Top 10 Miniatures for RPGs: RANKED
So, I try not to do clickbait titles (or posts, for that matter), but I've wanted to make a post for a while now pointing people to great places for miniatures, so here it is.
Unlike my favorite YouTube channels post, however, this one will actually be a ranked post: we will be looking at 10 companies that offer miniatures and ranking them on the following five categories, with each category being weighted equally:
1. Are the sculpts for the miniatures good? Just because it has a good sculpt isn't enough to make it the best, but knowing the quality of the sculpt will help. A high score in this category indicates a detailed, high-quality sculpt for any miniatures you purchase, and a low score indicates a simple/undetailed sculpt.
2. Is the cost affordable or prohibitive? Cost may be a factor for you (it is for me), so knowing the cost will be helpful. A high score in this category indicates a low cost per miniature (with those at a 5 costing less than $3/miniature) and lower scores indicating a higher cost to purchase a model from their line.
3. Do they offer groups of miniatures at a better price? If you need a dozen NPCs for a session, can you get enough of them without "breaking the bank" so to speak? A high score in this category indicates a good miniatures to price ratio, while a low score indicates either that the company doesn't offer bulk miniatures (as is sometimes the case) or they charge a high amount to get a small blister of models.
4. Do they offer variety in its races, equipment, eras, etc. for miniatures? A company may be the best at making elves, but if they only offer elves, orcs, and trolls, you need to know that (as is the case for one of these vendors). A high score in this area indicates a wide variety in the miniatures they produce, while a low score indicates that the company has focused its line toward a specific race(s).
And again, before someone comes after me on this category, I appreciate when a company says, "We are going to start with this line of miniatures, and then add more via Kickstarter when we get more funding." These tend to be among my favorites to buy from, so a low score in the Variety category is not an insult - it shows focus, which I like.
5. Is the quality of the miniatures good? This is not the quality of the sculpt; instead it's the questions of, "Does it break easily?" and, "Is it hard to paint or modify?" All of this matters, as you want to be able to customize and bring your character to life. A high score in this category indicates durability and high modification potential in the miniatures, while a low score either means a propensity to break or difficulty in modifying the miniature.
So with this in mind, let's look at some miniatures! As a quick reminder, I have purchased miniatures from all of these companies, and I plan to buy from all of them again. So the rankings here should not be taken as a sign that "I don't like this company, and you should not frequent their online store."
#10: Atlantis Miniatures (Score: 2.4)
Okay, just a quick reminder: just because a miniatures line has the lowest score doesn't mean don't buy from them: this ranking is designed to indicate that you should purchase particular things from a company, and when I need big monsters, I go to Atlantis Miniatures. They are more expensive than the other lines, but once you see their line you'll understand why. The detail is amazing, and even when dropped on hard tile surfaces these guys hold together. While I cannot say that I recommend them to everyone in the hobby due to price, if you have a decent hobby budget and want some quality miniatures for your table, check them out. Sets tend to come in groups of 1-3 miniatures.
#8 (TIE): Mantic Games (Score: 2.8)
The creators of the game Kings of War and the primary challenger to GamesWorkshop in the realm of tabletop games, Mantic Games offers miniatures that are good, but not great. I love their Kings of War line (and they make excellent proxies for GW models at a cheaper price), but they are the definition of a middle-ground miniature. Detail is good, you get a good number of them for relatively cheap, but not nearly as cheap as other miniatures in this ranking system and with much less room for customization. Variety is okay but below par, and while the resin cast is easy to paint it can be hard to modify as you don't get a lot of variety in your bits and parts.
I will say this, though: the resin they made the miniatures from is hard to break, and that is a huge plus in my book. It will bend (ergo a good but not amazing score for Quality), but at least you won't be constantly applying superglue to swords and spears.
#8 (TIE): Shieldwolf Miniatures (Score: 2.8)
I've purchased a few miniatures from this company, and I've loved all of them. The detail on the miniatures is excellent, and the cost for a few models or dozens is very reasonable (especially for a company of their size). Shieldwolf Miniatures is a newer company, so you don't tend to get a lot of variety in their miniature lines, but the resin is sturdy and the sword blades (which are the flimsiest weapons they offer) are not easy to break or bend (which is incredible, especially at their price point).
If you are looking for frozen tundra-themed miniatures in particular, their Krumvaal Northern Alliance line is excellent - highly recommend.
#7: Hero Forge (Score: 3)
If you want to bring your character to life, I don't think you can do better on the sculpt than Hero Forge. You choose the pose, race, style, and era of the character, and have a selection of high-quality materials (and, as of their recent Kickstarter, even the ability to receive it pre-painted). Where Hero Forge falls short is in the realm of cost and grouping: at $25+ per model it is the highest in regards to cost on this list, and is not an effective way to build a horde of NPCs unless you have an expansive budget.
The exception to this is that, if you are willing to plunk down money for a 3D printer, you can just pay for the file and print it yourself. This reduces the price, though your startup cost is high, naturally (with a small lingering cost to purchase cartridges of resin for the printer). But that is an option for those who have printers, which might raise its appeal for you.
#5 (TIE): WizKids (Score: 3.2)
If you are looking for a player character miniature, it's hard to find a better option than WizKids. The sculpts are AWESOME from this group, especially since you can get 2+ miniatures at a time, typically for only a few dollars. The quality is decent for a resin model, and while they tend to be limited to medieval fantasy models, the host of character types and races available is incredible. The company doesn't sell minis in large numbers and they are not as robust against wear and tear as other company options, but on the whole if you're looking for a few quality miniatures to represent your character, this is a fantastic line.
