Monday, March 25, 2013

Kobolds - work in progress

I probably won't get much more painting until after Easter, but I had a little time to splash some more paint on my kobolds. These are plastic Bones miniatures from Reaper. You can get a pack of six for $3 or less in many places, which is my ideal average cost per mini. They only come with three poses, but the plastic is soft and flexible, so modding and reposing is pretty easy.

These guys aren't quite presentable and have a lot of clumsy splotches I need to paint over (the secret to a great paintjob is in the editing, I've found). Still, I thought I'd share.

These guys all had the same pose originally. Most of these mods involved bent limbs and chopped-off weapons. I also cut off and reposed a couple heads, so not every pose was so flat. Obviously the most radical mod is the sorcerer on the left. I think my attempt to dress him in Milliput arcane robes turned out okay, even if he looks a little lumpy. The totem comes from an Italeri Barbarian figure, which you may have seen before on this blog.

Again, these minis are all the same sculpt. Originally all the shields were raised like the guy on the left. I bent them and pinned them in place in a more usefully defensive pose.

I couldn't think of a way to repose the spears. Reaper claims that you don't need to prime their Bones figures, so since I didn't do any reposing, I tried painting these guys unprimed. The colors looked a little different, but I found the paint actually stuck better to these guys than their primed cousins (which makes me doubt the efficacy of my primer!).

Here's a kobold with Sven the comparison Viking and a goblin from Caesar Miniatures. Even though the Reaper figures are 28mm, they are about the same size as the 1/72 goblins. They are a little chunkier, and their weapons are bigger, but I think they'll look fine at the table.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Where to buy cheap minis?

I promise I'll do a post with some new pictures soon, but in the meantime I want to do one more informative post. Someone at EN World asked about where these figures can be found. I had put a big post on EN World about that very topic recently, but I think if I repost that info in list form, it might be more useful. I'll organize by types of figures, describe them a little bit, then list some useful sources for these figures.

1/72 miniatures for toy soldier hobbyists

Caesar Miniatures orcs and goblins
  • There are also dozens of companies making hundreds of historic figures which are easily adaptable to typical medieval RPGs. Plastic Soldier Review is a great resource for checking out these miniatures.

  • Some North American sources with great selection include Hobby Bunker, Michigan Toy Company, and Woodrow's. Pegasus Hobbies seems to be the American distributor for Caesar Miniatures and has the best prices I've found (watch the shipping, though). Hobbylinc, a very large online discount hobby store, recently expanded their stock of 1/72 miniatures to include many sets discussed on this blog.

  • Other sources that ship internationally include Hannant's (UK), Always Model (Taiwan), Linear-B (Germany), and HobbyTerra (Ukraine, I believe). Other online hobby stores often have a limited selection of 1/72 soldiers, and eBay is always worth investigating.

1/72 tabletop/board games

  • Arcane Legions is a defunct tabletop miniatures game, and one of the few such games in 1/72 scale. It's now being liquidated: Miniature Market sells booster bricks (around 50-60 figures) for $24 (now $12, as of late September 2013).
Modified and repainted Arcane Legions centaurs
Repainted Arcane Legions boosters
    Manufacturer paintjobs for Arcane Legions boosters
    • Age of Mythology is a board game published by Eagle Games with various mythic hero and monster figures. Human-sized figures are 1/72, while some monsters are a bit smaller than I'd like, but still useful. You can buy the miniatures individually for $3 a faction directly from the publisher, which is crazy-cheap.
    The dwarf with the red beard is an Arcane Legions figure. The rest are Age of Mythology minis. The death knight in the middle was a Viking hero that got accidentally melted a bit (a candle is not the best way to remove excess plastic flash, by the way).
      • Twilight Creations makes the popular Zombies!!! board games and other gonzo-horror games. Their miniatures are just a bit larger than 1/72, but still quite usable. I'm not a fan of their zombie sculpts, but it's hard to argue with the price of their "Bag o'" miniature sets, $10-$12 for 100 minis, available at most gaming stores. Less well known is their set of demon figures, only available at their online store, but also pretty cheap.
      Twilight Creations demon figures.
      • War of the Ring is a tactical Lord of the Rings board game with lots of 1/72 fantasy miniatures. The sculpts are a little static, and I can't find any way to buy them apart from the game. Even the obsolete 1st edition of the game is pretty expensive, but if it were cheaper, I might go for it.

