How Scales Used To Be

I was rummaging through some old scribblings this morning when I came across the following. Written to a friend as part of a discussion on how figure gaming has changed since I was a lad, it is a tongue-in-cheek view from a grizzled old grognard that I thought you might find amusing.

28mm* is the scale that gentlemen game in. In the (good) old days you’d make an exception for modern games (WWII on) because of the availability of 20mm models and little else. When 6mm WWII came in you could excuse it on the grounds of mass tank battles. Occasionally people would do skirmish games in 54mm, but they were weird. Everything else was cause to check someone’s levels of medication.

15mm gaming turned up later as an aberration caused by lack of funds, bought only when people couldn’t afford proper (28mm*) armies. The models and games have never looked as good to my eye. The only exception is WWII+ where the small size allows vehicles and long-ranged weapons to be used more comfortably. Smaller scales follow the old Soviet principle that quantity has a quality all its own.

Since then the market has ballooned and you can get models in a huge array of scales, which is nice, confusing, and frustrating in equal measure.

I have gamed in most scales over the years, and can see more merit in non-28mm scales than the above may suggest. Even so, if I listen to my emotions rather than my head then this heritage still strongly influences how I think about scale. Initial experiences are formative ones. Even now I’d still plump for a table full of beautifully painted and ranked 28mm Ancients if I had to pick a single image to define wargaming. For me, that is. I suspect that there are a handful of different archetypes that people could name, and for many people I bet that there would be a correlation between the archetype you choose and your age.

So which image of figure gaming is your archetype?


*Of course, when I say 28mm I really mean 25mm, but that was before they ate all the pies.

This entry was posted in Random Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to How Scales Used To Be

  1. Having played at 28mm heroic, 54mm, 15mm, true 28mm and now released a game that’s sort of 6mm-ish, I’d say that it depends a lot on where the personality lies. 28mm is, I think, the point at which models on the tabletop ought to become individuals in their own right, which is why I’ve never felt happy with 28mm massed battles, preferring it as a scale for skirmish games. At 54mm, playing Inquisitor, I found that personality became even more granular to the point at which individual weapons and other pieces of equipment almost became characters in their own right. At 6mm, character tends to reside in large elements, like mechs, and in formations like individual platoons and squadrons.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      You’re right – the larger the model the more personality it has as an individual. I know what you mean about 28mm armies, though I don’t think I agree. Possibly that’s my fuzzy eyesight, possibly there is something about looking at something as an individual model too. You have an expectation that a model will have its own character if the game requires them to tool round on their own, and less so if they march about in blocks, regardless of the models’ size.

      As I suggested, I expect everyone to have a different take on this 🙂

  2. heretic30k says:

    For me 28mm is my default as I started hobby life as a role-player rather war-gamer and so any smaller wasn’t really characterful enough. I really like the idea of 54mm for roleplaying, but the pool of suitable figures is so much smaller and if you want nicely modelled terrain then it just takes up far too much space creating transportability issues and costs too much – hence why despite being a big fan of the old GW specialist games, I always stuck with my 28mm 40k figures for Inquisitor despite how pretty the official 54mm figs were. I also like the idea of 15mm for mass battle sci-fi, but haven’t yet found anything aesthetically pleasing enough that I wanted to dive in as most offerings seem horribly generic. The Halo Ground Command demo I saw at Salute looked like a contender though. I also do have a soft spot for 6mm as I was also fond of Epic 30k and that seems to be a good scale for true mass battles / giant titans/mech robots but that is out of print and again as with most 15mm sci-fi offerings the 6mm ones also leave me a bit cold on the aesthetics. There is much to be said of the ‘carry a whole army in a shoe box’ which 15mm and 6mm potentially offers.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      The best 15mm SF figures I’ve seen are White Dragon’s

      I’ve got quite a lot of them, and they are head and shoulders above anything else I’ve seen in that scale.

      I used to play a lot of 1/300th WWII. These days I can’t see well enough 😛

      Some of the 54mm Inquisitor figures were amazing. Unfortunately the range was tiny. You still see some great conversions for it though.

