I - HISTORY OF WARGAMING
miniature wargames (See "What is Miniature Wargaming" following this section) are quite similar to military
wargames in one respect. Both actually evolved from
games played principally for fun. The first of the
military games is thought to have been Wei-Hai ("encirclement"), a Chinese game
which is usually now called Go. A later, similar
game was the Indian Chaturanga, the
system from which chess in its various forms came
about. Chess itself gave birth to at least one game
which more formally depicted armed combat. This
was the 1644 design known as The
from one Christopher Weikmann. It included 30 pieces
per side of 14 military types, each with a different
fixed rate of movement. Like its predecessors, it
was played principally for pleasure but differed
by its emphasis on the strategic level of war.
The first game to break away from chess, however, was invented by Helwig, Master of Pages to the Duke of Brunswick in 1780. This game included 1666 squares, each coded for a different rate of movement depending on the terrain the square represented. Playing pieces now represented groups of men instead of a single soldier, and each unit was rated for different movement (infantry moved 8 spaces, heavy cavalry 12, for example). There were also special rules for such things as pontooneers and the like. In 1795, Georg Vinturinus, a military writer from Schleswig, produced a more complex version of Helwig's game. He modified it in 1798 by using a mapboard that depicted actual terrain on the border between France and Belgium.
Nevertheless, such innovations did not move wargames
out of the entertainment world into that of the military until
1811 when a Prussian father-son team began to make their studies
known. The father, Baron von Reisswitz, was a civilian war
counselor to the Prussian court at Breslau. During the dark
days of Prussian domination by the Napoleon, Reisswitz introduced
a game that used a specific scale (1:2373) and a sand table
instead of a map grid. In 1811 the game was observed by two
Prussian princes who then showed it to the King. The game
immediately became the rage at both the Prussian and Russian
courts, but professional soldiers saw little use for it. All
that change in 1824. In that year Reisswitz' son, Leutnant
George Heinrich Rudolf Johann von Reisswitz of the Prussian
Guard Artillery, introduced his own version of his father's
game. The game was called Anleitung
zur Darstelling militarische manuver mit dem apparat des Kriegsspiels
(Instructions for the Representation of Tactical Maneuvers
under the Guise of a Wargame)
and included a number of new innovations, the most important
of which were the use of actual topographical maps to portray
the battlefield and rigid rules which specifically quantified
the effects of combat.
The rules were published under
the patronage of Prussian Prince Wilhem who became impressed
with them after an evening's play. The Prince then recommended
the rules to the Chief of the Prussian General Staff, General
von Muffling, who finally granted von Reisswitz an audience.
One of von Reisswitz' companions, a young officer named Dannhauer,
described the meeting which many believe to be the birth of
the military wargame:
On our arrival we found the
General surrounded by the General Staff officers.
General announced, "Herr von Reisswitz is going to show
us something new."
Reisswitz was not abashed
by the somewhat lukewarm introduction. He calmly set out his
With some surprise the General
said, "You mean we are to play for an hour on a map!
Very well. Show us a division with the troops.
"May I ask your excellency,"
replied Reisswitz, " to provide us with general and special
ideas for manoeuver, and to choose two officers to be the
commanders for both sides. Also it is important that we only
give each commander in the special idea the information he
would have in reality."
The General seemed rather
astonished at the whole thing, but began to write out the
We were allocated as troop
leaders to both sides, and the game began. One can honestly
say that the old gentleman, so cool towards the idea at the
beginning, became more and more interested as the game went
on, until he exclaimed, "This is not a game! This is
training for war! I must recommend it to the whole army."
Von Muffling made good on his
promise and shortly thereafter every regiment had their own
set, all of the components of which neatly fit into a wooden
box 10 inches long and 6 inches wide. Nevertheless, many Prussian
officers became jealous of Reisswitz' new fame while many
others disputed the accuracy of his system. It is sad to note
that because of this the young lieutenant killed himself in
However, the impact of this first
military wargame had been significant. Reisswitz' work particularly
impressed one Leutnant
Helmuth von Moltke
who, in 1828, founded a wargame club called the Kriegspieler
Verein which soon began to publish its own periodical.
This kept interest in wargames alive and when von Moltke became
Chief of Staff in 1837, he officially pushed wargaming from
the top. His influence had the desired effect and by 1876
another set of German wargame rules was published, this time
by Colonel Julius Adrian Friedrich Wilhelm von Verdy du Vernois.
Vernois' system was a "free" Kriegsspiel as opposed to Reisswitz rigid variety. This
meant that most calculations and die rolling was eliminated
in favor of an umpire who would determine results based on
the situation and his own combat experience. Whether "free"
or "rigid," however, wargames had become a mainstay
of German military training.
Other countries around the world
became interested in German wargaming as a result of the 1870-71
Franco-Prussian War. In this conflict, the militia and reserve
based armies of Prussia decisively defeated the totally professional
army of France, then thought to have had the finest soldiers
in the world. Many believed that wargames in part were used
to successfully compensate for Prussia's reliance on an army
of Reserven und Landwehren.
that point on all countries began to build imitations of German
systems as well as developing their own. In the United States,
Army Major William R. Livermore introduced his The American Kriegsspiel, A Game for Practicing
the Art of War on a Topographical Map in 1882. The game was complex and similar to
Reisswitz' system, but did attempt to cut down on the paperwork
involved by the introduction of several training aid type
devices. At the same time Lieutenant Charles A. L. Totten
introduced a game entitled Strategos:
A Series of American Games of War.
Totten's game was as complex as Livermore's, but he appealed
to the amateur through the inclusion of a simplified, basic
set of rules.
Neither was wargaming neglected
by the US Navy, thanks to the efforts of William McCarty Little.
In 1876, after an accident had forced his retirement from
the Navy, Little made his home in Newport, Rhode Island and
assisted in the establishment of the Naval War College. At
the same time he made the acquaintance of Major Livermore
who at that time was stationed across the bay at Fort Adams.
Under Livermore's influence, and with the help of some very
open minded supervisors like President Captain Henry Taylor,
Little was able to make wargaming an integral part of the
College's curriculum. His efforts practically made the Naval
War College into America's unofficial wargaming center. Little
produced a ship-on-ship game, a tactical game and a strategic
game, all very accurate (they were able to predict that smaller
numbers of big guns on battleships were more effective than
large numbers of mixed caliber weapons) but also very complex.
It was, in fact, complexity that encouraged resistance to
wargaming within the American army and elsewhere. Games like
Vernois' were introduced to simplify things, but many argued
that such umpire driven systems only replaced arbitrary written
rules with arbitrary unwritten rules. Thus by the turn of
the century there was an increased tendency all over the world
to merge the free Kriegsspiel
with the rigid to produce a semi-rigid system. Even Livermore
accepted this as the best solution and often ignored his own
tables as much as he consulted them.
The semi-rigid wargame thus became
the standard for most military conflict simulations around
the world through the First World War. The games proved quite
successful and history abounds with examples of how commanders
were defeated as a result of ignoring the result of a wargame.
As an example, a Russian wargame in 1914 predicted defeat
if General Samsomov's 2d Army did not begin its advance three
days ahead of General Rennenkampf's 1st Army, "an action
not contained in the plans. This change, so clearly indicated
in the war games, was never made in the plans or their execution."
The result was the Russian debacle of Tannenburg the same
The years between the world wars
was notable for the lack of military wargaming activity, particularly
in Britain and the US. In general, most wanted to forget the
carnage of the Great War while not a few noted that the failure
of Germany's vaunted Schlieffen Plan in 1914 showed that the
wargame was far from perfect. There were exceptions to this
general rule of inactivity, of course. Germany still relied
on the wargame as a principal training tool, especially since
the Treaty of Versailles denied that country the right to
field the necessary army appropriate for large scale training
exercises. One must also look to the contribution of F.W.
Lanchester who introduced mathematical formula that predicted
attrition rates between two equivalent armies in combat.
In modified form, his two equations
are still the basis of many wargames today. Finally, one must
note that the US, the Naval War College, in seeming defiance
of the other branches of service, continued and expanded its
wargaming efforts. The College's labors were to bear great
fruits during the upcoming war against the Axis Powers.
Indeed history records many wargame
successes during World War II, but perhaps none was more impressive
than America's naval victory over Japan . Our wartime Pacific
commander, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz explained to a
Naval War College class in 1960 that, "the war with Japan
had been reenacted in the game rooms here by so many people
and in so many different ways that nothing happened during
the war that was a surprise - absolutely nothing except the
kamikazis towards the end of the war."
From that point on military wargames
followed advances in technology, resulting in the complex
pilot simulators or computerized strategic systems used around
the world today wit most advanced countries' armed forces.
Indeed, with the introduction of the US Army's Combat Training
Centers, such as Ft Polk, LA or the National Training Center
at Ft Irwin, CA, the individual soldier has now become a playing
piece. Admittedly,events such as the Vietnam War have shown
that wargames are not perfect, for they are only as good as
the data humans place into them. Nevertheless, the history
of military wargames is such that most failures seem to occur
when the results of a wargame are ignored, not when they are
taken seriously. This is a solid record by any measure.
And with that being said, it
now time to look at another type of wargaming, one whose original
concept was not to train for successful conflict, but to prevent
such bloodshed from ever happing at all.
Most modern hobby wargamers place
the birth of their avocation with the publication of a book
entitled Little Wars:
A Game for Boys from Twelve Years to One Hundred and Fifty
and for that More Intelligent Sort of Girl Who Likes Games
and Books. The book was written in 1913 by noted British science
fiction author H.G. Wells, an ardent pacifist, who evidently
felt that his game would not only be entertaining, but would
offer an alternative outlet for the aggressive passions most
professional soldiers possessed. He wrote:
How much better is this amiable
miniature than the Real Thing! Here is a homeopathic remedy
for the imaginative strategist. Here is the premeditation,
the thrill, the strain of accumulating victory or disaster
- and no smashed bodies, no shattered fine buildings nor devastated
country sides, no petty cruelties, none of that awful universal
boredom and embitterment, that tiresome delay or stoppage
or embarrassment of every gracious, bold, sweet, and charming
thing, that we who are old enough to remember a real modern
war know to be the reality of belligerence.
The game used miniature soldiers
and toy cannon that shot small bullets to knock over the soldiers.
The idea was one hit, one kill. Wells simply believed that
combat "should be by actual gun and rifle fire and not
by computation. Things should happen and not be decided."
this revulsion of traditional military wargame technique indicates
an interest by Wells in soldierly applications for his design,
the game remained primarily an entertainment medium. Wells'
pacifist personality would allow nothing more while it is
hard to imagine stately British officers crawling around on
the floor popping off at each other with spring loaded cannon.
Nevertheless, Wells' had an impact
on wargaming far greater than his simplistic rules might suggest.
His rules, coupled with inexpensive, mass produced toy soldiers,
made wargaming available to almost anyone, not just the professional
soldier or the rich.
It is for this reason that Wells
is usually considered the father of modern hobby wargaming.
Little wonder that for many years contributions in that field
were honored by "H.G. Wells Awards" while today's
miniature wargamers staunchly point to Wells as justification
for their belief that they represent the senior and most respected
wing of the hobby.
Finely painted miniatures, in
fact, represented the totality of hobby wargaming for the
next 40 or so years. Although most rules used were local amateur
efforts, there were some
designs that were quite notable. One of these was a naval
wargame developed by Fred T. Jane, the editor of the famous
Jane's All the Worlds Fighting Ships. Using toy ship
models and the research he had done for his books, Jane produced
a system that, though crude by modern standards, gained a
great deal of respect all over the world. Wrote one naval
officer, "The rules alone, apart from their bearing on
the game, contains a mass of information . . . which cannot
be found in so compact a form elsewhere, whilst . . . the
strategical game will show that a number of things have to
be thought of by those who command fleets in time of war."
Another naval miniatures game
of note was produced in 1940 by American Fletcher Pratt. His
used highly a complex mathematical formula to obtain results.
Though Pratt admitted that much of the research used to obtain
his formula was highly arbitrary, he countered with the argument
that despite this shortcoming, his system worked. On at least
one occasion Pratt was able to prove exactly that. In a demonstration
that made his game "part of the lore of both commercial
and military wargaming," Pratt was able to reproduce
the 1939 destruction of the German pocket battleship Graf
Spee with incredibly
here to follow the history of this great hobby
courtesy of Bob Beattie and The Courier!
There were also several German
miniature games of note. One of the most famous was Schlactenspiel,
a 1920's design played in a manner similar to Chinese checkers
but using terrain boards and model buildings to hinder the
movement of the toy soldiers. The game specifically reproduced
battles from the 1813 and 1814 campaigns against Napoleon,
though later editions added engagements from the "hyphenated
wars" (Franco-Prussian War, etc) and World War I.
In 1953, however, a revolution
of sorts occurred in the commercial wargaming field. It was
in that year that a young man from Baltimore published the
first cardboard and paper wargame. Charles Roberts developed
a game called Tactics.
The game used a paper board with small cardboard pieces called
"counters." The counters were printed with military
symbols indicating the type unit represented as well as with
numbers quantifying such things as movement and combat strength.
The game depicted two mythical post World War II powers and
became immensely popular after its release by Stackpole Books
Roberts' creation boasted a number of advantages over the
miniatures community. His board game was cheaper than an equivalent
number of miniatures, and needed less time for setup as well
as less room to play. Cardboard wargames could also be played
solo and could easily simulate echelons of war (operational
or strategic) above the tactical battlefield realm of the
lead miniature. In fact, Roberts was so encouraged by the
game's success that he started his own company dedicated to
publishing historical board wargames. From that point on his
Avalon Hill Company became the preeminent leader in such games,
publishing over 200,000 units in 1962 alone. The company was
also innovative and can be credited with establishing the
hexagon (admittedly borrowed from Rand Corporation) as the
standard mapboard device for regulating movement. Titles included
such items as Gettysburg,
D-Day and Stalingrad.
