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How to avoid poverty if your kids play Warhammer

Updated August 10, 2017

Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000 miniatures games are fun, challenging and social activities that combine tactical gameplay with the artistic element of assembling and painting miniatures. If you're a parent with children who play, however, you might be less inclined to view it favourably. Playing miniatures games can be an expensive proposition. It doesn't need to be ruinous, however; there are many ways to help your kids enjoy their hobby without breaking the bank. If you're an experienced gamer, some of these pointers might seem elementary. If you're new to the world of miniatures gaming, however, you'll be pleased to know it doesn't have to be as wallet-punishing as it appears.

Many of your raw materials can be supplied by household junk as described above. The disadvantage of using other materials to make models is that they cost money!

Warhammer 40,000 first edition rulebook (1987)

Saving on supplies

If your child wants to play in a Games Workshop store or in an official tournament, you're going to have to shell out for Games Workshop models. Games Workshop's policies on selling to other retailers mean that it's tricky to find these more cheaply elsewhere. Nonetheless, there are a few ways to cut your costs not only on figurines but on other supplies.

If you're a stranger to the world of miniatures, a Games Workshop store can seem like a very convenient place. Helpful employees will help you find everything you need to go with your models, from hobby knives to paints and three different types of glue.

Games Workshop's models represent their unique setting and characters, the products of years of work by writers, artists and sculptors. You're not going to find a model of a Chaos Hellbrute or an Empire War Altar anywhere else. The costs of these miniatures represent not only the costs of production but also the long-lasting popularity of the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 settings. Fans are willing to pay premium prices for the figures they love. For many players, the real joy of Games Workshop games is the Games Workshop figures.

The same isn't true of secondary products like hobby tools or glue. Games Workshop's PVA glue is the same as the PVA glue you can buy in any stationery store or supermarket; it's just much more expensive. The same goes for hobby knives, glue, and similar products, which you can find in any craft store. If you have a shop in your area that caters to model railroad enthusiasts, you may be able to find many useful products at lower prices than you'd pay in a GW outlet -- and model railroading isn't known for being an inexpensive hobby.

There's also a thriving secondary market in miniatures, the product of ambitious newcomers to the hobby who tire of their new armies before they even finish painting them or veteran gamers who want to clear out the old and try something new. Auction sites like eBay are good places to find discounted models, as are dedicated gaming forum sites. However, you need to have some familiarity with the games in order to make full use of this resource. If you don't know much about the games, talk to your child to make sure you know what you're looking for. Painted metal models can have their paint removed with oven cleaner; be sure to wear rubber gloves while stripping models in this way.

Pacing your purchases

A full-blown game of Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000 can involve dozens or hundreds of models, ranging from single soldiers to huge creatures or elaborate war machines. Buying everything your child needs at once can be a daunting prospect. Pacing out your purchases is not only financially sensible, but can really help with the task of painting.

Opening up a box of new miniatures is a thrill for any gamer, no matter how jaded. If the box is big enough, though, there can be a little frustration mixed in with the anticipation. All of these models have to be clipped from their sprues, glued together, cleaned, primed and painted. If you have ten models to get through, it's not so bad -- one down, nine to go. But with large army boxes, even good progress can still seem futile -- one down, 99 to go.

Older gamers, who have to pay for their models from hard-earned paycheques and paint them in limited free time, often operate a "one in, one out" system, not allowing themselves to purchase new models until old ones are painted. This type of discipline not only helps spread the cost out over a longer period, but acts as a motivator to paint.

With large models, the sheer scale of the task, which often involves painstakingly assembling the model from dozens of smaller parts, can be a little daunting. Considering each stage of the process as a completed model for the purposes of "one in, one out" can help provide an incentive to work on it.

Properly managing the relationship between purchases and painting can help keep the cost of playing miniatures games manageable and avoid the spectacle of huge piles of unpainted miniatures building up.

Getting creative

Comparison shopping and keeping an eye on the painting table are good ways to avoid overspending on models, but they aren't exactly a lot of fun. However, one of the best ways to save money on the wargaming hobby is also one of the most enjoyable: improvising game scenery out of household items.

Although you can buy gaming scenery from Games Workshop (and from other suppliers, if you feel like comparison shopping) it's much more fun to make your own. With a little textured paint (ordinary house paint with fine sand mixed into it), some glue and some imagination, everything from polystyrene packaging to aquarium ornaments to cereal-packet cardboard can be turned into an item of fantastic or futuristic terrain.

Papier-mache and polystyrene foam can easily be turned into hills and rocks, while broken toys and bits of gadget make great pieces of ruined, futuristic technology. Terrain-making is a fun and creative way to make your child's wargames table absolutely unique, something that players who buy premade terrain kits won't be able to boast about. Interestingly, this do-it-yourself method of terrain building was once the official GW-endorsed solution; the first Warhammer 40,000 rulebook contained detailed instructions on how to make futuristic terrain cheaply, including suggesting building sci-fi domes with homemade moulds and plaster.

The internet is a gold mine of resources for scratch-built terrain; take a look at some of the links in the Resources section below for guidance on how to make your own wargames terrain for next to nothing.

Low-cost gameplay

One of the frustrations for many young players of Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 is the perception that you need a large number of models to play an enjoyable game. In fact, this doesn't need to be the case. Small point-value games (requiring fewer figures) are an important part of the campaigns hosted by Games Workshop stores. The Warhammer 40,000 rulebook even includes Kill Team, a variant game in which small groups of models, each with their own individual characteristics, are used. Playing these smaller games can help get new players used to the rules and setting while they slowly build up their collections.

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About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.