Miniature wargaming is a form of wargaming in which players simulate battles between opposing military forces using miniature models of soldiers, artillery, and vehicles on a model of a battlefield. This is in contrast to other wargames which use abstract pieces such as counters or blocks to represent military units. The visual and tactile satisfaction of fully painted models moving around a beautiful model battlefield has a great appeal to fans of this genre, and players celebrate their artistry as much as their skill at play.
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A miniature wargame is played with miniature models of soldiers, artillery, and vehicles on a model of a battlefield. Players take turns to move their model soldiers across the battlefield and pretend that they are attacking each other. If a player wants to attack an enemy model, he must move one of his models within attack range and declare an attack. In most miniature wargames, the outcome of the attack is resolved with dice rolls and some mental arithmetic.
All wargames have a setting that is based on some historical era of warfare. A fantasy wargame may depict a fictional world, but it must at least be analogous to a real historical era. For instance, Warhammer Age of Sigmar is mostly based on medieval warfare, but includes supernatural elements such as wizards and dragons. A historical wargame, by contrast, accurately depicts a historical era. Flames of War, for instance, is set during World War II.
Miniature wargames are played either at the skirmish level or the tactical level. At the skirmish level, the player controls his warriors individually, whereas in a tactical level game he controls groups of warriors—typically the model warriors are mounted in groups on the same base. Miniature wargames are not played at the strategic or operational level because at that level the models would become imperceptibly tiny, and a model of a battlefield would be impossible.
Historically, these models were commonly made of tin or lead, but nowadays they are more often made of plastic or resin. Plastic models are cheaper to mass-produce but require a larger investment because they require expensive steel molds. Lead and tin models, by contrast, can be cast in cheap rubber molds. Larger firms such as Games Workshop prefer to produce plastic models, whereas smaller firms with less money prefer metal models.
Wargaming figurines often come with unrealistic body proportions. Their hands may be oversized, or their rifles excessively thick. One reason for this is to make the models more robust: thicker parts are less likely to bend or break. Another reason is that manufacturing methods often stipulate a minimum thickness for casting (molten plastic has difficulty flowing through thin channels in the mold). Finally, odd proportions may actually make the model look better for its size.
Wargaming models are usually sold in parts. In the case of plastic models, they're often sold still affixed to their sprues. The customer is expected to cut out the parts and glue them together. After assembling the model, it then should be painted. Strictly speaking, a player can play with unpainted models, but painted models are prettier and easier to identify. Understandably, the time and skill involved in assembling and painting models deters many people from miniature wargaming. Some firms have tried to address this by selling pre-assembled and pre-painted models, but these are rare because, with current technologies, it's hard to mass-produce miniatures that are cheap and match the beauty of hand-painted models. The other options for gamers are to buy finished models second-hand or hire a professional painter.
A miniature wargame is played on a model of a battlefield. The model battlefield is usually mounted on a table. As far as size goes, every part of the battlefield should be within arm's reach of the players—a width of four feet is recommended.
Most miniature wargames are written to allow players to design their own battlefields, as opposed to board wargames which are often tied to a pre-set layout. For this, players prefer to use modular terrain kits that permit easy customization.
Historical wargamers sometimes re-enact historical battles, but this is rare. Players more often prefer to design their own scenarios. The first advantage is that they can design a scenario that fits the resources they have at hand, whereas reconstructing a historical battle may require them to purchase additional models and rulebooks, and perhaps a larger gaming table. The second advantage is that a fictional scenario can be designed such that either player has a fair chance of winning.
Mininature wargames are rarely set in urban environments. The first reason is that it's harder to reach models when there are lots of buildings in the way. Another reason is that the buildings may highlight the abstract scale at which the wargame operates. For instance, in the 28mm wargame Bolt Action, a rifle's range is 24 inches, which is barely the length of a few houses at 28mm scale. If placed in an urban environment, a rifleman would not be able to hit a target at the far end of a small street, which makes no intuitive sense and thus shatters the illusion of realism.
The scale of a model vehicle can be expressed as a scale ratio. A scale ratio of 1:100 means that 1cm represents 100cm; at this scale, if a model car is 4.5cm long, then it represents a real car that is 4.5m long.
