Warhammer 40,000 and its fantasy equivalent Age of Sigmar are dominant in the tabletop miniatures space. They’ve remained popular for decades thanks to the evocative settings, high-quality miniatures, and comfortable rulesets — not to mention the seemingly endless series of video games, books, and other media. But we’re not wed to Warhammer. Tabletop gamers have other options.
Many alternatives boast their own advantages, such as easier entry, cleaner systems, and innovative twists. These five games feature a variety of styles and settings. Each is an exceptional miniatures game full of satisfaction and reward.
Marvel: Crisis Protocol
While some say Marvel has peaked cinematically, it’s still tearing it up on the tabletop. The first thing to notice about Crisis Protocol is its stunning 40mm sized miniatures. These are fully plastic, multi-part models that require careful assembly, but the work pays off. The next thing you will inevitably be struck by is the hefty price. These large miniatures are expensive, and that’s something to be prepared for when considering this game.
But if you can muster the funds without breaking your back, it’s absolutely worth it. This is a very open, free-form design that allows you to mix and match whatever figures you’d like in your roster. You can team up Wolverine with Thanos and bash in the skulls of Iron Man, Captain America, and Ultron. It’s wild with each figure boasting a unique suite of special abilities. This may be the most dynamic game on this list, even allowing characters to throw terrain and demolish structures. It’s cinematic, quick, and incredibly dramatic.
Marvel: Crisis Protocol is also well supported. It’s produced by Atomic Mass Games, the miniatures studio now responsible for X-Wing and Star Wars: Legion, and they’ve released dozens and dozens of new characters spanning the entirety of the Marvel comics universe. They don’t appear to be letting up anytime soon.
Core Space is the closest aesthetically to Warhammer 40k on this list. It captures some of that game’s Rogue Trader days, putting players into the role of competing starship crews on the hunt for salvage. Unfortunately, opposing traders aren’t the only hurdle, as the robotic menace known as The Purge arrive over the course of the game, appearing in greater frequency as time elapses.
This game is a looker. It has 3D cardboard terrain, plastic miniatures, and an attractive neoprene surface. It’s flexible, allowing players to cooperate or compete over the scattered equipment as they pursue scenario objectives. There are two separate and complete products, the original Core Space and the sequel First Born. The latter is focused on raiding ancient temples and is aimed more at fully cooperative or solitaire play as the foes are more challenging and aggressive. Both can be integrated, allowing for crews to traverse either environment. Tonally, this hits on Firefly, Shadowrun, and the scum and villainy nook of Star Wars. The play lives up to those lofty expectations.
Blood & Plunder
It’s an exciting time to be playing Blood & Plunder. This miniatures skirmish game just received a new two-player complete starter set recreating the historical battle where the English captain Maynard felled the infamous Blackbeard. The full ruleset allows participants to field forces consisting of soldiers, militia, and ship crew representing countries such as England, France, and Spain. Pirates have now entered the fold as the game has progressed to the 1700s.
This is an intriguing game with new plastic miniatures, a striking activation system with tactical nuance, and a variety of play modes. With only a few additional rules, players can even engage in ship to ship combat using enormous sloops.
While Blood & Plunder is cinematic, it is historically faithful to the period. It’s not a complex ruleset, but it features several flourishes to evoke verisimilitude. Muskets must be reloaded and morale is of utmost importance, for instance. These details add a sharp texture to play and help anchor the experience to its rich Caribbean setting.
Have you ever wanted to re-enact Mad Max with Hot Wheels cars? Well you can do so with dignity, as Gaslands: Refueled is Mike Hutchinson’s ruleset offering car customization, campaign play, and maximum carnage. You can grab any toy cars you like and either muck them up with dirt grime and plastic weapon options, or simply deploy them as is and let your imagination do the heavy lifting.
As a set of car combat rules, this game is magical. It uses template-based movement similar to the popular X-Wing miniatures game, and a light dice based combat system to regulate damage and chaos. Initiative and movement is handled with a clever yet streamlined gear system, and virtually any style of vehicle can be modeled and remain competitive. A significant part of the joy is in modding children’s toys, but the hobby aspect here is perhaps the most gentle and inviting of any game I’ve ever encountered. You can merely add some dirt and rust to a pre-painted car, maybe tear out a windshield or bumper, and you’re good to go.
The game itself is fantastic as well. It captures the spirit of 80s darling Car Wars with little of the cruft and complication. Invite some mates over, toss out some Matchbox cars, and blast the hell out of each other. Done deal.
Wings of Glory
Wings of Glory is a diverse range of products better thought of as a system. Featuring both extensive World War One and Two lines of pre-painted planes, players pilot beautiful aircraft across the skies of a tabletop as they attempt to circle each other in a spiral of death. Much like Gaslands, movement is carried out through templates–specifically maneuver cards–that guide your plane through various loops and dives.
It’s a very light entry, requiring either the purchase of a full starter set complete with rules and miniatures, or a smaller rules only product allowing the purchase of whatever individual planes a player desires. At its best, multiple participants are engaged with each flying a single fighter. This makes for a very modest introduction when compared to something like Warhammer, as your entire force is a single small box purchase.
The ruleset is equally welcoming. The basic details can be internalized by a child as young as eight. You can tear open the box and be off jousting in less time than it takes to watch a television episode. More experienced players can layer on the advanced options that include tailing, variable damage types, and altitude. For a sleek design, it allows for a solid amount of simulation with cinematic framing.