Thursday 29 October 2020

Big Game Gaming - is it dead ?

 Edited 31/10/20 see additional information at end of post 

One thing I've taken up during lockdown is listening to Podcasts. It's nothing new but I just never got into them before. I was getting fed up with talk news stations endlessly moaning about things so I was looking round for some new food for the ears.

I took part in a Podcast style interview for a fellow Utubes channel,

Whilst listening back to it, to see if I'd made a reet tit of myself I found I was quite enjoying listening to the format, a couple of chaps chuntering on about gaming, now that's what I want to listen to ! So I started to delve into the world of The Pod and started with The Veteran Wargamer (Jay Arnold). The Wargames Soldiers and Strategy, and the Toofatlardies.

I really enjoy listening to them but one common thread seems to run through the episodes, a negativity towards big style games. All are very keen on the Skirmish or Big Scale Skirmish and don't get me wrong there is nothing wrong with that scale of gaming. It's a great way to get into a period but there seems to be no drive to go bigger.

Nearly all modern rule sets are designed for Skirmishers or small battles, 20 to 30 figures (I've got more 28mm farm animals !) to maybe 100 to 120 figures top, and maybe a couple of vehicles seems to be the drive. Bolt Action, Lion Rampant and other Osprey rules. It's all about getting a "force" on a table with no drive to go bigger. Where are the new "let's do Jutland" at 1 to 1 or Leipzig at 1:20 people ?

There are of course exceptions , the refight of Waterloo in Glasgow "The Great Game" being the obvious one. I'm sure there are lots of people out their with big collections they have had for years but are new big collections being built ?

Growing up I saw those huge games at shows and that inspired me to build bigger and more impressive armies. The drive, echoed by the podcasts I've been listening to is for small games at shows 4 x 4, a dozen nicely painted figures, rules that a box of wood could understand, is this the future of gaming ?

I get that people want to get started quickly and many Sci Fi, Fanatsy games have this draw, but when I get involved with a game like that it disappears up its own backside in a couple of years.

Babylon 5 Acta (Mongoose stopped supporting)

Star Trek Acta (guess what, Mongoose stopped supporting)

Malifaux, great game changes versions quicker than a Camelion 

Empire of the Dead - still around but doesnt seem to be played.

The advantage to having say a 28mm Napoleonic collection is that although rules may change people will always game that period with whatever rule set is in vogue.

Hopefully big gaming will keep going and podcasts will start to cover it more, it also got me thinking about how many figures I actually have, it's a lot, I've estimated 20,000 in the past, I'm up to 13,500 in #greatwargamesfigurecount with a long way to go !

The discussion on the Big Game has been quite active on various forums so below is a summary of my response to the main points raised.

Some have questioned what a big game is ? It's an interesting point and historically (in wargames terms) I think it's a very different beast in the 80s when I started to what it is today. The whole premise of the argument is that there is a prevalence of "skirmish" games and those to me range from squad level game with a handful of figures say Gangs of Rome to the large skirmish games like say Bolt Action. 

 So for the purposes of this argument, today a large game is anything bigger than that. But when I started gaming a big game was thousands of figures on a huge table either at a show or a group of friends hiring a village hall for a weekend. I often played and organised these games and have great memories of them, Leipzig at 33:1 on a huge table, 1st Day at Gettysburg etc. I definitely remember those games and not the DBA games I tried in the mid 90s with 10 stands on a 3 ft table. 

Arguments have been made about how boring big games are or how it's just a group of mates playing a game when big games are seen at a (UK) show. I would say they are just badly run or badly organised games. Having run games at shows over the years we always had designated "chatters" on hand to speak to the public about the game and talk about the battle, terrain, figs etc. 

But you cannot deny the joy of seeing a huge game of well painted figures on some beautiful terrain, that is a marvel in itself. A lot of hard work has gone into that. I'd rather see a huge game badly run than 2 people hunched over an exquisite table 3ft sq that I can't see properly unless it's through the lens of my camera. The argument comes up a lot "you need too many figs", I will just paint these 20 figs for this game or that game. Large numbers of figures shouldn't put people off games it should inspire them ! 

