Does Games Workshop Make Action Figures?

Geek Culture Toys
Games Workshop Space Marines: Not a Toy. Or Are They?

“This product is not a toy. Not suitable for children under 14 years old.”

This statement followed me around during my formative years. It was printed on every blister pack and box of Citadel Miniatures I ever bought. The warning comes back to me when I watch my seven-year-old playing with his Space Marines, like they’re the most amazing action figures ever. Which, arguably, they are.

In those days the warning had extra credence. The figures contained lead, and lead is not a healthy thing for children to be playing with. These day the figures are all plastic, so there’s no safety issue, except for the choking hazard, but I hope at seven my son is beyond the testing-how-things-feel-in-my-mouth stage of his development. The main reasons for not letting a seven-year-old use Citadel figures are their fragility and their cost.

I have to admire Games Workshop’s marketing technique for my boys’ current obsession. Out shopping one afternoon, my wife wanted to go and try some shoes on, a task not improved by the introduction of three boys, so I took them off somewhere else. My GW passion was latent at the time, but I liked to pop into a shop every now and again and imagine I still had the time and income to support a serious plastic habit.

The shop was quiet, just the obligatory group of teenagers clustered around one of the playing tables, trading tales of their “sick” (or whatever the kids say these days) army configurations. Sensing an easy prey, the manager came over to inquire as to whether we needed any help.

Before I knew it he had my older two boys sitting on a chair painting a figure. Unlike the sales assistants when I first used to enter Games Workshop, this guy knew how to talk to children (rather than scowl at them whilst wondering how they tasted). He patiently went through the steps of painting a Citadel Miniature. They loved it, and I was pleased as punch. I had to resist the urge to give the man my credit cards and say, “Take what you want.” The boys took their miniatures home (a Space Marine and a High Elf) and were thrilled with them.

My middle son is all about action figures. He plays endlessly with his knights. He’s hardly played Skylanders on the screen, but they too take part in his gargantuan tabletop battles, alongside Fett, Vader, and Solo. He likes LEGO, not so much for the kits, but the minifigures. They too feature in his world of (often bloodthirsty) imagination.

Now a Space Marine had entered the fray. But, as any serious geek with a collection habit will tell you, one isn’t enough. He wanted more. I was torn. Yes, I wanted to buy them, but years of conditioning had drummed into me that these are not toys! The figures aren’t cheap and, surely, he was just going to break them?

The Marines regretted investigating the paint-works with the fireworks factory next door… Photo: Robin Brooks

In the end, I decided they were worth a punt, so I purchased nine Space Marines. It was possibly the best £15 ($22) that I’ve ever spent (though the price has since gone up: 9 Space Marines now costs £18, or $30). Not only did we have a blast painting them, producing a new class of psychedelic Marine, but he has played and played with them.

Compare this with the Mega-Flip Bumblebee he wanted for Christmas (£25–$33), which has sat in the toy-box largely untouched or some Star Wars: Rebels action figures (Ahsoka Tano and Darth Vader, £16–much cheaper in the US at $11), then suddenly my £15 is starting to look like reasonable expenditure.

Now, you can’t do this with everything. My oldest son bought some Dark Elves, which, to be honest, he hasn’t really been captured by, but as these figures got drawn into his brother’s battles, bits soon started snapping off.

Space Marines seem ideally suited to being played with by younger children, as they are compact with few protuberances, meaning not much to snap off. We’ve since added a set of three bikes, which are little more pricey £20 ($40), but robust enough to withstand action style play (with the exception of their aerials).

Parallel to that, my older son has developed an interest in painting some figures, and so wanted some more Marines. This could get very expensive very quickly. They both enjoy painting, but, whereas three figures would take me several weeks to complete, for them, particularly the younger one, painting takes little time at all. This rate of consumption is unsustainable.

For now, they have invested some Christmas money on some Space Marines from the Dark Vengeance base set. Of course, they both wanted the same figures, so instead of buying a box, we bought two broken down sets from eBay. As buying Dark Vengeance is much the best value way to buy your models, lots of people buy multiple sets and sell the half they’re not collecting (the set has Space Marines and Chaos Space Marines). We got roughly 20 figures for £25 ($36) doing it this way. This included leader models and three motorbikes, so it is definitely the best way of breaking into the hobby.

