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A wargame is a strategy game that deals with military operations of various types, real or fictional. Wargaming is the hobby dedicated to the play of such games, which can also be called conflict simulations, or consims for short. When used professionally to study warfare, it is generally known as a military exercise or war game. Note that hobby wargamers have traditionally run the two words together, but the military has generally kept them separate; it is not a hard and fast rule, however. Although there may be disagreements as to whether a particular game qualifies as a wargame or not, a general consensus exists that all such games must explore and illuminate or simulate some feature or aspect of human behavior directly bearing on the conduct of war, even if the game subject itself does not concern organized violent conflict or warfare. The business wargames exists too, but in general they are only role playing games based on market situations.
Wargames are generally categorized as historical, hypothetical, fantasy, or science fiction. Historical games by far form the largest group. These games are based upon real events and attempt to represent a reasonable approximation of the actual forces, terrain, and other material factors faced by the actual participants. Hypothetical games are games grounded in historical fact but concern battles or conflicts that did not (or have yet to) actually happen. Fantasy and science fiction wargames either draw their inspiration from works of fiction or provide their own imaginary setting. Highly stylized conflict games such as chess are not generally considered wargames, although they are recognized as being related. Games involving conflict in other arenas than the battlefield, such as business, sports or natural environment are similarly usually excluded.
The modern wargaming hobby has its origins at the beginning of the 20th century, with the invention of miniatures games in which two or more players simulated a battle as a pastime. During the 1950s the first large scale, mass produced board games depicting military conflicts were published. These games were at the height of their popularity during the 1970s, and became quite complex and technical in that time.
Wargaming has changed dramatically over the years, from its roots in miniatures and board wargaming, to contemporary computer and computer assisted wargames; however, both miniature and board wargames maintain a healthy, if small, hobby market with lighter games being popular with many 'non-wargamers'.
Like all games, wargames exist in a range of different complexities. Some are fundamentally simple—often called "beer-and-pretzel" games—whereas others attempt to simulate a high level of historical realism. These latter games may produce long rulebooks that encompass a large variety of actions and details. These games often require a considerable study of the rules before they can be played. Wargames also feature a range of scales, from games that simulate individual soldiers, to ones that chart the course of an entire global or even galactic war.
Wargames are generally a representational art form. Usually, this is of a fairly concrete historical subject (such as the Battle of Gettysburg, one of several popular topics in the genre), but it can also be extended to non-historical ones as well. The Cold War provided fuel for many games that attempted to show what a non-nuclear (or, in a very few cases, nuclear) World War III would be like, moving from a re-creation to a predictive model in the process. Fantasy and science fiction subjects are sometimes not considered wargames because there is nothing in the real world to model, however, conflict in a self-consistent fictional world lends itself to exactly the same types of games and game designs as does military history.
Because of these attitudes, there are many games and types of games that may appear to be a wargame at first glance, but are not accepted as such by members of the hobby, and many that would be considered debatable. Risk could be considered a wargame; it uses an area map of the Earth and is unabashedly about sending out armies to conquer the world. However, it has no readily-discernible timeframe, and combat is extremely abstract, leading many to not consider it as an actual wargame, or only tangentially as one.
The highest percentage of war-themed games that are not wargames come from the video game industry. Most markedly real-time strategy games (such as StarCraft) deal with combat nearly exclusively, but the gameplay-enhancing conventions of the genre also destroy realism. For example, in actual combat, vehicle armor is generally a binary proposition. Either the round penetrates and the vehicle is knocked out, or it does not and the vehicle is unaffected. RTS games make a habit of giving a vehicle a "health bar" that generally allows it to survive even powerful single shots, but each hit reduces its health by some amount, allowing a high volume of rifle fire to knock out a well armored tank. Other notable genre conventions include the construction of buildings and vehicles within the timeframe of a battle (i.e., hours, if not less) and a lack of any command and control, supply, or morale systems.
A major determinant of the complexity and size of a wargame is how realistic it is intended to be. Some games constitute a serious study of the subject at hand, whereas others are intended to be light entertainment. In general, a more serious study will have longer, more detailed rules, more complexity, and more record keeping. More casual games may only bear a passing resemblance to the subject, although many still try to encourage the same types of decision making as the player's historical counterparts, and thereby bring forth the "feel" of the conflict.
Wargames tend to have a few fundamental problems. Notably, both player knowledge, and player action are much less limited than what would be available to the player's real-life counterparts. Some games have rules for command and control and fog of war, using various methods. While results vary, many of these mechanisms can be cumbersome and onerous in traditional games. The "edge of world problem" raises the issue of what to do at the artificial boundary of the physical edge of a board game, in contrast to real life where there is no "edge" and units off-board can have a tangible effect on a scenario. Computer wargames can more easily incorporate these features because the computer can conceal information from players and act as an impartial judge (even while playing one side). However, due to interface issues, these can still be found to be as frustrating to the player as traditional methods.
