Wednesday 5 April 2023

Wargame Eras & Eternal Projects

I remember my first wargame. It was an accident. Interested in history, I bought a book Battlegame Armada - that happened to have a map and counters embedded inside. It had fleets and a hex map of the Channel, and you moved at different speeds depending on the wind. Fleets could damage each other, launch fireships, etc. Dice were involved. I played it for hours.

15mm are affordable. That's why I have so many armies. I was weak...

The Early Era

I then quickly discovered Starfleet Battles and Battletech which gave me a lifelong dislike of record keeping, DBA which taught me wargames did not have to be complex, and 40K which taught me to make house rules (and the lifelong lesson that GW products were unaffordable). But the most play came from Blood Bowl (I played solo leagues), Battlefleet Gothic (home made 2D ships cut from ice cream tubs) and General Quarters (a WW1-2 naval wargame - I could afford 1:2400 NavWar ships). (a godsend) allowed me to explore new genres as far as my parents tolerance for printer ink allowed.

Girls and Sport Era

Unsurprisingly, not much wargaming was done in this era. 

Infinity was a favourite... before it was crushed under the weight of 100s of special rules...

The Cashed Up Childless Era

While those around me tried to get me into Warmachine, Malifaux, and 40K I instead drifted into Infinity and Ambush Alley/15mm. I played various Song Of rules and bought some big batches of LoTR on ebay. I bought and tried a lot of rules. I mean a lot. This blog was started as I was tired of explaining rulesets to those who were directed to me, from others who knew I'd have tried/played/owned it. (There's ~150 reviews on this site and it's probably not a quarter of the rules I own). I was exposed to many unique mechanics - especially enjoying reaction mechanics - and grew convinced the turn sequence/initiative was an important and overlooked; and card mechanics and special dice were usually gimmick$. My wargames.vault account saw many pixels downloaded. The unpainted lead mountain grew out of control. But never mind - I'd get to them, right?

The Nappies Era

Also unsurprisingly, not much wargaming was done in this era either. The lead mountain remained. Well, at least if I died, I'd have many warriors to accompany me to the afterlife. The terracotta army wasn't painted either, right?

The Homebrew Era aka the Era of Discontent & Penury

Ah, budgets. Now time poor (kids demand attention) and money poor (kids cost a lot) I mostly halted my purchasing, but didn't actually paint much either. Mostly I experimented with home rules. 

I grew frustrated with the general poor level of wargames which regurgitated the same ideas and concepts - ground sci fi as Vietnam-in-space, Starships which played identically to WW2 warships, aerial rules which were agonizingly gluggy remakes of WW1 boardgames, and everything-else-as-a-40K-clone - with surprisingly little variation. It was like seeing the same CoD or FIFA game every year. 

I went exploring the internet to see if anyone else was talking about wargame design and didn't really find anything except some blog posts by the guy who did Dreadball. So I 'thought aloud' about topics that interested me, and so far have done 92 posts on wargame design, some of dubious worth - but in return received many interesting ideas in the comments. Weirdly, I did continue to paint and collect a lot of Warmachine in this era - a game I have no intention of playing. I'm not proud. I just like the models I guess. I also created a gigantic collection of Weird West models from existing various Malifaux, Confrontation3 and Perries.  This is the time most of my 'eternal' homebrew rules started - when I couldn't find good rules in a genre or the genre simply didn't exist... (I still can't believe there isn't a market for a game with dogfighting 300kph supercavitating submarines... hmph!)

The Painting and PC Era (current)

COVID (and being flooded in several times) provided impetuous to paint, as my now-school-aged kids like hanging out in the shed. Long forgotten 15mm sci fi armies were painted (I now have about 12 forces each the size of a 40K army) and ~500-600 LoTR models were rediscovered, and energetically painted at the rate of several hundred a year. Each week I paint ~10 minis. I am rediscovering hidden boxes in the lead mountain, and have cautiously purchased new minis - Battletech, 1:100 WW2 tanks, Imperialis Aeronautica, Cruel Seas, Dropfleet Commander and I am starting to cautiously buy more rules (but not PDFs which are insanely overpriced).  As I have read both Lord of the Rings and Hobbit to both kids in the space of two years LoTR:MESBG continues to stay prominent (and my favourite GW game - I retried Blood Bowl recently and it hasn't aged well, sadly).

