A Beginners Guide to Wargaming
Note: As with my other guides submitted here (at LaToya's suggestion) this was first published on eBay and can also be found on my hobby site www.drumandflag.com
Over the years I've often been asked by my customers about wargaming. Many hobbyists are into other related pastimes (ie modelling, painting, reenactment, militaria, collecting, military history, battlefield tours etc...) and are interested in wargaming but don't really know where to start. This guide is aimed at helping people in this situation. I will introduce some ideas and concepts but not explore them in any great detail as there is not room in a guide like this and there are myriad publications and websites to help with further research. My interest is both personal and professional as I enjoy wargaming as a hobby and I also run an eBay shop that sells toy soldiers and wargaming accessories: Drum & Flag
Last Updated: April 2008
* What is wargaming?
As with many things in life the answer to this question can vary widely depending on who you ask. Wargaming can mean different things to different people. For some wargaming involves using maps and wooden blocks, for others it is something they do on their PC (eg.Battleground), some may view a wargame as a bookshelf type boardgame (eg Avalon Hill) and for many wargaming concerns fighting table top battles with miniature figures. It is with this last definition that we shall concern ourselves with for the purposes of this guide.
If the definition of what constitutes a wargame is open to various interpretations then it may come as no surprise that the various different aspects of wargaming are also open to much debate and variance of opinion. This is because wargaming I guess is a fairly amorphous term and encompasses many different things unlike say Chess or Cards where there are pretty standard rules and agreed ways of proceeding. With wargaming there is no such uniformity as there is no one all pervasive set of rules or figures or scales or historical period etc...This may well be one of the attractions making the hobby the broad church that it is.
In terms of origins you could say chess with it's deep historical traditions is a possible source, more recently the military used Kriegspiel (literally "Wargame" in German) to help train officers. Early pioneers of tabletop games with model figures include Charles Grant and Donald Featherstone who's books are still worth seeking out from the library or second hand bookshops or eBay. Today it's still a niche hobby but a thriving one offering much - fun, education, a creative outlet, sociability and mental stimulus to name but a few attributes.
So hopefully having set the scene it's time to move on into a bit more detail. Before I do it's worth just saying that my philosophy is that wargaming is a hobby, it's for enjoyment and I do not believe there are right or wrong ways of doing things - it's what pleases you and makes you happy. I think this is worthing saying as some folk can get pretty heated about all manner of debates such as historical vs fantasy gaming, real vs what if scenarios, metal vs plastic figures, 28mm vs 15mm scales etc... So if you keep an open mind as you explore the hobby and take the high ground in your tabletop battles you probably won't go too far wrong and will maximise your enjoyment.
Having decided you are interested in wargaming you'll need to start making some choices to narrow down your horizons. One of the first will be what am I keen on in terms of an army or armies to build? Historical or Fantasy? If the former amongst the most popular are WW2, Napoleonic, Ancients and the American Civil War (unsurprisingly more so in the USA). The more popular the period the easier it will be to find opponents, research resources, rule sets, figures, scenery etc...But don't let this be a restraint as you name it and there are people gaming it.
If you lean towards fantasy there is more of a structured world prevalent here in the form of Games Workshop. GW are not everyones cup of tea but it could be argued they have done more for gaming than any other organisation. If you told a hobbyist 20 or 30 years ago that there would be a wargames shop on most major high streets in the UK (& in many overseas too) where enthusiasts can game, model and paint you would have been laughed at. But that's what has happened - next to your M&S, McDonalds and WH Smith is a Games Workshop. This proliferation does not appear to have stiffled too many other aspects of the hobby as witnessed by it's modern day diversity. It has also proved a boon for those like me who do not use GW rules but do find it interesting to read their magazine White Dwarf for inspiration and to use on occassion their hobby supplies etc...
GW's three main gaming systems are Warhammer (Fantasy), Warhammer 40k (Sci-Fi) and Lord of the Rings. There is little point me spending too much more time going down this route as if you think your path may lie with any of these you will find a world of information on the GW website Games-Workshop.com
Some popular rule sets.
