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.


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).


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.


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.



The Lazy Mini Painter – Technical Pens

Well, the greatest cheat in the history of painting minis is probably … the humble technical pen.  That’s right … forget using a brush at all, and get out your pen!

Not just any pen, of course.  Technical pens are incredibly fine pointed (like 0.05mm) , use a high quality non-fading pigment ink, and are under £2 each.  Is it as fine as the most delicate brushwork by a gifted artist?  No.  Is it as really easy and good enough, and probably better than my normal brushwork?  Hell yeah!

Struggling to dot the centre of eyes without blobbing it?  Technical pen.  

Struggling to write on scrolls and banners?  Technical pen.

Want to do a complex piece of freehand?  Draw it in technical pen, and fill in the lines with the brush afterwards.

Tiny diamonds or celtic designs on Harlequins?  Technical pen.

Imperial Fists logos a pain to paint?  Draw them on.  Technical pen.

Tiny tattoos of Fleur de Lys or Eagles a nightmare by brush?  Technical pen.

Its such a quick, easy, fantastic looking cheat.  And if you practise writing a gothic style of capitals for a bit, its even better.  

Why doesn’t everyone do it, then?  Well, in some ways, this is a bit of a hobby dead end.  The very top end of the hobby goes significantly beyond the effects you can achieve with a technical pen, and unless you keep practising, you won’t get that good.  In addition, it is looked down upon by some others – its not “proper” painting.

Of course, for quick high quality results, we can use this to get minis on the table in a fraction of the time.  Its a easy, quick win.  And if you’re willing to spend a bit of money on it, you aren’t just limited to black pens either!  Its a definite win for the Lazy Mini Painter.

The Cheap Gamer – Picking your Paints

Well, as a Cheap Gamer, picking the paints to use can make or break the costs of a project.  Are there ways of making significant savings?  Of course, though you will need to look beyond the confines of a single provider!

There are three approaches we can take here.  We can:

  1. Simply look for cheaper alternatives for every paint.
  2. Go for the same quality end result, but accept that some things will take longer
  3. Accept a reduced quality end result to save costs.

What do we mean by this?  Well, as an example, lets take priming our models.  

Primers and Aerosols

Lets say we’re painting ultramarines, and usually spray our models with a primer, then a blue aerosol.  We could buy a 400ml can of chaos black or skull white primer for £10.40, and a 400ml macragge blue spray from a GW store at a pretty hefty cost (another £11.75) to do the job right.  We could buy the same cans from an online GW seller at a discount, maybe 10% (say £9.40 and £10.60), but we’ll need to wait for the order to arrive, and might need to put in a combined order with other bits if we don’t lose the saving in shipping costs.  We could look at proper all in one blue primers that aren’t from GW at all, like an Army Painter 400ml, and make a further saving, probably about another 10% on the can, and no need for a separate primer (£8.99).  Or we could really go for savings, and go with a top notch but cheap grey primer (500ml for £7.49) from Halfords, and accept that we’ll have to actually paint the blue onto the models ourselves, not just touch it up.  I haven’t included the cost of the blue pot here, as we’d need it for touch ups any way in all the other cases too.

What option would you pick?  In this case, we need to prime and base coat the model, so there isn’t really a great choice for option 3.  Priming and a basic colour is always going to be necessary!  We can’t easily reduce the quality of our methods (though some would argue the Army Painter primer isn’t as good a spray sometimes.)

The real choice is between option 1 – getting to the same point by looking for cheaper locations for the same paints or a different brand alternative, or option 2 – just priming the models in a standard colour like grey and accepting that we’ll spend more time and paint the base colour on ourselves.  Oddly, option 2 is probably going to lead to a higher quality finished product as well!

In the extreme case of the greatest saving here, we can knock around £15 off the project cost by adding manual painting time and using halfords primer.   In fairness, many people actually use the Macragge blue to prime, even though its not really a fully grippy proper primer, but even in those cases we’re saving a fair few pounds and going for a better colour base for the other colours with the grey.

We’re on our Cheap Gamer journey!

Choosing paints!

Choosing the actual pots of paint to use is a little harder, as we have a much wider range of options.

One of the hardest things here is working out which paints you actually need for the models in the first place.  The best advice I can give is simple.  Don’t worry about cost at this point!  I know that sounds like odd advice for the Cheap Gamer!  The key is making sure we make informed decisions to save money.

Find a paint scheme or recipe that you think will work really well for you.  It might be from a forum, a blog, the pages of white dwarf, whatever.  The exact paint range doesn’t matter at this stage.  The real key is knowing what effect you want to acheive.

