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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Budget Gaming: Miniatures on the Cheap

So you want to game with miniatures, but you don't want to take out a loan to afford them? I hear you! There are options! And, it can be done for pennies per miniature -- with a few concessions!

"Budget Gaming" is a series of articles I'll be writing on my blog with ideas and suggestions on how to fund a potentially expensive tabletop gaming hobby on a shoestring budget. In today's article: miniatures and miniature painting.

Some of the most affordable high-quality tabletop RPG miniatures available are Reaper Bones; with a price tag of about $3-$4 USD on average per figure. This means to build up a sizable campaign-ready collection of miniatures [about 300 including duplicates], you're looking at investing about $900-$1,200 USD.

Pictured: Zombies ($18), Aliens vs. Humans ($18)
and Monsters ($17) "bucket" action figures collection.
What if I told you that you could build the same size collection for under $50 USD? Allow me to introduce "bucket" action figure play sets -- available from $10-$20/set which can include as many as 100 miniatures.

Yes, for the price of a box of cardboard pawns, you can have a huge collection of durable, three-dimensional, themed miniatures for your tabletop.

There are many varieties of these figures available on Amazon, and if you're already a Prime member, you can look forward to scoring some free shipping as well.

I've recommended these play sets to folks seeking inexpensive miniatures for years, but before now I had never actually ordered any myself. I decided to do a bit of research and find out of my advice has been sound. It has. These things are highly detailed for their price point. They take well to primer for painting, are very durable, and you get a really decent assortment in each tube.

For the purposes of this article, I bought three sets that seemed to reach across a wide breadth of genres from modern, to fantasy, to science fiction. The sets I ordered were: zombies, aliens, and monsters.

The contents of all three buckets on display.
290 miniatures for $53 USD.
Options available include:
The play sets also include some terrain pieces (tombstones and graves in this case) that should also help to add some ambient scenery and scatter terrain to your tabletop play space. Check out the three images below for a closer look at the spread of all 290 miniatures from the three sets I purchased for this article: 




Miniature scale comparisons.
They're kind of a big deal...

A bit of forewarning: the figures from these sets are noticeably larger than standard miniatures. For monsters and such, that's not such a "big" deal, but if you're a stickler for scale, be sure to check out the size comparison in the photo to the right.

An assortment of a few different figures from each of these three sets.

And, of course, as with any collection of tabletop RPG miniatures, the next logical step is painting them. The surprisingly fine detail of these figures provides a great depth with a little bit of wash and dry-brushing.

Here are a few of the figures and terrain pieces from these sets that I spent about an hour painting to test out how well the paint takes to the miniatures.

Painted examples of the miniatures.

Aren't Paints Expensive Too? 

Yes! Paints for miniatures can be very pricey (as much as $3-$5 USD for 0.5 oz). Professional sets can cost hundreds of dollars. But, fret not! While you won't get the same flexibility with color that a professional paint set provides, you can get everything you need for miniature fun at the tabletop for under $20 USD.

Martha Stewart 2 oz Craft Paints are available
for less than $2 USD a bottle, and available in
hundreds of different colors.
For cost effective acrylic paint that works great on miniatures, I recommend 2 oz bottles of Martha Stewart brand acrylic craft paint. These are available at almost any craft shop, and typically cost less than $2 USD each (compared to $15-20 USD each for professional paints). A pack of detailing brushes will run you about another $5-$8 USD.

There are hundreds of color options available in this inexpensive line of paints; each for the same low price. If you want to get fancy there are even high-gloss, glittery, and metallic versions for the same price.

However, when working on a tight budget, all you really need are the basics: black (x2), white, brown, red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, and magenta. By mixing colors, applying water, and creating wash -- these bottles should last you through painting several hundred miniatures.

Note: I suggest getting two bottles of black paint since creating ink wash by watering it down tends to use it up more quickly. 

So, if you're looking to buy and paint miniatures for your tabletop game, for less than $80 you can score upwards of 400 miniatures and all the paints and brushes you'll need to bring them to life!

Addendum added on 09/05/2018:

A customer on the Amazon discussion thread for the miniature products asked for a reference to the miniature heights. Since Amazon's algorithm blocked my responses linking to the image, I'm adding it here. The figures vary a bit between sets, but in general they all stand about 2 - 2.5 inches tall. 


  1. thanks for this review! I'm considering using the space and the alien tubes for a Mothership RPG game and I think it will fit the game's vibe well.

  2. Awesome blog thanks! Seeing your paint job made me pull the trigger getting robots and aliens and monsters for starfinder.

    1. Awesome! I'm glad I could be of assistance. As a side note on Starfinder, if you look for space ships in this series of plastic toys, there's a great set for super cheap that paint up well. I also found they were easy to kitbash using snips and some superglue. I think I came up with about three dozen wildly different variation of starships to use on a space hex map. :)


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