How to start? Or where to begin? It sure is a big hobby!

As a gamer, I often find my self as an Army of One. Out of all my co-workers (50+ in my office) I am the only miniatures gamer, and one of very few that play any board games at all. I deal with the usual jokes and silliness. My Hasbro Black Series figs are referred to as “dolls” by one guy. I play with kid’s toys. My fellow gamers are “those” guys. You know the ones; the unwashed, uncouth, basement dwellers. All the same stuff I am sure many of you have dealt with at some time.

My two brothers are the same. Neither really has a hobby, and they think it is funny to make jokes about my “shiny” as they refer to my unpainted models. Since they are not gamer, they were blown away by my total models owned. Especially by the number in the Lead Mountain, or The Boxes of Despair, as I refer to them.

It’s mostly in good humor, but still, it gets old. I’ve had decent conversations explaining war games in general, and the games I play in particular, with my direct unit. Because we spend 8-10 hours a day together in very close quarters and we’ve pretty much covered everything. None have really showed any interest. One guy asked about board games a few years back. Games with a military/war theme that would be suitable for a ten-yar-old. I gave him a couple options, and every time I followed up, he replied with “he hadn’t gotten any yet”.

My “gaming buddies” are all of you. The guys and gals that read my blog, post on the forums I frequent, or right blogs of your own. You are the ones who get it. Collecting your own stuff. The ones who buy more models than they paint, and collect rules like somewhere out there is the perfect set. My peeps.

We have a collective vocabulary and a shared knowledge base. Unless you play a single game, or ruleset, you all know that there are literally thousands of rule sets floating around. Starting with eponymous Little Wars, to whatever ruleset is being published the week I publish this, to whatever week you read this into infinity, rules abound. Those in the hobby know and understand it. Those outside the hobby have no idea.

It comes as a surprise, I am sure, when they ask a simple question like “what rules should I use if I wanted to start wargaming?” Three weeks later, when you finish discussing the various eras of warfare and how to divide them, they have lost interest completely…

Honestly, where do we start?

I’ve briefly alluded to some of the eras in warfare that have rules or army lists in this post (the eras I game post link), so I won’t delve into it again. It does create issues though, when someone asks about wargaming. I had this problem today when the guy who asked about board games asked for a set of rules he called “Wargaming 101” and specifically mentioned battles from Thermopylae to Gettysburg.

Well. Hmmm. How do I break it down that no one set of rules is capable of doing that? 2300+ years of history, innovation, tactical changes, and weapons development means that a pike-armed phalanx and a skirmish line armed with repeating rifles are very, very different. While I supposed you could have some very basic rules to cover that wide of a span, it is the differences in units that makes war gaming so great. Otherwise, play checkers.

I answered my friend. He is recently retired, and has way more free time than I do. I suppose he is looking for a hobby, and the world needs more wargamers, not less, so I did my best to help. I gave some options and opinions of the same. My real knowledge is limited to the ten or so rulesets I play most. I am familiar with about probably ten times that number. And have heard of double that. Reading his question, my brain started sorting through what I know.

Plenty of gamers will yell out “you told him about DBA, right?” Which technically, I did. By telling him that Triumph! is the playable successor. We all have our opinions; I don’t care for DBA. Sue me.

I mentioned the Osprey Wargaming Series to start, specifically Lion Rampant.  I like the small rulebooks and narrow focus of this series. Handing someone a book the size of the 9th Ed Warhammer 40K book is almost a surefire way to get them to NOT play wargames. There is literally a 300-page difference between 9th Ed 40K and any rules in the Osprey series.  And the former still needs a pair of army books to really play the game.

Granted, one is sci-fi and the other is medieval, but you understand the dilemma. How to we get a totally newbie over the initial hump and on the slide into wargaming madness?

My recommendations to him were Field of Glory, several from the Osprey Series, Triumph!, the Fire & Fury rules (both Brigade and Regimental) and Black Powder. The real problem is the timespan. None of these will work for that entire timeline. I think a minimum would be four rules. One for Ancients, one for Dark Ages, one for Medieval, and a last for the American Civil War. Unless he is interested in Napoleonics battles, too, then, well, he needs more rules.

What about all of you? If someone asked you the same question, what would your answer be, and what are your favorite rules for these various eras?

