Cry Havoc, and Let Slip the Dice of War! (Part One)

I just got back from Cold Wars. Long story short, it’s run by the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society and is one of three local (i.e. in PA) gaming conventions that focuses on miniatures-based wargaming. The main feature is historical gaming, but occasionally you see something fantastic slip into the schedule. One of the main concerns in that particular community is that it’s shrinking – that there’s not enough new blood coming into the hobby.

I can think of one major reason – wargaming is a hobby that requires a thrice-fold investment that can scare people off. That may sound a bit obtuse, but it’s true. You invest three things when you get into wargaming: Money, Time and Resolve.

Today, we’re going to look at the monetary cost. Since I don’t really play historical games (yet), I’m going to fall back on a game I do play as an example – Warhammer. Then I’ll use a better example from the historical market.

Nate The Novice walks into a gaming store or a room at a con and watches a game being played and falls in love with it. Said individual wants to whip up an army and go to battle on yon tabletop as soon as he can. Not only that, but he is going to have this awesome army of Ogre with which conquests shall ensue. Well, first the Generalissimo is going to need the Warhammer rulebook ($75). Looking at the book, he notices there really isn’t anything specific about building an Ogre Army. Rules for the game, yes, some stuff about army composition, but it’s all in a general sense. For details, he will need the Army Book for the Ogre Kingdoms ($30).

So now Nate has the information needed to raise an army – but not the figures. “Well,” he says, “here’s an Ogre Batallion I can pick up.” ($90) Looking at the rules, Nate finds there’s enough for about 750 points – not quite a starting army, but there is an Ogre Tyrant ($42) that would make a fine General, bumping the army value to about 1,000 points. Perfect!

Oh, wait, some assembly required? Well that’s an understatement. The tools of the trade are actually easy: Xacto knife ($6), precision cutter ($10), precision files ($10), superglue ($3), and JB Weld ($6) can all be found at the hardware or office supply store.

Nate is almost set – except for the paint. Looking at the bottom of the boxes, he counts out sixteen paints listed as recommended for the figurines ($60) a brush set ($56). He almost snagged a can of primer until someone at the store suggested he go to Wal-Mart ($1). And let’s not forget the dice ($7)

So, looking at this shopping spree, we see that this Novice Commander is about to drop $397 before even cracking open that box of Ogres. This breaks down to:

  • Rules – $105 (26%)
  • Miniatures – $132 (33%)
  • Tools – $35 (9%)
  • Painting supplies – $117 (30%)
  • Dice – $7 (2%)

By way of an abbreviated comparison, let’s look at Command Decision, which is a World War II game in 15mm scale (Warhammer is 28 mm). Rules will cost $50 for the core set, not counting any campaign supplement. We’ll add an extra $20 for Operation: Market Garden. A full battalion of infantry and transports and/or tanks will run about $150 (it’s more infantry than the Novice, but offers a good selection). Tools remain the same, and for argument’s sake we’ll cut the paint by about half – one basic color scheme for 15mm will need less variety of paint but a few more of the more dominant colors. The bill here comes to $346:

  • Rules – $70 (20%)
  • Miniatures – $150 (43%)
  • Tools – $35 (10%)
  • Painting supplies – $87 (25%)
  • Dice – $7 (2%)

A little cheaper, with costs focused more on miniatures than on rules or paint, but the price tag can still intimidate our Novice.

Make no mistake, this is not a cheap hobby to get into, but chances are if you can endure the thrice-fold cost once, you’ll do it again and again and again. Nothing I listed here can be considered a “one-shot” purchase. Rule set come out with new editions (although you might decide to stick with one version if you only play with a choice group of friends), you’ll need more miniatures to expand the army, and with that more paint and brushes. Tools can last a long while, but they may need replaced, while the glue will flow like water. The only plausible “one shot” is dice – unless you have a cat – and that’s the cheapest part of the game.

That’s just to make armies – or in this case one army. I’m excluding the costs of terrain because we’re just looking at getting into the hobby for now. I’m also leaving out research materials, which are important for historicals. but they’re also a “one-shot” purchase. In addition, public libraries and the internet offer cost-effective alternatives.

So, Nate has plunked down nearly $400 to start playing Warhammer with his army of Ogres. Tomorrow we’ll look at the next part of the “thrice-fold” cost: Time.

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