When it comes to figurines of humans, the preferred method of expressing scale is the height of a figurine in millimeters. There is no standardized system of measuring figurine size in the wargaming hobby, so the advertised size of a figurine may not match its actual size. This can become very apparent when comparing figurines from different manufacturers. Some manufacturers measure the height of a figurine up to the crown of the head, whereas others may measure it up to the eyes (the latter is more sensible if the figurine is wearing a hat). Another reason is "size creep". In order to make their products stand out against their competitors, manufacturers often make their models a little oversized. This makes the model look more imposing, and allows for more detail. So a model from a certain manufacturer that is advertised as suitable for 28mm wargames could actually be 30mm tall in practice. The manufacturer could simply label his models 30mm, but then players of 28mm wargames may not buy them.
Moreover, for most miniature wargames, the size of a model doesn't even matter as far as the rules are concerned. In most systems, what matters is the base that the models are mounted on. Distances between units are measured from the edge of the base. The player could mount a model of any size that fits the base. He could represent a unit of twenty archers using twenty 6mm figurines or five 28mm figurines (where each figurines represents four men) on the same base. It doesn't matter if the players mix models from different manufacturers, so long as the bases they're mounted are of consistent size. The choice is just a question of aesthetics.
Some manufacturers don't even bother with an official scale for their models. For instance, Warhammer 40,000 models officially don't have a scale. It doesn't need one: Warhammer 40,000 models are made exclusively by Games Workshop (they have a distinctive, copyrighted design) and are meant exclusively for use with the game Warhammer 40,000, which Games Workshop also owns. It's the manufacturers of "generic" wargaming models that are not tied to a specific wargame who have to advertise a scale.
Most miniature wargames do not have an absolute scale, i.e. where the figurines, terrain, movement and firing ranges all conform to single scale ratio. This is largely because of the need to compress the battle into the confined space of a table surface. Instead, miniature wargames prefer to use abstract scaling.
For example, a 28mm model rifleman realistically ought to be able to hit a target from over six meters away, but this is larger than most tables. A miniature wargame would not be much fun if the models could shoot each other from opposite ends of the table, and thus not have to maneuver around the battlefield. The 28mmm wargame Bolt Action uses abstract scaling for ranges so that it may be played comfortably on a table that is 48 inches wide. A rifle's range is only 24 inches, but is twice as long as a sub-machine gun's and four times as long as a pistol's. The standard movement range of a unit is 6 inches, and "fast" units can move double that.
Most miniature wargames do not have a fixed time scale (i.e. how many seconds a turn represents). Most wargame rulebooks instead prefer to define how far a unit can move in a turn, and this movement range is proportioned to the size of a typical game table. For example, Bolt Action sets a movement range of six inches in a turn for most units.
There are many miniature wargaming rulesets, not all of which are currently in print, including some which are available free on the internet; many gamers also write their own, creating so-called "house rules" or "club sets". Most rulesets are intended for a specific historical period or fictional genre. Rules also vary in the model scale they use: one infantry figure may represent one man, one squad, or much larger numbers of actual troops.
Wargaming in general owes its origins to military simulations, most famously to the Prussian staff training system Kriegsspiel. Consequently, rules designers struggle with the perceived obligation to actually 'simulate' something, and with the seldom compatible necessity to make an enjoyable 'game'. Historical battles were seldom fair or even, and the potential detail that can be brought to bear to represent this in a set of rules always comes at the cost of pace of the game and enjoyment. In Osprey Publishing's book about the Battle of Crécy, from its series on historical campaigns, there is included a detailed section on wargaming the battle, in which Stuart Asquith writes:
When refighting a particular battle, it is important to adhere as closely as possible to the original historical engagement. The counter-argument is that the wargamer(s) know who is going to win. Fair comment, but knowing the outcome of any battle does not usually prevent one from reading about that action, so why should such knowledge debar a refight?
He adds that unless at least the initial moves are recreated, "then an interesting medieval battle may well take place, but it will not be a re-creation of Crécy." Still, rules aimed at the non-professional hobby market therefore inevitably contain abstractions. It is generally in the area of the abstraction liberties taken by the designers that the differences between rules can be found. Most follow tried and true conventions to the extent that a chess player would recognize wargaming merely as a different scaled version of his or her own game.