For me, these are my current rules:

Ancients: Triumph! I like the vast array of army lists, the simplicity of play, and the guys that play it. I’ve had great fun recreating battles from the Battle of Marathon, to the battle of Hastings.

Dark Ages: Saga I like the warband feel, and the unique traits off the battle boards. Plus, cool dice. Everyone loves cool dice.

Medieval: Lion/Dragon Rampant Easy to read and learn, fast-paced, and really open to include any units you want, I can use my Warhammer Fantasy models with these rules without tossing a monstrosity of a rulebook at my opponent.

Black powder era: Muskets & Tomahawks for skirmish battles. Fire & Fury for ACW. M&T is so cinematic and cool. This evocative set uses cool scenarios and side plots to create really interesting games. The F&F rules allow regimental to brigade level gaming in the ACW.

Anyone of you who has read before know I also game fantasy, WW2 and various sci-fi. He didn’t ask about those, but I’ll list my current favs just for completion’s sake:

Fantasy: Warhammer Fantasy Battles AND Dragon Rampant. I’m still torn between the two. It is the unique units in WFB that makes the game both cool, and overburdened with special rules. DR really streamlines the unit and weapon choices. I need to bust out a couple armies and give DR a go.

WW2: Bolt Action (plus our house rules) and Chain of Command. I’ve written before about how I WANT to love CoC, but there are certain aspects I just don’t care for. I think I will end up with a hybrid of the two, picking parts I like from both.

Sci-Fi: 40K will always be my first gaming love, but I haven’t played it in years. Kill Team has piqued my interest, though, and I might get into it. Mostly I play Star Wars using X-Wing and Armada. Ground combat in the galaxy far, far away isn’t my thing, but space combat is so much fun.

My friend hasn’t taken me up my lunch offer yet. I think he knows lunch would turn into dinner, and the sun would set before I even got to the Black Powder era in rules discussions. He wants to dip his toe, not leap into the fire. I can’t say I blame him for caution, since this path can lead to madness.

A quick peek at what I’ve been up to on the terrain front. A couple sign posts/ message boards, and a ruined tower for fantasy gaming. The signs are from basswood and balsa, with mdf bases I scavenged from the last mdf kit I built. I forgot to take any in progress pics of the tower. It was built stone by stone from XPS bricks/blocks I cut on my Proxxon hotwire cutter. I used Alene’s Tacky glue instead of hot glue (hate the strings) so this took a while. I could only get two rows on at a time before they would slip out of position if I tried to add more layers.

I finally finished this kit from 4Ground. Harper’s Dry goods. I have another copy of this kit already, so i modified the front face, cutting a different profile on the top and hiding the cuts with profile boards. My western town is coming along nicely. Mostly I need to finalize signs and get them printed and installed.

Not sure why the door looks broken. I wonder if I messed it up finishing the tarp?

That’s it for this update. There are few models painted, but no pics yet. With end-of-the year stuff of my daughter, my free time has been limited. June is gonna be worse. If I can finish even one small project, it will be a miracle.

See ya next time!


18 thoughts on “How to start? Or where to begin? It sure is a big hobby!

  1. John@justneedsvarnish June 1, 2022 / 1:06 pm

    Enjoyed reading this post, Harry! 🙂 I’ve rarely been asked the question on where to start, but found that it’s determining what people are interested in that matters more to start with than what rules to use! And in all my working life I’ve only ever met a handful of people who were wargamers!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. borderguy190 June 1, 2022 / 4:21 pm

    True words, John. Without an interest, they will lose focus. I was lucky in college to have a solid shop with around 20 40K gamers, and at least that many WFB players. They was a historical shop about 35 minutes away with a decent group, but i didn’t find out about them until i moved away,. having attended fall In! and Historicon, plus a few local events, I like to think we are more than we appear. Though from my church group and work, I i know it isn’t.

    Thanks for having a read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • borderguy190 June 1, 2022 / 6:16 pm

      If you did game TIM, you would win all the time. Your opponent would be mesmerized by the wonderful models you paint and would make all kinds of tactical errors!

      Truth is, our shared hobby has many aspects, and its a happy place when we all support each other and enjoy how people hobby in their own way. I know your posts sure inspire me to try harder!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Talaraskan June 1, 2022 / 8:27 pm

    I’ve never properly been able to be a miniatures gamer but I very much enjoyed your post. I find that I enjoy reading about the hobby in general, despite the fact that I often feel like a child staring through the window at a store full of wonderous things.

