Gaming on a Budget
by Ergonomic Cat · Published · Updated
As previously mentioned, I have issues. Specifically, I have a distinct inability to dabble in games. When I started back in to Magic, I built two Standard decks, a Modern deck, got on Magic Online, and now a Commander deck (and I’m working on a second).
When I picked up Warmachine, I started in Cygnar, and within two weeks had a 35 point army, a Legion Starter Box, and was looking at Skorne. I’m now up to at least 50 points in Cygnar and Legion. I had 50 in Skorne before I started selling it off. I’ve had 35 points in Retribution, and 25 in Khador.
My X-Wing collection spans every wave and (until I focused down) included multiple fieldable lists for all three factions.
In short, I acquire.
However, I have managed to do this without too much damage to my ability to feed myself and my family. And I’m going to share my secrets with you fine people! For this article I’m primarily going to focus on collecting pieces of plastic and metal, but this is generally applicable to most hobbies as long as you find the right resources.
There are a few things you have to accept if you’re going to really make a go at budget gaming, though. First and foremost you’re at the whim of the market to a far greater degree than usual. If you’re willing to pay full price then truly, the world is the mollusc of your choice. When the newest shiniest figure comes out for your favorite faction you can have it on the table in short order, ready to lead the charge to the new meta! If you want a unit to fill out your theme force, you walk down to your local FLGS and pick it up, or put in an order and wait a week, and it’s yours. If someone on a podcast mentions some cool interaction with models you don’t own, you can play it the next time you find an opponent. If you’re on budget you can certainly do that as well, but you should treat it as an exception, rather than a rule. You’re going to be building your collection based on things that you can get and get cheap. Sometimes that’ll be precisely what you need, and sometimes that will be a unit that sort of does what you want, kinda.
The second fact of life is that you’re going to have an army/squad/fleet that looks like you picked it up second-hand. With enough love and attention, you can make your army shine just like anyone else, but it’s going to take longer to get there. And until it does, you’re going to have units with droopy guns, missing arms, broken bases and the like. On top of that, unless you’re willing to repaint everything, you’re going to have a ragtag color scheme.
For an example, I present to you a sampling of my Cygnar forces. Now, to be fair, it doesn’t help that I decided that I wanted my army to have an alternate color scheme (and not some regular-old accepted color scheme! Oh no! Orange, black and purple. Halloween Swans for me!), but even so, things are…let’s call them festive! They have loving nicknames like “The disco squad” and “Technicolor wonders” thanks to the panoply of hues!
Over on the left we have the models I painted (Okay, fine, my wife and daughter painted. Let’s not split paint brush hairs). In the middle are a group of very standard Blue/White/Gold Cygnar, done to various degrees of quality (the Allison Jakes was a Reddit Secret Santa gift and is particularly nice. And then there’s the Journeyman Warcaster….). On the right center, a fantastic set of Cygnar done in a super cool tan/maroon color scheme. And then on the far right, a group of forces that apparently split from the Khador side more recently (although I do really appreciate that they aren’t yet another white european Cygnar model). My Skorne forces had a similar range, from jade and gold to red and gold to a purplish/yellow scheme. It’s just a thing to accept.
The third fact is the deep dark secret about almost all “budget” activities – you’re actually just trading time for money. The normal collector spends a good ten minutes on most purchases. See a model, go to your website of choice, put it in your cart, profit! Or, next time you go in for a skirmish night, two minutes at the counter and the application of some cash makes a new shiny! For the budget collector, that’s not how it works. You’re going to spend time searching Ebay, clicking links on sites like Bartertown and the Reddit miniswaps, negotiating trades with people halfway across the country, and, most of all, waiting. Waiting for people to respond. Waiting for a counter offer. Waiting for someone to ship. Waiting for the models to show up. Waiting, waiting, waiting.
But for some of us, it’s all worth it when you can field 50 points in 3 factions without looking at your collection and feeling huge pangs of guilt.
So, with all that out-of-the-way, let’s talk about the important stuff! How to fill your shelves with so much plastic and metal you need to buy reinforced bookshelves!
The nice thing about buying used models, especially in the world of Warmahordes, is that it’s generally accepted that 50% of retail is the standard starting price. You may pay shipping or not, depending on who’s selling and how much you’re buying, but you’re going to be hard-pressed find an online retailer who will start at 50% off. Additionally, people are very often looking to swap models for lots of other things – models from other games, board games, X-box controllers, first-born children, whatever you’ve got. If you have a stack of board games sitting around that you don’t care about any more, there’s probably someone out there that will turn them in a max unit of Trenchers for you if you look hard enough!
So where do you go to make all this happen? I’m glad you asked!
