Monday, 29 March 2010

In the Grandest of Manners

A conundrum I always have in respect of the scale of wargame I enjoy is not so much the size of the figures – more the size of the action they are being used for. As a rule I tend to enjoy games that are pitched at a high level of command e.g. army level type games rather than a 1:20 type brigade or divisional level style affair. I suppose that is a throwback to the almost continuous diet of campaign histories I have enjoyed reading over many years. Ironically, I also enjoy the archetypal brigade and divisional level game when I get the chance but that seems to be few and far between these days – primarily because of the effort involved in amassing the armies required. I have also been known to try my hand (usually unsuccessfully!) at the odd skirmish game or two and most certainly enjoy gladiatorial combat games. Having said that and despite the rise of the 28mm plastic figure (such as the Perry Twins efforts) I think you are still looking at a substantial investment in terms of both financial outlay and time taken to paint an army for, for want of a better expression, a ‘normal’ wargame – even a four battalion brigade of 120 figures plus the added artillery and a cavalry regiment at a scale of 1:20 is a lot of work.

For those hardy and dedicated individuals pursuing such a collection I certainly take my hat off as I would never envisage myself tackling such a project. The more cynical amongst us could call me lazy in that respect and I suppose to an extent that may be the case. In my defence though, I should point out that my own ‘level of operations’ tends to be above the brigade and divisional level and usually encompasses whole armies. At this level you really are playing generals and of course, the game mechanics should reflect higher level considerations rather than the minutiae of such things as battalion formations, deployed skirmishers and the other associated evolutions of the fighting man. I should emphasise that I am in no way denigrating those champions of games at the Brigade and Divisional level – on the contrary, I have every admiration for such practitioners – but they are not my gaming mode of choice.

As a student of military operations at the army level I tend to me concerned with the strategic big picture and so prefer to be considering the brigade as the basic building block of the army. Fortunately, there are several very good sets of horse and musket era rules that favour this approach. A set of rules that is excellent for the army level approach (and was designed from the ground up as such a set) is ‘Volley and Bayonet’ by Frank Chadwick. These rules employ a roster system and a brigade sized base that can contain any number or scale of figures – from 54mm down. I have fought a number of games using these rules as solo exercises and am really looking forward to trying them ‘for real’. As a general rule of thumb, an infantry brigade consists of from (usually) 4 to 6 strength points representing a force of between 2,000 to 3,000 men. A brigade base is sized at 3” square, so how ever many figures of your preferred scale can fit on the base is how many you can use.

The original version of these rules was designed to cover the entire horse and musket era – from 1700 to around 1900 – with period specific variants to cover both the increase in fire effectiveness and the dilution of overall quality of armies due to the effects of large scale conscription etc. There is a new edition currently available that concentrates primarily on the Napoleonic Wars and future versions will cover the age of reason and the wars of the late 19th century. Frank Chadwick himself organised a refight of the battle of Borodino in 1812 using the above rules and 54mm figures with 4 infantry figures and a pair of cavalry figures per brigade. It looked really impressive but took up a lot of room – not due to the figures size but the scale area of the battlefield itself. The new edition of the rules also allows for using bases half the size so a brigade is on a 1 ½” square – or 40mm square as near as makes no difference. The eagle-eyed amongst you will realise that a 40mm frontage is almost a magic number in terms of rules usage and so the potential of using an existing 15mm army based as such becomes obvious.

For my own purposes I have yet to decide how best to make use of these rules (and have been doing so for many years now!) and what figures would be most appropriate. Using the half size bases (with the corresponding reduction in movement distances and weapon ranges) with 2mm blocks would seem to be a sensible idea and would have the advantage of being cheap, easy to paint and will not need much in the way of storage space.

One of the great advantages of such high level games is that the armies become more representational in their appearance and that terrain becomes more functional rather than decorous. I have no problem with this and if the table becomes in effect a kind of 3d map then so be it. A similar style of game can also be seen with ‘Megablitz’ – the WW2 operational level rule set in which whole battalions are represented by a couple of figures and much of the low level ‘kit’ can conveniently (and correctly) be ignored. Memoir 44 the boardgame manages this equally well and so, for example, the benefits of using a Bren gun as opposed to an MG 42 are discarded as being of little importance at the scale represented.

One of the great attractions of our hobby is the sheer diversity of techniques and approach that can be applied to any given period – be it a man to man skirmish game right up to recreating D Day on a 6 by 4 foot table. Naturally we all champion our own particular ‘command experience’ corner but Vive La Difference I say!!


Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

An excellent blog entry!

Rather like you I prefer the 'larger' picture type of battle (hence my liking for Megablitz) and I also own a copy of V&B ... although I have yet to fight a battle with them.

The 40mm wide base ... for some reason it does seem to work for so many different game systems. Why? Because it is just the right size to pick up easily between the first finger and thumb. Any larger and it would be difficult for smaller hands to pick up and if it was any smaller it would be too fiddly.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Bob,

It was very much a 'soap box' type of post and I feel much better for it! I really want to give V and B a shot and given the huge Del Prado Waterloo collection you have and the non specific unit sizes etc (as well as my previously mentioned Waterloo boardgames they could be used as game generators)perhaps that may be one to think about! If you ever want to try this out then let me know!

All the best,


Paul O'G said...

I heartily concur mate- different games for different ends and different moods!

David Crook said...

Hi Tas,

It seems rather strange that I am looking at 2mm for a tactical game i.e. Land Ironclads and 15mm and larger for srmy level games - I suppose 54mm would be great for a skirmish then!

All the best,