The Almighty Dollar and the Cost of Gaming

In this special guest article, veteran gamer Sigismund Lee types up a late-night analysis regarding the costs of gaming. Originally posted in the Waycross Gaming Community forums for the benefit of local enthusiasts, he has allowed one of Encounter Roleplay’s longtime colleagues, Remley Farr, to edit the post and publish it here. His original gaming post has already been shared over multiple Facebook groups. It’s time to shine some more light on his contributions to the gaming community.

How much will your hobby cost you?

You know you’ve been privy to that discussion: “My hobby is better/best because I get more bang for my buck than you do!”

I’m going to preface this article by saying I take no sides in any matter and merely want to illuminate the path. I’m going to do my best to break things down by entry cost, average cost to play, and renewable costs. I realize there are a ton of ways to manipulate dollars and cents. I’m going to reiterate the Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) and not sales, second hand, eBay, and what-have-you. Those are all real, but incorporating non-MSRP prices makes it hard to discuss without common ground. Away we go!


Let’s start with something easy. I love video games and choose to play on the Xbox 1 because that’s where my population of friends is. We can all agree in this digital age of turnkey pushbutton entertainment that console gaming is pretty convenient.

Cost of entry:

  • Console: $300
  • Game: $60 per game
  • XBox Live Gold: $46/year
  • DLC: $6 which adds 8-10 hours to a gaming experience.

The average playtime of a game is about 2 weeks (or 30 hours). Some AAA multiplayer titles (Call of Duty, Battlefield, MMO’s) probably stretch far longer. At it’s prime (thinking older generation of game consoles), you would see about two purchases per month. Yeah, okay, this is also rife with piracy and grey markets such as GameStop, but gamers truthfully bought a new game per month.

So $300 initially + $46/year + $60 x 12 months and (just for kicks say you got the piddly 25% credit by trading them all back) – $15 x12months = $886 in your first year. Let’s say you were a good kid and only bought every other month (maybe a DLC or downloadable retro game on the off months): $652. Oh, and don’t forget $480 for monthly internet.



Right about now the PC guys are laughing themselves silly, I’m sure, so let’s bring this into the same kind of light.

Cost of entry:

  • DIY rig: $500
  • Dedicated gaming rig: $1500
  • Display/controls/chair: ~$200
  • Internet Service Provider: $40/month
  • Games on Steam: $10 per each (most PC games thankfully have about twice the longevity over console games.)
  • Subscription (to WoW): $13/month
  • Microtransactions: variable but about $1 average

$500 + $200 + $480 + $60 in annuals games purchased as well as a year’s MMO ($156) = $1396. If we tacked on the ISP to console gaming, it’s neck and neck. The major only difference is the cost of software is cheaper and varied on PC.


Okay, time to pull the plug and look at tabletop gaming. Specifically, the gateway games of the modern tabletop era: Eurogames such as Settlers of Catan ($30) or Ticket to Ride ($35)! Look at how much more economical board games are when compared to digital games! Well, here’s the caveat: even my favorite boxed board game starts and ends within the confines of the box. In it’s unaugmented form, a board game gets (don’t quote me on it) only 20 play sessions. Yeah! That’s it! It’s not that the game is bad or poorly designed, but unless you really love that game, you are unlikely to convince a group of players to undergo the same experience more than three times. Over a long enough period of time, you will get more than enough play, and certainly companies are following the DLC method by adding supplements such as 5-6 players expansions, new maps, new pieces, and extra “strategy” cards. In this way, companies extend the life of the original game. So what do you usually do? You buy a new one of course. There’s a converse relationship with games these days: more complexities yields more play time, which likewise yields more playthroughs to explore those complexities. This is balanced by the fact that complex games have narrower audiences.

Cost of entry:

  • Gateway boxed game: $30 (roughly bought once a month)
  • Modern boardgame: $50 (duration about 2 months)
  • Modern “ameritrash” game: $80-$100 (duration about 6 months, but less plays than former options)

A dedicated boardgamer purchases to cover a rough year: 6 gateway games, 4 modern board games, 2 complex games: $580. Not bad! Especially since the experience is spread across multiple users and, unlike digital gaming, has consistent replay value.

4) COLLECTIBLE CARD GAMES (aka Magic the Gathering)

Discourse on MtG is up there with politics, religion, and a woman’s weight, but being a fan of the game and the style of gaming, I think it’s only fair to dissect the game.

Cost of entry:

  • Magic the Gathering Intro Pack: $15 (the bare bones of what you need to play)
  • Magic Fat Pack $33 (for the first time you try to build your own deck or keep up with the bi-monthly release)
  • Magic Commander Deck: $30 (for multiplayer play)
  • Competitive Modern Magic Deck: $1100 (average cost)
  • Competitive Standard Deck: $800 (average cost)
  • Kitchen Table Deck: $50 (average cost)
  • Average cost to play events per year (events, drafts, tournaments): $600
  • Cube Format: $150 for 8 players (cheapest way to play)

So for the typical person who has gotten into the game and never set foot into a store to play competitive Magic (what we like to call Kitchen Table players), you will have purchased 1 deck at $15 and $33 every 2 months for a year ($198) and assuming you’ve never bought any singles which is highly unlikely.

The novice player has usually acquired one deck for each of the five colors, if not at least four of the major archetypes. The running total: $463. This in truth is still not bad, but the price of staying ahead of the arms race is an intangible feature as people rush to add the cost of singles to their existing decks, indulge in impulse buys of fatpacks, or *gasp* bust open booster boxes, or decide they want to build their 6th, 7th, 8th and so on deck.

5) LIVING CARD GAMES (aka Netrunner, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones)

This class of card games (LCG’s) was made famous by Fantasy Flight Games,who figured they could focus on creating a DLC to boxed cardgames. This model works by having a loyal fanbase and removing the frustrations of the collectible card game’s secondary market. In this way, you buy a customizable game experience with the core box, and then you purchase add-ons as you wish. The catch: most players are compelled to buy all the add-ons to have a true, complete game experience that appeals to their collector’s nature.

Netrunner is probably the most iconic, but Ascension follows closely.

Cost of entry:

  • Core box: $40 (MSRP for Netrunner Core set)
  • Big expansion: $30
  • Little expansion: $15 (monthly release)
  • Cost to own everything: $480 (as of 2015)

So one of LCG’s advantages is the lower cost in exchange for the subscription-based releases. It curbs your individual costs (because there are no singles on the market), but to stay with the curve, you’ll be buying $15 data releases (or chapters or whatever) on a monthly schedule.


A long time ago, there was Mage Knight and Heroclix. What they did was combine the random lootdrop of Magic the Gathering with miniatures. This made for some ridiculously overpowered miniatures, and collectors would spend $75+ on prepainted figures to have a competitive edge on their opponents. Then Fantasy Flight Games stepped in and, using the same model they used with LCG’s, said “No.” Combined with a tight rule set and attention to field balance, collectible miniature games are a new class of customizable army with a subscription-based business.

Cost of entry:

  • Core Box set (either Core set or Force Awakens): $40
  • One large ship: $30 (Millenium Falcon, Slave 1, etc)
  • One small ship: $15 (B-wing, Tie-Advanced, etc)
  • Typical tournament level: $60 (2 large ships or 3-4 small ships)
  • Cards to augment your list: $15
  • Largest known army in X-wing (8 Tie Swarm): 2 Core sets, 4 Tie-Fighters $140
  • Typical purchase of beginning player: Core set, 2 small ships, 1 large ship, 1 “Aces/Veterans/Heroes” pack. Running total is $130

As a personal experiment, I tallied my cost of entry to buy into one style of list. This gives me some tweaks here and there, such as varying the quantity of ships versus quality of pilots. After reviewing a majority of blogs and internet sources (again, please don’t quote me), most people buy into the entirety of one of the 3 factions, which is about $300. This gives them massive flexibility in planning and playing, and it replicates the competitive level. Unfortunately, new releases happen every 3 months as well.


I’m going to carefully break this down into two categories: Warhammer and anything non-Warhammer. In the 80s, Dungeons and Dragons was taking off, and companies were casting miniatures for use in tabletop adventures. Britain had long been a place of historical gaming and miniatures, and a little company named Citadel easily adapted to knights, dwarves, and orcs instead of colonials and redcoats. One day they printed rules on how to mass your collection of figures into regiments, and thus Warhammer was born. Unfortunately, collections grow and rules update to match the scale. Somewhere along the lines, the company realized they could push the sales of miniatures by upscaling armies for “must-haves” that most collectors simply did not have before. Unfortunately, the game has evolved out of scale and outpriced its beginners from being mainstream in the hobby. I’m going to go backward an edition (pre Age of Sigmar) to really make this clear, but I want to break down a universal cost to miniature wargaming: the supplies.