Brikwars - plastic-brick wargaming system that throws the peaceful worlds of your favorite construction toys [Legos] into wanton chaos and destruction!
Brickquest - a Lego combat system based on HeroQuest
StarQuest - an out of production Games Workshop boardgame with fun and simple rules. Has a cult following in Europe.
WarHammer and WarHammer 40,000 - a popular set of miniature wargaming system and allows for battles between humans, orcs, elves, dwarves and such. WarHammer 40,000 is a sci-fi version of this which allows you to battle your favorite fantasy races with futuristic weapons. Plastic and lead miniatures are detailed and expensive.
Junior General - Large catalog of simple printable soldiers and items of war (tanks, helicopter, etc) from many time periods and many examples of battles with rules.
Freewargamesrules.co.uk - there is no shortage of wargames available in the modern world.
Small Soldiers - this is a surprisingly fun game (for the very young) and a great intro to wargaming for those as young as 4 (unlike the movie which is not considered suitable of young kids). It's more of a "capture the flag" game than a true wargame depending on how you play it and fighting is even optional. Play figures represent toy soldiers and pieces don't die or even fade away - they get sent back to the toy store. If you get a lucky spin, you can bring a play piece back from the toy store to play on the board. Random result generators include a spinner, dice for fighting and cards which include one for shooting the catapult and one for a 'toy recall' where one of your enemy's figures has to get sent back to the toy store. It would be very easy to make your own version similar to this game. See our discussion on this game on our Board Games Page.
See our Star Wars Gaming Page for more information about Star WarsRole Playing and Table Top War Gaming.
See our StarQuest Page for more information regarding Space Crusade/StarQuest.
See our Paper Miniatures Page for more information regarding Paper Miniatures.
See our Blood Bowl and All Things Fantasy Ball Page for more on Fantasy Ball games such as Blood Bowl.
See our Boardgames Page for more on other games.
War and Battle Games
War gaming can be anything from shooting toy soldiers with rubber bands to sophisticated game play with large scale battles incorporating complex rules which strive to replicate real or fantasy world environments. Either way, this can be a LOT of fun.
Wargaming has been around for a very long time. Games vary greatly in complexity and sophistication. Some are designed more so for adult players, others are made for children and many can be played by a mix of ages with a good deal of fun. See our Table Top War Gaming Page for more on War Gaming. Several games are also listed in our Star Wars Gaming Page.
Small Soldiers Big Battle Game Suggested Age 4-7
This board game is inspired by the PG-13 movie Small Soldiers which did poorly in the theaters. The movie was targeted more of an older boy audience whereas this game is more suitable for younger players (age 4-7 boys). This creates an age discrepancy between those who might enjoy the game and those who would really enjoy the movie. That said, this "capture the flag" game is in an excellent intro into strategy wargaming. And for a "wargame", it's only borderline violent. First off, attacking is optional for those wishing to avoid violent games. Second, figures don't die in battle; they just get sent back to the toy store. Plus - if you get a lucky spin, game pieces can return to the board for play. It's very similar to the "Capture the Flag" a primary school student may play at school but with figures and dice rolls.
This game has 4 random result generators.
Spinner - movement vs draw a card vs recruit
Battle dice - skull always defeats opponents
Cards - cards to improve figure defense, attack and movement. There is also a catapult card and a toy recall card where an enemy figure is sent back to the toy store
Catapult - Super cute and creative catapult. Shape of ball prevents it from rolling too far away from board.
Strategy and catapult aim play a role in this game, but it is a highly luck based game so young ones can fare reasonably well with older kids or with adults.
A DIY version of this game can be simple enough to make and has the potential of being very satisfying.
Figures - toy soldiers or LEGO minifigs on bases
Board - grid drawn or glued to board (you can make playing field larger) incompetech.com hexagonal
Cards - make your own - these add a dimension to the game which allows for faster and more powerful play pieces. Although the draw of the card is random, who you play them can change the course of the game.
Dice - regular 6D or fancier printouts stuck on blank dice
Catapult - see our Catapult Games Page
Spinner - a spinner allows for more variability than custom dice and mixes things up a bit when using dice for a different purpose in the same game. Note how small the "Recruit" slices are on the spinner shown above. If you are using a bigger board and/or more game pieces, you can change the number of spaces figures can move.
boardgamegeek Small Soldiers
DIY Small Soldiers Dice Stickers
LEGO Capture the Flag
Suggested Age 4+
This is a homemade version of the Small Soldiers Big Battle Game. Instead of the figures used in the Small Soldiers game, LEGO minifigs are used on bases made from coins. The advantage of using LEGO is that you can add accessories to your figures, such as "tag sticks", shields, "rockets", etc. This allows for better visual representation of upgrades and allows multiple upgrades per figure. Allowing for multiple upgrades and potentially more upgrade options allows for more choices during game play and allows for advanced game play if desired.