One concern I had is that, in the wake of the release of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, Citadel seems to have upped the quality and intricacy of their figures (and therefore the cost). Brilliant news for the seasoned player (except for the cost bit), Citadel’s latest releases are breathtaking, but, if you’re buying for the younger end of the market, simple, robust, and cheap is what you are after. With their recent releases, it felt as though Games Workshop was increasing the age of their target audience.

Games Workshop flyer from Nurnberg Toy Fair: Image courtesy of with thanks to Frank McKinney

Which is why I was thrilled to find Frank McKinney’s article on (via Towards the end of 2016, Games Workshop are set to release a “Build and Paint” range. Boxed classics, such as Space Marines and their Bikes, complete with paints, glue, and brushes, at entry level prices. (Starting at $15 if the flyers are to be believed.) I think this is an interesting development on the part of Game Workshop, showing they haven’t forgotten younger gamers. News of the Build + Paint range is still sketchy, but I’m hoping they’ll be appearing in this house in time for Christmas 2016. I’ll endeavor to bring you more information about Build + Paint as I get it.

So there you are, despite warnings that they’re not toys, my seven-year-old has loved using his Space Marines as toys. They have been great for firing his imagination, and long may that continue. It’s not financially viable for his collection to grow much more, but, for now, I have one happy child!

Does anybody else do this? What inappropriately aged toy, does your child love to play with? Do you find your X-Wing minis being flown around your house? Are your Imperial Assault Stormtroopers currently laying seige to some My Little Ponies? Please comment on your experiences, good and bad, below.

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13 thoughts on “Does Games Workshop Make Action Figures?

  1. My daughter’s (6 & 12) painted their 1st Battle of Skull Pass goblins. Now hidden amongst My ranks of sinister night goblins are some strange blue skinned psychedelic goblins. I suspect these oddballs may pop up more in my Greenstein army.

    The youngest also plays a simplified version xwing. Her squad invariably includes the Millennium Falcon.

  2. I bought quite a lot of old Warhammer on ebay, took out the best bits for my youngest son and resold the rest in smaller batches which made the exercise cost neutral, it’s quite time consuming but definitely the cheapest way to build a decent collection for a youngster.

  3. I have been a fan since I first wandered into a Hobby Shop in Michigan with my dad and uncle (they were into trains), and discovered Space Marines. My 10 year old self was enthralled with the little metal figures in the blister packs. I flipped through Codices, my mind expanding with everything being pored into it, and I’ve felt the touch of the Immaterium ever since. 25ish odd years later, all my kids have been inducted to all facets of gaming. Nerf swords were always power swords, and almost all nerf guns were Bolters. The boys and I made Lego Dreadnoughts, and even my youngest daughter has decided that Sisters of Battle are pretty amazing.
    I am hopeful for the build and paint range, and I am thinking about breaking out my old HeroQuest box. (The older kids are already being introduced to D&D, and luckily for me my wife has been painting up white metal Reaper miniatures for everyones characters. She is awesome, and a better painter than I.)

    1. A friend of mine picked up an Old copy of Space Crusade, which he has been playing with his 7 year old, letting his son play with the figures in between times. They’re not cheap though.

  4. My lad is 10 and has been playing with my space marines for years. He mainly just role plays with them on the coffee table rather than playing a game (he gets bored quickly when we do). Sometimes I have to glue something back together afterwards and sometimes bits are never seen again. Do I care? A little but it’s more important that he has fun. He got a sizeable ork army for Christmas including a stompa so we’re going to have armagedoon soon!

    1. SInce we’ve assembled our latest arrivals, my boys 7 & 10 have been having massive roleplay battles on the dining room table. My older son has been drawn in by his brother’s enthusiasm. I do spend a large amount of time saying ‘Be careful!’ and wincing when I hear something hit the deck, but as you say, it’s out with the glue, quick repair job and they’re off again.

