Sunday, 2 October 2016

Size matters



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.

10 comments:

Dick Bryant said...

In the late 1950's Fred Vietmeyer (Michigan, US I beleive) wrote a Napoleonic set of rules called Column, Line and Square (C,L,&S) where each figure represented 20 men. The bases represented companies. I started with Austrians as the easiest to paint. How I remember painting up those 60 figure battalions. I soon swithed to British with 33 figures on 11 stands (1 Grenadier, 1 Light, 1 command and 30 line).

Dick Bryant

Ray Rousell said...

Couldn't agree more. As long as you're happy then who cares? For our Napoleonics we use 16 figures to represent a battalion. Its not correct to scale but works fine for us.

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

What you describe relates just as well to 'Modern' wargaming as it does to Napoleonics. For years I saw wargamers fighting what they called brigade or divisional-level battles that were nothing other than skirmishes. When a 'divisional' commander is worrying about whether or not a particular model tank's gun can see a particular target, they are not behaving as a real divisional commander would.

I know that board wargames had already solved this 'problem', but toy soldier wargamers had not. My first experience of something approaching a divisional-level wargame that used miniatures was Chris Kemp's NQM (Not Quite Mechanised) game. The playing pieces - which usually were a base with a single vehicle or a group of figures mounted on it - represented a company. It felt right, even though there were lots of naysayers who decried it with comments like 'three figure doesn't look like a company' (Sounds familiar, doesn't it?)

Tim Gow's Megablitz was the next stage in the process. In his rules a base represents a battalion or even a regiment, and an infantry division might have as few as four or five bases (e.g. A Russian Rifle Division that has seen a lot of action) or as many as twenty. Yet again the naysayers repeated their 'it doesn't look right' arguments BUT players from a board game background had not trouble with the rules, and once the majority of more traditional toy soldier wargamers began to take part in large-scale multi player battles, their initial objections usually disappeared.

I see nothing at all wrong with the way you have organised your Napoleonic armies, and the fact that they have served you well for so long is testament to the validity of your choices. Tough luck on anyone who would rather spend the next ten years painting enough figures to field a 1:33 Napoleonic army corps. By the time they are ready to start putting figures on the tabletop, you will have fought hundreds of battles!

More power to your elbow ... and thanks for sharing your ideas with the rest of us.

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Bob

Thanks for your interesting and considered comments.

I have never really taken to modern wargaming, surprising as I have a military background. On the rare occasions when I did have a go I was struck by the difficulty of getting the balance right between armoured vehicles and infantry. I have always admired those who game the period and make some sort of sense out of the wide range and variety of weapons and armour. I have found it difficult enough to get infantry, cavalry and artillery right in the far less complicated Napoleonic period.

It is interesting that you comment that board gamers have long had it right. And of course you are spot on. The problem is that we all like to push our "toy soldiers" around the table. And I suspect a lot of our prejudices date back to when we actually used "toy soldiers". We love the simple "bang you're dead" approach of rolling a dice to determine who wins. I often think that a lot of the serious and combative exchanges on model soldier forums is party due to a sort of embarrassment that we are still playing "toy soldiers". Once you accept that is a large part of the enjoyment, the rest falls easily into place. But you would never sell a set of wargame rules if you confessed that in your introduction.

Thanks again for your thought provoking comments

regards

Paul

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Ray

Thanks for your comment. As long as it works for you, then it is right - at least for you. Fortunately there are now many more rules, and many more options for wargaming. From Skirmish to Multi Corps, you can take your pick.

regards

Paul

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Dick

60 figure battalions must look pretty impressive. But you have to be pretty dedicated to paint up so many figures all the same. You must have had a large table to deploy more than a couple of battalions per side?

I have heard of Column, Line and Square rules, but never used them. I am surprised that a set of rules that required so many figures to use would be popular. It just goes to show what a strange group we wargamers are!

regards

Paul

Dick Bryant said...

We recently played a recreation of Echmuhl on a 25' x 5" table (Temporary set up in a large garage - we normally use 10' x 6' tables)using those old rules. We get together once or twice a year to play these old C, L, &S rules with which we learned miniature gaming back in the early 60s). Many thousands of figures on the table. I'd attache a photo if I knew how to.

Dick Bryant

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Dick

I was lucky to visit Peter Guilders Wargames Holiday Centre twice, and fought both Waterloo and Leipzig on his large tables. I believe that they were about 36x6 foot and there were three or four of them. I don't know how many 25mm figures were on the table, but it must have been similar to your own game. Unfortunately we did not all know each other, and there was a lack of knowledge of the rules. So although it was a spectacular sight, it was not a very enjoyable game.

I would like to see what you game looked like. Are there any photos available online of either your game, or a similar one using the same rules and large battalions?

regards

Paul

Dick Bryant said...

Paul
I have pics of some large C,L, & S games but how do I post them here? Or do you have an e-mail I can send them to?
Dick Bryant

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Dick

Could you send them to me at paulleniston@hotmail.com

regards

Paul