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Of Lead and Plastic: Tabletop Wargaming In 2018

Wargaming and miniatures games have got a pretty bad rep in the past for being dry, intense and hard to enjoy. However, if the stereotypes were ever true, they aren’t now. Whether you’re interested in recreating the Battle of Helm’s Deep or sending a few brave adventurers into a dungeon, there’s never been a better time to be into tabletop wargaming and the related hobbies of painting and converting miniatures.

Changes in Warhammer

Age of Sigmar (cover)For SFF fans, the biggest names in wargaming have traditionally been Games Workshop and Warhammer, in both its Fantasy Battle and Warhammer 40,000 forms. While engrossing and full of great models and interesting lore, these games have had a reputation for complex rules and high starting cost.

Back in 2015, GW replaced Fantasy Battle with Age of Sigmar. The background and gameplay were altered drastically, replacing the dark, Renaissance-inspired setting with a more fantastical, Warcraft-style background, and removing the reliance on large blocks of miniatures. The rules were simplified and, crucially, less models became needed to play. While some older fans (including me!) weren’t thrilled by the change in setting, the new playing style has breathed a fresh lease of life into the game.

Similarly, the 8th edition of Warhammer 40,000 includes slicker rules and less expensive options for play. Spin-off games such as Necromunda and Kill Team use smaller forces, and starter sets mean that it’s got less costly to get going.

But GW doesn’t have the stranglehold on the medium that it used to, and that’s a good thing for players looking for variety. In the last few years, we’ve seen the growth of companies like Privateer Press, whose steampunk fantasy wargames Warmachine and Hordes are particularly popular in the US, as well as small manufacturers of unusual alternative models. There are much more choices than there used to be.

Smaller Games

Scythe (cover)Over the last five years, board games have had something of a Renaissance. People seem to want something fun in a box that will last a couple of hours and won’t break the bank, and it’s only natural that the more complex and stylish strategy games, such as Scythe, blur into wargame territory. Fantasy Flight’s tremendously popular game X-Wing comes in such a box, and can be expanded with various add-ons, enabling players to have games at the size they prefer. Other games, such as Flying Frog’s “Cowboys vs Cthulhu” game, Shadows of Brimstone, or Cool Mini Or Not’s Zombicide, harken back to dungeon-crawls like Advanced Heroquest, but use different settings to the usual medieval fantasy. Many have expansion packs, so if you enjoyed the basic game, you can always buy an extra bit.

We’ve also seen the rise of skirmish games, where small forces clash instead of vast armies. Unsurprisingly, games can be played faster this way: skirmish games like Corvus Belli’s Infinity, Wyrd’s Malifaux or Osprey’s Frostgrave can use as few as five models per side, giving players the option to individualise each miniature. Many skirmish games allow you to fight campaigns, enhancing (and sometimes mangling!) your characters over a number of smaller battles. It’s becoming increasingly common for any large franchise to have its own spin-off tabletop game. Basically, whatever form of SFF you’re into, there’s probably a setting out there for you.

Diversity of Games

Tona Criid by fred rambaudThere are still no female space marines, but many settings now (finally) include feasible female characters in sensible outfits, and give players the option to customise their characters and represent themselves in-game as never before. It’s still not perfect, but companies seem to be cottoning on to the notion that gamers, especially younger ones, come from a wide range of backgrounds, and there’s money to be made appealing to as many of them as possible.

We’ve also seen an explosion of the variety of miniatures available and, I think, in the quality of sculpting thanks to new design processes. Different styles of painting have arisen, from the pristine work that wins the Golden Demon awards to the weird and retro creations of the Blanchitsu and Oldhammer groups.

So, where to start? Well, it depends what sort of thing you want. Most players used to start with either Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000, but the popularity and lower cost of boxed games mean that there are more ways into wargaming and tabletop gaming than ever before. Often it’s a matter of looking into your local gaming shops and asking around. Most large towns have a gaming club or two if you’re short of players. So, if you’re tempted to dust off your old models and get back to slaying things on the tabletop, there’s never been a better time to do it!

Title image by Milpic.

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One Comment

  1. Richard Marpole says:

    Good introduction to the topic and some interesting facts.
    Cheers for this.

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