In the cross-section of the tabletop gaming world, miniature gaming has traditionally been especially challenging to embrace as a newcomer. The tactical rules seem daunting, the player base can seem set in its ways and opinions, the price factor of collecting is daunting, and painting minis is really an entire hobby all on its own. Even with those factors, miniature games of all sorts have continued to thrive, simply because it’s so darn fun to lay all those little figures out on a table and dive into a big battle.
Most of the above concerns are very real, and I wouldn’t argue with a potential player that there are some barriers for getting into the joy of miniature gaming. With that said, several recent games have made major strides in easing the onboarding process for new players, with clearly written and conceived rulesets, pre-built (or even pre-painted) minis, and smartly structured starter packs to get you into games quickly.
Whether you’ve always wanted to dive into a great miniature game but never knew where to start, or you’re an experienced veteran of many tabletop wars, here are some great recent miniature games that respect your time and provide a solid ramp-up into play.
A Song of Ice & Fire: Stark vs. Lannister Starter Set
Perhaps the thing you’ve always envied about miniature gaming is seeing those huge fields of armies clashing into each other. But you believe that kind of set-up is likely the result of years of collecting and a level of time commitment that you’ll never really have. The new Game of Thrones minis game is the one for you. Massive armies and big battles are on offer, and thanks to accessible rules and a full starter set that includes over 100 miniatures, you can get right into the meat of play quickly.
Whether you became a fan through the books or the TV show, A Song of Ice & Fire is a stellar addition to the miniatures landscape, if for no other reason than it offers high-count unit battles with an especially understandable ruleset. Moreover, the game itself is strongly rooted in its setting, which makes for a lot of fun for anyone who knows the fiction well. Whether it’s having non-combatant minis like Cersei Lannister mess with the enemy troops, or the towering Gregor Clegane completely smash through opponents, the game does a great job of evoking familiar characters and personalities.
This Game of Thrones-themed minis game is expensive, but includes a ton of minis
The rank-and-file structure of the game keeps squads grouped together in trays that move as one, and the flexibility of unit movement keeps the action fierce and less bogged down in details than many other large-scale games. While that simplified movement and the simple dice-rolling conflict resolution may turn off some detail-oriented players, the benefit for welcoming new players into such a robust game can’t be overstated.
A Song of Ice & Fire is expensive as a Starter Set (you’re likely looking at over $100 for the initial set), and if you expand your army, you can easily increase the investment to a point that you may need a loan from Iron Bank of Braavos. Nonetheless, this game makes this list because of its welcoming entry ramp for new miniature enthusiasts, and for an excellent integration of its license.
Publisher: Plaid Hat Games
If you love the idea of getting into miniature gaming, and you’re hoping to share the experience with a young person in your family, this game is my top recommendation. Even without the kid connection, Tail Feathers is a smart, unique game that features some beautiful miniatures.
Tail Feathers is a skirmish game set in the same fictional setting as Mice & Mystics, another kid-targeted game I really love. Rooted in the tradition of anthropomorphic animals like those you see in the Redwall novels, Tail Feathers casts players as opposing forces in a battle to control the tree tops as fought between rats and mice, along with their bird companions. Detailed unpainted minis represent both your armored rodents and the birds on which they can fly; pegs on the pilot minis fit comfortably into the birds.
Tail Feathers is my top recommendation for a miniature skirmish game to share with younger players
Scenario-based battles play out on a tabletop arena representing several treetops and the open air in-between. Both ground and air units exchange blows in an effort to destroy the opponent’s nest. Two players can complete a match in one or two hours, in my experience. While kid-friendly in a general sense, the rules are likely too complicated for the youngest players; shoot for players nine and older, so long as an adult who knows the rules is in the mix. The rules for flight are especially fun, as the bird minis include a tilting functionality that dictates which way they can bank and turn on their upcoming move. The game also features some neat rules for riding leaves across the battlefield, sending ground units on invasions into enemy territory, and more twists on the conceit.
It’s a clever, attractive game with a wonderful underlying story conceit, and can be played as individual scenarios, an interconnected campaign, or with your own custom scenarios. After its release, Tail Feathers never received the expansions that many players had hoped for, but the core game is excellent in its own right, and deserves a look if you can track down a copy.
Battletech: Beginner Box
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
One of the longest running and most venerated miniature games on the market, Battletech has a rich history in both the tabletop and video game worlds. It’s a fascinating world of giant mech battles, but that same long heritage can be especially daunting to newcomers.
Catalyst’s recent Beginner Box serves as an ideal jumping on point. With two included fully assembled unpainted mech minis, a 24-page quick start guide, a large full-color, double-sided hex map, and several other essential components, it’s everything you might desire to get a taste of this long-running skirmish game, but without selling your house to do so; this initial pack is usually found at an affordable price point (usually under $20). While the system maintains the core fundamentals of the game it has always been, the new rules are well organized and introduced. There’s even an included novella to help you get into the fiction of this expansive universe.
