Sunday, 22 May 2016

Perry ACW 28mm Battle in a Box

Getting 28mm onto the kitchen table
Being drawn by the larger scales (1/72 and 28mm), but having limited gaming and storage space creates a contradiction that I have spent too many hours contemplating.

The Perry 28mm ACW starter set
This post is effectively a re-launch of my 1/72 and 28mm project that started in February 2015, but fizzled to a slow burn distraction. Here, a focus returns to attempt getting 28's onto a small table for a battle in which each side can have at least a brigade sized formation or two in action.

please tap the 'read more' tab for the rest of this post.
There are already plenty of game systems that can quite successfully get the larger figure onto the smaller table, so in that regard there is nothing particularly new here, but in these posts, I will be exploring the limits of how big I can go with an action and giving some insight into the practicalities, costs and time needed to start a project like this up from scratch.
Firstly, in defining a small gaming space for this project, I am thinking of something that is typically 4' x 3', so the kitchen table seems pretty much to fit that bill. Those with a dining table can stretch those dimensions a little.

I am not entirely convinced that it will work as well as my minds eye perceives, but trying to decide whether to have a go at 28's or just to crack on with painting my long delayed 10mm Napoleonics has simply led to a lengthy period of procrastination, so it's time to get it out of my system and just have a go.

Armies - Something in the region of 6 to 8 (things might start creaking at 10) units per side seems a workable aspiration for this sized table, with units representing regiments and batteries and being grouped into a brigade or two. Gunpowder era units in line will have a frontage of around 5 to 6 inches to help with the illusion of a linear formation and they will be based to allow for column and square to also be used. Having infantry units of 16 to 20 figures in two ranks of 8 to 10 seems pragmatic, as going wider than a 6" unit is going to make the 4' wide table feel like a tight space. I am not a particularly good, patient or enthusiastic painter, with the 'wargame standard' being acceptable to my eyes. This will basically be block painting, followed by inking (dipping), with perhaps some highlights going back in. This artistic limitation should allow fairly fast progress and get me get up and running with enough units to play a game before my motivation flags ........ again!

Terrain - This scale is potentially a space hogger compared to my smaller stuff. Plonk down terrain onto a cloth / mat is probably the most efficient method of storing terrain. Going for some 28mm buildings with a small footprint mixed with some larger 1/72 terrain, will probably be the best way to go. Some bigger trees will needed, but since trees are of all different sizes, the current collection will still be usable as well. I have some Coritani wide river sections, which may work with my as yet unbuilt warlord 28mm stone bridge (which might be on the large side for this project anyway - so I have started collecting coffee stirrers. For bridge building just in case). I am hoping that all of this will fit into a single plastic tub.

Warlord's 28mm bridge

A variety of fences and fields etc will need to be made up, but the small table should put its own brake on the size of the armies and the amount of terrain needed, so that storage becomes less of a consideration than might otherwise be the case in this scale. My two current 12mm ACW armies each occupy a cabinet draw, it will be interesting to see how much more footprint fewer but bigger 28mm units will actually occupy. Height wise they will probably need deeper storage.

Plastics - Hooray for plastics. A few weeks ago an impulsive purchase of some Warlord French Line Infantry (I already have a box of Perry Austrians) gave my flagging 28mm project a bit of a boost and I have really fancied doing something with them ........ However, last year I bought the Perry's 28mm ACW battle in a box and since it is pretty much something of a starter set in its own right, giving four infantry regiments per side plus a couple of guns and some cavalry and a bit of terrain (plus easy rules), it seems that it is the ideal starting point for this project, which if successful will go on to cover other periods, since each of these 'pocket armies' should not be too big. I heard the other day that the Perry's have the greens for the new look Union infantry (to match their more recent confederate release), if so and if this project gets off the ground, then I can see them providing some early reinforcements!
Inside the Perry Battle in a Box set

Anyway, ACW it is then. The Firepower rules in the boxed starter set advocate 18 figures to a unit in two lines of 9, employing 3 bases, each being 45mm, which gets me under the 6" frontage and keeps my 4' X 3' table viable ...... perhaps!
I should really just practice all of this with blank card bases, but that seems far too sensible a suggestion and in any case is rather like chewing toffee with the wrapper still on.

Basing - This had been getting quite a bit of thought lately. I like the dense look of figures that are placed close together on a base, so wanted to base nearer to 15mm per figure rather than the common 20mm for this scale, this is just a personal thing, but it may help my smaller units look a little more robust. Last year I put the Austrian figures at 3 to a 50mm base and thought they looked nice.
Bases that are just two figures wide would make march column look more realistic and would allow flank companies (elite and Voltigeur) to be better represented in Napoleonic formations (When I come to do that period). Units that are 3 bases wide will help pike and musket formations look better and would put 9 infantry on each row rather than the 8 that would result from two man bases. Anyway, if I go with the ACW set, they provide bases that are intended for a figure frontage of 15mm .... so there were are ... all indecisiveness swept away ...... apparently!

