I love all sorts of games, especially boardgames and RPGs. But the type that brings me the most enjoyment has to be the skirmish wargame. Skirmish wargames typically differ from traditional wargames in their scale; wargames will often be played with a large number of miniatures and can run into the hours or even days of playtime to determine a winner because of complex rulesets that can span multiple rulebooks. Skirmish games, on the other hand, usually require fewer miniatures and a slimmed-down ruleset. This equates to a smaller investment to play as well.
One of my favorite skirmish wargame publishers is Osprey Publishing… for a number of reasons. I discovered Osprey after catching a glimpse of a game at Gen Con 2015. The two players I watched were having WAY TOO MUCH fun. I was a Dungeon Master for a weekly D&D 5e game, and my experiences with combat bordered on the tedious. These two guys were laughing and not having to consult rule after rule. A single d20 was rolled and the results were quickly resolved. There were wizards and fighters and thieves, and the combat was almost identical for every miniature. The results from die rolls were hilarious, with the players laughing even as one of their minis was removed from the game. There was no roleplaying here, but there were clear objectives, variety in the types of minis, and–best of all–the glorious terrain! This table was covered with debris (I would come to learn it is called scatter terrain) that included crumbling buildings, fallen walls, crooked tombstones, and much more. The players would use the terrain to hide behind, to climb, and to ambush. And again… the laughing never stopped. After the game ended, I spoke to the guys and found they’d just met and were playing a brand new game called Frostgrave from Osprey Games and written by Joseph McCullough. I bought the single rulebook and haven’t looked back.
I’ve written about Frostgrave before (here and here and here and here), so I won’t rehash what those posts provide. Instead, I want to share with you some other skirmish game resources that Osprey Games has produced. I’ve made a promise to myself to try at least half a dozen new wargames in 2018, and that includes the ones below.
Frosgrave: Ghost Archipelago
by Joseph McCullough
This is Joseph McCullough’s spin-off of Frostgrave. Instead of the defrosted city of Felstad, Ghost Archipelago takes place in the Lost Isles, a collection of islands that has returned after a 200 year absence. On one of those islands is the Crystal Pool that can give a person extraordinary powers when they drink from it. Players take control of 10 miniatures that include the Heritor (with some minor super powers they “inherited” from someone who originally drank from the Crystal Pool), a Warden (similar to a Wizard and who casts spells), and crewmen who bring a mix of weaponry, armor, and skills.
The 144-page hardback rulebook provides all you need to play the game with the exception of some dice and miniatures and a table. The book includes standard rules for a one-on-one game plus eight scenarios with their own special rules and goals. Anyone familiar with the Frostgrave rules will pick up on these new rules fast, but a completely new player can learn the rules as they go with just a basic explanation of combat, movement, and spellcasting.
As with Frostgrave, players of Ghost Archipelago can expect expansion books (in paperback format, most likely) to be released over time, adding more features to the game. Frostgrave expansions added new creatures, new spells, new magic items, and much more, and I can’t imagine that Ghost Archipelago won’t grow as well.
I’ve made a TON of scatter terrain for Ghost Archipelago, and I recently played my first game (I won, but it was close). It was extremely fun, and my only complaint is that I haven’t yet found more players nearby. That should change in 2018–I’ve been told one of my local gaming stores is putting together a Ghost Archipelago campaign tournament. Woo hoo!
The first Ghost Archipelago expansion is due out in March 2018 and is called Lost Colossus. It will contain new scenarios that are linked in a storyline, plus new creatures and treasures as well as some new crewman types and skills.
Dracula’s America: Shadows of the West
by Jonathan Haythornthwaite
First off, this new skirmish wargame will allow players to recreate standard Wild West gunfights. Each player will create a posse with between six to 10 miniatures (Old West gunslingers, of course), and using a combination of dice (d6, d8, and d10) and a pack of playing cards (one deck per player), the players can fight it out in the muddy streets between the General Store and Saloon or maybe on a ranch or in the rocky hills on the outskirts of town.
There are some really interesting game mechanics here, and I’m especially interested in the use of the playing cards. Players draw a number of cards from a shuffled deck and use these cards to Activate their miniatures (and control the order in which they act). Weapons can jam, mounts are available, and even good ol’ dynamite can be used to shake up things. Innocent bystanders can affect gameplay, and there are tables for unexpected (random) events as well as tables for buying new supplies and recruiting. Win some fights and your Infamy will increase, but that Infamy can backfire when playing against underdogs who will brgin with more recruitment funds at the start of the game based on the difference in Infamy ratings.