Hobby supplies:

  • Paints: $40 total (3 base colors, 3 highlight colors, white, black, 1 metallic, 1 shade)
  • Brushes: $10 (for 2)
  • Model glue, pva glue, super glue: $10
  • Clippers: $10
  • Hobby knife: $5

So even before we start, there’s inherently a $75 involvement tax from the supplies you’ll need to begin the hobby. Next up, we’ll dive into the specific games.

Warhammer cost of entry (2000 point army):

  • Starter box: $125 (Island of Blood two-player set)
  • 20 elf archers: $40
  • 20 elf spearmen: $40
  • Elf chariot: $30
  • Elf ballista: $30

Totaling $265, which is a fair investment into anything. However, like all collections, it would take $50-$60 chunks to make any modifications to your list, whether adding cavalry, a unit of light scouts, or a hero riding atop a dragon.

By comparison, Warhammer Fantasy’s futuristic sci-fi counterpart, Warhammer 40,000 (known as 40k), was scaling up dramatically with entries starting to crest the $100 marker. Despite the cost, it is insanely popular for it’s high quality miniatures and familiar game play, which has evolved over it’s inception in the 80s. By comparison, a typical Warhammer 40k army costs in the $450 range. Don’t get me started on the rulebooks and codices.

With that being said, it’s time to investigate the other big miniature game out there: Warmachine.

Approximately 2 years ago, I stepped away from 40k and dipped my toes into Warmachine, only to find myself fully flung into its ocean of steampunk warfare. The best I can describe to people who are unfamiliar with it is that players interact like Magic the Gathering, and the game has Netrunner’s availability in miniature gaming form. The community, like so many gaming communities, is vast, varied, and strangely close-knit. What was once considered a fledgling competitor to Warhammer is now a serious contender for the tabletop heap. Since Warmachine is soon due for a new edition, I’ll use its second edition ruleset/marketing to calculate costs.

Warmachine cost of entry (50 point army):

  • Battle Box: $50
  • 2 units: $50 ea.
  • 3 solos: $10 ea.
  • Alternate warcaster:$10

So that’s $190 to get into the game and play at max level with an alternate warcaster. In my own gaming group, the smallest functional collection sits at $220 while the average ownership is into the $350 range (over 1 year mind you). Similar to X-Wing, new releases happen every 3 months with big rules dropping twice a year.

8) Role-Playing Games (RPG’s)

I like to draw a comparison that RPG’ers have with PC gamers. All players like to imagine that the power of their mind and willingness to impart life to their characters is enough. However, what is the true value spent on this particular hobby?. Let’s jump to the poster child of RPG’s: Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), which is a bit tricky since a gaming group consists of a dungeon master (who typically buys lots of product) and players (who buy few products). This purchasing pattern is common in almost every other RPG.

Cost of entry (Dungeon Master):

  • Player Handbook: $50
  • Dungeon Master’s Guide: $50.
  • Monster Manual: $50.
  • Miniatures: Hey what? See my list for wargaming and hobby supplies (though many play without miniatures)
  • Campaign book settings: $50.
  • Adventure modules: $2-$5 each.

Now let’s look at the average cost to get involved Dungeons and Dragons as a player.

Cost of entry (Player):

  • Player Handbook: $50 (optional)

Wait, that’s it? And the handbook is optional? The dungeon master has likely spent over $200 alone while a player’s willingness to buy anything is pure gravy. By comparison, what the dungeon master is truly sacrificing is time since the majority of the experience is imparted upon players and borne from the dungeon master’s labor. Dwell upon that because without the dungeon master, the hobby is completely dead in the water.

In Summary…

These breakdowns aren’t meant to deter or scare anyone, but merely serve as a reflection of the very real world translation of our gaming passion. There are intangibles that exist for any game that cannot be accounted for: time setting up, skills gained, friends and relationships forged. Gaming means different things to different people and is worth different values to different people. Take a moment and take a good, hard, deep dive. In that tabulation, you will care to share how much money and time you’ve sunk into your favorite game.

Cheers, and happy gaming.

One of Sigismund Lee’s trollblood handpainted warbands storming across the battlefield.

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