Friday, January 08, 2010

Single Figure Gaming: Reflection

Just in time for our fall Citadel (Official publication of NHMGS) I wrote an article entitled "What's Up With Single Figure Gaming?" It was more a navel contemplation than anything else. However I was disturbed, no I think disturbed is the wrong word, puzzled is probably better at some of the discussion around last year's Enfilade. I had considerable conversation around the Best of Show Award. In the talk about which game should be considered for Best of Show, none of those included games with multiple basing.

As I thought some more I realized that, at least at our annual convention, fewer and fewer massed battle games appeared in our program. As someone who was raised on massed battle games-Napoleonics, ACW, Ancients, I felt something was amiss. However, I conceded that single figure games had considerable appeal, and that I also had many single figure projects-Hundred Years War, Space 1889, Maxmillian in Mexico, and Lewis and Clark. There are also single figure game systems I really like, the most important being one of my two holy grails of rules inspiration The Sword and the Flame (the other being Fire and Fury.)

After the article was included in the Citadel, time passed and there was no real response, I began to believe it was just another article nobody read. I was okay with that. However, my good friend Dave Schueler, god bless him, hung it out there on our yahoogroup and asked for responses. Thankfully all the replies were reasonable and civil. Most offered explanations that I'd already thought of, and even mentioned in my article.

First, it is much easier to get involved in a period if there are only a handful of figures required for entry. Honestly, if there were only ten or twelve required, I'd probably lose them, but this view, espoused by Bruce Meyer and others are perfectly valid. I know when I get involved in a project, I think of a hundred painted figures as being pretty small, but I know that isn't true for everyone.

Another reason suggested is because single figures usually represent smaller bodies of troops, and many miniature gamers simply identify with those smaller bodies. Whether it is fighting Zulus, the Cheka, or Martians, fighting on a smaller scale of command makes the impact more immediate and the consequences for poor choices seem more real. When your squad light machine gun is knocked out and all you have left to fight with are a couple of broom-handled Mausers and a Zippo lighter, you know what I'm talking about. Yes, I exaggerate, that's what I do.

Steve Winter and Pat Condray(!!!???) actually reminded me (and all the readers) that single figure gaming is really nothing very new. The earliest days of miniature wargaming media from Donald Featherstone and others in the early 60's included single figure games, and that multi-figure bases really began with WRG's first commercial sets of rules.

Again, great points, valid ideas all, and I really did learn some things. I guess my question remains: how goes the multi-figure based, massed battle? Are they a thing of the past, a dinosaur that we'll see only in constantly diminishing numbers until they're gone altogether?

I guess I have several responses:

First, Enfilade is a fairly small sample size. I am in contact with several folks who have latched on to some of the most recently released sets of rules. Chris Craft plays Crusader Rules for his Hundred Years War project, and I hope to be joinging him in this soon. Tomorrow at Drumbeat Dick Larsen will be hosting a game using Black Powder Rules, a new and costly set of horse and musket rules. LaSalle, a new set of Napoleonic rules by Sam Mustafa are also available and Mitch Berdinka will run a game tomorrow. I don't know how widespread the interest is and how many folks actually play these rules, but it will be interesting to talk with them.

Second, massed battle games are more likely to be popular if game communities opened themselves up to more club-style gaming. When I played Napoleonics in the 70's and 80's it was a success because there were six or seven of us that each had literally thousands of painted 15mm Napoleonic figures. For some, that was all they played, for me, and others it was one period of many. It was impossible for us to put together the kinds of big games we played if others participate. I remember that as we fell away from our French guy, others of us painted French figures as well in order to continue having a French presence. I simply don't see a very club-like atmosphere in which multiple people contribute to a whole project. There are some exceptions. Mark Waddington and I have worked very hard to put together our Martian projects. Doug and I do the War of 1812. There is the FoG group of guys and the Puyallup Gamers and their WAB projects, but each player is bringing a complete discrete army to the table and competing against one another. The same with the NAGS DBA guys, who I also see as a pretty unique community.

If I have one cause I can point to for the decline of massed battles in the Puget Sound area, it would be the loss of club-style gaming. I might just add that club style gaming seems alive in well in places like White Rock just across the Canadian border, and I'm certain it's happening elsewhere. The White Rock guys regularly host big games of Shako and Fire and Fury. I'd also add that massed battle gaming is almost impossible without club gaming and if there is one aspect of my younger years as a historical miniaturist I miss, it is that. However, I'll also say that I have a view of history and what my figures, my games should look like, and while I doubt I'd exclude anybody interested in combining with me, I know what I want to get done and that is often playing a near re-fight of historical battles.

I want to conclude by repeating that again, this is all a matter of personal preference and a good game is a good game-single figures, multiple figures, it really doesn't matter. However, in terms of the historicity, hmm, no red line it must be a real word, I do think there is something lost in translation. It's difficult for me to imagine a refight of Guagamela, or Agincourt, or Waterloo, or the Somme with single figures. Though my own sites are not set quite so high, there are battles I hope to do: Guilford Courthouse at 1:10, Poitiers (1356) at 1:25, and perhaps others. I can't see managing those with single figures. Will those games be considered irrelevant or unsightly? I guess I can't say.


DeanM said...


Your thoughts are provoking. I will see if I can continue building up 28mm Napoleonics. I would love to have those participated in those bygone days of club gaming with mass battles. Regards, Dean

P.S. I regret not being able to play in your HYW siege games yesterday. It looked great.

Anonymous said...


Kevin said...

Dean, I still need to get in one of your games!! I'd really like to run the St. Jean game again and give others a shot at it. It's one of my Enfilade games so I'd like to get it right.

DeanM said...


I will try to sign up for your game at Enfilade for sure. Regards, Dean