      Interestingly, they were both very excited about the forthcoming Battle of Vedros set, particularly my 10 year old, who likes a bit of structure. Looks like the seeds have been sown for future wargames. (Incidentally, Age of Simgar just didn’t cut it).

  5. No, is the simple answer, Games workshop make multipart plastic model kits, the average “action figure” shares some of the traits GW products but they are inherently different. essentially an action figure requires no preparation, assembly or painting, where as a model kit does, also generally speaking action figures tend to have some points of articulation (in the similar fashion to a doll) where as model kits tend to have none once they are glued(although some GW models kits do have some articulation on so its not a hard and fast rule).
    There are obvious exceptions to the “rules”, Lego for example does require assembly as does Playmobil and many other action figures are flat packed for “ease” these days,(dont get me started on building Barbies mansion) , you could argue that the application of stickers is a form of painting and some dolls houses and toys can be painted.

    importantly though i think a distinction does apply and really should be encouraged and noted for the younger gamer, its great for younger people to pick up these space men and roleplay with them, but they should also be encouraged to build them and paint them, the building and painting is a very important and if going on time spent doing this hobby, the build and painting portion is by far the part we spend the most time on( unless your army is still grey or worse still sat in the box).

    1. So, what you’re really saying is that they’re better than action figures, because not only do the foster imaginative play, but they also afford the opportunity for artistic expression and engender a sense of accomplishment.

      My 10 year old, has painted some model using the three-step method (base, shade, drybrush), with pleasing results. He was thrilled. My 7 yr old, has loved slapping on different colours and really enjoyed making different colours from the paints we have. He simply doesn’t have the patience for anything much beyond a base coat and some ‘details’, but was similarly thrilled with his efforts.

      To go along with what you’ve been saying, I’ve been making sure they help me with the gluing and accompany me outside for spraying on undercoat. I have also been painting a few older figures alongside them, which is a much slower process, but they see the results from taking time over something, and I explain the techniques I am using and why (theoretically, at least, my painting’s not that good) the models look better using them.

      1. My 8 year old just painted his first genestealer last sunday using the 3-step method (with a little layering instead of drybrushing) and he couldn’t be happier with it. I’ve also introduced him to a simplified version of the rules, which he likes a lot, particularly when he has to roll a handful of dice. He doesn’t like math much, but he does it when it’s for gaming purposes, so that’s a bonus! On the other hand, 40k can get really expensive here in Peru, but I guess that’ll teach him patience while we wait until we can afford the next batch of minis 😀

  6. I have a son and daughter and an extensive collection of GW/FW 20K 30K and fantasy both old new second hand and mint. And I spend most of my time RP’ing with my kids. Having such adventures such as ‘The Quest for the Emperors Kebab’ starring Orks, Chaos Marines and Space Wolves! with a myriad of very dodgy accents and raucous laughter. Lego minis, SpongeBob, Ghostbusters and other minis have starred in subsequent adventures. My take on this is that – models or Toys it matters not as long as you get enjoyment out of it 🙂

  7. As kids, a friend and I spent more time just role playing with the figures from the HeroQuest game than actually playing the game. Great fun and adventure similar to playing with green army men and I hope that the upcoming Battle for Vedros line will bring back this good old play pattern to a new generation plus tbuilding and painting is great to stimulate creativity. These snap fit Marines will probably be sturdier than regular ones and will be able to endure the play style of a child.

    1. I hope you’re right Jonny. All the ingredients are there for a full stimulus package (though one that may ultimately be disastrous for the family economy!

  8. Well they are not action figures, but my son respects and plays with his Space Marines. We went to a paint session and he fell in love. We bought more and he painted them all. Though my son and I have been playing 40k since he was 3-4. He’s 7 now. We use AnonsOnePage40k rules. They are fast, furious and perfect for anyone new to 40k. Yes the rules are all free. That’s correct. All free. Google them and you too will be playing in the grim darkness of the far future where there is only war.

    He got tired of D&D at 3-4 and saw the tanks and fell in love. He’s never broke a model either. The greatest thing is I was able to teach him math, reading and motor skills without letting him know he was learning. 😉

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