The Wargamer: Genre, Command Level & Figure Scale

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November 10, 2012 by raconteurmagazine

by Ian White

In this article, I’ll talk about the myriad genres (wars/periods/eras- call them what you will) and the influence of ‘command level’ & figure ‘scale’.

It’s usually a good plan to have some idea of which genre you want to get into before you start investing in rules and figures. However, sometimes the genre will be linked directly to the opponents available to you and what they already play. Having said that, don’t succumb to peer pressure if what others are playing doesn’t really float your boat.   In my experience most wargamers are quite willing to experiment in new genres.

Consider what period of history particularly interests you. Do you prefer pre-gunpowder to modern? Are you a fantasy fan or is naval warfare your thing? Do you want to command huge armies or a squad of Special Forces on a daring raid behind enemy lines?

I suggest you spend a fair amount of time on this point as it will also affect – and be affected by – figure scale, command level and certainly the rules systems out there.

The number of genres available for wargame players is only limited by history on the one hand and the imagination of writers and game designers on the other (fantasy and sci-fi settings can be derived from literature, film and TV).

Command level is a very important consideration when choosing a genre.

By command level, I mean the rank of the commanding officer (the player) leading the force. As alluded to above, a General would lead an army; a Sergeant or Lieutenant would lead a small unit of men.

So, let’s look at a few historical eras to get an idea of the command level and numbers of warriors involved; hundreds of thousands of Persians invaded Greece in the 3rd century BC, tens of thousands of soldiers fought in an average Napoleonic battle of the early 19th Century Europe, thousands of men faced off in the Wars of the Roses in 15th Century England, Hundreds of men might be involved in a recreation of a Viking raid on a hapless Saxon village in 700AD, ten or so men per side could shoot-it-out in a Wild West town, one-on-one  combat is the staple diet of a gladiatorial contest in Ancient Rome.

As you can see, command level (or numbers of men commanded) is important when deciding on your genre.

The next most important thing to think about is the actual size of the figures you intend to use. This is fairly obvious, but here’s the rationale anyway.

The larger the figure, the smaller the command level, and vice versa.

You don’t want to use individually based 6mm scale models to use in an SAS mission to blow up a munitions dump in Algiers in 1940; it would look a bit odd. Conversely, the expense and table size requirements to field the battle of Waterloo at one-to-one in 25mm scale would be tremendously off-putting for most people. Having said that, some gamers do go to extremes at times.

The latter example can be tempered by using a man-to-figure scale. For example, you can fight Waterloo in 25mm if each figure represents 50 men. I will discuss this in more detail in the next article.

Furthermore, the size of the playing area available to you will have a bearing on the genre and man-to-figure scale. This is also a matter for future articles.

So, in summing up this article, choose a genre you are interested in, is supported by figures in a scale that will suit your needs and will work on the table size you have access to.

In the next article, I will present the pros and cons of a selection of the many and varied rules sets and system mechanics available and how to go about designing your own.

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