Disposable Heroes: Paper Soldiers In A World Of Plastic

2017 saw two games trying to bridge the gap between miniatures war games and board games, namely Runewars: The Miniatures Game from Fantasy Flight Games and the forthcoming A Song Of Ice And Fire from CMON, funded in August 2017 on Kickstarter.

These games look like tabletop war games (movement trays, tape measures and combat templates) whilst presented in a lighter, more “board game” way (less rule book/table space required.)

Paper Soldiers - A Song of Ice & Fire

A Song of Ice & Fire from Cool Mini or Not.

Whilst both games provide enough in the core box for two players to get started (for which you’re unlikely to bank much change from $100), players will inevitably wish to expand their armies, requiring additional and considerable investment.

What’s more, as any war gaming neckbeard will tell you, fielding unpainted armies is tantamount to heresy, so look forward to blowing more cash on art materials and spending many, many hours painting.

Paper Soldiers - Runewars Miniatures Game

Runewars from Fantasy Flight Games. Miniatures supplied unpainted!

Essentially, don’t be surprised if your new hobby’s budget runs into triple digits and turns you into a hunchbacked hermit crouched over a painting desk for weeks on end, honing your newfound skills so as not to ruin the miniatures you’ve just spent your kids’ inheritance on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to dissuade the would-be miniatures war gamer from a satisfying and engaging hobby – it’s a pursuit I’ve spent many hours/days/weeks upon, although possibly most of that was spent with a brush, rather than dice in hand.

Paper Soldiers - Art Station

Be prepared that this result may not necessarily be out of the question…

However, for those that might wish to dabble in armchair generalship and manoeuvre huge armies around a tabletop, but are put off by the cost and the artistic effort involved, I’ve recently discovered an alternative that only costs some paper, printer ink and a slim volume costing barely double digits.

Victorian Origins

During the 19th century, toy soldiers were as popular as today, possibly more so considering they didn’t have to compete with anything digital. That said it was still a pursuit of the relatively wealthy who could afford armies of painted lead troops to poison their kids with.

Paper Soldiers - Victorian soldiering

Victorian soldiering. Dashed civilised, relaxing and accompanied by tea and crumpets (and preferably no justifiably irate Zulu warriors.)

For the up-and-coming middle classes the alternative was to substitute the pricey lead for paper. These paper soldiers were printed and sold at relatively low cost, and could then be coloured-in and cut out by anyone proficient enough with colouring-in and cutting-out, which is pretty much anyone over the age of about five.


Those of you that are both war gamers and parents are probably familiar with the wide-eyed excitement of youngsters when they see your painted armies for the first time, just as you are with the desperate pleas to be allowed to paint some themselves.

Whilst this should be a splendid moment of parental bonding, most war gamers wouldn’t allow the average 12 year old with a paintbrush anywhere near their collection, let alone a virtual rugrat.

Paper Soldiers - Why So Serious?

“Why So Serious?” Refined Napoleonic lady or insane Arkham crime boss? You decide.

However, few parents would be so churlish as to deny the simple joys of cut-out, something that‘s actively encouraged from nursery age and produces results that are considerably less heart-breaking.

They’re also probably a dab hand at colouring-in too, but you’ll be pleased to know that apart from a pair of scissors, all you’ll be needing for the creation of some paper armies are some modest craft supplies, a steady hand and a bit of patience. Oh and some templates to print out.

Soldier Sources — Templates

Paper Soldiers - Tabletop Tribe

A veritable Tabletop Tribe!

The best printable paper soldiers I’ve found are from a selection of slim books of the Wargames series by Helion Publishing, illustrated by historical draughtsman Peter Dennis. These also have the added benefit of containing some basic war games rules by Andy Callan.

At the time of writing there are seven volumes and time periods to choose from:

Paper Soldiers - Peter Dennis books

Titles available from Amazon via affiliate links in the sidebar or better still, use the Wordery links below to save yourself a few quid on retail (as little as £8.62 each and free delivery!), and support somewhere that focuses on books alone.

Battle For Britain series:

Battle in America series:

Also available for pre-order:

Paper Soldiers - Jacobite troops

If you fancy making some of the Jacobite ’45 troops (like those above) for FREE and scrapping it out in your very own tabletop Battle of Culloden, you can download them from here.


Paper Soldiers - Construction materials

[Image: Helion & Company/Peter Dennis]

Materials you’ll need (affiliate links provided for the cheapest and best options I can find):

  • Scissors (any will do but I favour smaller ones about the size of nail scissors. Padded handles are definitely worth it.)
  • Stanley/Craft knife (for scoring and straight line cutout)
  • Ruler (optional! Some prefer to freehand it.)
  • PVA glue + spreader (latter is easier to use and clean than a brush)
  • Contact glue (for the bases — although I find the PVA works pretty good)
  • Card— 450gsm (ish) (for the bases)
  • Cutting Mat (or a thick piece of cardboard) — so your partner/mum/gran doesn’t skin you alive for cutting up the antique dining table.

Once you’ve selected your book (or, like me, looked at the pretty modest cost and just bought the whole lot) you’ll need access to a computer printer, or, as adorably suggested by the books, a “colour photocopier” if you particularly want to feel like you’re living in the 1990s.

Either way, you’ll find it easier to place them on a scanning or copying bed if you bend out the staples and remove the pages.

From there it’s a case of following some fairly intuitive steps to create each “stand” of troops. I won’t go into the details here as the books provide a good set of tutorials, plus Peter Dennis has provided his own video tutorial. If you’re using the free Jacobean troops then there’s also instructions here.

