Tuesday, January 06, 2015

2015 Plans: Skirmish vs Big battles? Time for a sort out!

The work bench really, really needs a sort out!

Well, the process of writing my Wargaming review has actually got me picking up a paintbrush for the first time since mid-October.  Not for very long but it broke a psychological barrier.  I also did a bit of basing and did some work on the helmets of my Afghan Wars British to make them look more suitable for 1879.  The key problem now is the really bad light.  I have two daylight lamps on my desk but can't really paint shading without good daylight.

One of the things I discovered last year is that, thanks mainly to the work I did on IHMN figures, I really enjoy painting individual character figures and don't enjoy painting units.  Now given this, and given the fact that I am totally unable to focus on even as little as a few dozen periods, is it not now time to just admit that I am never going to be able to finish enough figures to field an army for a big battle?  People with the focus of Giles and Big Red Bat are much to be admired as they don't stray too far from their core interests.  I am sitting here looking at a based and undercoated Great War Miniatures British Crimean War infantry man. Am I really ever going to paint enough units for the Battle of the Alma?  No, is the brutal answer.  I have played in a few large games at Guildford (Republican and Early Imperial Roman, ECW and Wars of the Roses) where I could contribute my hundred figures or so to other people's larger collections.  In reality, I think, this is the only way I will be able to do big battles using my own figures.  So time to forget building armies that require several hundred figures, I think.

Wars of the Roses at Guildford Wargames Club.  Not much scenery required

However, there is a problem with skirmish games for me.  If you have two big armies facing each other in your typical ancients or medieaval game you really don't need much in the way of scenery.  A green cloth, a few trees, some lichen for scrub and maybe a hill.  All the effort and cost goes into the armies.  However, with most skirmish games lots of scenery is usually necessary; almost always to provide cover.  This is because, in many of the sets of rules I have played a hit (or two) means you lose the character and if you are looking at forces of six to 12 figures this can make the game very short indeed (as I have witnessed on one or two occasions).  With big unit battles the units are more resilient and don't get destroyed on first contact.  They can slug it out and maybe even regroup if they are forced back.  So being in the open and getting hit by a flight of arrows is unlikely to lead to your unit being taken off the table instantly.  You don't need to keep them skulking under cover so don't need cover for them to hide behind.  Skirmish games tend to require a lot of scenery and getting suitable scenery done is a problem for me given that I have no craft skills whatsoever, unlike Scott and Eric the Shed who turn out miniature wonders.  So its a trade off between lots of figures and less scenery and less figures and more scenery.  Time and cost wise, I suspect they balance out.

The mini Bosworth game I produced for my son's school project. 

I was talking to my new friend A about the problems of not painting enough figures for an army but she pointed out that, basically, if a unit fights as one whole then why do you need 24 figures when six or one serve the same purpose (I did not then start to describe DBA to her).  When I produced a model of Bosworth for a presentation my son did at school we represented all the major units using just 38 figures.  It is of course, certainly for me, all about the look of the thing (which is why I think DBS armies look ridiculous). Big units look better (as the writers of Warlord Games various rules acknowledge with what was, at the time, an unfashionable focus on large armies).  They are a figure manufacturer, of course, so like their Games Workshop former employers want to shift quantity but it has, to a certain extent, seen a return to Charles Grant sized (well, nearly) units.  

My 48 figure Blue regiment of foot

The first proper set of wargames rules I owned where Charles Grant's Napoleonic ones based on his articles in Military Modelling in the seventies.  These posited 48 man units.   I do actually have two units this size; the only two ECW units I have painted.  The size was dictated by having what looked like a reasonable block of pikemen.  Sixteen figures was as small as I thought looked good and then that dictated the sizes of the sleeves of shot.  I tried a nine man pike unit and it looked odd.  The next size up to keep a square pike block would have been 25 figures leading to 75 man units.  Too much!  For my armies I now work to a 24 man standard size but this would mean that, at most, I could only paint four units a year and that would be if I could focus on one period!

Five colour shading really isn't necessary on 18mm figures, perhaps

The big battle people would say that the obvious solution would be to move down to 15mm or less.  My problem with this is that figures of 12mm or less have ludicrous looking anatomy.  I did too much anatomy while studying art to get over this.  There are a few, a very few, manufacturers who make reasonable looking 15mm figures, which is why I have bought into the War and Empire Kickstarter.  15mm really is sensible for ancients.  The problem is that with the few 15mm (really 18mm, of course, these days) figures I have painted I paint them as if they were 28mm so I don't paint them appreciably faster.  When I was choosing which armies to select for my War and Empire forces I eliminated all those where I had some 28 figures painted, which meant I eliminated nearly everything. This is why I have ended up with Spartacus revolt.  I wanted to go for the Punic Wars but I have quite a lot of 28mm figures painted for this so just couldn't, even though I know that I will never finish an army for either side in this scale.

Muskets & Tomahawks at the Shed

This last year, however, I think I have solved the problem with the appearance of rules like Lion Rampant and the fact that I played my first game of Muskets & Tomahawks.  My force for the latter was three units of six. Admittedly, there were two other players on my side with the same number of figures but that is nine units in total for not many more figures than in my ECW units.  These are both what I would call semi-skirmish games, using around 6o figures a side maximum.  This is an achievable target for me. 