I know these big games go on still, the old guard keep them going and it's great to here from you but this isn't a how big is my big game contest, it's an evangelical call for the return of the big game. 
So back to the original question of this additional piece, What is a "Big Game". Honestly it's what you want it to be, it should be about aspiration, aim to play a platoon game if you play squad games now, Divisional games if you play Battalion Games. 
Most people have or have had restrictions of time, space, money or opponents, mostly they don't last forever, dream big before you know it you could be running your own big game. 

Thanks for a positive discussion (so far !) Regards Ken The Yarkshire Gamer

The post even made it onto the Toofatlardies Oddcast as the Big Issue Debate


  1. I suppose it is just different strokes for different folks. If your typical set-up is a 5 x 3 to a 6 x 4 and the family want it free again by tea time, then your view on what you can play will be different from the person with a permanent set-up on tables 8’ and larger.

    Also, do you play in a home setting or a club setting. There are some gamers who currently have no room at all to game or store figures, so solutions will be different for everyone. At least in this day and age, whatever you want is largely catered for.

    Another thing that we (I) have lost is the ease at playing a short midweek game, life just does that, so anything that can get that particular pleasure back is a positive in my books.

    Being a regular attender of shows on the UK scene, I like to see a smallish table that has stuff on it that inspires to to thinking ‘I could do that at home’ and then I race of to the dealer that sells it, so I see a clear symbiotic relationship between games at shows and the traders. So very big tables don’t do that for me. I can admire them, but not get inspired by them ........ but the bloke standing next to me with a big table and a ton of space at home or the club will be much more generous in his appreciation of the same.

    At the moment I am trying to put 28mm and 1/72 stuff into my gaming space, because I like the spectacle of the individual figure, so that means smaller armies, but aesthetically it is what I want.

    I don’t think big gaming is dead, but perhaps there is now a preponderous number of gamers who have a lifestyle that fits with smaller collections. What we should not get confused with is those with the smaller game (skirmish, big battle skirmish) are not having their hobby diminished or that a sector of the hobby is in trouble, they can be putting in as many hours and having as much enjoyment as the ‘big battle’ enthusiasts.

    1. I think I've been through most of those scenarios over the years but always wanted the Big Game experience. I get the reasons for Skirmish gaming just not the lack of will to expand on it.

  2. You can't beat big games can you? Except with bigger ones, haha!!
    This link on Graham's 'Scotia Albion' blog may give you cause for more optimism:

    Not to mention the many blogs that display big to huge games!
    Regards, James

    1. I think you've missed my point James, yes there are people who go for big games, here at Yarkshire Gamer and other blogs throughout the tinterwebnet.
      It's newer players who aren't going big, modern rules break when they meet large numbers of figures and all rules writers do is bring out skirmish rules.

  3. At my current club (Central London Wargames Club) we used to do regular big Seven Years War battles on bank holiday Mondays and have been known to do large ancient/medieval battles as well. A couple of years ago some members did Jutland.

    However, for regular week-night gaming such things aren't really feasible - not enough time to play the battle through, too many figures to carry around on public transport during rush hour...

    1. Hi Tamsin, hope you are well and looking forward to a new AHPC 👍🏼
      A mix of the two is a great thing but the modern drive is purely skirmish which is a real shame, people should get the chance to big game.

  4. I find it also it depends who you game with. In Montreal where I live, the group has 2 players that run skirmish games - IHMS, Dracula’s America, etc whilst another plus myself run the bigger games - Fire & Fury, Age of Reason, etc.

    1. Hi Graham, as I said to Tamsin above a mix off the two is great it's more the drive towards all Skirmish that I'm not a fan or.

  5. Definitely depends. Like other have said, space is definitely a deciding factor.

    Also, what do you consider "big"? Personally I don't want to try to buy, paint, and store a large force in 28mm, but I've recently assembled a few brigades for the American Civil War in 10mm.

    I'd like to do the same for other conflicts as well. I was drawn in to playing Bolt Action/Chain of Command for a number of September Campaign games, but I'd really like to put together a couple forces in 10mm for bigger action. Or maybe even try Africa in 3mm using Mustafa's Rommel.

    1. I am trying to not make the comment personal, it's about a general trend in the hobby.

      When I went to wargames shows in the 80s my mind was blown by big games, not two blokes pushing 6 stands of a DBA army round a 2 foot board, so in those day a big game would be a couple of thousand 28mm figs on table, now a big game is anything bigger than a skirmish game !

