Saturday, 13 July 2019

Not a wargame of Cobb's Farm in 28mm on a small table!

This is not really the post that I had intended to write. The intention was to take the previous post about doing a Black Powder game with 12mm ACW figures on a large pinboard and transferring that scenario to a 4' x 3½' table with some 28mm figures from the Perry's 28mm ACW Battle in a Box set, in the hope of doing a post on easy entry level gaming for 28mm in a limited space and maybe encourage a new gamer or two to dip their toe in the water.

Part of  the Perry box art

It was our face-to-face night and my plan was to introduce Mike, who is predominantly a boardgame player, to the Black Powder rules. We have done occasional figure games on Kallistra hexes, but I was interested to get his opinion on the open table format and wanted his thoughts to then feed into a post that was, as said, intended to reach out to new gamers.

So, I set up the pinboard game on the dining table for a quick knock-about and rule teaching session, with the intention to then move to a temporary table that had the 28mm version of the scenario set-up, but with the measurements returned back from centimetres to inches, to see which style of game he preferred.

What could go wrong?

For the rest of this post, please use the 'read more' tab.

Well, as a persistent bad back sufferer, the last few weeks have been problematic with a flare-up that refuses to settle, but rather has become progressively more difficult, with the time that I can actually spend on my feet between rest becoming much shorter each day and so this post is going to connect back a bit with the very roots of this blog and why it came into existence.

In our face-to-face last night, the seated game at the pinboard was very enjoyable and relatively comfortable for me. The 28mm game was set up on a temporary table that has a height that is a useful 40" off the floor, which requires me standing to play, but gives a much reduced need to bend / lean forwards, so is kinder to backs. However, within a few moments last night, I realised that I would not be able to even partly see the game through and we retreated back to the dining table.
The game that didn't happen!

The 28mm scenario had meant to be a bit fancier, I had the Conferederates attacking this time, with one of their regiments (randomly selected) given smoothbore muskets and another the 'Rebel Yell' attribute. The Union inside the walled field were given the 'First Fire' attribute, reflecting that they were formed up against the wall, with their muskets rested on in and as such, their first volley would likely be more effective.

Anyway, we re-set the pinboard and ran that scenario with due amendments and had a really enjoyable game. In fact with the 12mm on the pinboard, we actually had more room to space out the terrain and manoeuvre than the bigger table was giving us. Mike 'whooped' me with an early charge against my disrupted Union troops that were lining the wall. My second regiment occupied the farm building and tried to regain the field by assaulting from the building position, but to no avail.
This is how Mike's charge would have
looked in the 28mm game!

We enjoyed the two pinboard games. Mike thought the system worked well. We discussed the comfort zone that we usually rely on with hex play and both agreed that the open game looked nice and worked well and that our gaming style meant that measuring disputes etc. just don't happen. A couple of 'what do you think' moments did crop up, which of course you simply don't get with hexes, but these were sensibly resolved. 

I suppose the important point is that I was really looking forward to the 28mm game, but we were able to create exactly the same game back to the pinboard with perhaps a different rather than a worse aesthetic.

Anyway, the point I wanted to make, but am 'drifting' away from, is that the episode brought into focus the reason why this blog started. I had been going through a similar flare-up with my back and had moved into a small apartment to get rid of stairs. My wargaming immediately became 'different'. A distinct lack of gaming and storage space had driven my games into having small footprints and with shorter play times. The latter because the family needed the table for boring old meals :-)

Physically, the smaller games didn't require leaning over, significantly reducing back pain or strain. So, on the boardgame side of things, I reduced my collection to 1 mappers, with an emphasis on half mappers and on the figure side of things, I set about going for 10mm / 12mm figures on a pinboard sized area that used hexes in an 8 x 6, from which of course the Tigers at Minsk rules were developed.

Once you start to get your 'eye into' games like that, you connect with a lot of clever, playable, small games that allow a fuller wargame experience to be had while limited to say, a large tray that you can rest on the arms of an easy chair, or that can occupy one of those hospital bed table things and games resting on pinboards can be moved off the dining table for meals and just placed onto an ironing board or bed, ready to bring back to the dining table when it once more returns to its true purpose of a wargame space :-)
Union gun positions from the 28mm
game don't get chance to fire in anger!

