Tuesday, March 13, 2012

On Stability and Flexibility

Lately, in between the periodic interruptions of real life, I've taken a break from paper miniatures and uniform machinations, to think about basing. There are several sets of rules I plan to use for my large battles. The candidates include Ross Macfarlane's "Hearts of Tin," Bob Cordery's "The Portable Wargame," and "Volley and Bayonet" by Chadwick and Novak.

I chose these rule sets because they focus on battalion- or brigade-scale games, and I love the look of large units on the table. All three use figures based on multi-figure bases, in various sizes. Here's what I've come up with.

Taking the direction set by the scenarios in Grants "Scenarios for Wargames," I'll distinguish between regular infantry and light infantry. Grant suggests that the number of figures in light infantry units should be about half those in regular units. While the number of figures per stand makes no difference in any of these rules, I figured the guidance was still a good one to follow, to let me easily tell line units from their supporting skirmisher units.

The standard line unit will include twenty-two infantry figures and a mounted officer, mounted on 30mm x 30mm stands. This configuration is in the middle of the picture below. Light infantry will include twelve infantry figures, chosen and arranged to represent skirmishers, also mounted on 30mm x 30mm stands. A typical light infantry unit is at the bottom of the picture.

I have enough figures to allow me to field one or two units per side at a larger muster. These units will consist of thirty infantry figures and one mounted commander, on 40mm x 30mm stands. I haven't decided what, if any, game effect these larger units will have compared to their smaller line infantry units.

These figures are temporarily mounted on card stock bases, using putty normally used to mount posters on walls. This allows me to experiment with base sizes quickly. I should say that I tried several other schemes, but settled on this approach because it fit my collection of figures very well, gave me nice, chunky, "heavy" looking units, and allowed me to use these based units for all three rule sets of interest. More on that in a moment.

Below are the same three units, in profile. Those thirty figure units are particularly impressive, to my eye.

A little more detail now. The picture below shows a typical line infantry unit, in line formation. The standard bearers and mounted commander are central to the unit. Drummers are to the rear, and an NCO flanks each end of the rear rank.

The same unit, in square. The two flank stands have been withdrawn behind the middle stands, and faced to the rear.

Attack column. I made a small mistake when taking this picture. If I were to swap the rear rank stands, the NCOs would still flank the rear rank, as I'd intended. This configuration of stands will also be used when playing Volley and Bayonet, which uses square unit stands.

The same stands, but arranged as two infantry units for The Portable Wargame. I intend to play The Portable Wargame on a 3" hex map, which will fit two stands very nicely in each hex. Notice that the arrangement of the command figures allows me to configure each such that the standards or officer still form the center of each sub-unit. Each has a single NCO, still flanking the rear rank.

Basing up my figures temporarily has three more advantages. First, I can make deliberate choices about precisely which figures of each type I'll use for each unit. I have a few more figures of each type than I need, and this lets me separate the figures I'll use from the spares. Second, it lets me assemble the armies, possibly play games with them, and then quickly take them off their temporary bases for painting, a unit at a time. Finally, and very importantly, this approach allows me to play with storage options.

I have some hard, separate-top boxes that I plan to line with magnetic sheet, allowing me to place the permanent metal based units in safely and securely. This experiment shows me that I can fit just over half of the infantry I plan for this collection into the bottom of one box. One more box, or possibly a second level built into this one, will be enough to store the remainder of the collection: remaining infantry, cavalry, artillery and commanders.


  1. A very sensible and well thought-out way to do things.

    Over recent years I have tended to try out new ideas with a couple of prototypes (as you have done) before making a definitive choice. That way I have managed to avoid some of the pitfalls that result from the very normal desire to 'get things started' before you have thought through all the ramifications of what you are doing.

    All the best,


  2. Will,

    A couple of thoughts . . .

    You mention "permanent metal based units" . . . might I suggest that for use on the table top you will most likely want something thicker for ease of movement.

    Thin steel sheets underneath wood, plastic or card will still allow your "magnetic hold" but will also facilitate moving the unit without the danger of sharp metal bases sliding over each other and cutting figures off at the ankles.

    As for rules, my personal preference would be "Hearts of Tin" . . . but just as many others would probably go for the other two rules.

    -- Jeff

  3. Bob, thanks very much. I'm quite happy with this experimental approach, for all the reasons you mentioned. I like very much that I can play with the placement of each figure within the unit, let it sit a while, then come back and see how it strikes me. I like that I can experiment with base sizes quickly. Those larger units were an idea late to the party. Cutting a few larger bases, unsticking a battalion's worth of figures and adding eight loose ones too it was a few minute's work.

    Jeff, a good suggestion. Thank you. For the reasons you mention and because I'm deliberately going for a "toy soldier" look for this collection. Thicker bases help solidify that look, to my eye.

  4. I have played around with cut out pieces of coloured cardboard with much the same goal in mind. I had finally decided on using "The War Game" and was going to multiple base. What I found was that I need to keep some flexibility in reference to light troops and firing groups (eg 6 fig groups vs 4 fig groups) so have settled on movement trays instead.