The Wargamer's Guide to Print & Play War Games26 Aug 2019 1
I’ve started transitioning from miniature wargames to playing more board wargames. It’s been an interesting ride, but I’ve come to appreciate the amount of gaming you can get in an afternoon without the cost in time and money that miniatures demand. I’ve been having a blast with the new Command and Colors: Medieval for example. It gives my wife and I the same feeling of a big tabletop game at the cost of only a couple hours of stickering blocks. While the gaming is great, I will admit that I miss the creative aspect that miniature wargames brought; the building and painting of miniatures and constructing scenery for tables that made the game my own.
As we’re currently away from our home for summer work with only C&C: Medieval, and since we’ve been missing that creative aspect, My wife and I decided to dig into the world of Print and Play wargames. I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on something that we’d have to transport home, so with my years of miniature painting and assembly experience (and a much more coordinated and craft-savvy wife at my side) I’m sure it’ll be an entertaining experiment.
Heading over to BoardGameGeek.com, I first began searching for ‘Geeklists’ of popular P&P wargames. Being subject to, in my wife’s words, 'Shiny Object Syndrome' I wanted to download and print them all. Why not, right? For a fraction of the cost I could build up an entire collection of good wargames to keep us going while away from home. That was a little ambitious of me, so I decided on printing three games and putting them together in a variety of styles.
First of all is sorting through the components required for play. To that end I focused on a variety of periods that all had a small token count and preferably smaller maps. (That one didn’t last long). I then had to figure out how to go about printing and assembly before actually playing. There are some excellent guides to the tools and materials you can use to make excellent quality P&P games, and while I suggest you check out BGG if you want the nitty gritty, I’m going to give my own take to give you an idea of what to expect.
First of all, as I found out the hard way, you’re going to need a good pair of scissors. No matter the game, you’re going to be cutting map sections out of paper and counters out of cardstock or paper. To tackle foam board if you go that route, you will need an x-acto/hobby knife. Next, you will need a metal ruler. I grabbed a cork backed 30cm ruler to help me cut foam board straight and, bonus, to help me check line of sight in tactical level games. Third, solid glue. We went with Elmer’s bog-standard school glue, and while it’s generally held, I’d recommend something a little tougher, but not liquid. Liquid will wrinkle the paper and sometimes blot the ink. Dollar store dice and coloured beads for tokens rounded out our pregame purchases. (~ $15 CAD)
Valor and Victory - The Print Shop Method
Valor and Victory immediately jumped out to me. I’d had limited experience with Combat Commander and quite liked it. I was also always intrigued by the floating spectre of Advanced Squad Leader, but price and a lack of dedicated opponents stayed my hand. Valor and Victory (V&V) filled that same niche of squad and half-squad action while boasting simple rules, beautiful counters, and an incredibly active community.
I was able to download a single .zip file from BGG that contained everything I needed for two scenarios to test the waters. Armed with the files, I headed over to my local print shop, in this case a Staples and brought my ignorant self up to the counter for help. It is here that I ran into my first problem. Apparently, the rest of the planet has access to this thing called “A4” size paper. While we heathens in North America are subjected to US letter. This meant that most of the files that people post on BGG for P&P games are going to have to be resized if you live in the US (or like me, are only subjected to their odd paper sizing predilections) My local Staples apparently didn’t carry A4 sized paper, so instead she helped me pick out a larger size for the maps, and basic US letter for the counters. Both were printed on the thickest paper they had, which, while adequate for the counters, still meant a lot of give for the maps. Sticking the maps in an oversized envelope kept them safe though, while the tokens, once cut, fit into an easy ziplock baggie. As they are only single sided, all that was required of us was cutting the counters out and reading the rules.
V&V will probably become my go to WWII skirmish game. And that’s saying something. It’s light, bright, and fun. Turns operate in a standard IGO UGO with interruptions, rules for fire lanes, and a special movement rules which keep units from bogging down. The fire and suppression system really reward pinning enemies before moving in for the kill. It’s an easy to remember system that my wife and I got up and playing in about 20 minutes after putting it together. Some may find it simple, but with how little time I seem to have for gaming these days, I appreciate when simple doesn’t mean restricting. Content wise, with fan creations ranging from French forces to the Japanese, there’s a seemingly limitless number of scenarios to keep you going. All you have to do is download each nation’s counters and the maps needed for the scenario. As they tend to link up nicely, you’re getting a great batch of maps to use with the easygoing system. Cost for me in Canada to print the starter kit on nice paper was under $20, but getting the dozen plus maps and each nation’s soldiers will quickly add up.
