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Board Games that Scratch the Miniature Wargame Itch Without the Army Collecting. – Ask The Bellhop

Today we’ve got a long time miniature wargamer who’s really into tanks looking to get back to the table. The thing is they don’t want the time, cost and commitment of buying and building a full army of miniatures. So they are looking for some board game replacements for large scale miniature wargames.


Rob Day writes,


“I have a co-worker who used to play mini wargames when he was a younger man. He’s specifically into historical tanks and looking at getting back to the table. Are there any good strategic board games that might scratch that itch without requiring him to dive fully back into collecting a whole army of miniatures?”

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There are plenty of great board game options for one time miniatures gamers looking to get back to the table without as much commitment.

I’m very pleased to say that there are a number of great board game options for getting that miniature wargame feel without the cost in time, effort and money of trying to collect and build a full army of miniatures. These range from modern miniature games that operate on a “skirmish” scale, only requiring a handful of miniatures,  to classic hex and counter historic wargames covering almost every battle ever fought.

Below I’ve got a broad list of options for Rob’s co-worker to choose from. I start off with historical wargames, focusing on ones that feature tanks but then broaden out into some other potential options.


Excellent army-building-free historical wargames.

Memoir 44 – One of my favourite wargame systems is the Command & Colors system from game designer Richard Borg. This system combines card driven unit movement with dice driven combat. There are many games in this series but the one I want to point out here is Memoir 44. This is a World War II themed wargame using a simplified version of the Command & Colour system. While this game does have miniatures, there is no hobby aspect. Yes, you could paint the minis if you wanted to but there’s no assembly or anything like that needed.

Axis & Allies: 1941 – This modern version of Axis & Allies shortens and simplifies the original Avalon Hill game. With this version, you should be able to finish off a game in under two hours. If you prefer a longer game the original 1942 version of Axis & Allies is still out there. Now both of these games focus on war at a global scale and will feel quite a bit different from your usual miniature wargame, but that could just be what Rob’s co-worker is looking for. 

Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs – Moving away from miniatures entirely, Tank Duel is a card driven tank battle game. Set on the Eastern Front of World War II this game promises to convey the urgency and claustrophobia of the experience. This one is a big hit with tank buffs due to its data accuracy. If you are looking for simulation this could be a great option.


Hex and Counter Wargames can be a great miniature game replacement.

Tank on Tank: East Front – There are actually two games in this series East Front and West Front but the East Front version appears to be the more popular. This is a quick playing hex and counter wargame featuring tank battles. It plays in only forty-five minutes to an hour. No worries about miniatures at all when you are looking at hex maps covered in little cardboard chits.

Combat Commander Europe – The Combat Commander series is considered by many to be the best hex and counter wargame series on the market. The Europe boxed set is the most popular but there are a variety of Combat Commander boxes available. Now, these don’t focus specifically on tank battles but rather cover all manner of different scenarios. While a step up in length and weight from Tank on Tank, Combat Commander games can still be played in about two hours.

Panzer – Now if Rob’s co-worker isn’t worried about keeping their game night short, they may want to take a look at Panzer from GMT games. This tank focused hex and counter wargame is going to take some time. Over three hundred minutes a game. This is a modern reprint of a game my dad used to enjoy back in the day. The rules include basic, advanced and optional rules to ease the learning curve.

MBT – This is the best rated tank based hex and counter wargame listed on Board Game Geek. It’s also the heaviest in regards to weight that I’ve mentioned here so far. This game promises to cover the total realm of modern mechanized combat. You are looking at over six hours of game time per scenario here, so MBT is not for the faint of heart or those with little time. This seems like it could be a new lifetime game for those willing to give it a shot.

Band of Brothers Ghost Panzer – I wanted to finish off this section with something a bit more manageable. That would be Ghost Panzer, with a much more modest weight and only an hour and a half playtime. This game covers the exploits of the German 11th Panzer Division in Russian from 1941 to 1944 and promises to be quick to learn and play with “no combat charts!” and a unique suppression mechanic.

Multi-Man Publishing – One final place I will send Rob’s co-worker is Multi-Man Publishing. This is the company that owns the modern rights to ASL, or Advanced Squad Leader. Probably the most infamous hex and counter modern wargame. In addition to ASL, they sell a large number of other chit based wargames and are considered to be one of the biggest and best producers of this kind of game out there.


Not all miniature wargames require you to collect an army.

Tanks – Tanks is a modern miniature game that features tanks. Just tanks. No infantry, no other units, just tanks. A core set of Tanks includes just two miniatures. While you can buy expansion packs and combine multiple sets you are never going to get to the point of having to collect a large army with Tanks. It will always just be a small handful of units. This could be a great option if you still want a bit of the hobby aspect of miniature gaming but not so much as to become overly costly or time consuming.

Bolt Action – This award winning ruleset from Osprey Publishing (famous for their non-fiction books covering all manner of warfare) features an extremely open army building system that was designed to be used with any existing set of military miniatures. I know of people using these rules with plastic army men. While there are now official Bolt Action miniatures, this may be a great option if you already have an army assembled from another game. This ruleset is highly praised by modern military miniature gamers.

Flames of War – If I were going to get into historical miniature gaming this would be my personal game of choice. Flames of War zooms things out a bit by featuring miniatures at a smaller scale. What this means is that you can get a larger number of units on the field for less cost. What also really appeals to me is the number of various start boxes, army boxes and even scenery kits they offer at what I find is a very affordable price. As for Rob’s co-worker, check out the Stalingrad set for some miniature tank battles.

