Playing more for less

You have noticed that there are many more battles and eras to game than the average budget allows you to build armies for. Even if you know where to get the figures and how to paint them, there is a limit to the amount of money and time you have to spend in preparation. It is time to figure a way to play more games without paying more for bigger or newer armies.

One way to save is to play games that do not need many figures. Skirmish gaming with single figures can be exciting in any era and only a very small number of figures needs to be used. The Two Hour Wargames ( system provides good examples of challenging combats using single-mounted figures.

Small Napoleonic units on 2" squares

Another way to save on armies would be to reduce the size of the battlefields and the combat units and use the figures you already have. Most of my figures are mounted in groups for other rule systems. For example, my American Civil War armies are mounted for Fire and Fury, three 15mm figures on a 1” x .75” steel base. My Napoleonic Wars armies are mounted for Napoleon’s Battles on the same size base but it is turned to allow four figures to a stand. It is too much trouble to change the number of figures on the steel stands, so I change the number of stands on a base. The base is simply a piece of painted magnetic sheet stuck to cardboard. A two-inch grid, square or hex, allows two infantry stands to be placed upon a 1.5” x1.5” base. Each base may represent a battalion, a regiment, or a larger unit. Thus, the size of the armies and the size of the playing areas may be reduced to avoid buying additional new units.

A third way to reduce the cost of making new armies involves the use of paper figures and models. The best part about using paper models is that you can make as many as you want for very little expense—usually the cost of the ink and card stock for your computer printer. I have been able to create fleets of airplanes that would have cost a ton of money if they had not been made of paper. And, most paper models are already colored, so you don’t have to spend a great deal of time painting them.

WWI German and Allied planes

If you are really into 3-D models, there are several sources that can be found on the internet for ships, airplanes, and wargaming vehicles. Not all are free, but for a small price you can make as many copies as you want. Paper Tiger Armaments ( is a good source for 3D models, but it takes a lot of time and a great deal of patience to make a good looking AFV. Be sure to pay attention to the difficulty levels when you buy. Buy an easy model and put it together before you invest heavily in a lot of models that you may never want to finish. Better still, most companies offer a free sample. Copy the free design and put it together to determine if you really want to work with 3D paper models.

Paper half-tracks and a paper AT gun manned by paper flats

Paper flats are faster and easier to make than 3D models. Junior General ( has the greatest variety available with new additions daily; and, best of all, they are free! Many of their models were made to go with a specific game scenario and the rules of the games are also easy and free. If you want, you can find figures according to their era; e.g., WWII.(

There is a fourth way to reduce the cost of making new armies—wooden blocks. In Command and Colors: Ancients, Richard Borg introduced the use of colored wooden blocks instead of figures. In Command and Colors: Napoleonics (, pictures depicting the troop types are stuck to the faces of the wooden blocks as shown at the bottom of the page in the address above. Although it takes a while to attach all the pictures to the blocks, it is nothing compared to the time it takes to paint and base individual armies.

David Crook is exploring the idea of using wooden blocks in his August 2011 blogs ( He is using his computer’s paint program to design and print colored unit symbols to be glued onto wooden blocks which he took from a commercial game. The main colors on the symbols, blue and red, can be used to identify several different horse and musket armies — French and British, Federals and Confederates, etc. I am interested in seeing how far he will take this concept. It reminds me of a cross between a military map showing the positions of units and a 3D boardgame. I think I like it.

And last, but not least, you can use paper counters. You can make your own designs, print them on colored card stock, cut them out, and use them as they are. Or, you can go to Junior General for some very colorful top-down counters ( Eras from Ancient to Sci-fi and Fantasy are available. The World War II counters look especially good and feature land figures, AFV’s, and airplanes.

Yes, you do have options for entering another level or another era of solo wargaming inexpensively: skirmishing, downsizing, paper models, wooden blocks, or cardstock counters. Or maybe you just will want to try out an inexpensive game in a new era before investing in new armies. It’s something to think about.

— Mike Crane

About mike crane

I am a retired high school teacher living in Texarkana, Arkansas, USA. Although I enjoy wargaming in all periods, my favorite eras are WWII, Colonial, ACW, and Napoleonic. I enjoy making rules that are simple, fast, and fun.
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6 Responses to Playing more for less

  1. Mike Crane says:

    My apologies but the address given in the post does not link up to the “Top Down” section of Junior General. However, after reaching the address above, look at the list on the left side of the page. The “Top Down” button is next to the bottom. Hit it (the “Top Down” button), or you can go there directly by using this address:
    After writing the article above, I received an email from the Two Hour Wargame blog describing one of their games (5150) in more detail. It is not describing military scenarios from one of their historical wargaming rulebooks, but it does give one a good idea of the action involved in skirmish wargaming with THW.

  2. Ike says:

    What an interesting article! Thanks for all the useful links as well as for the ideas.

  3. Ricardo says:

    Very good article. It was a good read and gave me some ideas to try out, especially the wooden blocks.

  4. Mike Crane says:

    Hey, fellas. If you haven’t already, take a look at Bob Cordery’s new war campaign using Napoleonic soldiers in a South American setting. He began yesterday, August 16. ( Bob usually likes simple games and simple rules, so I am anxious to see how his rules will work. I think this project may become a good example of downsizing.

    • JAird says:

      I’ve played a couple of Bob Cordery’s games at conventions and they have always proved to be well thought out, and use subtle and elegant rules to make the armies act like their historical counterparts.

  5. Mike Crane says:

    A good company to consider for paper buildings is Paper Terrain. This company offers buildings from different regions of the world in several popular scales. Most of the buildings have an undamaged exterior shell which can be lifted to reveal a damaged structure beneath. Even if you don’t buy the buildings, the photos look good, and it doesn’t cost anything to look around.

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