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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Is Smaller Really Bigger?

Change can be hard. New ideas, even attractive, effective ones, often clash with accepted values. A browse through past blog posts reflects this as I have shifted from the expectations and norms of decades of accepting that more of everything was best.  A quarter of a century ago I wanted a big table with lots of beautiful terrain and many, many beautifully painted and animated model soldiers organized into many units of at least a score of figures and games that lasted for hours. Those are all still worthwhile goals and I applaud those who seek and especially those who reach these goals. However, these days my aspirations and tastes have changed and I am most often found enjoying much smaller, simpler games with toy soldiers with an ideal game lasting two hours or so, maybe three with a challenging opponent.

There are many reasons behind this change but they are perhaps less significant than the observation that after 45 years of gaming, the big, beautiful games are remembered largely as enjoyable social events while most of my favourite gaming memories are of quite small, simple games.

So with this in mind, I'll turn to the matter in hand.

One of the reasons for enlarging the size of my grid squares was to make it easier to accommodate 40mm figure compatible terrain features but another was to allow me to use larger units for the look of the thing. As I went to lay out my 1812 figures for that last game of 2016 it occurred to me that I only had 7 units per side and that the game made no allowance for 2 stand units, they were treated just the same as one stand units just visually more attractive.

Instantly I felt an urge to add something, formations definitely, and preferably combat dice and attrition by stand as in the old Hearts of Tin. Something to make having two stands different and better than one. I also felt apprehension that the game would be too short if I didn't make changes. Lacking time to properly think out and test some rule changes I considered using the same number of stands but treating each as a unit and treating each 3"x3"  quadrant as a square, something I have done before to make the table "larger" and to double the size of the armies.  Again though this would be an impromptu change which might or might not work. It would at the least almost certainly make for a longer game but by the time we sat down the day was passing rapidly, and I opted to go with what I was confident of, which is to say the standard Square Brigadier with one square = one unit regardless of how it is represented and I enjoyed the resulting game with seven units per side even if it did only last an hour .

The next day however, I reset the table to try the one stand is a unit on a 3" grid version with no rule changes.      

The one stand is a unit in a 3" square version..
The result was a two hour game with fourteen units per side which was OK but which looked more like the dog's breakfast than battle lines. It lacked the tension and excitement of the first game since the loss of any one unit was not significant given the ample reserves. What did change was that the terrain shrank. For example, the riflemen in the farm had no significant reach and their stronghold was now easily bypassed making it irrelevant. This was not necessarily good or bad, just different but it would have to be considered when designing scenarios. More importantly is that the rules were still treating each unit as a small battalion but they didn't look like it and what was supposed to be not much more than a skirmish between brigades became bigger than most War of 1812 battles. That wasn't the intent.

My conclusion was that the one stand per grid on a 3" grid would only work for me for me if I changed the scale, doubling ranges and so on. To get the right sort of look I would need to go back and try again to add an effective group rule with group sub-commanders and rules to encourage battle lines and so on. I would also have to revisit ways to make very small but practical and effective terrain for 40mm figures. But would it be worth it?  Probably not, I've tried that path before and failed, more than once. In any case, I  rather like the look of the two stand units on the 6" grid.  Some rules for columns and lines would not be amiss though.  I have considered allowing the two stand units to roll more dice and take more hits but the main effect apart from lengthening the game appears to be shifting the game towards average results resulting in slow, indecisive, less exciting victory by attrition.

The Dec 30th game with each unit occupying a 6" square.
I turned my mind from rules to the best use of existing figures for Atlantica as well as the War of 1812 and a look at what would be easily possible.  The various line infantry units were largely raised as 18 or 24 figure battalions. I have managed to squeeze 8 figures onto temporary 60mm x 60mm stands but not only do many look a little crowded for toy soldiers but its not  a great match for the existing units. Most of my other horse and musket/rifle armies are moving towards 3 figures on a 60mm width and this seems like a good choice here giving me 12 figure line battalions, 6 light infantry or cavalry. This looks pretty small now but my early 15mm armies were organized in 12 man battalions for the WRG 1685 to 1845 rules so its not new.  With the addition of a few more flags and drummers, maybe a few more privates here and there, I will easily be able to field a dozen units per side, all arms included. Enough to fill the table and remove the need to make units more resilient.

The estimated length of a game will again be able to be gauged by the size and complexity of scenario chosen without any need for rules to give each unit greater longevity. My existing terrain will fit as planned on the 6" grid and I will still be able to use the same armies on the portable board by using only one stand per unit without anything changing but the look of the thing.

Sounds like a plan.  


  1. Running the two games over days, you are probably at a point of real decision. My own inclination would be to have the bigger unit and the bigger square and it appears though a shorter game, you enjoyed it more.

    For basing in 28mm, I have moved to 6 figures (in two ranks of three) on a 50mm wide by 40mm deep base - this gives me 3 base units with a frontage of 150mm (6") when in line and is enough to look 'unit like' and the infantry are close enough to each other to create a sense of mass.

    1. That 3*6 figure base choice was a close runner up for me, in fact some of the units on the shelf are still on those test bases. I use the 60mm square bases for other projects and the idea of standard or common base sizes appeal, both in terms of logistics and staandard terrain design but the real decision point was that I would need to add about 100 more 40mm figures to fill out the OB!

  2. Strangely I'm finding that the bigger my armies get the higher the proportion of 12 element DBA battles I play. On the other hand, I like setting up the large armies on the table and looking at them!

    1. I am aiming to have it both ways with the medieval/fantasy armies by fielding allied contingents of around, ohhh 12 stands apiece :) Fills on shelf and makes the big battle possible.

  3. Interesting to read this right when I am pondering the same sort of issues. I want to scale my game to skirmisher (in a square grid), but every time I think about simply declaring the figure scale is 1:1 and not 1:20, I cannot stand the thought of not extending out the range, etc. To me, changing the figure scale almost seems to require a change in ground scale, which in turn affects ranges and time. Sort of like zooming a microscope in and out.

    By the way, although it seems you are set for you grid boards, Cigar Games has started producing a subdued 6" square grid on their gaming mats. The first was Grasslands (branded with Tin Soldiers in Action) and they now have quite a number of others. Thought you might like to know. I have a picture of one mat in this post: http://daleswargames.blogspot.com/2016/11/test-battle-for-tin-soldiers-in-action.html

    1. Thanks Dale. I have seen pictures of the mat and have played on others of their mats and they are good quality. Alas, beyond my budget for the foreseeable future.

      As an aside, I was thinking just the othef day that your blog has not been showing up on my reading list for sometime, a gkitch thst happens all often, so thank you for the link. Love the wooden soldiers!