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What is Tabletop Wargaming?

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For the creative looking to engage with a new niche, tabletop wargaming might the solution for combining a love of gaming and art. The modern pastime effortlessly joins the tactics used in board gaming and model railroading. The use of miniatures to conduct battles and variety of play makes it relatively fun and engaging for all audiences across the board . . . no pun intended!

What is tabletop wargaming? Tabletop wargaming, also known as miniature wargaming, is a form of play combining traditional board gaming and battle simulation. The method of play involves players simulating a tabletop wargame battle using miniatures (small figurines used in battle), dice, and terrain pieces.

Tabletop wargaming differs from traditional tabletop board gaming in that it does not adhere to a permanent gaming strategy or scenario. Unlike that of a traditional tabletop gaming board, a wargaming board’s appearance changes and evolves incessantly in line with its creator’s vision and strategic preference.

The Birth of Tabletop Wargaming

The birth of tabletop wargaming is believed to have first arisen in Prussia, where early variations were loosely inspired by the game of chess, during the closing of the 18th century. Much like the alternating colored squares on a chessboard, the colored squares on early wargaming boards were used to distinguish the varying levels of terrain.

During the 19th century, wargaming was used for training the Prussian military, as members of the army would use a real map of the war terrain and miniature figurines to carefully plan out the placement of their troops. It wasn’t until after the French defeated Prussia during the war in 1870, that widespread interest in tabletop wargaming began to form. 

In the latter half of the 19th century, wargaming caught the likes of well-known Scottish novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, who more than likely propelled the game into its modernized version when he first introduced everyday objects used to portray soldiers into it. He is thus referred to as, the “grandfather of modern tabletop wargaming.”

More information on Robert Louis Stevenson and his relation to early wargaming concepts can be found here

H. G. Wells: The Father of Modern Tabletop Wargaming

While Robert Louis Stevenson maintains the title of the grandfather of modern tabletop wargaming, English writer H. G. Wells, is penned as “the father of modern tabletop wargaming.” Wells is most recognized for establishing the game as what it is known as today, recreational wargaming. 

Wells took the military wargaming methods used by the Prussians and altered them to include recreational tactics that ordinary, non-military civilians could enjoy. The method of recreational wargaming came to be when Wells and a friend stumbled upon the act of playfully knocking over toy soldiers competitively. The idea gained substance after Wells began to create his own set of rules on how the game should be played and carried out. 

The game was based around two concepts: that units and terrain would be represented by miniaturized models (or at least something lying around that resembled a hill or horse), and that the movement and interaction between the game’s units would be determined by a relatively simple set of rules.

Source: Luke Plunkett from Total Recall

The Creation of Little Wars and More

The set of rules and concepts Wells established for tabletop wargaming were used to collectively form the book, Little Wars, which he published in 1913. As Wells and his colleagues explored the ideas surrounding the game at play, they thought it be best to incorporate a more theatrical aspect into the already established concept of wargaming.

They decided to call the game, Little War, after the book he had first written on his earlier ideas on wargaming. After encountering the issue of not being able to balance his toy soldiers on a carpeted floor, Wells, with the genius of his friend, decided on focusing their time towards constructing life-like miniature tabletop sets on which the game could be played on.

This concept rid the game from its serious war-like style and successfully propelled it into a competitive recreation in which players could incorporate creative facets, a game universally accessible to players of all interests. 

The Object of Play

Tabletop wargaming is very much similar to traditional board gaming however, the object of tabletop wargaming is more or less surrounds the concept of physically creating the game you wish to play. 

With a traditional board gaming, the rules, style, and concept of the game have already been established by the creator and are not as flexible in terms of how the game is meant to be played. 

With tabletop wargaming, creating the set, building and painting miniatures, and arranging your toy soldiers are all collectively part of the experience of wargaming. Once all parts come together, the core objective is to battle your opponent’s force of soldiers.

Method of Play

Given that its concept originated in war times for simulating military scenarios to train soldiers, the rules created are dependent upon the time period the players chose to depict. Players first chose a battle setting from a historical time period or fantasy genre to recreate and then establish rules that govern the movements of the miniatures, player autonomies, and what is considered to be a casualty.

Creating a Wargame Board

Depending on the scale of the model used in the wargame, much time and money can be consumed creating the perfect set of miniatures and terrain. The first thing to consider before proceeding with the creation of miniatures is the historical time period you intend to portray in your wargame.

Determining the time period or genre that your game will be portraying will aid in creating the design of your miniature wargame. The ideas for historical settings and genre span over many categories from historical wars like World Wars I & II, to otherworldly dimensions in outer space and more. 


The miniatures used to construct the wargame are categorized according to their scale and material. Miniatures can be representative of buildings, soldiers, weapons, and all other materials used in battle. They are usually constructed out of either metal and plastic and can be created and painted by hand or purchased from a vendor. 

Scales used to measure the miniatures vary and are based according to the real-life objects they represent and their size in comparison. 

The scale refers to the difference in size between the model and the real thing. So a 1/2400 scale battleship model will be 1/2400th the size of the real-life ship. This means that the 863-foot long battleship Yamato would be about 4.3 inches long in 1/2400 scale (863 + 2400 = .36 feet).

Source: Miniature Wargaming 101

Fractional scales range from 1/72 to 1/6000 and can refer to land, aviation, and naval miniatures. Another scale used for tabletop wargaming miniatures is metric. The metric scale for miniatures refers to those representing human figures. They are measured according to how they compare to the height of an actual individual human. The metric scales for miniatures can vary from designer to designer however most scales measure from 25 to 28mm. 

Rules and Options

Rules are not exactly set in stone as they were when the game first appeared so it is important for players and designers to establish their set of rules accordingly. 

The set of rules for tabletop wargaming are very malleable in their nature and are not required to apply to all players of the game. Players can choose to play by the rules published for the public by other players or they can opt to form their own set of rules, either is acceptable. 

Popular Tabletop Wargames

Using different historical genres and settings, some designers have recreated modern tabletop wargaming to include their own personal touches and concepts. These recreations have become popular amongst avid and new-coming tabletop wargamers because of their unique characteristics.

Some popular tabletop wargames include:

If tabletop wargaming sounds interesting to you, try looking into gaming communities online that offer groups exclusively committed to tabletop wargaming. 

The International Wargames Federation is a great resource for staying connected to the global community of wargaming and provides information on wargaming and competition between players.

Wargaming.net, an online gaming platform dedicated to all things wargaming, is also useful for gaining more insight into the complex market.

Image Source: Pat Loika

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