Friday, October 16, 2009

Wargames For Anarchists

This is how I play Warhammer 40k with my girlfriend*:

-Go to the store and buy whatever minis you like, ignoring what faction, system, or even game they belong to. Cool-looking-if-slightly-out-of-scale plastic dinosaurs count as "minis".

-Organize the minis into "units". A "unit" is defined as: "any group of soldiers that always fights together"--a unit can have from 1-5 members. That is: one big demon can be a unit, three witches can be a unit, five space marines, whatever.

-Stat up each unit. Use any system you want. (We use modified 1st E. Warhammer 40k stats--ballistic skill, toughness, wounds, etc.--but without the morale rules) Here's the trick: each unit must be, theoretically, exactly as useful as each other unit. That is: the five space marines, as a group, must be worth as much as the one demon by itself, or the three witches. Weak units can be easily made more useful by giving them a good movement stat, good weapon range, or some sort of magic weapon or spell. Each mini should do roughly what it looks like it does, but it doesn't have to do exactly what the manufacturer intended it to do. If a scatter laser looks like a gatling gun, well, there you go. Put each unit's stats on a different piece of paper.

(-If you've never played a wargame, write your own rules or modify the stats from an RPG--just remember:

+Minis should have a "movement" stat, in inches, so you can move them around.

+Weapons need ranges--in inches.

+An average mini getting (succesfully) hit with an average weapon should die instantly rather than lose a certain number of hit points or wounds--otherwise you'll be there all day. Only an extra powerful mini should be able to survive more than one hit and only an extra powerful weapon should be able to cause more than one "hit" worth of damage. In academic terms, it's like this: in an RPG, weapons are things which wear away your hit points at a given rate--big weapons do it fast, small weapons do it slow--whereas in a wargame, weapons are things which have a given chance to kill an ordinary mini outright--big weapons have a big chance, small ones have a small chance.

+When in doubt: rulings, not rules. Play with someone who is not a dick.)

-Lay out terrain. Complicated terrain with lots of cover is best--books and cooking utensils work well.

-Place the units on the terrain, anybody can put any unit wherever they want, but units with more than one member have to stick together. (We are not dickish about unit coherency, but 4-5" from each other is best).

-Randomly distribute the unit stat sheets between all the players--whichever stat sheets you get are the units on your team, and wherever they are on the terrain is where that unit starts. (Alternately, you could use the schoolyard-draft sytem where you take turns picking which units you want.)

-If you get a unit you don't like and another player thinks that unit is viable, you can trade units with that player.

-Once trading--if any--is done, start playing.

-After the game, talk about if any minis conspicuously underperformed and decide whether it was the minis' fault or the player's fault--if it was the minis' fault, stat that unit up with slightly more power for next time.

(*Just googled the phrase "warhammer 40k with my girlfriend"--one result.


  1. (*Just googled the phrase "warhammer 40k with my girlfriend"--one result.)

    there's a surprise!

  2. Totally random thought here - have you ever checked out DBA/DBM or HotT (Hordes of the Things)? Simple historical/fantasy wargames where each "element" can represent a whole spectrum of different units, and each element is "worth" the same as any other - you just have 12 elements to your army, period.

    Barring that, your idea is as good as any version of playing toy soldiers as I've ever seen, and that's a thumbs up in my book (who doesn't like playing toy soldiers? Dumbasses, that's who).

  3. Badelaire:
    If people read this blog long enough, I'm sure they'll discover I have a unique talent for thinking up house rules that--unbeknownst to me--have been in print for years.

    Will check out DBA and hordes necxt time I'm in a hobby shop.

  4. Zak: It's more or less impossible to find these days - both the guys who wrote it went on to do their own projects and aren't really supporting it any more. If you can find a copy of it, I'd snag it ASAP.

  5. Hmmmm, came here from "Monsters and Manuals" who said you were awesome. I've read three posts (the three most recent) and they were all radtacular!

    You get a new follower and I yet another blog to read instead of being a productive member of society.

  6. Another one to check out is Chain Reaction, which is available as a free PDF download. It's very much in the "make up what works, throw out the rest, quick-play" style you describe and with some pretty awesome game mechanics to boot.

  7. Just quickly scanned the pdf--I didn;t really get what makes it mechanically very different from wh40k original rules--can you tell me what I should be looking for?

  8. The core of the system is the Reaction section. It's sort of a morale system, but it also dictates a variety of actions (as opposed to reactions) that can set your troops off in unintended directions. Those actions can in turn set off other reactions from enemy troops, and so forth (the titular "chain reaction").

    It's one of those deals that doesn't look like much on paper but in play it quickly reveals its charms.

  9. Great post. I love to see people game in a manner that makes them happy. Sometimes playing without a bunch or rules, army books, and points is actually addition by subtraction.

    It's also great to see more LA-based role-playing game blogs.

  10. This sounds like a great way to get kids playing, too. "Go to your room and bring out any toy you can find which is smaller than your hand."

    Yup... this christmas my sister is going to hate me, and my nieces and brother-in-law are going to think I kick ass,