Fantasy Battle - on a Budget
by Steve Blease
The only trouble with metal miniatures, exquisite though some are, is the price. With Citadel Miniatures now charging a quid for one grotty little Goblin, a reasonably sized 25mm fantasy army is becoming further and further beyond the reach of all but the exceedingly well off. If you're starting from scratch today (and taking the example given in Warhammer Armies), a small 3000 point Goblinoid army would now set you back around £250 (and that's at 1992 prices!). Yes - ouch! And bear in mind that this army includes no chariots or war machines...
So what is the answer? The move into hard plastic 25mm figures is still in its formative stages, and choice is at present very limited. Any army would be very hard to construct without having to buy a fair amount of white metal specialist troops (such as cavalry) to be complete.
15mm gaming may be another answer with figures only around 15p for an infantryman. However again the ranges are very limited (although historical 15mm figures can be used to supplement), and it must be said that the standard of ranges currently in production is generally rather poor, especially when compared to their historical counterparts from companies such as Battle Honours, Dixon and Minifigs. However, do not fret (aside from robbing your local Games Workshop store), there is one more alternative...
The Good Old Days:
Do you recall your formative years as a wargamer, with all those hundreds of unpainted HO/OO Airfix WW2 Germans, British, Americans etc, that your mother secretly loathed and did her best to annihilate with the bane of all wargamers young and old - the hoover?! Remember all those (silly?) games as the Waffen SS aided by Napoleon's Imperial Guard were always beaten by an allied concoction of British 8th Army, Americans and Ancient Britons (and in my case German paratroopers, because they were too good to fight with the baddies!)?
Well, surprising though it may sound, these figures (echoes of a distant past) can provide the answer, and allow you to create titanic fantasy battles on the cheap.
Actually before we go any further, I suppose I ought to deal with one point that you're probably mumbling about at the moment - "where's the orcs?" Well frankly who cares?! True none of the soft plastic figure manufacturers produce Orcs or Dwarves of Elves or... Well, as I said, "so what?"
Just because TSR have popularised the pseudo-Tolkien interpretation of the genre, doesn't mean that you have to restrict your imagination (and wargaming) to the realms of commercialism.
Just look at the worlds of some of the most popular fantasy authors. David Gemmel, Robert E Howard and David Eddings, all base their adventures in worlds where the main protagonists are human. No Orcs, no Elves and no Dwarves! Does this diminish their work? No. If they have the courage of their convictions to develop human fantasy worlds, there is no reason for you not to.
However, if you (still) insist on having Orcs and Elves, you can still have them if you're prepared to put in a little effort. We'll look at the solution to this after seeing what is available in the market place.
Time After Time...
Whilst I'm spouting such heresies such as fantasy games without Orcs, I might as well continue in the same vein. Why is the fantasy gaming genre largely set in pseudo-medieval worlds? I can understand games companies playing it safe, but why don't gamers exercise their imagination and break the mould?
For example, what is wrong with the 17th century as the basis of a fantasy world? Just look at the Thirty Years War. Fought largely in the name of religion, many people were tortured and executed as witches and for dabbling in the black arts (as well as being in the wrong pace at the wrong time). The people were very superstitious, so why not use the Thirty Years War as the basis for a fantasy world, and add magic, witches and wizards. Coupled with the religious intolerance of the period, a very original and dark gaming world could be created. The addition of characters like the Witchfinder General, can only add flavour...
Thinking about it further, what about Victorian British coming up against Zulu's whose shamans have at their fingertips the power of earth magic? The possibilities are endless. All they require is a bit of original thought.
Alternative histories are another idea, and very popular in fantasy literature. If you want some examples, you'd do no better than to read Michael Moorcock's The Nomad of Time.
What's all this to do with plastic figures you ask? Well read on...
The Plastic Warrior
As I said, the 20mm plastic figure is incredibly cheap. Approximately 4 pence a figure, you can buy a 24 figure battalion for the cost of just one 25mm figure! Bearing in mind the cheapness of the figures, there is absolutely no reason for you not to experiment with your hobby. As I said above, the possibilities are endless.
So just what is available? Well this depends at any one time. Boxes of figures come and go quite regularly (Airfix especially being major culprits here), so it's almost impossible to say what you'll find if you pop down your local model shop. Packets of discontinued models often sit in dusty corners of shops, and if you're really looking for a bargain check out jumble sales, as Mum disposes of little Johnny's 'toy soldiers' which he's discarded in favour of Turtles/Girls/Chaos Spikey Mutant Wombles (delete as appropriate).
Bearing this in mind, let's look at the major companies in the soft plastic market.
Airfix: the company that started it all back in the sixties with their British Guardsmen and Bandsmen. Airfix produce a variety of figure sets mainly WW2, but some from earlier ears of history. Most annoying is the company's policy of withdrawing items for three years before reintroducing them. Even more annoying is when the withdraw them and don't reintroduce them!
The situation has arisen with the more useful (from our point of view) sets of figures. Gone are the mediaeval (Robin Hood) sets, the Arabs, the Ancient Britons, the Romans; probably never to return (Ed note - try www.hat.com). If you see them in a jumble sale or whatever buy them as they're incredibly useful.
