Last Minute Gifts for the Mini-Minded
I hear you, folks. It’s a week til the enormous gift holiday, and you have no idea what to get that special nerd in your life. Even worse, they recently indicated they may be interested in littering your house with tiny plastic soldiers. You have no clue about minis, and the sheer amount of choices involved baffles you. What to do? Never fear! I’m here to give you some ideas for the perfect last minute gifts for the burgeoning miniatures wargame lover in your life.
But what makes a good last minute gift idea? The science I’m about to drop on you is pretty exact.
All of the items I’m listing should be kept in stock at any reasonably stocked store that carries minis. It bears mentioning that all but one of these clock in around $100, so for the budget-aware among you, this might be the “big” gift under the tree. All but one of these game sets are all-inclusive, however. Buy a pair of clippers and some plastic glue on the cheap, and you’re done. Or, pick up brushes and paints at the hobby store and get more mileage out of the gift.
I’ve also limited my list to games that will be easy for beginners to find a place to play with others, as these are the most commonly played games wherever you go. (Note to my beardy compatriots: I really don’t care about your impending comment that “well, at MY local store, we ONLY play Infinity” or “if it doesn’t have hoplites and spartans, it’s not worth playing.” Go away, this article isn’t for you. But, we’re still on to play Magic next week, right? Cool. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to the “uninitiated.”)
Last but not least, I’m going to present items that are guess-work free. No wishy washy “they’re ALL good choices” nonsense here, by golly. If you’re looking for a minis gift, you WILL leave this article knowing exactly what to get based on who you’re buying it for. If you want to cut out the middleman, skip to the end where I’ll lay it out for you based on who you’re buying for: The Beginner, The Youngster, The Storyteller, The Painter, or The Gamer. The rest of you, follow me on to the gift options.
The first is Warhammer 40k: Dark Vengeance, a gritty showdown between Space Marines and their hated, corrupted cousins in the forces of Chaos. Probably the darkest of GW’s offerings, you should only buy Warhammer 40k for really young kids if you want to try to explain why a mini has a tentacle coming out of its armpit. This set has a lot going for it, with a wide variety of model types that will probably have something for any sci-fi combat fan. By way of wild, borderline-irresponsible generalization, adolescent giftees will probably like this one the most. Unless they’re really into fantasy, in which case, read on to the next product.
Next comes the typical sword-n-sorcery offering of Warhammer Fantasy: Island of Blood. This set has enough High Elves and rat-men to make any D&D nerd quiver, and quite a few good looking models that would form a good centerpiece to your giftee’s soon-to-be-growing collection. For example, the High Elf lord on a griffon from this set regularly pops up in painting competitions I’ve seen; it’s just that good. GW, in my opinion, are the undisputed masters of plastic minis, and the sheer number and quality of minis in this set is all the argument I need for that.
Then comes everyone’s favorite little fellow, The Hobbit, in a game that features Bilbo’s fight with goblins, alongside Gandalf and the dwarves of Thorin’s company. This one’s fine for little ones, as the pieces are SUPER easy to assemble, and there’s virtually no gore factor. Toss in the kid-friendly subject matter of The Hobbit, and your little reader could be acting out his or her favorite scenes from the book in no time. I say book, of course, but I should note that the minis are based on the movie versions of the characters. Yes, the Bilbo looks like a tiny Martin Freeman. You’re a wee little Ricky Gervais away from re-enacting scenes from the UK version of The Office.
Now we move on to another company entirely, where I propose the “full-metal mayhem” of Warmachine, put out by Privateer Press. If you think your gamer would like the idea of a western movie, but with giant robots added in for good measure, Warmachine is for them. Okay, I’m simplifying things by saying “western movie.” For those of you nerds in the know, I can use our common shorthand and just say “steampunk.” It’s gears, goggles, and guns in this starter set that, like the GW offerings above, includes rules, dice, and everything else you need to get going with the game immediately. I do have to say, the choice of armies in this set is a bit inexplicable to me, as they’ve chosen the two most boring armies, in my opinion. The starter set features the pseudo-Russian forces of Khador pitted against the heavily religious themed Protectorate of Menoth. As fun as Boris the Bear fighting the Steampunk Pope (SteamPope?) sounds on paper, in reality you’ve just got two not-so-characterful armies, when they could have given you the far superior kingdom of Cygnar (who, naturally, I play) or the devious undead of Cryx. (Note: my opinion on the two armies included is, of course, in NO way related to how often I’ve been beaten by them, and I’m offended at your having maligned my journalistic integrity.) Perhaps they didn’t want to alienate the parents among you by making you buy zombies for your kids, but if you’re put off by zombies you’re probably also pretty pissed at how much Menoth makes Christians seem like nutjobs. My two cents entirely, so take it with a grain of salt. This set is a worthwhile gift to give, my skewed-for-humor-value opinions aside.
At this point, we swing back around to the Games Workshop side of the fence for our final recommendation, a favorite of mine called Mordheim. Set in the same world as Warhammer Fantasy Battles, Mordheim takes things to a smaller level, with each side consisting of five to twelve models. Bonus number one to this game is that the rules are downloadable online for free. Completely free, as in zero dollars. Just click that link, and away you go. I know, right? How can you pass that deal up? Bonus number two is that you can use the basic miniature kits from GW to build your force for this game. The forces I’ll recommend here each use weapons and options that are readily available in the kits that make up the standard units of Warhammer armies. That translates to these kits being cheaper than others, AND more commonly stocked in game shops across the land. If you’re extremely budget-minded, and you have two gamers who won’t fight over pieces for their warband, you could even get away with tossing a single 20-model human regiment box down and letting them go nuts divvying them up.
