Lassoing Your Friends Into The Wild West – A Great Period To Start Historical Wargaming?

September 30, 2023 by brennon

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At OnTableTop, we've often pondered on the best ways to get into Historical wargaming. We even did a whole Cult Of Games episode about it. After mulling it over for a while and muttering about the toss-up between the Dark Ages and World War II, I think I've come down on the side of something entirely different. What about the Wild West?

wild west wargaming coverimage

The Wild West, with its tales of peril and promise, has always captured our imagination. It's a world where heroes and villains are often indistinguishable, and where every sunset promises a new adventure. If the echoes of gunshots and the thrill of duels excite you, then Wild West wargaming might just be your next obsession.

From The Silver Screen To Gaming Table

The dramatic panoramas and rich characters of Western films provide ample inspiration for wargaming. Think of the sprawling deserts of The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly or the high-stakes defence of a vulnerable town in The Magnificent Seven. Visualise translating the tension of these movies into an engaging gaming scenario. This is where you can easily get lassoed into wargaming in the Wild West, especially if you're someone who's never really looked at Historical wargaming before.

the good the bad and the ugly

Everyone, at one point in their lives, has seen a Western movie. It could be one of those classics that we mentioned above or something a bit more modern like 3:10 To Yuma (the remake with Christian Bale) or True Grit (again, the remake...I know there's an original!). Heck, you've even got 90s "classics" like The Quick And The Dead. Even if you've not seen a classic Western, you might have stumbled upon something like Cowboys And Aliens, Back To The Future III or played a video game like the Red Dead series. My point is, that everyone has a touchstone that they can look at when it comes to the Wild West.

The premise then becomes simple when it comes to gaming on the tabletop in the Wild West, even for a newcomer. There are the Outlaws and the Lawmen and they're duking it out in the middle of a frontier town, having just robbed the bank. On one side are the grizzled (but perhaps misunderstood) outlaws and on the other you have the stoic (and perhaps corrupt!) lawmen who are trying to stop them.

true grit

The scene is immediately set for a fun game without having to do too much thinking. Heck, if you don't want to come up with your own scenarios you could always just pick out a sequence from one of the movies we've just mentioned and turn that into your games. Action sequences become your missions that you play out on the tabletop. The notorious train sequence from 3:10 To Yuma or the town shootout from Open Range can offer ready templates.

knuckleduster gunfighters ball

Another bonus to taking your adventures from the silver screen is that you either already have characters built for you to embody or it's pretty easy for someone to come up with an idea for their characters as they get stuck into shootouts. Everyone knows the stereotypes of the Wild West genre. The toothless prospector, the fat bank owner, the loner desperado with the poncho or the moustachioed lawman with the trench coat and no-nonsense attitude.

black scorpion tombstone

This also leads to another plus of this being your potential entry point into Historical wargaming. You don't have to take it too seriously if you don't want to. There's plenty of fun to be had diving into wargaming the Wild West with a more serious edge if you look at particular individuals but there is nothing wrong with taking the "movie" attitude and using that as your inspiration. It makes the period feel a lot more inviting and less like a new player could get something wrong!

Crafting Your Frontier

Another plus of wargaming in the Wild West is that it might be one of the best periods to dive into from a cost standpoint. There are very few Wild West games out there that are going to ask you to get your hands on loads and loads of plastic, metal and resin. Most of the time, you're painting up a handful of men (such as those from the plastic Gunfighters Box by Great Escape Games) and even your tabletops aren't going to be massive.

dead mans hand

With a lot of wargames, particularly Historical ones, potentially asking you to build 6x4 tables, some Wild West games are played out on tabletops as small as 2x2. At its biggest, you're not going to be building something more than 4x4 unless you're going to be diving into some epic train robbery (I reckon that needs to be done now)!

This also leads to not needing a massive amount of terrain. A few buildings and a host of scatter terrain would be perfect for a skirmish between two gangs. Heck, if you went out beyond the bounds of a frontier town then some rocky outcrops, some tents and a bunch of fences to mark the boundaries of someone's land could also turn into a fun landscape to battle over. The point is, it shouldn't be that hard for you and some friends to dive in and get a tabletop together without much effort.

If you want to go beyond that classic main street duel then the Wild West also invites you to be inventive. We've already mentioned a train robbery but what about robbing a mine, holding up stagecoaches on the road or battling your way through a fort held by soldiers? So many ideas, so little time!

Where To Begin?

With all that being said, where to begin? What games are out there that would be worth looking into? I have put together a few ideas to maybe help you get started when it comes to games and also ranges...

This is by no means an exhaustive list of companies, games and miniature ranges that you can dive into but it should get you started and give you an idea of the types of games out there. Most of them are quick, fun affairs where the emphasis is on getting into the action and doing plenty of shootouts! That's what you want when you're being invited into a new game and I think all of these offer that.

wild west exodus

It's also worth noting that if you're into your Wild West but you want to come in via the Weird route, there are a few options too. Dead Man's Hand has a horror supplement and Blackwater Gulch also includes rules for throwing in monsters and such. You might even want to go a little quirkier than that and look at games like Wild West Exodus or Dracula's America.

It would be great to hear some more suggestions in the comments below when it comes to Wild West wargaming and whether or not you agree. Is this actually the best way to get someone interested in Historical wargaming?

Drop your thoughts below!

"The notorious train sequence from 3:10 To Yuma or the town shootout from Open Range can offer ready templates..."

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"What games are out there that would be worth looking into?"

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