What is the best scale to wargame?

You’ve all seen them – the posts from those who are new to wargaming that ask the apparently simple question: “What scale should I game in?”

This is usually the cue for any number of gamers claiming that 54mm/40mm/28mm/20mm/15mm/10mm/6mm/2mm (delete as appropriate) is “God’s own scale” for wargaming and that the poser of the question would be stupid for choosing anything else. The discussion usually goes downhill from there…

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28mm, 15mm or 6mm? Sometimes a tricky question…

However, it’s a perfectly valid question – so what are the criteria that you should consider when choosing what scale to game in? Here are my thoughts on what you should consider when choosing either a new period, or even getting into gaming for the first time:

What has everyone else got?

One of the first considerations when choosing your scale of miniatures for a new period is to actually ask who your opponent will be, and what armies do they own? If you are in a situation where you will be playing other people, then it would seem sensible to ensure that you choose the same scale figures, so that you have ‘instant’ opponents to do battle against.

If no-one else has an army for that period, then you may want to consider creating two armies rather than one, so you always have opposing forces in the same scale – just in case.

This leads us to the next question:

What terrain do I already own?

If you already play wargames in another period, then the chances are that you own an amount of scenery. Unless you end up gaming in some strange, alien environment, the majority of terrain should be interchangeable between periods. Hills, rivers, trees and hedges, as well as dirt track roads, are all pretty much interchangeable across the ages. Yes, there are some geographical differences which could change the species of tree or hedge, and some terrain is found in some locales but not others, but as a general rule of thumb, this is the case.

So, if you start a new period, you should consider choosing the same scale as what you already own – it means that you may only have to purchase/build different fences, walls and buildings – everything else remains the same.

What game am I playing?

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A game such as Saga, whilst it can be played in other scales, has an expectation to be played with 28mm miniatures

I think it’s fair to say that an awful lot of games these days are systems, in that the rules have an integrated model range. If you want to play Bolt Action or Saga, for example, you will most like want to play the game in 28mm.

Obviously, you don’t have to play that game in that scale, but you may struggle to find opponents outside of your gaming group should you choose an alternative scale. So, if you plan to play a particular game system in tournaments, or with several groups of fellow gamers, this may well dictate your scale.

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Saga in 6mm – the same game, but a different scale

How much gaming space have I got?

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X-Wing – a classic example of a game designed for a small space

Whilst there are so many games that seem to assume that players have access to a 6′ x 4′ gaming table, this is not the case for everyone. Perhaps this is one of the reason why games that play on a smaller 3′ x 3′ (such as Frostgrave, Guildball or X-Wing), or even 2′ x 2′ table (DBA anyone?) have become more popular in recent years – these games can be played on the kitchen table (indeed, Saga had the fact that it needed to be able to be played on a ‘standard’ kitchen table as one of it’s design parameters).

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To The Strongest on a 3′ x 2′ board, played with 6mm miniatures

There are also several sets of rules that can have their playing area reduced if you reduce the size of the elements or miniatures: Sword & Spear or Basic Impetus can be played on a 4′ x 2′ table with 60mm x 30mm elements. Those same sized elements can be used with To The Strongest on a 3′ x 2′ playing area.

How much storage space have I got?

One thing many of us don’t think about when we are looking to buy our latest army is where we are going to store it? This question is even more relevant with regards to scenery – especially for those of use who haven’t got access to a convenient cupboard at the local gaming club venue.

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Let’s face it, if you thought 28mm miniatures were a pain to store, 28mm buildings take up far more room. Start multiplying this by the potential of multiple periods, and space very quickly reaches a premium.

Obviously, the footprint of 15mm or 6mm buildings makes storing them (and the accompanying scenery such as trees, hills etc) far easier – so if you are short of storage space, the answer is really to go small – either in table size, or model scale.

Conclusion

So, what’s the best scale for wargaming? As I hope I’ve indicated, it all depends on your circumstances of gaming.

Given a clean slate and no preconditions? I think I would probably choose 15mm as my overall scale of choice – especially after playing Chain of Command in that scale and seeing how well it works, even for skirmish games. It’s a good all-round scale, whether playing skirmish games or larger battles.

