A Beginner’s Guide to Wargaming
For anyone just breaking into the world of Wargames, starting out can be truly daunting! These aren’t like any other games out there, and going into many with a “beer and pretzels” mindset will ensure that you lose, and if you aren’t sure why you’re losing, could even cause you to become discouraged, leave, and miss out on all the fun and learning involved! This is a brief, basic guide to several main tenets to always have in mind when playing, which will apply to everything from your most basic, “Beer and Pretzels” games, all the way off of the deep end of the more “hardcore” offerings out there.

Always keep these priorities in mind:


#1. Your mission-

What are you attempting to accomplish, and how much time (usually measured in turns) do you have to achieve it? Are you assaulting a fixed enemy position, or attempted to delay an enemy advance while keeping your own casualties to a minimum for future battles? Knowing and understanding your mission is the first step to realizing how to best use your force to achieve victory.

#2. Your forces-

Most wargame scenarios include a wide variety of units, and most have areas in which they excel, along with weaknesses that you’ll need to protect! For example, a high caliber anti-tank gun may be your best bet for knocking out enemy tanks at a long range while keeping it concealed, however if it’s spotted and assaulted by enemy infantry, chances are that it won’t last long. Firing away at a heavy enemy tank with a lighter tank of your own is usually guaranteed to be a bad idea, while sending a heavy tank of your own up close to a building which may be hiding enemy infantry is a recipe for disaster if they possess any decent anti-tank weaponry!

Learning how to best use the units at your disposal is a major part at becoming adept in wargaming!

#3. Reconnaissance-

The best way to guess at what your enemy’s plan is, is to put your own “lighter” units, usually geared for this purpose, into positions which allow you to watch the moves they are making. Scouting an enemy position can reveal weak points, and also where their forces are concentrated, both of which can be vital knowledge for achieving victory. If you can see your opponent making an advance that they think is concealed, you can set up a nasty ambush for that advance and not only wreck his day, but potentially disrupt his plan badly enough to prevent him from winning. On the reverse, proper reconnaisance could also detect an ambush waiting for your own forces, which could then be dealt with, reducing his own forces while bringing you own to bear as planned.

#4. Time, tied in with Terrain-

While this one sounds obvious, it’s one of the most overlooked by novices- I know I didn’t use it to my advantage! In most wargames, “time” is usually measured in how many turns you have to complete your objective, and for many new players, it seems as if there just isn’t ever enough. I remember for the longest time in my games, I’d end up unleashing a risky, sometimes suicidal assault way too early in the game due to believing the turn limit was forcing me into such a plan, or thinking I wouldn’t have enough time left if I moved my forces into their proper positions first. Part of this was due to being too impatient to really read and utilize the terrain to my advantage. Thoughts such as “I’ll have to go a few hexes out of my way to use that road, and then it’ll only allow me a few extra hexes per turn, surely that isn’t worth the hassle and I might as well just keep plowing through this forest instead” were pretty common, and so I ended up having my poor virtual soldiers charging machine gun nests head on in a vain effort to take that last victory hex, which of course the damned game just wasn’t giving me enough time to do correctly. ALWAYS inspect your map before you even begin your first turn, and figure out the fastest and most effective route(s) to wherever you want to move. On the reverse, if you’re holding down a position under attack, do the same as if you were your advancing opponent, to get a better idea of where they’ll be coming from.

#5. More Terrain-

Another often confused idea is that of “Cover and Concealment”. These two are NOT the same things! “Cover” generally means a protected hex/position, maybe in a forest or behind a wall/fortification, etc. Cover generally conceals as well, but concealment does not always double as “cover”! The best analogy of this that I’ve heard ties in with Paintballing. Imagine if, during a paintball match, you wanted to sneak up on the opposing team. Crawling behind a bush could make for excellent cover so long as you’re quiet, as the bush could block the view of anyone who would otherwise see you. However, if someone were to hear you crawling around and start firing away into the bush, you’d learn quickly and painfully that while it did work well for concealment, the bush was a terrible excuse for “cover”. Keep this in mind, as in many wargames terrain that does work well for concealment (tall grass or etc) won’t actually give you any defensive benefit at all if fired into.

