Like many others I got into historic gaming through Games Workshop’s many offerings, especially at the time we were playing Warhammer 40,000 and the old Fantasy battles.
As time went on I dipped in and out of the hobby, fell in with the roleplayers for a while before coming back into the gaming scene about 10 years ago.
I have to be honest I’m not really sure how I ended up heading down this road but looking back now I’m pretty sure it was the Warlord Games titles, especially Hail Caesar and Black Powder, that grabbed my attention at the time.
Historical wargaming in 2020 – my experience
The first thing to be aware of is that the historical gaming scene can be divided into a number of broad strokes areas, or periods and a few main scales that are worth discussing.
A lot of players will quite firmly anchor themselves in a specific period, and a few will flit around all over the shop (I’m one of these). By and large these periods can be classed as Ancients and Medieval, Pike and Shot or Renaissance, Horse and Musket, and the two world wars with some crossover, and more specialist areas in between like the Anglo-Zulu Wars for example.
If you have any historical knowledge you can probably work out what these cover but essentially you can get a good idea from these broad strokes:
- Ancient and Medieval: Everything from around 3000BC to late medieval
- Renaissance: Thirty Years War and the English Civil wars with some fun stuff like Polish winged hussars thrown in.
- Horse and Musket: Napoleonics is the obvious thing here but also the American Civil war, Seven Year War, War of the Spanish Succession and the like.
- World Wars: I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain this one!
The other thing that’s worth mentioning for anyone looking to dip their toes into historic gaming is the different scales.
Coming from Games Workshop when I first started I knew nothing but 28mm figures. I was then very quickly introduced to:
- 15mm: easily the most popular scale for historic gaming. A nice mid point between detail of miniatures and the ability to get a lot of chaps on the table.
- 10mm: Obviously a bit smaller. Works really well for games where you need ranks and ranks of troops.
- 6mm: A great scale for mass battles as one base is often enough to represent a whole ‘unit’ of little chaps.
- 2mm: Yes, 2mm. Can look great. Can look awful. There are some nice 2mm miniatures out there, and yes, you can tell what things are supposed to be even on such a small scale!
The other thing to think about is what ruleset you want to use and, to be honest, this is where things get complicated.
The different rulesets
I’m going to be talking here about rulesets that I’ve played and have experience with and I’m going to use some very simplistic descriptions here so if you have experience in this area don’t @ me.
Broadly speaking, I’ve found that games can be split into different camps.
Phil Barker and the old Wargames Research Group from the late 1960s/70screated a game that used a system of factors where troop types are matched up on a table. These are then used to determine a series of modifiers which affect the roll of one dice against another.
This can be just as complicated as it sounds, so, as an example:
- A unit of Pike has been charged by some cavalry.
- The pike stands still and brace to take the hit. Bracing with a wall of pike pointing at the unfortunate horse.
- The horse may get a plus 1 for the charge, but the pike gets a plus 3 for being, well, a wall of pike.
- Both players roll a dice with the modifiers, in this case making it more likely for the pike to win.
Make sense? If so there’s some clear leaders in this field.
For Ancient players I’ve found the player base is largely split into four main camps.
De Bellis Magistrorum Militum(DBMM))
This is the last game from Phil Barker to cover the ancient and medieval period. He also has a horse and musket version to cover Napoleonics too.
Positives with DBMM is that a game looks like a mass battle. Negatives are that it takes hours and you need a LOT of miniatures for some of the armies.
Also, the rules take some deciphering and are presented as page upon page of massive blocks of text.
L’Art de la Guerre (ADLG)
ADLG is essentially a modernised version of DBMM but played with a lot less miniatures and allowing for a quicker game.
For people used to glossy production values ADLG has you covered as well with plenty of colour diagrams and pictures of miniatures.
The downsides of ADLG are that some people say it doesn’t feel so much like a massive battle due to the smaller size. It can become a bit chess-like with precision measuring allowing you to game the rules a bit rather than play the battle.
Field of Glory (FoG)
Similar to ADLG in that it’s an updated version of DBMM essentially.
The books are lovely with loads of diagrams and colour splashed about the place. I only have the 2nd edition so can’t comment on how good the 3rd edition is but it does still have a big following among those who haven’t moved over to ADLG and MeG. Needs big armies but also does a Napoleonic and Renaissance version.
Mortem et Gloriam (MeG)
MeG is the relative newcomer on the scene but it has had a re-release this month. To be honest MeG is my current favourite ancients system (and Napoleonics and Renaissance). It uses a totally unique colour system to activate troops and special dsice for resolving combat.
I play MeG with my daughter as it offers a small scale version that we can play in an hour to completion and still get the feel of a mass battle. All 650+ army lists are all available online for free with a full army builder and regular FAQs and updates which is definitely the way forward I think nowadays.
Other periods are also available…
For other periods, apart from the MeG system mentioned above, I tend to default to the Warlord Games titles.
Warlord are run by a bunch of old Games Workshop guys and you can tell – the books are beautiful, full of gorgeously painted 28mm miniatures, really glossy with plenty of pictures and diagrams.
They also follow the time honoured tradition of all Games Workshop games. You need 48 million dice to play them.
The Warlord titles are brilliant for an easy game with friends over the course of an evening, with a few drinks in hand. They offer a pretty accurate representation of the periods without getting bogged down in super accuracy.
I should also give an honourable mention to Bataille Empire from the author of ADLG which is taking the Napoleonic players by storm at the moment. It has a great Napoleonic feel and plays relatively well in a long evening.
Miniatures in historical wargaming
Lastly a quick comment on miniatures. Don’t expect to find much in the way of plastic miniatures in the smaller scales. There’s loads of 28mm out there but that way leads to huge expense for the amount you’ll need although it does make for some great looking games.
Plastic Soldier Company have started doing a series of plastics in ready to go army boxes for MeG that I’ve heard a lot of good things about.
It is worth mentioning though that all historical games don’t care what manufacturer you get your miniatures from and there are quite literally (and I don’t use that work lightly) hundreds out there to cover any period and army you can think of.
Hopefully this has helped anyone who’s thinking of dipping a toe in historical wargaming.
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