My whole life, I have been a gamer. When I was young, I was obsessed with video games and when I graduated college, I was crazy about board games. Now that I am a bit older, my main gaming passion is miniature wargaming. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still play a good video or board game any time, but they don’t captivate me as much as moving little plastic figures around a table with rulers and throwing fistfulls of dice.
When I began getting into board gaming, I focused a lot on their gameplay mechanics. Unlike video games, board game have to be designed simple and tight — otherwise, their rules can easily overwhelm new players. As a result, many modern board games are composed mainly of simple mechanics that highly interact with other, adding depth to their gameplay. Many board gamers (including myself, for a while) highly enjoy the clockwork-like intricacy of these games. However, as I played more, the optimization puzzles presented by many board games began to start feeling empty. I slowly realized that I enjoy games with a strong focus on sponanous, dynamic narratives, even if their mechanics aren’t as “elegant”.
In board games, there are plenty of games that include stories, either as part of their rulebook or in the form of event cards which players read. However, there are few games that effectively tell stories purely through their mechanics. In my experience, I have found that miniature wargames are more successful at dynamically generating narratives that most board games. However, this is done at the cost of increased mechanical complexity (more rules!) and more randomness.
Though many veteren board gamers may scoff at the large amount of dice rolling in wargames (“buckets of dice”, they are key to producing drama. Often, the most exciting part of playing these games is the moment when dice leave your hand and luck takes over, when your breath stops and your heart beats loudly as your anxiously await the result. It’s no coincidence that miniature wargames are usually played standing up, even for smaller games. Not every dice roll is for a nail-biting, suspense-filled event, but in most games there at least a handful, and they truly enhance the experience.
Another important distinction between board games and miniature games is their aesthetics. Though many modern board games have lovely art, they are usually limited to only two dimensions (flat cardboard and paper). While miniature wargames can be played with flat pieces, this is rarely done. Instead, gamers spent hours building and painting dozens (sometimes hundreds!) of plastic miniatures, three-dimensional terrain pieces, and even elaborate tables before playing. The result is an experience that brings back youthful memories of playing with toy soldiers and action figures. It always seems odd to me when people make fun of miniature wargamers for this — who doesn’t want to feel like a kid again?
When you find a group of people who are into the miniature wargaming hobby, then it can become a highly social experience. Even before you start playing, you can swap photos of work-in-progress paint jobs for your miniatures and discuss history and lore. Many people who haven’t painted miniatures before are often very anxious about starting, If you join a wargaming group, there are many experienced players who are eager to share painting tips and encouragement. When my group finishes playing a game (sometimes with four or more players), we almost always spend at least an hour talking about what happened during it, evaluating our strategies and tactices, and dicussing how to improve our armies. For historical wargames, we often have a lively discussion about the actual armies and battles that we are trying to recreate. While other types of games also have strong communities, I’ve found miniature wargaming ones to be some of the most active.
When I’m not in the mood for socializing, assembling and painting miniatures by myself can be very relaxing. Its easy to lose track of time when you are painting on little details or adding color highlights. One of the reasons I play fewer board games is because its more difficult to schedule meetups with my friends now that I have kids. However, with miniature wargames, I can still enjoy the hobby on my own at home. I have also found myself reading more books now. No matter if I’m obsessed with sci-fi/fantasy or historical wargaming, I’ve always found plenty of literature to read related to them. While these activities may seem unrelated to the game itself, they deeply draw players into the hobby and make them feel more connected to their little plastic armies. You can play with generic space marine companies or Napoleonic battalions, but if you do your research and paint them up like actual (or fictional) units, then its narrative-generating potential increases and it becomes more enjoyable.
Though I love miniature wargaming, I understand that it is a niche hobby and not for everyone. Some people do not like the painting or modelling aspects and some others think that the game rules are too complicated or luck-based. These is completely understandable reasons and I don’t hold them against anyone. That said, I think that everyone who has any interest in gaming should at least try to play a miniature wargame if they have the chance. They can truly be reward, both as games and as a hobby, especially if you can find a good wargaming group. Miniature painting can also be great outlet for creativity, even for people who are not usually interested in arts and crafts.
When I started dipping my toes in miniature wargames, I had no idea that they would become one of my biggest hobbies. In the seven years that I have played them, I’ve learned new skills, made new friends, and played countless drama-filled games. It should come as no surprise that I expect to continue with this hobby for many more years to come!
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