Warring Worlds and Grinding Gears – a Beginners Guide to Steampunk Wargames (Andrew Knighton Guest Post #3)
Despite their destructive theme, tabletop wargames are full of creativity, from the professionals writing rules and sculpting miniatures through to the enthusiasts building terrain and painting figures. Whether you want to play at steam powered warfare, or just collect wild and fascinating toys, then there’s a steampunk wargame option for you.
Pop Sculpture – the Miniatures
Like pop music and self-publishing, wargames miniatures are the sort of art that has often been sneered at by high-brow culture. But the existence of the Beatles and Hugh Howie show just how misguided that sneering can be. As Patrick Stuart has argued on HiLoBrow, wargames miniatures are a form of pop sculpture, and one that allows more engagement by the audience than traditional sculpture. These tiny statues are designed to be modified, for you to change them through painting or conversion, to feel them in your hand, to play with them. The best are things of incredible artistry, especially in their tiny details, and they invite you to join in the creation, not just to stand and stare.
Boy is there a lot to stand and stare at. Infamy Miniatures have a growing range of steampunk figures, punking up everyone from Nikola Tesla to a monstrous Mr Hyde, with a gun-toting Oscar Wylde on the way. Demented Games have a wheeled version of Dickens’s Dodger. Artizan Designs have masked and sinister policemen. Games Workshop have several steampunk figures in their fantasy range, including the dwarf gyrocopter and the spectacular Empire Steam Tank.
If you want to collect tiny steampunk statues, then miniatures manufacturers have you covered. Just follow a few links, pick something you like, and start collecting.
Bring on the Battles
What about the games themselves?
The most popular steampunk wargame is Privateer Press’s Warmachine. Set in the steampunk fantasy world of the Iron Kingdoms, its armies centre around massive steampowered war robots guided by magical warcasters. You can play as a Soviet-style empire, religious fanatics, or even piratical freebooters, each with their own distinct steampunky aesthetic. For someone new to wargaming, Warmachine has two big advantages. It scales well, letting you start out small, and there are lots of players so you can find someone to learn with – just ask at your local gaming shop or on Privateer Press’s online forums.
The downside of Warmachine is that its rules are built around a particular brand of miniatures. If you want to collect a wide range of steampunk soldiers then there are plenty of other options. Military history publishers Osprey have a set of steampunk rules designed for small scale skirmishes – again ideal for a beginner.
The Joy of Making
“But I already have plenty of steampunk in my life,” I hear you cry. “Why bother with wargames?”
I’ll give you three answers.
The first is that you might not want to bother. After all, you could be working on your costume. But you were interested enough to read this far, so hopefully that answer isn’t the one you’re after.
The second reason is the one that applies to anything steampunky – because you can never have too much steampunk. And with wargames miniatures taking up so little space, why not fit a few into your life?
But the real reason is the third one – because wargames, like all the best steampunk activities, let you be creative. They let you take things that are already in the world and turn them into cooler things. Maybe you’ll buy an awesome miniature and make it even more awesome by painting it in your favourite colour scheme. Maybe you’ll buy an OK figure and make it amazing by adding extra bits, converting it into a model of you in your steampunk costume. Maybe you’ll gather up a bunch of old gears and bits of wood to build a miniature steampunk factory to fight over. Wargaming opens up all these creative possibilities, and then gives you a way to play with your newly made toys.
Because it might look destructive, but wargaming is an incredibly creative hobby, and another great way to get your steampunk on.
Andrew Knighton is a steampunk author and freelance writer. The first book in his Epiphany Club series is available for free on Amazon Kindle. He blogs about board games for Boardgameprices.com, and about all things steampunk, science fiction and fantasy at Andrew Knighton Writes