#6- Have Fun-

This one sounds obvious and out of place, but do keep it in mind! Many of these games can seem overly complex at first (and some are), and sometimes the best way to learn them is to just boot up a scenario (maybe one you aren’t too interested in if you don’t want to “ruin the surprise” of some that you are) and start playing with them. This is how I’ve learned to hold my own against the AI in Talonsoft’s Operational Art of War (now re-released in a great package at matrixgames.com), which was the first “deep end” wargame that I got into. Just playing around with the game, and looking up anything you don’t understand in the manual as you go along, can help you to learn the system in even the more complex offerings out there.




Wargaming to me is about history coming alive.  That’s the main fascination for me, being able to see and actually manipulate an historical event and in doing so gain insight as to why it happened the way it did, and maybe even a better understanding of how such an event was brought about to happen in the first place.

My fascination with history really started back in 1995, when I was 12 years old.  I bought a game for my old Mac called “Red Baron”, which I now consider my favorite game of all time, and was almost solely responsible for the passionate interest I have today. The game was a flight simulator based in World War I, allowing you to fly a full career through the course of the war for either Great Britain or Germany, and to this day has the most top notch dynamic campaign ever to be seen.  I also spent loads of my time reading the wealth of WWI air combat history included in the game manual and game itself.  I was the only 6th grader I’ve ever known who had heard of a “Fokker Eindecker”, or names such as “Manfred von Ricthofen”, “Albert Ball”, “Frank Luke”, and etc.  By the end of that school year I hadn’t actually learned a thing in class, but could give a brief history of how and when wars began to be fought in the skies.


This of course led to an obession with historical flight sims, which is what I spent virtually every free moment of my “fat kid” days (roughly from the 6th grade through the 8th) doing. From Red Baron to Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat to even Microsoft Flight Sim 4.0, I played the hell out of them all and would get up the next day just to do the same.  The Yeager game also had a well-written manual with loads of historical info in it, and it wasn’t long until I could tell the differences in performance between a P-51 and Focke-Wulf 190 (the 2 main WWII aircraft featured), and learned about everything from B-17s to Messerschimdt 262s.  Now to fast-forward a few years…

It must have been some time in 1998 or 99 when I first bought a game titled “West Front”.  This was produced by the late, great Talonsoft company, and I really had no idea what I was getting into with it but was on a major WWII kick after seeing Saving Private Ryan.  Conveniently, the back of the game box displayed a full-spread screenshot of a scenario map of Omaha Beach on the Normandy coast, so I bought the game.  I’d played some turn based wargames before, Allied General and similar “lite” stuff, but this one would be my introduction into the realm of “hardcore” PC wargames. 

At first, I couldn’t figure out how to do anything right in the damned game.  I was trying to play it like the less advanced but similar looking games I’d played before, was failing miserably, and had no idea why, until I was finally wised up by an article written by Glenn Saunders (of wargaming fame) on “Reconnaisance in Talonsoft’s West Front”.  I simply hadn’t understood how the whole game system worked, or even realized the complexity of it all, and after this article and the scenario that came along, I was playing the game in a whole new way.  Granted, I still sucked at it, but was at least able to do some damage to the programmed opponent instead of just getting slaughtered without any idea of why.  I wound up playing this game, and further games in the same series, fanatically throughout my high school years, and through them gained at least a basic understanding of the tactical doctrines of various nations during WWII and why they either worked, failed, or worked at one point and failed at another.  I also learned how to identify unit counters marked with NATO symbols thanks to this game, which would really come in handy on some upcoming games I would get into.

No matter how many I bought, I just kept finding more and more, and will probably be nostalgic toward the majority of my wargame collection until the end of my days.  Talonsoft’s Battleground series and The Operational Art of War, Combat Mission 1-3, the HPS Squad Battles series, MadMinute Games’ Take Command series, and even Europa Univeralis II have all been motivators in my desire to learn about the history that the games were based upon.