I never liked to use miniatures in my roleplaying games. I always thought they were the tools of tactical gamers who play Battletech and Warhammer for example. I was a roleplayer, not a figure pusher. If I used miniatures, my players would think more about where their figure was on the battlemat and not what was going on in their characters' heads.
After years and years of roleplaying combat however, I noticed something horrible. When fighting broke out in my stories, I was starting to think less about the scene and what was happening. The abstraction of combat started to get very dull for me. There is only so many times a character swings a sword or fires a gun before I start to think of them all as the same moment. It was no longer a tense situation for the characters or myself. Combat was a scene filler until I got back to the drama and not drama itself. I think my combats reflected this also. I saw myself saying dreaded phrases like, "ok, you hit, roll your damage" without considering what was happening in the story.
At some point I started running Deadlands: Reloaded, a game by Pinnacle Entertainment. The company produced paper miniatures for the game and I got the pdf.* I used them a little at the start of the campaign and more as the story progressed. I did not realize what was happening to me because of the miniatures however. My concept of the story and scene was getting a boost. This effect hit me at last game. The characters were fighting a large monster (Mojave Rattler for those in the know) and I could see what was happening through the little pieces of paper. At one point, the monster had two characters at the jaws of death (almost literally) and the characters fought for their lives with six-shooters and knives. Man was it cool. The interesting thing was that I could see it again. Looking at the minis (characters laying on top of the monster mini) I just kept thinking if this was in a movie it would look awesome. The minis kick started my brain into the scene and allowed it take the image to the next level. I could now see the character running for his life with the sweat on his face. His companion firing his rifle and the Huckster blasting the monster with magic became vivid in my mind. It was a great experience.
Using miniatures in a roleplaying game is not for everyone. It wasn't for me. I say try it however if you haven't. Paper minis are pretty cheap to try this out if you are short on cash. If you think your combats are becoming stale, I say try using minis and see if it doesn't kick start your imagination. And let me know what you think.
*I think it helps I didn't have to buy hundreds of dollars worth of plastic minis.