It just occurred to me the other day that one of the major hobbies that I'm involved in is miniature table top wargaming, however I only see slight references to the hobby throughout the blogs of io9 and Kotaku from time to time. When they do appear it's only if there's a connection through either a video game or a board game.
However much like a roleplayer's relationship to Dungeons and Dragons; Warhammer 40,000 is not the only kid on the block in the table top gaming world but it is however the giant elephant in the room.
So my post here is to give a very small summary of what choices are the most popular/available to someone from the outside looking to get into the hobby. There are literally hundreds of games out there but if you were to walk into a normal non specialist hobby store you'd likely see the following 4.
I'll break it down by fluff (background), miniature quality, rule set quality, and pricing.
1) Warhammer 40,000
This is arguably the most popular table top game on the market right now. Featuring 28 mm models from the British based company Games Workshop. Warhammer 4o,000 is known for it's "grim darkness" of a science fiction setting where humanity rules the stars in a massive Imperium of Man. However it is beset from all sides by aliens, it's own crumbling infrastructure, and the Cthulhu-like forces of Chaos gnawing at it from the inside.
I would like to take the time to point out that when Warhammer 40,000 first started it was known as Rogue Trader which had an interesting element of mixing some roleplaying aspects into the game that was later dropped as the editions progressed. However early 40K has some interesting elements that were much different from what 40K would later become. A case example would be the Space Marines.
In today's 40K Space Marines are chosen from a young age (usually having to prove themselves first as scouts) and implanted with organs grown from a "gene seed" from a given Chapter. It very much reflects a sort of space knightly order and a superhuman status.
Old Rogue Trader 40K however had it so that the Space Marines were essentially brain washed criminals, a bit closer in tone to say Starcraft's marines. They were less space faring and more used to everyday busy work such as fighting street gangs as a sort of super police (that the Arbites would later fully take over in 40K)
Games Workshop is famous for making high quality white metal, plastic, and now resin miniatures. Being able to paint a space marine is considered to be something of the gold standard of the painting side of the hobby.
Of further interest are the models that are considered to be hard to get due to being out of production or being worth premium.
These are usually outdated Imperial Guard regiments such as Praetorian guard or GW's own Forgeworld Resin miniatures which easily go for double the cost or more of standard GW stock.
Forgeworld is a specialist subsidiary of GW that focuses on producing resin based miniatures which are usually considered to be highly superior to the standard miniature stock on the market. Many of their kits are usually bit piece upgrades you can apply to your 40K kits, although some kits are complete on their own. (Such as the Death Korps of Krieg who I played when I still played 40K)
The Ruleset is something considered to be a standard in table top gaming for skirmish level games. Since 3rd edition Warhammer 40K, it has usually stuck to the basic concept of each model costing a certain amount of points.
Both players then agree to a set number of points to play with and create their army with.
Weapons & Troops usually have their own profiles that tell how far they can shoot, how good they are at fighting, etc.
The army itself usually moves then fires with 6 sided dice being rolled for To Hit, To Damage, and Armor Saves.
It slightly changed for Vehicles with a small chart being provided to see how much damage the vehicle takes.
The main criticism I've seen of this playstyle is that because your entire army goes then the opponent goes (in a your turn my turn manner), it leaves a lot of watching in the inactive player's turn as he watches his army die and can only roll armor saves if the weapon permits it.
It also encourages achieving first turn initiative so that your range weapons can blast away say 25% of your opponents army first turn, giving him diminishing return values and ability to apply tactical thinking over luck.
There has also been concerns in the community about the push to large point games featuring Titans and Godlike creatures on a ruleset that was initially made for smaller army engagements. This makes the game unruly to play with larges games easily lasting several hours, and restrictive to newer players who cannot afford to play on such a scale.
Warhammer is somewhat infamous for being prohibitively expensive to own with price increases every year. To make a point here are some statistical breakdowns of the pricing from 2004-2012
|Metal Models||2004 USD||2012 USD||Increase|
|Space Marine Captain||10||22.50||125%|
|Space Marine Dreadnought||40||46.25||15.63%|
|*Space Marine Command||45||59||31.11%|
|Model||2004 USD||2012 USD||Increase|
|*Battle for Macragge||45||99||120%|
|Warhammer Starter Set||80||99||23.75%|
Consider again that in today's modern meta for warhammer 40K, the starter set is usually not enough points to get into a "standard" game, and a supplement of about $100 is needed to really put your army into acceptable levels. This is assuming you don't buy the codex for your army which is around $50.
