Wargaming Tradecraft: Choosing a Game System


Choosing a Game System

Creating an Artistic Army - the Creative Process
(This image isn't entirely fair in this context... for a new
player, GW has some great sculpts)
So, last week we looked at a brief overview of what wargaming is. Today we're going to try to come up with some ways to figure out what game system works for you. There are some different methods... the best is seeing what others are playing and what interests the friends / family you'll be playing with. Most companies have starter boxes though, so it's not a huge investment to try a new game out.

For the full details, keep reading...

What's everyone else playing?

Here's the number 1 thing that tends to determine what wargame people choose - what others are playing. Put it simply, you're going to want people to play against. If you know people who wargame, (friends, family, acquaintances) odds are that you'll pick up the same game. They'll be able to offer advice and help you learn the system. These are also people you'll be around often enough to game with.

If you don't know anyone who already games, then you'll have to spend some time at the local geek hangouts. Find out what stores in the area not only sell the game, but have tables for playing. Ask the shop keeper what people tend to play. Find out when they play, and show up.

It's also possible that nobody in your area plays the game and it's up to you and your friends to choose a game by yourselves. In that case, spend a little more time researching.

Watch and Learn

The best way to see how a game works is show up to gaming days at your local store and watch. If the folk are friendly, (or the shop keep is smart) they'll probably be willing to show you how the game works and answer questions. Don't worry about letting them know you're a total newb, they'll probably be happy to have more players. This has the side effect of letting you get to know some of the people and determine if they're friendly enough that you'd want to spend more time in the scene. (Just be courteous and recognize that if it's a tournament day, there probably won't be time for helping new people.)

You're going to be confused at first. There's a lot of movement, lots of rolling, lots of math and a whole bunch of little figures that sometimes look very much alike and other times quite different. At this point, pay more attention to the flow of the game and do people seem to be having fun, are they involved. Don't try to learn what everything does - you'll just get overwhelmed. Does it excite you? Are you having fun chatting with the people playing? Are your friends into it as much as you are?

If you find there are multiple game systems in your local scene, ask what's played more often and what some of the differences are. (Realize people who are into only one system can be quite biased about others)

Don't let watching the wrong battle sour your experience. Some battles can be very one sided. Other times, the dice just don't go in someone's favour. If the people playing aren't in a good mood, or are impolite, the game can also seem boring or flat out ugly. Keep an open mind, watch multiple people play, check out groups at other stores.

Trial Games

While watching, you might get an offer to try a game, or decide to ask someone. Say what you will about Games Workshop's game systems, but I've never had a negative experience with their store staff. They tend to be quite friendly, and always happy to walk you through an example game. Any smart shop owner will be willing to take some time and show you how a game is played.  (or find someone in the store to) A small battle won't take long, shouldn't be complicated and should give you an idea if you'd be interested in investing in the hobby.


If there aren't people playing in your area, or you don't like the games you see and/or people you meet, or you DO find a system that interests you, you should hop online and do a little reading about the game system. Visit the manufacturer's website and see what info they have for new players. Do some googling and search for sites reviewing the game. (Keeping in mind that the internet has a lot of bias for and against products)

The blogging community is a great source to tap. If they're taking the time to share on a blog, they'll probably be willing to take the time to respond to a question in email or a comment on a post. Ask them about the games you see them post about. We're geeks... we've usually got some experience with more than once system.

Background (aka "Fluff")

Every system has a certain amount of in-game history to it. Stories of adventures past, heroes and how the world / universe came to be. There will be pictures and photos of cool events, battles, characters and figures. Read up on the background for a game and maybe it will catch your interest. Still, make sure you'll enjoy the game play, but being interested in the armies is important.

Leap of Faith

Epic Marines, via Bell of Lost Souls
Scale for the tanks in top right
Epic: size of a quarter
40k: Size of a 50pk of CDs
I was just a kid when I started wargaming and my parents bought my brother and I a starter box for a game called "Space Marine". (This is before Epic and Titan Legions)

We didn't know anyone that played, but got really excited after seeing a demo in a Games Workshop. To our parents, a starter box was just an expensive board game... how were they to know where that would lead.

And really, that's how you can look at it. Find a starter box that lets you play the game right away, and you don't have to invest any more money if you don't want to. Enjoy the game? Then buy more.

How Much is this Going to Cost?

Cost will be a a factor for many people. Maybe not for kids, especially if you have a birthday or other holiday coming up. Cost will vary from system to system, so here are some generalities:
[in Canadian dollars]

  • Pre-packaged Starter sets
    • $60-100
    • This will include a rule book for the game system, a (decent) number of figures and enough army rules to cover the included models.
    • Extra stuff is usually included: dice, templates, counters / tokens, etc. (tape measure usually sold separately)
    • These should contain everything you need to get started and try the game out.
  • Buying things Individually
    • $100-200 (average)
    • $30-100: 1 game rule book ($30-50) + 2 army books ($20-30)
      (Some systems, like from Privateer Press, won't require you to buy army books right away as you get rules with the figures)
    • Army (you'll need two)
      $30-50: small starter army
      $50-100: medium starter army
      $200-300: large starter army (will often include rule books)
    • $10: dice, to split
      $5-10: tape measures
  • Hobby Expenses
    (these will vary greatly depending on where you buy them, so shop smart)
    • $100
    • $10: paint primer
    • $20: plastic and super glue.
    • $10: hobby knife
    • $10: wire cutters
    • $20-50: starter paint kit + extras and washes
    • $10-20: brushes

It's worth noting that starter sets usually include a lot of models for their cost. The bigger ones sometimes include rule books and other things you can't buy separate. The up side is you keep starting costs down by getting everything you need in a single box. The down side is that those starter armies might not be the ones you decide to stick with, meaning extra investment later. The included armies also tend to be a fair match, so you don't have to worry about list building, giving you a better experience as a first time gamer.

By spending more money, you'll get to start with the army that interests you right away. The learning curve could be higher though, since you'll have to make your own army lists. It also means you're committing more money right away - however, expensive starter boxes usually give you a pretty big discount in the long run.

Now, that's just the startup costs mind you... over the next 6 - 24 months, depending on how much you get into the game, you could end up investing $500 (easily for one decent sized army) to $1000-1500 and more. (every possible unit choice, second/third armies, etc) Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's still cheaper than a single season of a sport that requires you to travel.

These ongoing costs could be anywhere between $10-20 for a model or two, to around $35 for a whole unit or around $50 for a single vehicle.


  1. May I link to this and it's companion on creating an artistic army?

  2. Absolutely, feel free to link to any of my articles :)


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