If you’re reading this article today, chances are that you are a fan of miniature wargaming. Our hobby enthusiasm isn’t always as infectious as we would like it to be, and there are always friends that we want to get into the games we love and play but convincing them can take time. Lets be honest, the hobby can be quite expensive and can take a lot up a lot of time, which can be a bit off-putting for those on the edge of making the plunge. The easiest, or at least less difficult, group of friends to try and convert are those that already love board games.
Now while you can run demos for them, it’s not quite the same as playing a full game. This is the perfect place to introduce them to what I like to call Gateway Games. These games are ones that occupy the space between pure boardgames and full table wars. They have elements of a board game, relatively easy to grasp rules, likely a board or tiles to set up and of course dice or something else to determine outcomes of actions. Where these start to creep into the miniature wargames though is that the pieces you use tend to require either assembly, painting or both. They are detailed just like a model kit you would buy for a regular wargame, and oftentimes the rules that accompany the games act as a sort of primer for the mechanics of various game systems. These games are perfect introduction courses to try and get your friends hooked, and I’ve been using them for years to push my friends over that edge into my favorite hobby so I don’t have to sit there all alone.
I figured I would share some of my favorite tools to infect my friends with the mini-wargaming bug.
Space Hulk is a specialty game produced by Games Workshop that is set in the universe of Warhammer 40K. It pits Adeptus Astartes Terminators against the onslaught of Tyranid Genestealers in the confines of a derelict space ship, called a Space Hulk. For those of you not familiar with the 40K universe, Adeptus Astartes are genetically engineered super soldiers while Tyranids and Genestealers are xenos akin to the aliens from the Alien series of movies. The basic concepts of the two factions should be fairly easy for any sci-fi fan to recognize.
The game board is a series of tiles that can be configured in whatever form the mission or scenario calls for. There are 16 missions that come packaged in the current release of the game, but the rules also encourage players to design and play their own missions or games. It is primarily a two player game, but you can play with more people if you’re enterprising enough. The goal of the Terminators is to complete the mission objective before they are overrun and killed by the xenos scum, while the Genestealers job is to kill and eat some delicious meta human meat. The game follows the basic concepts from the the 40K universe, introducing players to ranged and melee combat as well as a handful of incredibly useful specialty rules from the main game. Games can take anywhere from minutes to several hours depending on the mission type and on luck, but it is a lot of fun.
The base game comes with 35 highly detailed plastic miniatures that require assembly and painting, and offer a great opportunity to introduce someone to the craft side of the hobby on a much smaller scale. The miniatures can only be assembled in specific poses, so they don’t have the configuration options that regular miniature kits for the 40K game have, which honestly isn’t a bad thing. It’ reduces the assembly learning curve by a considerable amount, but the end results looks so awesome that first timers will still feel pretty good about their handiwork. There are 11 Terminators and 1 Terminator Librarian, 22 Genestealers and 1 Brood Lord. Additionally, there are three plastic objective markers which are equally detailed. One of the other selling points of the board game, is that if your friends do decide to take the next step into the hobby, they models can be used in 40K as well.
In the early stages of the game’s life, it was widely available and was quite popular. Late in the ’90s, Game Workshop cancelled their specialty line of games from production, and have only done limited releases and updates of some of the games over the last decade. Space Hulk is one of those games that has such a high demand that they will periodically re-release it, though always in a limited quality. We are currently at the tail end of a limited run of the game, and you can purchase it for $125 USD directly from any of your local or online retailers retailers, though I haven’t seen it go for less than that. The game is no longer available directly from Games Workshop at this time though. If you’re a fan of the 40K universe, this is a great game to add to your library, and one I use regularly to rope my sci-fi friends into taking a deeper look into one of the games I love playing.
This gem of a game is produced by Wyrd, the same company behind Malifaux. It has recently become a favorite of mine as a way of introducing potential players to the mechanics of Malifaux and the no dice system it uses. Puppet Wars is a tactical board game that takes place in the same world as Malifaux. Players take on the role of Voodoo puppet versions of named characters from the Malifaux game that are animated through magic and try to act in the same manner of it’s real life counterpart. Players claim workbenches, tear the stuffing out your opponents puppets and take pieces they’ve ripped off of and attach it to yourselves. The goal is to take out the lead puppet of your opponent. You build a tiny chibi warband before the game starts, similar to how you would build your crew for Malifaux proper. Puppets have stat cards just like regular Malifaux models, with attack and defense values and often times special abilities. You use a puppet fate deck to determine the outcomes of abilities. Players have a control hand, and use cards from their hand to activate models. The game teaches you the basics of the Malifaux game while adding some slight twists here and there.
