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WHAT IS WARGAMING?

PART I - HISTORY OF WARGAMING
Military Wargaming

Modern miniature wargames (See "What is Miniature Wargaming" following this section) are quite similar to military wargames in one respect. Both actually evolved from games played principally for fun. The first of the military games is thought to have been Wei-Hai ("encirclement"), a Chinese game which is usually now called Go. A later, similar game was the Indian Chaturanga, the system from which chess in its various forms came about. Chess itself gave birth to at least one game which more formally depicted armed combat. This was the 1644 design known as The King's Game from one Christopher Weikmann. It included 30 pieces per side of 14 military types, each with a different fixed rate of movement. Like its predecessors, it was played principally for pleasure but differed by its emphasis on the strategic level of war.

The first game to break away from chess, however, was invented by Helwig, Master of Pages to the Duke of Brunswick in 1780. This game included 1666 squares, each coded for a different rate of movement depending on the terrain the square represented. Playing pieces now represented groups of men instead of a single soldier, and each unit was rated for different movement (infantry moved 8 spaces, heavy cavalry 12, for example). There were also special rules for such things as pontooneers and the like. In 1795, Georg Vinturinus, a military writer from Schleswig, produced a more complex version of Helwig's game. He modified it in 1798 by using a mapboard that depicted actual terrain on the border between France and Belgium.

Nevertheless, such innovations did not move wargames out of the entertainment world into that of the military until 1811 when a Prussian father-son team began to make their studies known. The father, Baron von Reisswitz, was a civilian war counselor to the Prussian court at Breslau. During the dark days of Prussian domination by the Napoleon, Reisswitz introduced a game that used a specific scale (1:2373) and a sand table instead of a map grid. In 1811 the game was observed by two Prussian princes who then showed it to the King. The game immediately became the rage at both the Prussian and Russian courts, but professional soldiers saw little use for it. All that change in 1824. In that year Reisswitz' son, Leutnant George Heinrich Rudolf Johann von Reisswitz of the Prussian Guard Artillery, introduced his own version of his father's game. The game was called Anleitung zur Darstelling militarische manuver mit dem apparat des Kriegsspiels (Instructions for the Representation of Tactical Maneuvers under the Guise of a Wargame) and included a number of new innovations, the most important of which were the use of actual topographical maps to portray the battlefield and rigid rules which specifically quantified the effects of combat.

The rules were published under the patronage of Prussian Prince Wilhem who became impressed with them after an evening's play. The Prince then recommended the rules to the Chief of the Prussian General Staff, General von Muffling, who finally granted von Reisswitz an audience. One of von Reisswitz' companions, a young officer named Dannhauer, described the meeting which many believe to be the birth of the military wargame:

On our arrival we found the General surrounded by the General Staff officers.

"Gentlemen," the General announced, "Herr von Reisswitz is going to show us something new."

Reisswitz was not abashed by the somewhat lukewarm introduction. He calmly set out his Kriegsspiel map.

With some surprise the General said, "You mean we are to play for an hour on a map! Very well. Show us a division with the troops.

"May I ask your excellency," replied Reisswitz, " to provide us with general and special ideas for manoeuver, and to choose two officers to be the commanders for both sides. Also it is important that we only give each commander in the special idea the information he would have in reality."

The General seemed rather astonished at the whole thing, but began to write out the necessary idea.

We were allocated as troop leaders to both sides, and the game began. One can honestly say that the old gentleman, so cool towards the idea at the beginning, became more and more interested as the game went on, until he exclaimed, "This is not a game! This is training for war! I must recommend it to the whole army."

Von Muffling made good on his promise and shortly thereafter every regiment had their own set, all of the components of which neatly fit into a wooden box 10 inches long and 6 inches wide. Nevertheless, many Prussian officers became jealous of Reisswitz' new fame while many others disputed the accuracy of his system. It is sad to note that because of this the young lieutenant killed himself in 1827.

However, the impact of this first military wargame had been significant. Reisswitz' work particularly impressed one Leutnant Helmuth von Moltke who, in 1828, founded a wargame club called the Kriegspieler Verein which soon began to publish its own periodical. This kept interest in wargames alive and when von Moltke became Chief of Staff in 1837, he officially pushed wargaming from the top. His influence had the desired effect and by 1876 another set of German wargame rules was published, this time by Colonel Julius Adrian Friedrich Wilhelm von Verdy du Vernois. Vernois' system was a "free" Kriegsspiel as opposed to Reisswitz rigid variety. This meant that most calculations and die rolling was eliminated in favor of an umpire who would determine results based on the situation and his own combat experience. Whether "free" or "rigid," however, wargames had become a mainstay of German military training.