#5 (TIE): GamesWorkshop (Score: 3.2)
GamesWorkshop was the first miniatures company I bought from (back before I was a roleplayer), and I'd be willing to wager lots of others have too, as they are one of the largest miniatures companies in the world. More well known in the tabletop strategy gaming community than the roleplay community as their Warhammer RPGs are just getting off the ground, GW offers a host of games across a wide range of eras, giving them models from a host of races in a variety of settings. The quality of their miniatures is generally good (though their Finecast models can be hit and miss, with some having holes in them where they shouldn't, excessive flash on swords and other smaller elements, and can be more brittle than you'd expect from a leader in the industry), and they are the force behind Citadel Paints, some of the best paints on the market.
The big downside of GW (and you can see it in the rankings) is cost. While you get a high-quality miniature (and, in the case of Age of Sigmar or Warhammer 40,000, a very thick model that is hard to break), you will routinely pay $40-60 for 3-5 models. That...is a lot of money, albeit for a relatively high-quality miniature, often with excess bits so that you can build exactly what you want. So there's a trade-off; had the models not been as expensive they would have placed higher on this list.
It is also worth noting that their Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game line tends to be slightly less expensive, and that's the line that I purchase from almost exclusively. I've really enjoyed both the gameplay and the models for that game, and highly recommend it, if you're looking for a new game/hobby.
#4: Dark Sword Miniatures (Score: 3.4)
For those who are into Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, this is the miniatures company that won the contract to make the GOT models. They don't sell models in blister packs, but in all other respects these models are fantastic. All their minis are pewter, so for those who love quality miniatures that feel good in the hand, this is the company for you. The vast majority of their miniatures are humans, though they do have dragons and anthropomorphic vermin as well (in case you're doing a Redwall, Humblewood, or a similar RPG - so I highly recommend them if that's your game!). And with award-winning sculptors on staff making new miniatures every year, Dark Sword Miniatures offers minis that are nothing short of a work of art.
If you want a high-end mini for your character or main NPC, I highly recommend these guys. I've used many, and they have been go-to miniatures when I offer them to new players to use for their characters.
#3: Reaper Miniatures (Score: 3.6)
Good miniatures at an excellent price for solo models (so don't buy these for your NPCs en masse: there are better options out there), and a lot of variety in weapons, races, and most importantly for this list, eras. Reaper has been big in the industry for years, and unlike a number of the other entries on this list has made its appeal almost exclusively to roleplay gamers. If you are playing a steampunk campaign, this is one of the few places you can go for miniatures. Quality is good: they are easy to paint, hard to break (as the plastic ones are designed to bend instead of breaking, and the pewter sculpts are, well, pewter), but not that easy to modify without heavy cutting and they admittedly don't glue together again easily. I've used many Reaper miniatures in the past, and I highly recommend all of them, particularly the Bones line for medieval fantasy.
#2: Warlord Miniatures (Score: 4.2)
Everything good about GamesWorkshop and Mantic Games is true of Warlord, plus more. Good sculpts by the Perry Brothers? Check. High-quality resin that is easy to modify due to an insane number of extra bits? Check. A host of poses to insure that your character/NPC looks different from everyone else? Check. Miniatures across several eras, including ancient, medieval, colonial, modern, and sci-fi settings (including Doctor Who and a medieval fantasy line)? Check. There's a reason that Warlord is this high on the list: what they do as a company they do really well, and they have high-quality miniatures for all of your needs.
I highly recommend them, and have purchased from almost all of their lines (except Doctor Who and Black Powder, one of their colonial/exploration lines). If you haven't visited their site, you should.
And at the top...
#1: Lego (Score: 4.4)
Walking into this ranking, I had a hunch that this was going to place high, but it did slightly surprise me that it came out as the winner. The only drawback to using Legos for your game is the "graphics" display: Lego people lack the detail of other models, so it has an appropriately low score in the Sculpts category. But literally everything else is great. Cost is insanely low, not only for the miniatures, but also for terrain, items to interact with, etc. (which we didn't score, but would assist in keeping it at the top of this list if we did). You can buy groups of Legos for just as cheap if not cheaper than one model, and the variety of equipment and eras is insane.
And while I thought that variety would be lacking, in the last 20 years custom pieces have become so common for aliens and other creatures that you have vast variety now to build what you want. And as for quality, just try breaking a Lego. Seriously: grab a hammer, and hit it with the same strength you'd hit a resin model (or a pewter one, for that matter) and see how it holds up. I'll wait.
And the irony of that is how cheap Legos are! I think we innately put the quality of the sculpt high in our mind, and that is definitely the weak point of Lego. But in all other respects, depending on your needs, this may be the best option for your games, especially if you are just starting out. And with the popularity of Minecraft where the low-end graphics are part of the aesthetic, your players may not mind it as much.
We'll do a follow-up post showing models from these lines (and how you can use Legos for your games to great effect), but for now we hope that this has given you ideas for where you might go for your next model purchase.
If you have thoughts on our rankings, let us know in the comments below! And if you have purchased miniatures from a company that is not on this list, let us know what you think of them! We may check them out and review them at a future date.
Until next time,