Any success that this blog has, probably falls directly out from the fact that it tends to look at the smaller footprint game, which I think, strikes a chord with gamers who have very real storage / gaming space restrictions or mobility restrictions.

We did eventually move out of the apartment (too late to save my book collection that was sold! - hello Kindle) to a larger place, that allows me to occasionally set up a two mapper boardgame on a temporary table and to have slightly larger collections, but in truth, it only seems big by virtue of the smallness of the apartment. Actual real storage space is still quite limited and I have already hit that wall and am seemingly in a permanent semi-state of streamlining and pretending to cut back as those ever present gaming space / storage practicalities kick in.

Anyway, after all of that waffle, my soreness today has me in something of a reflective mood in which I am thinking a bit more about the significance of the 'compact game', which is something that is likely to play out in more of my blog posts returning to the roots of this blog.

On the boardgame side, games such as ASL, the Decision Games Mini Series and half mapper games such as the Leningrad reprint from Decision Games, are just a few of the many titles that come in with small footprints and relatively low counter densities for games that can be played right under your nose.

On the figures side, both 6mm and 10mm / 12mm can give interesting situations in small spaces, using just slightly expanded starter armies and terrain that is light enough and small enough for convenient storage, quick set ups and an easier level of access to wargaming.

I am going to be delving into some of this stuff with renewed enthusiasm and purpose.
The post covering the same game played in 12mm on a pinboard. LINK

COMMANDERS is my other bit of webspace, which is a bit more snippet based and doing something different than here. LINK


  1. When I first got back into wargaming, it was via a mix of 15mm FoW and 28mm Warhammer/Mordheim. Very quickly I realised that I simply did not have th storage space or playing surface for these 'larger scales', whether terrain or figures; hence my move to 10mm. I still have some storage issues, but that's largely down to my lack of sorting my stuff out. It's really nice to read Blogs such as yours Norm that address these issues, ones that crop up frequently at shows when I chat to other gamers. I just wish wargames magazines would reflect the reality of gaming for a large selection of our wonderful hobby.

  2. Hi Steve, I found it interesting to have exactly the same game side by side, but finding the small scale one to be the more functional, especially at the moment. Mike also liked the look of the 28mm stuff, but was happy with the pinboard game as something that allowed sitting and was just more practical.

    As an interesting exercise, over the next few days, I am going to collects some of my 20mm 28mm stuff together and match it with 10mm / 12mm stuff, just to get a rough idea of the volume difference in storage. I know already that my foliage boxes are worlds apart.

  3. As Norman has said the evening didn't turn out as intended, but it did give us two great games that truly lived up to the "gaming in small places" label. I was kindly allowed to be the attacker in both games, being beaten off as the Union player and then swinging over to a resounding Confederate literally sweeping the field clear. We also had time to look over the physically impressive layout for the same battle done at the 28mm scale [showing Norm's painting and modelling skills to great effect]. It even left some time to chew over some gaming reflections both on the evening's system and some of our intended future sessions.

  4. Hi Mike, I’m glad that it all turned out rather well in the end, with a good evening dice rolling.

  5. Norm your blog was an inspiration to me when I first discovered it. As a result of your efforts I've had more fun with small scale battles than ever I did with 28mm. My new foray into 15mm is as big as I can comfortably go from a battlefield and storage perspective. Keep up the good work and I hope your back gets better soon.

    1. Thank you, I always remember some words of wisdom from a long time gamer who said "whatever the question, the answer will always be 15mm". Of course I can't remember whether that was said before or after 15mm became 18mm :-)

  6. Norm, best wishes on recovering from your lingering back ailments. Persistent back pain can be a real, well, pain in the back!

