What Matters In Wargame Reviews: A Checklist

As a preparation for my first real ‘serious’ game review I try to collate a topic list with subjects that the reviewer has to cover. A checklist. Even Han Solo and Chewbacca use checklists in the movies, so why not a simple miniature wargamer? I based this preliminary list on the writings of Nikolas Lloyd, useful comments in a discussion thread on Lead Adventure and the Deltavector game design blogs. This checklist is a follow-up to my earlier blog about do’s/don’ts.

  1. Short hard facts.
    • How many players, time to play a standard game, costs, scale, time needed to prepare a game, IGOUGO/other activation system, # miniatures needed, price of the core game, type: is it a points-based-list building-balanced tournament game or casual game
  2. Scale of the game:
    • skirmish: individual fights with single miniatures, small squads tactical: combined arms, different unit types working together, divisions with support, battlegroupsgrand tactical: larger battles with brigades, or several brigades working together.
  3. A brief description of the game.
    • With brief I mean only an overview. A very detailed description of game mechanics is often boring and just a copypaste of the rules. It can be useful to link to publisher, a how-to-play-video or other detailed blog about the game rules.
  4. Layout and background
    • Some rulebooks are gorgeous coffee table books, others are PDFs in a very simple style. I like it if the book gives a brief historical and military background – or a convincing fictional background, if fantasy/SF. Is the layout good value for money?
  5. Completeness of the book. Does it have scenarios and army lists? The best sets of rules have some mechanism for creating scenarios and include army lists. For other systems supplemental books are a neccessity. I don’t like that really.
  6. What is the goal of the game designer?
    • An important point. If the designer wants fastplay, the design should be judged for (not) attaining this goal. For example, many old rulesets are trivially criticised because they were too complex, too many tables, etc. Old designs however stressed historical realism and had a more granular approach than modern games. So the reviewer’s question is: is/was the design ‘historical’? The goal of GW, as my second example, is to sell miniatures. So AoS should not subjectively be reviewed as ‘the inferior replacement of the WHFB-game that I as older gamer liked so much’ but as a marketing tool to reach a younger age group in a challenging market. Personal opinions about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ games matter very much, but are not leading.
  7. Resource management system
    • Some wargames have a resource management system. The Conan miniature boardgame and the Fast Play Grande Armee Sam Mustafa rules have a dice pool that can be used to reroll or influence results. The DBA pip system is in fact a limited resource of commands that can be given to battlegroups. In Maurice and Dropzone Commander, the players draw and discard cards.
  8. Setup
    • Some games allow you to make choices before playing, like dropoff-points (Chain of Command) or a mini-campaign game (Blücher). Others rules just suggest to make groups within 6 inch /15 cm of your table edge. Setup scenario’s can allow or force choices.
  9. Initiative/momentum
    • How can a player force the other player to act or withdraw? Chess, the ultimate diceless wargame, is a positional combination game. A move can force a countermove and you can take and keep the initiative. Although we are talking dice, good tactical wargames should have a system to put and maintain pressure on the opponent and force him to countermove. DBA and Blücher for example use a zone of control. Some games dice for initiative and the winner can choose to play first or last.
  10. Speed of the game
    • A wargame must move reasonably quickly. Modern gamers often have an afternoon for a game. So a game should be playable in 2-3 hrs. A more complicated set of rules should have ways of combining the efforts of many troops, and of requiring some to run away. Related is the subject of unit management. A unit could be a single miniature, a squad, or a larger battlegroup/corps. Players can control about 5-12 units per turn, as a rule of thumb. If the rules allow the player to micromanage subunits, the game might slow down – or the game might feel unrealistic, the godlike CiC controlling every single sniper before his multiple divisions encircle a city. A turn shouldn’t take too long and have opportunities to be interrupted. Again, this should be regarded with the game as a whole in mind. A game mechanic can work quite well for a skirmish or a medium-sized battle, but when it comes to large battles, it might be slow due to the number or units that have to be moved or the number or dice that have to be rolled. Might be boring if you have to wait 15 minutes or more before you can do something.
  11. Dice mechanics/game mechanics
    • I don’t mean to make every review a complex essay about the dice statistics and the tables. But a reviewer should pay attention to the dice mechanics used and the effect on the game. Buckets of dice affects a game differently than a quick combat results table.What is the move-shoot-ratio? A game where you shoot 4 x further than you shoot (m1:4s) tends to favour shooting (unless you make the weapon fire deliberately inaccurate or weak); a game where move 4 x further than you shoot (m4:1s) tends to make movement and manueuver all-important.  What’s the effect on the game you play? And is it realistic for the period?Lethality is a factor. How quickly can you hurt your opponent’s unit? If you hit on a D6 4+ and damage on a second 4+ ‘to wound’ roll then the lethality is 50%x50%= 25%. Cover can decrease the chance to damage. In comparison, for Infinity cover is a lot more important than for Lord of the Rings. Do you like that because in SF highpowered long distance rifles should be more important than in melee-centered fantasy combat? Again, move-shoot-ratio plays a role. If a long-distance-weapon is very mobile and very lethal, it might change the balance of the game.Relative unit strength. How strong is elite compared to recruits? Is the quality difference reflected in strength or in a morale value? Consistency of the mechanics. How many different dice/game mechanics are used? Is is one clear procedure, or with many different tables, different interlinked dice rolls with sometimes 1, sometimes buckets of dice?
    • Does the game have/allow deathstar units? A ‘deathstar‘ is a unit that comes at a huge points cost, but with near invulnerability and massive damage output and some sort of exploitable weakness (so that it can be countered). Insanely powerful units with huge blast weapons add too much randomness: the deathstar will destroy all opposing units independent of tactics used, or it will be destroyed and, because it is the main and overpowered part of the army, the battle is lost instantly. In general the deathstar criterium is part of the broad question ‘is the game balanced’. That’s a hard question to answer, and maybe not fair, the mythical French guard was in real life harder to beat than other units, and so was the mythical Königstiger tank. If a game is obviously balanced badly, a reviewer should mention that, in particular if the stated goal of the designer is to make a balanced ‘tournament game’.
  12. Uncertainty
    • Wargame generals tend to act like the 1000ft general, they see all units and know all their stats. That works in chess, but a) if you somehow try to emulate armed warfare, surprise is paramount b) as you see in Stratego uncertainty can make a game very interesting.
  13. Luck/strategy balance.
    • Wargames are not much fun if they involve decisions which are too easy or too rare. To continue to be interesting, the game should require the player to make decisions, and these should be difficult ones.
  14. Easy to learn, hard to master
    • That means that the same goal can be reached in different ways, with different tactics.
  15. Is the game engine suitable to the period?
    • Players should be encouraged by the rules to use historical tactics, but not forced to. Stupid tactics should be penalized.
  16. How’s the quickref sheet?
    • Did the author summarise the key rules on a few sheets, and is it a good summary?
  17. Clarity
    • Are the rules clearly structured and worded, unambigous, does the book give enough examples of play which properly illustrate how the game works?
  18. Support
    • Does the author, publisher or a community support the rulebook? Can I ask questions about the rules?

