What is tabletop wargaming? Tabletop wargaming is a type of gaming where players use miniature figurines to simulate battles. These figurines can be from any time period or genre, and players can use them to recreate historical battles, fight in imaginary worlds, or create their own scenarios. Unlike a board game, where the pieces operate in a limited playspace with restricted movement, in a tabletop wargame the miniatures can be moved around organically to simulate the ebb and flow of battle.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the basics of tabletop wargaming, why it’s played, and an overview of 20 of the most popular miniatures games you can play today.
What is Tabletop Wargaming?
Tabletop Wargaming is a type of hobby where players simulate battles between armies by using miniature figurines and models. These figurines can be made out of plastic, metal, or other materials, and they are placed on a tabletop battlefield to recreate the battle.
Players can use a variety of rulesets to simulate different types of battles, and they can also use scenery and other props to create a more immersive experience.
Here’s quick list of tabletop wargame titles you may recognize (see these further below):
Is Tabletop Wargaming Popular?
Tabletop wargaming is a popular hobby, but it’s difficult to estimate how many people participate in it. Some surveys have shown that around 1 in 10 people in the United States play some type of tabletop wargame, but this number may be higher or lower in other countries (source).
Suffice it to say, tabletop Wargaming is a very popular hobby, and there are many different games that players can choose from. Some of the most popular games include Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Age of Sigmar, and Battletech. There are also many other games that players can try, and the possibilities are endless.
How Hard is it to Play a Tabletop Wargame with Miniatures?
Tabletop Wargaming can be a very complex hobby, with a wide variety of rules and strategies. There are many different types of tabletop wargames, such as Warhammer 40,000, Battletech, and Flames of War. Players can buy armies of figurines to use in their games, or they can make their own armies by painting and customizing the figurines.
There are also many different rulesets that players can use, and each game has its own set of rules. In some games, such as Warhammer 40,000, players have to build their armies according to certain restrictions, and they must also follow the game’s specific rules for movement and combat.
Most tabletop wargames are not as complex as Warhammer 40,000, but they still require a certain level of knowledge and skill. Certainly, miniature wargaming is a hobby that requires some time and effort to learn, but it can be very rewarding for those who are willing to put in the work.
Obviously, in my experience, the more complex the game is, the harder it will be to learn and play. But, additionally, complex games are easier to forget how to play well, if you step away and take a break.
Is it Expensive to Play a Tabletop Wargame?
Tabletop wargaming can be an expensive hobby, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, there are many games that are affordable and easy to learn. Miniature games such as Warmachine, Malifaux, and Conquest are affordable for most people (under $200 for a starter set), and they are also relatively easy to learn.
There are also many games that are more expensive, such as Warhammer 40,000 and Battletech. Historical wargames, such as Glory and Carnage, can be inexpensive or exorbitant, depending on your threshold for spending on all the bells and whistles, e.g., the miniatures, the scenery, the large battle field table recreations.
Of course, for many hobbyists the depth of miniature wargaming is the main draw. These kinds of tabletop games, which can have a huge variety of gameplay elements, often cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get started.
Starter sets take out some of the financial sting, but for the most dedicated players, building an army from scratch can be part of the appeal. In general, the more expensive a game is, the more complex it will be. However, there are many affordable and easy-to-learn games available, so players don’t have to spend a lot of money to get started.
Why do People Play Tabletop Wargames?
People play tabletop wargames for many different reasons. Some people enjoy the challenge of learning complex rules and strategies. Others enjoy the immersive experience of recreate battles on a tabletop battlefield. Some people enjoy painting and customizing their figurines, while others enjoy competing against other players in tournaments.
Ultimately, there are many different reasons why people play tabletop wargames, and it’s impossible to list them all. It comes down to personal preference, and there is a game out there for everyone.
