How to lose at minature wargames

By Marucs T.

No, you didn’t read that wrong.  As Captain Kirk once said, “How we deal with death is certainly as important as how we deal with life”.  There is a simple truth here that does in fact relate to miniature gaming.  That is that you will lose. Perhaps not today, or perhaps not against someone with no idea of what they are doing, but you will experience defeat.  This is ok, it’s good for you.

There are a nearly infinite number of guides online to winning, list building, unit selection, and tactics.  Far more rarely do we address NOT winning.  Let’s face it, it’s a competitive game. One of you isn’t going to make it.  Here’s how to deal with that, and if you really pay attention I can even show you how to enjoy it.

I like to think that I’ve made an art form of losing games over the years.  Sure, I win some but I’m fairly sure I lose more.  Part of this is my character.  I am not a super competitive person by nature, and this is reflected in my gaming habits.  If you ARE a super competitive gamer this isn’t a burn on you by any means.  I’ve seen good losers and bad losers, as I have also seen good and bad winners.  It’s an easy thing for a person to say, “relax buddy- it’s just a game!” as they skip to the winners circle but it’s a harder thing to accept when you have been beaten for the 46th time in a row by a guy who paints the corpses on his models bases to resemble your army.

The first trick is to laugh.  When something terrible happens to your forces during the game don’t lose your cool. If the opponent chuckles, you guffaw.  If they snicker, you He-Haw.  Recently I attempted a hail mary pass at the final turn of a game of Infinity, trying to assassinate my opponents lieutenant and deny him victory.  My first shot with a grenade launcher missed and deviated about half a mile to the left, landing directly on the only model on the OPPOSITE side of the board. That model happened to be mine, and she died in a burst of high explosive irony.  I’m pretty sure I laughed harder at this turn of events than my opponent did.   When a model performs in a spectacularly disappointing manner, I like to verbally berate them in front of their squad mates and describe the punishment they will receive later.  Painting them pink, renaming them Corporal Fail-pants, etc.

The second trick is to never allow an impending loss to compromise your sportsmanship.  Even in the midst of defeat, I will remind my opponent if he didn’t move a tank to a more advantageous position, or point out a rule in his favor they may have forgotten.  In this way, I know that even though I lost, I lost honestly and fairly.  I lost because they were a better player, or I chose tactically inferior models.  I have never “softened defeat” by trying to be sneaky.  It’s a capricious thing but you could say then that at least you “died with your boots on”.

The third trick I’ve found is to allow yourself to share in some of your opponents victory.  A simple handshake or “good game” will accomplish this, but be honest with yourself.  Did he have one brazen moment of glory that really turned the tables against you?  Was there a one-in-a-million dice roll that they pulled off?  If so, it’s time for the post battle 3 R’s.  Recognize, Relive, and Respect.   This gives them a chance to do the same for you, and in that you can regain some of your lost dignity.  When you have just been soundly beaten it’s hard to see any bright sides, but if the other guy is telling you about how scared he was to take on that one unit, or how he was sure your Commander would slay his, it’s a reminder that you probably had some good moments too.

It’s only “just a game” if you don’t take steps to make it a great game, regardless of who won or lost.  Now what to do if you mistakenly win a game once a decade….is a story for another time.

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Social Gaming (Playing well with others)

By Marcus T.

My first exposure to miniature gaming was in middle school. Chronologically, this took place around 1992-1993.  At the time, I was dabbling in tabletop RPG’s and assorted video games.  Then I went to my friend Jon’s house and it all changed.  He mentioned some game that his older brother was playing in the garage, and we ventured out there before long. The  were  just setting up a game of Warhammer 40,000 2nd Edition. (the game is currently on it’s 6th iteration)  The scene was like something out of a movie.  At first I thought I was looking at some crazy uncle’s elaborate model train diorama.  The table was easily 8 feet in length. At the end closest to us were rolling hills covered in light forestation, leading to a river winding through the table half.  Across this crystal blue ribbon was a forward firebase brutishly dug into the lovely green of the riverside, allowing the imperials a commanding view of anything coming down the valley.  I say valley because the other end of the table rose to a sub-alpine forest at the base of a mountain that rose two and a half feet above the base of the table. In miniature game terms, this is friggin huge terrain.  Not to mention it was a navigable mountain, with switchbacks and a plateau on the far side perfect for an artillery park. (the player on that side of the board actually used it as a launch pad for his myriad jump troops)

I want to set the scene here as it is pivotal in understanding this hobby.  Following my eye popping first look at the table, I was delighted by the quality of their models.  Closest to me was a fellow I came to know better over the next few years, Seldon Norman.  I don’t know if he is still around but I blame him for my miniature wargaming bug.  He used a combined force of Imperial Guard and Blood Angel Space Marines, versus the brightly colored Eldar warhost belonging to my friend Jon’s brother (name lost to the ages).  The table was immaculate, the models were all lovingly painted, and a fantastic story was unfolding in front of us. The cinematic quality of the battle was palpable. A hobbyist’s dream.

20 years later, my favorite thing about that Saturday afternoon is not listed above.  I’ve come to realize that the most memorable quality of that game was the courtesy and consideration of the players.  They agreed to keep army lists secret from each other, trusting that there would be no threat of cheating and waited excitedly to see what the other would bring to the table.   They even took turns leaving the garage to allow the other to deploy his troops in secret. I recall one instance where Seldon pointed to a copse of trees and exclaimed, “YOU HAD SNIPERS THERE THE WHOLE TIME???”  His delight at being cunningly outmaneuvered matched his dismay at what was about to happen to his troops.   There was no trash talking or aggression other than friendly banter and polite reminders if the opponent forgot to move a particular unit.   They helped each other to provide the best game experience possible.   Not for a moment did they consider winning by taking advantage of the other or using some strange loophole in the rules.  Neither fielded armies that would be considered weak, but they were not powergaming.  They used very well rounded, sensible forces that fit their play-style AND fit the spirit of the games background.

Looking back it seemed that they were fencers, politely engaging in a friendly match interspersed with sips of tea and a jaunty British accent.  They were totally committed to destroying the other, but would never sacrifice mutual respect to do it.

What the hell is the point of this you are likely asking at this point.  Well I’m glad you asked.  Since that fateful day, there has been a development in the gaming world. I’ll call it “Competitive Jack-assery (CJA)”.   This is condition, marked by excessive internet research, over indulgent dice calculations, and in severe cases cheating has become more prevalent in the modern gaming paradigm.  Perhaps it’s the demographic.  Are the cases of CJA happening because the average age of the gamer is getting younger?  Is the immaturity of youth to blame?  Perhaps it is the game developers allowing and even encouraging competitive level tournament play.

We are slowly forgetting the point of games like Warhammer.   At no point should anyone feel the need to cheat at a game like this. What exactly would the point be?  At least in major sporting events there is money to win.  At the tournaments my group regularly attends, there is a box to check on the scoring sheet for each game that if marked indicates that you had an enjoyable game with a noble opponent.  This shouldn’t be on the paper because EVERY GAME should be enjoyable and had with a noble opponent.

The OBJECT of miniature wargames is to win, defeating your opponent and scattering his forces to the four winds.

The POINT of miniature wargames is to have a good time, engaging a fellow hobbyist in a mutually enjoyable match.

It is also important to know what to do if, despite your best intentions, you find yourself at a table with someone suffering from CJA….but that is a story for another time.

So you wanna play with toy soldiers…now what?

By Marcus Tanner

You see them on the shelves at your friendly local gaming store (FLGS).  You notice that your friends are collecting packing foam and using strange acronyms.   There’s dice, so is it an RPG?  There’s enormous tables covered in detailed terrain, is it model railroading?  Naw, it’s miniature wargames!

Whether it’s Warhammer 40,000, Infinity, Hordes, or Malifaux there are certain things you need to look into before opening your wallet.  I have been playing miniature games like these and others for almost 18 years and I have learned a thing or two that I wish someone had told me when I was getting into the hobby.  This is my gift to you.

Financial Considerations

Firstly, what is your budget?  This will be the easiest consideration when deciding on what game is right for you.  Games Workshop products (Warhammer 40k, Warhammer Fantasy, and the Lord of the Rings Miniature game) typically have a high dollar investment attached to them.  These games are amazing to see in action, with battles stretching over an 8 foot table and easily 100 infantry and assorted tanks or monsters supporting them.  They aren’t alone either, as the best games are played on a richly detailed terrain featuring everything from tangled urban ruins to forested river basins to the cratered surface of an airless moon.  All of this will cost you of course.  With the accepted retail value of miniatures, you should be prepared to spend $200 or more on your army, $50 for your codex (the book containing the specific rules and point costs for your army of choice), paints (3 color minimum is the rule for any official event or tournament), brushes, glue (lots), dice (even more), and something to carry your army in.  This one often gets overlooked, but it matters. I’ve seen people show up to tournaments with everything from a cardboard box, to a rolling luggage tote and everything in between.

If you don’t have that kind of cash to toss around on a game, don’t despair!  No one said you had to buy it all at once. I advise any new gamer to start small and purchase an army in small sections.  You also don’t have to do it alone.  Get a few friends into the game with you and you can all purchase the paint, brushes, and glue to share.  The main rulebook can also be purchased this way.   There is of course secondary retailers like Ebay, but to be honest it’s far safer as a beginner to stick to your FLGS.  They are better equipped to get you started, and can remain a constant resource as you continue in the hobby.

You can also chose from the myriad other games available.  Games Workshop definitely likes to act like they are the only dealer of plastic warriors, but they aren’t.    If  the idea of an entire paycheck going into an army doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps you should check out a skirmish game.   Large force games like Warhammer are meant to represent armies clashing on fields of war.  Skirmish games are small, elite forces that can battle using a much smaller setting.  Not only does this provide a more cinematic gaming experience, but it allows you to really stretch your imagination.  The financial investment in this type of game is much less than a large force.  For example, in Warhammer 40k you can purchase a starter box for your army that will cost you around $100. This is an excellent starting point, but you will not have enough in this box to play much more than introductory games.   Whereas in Infinity or Malifaux, $30-$50 will get you a starter box and possibly a few more individual models.  With these in hand you are fully ready and capable of playing the game at home and in sanctioned tournaments.  It’s entirely possible to keep buying more of course, allowing you to turn your skirmish force into a large scale battle army, but with these style games it’s not necessary. Not only that, but your game experience and enjoyment won’t suffer because you didn’t drop $500 on toy soldiers.

So, the next step once you know your budget is to go online or down to your FLGS and find out what setting and style you want to play.  Sci-fi, high fantasy, historical, steampunk, modern warfare, the list goes on.

But that is a story for another time….