3D Printing Wargame Fantasies
In this first of a short series on 3D printing I won’t bury the lead. By instalments, I’m going to prove that 3D printing is now a viable and indeed superior way of acquiring wargames figures and terrain. Let’s start with printing hex campaign tiles that in both imagination and execution are far superior to anything even the best manufacturers have created. Full disclosure: I wasn’t given a single dime or any free access to product to do this article so you can be sure that there will actually be constructive criticism where needed. Photo Credits: Cassie O’Brien and Sean Souter
I love three things about printing the Hexton Hills Campaign Tiles (HHCT). For starters, ease of use. They are idiot proof, and I should know. When I got my Elegoo Mars 2 Pro I had never even seen a resin printer in action live and had only limited experience with a filament printer. I didn’t even bother test printing Elegoo’s supplied cool looking chess piece. I went straight to the Hexton Hills tiles which were the nudge that encouraged me to take the 3D printer leap. They come well presupported (which is a huge time and skill saver) so they print perfectly, every time, no matter how complex or simple the tile. After printing over 75 tiles I’ve not had a single failure or misshapen tile, not a single mishap with the printer, not one bit of difficulty or substandard print quality.
And that’s the second reason 3D printing is best: quality. I don’t believe it’s possible to get the same results from plastic injection sprues. The detail on the resin tiles straight off the printer is astounding. It’s so fine I opted to use oil based washes to shade the details as acrylic Games Workshop and Vallejo washes flooded over rather than highlighted the nooks and crannies. There is not a ‘soft’ detail on any of the tiles. The only comparable tiles are the now out-of-print GW Mighty Empires and Planetary Empires Campaign Tiles. By a cost and quality comparison the GW plastic tiles are vastly overpriced junk. Or, to rephrase, these campaign tiles make what were decent GW tiles look rubbish.
Every Hexton Hills Tile is a little work of art. 5mm high houses have 2mm fences with rails and posts. A 3mm wide stone walkway and attending castle have clearly visible individual stones slabs that are less than a 1mm wide. Rivers have oxbows and meanders. Mines come with tiny carts on rails complete with ties and handrails. The signature pieces like volcanoes, Wizard’s Towers, castles, enormous mountains, and evil lairs are uniquely wrought with details that you couldn’t sculpt by hand or, even if you could, couldn’t be cast in plastic.
From the tiny details up to the visual spectacle when hexes are set up in an infinite variety of ways, it looks the business from both near and far. Every fantasy and most historical campaigns can be easily set up and tracked using the campaign tiles. There isn’t a fantasy archetype, trope, setting, story, or adventure that couldn’t be beautifully rendered across a completely unique fantasy map; printable at home for a fraction of what it might cost – even if it existed – to buy from a manufacturer. Games Workshop might be able to pull off tiles this versatile and customizable but can you even begin to guess how much they’d charge you for a set of 75?
Which brings us to the third point: cost. If you’ve read this far you’ve probably muttered, “But it’s expensive!” at least once. This will be a recurring theme throughout these 3D print articles so let’s get it out in the open. For me, having tiles this cool available on-demand in unlimited quantities is worth it. In terms of rarity, comparable products aren’t available. I began my 3D printing journey by investigating how to create hex tiles for both a SAGA: Age of Magic campaign as well as a homegrown game to play out the Japanese Sengoku Jidai that a friend of mine (Hi Dennis!) have been working on since we met in Japan almost 25 years ago.
I know from experience how labour intensive and pricey it is to create a campaign map. My WWII North African theatre campaign map was a labour of resin-casting love which, ultimately, is limited in use. Unlike these hex tiles which are modular and reusable when magnetized my WWII map is static. I figured I’d have to learn to use a 3D CAD program to get what I needed and then stumbled on these campaign tiles instead. The printer and tiles answered a question I’ve been asking for 20 years: How can I make cool looking, functional, and modular map tiles for the games I play and create?
For me, then, the stereolithography (stl) files used for 3D printing are relatively cheap. I got all the Hexton Hills tiles as well as two full Egyptian undead and Circus Macabre armies suitable for playing SAGA for less than $100 Canadian thanks to Black Friday, Christmas, and Boxing Week sales. $50 CDN worth of resin was enough to print about 60 tiles. I now own the right to print as many tiles of whatever kind as I like for personal use. We’ll look at the cost effectiveness of 3D printing figures in a future article but for the moment let’s deal with the biggest cost – buying the printer itself.
As these tiles are the first project I’ve done I’ve yet to do enough printing to amortize the cost across hundreds of prints. A quick calculation that includes printer, stl files, and resin cost tells me that as of right now each of 75 tiles has cost me about $5.50 Canadian. After another 75 that cost would be down to about $3.25 per tile. The cost per tile and figure will continue to go down for me as long as I’m printing items that replace other figure and terrain purchases I might make. I was fortunate enough to able to fund the printer purchase with the proceeds from my hobby-adjacent dice tray and tower work. I hope to be able to monetize the 3D printing itself by providing an option for customers to have 3D printed logos, initials, and sayings put on their trays and towers.
Stay tuned next time as we look at creating an entirely 3D printed SAGA: Age of Magic army and revisit the themes of: ease of use, quality, and cost.