      • Other fantasy board games have figures in larger scales, but they might be usable in 1/72 scale. See "Larger Scale Minis" below:

      Larger scale minis

      • As I mentioned in my last post, larger scale minis have many uses in 1/72 gaming. A 28-32mm D&D halfling looks about human-sized in 1/72. A large figure in these scales look only a little larger in 1/72 and are quite believable. Some really small figures still look pretty small compared to 1/72 humans and are usable for small or tiny creatures.

      • The secondary market for D&D minis isn't quite the bargain it used to be, but there are still a few places that resell individual minis pretty cheaply. Auggie's and Gold Dragon Horde are two of the cheapest. Other online stores with great selection include Troll and Toad, Cool Stuff Inc., and Miniature Market (who also carries Arcane Legions and Bones miniatures).
      D&D halflings repurposed as 1/72 scale humans and halflings.
      • The Bones line of plastic figures from Reaper Miniatures is set to expand hugely in the next month or so, thanks to their highly publicized Kickstarter project this past year. I already have a couple large monsters, and I can tell you that their kobolds look pretty good next to 1/72 figures. Most online game stores sell them at around 20-25% off MSRP.
        Some Bones kobolds, with a few simple mods.
      Some Bones gnomes and halflings adapted as 1/72 humans.
      Large Bones monsters.
      • A few Warhammer sets look pretty good in 1/72, despite some oddly-proportioned hands and weapons. Skinks and skaven make great lizardmen and ratmen in 1/72. Games Workshop, who produces Warhammer, also produces various Lord of the Rings minis: goblins and hobbits from these sets make good orcs and halflings in 1/72 scale. Ebay is a good place to get full sets, as a lot of Warhammer hobbyists wind up buying more sets than they can use. You might have good luck finding bargains at bits stores on eBay, or from places like Hoard o' Bits or Bitz Barn.
        Some Warhammer lizardmen adapted for 1/72 scale.
        • You can often find figures from 28mm fantasy board games sold individually online. Good minis can be found from games like Castle Ravenloft, The Legend of Drizz't, Wrath of Ashardalon, Descent, and the World of Warcraft board game.
        Various unpainted board game minis, with a few painted D&D minis.
        • 1/32 scale miniatures are often perfect for giants and large monsters in 1/72. Lots of great minis in this scale are marketed as toys and can be found in stores like Hobby Lobby or Michael's. Safari Ltd. "toobs", Papo "mini tubs", and Tim Mee bagged toys are some products to look out for. Tehnolog is a Russian company that makes plastic 1/32 figures for gaming; a lot of eBay stores sell them.
        Tim Mee cavemen as 1/72 hill giants.

        Metal miniatures

        • Metal miniature manufacturers are more numerous than plastic manufacturers, but they are also more expensive. There is also a greater variety available, so sometimes the mini you want can only be found in metal.

        • 20mm scale is more or less equivalent to 1/72 scale. Some 20mm fantasy metal mini manufacturers include Splintered Light Miniatures, Elhiem Figures, and CP Models.
        A few Elhiem figures, along with a 15mm East Riding boar.

        Thursday, March 14, 2013

        A Cheap Fantasy Minis Manifesto

        One of the first things I want to do with this blog is share some quick goals for anyone interested in pursuing cheap fantasy minis the way I do.
        1. How cheap is cheap?: My rough guideline is an average cost of under 50 cents (US) a mini for human-sized or smaller figures, and $1-2 for larger figures. Understand that the standard deviation of this average is pretty broad (if my math-vocab is right): A box of 40 fantasy figures from Caesar Miniatures is around $10, or 25 cents a figure, while the occasional Warhammer, Reaper, or DDM miniature might set you back a dollar or more. I'd prefer to stay on the low range whenever possible, of course, but this way I have some room for the occasional dip into more expensive minis should the need arise.

        2. Cheap minis also means cheap supplies: Now of course a craftsman is only as good as his tools, and I don't mean to suggest that you should settle for dodgy paints and the like. Good tools especially are an investment you hopefully only have to make once, so paying more upfront for things like that not only means better quality, but more money saved over time. What I do mean is that the cheap fantasy mini painter should learn to appreciate the difference between "best quality possible" and "pretty good." If I sprang for GamesWorkshop paints, inks, and primers for $4 a half-ounce bottle, it would probably make a difference in how my figures looked. But I use sprays and craft paints I got a Hobby Lobby for a fraction of that: a 2 oz. bottle of good craft paint can be a dollar or less. I don't claim that my figures are the best-looking they could be, but I do think they are at the threshold of where the dollar-to-quality ratio of better paints is just too high.

