A Miniature Gamer’s Guide to Getting into Board Games

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Here at Geek & Sundry, we love tabletop games, particularly those with miniatures. If you’re looking to pick up new techniques to painting those tiny figures, check out our show  Geek & Sundry’s Painters Guild on Alpha, where host Will Friedle learns his way around a brush from skilled guest teachers. 

Before we begin, let me quickly define the distinction as I see it. When I say “Board Games” I’m referring to games like  Catan or  Twilight Imperium. They’re a self-contained experience; everything you need is in the box waiting for you when you open it up and unless there are expansions, it’s a single purchase. While they may contain miniatures in them, they aren’t necessarily the focus. When I say “Miniatures Games” I’m referring to games like  Guild Ball or  Warhammer 40k. The miniatures are the focus and typically require assembly and painting. They’re extremely tactical and require precise positioning and some hobby time spent outside of the game. They may have a board, but can also be played on a table or the floor!

Considering both fall under the umbrella of tabletop games, it’s odd how many miniatures gamers haven’t tried modern board games and how many board gamers haven’t played a miniatures game (and if you fall under this category, you should try one out!) Having become a board gamer first, I was less surprised that some people are intimidated by miniatures games. There’s stuff to build, purchasing an army can be complex, and the rules are often harder to wrap your head around – though the games aren’t necessarily harder to actually play. Which is why I was surprised when some miniatures gamers I know mentioned that they found board games intimidating to approach and didn’t know where to start.

If you’re a die-hard Warmachine or Warhammer 40K player,  I’m writing this for you and anyone else out there who knows the joy of assembling plastic armies but not crafting the ultimate deck or area control strategy.

If it’s the Story You Like…

No doubt about it, miniatures games are excellent at telling stories. There isn’t a single one I’ve played that didn’t have some sort of backstory and many of them come to life when played as a campaign. Players fuel the narrative, the story impacts the table, and back and forth we go.  Guild Ball‘s backstory determines who plays for which team, and clever changes to veteran characters like Spigot mean we got to see him grow from a boozy brawler to a sober baller. The story is fun, and the change gives the Brewers more team building options. In the Dark Imperium of Warhammer 40k, Primaris Marines appeared in the novels at the same time as they appeared on the table. This feedback loop of table mechanics to narrative is an amazing part of miniature game. If that’s what you love the most, you can’t miss Arkham Horror: The Card Game.

This card game released in late 2016 from Fantasy Flight Games and absolutely dominated my table last year. Your entry point is the Core Set. This box includes a 3-scenario campaign that pits you and the other investigators against unspeakable evils, horrors, and dark moral choices. Investigators are defined by the deck you build outside of the game – familiar to anyone who has built an army list – and you’ll play out your investigation on the table. The Core Set’s story opens in your own home, curiously changed and playing host to some foul beasts. By the end you’ll brush up against the tendrils of an eldritch god and hope to escape with your sanity intact. From there, the Dunwich Cycle begins with the Dunwich Legacy; a big box with new investigators and cards for all of them. Each subsequent Mythos Pack brings another scenario (and more player cards!) that all build to a finale in the final pack. I said last year that the AH:LCG was telling the best stories in board gaming, and that’s still true.


If it’s the Miniatures You Like…

Look I love building lists or kicking the mudball down the pitch as much as the next guy, but I think it’s safe to say that most of us enjoy the hobby side of miniatures gaming almost as much as playing! There’s a joy in moving miniature around the table and the 3D element really brings the game to life. There are plenty of great options in the board-game-o-sphere for those of us who like playing with our toys, but one of my favorites (and a good option for miniatures gamers) is Arcadia Quest.

Arcadia Quest, from CMON, is another scenario based game though this one is all about tactical movement and rolling sweet, sweet, exploding dice. The city of Arcadia has fallen; the walls are in the grips of an evil vampire and it’s up to you and your guild to save the day. You’ll put together a team of 3 Heroes and take to the streets in series of scenarios that together tell a story. Unfortunately you aren’t alone and the other players are hoping that their guild will end the day with the most glory. Sprinkled amidst the goblins and other bad guys are loot chests and gold.  You’ll need this to upgrade your characters by equipping them with treasure. There are a lot of great combos and synergies to find and by the end of the campaign your characters will feel like borderline superheroes! Just watch out for those dice when an opponent puts you in his sights instead of the goblins…

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If it’s the Heads Up Competition You Like…

At the end of the day all the assembly and story come down to one moment: you and your opponent matching wits across a table festooned with terrain and battle ready armies. There’s a thrill to those moments, whether you play competitive or not. Mage Wars, from Arcane Wonders, manages to capture the feel of a tactical miniatures game in a smaller card-based package.

Each player in Mage Wars is a powerful spell-caster, represented on your battle grid by a card. In your hands is a spellbook – literally. Before the game you’ll put together a tome spells (also represented by cards) that you’ll flip through during the course of the game. Offense, defense, summons, and even environmental effects are available to you. Winning a game of Mage Wars requires you to put it all together in your battle against the opponent’s sorcerer. The spellbook building will again feel familiar to anyone whose built a list, but the fact that each type of mage (Beastmaster, Necromancer, etc) has a limited pool and you don’t have to print the cards yourself means you can pick the game up and be playing much faster than you can a full-on miniatures game.

I love miniatures games, but sometimes I find myself lamenting that my army is scattered across the table at various stages of table-ready. Board games are there for those moments, when you just want to pull something off the shelf and start playing. It’s a wonderful hobby; hope to see you at the table.

Are you a mini gamer who’s loved some awesome board games? Tell us in the comments! And don’t forget to tune into Geek & Sundry’s Painters Guild on Alpha, to learn tips and techniques to get those miniatures painted.

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Featured Image Credits: Raf Cordero

Image Credits: Raf Cordero, Arcane Wonders

In addition to Geek & Sundry, Raf Cordero writes for Miniature Market’s The Review Corner and co-hosts the gaming podcast  Ding & Dent. Chat with him on Twitter  @captainraffi.

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