Usually, when one talks about getting a start in the miniature gaming hobby, one immediately remembers the massive financial costs preceed the need to assemble and (hopefully) paint your soldiers! Complaints like like that can be leveled at Games Workshop (GW) games, Privateer Press’ (PP) WarmaHordes and Flames of War The Only Historical Game Laypeople Know. However, game developers seem to be grasping idea that smaller games are more attractive to people if not for their price than for their short playtime. And currently, we’re being spoiled for choice.
The most recent release from the big players is the Company of Iron ruleset from PP. A usual game of WarmaHordes involves at least one named wizard character, several stompy robots or beasts for them to push around and several units of chaff. Buying an army for it can set you back some. However, CoI does away with the named characters (hooray) and most of the big monsters (you can still manage to squeeze in a light a warjack). Instead, it gives an opportunity for regular grunts to shine in a game designed for them.
The game features alternating activations I move a dude, you move a dude, I move a dude as well as rolls to see whether a downed trooper is really down, commander traits that can be chosen while building and army as well as a deck of cards of assets and abilities to use while playing. So far, so good: with named characters taking a step back, and the ability to give your commander an ability of your choosing, you can finally get the My Dudes feeling that the game had been lacking. And with 20-25 point limit, the army will hardly ever be over 10 miniatures. Currently, PP’s own 25 packs range from $70+ dollars to over a $100. This is not super cheap, but it’s still miles above the usual price. Oh, and the rules are totally free to download, while the Company of Iron two player box is a bargain.
Now, when I first started moaning and groaning about the lack of skirmish games, it was because GW was languishing under the thrall of Tom Kirby, a cartoon caricature of capitalist come to life. After GW unceremoniously abandoned all Specialist Games (they didn’t involve buying buckets of Space Marines) other companies filled the void left by Necromunda (my Infinity partner specifically pointed out that the game scratches that NM itch) and others. GW did have several half-heated attempts to show that they give a damn the lukewarm release of Kill Team some time ago being a shining example but times, they are a-changing.
While Shadow War: Armageddon was dropped into the world and promptly forgotten and Age of Sigmar Skirmish was stated to just be some rules bashed together for fun the release can now be seen as GW testing the waters a bit. SW:A was basically “Necromunda With Tabletop Races”. And since people loved, Necromunda: Hive Wars box with newly sculpted Escher and Goliath gangs will be released at of November, with more gangs to follow.
Sure, the release could be more user friendly: the main box will only provide the rules for playing on 2D cardboard terrain that it comes with while a separate Gang Wars book will contain 3D and campaign rules, as well as things like Juvies (inexperienced pledges in the gang). It’s similar to the Blood Bowl publishing model, where a league game now involves checking three rulebooks. However, Necromunda will now have alternating activations and an update of the 2nd edition rules that worked in SW:A. Since Blood Bowl release caught the company with its pants down and showed that there is still support from both hardcore long-time fans and from people who played either the official PC games or things like FMBBL, we can expected full-throated support for the game.
Age of Sigmar players aren’t left out either, because they already received Shadespire. This is a completely new game with completely new miniatures. And while it is sad that it’s not a new Mordheim, it’s probably the cheapest of the games to play. With beautiful warbands costing around $20 and the best skeleton sculpts in the market, it’s a great game that it’s quick to grasp, fast to play and probably not too hard to master. And with the smallest team being only three models (that’s the Stormcast Eternal one), there’s not that much painting to do, either.
But while one, say, Ork team will be usingt he exact same model composition as the other, the players will be able to use cards to make their team special. Some of them are team and even model specific, others can be used freely. So even if you and your opponent are playing the same four named ork- excuse me, IRONJAWZ, you can still have a very different tactical set. That is, unless you both read the same internet guide on cards of something. With a match of Shadespire rumored to last less than an hour and maybe as little as thirty minutes, it’s probably the most blisteringly fast game in the market.
As a surprising twist, the GW’s Lord of the Rings game (now called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Strategy Battle Game, but nobody has time for that or all the trademarks GW puts on every other proper noun) will be getting the Battle Companies skirmish ruleset some time this December. It’s based on the rules of the same name that had been published in White Dwarf some time in 2004.
This game will focus on small bands 6 to 10 or more miniatures depending on faction of regular soldiers acting individually. It seems to be geared towards being a campaign game, with random rolls for band reinforcement and experience points that will eventually lift up your survivors to be heroes. If the game comes out with rules for Easterling or Haradrim warbands, I will be all over it.
But what do you if you want something more historically oriented, yet are unwilling to buy one of bazillion games that Osprey publishes? Well, Warlord Games, the guys behind Bolt Action The Cheaper and Better WWII Game have recently released Test of Honour. It’s a samurai skirmish game, not unlike Warbands: Bushido that I had the honor to review! The proprietary dice even look similar!
The game is played with warbands of 10-20 miniatures, centered around a samurai hero, maybe a strong buddy or two, and some ashigaru that will probably be sorry to be there. The warbands cost around $30, while main box will set you back $50 and will leave you with 35 miniatures enough for two bands of Japanese warriors.
Each miniature in game provides one or more command chits (of either commoner or samurai type). Both players pour their chits into one cup, add some fate tokens and take turns drawing chits and activating soldiers. So, unlike in Bolt Action, you’re both guaranteed to act every other turn, and you can activate some units (samurai) several times. And, of course, there are cards aplenty to modify your game including Dishonor cards for dastardly deeds.
If you want something more modern, yet still historical, Warlord Games really wishes for you to try out Blood Red Skies. To the chagrin of Cold War gamers transforming drain cleaners into Sidewinder smoke plumes, this game is set in WWII. It feels very much inspired by X-Wing, which isn’t a bad thing, and features such innovations as tiltable flight stands that will show if the plane is in Advantage (either flying higher or having more kinetic energy), Neutral or Disadvantage (climbing, being lower) in a neat abstraction of the dogfight furball. Again, your planes and pilots will be modified by cards.
So you might have noticed that cards that strongly modify the small model counts armies seem to be a prominent feature of most of the games mentioned. If you put two and two together, you can clearly state that the flood of skirmish games seems to be taking the good lessons from X-Wing, where one TIE Fighter can be radically different from another TIE Fighter because of the pilot and equipment cards that add a layer of abilities on top of their stats. A lot of the games seem to targeted at the tournament scene, with notable exceptions of Necromunda and Battle Companies. It’s also good to know what most companies aren’t doing the X-Wing trick of packing cards you might need with models you don’t need at all!
All in all, this is a great time to get into miniatures. There are games aplenty to choose from, companies are focusing on clear, easy rules that don’t need 4 FAQ’s in three months. You also don’t need to commit that much time to either playing or getting ready to play, as the armies are fairly small. One can only wonder how established small model number games like Infinity and Malifaux will react!