    While a lot can be said about Going Big on the gaming table (and I am in the camp of enjoying big, expansive games on a big table), a lot of fun and study can be had in a small space too. You have shown this repeatedly to great success. Small games offer much for the gamer whether constrained by space/figures/budget or not. Small games with good scenarios offer challenges and opportunities to min/max the game where every piece and move may be critical.

    I enjoy small games and REALLY enjoy your blog. Keep at it as long as the back and enthusiasm hold out.

  7. Thanks Jonathan, it is amazing that what amounts to a niche hobby, itself is further compartmentalised into further viable niche aspects. Thinking of all the figure scales / sizes (2mm - 54mm), the variables of table size, all of the periods, the division of tactical, strategic or operational within each era and the division of land, sea or air interests, then within all of that, something will work for each of us in a different way. Though equally, it is little surprise that many of us are pulled in so many different directions.

    I am continually surprised that there is seemingly always something that is worthy of a blogged article.

    1. It might my be a fun exercise to build a decision tree highlighting this diversity.

    2. Complicated of course by an interest in boardgames that cover an equally wide spectrum :-) we are amazingly lucky in terms of scope.

  8. And I thought you started the blog for fame and fortune, eventually spring into tv and then movies.
    Sorry your back is still acting up.
    There’s a lot of gaming that can be done on a small scale in a small space; something you have reported show here splendidly. I agree that a lot of people are limited in time and space and this blog is a showcase for what can be done. So keep it up. 😀

    1. Thanks Stew, the clock ticks, but fame and fortune, even the fifteen minute kind or the phone call from the producer, remain forever unrealised.... perhaps that alone is probably something to celebrate :-)

      I think by its nature, the wargame media machine (mags, shows and blogs) tends to emphasise the bigger scales and tables and nicer terrains. But in doing so, it fails to adequately represent the total wargame audience.

      If we believe what we see, we might assume everyone is gaming with 28mm, when in reality it may be that actually a good slice of people who would consider themselves as wargamers are not gaming at all - or very infrequently, with gaming space and lack of time being dominant factors.

      Because we have become so image conscious and internet watching drives that, through self selection of what is posted, we never really get to see the chunk of gamers who play on a tables with what we might think of as 'not pretty' tables, so a crumpled bed sheet or curtain, with roads / rivers made from masking tape, all woods made from lichen scatter and games played on 2 x 2 or 3 x 2 spaces etc - perfectly adequate to get a good game and a way that many older gamers can remember was 'standard', but not good enough for todays critical eye, so we have another invisible sector.

      Likely budget has the biggest influence on what forms the core of a gamers decisions and realities, but the internet and the way we generally post is often a raw demonstrator of consumerism and again another audience is broadly left outside, looking in. There is of course a certain realism, necessity and inevitability to this, but it is probably true that in general terms, we don't stop often enough to think about it.

      It's not that I have a particular view one way or another, but rather that I think for every 100 wargamers, there are likey 100 different situations and so what I really suppose I hope is that this blog can hold broad interest.

  9. I look forward to your future posts focusing a bit more on compact games. The constraints of these games certainly produce some interesting rule mechanisms and gaming approaches, which are no less enjoyable than larger games.

  10. Thanks Peter, I think one of the things that Mike and myself felt in our pinboard game was that we were not particularly conscious that we were playing a 'small game' in the sense that we were playing something less. We really only had one thing to focus on, the events around that field, but focus is exactly what it did and it drew us in to some good and enjoyable gaming and dice rolls mattered etc, so I think the 'compact game' is going to get a little more attention.

  11. Hello Norm,

    As a avid fan of small games in small spaces I am always keen to read about them. And good too see that you continue to espouse the benefits! You attempt to stray but the light keeps calling you back :-)

    Note I have been renovating and moving for the last 18 months and we moved a few weeks ago so I should be able to get some games in soon (small boards of course).

  12. Hi Shaun, thanks for the shout, I have done the move and long renovation thing while living amongst it and know how hard it is to maintain a bit of wargaming while doing that. In keeping with this post I suppose, at that time, I specifically bought two small foot print, low counter density, fast play board games, so that I could have an occasional game fix, but couldn't leave anything bigger set-up and anything out for more than a couple of days would just gather that gritty dust that comes with renovation. Glad to hear you are at the back end of it and that small boards (in a drawer) will be seeing action again soon.

