Now, one of the genuinely lovely aspects of tabletop gaming is the physicality. The board, the cards, the tokens, miniatures and dice. The arrangement and tactility of these elements is part of the joy of this game format. Just look at these examples of how the table transforms for us into the game with artwork, models and elements drawing your eye and emotion into the game:
Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition (D&D 4E) is an interesting game (keen to play) that brings tactical map-based combat and roleplaying together. As long as all the players (including the GM/s) are up for such a hybrid experience then it can be a wonderful thing. Bringing together the tabletop gaming systematic fun of combat and the sweeping heroic storyline that will grow around the party of singular individuals is a great premise for any game.
Does D&D 4E do these well is clearly open for debate, but one thing it does have is a lovely sense of the table. If people have ok maps, miniatures or other means of representing the various players on field of battle we have a concrete foundation for all the action and the flavour to tie onto. If everyone loves to hear "roll for initiative" then you are onto a great thing!
There seem to be 4 primary ways to represent the key characters on a D&D 4E battlefield, requiring investments of varying degrees.
Actual physical 3D miniatures like the D&D plastic ones or others from various games. This is the ultimate form, they can look simply wonderful.
Stand-up cardboard figures complete with inspiring artwork of friend and foe.
Have the artwork lying flat and you get tokens, hopefully still with wonderful artwork of course.
Many folk use all manner of other elements to represent things from dice to Lego to jelly babies.
Here are some good examples of just how nice the table can become in this format...
As for me, unless I could find a horde of DnD minis super cheap, I think I would probably go for the Pathfinder Pawns as they are kinda stand up and look impressive and I could make custom ones pretty easily.
Check out the Mighty Meeps post on such things as well...
ps. Hero Forge custom miniatures and their kin mark a new way forward for such things. I can see games allowing us to print out our own 3D minis in the future.