There is a strange breed of game – a hybrid if you will – that has a small, but loyal following. These are people who like a little role-playing, a fair amount of stat building and a whole lot of miniature butt-kicking. Of course I’m referring to fans of Skirmish RPGs (and you thought I was talking about D&D 4E)!
Before we begin, lets set a few ground rules. For a game to make our list it has to have three important characteristics:
- Role playing is encouraged if not mandated by the rules
- Individual characters evolve over the course of a campaign or game
- The game requires miniatures that are available readily (no CMGs allowed)
This does rule out several great games that would have otherwise made the list (Battlestations and Car Wars are two that really hurt), but these three criteria are the most commonly agreed upon, so we’ll stick with ’em.
First up on the list, is Games Workshop’s fantasy-based Mordheim. Set in the same universe as the more popular Fantasy Battle game, Mordheim sees players controlling mercenary bands fighting for treasure and control in the demolished city of Mordheim. The game’s rules are very similar to those in Warhammer 40K, but forces are generally between 8 and 20 miniatures, making for a much more manageable battle. The rules are available online for free and miniatures can still be bought through Specialist Games, though many people simply use Fantasy Battle miniatures with a range of modifications rather than buying dedicated miniatures.
Next up on our list is also from Games Workshop – Necromunda. Necromunda is GW’s sirmish RPG set in the grim darkness of the 40K universe. In Necromunda, players control a gang affiliated with one of the major factions in the Underhive, the sprawling city beneath the major cities of the Imperium. Rules for the game are available online for free and have more in common with the 2nd edition of 40K than any other game (including rules for overwatch!). Miniatures can still be purchased from Specialist Games, but modding your 40K minis isn’t as straightforward as Necromunda’s factions are pretty unique.
Also from Games Workshop is the role-playng centric game, Inquisitor. Inquisitor is set in the 40K universe and deals with high-level threats to the Imperium of Man with players controlling forces of the Empire (usually members of the Inquisition itself) and the forces of chaos. Battles are usually presented as scenes in a story, using the larger 54mm miniatures to handle action resolution. This game is much more of an RPG than any of the other games on this list, even recommending that one player assumes the role of game master. Rules are similar to 40K, but streamlined and with more focus on the individual character as opposed to a unit and are available online for free. Inquisitor is one of the least popular of the games in the Specialist Games line and finding miniatures can be difficult (though many are still sold by Specialist Games), but there is a very active online community around the game that has produced some amazing mods of the existing miniatures.
Finally! A game that wasn’t put out by Games Workshop! Descent: Road to Legend is an expansion for Fantasy Flight Games‘ popular Descent board game. Road to Legend takes all of the characters from the previous (and future) expansions and allows players to take part in a longer campaign including overland travel. The game itself uses slightly modified rules from the base game and allows for a greater degree of character growth (the rules are based on an action point system with custom dice for action resolution). In addition, the overlord is given a physical representation in the game world as well as lieutenants to do his bidding. For many people, this is an out and out replacement for D&D without the pesky need to deal with NPCs who can’t be killed… Descent is readily available at a variety of retailers.
A personal favorite of mine is Catalyst Games‘ Battletech game. Battletech is set in the distant future where the universe is divided under the control of various houses and clans who wage war on one another with large mechs, vehicles and battle armor. Many people not already enthralled by this classic game aren’t aware that the game has always had an option for campaign play that allows for the improvement of individual mechwarriors (and that’s before you actually play with the Mechwarrior RPG rules) and the collection of credits to perform repairs and buy new mechs. Rules-wise, Battletech has more in common with an old-school wargame than with your typical miniatures game, relying on two-four pages of combat resolution tables to determine the results of die rolls (Battletech uses a basic move and shoot system). Catalyst Games has been putting a lot of work into this system over the past few years, including the release of a new starter box set that is perfect for new players.
And back to Games Workshop for the last game on our list! Blood Bowl is Games Workshop’s game of brutal footaball set in the Fantasy Battle universe. In Blood Bowl, players control a Blood Bowl team fighting for the glory of their faction without the need for the unpleasantries of war (which isn’t to say that some good ol’ fashioned violence isn’t appropriate…). Over the course of a season, players accumulate cash that can be used to purchase players in free agency, get training and other actions that improve a team’s chances in future games. The rules for Blood Bowl are pretty straightforward and have more in common with a board game than your typical Games Workshop game (the field is represented as a grid rather than the more typical point-to-point movement). The rules for the game are availalbe online for free and miniatures are still sold by Specialist Games (we highly recommend the box set which includes charts, a rule book and two full Blood Bowl teams).
We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the world of skirmish RPGs. Hopefully there’s something on the list to convince you to take one of these for a spin (and convince more miniature manufacturers to support this great form of game play)!