Other countries around the world became interested in German wargaming as a result of the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War. In this conflict, the militia and reserve based armies of Prussia decisively defeated the totally professional army of France, then thought to have had the finest soldiers in the world. Many believed that wargames in part were used to successfully compensate for Prussia's reliance on an army of Reserven und Landwehren.

From that point on all countries began to build imitations of German systems as well as developing their own. In the United States, Army Major William R. Livermore introduced his The American Kriegsspiel, A Game for Practicing the Art of War on a Topographical Map in 1882. The game was complex and similar to Reisswitz' system, but did attempt to cut down on the paperwork involved by the introduction of several training aid type devices. At the same time Lieutenant Charles A. L. Totten introduced a game entitled Strategos: A Series of American Games of War. Totten's game was as complex as Livermore's, but he appealed to the amateur through the inclusion of a simplified, basic set of rules.

Neither was wargaming neglected by the US Navy, thanks to the efforts of William McCarty Little. In 1876, after an accident had forced his retirement from the Navy, Little made his home in Newport, Rhode Island and assisted in the establishment of the Naval War College. At the same time he made the acquaintance of Major Livermore who at that time was stationed across the bay at Fort Adams. Under Livermore's influence, and with the help of some very open minded supervisors like President Captain Henry Taylor, Little was able to make wargaming an integral part of the College's curriculum. His efforts practically made the Naval War College into America's unofficial wargaming center. Little produced a ship-on-ship game, a tactical game and a strategic game, all very accurate (they were able to predict that smaller numbers of big guns on battleships were more effective than large numbers of mixed caliber weapons) but also very complex. It was, in fact, complexity that encouraged resistance to wargaming within the American army and elsewhere. Games like Vernois' were introduced to simplify things, but many argued that such umpire driven systems only replaced arbitrary written rules with arbitrary unwritten rules. Thus by the turn of the century there was an increased tendency all over the world to merge the free Kriegsspiel with the rigid to produce a semi-rigid system. Even Livermore accepted this as the best solution and often ignored his own tables as much as he consulted them.

The semi-rigid wargame thus became the standard for most military conflict simulations around the world through the First World War. The games proved quite successful and history abounds with examples of how commanders were defeated as a result of ignoring the result of a wargame. As an example, a Russian wargame in 1914 predicted defeat if General Samsomov's 2d Army did not begin its advance three days ahead of General Rennenkampf's 1st Army, "an action not contained in the plans. This change, so clearly indicated in the war games, was never made in the plans or their execution." The result was the Russian debacle of Tannenburg the same year.

The years between the world wars was notable for the lack of military wargaming activity, particularly in Britain and the US. In general, most wanted to forget the carnage of the Great War while not a few noted that the failure of Germany's vaunted Schlieffen Plan in 1914 showed that the wargame was far from perfect. There were exceptions to this general rule of inactivity, of course. Germany still relied on the wargame as a principal training tool, especially since the Treaty of Versailles denied that country the right to field the necessary army appropriate for large scale training exercises. One must also look to the contribution of F.W. Lanchester who introduced mathematical formula that predicted attrition rates between two equivalent armies in combat.

In modified form, his two equations are still the basis of many wargames today. Finally, one must note that the US, the Naval War College, in seeming defiance of the other branches of service, continued and expanded its wargaming efforts. The College's labors were to bear great fruits during the upcoming war against the Axis Powers.

Indeed history records many wargame successes during World War II, but perhaps none was more impressive than America's naval victory over Japan . Our wartime Pacific commander, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz explained to a Naval War College class in 1960 that, "the war with Japan had been reenacted in the game rooms here by so many people and in so many different ways that nothing happened during the war that was a surprise - absolutely nothing except the kamikazis towards the end of the war."

From that point on military wargames followed advances in technology, resulting in the complex pilot simulators or computerized strategic systems used around the world today wit most advanced countries' armed forces. Indeed, with the introduction of the US Army's Combat Training Centers, such as Ft Polk, LA or the National Training Center at Ft Irwin, CA, the individual soldier has now become a playing piece. Admittedly,events such as the Vietnam War have shown that wargames are not perfect, for they are only as good as the data humans place into them. Nevertheless, the history of military wargames is such that most failures seem to occur when the results of a wargame are ignored, not when they are taken seriously.  This is a solid record by any measure.

