EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Startling Thought

Startling may be too strong but I am so used to the convention of the 2 deep line of miniatures that it feels odd to even think about a 1 deep line despite the long history of such a tabletop formation.

One deep firing lines go right back to Don Featherstone and Jack Scruby and were used by WRG in their 1685-1845 rules not to mention GW Jeffries. With the exception of my short WRG phase, I have been an adherent to Lawford & Young's and Charles Grant's 2 deep approach. However there are 2 very different benefits to the 1 deep line. One is from a position of sheer laziness, it allows one to use 1/2 the number of figures for the same frontage of units. The 2nd, which is of primarily academic interest, is that it allows for a slightly better representation of the depth of formations.

Have a look at the American column in the picture, deployed on a Grand Division frontage (2 companies) vs the British line. If we doubled the depth as usual the line would have 40 figures, still on a 20 man frontage while the column would have a depth of 8 men still on a 5 man frontage and would look very ungainly with the rear ranks barely able to come up to the front in a single move. If we halved the size of the units but kept the 2 deep line, we would have to 1/2 the ground scale to keep in proportion which has other effects, for example the limbered gun would be more than a musket shot from tip to tail.

No conclusions, just a thought to ponder.  There are days when I sure wish I could just play toy soldiers without even thinking about this stuff!   (or just wargame with 10mm figures)


  1. Every close to my own thoughts. I wish I could come to conclusions and get on with playing with my toys. sigh Maybe this year.

  2. Visually, I feel 'big battalions' on two ranks when in line are more satisfying, at least with 25-30mm figurines. The smaller the minis the further away from 1:1 visual scale you are, thus small units may be more tolerable in 6-10mm?
    My own WRG phase mas mostly Ancients (6th ed.) but as soon as Phil Barker told me in a letter he was dropping casualties removal for the next edition, I had all my minis permanently glued on standard 'element' bases (front 60mm -I was playing in 25mm) with 1 (cavalry) to 4 (pike phalanx) ranks; units were 'standardized' to 4 'elements'. This required a little book keeping (merely ticking a scaled line on squared paper for each unit), and to balance it I dropped the record keeping of 'real' casualties (1 miniature was removed for 20 such) and used a D20 to round up or down casualties at figurines level. The spared time was tremendous, and with 4 elements an unit could still adopt all essential formations: line, column 4 elements deep, square.

    When I tried my hand on the WRG 1685-1835 set, using Ancient minis (the only ones I had), wishing to keep the visual appeal of 'The War Game''s big battalions I used 2 ranks and basically doubled the number of 'to hit' dice.
    I had to use my minis as they were based, i.e. for 'line' infantry by 8 on 2 ranks, so my 'battalion' was made of 6 elements (fortunately with 1st rank spear, shield, 2nd rank bow, so it was not 'silly' to have an unit good both in shooting and hand-to-hand; Aureola Rococo Amazons, btw).
    Yet for H&M figurines I'd rather have a battalion of 48 in 8 elements ('companies') of 6. 8 elements are more propitious to form a square, a column 3 minis wide can fit on a road or bridge, and 2 elite 'flank' companies would not represent a too high proportion of the unit.

    Best wishes for the New year!

  3. Ross - I fear this will be something of a digression (not unknown for me), but your post also reminded that Charlie Wesencraft's excellent "Practical Wargaming" used single and double ranks in a specific way for Napoleonics. In Wesencraft's game, infantry are based in a single line (to represent infantry in a 2-deep line), or on square bases with 2 in the front row and 1 behind (to represent a 3-deep line). Only the front figures may fire, and thus French & Prussian line units are on the triplet bases, while Brits are in the thinner formation. There are also single-based figures for removal of casualties, and a French unit suffering losses would be arranged so that losses came from the back row, to preserve their frontage. Charlie's early version of national characteristics!

    I was just having a look at the book, and it is a nice piece of work - reminds me why it made such an impression on me after Featherstone.


  4. Once I'd recovered from the shock and had a lie-down, lol, I was forced to conclude that the one-deep line of redcoats looks plausible.

    But yes, when you say "There are days when I sure wish I could just play toy soldiers without even thinking about this stuff!" I couldn't help smiling ruefully - same here :-)

  5. Jean-Louis,

    I find myself thinking the opposite, a dozen 54mm figures marching across the table are more impressive than a dozen 10mm ones. I find that its the little ones that need the numbers. or perhaps its that the bigger ones already seem so abstracted that it no longer matters as much?

    All the best for 2012 to you as well.

  6. Tony, I found myself pondering 3 deep lines as I looked at the single rank so not much of a digression if at all. I have a tendency to forget Wesencraft which is just not right. Another reprint that I ought to add to the shelves.


  7. Steve, like so many things, I find that if I can just walk away and do something else for a few hours, it goes away. Pheww!


  8. It's funny. Although I'm familiar with the issue of trying to match a tabletop unit's frontage/area covered with the frontage/area covered by their historical counterparts, it's always struck me as a matter for the simulationists to worry about, rather than anyone who'd freely admit to be "playing with toy soldiers".

    Unless you're using unit bases as elements and micro-scale figures (10mm or smaller) then I don't think there's any good solution to this one. With individual, larger scale figures, I'd always go with whatever compromise you find most aesthetically pleasing.

  9. Doc,
    you've outed me!

    A closet simulationist who has been trying hard to reform for nearly 20 years!

    The big figures are definitely a problem depth wise. 2 deep, I can't physically form them into square unless I use 40+ man units. But I doubt if I'll change my ways.