Thursday, 9 January 2020

Pocket Armies and 4’ x 3’ project going into 2020.

The Christmas Shenanigans post (see Resource Section below) slightly redefined the Pocket Armies Project by going to a smaller scale and looking to fit play into a 4’ x 3’ or smaller space.
a 10mm table

As a project concept, pretty much everything else is staying the same, with basic principles being;

1 - Play will fit into a 4’ x 3’ space or smaller. To that end I have taken a 6’ x 4’ ‘F.A.T. Mat’ which is in a sort of deep grass green and cut this down to give a 4’ x 3’ surface. There was enough off-cut to create a second mat of 3’ x 2½’, which is a useful size for even smaller games (and a bit bigger than the pinboard). There is still a 3’ x 17” strip left over to think about! 

The mats now instantly frame everything that I throw into that space while I make some deliberations on scales / look / bases / terrain / rules etc.

2 - The project was initially intended for the larger scales to be enjoyed, with a leaning towards plastics, but with my aversion to plastic weld glues and the smaller space being emphasised, it makes sense to go to one piece castings and to drop to the smaller scales.
10mm, 12mm, 15mm and 28mm

The original project plans had everything at 28mm except WWII being 1/72 and all terrain being 1/72. So my next lowest common denominator to match what I wanted the figures to do, would be to go 15mm for all periods except WWII and modern, which would perhaps be better at 10mm and for terrain to be collected in a single size of 10mm (or small footprint 15), so that there is a drop in terrain scale for the 15’s, but it stays ‘in scale’ for the more tactical WWII 10mm stuff. I am still thinking about this, but regardless, things will end up at the 10mm, 12mm and 15mm end of figure size.

On my painting sticks at the moment, I have 10mm Pendraken French Napoleonic artillery bases and a 15mm Peter Pig ACW infantry unit, both as testers for how they paint up and then to their overall look and practicality on the table.
The 12mm on the right is an interesting half way house between 15mm (left) and 10mm.

3 - The armies will still be built in pairs to give a core of around 12 units each. From this, a selection of 6 - 9 units can be drawn for each battle. There will ultimately be multiple periods being covered, so lots of smaller armies is the way to go. The initial army builds will be aiming for 6 units so that play can start quickly with Neil Thomas style scenarios and then newly painted units can just be rotated into the collection to get to the default 12 unit build as and when the fancy takes me.

4 - The scenarios / games rules will tend towards the fast set-up, short play and quick take down. I am looking to cover the mid-week game, the Friday night meet-up and the Saturday afternoon session, either way, just a few hours involvement, with all being easily manageable and for the family table to still be available for its other far less exciting function :-). 

5 - The scenarios will typically be a representative slice of action from larger battles or bath-tubbed actions themed on larger battles or just good old teaser type scenarios.

I like a throw down scenario, but also like the scenario to be formalised and recorded so that the better ones improve over time and can be relied upon to make good instant pull down games. I also want the games to be able to play to a conclusion within that ‘short’ time, I really don’t see the point or satisfaction in an unfinished game!

6 - The rules selection needs to settle down to some favourite rule sets that get the job done, rather than flitting from one system to another and buying the next shiny thing. Getting really familiar with rules to help play flow smoother and faster will be key.

To start off, different rule sets will be played, but only for the reasons of whittling things down to a few chosen sets. Milites Mundi (from Gripping Beast) has recently landed on my doormat, so that will be getting an early look-at for Ancients / Medieval ....... although with several other sets to also consider, looking at this next is rather defeating my ‘ignore the latest shiny thing’ resolve :-) 

7 - Terrain gathering will be fairly essential this year as I gear up my space to look / feel right. I quite like terrain building days, they are therapeutic in their own way and you feel you have ‘moved on’ for relatively few hours spent. For storage reasons, the terrain needs to be fairly functional and generic enough to be usable over several periods.

I have a few orders in with various manufacturers, just to try some things out and those that work will get mentioned in updates here.

8 - The ultimate goal is just to have some fun, to enjoy the aesthetic of figures and not for any of this at any time to feel like hard work or a chore or something with time scaled objectives, we are just looking for a bit of joy here! 
The 28's are on 50mm bases, the rest on 30mm, those
10mm bases look a tad too big!

As I write this, fellow blogger Lee G is embarking on his own 4’ x 3’ project, with the same ambition to get something very playable into a smaller space. A great start to his gaming plans for this year and an interesting deviation from his 40mm collection. Since he is starting from scratch, there should be plenty of interest for the reader to follow as his journey unfolds, giving inspiration and encouragement to anyone who fancies having a go. There is a link in the Resource Section below to his blog, which now has a ‘follower’ button.

