Monday, August 8, 2011

Large, Small or Not at All

That pretty much sums up two key issues that are on the table as I prime some Clibinari and try to figure out where I was at with the rules last June: scale and unit organization.

Scale can mean various things when talking about a miniature wargame, what I am considering is the size of size of battle being represented and its implications for ground scale and the figure to man ratio.  The traditional approach was to design a low level game and then fudge it for use with big battles, an approach that seemed to work well for many despite the inherent contradictions that meant that it probably wasn't  really a good simulation at either end.

I started off last year with an "Old School" approach settling on 24 man "regiments". Each theoretically represented around 1,000 men,  but were used to refight both "bathtubbed" historical battles and scale-less Tabletop Teasers, some approaching battles in feel, others with a skirmish flavour.   In large part this is a reflection of the pleasure that I have had over the years from reading Charles Grant's ancient battle reports. Lately, I have been drawn to the idea of each stand being a unit.   This has confused the issue dreadfully.

Unfortunately, there are no right or wrong answers to these questions, they are a matter of preference.

So perhaps the real question is:
 "Is last year's decision still valid or is there a good reason to change course?".

I decided that a good starting point was to review the games played last year. All these were solo games (except the 40mm Prince Valiant skirmish which at first blush has nothing to do with the Gathering of Hosts). The battles ranged from an ambush of a priestess and her escort to refights of Platea and Marathon. The rules varied once I decided to start writing a set but they were all aimed at the same sort of  game, and I enjoyed them all. One mark for staying the course.

The ambush game was probably as low as the rules can go and really was smaller than what the game was designed to represent just as Platea and Marathon were technically larger than what the rules were designed to represent. The ambush game could have been played as easily, or perhaps better, using the Prince Valiant  Dark Age skirmish rules but oddly, it was a version of the mid-sized battle that was successfully played as a skirmish. Here, perhaps, we find another hidden question at the heart of the matter:

"Do I need 2 different 'ancient' collections?".

If all the skirmish games were played using the individually based 40mm Fall of Rome collection and the 25mm figures were used to recreate large battles, then there would be a clear separation of purpose beyond liking the look of this figure or that or being emotionally attached to various toys. After all, time for painting and playing are limited as is money for acquisition of figures. Wouldn't reduction to a single pre-gunpowder period make sense? Well, yes, but its not always about making sense and anyway, abandoning the Persian Project now after having just invested scarce resources to it doesn't make sense either.

If the Persians are going to stay, does it then make sense to rob them of the capability of fighting many different types of action just so the big battles can be done more realistically? Not to me. If they were redesigned to primarily refight the great battles of history as fought by all the Persian armies from the days of the Mede Kings to the fall of the Sassanians, wouldn't I then be forced to acquire yet more armies for them to fight as well? That doesn't make sense either.

What about altering the 25mm armies so that they can be used to provide a |'Portable Army'? This is the another question that has been lurking. If each stand becomes a 'unit' of a thousand men and a small game can be played with say 12 such units wouldn't that be convenient? At the same time, historical battles could be fought with large armies represented by 50,000 or more men using rules designed to do that. Both these suggestions have merit but only if these are things I really want to do. When and against who would I play these games. I have other portable games that I can play when I feel the need, do I need them in all periods?

I decided to go back to one of my other sources for inspiration, my tatty little Penguin translation of the Xenaphon's Anabasis.  It didn't take long for things to come together. Xenephon describes both small skirmishes and largish battles, but he does so in a way that you feel involved  at various levels. in fact you feel a bit like you do when playing some of those less than accurate simulations that were Old School ancient wargames or reading of of Grant's battle reports. No wonder I enjoyed what I had been doing last year, I was well primed for it.

In other words, it looks like I have allowed my self to be diverted from the path I was on by distractions and false trails. As long as abide by my allocations of shelving space there is not really any advantage to getting rid of existing collections if I take the long term view. For example, I have unpainted figures on hand for both Prince Valiant and my Persian armies and their foes and I may well buy more if I have the resources to spend but I can already stage games with either collection. The addition or refurbishment of  figures is only to add variety/options or to improve the look.  I can't paint or play both at the same time, but there may well be years of gaming ahead yet and even if each collection only gets out a few times a year or only has a few figures painted up or even skips a year, there will be games enough to make each worth having and figures enough to paint.

Given that conclusion, the answers become that my units should remain as they are, 24 figure "regiments" of a 1,000 men  that can be sent to do the work of 100 men or 10,000, without worrying about scale at all. What this also means is  that I need to revisit my rules, especially some of last June's experiments.


  1. Xenophon? Thought you said you weren't getting Greeks mixed up in this at one time? (-: However, having just reread it this past year myself, I'd agree about the battle reports...

  2. Well there will be large numbers of Greek mercenaries so Xenephon is apropos but the idea is to explore the idea that these wild barbarian lands in the east still existed and things happened, even when there were no Greeks present to report on them.