I have had the idea of talking about skirmish games rolling around in my head. Do I talk about modern skirmish? Fantasy? Historical? Certainly, there is a lot of difference between games set in modern times to those set in medieval or fantasy settings, the mechanics can be the same. There are a large number of the skirmish games out there and a number are derived from a mass battle game like Kings of War or Age of Sigmar, but many are not. And for the sake of transparency, I am, admittedly, biased in my observations on any given game. I like the Walking Dead and Mordheim, but there are some I don’t like; looking at you Age of Sigmar.
Before we get to far let me give some advice. Most of us Grognards will tell you things about gaming that you need to know, this is just one of them. If you’re going to get into skirmish gaming, but don’t have a collection of minis, I would suggest that you buy a small enough force to play but not one that will break the bank. Osprey’s Ronin for example only requires a small group (5-20) of Samurai/Ashigaru, so single box of Feudal Japanese warriors (Warlord’s box of Samurai will give you 20 minis to putter with) would be enough for two forces. If the game you’re interested in has ‘core game box’ it probably has enough minis for you to start with and can be a good buy. If you see a rule book that covers the time/genre/era you want to game in, start with some miniature agnostic ones that will allow you to use what you do have. There are some free ones out there if you look online as well as places that will let you print up some paper playing pieces to putter with until you get the force you want in miniature. Oh, and don’t worry about scale. If you want to play a skirmish game with 15mm most rule sets have a blurb in there about how to adapt them to your game. My advice is to use centimeters in place of inches. Heck, I have seen people use LEGOs….
What’s next once you decide on a game? Well, it is going to sound absolutely silly but read the rules. You don’t have to know them verbatim but you should have a good working knowledge of them, or at least enough to get started. I don’t care if the game is a post-apocalypse wasteland or some fantasy realm of women in chain mail bikinis. Read the rules. Now, some skirmish games have a programmed set of scenarios to teach you the rules gradually. Some will expect you to start with the full on rules. Regardless, the rulebook will also give you the guidelines for organizing your forces and the details on suggested scenarios. As an aside though, the 3×5 card could be your best friend when keeping the details of your force. If the game does not have, and the modern game seems to love them, a set of character/unit cards then make your own. They don’t take up much room and they beat constantly looking at a roster sheet, finding the special rules that go with the unit and so on. It works for me. I have said it before and I will keep saying it; it’s your game and Murphy’s Laws of Combat apply. ‘If is stupid but works it ain’t stupid.’
What next? Well, you have the minis to play, a working knowledge of the rules and all the play aids you want. What now? You set up the table and play. No, seriously, that’s about it. Skirmish games can be easy on the set up. You don’t use a 6X4 foot table and it is easier to improvise terrain. Use building blocks or logs to make putting up a small village or town center easy. You can spend the money on the pre-painted buildings offered on some sites, and they are gorgeous, but they are best if you have the space to store them. I am cheap and like to use stuff to outline the building spaces, sue me.
Since most games are played in someone’s home there is always a question about terrain and storage. I still think that the best thing is, for the casual gamer, to use what is workable, not what is pretty. In my opinion skirmish games are perfect for the gamers who don’t have a lot of purpose built terrain but are willing to improvise. Cut out construction paper for ponds or roads. They will last a few games and sometimes are better, in my opinion… I have another blog now bubbling in my brain housing group…
The table is set up. The minis painted and on the table. Scenario is outlined and forces organized. You’re ready to go. With some skirmish games you don’t even need an opponent. With COVID the focus on a solo option in a game has strengthened. With that option, your mileage may vary.
One last thing; most games that have core starter box come with the dice and the other oddments that you need to play or at least enough to get you started. If you are just buying the rules, Oathmark for example, you need to find out, and acquire, what you need. A quick look at the rules will tell you what you that. The kind of dice, basing rules and so on. Oathmark uses ten sided dice, Frostgrave 20 sided, while Kill Team uses six sided. You can get a bag of assorted dice from most online stores or other places; I got a bag on sale at Barnes and Nobel. I have several different types of dice and use them just as random number generators but also as game markers for different things like keeping track of wounds. Some games like Walking Dead and Star Wars have dice unique to the game that they use along with regular dice. Some games don’t even use dice; some use a simple deck of standard playing cards.
A final thought on this missive. I have not really pushed hard on any game/genre. There are so many good skirmish games out there. From Battletech to SAGA you can’t go wrong with a good skirmish. I mean, really, you can go with a light ‘fun’ game or a down and dirty serious simulation to satisfy your wants and desires. I mean with games with names like ‘Pig Wars, When Men were Men and Pigs were Money’ or ‘Macho Woman with Guns’, how can you go wrong?