      • heretic30k says:

        Those are actually a very nice 15mm sci-fi range – thanks for the link. I must confess most of my excitement around the Halo 15mm franchise is that I like the look of the Covenant as I am usually the ‘bad guy’/xenomorph player in my group 🙂

        • Quirkworthy says:

          I assume that White Dragon will do something xeno at some stage, and the quality of their stuff is just amazing, so I’m happy to wait.

          I loved playing Halo when it first came out on Xbox. Not sure I feel the need to translate that to a tabletop though. YMMV.

        • heretic30k says:

          The desire to use the Halo franchise is more to do with hooking in other players in my group which are primarily board gamers/computer gamers into doing more war gaming via a well known IP. If it was just me, I could be easily sold on an elegant ruleset with some nice miniatures to paint, but others are pickier! You will be pleased to hear I did manage to get them to play some Deadzone v1 and that was very enthusiastically received – so hope to play some v2 with them too in the near future. Deadzone does seem to do a good job of straddling the boardgamer/wargamer camps which is a pretty significant achievement in my book and brings up an interesting point – subjectively in my experience most board gamers seem much more open and forgiving of scale choice than old grumpy war-gamer/hobbyists like me. There are plenty of boardgames that I would discard playing out of hand as they seem to have too abstract a scale for my liking!

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Thanks Heretic. Board gamers may like 2nd ed DZ even better because of the order dice 🙂

          “Gamers” are quite a disparate bunch, even within board gaming, or figure gaming. Different aspect of the experience attract different folk, and I suspect from what you’ve said that you’re more of a figure gamer. If I’m right, it’s likely to be the appeal of the models themselves which is partly the attraction. Soon as the scale is big enough to lose the need for models then you’ve automatically lost a lot of the appeal. Maybe.

          There are other possibilities too. Theme and rules are often barely linked in board games (I’m looking at you, Reiner), and that may lead to a certain familiarity with the disconnect required to make sense of the abstract.

          Then there’s the idea of abstraction itself. You don’t get abstract figure games, but abstract board games are common.

          The differing views are just different rather than wrong. Personally my preference depends on what mood I’m in. Overall I think that large scale wargames (moving divisions and suchlike) make more sense as a board game with counters than anything with figures. Individual skirmishes make me want models. Not sure I could consistently explain where I’d draw the line in between.

        • heretic30k says:

          You are correct – I am very much a figure gamer – hence my tendency to strongly dislike most of the work of Reiner! I don’t discount abstraction as bad, but I do like rules and mechanics to feel that they are supporting the theme of the game rather than blithely ignoring it! I agree completely that it is really hard to draw line as to what I feel works & doesn’t 🙂

        • Quirkworthy says:

          I actually rather admire Reiner’s skill, and enjoy many of his games. You just learn not to stress too much when you can see the sticky tape where the theme was stuck on at the end 😛

  3. Jason Newell says:

    I feel that 28mm is the pivot point, where you caneasily transition back and forth from mass battles to individual skirmish scale. I never went to 54mm scale. I had some dabbling in 6mm futuristic and I have five HOTT armies in 15mm. 28mm is my preferred scale, though where the moels have lot of character without being problematic to transport. Logistics have always played on my mind when it comes to minis gaming.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Where you can play is always going to impact your choices. For example, I’ve talked to people who never buy metal figures because they find them too heavy. A problem they wouldn’t find if they always played at home.

  4. Chris says:

    I am firmly in the 25/28/32mm skirmish camp and 6mm wargame camp (where 1 stand/vehicle either equals 1 squad/vehicle or 1 platoon). I don’t mind 15mm for games that use blocks of infantry as 1 man = several hundred/thousand as I am already abstracting a lot, larger scales here though spoil my suspension of disbelief.

    Back to the skirmish scale – it is the worse to put together a force in. I get that companies don’t want to be compatible but really the scale creep and variation is maddening. And because the proportions all get bigger you can’t even get the effect of multiple heights in a unit.

    Not a fan of 10mm, it is a scale too far for me, not fitting with my 6mm stuff and requiring a lot more effort to paint. Also not really a fan of 15mm because the detail starts being present and the paint time/complexity increases. I can see why it is popular for company size skirmishes as a table (6×4) looks too crowded with 100+ models on it (really when I see people playing 40k or flames of war in a club my mind blanks the sight from my eyes).