The thiftiness from the previous era continues but now it's deliberate - we choose to do up Hot Wheels mad max cars, or Fisher Price castles or block cities not because we must, but because it is a fun project with kids.

This era is also a bit schizophrenic as it tends to be dictated by whatever cool thing I have unearthed in the shed or discovered with my son via books or digital media (major current projects in WW2 tanks and mechs came from PC games War Thunder and MWO respectively) and sit alongside French Indian War dinosaurs...

I also rediscovered an old HDD with many old projects which I sporadically work on and test. I seldom post on them, because I tend to time how long games takes, and taking photos on top of my scribbled notes would slow things to a crawl. Also, by the time I have written the rules, playtested, then retyped again, I am not in the mood for an hour of blog typing. However here are some that regularly get worked on:

Vector Strike gunships escort an armoured convoy....

"Eternal Projects"

Delta Vector. The eponymous game of big starships that started my interest in space combat. Vector mechanics, and combat that borrows from EvE Online and Lost Fleet. No stealth, but lock on/signature, relative velocity and lightspeed plays a part and microwarps allow teleportation on table. Small ships are useful and survivable - not just cannon fodder.


SuperCav. Supercavitating fighter submarines either sneak and use micro-torpedoes or duel in loud 300kph battles using underwater cannon. WW2 underwater, with stealth. Influenced by the book The Battle for the Narrow Seas.

Vector Strike. Rocinante from The Expanse meets the PC game Descent, PT boats and modern helicopter gunships. Small crew space strike gunships who fight in asteroid fields and close quarters environments with missiles, drones and chainguns. Cos 1-man space fighters are stupid.

Aeronef. Channelling Battlefleet Gothic for Victorian steampunk shenanigans. Influenced by old school GW, Warmachine and General Quarters. Give those Boche a pasting!

Modern Pulp was a modern Middleheim spin-off that originated as a simplified Infinity for generic rules to handle Stalker/modern/paranormal/vamps vs werewolves and has morphed more into sci fi horror The Forgotten where demons control strike teams of human puppets... ...and I explore morale mechanics.

Intercept Vector. Modern jet air combat that completely departs from 1970s aerial wargames, borrowing more from modern ground skirmish games so you can play with a dozen jets per side and not take forever. No written orders or fancy move templates and rulers.

Mecha. Cos Battletech is so 1980s RPG. Nothing I've seen has the right feel of mechs (vs just big humans) yet fast enough gameplay. Heat management, jump jets and stompy robot feel required. Blow off limbs, but don't record 101 hitpoints.

Middleheim. My narrative skirmish rules - base setting is psychic knights riding dinosaurs. Tend to use this as a test bed for concepts. Influenced by Savage Worlds but dice mechanics change often.

Tankmunda. Mercenary tank troops duel in a 1945 alt-history dieselpunk postapocalypse where chemicals and viruses from WW1 devastated Europe. Mortal Engines but with Tiger tanks, fortified bases, mutants and cannibals with WW2 tech.

These are the most-updated rules - but there are others. The micro-scale rules where nanomachines duel among ants and grass stems recently caught my eye....


  1. I very much liked this post, thank you. How you got 'here' provides a valuable insight for reading the other posts.

  2. I followed a similar route. I also spent time in the Budget era learning how to sculpt for myself too.

    You forgot to mention how many of those Wargame Design blogs inspired others! I have three games published by Osprey and 20+ on my Wargame Vault page thanks to those ramblings!

    1. That's awesome. I love the idea I helped someone (who obviously has plenty of motivation and drive!)

  3. I am pretty convinced you could sell Supercav to a publisher.

    1. Also, no idea why I am Anonymous now, but this is Eric Farrington.

  4. Your journey sounds very familiar. The nano game you mentioned, are you referring to The Eylau Sequence? That has one of the most original backgrounds for a game I have seen in a while.

    1. I was actually inspired by the intro sequence of Risen Empire where there is this awesome dogfight scene vs drones, and you assume the pilot is in the plane; then it says "it was 174cm from the ground and would take ages to fall as it was the size of a grain of dust" which got a "wtf" from my kids who were caught offguard (whole book is good btw)