Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Introduction To Historical Wargaming: Part 2

Step 1: Choose a Period
If you are going to get into historical wargaming, your first step will likely be choosing a historical period to game. This may already be done for you, since your interest in a particular war or period might be what gets you into historical gaming to begin with. That was the case for me. I was interested in the American Civil War, and my friend was interested in Napoleonics. So I was searching for a set of rules that worked for both eras, or a set that had versions or supplements that covered both, so that hopefully we wouldn't have to learn two completely different sets of rules to play in the eras we were each most interested in. Later I would realized that I will probably try out many different rule sets for both periods, so trying to find one rule set that worked for us both was probably not that important. But that's what I was trying to do at the time.

Step 2: Choose a Scale
By this I mean what size of battle you want your game to represent. Do you want to play a small skirmish with a handful of individual soldiers? Do you want to refight Waterloo in the role of Napoleon or Wellington, ordering around divisions or entire corps? I skipped this step at first, not realized it was a step. But once you start trying to find a rule set, it will be important to figure this out before you can decide on one. The major factor to consider here is going to be what size formation you want an individual model or base or unit in the game to represent. This, combined with how much gaming space you have and now many miniatures you have will determine how big of a battle you can represent with your game. For example, if a unit a certain size represents a regiment of several hundred men, the number of such units you can reasonably fit on your gaming table is going to limit the size of battle you can represent. But if each unit of that same size represents a brigade of several regiments, now you can fight a much larger battle, but you have less control over the detailed movements of your army, since individual regiments are no longer represented.

This is obviously a matter of personal taste, and will depend upon what about the fighting in your chosen historical period you find most interesting. Are you most interested in the grand battle plans of an army commander positioning his corps and trying to make the best use of the attributes of his subordiates? Are you interested in the decisions facing an individual soldier in a squad? After reading reviews and descriptions of many different rulesets for horse and musket era battles, I decided that I wanted a unit in my games to represent an individual regiment. This would allow me to make decisions in the game about what formations to have my regiments in, and how they would be positioned in relation to each other in the brigade, which a brigade-level game would not allow. Also, there were many distinct noteworthy regiments in the American Civil War that I wanted to be able to specifically represent on the table. So, I would be looking for a set of rules where the smalled unit that operated on the table was the regiment.

Step 3: Choose a Set of Rules
With the scale of battle you want to fight figured out, you can start looking around for a good set of rules. There are lots of them out there for all kinds of historical periods, but it can sometimes be difficult to find good ones, good descriptions or reviews of the ones you can find, or places to order them from. One extremely helpful resource for me, which I found early on in my search, was The Miniatures Page Message Boards. They are broken up by historical period, and there are lots of helpful people there willing to share their opinions on various rule sets and miniatures. I got a lot of information from people there. It is especially handy to have some reviews or battle reports to read when you're trying to find a rule set online and you can't flip through the book to get an idea of what the rules are like. Being used to Warhammer and other games by Games Workshop, I couldn't help but notice the significantly lower production values for most of these historical rule sets. They don't really have the glossy full-color pages full of magnificently painted miniatures. And often the descriptions of the rules found online were somewhat lacking in detail. So it's definitely worth asking around at a message board, or trying to find a battle report online that uses the rules you are considering.

Aside from that, you'll just have to do searches for what you're looking for and start keeping track of companies that make rules for the period you are interested in, and eventually narrow it down to one that you want to try. Another option is to download some Free Wargames Rules. There are a lot of homegrown rule sets that people have written up and put out there for download. So you could try out some of those first to get an idea of the kinds of things you like or don't like, or even what scale of battle you prefer to fight, before you spend the money to order a set of rules. Or you may just find something you think is just right.

After reading many positive reviews and a couple of really fun sounding battle reports for it, I decided to go with a ruleset called Field of Battle by a company called Piquet. I ordered it from You can find the Field of Battle rules here. They work for the American Civil War and Napoleonic periods, among others, and I also liked how people described the uncertainty of the command and control system of the game, which keeps the players from having complete control over what happens so they have to learn to react to the unexpected vagaries of war.

Step 4: Choose a Miniature Scale
The next step is to decide what sized miniatures you want to game with. This is usually given as a number of milimeters measured on a normal standing infantry figure from the bottom of his feet to his eye level. I suppose they don't just give the height of the figure because this would vary based on the kind of headgear the figure is wearing, and how much height that adds to the figure. The common sizes I have come across are 2mm, 6mm, 10mm, 15mm, 20mm, 25mm, and 28mm. Rarely miniature sizes are given as a ratio of miniature size to life size, such as 1:285 for 6mm miniatures.

You might have to choose your miniature scale before choosing a set of rules if you really have a strong preference. But I've found that most of the potential rules sets I've come across in my own search can be used with many different sizes of miniatures. If specific unit sizes are critial, they mostly rely on a certain base size, and you can put however many miniatures you want on the base. It seems uncommon, though not unheard of, for the number of models in a unit, rather than the number of bases, to be important. But for some game scales, certain miniature sizes may not be possible. For example, there probably aren't a lot of skirmish level games, where on miniature represents an individual soldier, that are designed to be played with 6mm miniatures. But still, if you altered all the distances in the rules, I'm sure you could play that way.

Aside from all that, the choice of miniature size will most likely be purely aesthetic, or possibly partially financial. I had chosen a set of rules where a unit of several bases would represent a regiment of several hundred men. I wanted to use small miniatures, so that on the table a unit would look more like a big regiment of men packed together in a line. I think this looks much better than using a handful of larger scale miniatures, which just doesn't look anything like what you're trying to represent. Of course, with units being regiments, each miniature is going to represent many actual men no matter what scale I use, but I wanted to get as close as I could to the look of a regiment while still being able to fit them on my gaming table. And I wanted the miniatures to still look good up close. I had it narrowed down to either 6mm or 10mm, and my decision would be based on the prices and quality of the miniatures that were available in those scales.

My Introduction To Historical Wargaming: Part 3

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