Saturday, January 5, 2013

Tripping into the swing of things


With the Cub shipped back to his mom's for school, and a slowly dawning realization of how much work piled up over the holidays, life is moving back into something approaching routine.  We're now 6 days in to the new year, and so far, I've managed not to violate my resolution not to pick up anything new for an existing, but unpainted project, though this has not been the result of a lack of temptation.

Rules have been catching my eye of late, notably Osprey's Dux Bellorum, Hail Caesar, and Beneath the Lilly Banners 2.  I've managed not to pull the trigger on any of them yet, but it's been close a few times.  Anyone out there with a cautionary tale, feel free to share.

Probably a worse idea than buying Hail Caesar.

I've also caught myself toying with the idea of grand shift to 28mm.  I'm not sure where this is coming from, although it may be a combination of getting a look at some of Warlord's plastic phalangites, some of the new Aventine stuff, and a recent knock around on the club forums about the relative merits of various scales of miniatures and rules for Napoleonics.  My intervention into the latter follows:

"If you want to fight Napoleonic battles, you need a command-focused game at corps +, generally with one unit = 1 brigade.  It's the only way to handle the sheer size of the thing.  Formations are irrelevant to game play, since they'd be handled by subordinate commanders, and the player takes on the role of army commander, concerned with coordinating the army.  You re-fight Talavera, or Leipzig, or Waterloo.  In this kind of game, units are basically scaled up counters, rather than a collection of toy soldiers.  6mm works well for this kind of game, and FYI, it's my preference for Napoleonic gaming, and likely for ACW as well, which is basically Napoleonics with rifles.  You can make your counters look 3D and awesome, but you are fundamentally playing a board game with miniatures.  The modelling appeal is making your unit of tiny Polish lancers recognizable as Polish lancers (my all time favorite painting compliment was "Holy shit!  Is that plaid?"), rather than having to squint at the frigging label on the counter.  The gaming appeal is getting to wear a bicorne crossways and stick your hand in your waistcoat, while kicking ass across most of Europe.
The alternative is to fight actions, ie., parts of a larger battle.  This has the game unit as a battalion, or maybe a company.  This is concerned with issues like formations, as the tactical deployment of troops is one of the recurring command choices that need to be made.  Games are goal centred (take the hill, fight a delaying action, seize the guns, capture la Haiye Sainte).  Unlike grand scale gaming, units are collections of toy soldiers.  If you've got lots of time, money, and space, you do this in 28mm a la Black Powder.  Otherwise, you do it in 15mm a la Lasalle.  The modelling appeal of this is getting the lace right, and getting into fights on TMP with the grognards.  The gaming appeal is about shouting "merde!" at your opponent, and giving the attacking cavalry the finger when you bully your boys into square in time.
So what do you want to do?  Paint uniforms, or make units recognizable on the table-top?  Fight Austerlitz, or seize the Pratzen heights?  Get into pissing contests with TMP wankers, or wonder why you're fighting for the farmhouse when you could be fighting for an empire?  There's trade-offs either way, but there are two very different experiences, and I'm not aware of any option that offers both."
 I think this more or less sums up my current take on 28mm in general.  I really like the idea of it, especially for Black Powder era gaming, but it imposes significant restrictions.  You need big tables, lots of storage, big terrain, plenty of time, and a willingness, I think, to game at a smaller scale of engagement.  These restrictions, I think, explain a fair bit of the controversy around the Black Powder rules, especially among the Napoleonic grognards out there.  The game makes deliberate sacrifices in terms of "simulation" to enable games with lots of figs.

Occasionally I'll see some spectacularly painted figure(s), and I'll think "I want an army that looks like that".  It usually takes a couple of days, and several dunks of my head in cold water, before I remember the reason I don't have that is a) I'm a glacially slow painter, b) when it comes to hobby stuff, I'm more easily distracted than an otter on meth, and c) I live in a smallish apartment with, depending on the time of year, 2-3 other peolple, two of them under the age of 7.  In theory, I could have a fantastic looking napoleonic army in 28mm, but it's all I'd ever paint, and I'd get to use the damn thing around the same time I ended up dead.

The idea remains compelling, however.  It's probably why I've been looking at 28mm successors of late.  Doing something like this (elephants in 28mm?) would look awesome, but round about my 50th phalangite, I'd lose my mind.   What makes it especially daffy is that to play this, I'd more or less have to give up a game I love in favour of something designed around playing games with big figures (Impetus can be played at 28mm, but needs a much bigger table to keep the dynamics of 15mm on a 6x4 table).

Some of this might simply be from me struggling a little with the Ayyubids.  While I love the figs, they're very much a diversion from the stuff I want to be painting right now.  Maybe I'll feel better with a painted unit;  should have these done by mid-week.  In totally unrelated news, it looks like new life's being breathed into the Maurice campaign, so good odds of a game there in the next few weeks.



  1. 28mm is a harsh mistress. I'd focus on the game you actually play now - there are so many projects that generate work and no games. I'd hate to see you going down that road.

