Something a bit different from our usual video-game related stuff. But if you’ve ever read our ‘About‘ page you’ll know why this isn’t off topic at all for Agoners!
I’ve played a lot of miniatures wargames over the years since I was a pre-teen even. The one I enjoyed the most (at least, enjoyed AND was relatively easy to find opponents to play against!) overall has been Warhammer Fantasy Battle. I’ve never been really satisfied with the rules though, and even as a teenager, used to play a heavily modified “house ruled” or “home brew” version of the game, to make it more fun, and yep, give much more possibility to play it as a competitive game and agonistic endeavour of course. However the difficulty of doing that is constantly keeping your house-rules up to date with a changing game – and also you run into problems the moment you want to play someone new outside of your existing group of friends who played the game with you. So about 10 years ago I tried out some wargaming again, trying to keep to “rules as written”, if I could, to keep things simple with new opponents. I even put some battle reports up on an old site, and had some fun, but was still generally dissatisfied with all the games I tried.
Fast forward to today and I still have a lot of fantasy wargame miniatures sat around and I’ve even been painting some again. So naturally this has led me to look into what wargames systems are around these days that would be suitable for my existing model collection. Warhammer Fantasy Battle itself was effectively killed off by GW a few years ago, but that’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise in a way, as there are now a number of free and probably better-written rules alternatives. Below are the systems I’ve been looking at and my current brief thoughts about them… Note I’ve not played any of these yet (at least not recently, in the case of Armies of Arcana) but I feel I can get quite a good impression from reading the rules and my own experiences with wargames previously in most cases.
Another nice thing about this situation, it looks pretty reasonable to have fantasy models, units and indeed whole armies that can be used for all of these systems at once. Some things might need to be placed on a different base at times, but I can plan around that myself and use spare or temporary bases to easily swap certain models that require it between different systems. But the vast majority of my existing models won’t require that for these systems (if it did, I would discount it as a possibility for me to use).
The Ninth Age. This is basically Warhammer Fantasy Battle 8th edition but updated and fixed a bit, and it’s all available for free download. Active community effort to build and improve these rules, and they’ve just released their 2nd edition “gold” book. What’s a shame for me though is that there are still lots of longstanding problems from WH with its strange turn sequence, units moving erratically different speeds at times and overall very gamified ‘chess-like taking pieces’ mechanics. Individual model level rules means lots of min/maxing of unit sizes, alignments, character positioning, equipment etc. Reams of minutiae which I get quite tired of personally. It is definitely unbalanced at the model & unit choice levels (lots of stuff is questionably costed, army lists have blatantly strong best to use and conversely bad never or rarely use stuff) which is one of my biggest issues with WH. Despite this it appears to be quite balanced at army vs army level (ie: two players taking the best lists they can). Rules are well designed for tournament play. Magic toned down a lot from WFB & WH special characters removed. There’s also some nice Quick Starter rules and armies and some nice new models with new companies supporting it – even though the system itself supports any models as long as they are on the correct bases.
Warhammer Armies Project (an unofficial WFB 9th Ed). Again, basically WFB 8th but updated and fixed a bit. Seems to be less popular than 9th Age though. Has all the Games Workshop style fluff and army books, but all available for free pdf downloads now, which is great. Has the special characters from WH still. I think it’s probably less balanced and more random and swingy than T9A.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar. The current GW ‘fantasy’ game. Basically skirmish level battle game (I think: about 15-40 models total per side) set in a post-apocalyptic WH setting. I had discounted this entirely until I discovered there is still quite a lot of crossover of models and armies still and apparently you CAN play AoS with square-based fantasy models too, so I will take a closer look at it at some point.
Armies of Arcana. Dead system currently (this link is the only relatively active thing I could find), but I still have old rulebooks and could still play it. Very good semi-simultaneous turn sequence and much more realistic battle system than anything WH based (two cavalry units can charge into each other rather than one ‘winning’ the charge somehow for example). Very different to WH, archers really powerful and expensive for example. Units and armies are more generic though, eg. every infantry unit feels similar for example, defined more by weapons than type of troop, and armies are only a few stat points differences at times, as a result of very few “unique rules”. It’s a bit broken competitively at the army vs army level if making a ‘best list to win’, as any army can take any monster and some are very silly as the formula for calculating points can be min/maxed. A few annoying-to-play rules like all units being able to free-skirmish formation which is no fun to move the models (T9A removed free-skirmish completely. Everything moves in unit blocks now, skirmishers just wider apart).
Kings of War. Unit based rules rather than individual models, but does have some individual heros & varied unit sizes. Much more streamlined rules than WH, designed for much faster and larger games. Only the base rules and some of the army units are available for free so I can’t see exactly how many units can really be matched with old WH models but it uses the same base sizes and looks easy to make many equivalents from the ones I can access currently. Tempted to buy the full rules for this too and maybe some extra models, but should probably give it a try first as it’s different enough that I can’t really tell how it will feel to play just from a read. It appears to be quite gamified though, to the extent that your models only fight at all on your turn for example.
Battleground Fantasy Warfare. I have a few old decks for this, and they are releasing new cards and potentially a new edition in 2019. This game is designed for cards rather than miniatures, but I think it would be quite possible to convert it to use minis too. Fixed size unit based rules rather than individual models, so as long as you have correct movement tray sizes, any models can do. No individual heros & not all the units map nicely to old WH models but there’s likely something reasonably close in most examples I have. Complex & strategic “order system” rules where you have to write down a battle plan for all your units and use command points to make changes to what your units are doing. Some kind of simultaneous turn system too, so I believe it will be much less gamified feeling than WH derivatives. I think it could be a really interesting system but it would take some getting used to and I wonder if armies & units may feel quite generic and lacking in uniqueness like AoA over time.
There’s a few others I’ve come across too but don’t seem to be as suitable as any of these for the models we have. What do you make of my thoughts here, and do you know of any other systems I’ve not considered?
One extra point to make is that I’m probably far less agonistic about miniatures wargaming than I would be about some other forms of gaming. I don’t really anticipate wanting to play at a highly competitive level or want to enter tournaments or anything like that, I’m far more likely to just play very casually with a few friends. By their nature, tabletop wargames are a bit more ‘fuzzy’ for rules and tend to be more random too. However I still really value well-written and good game systems, and ones that support viable tournament play and attempt to be well balanced, usually mean they are much better games to play in general, even casually. I also believe that as you’re going to spend years and years painting and modelling the units and scenery for these kinds of games, having good rules actually matters more rather than less. Having games be poorly balanced and buggy is bad when it comes to some digital component in a videogame, but it’s even worse when it relegates huge swathes of your own creative work redundant!