The three forces that may see early action on this blog are the ACW armies, Mid-War WWII East Front and 1066, simply because there are some units in the smaller scale in the collection already, but Danube 1809, ECW, Wars of the Roses and AWI have also captured my imagination and want to take centre stage! - that of course is a huge unrealistic shopping / workload list, but in no small measure, it shows the excitement that this project has ignited ....... I have to hope for momentum now :-)   

Hopefully as these posts develop, there will be enough to grab the interest of anyone who is interested and perhaps not gaming at the moment, to have a little dabble.

Something tells me we will be returning to the Battle of Blogger’s Farm in the very near future with our ACW troops to get the ball rolling and to try some of these ideas out :-)

Collection Status - Pocket Armies for 4’ x 3’ games.

Resource Section.

My sister webspace COMMANDERS is a bit more snippet based than here. Link.

Christmas Shenanigans post - a 36 page PDF on all aspects of wargaming. LINK

Lee’s 4’ x 3’ project for 6mm 18th Century new blog page. LINK


  1. Norm, I look forward to following all of these plans sorting out over the New Year. It should be fun! I like your side-by-side ACW artillery scale comparison.

  2. Thanks Jonathan, each of the scales brings its own pros and cons, though the 15's and less can be chosen on preference alone rather than there being an absolute obvious saving of significant space.

    I think I will enjoy this little jaunt!

  3. I shall follow your jaunt with interest.

  4. Norm-
    There seems to be a growing(?) trend towards more compact war gaming. Tell you what, it seems to make war gaming more accessible! Once I lit on the smaller tables, and grid-spaced gaming, I've 'got in' more actual games in the last 3 years than probably all of the previous 16 in this century! That's what it feels like anyhow.

    I'll be looking forward to seeing more of you 'down scale' adventures. Your chosen topics are pretty much the sort of thing that would engage my interest!

  5. Thanks Ion, For trends, I've noticed a few more smaller tables creeping into the UK wargame shows, but I wish the magazines would do more to highlight the compact game, which I have always felt would be a more honest representation of the type of game that many gamers are doing at home.

    There is a chap who has been hawking a 6mm Jacobite game around the show circuit last year, using a gridded space that looks to be a bit less than a 3' x 3' and he gets loads of interest and I think that is mainly because people look at it and immediately see something that they can do at home.

    There is certainly a lot of engagement to fall out of this project this year as I jack it all up, so hopefully plenty to report on :-) Cheers.

  6. Hi Norm, it’s encouraging to see that I’m not on my own in a desire to rationalise my gaming. The terrain looks ace - living proof that a lot can be done in a small space. More power to your elbow sir!

    1. Hi JBM, I have been wanting / needing to rationalise the collecting and play stream from a long while now. I'm not sure what the blocks to doing that really are, but here we are .. with a plan :-)

  7. Well Norm, you know you are preaching to the converted with myself! Your comments and plans pretty much echo mine. Really looking forward to seeing how this progresses this year. Thanks for the link to the other Blog which I shall go and have a look at.

    1. Thanks Steve, there is certainly a trending blog momentum going on towards getting these sort of games played and shared, which will hopefully bring some other people along because it is all so do-able.

  8. Looks good, Norm. Goals 5, 6, and 8 scream for games with "Black Powder" rules! :)

    Love the discipline with smaller armies and manageable sizes.

    1. Thanks Steve, it all seems to be going in the right direction at the moment and it's nice to see some movement and direction coming into the hobby regime.

      I think painting units will feel a bit more joyous as the fixed sized armies are much more do-able.

      I am a Black Powder fan and hope to see more of it on the table this year.

  9. You still have unresolved scale issues :-) When you say "less than 1/72" that still leaves all those sizes you have mentioned. At least you have managed to eliminate some of the larger ones! I must admit to saying that if I was to do it all over again, I think I would pick 15mm for everything and only branch out if I really had to.

    And 4'x3'? That is huge! 3 times what I am used to :-) And I am currently running some 6mm ancients on A4 sheet (a blog post coming on it eventually).

  10. Hi Shaun, a poster at Consimworld Forum rather wisely once said 'whatever the question, the answer is always 15mm'. I was always struck by the simplicity of the observation, though of course you have to have at least some 15mm leanings to appreciate the comment.

    Your blog is a shining example to the many who are without space or tables, that an exciting game is always possible. One of my own favourite gaming experiences from times past was on an 18" x 18" board, doing Quatre Bras in 2mm. I must look into that again!

  11. Interesting post as always and while I follow a lot of your arguments and can see why you say them,I feel looking from out here that you are missing the chance for much greater rationalization. I am surprised at how well your 12mm have turned out in comparison to the larger scales,wouldn't it just make more sense to do everything in 12mm or as a comentator says above 15mm? Keep the other scales for a while but if you focused on one scale it means one set of terrain, standardised ground scale and that way you wouldn't be swinging from one scale to another because there would only be one? Anyway good luck with the reorganisation!
    Best Iain

  12. Hi Iain, yes, I think 1 scale would be an ultimate goal, though deciding on which one enough to invest a lot of time exploring it just needs a little more thought. I favour 15mm, and though that is very comprehensive in its coverage, I am also wondering whether for armour, 10mm may be the more practical.