Once we have a list of paints we need, we can then …. go all Cheap Gamer!  We can look for cheaper alternatives for each paint.  We can accept some time compromises – going for standard alternative paints rather than base or foundation paints and putting on an extra thin coat or two.  And we can consider either mixing some of our own highlights rather than buying all the pots (risking a little inconsistency over the army), or just skipping some of the full range of layers for a slightly lower quality finish.  You can also skip some of the “technical” options if you are confident.  Honestly, the GW Drybush range is a bit unnecessary!  You can dry brush with just a little paint on the brush after drying it a bit on a paper towel!

In terms of savings by looking at different paint ranges, Vallejo paints, for example, tend to be around 40p cheaper a pot than the Games Workshop equivalent, and contain 17ml rather than 12ml of paint.  Army Painter tends to be around 70p a pot cheaper than GW, and you get 18ml.  P3 is about the same price as GW, but you get 18ml instead of 12, and they have fantastic coverage as a base coat.

The paint matching chart here is an absolutely tremendous resource.  Simply match the colours you need from your chosen scheme against the other ranges!

If you choose to save money by mixing some of your own highlights by adding white or another colour, there are some really useful tricks.  The first is simple!  record the proportions you are using!  If you don’t, you’ll find increasing amounts of variation of your army.  The 2nd is to use paints like Army Painter or Vallejo that come in dropper bottles, as it is just so much easier to remix the proportions again.  And finally, if doing it for a full army, consider mixing up a full pots worth and labelling it.  That’ll guarantee you consistency without remixing.

Once you have your full list of needed paints, I thoroughly recommend checking the available prepackaged paint sets from the various manufacturers.  They can offer major savings, and if your needed range matches quite closely, you can find targeting a particular set works quite well!  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “ooooh, that’s great value, look at all these paints” though.  Unless you are saving money on the actual paints you need, its a waste for now.

And don’t forget to take your existing paints into account.  Check what you have before you start buying!  Its very easy to forget you have paint X if you haven’t used it for a while, or its in an older box of paints.  Make sure you only actually buy what you need. 

There are times you may want to choose a dearer option.  Some paints are difficult ones to work with, like yellows and metals.  That’s down to you.  The trick really is to plan exactly what you want to work with, and think about how you can minimise the costs.  Honestly, just avoiding a situation where you need a paint that afternoon or waste hobby time, so you run out and pay the top whack, will make a big, big difference.

Do remember that even if a paint isn’t quite as good, or doesn’t have as good coverage, applying multiple thin coats will get you to a great result over time.  It might take a little longer, but generally you can achieve great results with pretty much any paint range.  And we’re aiming for good results at minimum costs!

Imagine if you need 10 pots of paint.  Just switching to Vallejo directly could save you £4 on the project over GW.  Army Painter might save you £7 if you can find all the right colours.  Mixing your own highlights and removing the need for just 2 pots could save you another £3.50 to £4.50.  And if we can find a close paint set rather than buying them all individually we might save another £2 or so.  Its not insignificant amounts, and this is just the paints!  We’re starting to see our Cheap Gamer approach pay off!

Again, this isn’t a criticism of GW paints.  They have a fantastic range of colours, excellent coverage and a tremendous range of technical options too.  They just aren’t the cheapest way to paint.

The Lazy Mini Painter – Highlighting

Well, the current style of painting is massively into edge highlights.  Its a terrific technique that really makes hard surfaces pop … and takes absolutely ages.  Heck, at the peak of the art of edge highlighting, you do multiple thickness of edge highlights moving to brighter and brighter edges as they narrow down.  If you want amazing looking models, wow.  If you have limited time and want models to see the tabletop, how the heck can you get this to work.

Highlights do draw the eye, and make a model pop.  Generally, though, its seen as an all or nothing technique.  You do edge highlights?  You highlight every damn edge on the model.  In many ways we’ve forgotten one of the meanings of highlight – to draw attention just to the important or pretty bits.

However …. we want good looking models for the tabletop, right?  Why highlight all of a model.  Instead, we should cherry pick a few spots where we want the eye to be drawn, where there is other details or natural model complexity.  Pick spot easily visible as if looking down at the model at 45˚ angle – shoulder pads, heads, upper chest, backpack top, maybe the gun.  You can reduce your edge highlighting time by a massive amount, still have figures that pop on the battlefield, and look like they’ve been done in a modern style.  Yeah, the legs won’t look anywhere near as good in an eye level display cabinet.  If you put them in a cabinet, put them on a lower shelf.  They will look cracking on the battlefield.

Take standard Cadians, for example.  Highlight the helmet, shoulder pads and gun case with a lighter green, and it’ll look modern and pop.  The foot guards?  Man, overkill.  The chest plate?  Much of that will be covered up anyway when the lasguns go on.  In terms of making a difference to the overall effect, you end up putting in huge amounts of time for minimal gain.

