If you spend any amount of time in your FLGS (friendly local game store) you will eventually hear a discussion (sometimes getting quite heated) about which is the best tabletop game. Some people will argue that the most popular games are the best, as a wider range of players means it is better. Others will prefer the game they think has the tightest ruleset, allowing everyone to play with minimal questions or debates. There will be people who prefer the most accurate or authentic game, and people who still wax nostalgic about the game they grew up with or were introduced to the hobby with. These discussions can last for hours, and often all parties leave feeling down as they were not able to sway opinions to agree that their favourite game is the best there ever was.
The issue with this question is that the answer is subjective. There is no “best game”, only good games. I will point out that from here on in this article, I will be speaking from personal opinion, but I will try to remain objective. But the fact that my opinion will influence my writing is the best answer in itself. I have played many different games over my 15 years, starting with Warhammer 40k, moving to and through Warhammer Fantasy, Mordheim, Warmachine and Hordes, Lord of the Rings, X-Wing, Star Wars Armada, and returning to most of them several times. I’d like to think that at each time, each game was the best game for me to play for a variety of reasons, but I’m a realist enough to know that they probably weren’t.
At my local game store, the most popular game is Warhammer 40k. Over the entire time I have played tabletop games, it has always been the most prevalent game in the local area. Does this mean it is the best game? Does this mean it is a better game than others? The answer to both questions is a resounding no. The most popular game can hold that title for a variety of reasons. In my local area, there are 2 obvious reasons why it is.
First and foremost is stock availability. Australia has very few tabletop games created and produced locally, this means that almost every single model is imported, and this adds to the cost of everything. Commonly referred to as the “Australia Tax” in the community, it dramatically changes how people play their games. Due to everything being more expensive, people are less likely to dabble in other games, as the setup costs (rulebooks, special dice, etc) are duplicated. Whereas playing a different army/faction/team in a game you are already playing, means that it can be significantly cheaper than trying a new game.
This extra cost also dramatically affects the community growth, as people feel they need to “defend” their choice of their investment in any particular game, meaning that lots of communities are likely to contain several people who can only be described as diehard fans. This “Australia Tax” means that bigger companies, that can import larger quantities of stock at more economical prices, can flood the market and be the most attractive game to start out with. Retailers are definitely going to recommend the game that can turn the most profit for them, so that will likely end up being the one that has the best markup. I want to point out that there is nothing wrong with this, without tabletop gaming retailers, we would all have no FLGS to play and hang out at. But with great power comes great responsibility, so retailers have a large part to play in promoting any particular game in a community.
And this leads into the second obvious reason why Warhammer 40k is the most popular game in my local area. The guy who owns and runs the gaming store plays it. Now, in his defense, he does play almost every game that he stocks, or at least knows the rules and details well enough to make informed decisions and offer good advice. The few games that he doesn’t actively play, he has reliable people he can lean on for advice. But, the main game he plays is Warhammer 40k, and that is where his passion lies. So when a brand new player comes into his store, looking to get into a tabletop game, what game do you think he will recommend. He does this for two reasons, firstly a new player in the hobby means that the community grows and there are more people for him to play against, and secondly it is a product range that he knows very well, and as such, a product range he can make money off.
Now he is an absolutely stand up guy and has been involved in the hobby for longer than I can remember, and I have nothing but respect for him, but he is biased towards the game he plays the most. And there is nothing wrong about that. If I have a family member/friend/colleague/random person on the street, ask me for my recommendation for a tabletop game, I will be saying whatever game I am playing currently (Age of Sigmar at the moment), because that is what I know and am enjoying at the time. But after my default response, I will usually try to find out more about what the family member/friend/colleague/random person on the street is interested in and why they are keen to start tabletop wargaming.
There are a multitude of different reasons to play a tabletop wargame, some people enjoy the strategy and tactics, some enjoy the recognition and camaraderie of the painting and hobby side, some people just need an excuse to go and hang out with their mates. And each of these reasons will influence which game they will choose to play.