Axis & Allies Miniatures – If what you don’t like about collecting a miniature army is the clipping, cutting, assembling and painting, then Wizards of the Coast has you covered with the Axis & Allies Miniature game which features pre-painted and assembled miniatures. At least they did have you covered. Sadly this game didn’t last and is now very much out of print. I do sometimes see the miniature pop up as new old stock or in discount bins and it may be worth looking for to use with a more modern in-print game.


Here are some great non-modern military wargame suggestions:

Command & Colors Ancients – This is my personal favourite game in the Command & Color series. The original box features Rome vs. Carthage and there are a number of other expansions featuring many other ancient clashes. In this game, the miniatures are replaced by wooden blocks with stickers on them. A lot of stickers. If ancient history isn’t your thing there are other Command & Colors block games out there in other genres including Command & Colors Napoleonics and Command & Colors Medieval. For a fantasy twist take a look at Battlelore Second Edition.

War of the Ring – This is the number two rated war game in the world. Dubbed by many to be Lord of the Rings in a box. In this folk on a map wargame, one player leads the Free Peoples against the other player playing the Shadow Armies. I have heard many great things about this game over the years but sadly have not had a chance to try it. I even own a copy in my personal pile of shame. This is considered to be one of the best games ever made, not just the best wargame.

Wizard Kings – I wanted to include at least one Columbia Block game on this list. I picked Wizard Kings as it’s the most like a miniature war game in the fact that you get points and build an army. Unfortunately to do that you will need one or more expansion sets, as the base game doesn’t allow for much customization. The Columbia Block games replace miniatures with wooden blocks, which are used in a unique way. For one stickers are only placed on one side, so this creates a fog of war during play. Secondly, the stats for each unit are on the edges of the block and when units are damaged or upgraded you rotate the block and the statistics change. This makes for one of my favourite wargames systems.


These wargames feature an alternative to your traditional miniatures:

FUBAR – My podcast co-host Sean found this one and I think it’s worth pointing out. The FUBAR miniature rule system features a set of rules that fit onto one A4 sheet of paper. There are versions of these rules covering all kinds of conflicts over pretty much all genres. You can find historical rules like those talked about so far but also fantasy and sci-fi rulesets. For all of these, you just supply your own miniatures, in whatever form those are. They could be cardboard counters, action figures or whatever you have on hand.

Battleground Fantasy Warfare – This is a full rank and file miniature game that replaces all of the minis with cards. The cards each show a top down view of a unit. This game includes all the usual wheeling and manoeuvres and changing ranks etc that you expect from a full miniature game but has no minis. The only problem here in regards to today’s question is that they only ever put out a fantasy version. There’s no modern warfare equivalent that I know of.

Brikwars – This is a building brick combat system designed for playing out small to huge miniature battles using building bricks like LEGO. This game is fan created and fan supported. The rules are free online and there’s a surprisingly active community supporting, promoting and playing games with building blocks.

Diskwars – Originally this was released as a generic fantasy game but then Fantasy Flight got the rights to it and released a Warhammer version. In this game, the miniatures are replaced by different sized discs. The neat bit here is the way you move units, by flipping the disc end over end. This allows for all kinds of interesting manoeuvring options. I personally really dig this system. It was a great somewhat simplified version of playing a full game of Warhammer Fantasy Battle. It scratched the same itch and let me get my Waaarg on playing an orc army without any additional cost. Sadly the game didn’t do well and has been discontinued.


Do you play wargames? Do you have a great wargame suggestion for a miniature gamer looking to get back into tabletop gaming without the expense of building an army?

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8 Responses

  1. A few others to mention, perhaps:

    Mobile Frame Zero – another LEGO system (free)
    Star Breach – sci-fi battles. use whatever minis you want (free)
    Battlelore – board game (hard to find the expansions)
    Gaslands – grab some Hot Wheels and go all Mad Max
    Root – battle for the woodlands!
    RelicBlade

    1. Hey Jeremy,

      In the podcast episode we actually talked about Mobile Frame Zero. I didn’t know it was now free though. I backed the game on Kickstarter. Battlelore we also talked about. I totally didn’t think of any COIN games and Root is a great call.

      We’ll be sure to call all of these out on the podcast.

      Thanks for the comment!
      Moe

  2. Some other suggestions.

    NUTS by Two Hour Wargames is a great set of WW2 rules that you can use any plastic minis to play and is designed for solo play in an hour or two.

    Army Men Combat is rules for using army men.

    Going more future is OGRE and GEV from Steve Jackson Games and they recently reprinted a full model version if chit play is not your thing.

    1. Hey David,

      Before diving into this I had no clue how many generic, use any miniature systems there were out there. Sean managed to find FUBAR and we mentioned that on the podcast, and the Brik one using LEGO. I will be sure to call these new (to me) ones out on the podcast.

      OGRE is one I should have remembered given the ridiculously box sitting off to the side in my game room, still sadly unplayed. This could have been a perfect recommendation given that the person was looking for tank based games.

      Thanks for the comment,
      Moe

  3. Because sometimes treadheads secretly love airplanes, too – Blood Red Skies by Warlord Games. 6 small airplanes in a squadron, which even a mediocre painter like me can finish in a weekend.
    But I warn you, as a beer-and-pretzels air combat game it is addicting and your pledge to “not build an army” becomes “what is one more box of just six little planes”!
    (Of course I may be biased. The game drug me away from “big army” games like 40k last year simply for the low cost of entry and quick painting of your aircraft!)

    1. Hey Doug,

      I think most of those skirmish games have that problem, by design no doubt. You only need 5 minis to play! No really that’s all you need, it’s just not what you are going to want.

      I’ll be sure to mention Blood Red Skies on the podcast.

      Thanks for the comment,
      Moe

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