I’m thinking about standardized situations to playtest a game, like attacking a high point, attacking with superior numbers, attacking with elite or attacking by surprise. I must work that out.

Dropzone RCQ In Retrospect: The Overcomplication Trap

As the few regular followers of my blog might have noticed my current main project is 10mm scifi, more exactly 10mm Dropzone Commander. The basic game had good reviews in the starting years (between 2012-2015), the sculpts are lovely and the price OK, thanks to the low pound. Affordable fun. Sooner or later I will publish a detailed comparative review of the game, as part of my grand ambition to test several similar wargames and decide what I like most.

I bought for just 50 euro the 2017 version 1.1 two-player box (scenery, two armies, shiny rulebook, I can recommend it). I also bought the 2 supplements, the Reconquest I&II books, as part of the compendium. I will reserve my final judgment until I have played a few grand battles, but as a late convert I question the direction the game has taken.

My PHR army, against DZC’s cardboard scenery.

The core DZC game is a quite simple game, fastplay rock-paper-scissors with quick maneuvering, more or less. Quick dropships with slow infantry grab victory points. AA units can shoot at the dropships but not at infantry or grab points. Armour can shoot at AA and infantry but not grab victory points.

Game engine is the well-known 40K/epic engine. Roll to hit: roll to wound: roll for save: subtract damage. You might not like 40K but a simple standard and popular format is useful for fastplay. That I like. The original game has a simple alternate activation system, with a flexible shoot-move or move-shoot sequence that can sometimes be interrupted by your opponent’s reaction shooting. I played it yesterday and I had fun.

The four starting factions have strong national characteristics. Human UCM are the all rounders, certain defensive modifiers; alien Scourge are quick attackers; Cyborg PHR are slow, heavy bombarders; the vulnerable Shaltari move like a stealthy, weak but dangerous ‘swarm’.

