The idea for this post comes from my own experiences with introducing miniature wargames to my son—he was eight when he first became interested in miniature gaming—specifically Hobbit Strategy Battle Game (Hobbit SBG)—and is now nine, going on ten. Over the last two years, we’ve played several RPGs together: D&D being the main one, but also some of the old d6 West End Games Stars Wars role-playing game, and a bits and pieces of some others, but D&D has been the main one. His interest in the Hobbit SBG was prompted by the close link between the figures and the movies that he had already seen and loved. So when we saw the Goblin Town boxed set in our local Games Workshop, it became a must-have for his next birthday. Since then we’ve played perhaps half a dozen games with it—it took a while to get started because of all the figures to paint (more on that later) – but since then he’s got well into the rules and created some of his own scenarios for the game.
On the historical wargames side, this isn’t something that he’s been as keen on. We did try playing with the simple rules from One Hour Wargames using the chapter on Ancients and playing British vs Romans. He was doing Boadicea at school at the time, and enjoying episodes of Horrible Histories, so knew some of the background. For this we used paper armies—made out of scans of pictures that we drew together. So we had British chariots, Boadicea as a special leader, Warriors and Skirmishers, vs Roman legionaries, skirmishers and auxiliary cavalry. The game was fun, but perhaps too simple in that both sides were fairly generic and perhaps too balanced—whereas the Hobbit games being more asymmetrical and story based fired his imagination more. Again a key factor to engage his interest was the connection with story and an element of fun.
There’s a few constraints that we both have on pursuing the hobby at the moment. One is my time—we have a toddler as well and she takes up a lot of time looking after and can’t be trusted not to play with figures herself and eat them! Another is space—we don’t have a table big enough for proper big battles—the main table we have that we can use is only 2 ft by 3.5 ft—and we can’t leave that permanently set-up for gaming. The space factor is also comes into play for storing figures and scenery as well—so moving off into collecting a whole set of armies for a historical period on spec is probably not going to happen.
With these limitations in mind, here’s how I would summarise my experiences of introducing the hobby to my son:
Cool miniatures are a great gateway, but can be time consuming and a barrier too
So, with the Hobbit SBG the miniatures were a big draw, but my son didn’t have the skill or patience to paint up the 50+ figures plus quite complex scenery in the Goblin Town starter set. That’s why they say 12+ I expect on the box!! However, he was definitely old enough to understand the rules and enjoy the game.
He has done some of his own painting since then and his skills have improved, but I still think he probably needs to be a bit older before he does this himself. The larger figure sizes – i.e. 28mm – are better though for beginners I think as they’re easier and look better.
However, in terms of space and affordability I’m wondering if smaller scales – 6mm or 10mm might be a good starting point for historical mass battles in the future.
Rules should be easy to understand, interpreted clearly and flexible
As I mentioned understanding the basic rules wasn’t much of a problem. Difficulties emerged though when adding some more of the advanced rules, and though we both understood them, I think the effort of having to remember all the complexities meant that applying them all held back the enjoyment of the game. For Hobbit SBG I’m specifically thinking of rules for heroes such as Might, Will and Fate, and heroic actions. For the last scenario we did, we took these out completely. We still had Gandalf being able to use spells, but didn’t worry about recording his Will. I think we could reintroduce these rules at a later date, but with the main priority to have a fun game, playing by all the rules wasn’t a priority. It is a very good idea though to agree up front what rules are going to be played by and to be consistent about things – especially what constitutes a legitimate dice roll – for instance if it lands on the floor or not flat on the edge of a base do you re-roll or not! There’s a tendency for younger children to take whatever would be the most advantageous outcome.
Encourage Story Telling and Fun
Almost like an RPG it can help to dramatize what happens during the battle – “Dwalin staggers back as the Goblin King swings his club at him” etc. That helps to build the narrative of the battle, rather than making it just about winning and losing.
Allow them to contribute to the story telling
Encourage them to make up their own scenarios. But I would advise a word of caution on balance. It’s probably worth checking that both sides are even – let them choose which side they want to play but make sure things are “fair”. One thing I have to do in the future is check on points values and handicaps to ensure both sides have a chance – a walkover for either side is not fun!
I would like to play some more historical games at some point with my son – I think it would help teach him something about history, and also give him a different perspective on games as well. Probably we won’t be diving straight into the Battle of Cannae yet, but perhaps a half-way house like gaming myths, as he’s very into Norse and Greek myth after reading the Percy Jackson and Magnus Chase books by Rick Riordan. So, we might try out the Of Gods and Mortals rules from Osprey with a few figures, and then maybe try to recreate some famous historical clashes too. We’ll see!