|Plastic figures on a whiteboard map|
Of course, miniatures do have a downside; not only are they an added expense but they are another thing for a game-master to keep track of (they can also be an unwanted distraction for some undisciplined players). I personally believe the advantages of using miniatures more than balance out the potential for distraction, and as for cost, even an army of undead does not necessarily have to challenge even the most modest of budgets. Below I offer a handful of inexpensive alternatives.
|Using coins as tokens on a vinyl mat|
|Paper tokens played on a whiteboard map|
Finally, you can purchase small bags of plastic miniatures from most gaming stores. I personally like to use the figurines from the Zombies!!! games as these have both monsters and heroes but there are many alternatives you can find. Barring that, cheap plastic Army Men toy soldiers can take the same role; just use different colors to represent the different factions (for instance, green soldiers for zombies and tan for the Player Characters).
The primary purpose of miniatures is to help players better envision how they are positioned with regard to each other and any monsters. As such, neither game mats nor boards are required. A game mat with a pre-printed hex grid can be useful to help determine the distance between the various creatures, but many Game Masters find they can manage without this sort of aid. I personally like to use an dry-erase whiteboard so I can quickly sketch any nearby landmarks such as buildings, vehicles or vegetation. Vinyl mats are available for about $30 dollars, either from your favorite online retailer or your local gamestore; dry-erase boards can be had for anywhere from $10 to $50, depending on the size, from any office supply store.