My only painted figures for El Cid

So what does this mean going forward?  I will keep working on IHMN companies and I will jump forward in time with the rules, slightly, to cover The Lost World (I just picked up the lady explorer I had been looking for to finish my characters for this) and the twenties in Egypt and, possibly, the twenties/thirties in Asia.  I will get going on more pirates and Jason and the Argonauts figures too.  I am seeing the Afghan War as a semi-skirmish project so will carry on with that.  I want to do a Lion Rampant force and the logical one would be the Wars of the Roses as I have already got most of the figures but I am also tempted to go back in time and do Crusades or El Cid for this.  There is more to be done on Darkest Africa which is another semi-skirmish project but one where I have painted a lot of figures.  Add to this some Hobbit,  Mars Attacks, WW1 and Texan War of Independence figures and I think I have more than enough to be going on with.  See, even my focus is already losing focus!  Lots of stuff to put on eBay, even so, I think!


  1. Interesting, I went through the same thought process a couple of years ago. Luckily before I hit the wall, I had painted almost 3000x28mm Napoleonics. Now I just focus on 28mm Skirmish armies for the Dark Ages, the medieval period as well as the FIW. I do 20 mm for WWII, as the vehicle size works for me, but still at the Skirmish level.

    Fortunately I had to abandon only one Big Battle project: Ancients. Still trying to decide whether to sell what I have painted and the unfinished lead. But no rush, I tell myself.

    I find it very easy now to get things accomplished, a 30-40 skirmish band is easy enough to complete, and it is not difficult to add an occasional 6-10 man unit (thinking Musket and Tomahawks here).

    Yes, yes put that "stuff" on ebay.


    ps: I still think I am going to paint some Napoleonics but I have had a 24 figure French battalion on the table for over a year now!

    1. It took me seven years to paint my only Napoleonic unit!

  2. Legatus Hedlius, Ave!

    So many figures, so little time. What you might do is simply take a project like Darkest Africa,finish that one figure that you really wanted, and then pack it up as done. Take any unpainted figures, place them in their own labelled box, and put it away as done. Then move on to the next almost done project, repeat, and so on.

    As you get to those semi-skirmish projects that require a larger effort, clear the extra stuff off the table into a plastic box bought at the stationer's, and plan how you will complete this larger project. Is the collection possible to finish in a week or two? Do you have everything that a typical large skirmish, small battle, might need? Or want? I include the last question because collecting figures does share a certain quality with being around women - we often confuse the ones we think we want with those who are needed in our lives.

    Can you actually play a large game with, say, forty or so figures on each side? Most of the time the answer is a resounding yes. Sometimes one side will need more figures to have a balanced game as the Sword and the Flame presents when playing a game against colonial people.

    As usual I am certain you will sort this out.And if it takes a bit longer is there any real problem? No - this is a hobby and not life. No one loses if a few of your projects don't get finished for a while. Just as an aside, which female explorer did you choose?

    Gerardus Magnus

    1. Very helpful. What I have is a severe storage problem. Stuff just has to go!

      The lady explorer will feature in a day or two!

  3. Legatus...get those lost world figures painted and we will give them a run around in my Pulp project - complete with Dinosaurs and Cavemen.

  4. Why not try Impetus - It is quite possible to field a decent sized army with 60 to 70 figures

  5. That first picture made me chuckle, what a splendid table! I have long since resigned myself to skirmish level encounters, but still struggling to focus on a single period for any length of time - still, it's all good fun.

  6. You know me Legatus; I'm strictly a big battle man, planning ever bigger battles, too. :-)

  7. There's a bit of a skirmish going on on your table.
    Must say i'm very much appreciating Dana Gillespie too.
    Thank you

  8. I've also headed the same way...Lion Rampant, Saga, Chain of Command, IHMN, Muskets and Tomahawks etc all lend themselves to a manageable number of figures. You're right about the terrain though, especially for games like IHMN where I don't have the skills to produce the excellent terrain set ups that someone like Eric the Shed can knock up with seemingly effortless ease :), and can't really afford or justify buying lots of MDF kits. Oh well, we'll just have to come up with alternative scenery plans!

  9. Love your painting table by the way...looks like some kind of Jake and Dinos Chapman installation!

  10. Good post Legatus, I think you have come to some similar conclusions to myself... whilst the big games look good, they do need lots of figures to make units and brigades look right, and as you I like 28's... and I am never going to get round to painting 300 british line to do a Napoleonic Army in a month of sundays... I'd get bored silly trying to aswell ( I almost went nuts painting one 32 man unit!)... nor does there seem much return for it in gaming time with local players... same goes for SYW, ACW etc etc - I love the Black powder and Hail Caesar rulesets, just cant get round to painting up the armies required... so they went, but I kept the books! - Maybe one day...

    So like you I have concluded that Skirmish / Semi Skirmish is the way to go... and the rest went out...

    As for terrain, if you have the schekels to spare there are many companies seliing all sorts of terrain ready to go, so that shouldn't be too much of a problem for either.

    Best of luck with your 2015 Hobby exploits!

  11. Have to agree can't stand painting armies. Far more enjoyable painting skirmish games. Terrain wise depending on your chose genre. There are companies that do mdf kits pre-painted.....all you need to do is build them.

  12. 28mm skirmish gets it for me in 2015 ;)
    Just mark the time until I am eating these very words

    How are those Victrix Romans doing?

    1. I stood on a velite yesterday. One problem of plastics!