03 May 2013

What Makes A Good Wargame?

Image by daarken at deviantart

This is a serious question that I'm asking here…

What ingredients make a good wargame?
Can you take a handful of ingredients and predict a successful wargame?

Britanan Empire in Tor Gaming's Relics 'stitchpunk' game

I've bought, downloaded and leafed through a lot of wargames rules recently. Some of them were the well-known games that everyone's heard of or dabbled with – the big players – and I read them cover to cover (again). Then there were the up and coming games and the more obscure. I even discovered games that I never knew existed that it seems are very popular. I've also discovered that I have no idea about what's going on in our industry as a whole, just what's in my tiny corner of it.

Pseudo Romans and Vikings in Megalith's Godslayer

There have been rules that I loved, rules that I hated and some rules that, to be honest, I couldn't care about either way. I've come across some innovative mechanics and some gimmicky ones. I've also discovered some amazing miniatures to accompany said rules… and I've seen some shockers.

Most gamers have their favourite game – their go-to game that they really love and/or have played for many years. Some gamers refuse to look at anything else; some gamers will dip their toes in lots of games to see what it's all about; some gamers will stick to a genre or a scale.

Real Romans in Warlord Games' Hail Ceasar   (image by Quirkworthy)

Trying to pin down the ingredients for a successful wargame has been difficult because at the end of the day it is all rather subjective, so preferences in things like genre and scale will have an influence. I find myself having more interest in skirmish-level games with "easy to learn, difficult to master" mechanics and awesome miniatures (naturally). I struggle with the big games that are played on large tables with rank upon rank of troops – mostly because I paint so slowly that I would never have a fully-painted army… I struggle with a game of 40k.

World of Twilight by Mike Thorp, cute lizards and 100% homegrown

Having said that I do appreciate that other gamers are the opposite, love the big games and dislike the smaller 'trendy' stuff. So by that rational there is no magic formula to create an auto-success in the gaming world. You can't please all the people all the time, etc.

Song of Blades & Heroes – the successful ruleset you may never have heard of

But surely there must be some common elements in the more successful games – basics that you need to get right in order to hook gamers into playing.

Obviously, if you have the gravitas and money to market it well – just like any other industry – you are going to guarantee a certain level of success… see the Rivet Wars Kickstarter, bit of a random game but smashed their target. Yet that alone is not enough… the Beyond The Gates of Antares Kickstarter proved that – big names behind it, nice visuals, didn't get close to hitting target.

I've discovered home grown rules that you can download as a PDF for less than £10 that are seeing success on a smaller scale, but success nonetheless.

7TV by Crooked Dice, tapping into childhood TV memories
I think if you can back up your rules with a stunning set of miniatures, well… we all known the bright lights of shiny things! I'm guessing that is why some companies give their rules away for free, making their money back on the models. Some games do well without any unique models, building the rules around a genre that is already satisfied by the miniatures industry.

For me it comes down to three things:

• Atmosphere
The game has to generate a vibe that I can get caught up in, be that via the background, genre, scale, models or all of them. If I'm not intrigued or excited about the game before playing, the odds are I won't stick at it.

• Mechanics
I don't want to have to read up on rules for a week before I can play. Often you have to play through things a couple of times for it to all click but I want to come away from my first game excited not exhausted. It's nice to have something unique (or re-imagined) in there, such as the fate deck in Malifaux, but not if it's just for show and isn't beneficial to the game. If I'm not having fun with the rules then what's the point?!

• Miniatures
I know, I'm shallow, but if I'm not loving the models that I'm using to play the game I'm going to lose interest quickly. Sometimes I've found that loving the miniatures has been enough for me to keep playing a game I'm not overly fussed about.

So my question(s) for you to ponder…

What makes a great wargame?
What are your favourite wargames and why?


  1. Hmm I know exactly what you mean.

    1. Firstly they have to be fun! To they have to simulate real life? Nope not for me they don't. If I can use them in a proxy way for multiple style game then all the better.

    2. For me its the 7TV ruleset by Crooked Dice, The figures look great. There are some interesting and fun Factions from Aliens, to mechanical monster. You can practically tweak any movie type characters and villains into this system. The Addons 7ombietv and 7th Voyage are both excellent allowing horror elements and fantasy themed play to use the rules for. The Only limit is you imagination.

    Empire of the Dead by Westwind Productions, Simple to learn skirmish based game set in a Victorian steampunk horror genre. Again you could proxie a great number of different factions from this period and use them as proxies with the current rules. Also when Requiem is released in the next month or so there will be even more use.

    1. I have to admit that the 7TV intrigues me – it certainly looks a lot of fun.

  2. Well you know how to ask the big questions....

    So - I like to have fun and get into character. I have enjoyed playing games with less than 10 models. It is somehow more personal. I always liked Necromunda because the characters built up over time but you needed to play a lot and at the time I were playing twice a week and had just come off role playing games. I do like a flamer!!

    I want there to be action and I want to play tactics. Not everything relying on the fickle dice. More recently I have learned that some games can be a real blast. Fast games that are brutal, when you hit someone they stay hit. This makes for a very interesting risk and reward dynamic. Hordes, Warmachine even Malifaux.

    I love the Malifaux models and books. I really like the storey telling element.

    But if I am honest (and I am a 40k Ork at heart) I want a game that is done in less than 2 hours, easy to follow rules that have a tactical element, and brutal - I want to hack things to death and enjoy the damage. I want handfuls of dice. I want to get personal. I want there to be tremendous 'highs' and devastating 'lows'. I want to be left thinking about the games days after they are done. I want the 'what if' scenarios to be going around in my head for weeks. I also want the game to be multi dimensional - so multiple parts so that even if the war is lost I am left with high points to remember.

    Its got to be memorable and its got to make you sweat. You have to 'feel' the game. Then and only then is it truly fun and thats what I want more than anything - fun - win, lose or draw - I want to enjoy it!

  3. Pretty much what Bullcher said!


    The forces have to be varied, they have to be different in look, and how they play. One of the things I don't like about Empire of the Dead is that pretty much all the forces consist of similar "grunts" with some special characters, and there's not enough differences between the special characters (sorry Simon Q).

    The rules have to be quick to learn and make sense, and should focus on allowing people to do things, rather than restricting them. One of my big bugbears of a couple of recent rule sets I've looked at and played (including Song of Blades and Heroes), is the "activation roll" for each figure, so if you don't roll the required number, the character does nothing that turn. I hate that, I want all my warband to take part, and if my disciplined, veteran Paladin/Barbarian/Evil Warlord suddenly can't do anything this turn because of a dodgy dice role, it doesn't make sense and quite frankly spoils the fun.

    Dice, lots of dice. Card based games don't do much for me. I love dice in general, the look and feel of them, the different types and styles. They're just cool, and getting to use them in games adds to there cool value - you can swear at them, claim they're crooked, roll them in different ways, blame them for you losing.

    Enough about my dice fetish...

    Also - miniatures (a bit obvious coming from me), I want a force with cool figures, that look the part, that if it was "real" life, I would want to be going into battle among them.

    My favourite games at the moment are most definitely Star Wars: X-Wing, and begrudgingly WH40K (but I think that's just because I'm so familiar with it). I'm currently looking for a good set of (preferably, but not exclusively free) fantasy skirmish rules. If I find one I like, I imagine it will be added to the list pretty quickly.