    I am a ttrpg gamer (and even that has provided it’s challenges in finding like-minded folks over the years). I can only imagine how difficult it must be to find others who can both paint and field armies.

    I was first exposed to miniatures games when I attended my first Gen Con, in 1983. In one of the halls at the University of Wisconsin Parkside, there was a massive table set up to reenact a battle from the Third Crusade. It was amazing.

    I was only 13 at the time and didn’t have many event tickets to fill my days, so I would spend hours watching the progress on this massive battle. As I recall, by early Sunday morning the judges started introducing fantasy units, to try to bring things to a resolution.

    At any rate, it’s always been a dream of mine to take the plunge. At 52, I’ll openly admit that I’m still holding out hope that retirement will find me with enough space to have a little craft room where I can paint minis and enough free time to find some like-minded souls. Who knows, as these generation ages it is possible that retirement communities will start having open gaming spaces.

    I’d love to try a number of different time periods. However, for now your post may have at least inspired me to take a look at Lion/Dragon Rampant and just let my mind wander.

    You mentioned Kill Team. If you give it a whirl, I’d be curious to read about your thoughts. Have wondered about trying one of these (what seem to me to be) “newer” skirmish type games, as a gateway to start finally dipping a toe into the hobby. Good gaming!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. borderguy190 June 1, 2022 / 8:37 pm

    Gen Con in ’83? You lucky, lucky soul! To be there in the halcyon days of TSR. Wow!!

    Thanks for the kind words. I dabble in ttrpgs as well. Firmly into D&D 5e, though exclusively with my family when I can get them to play. You are right, wargamers with painted armies are like unicorns in some parts.

    I do hope you give it a try. I think Lion/Dragon are ideal for a newcomer to the hobby. Nothing wild. Fairly consise rules. On my very first play through I think the gamers were running everything by the end of the 2nd round of play and the GM sat back and answered tricky questions while enjoying the spectacle of 8 or 10 players on a massive table. We even reached a solid conclusion in under 4 hours!

    What eras interest you? Are you thinking 15mm or 28mm or something different? So many choices!


    • Talaraskan June 2, 2022 / 8:19 am

      I’d be pretty open with the era. I’ve played a number of “rules will be taught” intros at conventions over the years and have enjoyed pretty much everything I’ve come across.

      I suppose fantasy would be one logical place for me to start. For real world stuff, I think Bronze Age would be neat or maybe something around the French/Indian War or the American Revolution. I caught a couple sessions of Drums Along the Mohawk once (though maybe that was the name of the event and not the rules set) and really enjoyed it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • borderguy190 June 2, 2022 / 9:46 am

        Fantasy is so open that itnis an easy place to start. Reaper has si many amazing monsters. Several plastic options for the classic fantasy options. And magic! Plus you have painted models fir rpgs, too.

        The FIW is one of my great loves in gaming. Though I have a grand total of 6 out of nearly/over 500 FIW models painted… if you decide to with Muskets & Tomahawks you can play AWI as well!

        What cons have you gone to? Drums Along the Mohawk dojbdd familiar.


      • Talaraskan June 2, 2022 / 8:32 pm

        That’s neat. I didn’t realize the FIW was that popular of an era. I grew up in upstate NY, so had my share of visits to Fort Ticonderoga & Fort William Henry. Guess it made my imagination run wild.

        As for conventions, back in the day I went to Gen Con in ’83, ’84, ’93, ’94 and caught Origins in ’85. Somewhere in my early 20s I foolishly stepped away from the hobby, largely due to some of the typical ridicule you mention in your post.

        At any rate in 2015, I snapped out of it and decided it was time to pursue what I enjoy. I also happened to find myself living in Indiana. Have been to Gen Con every year since, with the exception of the first year of Covid. Oh, in 2018 I saved up and caught the UK Games Expo in Birmingham. That trip had the added bonus of allowing me to take a day trip to Nottingham, to visit Warhammer World (while I’ve never played the wargame, I’ve always been a fan of the setting and WFRPG).

