Wargaming on a Budget

Posted on Tuesday 1st May 2012

By Iain Dickie
Extracted from Wargaming on a Budget and reproduced by permission of Pen and Sword Books Ltd.
We would all like to refight Waterloo in 1:1 scale, but we have neither the money to buy all the figures, the space to lay them out, nor the time to paint them all. So we have to compromise. The figure ratio can let, perhaps, fifty men be represented by just one figure. The figure scale can let that figure be between 6mm and 54mm high. Metal, plastic or homemade figures? – another decision to be made.
Then, what sort of table top: permanent or temporary; and how big? You can create a decent game on a table just 60cm square. However, wargaming is a visual spectacle as well as a challenging game, so we want the biggest table possible. But should that be the biggest practical? And what of the terrain? Should you consider making a budget? Where do you want to spend the most money: the table, the figures or the terrain?
I hope to help you to come to the right decision for your circumstances and show you how to fulfil those decisions within your personal budget and work with the resources you have available.
The first resource, and the one you probably can’t do anything to alter, is the space you have available. What you can do is make sure the table will fit within that space and ensure it is the right size. To stand or sit at a table you need a space at least 1 metre wide; your opponent will also need a metre. To comfortably reach the middle of the table it needs to be no more than 1.8 metres wide, though the UK standard width of sheet wood is 1.2 metres, which may be more economical. You will need to take into account any furniture that might already be in the room. It may well be that there is already a table or bed in the room which could be used as a base for your table.
The second resource, but one which you can do something about, is finance. The modern way is to draw up a spreadsheet on your computer which can calculate your monthly ingoings and outgoings for the entire year. The hardest thing with this sort of plan or budget is to stick it.
The materials you are going to need for the various projects that will follow will come from a wide variety of sources. It is a good idea to start seeking these out sooner rather than later. Some will be established outlets like DIY stores. Others will be more transitory or less orthodox such as building sites or skips. Gardens can also be a useful source of raw material. Either way you need to keep your eyes open and eventually go and ask someone, whether it is for a discount on damaged goods or to cadge a cast-off item from a skip.
Consider your table and the sort of games you want to play. Imagine different scales of figures sitting in formation on the table. The figure scale you choose is really dependent on what you think looks good, but once you start to invest in a particular scale with the figures, buildings and terrain it becomes a wrench to move to another.
It may be tempting, but don’t put too many big figures on the table. You can satisfactorily reproduce the siege of a small town on a 1.2m (4ft) square table using figures of 5mm. This may seem to be leading you towards the smaller figure scales but that is not necessarily so. It does point you towards reducing the size of the unit you represent. Instead of trying to depict a battalion with colonel and colours which would manoeuvre as one mass it may be more appropriate to build several companies, each led by a captain, lieutenant and sergeant. The battalion may look fine with twenty 10mm or 15mm figures in two ranks on a 2.6m (8ft) table. Show that in 54mm and there will be hardly any room for anyone else.
Brand new figures are of course expensive. But many shows in the UK run bring-and-buy stalls in some form. Watch the pages of magazines such as Miniature Wargames or Battlegames for details of shows. Of course, there is also eBay. This has a dedicated gaming section; simply search for ‘wargaming’ within the eBay website. It is possible to buy armies, units or figures in a huge variety of periods and scales from either or both of these sources. However, what is available is limited to what is for sale so you may have to wait – possibly forever – to find exactly what you are searching for. Some will be painted, but not all. Even painted ones can be stripped and repainted and based to your requirements. There are some dealers who specialize in second-hand figures. These will not necessarily be more expensive than bring-and-buy stall prices and it will be easier to source the period and scale you want. It is also possible to make your own figures and cast them, but second-hand figures are so readily available that it is probably not worth the effort to make your own compared to buying what you can find and converting the ones you can’t.
Choosing your armies
Not all armies are the same, but some share troop types and equipment, which are sufficient for you to make some economies while expanding the number of armies available for you to command. There is, perhaps, more potential here in the ancient world than any other period. This list has to start with skirmishing light infantry. They appear in every army from the very earliest times: bare legs and head, knee-length tunic in some shade of white and a javelin. Greek-type hoplites, pike-armed phalangites and spear-armed tribesmen all figure in a surprisingly large number of armies. Skirmishers and either the hoplites or the phalangites can form the basis for other, earlier and later, armies.
In the Renaissance period the pike and shot troops were almost indistinguishable between neighbouring European countries. Even when uniforms became the norm in the late-seventeenth century there were still elements of the army which could be interchangeable with others. Hallmark Figures make a set of pioneers for the period in 15mm who have all conveniently taken off their jackets and work in shirtsleeves and so are completely interchangeable.
If you game with large figures the detail will be more obvious and it will be harder to migrate figures from one army to another without the other player pointing out that they are wearing the wrong cap badges or using the wrong period rifle.
Another way to get good value from your figures is through cunning choice of army. That is to pick one that fought for and against both sides. In the ancient world this probably means picking a Roman army. They fought most against other people ad in numerous civil wars against themselves. In the Middle Ages, English armies fought against the French, Irish, Scots and Spanish, so they represent good value.
The 25mm stone castle wall under attack. The Anaglypta wall paper, design RD100 laid side ways, has been painted with white emulsion coloured with some modelling black and a little navy blue to give a stone grey. A very thin black wash was added later to bring out the sculpting of the paper. Painting the whole castle in modelling paints would have been prohibitively expensive, as would buying a whole new tin of grey paint. Adding the modelling colour to left-over house paint reduced the cost to virtually zero.

