The Ideal Wargame

Over recent weeks I’ve been fortunate to enjoy a few games against a range of opponents. Each game has provided plenty of challenges and more than a little inspiration. These games have ranged in size from relatively small encounters to some with a couple of thousand figures. Over the same period I have been mulling over various comments and game photos on the internet. These range from the merits of large games with thousands of 28mm figures, to small games using 6mm or 15mm played on small tables. I’ve also read of players considering their return to competition wargaming after experiencing a pandemic enforced break.

As is to be expected clearly everyone has different views on the features of their ideal game. So with such a vast array of options what makes an ideal game for me?

Firstly, I need to feel the game replicates, to some extent, an actual historic battle. With all such goals compromises must be made. I tend to prefer simple rules yet the rules should create a feasible historical narrative that I at least can identify with. I want my games to comparable to the battles I read of in the history books. Therefore my brigade of miniatures advancing or retreating on the table top should replicate those actions on the historical battlefield or, if it is a fictional engagement, provide features discernible in accounts from historic battles.

I am fascinated by different periods of history and therefore my gaming interests are diverse. Yet within these periods my preference is to deploy armies that historically fought each other.

For instance I have a preference to see battles between Alexander’s Successors or against Rome, as I have outlined in these two reports. Equally, I prefer the Yorkists and Lancastrians to deploy opposite rather than campaigning against Biblical Egypt. In some periods this desire for pitting historical opponents against each other is particularly narrow, limited to a particular year or campaign. To enable this I make choices in figure and ground scale to fit my interests, without breaking the bank. These decisions flow into the table dimensions I use.

I prefer my tables to be visually attractive. Of course improving terrain and miniatures is something of an ongoing process I’m certainly not drawn to battlefields with overly stylised terrain such as square hills. Yes, a feature of some 28mm Ancient competition games. Yet, from a storage perspective I accept that compromises with terrain must be made.

I acknowledge that I have a limited time to play games. Typically I can allocate a few hours in an evening to a game. This time element in part influences the rules I use as I need a plausible result within the gaming window. Sometimes I have a little more time allowing larger games, but these are exceptions.

Skirmish wargaming is increasingly popular with some truely inspirational photos of such games on the internet. I can see the appeal of smaller forces with the ability to create some great terrain to support the battles. Yet I am not drawn to skirmish games which, for me, lack the command challenges of larger battles. I clearly prefer the great commanders of history and their battles and campaigns, rather than Richard Sharpe’s exploits. I wonder if I will always resist the lure?

Finally, my games need to be a rewarding social experience. I am not interested in games where the aspect of winning is paramount. This increasingly means I find myself avoiding competitions, despite having enjoyed them in the past.

Well, enough of me, what defines your ideal game?

10 thoughts on “The Ideal Wargame

  1. My ideal game has more to do with a well-designed scenario with clearly defined objectives than with periods and scale. I’m quite happy to play anything as long as the rules are tolerable and the point is well-defined.
    Like you, tournaments aren’t in my wheelhouse. I’ll play in them just to play with different opponents but I despise playing against super-competitive players. They commonly sap the fun out of a day and it’s just not worth the headache.

    1. Tournaments are indeed a great way of playing others and they provide a great way of catching up with friends. I’m probably more focussed on informal gaming events now which are similar without the lure of the podium.

  2. I think my wargaming ideal is more or less the same as yours Keith.

    I do love a huge game with thousands of nicely painted figures but can have just as much enjoyment with a smaller battle. As long as the scenario is a good one and it doesn’t have to be ‘fair’ or ‘balanced’ as I feel any good historical general would be trying to bring battle when advantageous to them and sometimes it can be just as fun dealing with a terrible situation and doing the best you can. Nice terrain has become something of a must have for me over the past few years but I think that’s through being spoiled with the games that I get to play in various sheds o’war and at the club where our terrain is very good. Unlike you I do like a skirmish game now but that is down to discovering the truly excellent Chain of Command rules. I’ve also never taken part in competition gaming and have about as much desire to do so than I have in going to watch Millwall play!

