Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Zen Again: The Cheap Way to Go Big

No this isn't another advertisement for cheap male enhancement drugs as the title may suggest. Rather, today's topic concerns finding inexpensive, yet good quality fantasy wargame miniatures of the VERY LARGE and HUGE variety.

I must admit that when it comes to collecting wargame minis, especially fantasy figures, I'm extremely eclectic. The thought of building a 250 to 300 model army comprised entirely of orcs or barbarians is not something that really grabs me. I'd much rather have my bunch of 300 figures consist of 40 orcs, 40 beastmen, 40 lizardmen, 40 elves, 30 hoplites, 25 knights, 25 ghouls, 25 anubis warriors, 10 trolls, 10 minotaurs, 10 heroes and wizards, 3 giants, and 2 dragons. I want diversity dammit! The more variety, the better!

But variety does have a downside. Gamers and collectors who crave more & more variety often find themselves chasing after lots of different models in an attempt to own at least a few of every creature that ever raised its ugly head and marched across a fictional battlefield. I confess that I'm guilty of this. I say things like, "God, those Front Rank figures in the 100 Years War range are just beautiful; I must get some.", or "Those new Ghouls and Spartans from Crocodile Games are a must buy!", or "I love the Trollbloods in the Privateer Press range, maybe I should buy a few boxes?". And on and on it goes. It's a Pokemon-like addiction -- you just gotta catch 'em all. But catching them all means spending loads and loads of money. Once reality sets in, you realize that you can only buy what you want most and can actually afford.

Here's where the issue of BIG models comes into play. Those large dragons, giants, dinosaurs, and other nasty monstrosities typically cost a heck of a lot of money. Not to mention, if you paint them yourself, a lot of time goes into the modelling & painting of these suckers. Many casual gamers feel that it's just not worth it, so these larger models never end up appearing in their collections. But there is an alternative; a cheaper way to obtain some very cool large models that saves both money and time. Say hello to pre-paints.

I know what some wargaming purists will say: they hate pre-paints. I say to them, you can always give these pre-painted models a "touch-up or enhanced look" if you're that anal retentive about it! Oftentimes, you can achieve amazing results with a simple 2-step approach to these models:
  1. Apply a brown or black ink-wash to shade the model. This is especially good for light colored models like giants with exposed flesh or behemoths with gray/tan/whitish skin.

  2. Drybrush a lighter shade than the model's main base-color onto its high spots to highlight it. For instance a medium or lighter brown shade is great for drybrushing over Tree Men who often have dark brown bark skin.
For those of you who aren't that fussy, don't worry about it. Some pre-paints, such as the range of McFarlane Dragons are so well painted that most diehards would agree that you don't need to do anything to them -- they're already beautiful as-is.

Let's start with the biggie of them all: DRAGONS. Dragons are the beastly rulers of many a fantasy world. There are many really cool metal dragon miniatures on the market, but if you want to save a lot of time & money, there's no better bet than to look into purchasing pre-painted dragons from these sources:
  • McFarlane Dragons = Todd McFarlane, creator of the Spawn comic, makes a series of dragons that are absolutely fantastic. These beasts work extremely well for 28mm to 30mm fantasy wargaming. Not only are these dragons big and menacing (like a dragon should be!), but the dynamic sculpts, quality paint jobs, and attention to detail are truly excellent. These figures can be found in KB Toys, Toy R Us, Fao Schwarz, and eBay for around $8 to $13 per model. That's a steal. These are my absolute favorite pre-painted models available, and every fantasy gamer should have a few in his or her collection.

  • Schleich = German company Schleich produces an excellent range of 90mm knights. These are great for large-scale skirmish gaming. Within their Knights range, they have a very attractive Green Dragon priced at about $15. I own one of them and he's great for fantasy wargames. Highly recommended. I've found Schleich figures available at Target, AC Moore, and Fao Schwarz, and online at Michigan Toy Soldier.
  • Papo = This french company is similar to Schleich in that it makes a nice range of 90mm figures for a variety of periods and uses. You will find several dragons under their Tales and Legends range. You can find Papo figures in AC Moore, Michaels, and online at Michigan Toy Soldier.
  • Safari Ltd. = A maker of educational toys, Safari also makes a really nice range of dragons that are worth checking into. They've got Red, Green, Chinese, and 4-Headed dragons that are sweet looking and affordable. They're also available in your local craft stores such as AC Moore or Michaels.
For everything else in the way of monsters or gods, there are several sources available. My particular pick is the D&D Miniatures line. While the paint jobs are spotty in some cases, I've found that the painting on the larger models is often more attractive than on their standard (humanoid sized) minis. This is especially true of the more recently released sets. Because D&D minis are collectible, you cannot just go out and buy a box and get exactly what you're looking for. So to find specific large monsters that interest you, you're best bet is to look at eBay, where's there's a large secondary market for D&D minis. Also, the prices on eBay are usually much lower than what you'll find at online shops that sell single minis (such as Paizo.com).

I've got a couple of very nice D&D monsters that I would feel okay using as-is. I plan on doing some touch-ups (as previously described) to a few of them when I get the chance. But for the money, you can't beat getting a decent looking plastic giant for somewhere in the $10 to $20 range, rather than buying an ultra-expensive GW giant that takes a good bit of effort to put together and paint. To me, time is money. I've already got more stuff to paint than I have time for, so any affordable time saver is very welcomed.

McFarlane Toys also has some very cool models in their fantasy/horror ranges. They're much too big for use in 28mm to 30mm wargames unless you want to use one as a GOD or TITAN. Gods should be much, much larger than life and terrifyingly impressive. If you want to scare the bejesus out of your foes, imagine summoning a Haunter of the Pits (from the Conan series) onto the battlefield! Criminy, I think I just soiled myself!

Finally, check into Safari's dinosaur ranges for some nice prehistoric terrors. The scale may not be 100% perfect, but hey they're MONSTERS after all -- big is always good when it comes to these guys!!! They're also great if you play Giant Monster skirmish battles.

I hope my little foray into the world of cheap, pre-painted monsters has been enlightening. It really is possible to bring some terror to your battlefield without breaking your bank account.

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