A Matter of Scale

When it comes to historical miniatures, there is no one true scale.   Different games have different needs, and reality (both spatial and financial) come into play all too often.

The aesthetic aspects of historical miniatures are very important to me.  Shortly after I got involved in the hobby, I bought Miniature Wargames #19 (the Christmas special) at the Little Tin Soldier Shoppe in Minneapolis.   Seeing that magazine opened my eyes to what the hobby could be capable of.  Large armies of large, well-painted miniatures fighting across excellent terrain.   Talk about porn for gamers… this was it.  I bought more issues of the magazines and ran across articles by Peter Gilder and others extolling the virtues of large armies and of gaming “in the grand manner.”   At the time I was a poor teenager, so I wasn’t able to do those sorts of projects… but doing one like that was in the back of my mind from about 1986 on.   This explains the intermittent yearning to do Napoleonics the “right way,” with 28mm figs at 1:20.

Time passes, I spend way too much money on lead, and then drop out of the hobby for a while.  Now I’m getting back into things, and one of the first things that pops up is, of course, Napoleonics.  Hey, I’m in my late 30’s now… got a good job, some time on my hands, and have the ability to slowly collect a new army or two.   I start asking questions of the local gamers in town.  There’s still the same boatload of 15mm Napoleonics based up for Napoleon’s Battles or Empire or Piquet.  The twist is there’s now some 25mm Naps being raised.  Dissension about rules is still rampant, but a few locals have decided that using the 25mm scale version of Napoleon’s Battles basing is a good standard to aim for.   The new plan aims for 24 figure units, and doing some sort of tactical-ish rules that are still TBD.

This wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear.  I made some inquiries about why not 1:20, and got the answer that it took too much space, no room for maneuver, etc.  This seemed like a bullshit argument to me, but those folks with figures had made their mind up, and since I’d been out of the scene for a while, I was late to the party.  Crap happens.  I understand their decision.

So I do more reading, and more thinking.  Why are the 28’s so important to me?  How big a table will I be able to play on regularly?  How much money am I willing to sink into a hobby?  How important is it for me to follow my own muse?  What kind of game am I looking to play anyway?

Here are some thoughts I came up with:

  • 28’s are important to me because I like the look of well-painted miniatures.  I used to be a pretty good painter, and I’m interested in building those skills up.   The Napoleonic period in particular has appeal in 28mm because of the flamboyant uniforms many troops wore.  15mm or smaller figures don’t often do those uniforms justice.   
  • In a related note, I like large units.  The more I think about things, I can see the limitations that 1:20 28mm Napoleonics presents.   At home I can muster about an 8×5 foot gaming surface… in a shop I can probably shoot for something a little larger.   A 36-figure unit of French infantry in line will take up between 16 and 18 inches of frontage on a table.  You can do the math and figure out relatively quickly how easy it will be to clog up your average game table.   
  • This raises the essential quandary:  Mass units versus detailed figures.   Can you have both, and if not, what’s more important?  
  • I should aim for games that can be played on an 8×5 surface.  If what I want to do won’t work on that size table, it’s probably not practical.
  • I’m willing to sink a fair bit of money (over time) into gaming.  I’ve done it in the past, and as long as it doesn’t affect the smooth operations of my family, I’m willing to do it again.  I’m not the fastest painter in the world, so I’d be willing to collect and paint one or two beautiful 28mm armies for Napoleonics.
  • I have a perfect vision for what I want out of the hobby.  The problem is everyone else does too.   The local historical miniatures scene is fragmented enough.  Compromises are necessary if one wants to play games with others.
  • The last question, “What kind of game do I want to play?” is the most interesting one.  I could easily say more than one.  28mm figures at 1:20 is impractical for larger battles if you want to maneuver.   It would quickly dissolve into a clogged table of units marching more or less straightforward.  Not a terribly interesting game.   I am also interested in more tactical games… advance guard actions, small actions, snippets of larger actions, etc.  A game where someone could field relatively obscure units and have more than a figure or two represented on the table.  When I used to play Quarries a while ago, we had people who’s entire army was a brigade of Westphalians, or Wurttemburgers, or Poles… you get the idea.  Those games were fun as well.
After doing more thinking, I can easily see where people choose to game a specific period in multiple scales.  
For larger battles, I could easily see doing 6mm or 10mm figures en masse for a game like Grande Armee, Volley & Bayonet, Polemos, or similar rules.  You could easily dump 40-60 figures on each base and make a brigade look like a brigade and still have plenty of open space for maneuvering.   Calling 12 figures a ‘brigade’ for 28’s just wouldn’t seem right to me.  There’s something to be said for getting a multi-corps action over in 3-4 hours time.
For smaller actions, 28mm would be a better choice of scale.  With 24-figure battalions and 8-16 figure cavalry units (maybe down to 4-6 figure squadrons?), each person could paint up 4-6 units and have a force they could control on the table.  With rules that encourage use of reserves, this would give each gamer a decent size of the table to cover and still allow for some maneuvering, while at the same time allowing them to make more tactical decisions about formation, skirmishers, force depletion, etc.    Something akin in size to “Warhammer Napoleonics” without using that rules set as a basis for anything.   A person who’s got an obsession with a minor state or obscure unit could lovingly build them and field them as a decent-sized unit without throwing anything out of whack.   Just keep guards and heavy cavalry to respectable amounts (i.e. rarely see them) and everything’s hunky-dory.
I’m still thinking about all this… just thought I’d write something to organize my thoughts while still letting them stew a bit.

6 Responses to “A Matter of Scale”

  1. 1 Jeff October 16, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    I think you have forgotten one of the key factors to our discussions (the remnants of the Twin Cities Historical War Gaming Society or whatever the hell we called ourselves) on rules and scale.

    The gaming group wanted to do 25mm Napoleonic for almost as long as I can remember. When I first started joining the historical gaming side of the hobby (I originally was a fantasy player with TSR Battlesystem) back I the late 1980’s and early 90’s there was discussion on whether to pursue 25mm Napoleonic or ACW. The group was very divided and neither project gained much support other than the core players.

    The ACW group slowly dissipated and we were left with the group that wanted to do Napoleonic gaming in 25mm around 2003(ish), about the time that Fitz went to Milwaukee. As for the ACW, over the past fifteen years I have bought all those figures from the Source that were gotten for the ACW project that never went anywhere.

    Between 2003 and 2008 we talked a lot about moving from 15mm to 25mm but it never happened. Too many reasons not too I guess. Than in 1998 (August 28th) You, Fitz, I and a couple of others sat in the Ciatis (now the Chianti Grill) and drew up the requirements of what we were looking for:
    25mm Figures
    Big Battalions (1:20 or 1:30)
    Multiplayer Game (Three Players per side)
    Playable on a 5’ x 10’ table (Sandtable in the Source)
    Players are to push a Brigade or Small Division (Three to Six Battalions)

    We talked about existing rules at the time and tried out several of them with counters, unpainted figures and anything else we could try. We found nothing we liked back than. So we moved onto the discussion of writing our own rules.

    Today we talk about the space issue in the same terms that we talked about 10 years ago. We have an eleven foot table and want to have three players per side. That comes out to a brigade frontage of 3 ½’ per player. That was and still is the limitation we have to deal with.

    At 1:20 an 48 figure Austrian battalion, in line has a frontage of 15 inches. Six battalions in two lines of three has a frontage of 45” or 3 ¾’ assuming that the figures are base to base for the entire frontage which is too much frontage. Now add in 6” of artillery and 8” of gaps between the units. Now imagine increasing those battalions to 54 or 72 figures.

    At 1:30 a 36 figure Austrian battalion, in line has a frontage of 11 inches. Same scenario as above and your frontage drops to just over three feet. Three feet is a manageable distance.

    Today we play a fast passed game based upon Wilderness Wars. The game moves fast and everyone who pushes figures really enjoys the game.
    When it comes to space we are pretty close in the amount of frontage space that brigades take up. We can get four to five brigades of French on the one side of the sandtable vs three or four brigades of Austrians. You’d be hard pressed to get any more figures on the table.
    We have discovered that people want to push two brigades or a division worth of troops rather than brigade. It is more interesting and more along the lines of what people have in mind when it comes to the game.
    We aren’t totally sold on the rules yet and have had many discussions on other alternatives but I hate to say it we just haven’t found anything better. Which is one of the reasons I am rewriting my rules.

    My figures are organized around the concept of multiple uses. My Austrian Battalions are 48 figures strong. I can pull out a 48 Figure unit, a 36 figure unit, or two 24 figure units. This allows me the most flexibility. These units are currently organized for the Austrian 1st Light Division and II Corps for 1813.

    Now I have historically argued that games like “Napoleon’s Battles” are better suited for 25mm figures than the other end of the scale like “In the Grand Manner”. My argument goes like this units of 24 figures look great and with games like NB you get to have more variety of figures on the table than just plain jane infantry. But that is just me.

  2. 2 Bart October 17, 2008 at 9:04 am

    People may wish to push 12+ units, but all that would do in 25mm scale is just flood the table, which is the whole point everyone is trying to avoid, right? I agree with der Alte Fritz that giving a person more than 4-6 units to run just slows the game down. More units=more decisions and that slows the game down.

    The last 25mm game with massed units I’ve played was Clan War. In those games, no one had issues pushing around 3-6 units. it kept them entertained, had enough units under one person’s control to make losing a unit tolerable, and allowed people to take some ownership of the games by giving them a force that would not bankrupt them or force them to spend months painting it. Why would that not be the case in Napoleonics?

    This is a rhetorical question… maybe fantasy gamers aren’t the megalomaniacs historical gamers can be.

  3. 3 Jeff October 17, 2008 at 11:43 am

    I’ll take issue with using Jim Purky, aka der Alte Fritz, as an example because I believe it is a large misrepresentation of his and Bill Protz views.

    Jim Purky and Bill Protz play Batailles de l’Ancien Régime, aka BAR, and a frequent game masters at the regional gaming conventions as well as running some invitational games at hotels and convention spaces around the Midwest.

    BAR is a Seven Years War rule set which has a sliding figure scale, figures can represent as few as 10 men or as many as 50 men. The way that Purky and Protz play is on the smaller scale, 1 figure represents 10 men.
    Figures are organized into companies, companies into battalions and battalions into brigades. As the games that Purky and Protz run are based on paper strength you are looking at companies of 12 to 15 figures. With four companies per battalion or 60 plus figures per battalion plus command and than further organized into six battalions per brigade.
    As Purky and Protz have indicated that they would like people to push a brigade or six battalions of figures. This is what is meant by Jim Purky when he says “4-6 battalions”.
    Now let’s look at why this is a misrepresentation of their ideas when expressed elsewhere.
    In BAR each company of 12 to 15 figures is moved individually (add to the fact that BAR “uses individually mounted figures”) as well as having their combat adjudicated separately. So while you nave 6 battalions to push you have 24 individual units that are all basically handled separately, not six.
    In the Napoleonic period, even games like “In the Grand Manner” and “General de’Brigade” your individual movement and combat elements are battalions not companies. Thus you have fewer decisions to make, less units to move and less time spent resolving combat.

    On a related note I would argue movement and adjudication of combat are far more time consuming than the decision process in BAR and its counterpart “Drums of War along the Mohawk”.

    You mention “Clan War” and I add in “Warhammer” to the discussion. In these games players forces are always determined via points. When you start playing these style games your forces are generally smaller and fewer points. The usual plan is to up the points by using more higher costing figures and units when pointing out your force. As we got to 2000 and 2500 points we found most people had between 8 and 12 units and some of the cheap armies (goblins for example] had as many as 20 units. When I played in the national tournaments most people had 8 units.

  4. 4 Bart October 17, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    I ran across a comment of his on TMP recently where he referred to that as more of a generic rule for all miniatures game rather than specifically about BAR. His comment resonated with me; that’s all. If I stumble across it again, I’ll post it.

    As always, the number of units a player can control will depend a lot on the rules in use. I can push around a corps or two in Napoleon’s Battles in far less time than it would take me to push a corps around in , say, Empire in any of it’s revisions. I have not even looked at BAR let alone played it. Mr. Purky’s comments were not in direct relation to that set of rules. I’m sure his point of view is colored by the type of rules he normally plays.

    Your point about points costs in Clan War and Warhammer determining number of units is well-taken. With the exception of the Shadowlands armies, though, everyone was running the same high-powered, smaller forces. The point I was trying to make was that people had less units to control and were OK with that.

    Clan War and Warhammer are perhaps poor examples, since the form of game the represent is usually that of the “hero delivery system,” where the units are basically arrow/magic fodder designed to soak up enough casualties to allow the heros to get into close combat. A Napoleonic game, obviously would not be.