  13. Sorry about the back Norm...a fearful annoyance. Whilst I love the larger scale and dramatic effect of 28 mm it is really interesting to see smaller scales, as you know I play all scales from 6 mm up. I would happily play board games with a strong historical element but have never found an opponent with this sort of enthusiasm.

    1. Matt, I am keenly following your new 10mm project, though I know it is balancing act trying to expand several projects at the same time. I like that my boardgames and figures sit both side by side and overlap in what they do.

  14. Firstly Norm I'm sorry that your back has flared up again over the last few weeks. Interesting though to be reminded why this blog was started, and reading the above comments there is clearly an interest in wargaming in the smaller scales/ areas. Certainly small does not mean less! You allude to the fact that we are bombarded these days with images of beautifully painted 28mm games on vast tables, way beyond the modest 6 x 4 tables I remember from my club nights a couple of decades ago. I lost interest in 'big' games years ago, much preferring to play with a few infantry battalions, couple of cavalry regiments, some skirmsihers and a battery of guns. Somewhere along the line I also lost the ability to stay focused for more than a couple of hours maximum. This all ties in with what you do here Norm, for me this is just what I want to be doing.

    It has only recently struck me that 1/72nd is a very good scale for wargaming, having just finished my plastic Germans, they are far easier and quicker to paint than 28mm's, no assembly required and enable wargames to be played on a comfortable 4 x 3 board, which in turn allows for more detailed terrain layouts to be used. Perfecto.

    Budget is also a factor here with Warlord plastics now costing almost as much as some metal ranges, when I built up my 28mm Bolt Action forces a couple of years back I was fully aware that I was being sucked into some kind of corporate brain washing, very clever marketing on the part of Warlord Games, you buy a basic plastic infantry box, then you need to add a tank, anti tank gun, command teams, mortar and machine guns, all sold in metal at incredibly high prices but you were hooked!

    I see that HaT have been showing examples of a new 1/72nd ACW infantry box on their site asking for customer feedback at the design stages and they look bloody excellent being in correct uniform and the right shoulder shift marching pose. They might well tempt me back into what had long been my favourite period once again.

    As usual, thanks for the thought provoking post,


  15. Hi Lee, the 1/72 is a sweet spot, especially for those of us with a nostalgic recall of the dining table and those Airfix boxes. I think I mentioned somewhere else that it would have been interesting if the hard plastic revolution had gone down the 1/72 instead of the 28mm route. I wonder whether HaT will be using their harder plastic for their ACW?

    It would be good to see a return of the ‘Teaser’ type scenarios that Grant promoted with 4 - 6 battalions per side and that Neil Thomas in his various volumes espouses and 1/72 fits that very well.

    1. Hi Norm, I did note your previous comment re harder plastic in 1/72nd, that could have been revolutionary in hobby terms, but then it certainly stirred things up in 28mm! I can't find the HaT images, will have another look today but the test shots were most impressive and they fully consulted with customers to get the details correct, how many poses, uniform details etc, so the end result was Rebs in shell jackets and a mix of kepis and hats and Yanks in accurately cut coats with mix of kepi types. The right shoulder shift arms pose in accurate AND they actually look like they are on the move, not just standing. Lates consultation was 'a single mixed box or two boxes - 1 Reb 1 Yanks' the latter seems most popular. I'm really impressed with how HaT are doing their homework.

    2. Sorry Norm, what do you think of these?

      Still not available, but WOW! I note the accurate size cartridge boxes for example, a first in 1/72nd.

    3. Very impressive and will paint nicely, I also like the faces.

  16. Sorry for your back Norm, not easy for a wargamer to keep your back straight...Hope you 'll find a real solution to continue this beautiful adventure...Great pics and minis btw!