      I've built huge collections over the years in virtually every period going, but have have limited my self to one period (or part of) in one scale which has stopped multiple armies in the same thing. That's not everyone's cup of tea, I get that but the vast majority of game releases now are skirmish based.

      I just love a table full of figures !

  6. Super post, and some equally super comments, Ken! I think this is a great topic to explore.

    I don't think anything is going to really replace the BIG game. You know the sort of thing - extra large tables, all your figure plus friends' collections too, starting at 9a.m., and all followed with a few drinks and a fine curry. You're right, and spot on: they are the games which all of us remember with joy and delight, and they are deeply inspirational. Perhaps above all, those BIG games are collective experiences for all of us, and our friends. "You remember that re-fight we did of Austerlitz?...".

    Nothing quite replaces those moments for us. And you're right, if that kind of BIG game is dead, then we better revive it quickly as soon as we're all out of our 2020-Lockdown!

    I do think that, over the years, smaller games have caught on in a massive way. I wonder if this is a partly result of the huge variety of great miniatures and models around - you can 'scratch and itch' with 20 figures, very well. In years gone by, maybe that variety wasn't there quite as much.

    Maybe one of the reasons that big-games (with lots of figures) don't get as much 'air-time' on podcasts is because we want podcasts to reach as many wargamers as possible. A smaller, skirmish game, with newer-style pick-up rules, will often sell very well. A lot of the buzz in the hobby is about those games which are manageable and fun to play in a couple of hours. I think that's one of the reasons that we don't talk about big-games a lot.

    BUT.....we SHOULD!!! It's high time we accepted the challenge, and talked about the BIG game.... So, let me see what we can do!

    1. Many thanks for the reply Sidney,

      You've covered many of the points right there, in my own little wargames bubble of Yarkshire Gamer I've kind of missed the "switch" to skirmish, yes I've seen the myriad of new small game rule sets come out but it never really rigged until I started my recent podcastathon how much attitudes had changed.

      Listening to yourselves on the Oddcast, the WSS boys, The Veteran Wargamer and others I was surprised how much the big games have fallen out of favour.

      I get it with the Lardies as most of the rules are designed for large skirmish games so that would be the topic of conversation, but even with Lardies rules big games are possible (our WW1 Mesopotamia battles with ITLSU for example).

      On all the casts I listen to the drive is for new product and small intro skirmish games which are often dead in a couple of years, if I buy and paint a 1000 28mm Italian Wars (I may have already done that 😉) I will be able to game with them with one rule set or another for the rest of my natural but those cool Babylon 5 ships I paid a fortune for or those Version 1 X Wing are stuck in a box for ever.

      It's gathered a bit of pace since I put this up on a number of forums and an excess of choice definitely seems to be a theme. Is it lazy Wargaming ? Grab 20 figs here, do Vikings, another 20 there have a go a Renaissance (never sure how you skirmish with a pike 🤔) or work really hard on a massive 28mm Italian Wars Project and use it in front of the Pavia display at the Royal Armouries ?

      I would much rather see that than 2 blokes pushing 12 figures around a 4ft sq table. The latter looks really good in photos but from 8 ft ?

      Hope it gets covered in the Oddcast, if you need someone from Yarkshire to tell you how it is, I work for Tea and straw for me Ferrets.

      Regards Ken
      The Yarkshire Gamer

  7. I have a couple of big Colonials/VSF projects on the back burner but then I am also lucky to have the space for a big table I can leave se

    1. A permanent game space is always a plus Pat and a great incentive to do big games and leave them up and running until they reach a conclusion

  8. Some excellent points made by youself and those commenting. It's interesting to read what people think counts as a 'big battle'. If I play BKCII, a normal battle for me is a Battalion plus supports per side. For some gamers that would be a 'big battle'. If I went to Brigade level, now that would be 'big battle' territory, but I would only be able to do that with friends round and setting aside a whole day. Sadly that is no longer an option due to a variety of reasons, so Battalion size games tick all the boxes for me.

    Another thing is a 28mm game on a 6' x 4' table a 'big battle'? For me no as I can't help but think of Rick Priestley's comment that they look like a geography field trip! I would much rather see a Bloody Big Battles game in 6mm or 10mm on the same size that would, in my book, fit what a 'big battle' should be.