    However, for me the most important thing is that I am enjoying it with some mates whilst having a laugh, if that is happening then I can forgive the other bits not being quite up to scratch and all is good in the world.

    1. All good points. A scenario need not be balanced but sometimes when it too unbalanced I worry someone is taking a hammering and maybe after a while their enjoyment will be tested too far. As to being able to enjoy people’s company while moving miniatures – that is top of my list, irrespective of the rules.

  3. Like you, I enjoy a well dressed table, and rules that are as simple as they need to be while still being reflective of the period. Scale and scope are something I am far more flexible on and I find are more dictated by the dimensions of the “well dressed table” than a desire to fight at that size, though since many of my available periods are of the “horse and musket” era, we are usually taking at least a Division a side, to make it interesting and give some room for manoeuvre, 15mm troops probably helping with this.

    1. Interesting, thanks for your comments & thoughts.

      There is an interesting balance between between room to manoeuvre, the period and the game. It’s not always as simple as we think & I suspect it really depends on the level of the battle, the period & situation.

  4. My preference is close to yours. This may not be a surprise since I found you as a fellow Volley & Bayonet fan. OTOH for WWII I have a preference for CD:TOB or Great Battles of WWII.

    I got into skirmish gaming because a local guy wanted to do it. He wanted to do Chain of Command while I leaned towards Battlegroup. But the priority for wargamers is to have another player. Too many of us gradually isolate ourselves by insisting on The One & Only Ruleset and not considering others preferences. Only once you have another player will you have the opportunity to. takes turns with a preferred ruleset. Our next challenge is to try a mini-campaign which is ideal since the games are not one-and-done… but linked.

    I also realized that many of my failed collections come from not enough knowledge of the era’s history. Several times, I have bought some troops but realized that I just don’t know about the period to proceed. So wargame rules publishers (which I am now releasing a 2nd edition of Tractics with Mike Reese via would be smart to produce a “Wargamers Guide” to get people into a period. Some of the success of the Skirmish-oriented sets is how they mix campaign-specific rules, history and inspiring art in bite size supplements.

    Where I have evolved the most is towards smaller tables. Now, 4×6 is my largest and prefer the demi-inch or centimeter rescaling using smaller figures. At my age, playing seated most of the time is ideal.

    Then again, I still have a hankering to make a sand table and ideally, that should be bigger. So that is the challenge: avoiding grandiose plans and focusing on the practical and achievable.

    1. An interesting post Bill. You raise a good point regarding the importance & influence of other players in the rules systems we use. It really flows to figure scales as well.

      I am currently fortunate that our group is generally happy with one or two of the rule systems we frequently play as multiplayer games. That said preferences are less clear for other periods or games systems. This means the player base is smaller or extends to a different group. It requires juggling at times. Flexibility and engagement with potential opponents are important points to consider. I try and host a variety of systems on something of a rotation to broaden appeal.

      However, engaging in games that others prefer is a great way to potentially encourage them to play your own preferred system.

  5. Thanks for this post and for the interesting thought challenge. Like you I prefer battles rooted in history with armies that actually fought one another. For that reason I, planning a foray into ancients gaming using biblical armies that battled in the 8th century BC – Assyrians, Arameans, Egyptians, Israelites, etc. Actual historical scenarios are motivator for me, which is why I’m currently researching the Royal Canadian Regiment in the Sicily campaign as a source of company level scenarios.
    I prefer larger battles but they are generally solo affairs. find that time limits mean my F2F gaming before COVID was 2-3 hrs using simple rules which I suspect is most peoples’ club experience. Cheers, Mike

    1. Interesting, thank you for posting.

      I suspect the time limit of 2-3 hours is common among an increasing number of players, especially at club events. I have wondered if this is a change partly driven by an increase in popularity of skirmish level games. But then we also have increasing time pressures.

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