  17. Your 28mm civil war types look great,I think we are fundamentally different in our outlook on this hobby. To you the game is the thing and the necessity of the paraphernalia with which to play it is of some interest but you are equally happy playing boardgames. For me ,I think,my hobby is really a craft hobby, supported by some reason to focus/direct my historical reading and the occasional game is a bonus. So when I was in the small flat between houses and my hobby was limited to an 84 litre really useful box under the bed,there were some rulebooks but mainly there were figures to paint and paint.Im pretty sure I didn't play a game in the couple of years in the flat , likewise my books were in storage for years until I had built a shed big enough to take both them and my figures. Both approaches are entirely valid and I appreciate and understand what you are doing,it's just for me we are at different ends of the broad church ( although close in other ways as we are both historical gamers!)
    Best Iain

  18. Hi Iain, I think that is about right. My cross-over point from boardgame to figure game is fairly broad, in part, made so, by my inclination and ease of using hexed terrain with figures.

    Last night, I sat down to an ASLSK (Advanced Squad leader Starter Kit) scenario and really enjoyed it, though in my minds eye, I do 'see' what my cardboard chits are doing in an almost aesthetic and narrative way,so I think some hard wiring must drive us all in our differing directions and fancies.

    But I do struggle to jump off the fence between the aesthetic beauty of the larger scale and the practicality of the smaller scale and in that sense, I am 'seeing' the 28's, but other influences are also at play.

    Up until recently, I did want to streamline my gaming with a definite divide between boardgame and figure. The boardgame would be for my more serious, complicated type gaming and that would leave figures to be fun and pretty as a contrast. I fear that might be a too simplistic approach and an insult to some.

  19. Hey Norm! First time reading -- saw you on the Pendraken forum while looking into details on their miniature range.

    Anyhow, I really appreciate you covering this subject. I agree with most of what you say and have come to the same conclusions. For me, 15mm is the ideal scale for cost, storage and transport, while being fun to paint (this includes figures AND terrain).

    I can't help but feel that 28-32mm gaming is driven by the, "glamorization," of those minis. They are the most featured scale in magazines, on YouTube, and on forums. The good sculpts paint up very, very nicely and really woo people over. These same folks buy those minis when they come on sale and then... never paint them. Wasted potential

    For whatever reason, a large component of our hobby does not fully participate. I don't want to go too off-subject, but I do feel like there is some lesson to be learned here. Also, the 28mm market is very saturated, but boy are there some beautiful sculpts out there.

    Perhaps some success could be found in commercializing a smaller, more approachable game or format. In the US, many comic book/nerd shops have standard tables of 2.5'x2.5' This does not make mini-gaming any easier (even X-Wing runs afoul of this, requiring larger than standard tables or table covers)

    Anyways, I feel I'm rambling, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on this matter.

    Thanks again,

  20. Hi John, a new generation of gamer and product, with their 'everything' in a Kickstarter box is now getting an increasing proportion of media grab and their games are right at the cutting edge of commercialism - though I note their less than 3' x 3' tables are still pretty much focused on 28mm, so this 'gaming in a smaller space' element is actively downsizing play space, but going increasingly to super skirmish games and systems, rather than scaling down figure size to try and retain some semblance of larger forces.

    The recent Star Wars system is a 28mm skirmish set, but that is needing something like 6' x 4' to play, which gives around 3 squads, perhaps a speeder or two and one of those two legged things. So we seem to have skirmish and big skirmish as central platforms as to what is driving the commercial end of the hobby.

    So perhaps, even though playing space is now a commercial factor to a new generation of systems and designs, it is still underpinned by the 28mm figure, which equals skirmish game, rather than skirmish itself being the prime motivating design principle i.e. skirmish has become the outcome rather than the instigator.

    I do feel that when I sit in front of 10mm and 15mm, there is a lovely looking game going on, but my camera never seems to replicate that 'look' particularly well, while photography of 28mm pretty much always looks 'right'.

    The Perry's did do a generic battle in a box game for 8mm plastics, played on plastic tiles sub-divided into 1" squares, but it does not appear to have grabbed the gaming worlds imagination and I am not aware of any follow-up product that would signal a wider success of the concept.

