fall for the trap of assembling all the models you have – make sure you’re only assembling the ones you need.  If you’ve got a start collecting box but you only want to add the tank from it to your army right now, just build the tank.  It saves time right now, and it also reduces the chances that when you add another model from the kit to your army, you won’t have assembled it earlier with the wrong weapon choices.

On the flip side, if you have a planned army, don’t waste time – assemble everything you have planned, so you can minimise the shared priming afterwards!  The real key is just don’t get distracted by ad hoc assembly and hobby – build the models you need to build.

These tips won’t massively reduce your assembly time.  But reducing it even a little, and actually focusing just on the models you actually need to do makes a difference.  If its just enough time to let you quickly undercoat or prime the models this session, so they can dry properly before your next hobby session, even a few minutes can make the difference between wasting a full hobby session with just a few minutes of priming and then having to wait.  Its all good, and gets us closer to deploying a painted army onto the field.  

The Cheap Gamer – Getting the most out of your hobby stuff – paints, brushes and tools!

One of the surprising things about the Cheap Gamer column is that I’ll often be telling you to spend money.  And why?  Well, spending a little money can often save you a heck of a lot in the long run, especially if they let you get more, better and longer term use out of your hobby kit.

Many of the tools you use to work with miniatures are expensive.  Good brushes are expensive (and regularly replacing cheap ones often more so).  Paints aren’t cheap either, especially if you have a fairly extensive range.  The minis themselves are often pretty dear, and if you screw up a mini by skimping too much on glues or bad paint stripping techniques, you’ll throw all that money away.

Here’s a selection of suggestions to help you get the very longest and best performance out of your hobby tools …. without breaking the bank.

Paints

Well, you probably have a fairly large paint range if you’ve been in the hobby for a while, and fairly often you’ll open up a paint pot and notice its either gone solid or turned into a sludgy mess.  How can we help avoid this?

There are two or three great tricks to preserving your paints.

  1. Add a glass bead to your paint pots!  It really lets you shake your paints to get a good consistency, and helps extend the paint’s life by a fairly significant margin.  Glass beads aren’t dear, and it really does make a big difference.  it addition, it tends to improve your painting, as it gives you paint with a better consistency that covers better too!
  2. Make sure you have some airbrush thinner on hand.  This is fantastic for a last ditch recovery of paints.  As long as they aren’t totally solid, you can often recover them by adding some airbrush thinner, letting is soak in for a while and then giving it a jolly good shake.  If the paint has fully set, this won’t work, but its amazing how many paints can be recovered this way.  Its anecdotal,  but I find a few drops of thinner in the paints seems to keep them liquid longer in the first place too.
  3. Think about minimizing the paints exposure to air.  If you have pop top pots instead of dropper bottles, you really need to minimise the exposure by keeping the pots shut when not in use.  And that means in between getting paint out of the pot and putting it on a palette, not whole painting sessions!  If you have the time and patience, you can buy dropper bottles very cheaply and actually transfer the paints over.  It’ll extend their life, and also allow you to mix recipes much more accurately (as well as being easier to load up airbrushes if you have one).

Brushes

Aha, the joys of the brush!  We’ll be looking at picking brushes in  a different article, but any brush will have a longer lifespan (and so cost less in replacements) if we look after it.  What does that mean?

Well, we should never let paint dry on the brush.  Make sure you clean your brush regularly while painting with clean water.  Don’t put too much paint on the brush, so it dries in the bristles.  Don’t dip your brushes in too deep, as paint drying in the join under the metal holding the bristles in place is the main thing that ruins brushes.

Make sure you use your range of brushes appropriately.  Don’t use small brushes for covering large areas with paint, or you’ll get bored and careless, and end up ruining the brush.  Don’t, for the love of hobby, use a good brush for drybrushing! 

On the flip side of that, don’t get too precious with using brushes for particular tasks.  Is your brush bot holding a point any more?  Well, use it mixing paint or ladling it out, or for drybrushing.  You can get a lot more use out of a brush even after it can’t be used for the main reason you bought it!

Finally, it is really, really, really worth investing in some decent brush soap.  They aren’t dear, and being able to use brush soap to properly clean and condition your brushes can add weeks or months of life to a brush.  Brush soap is well worth investing a little extra in, and only a little will go a long way!

One very useful trick is to colour code your brushes with a little bit of coloured tape on the end of the brush.  Make sure any damaged brushes used for drybrushing or mixing are clearly labelled, so you don’t mix them up with good ones.  If you have one or two really good brushes you only want to use for your very top end painting, colour code them too, so you can clearly see on the end of the brush when its in your hand.  Doing this has saved me more than once when I’ve gone to use a brush and almost used a brand new windsor and newton series 7 for blobbing paint out of a pot!

Other Tools

Tools in general are harder to maintain.  You can’t easily sharpen the blades on a sprue cutter, for example – if they aren’t cutting well, you probably need to replace them.

