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Monday, 23 January 2023

Unit Sizes- the 'All armies are the same' problem.

 How do chaps these days build their armies? Has it changed from the 1970s when I started?  What dictates the sizes of units in  given army or for a given period? Historical prototypes? Personal preference? The look of the thing? The chosen rule set or army list? The packaging style of your chosen miniatures range ? All or none of the above?

Speaking for myself I would say historical prototype first every time,  followed by the look of the thing, possibly influenced by chosen rule set and perhaps personal preference.

Aunit of Marlburian Infantry- Irish in French Service at around 1 :20 so 36 figures equates to 720 men. Bases on 15mm frontage for the men 20mm per fig for the command. . These will be used in Grantian style games but in AOR also.

 I like to build an army mostly to a set 'figure to man' ratio.  I accept that these are often somewhat notional and may have little to do with the chosen rules, but then all a ruleset really does is tell you which dice to throw and when, all the rest is often guff and marketing- especially these days.. I am fortunate in that our gaming group does not contain any rules lawyers. 'History Lawyers' 100% but rules lawyers nary a one thankfully. So for example my SYW armies are at a nominal ratio pf 1 figure to 20 men, so a British Cavalry or Dragoon regiment has three squadrons each of 8- 10 models- mostly 8 . Infantry Battalions range around the 20-32 figure mark, based where possible on actual numbers dug out from various sources and always with an eye to 'the look of the thing'. Otherwise why use model soldiers in the first place? My ECW armies are much the same but with a figure to man ratio of 1:10 so a single cavalry troop can be anything from 4-10 figures depending upon time and place. Regiments being various numbers of Troops.. Of course there is a bit of number crunching and fiddling to get a viable unit but  that is part of the price you pay. Infantry units can be large but as in the period they can be split into 2 battalions if the scenario demand it.

Individually based Scots Greys- these will do for Retro style games such as 'Charge!' on indeed any game where the model is paramount rather than its base. 

I also tend to build my armies so that I can use them with more than one set of rules So my Marian Romans can fight using Tactica or WRG or even Tony Bath without harm. My AWI, Black Powder or British Grenadier or Warfare in the Age of Reason. Since I don't do competitions and always do both sides for a period then I don't expect to have arguments about this base being 5mm larger than that base. I base for visual appeal- mostly - rather than rules lawyering.

So rules that force a non- historical  organisation upon the players will usually get very short shrift from me, binwards they will often go. This  is one of the reasons I dislike DBR intensely and find much of Pikeman's Lament risible, to name but two that have aroused my ire. Both of these in their different ways enforce a non- historical organisation on the players  for the simple reason that the rules mechanisms demand such. I've heard the 'Forsyth argument' (Good game good game)  but that does not wash for me as they both  butcher the historical prototype something rotten, again each in their different ways - though to be honest it IS possible to get something out of Pikeman's Lament with a bit of 'reverse butchery' ,if you could be bothered, but there are plenty of alternatives out there so why bother.?

A rather aged ECW unit based for WRG . Would not base them this way today but I'm not about to destroy someone else work for the sake of a few millimetres.  Represents a unit of about 400 men.

I LIKE my armies to have different sized units in them as did the historical prototypes. Look for example at any 'Horse and Musket' period order of battle form anywhere in the world and you will see Battalions and Regiments (units) in the same Brigade or Division(formations)  at differing strengths. For me this gives the units character and dare I say it historical verisimilitude -tenuous thought that last may be. As an aside I might note that such difference have at times played havoc with a players  battle plan if a unit was found to be too big or not strong enough for a give task but that is one of the risks of generalship surely? 

Anyway an army where all the  units were identically sized - slaved to a rule set would be mightily tedious to paint. Endless obedience to some anonymous games designer who possibly knows a lot less about the period than you do (but has some - at least in his view- smart games mechanism that he can force a bit of history into, he may even be right) . Nah just does not fit with me. so I mostly avoid rule sets that dictate the unit sizes- especially where those sizes seem to be dictated not merely by the writer but seemingly by the packaging methods of his favourite companies.

