What is Miniature Wargaming?

(And Why Would I Would I Want an App to Do It?)

Miniatures wargaming is a hobby where you recreate battles on a tabletop using miniatures soldiers and terrain, in the form of a game. There are rules, and the outcome is not known ahead of time. It is basically re-fighting battles with toy soldiers.

Although the phrase "toy soldiers" conjures images of kids playing with green plastic army men, that is not miniatures wargaming. Miniatures wargaming is what those same kids do when they grow up - it is an adult hobby, with sophisticated rules and detailed, painted miniatures. The hobby in its modern form was invented by H.G. Wells, the guy who wrote "The War of the Worlds." He published the first recreational wargames rules for miniatures in a book titled "Little Wars: A Game for Boys from Twelve Years of Age to One Hundred and Fifty and for That More Intelligent Sort of Girl Who Likes Boys' Games and Books". Which, aside from being pretty sexist, is still a fair description of the hobby (it was 1913 when he published it).

For more than a hundred years, adults have been playing tabletop games in which armies represented by miniatures fight it out on the tabletop on model terrain, according to rules of play. (For a more complete history of the hobby, see the HMGS site.)

Today, miniatures wargames depict all different types of battles: land battles across all historical periods, naval battles, air combat, and even battles in space. Many popular miniatures wargames are based on fantasy fiction. (They should not, however, be confused with role-playing games [RPGs], which are a separate hobby which grew out of miniatures wargaming.) Different types of science-fiction are also chosen as subjects for games, some in the far future, and some in an alternate Victorian timeline, etc.

The core of the hobby for decades has been historical wargames, however, which can be understood as a "what-if" exercise in history: Could Lee have won at Gettysburg? Miniatures wargamers can put Gettysburg on the tabletop, and one player can be Lee - it is up to the game to see if he or she can indeed beat the player(s) who command the Union forces. Everything from Ancient Babylonians to modern combat can be depicted as an historical miniatures wargame, and often with a high degree of historical accuracy.

Miniatures are available from hundreds of manufacturers, and cover a vast range of subjects. Miniatures wargamers are very demanding in terms of historical fidelity - the tabletop battle is in essence a diorama, like what might be seen at a museum, but one in which the armies are responding to the player's commands. The diorama moves - it turns the battle into a game. The miniatures are usually purchased unpainted, and a large part of the hobby is researching and painting the miniatures, and building the model terrain in which battles will take place. This aspect of the hobby - the modelling - appeals to a lot of miniatures wargamers.

All of these different types of games require many different rules systems, and over the decades these have evolved and improved. Some games are designed to take only an hour or two, while others may require days to complete. Some games are played in competitions, similar to chess tournaments. Typically, the rules consist of a book (or books) and a set of charts, used to determine how the miniature armies respond to orders and interact with each other and the terrain. Dice and various types of cards are used to introduce an element of randomness and unpredictability into the games. There are hundreds if not thousands of different rules systems which can be used to re-fight different types of conflicts.

In the 1980s, a new type of miniatures wargame came into being: the "computer-assisted" or "computer-moderated" wargame. These systems took PCs and used them to make the very complex systems used for playing miniatures wargames at once easier to use and more realistic (actual militaries had been using computers to "game" military conflicts for decades - hobbyists had not). These are not computer games, but games in which the miniatures are still used on the tabletop to fight the battles - the computer just helps determine what happens over the course of the game. Some of the more popular of these systems are still available and in widespread use, notably the Carnage & Glory system, although there are many others.

Today, many gamers still use traditional wargames systems (termed "paper-and-dice" rules). The two forms of miniatures wargame exist happily side-by-side, and many gamers do both (including us!). What has changed, however, is the technology: anyone with a smartphone is carrying a relatively vast amount of computing power in their pocket; apps have become a common way of doing everything from finding a date to ordering a pizza. Slowly, they are also becoming tools for miniatures wargaming, sometimes supplementing paper-and-dice systems, and sometimes replacing them.

Miniatures wargaming is a niche hobby, and the companies which supply it tend to be fairly small. Consequently, it is difficult to support the cost of developing software for games. This probably accounts for how slow the hobby has been to adopt new technology. Developing apps, however, has grown much easier over time. Application of Force is possible today, because the cost of creating apps has become much lower over the recent past.

Because the power of computers - including devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs - has grown so much, they can be used to make miniatures wargames into more accurate and fun simulations of historical (or imaginary) conflicts in new and innovative ways. The "Fog of War" can be more accurately recreated, something which is difficult to do when everyone can see where all of the miniatures are on the tabletop (historical generals could only dream of having so much information about the enemy!). Tedious-yet-significant aspects of war (logistics and fatigue) can be easily and painlessly represented. Solo games become much easier and better. There are lots of different applications of technology to miniatures wargaming, and many have probably not even been thought of yet!

Application of Force is dedicated to making miniatures wargaming better, easier, and more enjoyable by taking advantage of today's common technology, and using it in creative ways. After more than a hundred years, what has always been a fascinating hobby continues to grow - Application of Force exists to help it take the next step into the future.