5 steps to becoming a wargame

How to get started


Interested in playing a wargame that isn't Warhammer 40,000? Wargaming is a complex landscape of gaming possibility, and it can be a little confusing to navigate at first, especially if you venture too far away from firmly established franchises. I do think that Games Workshop, the creator of Warhammer, makes it [really easy to get started in the hobby](https://mixedsignals.ml/games/blog/blog_warhammer40k-get-started, so if you're looking for the easiest entry point I recommend that. However, there are other options, and that's what this post is about.

Here are the five steps to becoming a wargamer.

1. Choose a system or choose no system

Do you want to assemble your own game from parts, or do you want to buy into one company's wargame system? There's not a wrong answer, but you need to understand the difference because it'll effect your end result.

When you pick up a random wargame from Wargame Vault, you're just buying rules. It's up to you to equate those rules to models you have, or else to buy models to fit neatly into the rules. The problem is, now you have to learn about the very scattered market of miniatures. There are different scales even within the same scale, because being 28mm in size doesn't imply anything except that the miniature is no taller than 28mm. You could buy a battle mech at 28mm scale and a miniature of the pilot who's supposed to be inside the mech also at 28mm when obviously the pilot should be more like 8mm in relation to her mech. It can be confusing, especially if you're buying mostly online so you're unable to compare one model to another.

But there are advantages to this disparity, too. Assembling your own motley collection of miniatures means you get a wide variety of styles, quality (for better or for worse), and prices. If you enjoy the eclectic, or you're happily unfocused, then trying to fit into one system may well not make sense for you.

But you have to be ready for what you're signing up for. Imagine this. You've got 50 miniatures spread across a 6-foot table, and your army is getting slaughtered. You notice a rule about a special ability for soldiers with plasma rifles, and you realise it would turn the game in your favour. The problem is, none of your miniatures are holding rifles because you're playing with random models you got on Ebay. So you cross-reference your list of which models are supposed to be what, and you see that all the soldiers in blue holding swords are actually your plasma rifle guys, which is different from the guys in black holding rifles, which are normal non-plasma rifles.

Put simply, it can get confusing and overwhelming when your rules talk generically about models, or uses different terminology than what you're used to, like when the model you bought is called "Genescuplted cyborg" but your rules talk about a "Specialist with power fist".

So what's the other option? Well, when you choose an existing wargame system, you buy miniatures and rulebooks that were designed for one another. That means that the armies and weapons and special abilities listed in the rulebook refer to a specific model, and the rulebook can show you a picture of that model, and you see the same model on your game table.

There are a few systems out there that include most everything you need for wargaming (with Warhammer being the most complete line out of any of them, with everything from models to paints to rules), including:

2. Get the rules and read them

A "wargame" is really just a way to codify how you play with your toy soldiers. Instead of having a model pretend-shoot at something, and then arbitrarily deciding whether it hit or missed its target, a rulebook tells you when a model is allowed to pretend-shoot, and what factors determine its success. It's usually dice. Some games use cards. The rules govern how your miniatures battle.

Here are some of my favourite rules (as affiliate links):

If you're looking for something like Warhammer 40k that's not Warhammer 40k (that is, lots and lots of troops from varying factions fighting on a sci fi battlefield), then check out Firefight by Mantic.

3. Buy miniatures

To me, this is the hard part. The thought of finding miniatures that are suitable to play in the same wargame setting and on the same wargame table, for me, almost sends me into a panic, because I hate shopping, even for stuff I like. If you find it enjoyable to painstakingly research product lines and shop around for the best deals on items that work well together, then this part might be really really fun to you. It's not, for me so I'm strongly, almost desperately, biased to whatever's easiest.

So, here are some ideas for what's easy:

  • Buy Blackstone Fortress from Games Workshop and use the miniatures in Space Station Zero, or
  • Buy a box of Chaos Demons from Games Workshop and use the miniatures in Reign in Hell

Less easily, you can buy miniatures from Wargames Atlantic or Reaper and assemble a collection that suits the rules you've purchased. Don't forget to buy bases, too (usually 25mm or 32mm, depending on the size of the miniature and what the rules specify). And when you buy bases, make sure they match in height!

4. Build and paint

Now that you've purchased an army, you have to cut the model parts out of the plastic sprue, shave off the unsightly plastic (like mold lines and sprue tabs), glue the models together, undercoat (or "prime") them with white or gray primer spray paint, and then paint them with model paint. For that, you need modeling tools (clippers, knife, file, paint brushes, paint).

Once again, there's the easy way and the hard way to go about this. The easy way is benefit from Games Workshop's methodology. They offer lots of tutorials to help you get started in the new hobby of arts-and-craft soldiers.

Citadel Contrast paints and Vallejo Xpress Color are both excellent lines of paint.

Alternately, you can watch Midwinter Minis or Duncan Rhodes tutorials on Youtube and pick up what you need from them.

However you decide to learn how to paint tiny sculptures, it'll take months to get through it all because miniature wargames tend to require lots of miniatures. The good news is that it's a lot of fun. In fact, it's so fun that it might make you forget that you actually got started in this hobby because you wanted to play with your toy soldiers, not just build and paint them.

Seriously, it's important to keep your eye on the goal (or consciously decide you have a new goal). I do this for myself by painting on my game table, and I paint in sprints. I decide that I'm going to stop playing games for as long as it takes me to build and paint one box of miniatures. I clear off my gaming table and work on models. When they're done, several weeks later, I'm luckily usually itching to get some gaming in, so I clear the table off and set up a game and play for several weeks, or until I have another box of miniatures that I need to build. Find something that works for you (or don't, and just decide that you're not a wargamer but that you enjoy painting. That's OK too. There are no wrong answers.)

5. Get terrain and dice and rulers

Most wargames expect terrain (ruins of buildings or walls or other obstacles), objective markers (you can use glass gaming tokens or coins or whatever), a battle mat, and dice and rulers.

Some of those components are more common than others, but terrain is a real challenge. You can buy terrain or build it yourself from literal junk. I stick a couple of bottle caps on the top of discarded Marmite jars, and then paint them military green using dollar store craft paint. Next to little 28mm people, they look like big oil storage tanks or something. It's amazing what you can do with stuff you'd otherwise throw into a landfill.

It's not required for playing, but you can buy a battle mat to give your table extra atmosphere. I use BattleTech mats) because they're paper, they're big, and they have some extra data on them that I sometimes use either for quick reference (3 hexes is close to 3 inches, no need to measure for objective proximity) or to add special rules to the game (if you walk over glowing green sludge, roll 1D3 for damage). Compared to neoprene battle mats, the BattleTech ones are cheap, too.

Play the game

Eventually, you get to the point where you can play the game. So go play it!

All in all, I think the biggest mental barrier is understanding that wargaming can be as structured as a military campaign or it can be as unstructured as guerrilla warfare. No wargame that I know of offers the same experience as a board game, where you walk into a store, grab a box from a shelf, unpack it, and start playing. But that's kind of the point, or at least it's one component of it. Wargaming is something you build.

If you want something structured and easy, then buy into an existing system and follow the guidance that system provides. If you don't mind stumbling around a little, probably buying some miniatures that don't look quite as good in real life as they did on the site, and so on, then go grab the things you think you need for a game and start building your own system. Either way, I think you'll have fun.

Hopefully this post has made it easier for you to know how to get started.

All images in this post copyright Games Workshop.

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