Thursday, 15 January 2015

Game Design #22: Best Selling Wargames

ICv2's Internal Correspondence #86 for Q4 2014:

#1. Warhammer 40K
#2. X-Wing
#3. Warmachine
#4. Star Trek Attack Wing
#5.  Hordes

Whilst the data has to be taken with a pinch of salt, it likely IS somewhat more comprehensive and accurate than your personal observations in your local hobby store (see logical fallacies).  

That said, here are some personal observations:

*I'm curious why #3 & #5 weren't combined (local players seem to play them as the one game) and where they would rate if they did.

*I had no idea the twisty-dial games were so popular. Though I do think clix games should be in the collectibles category.  I expected X-Wing to make the list, but not be #2. (Perhaps wouldn't if Hordes was added to Warmachine?). I wonder though if they will remain consistent (there has been a lot of clix games that have fallen by the wayside).  There must be more Trekkies out there than I thought, as well.  Admittedly I have been out of touch with gaming for about 6 months.

*Warhammer Fantasy is conspicuous by its absence. (It was 3rd behind Warmachine in 2012, 4th behind X-Wing in 2013).  Vague rumours suggest it makes up only 8% of GW sales.  Given how ruthlessly GW has pruned better games, it doesn't surprise me to hear rumours of a makeover, turning 9th ed into a skirmish-type Warmahordes scale game with round bases. Whilst the switch to skirmish from boring, expensive, painful-to-paint big unit blocks interests me, the gut feeling I have - that it will just be 40K with arrows  - does not.

*Who else would make the list, if it wasn't for the clix? (Prepainted "kiddy collectibles" aren't proper miniatures wargaming I say!).  Malifaux made 5th on 2011, 2012, but I cannot see it being more popular than Flames of War for that or any other year (Yes, I know what I said about personal opinions!).  Perhaps Battlefront handle their own distribution.

*OK, this list is officially cr*p.  Dark Heaven by Reaper coming 5th in 2009?  I don't think a rules system was even in print then. I refuse to believe role-players buying singles of Reaper figures had a bigger market share than, say LOTR:SBG, even if it was dying at the time. 

OK, now for "personal opinion"
Top Tier: 40K, Warmachine/Hordes, X-Wing
Second Tier: Flames of War, Bolt Action, Warhammer Fantasy
Third Tier: Malifaux, Infinity, Firestorm/Dystopian Wars.
Maybe there: Dropzone Commander, Bushido

Lessons Learned
What do we notice about these? (I'm semi-ignoring the clix games as they aren't a conventional miniatures game, and are as much akin to CCGs/boardgames.)

They all focus on MINIATURES (and "Oooh, Shiny!")
All of them have an accompanying miniatures range.
All have "boutique" pricing - i.e. minis 2-3x more $$$ than a similar historical mini
All have multiple, collectible "official" factions
All have a points-based "army builder" that encourages min-maxing unit combos (i.e. a list-building metagame)
All of them have extensive fluff.   There's a lot of shiny chrome.  The rulebooks are always polished.
They also focus on ACCESSIBILITY
Most have low equipment requirements (not much terrain, ordinary tape, D6s)
Most of them are 'supported' with (excessive) supplements, codexes, army books and rule revisions.
Most of them use "buckets of dice"
Most of them have rather simple mechanics with little math
All have limited record-keeping
Many of them share mechanics
Most of them are quite concrete (WYSIWYG, line of sight)
Most are points-based for one-off  'pick up' games rather than scenarios
Most of them give the player a lot of control (IGOUGO) free of interference (reaction fire, etc)
It's easy to find and buy the miniatures (online or in stores), and also to find out what you need to buy
Most games can be played in ~2 hours
All are dominant in their chosen fields = convenience in finding opponents

I find Infinity the interesting outliers in that they violate many of the "accessibility" rules, but on the other hand their market share is probably proportionately small. 

So if I was setting out to make money, I would:
*Make sure my rules were polished and include well written (proofread) fluff
*If I did not have a miniatures line, work with a specific miniatures manufacturer (feature their models through my rules); create some 'official' factions
*Use simple mechanics borrowed from existing games with little record keeping, time ~2hrs to play
*Include a points system for pick-up games (I'm looking at you, Ambush Alley Games!)
*Include a robust army builder so players can tinker (i.e. min-max) to their hearts content
*Support my rules by doling out new content in dribs and drabs

I wouldn't use IGOUGO, and I would allow reaction moves/fire (simply because I cannot sacrifice that much of my integrity!) as games seem to be finally moving on from that anyway.


  1. As we've discussed "Simple but.." is the king. (With lots of exceptions to the Simple)

    1. I think the theory of "Simple But..." requires an article of its own sometime

  2. Maybe move on from the concept of 'simple' vs 'complicated' rules to 'elegant' vs 'clunky' where elegance is a ratio of the work required from players to change the state of the game?