        Do you attend many conventions?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Guru PIG June 1, 2022 / 11:13 pm

    Great post I play many of the same games. The way that I explain it is that is like chess but each chess piece is represented by a whole unit and instead of squared we play on model railway like terrain. The Chess pieces can be represented by any armies throughout history just as chess sets are. I don’t explain each of the periods but try and find out what period of history they like and try and get them over for a game.

    Our group has enough figures in most periods and we suggest they use our figures and play a variety of different types of games until they fins something they like and are prepared to invest in. We then help them work out a starter army and provide them with some suppliers they can rely on.

    This process generally works. If it doesn’t SOD EM!

    Liked by 1 person

    • borderguy190 June 1, 2022 / 11:28 pm

      Not fair! You have a group!! I’m so tired of painting both sides to I try and convince someone to play! J/k I have a thing for models.

      I’ve used the chess analogy before as well, since most people have a vague understanding of chess. Every time I’ve been asked I think the $$ scares them off. Cheap gits.

      Sod ’em is right!


  6. Mark A. Morin June 3, 2022 / 2:18 pm

    Terrain is looking great Harry – though for rules I’d add Feudal Patrol (with my supplement selfishly), Combat Patrol, and Wars of Ozz

    Liked by 2 people

  7. borderguy190 June 3, 2022 / 10:18 pm

    I’ll add them to the list, Mark. He might be into rules written by vets as he is one and it will appeal to him.


  8. borderguy190 June 4, 2022 / 4:00 pm

    TALARASKAN- I have attended Fall In! Every year since 2015. Historicon replaced Fall In last year, but I was there. I’ve been to a couple small “cons” locally here in Michigan, but work keeps conspiring to make me miss more of them. Been to Indy Comic Con once, about 5 years ago, probably. Had a blast. The highlight was 2019 at Star Wars Celebration. That wasa heck of a Convention!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. rantingsfromunder June 5, 2022 / 6:42 am

    Great post mate, as for rules these days I can only remember one set at a time (and they have to be simple), I flirted with WRG 4th(?) edition ancients long ago, Rapid Fire for WW2 but thats about it for historical games, just about everything else is Sci/fi or Fantasy, at the moment Deadzone is my game of choice or my homebrew “10mm Wild west Indian attack”, don’t really play a lot of games, and when we do it’s usually something from my youngest’s huge array of board and card games. I do hope to get in another Deadzone game in the next couple of weeks (if I can convince him!).

    Ypu story did remind me of one told to me by Ian Kaye of Irregular Miniatures years ago, apparently this chap had come up to the stall at a show with a long list of figures he wanted in 25mm, there was basically seven full armies of 100+ figures for different eras and rule sets about £600 worth of figures at the time. Ian said he’d have to make it up and post it too him as he didn’t have all the stuff with him, and had asked him why he was buying so much in the one go? his reply was that he used to play golf but a car accident had made walking painful so he’d decided to get a new hobby, and had visited his local games club after seeing it advertised on a notice board. He’d liked the look of several games and had asked what armies he’d need to play in games on each different table, and the gamers had given their recommendations on good starter armies, and a few of them had mentioned Irregular as a good inexpensive place to buy them from. Oh and how much would it cost to get Ian or someone else to paint them for him? 😁

    Nice work on the scenic bit too by the way, you could have saved them for Dave’s season of scenery! 😉

    Cheers Roger.

    Liked by 1 person

    • borderguy190 June 20, 2022 / 4:50 pm

      Hey Roger! I don’t know how I missed this post. well I do, but that is here and gone. That story is a gud ‘un. He was serious about diving in to a new hobby! What until; he got a price tag on painting! Ha!

      I shall save the scenery until August. A full third of that month is already out, as I am driving cross-country to drop my youngest of at university, but I should be able to get something painted, right?


  10. Dave Stone June 13, 2022 / 9:29 am

    I think you’ve done a great job in starting your friend in the right direction Harry, and a lot of what he likes will come down to personal taste.
    The scenery is looking great, and look forward to seeing it progress, if you haven’t got it painted before August, you could always enter it into the Season of Scenery challenge


  11. borderguy190 June 13, 2022 / 10:04 am

    Thanks Dave! He has a general interest in warfare, but he will need to find some focus, for sure.

    I really don’t have time this month to touch the terrain, so I think I shall hold it for the challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

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