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A Beginners Guide to Wargaming

Updated on November 26, 2016

Wargaming is a hobby practised by millions of people all over the world. There are many different kinds of wargames available and although they differ substantially, they are all based on the same concepts. Wargames are essentially more in-depth versions of chess: you move figures around a table top and complete different actions to defeat your opponent.

There are a huge variety of wargames to choose from, ranging from historical games where players can play the part of an ancient Roman general, to apocalyptic games where players work together to fight off a zombie invasion.

Most wargames, as the name suggests, centre on fighting other players using your figures. Wargaming developed in the early 20th century as a way to help real war generals learn how to command soldiers. Nowadays, Wargaming has developed into a huge industry focused on having fun and spending time with friends.

Tournaments allow players of popular wargames to play against each other in a more regular, organised fashion to see who the better player is, and although these are more official the emphasis is still on having a good time.

The figures used in Wargaming range from tiny 2mm tall figures used to fight large battles with one thousand or more figures on the table top, to 54mm tall figures used to fight battles with fewer gaming pieces. Figures are often supplied unpainted so that players can paint their own models how they like – something which is just as much a part of Wargaming as the games themselves. This creative aspect extends to the tables that wargamers use as battlefields – they are often modelled after real-life terrain, with miniature buildings, hills and rivers.

Most wargames use dice to help with aspects such as combat: the die rolls determine which side wins each fight. Tactics are often rewarded in wargames in the same way they are in real life – flanking your opponent, for example, allows you to get more hits on them before they realise they’re being attacked.

The Miniatures

Every wargame uses figures – from sci-fi space battle games to ancient battles and fantasy games. The figures usually come in boxes of groups of figures called “units”. The figures are usually sold specifically for one wargame system so every time you buy a box of figures they can be used easily with that rule set. Unlike board games, wargames figures are usually sold separately to the rules, although many wargames now sell “starter sets” that include rules and some figures to get you started.

Most wargames figures nowadays are plastic, although there are still many manufacturers of metal figures that used to be more popular. Plastic is obviously much cheaper, but metal figures do often include more detail and are heavier, which gives them a feel that many wargamers like.

The figures are very detailed and there are a huge range available. It might seem daunting at first having to paint large amounts of tiny figures, but it’s much easier than you think – paint sets made by companies like Games Workshop include everything you need to get started painting and make your figures look good. Even a badly painted miniature looks better than a plain plastic one!

The Wargaming Table

It’s perfectly fine to play wargames on the kitchen table or even the floor, but if you really want to do your figures justice you’ll want some terrain. You can buy war gaming hills, trees and buildings from amazon, or you can make your own out of household objects. Terrain will really help to make the game more fun, because it not only makes the figures look better but it also adds a new tactical element to the game – you can make your figures hide in the buildings, or climb on top of hills for better visibility.

Popular Wargames

There are lots of different kinds of wargames to play, and depending on your interests you’ll find some games more to your liking than others. We’ve compiled a group of some great wargames for different settings here, along with their starter sets so you can get playing with your friends right away!

Fantasy Wargaming

If you love The Lord of The Rings and other fantasy settings, there is a huge range of wargames to choose from. With dragons, elves, demons, wizards, orcs and more, there are a huge number of different armies you could collect to play fantasy wargames. The most popular choice at the moment is quickly becoming Mantic Games’ Kings of War, a fairly simple and very fun game perfectly suited to beginners. It is great for those of you with busy lives, as you can have a great game in an hour. The starter set features two armies, full rules and even comes with accessories so you can get playing right away!

Kings of War is also excellent value for money with the starter set being just £40 for more than 90 figures! The painting is also not too difficult as the figures are quite large in comparison to other wargames.

World War Two Wargaming

World War Two is one of the most popular wars to recreate in wargames, with loads of rules systems available from all kinds of manufacturers. The most popular, however, and the one that is easiest to get into, is Flames of War. It allows you to recreate all of the battles of the Second World War and has a great, fast-paced rules system that is easy to understand.

Ancient Wargaming

Are Romans and Carthaginians more your thing? Fancy commanding legions of heavily armoured troops and war elephants? Ancient wargaming is for you. Although it is more difficult to find specific “starter sets” for this, there are a few great rule sets that are perfect for beginners, both to ancient wargaming and to the hobby in general. Look for “Sue Barker’s Start Ancient Wargaming” for a great intro and some solid advice on which figures to get and how to start playing.

Sci-Fi Wargaming

One of the most popular forms of wargaming, sci-fi and futuristic games have loads of fans. By far the most popular is Warhammer 40,000, a game set in the distant future in the year 40,000 and featuring all kinds of aliens, vehicles and robots. It’s a great introduction to wargaming and although it can be a tad expensive, the starter set is well worth looking for is sci-fi is your thing.


Hopefully this article has given you an idea of how to start wargaming and which game you’d like to go for. As you carry on wargaming your collection of rules and figures will grow, and you’ll be playing all manner of games with loads of great people! To find others interested in wargaming, try your local model shop or Games Workshop store and ask if they have days in which people can come in and play – it’s a great way to learn some games and get to know others in the hobby! There are also wargaming clubs scattered all around the country, so get searching and see if there’s one near you.


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