Some tools you can maintain, though, and its generally worth spending a little more in terms of ongoing maintenance than having to replace them.  Airbrushes, for example.  Regularly cleaning the brush properly, using sonic cleaning devices, ensuring that paint is thinned properly so it doesn’t jam, it all helps make sure your expensive tool keeps running effectively and saves you time and money over the lifespan.  Its very easy to think “oh, I’m out of cleaner, but I’ll do one last spray and clean the airbrush out later.”  It really isn’t worth it!

Make sure you replace cutting blades and drill bits for tools like Dremels, which will save horrible hobby accidents.  A damaged drill bit can jump and ruin expensive plastic and resin models, and costs very little.  Spend a little, and save a lot in both time and money.

Invest in cutting mats to go on hobby desks and paint stations..  It’ll preserve the hobby area, and be a lot cheaper to replace every so often than the whole paint station or desk!

In general, just look after your tools and hobby area, and replace parts (like blades in hobby knives) pretty frequently.  Replaceable parts and cheap tools will cost less to replace than ruining expensive models over time.

 

 

The Lazy Mini Painter – Dips and Washes

Well, this sessions we’re going to be looking at dips and washes.  Dipping models is seen as a massive cheat by many painters.  Its not.  Its just another technique, at least for the Lazy Mini Painter!  Oddly enough, the same people who complain about dipping a model are often the same ones who happily wash a whole model in Agrax Earthshade and then spray on varnish, which does pretty much the same thing.

Lets start by looking at washes.  Washes are really nothing more than a particular tone of paint, heavily watered down.  When you apply it to a part of the model, it darkens it slightly, adds a slight amount of the wash colour to the tone, and pools in the recesses.  Unsurprisingly, you tend to use darker colours!  Lighter colours pooling the recesses can look a little odd!

Now, you can use enormous numbers of washes.  You can use dark blue washes over blue, yellow over yellow, green over green and so on.  Its a fantastic technique that adds a great virtual illusion of depth.  Incidentally, I always recommend mixing some Lahmia medium into the wash.  It tends to flow much much better, and leaves you with a cleaner effect, rather than the slight blobbing straight washes can leave.

However, we’re looking at doing this the Lazy Mini Painter way.  You don’t always need to use lots of washes.  A single wash of a brown or black leaves the whole model with appropriately coloured shadows shading the recesses.  It can work from top to bottom!  The best I’ve found for this are the Army Painter Soft Tone Quickshade, Strong Tone, Dark Tone, the old Devlan Mud from GW, and the current Agrax Earthshade.  My favourite is probably the AP Strong Tone.  Dark Tone is fantastic for metals where you want a darker contrast, though the GW Agrax Earthshade Gloss is probably the best for golds.

Now, if you want to use washes as your main technique for giving you miniatures a feeling of depth, its useful to have painted slightly lighter colours on as the base coat than you actually need.  A complete wash will darken the overall model, not just the recesses, so if you aren’t then going to highlight back up, you need to have started lighter than you actually want it to end up!

Dips are fundamentally the same technique as using a single quickshade across the models.  However, dips are basically a varnish – they combine a final all over wash with a varnish to do 2 stages of the painting process in one.  Despite the name, many painters like myself, tend to apply the dip with a brush.

One useful note – applying the dip gives you a fantastic surface to apply decals, though you will probably want to pop a little dip or varnish over the top of the decal afterwards.

Is this approach going to win you a Golden Demon?  No.  Will it let you get great tabletop quality armies out on the field asap?  Oh yeah, baby!

I tend to compromise – I use these sorts of techniques for troops, and will sometimes break them down.  If I’ve been doing separate heads and weapons with priming and painting, well, I might use 3 different dips!  Soft tone is great for flesh, heads, and light colours, dark tone for gun metal weapons, and strong tone is the general go to for everything else.

I’ll often use a wash rather than a dip, then apply a more matt varnish by a spray, if it matches the gritty feel of an army.  Cadian Infantry can look a bit odd in a shiny gloss.   My Eldar are shiny glory, and I field them lots, so I prefer a more resilient gloss finish for those.

So if we’re putting all our techniques together, we’ve primed up an army and done a load of the base coating in the process.  At some point we should finish off the base coats, and then we might have done a little optimised edge highlighting. We’ve now dipped our models, shading and varnishing in one process.

BONUS EXTRA!

One thing that the dips are fantastic for is for painting marble terrain.  Spray statues or building a plain white primer, making sure you get good coverage – maybe spray it twice.  Apply a load of Strong Tone dip by a brush, and you can a fantastic white rock/marble type look with absolutely minimum effort.  It is a brilliant time saver for big chunks of terrain.  The angel on the fortress of redemption, the marine statue, the lord of the rings walls and statues, they all look absolutely brilliant with very minimum effort.  After they are dry, applying some PVA in lines and flocking it to look like creeping vines is a great bonus extra.