    • Quirkworthy says:

      My eyesight is too poor to play 6mm any more. Things just blend into the terrain – as they’re supposed to, but not helpful when you’ve lost the third platoon again. I played with 10s for a while, but the wave of 15mm WWII from FOW was overwhelming, and if I wanted a game it would need to be in that, so I eBayed all those. Shame.

      These days, I’m 28s for as much as possible, and if I want a 20th century of later company game it’ll be 15mm. Any larger formations than that work best for me as board and counter games.

      I agree that most games look way too crowded – a direct result of the companies needing to sell models to stay in business. With EB I have the luxury of not needing to promote massed model sales, so they look far less busy, which I really like 🙂

  5. I like 28mm to skirmish or games with a few miniatures. I play wargames with 28mm miniatures (Kings of War mainly) but i think that 10mm is better for really big wargames. More comfortable to carry, more impressive in really big games.

    I do not apreciate bigger miniatures for gaming…

    • Quirkworthy says:

      In principle I agree with you that 10mm is great for a mass effect. But like 15mm pre-vehicle games, I just find them less impressive in reality. Last night, at the club, there was a 15mm Napoleonic battle rumbling along on another table. When my game had a gap I wandered over to have a look. Everything was nicely painted and the table had long lines of troops moving in formations. I felt like I should like it, and it didn’t look bad at all, and yet it did nothing for me on a visceral level in the way that a 28mm version would have done.

      Not entirely sure why.

  6. I mostly game in 15mm and 28mm these days. For Ancients, that is big battles, 15mm offer the best in terms of space needed and detailing. Tom Meier’s Khurasan range did also prove that it is possible to sculpt naturalistic 15mm miniatures that look better and are more detailed than some 28mm miniatures.

    However, for skirmish gaming 28mm is king. Painting them to a high standard is easier compared to 28mm and detailing is often better compared to the usual 15mm ranges. Proportions are also often better.

    I did not try any other scales so far, mainly because I am invested in 15mm and 28mm and anything bigger just doesn’t fit in our small apartment. I think 10 or 12mm is an even better scale for big battles, but then playing the usual rulesets they are not too often encountered, so one would need two armies to actual play.

    In general scale wars are a waste of time. Any scale has its pros and cons and in the end it comes down to personal opinion and tastes. I would never look down on anyone for playing 2mm or 54mm etc. I would rather be interested in how to paint them and what can be depicted.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I don’t look down on any particular scale either. As you say, why would you? It’s a case of personal taste and which toy soldiers look best to you. Still, it’s interesting to hear people’s views on the topic.

  7. Josh says:

    I fall heavily into the 28 mm skirmish camp… really, I just don’t have time or space for large games on 8×4 or 8×8 tables where pushing blocks of troops around is the order of the day… I want (and find myself actually able to assemble, paint, and then find time to play!) small groups of nicely sculpted individual models (or at least convertible using alternative bits) and want to play games in an hour to 2 hours… I have tried 6 mm WWII and modern tank warfare, 15 and 20 mm historicals, and of course massed fantasy battles and larger 40K style games… and a lot of them were fun, but I didn’t stick with them.. they either took too much time, were too abstract, or honestly just required too much space and money and time… as for 54 mm… I think it might just be me, but at that scale, I want them to be poseable and almost more action figure like… which makes me wonder why “that” hasn’t been a gaming thing… lol.. 54 mm multi-pose plastic figures with interchangeable weapons, gear, and a game system that lets you do near future sci-fi martial arts and short ranged fire-fights using a dice or card system… bridge the gap from toy collectors to war-gamers =p… also, as others have said, the terrain “scale & collection” problem does show up… I can use a lot of the same 28 mm buildings over and over if I stick to the same scale and genre… but trying to have historical accurate 6 mm, 15 mm, and 28-32 mm buidings, bridges, and roads it just quickly gets out of hand (or closet, or garage, or book shelf) even if the woods and hills are fairly useable in any scale…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s