I suppose the designer’s original idea was to make a fastplay tournament game to fill the gap left behind by OOP Epic Armageddon and Battlefleet Gothic. His former employer Spartan Games made the – then successful -Firestorm Armada-BFG clone. Dropzone Commander was a hit indeed and at a certain point the Hawk Studio had 9 staff members.

But wargames need regular updates. Otherwise the clients lose interest and move to other systems. The wargame market is a challenging market. So inevitably and like so many other studio’s Hawk published supplements with extra units, characters, and armies and background. I like the books and the units, but what about the evolution of the game?

In the first Reconquest RCQ-1 supplement Hawk introduced the Resistance: overarmored, undergunned, an irregular rebel force with strong infantry. I read comparisons with the 40K Orks. For a collectible miniatures game this is the way to go: introduce more factions, more units and more special rules to support the new factions and units, and give more opportunities for listbuilding. Ask Games Workshop.

RCQ-1 gave exceptions to the standard game engine. Transition units can change into a different form (think Transformers) and have extra statlines. The rules introduced a new platoon type, a new defensive modifier ‘evasion’ for the Resistance and 6 new cannons.

UCM for example received a swarm weapon, ‘Focus Fire’, with a special procedure with several modifiers to get maximum impact. The rules:

“One or more hits may be discarded, and then the Focus Fire value (e.g. Focus-4) of each discarded hit may be added to the Energy (E) value of another hit (up to a maximum of E-13).”

The rule as such is clear. In-game it means that a player with this weapon must modify the result and consult a special table after rolling as an exception to the core rules. It complicates the original rules.

RCQ-2 introduced weather, random events, animals as non-playing characters to the game and an extra NPC Fauna phase. And again new units – new commanders and heavier units, with more weapons, longer ranges and more damage points. Below the stat sheet of the DZC Apex, a dragon freeroaming the tabletop.

In short: a player has 8 possible modifications, including evasion (extra roll) and regeneration (extra roll) and two alternate weapons. When activated, the players roll first which player will activate this miniature (extra roll).

From Christian Busch blog

The Apex miniature is OOP. Nice to have, lovely sculpt. Probably an experiment, a fun project or a show creature, not an obligatory buy. However for me the DZC Apex is a symbol for the direction the game has taken: needless complexity, choices, extra rolls, extra tables, for extra miniatures.

Besides, the choice to give DZC strong commanders big guns, and units a more diverse range of weapons, might change the nature of the game. Instead of a quick 6-turn rock-paper-scissors game Dropzone becomes more like Battletech or Adeptus Titanicus, fight the big Godzilla’s and take them down. Faction strengths and weaknesses are watered down.

The new PHR giant robot

I can’t judge the BfE 2.0 rules. Didn’t buy it. They add a lot of chrome, 200 pages background/alternate history, integrating FAQs and errata. Well, that’s nice. It also adds rules for Behemoths – these are fearsome giant Godzillas for every race. I expect that this will be the start for a new arms race = new Dropzone miniature range, because bigger monsters need bigger warriors to counter. It might be the way to survival, but it’s also a trap.

So I have sincere doubts about the update. In comparison, the generic Dirtside II rules are free and have been roughly the same since 1993. The generic Quadrant 13 ruleset was published in 2012 and not updated. It’s a SciFi adaptation of the IABSM engine. Future War Commander (2008) is an adaptation or Warmaster and hasn’t seen updates since then. Don’t fix what’s not broken.

10mm grand tactical SF is a niche within the SF wargames hobby which is a niche within the niche tabletop wargames hobby. The DZC models are gorgeous, better than 6mm SF, cheaper than 15mm metal SF and a bargain compared to 240-euro 8mm Adeptus Titanicus. I will continue to buy them.

But the updated rules, for me as a casual player, no tournament visitor? DZC 1.1. is perfect. What’s wrong with small-scale rock-paper-scissors?

Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Do’s & Don’ts

Life is hard. I recently blogged about the Little Wars TV-review methodology, and pointed to apparent mistakes in their rating system. Although I praised the show, I really love their intelligent chat, a few commenters on facebook tore me to pieces. I was writing bullshit. How dare I? Clickbait! Etc. Well – that’s Facebook dynamics.

But I made a promise in my blog: to devise a review system and write one or more reviews that are logical, sharp, honest (objective is not the word) and informative. Here are my first thoughts, after consulting BGG and other sources.

Do’s and don’ts

1) The review should make comparisons. Why is Chain of Command better or worse than Bolt Action? A reviewer must play several games before reviewing – I set the bar at five at least. Too many reviewers just open the box and write how they like their new toys . They are very happy to share their positive opinion of a new system they bought, or give a general impression after just one game.