Once you have a period in mind you'll need to think about rules and it is of course perfectly possible to write your own. Another option is to buy and learn a ready made set and there are many to choose from. Some experimentation will probably be required before you settle on a particular favourite. You can buy rules at wargames shows or over the internet, you will also find many rule sets have discussion forums where you can learn more. If you join a club there will probably be a few rule sets favoured by the group there that you can study with the benefit of personal teaching from those already familiar with them.
My personal favourite rule set is Fire & Fury which was developed for American Civil War gaming. (I am not sure that these rules are still in print.) The F&F team have since gone on to issue the popular WW2 rules Battlefront and there is also now a Napoleonic variant called Age of Eagles. An offshoot of GW - Warhammer Historical - have issued Ancient Battles and English Civil War rules plus numerous colourful supplements. The leading miliitary history publishers Osprey have also recently published wargames rules called Field of Glory. There are many, many other rule sets out there for you to explore so I'll move on as I can't hope to cover them all here.
A bit chicken and egg - do you find a scale to fit rules you like or find rules to fit the scale you like? Anyway the next decision to make in my guide is what size of figure to choose? This is important as it will affect many things ranging from finding opponents to storage to cost to table size to ease of painting and so on. Popular metal figure sizes are 28mm and 15mm. Soft plastic figures (my personal favourites) typically come in either 25mm (1/72 scale) or 54mm (1/32 scale) sizes. The categories on eBay will give you an idea of the diversity out there as they list 6mm, 10mm, 15mm, 20mm, 25mm, 28mm and other. Other might include some of the new ranges of 40mm figures plus the plastics in 54mm. At 6mm your looking at being able to field large armies in major battles as you can get a lot on your table. At the other end of the spectrum at 54mm you are more into the realm of skimish gaming.
Your figures will almost certainly require basing for uniformity and stability and again your figure size and your rules will determine the size of the bases and how many figures per base are required. Bases can be made of many materials such as plastic building card, washers, coins etc or can be bought ready made. Base size in theory at least should also be linked in with ground scale. This is how your table top environment relates to the real world as ideally you don't want your figures to be comparitive giants compared to the scenery they are surrounded by.
Figures generally are made of metal or soft plastic with hard plastic and resin among other options. As always it's down to personal choice and there are pros and cons to the different materials which include cost, what opponents use, figure aesthetics and availability. If you are interested in metal figures I suggest you get hold of a recent copy of either Wargames Illustrated or Miniature Wargames magazine as they contain adverts from the leading manufacturers picturing some of their ranges and listing their websites. Attending wargames shows is another option as you'll be able to see the castings upclose and personal, you'll most likely also be able to see painted and based units on the field of action. Again the hobby magazines contain ads and listings of the major shows.
If you think plastic may be for you you need look no further than eBay as many retailers (including me) sell the extensive ranges available. Plasticsoldierreview.com is an invaluable web resource you should investigate for 1/72 scale figures. For more on the "joys of plastic" see the guide I have written on the subject: Why Plastics?
Some handpainted 1/72 scale (25mm) plastics. ACW Irish Brigade, Gauls and Napoleonic French.
You will need somewhere to set up your battle. The garden can be fun for summer battles with 54mm figures a la HG Wells' Little Wars but generally we're talking a table or at least a flat raised surface. Ideally this should be in a convenient location, at a sensible height and not so wide that you can't comfortably reach the middle or so narrow that there's no room for your troops to manoeuvre. You'll also need to be able to move round preferably all four sides. Somewhere you can leave it up (wargaming is a time consuming hobby) and somewhere close to your PC if you don't use a lap top but do use a computer to help you keep track of your armies are also factors to consider. Double beds can be covered in boards and used as good size surfaces but are often too low for comfort. The dining room table is a common fall back and can be used to support overhanging boards to make the area larger. The dream is of course a dedicated wargaming room. However space, money and a sympathetic spouse are most likely needed for this be a reality! A plain green cloth can be a good starting point but you'll soon find there is a whole world out there in miniature for you to select what you want for your table top. Modular scenic boards are a good idea although storage has to be taken into account. Look at the hobby magazines, visit the shows, surf the web and browse the stores and you'll soon get more ideas that you have money to spend!
