Interactive Storytelling: Tabletop Miniatures Edition


by Kevin Rigdon (@pralix1138)

In the previous  editions of the Interactive Storytelling articles, we took a look at Pen & Paper Roleplaying Games and Card Games as vehicles for telling stories.  In this piece, I’d like to introduce  you to another storytelling tool that you may have never considered  before, and that is Tabletop Miniatures Games (also known as miniature  wargames).  To put it simply, Tabletop Miniatures Games are games in  which each player controls a number of miniatures figures (miniature  soldiers, war machines, fantastic beasts, monsters, etc.), and uses  them to battle other players.  The battles take place on a gaming table  usually with terrain such as hills, trees, rocks, and buildings.  Think  of it as epic chess with dice.

Like chess, you and and another player can line up on opposite sides  of the battlefield, and just do an all-out slugfest.  This is, by far,  the easiest way to learn the various game rules about what each piece  can do, and can provide hours of fun.  But it is also the less interesting  way to play.  These games really shine from a storytelling perspective  when the players introduce scenarios.  You see, to quote Castle, “There’s  always a story.”  That doesn’t mean that the players are playing  through an already concluded storyline.  When playing through scenarios,  you give reasons why these armies are standing across the field from one another.  There is  a reason to the coming onslaught.  Maybe there’s a powerful artifact,  and the armies are racing to find it while attempting to stop the opposing  force from doing the same.  Maybe there’s a prisoner exchange and battle  breaks out.  Maybe one army is desperate for resources and invades a  neighboring kingdom.  Regardless of what type of scenario you and your  friends decide to play, it produces a narrative.  There is a catalyst  that sparks the battle, and the battle itself unfolds before your eyes  as a direct result of your tactics, decisions and the hands of fate  (dice or cards).

The scenario will determine the place of the  battle, what terrain is on the battlefield and how each of the armies  will be deployed.  Is one army in a small town while surrounded by a  superior force?  Is there a raging river separating the two armies and  the only way to cross is a small, stone bridge that may collapse at  any moment?  Picking the scenario, and placing the terrain pieces, sets  the scene and allows the narrative to unfold in an organic manner.  The  scenario will also dictate what kind of miniatures you will be using.   You could field a small hunting party to harass and ambush a much stronger  foe.  If there are lots of trees and buildings, that’s going to affect  your archers and war machines.  Likewise, that pesky river can be mitigated  by flyers, shooters, and magic wielders.  Deciding on the scenario is  the easy part, really.  The hard part is deciding which type of miniatures  game to delve into.  You must choose wisely because, unlike pen &  paper games, and even card games, there is a substantial investment  in the hobby.

A word about the hobby of tabletop miniature  games

When looking at all the different types of  miniature games available, one fact becomes crystal clear very quickly.   It will involve a good deal of time and resources. The vast majority  of these games, whether they are Napoleonic historical games, sci-fi  games, fantasy, pirates, or steampunk, will require the purchase, assembly,  and painting of each miniature figure. The miniatures themselves are  usually either pewter or resin.

Now you may think you can’t paint little, metal  men who are 1″ to 2″ tall, but it’s not as hard as you think.  There are numerous paint lines that make your choices limitless. There  are also companies like The  Army Painter that specialize in making  the painting of your miniatures as easy as possible, so you can get  your painted army on the battlefield quickly. In addition to fielding  troops in battle, many people love to collect, and display their creations.  It really does become addictive: this collecting miniatures.

Choosing the right game

Now that I’ve given you an introduction to  the hobby itself, it’s time to look at a few games. There are so many  to choose from that I can’t possibly do it justice here.  I’ve chosen  just a few that I hope will express the vast range available.

Title: Flames of War

Publisher: Battlefront Miniatures Limited

Flames of War is a World War 2 miniatures  game published by New Zealand based Battlefront Miniatures Limited.   It’s a company level game, which means that you command a company using  infantry, tanks, artillery, armored fighting vehicles and more.  You  can choose to build your force from any of the nations represented:  USA, Great Britain, Germany, the USSR, Italy, France, Hungary, Finland,  Romania, and Poland.  Though not necessarily considered the purest World War 2 game, it is  wildly popular, has tons of support, and numerous campaign resources  and scenarios.

Title: Warmachine

Publisher: Privateer Press

Warmachine is set in Privateer Press’ Iron Kingdoms.  Combining fantasy elements  like magic and hulking beasts with steam-powered robots called Warjacks,  and gunpowder, Warmachine is a fast paced miniatures  game where each player controls a leader, a Warcaster.  In the Warcaster’s  arsenal are the potent Warjacks, elite troops, and standard infantry.   There are currently 6 factions to choose from: the noble Cygnar, the  devoutly religious Protectorate of Menoth, the undead legions of the  Cryx, the imperial Khador, the once outlawed Elven sect known as the  Retribution of Scryah, and the unaligned Mercenaries.  To make it easier  for you to get into the hobby, Privateer Press also produces paint sets for each army.

Title: The Uncharted Seas

Publisher: Spartan Games

The Uncharted Seas is a fast paced naval  combat game.  But this isn’t your standard naval combat.  Combining elements  of high fantasy, you may face ships made from dragonhide, living ships,  and even flying ships.  That’s not even counting the magic and sea monsters  that may wreak havoc on your fleet.  Spartan Games has made it incredibly  easy to get into the game by creating starting fleets for each faction:  Bone Griffons, Dragon Lords, Imperial Humans, Iron Dwarves, Orc Raiders,  Shroud Mages, Thaniras Elves, The Ralgard, and the The Sky Pirates.

As I said, these are just a few of the games  available.  There are hosts of others ranging from small skirmish  games where your forces are small, and also less expensive, to the truly  grand scale with hundreds of miniatures.  There are also numerous  genres from Ancients to Napoleonics, American Civil War, Westerns, Medieval  War, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Steampunk, Pulp, and everything in between.   This hobby does take up a good amount of  time but can be incredibly rewarding and fun.  Happy Gaming!

Photo credit: Battlefront Miniatures

    One Comment

  1. Tommy Jr (Beefyamazeballs)January 20th, 2013 at 7:51 am

    This looks very interesting. I love WWII and it’s history. I might have to check this one out. Thanks for writing about this game 😀

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