However, 6mm is a close second – big battles look ‘BIG’ and small battles can be fought on a much smaller board.

28mm? I need to build an extension to my house to store everything…

3 Comments on What is the best scale to wargame?

  1. Thanks Neil, very good blog posting, this made me think (for a change!). Here are few more that, on reflection, has influenced my decisions in the past (before I did it in 6mm! – joke).

    Time – time is as important as space to me as I do not have enough of it. I find it difficult to balance my time between the various things I need, or want, to do. I have found that I can knock-up a substantial amount of 6mm miniature, say 24 No. 6mm infantry, much quicker than I can do 4 No. 28mm that covers the same base. The three small side projects (6mm skirmish) I have done in the last year including Sharp Practice , the Men Who Would be Kings and the Pikeman’s Lament took only a few evenings each of painting and basing time. I would still be painting if I would have done these in 28mm.

    Ranges of Figures available – I have started a middle-life crisis project called Mutant 1984 and found that the only workable option was to do it in 28mm as the type of miniatures I needed did not really exist in other scales (so I am still painting!). The same when I wanted to do my Finnish and Soviet winter war forces, the only scale I felt was offering significant options for both sides was to do it in 15mm.

    Look and Feel – having done the Saga in 6mm project last year, where I replaced each 28mm model with a 25mm square base with 4 No. miniatures for levy, 8 No. for warriors and 9 No. for heartguard and 10 No. for the warlord, as shown in your blog post. Although we kept the rules and measurements exactly as written it created a totally different look and feel to the game. For WW2 games I have also seen the light with regards to using 15mm for Chain of Command. Other games that looks brilliant when scaling down the miniatures (to 6 or 3mm) but keeping the ground scale is Flames of War.

    The Gods’ own scale is 1/1 or 1800mm, the other scales are just for us mere mortals to have fun with!

    / Per

  2. The number one reason for anyone should be aesthetics. Everything else is adaptable. But in the end, wargaming is about having a visual spectacle on the table. So, it always will come down to to what visual aesthetic is most pleasing to the individual wargamer.

  3. Stephen Holmes // July 26, 2017 at 15:37 // Reply

    Just yesterday, I wrote an Email to a good friend on an almost identical subject. I’ll summarise here:

    There are a few “Single scale” gamers who get by with one scale.
    Most gamers try a variety of different games and acquire a corresponding “lead pile”.
    I’ve been there and my conclusion is that most of us could (with exreme discipline) manage all our gaming with three scales.

    The Big scale (For me that’s 28mm) is for the skirmish games that today’s youth are so keen on.
    You can handle a team of 3 to 10 figures easily, and you don’t need to invest thousands of hobby hours in painting them.
    Instead take your time, paint to your chosen standard, and make each one an individual.

    The small scale (6mm here) works well where you want a mass battle that actually features masses of troops.
    My 1812 Russian division has just over 1500 figures with 120 in each infantry battalion.
    You won’t be counting their tunic buttons, but quantity has a quality of its own, and the units look like a significant body of men.
    Another advantage of the small scale is that large items (Tanks, Chariots, Elephants) are of a manageable size and don’t completely dominate the view. Similarly pikes, are of manageable size, and look a lot better in stands of 40 odd than a fandful of big scale guys masquerading as a phalanx.

    That leaves the middle scale (Some debate here as I dn’t own one yet, both 15mm and 10mm have their advantages).
    This seems ideal for the larger skirmish – for example some of the Osprey titles where figures move in little clumps.
    Also smaller mass battles – not every war had battles featuring hundreds of thousands, dark age, medieval, AWI and many civil wars benefit form the formed unit look, but don’t require the masses of men that 6mm can provide.
    The other candidate is “Modern” warfare – to me that’s anything where troops started to disperse because of magazine rifles and machineguns.
    The ranges are large, but my eyes struggle to pick out the micro-scale figures, so somethgn in the middle has its place.

    I understand that people will differ in their choice of large and small scales, but suggest that most gamers will have at least two, and possibly a third middle scale. And that these will frequently reflect the figure count, and groundscale of their games.

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