Welcome to the Boardgame-Skirmish Bandwagon

GW, Privateer, and Corvus Belli all introduce similar games – at the same time – but why?

You know how when one Hollywood studio makes an asteroid movie, you just know another is around the corner? It turns out the tabletop game industry does the same thing.

In just the last two weeks the following three games went up for pre-orders:

Games Workshop – Shadespire

Privateer Press – Company of Iron

Corvus Belli – Aresteia


You could group these in the same general category of FFG’s Imperial Assault from last year.

What’s Going On?

All of these games feature small model count skirmish game action. Three of them have actual boardgame boards – and in particular both Aresteia and Shadespire are on hex-grids – not seen too much these days.

But what’s going on here?  Is there actually a giant demand for smaller and shorter playtime games?

Are these simply seen as gateway drugs into the bigger grander games offered by these manufacturers (Warmachine, Infinity, Age of Sigmar, etc)?

Are Millennials really moving to these skirmish-boardgame-deckbuilder hybrids?

All of these games just came out and I haven’t heard of Imperial Assault being a giant runaway hit like X-Wing is.  So I’m left scratching my head. I can’t tell if this is a case of manufacturers keeping up with the Jonses, or there is some data behind these games that is driving their sudden appearance in the market. They all seem to have one foot in the tabletop wargame side of things and the other in either boardgames and possibly deck-builders.  My question is – what is the goal?

Do you introduce games like this to get your existing wargamers to by something new and make incremental revenue – OR – are these dangle products meant to draw in boardgamers and deckbuilder fans into tabletop?

~What do you think is going on?


  • Rainthezangoose

    In life we are constantly told to decide if it’s X or Y. Anyone worth there salt knows that it’s always because of both, even if it’s not always a fifty fifty split.

  • euansmith

    Is the answer, “Late Stage Capitalism”?

    • Txabi Etxebarrieta

      Someone spends a lot of time on leftbook :p

      • euansmith

        😀 I had to go and look up “Leftbook”. I actually came across the term on Boing Boing where it is used as a running gag.

  • MMO Builder

    Imperial Assault skirmish is an amazing game, so much fun!

    • tau4eva

      agreed, though I’m done with organized play at big events since there is no penalty for slow play.

    • Red_Five_Standing_By

      Imperial Assault is dead, right?

      • palaeomerus

        They just came out with an expansion box called Heart of the Empire and more allies/villain packs, so…no?

  • Chardun

    Only one is a skirmish game, the rest are board games that could have their models replaced by tokens.

    Gateway drug is the answer to all 4, I think. The cost of entry to get into the main product lines for at least Games Workshop and Privateer Press has gotten high enough that I’ve seen it discourage interested hobbyist. These offerings will at least let those interested get a taste without having to sell their kidney to partake.

    • ZeeLobby

      Ding! This man gets it, lol.

    • There are several upcoming skirmish games that weren’t mentioned, like the Star Wars game from FF and the Fallout skirmish game coming out next year. For people with limited time/money they’re much better ways to try out tabletop war games.

      • The cost factor will definitely influence the community into making the plethora of skirmish games the primary games played as well.

        Company-level or higher wargames are on their way out me thinks.

        • ZeeLobby

          Agreed. It’ll be interesting to see how FFG’s star wars game does because of that. While skirmish is totally an option, it’s built around a concept and IP which should also favor pretty massive engagements. It’ll be interesting to see where it evolves to.

          • I am definitely watching Legion to see that very thing.

            A lot of people I know won’t touch 40k because of scale and the cost of scale, but I’m wondering how many will not care about the cost because its star wars.

          • ZeeLobby

            Haha. Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see. Everyone wants to buy and play with an AT-AT. Gonna need a “legion” to take down one of those. Still can’t imagine it’ll be anywhere close to the price of FW titans though.

      • Red_Five_Standing_By

        The Star Wars wargame will quickly get just as bloated and expensive as Armada and X-Wing. it is not a gateway game.

    • Richard Mitchell

      Give the man a gold star!

  • ZeeLobby

    As a company grows it’s system grows to increase sales. There are really only two options, horizontal or vertical growth. The company can pump out tons of smaller factions (GSC, Grymkin, etc.), or they can increase the size of their games (WHFB 8th edition, WMH 75 pts + theme pts, etc.). Either option results in increased costs in the game (though I’d argue horizontal is slightly cheaper as if your dedicated to your faction, and don’t mind not getting new releases you don’t have to buy more). The alternative is to introduce a “standard” limitation where a limited subset of models are allowed (akin to Hearthstone/MtG/etc.). I’m hoping they never go this route as there is definitely more effort put into a model (painting, building, etc.) than buying a card.

