Monday, May 21, 2018

Wargaming on a Budget- Toys

For a long time, my hobby was limited by my budget.  This was actually a blessing for me as it forced me to decide if I was really into wargaming, or just kind of into it.  I discovered I was really into it.  Thankfully, this led me to do much more rules writing and creation.  However, when you have a limited budget wargaming can be challenging since a big appeal to it is the tactile and physical nature of it. To get that feel you need models! 

I have talked about some of my work arounds to this problem in the past.  The first was Paper Templates.  The second was Making Your Own Models.  Those are great ways to do it, but there is another fun path to follow.  That is using inexpensive toys on the battlefield.

As a designer, I have been fascinated by the idea of “Toys” as the main instrument of driving wargames.  I especially see this as valuable for beginner gamers.  This idea first started after playing Skylanders: Spyro Adventures as a video game.  I wanted to use those figurines for somethings more, and have indeed used them in Dragon Rampant, Super Systems 4th Edition, and started some initial work on my own Skylanders themed tabletop game.  Sadly, it was never finished, but some of the ideas migrated to my other “toy” based games such as Total CARnage and Green ArmyMen: Plastic Men, Steel Resolve.

To successfully use toys in your wargames, you need to think of the following:
1.       What do you need for your game
2.       Where do you source the toys
3.       Making them ready for the tabletop

Combat! Starring Vic Morrow

What Do You Need for Your Game
This is the easiest step.  You need to understand what you need to play your game.  That way, when you go out to get the toys, you know what you are looking for.  I have generally used toys in two major ways: models or terrain. 

1.       Models- This is using the toys to actually stand-in or work as the replacement for the models. 

2.       Terrain- The toys become obstacles to move and maneuver around. 

Which do you need?  Terrain can take all sorts of forms and shapes based on what you need.  I have used toys for fences, buildings, ruins, etc.  For models, I have used them for Star Wars gaming, Sci-Fi gaming, Car Combat, Super Heroes, World War II, and even beasts in Gladiator games. 

Total CARnage

Where do you Source the Toys
There are all sorts of places to source good wargaming toys from.  Of course, the Internet is the easiest answer but only if you know exactly what you want and need.  Most of my wargaming toys come from the dollar store, goodwill, or garage sales.  On rare occasions I will get them from actual chain stores when I am wandering through.  Whenever I go, I find myself strolling the toy aisles and glancing at what is available. 
Tomorrow's War

Making Them Ready for the Tabletop
This can be the easiest or hardest part, depending on what you have managed to find and what the purpose is.  In many cases, the models are ready for the table immediately.  In others you need to at least hit them with a wash, others require a quick re-paint, and in the most extreme case you will have to strip them and start from scratch.  Terrain pieces tend to need the most work, as you want to hide its original purpose as a toy.

Most toys are made of soft plastic or die-cast.  These can be striped with the conventional methods, but soft plastic can melt from heavy duty striping agents.  In some cases, it might just be better to paint over existing colors. 

Aeronautica Imperialis

Toys are a great resource for finding budget friendly alternatives for terrain and models.  They can be acquired cheaply and sourced relatively easily.  Even a budget conscious/strapped gamer can make use of them with minimal fuss. 

Now, you have a reason to go garage saling with your Mom.    

Rampant Stars


  1. Hi, I stumbled upon this blog because I do the actual same, I always loved war-gaming, but the games were never available in where I live, therefore I had to think out of the box and started using miniature toys around 1/32 in scale for my games.
    Using this method is quite refreshing because you are never limited by resources but by your imagination, in my case I painted all my army men toys n gave them bases, I also converted a lot of zombie miniatures that I acquired to make make my hordes bigger.

    Hope you contact me so we can trade ideas, keep doing a great work.

    1. I would love to see some of your work.

      You can contact me at my website to swap photos and ideas: