What scale to choose for wargaming?
One of the questions that each of us has asked at one point is: what size/scale should i play? While 20 years ago the choice for certain periods (ACW, Naps, or even basic Ancients) was pre-determined by the fact that there were basically one or two miniature makers in a specific scale (the UK had the Airfix for example which was pretty much the starting step for WW2 related stuff i guess) nowadays we are spoiled. There’s basically nothing that you can’t have in the scale that you want to. 6mm Sci-fi? 15mm Naps? 28mm Ancients? You got it!
But having the choice gave way for the second tier of choice: human preference. When your only shot of playing American Civil War is 20mm you are pretty much set, but when you can do it in 6mm, 10mm, 15mm, 20mm, 25mm or even 28mm (and beyond, i am told), which one would you prefer?
Well, i have embarked in a long journey a few days ago, scouring some forums for this answer. I gathered up close to 530 answers to this question: what scale did you choose for wargaming? And while the answers provided statistical data, what is most interesting is the actual reason for which people chose a certain size/scale.
Before i start to dive into the subject, keep in mind that:
1. I have not visited game specific forums for this endeavor. Not much point going on a 40k forum to ask: hey guys, what scale do you play? when you know the answer is 28mm. Not much point visiting a Flames of War Forum also, when the answer is clearly 15mm.
2. Allot of the people that answered have indicated multiple scales, so the results add up to more then 530 some. It simply does not matter if they prefer one scale to the other once they have invested in multiple scales. And some respondents actually could not choose a favorite scale out of those that they owned.
3. Take the data with a grain of salt. The statistical spread is still small, even at 530 respondents. A good thousand more would be required for a somewhat good accuracy and they would have to come from multiple countries.
A good 30.33% of people have answered that they own and play with 6mm miniatures. That’s right, those tiny miniatures that some can’t even see and many describe as “painted rice” (although to be fair that’s the nickname for 2 and 3mm miniatures). Reasons why people collect them?
Money! Building an army with a tenth of a cost for 28mm for example is entirely possible. A vehicle is usually 20p to 1 pound. A pack of 20-30 infantry runs you up to 1 or 2 pounds. An entire force of Republican Romans (for example) with around 700 miniatures will cost no more then 30 pounds. Do i need to explain further or you still need to grasp the fact that you can build an entire army with the cost of a single Warhammer 40k vehicle?
Large battles! For those of us that like massed infantry and cavalry charges or simply wish to create a cinematic experience for the battle about to be re-enacted there’s little to say other then 6mm can provide some impressive sights. Cramming 30-40 miniatures on a single 40x40mm base is entirely doable and the effect is truly one of a respectable infantry unit. Have a force composed of 20-30 units like this and you can actually have close to 1000 “soldiers” deployed on the field, making small historical battles entirely play-able.
Space! You might be blessed with a gaming area or even *gasp* room, however that is not true for most of gamers. Downsizing your battles so you can have a go during the winter months (i just hate going outside when it’s cold) when you can’t (or won’t) visit your local club is the only option. The advantage of being able to game on a 2×3 foot coffee table is nothing to sneeze at. And when space is not a problem you can just field even more units on the table, going back to point 2.
Painting time wise, you can probably paint around 30-40 miniatures in less time then it takes to properly detail a 28mm soldier of any genre.
15.54% of gamers like the 10mm size. Already bigger and better detailed, the 10mm miniatures benefited from Games Workshop’s (now defunct) Warmaster series, which was a gem of a game (still is) with awesomely detailed figures. American Civil War and Napoleonics are no strangers also to this size, as testified by our respondents.
Large battles! Still able to field allot of troops on the table is a major advantage for the serious gamer that wants to add some “real feel” to his Napoleonic force. Also, allot of gamers swear that compared to 6mm the 10mm miniatures have actual details and are noticeably different among them.
A whooping 53% of gamers own and actively play with 15mm miniatures. The scale is well represented in all eras, and even this gamer (me) owns Ancients and WW2 in this size. Lately the Flames of War crowd has driven allot of attention to this specific size in the WW2 era. DBx, FoG and other tactical wargames set in the ancient/medieval era have also traditionally been fielded in this size.
While some prefer to play skirmish games (such an inexpensive way of doing it) with 15mm miniatures the majority of gamers have opted for company/battalion sized forces. Checking out the success that Flames of War has and how epically realistic some of the tables are (this: Monte Cassino table) there is no denying that 15mm is here to stay.
There is a saying: if you build it, they will come (Field of Dreams and if you don’t know this movie you should watch it asap, James Earl Jones damn it!) and this is exactly what the manufacturers have done: World War 2 is heavily represented by Plastic Soldier Company, Forged in Battle, Battlefront to name just a few, while Essex, Magister Militum, Irregular, Xyston, Vexillia, PeterPig, Khurasan and Splintered Light will take care of anything Ancient, Medieval, Fantasy, Sci-Fi or whatever else you would want. And that’s just the most known (at least by me) manufacturers.
Just 19% of gamers are actively involved in what is best known as a modelling scale (1/72). Names like Dragon, HobbyBoss, Revell, Italeri, Zvezda, Trumpeter and many others cover probably the most prolific vehicle and aircraft market for this scale. There’s basically nothing you can’t find in regards of World War 2 related items and Modern is following up quite nicely.
What this scale has for it is the cheapness of plastic and the overabundance of it. Infantry packs are extremely cheap and with plenty of figures. Vehicles are detailed and come in a variety of versions that would make even the most picky hobbyist admit defeat. And while your wife or wargaming agnostic friends won’t probably know where to look for some 10mm Macedonians that would round up your Greek force, they will for sure know at least a store that sells model tanks and where a very polite salesperson will have this dialogue with them:
– Hello, i am looking to buy some model tanks for a friend of mine. It’s his birthday and i know he loves this stuff!
– Certainly, Sir. What kind of model tanks would you like to buy?
– What period, WW2 or Modern? Any specific country or model?
However a quick phone call later you will probably get something that you wanted from that model shop, be it a WW2 German airplane or a Modern M1A1 Abrams. Personally i collect 1/72 vehicles (and always make sure to have my friends know that I’m a German or Russian WW2 tanks kind of guy) and i can see how one could easily re-purpose detailed models as wargaming material.
Never forgetting about companies like Caesar, Hat or Orion that delve into Ancient/Medieval or Napoleonics, we also have to say that in general though, this scale is also known for the most abundant cheap and low quality plastic castings as well, which is what drives hordes of wargamers away. Plastic that does not allow good paint to adhere to it or that is easily bent or broken is a bad idea and a waste of money.
52.05% of wargamers also invest in “God’s scale”. In the past 5 to 10 years there have been tremendous advances in this range also and one is strained to find a subject not covered toe to head by someone. Lately the plastics have made a good push on the market (and some would say that it dominates it) however metals remain favorite to a core fanbase that simply wants some actual weight behind their troops.
People prefer 28mm for skirmish or small to medium sized games and go to great lengths to accommodate big 28mm forces on larger tables. The quite standard 6×4 foot table will easily allow you to play a biggish game of Warhammer Fantasy, or Bolt Action or Hail Caesar, not to mention Warhammer 40k, Infinity, Warmachine, Kings of War and any other system that is based on exquisitely detailed miniatures. I feel there is no need to provide any links here, just to say a few names that cover most of the preferences of your average gamer: Games Workshop, Warlord Games, Perry Miniatures, Privateer Press, Mantic Games, Victrix and quite a few others that i have forgotten.
The miniatures in this scale are indeed full of detail and more then a few have also testified that it’s the only size they can see well enough to paint in. Add the fact that they are big enough to be handled without fear of breaking something and you are left with only the disadvantage of space and difficulty of transportation. A shoebox that can carry both of your DBA armies in 6, 10 or 15mm can handle only 1 or 2 units maximum in your Warhammer Fantasy force and 28mm is probably the reason why we saw a steep evolution of carrying cases with different foam layers to accommodate everything a person might bring.