Space Marines can be similar.  Backpacks, helmet, weapon case, maybe shoulder pads depending on insignia.  All the other plates?  minimal difference for loads of effort.

You get much better at edge highlights as you go on – I always suggest edge highlighting, then washing, as it unifies the tone a little more, and makes any slight wobbles on the edges less apparent.  It lets you do them faster and less precise.  Again, thats not necessarily a good thing on a single beautiful model you’ve been painting for weeks.  On your tenth tactical squad of marines?  unless you are superhuman, you’ll be painting quick and make a few slips.

Honestly, for a very large army, you can get away with skipping edge highlights entirely.  For a modern looking army on the field, though, cherry picking your edges, and doing a single colour, not multiples, can actually makes the technique look more effective, matches up with other, more time consuming forces on the table, and is a good compromise on smaller elite forces.  Huzzah!  We can knock these out all day!  Armies are possible … the Lazy Mini Painter way!

The Cheap Gamer – Goblin Restoration

It’s tough being a goblin. A goblin is nearly as low as you can get in greenskin hierarchy. Downtrodden scavengers, who clothe and arm themselves with what they can find, forced to live in the abandoned places of the world and if that wasn’t bad enough they’re always at risk of being eaten by squigs. They are the ultimate rejects.

Back in 2006 the little losers got to feature in the main boxed game again in The Battle for Blood Pass, this time facing the Dwarfs. But 11 years have passed since that edition, and many of the goblins from that box have been consigned to attics, cellars and garages.

So it’s for those reasons I feel sorry for the strangely endearing little blighters. To give them a new lease of life and to save money, I’ve started looking for the abandoned ones. It’s worth mentioning something about Ebay now; items ending on Sundays tend to sell for more than those ending on weekdays. So sellers, schedule your items to end on Sunday. Buyers, look out for the ones that end in the middle of the week, frugal tip. I managed to get a batch of 19 for £3.20. And here is where being a Cheap Gamer conflicts a bit with being a Lazy Gamer. Most of the bargains you find will need a bit of time put into their restoration. Now for me that extra time is no problem. I started the goblin project because I really enjoy restoring. I would place it as one of the main elements of the hobby along with painting, converting, fluff and gaming. It does take a bit of time though. A restorer’s best friends are paint strippers (Dettol, methylated spirits or Biostrip), toothbrushes, cotton buds, kitchen roll, paperclips, pin vices and glue.

I won’t say a bad word about the condition they arrived in because everyone paints to their own standard and at the very least someone made the effort to put colour on them. The boxed game is where lots of beginners start the hobby. My own first minis were from the second edition Warhammer 40,000 box, they were daubed with a centimeter layer of Blood Angels Red, splotched with Choas Black and were the best space marines in the galaxy. What I lacked in painting skill I made up for with enthusiasm. And thick layers paint.

Still, I wanted to give the goblins a nicer coat. I’m an average painter and I can neaten them up a bit to get them back on the board again. They remain wonderful sculpts that fit in with the current range. This is how they ended up with a bit of effort.

I find them all characterful, especially this one who looks a bit hungover, reluctantly taking part in the Waaagh, leaning on their spear for support.

I’ll probably move on to older, vintage minis eventually, but for now I’ll carry on fixing up the Night Goblins until they’re at a full army size. That is unless I get distracted; I’ve just received a 2nd edition Gazghull Thraka, the biggest meanest Ork there ever was.



 Mymeara Eldar!

In an effort to at least pretend to practice what I’m preaching, I thought I’d start posting up some details of current hobby plans for 8th Edition 40K, and take a look of ways of approaching it under both the Cheap Gamer and Lazy Mini Painter philosophies.

I managed to snag a whole batch of Eldar from Doc Bungle which were partially painted in Mymeara colours, and I had already decided that Eldar (or at least Aeldari across the factions) would be my choice for 8th edition, so I’m going to start with these, and build up to a chosen list.  I’m looking to start for a trial game around 50-65PL (probably the upper end of that, as my opponent will be fielding thousand sons and under 65PL is very hard to actually get anything like a test army in!).

I’ll then build to a 100PL list.  At that point … Well, I might go higher, or I might start on a diffferent faction.

We have painted realistic 71 power level:


Avatar of Khaine (13PL)

Fast Attack

6 Warp Spiders for 10PL (or a unit of 5 for 5PL)

Hornet (9PL)


10 Dire Avengers (6PL) 


6 Shadow Spectres (19PL or 5 for 10PL)


Hemlock Wraithfighter (10PL)

Heavy Support

Fire Prism (9PL)

Dedicated Transport

Wave Serpent (9PL)

 It makes sense to extend the army and expand out up the detachments to gain a few extra CP!  The next stage is to add another HQ, 2 more troops unit and move up to a Battalion detachment.  We might then look at another HQ, and go for a second detachment if the battalion doesn’t give enough flexibility.

