The Cheap Gamer – Plan your buying (and willpower!)

Well, this is the first real post in the Cheap Gamer series, and will focus on ways of saving money as you look at buying models and terrain.  Some of the concepts here will be expanded out in separate articles, like looking at different sorts of terrain available in more detail, and so on, and how to work with 2nd hand models.  However, the core concept we’re going to explore here is a simple one – just planning your buying rather than grabbing things by impulse.

It sounds totally obvious, but you’d be surprised just how many hobby purchases are spur of the moment things.  If you’re an experienced hobbyist, look back over the last month.  How much did you buy because GW popped up a preorder?  Or when you saw something cool in a store?

Even planned purchases often break down and don’t work right because of insufficient planning!  Take Blood Bowl, for me.  I have picked up a fair few of the plastic teams released, and it feels like I have a mountain of Blood Bowl stuff to tackle.  It’s actually put me off painting them.  If I’d just bought a team when I finished one, I’d be much further along and not spent any more money.  Saving money on bulk buys only works if it doesn’t put you off tackling them all!  I’ve spent more money, as I’ve ended up picking up other hobby stuff to work on instead!  That’s very much down to the individual, as some people are fantastic at tackling large armies, while others are best of going unit by unit.  Know yourself on that one!

OK, now lets get planning … and we need to plan out more than you might think if we want to maximise our savings!

We need to plan:

  • Our eventual army, and the order we will buy the models.
  • Our gaming table, and the amount of terrain we’ll need to play our chosen game.
  • Our planned model bases, ideally to match our gaming table in style
  • The colours (and quantities) we’ll need to paint all the above.
  • The tools and brushes we’ll need to put it all together

It sounds really obvious, but its actually pretty rare that people do this and stick to it.  If you are a gamer already, you’ll probably have a games table already!  You’ll probably have a fair chunk of terrain.  In that case, its done!  We might add a specific piece if we need to for a narrative game, or as a fortification in an army list, but don’t look to add things for the sake of it.  You might be starting this half way through an army, and need some inspiration – look at ways of using the models you have first.

The more you plan and account for, the less you’ll find yourself buying things urgently – and that tends to mean paying full price for often less choice!

Planning an army

Well, first, one expense you’ll probably have to suck up is the relevant codex or index (or other army list) style book.  You need to plan your army.  If possible, try to borrow one from a friend as you juggle with army ideas.  You’ll need one of your own eventually, but there’s nothing more frustrating than buying a codex, flicking through it, and realising the army just doesn’t do it for you.  If you can’t borrow one from a friend, at least try to pop into a GW and have a flick through a copy first to make sure it looks like the right one for you.

Look at the sort of maximum points or power level you’ll play, and build an army list that you find exciting.  Avoid getting over excited, though!  Don’t think “I’ll build a company of Space Marines!”.  Focus very much on the forces you will genuinely field and probably enjoy playing.

Tools like Battlescribe can help juggle army ideas around here, but pen and paper will generally work fine.

One key question here – do you plan your army around available box sets to save money, or do you plan your army to be your preferred choices, and maybe pay a bit more?  Honestly, thats up to you to some degree, and on how fast you paint!  If you can cope with a bigger chunk of models and not give up, and have the financial reserves to pay up front, it can definitely pay off.  Start Collecting boxes and the boxed games from GW, for example, will save you tons over buying units separately.  On the flip side, buying an army unit by unit is less intimidating, lets you see constant progress with less up front investment, and lets you change tack if the army isn’t quite to your taste as it develops.

The real key either way is having a solid plan to work to.  Once you’ve picked a force, you know exactly what you’ll need to buy.  Avoid just splurging on cool models.  Pick a force you think you’ll enjoy playing – buying and painting models that will only ever sit on the bench may be fun, but it sure isn’t the Cheap Gamer way!

Our Games Table and Terrain

This is often overlooked when planning our hobby spending.  There are loads of terrain options available at a range of different prices, but just like when buying an army, the real key is planning.

You may already have a games table and enough terrain.  If so, great!  Skip to the next stage!  Don’t buy more stuff if you don’t need it!

If you do need a games table and/or terrain, though, plan out how much you need for your chosen game.  Skirmish games like Shadow War will need more terrain than 40k.  There are lots of options for cheap terrain, and you can build your own games table, but you need to know how much you’ll need to buy and paint.

Our model bases

It tends to look a lot better if your model bases resemble, or at least don’t massively contrast, the games tables where you play regularly.  It can make a big difference to how you plan to base your models at low cost, and it’ll certainly affect the paint choices for the bases!  You’ll need to take this into account!

Cork bases are quite popular at the moment, but sometimes looked down on.  Slate bases are always in, but working with the tougher material can be harder and need more in the way of pinning and tools.  PVA and sand or similar is always a classic, and generally looks pretty good, especially with some mud style paints and combined with cheap flock from railway hobby stores.  You can get all the basics for these pretty cheap online or from DIY stores.