The game plays between two and four players, and it is designed for fast paced action combat. Games tend to be fairly quick, usually clocking in at under an hour. It is great for people who are interested in the Malifaux game world, and is a great representation of the skirmish style combat. The current version of the game, Puppet Wars Unstitched, comes with 44 plastic puppet figures, two complete puppet wars fate decks that can also be used in regular Malifaux gameplay, an 18 square inch game board and all of the stat cards and tokens you need to play the game. It will run you $75 USD direct from Wyrd, and will come with enough for three players to play right away. Additional expansion puppet packs are available to accommodate more players. You may be able to find it for less online or at a local retailer, but either way you get a lot of game for your dollar. The models themselves are pretty awesome looking, and despite being very highly detailed, they are easy to assemble. Like many other games they only have one way to really go to be put together properly, and their smaller size make them easier to paint. The rules are about as complicated as most larger scale board games, but aren’t too hard to grasp. The hardest part will be getting new players acclimated to the no dice system, but after a few rounds most folks will get the hang of it. It’s a great gateway game for fans of the weird wild west and fantasy style games, and has been one of the best additions to my personal game inventory. I’ve been using it quite a bit to slowly introduce players to the concept of Malifaux.
A game that has become incredibly popular in the last year is X-Wing from Fantasy Flight Games. I’m sure you’ve seen several pieces on this already here on the site, but it bears bringing back up in our discussion of gateway games. This is one of those games that just hit all the right notes when it was released. If you haven’t heard about it before, it is a miniature space combat game set in the Star Wars Universe. It combines iconic ships such as X-Wings, TIE Fighters and the Millenium Falcon with fast game play with a relatively low learning curve. It is a dice based game, but uses specialty 8-sided dice, and all movements are forecasted. What this means is that players user a tool to select how far and what direction all of their ships move before they begin their activations, and keep this information secret until it’s time to go. It’s a form of simultaneous gameplay that makes the game incredibly engaging, and captures the space dogfighting feel that keeps things moving quickly. The game uses very limited terrain, if any terrain at all, so there is not a whole lot of setup. All you need is a tabletop and the game pieces. You do not need measuring devices of any type, as the game comes with special measuring sticks to use for all distance, direction and combat. While the base kit comes with card stock versions, there are acrylic and hard plastic versions as well.
The base game will cost you around $40 USD, and you’ll get two TIE Fighters and an X-Wing, all of the dice and measuring devices and all the extras for the ships as well as various scenarios and pilot data cards for such fan favorites as Luke Skywalker or Briggs Darklighter. There are a lot of factors that make this a fantastic gateway game into the world of tabletop warfare. The intellectual property of Star Wars is pretty strong among people of all ages, and has become mainstream to a point that most people have a the very least a little knowledge of the universe. Among all of the other games that attempt to bridge that gap between miniature wargames and board games, it has one of the lowest price points to jump in. That makes it easier for folks to jump in to the game. Another item in favor of the game is that miniatures all come pre painted and pre assembled, and they actually look quite good! Most pre painted miniatures tend to be pretty mediocre at best, but the ones for X-Wing are really well done and good quality. So for people that may not want to get in to the construction and painting aspect of the hobby, these are a fantastic to jump in with. All you have to do is open the packaging and they’re ready to go. The games themselves can also be incredibly quick, and it has a very easy learning curve which makes it a popular choice for new gamers. I’ve used this game to get people who have had zero interest in anything tabletop wargaming related to relent, and many of them have started looking at other miniature games as a result of how much they love this game.
So, those are my current go to games when it comes time to try to infect the masses with my love of miniature gaming. They are fun games, relatively quick, and showcase some of the cooler points of being a miniature wargamer. Now, they are far from the only games that I could use to introduce someone to the hobby, but I use them quite regularly. So now I want to ask you folks, what games do you use to introduce people to our hobby?