What remains is of limited use. The earliest era now covered is the American War of Independence, with the Napoleonics being the only other pre-WW2 figures. Interesting (off beat) games could be fought around these periods, but obviously they are of no use to sword and sorcery gamers.
Post-holocaust gamers will be most interested in their products with 20mm US and Soviet infantry still available, along with a NATO aircrew pack that includes some troops in NBC kits.
ESCI: An Italian company, ESCI have only moved into the polythene figure market in recent years, but have certainly carved a niche for themselves by covering a wide range of periods with excellently detailed figures.
Although the bulk of the packets cover WW2 and Modern (US/Sov/NATO/WarPac) most periods of history are tackled. Most useful is their Barbarians pack, containing a nice variety of fighters in a variety of poses. Somewhat of a historical nightmare in composition, this set is very useful for fantasy gamers. As 'historical' opponents, ESCI have provided us with some Romans, which again are quite nice, and would be useful (for example) as Tolnedran Legionnaires from The Belgariad, Given a coat of blue with bronze armour they wouldn't even look like Roman!
Also of use are ESCI's colonials. The French Foreign Legionnaires, British Redcoats and Indian infantry could all end up on mars for a Space 1889 scenario, or fight it out in some sort of alternate Michael Moorcock world with giant airships etc. The Zulu's and Arabs are even more useful as they can be used against the colonial forces and mediaeval/ancient types a la Conan. (Ed note - ESCI plastics are now produced by Italeria).
Revell: The newest comers onto the scene are Revell. Their first releases were very surprising in that none featured a gun of any sort! First off came Celts and Romans, followed by Normans and Saxons. The Celts and the Saxons are especially useful to fantasy gamers and can form the basis of two different human armies. Detail may not be as good as say ESCI's figures, but their usefulness and appearance en masse negates this fact. The Romans are slightly more useful than ESCI's in that they are historically inaccurate and therefore of more use to fantasy gamers. The Normans are the poorest out of the sets, but still have their uses (see below).
Newer sets as well as covering WW2 have included infantry for the Thirty Years War (see comments above) which along with some excellent cavalry and artillery sets, makes the TYW range very useful indeed. Also available (or will be in the near future) are two new periods that will be great for fantasy gamers.
Knights of the Middle Ages are going to be extremely useful, especially when coupled with the Saxons and Celts. Also of use will be the Conquest of Mexico range, the Spanish being suitable for Estallian type forces (see Warhammer) and the Aztecs for another interesting human army.
Overall Revell may not produce the most detailed figures, but certainly the most useful.
Atlantic: Another Italian manufacturer, but one that is intermittently hard to get hold of in Britain. Producing some really naff WW2 ad Moderns (avoid like the plague), they produced some really excellent Ancients figures and equipment sets.
Romans, Egyptians and Greeks were available. The latter being especially useful for games based around Greek mythology or David Gemmell's Lion of Macedon. The range also included indispensable sets of siege equipment, buildings (eg. Colosseum and the Sphinx), galleys and one set including a giant Cyclops throwing a huge rock!
As I said hard to get hold of in Britain, keep your eyes open for them when holidaying on the Continents (if any of you have some Greeks you don't want, drop me a line). (Ed note - Nexus now produce the basic Greek and Egyptian boxed sets).
Orcs and Things:
If you're still somewhat disappointed at the lack of Orcs and co, you can have them providing you're willing to put a little effort in (and at 4p a figure isn't it worth it?)
Elves are perhaps the easiest. Tolkien's description of High Elves has them in long mail hauberks with conical helmets and kite shields. Sound familiar? Although they aren't the greatest figures Revell's Normans will fit the bill here. For Wood Elves, I'd suggest the outlaws from the old Airfix Robin Hood sets if you see them around (excluding the Friar Tuck figure!)
Orcs aren't the easiest to produce, but are possible. Your best bet is to take the Airfix Ancient Britons or Revell Celts as a basis and chop and change the odd thing with a knife and some Milliput. Facially the sift details on these figures works to our advantage and painted the right colour (green/brown/black) they actually look quite Orcish.
As to Dwarves, I haven't got an answer. Chop the Vikings off at the knee and ankle and stick them back together minus the calf?!
Bearing in mind the saving you've now made on your army, there is no reason why you shouldn't continue it with your rules. Why pay 14.99 for Warhammer when sets for under a fiver are available? The cheapest rules I know of that are still available are Reaper (Table Top Games) at just 3.50, the Middle Earth Wargames Rules (Skytrex) which set me back a mere 1.50 and the 15mm Rules for Fantasy Armies (Warrior Miniatures) costing a ludicrous 50p.
So there you have it. Fantasy Wargaming on a budget. No longer need your ambitions to lead hordes of barbarian warriors to fame and victory be thwarted by the prices set by the 'men in suits'. If any readers have any comments on the subject, or ideas (such as how to create Dwarves), drop me a line, I'd be interested to hear from you.