2) The review should be totally independent. Several bloggers that I follow receive a game for free from the publisher. They are fair and disclose that. However, those reviews still risk being subconsciously too positive (after all, it’s a gift), focusing on first impressions and whats-in-the-box-articles. Often these blogs lack price and system comparisons. I will pay for games myself, with my own hard-earned money. Or borrow the rules and test them thoroughly.

3) The reviewer should play and review the market leader. In SF for example, the market leader is 40K. That’s a truth that I hold self evident. Thus, not all SF games are created equal. 40K is in many aspects the benchmark of the SF-genre. Is any other scifi-game that I want to review in comparison faster to learn than 40K? How is the art compared to GW art? What’s the price of the model? Game mechanics?

Ditto with Flames of War – Flames of War might be good, or bad, but only in comparison with lesser known games like Spearhead, and not “because I read in many blogs about the car park rules and that Germans always win”.

4) Don’t review only the games that you like. Reviews are personal opinions. I might not like game X because it’s simple IGOUGO. I might like game Y because it isn’t. Readers of the review should know my taste, the anchors that I use. The games that I review negatively are such anchors. A good review contains links to similar (own) reviews.

5) A review should be well-researched. Not only my own opinion matters, but also the opinion of others. A quality review links and mentions how blogger X and Y rated the game, and why, and why I think the same or different.

6) Mechanics, in particular dice mechanics, should be discussed in the blog. I don’t mean to say that all reviews should contain a ‘full chapter’ about boring dice statistics. But if a certain mechanic results in a lot of dice rolling without much effect, then that should be mentioned.

For example: the popular Black Powder series has a Command Value test with two dice. Researching dice statistics with two dice, I discovered that the outcomes are not equally spread. So the question rises: is this procedure, played this way, a ‘good’ procedure?

7) The reviewer should bear in mind what the goal of the design/ designer is. The GW games were from the moment of creation a marketing tool to sell more fantasy miniatures to hobbyists. 40K and WHFB/AoS are collectible miniature games: every month more miniatures with more special powers are added that you need to collect to remain competitive in the miniature tournament scene. Same with X-Wing. Same with Warmachine. Same with the Collectible Card Game Magic the Gathering. Every few years the rules need a reboot to counter minmaxing and to clean up the mess with all the special rules and powers created for the earlier miniature waves.

Many reviewers blame companies for this policy, but that’s how capitalism works. So don’t review Age of Sigmar badly solely because it replaced the WHFB universe. Check if it attains it’s desired goal, simple fastplay in a fantasy world where there is only war. Don’t blame Warmaster/Black Powder-influenced rulesets for not being able to move your wing. The designers believe that this mechanic reflects friction and miscommunication in battles. Does this design exaggerates historicial friction? That’s the only relevant question when reviewing. Same with target group: if a game is designed for advanced wargamers, the more snobbish ones, then don’t blame the rules for not being fastplay.

8) The reviewer should abstain from simple rating systems, 1-10, three or five stars etc. Commercial games are often average to good, but maybe not my taste. I think all rating systems simplify the small difference between average, above average and ‘quite good’ too much. The LWTV-vlogs with their ratings clearly suffer that problem. Besides, I believe that thorough rule reviews should be written, not vod- or podcasted, that’s superficial chat – always. Video is about pictures, not about depth.

9) A thorough review should be balanced and based on many aspects of the game, not on a few defining ones. Often a game is rated as ‘good’ by bloggers/vloggers because it’s a boxed set with beautiful figures, or the rules are reviewed positively because reviewer regards them as innovative. I have doubts about that approach.

Try to compare, for example, David Ensteness’ Et Sans Resultat! and Sam Mustafa’s Blücher, both corps level Napoleonic games. I play Blücher and it’s an excellent game, concise, not too expensive. ESR (that I will try at some point) is said to be slower and more expensive, but – author Ensteness is playing in a different league. Mustafa joyfully writes a new ruleset every two years, sold as cheap PDFs. Ensteness is Flames of Warring Napoleonics: one period, and he’s marketing a full package including 10mm figures, battlepacks, relatively expensive but well-researched illustrated supplements, and scenery.

So what is better? Mustafa sells a relatively complete ruleset with rules for pick-up campaigns and pick-up battles. Ensteness sells beautiful books with detailed historical orders of battle, uniform painting guides included.

Same with Ancients. DBA was back in the nineties a very innovative system. What is better: fastplay tournament DBA in formal English with very simple illustrations, or the nicely illustrated and well-written hardcover Hail Caesar book made by and published for beer-and-pretzel-gamers?