Rules - The Perry ACW box set have their own simple rules (called Firepower - there is already a post about them on this blog - see the resource section below) that may be ideal to run these games. Certainly they will suit the initial games from this boxed set. The Neil Thomas One Hour rules also spring to mind as they generally use 4 - 6 units (each on a 4 - 6" frontage) on a 3' x 3' table (this man is essentially saying yes - get your big figures onto a small table and just play lots of interesting situations), though when playing his ACW set in the past, I have felt the need to add some house rules because of their basic nature. The Thomas rules have fire after movement, so taking ground after fire can't happen and charging to contact is not allowed, while in the Perry rules, units can do different things in a turn, so one unit might fire and another move, making a turn a little more dynamic. Interestingly, the house rules that I added to the Thomas rules (morale tests and leadership) make them very similar in scope to the Firepower rules.
The Perry rules

I have my own home grown sets for both ACW and Napoleonics (for hexes), so may well eventually convert those. It is all in the melting pot, but in the spirit of using the 'ACW Battle Box' as a starter kit, I will likely turn to those Perry rules first and then my project can double as an evaluation of the Perry ACW set as a starter box.

Scenarios - The smaller scale actions lend themselves to those teaser type games as given in the Thomas rules, or representative scenarios of just part of a bigger historical actions - clearly Borodino, Gettysburg or Waterloo, or significant parts thereof, are not going to be fought on these tables, but then we already know that and I could never do those sweeping battles before, even with my smaller stuff anyway. I have usually done some bath-tubbing in my games, so more of the same is likely here.

So, in a nutshell, the goal is to crack on with putting together the Perry ACW Battle in a Box set, with a view to getting a game onto a small table and adding enough terrain to make it interesting (as much as I would rather paint my napoleonics first!).
This will be done against a background of me having to do some substantial decorating and modernising work in my new home, so time will be tight. Never-the-less, I will commit to doing a monthly post here with an update on progress, with a hope that something good will come of this within a period of say 4 months. I will also run a 'real time' clock, so that the reader can get a realistic sense of how long it might take them to do the same thing. Perhaps aiming for an average of completing one unit per week will keep things on track.

I have just smiled to myself while typing this, some 28mm Napoleonics that I glued up yesterday are right next to my keyboard and I keep on stopping, picking them up and admiring them, my mind is already wandering ....... this is not going to be easy for me to remain focussed on a single project, but I will give it my best shot. Bottom, line, I think the 28's look lovely and I would like a chance of getting them advancing to the sound of guns!
Warlord Napoleonic French

Whether this all works or not, I hope the reader will at least enjoy joining me on a gentle ramble of discovery and who knows, it may add a new direction and dimension to my gaming (and perhaps yours!). It may also encourage other 'ACW box' owners to get going as well if their box is still tucked away in a cupboard somewhere.

To be going on with, I have assembled a few links in the resource section below, that will loosely give an idea of where all this is going and it includes an out of the box video that I did last year that covers the contents of the Perry box, hopefully making it easier for the reader to visualise the project in hand.

Video - out of the box report on the Perry ACW battle in a Box set HERE

AAR showing how the Neil Thomas rules work for ACW HERE

AAR showing how the Perry ACW rules work HERE

An AAR of a small slice of Gettysburg action. With my 12mm and hex terrain HERE

Keep an eye on my Commanders web page HERE, it is a bit chatty (Rather than the article led style of this blog) and will give some clues (in the 'This Week' section) as what is likely to be in the next project post.


  1. Excellent post and I'm looking forward to your follow on posts. Having recently moved into a smaller home, I've been looking at the Perry BiaB set, too.

  2. A couple of things come to mind after reading this most interesting post.

    I have similar problems with table size, but I am looking into Too Fat Lardies' recent reboot of Sharp Practice. A typical "army" seems to run at around 50-60 figures and their AARs are very appealing.

    Secondly, is there a chance you might tell us more about your hex-based ACW rules?

  3. thanks for posting. I hope the next few posts develop into something worthwhile and helpful.

    Sharp practice 2 is getting good reviews. There is an article on it in this month's Wargames illustrated with very beautiful terrain and despite figure low numbers, it does portray something that resembles a battle.

    The ACW rules have units as regiments, 250 yards per hex and buckets of dice type systems. Units gain hits and these make some tasks harder as they modify tests and once a unit has 5 hits, there is a phase each turn in which those units with 5 hits must take a morale check and retreat 1 hex if they fail. So as a unit gains hits, it can still do things, but becomes harder for the player to control.

    I hope to give them a spin with my 12mm and 4" hexes over the next few weeks and will blog if the resulting gameplay justifies it........ Otherwise back to the drawing board :-)

  4. Even the smallest journey begins with a single step.

    At least ACW are quick and easy to paint.

    Ive been considering the advantage of a few 18 figure units on a small table vs the same number of figures divided into a greater number of 12 man units giving more tactical options.

  5. Hi Ross, yes hopefully the ACW painting challenge will at least be gentle.

    I like the 18 man unit as a compromise as it does have a more linear look than 12 men, but if I were to fit things to my 4" hex grid, twelve men make the better fit, unless I spread out over two hexes and that rules wise is mechanically a less tidy thing to do. I suspect you have faced the same dilemma with your square grid.



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