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 – 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!