One of the things I really enjoy about wargaming is how multifaceted it is. There’s such a variety of games, miniatures and play-styles that even the most ardent hobbyist would be kept busy collecting, painting and playing just a few of them.
Such is the case with me. Like most hobbyists I’ve usually got 5-6 different projects going at once, that I work on piecemeal; when I’m finished with/burned out on one, I move to the other.
Lately, I’ve been focusing on something a little different than the massive Death Guard army that I largely finished a while back: Skirmish games.
Skirmish games are, essentially, small-scale wargames. By this I don’t mean the actual components are smaller (though in some cases I’m sure that’s true) but the games themselves involve smaller numbers of miniatures and, often, smaller gaming spaces.
The lure of large-scale games for me, and countless other wargamers, is strong. I’ve written before how I enjoy fielding large armies of infantry on the board. And there’s an inescapable epic sweep to battles fought on a large 6-by-4-foot board with tens or hundreds of models.
And, yet, the allure of the skirmish game is equally as strong.
Skirmish wargames usually involve small squads of miniatures that (often) move and act independently of one another – you don’t maneuver them as a group like you normally would in a large-scale game, but as individuals. These squads, frequently called “warbands” (I’ve also seen them called other names; in one game, for instance, they’re “posses”) usually have 5 to 10 minis in them, with their own strengths, weapons and abilities. These groups face off against similarly-equipped groups commanded by the opponent.
There are a host of skirmish games, from companies large (Games Workshop currently offers skirmish games for Warhammer Age of Sigmar as well as Warhammer 40k, and the revived Necromunda, for instance) and small (the Pulp Alley game, for example, which takes its inspiration, as you might have guessed, from the pulp magazines of the early decades of the 20th century). Others, like Malifaux and Frostgrave have also been popular. And there are skirmish games where you can field small bands of fantasy characters, samurai, steampunks, musketeers, even post-apocalyptic automobiles.
Part of the fun of a skirmish game is that, with a small model count, not only is the game more affordable, and games take less time, but there’s much more incentive to find the exact right mini you want, customize them, and take time lovingly rendering their paint jobs.
And there’s also the opportunity to make the games have a more narrative focus. Less time is needed to move the minis and involve them in combat (you’re dealing with a handful, not a hundred, after all), so you can engage with them as characters; the new GW Warhammer 40k skirmish game Kill Team, for instance, has this as a focus. There’s also the ability to engage the teams of miniatures in interlinked campaigns where they can get better equipment, experience, and abilities, much like a role-playing game.
It’s this particular element that I think draws people to skirmish games. Instead of fighting a massive pitched battle with huge numbers of casualties (which is wildly fun, don’t get me wrong) you have characters you’ve created and are engaged with, and that you have a vested interest in surviving and continuing on to the next game.
Tiny battles with tiny soldiers don’t always mean tiny stories or tiny stakes. Sometimes they build a big world for the players who love them.
About the Author;
Peter Kuebeck is a writer, gamer and award-winning mini-painter living in the Midwest. He wages a constant battle against the ever-growing tide of unpainted minis in his basement, and occasionally GMs role-playing game sessions with friends. Catch his hobby shenanigans on Twitter at @popculturecube
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