See our LEGO Capture the Flag Page for more on this wonderful game.
Starquest aka Space Crusade
See our StarQuest Page for more on StarQuest and Space Crusade - a great action packed game for younger kids and adults like. Different scenarios can be played, but all involve Space Marine squads taking on enemy in large spaceships. Rules are simple and things can get really bad really quickly for your squad with a few bad dice rolls which keeps things interesting and exciting. If you are crafty or have several sets, you can set up larger scale missions in larger ships, with more enemy and more troops.
There are actually several gaming systems based on the Star Wars world. See our Star Wars Gaming Page for more on Star Wars War Gaming.
Blood Bowl is the most popular of the battle-ballgame board/tabletop game of its kind. It simulates a gruesome version of football with lots of violence. This is a fun and sophisticated game with a cult following. This game can be played as is, but is also highly customizable.
New and used games sets are available online and from Games Workshop, but are priced for single, adult gamers and not for cheapskate, family boardgamers. Better, and often less expensive, sets can be made from scratch by enthusiasts. And, very economical sets can be made by using paper or cardboard for the board (pitch) and paper minis to represent your players.
See our Blood Bowl and all things Fantasy Football Page for more on Blood Bowl.
Kid "Friendly" Combat Games
Games Workshop came out with a series of games targeted at younger players (8 years+) around 1990. They incorporated simplified rules where dice are rolled in the box top ("Combat Tray") with a 3x3 grid. The Grid contained 5 boxes with "HIT" and 4 boxes with "MISS". These games are long out of print, buy you can still find copies in thrift stores and Ebay. You can also find the rules online and it would be easy enough to reconstruct you own version.
This is a simplified version of StarQuest (aka Space Crusade) and Space Hulk. Each play gets a small squad of Marine Scouts who search for alien artifacts in a space hulk filled with traps.
Wiki Ultra Marines
This is a simplified version of of HeroQuest where players choose from either a band of Heroes or Skaven Ratmen. The Heroes are led by a Noble Knight, a Fearless Dwarf, and a Heroic Elf while the Skaven Ratmen are led by a Chaos Wizard and four Skaven Champions. The Elf and Chaos Wizard can cast spells. The other characters have differing combat abilities. The game rules are compatible with Ultramarines.
Wiki Mighty Warriors
usagi3.free.fr article49 Scan of entire game
bg.ohobby.ru 104 Russian Rules
This is a simplified version of the fantasy ball game Blood Bowl. You can find more information on it in our Blood Bowl Page.
This is the spaceship battle predecessor to Battlefleet Gothic.
Wiki Space Fleet
Catapult and Cannon Games
There have been several commercial games which used catapults and cannons to knock down opponent soldiers and fortifications. These games can be played with "shoot as fast as you can" rules, or with more sophisticated skirmish rules like those used by HG Wells. And with the proper application of rules, many of these games can be adapted for a wide range of ages.
Crossbows and Catapults aka Barbarernas sista kamp and Battlegrounds
One of the most exciting games ever made is Crossbows and Catapults. It was exciting in the 1980s and exciting when re-released in 2007. The game dynamics are simple - fire your weapons at the enemy and knock them over before they knock you over. If you actually read the rules, there are some other options, like capturing enemy ammo, castles and treasure.
These games are covered in much greater detail on our Catapult Games Page.
Complete game sets are becoming scarce again and are generally cost prohibitive for what you get in the set. That said, you can make your own Crossbows and Catapults game. Instead of plastic knights and orcs, you can use Playmobil Klickies, Lego Minifigs, toy soldiers, etc. For cannons and catapults, Playmobil ones work just fine and can be found at garage sales and the like for no very much.
If you are very crafty, you can build your own catapults/trebuchet/ballista. You just need some simple items such as rubber bands, popsicle sticks, clothespins, and/or spoons and some ingenuity. See our Catapults Game section above and our Catapult Games Page for more on this.
Wiki Crossbows and Catapults
boardgamegeek Family: crossbows-and-catapults
boardgamegeek Family: weapons-warriors
If you aren't crafty, you can use a foam dart gun for catapults...but it isn't the same. Fun - but not the same. Many of us used BB guns in the past against unfortunate toy soldiers. That was great fun back in the day, but use of BB guns will obviously need a considerable amount of adult supervision and adult knowledge of ballistics to avoid shooting your eye out.
See our Catapult Games section and our Crossbows and Catapults section on our resurrection Page.
We also have a Catapult Games Page worth exploring.
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