Friday 11 September 2020

Naval Scales or Does Size Matter?

A selection of WW1 ships in 1:3000th from the collection of Alan Cook

A 1:1200th scratch build by yours truly (with apologies for repeating the picture but I am rather chuffed with it!)

More 1:1200th goodies from the collection of Eric Knowles.

Regular readers of the blog will be aware of my fondness for naval games. In fact, I would go so far as to say that of all of the types of historical war game that I have ever taken part in, the naval version (I could also say the same about aerial and Sci Fi) was directly a result of joining the Newham Wargames Club way back in the late 1970s. It was not something that I ever gamed back on the Isle of Sheppey so being introduced to it by a combination of Messrs. Fox, Hardman and Knowles has given me a lifelong interest.

My first introduction was to WW1 using 1:3000th models and General Quarters Part 2. This then moved along to WW2 (in the same scale) and I also dabbled in the Pre Dreadnought era, again in 1:3000th, using a very detailed set of rules called The Devil at The Helm. These were great fun but when you got to the late pre dreadnought period, when ships were routinely festooned with an abundance of ordnance of a bewildering variety the system slowed down to a snails pace. In those days I built up a French navy fr the period 1895 up until about 1920. It was huge as in those days building up an entire navy seemed like a good idea....

Winding the gaming clock  back I was also first introduced to Napoleonic Naval via a set called Action Under Sail which quickly gave way to my favourite set for the period - Ship O’ the Line. These games were fought using 1:1200th scale ships. I tentatively started to build a Russian fleet for the period but it never went very far and the effort was abandoned when Eric launched the South East Asia Naval campaign using 1:1200th scale models and Fletcher Pratt rules on a table top.

Looking back I learned several valuable lessons although I did not fully appreciate them at the time - in fact I did not even realise that I had learned anything until very much later.

I like warship models but I am not a great modeller. The 1:1200th range produced by Airfix and Revell would be about the limit of what o would be comfortable building and using but in their raw form are a little on the fussy side with lots of fragile parts designed to catch clothing or fat fingers with equal aplomb. The same thing applies in my opinion to fully rigged sailing ships of war. Lovely to look at for sure but probably way beyond my concentration level!

Fast forward to today and where am I at in respect of naval wargames.

The largest playing area I can manage at home would be around 6ft by 4ft. The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that my recent game was fought on the floor in the man cave with its conveniently coloured carpet (not my idea I hasten to add but very handy all the same!). It was not a particularly comfortable experience! So, the table top it will be then.

I own a number of naval board games that have large scale fleet actions as their core topic. These include Avalon Hill’s Jutland, Wooden Ships and Iron Men, Flying Colours by GMT and you could also include the Yaquinto Ironclads family at a push (think Lisa’s) - more of which later. I also own the Avalon Hill game of Bismarck which includes both a hexagonal battle board for the intermediate level game and counters to use a la Jutland style for the advanced version.

Whilst fighting my recent game it struck me that using models is all well and good but it does raise a number of problems, especially for games involving dreadnoughts. It is obvious that even 1:3000th scale models are hugely over scale on a tabletop but they do look nice. For more accuracy 1:4800th or even 1:6000th would be better but whilst these models are nice to look at they suffer from availability in the UK. I know that there is an extensive range of 1:6000th models available from the US but these are not cheap and when you tack on the tender ministrations of HMRC become unpalatably expensive.

If I was going to go to that scale, which works a whole lot better in my opinion than 1:3000th for large scale actions, I would make use of the counters I have from the aforementioned board games.

I mentioned Ironclads with a caveat. For sure there were some large actions in the period but given that ranges were a lot closer using models is absolutely fine. I will be using the counters from the game either with a variant of Bob Cordery’s Gridded Naval Wargames rules or any of the appropriate offerings from David Manley for larger fights.

Taking all of this rather rambling post into consideration - of course, anybody can model their fleets to whatever degree they like - I have settled on what I think will work best for me in terms of the games I intend to fight.

Age of Sail - probably no more than half a dozen or so models per side and as ranges are quite short then anything from 1:450th to 1:700th (don't ask me to rig anything though!). Anything larger will be counters based.

Ironclads - primarily the ACW And again with no more than half a dozen or so models a side so scratch builds are the order of the day and these will not be scale specific. Again, anything larger will be counters based.

Pre Dreadnoughts/WW1 - this is a tricky one in that I shall be using 1:3000th for when both sides feature dreadnought formations but for anything else - I am thinking for ‘Hunt the raider’ style cruiser  type games - 1:2400th. I envisage using anything up to perhaps a dozen models a side, with anything larger being counters based.

WW2 - Typically around half a dozen ships per side so I would probably opt for 1:2400th or 1:3000th with counters for anything larger

There is of course the 1:1200th angle which is certainly something I would like to use but this would certainly be less than half a dozen or som models a side.

One of the advantages for me of looking at this in the way I have is that what I need to acquire is very modest. I will no longer be raising whole fleets, rather I will be looking to get a good representative selection of models that will cover most eventualities and will give me sufficient variety. It will be goodbye to my previous naval megalomania!


Steve J. said...

I think we all have suffered from building or planned far too large forces for whatever games we play. I certainly did that with Blitzkreig Commander, with a Brigade per side as my aim. It became apparent very quickly that for most games, a Battalion per side was more than ample. Anything larger took too long to play and the command and control became harder due to so many units to plan their movements etc.

So your naval plans seem emminently sensible, but personally I would stick with one scale, but that's just me.

David Crook said...

Hi Steve J,

I certainly fell into that particular trap with the Del Prado collection! If I were to choose a single scale for naval games then it would have to be 1:1200th but as I am already in possession of a couple of scales it makes sense to use them. In truth it is nt so much of a problem as it would be for the many side, mainly due to not having to worry too much about terrain!

All the best,


NCC1717 said...

Megalomania? I may have a bit of a problem myself:

Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

Heresy but I have been known to "Mix Scales" ;)

A tactical 1:1200 and a battle map in 1:3000
This was at Battleground .. Sink the Bismarck

And it seemed to work quite well .. as a case of Victorian theatre and suspension of a certain disbelief

David Crook said...

Hello there Geordie,

I have no problem mixing scales as such - Eric’s WW1 South East Asian campaign used everything from1:600th down to 1:3000th!

All the best,


Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

Cool, the inventiveness I have seen in Eric's work is really impressive :)

David Crook said...

Hello there NCC1717,

That is a mighty impressive collection! Back in the day that is exactly what I would have aspired to but now I am settled on smaller fare.

Lovely to look at though!

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Geordie,

Eric had converted a couple of 1:3000th ships into monitors for use with 1:1200th fleets! His imagination was incredible and indeed, sometimes un-credible!

All the best,