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.
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.
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.
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