During the 1960s and 1970s, two new trends in wargaming emerged: First were small-unit rules sets which allowed individual players to portray small units down to even a single figure. These rules expanded the abilities of the smaller units accordingly, to magnify their effect on the overall battle.
Second was an interest in fantasy miniatures wargaming. J.R.R. Tolkien's novel The Hobbit and his epic cycle The Lord of the Rings were gaining strong interest in the United States, and as a result, rules were quickly developed to play medieval and Roman-era wargames, where these eras had previously been largely ignored in favor of Napoleonic and American Civil War gaming.
The two converged in a set of miniatures rules entitled Chainmail, published by a tiny company called Guidon Games, headquartered in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Later, in 1974, TSR designer E. Gary Gygax wrote a set of rules for individual characters under Chainmail, and entitled it Dungeons & Dragons. Further developments ensued, and the role-playing game hobby quickly became distinct from the wargaming hobby which preceded it.
Although generally less popular than wargames set on land, naval wargaming nevertheless enjoys a degree of support around the world. Model ships have long been used for wargaming, but it was the introduction of elaborate rules in the early 20th century that made the hobby more popular. Small miniature ships, often in 1:1200 scale and 1:1250 scale, were maneuvered on large playing surfaces to recreate historical battles. Prior to World War II, firms such as Bassett-Lowke in England and the German company Wiking marketed these to the public. After World War II, several manufacturers started business in Germany, which remains the center of production to this day, while other companies started in England and the United States.
Rules can vary greatly between game systems; both in complexity and era. Historical rulesets range from the ancient and medieval ships to the fleets of the Age of Sail and the modern era. Often the hobbyists have to provide their own models of ships. The 1972 game, Don't Give Up The Ship!, called for pencil and paper, six-sided dice, rulers and protractors, and model ships, ideally of 1:1200 scale. The elaborate rules cover morale, sinking, fires, broken masts, and boarding. Dice determined wind speed and direction, and hence the ship's speed and the use of its cannon by measuring angles with the protractor.
In naval wargaming of the modern period, General Quarters, primarily (though not exclusively) using six-sided dice, has established itself as one of the leading sets of World War I and II era rules.
Some land-based miniature wargames have also been adapted to naval wargaming. All at Sea, for example, is an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game rules for naval conflicts. The game's mechanics centered around boarding parties, with options for ramming actions and siege engines. As such, the ship's scale ratio corresponds to the 25 mm scale miniatures used by The Lord of the Rings. Model ships are built by hobbyists, just as normal miniature terrain, such as "great ships" of Pelargir, cogs of Dol Amroth and Corsair galleys.
Air wargaming, like naval wargaming, is a smaller niche within the larger hobby of miniatures wargaming. Aerial combat has developed over a relatively short time compared with naval or land warfare. As such, air wargaming tends to break down into three broad periods:
In addition there are science fiction and "alternative history" games such as Aeronefs and those in the Crimson Skies universe.
Wargaming was invented in Prussia, primarily as a means of teaching strategy and tactics to military officers, though many people played them for fun as well. The first wargame was invented by Johann Christian Ludwig Hellwig in 1780. It was variation of chess, but wherein the pieces represented real army units, such as infantry, cavalry, and artillery. The pieces had limited ranges of movement, and infantry and artillery could kill an enemy at a distance. Like chess, it was played on a grid of squares, but the squares were color-coded to represent different types of terrain, and the battlefield was customizable. Inspired by Hellwig's game, other German designers created more realistic wargames, adding innovations such as realistic maps, free-form unit movement, dice rolls, and probability tables. Eventually, the Prussian military embraced wargaming as a training tool for its officers. After Prussia defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War (1870), wargaming spread around the world. German wargames were referred to as Kriegsspiel, which literally means "war game" in German.
German wargames didn't use realistic miniature models to represent the units nor terrain. Instead, they used abstract pieces such as little wooden blocks, or chess-like statuettes.
In 1881, the English writer Robert Louis Stevenson became the first documented person to use toy soldiers in a wargame, and thus he might be the inventor of miniature wargaming. However, in his game, each toy soldier was used to represent and entire unit rather than an individual, and his playing field was just a chalk map drawn on the floor. Stevenson never published his rules, but according to an account by his stepson, they were very sophisticated and realistic, on par with German military wargames.
