I Blame the High Cost of Miniatures on Instability in the Mid-East

Back in the mid-1970’s, the price of oil was so high because of the various OPEC embargoes that SPI actually had to stop including a tiny die with their games because plastic was too expensive. They included a little piece of paper in the game explaining why there was no die, and offering to send one to the gamer if they really wanted it, for the cost of postage. Eventually prices went down and dice started appearing in SPI games again.

I recall that story because there are two games in which I’m very interested, and for which I just saw some pricing details. Sweet Reason!

The first is A Call to Arms: Starfleet by Mongoose Publishing. It’s a game set in the Starfleet Battles universe, and features some great looking classic Trek ship miniatures. The fleet boxes go for around $100 and sport 16 starships. That’s $6.25 per ship. The squadron boxes are even more ruinous; $40 for 5 ships, or $8 each. And if you want to purchase ships individually, they run an incredible $15 each! Just to put that into perspective, you can buy a 1:2500 model kit of the Enterprise for less than that.

The second is the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game from Fantasy Flight Games. Now, I know that FFG is usually on the expensive side, because their components are top-notch, but their $40 core set comes with a measly 3 ships (or more than $13 each), and additional ships can be had for $15 each. And a set of 6 dice will set you back another $10.

Maybe I’m just spoiled by the miniatures I do buy; only metal, and usually in smaller scales like 15mm or 1:350/microarmor. But wowzers, those ship miniatures seem awfully expensive!

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

12 thoughts on “I Blame the High Cost of Miniatures on Instability in the Mid-East

  1. SAGA a recent Dark Ages skirmish games has sets of dice for each faction.

    8 dice £12 or $19.

    (You can use regular dice, but still.)

  2. It's not just you. I think a lot of the 'big name recognition' manufacturers are just nakedly profiteering ATM.

    I nearly spat my coffee when I saw GW's prices recently. Heck, there's a mini there I bought for pocket money back in the day (about £3-4 IIRC) now priced at £18.50!

    The sculptor has been paid, the moulds have been paid for, and neither inflation nor the price of oil have gone up that fast.

    Small producer and/or hobbyist kitbashing seem to be the way ahead, purely on price.

  3. I understand the cost of tooling molds for plastic injection molding is quite ruinous itself — in the thousands of dollars. If you're making 1/72 WWII stuff that thousands of modellers, wargamers, dioramists, kids will buy, you can sell them for $10 a kit. If you're making minis lie SFB stuff that realistically will sell to maybe hundreds of hardcore gamers, well you need to recover costs. The plastic minis individually are super cheap but the cost to get set up to make them is really high. I've heard up to $10,000 mentioned for a sprue of toy soldiers.

    GW may be a different category.
    GW has a niche market and charges as much as possible — they don't care about repeat or long-term business as they figure they've got a kid's money from age 13-17 or so, and are competing with movies, video games, and fast food for that dollar. But they are doing resin, I think, which is closer in technique and costs to metal.

    BTW metal minis are so expensive because China is hoarding tin. 😛

  4. Wait. The X-wing core box comes with 3 ships? 3?!

    Well. Unsold. C'mon, guys, at that point I'd much rather get little cutouts of X-Wings and TIEs and actually get enough to have a proper dogfight.

    (That was one of the things Wings of War did well, and I'm rather disappointed that this successor is going the other route.)

  5. Just my two cents: I think Mongoose should've targeted a smaller scale for the new game.

    Metal would be nice, but smaller scale might have been nicer looking in plastic and a lot less to ship.

    I was really looking forward to this, but the price points are just too frigging high.

  6. I've always liked them, but Mongoose Publishing's prices are high in general. Just look at their PDFs on RPGNow…

    But to be fair, they did give the community a great gift by declaring all of their 3e era non-IP license d20 products and content OGL when 4e D&D came out (their OGC declarations were a little more limited before) and a lot of that content is available for free at the Grand OGL Wiki: http://www.purpleduckgames.com/main

  7. I love my minis, Bast knows I'm borderline obsessive about everything to do with them (apart from getting every last one painted, apparently). But that Star Wars pricetag? I would sooner carve off a leg than fall into a trap like that again.

    Compared to many historical miniature manufacturers, the pricing structure seems very, very high indeed. It does rather raise the question of whether it is price gouging, or simply pricing to try to reinforce the assumption to buyers of the quality level or status of the product? Certainly, historical gamers have something of a reputation for being conservative (cheap) in their spending, and often the miniatures suppliers in those areas go for a more plain-and-simple approach to their websites and ordering.

    Whatever the reason (and much to my sadness) this obsessive miniatures gaming guy won't be getting into it, specifically because of that enormous level of front-end buy in, and that makes me quite sad indeed.

  8. First off, why did nobody tell me about that Star Trek game! Now I'm going to see if I can cobble together the cash for a set or two.

    Second, it's not the cost of the oil for the plastic, it's the cost of everything nowadays. If you haven't noticed, the new rule books for RPG's cost $40-60 each, and for the same amount of page realestate that you got in Gary's DMG back then. Things are more expensive nowadays because the companies are banking on your willingness to pay those prices. And let's face it, you'll be willing to pay those prices in the end.

  9. If you're looking for a Star Trek ship combat game, Starfleet Battles itself has been in print for the last 30 years or so. If you stick with the basic game, it's quite good.

    Plus I have a copy of the quite excellent Star Trek Starship Tactical Combat Simulator from FASA. Excellent, excellent game.

    Either can be played with counters or figures, on a hex map.

  10. I'd have to concur with what Joe suggests, I think. Play a different game, such as Starfleet Battles and spend the money saved on FAR better scale miniature kits of ships.

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