This article is going to be a bit different than the usual unit or game review that I tend to write. It will cover my preference for weapon range and model scale that I have found that I like in miniature war games. For those interested, but not so interested to read the rest of this, I like 28mm to 1:48 scale with extremely shortened ranges (most weapons having a range under 36″ to 48″). The rest of the article will go into this in more depth.
My previous article was on my first impression of Bolt Action by Warlord Games. For those who don’t know, it is a 28mm (1:56 scale) straight historical World War 2 miniatures war game. I find myself more and more interested in more historic and less sci-fi/pulp in my miniature war gaming as of recent. As someone relatively new to war gaming and the player that has to teach my opponent the game, I want to stick to pretty simple game systems and that is why I tried out Bolt Action at least in part. Because of a comment I did take a look at other World War II games (Disposable Heroes and Chain of Command mostly) to see if those game looked like a better fit for me. However, that is not what this article is about, mostly. It was from reading over the reviews for those games that I wanted to address weapon ranges and scale.
I like gaming around the 28mm scale. I find that allows the level of detail I want on my miniatures. Not just the sculpt of the miniature but also the level of painting detail my skill level allows to be painting on them. It is also the size of toy soldier I want to push around the table. I find that smaller scale games don’t have that visceral feel I am looking for in gaming making me feel too removed from the mind’s eye theater of gaming. I guess I could blame tabletop rpgs for that as I don’t want to travel far from what I am used to there. For that same reason, I can understand why a number of World War II war gamers prefer 20mm (or 1:72 scale) as it is my understanding that is has been more of the standard for much longer for WWII. That’s fine, I completely understand that, I think if I encountered a group of players that was the scale they play at I would be fine joining in. At the scale I would feel less guilty using more tanks that would be historically accurate.
Given my preference for scale, I now want to cover my thoughts of weapon (and to some extent movement) ranges in miniatures war games. I don’t like weapons that can hit targets across the the table. I am not even talking about from short end to short end of a 6’x4′ table either. I talking about weapons having a range more than 40″.
I totally get the fact that these ranges are very much under actual ranges of the weapons they are supposed to be emulating. I can definitely see how some players could have their immersion ruined by that. However, I find for myself increasing the range of weapons to better fit the scale of the miniature interrupt my immersion in that units are all but invisible when they are off the the table such as when they are in reserve but can instantly targeted the moment they move an inch onto the table.
You could say that is the fog or war surrounding the table, but that just leads to further questions. How is it that the fog is longer that it is wide? I suppose the table could be player’s force’s 2 acres of Area of Responsibility (AOR) but that seems more artificial than constricting ranges. Even then, it doesn’t answer the question of Forward Observers (FOs) and Spotters for light indirect weapons. Why move my mortar team onto the table at all if I only want them for defense of my half of the table or would rather them to be in place ready to fire well away from the enemy before I initiate my attack with the rest of my force.
I think more accurate ranges are only a good thing if the game doesn’t allow pre-measuring (like Bolt Action). However, I am not a fan of no pre-measuring. It is a skill that I am pretty good at, but I don’t want it to be a prerequisite to be good at a game. There are relatively different skill used to guesstimate lengths under an inch, things in a few inches, a few feet, and hundreds of feet. I’m pretty good (not as good as I used to be) at eyeballing measurements less than an inch as I was a machinist and did it all the time. But I don’t want my practice at that to be the edge I have to win a game against my opponent. I said that accurate to scale weapon ranges is exception to my not liking no pre-measuring. The reason for that is it is the one time eyeballing the ranges would gain some understanding to the weapons of the era and the ranges those men would have fought each other. Otherwise, the soldiers (or at very least their NCOs) would already have a pretty good understanding of engagement ranges of their weapons or even range finders to help them know when to start firing that I think pre-measuring simulates well enough.
On top of that, I think pre-measuring fosters a more enjoyable game as I think it prevents possible arguments about what is in range and what is not if only in the fact a player won’t waste a unit’s action moving toward an enemy unit only to find themselves 1/8″ short of being able to actually shoot at them. In fact, there are only two things I don’t like about pre-measuring: 1) players who pre-measure everyone of their units relative to their opponents before taking action, and 2) mathing out a fire and maneuver solution where a player calculates the range of their units weapons/movement relative to their opponent’s forces weapons/movement for the optimal placement. I have the first one doesn’t actually happen all that often in the friendly games that I have played, and the second one (which I am guilty of more than most of my opponents) is fine provided no one breaks out a pad and paper to run the numbers or takes a while in their head to figure them out. Ultimately, the mathing out a solution issue I have is largely that it feels like gaming the system and something few troops would have done when the bullets start flying.
When I play a war game such as Dust Warfare, I imagine the table being much larger than few acres it would be at 1:48 scale. I don’t see individual buildings or houses. I see entire city blocks or small communities. I don’t a handful of trees. I see a wood area or even a small forest. Which can be strange as I’m not a fan of the area terrain idea. My imagination doesn’t transform the table battlefield into any direct scale. Rather, I imagine a sort of telescoping scale created by the relative distances of units to each other. Forces that are several feet away from each other can miles away (well maybe up to a mile would be more accurate). As they approach each other the scale is becomes more accurate to the size of the miniatures’ scale. I rationalize the movement being reduces as troops both being more cautious as they get closer to the enemy as well as the fact that I also telescope time of the battle would happen over in a very abstract way. For me, this allows the game to occur on a standard 6’x4′ table at 28mm to 1:48 scale with minimum break of immersion. But that’s just me.
In addition to immersion, I want to talk about my reasons for shorten ranged from a gaming aspect. In both Dust Battlefield and Both Action forces can (and often do) engage each other from the moment units are placed on the table. There is nothing wrong with that as it makes round 1 start off with a bang. However, I played too many games where a bad initial deployment decided the game. In some cases not even at the fault of the player (sometimes you just can’t hide a Mobile HQ from enemy fire).
I don’t know about my opponent, but in our first game of Bolt Action, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth from one-shotting one of his M4 Sherman tanks with my Tiger with a simple reverse to get a clean shot and fire even with both tanks basically being on our respective long table edges. If it would have been Dust Warfare, I was well outside 36″ and wouldn’t have had a shot yet.
I prefer my games to allow both players the opportunity to see where each has placed their units and have the chance (or be forced) to maneuver to get the shot. I’m sure many (if not most) don’t necessarily agree with that idea, but I wanted to state my preferences.
That is my thoughts on scale and range for miniature war games. I am sure there are many players that don’t agree with me, but I wanted to write about it if for no other reason than to explain why and give readers an insight into why I like the games I like. I won’t say that games with table crossing ranges are a deal breaker. After all, I still enjoy Dust Battlefield, Bolt Action, and other games that have it. I just find that I don’t like that aspect of them and games that enhance that feature are less interesting to me because of it.
I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on the subject and I hope to write a few more articles on game mechanics and my personal preference. I have a few ideas on writing about Fire and Maneuver and historical gaming attempting to emulate the real world tactics employed importance.