Sunday, 2 March 2014

Scaling up

I'm moved to ponder (which regulars will know is always dangerous, and new readers can discover for themselves by checking out posts tagged with 'thoughts' on here) by several threads and discussions here and there in the past couple of months on Big Games.

What do I mean by Big Games?

In this context, that moment down the club or wherever where you decide that you want to take a system you love on your usual 6'x4' table, and do something more epic on 8'x6' or 10'x6' or bigger, so you can get masses of figures on a table and Make It Look Totally Awesome...

And it never... quite... works. Moreso with some systems than others, granted, but...

Why not?

It's kind of the inverse of the 'will <X> work with <Y> scale figures' question that you hear asked so often. (To which, in case anyone is still in doubt, the answer is YES OF COURSE, possibly given a little scale tweaking). Yes, games are often designed with a particular figure scale in mind, but... much more importantly, games are designed with a particular force size in mind. And in general, the rules will creak far more if you step outside the designer's idea of typical force size than they will figure size or table size. The latter are merely issues of ground scale, which you can fix with a calculator, spreadsheet, custom-marked ruler or swapping from cm to inches.

Admittedly, some work better than others: you can, for example, push most of the Warhammer-based systems (40K, Fantasy, WAB, Bolt Action) a bit more than you can, say, Chain of Command. Even so, though, you will get to the point where the granularity of the rules starts to break down in the face of more and more figures to move and interact.

So what do you do?

Actually, it hit me after a couple of comments from Rich on the TFL Yahoo! Group re large games of Chain of Command.

You're actually using the wrong rules to achieve what you want. If, for example you want a big, sprawling, company level WW2 game in 28mm on a 12'x6' table with a 1:1 figure scale? Don't use Chain of Command or Bolt Action, however much you might want to. Use IABSM/FoW/Battlegroup and nudge the ground scale up a bit. Think about it: you wouldn't generally use IABSM for a platoon level action, you'd use CoC or Bolt Action.

Just a (possibly controversial) thought.


  1. Or you could get radical and use Crossfire.

  2. Yeah, sounds about right. I wouldn't use the excellent Fire on the Waters rules to run the Battle of Calabria or Cape Spartivento: it's happiest with maybe 8-10 ships per side at most, and it would just get bogged down in the details.

    Even when you don't have a CoC-style explicit allocation of something per side, the more units are on the board, the more the O(N²) effect kicks in (you have to think about each of your units in the context of what each of the enemy units might do) and so the longer it takes — and so if you want to finish the game in a reasonable time, the simpler the system you have to use (either in terms of simplicity of what you can do with each unit, or aggregating units together so that you move an entire platoon, company, battalion, as a single entity).

  3. Ah! But wargamers are insatiatable my friend and they want more figures, higher tables... probably your comments emerged from my posts in the Yahoo Group after the CoC game yesterday; I was totally against but there were 5 against me :-)
    I totally agree with you, you want it larger, then use the appropriate rules and do not try overstrechting!

    1. *grin* Yours were a contributing factor, yes, but you were by NO means the first :D

  4. I completely agree, Mike. An excellent post. Almost all games are designed with a force in mind (from my experience), and they creak, slow, stutter and break down depending on how far you stretch them. I remember playing a BIG game of Edgehill using WRG 2nd Edition Renaissance rules back in 1992, which took a whole weekend. I think I still had the headache 6 months later.

    It's always a temptation to add more figures and units, but keeping things manageable and pitched at the right force scale usually pays back handsomely.

  5. I am probably unusual in not being that much of a fan of big games with masses of figures. To my mind it is often a vanity thing - look at all my lovely toys - rather than a real desire to game. It can work with very simple rules, for example basic impetus rather than the full fat version.

  6. I principal is sound. Use rules for smaller scales to increase the size of game for larger scales. It reduces the granularity and so improves playability.

    For bigger games there is also an element of multiple commands and so you need to model a command structure and communications.

  7. I have to agree, if a rule set requires extensive modification, then you are using the wrong set. Superficial or 'skin' changes or alterations are something else though.

    Given the recent posts here and there, people are looking for something similar to CoC, but on a slightly grander scale and looking at CoC to do it... sadly I can't see it working without a major shake-up, at which point it is no longer CoC.

    However I do wonder if there isn't room for an intermediate set of rules, say between CoC and IABSM, for example though.

    As much as I like IABSM, I'm tempted to say it does 'company plus' better than it does 'company', if that makes sense? I'd prefer something based more on the base element being the fire/weapon team, rather than the section/squad.

    1. The first part of your comment touches on something in a recent Meeples and Miniatures: I think there's a general feeling these days that either you play the rules more or less as written or you switch to a different set of rules. Partly of course that's because there are lots of rules out there, many of them free; partly it's because of the tournament mentality that affects many playing communities. But I think there's also a feeling that many modern rules are fragile, delicately balanced entities, and if you poke them more than a little bit they'll shatter. Is this true? I don't know…

    2. You may have a point on fragility.

      I think rule sets for most eras pre 1900 can easily be divided into Skirmish and Grand Army, with sets like WAB being a slight hybrid - and so tend to be reasonably scaleable within their limits.

      Why expand a skirmish game to fight big battles - as the dynamic changes - your twenty individual warriors become a warband and fight together in a block - so manage the block, you will probably find your average Viking in a brawl with a Roman will win every time - but take them as armies and...

      But since 1900 war has changed!

      So rule sets start to be far more specific or too complex to manage.

      I am not sure a company level rule set for 1944 Europe would work well in 1917 Europe not without a lot of changes/special rules.

      But I digress and start to ramble - so I shut myself up!

    3. I'd never subscribe to the view of just playing rules as written. ;-)

      However there are changes and adaptations that can be made, without changing the dynamics, or the 'spirit' of the rules themselves. The obvious example here is GW and underneath all their games, historical or otherwise, it's the same rule set.

      I have no doubt that you could adapt CoC to any post-1900 period, with varying degrees of alterations obviously. The principles behind commanding a platoon of infantry have not changed that much. Sure new weapons come in, 'fads' regarding the number of sub-elements come and go, but essentially the Platoon Leader, 2iC and 3-4 Sections (sub-divided or not) have pretty much remained universal.

      Each army list should contain special rules, just as they contain different weapons and vehicles which set them apart. These should not fundamentally alter the core of the game however.

    4. Yes there are basics that apply - but remember what happened in 1914 when the rulebook for 19th century warfare was used for a 20th century war. We never did get that cavalry charge - or perhaps we did but with tanks.

  8. Changing systems seems a perfectly reasonable response. I'm more of an Ancients player & find where the Warhammer based games begin falling apart under the weight of figures, Hail Caesar is just starting to warm up.


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