Wargaming Tradecraft: Beginners Guide to Choosing an Army


Beginners Guide to Choosing an Army

Confusion by psychicLexa
I've spoken about this a few times already. One of my first posts on this blog was actually about Picking Your Army. I've also recently talked about Planning Your Artistic Army and The Creative Process.

The difference is that this post will be directed at people who are completely new to wargaming and I'm going to be generic enough to try and help you pick an army for any system. Lets start with a clean slate. You've been researching game systems, watching people play it, maybe even gotten a few trial games in. You've found a system that seems pretty fun, your friends are interested and / or there's plenty of people in the area to get to know and play at your local shop.

For Starters

Ultimately, just choose something that interests you. If you can, see if someone you know, or at the club minds you trying out their army. Maybe buy a rule book and play a few games using toy soldiers or models from a starter set as stand ins for the army you're looking at.

Try to find a cheap starter set for your army. There are debates about how "good" these starter sets are, but what they will do is give you a feel for how the army works, give you a nice selection of models and not hold you to any specific tactic. Once you've got something to start with, play a bunch of games with these models.

Over time, you'll get a feel for the army... what it's good at, what it's bad at, what YOU'RE good at and what you're bad at. If you like the army, start buying models. Get stuff that compliments what you enjoy and makes up for the areas you're not fond of.

If you don't dig the army, now's your chance to get out before spending hundreds of dollars. These models can stand in for others as you try out another army, and eventually just sell them. You won't get their whole worth back, (honestly, used minis sell around 1/4 or less of their original value) but it's better than grinding away at something you don't enjoy.

Recognize the difference between "don't enjoy" and "aren't winning." You're new... you're not going to win. Certain armies are more fragile than others, which is why you might even be losing to other new players. If you're enjoying losing, then stick with it and learn how to use the army.

Now on to the tricky part... choosing your army. Read the following styles to get an idea of some of the things that make people choose an army. Also be sure to get to know what options are available. Ideally, you'll find an army that plays and looks how you like, has a background that interests you, and that you can win with.

Gaming Style

No matter the reason you want to get into tabletop wargaming, if you're interested in playing then you need an army you'll enjoy. In the end, have fun - but find out what it is that makes it fun for YOU. The way an army plays is a big part of that.

Every game system will have multiple armies to choose from. Typically, every army will play differently than another. There will usually be things they excel at, the trade-off being they'll be weaker at other things. (Or they won't have many down sides and be only good all around.) Try to figure out what sort of style you'd enjoy while avoiding negatives that don't appeal to you.

The following list goes into some of the ups and downs that armies FROM ANY GAME might have, but it's certainly not all of them. You're going to be attracted to an army for a reason, and these are some of them:

Stronger troopsHigh point value (Smaller armies)
Low point values (Larger armies)Weaker troops
Agile, hard to hitEasy to kill when hit
Armour, difficult to killSlower, easier to hit
Extremely powerful weaponsShorter range
Long Range FirepowerPerform poorly at close range
Excellent in close combatFewer shooting weapons
Lots of attacks / shotsDo less damage
Extremely useful modelLimited amount per army

The top two items are the overall general guidelines for wargaming... the better your troops are, the more they points they're worth, the smaller your army is... the weaker your troops are, the less points they're worth, the larger your army is. Army books are usually comprised of a mix of high value powerful models, medium value balanced models (with strengths AND weaknesses) and weaker cheap models, leaving it up to the players to balance how many they want of each.

Also keep in mind that the negatives don't always directly match the positive it's listed beside. For example, you could have an extremely powerful unit with no in-game draw backs or weaknesses at all, but those are the ones worth a lot of points. You could also have both powerful weapons AND long ranges, but maybe they miss a lot or have a chance to overheat and kill your own troops. Sometimes the benefit isn't directly obvious - those cheap weak units act as great cannon fodder, distractions, or objective capturers.

Next week I'll go into more detail about gaming styles as I talk about building a list.


by tutzdes
While the gaming style talks about how armies play out on the battlefield, fluff is about how they play in the mind's eye. We all like to picture ourselves in the shoes of our army commanders at some point. This isn't silly or "geeky." Plenty of adults dress up in the jerseys of their chosen sports team and you can't tell me business people don't imagine themselves as leaders of Fortune 500 companies when preparing for or giving some big speech.

