Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Army Creep

I picked up this month's Wargames Illustrated which, featuring as it does a lot on Vikings and Saxons, is very much up my street.  Other than yet another look at the battle of Maldon using Hail Caesar there was an interesting piece on Gripping Beast's new Saga Dark Ages skirmish rules.  Both these pieces exemplify a slightly worrying trend for me, as a hopeless dabbler in multiple periods, which I can best describe as army creep. 

Saga is described as a skirmish set and yet they were talking about forces of around four to five dozen figures a side.  Now they say that it can be played with less (two dozen figures a side) but the larger figure seemed to be the sort of numbers of miniatures they were contemplating.   Now, to me, a skirmish wargame should be about 10-20 figures a side, not sixty.  The Lord of the Rings Battle Companies games I play with my son gives  good game with less than ten figures a side.  So what is this sixty figures a side nonsense?

It wasn't clear how many figures were deployed on the Hail Caesar Maldon scenario, but looking at the photos it looks like at least 400 figures a side. Also in that issue is a Black Powder Second Afghan War clash which has armies of over 500 for the Afghans and over 175 for the British.  Now of course, Games Workshop no longer supports Battle Companies, no doubt on the basis that forces of ten figures a side aren't going to help shift figures.  When you have manufacturers developing rules then, naturally they are going to want to sell as many figures as possible, but for me moving from 150 figures a side to 400 figures a side just makes building armies impossible. Interestingly, there was also a Greek and Persian game using the new Clash of Empires rules and these had what I would consider much more normal numbers of figures a side (175 ish).

So are we in a period of army creep?  Are these rules only designed for club play where you need multiple players to help field each side?  Oddly, it seems to me, big armies with lots of figures would tend to militate against a game played in an evening at a club.  My experience of the bigger games I have played at Guildford (mainly Colonial, Dark Ages, ECW and Ancients) is that we rarely get to finish a game in the usual three hours we have.  I have always derided the DBA players and their silly little armies of forty figures but are we now heading too far the other way?  Is bigger necessarily better?

Anyway, the more I read the Clash of Empires book, which I picked up recently, the more I like the look of the rules.  I think Guy and I will try them out over half term with some Romans and Celts to see how they go.

As for the Saga rules, they certainly sound interesting but may be too boardgame-like for me.  There is a lot of husbanding and utilising resources, tactics and "tricks" which is not really my thing.  There are a core of boardgamers at Guildford and I suspect they will like these rules but I think they sound like too much hard work for my increasingly age-demented brain.   I do not like studying rules to see where I can gain an advantage.  I don't like boardgames (even Cluedo and such like) or card games or anything that involves having to think too much!   So Saga, I suspect, will not be for me.  I'll probably buy them anyway, though! 

Now of course I am always tempted by interesting new figures and one advert that caught my attention in Wargames Illustrated was for an Italian company Fireforge Games (whose website was launched today) who are planning to release a box of plastic Teutonic knights.  I have always wanted some of these, partly due to the amount of time I used to spend in the Baltic States, and these look excellent.  I looked at the Gripping Beast ones long ago but they suffered from the dreaded Gripping Beast horses (frankly I find the new ones just as horrible).  Excellent artwork (cf Wargames Factory, for example) helps a lot but the images of the planned figures look brilliant with lots of optional heads and what have you to customise the figures.  These will be a definite buy!

I'm not getting much painting done although I am slowly and surely progressing with another small batch of Norman infantry, have nearly finished another couple of Darkest Africa characters and am enjoying painting my 18mm Copplestone Castings fantasy figures.  More of these were released this week but I am going to have to think about what to do with them!

Right, time for a bit of static grass on my Darkest Africa figures!


  1. I've also been a bit surprised by the size of the Saga armies. 40-50 figures, even the unit concept are a bit much for a true skirmish game.

    Hail Caesar is sold as a large battle game - should not shock anyone that the game would be played with hundreds of figures per side. Doubly so in a wargames magazine where the author wants to show off the shinny new toy. In its defense, Hail Caesar plays equally well with half sized unis or 15mm/6mm scale figures.

  2. Thanks, that's a useful tip about the smaller units.

  3. Agree about skirmish gaming. 10-20 models a side is what I call a skirmish - LotR and LotoW are the rght size IMO. Much bigger than that and you may as well paint a whole army! Featherstone's book on skirmish gaming has plenty of scenarios at what I consider to be the rght sort of size.
    Also agree about how SAGA looks. I really *want* to like it, but fear that its not suited for a gamer like me and relies too much on knowing how to stack/exploit rules, rather than my preferred style of "throwing dice and shouting hurrah!"

  4. Just Picked up the SAGA rules, after playing them on the weekend... I have always been far more of a miniatures gamer, than a board gamer, and these fit the bill for me, as an easy to play, fun game of model soldiers. The Battle Boards are only used to add Army flavour, and to allow you to plan which units you will use in each turn. It is far easier to motivate your better units, and hard to motivate your peasants, without the personal presence of the Warlord. Unit sizes (Worth one point each) are Hearthguard (4), Warriors (8) & Levies (12). The bigger armies that they talk of would have to contain only Levies, and would be hard to motivate. But your army could equally be 6 units of Hearthguard (24 figures) The rules also allow you to split or join Battle Units, once they have been "purchased". So that army above could be 3 units of 8 men, plus a Warlord. Or one big unit of 24, attached directly to The Big Guy.

    To my mind, WELL worth a look!

  5. That's a useful insight. Thanks very much. Maybe I will pick them up at Warfare next month!