People sometimes ask how they should go about getting into minis gaming. It’s a fair question; there are a lot of hurdles to clear. First one has to choose a game, then pick a small army to start, and then figure out how to add on to that beginning force step by step. Each decision represents a substantial commitment of time, effort, and money, so there’s a strong incentive to get them right.
Below are some tips I’ve found helpful over the years. I’m confident following these steps gives you the best chance at having a great experience with minis wargaming.
1. Pick games for the people, not the rules. Miniatures games take a while to play out. If you spend that time with a friendly crowd you’ll enjoy the experience even if the game isn’t your first choice. On the other hand, if you’re stuck playing with jerks you won’t have fun no matter how great the rules.
The best way to start is thus to go to your local store or club and just spend some time with the people who play different games. See who’s nice and who’s not. Once you’ve found a good group, play whatever they’re playing.
2. Choose a faction based on story and aesthetics, not mechanics. You’re going to be spending a lot of time looking at your miniatures, both during play and when pursuing the more hobby-oriented aspects of the game like assembly and painting. If you don’t like what you see it’s going to be that much more difficult to maintain your engagement with your army, and by extension with the game.
What’s more, the mechanics aren’t generally a factor you need to worry about too much in faction selection, because you can usually get your chosen faction to suit whatever style of play you prefer. Minis companies are aware of the danger of power creep, and they often resist it by giving armies new capabilities rather than strengthening their existing ones. Factions thus tend to become more or less generalists, capable of supporting whatever you want them to do.
For examples of armies sculpted into something unusual we need look no further than the 800 pound gorilla in the room, Warhammer 40,000. The Imperial Guard is the quintessential horde army in 40K, but you can turn it into a smaller, elite force by taking tanks and artillery rather than troops. Space Marines are traditionally the low-numbers strike team, but you can forego the fancy equipment and vehicles that make them so and just deploy a horde of footslogging Marines if that’s appealing. Each of these armies has been given tools and options over the years that make them highly customizable, and you can now build them however you like
3. Start slow. Buy the starter for your chosen army, and then stop. Play a bunch of games. It might turn out that you don’t enjoy them as much as you expected to, and it’s better to find out that you’ve made a mistake when you’ve spent ~$50 rather than when you’ve invested several times that.
4. Build in stages. People often go directly from their starter force to a full-scale tournament army, and then are overwhelmed by the jump in complexity. Every miniatures game I’ve ever heard of has graduated game sizes between “starter kit” and “tournament level.” Buy only what you need to get to the next step in size, and then play several games at that stage before moving upward.
5. Buy generally useful pieces. You’re going to want to change your army during your time with a game. If you buy generally solid pieces for your chosen faction, you’ll be able to do that without needing to make expensive purchases every time. By contrast, picking up narrowly useful, highly specialized pieces will mean that you’ll have to drop a lot of cash every time you want to make even a minor change to what you’re putting on the field.
If you’re not sure what’s generally useful for your game, take a look at tournament lists for your faction over the past year to two years. Take note of pieces that show up again and again, and buy those. Even if they don’t end up being your favorites, you can at least be confident that they won’t be money wasted.
6. Decide how you want to deal with the hobby element of the game. Some people really enjoy building and painting miniatures. For others the game is the thing, and the hobby elements are a chore. You’ll enjoy your time with minis more if you figure out where you are on that spectrum, and craft your experience to suit.
If you’re in the group that likes hobby-ing, look for events that involve those skills. There’s no end of painting competitions and tournaments that require fully finished minis. Whether you’re looking for rewards for your skill or just a cinematic experience with beautiful armies, you can get what you’re seeking.
If you’d rather just play the game, reach out to your local community. Most minis groups, I’ve found, have one or two people who will build and/or paint on commission. Set some money aside for those services; I can say from personal experience that it’s a lot easier to have fun with a miniatures game when someone else is handling the parts you don’t like.
7. Get a proper carrying case early. They’ll protect the effort (or money) you put into your miniatures, and will keep them organized at home.
Miniatures wargaming is a lot of fun—all the more so when you avoid some pitfalls. Following these tips will keep you clear of them, helping ensure that you have fun when playing and that your investments pay off. Enjoy!