The Wargaming Series is written about concepts and experiences that focus primarily on my time with Warhammer 40,000 – but most of it applies to all tabletop wargames.
A good RPG has an engaging skill and combat system, deep lore, and the right amount of customization. A great RPG requires a GM to weave it into a truly immersive experience. Character development, memorable NPCs, and on-the-fly reaction to players’ actions require a GM who can balance the story and the challenge presented to the players.
Wargames typically lack a GM. The players forge the narrative. The players develop the reactions of NPCs and outside forces, both in games and between them. The players balance the challenge between one another, (tournaments aside). Games and campaigns are made up of memorable moments, just like RPGs, but in Wargames these are unscripted and unforeseen. These moments build together over years as your army grows (and is slowly painted). As a player I find this experience extremely rewarding.
This makes the role of the player much more important in the success of games you play. Understanding the context of the game and the players in it is crucial to making it enjoyable for everyone. So here’s a few things I’ve learned, which I will humbly offer to anyone getting started with wargaming:
- Have a conversation before the game: Understand what you’re both looking for, be it competitive, story-driven, or just pure fun, and set the rules of the game in accordance with your decision
- Build your army appropriately:
- Build it to be engaging: Choose units and strategies that will make it a fun and exciting game for both players. This isn’t Magic the Gathering where you can reset after 5 minutes – It’s going to be a long bout if someone isn’t having any fun
- Build it to be cohesive with the story: Keep the theme and story at the center of your army list. It’s mostly common sense, (e.g. don’t bring aircraft into a subterranean war) but it also requires you to look into (and build on) the story of your army
- Don’t be afraid to change the rules of the game: Building custom missions is fun, but when you’re just getting started, the prospect of that can be overwhelming. If you’re using the basic missions that come with a game, feel free to change it when things aren’t working for the both of you. The objectives heavily favor one side? Add in some new victory conditions. A player’s favorite character dies to soon? Create your own special rule where he can be revived by a daring rescue. As the Idiom goes, “Rules are meant to be broken”. At least I think that’s an idiom. Sue me. Point is, it will create new and exciting narratives for your armies to play through.
- Follow the golden rule (of wargaming): If you don’t know a rule, or you disagree on the interpretation of a rule, don’t waste time arguing – Roll a die! This is not only practical to save time in a complex game, it also builds a game wherein you both attempt to adhere to the spirit of the rules and to playing for fun.
- Play like your army would fight: This can be subjective and requires knowledge of the lore, but more often then not you can get the feel of it quickly. You will find that this not only builds depth, but incredible cinematic moments that you and your friends will recount over the years.
As with most guidelines, they’re mostly common sense. As with most things relying on common sense, people can be very bad at them. Remember to have fun, to roll with the punches, and occasionally let someone “get away with it” so the game keeps moving and stays enjoyable.