Death or Victory: The French and Indian Wars - The Cereal Box Method
For those on an incredible budget, or those willing to skimp on production quality in order to get more games on the table, may I present the ‘cereal box’ method. Or rather, the cannibalizing cardboard from around the house while you print things on paper at home or at the office (they won’t notice). We decided to try this method on a low counter density game that required two sided counters, to see how viable it was when handling them repeatedly. Death or Victory is a strategic game of the French and Indian War that tries to simulate the logistical difficulty in fighting across North America.
Aside from the dollar store dice purchase, building Death or Victory cost me the ink three US letter pages used and the option to print out the player aids and rules. These counters are double sided and so the process of pasting one side of the counter to the cereal box, cutting them out as a whole, then applying the second layer to the back before cutting out each double sided counter, meant that it only took about 15 minutes total to have our pauper’s game up and running.
The game itself is quite fun and gets across the difficulty both Britain and France had waging war in the colonies in the 1750s. The French start out with a manpower advantage, but the British will eventually receive stronger reinforcements from the homeland as the game goes. Death or Victory uses an interesting chit pull system, in which every turn a player pulls a chit from their facedown pile. It will either have a reinforcement that can be deployed to certain locations or an event that will help or hinder. Playing with a randomized 2-4 actions a turn means your choices are difficult, and players will have to decide whether or not to go back for another pull or else spend that activation moving troops.
It is a simple concept, but as Canadians, it was interesting to see a game in which we could recreate the battle for the plains of Abraham within a larger strategic framework (this time, the British failed to scale the cliffs, and the French saw them off handily). I can definitely see us trying this one a few more times, given how different the experience seems to be for each side. Kudos to the designer Steve Kling.
Napoleon at Waterloo - The Regal method
Now that we’d tried the middling print shop paper route, and the cheap paper and cereal box method, we wanted to try something daring.
Looking around at some larger experiences, we settled on the classic SPI hex and counter beginner game Napoleon at Waterloo. The full rules and plenty of different iterations of the map and counters were available on BGG.com. We settled on the beautiful map and counters posted by Tim Allen. They gave a period feel and kept only the most important information on the counters. We felt we had to do the design justice. First, we printed the map across several pages, and painstakingly cut each so that they would line up properly. We then traveled to a local arts and crafts store, here in Canada we have Michael’s, and spent $10 on a sheet of sturdy foam board and $8 on some coincidentally perfectly sized lettered wooden chips for scrapbooking.
It was difficult to apply the pages to the foam board so that they lined up perfectly, but when we were finished, we had a massive and beautiful foamboard map of Waterloo. The counters were much more simple, cutting them out and gluing them to the scrapbook tokens took no time. The end result was great, in our opinion. The board was solid, the counters had weight, and the game played easily.
Napoleon at Waterloo is as classic a hex and counter wargame as one can get. The French have to exit enough units off of the north edge of the board while the Allies must inflict enough damage to break them. The strategy comes, in part, from the fact that adjacent units must fight, meaning that positioning yourself well could force an enemy unit into an unfavourable roll on the combat resolution chart. Napoleon at Waterloo is simple, elegant, and good fun.
Bonus with Bits! Battle for Moscow
We had some spare foam board after making Napoleon at Waterloo and decided we’d try another low counter density classic. This time we decided on Battle for Moscow. Beautiful new artwork by Robert Kurcina on BGG.com along with rules that allowed for a fast play game and a more detailed campaign made it an easy choice.
We applied the same procedure with it as Napoleon at Waterloo, though with fake Scrabble tiles, which were an additional $4 CAD from Michaels, and glued everything in place. Battle for Moscow seemed solvable, with a strong panzer push in the south quickly shattering the Russian line. Yet after a few plays, we found the battle often isn't decided until the final moments with the Germans just outside the city almost every time. Overall a simple but fun game which keeps tension high. The extended campaign continues the game after the Soviet counter attack begins.
Conclusion: Was it worth it?
Printing out and building these wargames was an interesting experience. While it didn’t really scratch the same itch that miniature wargaming does, I appreciated the possibility for personal touches and fan content that is harder for properly published games. It warms my heart to see how enthusiastic people are for Valor and Victory, and I’m considering plopping down good money for a ‘proper’ version from printandplaygames.com.
What P&P games do offer is the ability to try some interesting designs out without having to worry about a major investment. I had an excellent time with Death or Victory and it cost me perhaps a couple dollars in ink. I don’t think I’m willing to completely switch to home crafting my own games, but I’m happy that I’ve had the opportunity to try out some great games, and spend some quality time with my wife doing some old school arts and crafts.
Do you have any favourite Print & Play war games? Have any questions or advice? Let us know in the comments!