I love miniature wargaming. I find both parts of the hobby – assembling/painting models and playing the game – to be entertaining and intrinsically rewarding. I also truly believe that there is a ruleset for everyone, including all different gaming interests and craft skill levels.
That said, I certainly do have thoughts and opinions on the many miniature wargaming rulesets I have played. I will go through these below in roughly the order that I first played them:
X-Wing/Star Trek Attack Wing: Great for gamers who have no interest in assembling/painting minis. However, gameplay ended up relying too much on card combos than actual tactics/strategy. Also, movement templates take away some spatial movement freedom (and flexibility) that exists in most miniature wargames.
Warmachine/Hordes: My first “real” miniature wargame. Interesting mechanics (especially for the warcaster leaders), though rules can be overwhelming for a new player. Dice rolling can be quite fiddly, since it is done per model instead of per unit. The game relies heavily on combos and synergies, which can make army composition more important than tactics (similar to Magic:TG). Steep learning curve, but rewarding if you put the time in.
Warhammer 40K 7th Ed: Simpler and more smoother playing than Warmahordes, however we often spent a lot of time looking up unit power keywords. Also, horrendously unbalanced and not well supported. Some real fun stuff here which could have been much better if more design effort was put into testing and balancing.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Super-streamlined ruleset that is perfect for new wargamers. The initial launch was a bit too simple and was missing basic wargame components (such as an army point system), though many were added soon after. Most unit special rules were printed on the unit card instead of using keywords, which made it much easier to reference. However, some units have way too many special rules, which make larger games clunky.
Warhammer 40K 8th Ed: Streamlined similar to Age of Sigmar. The initial game was very enjoyable, but the extra rules and command abilities which were added with the army books made the game bloated and clunky. To their credit, Games Workshop tried to release patches to their rules to make them more balanced, but this makes it even harder to learn and keep up with.
Blood Bowl: A hybrid wargame/board game. Dated rules can be swingy and unbalanced, but are also very fun and create interesting narratives (like a good wargame should). The biggest problem with Blood Bowl is the play time, which is roughly 2 hours per match. Since it is best played in tournament or league formats with multiple matches, this can be a problem (it sure was for us).
Star Wars Armada: Like X-Wing, but with better mechanics and more depth. However, some of the mechanics can still be a bit fiddly (especially the defense tokens). Really liked this game, though the post-launch support was disappointing compared to X-Wing. It also has a relatively small number of tokens compared to other FFG games, which is one of my major complaints about their games.
Infinity: One of the best sci-fi skirmish rulesets ever made, though not without its faults. Rules are relatively complicated and the flow of play can often be interrupted by the opposing player (which some people like). The biggest problem that I have with this game is the price of the miniatures, which can be higher than Games Workshop games (though the actual “cost to play” is lower overall).
Battletech: Giant mech simulator that desperately needs to revamp and modernize its rules. I love the universe and lore, but it is way too fiddly compared to newer designs (see Warmachine for big stompy robots done right). Also, its hex-grid play space really hurts the overall aesthetic of the game. If they made the game closer to the Battletech PC game (which is based on the original ruleset with smart tweaks), I think it could much more successful.
40K Shadow War Armageddon/Kill Team: Both are skirmish wargames set in the WH40K universe heavily inspired by Necromunda (which they also recently re-released). The base rules in both are very enjoyable. Kill Team matches are very short (three turns, I think), which can make them end a little too fast. Also, since the rules use WH40K models (often sold in squad-sized boxes), you often have to pay for many more models than you actually use. That said, Kill Team is still one of my favorite sci-fi skirmish rulesets.
Guild Ball: Kind of a combination of Warmachine and Blood Bowl (though it feels more like the former). I’ve only played two matches of this, but it was pretty fun. However, like Warmachine, there are many special abilities that require often referencing a rulebook (or player aid), which can feel clunky sometimes. Also, despite the theme, can feel more like a melee brawl than a sports game (unlike BB).
Marvel Heroclix: Deceptively complex superhero skirmish game played on a grid. I used to play Mage Knight when I was a kid, which uses the same rotating base mechanism for wounds, though I think that game was more fun overall. Was not super impressed by this game, though its difficult to say why. I think the narrative created by the games was not as compelling as it should be considering its theme.
Gaslands: Car combat game played with Hot Wheels/Matchbox cars. Besides the gimmick of playing with toy cars instead of traditional minis, it has a very interesting push-your-luck mechanism. Uses templates, like X-Wing, for better or worse. Probably the cheapest miniature wargame to get into. Its a good ruleset overall, though I think only one of the provided game scenarios takes full advantage of them(death race).
Warhammer Underworlds: Wargame/CCG hybrid. Very simple and fast to play, but it has some interesting mechanics (mostly relating to card playing). Though it’s supposed to be used to introduce new players to wargaming mechanics (like dice-roll tests and spatial movement), it lacks the narrative that makes these games so rewarding to play. Because the matches are so short and have few dice rolls, they can also feel very “swingy” and unfair (the manual even says to play “best out of 3”, the only time I’ve seen this in wargaming).