The company went bust in 1964 for a variety of reasons, not
the least of which was a growing mistrust of anything military
due to the problems in Vietnam. Monarch Printing absorbed
Avalon Hill, however, and the firm continued to publish wargames
until very recently.
In 1969 another significant event
took place in the evolution of commercial hobby wargaming.
This was the publication of Strategy
& Tactics Magazine (or S&T, as it is often called) by Christopher
Wagner and later James Dunnigan. The magazine was unique in
that it included a paper and counter wargame as supporting
material for its main military history article. In this way
the magazine was able to garner more exposure for the commercial
wargaming industry by offering a product that appealed to
amateur historians as well as true gamers. Like Avalon Hill,
S&T had financial problems and ownership changed hands
many times. The magazine still exists, however, and has even
spawned an imitation in the form of Command
Magazine by XTR Corporation.
The success of Avalon Hill and
Simulations Publications Incorporated (SPI, the publishers
of S&T) was good enough to give birth to a yearly national
wargaming convention, Origins, which continues to this day
though admittedly with a distinctly fantasy-science fiction
spin. Their success also encouraged a number of new game companies
to form. While many fell after a few months or years, many
more have survived and continue to do a thriving business.
Total paper and counter wargame sales thus reached a high
of some two million copies in 1980, but by 1991 that number
was down to about 450,000 units per year.
There were many reasons for this
drop in sales, to include the popularity of fantasy role playing
systems such as Dungeons
and Dragons. It was the introduction of the personal computer
(PC) in 1980, however, that hurt the paper wargame industry
The PC could do a number of things
better than board games and in some instances could perform
functions the cardboard counter was incapable of doing. In
this latter category, PC software could allow a player to
become part of the actual combat depicted. Games like Dynamix's
A-10 Tank Killer
flight simulator allowed the player to actually "pilot"
the aircraft and fire its ordinance as opposed to pushing
around a small cardboard square and consulting a plethora
of charts. Otherwise most computer wargames were simply technological
advancements of their paper cousins. Indeed, at first most
were like Three Sixty Pacific's Velikiye
Luki 1942 (a Russian front battle from World War II)
in that the software depicted a colorful boardgame type map
complete with hexagons while units looked like little video
counters. It is interesting to note that the most recent computer
games of this genre, however, have turned to a miniatures
graphical format as the most attractive method of presentation.
Talonsoft, Inc's Battleground Series, such as Prelude
to Waterloo or Gettysburg, are typical examples of such products.
Yet there were significant differences,
differences generally attributable to the rapid advances in
computer technology. The PC provided a capable opponent that
did not cheat, a substantial plus as most board gamers were
known to play solitaire. The PC also performed most of the
tedious mathematics common to wargames for the player, and
did it very quickly. There was also the aspect of not having
to find space to set up a large board game or the time to
take the project down. Finally there was the advantage of
the PC being able to simulate some of the more commercially
mundane and unpopular aspects of war, such as introductory
intelligence collection and analysis (by using completely
hidden movement), without unduly burdening the player. It
is for reasons like these many board game companies began
to venture out into the computer gaming world. Avalon Hill,
for example, purchased Three Sixty Pacific's complete line
of World War II simulations and expanded upon it with designs
of its own.
The result is that today there
are about 10,000 active paper and counter wargamers active
in North America if a recent article out of Strategy
& Tactics No 200 by counter guru Jim Dunnigan is correct.
Conversely, there seem to be some 45,000 + miniature gamers,
though this number is evidently lower than what exists in
Great Britain, interestingly enough. Computer gamers will
probably number some one million (plus!) over the next few
years, but recent statistics quoted in publications such as
imply that historical wargame computer buffs may actually
number less than the cardboard variety. Indeed, consider that
last year's PC Wargame of the year, Talonsoft's very well
received The Operational
Art of War, sold far
less than 2000 total copies. This stands in stark contrast
to fantasy/Sci-Fi games such as Blizzard's Starcraft, boasting sales in the millions. Such a situation does
not bid well for PC based military simulations as it would
seem few can compete with either Zerglings or Space Orcs.
Thus trends seem to indicate
a growing decline in board and microchip historical wargaming,
with miniaturists steadfastly holding their own and perhaps
expanding a little. Indeed, recent years have seen somewhat
of a crash in the cardboard wargaming wing of the hobby. Many
stalwart companies such as Games Designers Workshop (GDW)
have simply gone out of business while other respected companies,
such as GMT games, must actually request customer purchases
up front prior to developing and producing a game. Only companies
which diversify, such as Pennsylvania's Clash of Arms Games
(COA), seem to be surviving and it is interesting to note
that part of COA's diversification program is into the realm
of miniature rules (such as their Napoleonic set called From Valmy to Waterloo).
Decision Games has recently followed suit with its first set
of miniature rules, Battle
Stations, a game on World War II naval warfare. Regardless,
with the purchase of mighty Avalon Hill by the Hasbro Toy
Company (along with the immediate firing of Avalon Hill's
entire staff and the informal notice that once current stocks
of wargames were gone, they would likely not be produced again)
in August 1998, many feel the final nails have been driven
into the coffin of cardboard counter gaming. It is therefore
little wonder that some board wargaming authors are now calling
for pure historical wargaming conventions jointly sponsored
by the cardboard and miniatures communities.
reasons for low-tech toy soldiers still retaining their popularity
are not hard to determine. The establishment of professional
publishing concerns devoted to the hobby (such as the Emperor's
Press in Chicago) undoubtedly helped. Another thing that helped
was the fact that in many ways the miniature hobby has more
of a kinship with model railroading than it does the paper
map or the computer. Thus families can participate in the
design of battlefields or the painting of troops, while material
such as entire armies are passed down from generation to generation.
Miniature games tend to be more social, group events than
do other forms of commercial wargames which are often played
solitaire. This is an important factor because it points out
that board and computer games are likely trying to access
the same type of customer, a more introverted individual perhaps,
and in such a situation the microchip will likely win. Also,
many miniature gamers ply their trade for the research involved
or for the pure joy of painting the necessary figures. Finally,
neither board nor computer can match the spectacle of an accurately
depicted miniature battle.
Another reason for the survivability
of miniatures was the creation in 1986 of HMGS (the Historical
Miniatures Gaming Society, founded by the Chapter now known
as HMGS East) which was formed to officially promote that
wing of wargaming as both a legitimate adult hobby and as
an alternative method for the study of military history. The
Society also services the needs of the miniaturist in general
with databases that find opponents, hobby shop discounts and
periodic newsletters. Chapters further provide lecturers,
issue monetary grants to historical or gaming concerns, buy
books on miniature gaming for school libraries and on request
hold demonstration games for colleges and other organizations.
A number of historical miniature conventions are sponsored
each year designed to specifically promote the hobby. Many
are deliberately held in inexpensive tourist locations so
that families might also attend - and become interested in
the hobby as well. An example of such a convention is the
celebrated Historicon, held each July in Lancaster, PA, the
heart of Dutch Amish Country and called the "mother of
all wargaming conventions" by Amy Gammerman of the Wall
Street Journal. If
attendance at this convention - and it was over 3700 in 1998
- is any indication, the miniatures wing of the hobby continues
to grow at a rate of between 8-12% a year. HMGS itself has
expanded into 11 regional chapters with some 3600 members.
Clearly Wells would have been
II - WHAT IS MINIATURE WARGAMING?
A Short Primer for the Newcomer
Historical miniature wargaming
is the recreation of historical battles (the Tactical level
of war) through the use of a 3D terrain table over which are
deployed model forests, roads, rivers and buildings as well
as miniature soldiers and vehicles depicting the actual participants
of the engagement. Each miniature represents a certain number
of historical soldiers or vehicles, as in the popular rules
called Napoleon's Battles
where the ratio is one figure for each 100 historical combatants.
The miniature forces involved are painted to depict the same
color schemes or uniforms as were used by the historical combatants.
In this regard, miniature wargaming departs from its sister
wargaming wings using cardboard or micro chip in also being
an art form as well as a competitive hobby.
Detailed rules instruct the players
on how they may move and launch their miniature forces in
combat against each other, drawing on extensive research as
to what happened historically and why. The rules, and also
the reference chats that accompany them, regulate such things
as combat formations, movement, command-control (C2), morale
and firepower. Dice, from 6 sided to 20 sided, are used to
insert the uncertainty that has always been present in war
into the game, and thus into the minds of the players as well.
Thus while such things as morale and training might dictate
that a unit of 1813 Prussian Landwehr
(militia) might have
only a 5% chance of victory when attacking a battalion of
Napoleon's Old Guard Grenadiers, it can happen, though not
miniature soldiers or vehicles are mounted on trays for ease
of movement. These movement stands are often decorated with
model turf or grass and are cut to an exact scale frontage
representing the precise space the forces depicted would occupy
historically. The trays themselves can then be aligned to
represent specific historical battle formations and units.