20 Popular Tabletop Wargames for Any Skill Level and Budget
1. Dust 1947
Dust 1947 is a skirmish-level tabletop wargame set in an alternate history World War II. The game is easy to learn and affordable, making it a great option for new players. There is also the associated board game version for those looking for a more compact, simplier version of this cinematic-looking wargame.
Warhammer Age of Sigmar is a fantasy-themed tabletop wargame that is popular among beginners and experienced players alike. From Games Workshop, the models come in plastic (or pewter) that requires some assembly and painting. Armies move and fight on a tabletop battlefield with players measuring distances with a tape measure. Individual models exist in the Warhammer fantasy world and engage in epic battles in smaller skirmish games (low model count) or larger, two hour wargames sessions with a massive amount of miniatures.
3. Kings of War
Kings of War (Mantic Games) is another fantasy-themed tabletop wargame that is easy to learn and affordable. It is an alternative to Warhamme Fantasy, but plays almost in the same way. The game uses 6-sided dice (D6) for resolution and has a points system to balance armies. A core rulebook is available online and many other sites have emerged supporting the game’s popularity among fans of the genre.
Malifaux is a skirmish-level tabletop wargame, e.g., only uses a few models in gameplay, that is set in an alternate history Victorian world. Here, characters emerge within a steampunk world to do battle against other fantastical characters, full of whimsical, horrific and deadly creatures.
Malifaux is unique in that it uses playing cards for its resolution system instead of dice, which some players find more interesting than the standard games out there. The game is unique in that it uses playing cards, rather than dice, to resolve conflict and player decisions. Great looking scenic terrain, either company-brand or custom, unique terrain pieces, work together to create an immersive playing experience.
Conquest The Last Argument of Kings is a dark-fantasy themed tabletop wargame that is set in an imaginary world. You can get a discount with any Conquest purchase using the coupon code “TANGIBLE” at Para Bellum Games.
The game uses miniatures in the 35mm scale, which is a larger size than most other popular wargames. Battles occur in a dark world with a style of play that is both engaging, tactically complex, yet simple to learn.The main starter kits use plastic miniatures, which some have said are close in quality with those in Warhammer games. I’m not so sure, but they are fun to paint. Take a closer look!
Warmachine and Hordes is a skirmish-level tabletop wargame that is set in a “steampunk” themed world. Magic and firearms mix on the battlefield for a tactical, chess-like experience. This continues to be a favorite game of mine that I hope more people would play.
One of the reasons I enjoy this game so much is that each model on the tabletop has an enhanced functionality that you need to consider for the whole army to work well together. In other words, to have your army function properly, you need to immerse yourself a bit more into the game than other systems–which I find more rewarding.
Battletech is a tabletop wargame that is set in the future. Although Battletech appears in other gaming mediums, e.g., boardgames, video games, and more, the miniature wargame style has endured as the primary way that people experience this IP.
Of course, the wargame version of Battletech used to be expensive and complex, making it a better choice for experienced players. But, in recent years the rules have made it more accessible and the game is now being produced in an affordable plastic model kit form. This game is best for those that want to simulate giant Mech warfare on a war torn battlefield.
Glory and Carnage II is a historical tabletop wargame that is set in different periods of history. Here’s a hands-on overview of Glory and Carnage 2. There are several to choose from, ranging from a pre-gunpowder age, all the way to Napoleon’s Europe with cannon and artillery.
The game’s uniqueness also comes from the use of computer software to generate scenarios, determine conflict outcomes, and handle all simulated battlefield scenarios, like weather, terrain conditions, troop morale, and more. Finally, Glory and Carnage II can use miniatures from any scale size, from 10mm to 28-35mm.
The Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game is a spaceship combat game that is set in the Star Wars universe. The spaceships come pre-painted; although you can customize these paint jobs and improve upon the mass production quality look. I found this to be one of the easiest games to pick up and play at a moment’s notice. The rules are simple and engaging!
