Tuesday 6 November 2012

Wargames - A Guide For Gift Buyers

When Christmas or my birthday roll around, Mrs Matt complains that she'd like to be able to get me surprise wargames presents, but doesn't know enough about the hobby to know what to get. I wrote this guide to try to make it easier, so I've posted it here in case anyone else would like to increase their odds of getting something really useful for Christmas...

What's all this then?

Well, as often happens at this time of year, we're approaching Christmas. I know I write a list of things I want every year, but if anyone wants to buy me a surprise present related to my hobby, they tend to struggle because it's a bit complicated. So this is an attempt to explain what I do with all my spare time and money in layman's terms, so hopefully you might feel a bit more confident about buying me stuff.

Hang on, that just sounds like a veiled way of saying "please buy me more stuff".

I was hoping you wouldn't notice that.

Fine. Go on then, what are wargames all about?

I'll assume that you don't know anything about it at all. So, in simple terms, the hobby is about fighting battles with model soldiers on a tabletop. We use tape measures for things like how far things can move and shoot, and the effects of what we're doing are decided by rolling dice. We tend to have model scenery on the table as well to give us something to fight over.
To make games "fair", we normally use a points system to decide which models we can use - so I might have to choose between 30 men on their own, or 10 men and a tank, for example. That way both players can use different armies but both have a decent chance of winning. We don't just use all the models we have every time.

That sounds fairly straightforward. Why do you need so many models then?

Well, there are a few reasons I like to have more and more things!
First of all, the more models I have, the bigger the games I can play. If 10 men and a tank cost 100 points, then if I have 20 men and 2 tanks, I can play a 200 point game (so long as my opponent has 200 points' worth of models too).
Second, I like to fight battles from a wide range of different time periods - one week I might be playing a World War 2 game, the next a game set in 1066. I need different models for each period.
Third, if I have models for more than one side I can use either in my games, so I have models for the Americans and Germans in WW2, for example.

Alright. So if I wanted to buy you some models, what do I need to know?

Well first of all, don't worry too much. Whatever models I ended up with I'd be able to find a use for them, even if they become the start of a new army!
However, if you want to buy something to fit in with what I already have, you really need to know two things - the period and the scale.
The period is the easy bit - that's the point in history (or the future for science fiction!) that the models are meant for.
Scale is the size of the models. Wargames model scales are listed in mm - it's supposed to be the distance between the feet and the eyes of a man standing upright in that scale. Typical scales are 15mm or 28mm, and I use different scales for different games.
There's a list of periods I play and the scales I play them in at the end of this guide.

Ok, I think that makes sense. I've seen you with lots of books as well though. What are they for?

Remember earlier I said that I need different models for different periods? Well, the same thing is true for the rules used to play the games. Warfare in 1066 was very different from WW2, so we use different rules for different periods as well.
For example, for WW2 I play a game called Flames of War, but for Vikings I play a game called Saga. Each has its own book.
On top of that, there are books for each game which list the points values for different armies, and give scenarios to play, and things like that.

What do I need to know about buying you books then?

Well that's a bit harder. New rulebooks are always welcome but they tend to be pricey - a lot of them are big hardbacks at around £30. The supplement books are cheaper, but I need to have the main rulebook for that game as well. Really you need to know whether the book you're buying is a complete set of rules or not - they normally mention in the blurb whether a copy of something else is needed to use them.

Ok, so models or books. Is there anything else that you'd like?

Why, yes there is! I mentioned earlier that we have model scenery on the table when we play. Well, that needs to match the scale and period of the game as well (you might fight over a viking longhouse in 1066, but in WW2 that wouldn't make sense) and it's always useful to have more scenery.
It's also called "terrain", if you're doing a Google search. The same periods and scales that I use models for are what I can use terrain for.
I also need to transport my models to games. In the past I've used whatever boxes I could lay my hands on, but it's much nicer to use custom made carry cases that are lined with foam to protect the models. Any of these are useful - I have so many models of different sizes and shapes that you really couldn't go wrong getting me a case of some sort.
Finally of course there's painting supplies - paint sets and brushes are always useful. There are more and more things like basing kits and modelling accessories that you can buy now as well, I'd be happy to get that kind of stuff as I can experiment with it when I'm painting.

There's lots of information here, and I'm confused! What if I buy the wrong thing?

You can't buy the wrong thing, not really. I'll have a more immediate use for something that matches up to a game I already play, but wargamers joke about the "butterfly syndrome" - as soon as we see new models or rules or even a film related to a period we don't already play games in, we want to give it a go, normally abandoning a current project for a while as we play with the new thing. If you bought me something completely unrelated to anything I play at the moment, I'd still end up finding a use for it and it would probably cause me to find a new game to play. So don't worry, I'm just happy as long as there are toy soldiers to muck about with!

Then I gave a list of games, periods, factions etc that I play, and some websites that you could buy stuff from. We'll see how well this all works out... 


  1. You missed out where to get stuff. However, your efforts have not been in vain, and I have already asked Mrs Kieron to read it.


    1. The version I gave to Mrs Matt did have a list of websites and comments - but it was a bit specific to things I'd want and had some comments on the sites themselves, so I thought it best to let people provide their own opinions when they hand the thing out.

  2. Matt - that is a great post.

    I agree with Kieron though - you need to be specific about supplier or you could end up with something that is just plain bad (like Irregular 6mm).

    1. Well, I did give a list of games I play and some ideas for sites to use to Mrs Matt. I suspect that she'll be quite conservative and will likely buy things like Battlefront models for Flames of War, so I'm not too worried about suppliers. We shall see what I end up with though!

    2. Oh and thanks for the compliment about the post! :)

  3. :-)

    To make things simple for my wife, I put what I want in the cart. But that takes the fun of the hunt/surprise out! Good luck!

    1. I'm really interested to see what I get now - normally I write a list but this time it's entirely up to chance what I end up with. Might well result in a new army or two being started depending on what I get!