  2. Excellent post, it's like you're in my head! Working on my Saga warband, I'm really having fun in 28mm. All the hard work and techniques that don't pay out in 15mm shine through in the larger scale. I'm mulling over painting an Impetus army or two in 28mm with it's reduced figure counts and diorama basing.

    You've identified the shortcomings of 28mm. For me, an additional one is my friends who only game in 15mm. If I go 28mm, I know who I'll be leaving behind. As Conrad hints, I don't want to paint a 28mm army and have no one to play it with. I did that in 15mm and it sucked. How about you solve our common problem and I'll copy your solution? ;-)

  3. Truer words on the scale and scope of things are seldom spoken. I agree completely. Grand tactical allows you to play an entire battle but the units really are just 3D counters as you represent thousands of soldiers with maybe a 10 figure stand. In some cases it's better to just play a hex & counter game as I do with the musket & pike period.

    With my 6mm ACW I think I've hit a nice sweet spot. I play on a figure to man ratio of 1:15 or 1:20 and can make a corps sized fight look like there's masses of infantry involved. Large battles start to feel cumbersome in Brigade level Fire & Fury however.

    For figure scales, I think 28mm is good for skirmish only. Painting more than a hundred of the same models for the same army without much variation just isn't fun. Sure, I add a unit every now and then to my 28mm Night Goblin army and they now number over 300 but in general, no. 28mm is best when you can really focus on the detail on a handful of miniatures.

  4. +1 with you and Monty. I feel the same urge at the moment, and don't really know why. Something in me wants to try 28mm to play real battles, but I still haven't opened my wallet.
    If I want to take the plunge, I'll go for Ancients, because Art de la guerre allows 28mm games on a 180*120cm table, which would be perfect. But then, I would need to find a partner...

  5. As far as a painting experience goes, 28mm is fantastic. I can see the issues with gaming though. You're looking at a big cash and time investment here, so you want to be certain about it before you buy. However, if you buy and you don't like it, you could just donate any unpainted figures to me :)

  6. 28mm is definitely for smaller games, as big battles look crushed up on a 6x4 table. I play with just under 100 figures on a 6x4 table and it's looks fine, but anything more would reduce space for moving.

  7. Scratch that itch I say.;-)

    I'm an avid 28mm painter and so know the pitfalls of it which is mainly trying to do too many armies at one time which isn't practical at that scale.(wish I could follow my own advice) If you stay on one period to playable status you would be surprised to see that it's not impractical and actually is very attainable. Table space can be an issue, but generally speaking 6' x 4' is big enough to fight games on with a few adjustments so don't let folks scare you on that point. Sure, more table space allows for bigger games, but isn't a requirement to play 28mm.

    My advice is continue painting your 15mm as your likely to game that more often in your situation, but pick one 28mm period or army that really interests you and get started. Buy small and see how it goes as that will help you decide if it's for you and if you find it's to your liking then put some serious time and money down.

    I paint and play both 28mm and 15mm and like them both, but 28mm is more fun to paint and looks far better on the table top IMHO, but comes at price of both time and money of which I think it's worth it.

    Like I said scratch that itch and see if it's for you.


  8. I wouldn't say 28mm is that more expensive than other scales when you think of the amount of material and the unit footprint. You can get plastic stuff from Perrys, Victrix, Warlord etc. on the cheap. Most of the adult wargames out there can afford to pay for what they paint. More than that, as evidenced by the pile of unfinished models in everyones' closet. 28mm for big battle games will be a huge time investment though.

    Another issue will be the correlation between figure scale and groundscale. If a 28mm rifleman can shoot up to 6" in a grand tactical game it will not have the right feel to it. I first experienced this when I tried DBx with 15mm figures and heard the bowmen can shoot a distance I could spit out to.

  9. There are two problems with the 28mm route - the length of time to get an army painted up and ready for action, and the availability of opponents so you can filed that army. It wouldn't be much good if you spent 10 years painting up a really cool army, and then found there was no-one around to play against you, so it sat there languishing and you ended up playing with your 15mm, 6mm or 10mm armies anyway. That's the advantage of the smaller scales - you'll always find opponents at the club.

    I'll stick with 28mm for Saga, and possibly in the future do a 28mm Bolt Action force too, but apart from those skirmish games, I'm sticking with something between 3mm and 15mm for my armies.

  10. Recently I have been painting 28mm for skirmish level games. Perfect examples are Bolt Action, Saga and Infinity. The number count on models are low and you can make a nice table and still move.

    On the other side of the fence, I really love 15mm. I currently have miniatures for WWII and soon modern armies. The 15mm market has really shined in the last couple of years for 15mm

  11. I oftentimes think of making the shift to smaller scale; I have been doing Dystopian Wars (recently not-so-much, however), and liked the idea of what you do. I hope, at some point, GW decides to reboot the Epic 40k thing, because that was great.

    I like the small-scale stuff right now: Mordheim, DeathSquads (the fan-based 40k small squad game) and Warmachine and Hordes.

    I like your painting, and thanks for sharing!