All armies are not the same they do not automatically have the same organisations - look at the history and you will quickly find this to be true. I understand the lure of 'gaming convenience' and am not always immune to this- my 15mm Moderns suffer a little though not enough so that I would use a rule set such as Cold War Commander which again - according to chaps who know more than me, butchers organisations to fit the rules.. My own moderns will fit with Team Yankee or Combined Arms. We tries CWC but hated it tend now to go with a modified version of TW - though a set called Sabre Squadron  needs to be tried. 

I suppose part of my problem is that I am not PRIMARILY  a games player but rather a historian who plays historical wargames- with the emphasis on the historical; so non- historical items in purportedly historical wargames rules are going to at least raise an eyebrow! But after all I'm writing this post to provoke discussion - which I know for some is anathema (I've been accused of being a 'Gate keeper' whatever that piece of silliness may mean- in the past when posting other discussions) but surely out of discussion comes new ideas ..... or does it? 


  1. Hi, Big Andy -
    I see your point. The armies you describe to begin your posting seem very similar to my 7YW-ish and WSS-ish. Based loosely on Charge! and Chas. Grant's War Game. My own mid-18th century armies standardise on 36-figure line infantry (4-figure HQ element, 1 8-figure grenadier company and 3 fusilier companies), and 19-figure horsed units. These are often suggested by what's in the box I just bought!

    But there are differences in my mid-18th century Imagi-Nations. For one thing my armies often include at least one independent grenadier battalion HQ, the firing line being taken from the line units. And three of the armies differ from the 'standard'. Hessen-Rohr (truly imaginary) adds a battalion gun to each regiment. Ursaminor standardises on the usual, but with just 6-figure companies and squadrons. Finally, Jotun-Erbsten came out with 19-figure infantry battalions and 15-figure cavalry.

    Where units strengths really start to 'randomise' is on campaign. I subject battle losses to a species of 'rationalisation' somewhat dependent upon the overall result, and then carry them forward. A 36-figure unit that has lost, say, 10 figures in a victorious battle, can expect to carry forward a 5-figure reduction in strength to its next engagement with the enemy. The other 5 are permanently lost. After a battle lost with similar 'casualties', it may find its carried forward strength reduced by 7.

    This does require work listing regimental 'returns', but that chore is not altogether uninteresting.

    As I nowadays often use Strength Point systems and gridded battlefields (basically as more 'accessible' given my lack of space') I find carrying forward reductions in SPs serves the same function.

    Of course, with both methods, there will come a time at which units are simply too reduced to put into the field. Units so reduced are simply 'converged', their serials combined. In 'my' 'Woodscrew Armies' Campaign of a year ago, losses led to 5 regiments being converged to 3, the 37/39th and 17th/19th. The more fortunate 38th remained 'singular'.

    Otherwise, units that are REALLY knocked about may be disbanded, its people distributed among others luckier.

    So, even with standardised establishments, however you do it, it doesn't take long on campaign for armies to take on a more ragged organisation!

    1. That is a reasonable and logical way to do it. Being' not quite historical but almost' you can select the bits you need from history but ignore the bits you don't need. The way you deal wth campaign losses is actually pretty historical. On foreign stations British regiments often sent their privates to other regiments but the officers and NCO's would go home to recruit.

  2. I've Armies with all the ways of units being built. ACW originally using JohnnyReb 5 stands per unit a varied number of figures per stand to give an accurate historical OB, GNW 20 infantry/9 cavalry because that how they were sold. AWI 6 figures per stand 3-4 stands per unit. Worked well with how the Perry's sold them and Piquet sort of. SYW I built for Koning's Krieg, the company that sold the rules also sold figures organized for them, infantry was 12 figure units for most nations and cavalry varied widely.

    I think somewhere in the 1980's for horse and musket 12 figures per regiment became "the norm" it was worked into rules mechanics and packaging.

    It's a bit of a quandary. I want the figures to represent their historical counter parts, the units need to convey information to the players in regards to the game and I'm too cheap to not use figures I've payed for.

    It's a good question. There's so many things to consider and deal with.

