Friday 10 May 2013

What defines a skirmish game?

I've just been reading a rather interesting post over on House of Paincakes. The author Cedric is talking about the current proliferation of new games, at least in part driven by Kickstarter. He talks about what happens when you want to try something new but nobody else does. What do you do? Abandon the idea? Do two (or more) factions yourself?

Often the cost of a single faction for any given system can be the most an individual can afford, leading to a number of commentators suggesting playing skirmish games like SAGA, as the cost of entry is lower.

And that brings me to my point. What defines a "skirmish" as opposed to a "wargame"?

Wikipedia defines skirmish games this way.

For myself, I'd suggest that the generally accepted view is that skirmish games are where:
  1. the number of figures required is substantially lower
  2. (as a consequence) the cost of entry is lower
  3. the figure scale is typically 1:1 - individual figures are "units"
  4. (as a consequence) the level of characterisation is substantially higher
The interesting thing for me was that Cedric's opening put these types of games almost in opposition to GW's various Warhammer flavours (hereafter "Warhammers").

To me, the Warhammers ARE skirmish games and here's why:
  1. figures are based individually
  2. there are lot of characters who act individually
  3. the figure scale is 1:1
  4. an "army" in reality consists for a couple of hundred models (at the extreme)
BUT conflictingly (at least for Warhammers):
  1. there is a high level of characterisation
  2. the cost of entry is anything but low
So are Warhammers skirmish games? If not, what are they? And if they ARE skirmish games, what does that make SAGA (or anything else of that size)? They may well both BE skirmish games but it means that you're defining "skirmishes" in very broad terms...

OK, semantic rant over ;-)

Have I missed something blindingly obvious? Comments? Thoughts?



  1. I think as soon as you rank up a unit - its no longer a skirmish game.
    To me a skirmish game means moving single figures about. So WFB is not a 'skirmish' game, but 40K is.
    To be honest I have found a fair expense in skirmish games too, as although you may only have to buy your 'faction' (EotD/LotHS etc) to play the game, the scenarios often require other background civilian types too..., but hey I like collecting and painting the models and its no where near as expensive as the 'GW hobby'

    1. Scott, that's an interesting point you make about "ranks". SAGA uses groups of up to a dozen figures which often end up more than one deep (just as one example). Does that constitute ranks? Maybe it would be more appropriate to say "structured formation" (as opposes to crowd or loose formation)?

      I know you play a lot of LotR. I assume you consider that a skirmish game, even though there are troop types like pike - which are useless from a weapon perspective when used in a loose formation...

    2. I have only played Saga once a while back. It felt a bit like a something 'inbetween' as I recall moving a few 'blocks' of troops about...
      I have played a fair amount LOTR SBG and its indeed a skirmish game, even though there are mechanisms for 'ranking up' supports, as you have to move individual models to position... theres no wheeling units about or anything like that...

  2. Maybe I should have been clearer in my definition of "Warhammers". I agree Fantasy is less of a skirmish game for the reasons stated. 40K however, I think is very much one.

  3. Millsy, there is a good bit to chew on here. Some of the traditionalists disdain the rise of skirmish games. But we should ask ourselves, why have they become so popular of late? As someone who just jumped on the bandwagon, the low unit count is a big plus. Variety is a big plus. Ease and speed of rules a big plus. We're a bit slow here locally (hold the comments) but lately, SAGA has just exploded. And some Bolt Action and other skirmishy games. They're here to stay, I think!


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