10) A thorough reviewer compares games with the help of a topic list and standard situations., like, but not limited to, attacking a hill, defending against superior numbers, crossing difficult terrain while charging, attack from behind, etc. The Heretical Gaming blogger played the same Mons Graupius battle with three different rulesets. That’s what’s I call quality.

I still have to devise the topic list. Clarity of the rules of course, but also the consistency of the dice mechanics.

I know it sounds ambitious. I’m a lawyer IRL, and some of my concepts are derived from my law background – what’s the goal of the law, what do other lawyers think, is it an effective rule? I might be forced to compare a few more rulebooks than my usual range and play many more games than just two if I follow my own review rules. Well, Brutus says I am ambitious – and Brutus is an honourable man.

I just hope that I will live long and prosper!

Earlier thoughts in my ongoing review project: Part I here, part II here, part III here, part IV here.

I Finished A Self Portrait!

I visited Paris during my summer holiday and found a 30mm 9-euro bust that could have been a mirror image of my masculine facial features.

Incredible. Everywhere. How did France know that I would visit Paris? They even had a big tomb for me, already! I hope they will not mistake me for that mediocre Corsican general who lost the sole battle he had to win.

Anyway, couldn’t resist speedpainting the souvenir – they tell me I’m a wargamer. A nice trophy for a club event or tournament.

I was even portrayed with my horse! Which will be a next project.

What LittleWarsTV is doing WRONG

I love the new vlog Little Wars TV. Compared to many other vlogs they’re doing most things right. They’re – apparently – independent; experienced; entertaining; and interested in history. Beasts Of War, now On TableTop, is totally the opposite: a marketing channel for kickstarters and the games industry, all reviews are positive, all vlogs are advertorials. However LWTV’s reviews are wrong.

Again, most aspects of LWTV reviews are quite right. The games they have reviewed are peer reviewed; they play a wargame more than once, with different players; they use a weighted rating system; and they give arguments for their opinions. Still their reviews lack structure and comparison. ‘Just being better’ than others is not good enough, not good enough is not right, not right is wrong. Sorry, my friends.

More precisely, they have broad categories, presentation, playability, mechanics, historical flavour and support, that they rate 1-10. Check their methodology, here

  • presentation is: is it looking good? – 10%
  • playability is: is it easy to learn, how few miniatures do you need, can you play it within 2-3 hours, are the rules clear? – 30%
  • mechanics is: are the mechanics innovative and not (too) random – 30%
  • historical flavour: are the tactics in line with the period: does it play as you expect: are the tactics well-researched? – 20%
  • is the rulesystem supported by a community and/or by the authors/company? Is the support free? – 10%

LWTV reviewed Chain of Command, Force on Force, Combat Patrol and Disposable Heroes II, all platoon level modern games. I wondered.

  • Why is the special command & control system of CoC and the randomized movement worse than the IGOUGO system and reaction system of FoF?
  • Why does FoF get very high marks for the hard-cover book, while the hard-cover is out of print? Why on the other hand is the presentation score of Disposable Heroes negatively influenced because of the fact that one of the reviewers just doesn’t like hardcover?
  • The reviewers complained that for FoF they had to consult a lot of rules over and over again, that the game lasted quite long and that some rules are very granular. Why is it playable?
  • Why is Combat Patrol Steves most favorite WW2 game, while he is jus as positive about FoF? And why is DH2 also his most favorite WW2 game?
  • Is the FoF system with different dice (beat a value with d4-d6-d8-d10-d12) superior to CoC D6-system with modifiers or Combat Patrols card drawing system? Is Combat Patrol innovative or just WW2-Magic the Gathering?
  • How often did the club play FoF? The vlodcast says twice a year, how many games did the reviewers play?
  • If innovation is influencing playability and mechanics, shouldn’t it be a separate category?
  • historical flavour is sometimes tactics, sometimes a ‘feel’, sometimes ‘the (limited) ability to coordinate your troops and sometimes a special mechanic. But then it should be a sub-part of mechanics, isn’t it?
  • Why is the Combat Patrol’s very mediocre website rated as good? Because the designer is a friendly guy trying hard?

In the end, the aggregated scores for the 4 games are:

  • CoC 69 (give it a try)
  • Disposable Heroes (written by one of the club members) 74 (highly recommended)
  • Force on Force 77 (highly recommended)
  • Combat Patron (70, highly recommended)

But the deviation is quite high. CoC is reviewed by 6 gamers and scores between 44 and 100. Disposable Heroes 2 is reviewed by just 3 gamers, scores 69, 70 and 84. The high 77 rating is too much influenced by reviewer Josh.