    Anyway, enough waffle from me and thanks for an interesting post:)

    1. Cheers Steve, as I said above I think a "big" battle has changed in it's definition over the years and as you rightly say a big battle can mean different things to different people.

      I hope it's an aspiration for new gamers as it was for me when I started, a Big Project to work towards rather than just giving up after 20 figures 😁

  9. This is an interesting subject and well discussed.
    For my part the big game used to be an "occasion" & something we still chat about for many years. BIG games are not something most can do weekly, they need space, time, commitment, planning, painting & often cash! This is why the weekly bash is a smaller affair. I too don't get the lack of vision that should say, "hang on... if we all paint a pile more toys, build terrain, put all the 6x4's together in a hall we could make a real spectacle & fight something apocalyptic over a weekend! Who's in?"
    We at Marauder Moments got the Big bug and decided to play mostly big games. We made it happen though, it's not an accident - it's simple commitment by a group of mates over years to one project.
    Maybe that's what's missing?
    Gamer's seem to flirt with fashionable rule sets, periods, manufacturers & then move on to the next shiny trinket like magpies.
    Possibly this is cyclical & we'll see the Big game more often?
    Best wishes,

    1. Many thanks Jeremy, definitely a "modern" lack of willpower and a desire for instant game with no work. The big game is still out there it just needs some new blood to ditch the army list and cry "Go Big"

  10. You certainly raise some interesting and worthwhile points Ken, its a subject I've pondered on myself.
    I'm not sure that the "big game" mentality is much more decreased than it was in the past, 40 years ago the most common wargames were probably 1,000 point ancients games played in 3 hours on a 6' x 4' they are 1,000 point games of various gribleys. In that respect little has changed.
    No 25 year old amassed multi-thousand figure armies in those days anymore than they do now, but there are still plenty of folk (more maybe), these days who finally do have the time, money, space and commitment to facilitate "big" games- and there are more coming through (I could name a couple of dozen individuals with Napoleonic collections in the tens of thousands- and that's just me).
    I didn't really get into big scale gaming until my thirties, when I discovered I wanted a bit more out of wargaming than a 200 figure a side duff up on a Tuesday night. Since then I reckon I've played in/umpired/organised at least 250+ (could be nearly double that) full weekend games and about 20 to 30 week-long sessions.... I could write a small book about it!
    Maybe....maybe...a larger problem is the availability of good rules for large multi-player games, they don't seem to be that thick on the ground these days
    Big games are less common for the same simple reasons they always were, they require a lot more commitment to achieve the ratio of effort versus fun for most people, and that's totally understandable, but I don't think there isn't still a section of the gaming community who aspire to that.

    1. Cheers Chris, an excess of choice definitely seems to be one of the main things coming forward but in addition to that the vast majority of the wargames new releases are skirmish based.

      My original reason for the post was the lack of air time on podcasts that big gaming gets. I think there is a difference between old and new. Newer gamers aren't exposed to big games in the same way older ones were, the new route into Historical games is from GW and other fantasy rule sets, a very very large proportion of which are skirmish based so that mind set carries on into their crossover.

      The "airfix" generation are used to getting more figures in a box of "toy" soldiers than there are in many modern games. Even at Wargames shows larger games are getting less (in my experience) so there is less of the wow experience.

      Big games are still out there, I'm not saying they don't, but the will to do them is disappearing, "back in my day" a huge table of 28mm figures was something to inspire, today it's something to fear.

      Regards Ken
      The Yarkshire Gamer

  11. Well, the short answer would be: Because it's my hobby!
    The somewhat longer answer is I don't get the reason behind big games. As I'll never ever refight say Waterloo in 1:1 ratio why should I bother doing it in any other ratio that requires me to spend years of my already precious little hobby time on one single project? If I want to do a refight of a big historical battle I'll use counters or wooden blocks. If a Regiment in any given set of rules has 16, 24 or 48 figures is all the same to me. It simply doesn't look like a regiment anyway. Exception would probably be 2mm but I don’t think we're talking microscales here?

