Viewer's Choice Celebration MiniCampaign

It has now been over 20 years since I launched "With MacDuff On the Web" and nearly 10 years since I launched my 2 blogs: Gathering of Hosts and Battle game of the Month.

To celebrate the years and the friends and the million hits I've decided to run a 3 game mini-campaign in late October. By popular vot e it will be set in the mid 18th Century.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Does size matter?

Having been 8 years without a permanent Games room and table, I was determined to have at least a 6'x 8' table in the old farmhouse which we now call home. During the interregnum, I made do with various temporary tables ranging from 4' x 5' (try 54mm gaming on that!) to 5' by 9'. Last year, with layout finally finalized, more or less, I took possession of my new games room and set up my 6'x 8' with some shelves and storage underneath.

So far, so good, there was just room to sit around the table on bar stools and I could just, (if I stretched and didn't wear a baggy sweater)   reach the middle from the long sides. (the table is a little higher than my last one, and maybe I've shrunk a little as I don't recall that being an issue previously!). Recently, the house layout shifted again a bit to make room for my wife's mother, soon to come back to live with us and I had to slide a few more bookshelves in.  As a result, 'just enough' space has become 'not quite enough' and I am considering my options. There are 2 main approaches, reduce the number of figures and books so that I can remove shelves that are in the way and reduce the size of the table. The first approach has been underway for a while with several thousand, mostly 15mm and 54mm having been re-homed and the number of figures that can't be accommodated either on shelves or in the cupboard is slowly being brought to heel, (reducing the library is not going as well). However, there does not appear to be any realistic chance of fitting all existing books and figures comfortably into  the  existing space anytime soon and that brings me back to table size.

I have mentioned before that I am starting to enjoy being able to occasionally sit at a table and play a game. Most of those games, however, have been 2 player (or solo) games with 1/72 figures or smaller and while I am happily rediscovering 1/72nd plastic figures, I don't wish to drop my 40mm figures entirely, do only skirmishes or go back to even smaller scales. A drop in table size therefore must mean a change in theoretical gaming style, with fewer figures on table and/or less room to maneuver on table rather than a mere miniaturization  of current style games.

I say theoretical because while I like the idea and sight of a bunch of Big Battalions, for example a full sized 40mm Charge! game with 500 or 1,000 figures on the table, in practice,  I have never painted enough figures in any one scale or period to host such a game by myself and it wouldn't fit on a 6'x8' table anyway. Our Charge! games at Cold Wars, for example, have expanded to 12' and even 20' wide. Such games will have to remain a special event.  Luckily, as mentioned above, I have already gained some experience in fitting games onto smaller tables so I know that BIG games are not the only enjoyable option for me and no projects will need to be dropped even if some scenarios may not work as well, others will work as well or better.

So what are my options in terms of table and room layout? The current contenders are:

a) Leave as is and live with the constricted space. Not bad for a solo or even a 2 player game but may not be workable for a club game with 5 or 6 guys present and a constant irritant in between games, 

b) take the table apart, rotate the  6 ft cabinet which holds up one end, and install a 5'x7' table with the same general layout of the room, just a little more elbow room when moving around the table, 

c) take the table apart, reduce it to 6' x 6',  leaving the cabinet as it is and switching the prime player positions to what are now the short ends of the table. This leaves me the option of making a temporary  extension to 6'x8' if I want to do so. 

d) do as b) but reduce the table even farther, perhaps to 5'x 6' (one side must be at least 6' to accommodate the useful under table cabinet)  with the possibility of an extension.
Option c) requires the least amount of work on my part (apart from doing nothing) but leaves a choke point on 1 side. If I rotate the habitual base lines to what are now the short sides, however, there would be sufficient people space behind the base lines. It also gives me a square table. I've rarely played on a square table but if I recall properly, Charles Grant was in favour of the table being as square as possible to remove table orientation as an unrealistic player perception (of course this design would be  only roughly 50%   of the square footage of his table).  Still, it would fit about 90% of the games that I have played on the full table in the last 2 years with very little adaptation, more off table movement of flanking units or reserves, for example, but mostly just loss of unused space. If I add a one foot extension on either end, then the current configuration is restored.  It does, however place the center of the table at my extreme reach and means I cannot play a game sitting down and in years to come might find myself constrained to reach it at all.

Option b) leaves me with the same general configuration as now but a foot narrower in all directions. The reduction from 8' to 7' is of little moment, about the only time the extra foot in that direction would even be noticed is for a big game with lots of 40mm troops, allowing an extra unit per side,  or if doing a fighting retreat where it would give an extra turn. The foot in the other direction would be more noticeable, especially when driving on a 40mm gun crew with even a 4 horse limber. It does make a defiles even narrower when fighting the long way but the extra width is usually taken up with impassible terrain so its mostly about scenic effect.  The depth is somewhat useful for reserves and a slightly earlier arrival of
off-table troops but these are easily accommodated by allowing off table reserves and adjusting arrival times.  The down side is that the table still dominates the room even if only being used perhaps a score of days in the course of a year and that while the amount of maneuver room is increased, it is still a little congested for looking at books or figures.