  5. 5 Bart October 19, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Found Purky’s comment:



    The answer is very simple: don’t put so many figures on your wargame table if you want some maneuvering or cavalry room in your game. Or have some reserve units come onto the table later in the game. The scenario decides all.

    Stick with Jim’s Rule of Fours* and you won’t have too many figures crowding up your table in a wargame.

    * the ideal number of maneuver elements that the average player can comfortably handle in a wargame is 4 units of infantry and cavalry plus maybe one battery of artillery. Anything more bogs down the game because the players cannot control so many elements in a short amount of time.


    Again, he plays primarily large-unit games, so his thinking is colored by his preferences, I’m sure.

  6. 6 Jeff October 20, 2008 at 9:13 am

    Ah Yes. The thread on why using 6mm figures is better than 28mm figures, started by the owner of 6mm figures company. This has been one of my favorite TMP thread to laugh at over the past couple weeks.

    Considering that I doubt most people who responded read the “original white paper” https://www.baccus6mm.com/index.php most of their responses are way off topic. I had written up a long response of read what people are writing about before responding, however a computer crash lost my document, and then I like a dummy deleted the temp file in word. So I just never posted to the thread. But the issue of the thread is another topic.

    Purky is correct “don’t put so many figures on the table” is probably one of the most important statements that needs to be made in the current state of gaming. I saw FOUR corps of French in empire on a 12’ long table not so long ago.

    Again I think his response is being taken out of context or at least extremely colored by his own gaming style. He likes to play games at 1 figure equals 10 men for all his periods. I will not argue that the games he puts on a very impressive (especially his SYW games) but I have other opinions on the subject.

    First “In the Grand Manner” is an incredibly out dated rule set. The game has many flaws and lacks two very important aspects of most “modern” rules “Command and Control” as well as “victory conditions”. “In the Grand Manner” is a throwback to the early rules of the late 60s and early 70s where use a player have precise control of your units and due to the lack of command and control can move Battalion A from a regiment any way you like to without regard to Battalion B. Many players of this rule set that I know have grafted command and control rules on top of “In the Grand Manner”.

    Second is this desire to play at such an incredibly low scale (1:10) that always makes me go Hmmmm. When I see games played at this level generally I am impressed by the amount of work and effort that goes into it. (There are a few I wanted to tell to go back to the drawing board however). The problem is this scale is unplayable in our current gaming environment in the Twin Cities. We don’t have the space to play. We don’t have three 30’ x 6’ tables readily at our disposal. We don’t have the synchronization among players to get “projects” going. We don’t have any players with a strong enough will to force the issue nor do we have the patients to work through other issues. Nor do people have the inclination to cough up the required money to pay for armies of that size; with figures costing $1 a figure for the entry level figures you are talking $75 a unit at minimum and no start telling them you need six to eight units.

    For the Napoleonic period I have spent years talking to people to gauge their interest and willing to do something based on space, money, scale, rules and time. The opinions of those in the community that are interested in 25mm Napoleonics state that the least concerning issue is rules while the biggest concern is money. Even you yourself had made those claims.
    Once we got enough figures on the table to start pushing figures we started addressing things like scale / size and rules. The key that we found is that people want to push “two” brigades worth of figures. Two brigades represent 8 to 12 units of infantry and two batteries of artillery. Using that information and knowing that people are willing to about $200 to get into a period we scaled our games accordingly.

    We choose NB basing because it is the most generic basing we could find AND allowed us to play potentially the widest variety of rules. The only basing that was potentially more generic was singly mounting figures and that option was dismissed by unanimous vote immediately as it was brought up. Now we can play from 1:20, 1:30, 1:40 or 1:120 fairly easily without modification.

    It is important to look at what “two brigades” to a player represents. As we have five players painting figures (You’d be six) and eight players regularly pushing figures that gives us four players per side. At one brigade per player all we’d have on the table is “core infantry”. Two brigades gives each side about two divisions, or using “bathtubbing” we get two Cavalry Brigade, four infantry brigades, and two reserve brigades (guard grenadiers). Currently the game is taking place on two 10’ long tables. As we expand towards a full corps per side the space requirement will go up.

    Well that is enough of my long-winded ramblings for now.

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