    In Skirmish games I can somehow relate to what is happening to my individual toy soldiers. It's almost like reading a good novel, or watching a movie. I don't get the same feeling from pushing bases full of anonymous figures around that could just as well be the above mentioned wooden blocks

    Yet another reason is my attention span. I'm maybe comfortable concentrating on a game for about 3-4 hours max (no matter if Skirmish or Big Battle). Then I get bored and want to do something else, yet I'd feel bad for my gaming partners if I'd just pack up and go. After all they’re probably having a great time. But playing on with gritted teeth wouldn’t be an alternative either, after all I'm supposed to enjoy my hobby as well, eh?

    Another point would be the terrain. While there are certainly some clubs out there which can provide the necessary terrain to make a big game look good I feel they're few and far between. I like my terrain as immersive as possible. Little details like period specific buildings and vignettes together with civilians and livestock bring a table to life for me. Nothing worse than to see lovingly painted miniatures fighting it out over generic terrain.

    My last point would be painting. I'm a slow painter but I enjoy painting more than anything else in this hobby. I try to paint each individual figure to the best of my abilities which means I get about 100 figures a year done, even less in stressful years like this one.
    For me to go big would mean I had to compromise on the quality of my painting and that’s something I'm not prepared to do. With skirmish rules I can paint about two opposing forces a year and can start a new project without a feeling of ‚guilt‘ for not sticking to the other, larger project.

    1. I'll put you down for a No then 😁

      It's not everyone's cup of tea and you clearly are not a big fan of the miniature, or painting them. Gaming is moving towards your style of gaming, it's not mine and I was merely raising an evangelical call for the return to the Big Games of old. Some or none will follow, but at least I tried 😁👍🏼

  12. I love a big game...y'no, back when we could do em! Posties table is 12x6' and on occasions has hosted up eight wargamers simultaneously fighting out a huge Napoleonic Game or ACW battle. By golly I miss these games and I'm personally looking forward to getting back in his shed-o-war for some big games.

    1. Many thanks Lee, that's the Yarkshire Gamer style too 👍🏼

  13. Hey Ken.

    I know how you feel, skirmish games are great for a night at the club or what not... but it feels as if people are driving away from the big games.

    I am relatively new to the hobby and I live in South Africa no less, but many of the factors feel the same. When I discovered a local shop and after speaking to the owner I could feel his negative attitude towards big games... and that was only for about 100 figure warhammer battles, never mind anything historical! It is a real shame that people don't even want to try it, and if you think that is hard, try to get them to play historical.

    I have always been in awe of big boards with a lot of nice terrain and figures on it. I am not a competitive person, so for me the spectacle of figures and a board is what tells the story. You can do that with small games too, but there should be a balance between both.

    At least you have a group of mates to game with and do what you want, I feel that is always better... seeing as I'm restricted to a club and only a hand full of people who don't seem to be committed to gaming to be frank, everything seem half hearted.

    But enough of my rant, whether it stayes on topic or not. I love your channel and blog! Would love to bring that enthusiasm to South Africa but alas.


    1. Many thanks Maartens, I'm very lucky (outside of Covid) to have a permanent set up and a great group of friends with similar gaming outlooks.

      Love South Africa, I lived and worked there in the early 90s for 6 months, fond memories 👍🏼

  14. Being a megalomaniac, I wanted to be Napoleon, not Sarn't Wilson, so big games are what inspired me to keep wargaming when I discovered it was a hobby way back as a kid. Seriously though, it's the spectacle and the what ifs of history that interested me. There were plenty accounts of Blenheim to whet the appetite but not many tales about the Petit Guerre of the 18th century. I never read Sharpe and the skirmishes on the TV series never convinced me with the rate of fire they seemed to acheive with their Baker rifles, so small games never got under my skin.

    1. Many thanks nundanket sounds like my kinda thinking 👍🏼

  15. If anything Ken, big games, particularly in 28mm are more achievable now with the availability of plastic figures. So as a wargamer attarcted to big games I has less excuse now than I ever had! For me, the cost was previously prohibitive, that's now largely gone. The biggest problem for me is the inherent or inbuilt thinking that sees an ideal wargame as being big and then combined with the indiscipline of a butterfly mentality and an "oh look shiny" gullibility which means that I'm building armies towards big games in multiple periods! Thankfully I am fortunate that I now have the space whereas I've always had the patience. The problem with big game thinking is that there are so many sirens in the shape of adorable figure ranges out there that it still remains an affliction or curse!But on the other hand a source of immense pleasure

    1. Thankfully I am not too bad with the cult of the shiny 😄