And with that being said, it now time to look at another type of wargaming, one whose original concept was not to train for successful conflict, but to prevent such bloodshed from ever happing at all.

Commercial Hobby Wargaming

Most modern hobby wargamers place the birth of their avocation with the publication of a book entitled Little Wars: A Game for Boys from Twelve Years to One Hundred and Fifty and for that More Intelligent Sort of Girl Who Likes Games and Books. The book was written in 1913 by noted British science fiction author H.G. Wells, an ardent pacifist, who evidently felt that his game would not only be entertaining, but would offer an alternative outlet for the aggressive passions most professional soldiers possessed. He wrote:

How much better is this amiable miniature than the Real Thing! Here is a homeopathic remedy for the imaginative strategist. Here is the premeditation, the thrill, the strain of accumulating victory or disaster - and no smashed bodies, no shattered fine buildings nor devastated country sides, no petty cruelties, none of that awful universal boredom and embitterment, that tiresome delay or stoppage or embarrassment of every gracious, bold, sweet, and charming thing, that we who are old enough to remember a real modern war know to be the reality of belligerence.

The game used miniature soldiers and toy cannon that shot small bullets to knock over the soldiers. The idea was one hit, one kill. Wells simply believed that combat "should be by actual gun and rifle fire and not by computation. Things should happen and not be decided."

While this revulsion of traditional military wargame technique indicates an interest by Wells in soldierly applications for his design, the game remained primarily an entertainment medium. Wells' pacifist personality would allow nothing more while it is hard to imagine stately British officers crawling around on the floor popping off at each other with spring loaded cannon.

Nevertheless, Wells' had an impact on wargaming far greater than his simplistic rules might suggest. His rules, coupled with inexpensive, mass produced toy soldiers, made wargaming available to almost anyone, not just the professional soldier or the rich.

It is for this reason that Wells is usually considered the father of modern hobby wargaming. Little wonder that for many years contributions in that field were honored by "H.G. Wells Awards" while today's miniature wargamers staunchly point to Wells as justification for their belief that they represent the senior and most respected wing of the hobby.

Finely painted miniatures, in fact, represented the totality of hobby wargaming for the next 40 or so years. Although most rules used were local amateur efforts, there were some designs that were quite notable. One of these was a naval wargame developed by Fred T. Jane, the editor of the famous Jane's All the Worlds Fighting Ships. Using toy ship models and the research he had done for his books, Jane produced a system that, though crude by modern standards, gained a great deal of respect all over the world. Wrote one naval officer, "The rules alone, apart from their bearing on the game, contains a mass of information . . . which cannot be found in so compact a form elsewhere, whilst . . . the strategical game will show that a number of things have to be thought of by those who command fleets in time of war."

Another naval miniatures game of note was produced in 1940 by American Fletcher Pratt. His Naval Wargame used highly a complex mathematical formula to obtain results. Though Pratt admitted that much of the research used to obtain his formula was highly arbitrary, he countered with the argument that despite this shortcoming, his system worked. On at least one occasion Pratt was able to prove exactly that. In a demonstration that made his game "part of the lore of both commercial and military wargaming," Pratt was able to reproduce the 1939 destruction of the German pocket battleship Graf Spee with incredibly accurate results.

Minature Wargaming Timeline
Click here to follow the history of this great hobby courtesy of Bob Beattie and The Courier!

There were also several German miniature games of note. One of the most famous was Schlactenspiel, a 1920's design played in a manner similar to Chinese checkers but using terrain boards and model buildings to hinder the movement of the toy soldiers. The game specifically reproduced battles from the 1813 and 1814 campaigns against Napoleon, though later editions added engagements from the "hyphenated wars" (Franco-Prussian War, etc) and World War I.