In 1898, the British writer Fred T. Jane published the first rulebook for a naval wargame: Rules for the Jane Naval War Game. Jane's wargame was also the first published wargame to use miniature models. It used models of warships made out of cork and wires; the wires were used for guns and masts. Jane's rulebook described in great detail the capabilities of the warships, such as the range and armor-penetrating power of the guns. It also simulated localized damage, such as what would happen to a warship if its boiler was damaged, or its gun battery.
The English writer H. G. Wells developed his own codified rules for playing with toy soldiers, which he published in a book titled Little Wars (1913). This is widely remembered as the first rulebook for miniature wargaming (for terrestrial armies, at least). Little Wars had very simple rules to make it fun and accessible to anyone. Little Wars did not use dice or computation to resolve fights. For artillery attacks, players used spring-loaded toy cannons which fired little wooden cylinders to physically knock over enemy models. As for infantry and cavalry, they could only engage in hand-to-hand combat (even if the figurines exhibited firearms). When two infantry units fought in close quarters, the units would suffer non-random losses determined by their relative sizes. Little Wars was designed for a large field of play, such as a lawn or the floor of a large room. An infantryman could move up to one foot per turn, and a cavalryman could move up to two feet per turn. To measure these distances, players used a two-foot long piece of string. Wells was also the first wargamer to use models of buildings, trees, and other terrain features to create a three-dimensional battlefield.
Wells' rulebook was for a long time regarded as the standard system by which other miniature wargames were judged. However, it failed to invigorate the miniature wargaming community. A possible reason was the two World Wars, which de-glamorized war and caused shortages of tin and lead that made model soldiers expensive. Another reason may have been the lack of magazines or clubs dedicated to miniature wargames. Miniature wargaming was seen as a niche within the larger hobby of making and collecting model soldiers.
In 1955, a California man named Jack Scruby began making inexpensive miniature models for miniature wargames out of type metal. Scruby's major contribution to the miniature wargaming hobby was to network players across America and the UK. At the time, the miniature wargaming community was miniscule, and players struggled to find each other. In 1956, Scruby organized the first miniature wargaming convention in America, which was attended by just fourteen people. From 1957 to 1962, he self-published the world's first wargaming magazine, titled The War Game Digest, through which wargamers could publish their rules and share game reports. It had less than two hundred subscribers, but it did establish a community that kept growing.
Around the same time in the United Kingdom, Donald Featherstone began writing an influential series of books on wargaming, which represented the first mainstream published contribution to wargaming since Little Wars. Titles included : War Games (1962), Advanced Wargames, Solo Wargaming, Wargame Campaigns, Battles with Model Tanks, Skirmish Wargaming. Such was the popularity of such titles that other authors were able to have published wargaming titles. This output of published wargaming titles from British authors coupled with the emergence at the same time of several manufacturers providing suitable wargame miniatures (e.g. Miniature Figurines, Hinchliffe, Peter Laing, Garrisson, Skytrex, Davco, Heroic & Ros) was responsible for the huge upsurge of popularity of the hobby in the late 1960s and into the 1970s.
In 1971, Gary Gygax developed a wargame system for medieval warfare called Chainmail. Gygax later produced a supplement for Chainmail that added magic and fantasy creatures, making this the first fantasy wargame. The supplement was inspired by the success of the Lord of the Rings novels by J. R. R. Tolkien in the mid-1960s.
Gygax later went on to invent the first role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons. Dungeons and Dragons was a story-driven game, but adapted wargaming rules to model the fights players could get in.
In 1983, Games Workshop released Warhammer Fantasy Battle, a fantasy wargame. Games Workshop at the time made miniature models for use in Dungeons and Dragons, and Warhammer was meant to encourage players to buy more models. The success of Warhammer led Games Workshop to create Warhammer 40,000, a science-fiction counterpart. These two games went on to become the most popular miniature wargames in the world.
Miniature games tend to be more social than do other forms of commercial wargames, and very often games are played with several participants on a side. This manifests itself in wargame organisations, conventions, community websites and other social events. Some conventions have become very large affairs, such as Gen-Con, Origins and Historical Miniatures Gaming Society's Historicon, called the "mother of all wargaming conventions". Sometimes the wargamer stereotypes are parodied, such as in "Wargamers, a spotters guide" and the comic strip "Larry Leadhead".