You may have gathered from the articles I’ve posted up until now that I’m not a huge fan of what are called ‘Euro’ games. Sorry about that. I’ve nothing against spending several hours hunched over a worker placement game, or a bit of area control or resource management, but to be frank, throw a few zombies with chainsaws in there or power-suited alternative-history WWII marines and I’m really a lot happier. It all depends on your personal definition of gaming fun. For me, games are all about immersion into imaginative worlds, and the laughter and groans that come with lucky dice rolls and last-minute reprieves. Many others prefer their careful long-term strategies to not be undermined by the draw of a card, and I can certainly understand that. But if you’re looking for in-depth examination of the many Euro games out there, I’m not the ideal author—even though I’ll be looking at some of these types of games in future articles.
One genre of games that does have a dominant place in my collection is the skirmish game. This kind of game is usually a two-player battle, either over tabletop terrain or on a board, between small bands of warriors. Sure, there’s a bit of strategy involved, but in general these games are about vicious combat, using your imagination, and playing out combats between figures that can sometimes turn into hilarious little stories that you remember for years. Let’s have a look at some of these games!
Again, the genre begins in a big way with Games Workshop. After the success of games like Heroquest and Space Crusade, the combats expanded onto the tabletop, and one of my personal all-time favourite combat games, Necromunda, was born. Set in the worlds of the Warhammer 40,000 sci-fi universe, Necromunda is a skirmish level tabletop combat game. Rival gangs fight it out for domination amongst the ruined buildings of the crowded ‘underhives’, vast cities in the far future. It’s a classic sci-fi bash—great figures, excellent cardboard terrain with the opportunity to scratch-build and buy more terrain setups, and even a campaign system if you want to see your gang grow and prosper over a series of battles.
Not a big sci-fi fan? Well then perhaps you’d prefer Mordheim, a very similar game in the fantasy genre of Warhammer. Gangs of humans, skaven ratmen, undead—you name it— battle in the ruins of the Empire city of Mordheim, destroyed by a warpstone meteor from the heavens.
Of course, setting up tabletop battles can require a big commitment in time and money. But fear not, there are plenty of other options for setting your little men at odds. We’ve already discussed the many combat games in the dungeon crawling genre in a previous article, but for non-dungeon skirmish gaming, some excellent games are Heroscape, Incursion, Okko: Era of the Asagiri, Mutant Chronicles, and Tannhäuser.
No overview of fun skirmish-level combat would be complete without Heroscape, the system that hit gaming in 2004 with HeroScape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie and since then has expanded in all directions with innumerable expansion packs, a Dungeons and Dragons variant and even a Marvel Heroes version. The great advantage of Heroscape is that it’s quick and easy to play. The figures are all pre-painted plastic, and the terrain is made of interlocking plastic hexagons—you can get castles and vegetation too—that allow for an infinite variety of scenarios and setups. Of course, all the units have special abilities, but quick reference cards and a simple basic rules system make play fast and furious. Some might call it a ‘toy’; some might think pitting samurai against giant robots is weird—but who cares what they think!
Incursion is a recent release from Grindhouse Games, a small company making a splash. In fact I helped out a bit by designing the reference sheet that comes with the game. It’s set in the currently very popular ‘weird war’ genre; an alternative-history World War II that includes sci-fi and occult elements. Incursion is set in an underground laboratory complex, where power-suited US marines battle it out against Nazi zombies, experiments-gone-wrong, and of course—good ol’ zombies. It uses an action point system similar to the classic Space Hulk, is beautifully produced, and is a lot of fun. The game uses cardboard standups, but for an extra outlay you can buy stunningly-detailed metal miniatures which improve the visual aspect of the game immeasurably.
Okko: Era of the Asagiri is another game that you can buy metal miniatures for separately. This medieval fantasy Japan combat game by Asmodee is played out on square tiles with lovely artwork on them, and the system is quite original. You roll a number of ‘inspiration dice’ each turn which have symbols on them that correspond to your different characteristics. By assigning these dice to your combatants, you can receive bonuses to your movement, attack, defense or willpower rolls; or can activate particular skills that make your characters unique. You can also place dice results in reserve on your characters, so they can activate powers or improve their defense abilities during your opponent’s turn. I highly recommend the figures; they are top-notch quality and very detailed, though probably more suitable for the experienced modellers and painters out there. And it’s good to see a theme that’s a little bit different. There’s already one expansion available and more to come.
Unfortunately it was short-lived and has since been discontinued, but FFG’s Mutant Chronicles Collectible Miniatures Game is a surprisingly good skirmish game. Set in the strange sci-fi/apocalyptic/gothic universe of the Mutant Chronicles, the game system itself works smoothly, using the core mechanic of specially marked dice. Gang recruitment is easy with a bronze-silver-gold scale of combatant power. Many people weren’t happy about the large 54mm scale of the figures and the quality of the pre-paints, but it’s still definitely worth picking up a copy of the core set and some of the figures if you’re a fan of the skirmish combat genre—and if you can find them.
Finally, Tannhäuser has recently been given a whole new lease of life since its purchase by FFG and the recent release of a brand new rulesbook. This game is also set in a ‘weird war’ universe, and one of its distinguishing features is the Pathfinder system. This a series of coloured circles printed on the large format boards that regulate combat and line of sight, speeding up play greatly. The game (and its expansion Operation Novgorod) comes with very nice pre-painted miniatures and top-quality components, and now that the new rules, which are available as a book or as a PDF download, have ironed out a few earlier issues and added an ‘overwatch’ system so players can fire in an opponent’s turn, look forward to this game getting more and more popular. Of course, there are more expansions in the works.
So if you’re like me and your game collection tends to lean on the site of colourful, thematic and imaginative games—to the possible detriment of worker placement, economics, area control and auctions—then be sure to check out some of the skirmish combat games mentioned in this article.
For more information about the games mentioned in this article, visit BoardgameGeek (www.boardgamegeek.com). Necromunda and Mordheim are still available as Games Workshop ‘specialist’ games. You can also find rules summaries and reference sheets for all of these games at Headless Hollow (www.headlesshollow.com/freebies_games.html).
by Universal Head
Universal Head (www.universalhead.com), has been designing graphics from the most corporate to the most creative for more than twenty years. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, most notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent a year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for the computer game ‘The Omega Stone’. In between he’s designed everything from large corporate identities and websites, to packaging, to interactive educational modules. His personal site www.headlesshollow.com is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.