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Wargaming On A Budget – Virtual Tabletops And Pieces Of Paper

0 Comments 17 December 2013

budget wargaming

Are you ready to learn?

Stop for a moment and take a look at your wargaming miniature collection. Just do a quick mental tally up of how much you have spent on buying the figures, rules and terrain in your collection. You might need to stop and take some deep breaths when you do this. Factor in the time you have spent painting those figures, modelling terrain, ¬†building game boards, and even making counters. Your time is valuable too. Even assuming you were being paid minimum wage for those hours, that’s probably still a big chunk of change.

But before you are stricken down by heart attack or stroke, we wargame because we love it. Not for the money. But it is certainly not a cheap hobby – although few hobbies are cheap today.

My point is not to make you realize that you could probably have gone on a Caribbean cruise for the same money you spent just on your World War Two collection, but rather to address something that I have been hearing a lot lately. What is that thing? It is a single phrase that sends shivers down my spine:

“I don’t want to try those new rules as I would have to collect another army.”

WHAT!? You would be-grudge yourself the enjoyment of a new set of rules simply because you don’t have the figures. Oh my young wargaming padawan, the force is not yet strong in you. There are many opportunities to enjoy great wargames, without breaking the bank.

Paper Wargaming

Many fall back on that old favourite, paper. Certainly, when faced with trying out a new rules set I have often printed out some counters and pushed them around the living room floor to get a feel for the game. Why? Because how will I know if I like the game enough to invest $200 to $300 in figures if I don’t try out the system first. Maybe it’s not “crunchy” enough for me. Maybe it doesn’t have the right historical feel? Maybe it is just clunky?

I won’t know unless I try it.

A few clicks of the mouse and whirs of the printer later, and I have an army ready to go. OK, there might be a few snips of the scissors too.

And there are many places to buy paper miniatures with gorgeous artwork. Check out DriveThruRPG.com for some great tokens and paper minis. Of course, if historical is your thing, then Junior General has a massive collection of FREE wargaming miniatures in paper. They even have some interesting rules and scenarios too. Also free. What more could you want?

A Word Of Warning About Paper Cuts

No, this is not some health and safety announcement about the dangers of paper and running with scissors. I just wanted to get your attention.

Do remember that paper miniatures, even when given freely, ARE NOT FREE.

Currently, printer ink – millilitre for millilitre – is actually more expensive than vintage champagne. So before you rush off to churn out a paper army to rival the size of Genghis Khan’s, bear that in mind. Yes they look nice, but if you are going to burn through three cartridges of printer ink to field a force, you might be better off looking at 6mm models. They are probably cheaper.

Virtual Tabletops

There is another option, and one that I have been exploring more and more.

In my wargaming journey, I have discovered I love trying out rules sets and experimenting with different tactical situations. I enjoy seeing how the game plays out, and how it ebbs and flows – and how different rules mechanisms treat the friction of combat.

But I can’t afford to go out and buy a new army every week. I’d rather spend $100 on new rules than on new figures. I get more enjoyment from the rules.

So I have turned to virtual tabletops for wargaming. These are pieces of software that essentially function as a blank playing surface, upon which I can place my virtual miniatures and roll my virtual dice. My monitor screen becomes my wargaming room.

Figures cost nothing – I make them using a graphics program. Terrain costs nothing and I can make it exactly how I need it to be. I don’t need tape measures because the software measures ranges for me. And I don’t need rulebooks and charts everywhere as I can have a pdf open on another monitor or my iPad.

But there is still a cost.

Not so much in software, as these are pretty cheap and most can be picked up for under $30. Rather, the cost is in time. Making the figures and terrain for a single scenario can take me around 30-40 hours. That’s a huge investment. Admittedly, I am a perfectionist and spend a huge amount of time fiddling with graphics programs to get something just so, only to find my artistic genius doesn’t show up at the scale I am playing.

If I wasn’t so anal about stuff, it would probably take me 5-10 hours to set up a scenario.

Given a regular wargame takes about 1-2 hours to set up, that is a long process to go through.

But it does allow me to try out new rules with very little outlay. And I am discovering there are many other benefits too, but I’ll cover those in a future post.

Of all the budget wargaming methods I have encountered, virtual tabletops – for me at least – tick all the right boxes. I am looking forward to exploring them more – and playing many more rules sets as a result.

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