As people tell you about armies and you read their backgrounds, you'll learn what they're all about. A good game system will create a story that pulls you in just as well as a deep book. Except in this tale, you get to side with one of the many factions of protagonists or antagonists then build the army that epitomizes some aspect of that back story.

Your army can have as much or as little fluff as you'd like. For some, it's as simple as choosing a faction within your army and painting your models the same colour. Other people take this further and purchase models to build lists that resemble those from stories within the rulebooks. (Such as a player fielding mostly vehicles for an army "known to be fast and prefer driving in to battle.") Don't forget that there's nothing stopping you from creating your own story or using fluff from something else.

Something to be aware of is that depending on how you actually build your list, these armies don't always play too well. A story's "ideal" army doesn't always line up with how the rulebook is written. Then again, sometimes the rules not only "line up" but there could be bonus' to building the "fluffy army".

If you're interested in gaming with the army, be open to certain concessions here and there. There's a term, "FAAC" (Fluffy At All Costs) whereby people put their fluff first before all other considerations. "Everything in moderation" as they say, so be open to making changes so that your army still stands a chance on the battlefield.

Artistic Style

from Gimnir
Showing that with enough work, even
models considered boring can have a
ton of artistic style.
Just like the fluff a designer writes for an army's background, the look of an army should be diverse enough to attract people who have different tastes. I want to say that if you're choosing an army primarily on how they look, you're probably not focusing on playing the game... but I can't.

I was a kid when I started playing... I knew nothing of what all the options were, and yes, I chose the army I thought looked cool. Technically, that's not a terrible plan. A game developer should ensure all their armies are good options, none being weaker than the others. (Not always the case) Because you're not choosing an army based on how it plays for you, I suggest not going all in and trying the game out for a bit before buying your whole army.

Artists might also want to choose an army based purely on what it looks like. We've gotta keep busy and painting up a force is one way to do that. It'll hone the skills, let you try something new and will look good sitting in a display case or pay the bills (maybe just it's cost) if you sell it.


I won't beat around the bush - a lot of people wargame to win. Often this is a pretty casual, "I'd rather win than lose," because lets be honest, who wouldn't? But for some people, it gets more competitive. That's not necessarily a bad thing, just don't let it go to your head and try to remain friendly about it.

People who approach the game competitively enjoy the sport of it. It means researching your army, reading strategies, building lists and play testing them against yourself, friends and strangers. You'll enjoy researching the capabilities of your opponents armies, what lists could be thrown at you, how to react and counter them. Terrain begins to take on a new meaning as you look upon the battlefield and line of sight jumps out at you, just as easily as you see the paths that each force will use to clash with their enemy.

Above, I talked about gaming style - choosing armies because you enjoy a certain aspect of how they play out. To a winner, that's a means to an end; they'll become good at whatever army they choose. Lets face it... certain armies face others better, because nothing's perfect. To some, This will even mean changing armies as new versions of the rules are released. The other reasons for choosing armies, background and appearance, can still create winning armies, but not necessarily competitive ones.

Beware the slippery slope from competitive gaming to WAAC (Win At All Costs) gaming.

Once you adopt an "At All Costs" mindset, people may being to lose interest in playing with you. Consider what "at all costs" means... rules may become blurry... smaller details blown out of proportion... games get less friendly and more psychological...


  1. I'm not entirely sure that small armies are entirely negative. They can be less stressful to run (large armies are easier to gum up your own plans with, what with moving all those blokes around and keeping space clear for them to do what they do), they can be cheaper and they can have real time taken over them without the nagging sense that you've a hundred other models to do that are exactly the same as these ones.

  2. Certainly not. As I mention a few times, the more powerful the unit is, the smaller your army becomes... you certainly don't get really powerful units AND large armies.

    It's something I'm going to be touching on though next week as I look at list building.

  3. Nice related series you have going on here. Although I think your "want to be a (war)Gamer" is a good start for the "Parents' Guide".

    Amusing when we I started gaming in public, I remember my Dad going into the conference room at the local mall, looking around and finding what looked like a "responsible adult" before leaving his young teen alone with the slightly weird people hanging out there.

    Which is the main thing IMO most parents run into (which being a parent, I agree with), they have to trust their child to an environment that has the surface potential to be seriously not safe.

  4. Thanks. And yeah, I think I'm going to end up stripping down some of the other posts and simplify for the parents post. The trust issue's a good one to cover.

    We always gamed at either our house or friends houses, so strangers wasn't generally an issue.


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