Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How about the size of *your* unit?

I refer to the size of your wargames unit(s), of course. What, you were thinking of something else?

    No, I'm not talking about the size of the figures  themselves (purists aside, for the sake of clarity, in this context we'll refer to that as "scale") , i.e. 6 mm vs 10 mm vs 15/18 mm vs 20 mm vs 25/28 mm, 40 mm etc.,  ad nauseum, but rather how many figures you use for each tabletop unit. Now, obviously the scale of the figures is going to impact this to a degree; 6 mm figures clearly look their best with a LOT of figures on each base, and thus many figures per unit. Similarly, really large figures like 40 mm or 54 mm, are likely going to have a relatively small number of figures per unit just due to their cost and the space they take up on the table (as well as in storage). So, for the sake of argument, I'm going to restrict further consideration to the "classic" wargaming scales ranging from 15mm to 30mm. Finally, we'll limit the bulk of the discussion to the era when the bulk of the men in the armies customarily fought in close order - more or less from Ancient times to say, roughly the Crimean War. This whole topic was triggered off by Wargamer Rabbit (aka Michael)'s comment about using small unit sizes in Napoleonic games, as his group does (1:100 ratio), and as Snappy Nappy calls for (although defined by bases rather than figures, it works out to about 1:700 for Infantry, and 1:350 for Cavalry, using 3/2 figures per base respectively).

    As the above implies, the rules that you use may influence the choice of unit sizes as well (and/or vice versa!), some being quite prescriptive about theses things. However, many modern rules sets work based upon the frontage of the unit, or the number of bases/"elements" per unit, leaving the individual gamer with considerable leeway regarding the number of actual figures employed. Perhaps somewhat curiously,. this is pretty independent of what a tabletop unit is representing - a battalion, regiment, brigade or what have you. "Black Powder" and the related/derivative sets like Hail Caesar! just define units in general terms, such as very small, small, average, and large, leaving it to the individual gamer(s) to define exactly how that translates into figure numbers for *their* tabletop.

    Over the course of my almost 45 years in the hobby, I have used units that were very small (3-6 figures,  for example Snappy Nappy, and a few trials of DBX) and some that were very large (for example, Gush's Renaissance rules, and Pike Blocks in my own Band of Brothers rules), as well as many intermediate sizes. As I stated to write up this post , it rapidly took on a life of its own as a sort meandering exploration of my own personal wargames history, and rules that I have known and loved (or otherwise), seen in part through the lens of the sizes of the units we field for the tabletop (and the question as to "Historical Organizations" or not).  I''l stat the ball rolling with a few pictures of my biggest unit, and then pick up the personal history in a subsequent post. Now, I realize there is a certain amount of narcissism involved in such a project, but hey - blogging itself has a pretty strong narcissistic element anyway, no?

A sixteen stand Swiss Pike Block.

Sixty four figures in all.

28mm Figures by Old Glory

That's a lot of pointy things!

So, that's pretty much my biggest unit... how about you?  Show us *your* biggest!   :-)


PS: smallest unit - Napoleonic Sappers, one stand of 2 figures.


  1. You need more flags. The Swiss sent me a note saying something like "Kein Fahnen, Kein Schweitzer." Also something about money...

    1. LOL! Good one, John!

      (In case it isn't obvious, I love the cantonal banners of the Swiss. For many years, we had a great Swiss restaurant here in town, decor included a multitude of said banners hanging from the ceiling, several large Alpenhorns, a rack of giant cowbells (rung in honor of Birthdays and Anniversaries), as well as Halberds and Crossbows on the walls; way cool. The food was excellent as well.

  2. John, Something like ponte d'argeant, ponte de Suisse? (My French is non-existent, and the quote is from memory so the spelling is probably off as well.)

    I'd have to agree with Peter in that my largets 'unit' is a tercio, although mine includes some arquebusiers, so my 'unit' is even bigger than his of 48.

    Also,on a one to one scale, I have more mass than Peter; it's just all in my spare tire.

    1. I do think that Pike blocks and Tercios look best BIG; also, numbers of troops in involved in battles of this era were relatively smalll, and the number of "units: was small as well, so a few big units work OK.

  3. Yes number of figures, no question more looks good, but more is a lot of painting. An insoluble problem. I believe my biggest unit are 37 and my smallest are 16 in Napoleonics.


    1. I will meander around before coming back to this topic more specifically (it was the take off point for this whole series of posts), but my preference is for medium to smallish units for Napoleonics, although probably not as small as those used for Snappy Nappy for more tactical or even grand tactical games.

  4. 'Point d'argent; point de Suisse', perhaps? My biggest unit is the Leibgarde Regiment in the service of Altmark-Uberheim, comprising an HQ of mounted colonel, subaltern officer on foot, flag-bearer and drummer, plus 4 companies of 10 figures apiece - 44 figures in total. Otherwise my Wholly Romantic Empire armies standardise on 36 figures in all, but with some variation. Cavalry units are an HQ of 3 figures and 2 squadrons of 8; gun companies/batteries have 2 guns, each with 4 of a crew, and 2 command figures, one mounted when possible. Old School rule sets tend to permit this sort of thing.

    My Napoleonics standardise on 24-figure infantry units, and 12-figure cavalry - again with some exceptions. The main exception belong to my British: 20-figure battalions. My Napoleonics used to be organised as my ACW units now are: 27 figures, witha 3 figure HQ 'element' and 24 other ranks. Cavalry have 23 figs (CSA) or 15 (USA).

    For a while I was considering building up French and British forces operating somewhere in the Ohio Valley each having at its core a battalion/regiment of upwards of 100 figures. This was inspired by a Don Featherstone campaign (from one of his best books, Wargames Campaigns). This one, however, never got off the ground.

    I tend to go in for individual basing - or maybe pairs for stability and time saving.

    When I first started wargaming our group at the time went in for 9-figure Napoleonic regiments, with Divisions of 4 such Regiments. These armies tended to fight by Army Corps comprising 3 Division columns and a gun. Cavalry comprised 5-figure units. I still remember those days as probably as much fun as I ever had since.


    1. Yes, you have the Swiss quote right, Ion. Very "Old School" large regiments for your Imagi-Nation's forces! Nothing wrong with that; they look impressive on the tabletop! But of course the Garde should be a extra large unit; has to be to house all the ne'er do well younger sons of the major nobility, after all! :-)