But the game truly upgrades if you decide to include the rules for Dracula’s reign in America. Dracula has fled Europe after agents of the Twilight Order destroy his agents, and has made himself a valuable addition to President Abraham Lincoln’s inner circle. When the Civil War ends, Dracula makes his play for control and blames Lincoln’s assassination on the Confederate resistance. President-for-Life Dracula leads in the reconstruction of the East, inviting evil creatures from the Old World to join him in the New World. The country is split, with new Factions (some good, some evil) popping up and containing members and creatures with special abilities. Arcane powers, random supernatural events, and supernaturally-powered allies and enemies and gear are all available to players wishing to add the Dracula’s America ruleset to the standard Wild West rules.
The 140-page hardback rulebook provides the rules for a basic Wild West skirmish game or a supernaturally-infused game… take your pick. North Star Figures offers miniatures for both game styles.
A new paperback expansion titled Hunting Grounds will release in January 2018 and will offer new factions, skills, creatures, and gear, plus new scenarios and something called Territory which will allow campaign players to create headquarters that offer in-game benefits but can also be attacked by other players.
Scrappers: Post-Apocalyptic Skirmish Wargames
written by Robert A. Faust and Andrew N. Davies
Scrappers takes place in the distant future after Earth has been ravaged after jealous AIs forced a horrific terraforming on the planet. Much of the surviving animals, plants, and humans have been mutated, and teams of scavengers go out in search of technology to enhance their lives and bodies. These scrappers must contend with opposing groups, insane Synthetics, TruMan, cultists, and mutated creatures in their hunt for technology of the Ancients.
As with most skirmish games, players assemble their Scrapper crews. You first must choose a Faction, and this will determine what types of crew you can hire. The Purge, for example, will only allow True Humans. The Gamma Lords only allow Mutants, while Palladium ATHENA only takes on Synthetics. The remaining four factions allow some mix of the three types of lifeforms. Each crew will have on Commander (the most powerful member of the team) and a mix of Veterans and Troopers. All in all, a crew will consist of between 3 and 15 models.
Scrappers contains an amazing array of weaponry and skills and powers, allowing for some truly unique Scrapper crews. There’s a great section in the book that walks you through creating a custom Scrapper crew (called the Reliquarians) that will get you up to speed quick. From there, it’s on to Combat rules and then information on one-off games or a campaign setting. The simple four-phase gameplay is like many skirmish wargames and pretty much guarantees a fast-paced game.
Scrappers is one of the skirmish games I am most anxious to play. The ability to customize my miniatures to match the abilities and look of your crewman is going to be real fun. The 152-page hardback rulebook is all you need to play (plus dice and minis and terrain, of course), and the setting takes me back to the Gamma World RPG that I played very little but absolutely LOVED.
Note: If you’re going to be attending Gen Con 2018 and would like to play a game of Scrappers, leave me a comment below. We might be able to get something on the calendar.
Gaslands: Post-Apocalyptic Vehicular Combat
by Mike Hutchinson
Osprey Publishing has this long-running library called the Osprey Wargame Series that are easily identified by their blue covers. I’ll never be able to play them all, but I do love to read them. One of the latest in the series is a game that I absolutely have to play. It’s called Gaslands, and it’s pure Mad Max mixed with Death Race 2000.
I played a LOT of Car Wars (Steve Jackson Games) growing up, and there’s just something about creating a car with 50-caliber guns mounted on the roof and armor galore. Car Wars went a bit crazy (IMO) with all the various weaponry and special modifications you could make to your car (or 18-wheeler… or helicopter… or boat), and after a while it just got out of hand and lost something. But after reading Gaslands, I’m now 100% stoked to start modifying some Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars and get to racing and shooting.
This little 64-page paperback books is… INCREDIBLE. Gasland‘s rules are simplified, the weapons aren’t over the top, and the playing area is well-defined–you’re racing in a televised free-for-all, so there are goals and a finish line to keep the game on track. Movement, field of fire, and collisions are all simple to understand, and you’ll be up and racing quickly. The types of vehicles available are going to be easy for you to find at the toy store, and the book offers scenarios, rules for sponsorships, and even racing seasons if you want to create a more long-term game campaign. (Oh yeah, and big rig rules are included!)
