Last year I had grown tired of my old army, I wanted something new that could offer me a range of possibilities in how to play and that would allow for a diverse army rather than a box of cookie cutter units. I enjoy modelling and painting my pieces as much as playing with them so I relished the idea of an army made of individual heroes, so in the end it had to be Space Wolves. Being a student at the time I didn’t have the budget to invest in a major purchase or the time to solidly build, paint and play-test a new army in one block. Instead I took a longer view as I didn’t need to have all of my models straight away.
While I waited to get the rest of the army I could work on those pieces that did I have and play smaller points games to get to grips with the codex.
When I wanted to put my shopping list together I looked at forums, blogs and borrowed a copy of the codex to come to grasp with which models worked and what I thought I wanted in my list. After a lot of thinking and searching I came to a decision about what I want in my army. Once the hard part was over I moved onto acquiring this wealth of Fenrisian warmongers, through my time putting together this army I have learned a few lessons that will help you when it comes your time to forge a great company.
Since the meta-game shifted massively with the coming of 6th edition the need to rework an army is a must for anyone that would like to do well at tournaments. I myself have had to more away from armoured lists to a footslogger list and this has lead to me to some kitbashing and conversions to get the models I want in my army.
So these are my golden rules when it comes to collecting an army on a budget.
1. Never pay the GW list price.
2. Never buy anything that is not on a sprue /unassembled (finecast & metal).
3. Learn how to convert models.
4. Get friendly with your local game store or gaming club.
The reasons for each of these I will explain and let you know what caused me to think this way.
Never Pay the list GW price
Let’s be honest while this is a great hobby and it gives us hours of joy it is a bit pricey at times, a new army can run up to 300 or 400 euros and since not everyone that collects has a job these days you may not want/be able to cover that outlay.
Online retail is a great thing you can order GW products right to your door but independent traders are where the real savings are to be made. Firstly these traders’ sites offer discounts on the GW list prices and secondly they sell based on GW UK prices which can bump that to being a 30% saving if you live in the Eurozone. Unfortunately there are some pitfalls to watch out for when buying large orders from websites, customs and excise duty can be an unexpected cost that you may be forced to deal with, so be aware that this can wipe out all the savings you have made. If possible don’t buy from outside the EU or anywhere that may incur this cost and if in doubt the information is available online through revenue or customs websites. If you wait for the sales on these sites you can make a major saving on GW products and get free postage.
To get even greater value for money you can turn to the worlds biggest bring & buy sale, EBay. These auctions can drop the price quite a bit but there are two things to keep in mind when using EBay; figure out your upper spending limit and to stick to that limit no matter what. The limit I use is the lowest cost you would have to pay for the item and it’s P&P from an online retailer, you should take care not to cross this line because every penny beyond that is just wasted money. I would include the ebay postage costs in that calculation as it can be very expensive if people will only send by registered mail.
Post and packaging are two words that can be problematic with EBay, as many people try to bump their profit by upping these costs. Never bid for an item without clearly labelled P&P. I made this mistake and had to fight with a seller who wanted more in P&P then I had paid for a Rhino box. In cases like that don’t get into a position where you may feel beholden to the seller, ask them what they’ll charge to deliver if it is not listed and don’t even bother to bid until they tell you. Disputes over payment cost you mana points on EBay so you can end up looking untrustworthy and people may not except offers from you or want to send items by registered post.
My last point when it comes to Ebay is not to bid on more copies of an item then you actually want to own, it could happen that after bidding for 5 landraiders you win them all, if you accidentally go over the number you need remember there is a withdraw bid procedure you can use.
That covers buying in general but something you should also be aware is that there are certain pieces that you will have to get your hands on by other means. Missile launchers and combi-weapons are in high demand, everyone wants missile wielding long fangs and a combi-weapon on a terminator in a Grey Hunters pack is mandatory but unfortunately you can’t buy them individually in plastic. Though you can get some by way of GW upgrade packs and Forge world have a nice little package of assault weapons and missile launchers they are not cheap. While these options are there I found that it was easier and faster to just search online for the parts themselves. There are ebay sellers and some dedicated “bitz” websites who sell the parts you’ll want. I took the sellers because I prefer to have plastic models for ease of gluing, also while Forge world make some beautiful models I don’t like their Space Marine heavy and special weapons.
Never buy anything that is not on a sprue /unassembled (especially finecast & metal)
This may sound silly but I am a modeller 1st and I’m never happy if I include a model I didn’t make in my army. While this makes me sound a little obsessive I have found that models that are sold assembled online may be on sale for a reason. A 5 man squad of assault marines I bought rather cheaply to flesh out my grey hunters were so badly glued that most of their features were destroyed and all I could use were the jetpack and legs from each man. The images looked fine on the website but in person the truth was plain to see. Despite all of that, with a few pieces from the Wolf sprues and a Death company sprue I had lying around those models are now powerfist and combi-melta wielding Wolf Guard.
