Search entries

Most recent entries

Recent photos

Below are my five most recent miniatures related photos. These used to be freshly painted miniatures only, but now include game photos as well.

Brought to you by Flickr.

Site Meter

Tiny Tin Men :: Archives

Why buy new figures? Use what you have available!

January 19, 2006 9:18 AM - Posted by Phil - Category: Feeding the habit

One of the public secrets of the “wargaming industry” (at least in my opinion) is that gamers buy stuff they’ll never use. Wargaming manufacturers sell their products, which 2 years later end up in the Bring-and-Buy section (unused), are being bought by another gamer , who still doesn’t use them, until they get bought by a 2nd hand store that sells it on eBay as a highly priced collectible, is then bought by a collector who still is not using the items, until after several iterations the items end up on an attic to be forgotten. Now, this is all understandable, because wargaming is also partly about “dreams that never come through”. Just as you are dreaming about that Ferrrari you’ll never have, or in my case, a big private library stocked with 16th century books, including one of the only three surviving copies of the Necronomicon… hmmm, the tapping of long-forgotten dark knowledge … Anyway, back to reality …

A typical scenario goes like this: - Gamer goes to convention or website or browses through magazine - Gamer sees a very cool figure or item and wants to buy it - Vision about grand game or campaign starts to form based on this single cool figure - Gamer (now completely in an unrational mode) decides that the entire range of figures is needed, just in case the range is not available anymore within 6 months. Anof course, this is EXACTLY the range, scale, and type of figures I’ve been waiting for. - The big game never materialises (surprise), the several hundred unpainted figures end up in storage. - Next year: repeat!

Well, no more! It has been a few years since I bought huge amounts of wargaming figures, I’ve resisted the urge of falling in the trap of buying things for games that never materialise. Instead, my new approach is to design games around the stuff I already have. It sounds logical and non-revolutionary, but in my mind, it is truly a revolutionary idea.

Let me give an example: I’m currently designing a multiplayer game around a siege of city set in medieval/fantasy setting. I need different factions of troops, representing various armed forces that are present in the city. I went through my quite large figure collection (I count my figures not in the hundreds, but in the thousands), and decided that I needed more figures! I didn’t have the figures needed for this game! So I started looking around for extra figures. At that point I suddenly realized I was crazy. I have plenty of painted figures! I have plenty of unpainted figures, some of them became collectibles in their own right by just sitting in my attic, unused! Why am I shopping for more stuff?

So I took a step back and rethought the game I originally had in mind. Instead of using all human/medieval types, and since this is fantasy, can’t I make the forces a bit more exotic? I have quite a number of Boxer Rebellion Chinese warriors armed with swords. Why not use them as a Foreign Bodyguard present in the city? Maybe some Redoubt Musketeers as well? Wouldn’t that fit in with a renaissance-fantasy-style seen in some French comics, rather than the GW-monotone-fantasy-view we’ve all come to accept? I had them painted by a world-class painter, so why not put them on the table and use them? So I started to rethink the scenario, I also went creative with my quite huge collection of scenery, and after some experiments (visual appeal on the gaming table is big thing for me), I arrived at a quite satisfactory result. I won’t tell you anything more about the game, because it still has to be played, and some players are listening in …

Anyway, to make a long story short: design your games around your large collection of figures and scenery, not the other way around. The extent of my colelction is such that I can probably organize a dozen games without having to re-use a single item once (and that goes for the dice and lichen too!). So why buy more stuff? Resist the urge! It saves money! Money I can spend on extending my book collection. Wait, there’s a problem with that too ….

Comments on this entry

Exactly. Way back when I was a single PhD student, I threw amounts of money that would put the GNP of several small nations to shame at various miniatures manufacturers (I can tell they liked this, because they started to address me by my first name after my first order:) ). As a result, I now still have vast(ish) stocks of unpainted miniatures lying about. Now, being a married father of soon te be two, and having a shiny new house to pay the mortgage for, I hardly ever buy any new miniatures, and what I buy (e.g. Artizan Designs fabulous new Carolingians) I try to finance by either selling off other figs, be it painted or unpainted. So, I couldn’t agree with you more, Phil. Back when I organised the first three S&V revival games (on a side note, we could pass on that moniker to your monthly games now :) ) I desiged them around what I had, just as you did. I also used those games as an incentive for me to paint up some of the pile of lead for those games as well. Then again, all this could mean we’re just getting old and starting to fear for our pensions :)

January 19, 2006 10:05 AM - Posted by Robartes

I still remember we bought every single figure in the (then Guernsey) Foundry Wild West range, and divided it up amongst 3 people. The result is that I have about 30 WIld West figures painted, but at the same time I still have something like 60 unpainted figures. The irony is that we rarely have used more than 10 figures in any Wild West game. BUT WE ABSOLUTELY NEEDED THOSE FIGURES!!!!