LWTV accentuates”innovation” but doesn’t say a word about the dice statistics and how they influence the game. Or the scale conversion. In many WW2 games the ranges are skewed to adjust them to the standard 6×4 table. Historically that’s nonsense. Is skewing a plus to playability? Or is it negative in the historical flavour category?

As I see it, the ‘methodology’ is more a topic list with talking points in a logical order. I like the intelligent chat in the LWTV-vodcast about historical wargames and after each review I have a short impression of the game.

For a vodcast, the show is doing fine. I like how they are promoting the lesser known, original games and how this vodcast promotes the fun of the historical miniatures hobby. Oldfashioned roll to hit, roll to wound, roll for morale-games might however be more playable and better just because they follow the standard dice mechanics of wargaming..

So for serious reviews I think I prefer written blogs, like for example Deltavector that does a very good job. I’m exploring how to write an informative, professional wargame review, The LWTV-list is not bad but I hope to do it better myself, some day.

LED-Scenery For My Wargame Table: Is This It?

The poet Howard Nemerov once wrote the beautiful poem “A Life’

Innocence? 
In a sense. 
In no sense! 

Was that it
Was that it? 
Was that it? 

That was it. 

I remembered this poem when busy with my newest toy for my toy soldiers table, the integrated wargame buildings, LED-lighted, from Wargame Model Mods. From the range I bought the relatively cheap ‘object pack’. Three different objects. I expected a lot. Construction is easy.

When finished I was… disappointed. Was that it? Was that it? Was that it? It’s not bad, but … not a grandiose light effect that illuminates my table just like the Eiffel Tower illuminates Paris. I don’t know what it is. My taste? The design? The green colour of the LEDS?

I glued paper scenery pics on the buildings to improve the look. And I added foamboard. That was it.

In the dark and as a trio, the effect is ok, see the pic on top of this blog. In daylight the final result disappointed me.

As you can see I modded the two objects above because they didn’t convince me, but they remained ‘desk lights’. Boxes. Flat boring stapled matchboxes with green led-lights. Even after modding they didn’t look ‘right’. I tried several different colours, glued panels, added paper prints, alien plants. It didn’t help.

The only object that looked fine was object 3, a low building with dividers.

So I think it must be the designs of the objects: the tower and the matchbox with fins are very simple, in fact too simple designs. Maybe WMM’s first try. For comparison, aTTcombat lasercut 10mm skyscraper, below.

Other (later designed?) Wargame Model Mods-buildings are much better detailed.

And WMM’s recent LED-lighted game-tiles, for example, look fine, to be honest. I’m seriously considering buying a few.

Verdict

I think I will use two of the LED-lights in TT-combat buildings and only keep the low building.

Was that it?

That was it.

“I’m new in miniature wargaming; which ruleset/scale should I buy?”

A Wargamer’s Newbie Survival Guide

O no. Not again.

The problem is not that you’re a newbie, the problem is that when you start a facebook thread asking “I’m new in miniature wargaming, which ruleset/scale should I buy?” helpful veteran wargamers overwhelm you with suggestions. Try Black Powder! No, try Blücher! DBA in 15mm is FAN-TAS-TIC! And do you know quickplay Kings of War?

Soon, you cannot see the wood for the trees. So, here’s my simple step-by-step guide. A survival guide in reaction to the x-tiest Facebook or TMP-forum thread going nowhere.

1) It’s all about fun, not rules

First: welcome! Welcome in the miniature wargame scene! Wargaming is big fun, partly because of the hobby thing, the zen of painting small toy soldiers, partly because you have fun with other guys, with gaming, beer and banter. That automatically means that the ruleset you play is less important. The scale is unimportant, too. This is (to quote founding father Donald Featherstone) “a pastime – a hobby for played for enjoyment and amusement with a little leavening of brainpower as in chess, perhaps”. Not a pseudo-science with ‘best’ rules, or ‘best scales’.

It’s just like other games. Is bridge better than poker or chess? Difficult to say. Is computer bridge or solo poker or computer chess bigger fun than a game against real players in a local pub? (if you answer ‘yes’, on that last question, stop reading. Go back playing Total War. Grow up).

So, visit a club or a store. Find friends who you like to play with. Let others introduce you in the hobby. Start a school club or university club. Just buying rules and lot of lead is not rewarding. Social interaction with others, that’s what will reward you.

2) Ask yourself: which era do I like?

