Thursday 23 March 2023

Board Games vs Miniature Wargames: There and Back Again

Wargame boardgamers and miniature gamers are usually seen as sitting in opposing fields. The former are apparently driven by their interest in realistic simulations while the latter by the visual pleasure of deploying their creations on a table.

My first wargame dates back to 1980, Avalon Hill's Panzerblitz, a Christmas gift from my father. Soon after, I met a group of local wargamers in Madrid and in 1983 we launched Club Dragón. Over 40 years has passed, and I continue heavily interested in our hobby.

However I have gone through different phases, shifting my focus of interest each time: 


  • Only boardgames initially; 
  • Fantasy miniatures (Warhammer Fantasy) and RPG (Dungeons & Dragons, LOTR or Cthulhu) in the late 80s;
  • Entering the 90s, I turned to historical miniature gaming  mostly, with Warhammer Ancients Battles, Command Decision, Fire & Fury Napoleonic, Volley & Bayonet, Crossfire and Blitzkrieg Commander); 
  • Lately (2010s) abandoned most the previous sets and got immersed in many of the Too Fat Lardies sets (Through the Mud & the Blood, Charlie don't Surf, Troops Weapons and Tactics, Chain of Command, O'Group, Infamy!Infamy!, Sharp practice);
  • And very recently (2022) I added Saga to my list of most played games.

As you see boardgaming went out of scope in the 90s mainly.... until COVID and the mandatory lockdowns in 2020. First I discovered VASSAL and then I joined a group in my club that net daily to play ASL online after work. 

This represented my return to boardgaming. I have expanded my interest from ASL to the Simonitchs' "194x" series, GBOH (SPQR, Caesar, Cataphract...) and a few other selected names (Pacific War, Vietnam or Almoravid) since March 2020.

Back to in-person gaming at the club in early 2021, I have being combining both board and miniature games. These are not at all incompatible, but probably unconsciously I was approaching each type of game in a different way.     

 Board wargames 

These are an excellent and efficient means to recreate large battles, campaigns, and generally speaking major operations or extended conflicts. Logistics, forward planning, coordination of resources in the right place and time, the consideration of social and political events, high to medium level strategy... all are key drivers in these games. Board games are great to simulate, study or consider alternative approaches to these high level operations.

Miniature games 

On the other hand, miniatures are great to play low-level and skirmish-type actions (and visually are unrivalled). The focus of these games are on formations, tactics, mostly junior commanders abilities, training, short range weapons and supports (mortars, small caliber guns) capabilities, use of terrain, etc. Logistics or strategy are less of an issue at this level, although can be inserted as part of a game context (specially in campaign formats).

Summarising, I'm not one of those wargamers to pitch board versus miniatures. Each type of game offers advantages and over time I've found boardgames more interesting for large scale operations and miniature games for low-scale actions.

Do you play exclusively board or miniatures games, or you play both? What motivates you to play one or the other? Interested in your views.


  1. Our group plays miniatures games, board games and RPGs. Mostly a mix of miniatures and board games.

  2. I play and collect both. I have a variety of boardgames covering different periods and different levels within the period, I just like boardgames for what they are.

    For my figures, I have a 6’ x 3½’ gaming space, but I enjoy the aesthetic of the figure, so prefer the bigger scale. I don’t see myself as a skirmish gamer, rather a ‘small battle’ gamer, so say two to three brigades per side with maybe 7 - 10 regiments of infantry and a bit of cavalry / artillery, much like the Featherstone style scenarios or the Teasers of Grant.

    I do not see myself wanting to paint 20 battalions or so per side for the big battle - as i am just interested in too many periods and it is here that I feel the boundary falls between boardgame and figure game as my boardgames quite adequately meet the role of the bigger battle, I don’t feel the need to do Gettysburg with figures.

    Yesterday, I played Beaver Dam River 1862 as a boardgame. There were around 3 divisions per side, so without bath-tubbing that would be too much for my figures …. However I regularly see a small incident occur within the boardgame that I note, record and then some time later take that situation to the tabletop. So in Beaver Dam, units are brigades, I might see a slice of action involving 2 - 3. Brigades that looks interesting. I research the brigades down to regimental level and then take that to the table. The fact that the situation has actually fallen out of a game, means that the situation has actually happened and so to me, then feels less contrived than a made up scenario.

    Anyway, bottom line, my figures and boardgames complement each other. 30 - 40 years ago one tended to do one or the other, these days the boundaries between the genres are more commonly blurring.

    1. I agree. There's always a grey ovrlapping area ebtween miniatures and board games. In my case, I like playing Battalion size engagaments with BCS but also with O'Group

  3. Funny, I have the same size table as Norm. Never occurred to me to use a larger board game to generate a more detailed localized miniature scenario. But, yes, we play both. Mainly miniatures. But now, so many decades later we’re immersed in an old school low level D&D Campaign via zoom. Much great fun it is too! ~ Tom T