Thus the trays could be formed together to recreate the basic
historical unit represented in the rules being played, such
as a battalion of infantry in Empire, a game about the Napoleonic Wars. The unit
could also be a full brigade as in Napoleon's Battles,
a set of rules on the same period that allows larger battles
to be easily played. The trays could then be deployed to represent
the different combat formations a battalion could take, such
as column, line or square. If done properly in conjunction
with a well designed terrain table, these soldiers present
an historically accurate and colorful spectacle unsurpassed
by even the most modern computer wargames.
Cost, Scale and Other Such Nonsense
Miniature wargaming is a fairly
expensive hobby, both in terms of time and resources. Currently,
a package of 24 15 mm infantry figures will cost about $ 7.50
US, with rules weighing in at anywhere from $ 20 - $ 35 US.
Figures can be significantly less expensive if bought in larger,
packaged quantities, with up to 100 15 mm costing less than
$ 20 US. Then one must buy such things as paint, material
for terrain, paint brushes and research publications so that
a miniature army might be deployed in its proper uniform.
Obviously, once all this material has been gathered, then
one must find the time to paint and produce the armies, not
to mention the need to develop scenarios and build appropriate
It is for this reason, as well
as a few others, that miniature wargaming enthusiasts tend
to be a little older than folks in other wings of the hobby.
They are individuals a little further along in their careers,
thus having a little more $$$ and time to devote to the hobby.
These same gamers are also likely to be a little more extroverted
than most. This fact, coupled with the realization that miniature
battles tend to simply require more material and space than
their cardboard or computer cousins, means that miniature
wargames tend to be multiple player, social affairs. By contrast,
cardboard and computer wargames tend to be played solitaire
most of the time.
In another difference from the
paper and microchip set, miniature gamers tend to specialize
to a much higher degree. Again, this is basically a matter
of economics as the money, materials and time needed to produce
a typical miniature wargames army is simply too great to allow
the typical gamer to involve himself in more than one or two
historical periods. This, however, also means that miniature
players tend to know their chosen period of history to a much
greater level of detail than a typical paper or microchip
gamer. There are, of course, exceptions, but generally the
rule rings true.
The most popular scale in miniature
wargaming seems to be 15 mm, meaning that the height of a
typical lead or pewter soldier is about 15mm. The scale is
preferred because it is small enough to allow for large battles,
yet large enough to allow a significant amount of detail to
be sculpted and therefore painted. They are also cheaper than
other, larger scales. Larger scales are primarily limited
to 25 mm, which provides greater detail, but cost more and
limits the size of battles that might be recreated. There
are also 10, 9 and 6 mm figures available (often jokingly
referred to as playing in Braille), with the opposite advantages
The most popular periods in miniature gaming
are likely Napoleonic, American Civil War, Ancients (covering
Biblical times right up to the age of Burgundian Charles the
Bold) and World War II, in that order. While there are many
reasons for these periods' popularity, undoubtedly the colorful
uniforms are a big factor! It is really quite tough to compete
with the full dress uniform of a Trumpet Major from Napoleon's
Dutch Lancers of the Imperial Guard. Nevertheless, there are
still many other periods where there are a quite a few adherents.
These include the Seven Years War, the Franco Prussian War
and, a favorite of the author, the War of Spanish Succession
(eg, the age of Marlborough).
Ancient gaming offers a unique
type of game play whereby the soldiers, armor and weaponry
from all covered periods are rated on a point system for tournament
play. Using such a system, and historical norms for troop
composition, it is possible to have a Samurai army out of
Kamakura Japan tackle the phalanxes of Alexander the Great
by simply telling the two players to deploy 1500 points of
each army. A little off the historical track perhaps, but
also remember that at one point the Roman Empire lay less
than a couple of days' march from Han China. Yet the two great
empires never met, and their armies never clashed. Regardless,
Ancients Tournaments (and now Pike and Shot Tourneys) are
a widely anticipated part of most miniature wargaming conventions.
Outside the figures and model
terrain, one will also need a ruler (remember, miniature wargames
measure distance and range directly, not with a hexagonal
grid as do board games), usually a compass (to adjudicate
the fan of fire for specific weapons) and dice. Most games
use either10 or 20 sided "percentage dice." These
dice are numbered from 0 to 9 (20 sided dice have two 0's,
two 1's and so on) and two such pieces of contrasting color
are usually used in the performance of game functions. One
die represents multiples of 10, the other 0 - 9. Thus, if
a blue die were thrown with a result of 6, and white die thrown
with a result of three, the final result would be counted
as "63." In turn, if the unit for which the die
were thrown had, say, a 65% chance of successful fire against
an opponent, the attack would have been successful. Had the
die roll been a 66 or above, failure would have ensued. By
the way, "00" is usually counted as 100.