Paints!

Well, you have a planned army, terrain and bases at this point.  Now you have to work out how to turn them into glorious colour!  One main suggestion that’s worked really well for me here is …. don’t worry about cost.  Plan it out in the easiest way possible.  If you have GW paint schemes to follow, work out all the GW paints you’ll need.

But that’ll be expensive, I hear you cry! 

There are two responses to that.  The first is that by exactly planning all the paints we’ll actually need, rather than just going out and buying big sets of paints, we’ll probably save money anyway.  The second is that just because we’ve worked out all the colours we need, doesn’t mean those are the ones we’ll actually buy.  If I know I need XYZ, I can use paint colour matching tools to pick up alternatives.  Its a heck of a lot easier to start with known paints and find alternatives than it is to jump into the unknown realm of a million different paint providers and try to work out schemes from scratch!

Planning is also the key.  If we know we need certain paints for the basic units and bases, and others we’ll only need for particular HQ units, well heck!  Lets wait until we buy the HQ unit to get those paints!  Its very true with Space Marine types, for example,  that special characters like librarians (blue), chaplains (black), apothecaries (white) will need certain paint selections you probably won’t need elsewhere. 

You might find that the colours you need do overlap heavily with a particular paint set, and that might save significant amounts.  You won’t know that unless you’ve planned out the complete range of paints you’ll want to use.

If you are going all in on cheap gaming, and just want tabletop standard stuff, you can simplify the range of paints you’ll need by minimising the number of layers and washes you’ll use (like many of the lazy mini painter techniques).  For many though, that reduces the fun of painting, and that’s not what we’re about – we want to make sure we’re as efficient as possible to achieve the results we want, not really about reducing our fun in the game.

Where we will probably compromise more, though, is on things like primer.  Using great, cheap primer is a fantastic cost saver – we’re probably going to have to settle for neutral (grey, black or white) primers and take more time painting colours on.  We’re going to spend time rather than money quite often.

Tools and Brushes!

We’ll explore options for tools and brushes in more detail, but you do need to think about the basic tools and brushes you’ll need to complete the project.  You’ll need tools to cut models off sprues, to strip 2nd hand or old models from eBay or your collection, to clean up mold lines, to apply glue, to pin models, maybe magnets to optimise your weapons load out rather than buying several versions, different glues for assembly.  You’ll need brushes of a decent enough standard to be fun to paint with, and reliable enough to last a decent time.  Buying really cheap brushes isn’t recommended by the  Cheap Gamer, oddly enough – by the time you’ve bought 3 sets, you’ve probably spent more than buying some decent brushes in the first place!

You’ll find decent, cheap, and reliable versions of most of the stuff you need is available from DIY stores.

Again, you may have much of this stuff already.  Great!  We don’t need to go out and buy more.  Go through your tools, and work out what does need to be replaced or added.  If your cutters are rubbish, for example, then it probably is worth spending a few pounds replacing them rather than destroying tens of pounds of minis!  We need to be smart and minimise our overall costs, rather than saving pennies and wasting pounds.

Obviously, you’ll need different tools for some of this stuff depending on how you plan to pick up the minis.  You might be going to eBay to find all the minis, in which case you’ll need tools to repair models and strip paint.  If you are buying new models, you’ll need more assembly tools.  We’ll cover those options in more depth later – the important thing really is getting a feel for what tools you’re likely to need for which units.

The Project

By this sort of point, if you’ve gone through the whole process, you should have a good idea of what models you’ll need, what amount of terrain you’ll need, the paint range you’ll need, and the tools you’ll need to pick up.   Its also worth looking at the different bits and looking at what you’ll need at which stage.   If you stick to the plan, you’ll probably already be saving enormous amounts compared to a standard hobby project where you end up with loads of unessential extras.

No project plan is perfect though.  One really important trick for the Cheap Gamer is to have patience.  If you need an extra paint or tool, wait until you can get a good deal for that paint, or see if a cheaper alternative might work.  Don’t just pop straight into a store in a rush and pay full price.  Be methodical.

We can work with the plan – once we know what units we need, we can start scouring eBay, and then maybe falling back to online sellers at 20-25% discounts.  We might see if anyone on twitter has those models they’d be willing to part with, or check Facebook seller groups.  We can pop to DIY or railway hobby stores to get tools and terrain bits for much lower costs.  We can look at different brushes to get quality for less.  We could look at paint matching tools to get good matches with cheaper (or higher volume) paint ranges – if we pay the same but get 20ml instead of 12ml, we might only need half the replacement pots for the project.  But we need a starting point to maximise this process.

I hope this has been interesting.  Willpower and planning are the two main tools of the Cheap Gamer.  We’ll look at specific gains and projects over time, but just working out exactly what you want rather than chasing hobby shiny is really the core of saving your money!

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