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Academic Study of Tabletop Wargamers: The Results are in! Part 3: Wargames and Armies We Play

5 Minute Read
Jul 1 2013

Back in November, BOLS graciously publicized a link to an online survey for American tabletop wargame players. The results are now in! You can find Part I of this series and Part II here. Part III focuses on aspects of the wargaming hobby as well as games played – and armies chosen for 40k and WFB.

Ian Cross back again to share more results from our study of tabletop wargamers. This is an exciting section – which tabletop wargames are most commonly played? The survey also collected information about army choice in Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy Battles.

Tabletop Wargames

The online survey included the question, “which tabletop wargames do you play?” There were 31 different options for this question, including “other,” and respondents could choose as many or as few as desired. If “other” was chosen, the respondent was prompted with a free-response question to identify which game(s) that were not included in the question’s list. The chart below indicates the most frequent choices for games played, for any game which received at least 10% of respondents’ selection (i.e., if at least 232 respondents indicated they played that game).

The most commonly played tabletop wargame in the United States seems to be Warhammer 40,000 – and among these survey respondents, it is by a wide margin. It was chosen by 77% of respondents. The second-most common was Warhammer Fantasy Battles, chosen by 43%. Games Workshop was clearly the most present company: besides producing the top two games, out of the top 13 games, eight are (or were) Games Workshop products. Warmahordes took third place, Flames of War took seventh, and Malifaux and Dystopian Wars are also played by 12% or more of the survey respondents. Flames of War was the only historical wargame played by at least 10% of survey respondents. Interestingly, many semi-retired games cleared the 10% threshold, including Battlefleet Gothic, Blood Bowl, Necromunda, Mordheim, and Epic 40,000. According to the survey, 40k is by far the most common tabletop wargame in the United States.

If the respondent indicated he or she plays WFB, the survey asked whether WFB was or was not his or her first wargaming experience (of this group, only 28% said yes). If respondent indicated he or she plays 40k (and said “no” to WFB as applicable), the survey asked whether 40k was the first wargaming experience: 61% said yes. If the response to either or both of these questions was “no” (as applicable), or if the respondent did not play WFB or 40k, the survey provided a free-response question as to which game was the respondent’s first experience. This question yielded 1,048 responses, many of which indicating WFB or 40k (for those respondents who no longer play these games, perhaps), while answers like “school friends” or “AD&D” were also common.

Army Choices

If a respondent selected 40k as a game he or she plays, the survey prompted him or her with a series of army selection questions – what was your first army, what armies do you collect in 40k. The same questions were asked if the respondent selected WFB as a game he or she plays. The survey data indicates that many 40k players started playing the game with Space Marines (31%)* – the next most common choices were Imperial Guard and Eldar with 10% each. For WFB, the first armies were more diverse; High Elves were most common at 11%, the Empire and Orcs & Goblins tied at 10% each.

For overall army choice, here are two charts that show the results.

The top choice for 40k was Space Marines (62%) followed by Imperial Guard (49%) and Chaos Space Marines (48%).* The Sisters of Battle were the least-chosen army at 17% of players collecting them (“other” received only 12%). Marine Equivalent (MEQ) armies (T4, Sv 3+) made up approximately 45% of armies collected in the sample (including Necrons but not SoB or “other”). Some respondents collected from only 1 codex; others collected from as many as 15 (i.e., all). Imperial armies made up about 44% of army selection choices.

The top choice for WFB was Warriors of Chaos (32%), followed closely by Orcs & Goblins (31%), the Empire (30%), and High Elves (30%). “Other” was once again the least chosen option; Tomb Kings were the least popular army book to collect from (15%). The spread in armies collected was much less in WFB than in 40k (possibly because the starter sets for WFB have shown greater variance in included armies?). The Forces of Destruction claimed 47% of army collection selections, while the Forces of Order constituted 42% (non-aligned had about 9%).


* – An important note here: I made an error when constructing the survey, and on the “first army” and “which armies” question for 40k I failed to include both the Dark Angels and Black Templars as codex choices. The “which armies” question included an “Other” option, which received 12% selection (the least-chosen choice); the “first army” question did not have this option. I regret this mistake. I believe it is reasonable to assume those BT and DA players indicated Space Marines instead on these two questions (this pattern was indicated in free-response fields on many surveys).

Next time: looking at the policy and political preferences of tabletop wargamers by a variety of measures!

If you would like to contact me, please feel free to send me a message in the BOLS Lounge; my username is MajorMcNicol.

Part 4 coming soon.  Have at it.

A quick but important note of thanks – the successes of this project relied heavily on many other people, including: my faculty advisor, my family and friends, and the several wargamers who helped out in different ways to make the survey better. The failures, by comparison, can only be attributed to myself. Also, it is important to acknowledge everyone who took the online survey, providing me with enough data to reasonably investigate! And thanks must go to BOLS for publicizing the survey and posting these results, as well. Thank you to everyone who participated in the survey, and many thanks to those who supported and assisted me in its design and implementation.

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