        3. Scale matters: The miniatures I am pursuing are in the neighborhood of 1/72 scale, which is about 1 inch for a human-sized figure. This is about half the size of, say, a typical Dungeons and Dragons miniature. I think it's important to stick with this scale as much as possible (and might make diving into cheap minis a bit painful for the invested DDM collector). If I sat down at the game table and plunked down three dwarf figures—a 1/72 Caesar Miniature, a DnD mini, and a 54mm Tehnolog figure—and told you they were all dwarves, it would be silly. It would break the sense of tactical verisimilitude that is a large part of why we use minis in the first place. For my taste, even a 28mm figure looks out of place next to a 1/72 figure for the same type of creature* (though this is much more subjective). This doesn't mean I won't ever use figures from other scales, but it will be with adaptation in mind. Small figures in larger scales may look human-sized in 1/72, while human-sized figures in smaller scales look halfling-sized. That 54mm dwarf might make a great 1/72 scale giant, and a large monster in 28mm scale looks about as large in 1/72.

        4. One word, plastic!: I was tempted to inflict a quick lesson in economics vis a vis metal versus plastic miniatures, but I'll try to refrain. In a nutshell, plastic molds are more expensive to make than metal molds, but plastic figures are cheaper to cast once the molds are already made. This means that the startup costs for making metal miniatures is lower than for plastic minis, but that the overall cost per figure is lower for plastic. It also means that metal manufacturers are much more common, despite the higher cost per figure, and that there is a greater variety of metal minis available. When you can't find what you need in plastic, metal may be your best bet, but for the cheap fantasy miniaturist, plastic is preferred.

        5. If you can't find it, make it: There is no need to sculpt your own miniatures most of the time, but there are lots of ways to change the figure you have into the figure you want. I'll go into how figure modding works in a later post, but you shouldn't be afraid to bend, chop up, and/or reassemble your minis. It's easier than you might think, and since plastic figures especially may not have the variety you want, modding is a great way to get that variety. And since you are a cheap fantasy miniaturist, you don't have to worry too much if your experiment in reposing or head-swapping goes awry.

        6. The hunt is part of the fun: Any bargain-hunter will tell you that finding a deal is a thrill that exceeds the simple value of the money you save. Finding cheap fantasy minis doesn't have to be a second career, and of course my goal here is to make the hunt easier. But searching through eBay or trading forums, finding neat-if-obscure online shops, or combing through bits bins at your Friendly Local Game Store: it all takes time, but it's time that is as enjoyable a part of the hobby as assembling and painting.
        *A note on scale, for people unfamiliar with its peculiarities: 1/72 humans are about 1 inch, or 25mm tall, so you'd think that 28mm shouldn't be that big a difference. But there are a couple weird factors in the non-standard way of how scale is determined complicate things. One is the trend toward "heroic" miniatures, which in practice means sculpts with big heads and hands that are larger than the advertised scale (this feeds into a phenomenon called "scale inflation"). The other is the difference between "foot to eye" and "foot to crown": some miniature makers, instead of measuring the full height of the figure, measure from foot to eye-level and use that as the basis of their scale.

        All this means, in practice, that 1/72 is paradoxically synonymous with "20mm scale" most of the time. "True 25mm" is also an acceptable synonym, but be careful around advertised scales of "25mm", which often comes out the same as heroic 28mm.

        Tuesday, March 12, 2013


        This will be my space for discussing cheap, yet attractive, miniatures for fantasy gaming, as well as for showing off my efforts to create the same. I've already started posting on the topic at EN World and at The Miniatures Page: special welcome to those coming from either community! If you're coming here from either site, or if you've just stumbled upon this site and like the idea of fantasy gaming minis on the cheap, please say hello in the comments, so I know I'm not just talking to myself!

        I'm just throwing this site together for now, so it's light on content and personality. But in addition to offering and soliciting greetings, I'll just share some snapshots of my painted figures so far.




        Again, welcome, and thanks for stopping by!