    One way to combat this ever increasing price is to create side-games or smaller systems to encourage faction jumping and/or new players. These games bring models, fluff, rules, etc. from the core games into smaller digestible morsels. These morsels also allow them to try and test new game mechanics for possible introduction into the core later.

    Shadespire is a good example of introducing fluff and factions of AoS, while attempting to attract competitive players who shy away from their imbalanced due to bloat core systems.

    Company of Iron also introduces the factions and fluff, while letting players use their own collections (though most likely they’d prefer players to try out that new faction they’ve always wanted). CoI uses many of the same rules and stats as the core game to facilitate eventual transition, but introduces alternating activation, which is becoming a popular mechanic in gaming.

    Aristeia is honestly pretty unique imo. Introduces fluff and factions, but definitely attempts to translate the concept of modern day arena FPS into tabletop gaming. However there have been games like this before, it just fits well into Infinity’s fluff.

    All this said, Company of Iron is the only Skirmish game up there. The rest are definitely board games. The lack of fluid movement is a clear differentiation (at least for me).

    • Shadespire makes my heart and head hurt. As of now its not really picking up here, but I will be interested to see how it does when they release all of the factions.

      Much like how AOS is withering on the vine because so many factions don’t have any attention, I feel that that issue will also affect Shadespire.

      And that annoys me that Shadespire is now pulling resources away from getting AOS in a finiished state.

      • ZeeLobby

        Yeah. Well this might be a reoccurring problem within GW. When their goal is to show profitability for each system/IP every year, you might consistently run into alternatives within that IP to boost sales as they attempt to fix waning interest elsewhere. If anything was not given a stable fair chance it was AoS. Starting with basically no rules, drawing players from a failing 7th 40K, only to see them flock back for a newly released 8th. Our local attendance has been all over the past 3 years, currently being non-existent.

        • Same here. Promoting AOS has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in twenty odd years of organizing.

      • Matt Beasley

        I think the core difference is that Shadespire is a much more tactically interesting game than AOS. Like, night and day different. The limited variables allow for some internal balancing (we’ll see how that keeps up as more expansions are released). While my cohort is also running into faction incompleteness frustration, for me, I’m hoping it does better because it pulls in competitive minded gamers where AOS drove them away.

        • I guess that will be subject to the eye of the beholder.

          I don’t find either game to be that tactically deep. I see Shadespire as an offshoot of Magic the Gathering with models and dice thrown in.

          In fact one of the things I chew on in wonder is that… having played the Gorechosen game… Shadespire is very similar to that, but Gorechosen fell right on its face.

          The only thing I can think of in that scenario is that Gorechosen was all khorne and Shadespire is supposed to have other factions, and shadespire lets you magic: the gathering the game out with deckbuilding.

          • Matt Beasley

            This primary difference compared to card games is the affect of positioning on the hex-board. Setting up knock back effects to force charges rather than attacks, and supporting bonuses, and how to use the cards to manipulate that with the you-go-I-go is where the depth is. It also has stripped down versions of what made Malifaux tactically interesting in the activation/resource control elements and the ability to counter actions preemptively if they’re telegraphed and require two activations. It will be like magic in a good way – in that the result will be a combination of skill differential and luck, but the depth is in using resources and options to optimally modify your chances of success. We’re also startign to figure out the board deployment tactics and how they affect the ability for multiple factions to deliver – at first it seems like they didn’t matter because we were focused on the blocking terrain. But when you refocus on the spacing of the starter tiles, and realize you can off center the board, and that sigmar and khorne have different base moves and reach moves(spell assisted), the deployment options really shape each sides ability to efficiently use their activations.

          • Red_Five_Standing_By

            Gorechosen was just a miniatures board game.

            Shadespire is a miniatures board game with card game layered on top. Shadespire will also be fully supported by GW with consistent releases and an organized play system, complete with prize support.

          • Imagine what AOS could be with consistent releases and an organized play system with company prize support.

  • I’d rather them focus on games that are actually written well. I’m not into board games with my wargames…

    • “Them” being all three companies or GW? I got into to the hobby with a board game/wargame called BattleTech. I don’t really get the “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter” irritation, unless you are talking specifically about GW.

      • I started with Battletech as well back in 1989. It was great fun.