Everything in the world is on Ebay. Sometimes it’s a rare pre-moistened Belgian lollipop for $3,000. Sometimes it’s a Legion of Everblight battlebox for $11 (yes, that’s how I ended up in Legion. And Khador, for $15). You’ll quickly become familiar with the “Lowest price + Shipping” sort option. I generally just search for “Warmachine” and skip over the Marvel action figures, but you can get very clever and specific with your searches and parameters. One of the big tricks is searching for slightly misspelled version of things you want. It’s less applicable when all the words you’re searching for are made up, but can still occasionally net you an item that only 3 people have seen. And remember that many items have a “Best Offer” option. Gaming on a budget means having no shame. If someone has a Spell Martyr up for $6, make them an offer for $4. They’ll often come back with $5, and you’ve saved a bit of money. If you’re making offers on multiple items from the same person, mention that – often sellers will take lower prices on 5 items to get them all out at the same time.
Craigslist/Garage Sales/FLGS Postings/Pawn Shops/etc.
This one is very much dependent on where you live. In a small town, it’s rare to see someone list a Warmachine army on Craigslist, and you’re pretty unlikely to find a box of X-Wing ships sitting on a table for $10. In a big city, you’ve got a much better chance. Some game stores have swap nights or commission sales. Some just have a bulletin board for sticky notes.
Set up automated searches on Craigslist. Hit up garage sales in college areas—college kids are often desperate for money. Find the guy who is constantly buying into games and then, three months later, getting bored (or getting broke) and selling stuff at a huge discount! Stop by your local Pawn Shop and ask if they would accept things like minis in pawn. If so, stop by once a week and see if anything has shown up! This one, more than anything, is trading time for money. You’ll be whiffing far more often than not doing this, but the one time you do, you’ll pick up an entire Fists of Halaak theme list for $35 from someone’s mom, and you’ll be a legend!
Dedicated Trade Groups.
Whatever it is that you’re into, other people are probably into it as well (if they aren’t, you’re probably having trouble finding games anyway, and don’t really need new pieces). And the great grand thing about the Internet is that when it’s not being used to make people sad or show cat pictures, it lets you connect with people with niche interests to a degree previously unimagined by our ancestors, who found that sending letters to 1,000 people at a time saying “[H]: Onye Unyt ov Ye Spyce Wylves [W]: Ducats” was a lot of work. Now you can beg cheap minis off hundreds of people with the click of a single button!
Each of these forums will have their own rules, requirements and formats, but they’re usually spelled out very clearly. As a new member, you’ll likely be at the bottom of the totem pole, so you’ll be sending first and spending time assuring people that you’re not, in fact, out to steal all their models and flee to the Netherlands (Remember that “Waiting” bit? Yeah. It’s here too). However, this site can be great for people willing to put in the time. Truly dedicated users can pick up models they don’t even want because they’re a great deal and hold on to them until someone wants a trade. The biggest downside is that while you can certainly post that you’re looking for specific things and offering payment in paper or metal, you’re far more likely to be browsing through people’s cast-off models, albeit at great prices. Personally, I have automated alerts set up for Bartertown and the Facebook groups that let me know whenever someone posts a new listing so I can get in quick and take a look. Note that each group will have their own specific rules, so be sure to figure out what’s required for each one—getting a reputation as a bad or clueless trader will quickly trash your ability to get anything worthwhile from them!
Real Human People.
I understand that speaking with people is hard. There’s all this “small talk” and such you have to do. But sometimes, if you suffer through that, you’ll find out that Sue is getting out of Legion, and just wants to get rid of her Vayl 2 army so she can play more Cryx (because she still likes to win, and enjoys the feeling of being hated). If you have some Cryx, or some cash, Sue may well be the source for your Vayl2 list to get better! Sometimes people pick up models they just don’t like – Alex really thought that Farrow Slaughterhousers looked great, but he really prefers to just play a Bronzeback. Given that most stores have a pretty strict “No returning models you assembled and painted and then played for a month” policy, you may be able to get some bacon on the table for a good price! Plus, once people know that you’re a Frugal Franny (It sounds nicer than cheap bastard) they’ll often seek you out when they want to unload something they don’t need any more!
It’s a hard life, being a cheap (err, budget) gamer. You’ll watch the forums light up about how great the Blightbringer is in, well, everything, and you’ll sigh, and go back to trying to get someone to sell you an Angelius for $15. You’ll see the Company of Iron League pop up and realize that, even though all you need is a unit of Trencher Commandos, your odds of finding one at a price you’re willing to pay is pretty slim, and resign yourself to missing out on that sweet pin. But at the same time, when other people are talking about having to cut back on gaming because they just can’t afford it, or selling off their Modern deck so they can make rent, you’ll smile and pat your Jaga Jaga army that cost you $40 to build from scratch, and know that you’ve made it!
Father of 3, husband of 1, gamer of all stripes (rarely an author), geek, X-Wing (Imperial and Scum), Warmahorders (and Warmahoarder), reluctant Magic Player.
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