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.