In 1953, however, a revolution of sorts occurred in the commercial wargaming field. It was in that year that a young man from Baltimore published the first cardboard and paper wargame. Charles Roberts developed a game called Tactics. The game used a paper board with small cardboard pieces called "counters." The counters were printed with military symbols indicating the type unit represented as well as with numbers quantifying such things as movement and combat strength. The game depicted two mythical post World War II powers and became immensely popular after its release by Stackpole Books Roberts' creation boasted a number of advantages over the miniatures community. His board game was cheaper than an equivalent number of miniatures, and needed less time for setup as well as less room to play. Cardboard wargames could also be played solo and could easily simulate echelons of war (operational or strategic) above the tactical battlefield realm of the lead miniature. In fact, Roberts was so encouraged by the game's success that he started his own company dedicated to publishing historical board wargames. From that point on his Avalon Hill Company became the preeminent leader in such games, publishing over 200,000 units in 1962 alone. The company was also innovative and can be credited with establishing the hexagon (admittedly borrowed from Rand Corporation) as the standard mapboard device for regulating movement. Titles included such items as Gettysburg, D-Day and Stalingrad. The company went bust in 1964 for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a growing mistrust of anything military due to the problems in Vietnam. Monarch Printing absorbed Avalon Hill, however, and the firm continued to publish wargames until very recently.

In 1969 another significant event took place in the evolution of commercial hobby wargaming. This was the publication of Strategy & Tactics Magazine (or S&T, as it is often called) by Christopher Wagner and later James Dunnigan. The magazine was unique in that it included a paper and counter wargame as supporting material for its main military history article. In this way the magazine was able to garner more exposure for the commercial wargaming industry by offering a product that appealed to amateur historians as well as true gamers. Like Avalon Hill, S&T had financial problems and ownership changed hands many times. The magazine still exists, however, and has even spawned an imitation in the form of Command Magazine by XTR Corporation.

The success of Avalon Hill and Simulations Publications Incorporated (SPI, the publishers of S&T) was good enough to give birth to a yearly national wargaming convention, Origins, which continues to this day though admittedly with a distinctly fantasy-science fiction spin. Their success also encouraged a number of new game companies to form. While many fell after a few months or years, many more have survived and continue to do a thriving business. Total paper and counter wargame sales thus reached a high of some two million copies in 1980, but by 1991 that number was down to about 450,000 units per year.

There were many reasons for this drop in sales, to include the popularity of fantasy role playing systems such as Dungeons and Dragons. It was the introduction of the personal computer (PC) in 1980, however, that hurt the paper wargame industry the most.

The PC could do a number of things better than board games and in some instances could perform functions the cardboard counter was incapable of doing. In this latter category, PC software could allow a player to become part of the actual combat depicted. Games like Dynamix's A-10 Tank Killer flight simulator allowed the player to actually "pilot" the aircraft and fire its ordinance as opposed to pushing around a small cardboard square and consulting a plethora of charts. Otherwise most computer wargames were simply technological advancements of their paper cousins. Indeed, at first most were like Three Sixty Pacific's Velikiye Luki 1942 (a Russian front battle from World War II) in that the software depicted a colorful boardgame type map complete with hexagons while units looked like little video counters. It is interesting to note that the most recent computer games of this genre, however, have turned to a miniatures graphical format as the most attractive method of presentation. Talonsoft, Inc's Battleground Series, such as Prelude to Waterloo or Gettysburg, are typical examples of such products.

Yet there were significant differences, differences generally attributable to the rapid advances in computer technology. The PC provided a capable opponent that did not cheat, a substantial plus as most board gamers were known to play solitaire. The PC also performed most of the tedious mathematics common to wargames for the player, and did it very quickly. There was also the aspect of not having to find space to set up a large board game or the time to take the project down. Finally there was the advantage of the PC being able to simulate some of the more commercially mundane and unpopular aspects of war, such as introductory intelligence collection and analysis (by using completely hidden movement), without unduly burdening the player. It is for reasons like these many board game companies began to venture out into the computer gaming world. Avalon Hill, for example, purchased Three Sixty Pacific's complete line of World War II simulations and expanded upon it with designs of its own.

The result is that today there are about 10,000 active paper and counter wargamers active in North America if a recent article out of Strategy & Tactics No 200 by counter guru Jim Dunnigan is correct. Conversely, there seem to be some 45,000 + miniature gamers, though this number is evidently lower than what exists in Great Britain, interestingly enough. Computer gamers will probably number some one million (plus!) over the next few years, but recent statistics quoted in publications such as PC Gamer imply that historical wargame computer buffs may actually number less than the cardboard variety. Indeed, consider that last year's PC Wargame of the year, Talonsoft's very well received The Operational Art of War, sold far less than 2000 total copies. This stands in stark contrast to fantasy/Sci-Fi games such as Blizzard's Starcraft, boasting sales in the millions. Such a situation does not bid well for PC based military simulations as it would seem few can compete with either Zerglings or Space Orcs.

