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Posted on Dec 12, 2005 in Stuff We Like

Gateway Wargames: Top 10 Ways to Recruit New Players

By Johnny L. Wilson

There comes a time in the life of every serious wargamer when opponents are not readily available, play-by-email seems unsatisfactory, and one should not leave the house (whether because of stormy weather on the roads or in one’s relationships). At such a time, many a wargamer has wished that it was possible to recruit a new wargame opponent from: a significant other, a spouse, a child, a sibling, or a friend who only plays Euro-games.

Of course, it is not going to be likely that one can successfully recruit this new blood by unfolding the maps for Europa or Advanced Third Reich. The size of the maps and the proliferation of cardboard counters is likely to be intimidating, even before the potential recruit takes a gander at the rules volumes. Frankly, if one wants to "push" wargames, there needs to be some gateway games to pull our friends and loved ones into the hobby. The following games are suggestions from a wargamer who has had both success and failure in the wargame recruiting business.


Many of the games are out of print, but they are still worth picking up on eBay, via online stores that specialize in used games, and at convention auctions. We offer this article at this particular time because we assume that our readers are like the author. He has been known to give Christmas and birthday presents to his family and friends when he wanted to play the games himself. That’s a very good strategy.

#10 Naval Card Games


Card games have the advantage of looking simple. If your potential recruit likes to play traditional card games that require taking tricks or melding runs or books in order to score, the barrier of entry for these types of games is not high. I personally recommend Atlantic Storm (Avalon Hill) and Battlegroup: 1939-1945 (Lost Battalion Ggames) as the best because they offer distinct objectives within game play other than those which are primarily "Sink the Ship" games like Naval War (AH) and Modern Naval Battles (originally 3W, now One Small Step). They have the advantage of introducing strategy without looking complex and the rules are usually relatively short. Games like Blue vs. Gray (GMT), Enemy in Sight (AH), The Last Crusade (Pinnacle), the Rise of the Luftwaffe series (GMT) and Up Front! (AH) may look like simple card games at first glance, but they require an additional level of commitment than the first four mentioned. Even Pacific Typhoon (GMT), by Atlantic Storm designer Ben Knight, may have added too many new rules to be a good "gateway" game for your potential recruit. If your friend, offspring or spouse dislikes the recommended card games, you’re probably sunk.

Good naval card games can introduce new gamers to
the concepts of combined arms and historical units
without the intimidation factor of hexagons
and counters.

#9 Circus Minimus

circusmin.JPGAlthough Circus Minimus (The Gamers/Multiman Publishing) is not a war game in one sense (establishing a front or air/sea superiority), it is a combat simulation. It requires one to procure weapons and, when advantageous, directly attack the other drivers. The rules are simple and illustrated in color. This game offers the advantage of having players move counters around a large map so that they get used to the idea of using counters for bookkeeping. It has plenty of chrome related to the historical era and offers excellent balance in terms of trade-offs between speed/maneuverability and attacks/double-crosses. Circus Minimus can be played more than once in a full afternoon or night of gaming. Since it can accomodate from 2-7 players, it can be unleashed on unsuspecting friends who come over for dinner or on an entire family. Of course, if your spouse or significant other catches you with the "Entertainment the Night Before" counter, you may need the "Appeal to the Gods" counter to get back in her good graces.

Circus Minimus presents the challenge of ancient
chariot races (it wasn’t just the Romans, even though
we associate chariot racing with Ben Hur and the famous
Circus Maximus) in a relatively fast-paced multiplayer
game. The game lets you attack other "drivers" with
whips, rocks and dirty tricks, as well as teaching players
the basics of board wargaming (using counters as units
and for bookkeeping, consulting tables for results,
and trading off advantages/disadvantages to modify die rolls).

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