Why Do We Wargame; What Draws You To The Tabletop Hobby?

September 16, 2023 by brennon

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I was thinking about topics to talk about for this week's rambling Saturday scribbles (thanks @goban) and I tossed around a few ideas. I thought about another list of tips and tricks as well as a look at one of my favourite book series as a child and how it could be adapted to the tabletop. However, as I was tinkering, I started thinking more widely about wargaming and the tabletop hobby in general and thought about asking the question, Why Do We Wargame?

why do you wargame article coverimage

There are very few hobbies out there, especially in this day and age, that are quite so engrossing and all-encompassing as the tabletop hobby and wargaming in particular. Add to that the years and years that many of us have been engaged with the hobby (in my case since I was eleven!) and there must be some big reasons why we keep coming back to the tabletop to move little soldiers around the battlefield or stay up way too late putting the finishing touches to our latest miniatures.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share my answers to the above question (in no particular order of importance) and I encourage you to do the same in the comments down below!

Exploring New Worlds

I will always remember, being eleven or twelve years old and standing in the lunch line at school as my friend told me about the backstory of Warhammer 40,000. I had walked past Games Workshop a few times at my local shopping centre and always liked the look of the miniatures but I'd never been in. However, as I stood there, my friend explaining who the Eldar were and what a Space Marine was, I was unaware of just how deep I was going to go down the rabbit hole. Needless to say, that weekend I went through the doors of Games Workshop and picked up my first miniatures, a unit of Skaven Clanrats and an Eldar Farseer. Perfect partners, right?

bretonnian lizardmen

Warhammer 40,000 and then by extension, Warhammer Fantasy completely blew me away. I had been a lover of Fantasy stories since I was little and to know there were massive worlds like these just waiting to be explored (and I'd never heard of them!) was awesome. I was immediately absorbed in Codex and Army Books and reading issues of White Dwarf (well, the same two or three issues multiple times) and learned as much about it as I could. They were the perfect escapism and it helped that they felt a sneakily a bit more "grown-up" too. There was blood and gore, brutal alien factions and rampaging armies illustrated in such amazing ways in both books and in miniature form.

The world grabbed me and I think that's one of the things that has drawn me into more and more wargames as I learned about them over the years. It's awesome learning about the creativity going into the likes of the Industrial Fantasy of Warmachine or the Weird Wild West vibes of Malifaux. I'm always intrigued by the stories that people want to tell and the images that they in turn conjure in the mind. More modern examples would be the dark Fantasy of Rangers Of Shadow Deep or the frankly insane and quirky Turnip28!  What takes this to the next level is that unlike a book or a movie, wargaming then allows you to properly immerse yourself in these worlds and play around in the sandbox.

What's nice is that the lure of these different "worlds" isn't restricted to just the Fantasy and the Sci-Fi genre. Historical wargaming is essentially like exploring other worlds too and it's fascinating being presented with a new period to explore or perhaps one that you've heard about and always wanted to dive deeper into. You're not just relegated to reading about it and watching it either. You can dive into it. You can play out Thermopylae or the D-Day Landings and get a sense of what it could have been like to be experiencing those battles.

There's also the opportunity for tangential learning (I learnt that phrase and I will keep using it!). I can't think of one person who has been told about one battle or another, be it fictional or factual and has not gone off to Wikipedia to learn more about it. I absolutely love that wargaming and the hobby in general gets us going off into the unknown!

Solitary & Communal Hobby

Another element to why I think many folks wargame is the hobby side of things. I know that I dove into the hobbying side of things because it was a shared opportunity for me to do something fun with my brother. We used to sit and paint, make army lists and dream up ideas for armies we couldn't afford. By my reckoning, I think that means that this communal element to the wargaming hobby is another keystone when it comes to why I love doing what we do.

wargaming tournament

Even if a lot of us do our painting in private, sitting with an audiobook or movie, some of us sit with friends around a video call or perhaps in stores/clubs, chatting away as we do. I now have a slot each week for a few hours where I sit down with two other friends and work on my painting. It's a great way to hone in and focus on getting projects done. Some of us don't get that luxury but we do share our miniature painting online and I think there's a great sense of community baked into what we do. Yes, there are some bad apples in the batch but I think that in general there is a very accepting crowd out there eager to say "oh cool, how did you do that?". For the most part, it seems like people are happy to see what you're doing and encourage others.