Battletech has a storied history, and this Beginner Box provides a low-cost way to get your feet wet
At the beginning of this article, I wrote about the barriers to entry of price and complexity; I love this Battletech Beginner Box as a way to bridge that divide, inviting new players into this nuanced fiction and game without demanding a total commitment right away. If you’ve always been curious, this boxed set does a great job of providing a taste of the fun.
If the Beginner Box hits home for you, the next step up is the Battletech: A Game of Armored Combat set, with eight more excellent mechs, and a more expansive rules guide. From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and jump into painting and customizing. But first up, find out if the game is a good match for what you’re looking for.
Fallout: Wasteland Warfare
Publisher: Modiphius Entertainment
While several of the games on this list were chosen for their ease-of-play, Fallout: Wasteland Warfare is one that demands a significantly higher degree of commitment to fully understand. So why did it make this list? While Wasteland Warfare is a relatively complex miniatures wargame, it’s one that is thoughtfully introduced and explained in the two-player starter set; while it might take you some time, you won’t be bogged down due to poorly written rules or needlessly complex scenarios. Instead, everything is smartly organized, and there’s even a dedicated book included for tutorializing players new to mini gaming.
Moreover, especially given that readers of this article are also likely video game enthusiasts, I felt I’d be remiss not to point you toward this excellent tabletop experience. If Fallout is a property that really excites you, this miniature game is definitely worth a look.
Wasteland Warfare minis come unpainted, but professional painters can bring a whole new dynamism to figures
Wasteland Warfare does a bang-up job of utilizing its license. The Fallout vibe comes out through the 12 included minis themselves, with familiar figures like Dogmeat and a Deathclaw, as well as rules that capitalize on the SPECIAL attribute system. If you’ve always wanted to explore your own twist on the Fallout universe, this is a great opportunity, and you’ll see elements of the franchise pop up in components, scenarios, weapons, and characters.
The real standout feature of the game is its flexibility. More than an individual game, it’s better to think of Fallout: Wasteland Warfare as a broader system with a ton of distinct ways to play. It can certainly function as a standard two-player skirmish game, where super mutants duke it out against vault survivors. But it can also be played as a solo or cooperative campaign, against the AI across multiple scenarios. There’s a mode of play all about building your own settlement, and even rules for building out your own custom scenarios. Once you grasp the fundamental rules of movement and combat – which are smartly designed and supportive of a variety of strategies – you can take this game in almost any direction you want.
Star Wars: X-Wing 2nd Edition
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Arguably the most popular miniatures game currently on the scene, the new 2nd edition has accumulated lessons from more than half-a-decade on the market, and now offers an even smarter system than before. The pre-painted and gorgeous minis are immaculate recreations of the iconic ships of the franchise, and the refined rules offer a great way to get into the action and really emulate the movement and combat of ships in outer space.
If you haven’t played the game before, X-Wing 2nd edition maintains the strengths that first made it popular. Ships move in logical ways that demand you think carefully about your movements in order to line up the best possible shot on enemy ships. Individual ships and pilots do a stellar job of recalling the fiction, with powers and attacks that evoke classic scenes and moments. Tension arrives through mechanics that keep you from knowing what your opponent has planned on his turn, just like in a dogfight from the movies or cartoons. It’s a highly original and rewarding loop of play.
One of the big selling points for X-Wing is the pre-painted minis
While the game has always been a ton of fun, thousands of tournament games and years of revision have streamlined this new edition, but without losing strategic depth. A new approach to the Force (making it a resource) feels truer to the source material, allowing some pilots to pull off awesome Force-powered moments, akin to Luke’s intuition-guided destruction of the Death Star. Of even greater significance, the new game relies on a digital app for squad building, which dramatically speeds up that process, getting players into the game faster to focus on the battle at hand.
If you’ve already invested in the earlier edition of X-Wing, Fantasy Flight has also released conversion packs that can bring all your minis up to date to play with the new version of the game. If you’re new to the game, X-Wing 2nd Edition is an awesome place to invest, and you should have no problem finding players ready to battle.
X-Wing is certainly the most accessible Star Wars mini game out there, but I’d be remiss to not mention that Fantasy Flight has some other miniature games in the Star Wars universe that might better capture certain fantasies. Star Wars: Armada focuses on the big capital ship engagements, while the recent release of Star Wars: Legion tackles ground combat. Both are excellent, if slightly more complicated, but they might be the right fit if one of those concepts gets you especially stoked.
I’ll be the first to admit that experimenting with miniature gaming can add up to an extra layer of challenge compared to other tabletop games in the board and card game world. Nonetheless, the physicality of the figures and the freedom of strategic play can be a potent and exciting gameplay experience. Hopefully, if you’ve always wondered about this branch of the hobby, one of these games might work for you.
If miniature gaming isn’t your thing, feel free to click into the Top of the Table hub from the banner below. Inside, you’ll find dozens of tabletop game recommendations gathered from the last several years, and I’m confident you can discover something you like. If you need more personalized suggestions, hit me up via email for recommendations.