A while back I mentioned looking for a good introductory wargame for my brother. One of the biggest challenges when getting new people into the hobby is sticker shock. That is one of the reason why I like “skirmish games” with each side fielding only a handful of miniatures. Sure, you won’t be reenacting Blenheim or Helm’s Deep, but there’s plenty of action.
Second, that action doesn’t take five hours to play. I’ve got the deadly trifecta of life when it comes to wargaming: job, wife, and kids (whom are all more important, needless to say). That means that I need to squeeze my gaming into smaller bite-sizes of time. Most skirmish games last less than an hour, when not measuring set-up and take-down.
Third, I love terrain (obviously). And small skirmish games are best when the table is packed with ruins, buildings, etc. I’ve always been fascinated by a truly beautiful table, especially when compared to the dreaded football field of doom that is the norm.
I’ve got a little more time on my hand these days, and I’ve been reconsidering trying to get a regular “game night” at my house for small skirmish games (where I’d be able to run 2-3 tables at once). But first, I need to settle on a game, and with that in mind here is the first installment: the fantasy candidates.
I think fantasy has a leg up than science-fiction in this contest. There’s more interest in fantasy games amongst my friends, and a lot more games on the market. So here’s the rundown:
Mordheim Capsule: gangs of treasure hunters search for fame and fortune in a devastated city. Rulebook cost: free, on the internet. Warband cost: $30 at Chaosorc. Pros: many players already own enough Warhammer minis to make up a warband, and this game is one of the first fantasy skirmish games, making it the yardstick of the industry. Cons: not many, although losing guys from your warband in campaign play could be frustrating if you’ve spent hours painting the mini.
Warlord Capsule: fantasy races duke it out in the Istambul of the world. Rulebook Cost: $20. Warband cost: $32 at The War Store. Pros: this is Reaper’s move from providing high end, lost cost RPG minis to wargaming. The miniatures are probably the best out there. The rules are pretty solid, if a little complex. Cons: They don’t have a free rulebook like many other games, and the races aren’t exactly unique: elves, dwarfs, lizardmen, even “Chaos Spiky” evil humans. You could theoretically use Warlord minis in Mordheim. The warbands are also heavily focussed on “special characters.”
Chainmail Capsule: the precursor to D&D Miniatures Battles, which uses prepainted plastic minis. Chainmail minis are metal, and a lot more detailed, if less in scope. I bought a ton of these in 2006 when I was getting geared up for my D&D game. Rulebook cost: included in starter set. Warband cost: I own enough Chainmail minis to outfit several warbands, so these would be mostly loaners. Pro: as I said, I own enough to outfit the entire group. Cons: the game is out of print, so any others you might want would be hard (but not impossible) to come by. Rules are a little fluky, mostly in that they are trying to incorporate a lot of D&D into the mix.
Path to Glory Capsule: this bright flash-in-the-plan came out of Games Workshop as a fun “narrative game” where each player plays an aspiring Champion of Chaos slowly building up his horde by taking on other Champions, becoming more gifted by the Chaos gods and attracting more followers. Rulebook cost: the rules were offered free on the GW website at one point (and may still be buried there somewhere), but were also in a booklet in White Dwarf magazine. They were 6th Ed. compatible, but will probably work with 7th Ed. Warband cost: $30 speculative, since you really need odds and ends of Chaos minis like beastmen and Chaos Warriors, which are sold by the box these days, not individually. If I chose this one, I might see if people wanted to go in on a bunch of regiment boxes together. Pros: like Mordheim, it uses Warhammer miniatures, but not everyone has Chaos. It does have some need conversion opportunities, though, which appeals to the hobbyist in me. Cons: the rules are (reputedly) slightly broken to favor the uber-champions over the rank-and-file, and as I mentioned before, not everyone plays Chaos.
Hundred Kingdoms Warbands Capsule: strange ani-men battle because, well, they don’t like each other. I don’t know the backstory beyond that. Rulebook cost: free on the internet. Warbands: $28 on the Black Orc website, but I’ve seen them on the clearance table at the local gaming store. Pros: the miniatures are a real change of pace. 100 Kingdoms features ape-men, cat-men, bug-men, samurai, and carnival freaks, to name a few. Rules are pretty simple and tight as well. Cons: unless it is a really different RPG, the minis aren’t useful elsewhere, and the game might be losing traction in the market.
WarMachine Capsule: probably the #2 fantasy wargame out there. Powerful sorcerors lead magic-powered mechanical servitors and henchmen into battle on behalf of four different nations. Rulebook cost: the starter armies have a mini-version of the rules, otherwise $20. Warband cost: $40 from The War Store, on sale from $50. Pros: I own the rulebook and three starter armies (a very generous Christmas gift I got a few years ago). It is also wildly popular and has a celebrated ruleset. Cons: aside from what I already own, these game is on the expensive side of the spectrum, even if you get four very large metal minis in the starter army.
WarMachine Hordes Capsule: powerful sorcerors lead magic-powered monsters and henchmen into battle representing four mysterious cabals. Hordes is basically a re-make of the basic WarMachine under difference premises and slightly different rules, calling it WarMachine’s “Feral Twin”. Rulebook cost: $20 Warband Cost: $40 at the Warstore, down from $50. Pros: same as above, but I don’t own three armies this go ’round. Cons: again, same, plus the Hordes like any really “personable” armies that players can easily relate to; the choices are trolls, druids (the cutest of the lot), dragonspawn, and the inevitable spiky chaos guys.
Next time: the sci-fi contenders (what few there are)!