2) Warmachine and Hordes
Warmachine is something of the usurper to the throne of Warhammer. Privateer Press's game started off as a d20 campaign variation and launched their own miniatures game in 2003. Since then its popularity has massively exploded and many hobby stores can be seen playing Warmahordes over GW games if not at equal levels.
The basic background is that the game takes place in a fantasy/steampunk themed location named Imoren. Within Imoren the Iron Kingdoms are the "civilized" races, all fighting each other for a variety of reasons. The six factions that make up the civilized portion are Cygnar, Khador, The Protectorate of Menoth, Cryx, Convergence of Cyriss, and Mercenaries.
These factions make up the Warmachine side to the game with its own shared mechanics and stats.
Each of these factions has a deep background of nation building, wars, technology, etc. In general summary though Cygnar is usually seen as the most good of these factions (fighting a defensive war) while the most evil is seen as Cryx (who serve an undead dragon).
Everyone else falls somewhere inbetween with Khador's nationalistic expansionism, Menoth's religious fanaticism, Cyriss's hidden world plans, and Mercenaries who just want to get paid.
Outside of the civilized races are the 5 other factions which make up the Hordes side of the game, which runs on a different ruleset but is fully compatible with Warmachine since they share the same world.
These factions are Trolls, Skorne, Legion of Everblight, Circle Orboros, and Minions.
Out of these factions Trolls are considered to be the most morally right, while Legion of Everblight serves a different competing dragon to Warmachine's Cryx.
Skorne come in a close second for most evil. Since their culture is fascinated with pain and torture.
Circle Orboros are druids with their own hidden agenda in diametric opposition to the Convergence of Cyriss.
Minions are more or less mercenaries for the Hordes factions, although they do contain their own self sufficient armies.
Privateer Press's miniatures have improved greatly since they first arrived with some of the most impressive white metal minatures coming from their hands to date.
The most famous portion of their games is the Warjack; massive steam powered robots that form the foundation of your army in Warmachine. Each faction has their own variants, electricity powered, obsessed with fire, spitting acid, or even just being more armored than anyone else.
Warmachine has recently pushed into the Colossals expansion which gives all of the factions access to massive 120 mm base size models. (You literally have to hold them with two hands)
Hordes get their own versions too, and their quality keeps up equally.
Most of PP's miniatures are casted in white metal but they have been slowly expanding to plastics. Although as a regular player I have to admit their plastics leave something to be desired as they easily warp in packaging.
One of the reasons Warmahordes has a leg up in the America market is due to its ruleset.
The best way to describe playing Warmahordes is that it's a bit like warhammer with chess thrown in. In these games your main character known as your warcaster or warlock is simultaneously your most valuable piece and your most fragile. You can think of them as your King and Queen rolled into one.
The warcaster and warlock keep your warjacks or warbeasts running properly for maxium efficiency and usually have a plethora of spells that can change the flow of the game on a dime.
The catch is, if your warcaster or warlock dies; you lose.
Often times I've been able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by using my own warcaster to power through a desperate gambit and kill my opponent's caster thus winning me the game.
Warmahordes is both about planning ahead but also being able to be reactive to the developing battlefield.
Usually 2-3 six sided dice are rolled for everything and all of the information you need to play are on small cards packaged with the models.
You absolutely do not need the buy the factional codex books to know what your models can do as the cards provide everything.
Another reason Warmahordes has been gaining popularity is that as a whole it's generally slightly cheaper than Games Workshop.
Games are usually played at the 35 pt to 50 pt values
While the starter set provides about 11-15 points at $50
Another thing people appreciate about warmahordes is that even with the same units; changing out your warcaster or warlock can change the playstyle of your army completely.
For example: I usually play Cygnar and if I took an eHaley caster my spells suddenly make my game about supporting my army in a game of attrition and board control to capture objectives. However if I instead used eCaine, now my army has become fodder to open up a clear lane for eCaine to kill the other caster as he's one of the premier assassins of the game. I did not change anything else in my list but the warcaster and the playstyle is completely different.
It's quite easy to actually make two general lists that can take on all comers with relative success. Something that is much harder to do in Warhammer 40K
Background: This game has a good fanbase in Europe (being a product from Spain) but has been recently making more of a splash in the American markets and for good reason. The background is absolutely fascinating and just as rich as 40K.
The general background is that 125 years in the future Humanity has managed to form a small star empire known as the human sphere. The human sphere is maintained by a sentient AI program known as ALEPH that says its keeping humanity's best interests at heart by controlling more or less everything in a surveillance state. A UN-like organization called the O-12 tries to keep the general peace in the human sphere after a bloody war called the Neocolonial war was waged between the top nations.
