Like many wargamers, when I was younger I never seemed to have the money to Žbuy all the miniatures I wanted. I am partial to 25mm/28mm, and of course these figures are particularly expensive. I would drool over the pictures in glossy wargaming magazine showing tables full of expertly painted figures, firm in the knowledge that I would not be able to field anything like them within the foreseeable future. (I still can't, not so much for financial reasons, but rather because I can't paint that well!)
What I did discover, however, was that there are less-expensive ways of raising the units you need that go beyond just trolling through the bargain tables at wargaming conventions and compulsively lurking on eBay. While these are both potentially good sources of cheap figures, the selection is extremely limited.
So what was I to do? Part of the solution for me was the casting of Prince August figures. Casting metal is fairly inexpensive compared to the cost of already-cast figures, so it is an obvious route. Not all of the figures you want are available as molds, of course, but there are some very useful ones which are good to know about. Prince August is the largest mold-manufacturing company for toy soldier hobbyists, and one which has distributors in both North America and Europe (it is an Irish company).
I decided early on that, although the "old style" 25mm figures - usually Minifigs - are very common, and often quite inexpensive, they are simply too small to mix with more modern figures. Further, I do not like to game with plastic figures. I know this is a personal thing, and that there are some nice figures on the market at quite reasonable prices, but I simply prefer the feel of metal. (Plus, at the prices Perry charges for their boxed sets, cast figures are still cheaper: 40 plastic infantry figures for 20 GBP is about $.75/figure in US terms, where I can spend less than that for the metal to cast my own. With cavalry, the savings only increase. OK - I do love the Perry's sculpting, but on a strictly cost basis they are still more expensive.)
The problem with Prince August molds is that - despite having a large selection - many of them are scaled to the "old style" 25mm, making them non-useful for wargamers who want to mix the figures with today's 25mm/28mm figures. (And you will have to mix them, because they do not make moulds for all the figures you would need, even ignoring the size.) The trick is knowing which molds are at what scale, and the Prince August website doesn't help - all the figures are described as being 25mm. (Although they say the molds are compatible, this is not sufficiently true for most wargaming purposes, at least in my opinion. If you don't mind mixing smaller figures with larger ones, you have a lot more choice!)
The photos below will give you some idea of the size discrepancy:
An older Prince August hussar compared with the Polish lancer casting described below - the hussar is quite small!
A Front Rank French dragoon compared with the same Prince August Polish lancer - this works OK.
A Perry Black Brunswicker hussar compared with the same Polish lancer - this also seems to work well.
Prince August has two 25mm lines of molds for Napoleonic figures. One is labelled their Battle of Austerlitz line, and offers only three molds. These figures are a largish, modern 25mm (slightly bigger than Old Glory or Perry Miniatures, for example - they are about the same size as the figures from Front Rank). The three molds on offer include Austrian grenadiers; French infantry in bicorne; and Russian infantry. All three molds have very similar poses: one firing infantryman, one advancing infantryman with the point of the bayonet lowered, and one officer. The poses are not very dynamic, but they are acceptable. The figures have minimal equipment, which makes them very quick to paint (and also realistic - most troops in the era dropped their packs before entering combat - they didn't run around like pack mules in the face of the enemy, for obvious reasons).
The French infantry can be quite useful for any French army up to 1807, when they switched to shakos (the legere did this a bit earlier). If you are willing to field troops which lack the proper sidearms (in many armies, the musketeers had swords, but not in the French army) then they will also work for pre-1810 Saxons, Spanish, and possibly some other nationalities. The officer figure has a plain bicorne, worn sideways, and can be used for a variety of general and aide types for command bases.
The Austrian grenadiers are of the German type, with gaiters. Not all Austrian grenadier officers wore bearskins - sometimes you see them depicted with bicornes (this is not an issue if you also own the Russian mold, since that officer also works for the Austrians). They can also be used as Saxon grenadiers, who wore an Austrian-style uniform before 1810. When you consider that Austria fielded entire divisions of grenadiers, you can see that this one mold could produce a large part of a Napoleonic army, albeit one with not so very many poses in it. But if you want to do the fighting in 1809 at the granary in Essling, for instance, then a lot of Austrian grenadiers is exactly what you'll need.
The Russian infantry are in the uniform worn up until 1812, when the new-style kiwer was adopted (although some units may have worn the older style after that date). The figures can be used to depict either line infantry or jagers - grenadiers would have shako plumes, which these do not. The officer figure has a bicorne worn sideways with a feather plume also used by the Austrians and Prussians, and so can serve in multiple armies. Some of the Prussian units in 1813 also wore a "Russianized" uniform, so you could probably re-purpose these figures to be Prussian militia with a different paint job.
The other major line Prince August produces are the Battle of Waterloo molds. Sadly, this range is almost entirely composed of the smaller 25mm figures, more to the scale of old Minifigs. There are some notable exceptions, however, and these can be significant, because they are almost all cavalry. Aside from these, the only useful molds are the artillery pieces, which might be small-scale but still acceptable to some gamers (I don't mind them, all things considered - and the French one comes with two barrels.) These molds are the PA523 British 6-Pounder and the PA518 Gribeauval 8- and 12-Pounder.