        This is more like “you stopped producing chocolate and now all thats on the shelf is peanut butter” irritation.

        • I believe Wyrd is planning to scale up. BattleTech already did. There’s a Halo based game as well There are a lot of historicals out there. 28-32mm has become the norm though, and 28mm games don’t work well with large scale conflicts. Making this even harder, playing surfaces have also been shrinking.

          I feel like a 6mm game with prepainted minis could do really well, but no one is making one that I’m aware of.

          • If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have gotten involved with miniatures in the first place. I have a ton of stuff thats basically not usable because finding games for it are very difficult.

            I don’t think 6mm would go over at all. Battletech is still played but its a game very much in the corners of a community that you have to dig for.

            Dropzone Commander is smaller scale, has great rules, and no one wants to touch it because of the scale as well.

            Which is all very unfortunate.

          • Red_Five_Standing_By

            I play a lot of Bolt Action (a “real” 28mm game) and I have to say, the scale difference is very noticeable. Everything is so small. When I switch to 40k, I feel like I am playing with action figures

          • Red_Five_Standing_By

            Yeah look at 40k tables now. They are littered with models. barely any room to move.

          • Figuring 1/56 for 28mm means the maximum range between two targets is about 123 meters, from corner to corner. Unless you are using an awful lot of terrain, that kind of range for an engagement is idiotic. There are 40k vehicles that have maximum ranges that are well within pistol ranges. You don’t need military experience to know that is a little too small for tanks and or multiple squads to maneuver tactically.
            I like 28mm because it’s a good size to paint and assemble. I also like tanks, but 28mm armored vehicles, not to mention artillery, are not suited to 28mm games. It requires a level of abstraction that really hurts the game in my opinion. You aren’t generally a person I’ve identified with snarky uniformed statements, so hopefully this helps you understand where I was coming from.

  • I_am_Alpharius

    Simple. There has been a massive renaissance in the interest and therefore sale of, what could be termed, “traditional” board games i.e. not tabletop war games; or perhaps more to the point games that can be played by a family or within a small friendships.

    What is interesting to consider is, with all the computer games, mobile phones and technology about, what has driven this resurgence in the first place of the style of games played in the 80’s and 90’s amongst people?

    • memitchell

      Girls. It’s always girls. At the FLGS, what is the major difference between boardgame night and 40K night. Yep, girls. There can be no other rational reason why guys would play a game about collecting wood and sheep.

      • Admiral Raptor
      • James Arnoldi

        There are plenty of guys who enjoy those games. I was a big fan of Settlers of Catan when it first came out and few women were playing boardgames.

        The interest in board games and skirmish games over traditional mini games comes from the ease to set up and play. I’ve been a big fan of mini games that use boards for sometime because of the lack of terrain. For example, when I played Heroclix , I collected a ton of maps representing all sorts of exotic locations that presented a variety of interesting strategic choices. Meanwhile, in 3D, I have painted a few different ruined buildings and hills, so my games don’t get nearly the variety.

      • Txabi Etxebarrieta

        Not sure I agree. As a dude, I got started in my dad’s Battletech games at a young age and made *him* jump to 40k when I asked for it. But as I’ve gotten older, developed more interests, have a job, have a girlfriend, and in general have less free time, miniatures games take up a lot of time that I don’t necessarily have.

        Board games are pick up out of the box and play. It’s pretty convenient and can scratch a similar itch for minimal investment.

        I still keep up with it, and maybe at some point in my life when I slow down I will get back into miniatures. But I don’t think I’m alone with a lot of this stuff.

  • Personally I am loving it. I have both Aristeia and Shadespire, both are fantastic games, clearly designed for competitive play. I wouldn’t really put either one firmly in the camp of board game, and Aristeia definitely feels a lot more like a regular miniature game, just with a hex grid for movement, which isn’t even necessarily just for board games (us old folks remember plenty of miniature games on hexes).

    What these games really offer though is the ability to engage in a universe, in a competitive setting, without having to spend hours at minimum to enjoy the game.

    • ZeeLobby

      I didn’t think fast competition has it’s draws. Having attended many multi-day competitive events, it’s nice to get into a system that has faster rounds. Just curious, as I have yet to try either, but would you mind saying which you like better and why? I’ll end up trying both, but probably need to pitch one to my group first over the other.