Thus trends seem to indicate a growing decline in board and microchip historical wargaming, with miniaturists steadfastly holding their own and perhaps expanding a little. Indeed, recent years have seen somewhat of a crash in the cardboard wargaming wing of the hobby. Many stalwart companies such as Games Designers Workshop (GDW) have simply gone out of business while other respected companies, such as GMT games, must actually request customer purchases up front prior to developing and producing a game. Only companies which diversify, such as Pennsylvania's Clash of Arms Games (COA), seem to be surviving and it is interesting to note that part of COA's diversification program is into the realm of miniature rules (such as their Napoleonic set called From Valmy to Waterloo). Decision Games has recently followed suit with its first set of miniature rules, Battle Stations, a game on World War II naval warfare. Regardless, with the purchase of mighty Avalon Hill by the Hasbro Toy Company (along with the immediate firing of Avalon Hill's entire staff and the informal notice that once current stocks of wargames were gone, they would likely not be produced again) in August 1998, many feel the final nails have been driven into the coffin of cardboard counter gaming. It is therefore little wonder that some board wargaming authors are now calling for pure historical wargaming conventions jointly sponsored by the cardboard and miniatures communities.

The reasons for low-tech toy soldiers still retaining their popularity are not hard to determine. The establishment of professional publishing concerns devoted to the hobby (such as the Emperor's Press in Chicago) undoubtedly helped. Another thing that helped was the fact that in many ways the miniature hobby has more of a kinship with model railroading than it does the paper map or the computer. Thus families can participate in the design of battlefields or the painting of troops, while material such as entire armies are passed down from generation to generation. Miniature games tend to be more social, group events than do other forms of commercial wargames which are often played solitaire. This is an important factor because it points out that board and computer games are likely trying to access the same type of customer, a more introverted individual perhaps, and in such a situation the microchip will likely win. Also, many miniature gamers ply their trade for the research involved or for the pure joy of painting the necessary figures. Finally, neither board nor computer can match the spectacle of an accurately depicted miniature battle.

Another reason for the survivability of miniatures was the creation in 1986 of HMGS (the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society, founded by the Chapter now known as HMGS East) which was formed to officially promote that wing of wargaming as both a legitimate adult hobby and as an alternative method for the study of military history. The Society also services the needs of the miniaturist in general with databases that find opponents, hobby shop discounts and periodic newsletters. Chapters further provide lecturers, issue monetary grants to historical or gaming concerns, buy books on miniature gaming for school libraries and on request hold demonstration games for colleges and other organizations. A number of historical miniature conventions are sponsored each year designed to specifically promote the hobby. Many are deliberately held in inexpensive tourist locations so that families might also attend - and become interested in the hobby as well. An example of such a convention is the celebrated Historicon, held each July in Lancaster, PA, the heart of Dutch Amish Country and called the "mother of all wargaming conventions" by Amy Gammerman of the Wall Street Journal. If attendance at this convention - and it was over 3700 in 1998 - is any indication, the miniatures wing of the hobby continues to grow at a rate of between 8-12% a year. HMGS itself has expanded into 11 regional chapters with some 3600 members.

Clearly Wells would have been proud.



PART II - WHAT IS MINIATURE WARGAMING?
A Short Primer for the Newcomer

Introduction

Historical miniature wargaming is the recreation of historical battles (the Tactical level of war) through the use of a 3D terrain table over which are deployed model forests, roads, rivers and buildings as well as miniature soldiers and vehicles depicting the actual participants of the engagement. Each miniature represents a certain number of historical soldiers or vehicles, as in the popular rules called Napoleon's Battles where the ratio is one figure for each 100 historical combatants. The miniature forces involved are painted to depict the same color schemes or uniforms as were used by the historical combatants. In this regard, miniature wargaming departs from its sister wargaming wings using cardboard or micro chip in also being an art form as well as a competitive hobby.

Detailed rules instruct the players on how they may move and launch their miniature forces in combat against each other, drawing on extensive research as to what happened historically and why. The rules, and also the reference chats that accompany them, regulate such things as combat formations, movement, command-control (C2), morale and firepower. Dice, from 6 sided to 20 sided, are used to insert the uncertainty that has always been present in war into the game, and thus into the minds of the players as well. Thus while such things as morale and training might dictate that a unit of 1813 Prussian Landwehr (militia) might have only a 5% chance of victory when attacking a battalion of Napoleon's Old Guard Grenadiers, it can happen, though not very often.