Asurmen (9PL) and 2 squads of 5 Dire Avengers (6PL) would get us into Battalion territory without needing to buy any more troops, and take us to 86PL.

An Autarch (5PL), and 3 warlocks (9PL) would take us all the way to 100PL, and finishing off the remaining 2 warlocks and a farseer would give us some options (up to 112PL).  And a unit of Guardian Defenders (4PL) would take it to 116PL 

Lazy Mini Painter

With our targets in mind, how can we get there the easy way!  Well, a simple spray blue would give us a great undercoat for all those models.  Some artic blue on the plates with a little lighter highlighting, some yellow soulstones, white helmets and gun metal weapons, a simple wash, some quick basing!  We’re going to try to turn them out as fast as possible!

 Cheap Gamer

Well, from a cheap gamer perspective:

  • I’m using all models I already have.  I don’t need to buy any more for this project yet
  • I’m using a macragge blue spray I already have.  It’s the easy option, but I don’t need to spend any more either. Win win!
  • I will need some paints, but I’ve identified a particular range of paints.  I know exactly what I need to get – basically the mymeara arctic and turquoise colours.  I’m also using lazy options to paint them, so reducing numbers of layer paints and things I  biggest expense is I may need to buy GW brand paints for some colours if I want to paint some in store.

And so, it begins!

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.


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!

The Cheap Gamer – Introduction

Well, alongside my Lazy Mini Painter posts, I’ve been quite inspired to look at how to hobby without breaking the bank.  You’ll find the two lines of articles will contradict each other quite a lot, though, and that isn’t an accident.  There are probably 5 main factors in the hobby.

  1. The time you have available to hobby.
  2. The money you have available for hobby.
  3. The quality of models and work you are willing to settle for.
  4. The experience you have in the hobby
  5. Your raw talent at the hobby

Generally, its not worth worrying about 4 and 5.  You can’t improve your raw talent at all, and experience just comes with time and practice.  So the first three are the important areas, where you can juggle your priorities.

Normally, you can’t really maximise all of 1 -3.  Its a compromise between time, money and quality.  Take bases.  You can save time on bases by using the GW texture paints and ready to stick tufts.  You can save money on nice bases by using things like sand, slate or cork and raiding DIY stores rather than hobby shops for those elements.  You can go all out for quality with a mix of custom resin bases and a whole range of customisations combined with painstaking paintjobs.

What you can’t do is get the absolutely best golden demon type base done in almost no time for little cost.  Its all about compromise.

This series is going to focus on saving money.  It’ll accept compromises on time, and to a certain degree, on quality (though it will try for a basic decent standard at least). We’re looking at decent tabletop gaming rather than Golden Demon standard hobby.

Its also going to focus on the purchase, preparation, and painting of models and terrain, rather than the actual gaming side.  Gaming is really down to taste, and these articles are going to be focussed on suggestions to game your way, but reduce the cost where possible.  Even minimising costs, it isn’t a cheap hobby! 

What sort of stuff will we cover?  Well, I’m afraid it probably won’t be great for a die hard GW fan – we’re going to be looking at cheaper options for paints, terrain, and ways of saving a little when we buy models.  GW are fantastic … what they aren’t is cheap!  This isn’t knocking them – if money is less important than time and quality, buying a full battle board and GW terrain is amazing to play on!    The GW paint range is top notch, but is also one of the most expensive.  And while we’ll still be looking at getting official models to allow us to go to tournaments and things, we’ll be looking at games stores that give decent discounts or recovering 2nd hand models from eBay.

Hopefully some people will find this a bit useful, and it’ll help me put my own thoughts and concepts into a decent structure for gaming as money gets tighter!

Alternative Models for Eldar in 2017!

Well, unfortunately Space Elves or Eldar are still struggling for models in 2017, though there are rumours of new troops from GW later this year!  There are a few great third party alternatives for a few units though!

Iona Starkiller – Farseer alternative

From HF Minis

Space Elves Bikes Unit – Jet bikes alternative

From Spellcrow

Spellcrow also offer conversion Eldar heads, biker torsos, and defence line parts


Warp Stalkers Unit – Howling Banshees alternative

From Chapter House Studios

Chapter House also do conversion kits for Farseer and Warlock jetbikes from GW standard jet bikes.

Light Side Arahnide – Warp Spiders alternative

From Wargame Exclusive