So you want to get into historic wargames?
The inspiration behind this post comes from a question asked in the comments on my You Tube channel. To give some structure I present a marginally abridged version here:
“I was wondering if you could give me some advice. I'm really keen on wargaming, in fact, I've been since a very young age. It all started with recreating with lead soldiers the battles scenes I saw in movies, and since then I never looked back.
However, my wargaming experience doesn't go much further than battling with Orks and Space Marines, meaning that I've never really had the pleasure of playing a historical wargame. Despite this, I've always had a spot in my heart for history. From the glorious days of the Roman Empire to the impressive tactics used in the Napoleonic Wars, history is nothing but delightful to me.
I think I’ve pretty much determined what historical periods I’m most interested on. These being: Viking Age, Hundred Years War and Napoleonic Wars. My main concern is to not daunt myself with a massive amount of miniatures, nor to not have enough to play a game. One thing to keep in mind is that currently I don't know of any historical gaming club in my area, therefore, I think I should get a reasonably good amount of miniatures so that I and a pair of friends can have some fun battles at home.”
So there we have it, a fairly typical dilemma, one which I found my self in not too long a time ago. Historic gaming is vast. Most of the images we hold in our head of “historic battles” are the massed ranks of Roman Legions facing thousands of screaming barbarians as depicted in many a Hollywood classic or the full colour spreads in Wargames Illustrated and the like of hundreds of figures in a recreation of Waterloo or Gettysburg. Then there are the plethora of rulesets - all “the best” depending upon who you ask.
So then. as the questioner asks - where to start? For what it’s worth, here is my view. Start small, not in scale but in game terms. A skirmish set such as “Songs Of Drums and Shakos” or “Sharp Practice” offer the would be Napoleonic gamer a good taster to the period. These rulesets allow for small collections to be created from all of the protagonists. Thus you can see which nation you like the look of and could face to paint when it comes time to create a brigade sized force for a Black Powder or General de Brigade scale game.
If single figure skirmish games are not your thing, then De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) or Impetus may be worth looking at. These offer grand battles with minimal figure counts at 6mm, 10mm or 15mm. You can try out different periods in history (from the very ancient to the middle ages - with DBN you can even do Napoleonics) with quite a small cash investment per army. Both these rulesets have very well supported communities of avid collectors, bloggers and pundits.
When it comes to the Dark Ages I am personally a bit in the dark myself. The go to set of rules I know of would be Saga - although I only say this due to the amount of mentions it gets from people playing Dark Age games. Saga is essentially a point driven skirmish game and quite low entry cost (figure wise). A ruleset that has recently grabbed my attention is Blood Eagle - I think my Late Romans may be getting involved with these rules! - these seem quite interesting. You can play as a straight historic game or, if you so choose, add the mystic and fantastical dark age world view of trolls, dragons and magic. I like that Idea greatly, in fact it falls very much in line with the methods I am using in Panimalay regarding religious blessings and sacrifices giving “buffs” to troops - but that is a whole other kettle of fish for the future.
A book I love dearly, “The Wargaming Compendium” from Henry Hyde is also a worthwhile investment to anyone coming new into the mysterious world of wargaming in general. It offers a wealth of experience and knowledge in an easy to read style that is Henry’s trademark style. If you have never visited his blog, then you should take a few moments and do so. Henry is also the editor of Battlegames and Miniature Wargames (OK, it’s published as "Miniature Wargames with Battlegames", but in my mind Battlegames was, and always will be, the better publication!) Henry is also a practitioner of “Imagi-nations” wargames, something I an a great fan of.
Well that is my two-penneth worth on this subject, I hope it helps not only the questioner but also anyone else who is thinking of dipping a toe into the murky waters of historical gaming. My last thought or wisdom on the matter is to say, button counting is all well and good, but don’t ever let it get in the way of good fun and an interesting and rewarding hobby. We are gaming painters and collectors, don’t get put off if your buttons are the wrong shade of brass! Who cares from three feet away, it’s all about the fun of the game and the enjoyment of collecting our little tin/lead/white metal/plastic/resin men.
Most of all, keep on hobbying!
Here is the video response to the question as asked on my channel: