Mouthful of D: Keeping it Skirmish

In the world of miniature wargaming there has been a rapid increase in the number of games that you can play at your local game store or on your kitchen table. With such a wide variety of games it helps to try and condense them into categories so that you can figure out which game you might enjoy the most. The categories that I see most often discussed are between “Army Scale” games and “Skirmish” games. This article is being written to explain what a skirmish game is to someone who may not be in the know and why I think they are just a joy to play. Obviously, preferences will be different for every person, but I am the person who has the gun to my head from this website’s editors. So, that means I have to write the article and we should just listen to what the man wants, ok? 

A business man signing a piece of paper with someone pointing a gun at his headhttp://

So unless you are going to help find a way to send me help, let’s talk about skirmish games.

Not all skirmish games follow the exact same formulas so you will undoubtedly be able to think of some exceptions to what we are about to talk about, but let’s just generalize the big points. Let’s look at a few major things that people would generally attribute to skirmish games and how they compare to larger games. 

I admit I am a little biased. 

  • Scope of Narrative
  • Rule Complexity
  • Time Obligation

Scope of Narrative

We play these games for a variety of reasons, but somewhere in your brain you are imagining your little model man jumping, shooting, and doing rock-and-roll powerslides across a field of their dead enemies. When you look at skirmish games, you will notice that the theater of operations and the size of your forces is considerably smaller than something like a 3000 pt game of 40K. I think that this creates an opportunity for telling a more “Band of Brother” type story. 

My personal favorite example of this is the Battle Company rules for Middle Earth Battle Games. This game is a perfect example of having about 15 models who will slowly grow in strength over time and even create natural narratives as you play with your friends. You will create rivalries between certain models and factions that can create stories that you talk about for YEEEEEAAARSS to come. Thankfully us nerds are good at beating these horses to death over time. 

For “fluff bunnies,” these narratives are what make these games so exciting. You could replace the models with popsicle sticks and pocket lint, but you will have managed to create stories and lives for these little plastic men since you have to look after their well-being in the scary world of miniature warfare. This is much easier to do on a model-to-model basis when you don’t have to track entire squads of troops moving across wartorn city scapes.

Creating scenarios is much easier as well when you have smaller sized games. Doing something like running up to a console can be very exciting. It just depends on how many bullets he has to dodge, but wait the person that is shooting at him is the guy that took out his eye in the last skirmish you had. NOW IT’S PERSONAL. Do you keep your running towards the button, or give it to your parental issues and chase after violence.

I think we all know your choice. 

Rules Complexity

This is one of those often overlooked parts of this discussion. Lets face it, Gamesworkshop games are usually the gateway into this hobby. Lets also face the fact that their rules require you to remember a FUCKTON of different things when it comes to army construction alone. That is a discussion for an entirely different article, but do people generally consider games where half of the time played is you looking through a book very enjoyable? 

Listen, I am a simple man who likes simple things, and I don’t enjoy having to take a college class for some of the games out there. Don’t get me wrong, I love to crunch and be a mid-table warrior, but it honestly comes down to where the complexity of the rules come shows itself. The benefit of skirmish games is that they can get more crunchy with specific rules now that the scale of the game is so much smaller. 

You can make pulling the lever to open a door complicated when you only have to worry about 6 models like in Necromunda. Maybe your ganger is so god-damn stupid that he doesn’t actually know how to pull a lever. That kind of narrative is just so finely turned into the rules I am not sure how you CAN’T enjoy it.

You can broadly take most games and dissect them into a few different stages of play:

  • The List Creation/Army Building/Scheming Phase. 
  • Deployment Phase
  • Playing the Actual Game Phase
  • Resolution Phase (For Games with Necromunda-Type Campaigns)

It’s important to consider which phase you find the most joy in. Very broadly speaking, I have found that people who enjoy larger games tend to enjoy the Army Building Phase more than anything else. Due to the smaller nature of the games, skirmish rulesets don’t stay in the Army Building Phase long due to usually smaller point values or not as many choices. This might be seen as a weakness at first, since isn’t more choices betterer? 


Skirmish games know why you are there, and it isn’t to stress out about every single point or money unit spent. Sometimes the simplicity of picking the cool stuff at the start and just running with it will create the most fun if your opponents are doing the same thing.  

The Deployment Phase is important in almost every miniature game due to the nature of what is called “The Action Economy,” but that is beyond the scope of this discussion.To sum it up. The bigger the board and the slower the models, the more important it is to place your models in the right place at the beginning.  

Now, Playing the Game Phase is where I think the biggest difference rears its head. Skirmish games tend to have smaller model counts, so each decision tends to carry more weight. That is not even taking into consideration the type of activation system that the game uses. Is it very random like Warlord Games Bolt Action, a set alternating activation style like AMG’s Marvel Crisis Protocol, or a modified You-Go-I-Go System like Infinity? This is very important to consider since I think that it sets the mood of the game. 

Ever played a game of 40K where you would rather go make a sandwich, take a shower, or watch a movie during your opponent’s turn since it really doesn’t matter what you do? I strongly believe that this type of game design is trapped in the past since it lacks all kinds of tension or agency for the player who is on the waiting end. Personally, I can attest that in almost every game of Marvel Crisis Protocol I have ever played, at least once, I will have a tightly clenched ass hoping my opponent doesn’t activate a model that I am planning on surprising murdering. It creates something called TENSION. Tension is where most of the fun in these games exists. People always remember that one game that was decided by a single dice roll at the end of the game. That thing you feel when you are white-knuckled watching the dice spin like a top is what tension feels like.

And DAMN if it isn’t a fun time no matter how that dice falls.

Now when you have a game with a Resolution Phase you are opening up to a world of possibilities. Even a simple campaign system can add an entirely different lens to your games if applied well. Take a game of little models shooting each other, but then add some kind of logistics system where every loss could cause you problems down the road, or every kill increases the chances that your dude finds a magic nipple-slicing axe and you got yourself a real good time. Now, I am a seriously virgin narrative player and not some chad-ass tournament dick kicker so maybe my FUN HAVING gets in the way of your need to be superior over all others, so it helps to make sure you are with your tribe of people for this. Narrative players and win-at-all-cost players never mix well if the expectations are not well-set. 

I think that as soon as you can add a war to the background of the single battle, you are going to really improve the quality of your games.  

Time Obligation

When you take the average amount of time a war game takes, you will probably land around the 2-3 hour mark with a little deviation depending on the game. Now, let’s take into account the rules complexity and scope of the game discussions from above. Rule-dense games like 40K are mostly each player looking through their books to make sure all of the army building rules they are using are correct. Model heavy games like Age of Sigmar are going to be very time intensive when it comes to moving all of the models that can be in your army since units will commonly scale all the way up to 30 models by themselves. Both of these factors can obviously get better with practice, but let’s be honest here, very few casual players are going to stick with armies long enough to be able to remember everything off the top of their heads. 

If you play games that are less book keeping and keep to a lower model count then you are going to have a much quicker time. Take a moment think back on how many times you have actually managed to organically finish an army scale game where you didn’t want to just finish after turn 2 or 3. If you play a game and you finish on turn 2 because you “know how it’s going to end” then can you really consider that a fulfilling experience? Especially if a game is designed to go the distance. This is a common tournament discussion point since players that expect to get another turn will commonly make decisions that would give them a win if they had more time. When that player is shorted 2 or 3 turns because their opponent has to move 600 Ork Boys or has to look up every single rule that is in their book, well you can create some massive feel-bads. 

When these types of things happen, its clear that the rule creators are disconnected from the game that people are actually playing. If they create a game with 6 turns and find that both player’s armies have managed to completely murder each other by turn 3 and the entire time limit is spent, then why are those turns there? It means there is a disconnect between army generation and how the game is actually played. If a game can’t be consistently exciting in some way the entire way through, then it isn’t actually a very good game is it? 

Concluding Thoughts

Listen, I am not your dad. You go play whatever you want, and be happy about it. I wrote this article to simply help you think about what you actually really enjoy about these games. I have found myself almost entirely removing large army games from my life since I really don’t enjoy the overly complicated rules, the long set up times, and the amount of time it takes to actually fully finish a game. 

Does that mean my way is the only way?

YES………ok, fine. Maybe you could enjoy something else. 

When I go out to play a game, you will always find me laughing and telling stupid stories about what our little minis are doing since that is what I personally enjoy. I believe skirmish gaming is the most accessible way to do this since most people do not have the time or resources for grand sweeping galactic campaigns. These games should be fun, and thankfully enough options exist out there that means everyone can find a game that manages to scratch most of the itches in their brain folds.

My way of doing it is just better than everyone elses!

Bye bye follow nerds. Go enjoy your games and make sure you add some story into it so you can escape the constant need to work on a “tournament list.” Your imagination will thank you for it. 



[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]

Dr. D

Dylan “Dr. D” Dyer is a Chiropractor by day, and an over-caffeinated miniature painting nerd by night. When he isn’t manically painting models in such a way that he never manages to finish painting an entire army, he can be found playing with his dogs, reading comic books, or helping with the few podcasts that find keeping him around useful. He runs the painting department of Fury’s Finest and writes painting guides for The Professional Casual Network. Sometimes he even manages to stumble onto their stream for games of MCP, where he makes generally terrible jokes and bad tactical decisions. The only known way to stop him from talking your ear off about stuff you couldn’t care about is to put food in front of him.

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