British Army of four corps
I am often surprised that so much attention is paid to ratio and scale by Napoleonic wargamers. On the various forum I visit a high proportion of the post is about the “best” scale of figure to wargame or paint. Another favourite is the “best” number of figures to represent a battalion or brigade.
There are often heated exchanges about how many 28mm figures best represent a battalion, which usually seems to mean how many do you need to “look like” a battalion.
My experience of wargaming goes back almost 50 years. In the early years no one seemed to worry too much about how many figures make a battalion. There was much less choice in wargame rules, and no one seemed to take themselves as seriously as they do now. There were very few “experts” around, and those who were stressed the fun or game element, rather than try to recreate actual battlefields on the wargame table.
In the 1970s size began to matter more. I suspect that Wargames Illustrated and Peter Guilder were largely responsible. Who did not admire the coloured photographs of the large tables stuffed with masses of figures at the Wargames Centre.
Peter also gave us In The Grand Manner wargame rules. These declared that an infantry battalion would be represented by 32 or 36 model soldier. They looked great in the magazine, and we all wanted to recreate that impression in our wargames. Unfortunately few of us had a 36x6 foot table to wargame on.
I built myself a 12x6 foot table in my garage and painted a lot of figures to provide the 36 figure battalions. I formed a small group to help me fight the wargames. And for a good ten years or so was perfectly happy with the result.
Then came the 1980s, and more and more articles about scale and size of armies. I had known from the start that most Napoleonic battles consisted of multi corps armies. Very few were between single corps, and almost none between less than a corps per side.
I also knew that though corps varied greatly in size and composition, they were usually about 20,000 to 30,000 men each. At least two thirds of each corps were infantry, and each infantry battalion had a field strength of about 500. So each corps would have approximately 14,000 to 20,000 infantry. If 36 figures represented 500 men, you would need at least 1,000 model soldiers to represent each corps.
Guilder himself obviously struggled with this problem. I recall wargaming Leipzig and Waterloo at Scarborough, and noting that his army orders of battle reduced each corps to four or six battalions, rather than the historical 10 to 30 battalions. There was no mention of divisions or brigades in the order of battle.
I also recall that whilst it was a great experience handling such large numbers of model soldiers on such impressive terrain, it was also very tiring. You required large teams of players to play Leipzig or Waterloo, and even then they were confused and exhausting games to play. Very impressive but, for me at least, not very enjoyable.
Throughout the 1990 I struggled to come to terms with this problem. I tried 6mm figures, but even at that scale the numbers were huge. I found painting 6mm figures very difficult and boring. On the table they looked good, but were difficult to keep track of and move around.
15mm were a compromise, but still required far too many figures to field one corps per side, let alone multi corps. They were easier to paint, but I still preferred my 28mm figures.
It was only when we retired and moved to Spain that I finally came to terms with this problem of scale. I realised that I could never make a corps out of 36 figure battalions, or even the more popular 12 figure battalions, fit on my 6x6 foot table.
I decided to make multi corps armies out of the figures already on my shelf. And make each corps small enough to fit two armies of four corps on my 6x6 foot table. Having made this decision the rest followed very smoothly.
Each 36 figure battalion became four 8 figure brigades. This would represent two divisions of two brigades. Each 36 figure battalion became one corps of four brigades.
Over the next ten years I developed the wargame and campaign rules to allow me to fight wargames using this basic principle. We wargame almost every day, and both the rules and campaign have stood the test of time.
I am sure that many will think that 8 figures do not “look like” a brigade of 4000 men, and of course they are absolutely correct. But then again 36 figures to not “look like” a battalion of 500 men.
It is, as with most things in life, all a matter of compromise.