Ancients (again) is unique in
that some systems use two 6 sided die, usually to modify plus
or minus the odds of inflicting casualties in a close action
or fire attack. One die is of the normal type usually found
in department stores and is used for all forces that are NOT
Regular troops such as Roman Legionaries. The other die is
also six sided, but has neither a "1" or a "6."
Instead the die has two "2's" and two "5's."
This die is used for the Regulars and shows their superior
training and discipline as their combat modifier will never
swing so radically as it would for highly emotional, but poorly
trained Barbarian forces.
Another way miniature gaming
is very unlike wargaming in cardboard or with a computer is
the almost unbreakable link with traditional methods of historical
study. With a historical military boardgame or computer wargame,
all that is necessary is setup, a reading of the rules and
off one goes to play the game. With miniatures it just isn't
Miniature wargaming is definitely
not a lazy person's hobby, and one of the reasons is the necessity
of doing one's own historical research in order to participate.
Traditionally, miniature wargaming rules have seldom included
complete battle scenarios ready for play. Instead, the players
had to do their own research as concerned terrain, the order
of battle (called OB in US military circles) and the arrival
of reinforcements. Indeed, that is still the case with Bob
Jones' Piquet, a rules set that covers multiple periods of history.
This is changing somewhat, with rules like Richard Hasenauer's
Fire & Fury
American Civil War rules set also having spawned two scenario
books - one for the Eastern theater, one for the West. But
remember, these rules do not cover only a specific battle
or campaign, but enable the player to play any battle for
the period represented. Thus while the F&F scenario books might have some ready to play
battles, they do not include all the engagements one might
play with the rules. There are many, many more, and for these
the players must do their own research. And while researching
the battle of Cold Harbor, players might easily find themselves
nose deep in Douglas Southhall Freeman's Lee's
Lieutenants as well.
Then there are the uniforms.
Miniature rules simply do not tell players how to paint their
figures. Research is an absolute necessity, and like figuring
out battle scenarios, can easily lead off into areas of traditional
historical study. Ever wonder why Napoleonic French cavalry
trumpeters wore such distinctive uniforms and rode only light
grey or white horses? Take a look at French dragoons, for
example. Mounted on bays or browns, with brass helmets with
black, flowing horsehair manes, dark green saddle blankets
trimmed white and dark green coats with lapels, collar and
cuffs in a distinctive regimental color, yellow perhaps. Now
look at the trumpeter - white horsehair main, yellow saddle
blanket, yellow coat with green collar and so on, all on a
white horse. The bottom line here is that the trumpeter was
the commander's communication corps. He could not only blow
a jaunty tune to raise the spirits of the lads, but he was
also responsible for getting the word out as regarded battlefield
movement instructions. Here we are talking about trumpet calls
such as retreat, charge or recall. With all the black powder
weapons going off, it was imperative that this important fellow
be very distinctively accoutered so that the commander might
easily pick him out of a swirling mass of men when the need
arose. Interestingly enough, British cavalry, which Lord Wellington
swore was among the most uncontrollable in Europe, did not
dress their musicians any differently than the rank and file.
Could this lead to yet another
book for the player to read? Perhaps, and so it goes as the
link between miniatures and traditional history grows stronger
There are many ways to paint
a miniatures army, but here is the method the author uses,
one that has proven both quick and attractive. First I mount
the figures (remember to remove all unsightly pewter or lead
flash) on the very stands I intend to use on the gaming table.
These stands are cut with a cardboard razor from the matting
material used for picture frames. The figures are glued on
the stands using Elmer's Glue All or regular household cement.
I prime the figures in flat black paint, using, of all things,
nothing more than a can of Krylon spray paint. Priming is
needed to insure that the other colors of paint adhere properly
to the figure and black is appropriate since many of the figure's
uniform accoutrements such as boots or field packs are in
that color anyway. The color black also assists in my detailing
method of which more will be discussed below.
When the primer is dry I next paint the figures
in their proper uniforms, holding them by the movement trays
I initially mounted them on. I paint figures by unit. This
means that, for example, if the Confederate 5th
Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment consists of 12 figures
under a set of rules such as John Hill's ever popular Johnny Reb, I
will paint those 12 figures as a group. I then paint a single
color across all 12 figures before I continue with a different
color, starting first with flesh (hands and face), then some
sort of brown (for muskets or rifles). I do this until all
figures are completed. Several brushes are need for this process,
all the way down to the micro 10/0 for small areas. Water
based acrylics, many in specific uniform colors, are normally
preferred over oils.
