Before I get into the science-fiction skirmish games, I need to add two to the list of fantasy games.
Confrontation Capsule: unusually elaborate fantasy races battle. Rulebook cost: a mini-version of the rulebook comes in each blister pack, but the hardcover rulebook will set you back $40 (or $30 from the War Store). Warband cost: good question. There’s no box set for a single warband, but instead lots of blisters and a few box sets. Blister packs of single miniatures will easily set you back $15, perhaps making this a game you can’t play for under $40. Pros: I might have to take the title away from Reaper for most beautiful miniatures, although it might be a matter of personal taste. The rules are complex but playable, with each figure getting multiple wound levels, perhaps enlengthening play. Cons: cost, cost, cost.
Celtos Capsule: pseudo-celtic fantasy races duke it out in a pre-medieval setting. Celtos was part of the i-Kore line, but was lost when the company declared bankruptcy. Brigade Models picked up the license, but they are a British company. Rulebook cost: it was once free on the internet, and is probably out there some where. Warband Cost: a “warband” costs twelve pounds, whatever that is in dollars. You can find some of these boxes in the clearance sections of FLGS’s though. Pros: Celtos gave Kevin Hasselfreisian the chance to sculpt curvy women in sports bras wielding swords the size of ironing boards. That’s a pro, right? The pre-medieval feel is something different too. Cons: the game is only now getting a kick-start from Brigade, but it’ll take a lot for stores to consider reinvesting in this dog with fleas again.
The Science Fiction Games
I had some things to consider before picking out “skirmish” sci-fi games. For one thing, a lot of sci-fi games resemble skirmish games because the miniatures move in loose formation. I didn’t consider the “warband” rules for Warhammer Fantasy Battles because it was essentially the regular game with smaller units (and IMHO, it doesn’t work as well as a result). Warhammer 40K has “Combat Patrol” which features small armies and short battles, but still has units moving in loose formation rather than independently (and probably doesn’t play all that well either). So, despite being playable with small armies, games like Defiance, Strike Force, and a few others are out.
Necromunda Capsule: the grandfather of skirmish games, Necromunda is a game of street gangs gaining power in a futuristic hive city. Rulebook cost: free on the internet. Warband cost: $30 from Chaosorc. Pros: the game’s ruleset made it truly a cult classic. GW re-released the rules with a few tweaks that weren’t widely acclaimed, but at least got some of the minis back out there. Cons: Perhaps it just is me, but the notion of recruiting youth into gangs is a little iffy. Odd, that.
Space Hulk Capsule: elite marines battle an alien infestation on a giant spaceship. Rulebook cost: it’s OOP, try eBay. Warband cost: you’ll need about $35 worth of genestealers, and probably $45 of terminators. Pros: there’s a lot of sentimental love for this game. Cons: the game is OOP, although GW tried to push a version using up-to-date rules when the new terminator miniatures came out.
Rezolution Capsule: gangs of humans (and the odd alien) rumble is a dystopic future. Rulebook cost: $20 Warband cost: $30-24 by location, although it includes some cool cardstock terrain. Pros: the game is active and expanding Cons: the starter set minis are fugly as all get-out, but later releases are improving.
Urban War Capsule: small bands of soldiers battle in a no-man’s land. Urban War is the skirmish version of VOID 1.1 Rulebook cost: free on the internet. Warband cost: $29 at the WarStore. Pros: it plays a lot like 40K, but effectively at a skirmish level, and is not being expanded to larger armies. Cons: a little hard to find at gaming stores, mostly I suspect from stores being burned by i-Kore.
Dark Age Capsule: some stranded human interplanetary settlers battle each other and the native alien race. Rulebook cost: $25 Warband cost: $27 Pros: well, the miniatures are all based on the work of famous fantasy artist Brom. The game plays more like a fantasy game than sci-fi, because of the lack of guns. Cons: I’ll have to see, I’m unfamiliar with the new rules (I have the original ones, but I understand that there are some differences)
Star Mogul Capsule: intergalactic miners seek to find treasure amongst the ruins of the abandoned outposts. Rulebook cost: $15 download, $24 hardcopy. Warband costs: small salvage gangs start at $15-$18, but can quickly shoot up to $70 Pros: an interesting campaign system that actually has a pre-built ending when a gang gets too powerful. Cons: relatively unknown game.
5150 Capsule: an open-ended concept game set in a futuristic universe. Rulebook cost: $25 for print, $22 for pdf Warband cost: you provide minis from whatever company you want, apparently. Pros: you put together whatever fits the minis you have. Cons: open-ended games like this always mean just a little more set-up.
Battletech Capsule: giant robots in a skirmish game? Well, let’s see: handful of minis, each moving on their own. Not 28mm scale, but I’ll include it for fun. Rulebook: it has changed so much, I can hardly tell, but the CBT (Classic BattleTech) rules are $35. Warband cost: $30 for a beginner’s set of four miniatures. Pros: giant robot combat in a very detailed universe. Cons: games go really long, with a very complex damage system.
So, here’s the candidates. Now it is time to start thinking about what might work. A few things to consider:
- cost to each player. I’d like to keep it to $40 or under, making games like Hordes a hard sell.
- accessibility of the rules. Most of the people in my group are experienced gamers, so this isn’t as much of a problem as it could be. There are some novices, though, that I’d like to try not to exclude.
- Length of gameplay. On one hand, I’d like to have games not be over because of one bad rule early on. On the other hand, I can’t work with four-hour gaming sessions either.