Mordheim also has a totally ravenous fan-base online, with many communities devoted to making experimental rules and warbands for the game. As a not-so-hidden bonus, if your giftee is web savvy and doesn’t mind digging around old webpages for info, you could get them the Island of Blood set mentioned above, and they could use minis from that set to play Mordheim warbands of High Elves and Skaven. I’ll treat this one as a separate option, though, and give you a good recommendation for some (slightly) lower-cost fun. For this choice, I recommend getting two regiment sets: the sneaky rat-men of the Skaven Night Runners kit, and the rough and tumble humans of the Empire Free Company set. Both sets give you a good mix of different types of weapons and really characterful minis, for the “low” sum of $35 USD each. As I said, if you have a couple gamers who don’t mind playing the same type of warband and can share nicely, pick one or the other and you’ve almost gotten out the door for thirty-five bones. Not too shabby. Keep in mind, though, that these kits won’t include dice, a measuring tape, or any of the other goodies that come with the other sets. Be honest, though: if you’re looking at this list, you have enough six-sided dice in your house to choke a horse. And who doesn’t have a measuring tape lying around?
Long though this post may be, those are my recommendations. But the astute among you will recall that I expressly promised to tell you exactly what to buy. And so it is. If the above descriptions haven’t told you exactly what you’re looking at, here’s my opinion on which to buy for which type of nerd.
The Beginner: This person has no idea what they want. They may not even wind up liking wargames or minis. They probably have a wide range of interests, and may be hard to pin down. They may also be a video gamer who is just starting to dip their toe into the broader nerd world. For this giftee, I recommend Warhammer 40k: Dark Vengeance. The approachable concept of Space Marines has been adopted by movies, video games, TV, comics, you name it. Add that to a ruleset that’s looser than the other Games Workshop offerings, and you’ve got a winner on your hands. Plus, the relative paint-by-numbers nature of Space Marines will suit a beginning painter nicely. I’ve often said, if you want to learn to paint, pick up a box of Space Marines; they’re just fantastic for learning the basic techniques of minis painting, and learning good brush control.
The Youngster: You want to get your kids a hobby they can sink their teeth into, and you’ve already seen that they tend to prefer arguing with their friends over small rule clarifications to any healthy form of interaction. (Just kidding. Kinda.) My joke aside, I think I made my choice pretty obvious in the descriptions: get them The Hobbit Strategy Battle Game and never look back. The familiar faces from the movie coupled with the ease of assembly make this a good one for younger gamers to come to the table. You will definitely need to help them with parts of the rules if they’re under a certain age, but the rules are still not as thick as Warhammer Fantasy Battles.
The Storyteller: Mordheim all the way for this person. The thrill of creating, naming, and individualizing their own small band of heroes will appeal to them in a visceral way they can’t explain (without sounding crazy). The “flexible” nature of people who play Mordheim will mean they’ll most likely find others who put as much thought in as they do, and who are willing to discuss or (with prior agreement) try out any ideas for new rules, heroes, terrain, etc. And all that for as little as thirty-five bucks makes for a hard offer to pass up. Just know that you’ll probably be signing yourself up to, at some point, hear ALL about their one-eyed dwarf treasure hunter named Dorin, who used to be their leader but then got shot in the arm with a crossbow, so now he’s retired, but they remember that one time when AND SO ON FOR FOUR HOURS.
The Painter: I always say, play Privateer Press, but paint Games Workshop, and the Warhammer Fantasy: Island of Blood set proves it. When you open this box for the first time, pick it up by the sides, and let the bottom of the box slide out; you’ll be rewarded with a pleasant vacuum and a satisfying “thunk” as the sheer weight of minis hits the table. For variety, for quality, for sheer number, this set takes the prize. Any collector, or painter, worth their salt will rub their hands together with glee at the thought of all the gems, belt buckles, and other details this set gives them to pore over. You’ll have the opposite problem as above though, as you may not see your giftee for weeks as they assemble and paint this set.
The Gamer: Finally, these are the folks who just want to put as little work as possible into the boring parts, and get straight to the gaming. I always say, paint Games Workshop, but play Privateer Press, and the Warmachine starter set proves it. More than any other set mentioned here, the highly approachable Warmachine rules get out of the way and let you get straight to playing. This is the ONLY set mentioned that two players could have any chance of sitting down with and playing a game without having read through the rules completely at least once beforehand. Again, just my opinion, but I’m not sure a gamer is really going to want to say to their friends, “quick, let’s all read the first 8 chapters about how to walk around!” (I’m describing Warhammer Fantasy, there, just so we’re clear.) Warmachine is also what your giftee will have the easiest time getting the hang of if they go to play with strangers at your local game store, which can be important if they’re competitive and will want to play in tournaments.
So, there you have it. Pick your poison, and give them what I said to give them; you can’t go wrong. I guarantee it in a way that is firm and convincing, without being legally binding, or providing you any benefit at all.