The miniature soldiers or vehicles are mounted on trays for ease of movement. These movement stands are often decorated with model turf or grass and are cut to an exact scale frontage representing the precise space the forces depicted would occupy historically. The trays themselves can then be aligned to represent specific historical battle formations and units. Thus the trays could be formed together to recreate the basic historical unit represented in the rules being played, such as a battalion of infantry in Empire, a game about the Napoleonic Wars. The unit could also be a full brigade as in Napoleon's Battles, a set of rules on the same period that allows larger battles to be easily played. The trays could then be deployed to represent the different combat formations a battalion could take, such as column, line or square. If done properly in conjunction with a well designed terrain table, these soldiers present an historically accurate and colorful spectacle unsurpassed by even the most modern computer wargames.

The Basics:
Cost, Scale and Other Such Nonsense

Miniature wargaming is a fairly expensive hobby, both in terms of time and resources. Currently, a package of 24 15 mm infantry figures will cost about $ 7.50 US, with rules weighing in at anywhere from $ 20 - $ 35 US. Figures can be significantly less expensive if bought in larger, packaged quantities, with up to 100 15 mm costing less than $ 20 US. Then one must buy such things as paint, material for terrain, paint brushes and research publications so that a miniature army might be deployed in its proper uniform. Obviously, once all this material has been gathered, then one must find the time to paint and produce the armies, not to mention the need to develop scenarios and build appropriate terrain boards.

It is for this reason, as well as a few others, that miniature wargaming enthusiasts tend to be a little older than folks in other wings of the hobby. They are individuals a little further along in their careers, thus having a little more $$$ and time to devote to the hobby. These same gamers are also likely to be a little more extroverted than most. This fact, coupled with the realization that miniature battles tend to simply require more material and space than their cardboard or computer cousins, means that miniature wargames tend to be multiple player, social affairs. By contrast, cardboard and computer wargames tend to be played solitaire most of the time.

In another difference from the paper and microchip set, miniature gamers tend to specialize to a much higher degree. Again, this is basically a matter of economics as the money, materials and time needed to produce a typical miniature wargames army is simply too great to allow the typical gamer to involve himself in more than one or two historical periods. This, however, also means that miniature players tend to know their chosen period of history to a much greater level of detail than a typical paper or microchip gamer. There are, of course, exceptions, but generally the rule rings true.

The most popular scale in miniature wargaming seems to be 15 mm, meaning that the height of a typical lead or pewter soldier is about 15mm. The scale is preferred because it is small enough to allow for large battles, yet large enough to allow a significant amount of detail to be sculpted and therefore painted. They are also cheaper than other, larger scales. Larger scales are primarily limited to 25 mm, which provides greater detail, but cost more and limits the size of battles that might be recreated. There are also 10, 9 and 6 mm figures available (often jokingly referred to as playing in Braille), with the opposite advantages and disadvantages.

The most popular periods in miniature gaming are likely Napoleonic, American Civil War, Ancients (covering Biblical times right up to the age of Burgundian Charles the Bold) and World War II, in that order. While there are many reasons for these periods' popularity, undoubtedly the colorful uniforms are a big factor! It is really quite tough to compete with the full dress uniform of a Trumpet Major from Napoleon's Dutch Lancers of the Imperial Guard. Nevertheless, there are still many other periods where there are a quite a few adherents. These include the Seven Years War, the Franco Prussian War and, a favorite of the author, the War of Spanish Succession (eg, the age of Marlborough).

Ancient gaming offers a unique type of game play whereby the soldiers, armor and weaponry from all covered periods are rated on a point system for tournament play. Using such a system, and historical norms for troop composition, it is possible to have a Samurai army out of Kamakura Japan tackle the phalanxes of Alexander the Great by simply telling the two players to deploy 1500 points of each army. A little off the historical track perhaps, but also remember that at one point the Roman Empire lay less than a couple of days' march from Han China. Yet the two great empires never met, and their armies never clashed. Regardless, Ancients Tournaments (and now Pike and Shot Tourneys) are a widely anticipated part of most miniature wargaming conventions.

Outside the figures and model terrain, one will also need a ruler (remember, miniature wargames measure distance and range directly, not with a hexagonal grid as do board games), usually a compass (to adjudicate the fan of fire for specific weapons) and dice. Most games use either10 or 20 sided "percentage dice." These dice are numbered from 0 to 9 (20 sided dice have two 0's, two 1's and so on) and two such pieces of contrasting color are usually used in the performance of game functions. One die represents multiples of 10, the other 0 - 9. Thus, if a blue die were thrown with a result of 6, and white die thrown with a result of three, the final result would be counted as "63." In turn, if the unit for which the die were thrown had, say, a 65% chance of successful fire against an opponent, the attack would have been successful. Had the die roll been a 66 or above, failure would have ensued. By the way, "00" is usually counted as 100.