The larger figures in this line of molds include French dragoons, Polish lancers, French cuirassiers, British (10th) hussars with shako and pelisse, British heavy dragoons in the later helmet, and Scots Greys in bearskins. In each case, there is one mold with three riders (officer, trumpeter, and trooper) and two different horse molds, one for the officer's horse and one for the others. These figures are to scale with the Austerlitz figures - they mix well with other modern Napoleonic lines. The poses are a little stiff, but they paint well. All of them lack carbines/muskets, which is a problem in some cases (you can order individual muskets and carbines and other useful bits from Front Rank).
The more modern-scale molds are these:
These molds can produce a lot of different figures. When you consider that shako plumes and similar were often removed on campaign, the hussar figure can be used for many different purposes (hussars all look basically similar, with only the headgear generally causing problems, and these can often be easily fixed with a bit of conversion work - French, Russian, Austrian, and even Prussian hussars can be made with these castings and a bit of green stuff). The hussars, lancers, and British heavy dragoons all wear overalls, as did most Napoleonic cavalry on campaign (the others wear visible riding boots). The Polish lancers can be used for a wide variety of uhlans/lancers, a type of cavalry which was found in many armies including the Russian, French, Prussian, and Austrian. The French dragoons can be used for some other nations as well (Wurttemburger cheveaux-legere wore a very similar uniform).
When you consider that Napoleonic heavy cavalry was generally fielded en masse - entire divisions and corps of cuirassiers and dragoons - you can see that having a cheap alternative for the French could be a very good thing! Wargamers do not often refight those episodes in battles featuring huge numbers of heavy cavalry, probably because cavalry are expensive and do not generally see a lot of use on the tabletop. But if you reduce the cost to something reasonable, and are willing to put some time into it, there is no reason why you can't do some of these epic actions (think of the Great Redout at Borodino - you have at least two divisions of French cuirassiers, plus the Polish ones wearing the same uniform...)
If you are good with doing customizations to figures - especially head-swaps - you can make a lot of useful figures with this collection of molds. Having a tube of green stuff handy is important, especially for adding plumes and equipment. Another good trick is that - while figures are still warm from the mold, depending on your casting alloy - you can use pliers to bend arms. The officer figures from the Austerlitz line can easily become standard bearers, and a bit of variety can be added to the cavalry molds (including the creation of standard bearers, of course).
Just to give you an example: if I wanted to raise a force for the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, I would need a lot of infantry in czapkas and a lot of uhlans. OK - I have the uhlans covered with the existing molds, but what about the infantry? If I am willing to do a lot of head-swaps, production-line style, then I can use the uhlan heads (from the Polish lancers) on some infantry bodies from one of the Austerlitz molds. In 1807 there were 12 regiments of Polish infantry and (I think) 6 regiments of uhlans. When I decide to refight Raszyn in 1809, then the molds will certainly pay for themselves! (Remember that you can reuse metal. Casting an entire uhlan just to get his head doesn't mean paying for the whole uhlan!)
With molds, the trick is that it only makes sense economically if you are going to do at least a couple of units of the same figure. My rule of thumb works like this: the price of a Prince August mold is about ten times the cost of a pre-cast wargames figure (for cavalry, where you will need a second and maybe third mold, and the castings use more metal, the same proportion generally holds because the pre-cast figures are a lot more expensive). At the same time, the price of metal is generally a quarter of the price of an already-cast figure.
What it means is this: if I cast 10 figures, they are more expensive than if I buy them pre-cast (i.e., it costs me $2.50 per infantry figure, including the cost of the mold). If I cast 20 figures, they are cheaper than pre-cast, but not a lot (i.e., $1.25 per foot figure). If I cast 50 figures, I am starting to see some real savings (i.e., $.90 per infantry figure). If I cast a hundred figures, then I am looking at a cheaper price yet ($.70 per infantry figure).
The price of casting metal is pretty variable - it changes all the time. But this affects the cost of metal wargaming miniatures, too, so they tend to stay in synch.
They key to this equation is not only the quantity of figures you need, but also the price you are paying for casting metal. If you are willing to buy the cheaper alloys in bulk online, then you can save even more money than this. If you buy lead-free pewter from Prince August, the prices per figure will be considerably higher. (The calculations here assume each foot figure uses $.50 worth of metal. This is a pretty conservative estimate - if you get high-lead-content bullet-casting alloys on Amazon, for example, I would expect to pay about $5.00 per pound of metal, and cast about 20 figures from it. That comes to about $.25 a figure for metal.)
In the end, you cannot really field an entire Napoleonic army from the Prince August molds alone, and the units you do produce will be perhaps less spectacular than more expensive pre-cast figures with more exciting poses. What you can do, however, is produce large numbers of reasonable figures to bulk your armies out at a fraction of the cost of normal metal figures. You can save yourself a lot of money.
My Napoleonic armies will never match the beauty of the ones in the glossy wargaming magazines - that was and remains a simple fact, and was always going to be the case in any event. But - mixed with some nicer figures purchased commercially - I can game with large armies of 25mm/28mm figures without breaking the bank. And when you have a few hundred of these figures on the table, the simple spectacle of it inspires awe, even if the figures aren't the most animated. For people who have more spare time than cash, using the Prince August molds to raise larger 25mm wargaming armies can be an option to consider.