Option c) appears to be a complete surrender of gaming to ease and comfort. It would take the most work to achieve and leave the smallest table but give the easiest access the rest of the time and allow easy access to all sides. I would need to consider carefully what sort of games would fit the table and would probably want to ensure that a temporary expansion was available. 

Luckily, there are more important renovations to be done before I undertake changes to an already, more-or-less functioning games room so I have time to experiment. I foresee me taping off areas of the table this winter to try playing on the various size areas. In the mean time, I know I'm not the first person to ponder table sizes so if anyone wants to share their thoughts and experiences, please do so.



  1. I don't have a lot of psace to leave a table up all the time. I use 28mm figures, have reduced unit sizes to 8 figues for line infantry, 6 cavalry, and use an expandable table that expands out to 40 inches by 6 feet. I'm happy with that. Sure, it doesn't have the epic look of big battalions (no cast of thousands). But I am able to paint enough miniatures in a reasonable amount of time (I'm not a fast painter), they don't take as much space for storage, and I have fewer pieces to move during a game, so I can finish a game in a reasonable amount of time and collapse the table when I'm done.
    As far as scenary goes I've been exploring the idea of "flats", like the mountains in Major-General Rederring's site, small footprints for buildings and such. So the ground scale can be "telescoped" or foreshortened.

  2. A perennial puzzle :-) After many years of trying to fit the biggest table I can into the space available, I'm currently in a phase of sacrificing some square feet for the greater comfort of being able to circumnavigate freely, with less stretching and bodily contortion and less risk of elbowing/nudging the scenery.

    I don't know yet whether this is a permanent settlement or another of those cyclical things.

    I make a 7 x 5 table in the garage by laying two 3.5 x 5 sheets of MDF over a 6 x 3 retired dining-table. I don't leave it up permanently however, as it soon gets covered with non-wargaming stuff; it's as easy to assemble it when required as it would be to clear a permanent table of debris.

    I'm keeping an eye out for a second-hand table tennis table (9 x 5); I used to have one and would feel comfortable reviving that solution. Nonetheless, I can see the benefits of a squarer table, as proposed by CG; it does have a different psychology.

    Best of luck with the experiments.

  3. Ross,

    As you know I'm fortunate enough to have a very large gameroom . . . and I have enough space to have a 6' wide table . . . but I don't. I have a 5' wide table.


    Because my arms aren't long enough to comfortably reach the middle of a 6' table . . . particularly while sitting down. And keep in might the fact that terrain and troops can interfere with how far one can reach.

    Let me suggest to you, sir, that comfort . . . both for reaching over and moving around . . . will become more important to you as time goes on than having the biggest (uncomfortable) table possible.

    You can always make battles fit either by reducing unit sizes or movement rates . . . you can't grow longer arms or cause your friends to become thinner.

    I hope these comments help . . . remember, my friend, that we aren't growing younger even though we still play with toy soldiers.

    -- Jeff

  4. Option C/. for me - any other choice (than a/.) would mean a wargaming table smaller in size than your dreams.... :o)

  5. Hi Ross,
    I use three 2.5 x 6-ft folding tables now, giving me a fair-sized battlefield; but now find that I keep second-guessing myself. Should I reduce it to 2 tables 5 x 6? It is easier to fill with terrain and troops, more closely matches most published scenarios, etc. Hell, I can't even make a final decision if I want to focus more on skirmish scale or maneuver battalions, so I am re-basing my troops to try to support either option.

    In light of such waffling, it seems like flexibility might be a prime consideration, hence an expandable table. That's my two cents and worth at least half.

    Good gaming.

  6. I've gone for the ease and comfort option with a permanent 6x3.5 ft table and I now tend to design games which will fot on this area. I can extend this by moving my modelling table (a blue formica-topped 3x2 ft monstrosity my parents bought new in 1964) and again by bringing a folding 6x3.5 up from the garage.
    As to your original question, clearly there are as many answers as there are wargamers!

  7. Thanks to all for the comments so far.

    Fitz-B. Yes I've been revisiting the Maj-Gen over the last while. He's crammed some marvelous games onto that dining room table!

    Steve. You are spot on about flat surfaces accumulating "things" I thought the pendulum of basing was bad enough....

    Jeff. Good points sir. I had forgotten or perhaps never noticed that your table was 5 ft across. Sort of says a lot doesn't it. btw saw some nice glass fronted cabinets on sale in used store here. They would have looked good across the end.

    S-W, hmm smaller than the old been-there dreams maybe.

    John, That's a familiar waffle, I feel almost embarrassed when I am forced to concede to myself that I no longer have any real desire to recreate the great battles of history in any meaningful sense. Who knows if that desire will come back and in what form? Would sure make writing rules easier if I was clear in the desired end result!

    Tim. I think designing games to fit my chosen space will be a key factor,

  8. Hi Ross, I think you probably have more options. Perhaps you could store something under the table, or 80/90cm. over it. For me the relationship between the size of the table and the numbers of soldiers is critical. A cramped game for me has no fun. Try to keep your table as large as you can.

  9. Thanks, Cesar. Unfortunately underneath the table is already fully used for storage and the ceiling is very low (it is upstairs in a 150 yr old farm house). But that reminds me that I will lose some of that storage area when I make the table smaller. Something else to consider.

    I agree that a crowded table with no room to manouver is less fun.