Year in Review: Miniature Games

As enthusiastic as I am about the current state of the RPG market, I’m equally excited for the miniature gaming market. 2017 was an awesome year for miniature games. My biggest challenge for this year was narrowing it down as there were a ton of great releases. That’s really something if you take into account how hard it is to bring a miniature game to life. Beyond the design and fab of the miniatures, there are rules, art, and accessories that have to be taken into account (although one of my winners for this year is bucking that issue).
9. Warhammer 40,000 (8th Edition; Games Workshop) – Games Workshop has 9 lives. Seriously. Warhammer 40K was definitely on a downward trajectory and the fans were in open rebellion. And then they start paying attention to their fans again, throw themselves completely into the product launch and ensure that no matter your level of experience or cost sensitivity, there’s a way for you to get in. While the game isn’t really my cup of tea anymore, this release is amazing.
8. Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago (Osprey Games – $19) – I love Frostgrave. I know it’s a bit swingy and I know that the original rules could use some clean-up. Doesn’t matter. The game is just plain fun. And taking the setting and moving it, cleaning up the rules and adding lots of new characters and options? Yeah. That’s complete win for me. While this particular theme/setting isn’t my favorite, I’m super excited about this game.
7. Aristeia (Corvus Belli – $70) – If this list was made up of the games I’ve played the most this year, Infinity would be #1. By far. I discovered the game earlier in the year and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s pretty much everything I’ve ever really wanted in a miniature game. Aristeia? This is the first legitimate attempt I’ve seen at a sports game with active support, continuous updates and a reasonable play time. There are other sports games I love more, but this one just plays faster and with the Infinity universe as the background, it’s definitely a winner.
6. Dracula’s America (Osprey – $13) – The western theme just doesn’t get enough love in miniature games. When Gutshot came out, I was super-excited to play throw down with some gunslingers. Dracula’s America gives you that great western feel. With vampires. And demons. And Colonel Sanders as a necromancer. And campaign play. Seriously, there’s something wrong with you if you don’t love this game.
5. Blood Bowl (Games Workshop – $85) – I’ve loved just about every edition of Blood Bowl that’s been released. Take the Warhammer Fantasy universe (not Age of Sigmar), amp up all the silly aspects, throw in some rugby and you get an intensely fun way to spend 2+ hours. I’ve bought every single one of the newly released teams and lovingly painted them. Every. Single. Team. It’s fair to say that Guild Ball is a better game (is is), but very few games make me smile like Blood Bowl does.
4. Necromunda (Games Workshop – $100) – This is one of the most beloved franchises in Games Workshop’s history. This new release seems to have been an early success for GW, but it’s a real test for them. After having released Shadow War and Blood Bowl in the same year as 8th edition, it remains to be seen if GW can handle so many different properties at one time (history has shown that they struggle in this area). That said, this release is gorgeous, the rules are great and the early support is terrific.
3. Shadow War: Armageddon (Games Workshop – $44+) – This is the release that got me back into the GW fold (besides Blood Bowl…). 40K is fundamentally too big a game for me at the moment – I just don’t have the interest in large-scale tactics with those mechanics. What I really wanted was the ability to play with all my existing models in a skirmish scale game. And maybe some campaign play. Shadow War delivers on this front. In spades. My only concern is that it’s going to fall to the wayside now that Necromunda is released once more.
2. Osprey Games – Osprey has done something that didn’t seem feasible a few years ago: they’ve started releasing awsome miniature game rules without releasing miniatures. And even weirder: people are buying them! Frostgrave, Dracula’s America, Gaslands, Rogue Stars and a host of others take advantage of the fact that many of us already have a ton of minis. These miniature games are well done, well priced and lots of fun. Osprey has absolutely been killing it throughout 2017.
1. Shadespire (Games Workshop – $60) This is the first of the Games Workshop boardgames that really succeeds as a board game in my opinion. The others are fun, but with the exception of Gorechosen, don’t really feel like a board game. Shadespire does this and more. It combines non-stop interesting decisions with great visuals and clever rules. You get strategic deck building, gorgeous models, and clever tactical battles. This has already become one of my most played games of 2017 (yes, I have all the teams and they’re all painted….) and I will be surprised if that changes in 2018.
I also wanted to highlight one loser in the miniature game category for 2017:
Loser: Runewars (FFG – $100) – Low-quality minis, rank and file combat and a universe that players just can’t get interested in. I’m not sure who greenlit this project, but I just don’t understand how it made it into production. I noticed during the annual FFG Black Friday sale, the line was already in heavy discounts. It’s not enough to be a terrific board game publisher to get into the miniature game market – you need to actually understand the market. This release is my biggest concern about the upcoming Star Wars Legion game (please don’t suck, please don’t suck….).

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