Since the plastic glue melts the pieces together re-posing models is very precarious. These parts can often be welded together in such a way that you may destroy the model trying to take it apart. Finecast is a godsend since it has reduced the need for pinning in most models as the weight isn't likely to tear the model apart. There are some models that have been pinned in such terrible ways that I wouldn't be happy with the model appearing in my list.
I want my army to look its best and I enjoy painting the models to the best level that I can. When you buy models that have already been painted they don’t match your colour scheme or you may get models that have been caked in excess paint during base coating, when this happens you have no choice but to strip the paint off. Dettol is a good way to strip the pain off of plastic models, it may require a second dunk but most paint comes off with a little work from a toothbrush. Metal models can withstand industrial solvents and mildly acidic conditions, this means that you can get even the thickest or heaviest coats of paint or varnish off of the models.
3. Learn how to convert models
When I started out playing 40K there was a lot more metal models and people used to spend weeks filling, shaping and sculpting to get the desired look on their characters. These days it is so much easier and faster as plastic models have a broader range of poses and can include a large amount of optional extras on their sprues that can be worked into models. While conversion work isn't something you can just jump into an make a model worthy of Golden Demon entry but you can do some small things and work up to what you want.
The easiest conversion work you could do is to swap out the standard heads and arms from one kit for those of another. A simple example would be making space wolf units such as wolf scouts or sky claws. Using what parts you would have over from the space wolf sprues you can kitbash together some great looking models.
Why does this skill matter? The reason it matters is because it gives you the opportunity to equip your characters as your want, you can add a distinctive look to your models and you can produce the wargear that you need. By means of kitbashing I have turned out a few wolf guard and rune preist terminators with axes and combi-meltas to lead my army into battle.
While you could just buy a rune priest to lead your army, you can put one together as I did with some of the weapons and flare in a Space Wolves pack. The internet is full of “how to” guides that show you the means to easily and quickly model the characters one needs to play the game. If you feel more adventurous and have played with Green Stuff before you can produce a model resplendent in wolf pelt or with rune etched armour. My second rune priest began life as Cypher but could pass for a son of the fang with a huge axe and a fur cape. These two models cost me very little as they are just plastic parts, some green stuff and a metal body I pulled out of a bitz box. The best conversion I have pulled off is my Dante model. He's a mix of parts from Dante's body, sanguinary guard arms and Astorath's backpack and wings.
If you have a local gaming or hobby shop you should drop in some time and see if they have a bits box. These treasure troves have allowed me to turn 2 Space Wolves packs into 40 space wolves. With all the extra heads, chest plates and arms that you are given on the sprues all you need are a few sets of legs, torsos and backpacks to make even more warriors. The few models that look a little sparse on fenrisian flavour I decked in some furs and wolf tails rendered in green stuff.
Another thing to remember is that while you can buy things like combi-weapons there are resources that show you how to make your own. When it came to these items an infernus pistol is just as good as a metlagun for a conversion and they are much more common. Conversions make it easier to get the pieces you want and let you do it for less than a fraction of the cost of a fine cast models or ordering specific parts.
Get friendly with your local game store or gaming club
Once you have started assembling some models you need to get experience with your army as soon as possible. My advice is to go and find your nearest gaming club. Many wargaming clubs have all the terrain and sundries needed to play a game and they may also run beginners’ competitions or gaming sessions to encourage and develop new players. Most stores have a wargaming club that meet regularly as this is great for business. You can also see if a nearby college or university has a club and allows external members to play. If none of those options are available just start one yourself with a few friends, really all you need is a kitchen table and you’ll be fine.
Even if you are getting the army in drips and drabs you still want to get to grips with how it plays. Gaming clubs and stores are always happy to have people play small skirmishes to test out different things plus they’ll be very lenient on if models are painted and the level of “counts as” units in your list. As you practice you can get a feel of how certain units and unit combinations work before you commit to buying them. Maybe you want to run half a dozen land speeders or have two landraiders in your list, the only way to try it with “counts as” models is at your friendly local gaming institution.
While I am no stranger to the game it was beneficial to start off at 500pts and build my list to 1500pts while trying different units and tactics. Those games let me get to grips with the Space Wolves strengths. The only way to know your list, codex and the rulebook by rote is to get as many games under your belt as possible and to talk to experienced players. I can’t think of anywhere better to learn a new army then with a dedicated group of gamers.The other thing is that by playing with these gamers you can get to grips with the meta-game. I am not saying you need to be a pro-gamer but certain unit combinations just don't work too well together and you can learn this by trial an error.
So those are my tips on how to build a 40K army for a reasonable price without losing the image and characters and how to avoid some of the problems that I encountered. Good luck and have fun with a new and interesting band of warriors.