    I too often sit on the fence that divides practicality (smaller scale) from the aesthetic (bigger scale) .... but not today :-)

    1. Good points!

      It is interesting how games seem to be diverging along the lines of mass battles (40+ figures per side), or, "super skirmish" (<10 figures per side), with little in-between. Commercially, it makes sense for companies that make minis AND rules, to push for larger and larger battles. However, there clearly was some burn-out along the way, as skirmish has returned to primacy.

      Getting back to 28mm... Do you think inertia plays a part? GW and Privateer Press were the two leading makers of rules and minis from the 2000's onward and they both used 28-32mm scale minis ("leading," as in they had the largest customer base and the largest communities). And, as you say, 28mm is much more photogenic than smaller scales. There's really no denying the appeal and character of well-painted 28mm's. It's a shame that they're incapable of shrinking down for storage.

      Maybe that's another part of it: mini-gaming is not an approachable hobby. It requires time, space, skill, and money. At that point, why bother with half-measures (15mm and smaller)? What's a little bit more impracticality?

      Clearly, I haven't come to a satisfactory resolution, myself. I'm not sure what it would take to make smaller scales as appealing as 28+mm

  21. I recall that when DBA came out, it really had a huge impact on the hobby and loads of gamers were not only dusting off old Ancients collections and getting them back into play, but buying purpose built DBA army packs from the likes of Essex, that were frequently only made up of 60 odd figures, while the 2’ x 2’ board (4’ x 4’ for the bigger scale) was undemanding and required minimal terrain.

    GW for many years have pushed 28mm and two things have happened, we now have an older generation of gamers who came up through the GW ranks, immersed in that 28mm culture, plus there is an ageing sector of the hobby who seem to be regularly complaining that their eyes are not as good as they were (me) and see the bigger scales as being ‘friendlier’ to their gaming / army building. These two things, taken together with the hard plastic revolution, have probably created a momentum that keeps 28’s popular.

    In some regards mini-gaming is an ‘awkward’ hobby with both figure prep and then storage being an issue. I know there are plenty of boardgamers who stick only with boardgames because they are seemingly easier to ‘get into’ and manage than figures, though I am guessing than in 40 years, I have punched and clipped enough counters that I could have painted many full armies using the same time and effort effort and worse, I have had to read hundreds of different rulebooks for boardgames instead of just say Black Powder (insert figure rules of choice here) for figures that can be used to play multiple, multiple different battles / situations.

    As for real footprint of storage, I don’t know and I take your point that impracticability is probably an aspect of wargaming generally and that moving up a scale or two simply adds to it incrementally rather than massively pushing it over the edge into the unworkable. I have some 20mm / 28mm buildings, but lots of 10mm buildings, it seems to me if you do 10mm on a 1:1 basis with what you would have done in 28mm, then you save space , time and money, but if a gamer uses a couple of 20mm buildings to show a settlement, while using say six 10mm buildings to represent a settlement, then in reality the ground footprint will probably be similar (though the height fo storage is of course of a magnitude that may deter. It is the same for figures, I might need to paint say 100 larger figures, but doing the same armies in a smaller scale, one might end up cranking out say 400 figures, bringing painting times and storage to a point that is not a massive

    1. Thanks for your thoughts! Looking forward to what you put out next! I'd love to see a piece on why you play the eras that you do and what kind of qualities you look for in rule-sets for different eras


  22. Thanks John, I would probably have to check to see how many words Google allow a post to have! :-)

  23. This post touched me on a number of points. My back and knees suffer after any game and also stop me from painting for much more than an hour at a go. Although I have taken over two bedrooms they are both so full of boardgames and boxes of figures and terrain that I can only play comfortably up to a max of around 5x3. My solution was to move the dining room table up against the wall and install a 9x5 table tennis table in there. Bad idea. My wife was not happy and the table tennis table is now folded away in the shed. Another solution will be to clear one room by selling 3-500 games but the thought of all those sales does not fill me with enthusiasm.



Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.