Minis wargaming is an important part of the gaming hobby, and thus it’s worth being conversant with its broad strokes even if it’s not your cup of tea. Recently we’ve seen three high-profile industry players make rulesets freely available, which makes it very easy for curious designers to get a sense for how the genre works. Any of the rules below would be a good starting point for a designer who wants to understand the people moving toy soldiers around at their FLGS a little better.
Privateer Press put the Warmachine and Hordes rulebooks—the entire books, art, story, and all—online. “Warmahordes” (the games are compatible, and are usually viewed as a single whole) may be the biggest tournament minis game today, and its community is intensely focused on high-level competition. If you want that kind of experience, this is the game to look toward.
Mantic Games has long offered the rules for its games free online. They’ve followed that pattern with Kings of War 2nd Edition, a game of mass fantasy battles (akin to the big set-piece fights in The Lord of the Rings). Kings of War is an easy to pick up ruleset, one that people new to minis games can learn in a turn or two. Never played a minis game before? You might profitably start here.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Age of Sigmar rules, available at no charge from Games Workshop. Age of Sigmar seems to be aimed directly away from competitive, tournament play, focusing instead on people who want to participate in narrative campaigns, use the coolest looking models without regard to whether they’re “points efficient,” and generally follow a beer-and-pretzels approach to the hobby. For those who fall in that category, Age of Sigmar has a lot of potential.
Any of the rules above and a few cut out pieces of paper will be enough to play a trial game or two. Give one (or all of them!) a try. The time will have been well-spent even if you decide not to invest in this genre of games.