The country that is considered to be #1 and controls over half of the human sphere is PanOceania who arose as an economic alliance between Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Phillipines, Brazil, Chile, and so on. When an economic crisis caused the American and European markets to collapse PanOceania was there to take over as the world leader. They become powerful enough over time that some members of the EU eventually leave in favor of it. Pan Oceania is run fairly benevolently with high standards of living, however they are fully supportive of rampant corporate culture and militant Christian religious orders due to the integrated cultures of the west.
Working in opposition to them is the #2 of the human sphere Yu Jing which owns a good chunk of everything else in the Human Sphere. Yu Jing came about after the economic collapse of the west as China's still growing economy more or less absorbed all of the far eastern nations. In an effort to remain more cohesive they abandoned the Capitalist/Communist ideas opting to instead go back to Confucianism and Legalism. Thus there's an emperor in power who is support/controlled by a small state party and they lead an economic powerhouse of Yu Jing. However Japan has not gotten along well with the new system and have been regulated as 2nd class citizens, little better than chaff on the battlefields of the future. Yu Jing constantly schemes on how to displaced Pan Oceania's stranglehold on the Human Sphere and replace it with their own doctrine through behind the scenes shadow wars.
Outside of the control of ALEPH are Ariadna and the Nomads.
Ariadna are descendants from a lost earlier space colonization effort that had the last hopes of Russia, Scotland, United States, and France on board. They were cut off from earth and had to make due on their new found planet, struggling to survive and at odds with each other. Eventually the Russians won and forced a tenuous alliance between all of the factions to fight the planet's natives called the Antipodes. Very recently their planet has been rediscovered by the human sphere and now they've been admitted into the O-12. Yet they know that Pan Oceania and Yu Jing are planning to try and steal their world's resources from them.
Both an advantage and disadvantage is that their isolation has set them behind the technological curve, meaning they have no real power armor or high technology to use. Relying on overwhelming manpower though has equally left them immune to any kind of hacking or emp based attacks that some armies are fond of using.
The Nomads are groups of rebels and dissidents that live on 3 capital ships in space. They reject the ideas of an ALEPH run surveillance state and instead choose to live unconnected from the system. Each ship has its own distinct history and strangely enough the Nomads have managed to excel at technology such as robotics and computer software. Unburdened by regulations the Nomads are free to experiment with biotechnology as well with one ship specializing in strange alterations to their bodies.
This gives them an edge at fighting against the technology heavy forces that ALEPH has access to, while also guaranteeing their safety though trade from all of the other human sphere factions simply uniting to crush them.
Haqqislam are a reformed Islamic faction trying to bring their culture back to the golden age of the caliphate and scientific progression. So they excel at viral and biology work and have access to a precious resource called Silk (which is basically Spice from Dune). Their influence is on the smaller side controlling only one world but they are however on the cutting edge of biology sporting the most medics out of all the factions.
Last but not least humanity is under attack from an alien faction called The Combined Army. The Combined Army is lead by their own AI system named EI rivaling that of ALEPH. The EI is trying to figure out the equation of how to transcend and escape the galaxy's natural entropy. In order to do so it requires more processing power which it accomplishes from absorbing other space faring races into its ever growing army.
The only one to survive so far are the Tohaa who are on the run (also a payable faction). Now it has set its sights on the Human Sphere which has united humanity on a common front against them. Yet the combined army has just finished its initial scout probing with the Campaign: Paridiso book and is now prepared to begin the main invasion.
All the while the other factions of the human sphere continue to work with each other out of common interest while simultaneously supporting shadow ops to sabotage one another. The game puts you in charge of one of these elite strike teams of your own choosing.
Something that sets infinity apart from its competition is the miniatures. I think it's fascinating that they use true scaling in their miniature proportions. Most miniature companies use what is called heroic scaling in which a model's hands and head are larger in order to look better for the miniature in question. Infinity however tries to keep it in true scale proportional to real life.
These are fantastic minis to put together and easy to clean despite being white metal. Personally I love how each faction looks completely distinct despite all being a variation of a guy in armor. Although one thing that may or may not put off some people is that it has a slight Anime flair to it and as such all of the female models are usually on the sexy side of things.
The rules are quite different from 40K but do share a similarity through basic profile stats and weapon charts. However the game itself plays like a table top version of Valkyria Chronicles.
You have a set of order tokens you can give to anyone under your command to have them Move and Action. The catch is that true line of sight is always active so if any opposing models at any point can see your model from its point of view, it can shoot you on your turn.
However Infinity games usually require much more terrain that your equivalent game of Warhammer or Warmachine.
This turns the whole game into a very urban combat approach that reminded me of Full Spectrum Warrior as you check all the lines of sight constantly.
Another note is that it uses 20 sided dice for rolling instead of 6 sided. This usually has to do with canceling shots and what nots.