The other side to the painting side of wargaming that I think draws people in is the private element of it that I mentioned above. With hectic work and family lives, there is something quite nice about being able to put yourself in a shed or at the dining room/coffee table once or twice a week with a cup of tea (or something stronger) to just create. I know that I love sitting over my painting desk and just tinkering away on things. It could be making a few miniatures, painting up a full unit or it could just be touching up bases.

From a mental health point of view, I think this is massively beneficial. When I was at university and shortly after coming back from it, I had a few issues that I was trying to deal with and there were very few of my hobby exploits that helped quite as much as sitting at the painting table and working on miniatures. Playing on video games was fine and all but I'd get stuck into repetitive loops where I'd do the same thing over and over again with little change in the the final result. Painting and hobby ended up being different because I was taking something that was essentially a pile of bits and bobs and turning it into something I put on the mantlepiece and be proud of. There was also the added bonus that I could take it down to the local store and play games with my friends!

Social Contracts & Community

Whether it’s a close-knit group of friends, a local club, or an online forum, the social bonds formed around wargaming are enduring and meaningful, especially in my experience. The shared passion for strategy and history creates a camaraderie that transcends age, background, and geography. In a world that often feels increasingly fragmented, the simple act of gathering around a table to engage in intellectual competition is a refreshing exercise in human connection.

historicon photo

I've mentioned it a little already when it comes to the hobby side of things but it can't be overstated just how fun it can be to be part of the wargaming and tabletop community. I made friends at university and college but twenty-odd years later, my closest friend group aren't those people, it's the people that I sat in a cold garage with on a Saturday night eating pizza and playing our own version of Inquisitor in 28mm.

I think a lot of that comes from the fact that the wargaming hobby is one where you're investing a lot of your time and energy. So, having people around you who understand that and get as excited about it as you can be great! Additionally, from a wargaming perspective, you're also signing that social contract with someone else that you're going to sit across the tabletop from them for two hours and play a game together. You shake hands and (hopefully) have a great laugh as you push toy soldiers around a tabletop. You might even go to the pub together after and chat about it! I also love that so many folks will just enjoy the excuse to hang out together. I've spent entire afternoons playing half a game but then loving the fact that I'm just sitting with my friends chatting away and having a laugh.

Again, even with some bad apples out there that you most certainly wouldn't go to the pub with, I think a lot of us get something out of sharing our passions with those who are equally as passionate. I spend a lot of time with my friendship group talking about the hobby but I think one of the things I want to do to enhance the community side of things is go to more tournaments and gatherings. I know a lot of people in the Middle-earth Strategy Game world really enjoy the tournaments they go to and I want a slice of that! I guess I better get a fun army together.

Final Thoughts

I recently moved away from the town that I grew up in and where a lot of my tabletop gaming friends live. My pals aren't massively far away but I think this is why I thought that now would be a good time to revisit my thoughts on wargaming and why we do what we do. I've not done much board or card gaming since I moved and I do a little bit of roleplaying but what I do get stuck into is painting miniatures every week and discussing wargames. As regular as clockwork I sit and paint miniatures every Thursday with my friends. I am also constantly not only engaging with the wargaming hobby through work but also chatting to friends throughout the day on social networks about what we're painting next, the latest news and what projects we want to tackle next.

salute convention

I get constantly excited when I see new miniatures and new games, especially when I see new sculptors and designers stepping into the tabletop world. As I mentioned above, a lot of it comes from the passion that these people show for their creations. People get excited to show off their new sculpts of a Historical figure or a badger smoking a pipe! What other hobby can do that?!

I think I also really like that the wargaming hobby as a whole is still, in reality, quite a niche one. People who are new to the hobby and people who are die-hard veterans are still discovering new corners to explore and when they do find those fun new pockets of shiny stuff, they're nearly always excited to see what people do with it.

There has been a distinct surge of new people doing amazing and creative things in the hobby and having real fun with it of late. This week alone I added a handful of new creators, hobbyists and such to my YouTube subscriptions and follows on Instagram. The constant creative development of the hobby is intoxicating, especially as we start to see old ideas become the new "big thing" or more people beginning to feel like they can share their work more widely through social networks and websites like ours.

Anyway, that's enough rambling from me. Now I turn it over to you. Why do YOU love the wargaming hobby so much?

Share your stories in the comments!

Images From Warhammer Community, Bedwell Community Centre & HistoriCon

"...there must be some big reasons why we keep coming back to the tabletop to move little soldiers around the battlefield"

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"Why do YOU love the wargaming hobby so much?"

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