For some reason I like Napoleonics. Heroism, colourful uniforms, big battles. However, it’s not the only consideration. If my opponents would only play WW2, I would consider WW2 wargaming, and if they play ancients, an Ancient army would be my choice. Again, having an opponent is more important than having lots of lead in boxes in a shed in your backyard.

3) Think about Games Workshop games

Many ‘veteran’ gamers are ‘against’ Games Workshop because they blatantly ‘exploit’ the hobby and are incredibly expensive. Well… that’s sort of… true. GW is a company with chain of toy stores that commercially publishes rule books and promotes gaming to make you buy their own brand of SF- and fantasy miniatures and paints. Their goal is to make money. But they have a well thought-out concept. The shop crew will introduce you in the hobby, they have in-store gaming tables, good internet support, rules are simple, shop assistants will teach you these rules to make you an accomplice and possible opponents hang around in the store.

I’m too old to play with Space Marines or Orks against a 14-year old lad or a 20-year old 40K Win At All Costs-tournament player, but that’s more a generation thing than a GW antipathy. O, yes, I dislike most space and fantasy wargaming these days but I did a lot of fantasy role play with like-minded friends when I was 20. Good fun it was.

4) Think about X-Wing

I played it only once or twice, but for newbies, the game is great.

  • it’s a simple game, fastplay rules
  • it’s a miniature game with prepainted miniatures that you can play against 1 opponent on your kitchen table or a pub in less than an hour. Just like chess you will quickly find opponents
  • the Star Wars movie theme is nice, and for many game-minded people more inspiring than the real life battles of Alesia, Waterloo or The Bulge. Buy a box online and start playing.

5) Think about a board game with miniatures

In particular: dungeon crawlers. Dungeon crawlers have simple rules, standard scenario’s and unpainted miniatures. Try, for example, Star Wars Imperial Assault, Dungeon Saga, Descent or Conan. Excellent for a night with friends and beer and pretzels. In the meantime you can try out painting 28mm mini’s. See if you like it. Or hate it.

Other options: Command & Colours, a board wargame with wooden blocks (which can be replaced by miniatures): Memoir ’44, a WW2 quickplay battlefield board game with miniatures, Axis & Allies, a ‘light’ board wargame with miniatures, 2 or more players, much better than Risk.

6) Or think about a wargame with cards

Heroes of Normandie for example is a 1hr-WW2 boardgame with large card counters, and simple game mechanics that are very wargamish. If you like HoN you might like a miniature wargame as well. Besides, you can play HoN against your uncle, a good friend or bring it to a local boardgame club. And if you like the game and want to try miniature painting: the game can be played with 15mm miniatures on the cards as well

Blücher is a traditional Napoleonic wargame with the stats printed on playing cards. Order the cards and try the game on a green table cloth. If you like the gameplay and found an opponent, THEN buy miniatures. Check this blog.

7) How many miniatures do you want to paint? How much time do you have?

I truly enjoy large scale battles, but these battles are played with 300-600 15mm miniatures, or 1600 or more in 6mm. Quite an investment in time and money. I like painting more than watching television, so I have the time. If I had less time, I would consider the popular skirmish miniature games that you play with 30-50 28mm models and a few buildings on a table. The larger your battles are, the smaller the miniatures you buy. At least that’s how I see it. I play Renaissance and Ancients in 15mm, but Napoleonics and WW2 armored battles in 6mm. The large armies cost months to finish. I also painted a few 28mm WW2 platoons for skirmish games, a few evenings speedpainting and I was ready.

I never buy/paint just one side. Buy Orcs AND Dwarfs, Greeks AND Persians, French AND British, German AND Allied troops. Thus you can always invite anybody to play a game against you and test rules. Otherwise you’re dependent on that one and only single opponent.

8) Large or small scale? Single piece or multi-part? Boxed set or different vendors?

28mm is virtually the standard, so if you want opponents, a good choice of models and a simple paint job then buy 28mm. 28mm is more expensive than 20mm (1/72) plastics) but hardly anybody plays wargames with the soft plastic 1/72 Airfix models anymore.

Often 28mm hard plastic models are multi part: that involves glueing arms and heads or helmets to upper bodies and upper bodies to legs. Not too difficult. However, I would hate multi-part if I were a total newbie. I recommend the more expensive one piece white metal soldiers for skirmish games.

Also popular and good to start with is 15mm. I love 6mm, but I wouldn’t recommend it to a newbie who is just discovering a new pastime.

A boxed set can be a good investment. You get the rules, two opposing armies and scenery. If you don’t like it you sell the box for half the price.

9) What is your budget?