Ancients (again) is unique in that some systems use two 6 sided die, usually to modify plus or minus the odds of inflicting casualties in a close action or fire attack. One die is of the normal type usually found in department stores and is used for all forces that are NOT Regular troops such as Roman Legionaries. The other die is also six sided, but has neither a "1" or a "6." Instead the die has two "2's" and two "5's." This die is used for the Regulars and shows their superior training and discipline as their combat modifier will never swing so radically as it would for highly emotional, but poorly trained Barbarian forces.

History and Miniatures

Another way miniature gaming is very unlike wargaming in cardboard or with a computer is the almost unbreakable link with traditional methods of historical study. With a historical military boardgame or computer wargame, all that is necessary is setup, a reading of the rules and off one goes to play the game. With miniatures it just isn't that easy.

Miniature wargaming is definitely not a lazy person's hobby, and one of the reasons is the necessity of doing one's own historical research in order to participate. Traditionally, miniature wargaming rules have seldom included complete battle scenarios ready for play. Instead, the players had to do their own research as concerned terrain, the order of battle (called OB in US military circles) and the arrival of reinforcements. Indeed, that is still the case with Bob Jones' Piquet, a rules set that covers multiple periods of history. This is changing somewhat, with rules like Richard Hasenauer's Fire & Fury American Civil War rules set also having spawned two scenario books - one for the Eastern theater, one for the West. But remember, these rules do not cover only a specific battle or campaign, but enable the player to play any battle for the period represented. Thus while the F&F scenario books might have some ready to play battles, they do not include all the engagements one might play with the rules. There are many, many more, and for these the players must do their own research. And while researching the battle of Cold Harbor, players might easily find themselves nose deep in Douglas Southhall Freeman's Lee's Lieutenants as well.

Then there are the uniforms. Miniature rules simply do not tell players how to paint their figures. Research is an absolute necessity, and like figuring out battle scenarios, can easily lead off into areas of traditional historical study. Ever wonder why Napoleonic French cavalry trumpeters wore such distinctive uniforms and rode only light grey or white horses? Take a look at French dragoons, for example. Mounted on bays or browns, with brass helmets with black, flowing horsehair manes, dark green saddle blankets trimmed white and dark green coats with lapels, collar and cuffs in a distinctive regimental color, yellow perhaps. Now look at the trumpeter - white horsehair main, yellow saddle blanket, yellow coat with green collar and so on, all on a white horse. The bottom line here is that the trumpeter was the commander's communication corps. He could not only blow a jaunty tune to raise the spirits of the lads, but he was also responsible for getting the word out as regarded battlefield movement instructions. Here we are talking about trumpet calls such as retreat, charge or recall. With all the black powder weapons going off, it was imperative that this important fellow be very distinctively accoutered so that the commander might easily pick him out of a swirling mass of men when the need arose. Interestingly enough, British cavalry, which Lord Wellington swore was among the most uncontrollable in Europe, did not dress their musicians any differently than the rank and file.

Could this lead to yet another book for the player to read? Perhaps, and so it goes as the link between miniatures and traditional history grows stronger still.

Painting Your Army

There are many ways to paint a miniatures army, but here is the method the author uses, one that has proven both quick and attractive. First I mount the figures (remember to remove all unsightly pewter or lead flash) on the very stands I intend to use on the gaming table. These stands are cut with a cardboard razor from the matting material used for picture frames. The figures are glued on the stands using Elmer's Glue All or regular household cement.

Next I prime the figures in flat black paint, using, of all things, nothing more than a can of Krylon spray paint. Priming is needed to insure that the other colors of paint adhere properly to the figure and black is appropriate since many of the figure's uniform accoutrements such as boots or field packs are in that color anyway. The color black also assists in my detailing method of which more will be discussed below.

When the primer is dry I next paint the figures in their proper uniforms, holding them by the movement trays I initially mounted them on. I paint figures by unit. This means that, for example, if the Confederate 5th Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment consists of 12 figures under a set of rules such as John Hill's ever popular Johnny Reb, I will paint those 12 figures as a group. I then paint a single color across all 12 figures before I continue with a different color, starting first with flesh (hands and face), then some sort of brown (for muskets or rifles). I do this until all figures are completed. Several brushes are need for this process, all the way down to the micro 10/0 for small areas. Water based acrylics, many in specific uniform colors, are normally preferred over oils.

