..when you compare them to other games.
Over the last weekend, I went back to my parent’s house for a visit. Over the course of the conversation, the topic turned toward what we all did for hobbies, and since this is kind of what I’ve been doing for a bit, I mentioned Warhammer 40k. My folks hadn’t heard of it, so I was trying to do my best at explaining it, and I came to a realization: miniatures games are really hard to explain to people who have never played one before. 40k in particular is pretty bad in this regard because the universe, lore, story, and game are so expansive, but I would be willing to bet that other game systems have the same difficulty.
Those of us who are involved in the hobby get it: it’s a strategy game where you fight large scale battles or have smaller skirmishes against (usually) one other player, and that explanation works for the gaming part, but then there’s this reaction: “so wait… you’re supposed to build and paint the game pieces yourself?”
If you take a step back from wargaming as a genre and think of gaming in general, miniatures games are a little odd. Even if you are taking other tabletop board games into account, you usually aren’t doing anything with the game pieces. And then on top of that, if you pulled out a 100 to 200+ page rule book in front of your friends and family who are more used to rules that fit on tiny booklets, then you’re going to get some skepticism. So this leads me to a question: is there a way to make miniatures games less odd for people who don’t play?
I genuinely don’t know, but I do have some ideas. Of course, there is always the option of just showing people the game. Not everyone will like it, but, depending on the system you’re playing, the game itself isn’t all that difficult to play (even if it is difficult to master). Even that 200+ page rule book is not really that many pages of rules. There’s a lot of lore and artwork that takes up the extra room. But what about the actual hobbying part of it?
For my part, I like to focus on the incredible amount of customization you can do in a miniatures game that you just can’t get in anything else. Even comparing another fairly familiar collectible game like Magic: The Gathering, you can of course put a lot of thought into the design and strategy of a deck of cards, but the artwork is always going to be what it is on the card. Unless you’re actually working for the company that produces the cards, you actually can’t customize much at all. And that doesn’t even get us into traditional board games where not only do you not do any customization, the actual game itself is usually only played a single way. Just as an example, I have a good friend who plays Settlers of Catan, which is a fun enough game on its own, but really if you’ve played it once, there’s not much of a reason to play it again. The game is almost exactly the same every time.
So to circle back around to the hobby part of a miniatures game: basically everything in the game can be customized. This includes the board, terrain, and the game pieces themselves. And the rules can be quite different as well. Of course the core rules are going to be the same, but they get modified by scenarios and campaigns that you either get from the rule book or just make up yourself. That level of ability to change play styles and and game pieces is, as far as I know, unique to miniatures games.
There is a chance that there are people out there who would hate stuff like that. I do hear that some folks like to be told what to do, but I am not one of those people. For me, being able to change so much of the actual game experience helps to keep the whole thing fresh and interesting. That won’t always make converts of people, but it can at least help some see a bit of the reasoning behind it and maybe help make miniatures games a little less confusing for the people who haven’t heard of them before.