An important question which is somehow less important for the wargamers that I know. Anyway:

  • Every basic set (rules & two opposing armies), regardless of range, scale, era will cost you 75-100 pound/euro/dollar
  • Wargaming is never ‘cheap’. However, when you have the basic set, you can often buy extra models via kickstarters, ebay, bargains etc. 50-75ct per model is (anno 2018/2019) a very reasonable price
  • The bigger companies regularly update their rules and models to push you to buy more/other updated miniatures. Other rulesets are a short hype and are then followed by a new wargamer fashion. Next!
  • 1/72 (20mm) is cheap and has a good range, but is out of fashion

6mm is cheaper but you glue more on a base. For example a Baccus 6mm 4-fig strip is 36 eurocent. I glue 4 strips on a base = 1,14 . In fact about the same price as a single plastic 28mm model. 28mm cavalry and armor is much more expensive than their 6mm counterparts, but I game with many more bases in 6mm. So in the end it evens out.

10) Which miniature ruleset should I buy?

It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all.

But because you’re asking, I’ll give you an overview of the classics and some recommendable sets for newbies, not because I like them but with a rationale. Feel free to disagree.

  • in general: I was impressed by the 1hr wargames-book. Generic rules for all historic eras. Quickplay. Cheap. Generic scenarios included. For every possible scale, you can use 1/72 soft plastic or even use cards. Good start. Also playable as solo wargame (though less fun).
  • Ancients, medieval: sadly, good old DBA lost popularity, but the rules are as good and simple as chess. Fastplay. Army listst included in the book. Free scenario’s online. Many 15mm lead soldier companies sell boxed DBA-armies. About 50, one-piece, quick-to-paint 15mm miniatures per army (but good in other scales as well)
  • Medieval, 28mm: Lion Rampant is a very playable, light ruleset for 28mm skirmish (and other rulesets), 10 standard scenario’s included.
  • Renaissance: I can think of free rules. ‘For Parliament, King & Glory‘ or ‘Victory Without Quarter‘ – both free and quickplay. However, commercially available is The Pikeman’s Lament, a P&S adaptation of Lion Rampant, above, only 11 pound, simple skirmish, not too many miniatures, nice layout, excellent if you’re new to this hobby and this specific era.
  • Napoleonics: Sharp Practice, 28mm/15mm skirmish game, 40-60 miniatures per side. Large battles: Blücher, complete ruleset with army lists and campaigns. No need for miniatures. For different scales.
  • WW2: Bolt Action, skirmish, buy a starter set (be prepared to glue legs to bodies however): or a Flames of War 15mm starter set if you like larger battles. Both games have a large community of players and good support. Tank games: What A Tanker is a fastfun beer&pretzels game that can be played with 4-6 players and any tank on any scale. Good starter for those with old 1/72 tanks and some railway scenery in a box.
  • Fantasy and SF combat: although I value 15mm Hordes of the Things higher than Age of Sigmar and 40K, AoS and 40K have the unbeatable support of market leader GW. Recommendable other fun skirmish games: Dragon Rampant, Frostgrave, Songs of Blade and Heroes, Dropzone Commander.
  • Space Combat: X-Wing

What Not To Buy – As Newbie

  • Hail Caesar, Pike & Shotte, Black Powder 28mm. Too many models, a very large table needed. Not for newbies/starters
  • Kings of War Fantasy. Probably as good as Age of Sigmar, cheaper and more towards big battles. Starter boxes available. However, only buy this game if you have KoW-opponents and no GW shop nearby.
  • 9th Age. A fan version of 8th ed. Warhammer Fantasy Battles. Free. Tried and tested. Tournament/points rules. However, this fan community will probably whither away. Besides, very much a tournament game for veterans with a lot of models already.
  • Gates of Antares. Excellent game, Bolt Action in Space, but WH40K remains the market leader. Recommended if you want a diversion from Bolt Action or a more casual SF-game outside the grimdark GW scene. No problem to play it with GW models, btw.
  • Kings of War Historical. Fastplay fun mass battle rules. More ‘fantasy history’ than ‘historical wargaming’. Generic system with relatively big random factor. Good. Intended for bigger battles, and I regard that as a disadvantage for newbies. Try DBA in 15 or 28mm if you want a smaller, faster game, try Hail Caesar if you want something a little bit more specific, try Lion Rampant if you want a 28mm fun skirmish game.
  • A Rapid Fire Boxed set (although with pain in my heart). The boxed set is a great deal! The rules are simple and effective and I’m a big fan of their scenario books. However their hardplastic 20mm is incompatible with 1/72 AND incompatible with 25/28mm. FoW 15mm is then a better investment, try to buy the RF rules second hand however.