Obviously, depending on the size and scope of battles you’re planning to play, the X Wing miniatures game is considered a very portable wargame. You can take your models in a small transport bag or case, and be ready to play almost anywhere. X Wing is great for Star Wars fans or anyone that wants to experience spaceship dogfights in a galaxy far, far away.
10. Warhammer 40,000
“In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.” Warhammer 40,000 is hugely popular for so many different reasons. If I had to describe it quickly, Warhammer 40k is the grimdark sci fi miniatures game that anyone should know about, if not try. Have you heard the term “space marines”? While Warhammer 40k isn’t the first place this moniker appeared, it is certainly where space marines became popular.
As one of the most popular wargames out there, if not the most played, WH40k has inspired so many people to start their own gaming groups, armies, and collections. The 40k Universe was also controversially the reason for the eSports favorite, Blizzard Entertainment’s “Starcraft” (source). Overall, not only is WH40k game fun, but the community around it is one of the most creative I’ve been a part of.
Are you a Marvel fan? Marvel Crisis Protocol (MCP) is a superhero tabletop wargame that is set in the Marvel universe. Think: the toy soldiers are now a super heros! MCP is the new kid on the block with a few expansions already out and more to come. The game uses 3D terrain and miniatures (which many will want to paint in their favorite comic book scheme) to battle it out on a urban battlefield. I have not had the chance to play this much, but it’s high on my list!
Necromunda is a tabletop skirmish game that is set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The game draws from the Warhammer 40k universe and uses the same atmospheric fluff and background lore. Necromunda is a place where gangs and mercenaries battle it out for control of the storied “hive city”. Gameplay is brutal, fast, and immersive with RPG-like elements. A player, for example, can create a specific gang that have their own unique skills and abilities.
As a conflict progresses, new abilities unlock within a player’s characters depending on how the gameplay. Third-party providers/creators have created all sorts of additional gameplay elements and scenary you can place within your games. Necromunda is simple to play, but has a lot of depth that can be explored.
I highly recommend it for those that want to get into Warhammer 40k, but don’t want to commit to a large army. The more recent iteration of Necromunda is Warhammer 40k Kill Team (which uses the army factions in a skirmish mode inspired by the main WH40k tabletop game).
Infinity Miniatures Game is a skirmish-level tabletop wargame that is set in the future. Aesthetically, the world is set in a cyberpunk universe, i.e., think Ridley Scott’s Movie “Blade Runner“. Gameplay is tactical, and forces players to make difficult decisions in order to achieve victory.
The rulebook has been translated into English, Spanish, French, and German. In addition, the game has an expansive line of models that can be used (even for non-Infinity players). If you’re looking for a futuristic tabletop wargame with beautiful models and a deep rule set, then Infinity is the game for you.
14. Star Wars Legion
Star Wars Legion is a tabletop wargame that is set in the Star Wars universe. If I had to describe the game in a nutshell, Legion is similar to Warhammer 40k in its basic feel with other unique elements thrown into the mix. The game is designed for large-scale battles between armies of miniatures. If you’re a Star Wars devotee and wish to fight in the far reaches of space, pick up Star Wars Legion.
15. Star Wars Armada
Star Wars Armada is a tabletop wargame that is set in the Star Wars universe. Similar to Star Wars X-Wing, Armada is a game that focuses on capital ships and other large ship combat. From my observation and playtime, the game feels more tactical and strategic than X-Wing. The game is designed for larger-scale battles between armies of miniatures. If you’re a Star Wars devotee and wish to fight large-scale space battles, with the larger captial-sized space ships, check out Star Wars Armada.
Dropzone Commander is a tabletop wargame that is set in the future. Unlike many other wargames on this list (or any of the other ones you may find), Dropzone Commander (DZC) use miniatures in the 10mm scale. Basically, this means that the game plays with large-scale battles between armies of miniatures in a smaller space (read more about different miniature gaming scales).
