Every gamer has a different budget based on many factors ranging from their own real-world financial situation to their perception of what their hobby is 'worth' to what the practical cost of a functional playable game is. For the purpose of my thoughts today I'm actually going to not include 'budget' as part of the equation. Budget is more of a question of what you as an individual can actually afford whereas value is more of a question of 'if you bought it, did you get your money's worth?' For example I personally cannot afford a high end automobile but that doesn't mean that someone who can and then spends that money didn't get what they wanted out of their purchase.
As production technology and materials cost in the gaming industry have changed two product types have emerged with a wide range of pricing from different manufacturers that potentially throw the concept of value into sharp contrast while also often challenging our preconceived notions of what we're buying. Today I want to talk about laser cut wood/MDF scenery and PVC gaming miniatures.
Years ago most model/gaming building kits were plastic. Plastic is great! It holds a lot of detail, takes paint well, and is generally quite durable. Having said that the cost of plastic tooling can be quite high and can put it outside the price range of new and emerging businesses. As more businesses have entered the miniature scenery market a number of them have turned to laser-cut wood as a significantly less expensive (less expensive, not cheaper) alternative. I recently acquired some MDF building kits of roughly equivalent size from both TTCombat and MicroArt Studios. From a strict 'cost' point of view there is no comparison. I got nearly 3 full-sized buildings from TTCombat for what my single building for MicroArt Studios cost, but what about value? When comparing value I got to be quite happy as when I really stepped back and thought about it I felt like both manufacturers gave me really good value for my money. The MicroArt studios building was nearly triple the cost but had an unbelievable amount of detail, more than I was aware a manufacturer could get from MDF. The TTCombat buildings were lacking in detail (including in one specific way that really bothered me personally) but when I looked at what I paid for them they still felt like a great purchase and if each building was going to take roughly an extra hour of work to get to where I wanted them, the money saved felt like it more than made up for it. In short if I was looking to buy buildings on a budget, or if I just plain needed a lot of stuff I wouldn't hesitate to buy a bunch more TTCombat buildings. If on the other hand I was looking for more polished or realistic buildings I would definitely feel like the extra money spent on the MicroArt Studios buildings was well worth it.
Where my experience was less even was with PVC figures. I know as I type this many "serious" gamers readily and quickly dismiss PVC figures as 'cheap' and not being nearly on par quality and detail-wise with other materials (plastic, pewter, resin). First up, I think that's a slightly flawed assumption (I'll come back to that) and secondly there's that question of value. During the same period I got laser-cut buildings from 2 sources I got PVC figures from 4 sources, as PVC is more prevalent for gamers and in some cases an unavoidable choice for certain games lets talk about both quality and value.
Here we go (in no particular order):
Of all the mixed-bags in gaming quality and standards Reaper Bones might be the most mixed-bag of them all. The figures are some of if not the least expensive on the market. Having said that the detail level and degree of flex and bend in some of their figures is among the worst. At the most basic level I think Reaper Bones is the ultimate example of 'you get what you pay for'. the quality is relatively low (in my experience) but the cost is also low. I have personally bought some Reaper Bones figures and almost immediately though 'nope, not good enough', but conversely have bought some and been super-happy with what I got for what I paid. In general their larger and thicker figures (big monsters, sci-fi figs in power armour, etc) are just fine. I've got a few of their Cthulhu baddies and I'm happy with all of them. They're also great if you need a horde of something and don't want to spend an arm and a leg, I recently needed 42 kobolds and really wasn't willing to pay for premium quality metal figures at that quantity. Having said that the Peryton I painted last year fell well short of what I wanted which resulted in me just going out and replacing it with a metal one anyway.
In my opinion Reaper Bones is good value for money and lands on the bottom end of the budget scale.
To the best of my recollection WizKids pretty much started the PVC thing years ago with their Mage Knight and Clix lines. Since then they have evolved a lot. WizKids miniatures are more costly than Reaper Bones but still much less expensive than hard plastic or metal miniatures. I find the detail level much crisper on WizKids than Reaper so that's a huge plus, they are also officially licensed which means you're be able to get accurate depictions of a number of unique D&D monsters. Two other big bits of added value are that WizKids packs include hard plastic bases which means no wobble on your miniature bases, and they come pre-primed which means they're ready to paint right out of the package. I'm a big fan of the WizKids line as the greater depth of detail allows for more painting techniques to be brought into play and the price is great for the budget conscious gamer. My one reservation (from a quality point of view) with the WizKids models is bendy weapons, most longer weapons tend to come out of packages bent. If you build and paint a lot of models it's not a deal breaker as you can swap them with hard plastic weapons from your bits box.
Again in my opinion WizKids are good value for money and if your budget allows for it are (again my opinion) a superior choice to Reaper Bones.
This is a bit of a weird one for me. I have recently started playing some sci-fi RPGs and was really surprised how hard it was to find non-40K sci fi miniatures. I really thought the problem was that 40K (and Star Wars for that matter) had miniatures that were so distinctive they really couldn't be separated from their IPs. Having said that Imperial Assault had enough smuggler and alien types that weren't named characters I felt like I could blend them in. As far as PVC figures go Imperial Assault is one of the more expensive options (that Star Wars license can't be cheap) but they are still relatively inexpensive compared to metal and hard plastic. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the figures themselves as they have a good depth of detail and are well cast. The two big downsides with the Imperial Assault range are if you're buying them for other games you're playing for a lot of collateral material that you won't use (counters, rules, etc) and of the figures I bought the guns were very disappointing, every figure I ended up using I swapped out their guns as most of them were the weakest parts of the sculpts.
My opinion is a bit split on this one as I think if you're a Star Wars fan these are in fact really good value for money but if you're just looking for sci-fi figures they come up a bit short overall.
Fallout Wasteland Warfare
(full disclosure; this is what triggered me to write this whole thing, it's also why I filled this under 'soapbox' rather than 'review')
Of my recent acquisitions Fallout Wasteland Warfare was unfortunately my most disappointing from the perspective of value for money, of the six products I'm addressing today it's also the one I had the highest expectations of so that may be playing into my perspective as well. I was super excited about Fallout but by the time I opened it my feelings had changed almost completely. To Modiphius' credit they released (and continue to offer) the rules as a free PDF download online, as I had downloaded and read them as soon as I opened the box I set the printed rules aside as they had lost their 'newness' for me. I also largely disregarded the counters and dice as having read the rules I wasn't particular interested in playing using their rules which meant that collateral had little value to me. That left me holding a $100 CDN box of 13 PVC figures. That might sound high, but much like Imperial Assault I recognise my lack of interest in the collateral doesn't alter the fact that it's there and it has a cost. The figures I got in the box for the most part have a fairly crisp deep level of detail, but their bendyness and warping are on par with the Reaper Bones models, in fact none of my Reaper Bones models have bases that are nearly as distorted as the bases these came with. When I first got this box I intentionally waited a few days (just to see if I was just 'hot') to reach out to the company about the quality, and I have sat on my thoughts for nearly a month before writing this because I didn't want it to be raging nonsensical garbage, having gone through my cooling off I can ultimately say I'm just disappointed.
My personal opinion; not good value for money, but I would put 2 qualifiers on that. As I mentioned with Imperial Assault if you're going to play this game and need the stuff in the box it's probably decent value for money, plus an additional consideration if you aren't going to paint the figures and can live with slightly better than board game quality pieces.
So I guess what I'm ultimately saying is if you go into a purchase with eyes open and 'get what you pay for' it's all good. If your personal expectation doesn't line up with the price you pay and the quality you end up with, then disappointment follows.