Then it is time for detailing,
and by this one means the little extra effect one achieves
by outlining shoulder straps in black and the like. The bottom
line here is that I outline nothing. Instead, and since the
figure is already primed in black, I simply paint so as to
leave those areas untouched where black outlining or shading
would be necessary. This allows the black primer undercoat
to show through and gives the impression that I have tediously
done the deed with a single bristle brush and magnifying glass.
Next, and after the figures are
completely dry, I flock the movement trays on which the figures
are mounted. This means that I thickly paint these bases in
green or some other earth tone color, and while still wet,
I drag the bases through model grass or soil, tapping off
the excess when finished. To this I may add a few pebbles
if the stand contains generals or other commanders. I also
paint the bottom of the stands (Dragon Blue, strangely enough)
so that I might be able to tell my troops from those of other
players when it is time to pick up after a battle.
Finally, when everything is dry,
I over spray the entire unit with a clear gloss spray such
as Krylon. The gloss finish protects the figures from excessive
handling, while bringing out the richness of the color. A
gloss finish is the preferred treatment in Britain, while
in the United States a flat or matte finish is the usual norm.
Using such technique, I am usually
able to produce a unit of 12 15 mm infantry figures in about
an hour and a 15 minutes, with the finished product rating
about a 7 on a 1 to 10 scale. Click
here for a step by step guide to this methodology, first
presented at Cold Wars 2003.
Of course, you can always buy
your figures already painted through many of the fine painting
services that are available for hire, but be prepared to pay
big bucks. Current pricing indicates that a single 15 mm infantry
figure of about the quality I produce is likely to cost a
$ 1.75, with a full 12 figure Empire
French infantry battalion
(which uses a scale of one lead figure representing 60 actual
soldiers) costing $ 21.00. Since there were about 12 battalions
in a French infantry division, three divisions in a corps
. . . well, you get the picture.
So how does one get started?
Since miniatures are normally played in group settings, it
is usually wise to contact a group to see what they are playing.
Newsletters and Websites of the various HMGS Chapters have
listings for Wargaming Clubs, so these venues are a good place
to start. The Chapters also maintain membership databases
so that a quick call to their National Board POC or the Chapter
Secretary can usually get you some names in your area.
step is to simply pick up the phone and find out what period
is being played, under what rules, in what scale and when
the next meeting is going to happen. Show up, try your hand
and then depart to pick up your own wargaming army. Try to
build a complete unit, but one that is not too big. Thus McClaw's
Division is a good start, but trying to build all of Longstreet's
Confederate Corps is likely just a bit more than the beginner
will be able to handle. Always try to build lots of regular
(line) grunts, as opposed to whatever Guard plays in your
chosen period. There is always a need for the average foot
or horse soldier, while showing up with the Old Guard right
off the bat is certainly guaranteed not to win you a lot of
friends. Find out what the group needs. If the only player
with Austrians has just moved to Grafenwehr, Germany, pick
up some Austrians (and a lot of white paint) to help out.
But above all, try to get your
army started as soon as possible. Most folks have no problem
sharing their figures for play with newcomers, but this tolerance
goes only so far. The quicker you can supply painted figures
to the collective pool of miniatures needed to play a battle,
the quicker you will be accepted into the group.
After that, settle down and have
This little tome is by no means
all inclusive, but everyone in HMGS land hopes it will spark
your interest. If it does and you feel up to the challenge,
but you still have questions, just contact the friendly folks
at your nearby HMGS Chapter and let them help you out, or
drop a line on our Internet Newsgroup, rec.games.miniatures.historical
. Believe me, you will be glad you did.
Best of luck and good gaming!
Part I adapted from the author's
master's thesis Playing
War: the Applicability of Commercial Conflict Simulations to
Military Intelligence Training and Education (DIA Joint Military Intelligence College, Bolling
AFB, DC, 1995).
Picture of Napoleon
after 1814 - le campagne de France by Jean-Louis
Ernest Meissonier, 1815-91, picture of hex map courtesy of
Clash of Arms Games, from The Six Days of Glory by
Kevin Zucker, third picture from Comrades of Constantine
Wargames Club, Kriegspiel
page. Cover of H. G. Wells Little Wars from Major
General Tremorden Rederring's Colonial-era Wargames Page.
Fifth, seventh and eighth photos courtesy of Duncan MacFarland,
Wargames Illustrated magazine. All other photos by
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