    1. Way back, I did a post on "decision points" (times players can change the state of the game) vs "resolution time" (time spent rolling dice, looking up rules - i.e. resolving those decisions.) Sounds a bit like what you are describing:

  3. I've to disagree concerning X-Wing. First, it's not a clix system as I understand it, as the wheely thing is used to give orders, not to track stats. Also, I think it indeed is a proper miniatures war-game :-) - the only way that it differs from others is that the minis are prepainted. It has a lot of very 'classical' mechanics, but wrapped in easily accessible way - for instance book keeping, there is quite a lot actually, but it looks nice so doesn't matter.
    Anyway, I have a soft spot for X-Wing because it got me back into miniature wargaming two years ago...

    1. Fair enough. I presume it's based on Wings of War, which was (for me, anyway) sold as a boardgame. I've never got into it because the pricing makes GW look generous.

    2. It is, but it's been redesigned top to bottom. It's still a dogfighting game with firing arcs and secret simultaneous movement orders, but virtually every specific mechanic has been changed.

  4. W-Wing does something very clever in that it makes preplanned movement a part of the fun of playing the game. Currently I consider it the crack-cocaine of miniature wargaming – I can get non-gamers to play it, which I thinks says a lot.

    1. I've been "out of the loop" lately since my toddler arrived on the scene, but it seems very popular locally. I didn't enjoy Wings of War nor the pricing so I thought I'd give this a miss... ...but I may have to get onto the bandwagon...

    2. I've a friend who came at X-Wing from the opposite direction from the non-gamers. He's a pretty serious boardgamer, and I've never seen him get really into miniature games. However he's now regularly taking part in X-Wing tournaments. I think it's the mix of a decent ruleset and a strong player base that does it for him.

  5. Warmhahordes is the most interesting of the top 3, and the one I know the least about. There are big scale advantages in wargaming. The ability to find opponents is absolutely key to a game. GW have built up scale over time. X-Wing has a massive intellectual property behind it (and one of the biggest publishers in the field). So how did privateer press grow their game(s)? The impression I get is that they were canny/fortunate with their timing, picking up a lot of disillusioned 40k players. I don't really know though.

    I think some of your factors can be rolled into: engagement outside of the game. A large part of this is modelling & painting, also engagement with other fluff material (novels, etc.) and producing a steady feed of new stuff to think and talk about. Regular major overhauls are good for creating this sort of engagement. It's also things like army building. After I first got into GW games, I'd spend qutie a lot of time simply writing army lists (normally with a massive points value). That's a particularly nerdy (and maybe slightly lonely) example, but the fact that 40k players can spend many hours devising, tweaking and talking over army lists makes for good player engagement. You could even argue that the dullness and lack of variety of the games themselves helps this, because you can make so many key decisions outside of the game, which turns into simply the spectacular culmination of your planning.

    1. now I see you have a whole post specifically dedicated to the out-of-game experience...

    2. Interestingly enough, I've very recently done posts on most of your points.

      Warmachine did indeed pick up many 40K players, as it is a much tighter competitive ruleset and victory isn't about lots of $$$ and googling a uberwtfbbqpwn army list. However I DO think it shares a lot with CCGs - in particularly, Magic the Gathering. Basically, the ideas between two very popular ideas (40K and MtG) + they rode the wave of steampunk (which was becoming hip at the time) with their fluff.

      In addition, like you I've also noticed that robust "out of game"experience is important for commercial success.

  6. I love your articles. As I said in another article, I'm working on a miniatures game, and I've been trying to figure out activation. I originally had a system where you play cards as an activation, to move or attack. Since you only get 4 actions a turn, this means at best you're going to move 4 units, or move and attack with 2 units. (This was partially inspired by the Heroclix limited activation mechanics). One problem I see with this is it ruins a "swarm: meta strategy (I had planned one faction in my game to be focused on swarms, I love swarms and know others do too).

    So, I was considering a IGOUGO, but I'm not sure I like that, and it feels like it'd give way too much power to swarm players, Then again, I guess it's a matter of balance, having the swarm units weak enough that they don't overpower.

    The game does have a reaction mechanic too (the game uses a small 1/2 unit grid, getting in a range closer than your opponent's (say, a dagger getting in range to attack of a guy with a sword) gets a free attack against them. A unit running out of the melee range of an enemy also gets a free attack against them. I guess then it's a hybrid IGOUGO with reactions.

    1. Every time a person makes a game with IGOUGO, it kills a fairy.

      Don't do it. There are a bazillion better methods.

      Why IGOUGO is cancer:

      Different types of activation explained:

      Random thoughts on topic:

    2. So even IGOUGO with reactions is bad?
      I should mention this is a pretty small-scale game, and a "swarm" is in the X-wing sense of 7 units compared to maybe 4-5 normal sized squad.

      One idea I have is maybe you can activate a number of points worth of units for each activation. One trick to this is, do I include upgrades on the units? I feel like I should. If so, it seems like the players would have to either remember the unit's total or do a lot of recounting. That could be annoying,.

    3. It depends, really, on what you are trying to achieve. IGOUGO isn't evil in itself, it's just used lazily a lot of times without any forethought.

      HOW and WHEN you activate is at least as important as the dice rolling mechanics to shoot/hit/damage so it's something you need to give thought to.

      Have a read of the "different types of activation" link and kind work out where yours fits in...