      • I reviewed both on my blog (thediceabide.com), and I like both for different reasons. I had more fun playing A!, but it isn’t as fast as Shadespire (but comparable if playing best of 3). A! also has team customization and has scenarios, I’ve found that my biggest gripe with Shadespire is that my goals never change, except when I change my objective deck. Both are promising competitive play, but A! has a head start with Corvus Belli’s ranking and tournament software already being built and in use (it already supports the game). That said, GW is much larger and more popular, so I suspect shadespire will be far more popular.

        • ZeeLobby

          Blarg. Might have to pick up A!. It does look pretty awesome. I’ll read up on it today. Thanks!

  • Richard Mitchell

    What makes Shadespire, CoI, and Asteria from Shadow War or Kill Team is that they are full fledged games with support rather than one off with a desperate hope to bring people in.

    And these products have so much win to them:
    1. The low model count makes it more attactive to non-wargaming consumers.

    2. The low model count allows veteran gamers to buy it.

    3. The product allows wargamers who play other systems to participate at a low cost. 40 or AoS are not my main game but I can play Necromunda or Shadowspire. I may never have a full army but I can still participate in the lore or narrative events. Same thing for others. Warmachine or Infinity may not be your main, but you make a one time purchase and now you can participate in the narrative events for those games without going broke.

    It is a tight market and I really like how the industry as a whole is adjusting to it.

    • The negative is that it can make company-scale or army-scale games obsolete.

      • Maybe they already are?

        • I think they have been obsolete since about 2007 or so. Which really sucks if thats what got you involved in the hobby.

          • thereturnofsuppuppers

            There is always room for diversity in games.

          • Diversity is great, but I don’t ever notice balance in our community lol it always seems to be extremes.

          • thereturnofsuppuppers

            It is easier to notice extremes

          • Thats true, but I notice in my area that its a lot harder to find games of anything but skirmish scale as well.

      • Richard Mitchell

        You’re right. Especially at 28mm scale.

        • Yeah and in my area, 28mm/32mm iis the ONLY games being played. No one will touch the smaller scale. Which is concerning for me because I love company or army scale games and I’m finding myself standing at the edge of a pond drying up in a desert before my eyes.

  • I have geek friends that adore board games, but turtle as soon as you mention miniatures. There are a lot of people that like board games who have zero interest in the hobby elements. Sculpted playing pieces give a board game a deluxe feel and games like Conan and Zombiecide have proven quite popular. If you already have sculptors and rules writers on staff, why wouldn’t you make a boardgame?

  • Red_Five_Standing_By

    My FLGS owner bought Shadespire and then gave it to a friend of mine. My friend then convinced all his friends to either buy the main box or pre-order one of the upcoming factions.

  • Zedatkins Zed

    The tourney scene for 40K and WHFB was a dying market. Tournaments unless you live in the UK or US are hard to come by and if you live in the US or UK you need to be an adult to get to them, with a decent paycheck to buy the models, paints and books. You also need to have no life outside the hobby to be able to play on the kind of scale that would sustain a company like GW, Smaller, high quality, low cost games are not only logical solution they are the ONLY solution to longer term sustainability (not growth just sustainability).

    What many of those who bemoan AOS forget is that WHFB wouldn’t have failed if they had bought more models more regularly. The fact that that was damn near impossible due to cost (of time and money) made it impossible for GW to sustain WHFB as a brand. 40K has a last chance with the new rules and marketing but if the public don’t engage it’ll go back on life-support and soon. Games like the new Necromunda & Shadespire IF properly supported have a future. The same with the WHQ sets they released over the last 12 months – but GW have failed to support those.

    GW need to release free scenarios, etc, as well as more NEW stuff ppl can buy for all their products for any of them to have a chance. Thankfully they are getting that right with 40K and AOS but time will tell. The non-SCE releases for AOS ar holding me and I guess a sizeable chunk of the public back from buying new armies. New Aelves, new Undead, new factions IS the only way to go. 40K proves this.

    The multiple companies doing the same thing in a crowded marketplace – that’s capitalism. Who needs more than one brand of jeans and yet how many do we have?

  • Kinsman

    It’s the adults who now have kids, careers, dogs and bills. Don’t have 4 hours to play a game anymore or 4 months to paint an army. Skirmish is my future!

    • Red_Five_Standing_By

      Pretty much. As time goes on, I imagine the length of games will dwindle ever downwards, even for war games. The emphasis will be on playing more games in a given time than playing one long game.

  • Hagwert

    Simple… people now spend so long online on sites like this they don’t have as much time to paint large armies and play longer games like they used to 15 years ago.