Alternative Games

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about alternative miniatures and was asked to write a follow up article. I could have covered more miniature companies – and there are many – but instead, or at least first, I thought to look at what other games you can play with your miniatures (more alternative miniatures later – some great ones just landed on my painting table).

I expect that most, like me, found the hobby through the titan that is Games Workshop. Hardly surprising considering their size, dedicated high street shops and everyone on the Internet holding (and often sharing at extreme volume) an opinion. But what about the other games that live in their shadow? I’m not covering everything out there, just showing a few cool ones that I’ve had some experience of. You’ll notice that there’s a real shift towards the skirmish or small scale game. Is that a good thing? Well, it’s a cheaper thing. It all depends what you want from your game. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just opening the door a crack.

Mantic Games

Quite the upstart, Mantic brought a fresh approach to the hobby. They are open and engage with the community, hold extensive play testing with said community, and offer a range of sci-fi and fantasy based games. That covers quite a chunk of the common complaints against GW. Sure, the miniatures don’t reach GW quality, but that’s reflected in the price. They are exceptional value for money, and that’s one of the outstanding elements of Mantic – they work hard to remove those barriers to entry which you’ll see below. Another point to note is that the miniatures are all (officially) compatible between games so if you wanted to stick with proprietary miniatures, you can happily raid your Dungeon Saga box to reinforce your Kings of War force.

Kings of War

Think Warhammer Fantasy. Or, rather, Age of Sigmar with points values. Rules and army lists are free from their website so, if you already have that Warhammer Fantasy army, you can simply download and play. Cheap miniatures and free rules? Goodbye to those barriers to entry. It’s a young game so you won’t find the depth of narrative that the Old World of Warhammer had, but you might find that provides you the creative freedom to make it your own.

So how does it play? I’m basing my experience on the first edition of the game and a few video battle reports of the recently published second edition. Compared to Warhammer Fantasy, it’s quick and easy. Compared to Age of Sigmar, it adds some tactical complexity like flanking etc. Of interest to the hobbyist is that when a unit takes casualties, you simply make a note of this instead of removing miniatures from the board. It affects the unit insofar as they are likely to run away the more casualties they have taken, but it allows you opportunities for creativity. Every unit can be a diorama. Unit fillers can represent additional miniatures meaning that you don’t have to buy as many. For example, since I’m on an undead kick, you can have skeletons rising from the ground, or perhaps a sarcophagus in the middle of the unit block to represent another eight revenants. Kings of War is about massed battles and gives you the tools to make this happen at minimal cost. If you wanted to use the beautiful GW range in this game, go ahead.

I enjoyed my games of Kings of War, though found a few of the rules frustrating (caveat: these may have been addressed in the new edition). When a unit has been charged, I rather expect them to stay locked in combat rather than them breaking apart after each close combat phase. If I’ve charged a regiment of dwarf gunners, I’m pressing them up close rather than wandering off to let them shoot me! The random initiative order also gave me trouble when playing a ranged army. I’ve had archers just stand there while the opposing army crossed the entire battlefield. But this is what house rules are for. If something strikes you as daft, chat to your opponent and agree to discard the rule. Easy.

Deadzone

Another Mantic game to consider is the far future of Deadzone. Think of it like Necromunda (if you remember that) but simplified. It’s skirmish scale with just a handful of miniatures per side. Terrain buffs will love the options presented by fighting in cityscapes, and having combat on multiple levels of terrain gives it that cinematic feel. A growing range of fluff is available and new armies appearing out of the woodwork (or the sewers). Random objectives and missions give you something to fight for rather than having a pitched battle. That reason to fight again adds to the cinematic, narrative experience.

Ball Games

Dreadball and Guild Ball pick up where Blood Bowl left off, each putting their own thematic stamp on brutal sports. Dreadball (and the even more deadly Dreadball Xtreme) use Mantic’s sci-fi universe. Think The Running Man meets Blood Bowl and you’re  somewhere near the mark. Each team has its own narrative quirks that affect their abilities from the incorporeal ghostly team to the stinking hobgoblins. The tactics come from planning ahead, positioning your team where you can set up a skilful series of passes to shoot on goal. Or you can stomp your opponent into the ground when the referee isn’t looking. The opponent can’t stop you from scoring if he’s in a squishy mess on the arena floor. Guild Ball is an honourable mention as I’ve not yet tried the game beyond checking out the miniatures (which are excellent – take a look).

Frostgrave

I covered this in some detail in an earlier review, but in case you missed that, here is a fantasy skirmish game based in a frozen city. In essence, your wizard controls a warband that descends upon the city to raid its treasures and get out again before the weather turns. Of course, other wizards are doing the same and often have their eyes on the same treasure. Highly recommended for the RPG elements. There’s always a reason to fight.

Dust

There seem to be a whole bunch of versions of this so the trick is to find one that’s supported. I was lucky enough to wander into my local game shop just as a game had been set up and was invited to take control of one side for a tutorial game. The Dust setting is a “what if” post-Second World War scenario and has some cool miniatures, particularly the walkers that any ork mek would be proud of. We’re talking tesla tanks, walking tanks, even something as far fetched as human soldiers with guns. There’s a mix of historical with some wacky machinery. The system uses its own dice and has loads of missions to play to add variety. By the end of turn 2 I had my head around the rules. A quick reference to unit cards was all that was needed to check numbers, and didn’t need to go back to the rulebook at all. The miniatures are pre-paints and not badly done. It’s quick to get on the table and hobbyists can scratch the itch of needing to paint something by weathering the miniatures.

Kickstarter

Wow, do you have some choice here! There’s a flood of new miniatures games on Kickstarter, it being the weapon of choice to break into the small world that is the tabletop gaming market. I backed The Edge project from Awaken Realms, mainly for the miniatures, but there’s plenty of work going into making a game and world around it. At first glance, I think the rules could use some input from a native English speaker, just to clean them up, but it’s a work in progress and the team are doing some great things.

Open Combat also came from Kickstarter but preorders are soon available through retail. This takes a different approach in that you can use any miniatures you like and choose appropriate profiles for them from the source book. Games are designed around a handful of miniatures which zooms in on their characters, and with each being unique, adds a personal element.

Other Honourable Mentions

I’ve lumped these together as I’ve not played them, only heard positive things from gamers whose opinions I trust. Saga has gained some serious popularity of late and with rampaging Vikings clashing with Normans in a skirmish setting, and a low cost of entry, it’s easy to see why. X-Wing, people have been going crazy about, and that’s only likely to continue with Star Wars hitting the cinemas again soon. I watched through a tutorial video of Darklands and liked the idea. It has a gritty world with fantasy and mythology elements drawn from myriad sources. And the miniatures are spectacular though you’ll find the prices similar to that of Forgeworld. The rulebook, however, is a steal at ~£10, or free to download.

 

There are loads. I could go on all day. You’d be bored long before then. So the message is this: play Games Workshop, they make great games, but why not check out some of the others too?

 

Like the post? Sometimes I say things on Twitter. Sometimes they’re interesting.

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