The game also has something of a high learning curve but once you understand it, it flows much quicker.
Also of note the entire (now revamped 3rd edition) ruleset is offered free from Corvus Belli the official company.
Pricing is based on the conversion rate for the Euro which at the time of this article is about 1.2 to the US Dollar. Which means that it's slightly more expensive than say warmachine but not by a lot. However consider the following: that the model count does not tend to go much more than 10 models for a full game.
Their new starter set Operation Icestorm comes in at around $110 but already gives you about 6 models.
You can also tweak this value by taking much more expensive power suit heavy infantry over multiple light infantry models to save more money.
One last note is that if the background sounds interesting but you're not so interested in the table top game. They've recently announced that a pen and paper RPG is in the works scheduled for release this year, and a potential kickstarter for extra books and whatnot during the summer.
The last one on the block and by no means the least, relic knights has exploded in popularity over a very short time. It was launched as a kickstarter project by Cool Minis or Not in 2012 and has grown immensely in popularity.
The general background is inspired by over the top Anime and Manga, and so is rather impenetrable by my readings into it (sorry I don't actually own the background rulebook :P ). From what I understand there's some kind of universal event called the Darkspace Calamity that's slowly eating up the universe. The solution people have made to this problem is to flee to alternate universes to escape this entropy. However Relic Knights takes place in the last universe with all of the alternative forms bleeding through which explains why players using the same factions and heroes can fight each other.
There are six factions that correspond with six elements that run the game. (I'm keeping this brief because I don't know as much about the background as I'd like to)
Black Diamond- Your evil corporation paramilitary types.
Cerci Speed Circuit- Basically space biker girls who race all the time.
Doctrine- The anime magical faction .
The Noh Empire- Evil Space demon oni slavers.
Shattered Sword- Goodie Space Paladins
Star Nebula Corsairs- Space Pirates, complete with eye patches and peg legs.
Working with the miniatures I have to say has been kind of a pain in the ass. On the bright side they're all plastic. On the downside there are usually lots of little fiddly bits and cleanup/preparation takes quite a while. Once you've actually assembled them together they're quite good as they embrace their crazy Anime origins quite well.
Something I should note though is because it's based on Anime and Manga the girls tend to have a very cheesecake pinup quality to them that might give some people a second thought.
One of the reasons I myself chose Black Diamond is that being paramilitary types there's not as much cheesecake (with one ninja based exception).
What really makes the game shine and is proving to be a driving factor in its popularity is its ruleset which does not use dice at all.
Instead it uses a card based system that's somewhat reminiscent of land from magic or energy power from Pokemon.
You draw a hand of cards and try to color match cards asked for on the profiles of the units you're using. It's that simple. If you want to attack, you match the cards with what the attack calls for. Then you can use it.
The catch is that you have to line up a turn of order for your units three profiles at a time. So there's a certain tactical planning to the madness.
Line of sight is infinite and the game is highly objective based with new objectives drawn each game.
It does however take a line from Warmahordes in that your Relic Knight is your most powerful unit and if it dies your opponent nets 3 VP points putting him that much closer to winning the game.
The game is probably the most affordable out of all of the games so far. The starter sets are $50 each and give you most of everything you need. A pocket rulebook, tokens for objectives, a deck of standardized energy cards (no ridiculous expansion cards like other games), a paper mat to set it all out on, and the minis themselves.
I've managed to complete a full set of minis for any game for about $100 (which includes the $50 starter set). I would never need to buy another mini from the game if I choose to do so.
So overall this is highly fast paced, over the top, and paired with a very affordable entry barrier for those interested in getting started in the hobby.
That's about the end of it. There are many more table top games that I'm a huge fan of such as SAGA, Helldorado, Muskets and Tomahawks, Dystopian Legions, and much more.
However those tend to fall within more specialist games that only very large hobby stores would keep in regular stock. The four above I've now seen in all of my local hobby stores and even those who don't generally keep a dedicated stock to table top games.
I recommend them all actually, though these days I'm more of a fan of Warhammer Fantasy over 40K.
Another game that's making a huge splash but I have not included because I don't actually play it is the X-Wing table top game. From all accounts I hear it plays very well and the pre-painted miniatures are a bonus for those who can't be bothered to paint it themselves. Again I did not include it on the main list because I know far less about it than I should to give an honest analysis.
While I play all of these games in general these days I'm looking more and more into Infinity because of the new ruleset and the fact that I really enjoy the Valkryia Chronicles esque cover based combat.
That said I'm a huge fan of the hobby in general and I love the creatively put into these games.
If anyone has any questions or follow up discussions feel free to comment.