Flip through the book and just look at all the photos of the modified toy cars… it’s sure to inspire you. Tracking your car is super simple with the included templates in the back of the book, and all the movements and turns (Hairpin, for example) have their own matching templates you can photocopy and cut out. This is one more game that I sincerely hope I can play at Gen Con 2018.
Note: If you’re going to be attending Gen Con 2018 and would like to play a game of Gaslands, leave me a comment below. We might be able to get something on the calendar.
Rogue Stars: Skirmish Wargaming in a Science Fiction Underworld
by Andrea Sfiligoi
Finally, let’s go pure science fiction with Rogue Stars, a game that reminds me of Traveller and TSR’s Star Frontiers. In this wargame, players assemble a squad of 4 to 6 minis. This is the first wargame I’ve been interested in that has players starting with 6 or fewer minis. Not only can this help keep entry level costs down, but after a read of the game’s rules, it’s appears the speed is fast-paced, too. Those are all pros in my book. Plus, the ability to customize your own characters and create truly unique members of the team is huge.
The 64-page paperback includes rules for both hand-to-hand/melee combat as well as long-range attacks and psionics. Squads are “purchased” based on a 200XP point system, and points are applied to Traits, Weapons, Armor, and Equipment. Certain traits are limited, meaning only one member of the team may have one. Other traits can be leveled up. Other factors such as Intelligence or Military/Civilian background will affect whether certain skills, equipment, and weapons can be used by the team member. All in all, the rules for customizing your team are well done and the large variety of weapons and abilities and equipment pretty much guarantee no two squads will ever be the same.
Once your squad is assembled, there are numerous tables that you can roll from with a d20 to create a random Mission, Location, and Complication. Over 8000 possibilities exist, so don’t worry about running out of scenarios. I just rolled 3 d20s… this is what I came up with: A Rescue Mission (one player has a figure who is a prisoner, the other player defends while the attacker tries to free his friendly) in a Laboratory (Location, filled with useful equipment and experimental tech) that is wired up with Explosives (Complication, errant shots can possibly setup of explosive tanks of chemicals). Additional tables answer questions such as what is on the other side of a door inside of a container or what kind of collateral damage occurs on a ship. Fun stuff!
North Star Figures has a line of miniatures created specifically for Rogue Stars, but you can honestly use any sci-fi minis of your choosing to represent your squad. I’ve been anxious to play a sci-fi wargame for some time, and I’m trying to find someone local who might like to give it a shot. That said, I may be painting up a squad and some terrain and taking to Gen Con 2018, so let me know if there are any Rogue Stars players out there who will be attending and maybe we can get a game put together.
As I said, I’m a huge fan of Osprey’s wargames. With the exception of Gaslands, I’ve purchased copies of all of the books above (plus some of the digital versions for use on my iPad). Osprey is a great group of folks who I had the good fortune to meet and play with at Gen Con 2017. Author Joe McCullough (2nd from right in photo below) was there, and I got to play a game of Frostgrave with him and two good friends. I also got to meet Phil and Christian and discuss wargaming and see and hear about some of their upcoming games. Hey, guys!
Skirmish wargames, for me, are pure fun. They lack the tedious nature of more historical wargames that can take hours for just a handful of movements to take place, and they most definitely are not as expensive to get into. Most of the Osprey skirmish wargame books above can be had for $25 or less, much less than most RPG rulebooks these days, and the books are self-contained and require no additional rule purchases. They do require miniatures, of course, and some dice and scatter terrain, but I’ve seen players use books and cardboard boxes to represent buildings… imagination is all you really need.
My plan for 2018 is to play more skirmish wargames. Even better, I’m hoping to introduce new players to the style of gaming and maybe meet some fellow fans at Gen Con 2018. Don’t get me wrong–I’m a D&D fan for life. I love RPGs. But I’m almost always the DM, and that can get tiring. Sometimes, I just want to play, and skirmish wargames scratch that itch. I challenge you to pick one of the above wargames and try it out. Go on… I dare you. I’ll bet you get hooked. Maybe pick one that’s not a traditional genre for you and give yourself another gaming option to reduce the risk of burnout. I’m definitely interested in your thoughts on wargames and skirmish wargames, so let me know what you think about the hobby and if you have any games you enjoy.
Some of the other books in the Osprey library have caught my eye, but I’ve yet to give them a read. Two in particular sound very interesting to me are Black Ops and Dragon Rampant. If you’re looking for a more modern-age wargame, take a look at Black Ops. Dragon Rampant provides the rules for small-scale army battles in a fantasy setting without the roleplaying elements.