Then it is time for detailing, and by this one means the little extra effect one achieves by outlining shoulder straps in black and the like. The bottom line here is that I outline nothing. Instead, and since the figure is already primed in black, I simply paint so as to leave those areas untouched where black outlining or shading would be necessary. This allows the black primer undercoat to show through and gives the impression that I have tediously done the deed with a single bristle brush and magnifying glass.

Next, and after the figures are completely dry, I flock the movement trays on which the figures are mounted. This means that I thickly paint these bases in green or some other earth tone color, and while still wet, I drag the bases through model grass or soil, tapping off the excess when finished. To this I may add a few pebbles if the stand contains generals or other commanders. I also paint the bottom of the stands (Dragon Blue, strangely enough) so that I might be able to tell my troops from those of other players when it is time to pick up after a battle.

Finally, when everything is dry, I over spray the entire unit with a clear gloss spray such as Krylon. The gloss finish protects the figures from excessive handling, while bringing out the richness of the color. A gloss finish is the preferred treatment in Britain, while in the United States a flat or matte finish is the usual norm.

Using such technique, I am usually able to produce a unit of 12 15 mm infantry figures in about an hour and a 15 minutes, with the finished product rating about a 7 on a 1 to 10 scale. Click here for a step by step guide to this methodology, first presented at Cold Wars 2003.

Of course, you can always buy your figures already painted through many of the fine painting services that are available for hire, but be prepared to pay big bucks. Current pricing indicates that a single 15 mm infantry figure of about the quality I produce is likely to cost a $ 1.75, with a full 12 figure Empire French infantry battalion (which uses a scale of one lead figure representing 60 actual soldiers) costing $ 21.00. Since there were about 12 battalions in a French infantry division, three divisions in a corps . . . well, you get the picture.

Getting Started

So how does one get started? Since miniatures are normally played in group settings, it is usually wise to contact a group to see what they are playing. Newsletters and Websites of the various HMGS Chapters have listings for Wargaming Clubs, so these venues are a good place to start. The Chapters also maintain membership databases so that a quick call to their National Board POC or the Chapter Secretary can usually get you some names in your area.

Next step is to simply pick up the phone and find out what period is being played, under what rules, in what scale and when the next meeting is going to happen. Show up, try your hand and then depart to pick up your own wargaming army. Try to build a complete unit, but one that is not too big. Thus McClaw's Division is a good start, but trying to build all of Longstreet's Confederate Corps is likely just a bit more than the beginner will be able to handle. Always try to build lots of regular (line) grunts, as opposed to whatever Guard plays in your chosen period. There is always a need for the average foot or horse soldier, while showing up with the Old Guard right off the bat is certainly guaranteed not to win you a lot of friends. Find out what the group needs. If the only player with Austrians has just moved to Grafenwehr, Germany, pick up some Austrians (and a lot of white paint) to help out.

But above all, try to get your army started as soon as possible. Most folks have no problem sharing their figures for play with newcomers, but this tolerance goes only so far. The quicker you can supply painted figures to the collective pool of miniatures needed to play a battle, the quicker you will be accepted into the group.

After that, settle down and have fun.

Finis

This little tome is by no means all inclusive, but everyone in HMGS land hopes it will spark your interest. If it does and you feel up to the challenge, but you still have questions, just contact the friendly folks at your nearby HMGS Chapter and let them help you out, or drop a line on our Internet Newsgroup, rec.games.miniatures.historical . Believe me, you will be glad you did.

Best of luck and good gaming!


Part I adapted from the author's master's thesis Playing War: the Applicability of Commercial Conflict Simulations to Military Intelligence Training and Education (DIA Joint Military Intelligence College, Bolling AFB, DC, 1995).


Picture of Napoleon after 1814 - le campagne de France by Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier, 1815-91, picture of hex map courtesy of Clash of Arms Games, from The Six Days of Glory by Kevin Zucker, third picture from Comrades of Constantine Wargames Club, Kriegspiel page. Cover of H. G. Wells Little Wars from Major General Tremorden Rederring's Colonial-era Wargames Page. Fifth, seventh and eighth photos courtesy of Duncan MacFarland, Wargames Illustrated magazine. All other photos by the author.

 

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