There is a quiet revolution going in the world of wargaming miniatures. With the price of pewter figures continually skyrocketing, in the past couple years a surprising number of hard plastic ranges are starting to break out of their 1/72 scale ghetto (that's roughly 21-24 mm in scale) into the big boy ranges.
If you were wanting to start amassing your fantasy army in 28mm scale—a nice median large scale in which you can mix in your rpg tabletop models--there is no better time than now.
Let's take a look at a few of the offerings:
HaT Industries. This long-standing German model company is just starting to break into 28mm. It's mostly Napoleonics right now, but they have a great and potentially useful El-Cid era range out. (In a side note that totally slays me having accumulated three budget-whipping armies of Andalusians, Almovarids, and Spanish Feudals totaling about 700 metal figures seven years back.)
Pro: Dirt cheap and well sculpted to boot, a box will run about $12-14 for a whopping 32 figures which works out to be about $.40 a figure. The figures are very nicely sculpted and exotic enough to have a good feel for a fantasy army. In a pinch the Andalusians and Moors could stand in for elves or some other exotic humanoid.
Con: Again narrow choices from one specific historical era.
Mail order them here.
Wargames Factory. Not to be confused with the Wargames Foundry, this relatively new company specializes in hard plastic 28mms. A scant two years ago they only carried a few lines of ancient historicals, now they have a vibrant range of Orcs, Skeletons, Zombies, Vikings (both bondi and huscarls), Saxons, Romans, Ancient Celts, and Samurai that can be drafted for fantasy army duty.
You can order directly from their webstore here.
Pro: A wide useful range with nice sculpts. The price per figure is very affordable. Most boxes run $20 for 32 figures, that's about $.63/figure. Compare that to the normal $2-4/figure of metal.
Con: Some assembly required (a phrase that makes me cringe).
Zvezda. My favorite Russian plastic soldier manufacturer puts out a fantastic range of 1/72 well-sculpted figures for a range of eras. Luckily for our purposes they have a 28mm fantasy range of equal quality under the clunky derivative title, Ring of Rule.The range has a nice assortment of skeleton legionaries, GW-like Orks, Elves, necromancers, hero-types, etc.
Pro: One of the few explicitly fantasy ranges of the cheap manufacturers (I'm not counting Games Workshop here for obvious reasons). High level of customability, lots of different weapons, arms, and heads (this is again a con for me as I hate gluing at an irrationally high level).
Con: It's harder to get the full range days (they may have stopped manufacturing them) from mail order sites. The price for the individual sets is not at all worth it (in the $10 range), so it only qualifies affordable if you manage to score a larger game box set like Return of the Lost Legion or Siege of the Royal Castle (which comes handily with two armies, siege machines and an entire castle model in scale).
Best bet is a patient wait on Ebay or from a larger mail order distributor like Squadron.
[Editor's Note: portions of this post will appear in the Affordable Alternatives chapter of the Guide to Fantasy War.]