Bolt Action: My first historical WWII wargame. Its rules are very similar to older editions of Warhammer 40K, but without the rules bloat and unbalance. Though it is often criticized for not being realistic (especially weapon ranges), the rules are relatively easy to learn, especially for GW veterans. Though the chip-draw mechanic for giving orders has been used in other historical wargames, this is the first time I’ve seen in it a more accessible, mainstream miniature wargame (and it works great!). This is one of my favorite wargame rulesets, and is a great introduction to historical wargaming.
Flames of War: This is also a relatively streamlined historical WWII wargame, though it is at a larger scale than Bolt Action (company-level instead of platoon). The latest version has been streamlined even more, and even includes convenient unit cards with all the stats and special abilities. I’ve only played this once, but I thought it was a pretty good ruleset overall, though nothing specifically stood out. Probably the biggest complaint I hear about this game is that larger matches can look like “tank parking lots” due to the 15mm scale.
Tanks: A super-simple WWII tank skirmish wargame at the same model scale as Flames of War. Its mechanics are similar to X-Wing, though are shallower. That said, it is probably perfect for introducing children to wargaming.
Black Powder: Relatively streamlined gunpowder-era wargame, focusing especially on Napoleonics. My first large-scale historical wargaming experience. Rules are very simple and quick, though rule supplements are required for more historical “flavor”. Does not include any kind of generic scenarios or unit points in the base rules, which may turn off non-historical wargamers. I’ve seen it described as more of a “wargame toolkit” than a fully-developed competitive system. Requires a lot of minis (more than most other games here) and a larger table. Still, it has a real “epic” feeling and strong narrative while not being too long or complicated, which makes it my current obsession.
Black Seas: A gunpowder-era tall ship skirmish game. The basic rules for this game are almost too simple, and many of its more interested mechanics are included in the “advanced” variant. However, some of the advanced rules are also clunky, and so I think its necessary to pick and choose which ones to include. Also, while placing wake markers under models to show their speed is visually impressive, it is too easy to accidentally bump the models.
SPQR: A relatively simple ancient Rome-themed skirmish game. The feel of the game was very similar to Age of Sigmar, but without all the extra special unit powers and rules. That said, the couple matches I played did not feel very historical. Also, though the base rules support multi-model bases (which are common in historical wargaming), the post-launch FAQ changed the rules so that they effectively cannot be used. Still, seems like a good ruleset to bring people into the hobby. Also, the starter box is one of the best bargains in miniature wargaming.
Warhammer Warcry: Fantasy skirmish game in the Warhammer universe. This has a really dice allocation mechanic that adds depth the basic gameplay. Seems better balanced and deeper than other GW skirmish games. However, like Kill Team, short matches can end before they get interesting. Also, the rules require you buy the official terrain, which is expensive. That said, probably the more well-designed GW game I have played overall (though i still like Kill Team better).
Sharp Practice: Played this for the first time the other day. Its a skirmish wargame based in gunpowder eras. I bought it as an alternative to Black Powder to play while we prepare our armies (it needs much less than BP). However, it is a substantially more complicated ruleset, and we had a rough time playing our initial game. It has garnered a lot of praise from historical wargamers though, and I would like to give it another shot in the future. Unlike all of the other wargames here, it has a “roll to move” mechanic in which your movement is determined by a dice roll, which I’m not sure I like.
Lion Rampant: Very lightweight medieval skirmish wargame. I’ve read that other skirmish games (like SPQR and maybe even Age of Sigmar) were inspired by this game, though they have completely different mechanics. The highlight of this game is its order check mechanic, similar to Black Powder (or Hail Caesar), in which you roll a dice after each order to see if its received. If you fail a check, then your turn ends. This gives the game a rhythm that is very different than most other miniature wargames I’ve played. The streamlined rules are great for people new to wargames, but veterans may feel like they are too stripped down. I’ve heard that other games in the series (such as Dragon Rampart) that more fluff.
Blood Red Skies: WWII aircraft combat game. The only other game I’ve played like this is X-Wing, but this feels very different in practice. Instead of blindly programming actions, you have opportunities to react to opponents moves. The three-tier advantage system is interesting as well. Some players may not like the morale system, which counts hits instead of kills to trigger game end (some matches may have no planes getting shot down).The base box gives you enough planes for a full games (unlike X-Wing), though there aren’t nearly as many customization options.
Some rulesets that I would like to try in the future: Hail Caesar/Pike and Shotte (both variants on Black Powder), Kings of War, Song of Ice and Fire, Star Wars Legion, Beyond the Gates of Antares, Frostgrave, Black Ops, Adeptus Titanicus, Monsterpocalypse, WWIII: Team Yankee, Fallout/Skyrim miniature games, and Chain of Command.
What miniature wargames are playing currently? What are your favorites? Do you have any strong feelings about any rulesets?