    The 12’s do very well, though they don’t do napoleonics, which would have to be 10mm or 15mm, but they will be doing (hopefully) WWII by Plastic Soldier Company this year.

    I am pushing a 15mm Peter Pig infantry regiment across the painting table at the moment and hope to run an ACW game with that inserted into a12mm game for comparison, so we shall see. I bought a T72 in 15mm yesterday, just to see how the bigger armoured stuff would do, so I will get that onto the gaming space and also get a feel Vs gun range, Vs movement and Vs terrain scales etc.

    If I did split scale, it would only be to allow the armour to be ‘in scale’ with the buildings due to the tactical nature of the subject, while the same scale of building could serve the next higher figure scale, as gamers often have their terrain features at one level lower than the figure scale.

    My grey cells are on fire at the moment :-)

  13. 4x3 is a good sized table for most games and as you and others say; once you have the table size set it provides a starting point to organize/ rationalize everything else.
    On that size table any 28mm is probably best played at the man for man skirmish level, and then any game with units would be great at 15mm or smaller depending on preference.
    Buts that’s only for horse and musket and earlier periods. For WW2 I would do it all in a smaller scale just to make the range of the weapons look more sensible.
    Also sticking to a few rules sets is utterly sensible. I recently counted and I have 9 rules for the ACW, but only play 2 with any regularity.
    Good luck with this project of stream lining your games, I think it will make for a better game life later. 😀

  14. Thanks Stew, while it is possible to think of how unit frontages can work Vs scales etc and also shrinking them so they still look like line, but not magnificent lines, the problem become things like tanks, which have a fixed foot print for their scale - so invariably, as you say, driving down to a lower scale for any period that has vehicles is going to help.

    I thought if I kept vehicles 1 scale lower than other periods, then a common single terrain scale could probably serve both, so keeping my vehicles ‘close’ to whatever else I am doing seems key.

    Life was much simpler when everything came out of an Airfix box :-)

  15. This is obviously right up my street Norm, the 4 x 3 board is perfect for the smaller scale figures. I remember when 15mm figures first appeared the suggestion was that one could utilise a half size table and I remember seeing Quatre Bras being played on a 2' wide board. There seems to be a trend recently towards huge tables with thousands of figures crammed on to it, I really don't know how a game ever gets finished. Very useful scale comparison images and your terrain is spot on.

  16. Thanks Lee, My first exposure to 15mm was in the late 70's, I think they may have been minifigs, but a wargame shop had set up a napoleonic table and I think I just swooned! It was a totally new scale to me and I imagine they would have been what we now call 'true 15mm', so they were very different to anything else that was out at the time.

    All good.

  17. Looking forward to how you progress, still a dyed 28mm fan, but have toyed with 10mm in my youth for ancients.

    all the best with your pans and projects for 2020


  18. Thanks Matt, I love looking at the 28’s and they make for superb photography, but at the moment I am letting gaming space take the lead. It is Captain Sensible Vs Captain Emotion, in a fair world, both would win :-)

  19. Fascinating summary of the same issues that I'm facing.
    Time and space being a premium, and wanting to get on with playing, as opposed to painting beautiful military models.

    A great advantage of "going small" realised since DBA's release lies in recruitment.
    Smaller armies are cheaper and quicker to raise, and less demanding on storage space.
    This allows you to collect several armies and play a greater variety of games.

    I believe the key to going small lies in selecting the correct type of rules.
    Those multi element units, element removal and formation changing drill present challenges to downsizing.

    Contrast this with something like Impetus, with whole unit stands, minimal focus on formation and attrition tracked by markers or on a roster.
    scaling down is a simple matter of smaller base size, and fewer or smaller figures per unit.

    Downsizing does present challenges.
    Buildings and terrain features can easily get out of hand since ground-scale and figure scale are typically quite different.
    Figure availability in the smaller scales can be restricted, and figures from different manufacturers don't always mix well.

    A different approach to painting is also necessary.
    My first venture into 10mm saw me concentrating on detail that was barely visible at tabletop distances: Every bit of webbing or scabbard detail is unnecessary, and can ruin the look as oversized webbing draws the eye form the tunic.
    Find out what works, for example ACW shakos seem to benefit from a stroke of black along the brim, it really offsets that face and headgear of the figure.

    Have fun, I'll look forward to developments.

  20. Thanks Steve, agree with all of that. I want to avoid two things, firstly multiple terrain scales is just too much storage bulk and secondly having gone to smaller unit footprints, I don’t want to get drawn in to double the size armies that will just fill the same table space.

    I think 2020 will be a year of looking at rules and ending up with a tight bunch of titles that suit.


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