Over the past two gamer sessions with Labyrinth Lord, we've been experimenting with using miniatures in the combats as the players expressed an interest in trying this out. I did some extensive looking into what options are out there for the week before and since the adventure the party were about to start was a wilderness based one (the first they have ever done) my focus was on outdoor battles.
My findings included printing out battle maps from PDF's, paper and card based maps that are pre-printed, battle maps that you can write on with marker pens and then erase afterwards and finally interlocking hex tiles from a game called Heroscape. I settled on this option and ordered the game, then pilfered the pieces from it. I particularly liked the Heroscape solution because the hexes also stack on top of each other to give height which then creates extra tactical considerations involving higher ground.
I picked up some trees from eBay too for obstacles then hunted around to find whatever miniatures I still had from back when I was at school and found very, very few, a real rag tag odd bunch - mostly hero types - and decided I needed to look at getting some more. Miniatures have sure got expensive. I don't remember them being this expensive. So I ended up buying some counter packs which work out much, much cheaper, for enemies and getting a dozen wolves and six frogs. The wolves were for an encounter in a forest and the giant frogs for one in a swamp.
The first gaming session went ok but we had some trouble adjusting what was once entirely in our heads into a more rigid and well defined ruleset (mostly house rules) and I was left unsure, but the second session went much better and we started to flow with it and become more inventive with the descriptions of what was going on and solutions to problems. So the second session became more like how we used to play; but everyone could see where everything ones. I also played to one of this style of handling combat's strengths - larger, more epic fights.
Here is the setup from the battle to take of the Frogman King and his Fishmen, which the party decided to do for a bunch of witches in the swamp so they could stay the night in their house...
As you can see, the counters are for the enemies and there is a lot of them. We wouldnt have been able to track that many enemies without using miniatures, so it definitely has its place and I think we'll continue to use them. The party won the fight - in an amusing moment, the Frogman King was knocked backwards off his lofty pedestal by a slight bullet and ended up in the water with an almighty splash - although it was a pretty close fight for them.