Hi. First I'm going to discuss a bit about the hobby. Then give you suggestions about getting started. Hopefully, if these suggestions don't help you out, they'll give you some ideas.
is Miniature Wargaming?
How do I get Started?
How do I start with a specific era?
How do I get more help?
What about painting the figures?
Should my figures and terrain be historical or accurate?
What is Miniature Wargaming? Miniature Wargaming is using models or figures to create a historical battle. You can even apply the same principle to creating fictional or science fiction battles. You can play competitively or just for the fun of the game. The player represents the one who makes the decisions.
Miniatures can represent a single soldier all the way up to large commands. A single stand of figures can represent a single soldier, a squad, or larger depending on the rules set.
Rules govern how the battle is carried out. There are several rule sets for each period. Some more popular and complex than others are and some are extremely simple. We can all tell you what is a good set of rules. Many of us would disagree or agree about the choices. Rules really depend on the player. We can recommend what we know is popular and widely used at conventions, but that doesn't mean you'll like them yourself. I've found in the past that rules really depend on the person and what he or she likes.
The battlefield is created using models and other materials called terrain. You can get as creative as you like with this. You can buy expensive terrain or you can make your own. Terrain does help to set the atmosphere and brings a 3D affect to the game rather than looking at hex paper with pictures drawn on it and counters representing your units. Don't get me wrong. There isn't anything wrong with paper and counters, but I find miniatures and terrain bring a bit more atmosphere to the game.
The rules tell you how to base your figures. How they move on the terrain and what method is used to determine the failure or success of a unit's activity. They also tell you how terrain, and other elements of the game modify what the unit is trying to do, and the end reaction.
You can research the historical information of a battle and set up for Pickett's charge or some other historical event. You can make the decisions of your troop movement and even make decisions that were not made historically. You can even make up your own scenarios.
I've also found that there is another big advantage to playing historical miniatures. In order to properly recreate a battle or paint a figure in the historical uniform, research is required. Researching with a purpose in mind makes history a bit more interesting. You'll also be surprised at some of the unique things you may discover while researching the area you wish to recreate.
How do I get started? Well that's the big question. You can get started in several ways. The most common is to check out the local hobby shop. Many hobby shops have a gaming area and groups that either play at the shop or they meet at the shop. In some cases, the shop owner probably even orders their materials or even sells them in the store. One of the first things I do when I go on vacation is look in the yellow pages on the Internet. I search for Hobby shops and Bookstores. I generally can locate a few. The only problem with the Internet yellow pages is that they are not as updated as one would like them to be. So don't be surprised if something is closed. The next thing I do, is check the yellow pages when I arrive. You can do the same thing at home.
If you don't have a local shop, then you might locate a local gaming club. Conventions are also a big connection point. If you attend some of the major conventions or even a local convention you can see a variety of games and terrain. You can even try out various games and rules.
You've found a local group or maybe even a specific era you want to play. First of all, see what the local group is playing. Buying figures can get expensive. Depending on the route you take and set of rules you use, you can spend a little or a lot. That means you don't want to invest money and find there is no interest or opponents. If they are interested in the era you are playing, you need to find out what type of figs they are using or rules. That way you don't have to foot the bill to supply the rules, and both sides. You each supply a side, and can agree on a set of rules. Not to mention having someone that knows the era to talk to can help make some of your decisions. (Example: you don't want to be buying 25mm figures to play against 15mm figures. If no one is playing American Civil War (ACW) you could end up buying figures for both sides just to play. This is all fine, if you don't mind the expense, but it's a good idea to know that before you make your purchases.)
How do I get more help? There are quite a few Web sites on the Internet that are much like this one. They provide information about wargaming, specific periods, or even specific games. There are several sites ran by gaming clubs, and merchants. Check out my Links section and you should be able to locate a few helpful sites. From them you should be able to locate even more sites.
Another good site is the Internet newsgroups. You'll have to set up your browser to subscribe to the newsgroups, which in most cases is only the cost of your provider just like the rest of your net surfing works. If you need help setting it up, I suggest contacting your Internet provider. They should be able to tell you how to set it up. The newsgroup I've found to be the best source of Historical Miniature Gaming is rec.games.miniatures.historical. There are quite a few gamers and dealers that monitor that area. If you have a question make sure you post a good description in the subject line, and be fairly specific with your question. Otherwise, folks will have to guess what you're looking for or even ask you for something specific. You may find you get more specific help if you post the subject as the period you are interested, and the word help. Same for help with specific rules sets. It'll stick out more to those that can help you.
Now I've got era and know which size figures I need, what do I do now? Well you'll have to decide on the figures and terrain you want to use. If you've found someone in the area, you may already have a good idea of what you may need. Just in case, here's a bit more input.
Now, you may know what size figures you want, but try to find pictures of them or get a look at them before buying more than one brand. A good lesson is the one I learned. I started primarily with Ral Partha Colonials. I went out and purchased Connoisseur without comparing them to my Ral Partha's and found that they were actually taller than my Ral Partha figures. In fact, they were tall enough to actually look odd standing next to my Ral Partha figures I'd already spent a lot of money building up. Some folks don't mind mixing, but it just didn't look right to me. You can change the height of one by building the base up with washers or something but still, it wasn't what I wanted. So, I recommend sticking with one brand unless you can get a look at the figs to see how well they mix.
If you need a lot of figures for a game, you want to try to buy in bulk it tends to cost a bit less. I have started a manufacturer's list on my site. You can order figures via mail order, but my personal preference is to hand pick my figures. It also gives me a chance to get know various dealers so I can mail order from them when necessary.
Well I've included a section on paints and painting. Check it out. There are other Web sites that also have tips.
This actually depends on who and where you are playing. When people are learning a set of rules I personally don't see anything wrong with using counters to try out the game. This is especially important when trying out a set of rules that allow you to build a historical army. I also don't mind using different set of figures, as long as they fit the basing rules to learn. Some gaming groups have their own standards when it comes to figures and terrain. At conventions, people travel a good ways and spend a good deal of money and it stands to reason that they expect the figures and terrain to at least make the attempt at being accurate.