Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Units - How big are yours?

Well the observant amongst you will have noticed the poll up the top right of the blog for unit sizes in 28mm games. Now it’s only my instinct but I’m guessing a fair few old school Napoleonic gamers voted on the poll, as the 30-36 figure unit size was so popular. For Warhammer players 20 may be seen as optimum, with 24 as allowing a safety margin for losses.

These of course are game dictated sizes; but beyond these one is certainly drawn to wargames in part by the visual appeal of the models themselves. If not we’d be happy with using paper or blocks of wood to represent units.

But for most of you reading this it is the little men that form the core of the spectacle. So when does a unit look right?

For some it is key to match a notional unit scale – 1:20 men, 1:60, a stand of 3 figures for 250 men, and so on. I can see the logic of these, and they do allow for flexibility in terms of unit sizes, but it often makes the rules a little more complex, and adds aspects to on table tactics that only the wargames general could really expect. Others prefer rules or conventions that a set number of figures represents a unit, and that any variations in quality or size are reflected by game mechanics. I’m more a fan of this for simplicities sake, but there are exceptions, but when it comes to assembling an army this is the no-brainer option.

For example my Napoleonic Anglo Portuguese army will include 10 units of 24 infantry, regardless of field strength or quality. At 1:20 scale each represents a field strength battalion on campaign of about 480-500 men, but the size of the units is dictated by the rule set firstly.

In other rules, notably Warhammer, and most World War Two sets, the figure scale is 1:1 or at least intended as a ratio of less than 1:10. A unit of 20 pikemen is 20 figures, a section of 10 riflemen is, you get the idea.

Economy in several terms is another issue. Do you want to have to spend a fortune to play the game, or are you prepared to invest in a visual spectacle? Some rules use deliberately small units to allow for large battles to be played on small tables, Shako for example using units of 12 models to represent a Regiment, or even Brigade. It also keeps the buying and painting investment down.

Personally I’m at the spectacle end of gaming, and have always preferred the smaller battles to the Austerlitz’s and Cannae’s. Personally I like my block of 24 or so models to represent a single unit – a Company or a Battalion of men. To me putting 8 figures on the table and saying it’s a whole brigade of 2-3000 men is cheating! Go for 6 or 10mm and at least get 60 or so models to do the same job!

At the end of the day, every gamer who paints models makes his decisions about units on more grounds than he or she may first consider. To my mind a unit of 15-28mm figures of less than 16 models looks a bit small unless they are actually meant to be skirmishing or some such. A unit of 24 is my default optimum, and if I’m feeling like a glutton for punishment I may paint up a unit of 32 if it is worth while.

An army on the table should look believable, and that requires formations of that sort of size (skirmish games excepted); personally I don’t feel I’ve even got enough models to represent an ‘army’ unless I have around 200 of them.

What are your standards? Different?


  1. The size of my units depends on the rules but also the look of the thing.

    I do a lot of WAB and use 20 man units with maybe 32 men for barbarians. However for Warhammer ECW my infantry units are 48 figures just because I think that small numbers of pikemen in a block look silly!

  2. I'm with you.. smaller scale engagements and bigger wargame units are my preference...

  3. I've always been a bit of a size queen!..30 man units are about the minimum for me..36's are good.....48's...chunky....and I'm sorry, 12 figures is NOT a battalion