Monday, 11 April 2016

Figure scale vs. ground scale and related matters

This question cropped up again recently - in fact, three times this past week - and I figure it's time for a longer rant on the subject than last time,

The question gets asked so often it's definitely a FAQ: "Will these rules work with X scale figures and will I have to change anything?"

There are four things you need to consider here. Figure scale, ground scale, basing standards (if any) and the intent of the designer.

Let's start with the first two, because they go together. It's pretty simple, really: if your figure scale exceeds your ground scale, then you're fine. If it exceeds your ground scale by a LOT, then you might want to consider some adjustments. If your figure scale is less than your ground scale, you're probably going to want to consider some adjustments.

What do I mean by figure scale vs ground scale? OK, here are some examples:

Figure Scale (mm) Equivalent Ground Scale
(12" = X yards)
6 100
10 60
20 30
28 21
54 11


For an example, Chain of Command's ground scale is 12" - 40 yards. Which is pretty much spot on the real scale for 15mm figures, and is why a LOT of people play it in 15mm. Scale compression, though, is a wargaming fact of life, because ranges are generally long, especially in more modern warfare, so there's no real problem playing it in 28mm, where ranges are effectively half what they should be.

Similarly, IABSM's ground scale is 12" = 100 yards, which is spot on for 6mm (and if you want to see just how awesome it looks in 6mm, check out Mark Luther's stunning gaming tables). But 15mm is decent enough - it effectively halves the ground scale which is still plenty. But I wouldn't play it in 28mm without some adjustments, for a number of reasons:

It's not to say you couldn't - but IABSM relies on moving by sections, and a 10 figure section takes up quite a bit of space in 28mm, which is where we come on to basing standards. Actually, IABSM doesn't have any (though quite a few folk use Flames of War style bases), but the point is that when compared to the ground scale, a 10 man section in 28mm is going to take up about 50 scale yards on the tabletop even ranked two deep. This, to my mind, is a bit much, and if I *were* mad enough to play IABSM in 28mm, I'd be looking at a much bigger table and probably doubling all ranges and movement, so that figures take up a sensible amount of space and ranges aren't stupidly short. Or, I guess, you could plonk 3-4 figures on a base and call it a section, but to my mind that's rather missing the point - see below.

Equally, I wouldn't play CoC in 6mm without some serious adjustment, since the ground scale is now bigger than the figure scale, and that's just flat out wrong. In fact, it's 2.5 times the figure scale, so one approach would be to try changing inches for cm on all measurements (which usefully reduces ranges and scales down to almost exactly 12" = 100 yards, the same as the figure scale), and move to a 3'x2' table.

There are some Napoleonic rule sets where a musket-armed line can only fire at targets directly ahead, If you change the ground scale, you will have to change the base width for a line to match, otherwise you'll break the intent of the rule designer. Pretty much any ruleset with a mandated basing size will fall into this category, because there will be some aspect of the rules where movement rate, range and unit frontage will interact, and you can't change just some of those.

The Society of Ancients' 54mm Bosworth Field game
from Campaign 2013
Which brings us to point 4 - the designer's intent. CoC is intended to be a skirmish game (admittedly on the large side, but it is clearly platoon+ level skirmish) - you're looking at individual figures, not serried ranks of troops. While you can do this in 6mm, and I'm sure if you had next to no space you perhaps might have to, it again rather misses the point, in my opinion. By the same token, while you could replace every figure in Sharp Practice with a block of 6mm's, or a section in IABSM with 3 28mms, it wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't feel right. (That said, I have seen Bosworth Field done in DBM with 54mm figures, and for what it was trying to do, it worked.)

With that all said, here are a few key rules to consider when you start tweaking things:

- don't change movement and ranges separately: change the ground scale - i.e. change ALL measurements equally
- consider whether unit basing is important when changing ground scale,
- figure scale less than ground scale is almost invariably a bad idea

There you have it. I feel better now :D


  1. Indeed any 'good' rule set should work at any scale by simply adjusting the ground scale. Aesthetics apart, the scale of the figures is unimportant, it is the area they occupy that is.

    Which of course is why a 24 figure 'battalion' formed in a 'line' of two ranks of figures, will never duplicate the unwieldiness of 500-1000 real men formed two deep. ;-)

  2. But considering aesthetics, I have found that when the game uses large numbers of figures to represent a Btn, etc., it looks and plays better if the scale of the buildings is one level lower that the scale of the figures. Thus for Napoleonic games we use HO scale buildings for 25/28 mm figures. 28mm buildings just amke the units seem too small for the period you are playing.

  3. I think you are really concentrating mostly on low level games like company or platoon level/Warband size games because it is mostly what you play?
    Their is another scale to consider and that is Figure Ratio. Some games use bases but many games still use a figure to man based ratio. In these cases the Figure scale that is less than ground scale is imperative. Trying to create a 720 man battalion at a correct ground scale and you are going to need a massive table.

    Playing Corps or army Level Napoleonic Games like La Grand Armee. I used the scale for 15mm for 6mm figures and did diorama style bases.

    I do thing you are correct however when dealing with games that are for small scale engagements and figure ratios are 1 to 1

    1. Fair comment - in my defence, while I didn't say so explicitly, the Napoleonic game I had in mind was Napoleon at War, which is corps+ level. :D

  4. I think that there is one further point: casualty removal. Individual casualty removal is a PITA with 6mm or smaller. Of course you can use markers and rosters and suchlike but it is always better to avoid using such things when you can since they spoil the look and slow down the game.

    1. I agree they can spoil the look of the game if you use markers. My friends and I have come up with a different way of doing this. We have a board we hang on the wall when we play casualty removal games with each unit listed and just hang a marker on the peg. It is better than a roster and most of our units have a color dot on the command base to make them identifiable. Nothing is perfect but I love HUGE 6mm Units as they give me the feel of real Napoleonic battalions.


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