Skyscrapers and other urban features enhance the battlefield and give players more tactical options. Yes, painting these miniatures is a unique challenge (though not necessarily more difficult) because of their size. But, you won’t have to spend a lot of time on each model to make it look good on the tabletop. If you’re looking for a large-scale futuristic wargame that you can play in a smaller tabletop space, Dropzone Commander is my pick!
17. Bolt Action
Bolt Action is presented by Warlord Games, a company based in the UK, and is a World War II tabletop miniatures wargame. Gameplay is tactical at the troop level and plays best with people who have some experience with miniature war games. This is because you’ll need to communicate with your fellow players to make the most of your troops and their interactions.
In Bolt Action, there is a back and forth between players as they try to outmaneuver their opponent. If you’d like to fight epic battles on the tabletop without worrying about complicated rules but enjoy plenty of social chitchat, Bolt Action is an excellent place to start.
Dropfleet Commander (DFC) is a space ship combat game, similar in appearance to Star Wars Armada, but at a smaller scale (literally) at 1:15,000 scale size. Gameplay is strategic, and dare I say, cinematic. The ship details on the models in my opinion are amazing and are the first draw to the game.
With the game being released in 2016, it’s still relatively new on the market compared to say, Warhammer 40k. This means that the DFC game and community is growing, and more company support is coming in the future. Overall, I think Dropfleet Commander is one of the best space ship combat games that brings both strategic gameplay depth and fantastic tabletop models.
Warhammer 40k Blood Bowl is a soccer or football themed tabletop wargame set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. As the title suggests, the game is a combination of blood bowl (a euphemism for a violent, bloody football game) and Warhammer 40k.
This game can be a lot of fun if you’re familiar with the Warhammer 40k setting and want to try something new. While I”m not a huge proponent of bringing sports (an athletic, fast-paced, physically involved activity) into the more stationary tabletop setting, I can see how some people would get a kick out of this game (pun intended).
20. Flames of War
Flames of War (FoW) is a World War II tabletop wargame in a similar vein to Bolt Action. However, there is a bit more tactical depth and miniature range within the game. On the other hand, Flames of War is one of the first, broadly popular WW2 history-themed games that removed the complexities of old-fashioned wargaming–with those lengthy spreadsheets and hit tables.
So, if you want a fast-paced, action-packed game that is still historically accurate and has good miniature models to boot, Flames of War is an excellent choice. If you’re looking for a “casual” historical wargame with fantastic looking scale models, Flames of War is a great option.
Did I Miss Any Favorite Games? I Sure Did!
And, I certainly did miss a few favorite games. It would be impossible to list and describe all the wargames you can choose from. Well, not impossible, but I think we captured a good sampling.
I’ll note that I haven’t even mentioned the many board games that use miniatures that simulate pitch battle-like scenarios, e.g., Warhammer Underworlds, or hybrid games that use a eclectic mix of digital media, e.g., augmented reality, to enhance the tabletop gaming experience. So, if you’re looking for something a little different, be sure to do some digging; you may be surprised what you find out there–it’s always changing!
Tabletop wargames are a great way to have fun and learn. Sure, they can be expensive and complex, making them a better choice for those players who are able to commit some time to the hobby. But many games are easy to learn and affordable, making them a great option for new players. Whichever type of game you choose, I’m sure you’ll have to fun discovering the unique experience.
The games I describe above are some of my favorite tabletop miniature games, which I think some of you, the avid hobby gamers, may agree are pretty good (or amazing).
For those looking to dive into something new, or want to explore the wargaming hobby, I hope that this overview gives you a good starting point.
Do you play games with miniatures on epic tabletop battlefields? Did I miss any favorites? I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment below.
Happy wargaming! 🎲
2 thoughts on “What is Tabletop Wargaming? (20 Popular Miniature Wargames)”
How is Battletech expensive you only need 4 models to make an army which you can get for $20, it’s the least expensive game on here.
You’re right! Thanks for the comment. 🙂 In my defense though, I wrote that the game “used to be expensive“ which it was.