    1. For some 12 fig cavalry do seem to be the norm- certainly in AOR BUT the rules don't force this and IMHO when foot units 'norm' is 24 - I've heard this called a 'standard unit ' then cavalry at half that strength is nonsense more often than not. The urge some 'game designers' have to standardise everything is for me very anti- historical and of coarse plays havoc with real organisations. One example if a cavalry regiment is 12 figures how many squadrons does it have - bearing in mind that this differed depending upon time and place and generals often - especially in the 18th century counted armies by battalions and squadrons. Now this is not a problem if the rules are open ended but if they are not then the history quickly goes out of the window.

  3. Interesting post, my units are 16, 20 and 24 man units and some smaller 12 man depending on what they are, cavalry usually 9 men, works well enough for me. I really hate basing for certain rules and prefer rules that allow a bit of personal choice in basing. I would love to do a 36 man regiment but space limits me plus I am a really slow painter!!! A bit to think about though, a good post to get some discussion going.

    1. As for slow painter- me too. Like you I also prefer a bit of 'positive freedom' when choosing the path - but for me it always seems to come down to the actual history first with other stuff comparatively in the back ground.

  4. Of course back in the day almost all companies sold their figures singly in the UK at least - though some such as Les Higgins and Douglas and even Lamming to begin with sold in small packs of 3 or 4 .

  5. Interesting post, thanks! Thought-provoking stuff. I've been working out how to organise units for my ECW/30YW armies, and tried to think about how to represent historical formations - ended up with 1 figure = 20 men and each figure repesents 3 ranks deep, so a 6-deep 'Swedish' style foot unit would have 2 ranks of figures, while an older-style and deeper 10-rank unit has 3 ranks of figures. Hopefully they will look OK and represent pike and musket blocks OK. I'm quite happy to have varying sized units, as of course that happened historically - and I would look for rules that don't dictate rigid unit sizes. Thankfully quite a few modern rules seem to say 'use your existing bases as long as they are consistent' , I think writers are aware people won't be keen to re-base their collection!
    Having said that, since we like discussion, it might be said that if you are Napoleon, Frederick or Marlborough you don't care if battalion X is a bit bigger than battalion Y, you only care that you've got 50 effective battalions, so it may depend what level of commander you are representing in your game ( a divisional commander may be more aware that battalion Y is under-strength, so he'll use battalion X in his attack ), and we are in good ol' Paddy Griffith territory..
    The other thing that might be said is that once regular armies were established, they did presumably try to have standard size units, and in earlier periods such as ECW, different-sized regiments would be combined into 'battalia' with a notional standard size - though of course the standard sizes were impossible to maintain on campaign, and different armies had different 'standard' size units.
    So in a way I think I'm saying I agree with you, but maybe there are points on the other side.. It's good to think about this stuff, thanks for getting us thinking!

    1. Although my current ECW ratio is 1-10 when I started the collection I used 1-20 and still can for larger battles and yes that works well with foot. It does work with Horse too but perhaps a bit less well. As for Napoleon or Fred the Average you are right neither of them gave a monkeys about their troops as long as they did as they were told, so for games at that sort of level it would not matter at all. But down among the Colonels and Brigadiers it probably would as you say. For me it is also an aesthetic thing the idea of 50 or even 10 identical battalions simply bores me especially if those battalions are tiny 12 figure straggles of which 3 or 4 are command- looks awful. So one way I've done it in the past- with my ECW as it happens- is to decide what the smallest independent unit would look like and build up from that - so Cavalry troops were 5 -10 figs and that is how I ended up with a 1-10 ratio for my ECW. I may go the same way for AWI - some of those Legions were quite small in numbers.

  6. Picking up a point I missed- Yes each regular army had its own standard sized unit in many cases but that is not the same as saying all armies had the same standard unit- which many rules do say. Which was my point really So a full strength British Battalion would be over 1000 men plus officers while a French Regiment might field 2 or sometime 3 smaller battalions again depending upon when and where. They would also form up differently .The French - even if in line- being at least 1 rank deeper and earlier 2 or even three ranks deeper compared to the British 2 or 3 deep line. So they would look very different yet on most tables they do not the rules sometimes do and sometimes do not notice this difference but abstract it out so to speak. .

  7. I tried with my ECW armies, to have differing unit sizes. When I expanded them I made the units all the same size.