Paper Soldiers - stand making

Whichever guide you follow there are a few key tips:

  • Keep the scissors still and move the paper as you cut.
  • Use added PVA on the weapons to help stiffen them for longevity (it dries transparent).
  • Cut between the legs of the front rank— it takes no time and improves the look.
  • Be patient! Allow for drying time between gluing and cutting.
  • Use a pile of books to flatten everything once you’re done (again, allow time for the glue to dry first!)

All you’re going to require after your armies are ready for the table is some standard 6-sided dice and a tape measure. The books even supply you with contructible scenery for your battlefield!

The Low-down

Paper Soldiers - Scenery and transports

Want scenery and transports for your troops too? It’s all included. [Image: Helion & Company/Peter Dennis]

I wish books like these had been available to me as a kid (plus today’s colour printers of course), although if they had I may not have bothered with Warhammer at all.

Where I only had a unit or two of metal skeletons to face off against my brothers paltry band of goblins (he claimed they were hobgoblins actually, to benefit from the Frenzy rules. Cheating git) paper soldiers would have allowed us both to field huge armies at very minimal cost.

Infantry, cavalry, skirmishers, warmachines… even scenery and transports. I can’t get over quite how much you get in each book.

Paper Soldiers - Roman Army

Yup, you even get Roman elephants! [Image: Helion & Company/Peter Dennis]

It’s still a labour-intensive pursuit — you’ll probably not be making many more than six stands per evening (possibly more if you’re unencumbered by familial duties), but even the most proficient of speed painters would struggle to clean up, prime, paint and base the same amount of plastic or metal models in the same time.

The units look good too, at least from front and back and up to about 45 degrees to each side. Any further than that and the lack of depth begins to tell. Obviously from side-on they look rubbish. That said, the majority of time I’ve been playing war games has been spent standing on my side of the table, so this isn’t a major problem.

Paper Soldiers - British Army

“King of the who?” Queen of the Britons, Boudica, in fact! [Image: Helion & Company/Peter Dennis]

Of course the troops don’t have the heft of plastic or metal, and so are more susceptible to the odd accidental nudge, and you certainly won’t be playing al fesco!

On the other hand, you won’t be needing huge carry cases to store your armies. The design of the paper stands makes them easy to fold flat and store in a surprisingly small amount of space. You can store a basic army in a business card box.

Paper Soldiers - Army storage

Kiss goodbye to your army storage problems. I’m fairly sure this little box will hold two small opposing armies, or one huge army.

The included rules are very light — just a few pages — so are unlikely to satisfy any hardcore war gamer. However they’re perfect introductory rules, and once a novice has got the hang of them and fancies something a little more in-depth, the stand-based makeup of the army is suitable for use with many other systems (like my favourite, Warmaster).

Also included in each book are a handful of scenarios if you fancy more than simply a stand-up scrap.

Paper Soldiers - Scenarios

Fancy your chances of changing history?

Talking of other systems, another slight negative of the books listed here is their historical emphasis. There are no fantasy armies to choose from, so if you were hoping for some Elf vs Dwarf grudge matches or a horde of paper Orcs then you’re going to be disappointed.

On the flip side it’s pretty cool to see the historical evolution of troops from Roman times to the 19th century, and it’s great to see a Roman cohort in full and get an idea of just how many men made up a whole Legion.

Paper Soldiers - ACW American Civil War

Don’t worry, it’s not all British History… our American friends are fully represented too! [Image: Helion & Company/Peter Dennis]

Perhaps the best thing about these books is that they show history can be FUN and might spark an interest in the subject for young and old alike.


  • The cheapest way to start “miniatures” war gaming (less than 20p per 6 stand unit.)
  • Great artwork combined with simple instructions.
  • Armies are quick to assemble and look great on the table.
  • No great artistic/craft skill needed beyond simple cutout’n’paste.
  • Included rules give you everything you need to play except a tape measure and D6s.
  • Even scenery is included.
  • Space-saving fold-down storage.
  • Units work well with other war gaming rules sets.
  • The troops look historically accurate.


  • No fantasy army options (yet).
  • Units look best from directly behind/in front. Side-on looks rubbish.
  • Included rules are fairly light.
  • Paper units are more prone to accidental movement/damage.
  • 2D is never going to beat the look of painted 3D in plastic/metal.

2 Responses

  1. Gene

    Have you priced color printer ink lately? Maybe print them in black and white, then color them in with pencils or markers?

    • Guyblin

      Hi Gene! Thanks for your question.

      A colour cartridge here is about £15. The amount of pages it will print (known as the Print Yield) will vary depending on the printer and the quality of print you select, and you can disover this on the manufacturers specification for your sepcific printer.

      However, to a get a rough idea, at a default level, for the average printer, you will get around 180 A4 pages. Each page will give you 3 stands of troops and you’ll need six stands per unit (for infantry and cavalry – less for the bigger units), so that means for each cartridge you can create 90 units of troops, or 540 stands, which is a massive amount! A large battle might see about 60 stands per side in action.

      Thus each stand costs about 2.7p, so a unit costs 16p – Black and White of course would be around 8p, but you’d have to factor in a few more pence for the cost of your crayons (and your time!), so all in all I think for the price you’re better off just printing in colour! Part of the appeal of these for me over traditional minis is the lack of painting involved, so I’d rather not have to substitute paints for crayons, but I guess if you do colour them, you can individualise them more… and maybe add some woad tattoos to those ancient Britons!


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