* Scenery & Terrain
This is closely related to your tabletop size and your chosen scale. So for example if you decide 1/32 scale (54mm) skirmish gaming is for you factors you may wish to consider are how you are going to supply yourself with 54mm scale trees and buildings and where are you going to store them. Scenery for 15mm to 25mm and 28mm is likely to be the easiest to find and the usual websites, shows, magazines etc...are where you can find out about what's available and make a purchase. Scratch building your own hills, buildings, rivers, fences, redoubts etc is very enjoyable and well worth trying. Games Workshop is an excellent source of ideas and how to guides. Many of their projects translate very well into historical gaming. Magazines and websites also carry how to articles from time to time which are most useful. For example the May 2008 edition of Wargames Illustrated has a good article on making ACW fencing by Paul Darnell author of the Touching History publications (see touchinghistory.co.uk). The 91 issue Games Workshop / De Agostini partwork booklets Battle Games in Middle Earth had how to articles in each edition and are worth tracking down. Also the Lord of the Rings website thelastalliance.com has how to articles which again generally translate well across into historical eras.
Some ready made items from Conflix, Javis and Pegasus.
Many rule systems also publish supplements. The difference being that the rule book contains the nuts and bolts of the game play mechanisms whilst the scenarios outline plans for fighting a table top battle. These usually feature a map or maps of the terrain required, orders of battle for each side so you know what figures you will need, details of the starting positions for each side and suggested variables such as weather, reinforcements, leadership on the day, victory/objective points etc...You can also make up your own scenarios for both real and "what if?" battles. Much information can be found by "Googling" (eg enter wargaming scenarios Gettysburg) and also Osprey's Campaign series are ideal books to help you plan your activities as they contain just the right amount of back ground info, maps and orders of battle.
You can fight a wargame with yourself (see my guide to: Solo Gaming ), with one or several friends at home or join a club. Clubs are listed in the wargames magazines and many organise shows you can attend. See the hobby magazines.
These vary from the very small to the very large. Salute at Excel, London in April is one of the biggest days in the annual show calendar. Again see the magazines for more details.
I have mentioned Wargames Illustrated, Miniature Wargames and White Dwarf. In France Vae Victis is available published by Histoire & Collections who also produce fine quality military history books. VV is a glossy high production spec magazine that last time I saw it contained as a regular feature a board type wargame with press out counters in every issue.
A slightly different angle comes from Del Prado. They are a partwork publisher who issue regular magazines or booklets with attached collectables. They have released several 70mm toy soldier partworks over the past few years and also of interest here a Napoleoic Waterloo range of high quality metal painted c28mm size figures. These were pitched as collection figures but many people use them for gaming. Over the 125 issues you got Osprey booklets and French, Anglo-Allied and Prussian infantry, cavalry and artillery plus a painted resin model of part of Hougoumont. In France a similar series was released but this was for Austerlitz instead. To find out more see my guide: Del Prado Relive Waterloo
There are other tangental hobby magazines that may be of interest, see my guide : Hobby Magazines
This is a hobby in it's own right as many folk only paint and don't game at all. However unless you are happy to use unpainted figures, buy painted figures or pay someone to paint them for you you will need to embrace this creative and rewarding aspect of wargaming. Again I have written another guide on this subject that may be of interest: Painting Toy Soldiers
* Further Information
Thank you for reading this far. I hope it has been a useful introduction, answers some questions you may have had and opens up new avenues for you to explore. As you may have noticed (!) I like writing hobby guides and have written 25+ so if you want to see the full list click here: Hobby Guides List . I also have a hobby website drum&flag.com with lots of galleries and hobby info in addition to my eBay store: Drum & Flag Shop
I'll update this guide from time to time.
Tags: Figures and Toy Soldiers