January 19, 2006 12:33 PM - Posted by Phil


Er..actually I mean, it’s a very sensible idea, but I’m not quite ready for it. I haven’t finished any single army yet, and worse I hardly played with any of them, yet I buy more stuff.

WFB Dark Elves : over a hundred left to paint, played maybe 10 games with them. Too many figures allready - slowly selling of sealed stuff.

WFB Vampire Counts : maybe 75 left to paint, played once. Still room for more zombies en skeletons though (only when cheap).

WFB Skaven : a couple of 100 left to paint. Never used. Need more slaves (only when cheap).

WAB celts : all painted up (a measly 500 points). Need more cavalry, chariots, fanatics and infantry. Probably on the Salute shopping list.

WAB ECW : 9 (nine) figures finished. 200+ to go. Still need lots of stuff. Never played. Probably on the Red Barons Convention shopping list.

Border reivers : first Vendel family finished ! Never used. Will probably buy some more.

Bloodbowl : several painted teams. Played a lot. Maybe 8 teams to go. Will buy more.

Ral Partha AD&D : maybe 100 blisters to go. Used rarely in now defunct RPG campaign. Will buy more to satisfy completionist tendencies.

Other assorted stuff (Warmaster, Mordheim, Foundry Pirates, Mighty Empires…): several hundred figs to go (plus maybe 500 1/72 plastics). Will buy more if impulses dictate.

I started tracking the (bought)/(painted+sold) ratio this year. So far I bought nothing and painted/sold 18 figures. It’s a start (yet I fear I will not be able to paint up enough to compensate the stuff I’ll buy this year).

Note to self : paint more, try to refrain from buying into new periods and start using them in games.

January 20, 2006 4:49 PM - Posted by gnomehome

But you miss the point. Our figures are our pension! When we retire we sell those that have become collecible to feed our habit. The new figures in their turn become collectible and when we have no more to paint we pass the them to our heirs in a tax efficient manner since the figures have no intrinsic value in the eyes of the taxman and the insurance company than the raw value of the metal!

Graham K

The ex tax accountant wargamer

January 20, 2006 5:35 PM - Posted by Graham K

Hi Phil, nice piece. I tend to agree with you in fact and when I feel the urge to paint something am finding somthing in the draw rather than running up credit card bills. After all, between us we have far more figures than we ever game with.

Who is the world class painter you refer to by the way?

Oh yes, I almost forgot, I have a friend who works in the Miskatonic University library who might be able to help with your book collection. I haven’t heard from him for a couple of years (since he bought a nice little cottage in nearby Salem) but I’ll drop him a line.


January 20, 2006 6:54 PM - Posted by Alan

I agree with phil (partly…). I’ve got thousands of painted 25mm figs that have been gathering dust for decades. Since I got into rulewriting for our hexbased games at TSA, the armies I need for the period given are taken out of retirement and freshened up (they’re mostly “flat” painted, so I add some shades etc) and rebased on a smaller washer on top of a normal one. Thus they “grow” by 2mm and can be used with my current painting projects in 28mm. Since washers are round, it does not really show that much, certainly after adding static grass. When all (25’s and 28’s) are finished, I flock’m to go with the Kallistra terrain. It speeds up my painting about fivefold compared with starting from scratch and the result to me is “new” armies…


January 21, 2006 12:19 PM - Posted by Rudi

Who is the world class painter you refer to by the way?

A chap named Robartes ;-)

Oh yes, I almost forgot, I have a friend who works in the Miskatonic University library who might be able to help with your book collection. I havenít heard from him for a couple of years (since he bought a nice little cottage in nearby Salem) but Iíll drop him a line.

Ok, sounds good. That’s a recurring problem with the staff at Miskatonic University. They job-hop a lot apparantly. Makes you wonder what they drink there …

January 21, 2006 3:34 PM - Posted by Phil