Personally there are two main things I look for in a game, community and ruleset. Yes, I enjoy the painting and modelling part of the hobby. Yes, I enjoy the narrative and lore behind the models. But at the end of the day, what I enjoy most is a competitive environment, and to get that the game I’m playing needs a good ruleset and a good community. Each of these by themselves is useless, the best ruleset in the world is pointless if you don’t have anyone to play against. And you’ll be consistently frustrated trying to play a competitive game with a bad ruleset, no matter how many fresh opponents you can find.
Over the years this has changed for me, as new editions or games have come out, people moved away or arrived, even as certain players jumped to and from different games. I’m lucky that where I live has a very tight knit community, so everyone knows everyone and it is easy to find out the benefits of the different games, without the significant financial investment.
Currently, I am playing Age of Sigmar, as the community here is absolutely amazing with organising events, even with the current situation. I started playing AoS after the Warmachine community disbanded, due to almost half our number taking a step back (2 people had babies, and 1 player moving to Norway). There was nothing wrong with the ruleset of Warmachine, but without a bigger community the games can get very stale. This was a natural progression of a tabletop game, the community can grow or shrink for reasons outside the immediate game. The other players have moved to other games as well, one switched to more of a hobby focus, and is doing amazing things with the Marvel Crisis Protocol models. There is nothing stopping us all from going back eventually, and I know no-one sold any of their models. I have heard murmurs from slightly out of town at the other communities growing, so I may be back to it sooner rather than later.
But does that make Warmachine a better game than Age of Sigmar? No.
And that is the crux of the matter, there is no one best game. Everyone has their own preferences, which means that certain games are better fits for them. It’s a perfect example of “each to their own”. Just because I prefer game X doesn’t mean you will. Just because your best mate recommends game Y it doesn’t mean you will enjoy it in the slightest (Unlikely, as they probably know you quite well, and know what you are looking for). But every game has their pros and cons, you just need to find out which ones matter the most for you.
Below I have listed some of my personal recommendations for games to try for different types of people and players. Take all these with a grain of salt, as there might be other games out there that are a better fit for you.
For hobbyists, painters, modelers, and people who enjoy a good project, I couldn’t recommend anything other than Warhammer 40k or Age of Sigmar. Both of these games have unparalleled flexibility when it comes to putting your spin on a particular army. Most of the best and most amazing models I have ever seen are when people have put their particular brand of crazy on a Games Workshop concept to create pure artistry and magic.
For people who want a solid, tight, competitive game, go play Chess. Seriously, players have been waiting over 1500 years for Chess 2 to come out, so the original is pretty much perfect for a good balanced game. If you are interested in something more colorful than just the black and white, I would recommend Warmachine and Hordes. This is the game I have taken to the highest levels of my competitive play, and it is immensely enjoyable. It has an incredibly good ruleset, with very few (if any) grey areas, so good players can grow and really flex their strategy and intelligence with an amazingly competitive game.
For the diehard fans of a particular franchise or property, be it Marvel, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, etc, play the game that is in line with your other interests. It might not have the best rulesets, the most stunning models, but if you already love the lore/movies/books/comics, then you will love the game all the more.
For the people that just want to hang out with their mates, play what is popular in the local area, or what one of your mates recommends. Some of the best times of my life have been going away for a tournament or convention and spending the weekend/week/fortnight with my mates and making memories that will last a lifetime. These games are always more fun if you are with your friends, but having a few going in can make everything that much rewarding. And you will likely grow your friendship group several times over once you start playing. Before getting into anything though, it is worth talking to some of the other local players, or the staff at the FLGS, to find a community that fits what you are looking for.
As I’m wrapping this up, I’m hoping that this hasn’t been too heavy handed and that I won’t be getting an influx of messages saying “Why didn’t you recommend the XYZ game for this”. But that is kind of the point of this, everyone has their favorite game and the one that they are most passionate about. Don’t lose that passion! At the end of the day, these games are our hobbies and we play them for enjoyment and to relax, so keep that in mind next time you overhear some people discussing the pros and cons of a particular game. If you listen closely you might learn something that sparks that fire inside you and you have just found another ruleset to master, another community to befriend, and another set of models to add to your pile of shame.
Until next time.