The Game
From time immemorial people have chosen the night attack as a way to defeat their enemies. Although the advantage of not being seen by your well-entrenched or better-armed or more numerous enemy may be undeniably attractive, the process is fraught with drawbacks. Not least of these is finding the enemy in the cloak of darkness that hides you. The night march of the Highland Army before the Battle of Culloden springs to mind as an example. Then there is the risk of attacking a partially-seen foe in the gloom only to discover that they are on the same side, just as the British did at Lundy’s Lane in the war of 1812. Not only does black night lend another level of chaos to a mountain of the stuff, it also gives the enterpriser gamer the opportunity to experiment with impunity. If it is dark enough to obscure visibility then the figures cannot see more than a few of their compatriots and even less of their enemies.
The first problem is to get all the troops to the right point of attack together and in the right formation. Within the last few hundred years the British Army used to lay out rope marking the way and then, more recently, white tape. Holding hands is definitely out as an option for keeping the lads together. Hands are for holding weapons. In periods when the weapon could be carried single handed the other might be placed on the shoulder of the man in front but there is always the possibility that contact might be broken. Once combat is joined, however, there does need to be some light to see by. Inevitably there will be noise in the process and this may lead to others from beyond the limit of visibility joining in.
Simple Night Attack Rules
Let us assume then we have a night attack on some kind of garrison. Whether it is Picts attacking the Roman garrison on Hadrian’s Wall or some more recent period doesn’t matter, there are two issues to resolve: night fighting and garrison duty. With night fighting, the limited visibility will mean a close quarter battle with no long range shooting. With a full moon and a clear sky you might see outline shapes 100m away, depending on the degree of contrast of their colour, although you will still see them in black and white. With no moon or a cloudy sky you might not see anything bar the hand in front of your face. So, let’s pitch the maximum visibility at about 50m for vague shapes and 25m to identify friend from foe. Apply that limiter to your normal wargame rules and place your character figure on the table and only those around him that he can identify, that is those within 25m. Add some anonymous shapes to indicate something that he might only be aware of 25-50m distance from himself. I found the old-fashion black plastic 35mm camera film pots ideal for this. Remember, these might be people or trees or something else entirely.
As your brave leader moves his men forwards some of the vague shapes will move with him, others just stay where they are and slip out of sight, and more will come into view. The men with him will reasonably be encouraged to move closer to their leader since he knows what he is doing – they hope! The more modern and disciplined armies are less likely to huddle together. But even 1960s night manoeuvres with National Service soldiers were liable to end in utter chaos. So for each move roll a d6 for the leader: 1=veer left 45 degrees; 2=veer left 22 degrees; 3 and 4=continue straight on; 5=veer right 22 degrees; 6=veer right 45 degrees. If there is a light in the distance, such as a lighted torch on the wall that he can navigate towards, then this roll can be dispensed with. If that light has been deliberately lit some distance from the wall to mislead or is being held by a patrolling auxiliary then tough. He just heads towards the dice or rolls dice.
Of course gusting clouds can suddenly close to obscure all vision or part to reveal everything, and lightening can also reveal all. So you need to roll a second dice each move: 1=all light fails, halt this move; 6=clouds part or lightning strikes, everyone is revealed and the alarm raised. Once combat is joined some of those vague shapes may materialize to be friends advancing nearby who can join in. Roll a d6 each period for reinforcements arriving from one or more of the vague shapes.
Roman legionaries storm the gate while auxiliaries attempt to climb the walls. You can tell from this picture that the huts could not accommodate the garrison required to fully man the walls. The Celt are Airfix figures, the Romans are all Minifigs.

Garrison Duty
The player commanding the garrison knows of course that there is going to be an attack. The following suggestion applies to any garrison situation. The troops need to eat and sleep, as well as get time to clean and mend their kit and get some time off, as well as standing guard duty and patrolling. Split the available force into four sections. One section sleeps in barracks or billets; one is off-duty – in other words spread around the facility the unit is garrisoning; one is on standby in the barrack and the fourth section is out on guard and mounting any patrols.
The player gets to deploy only this fourth section of his force at the beginning of the game. The guards report any unusual activity to the garrison commander but can also raise the alarm if an attack is obvious. First on the scene will be the third squad, armed and ready to go. Second will probably be the first squad, roused from their slumbers. Finally, the second squad will get themselves assembled and kitted up. Don’t underestimate how long it may take for troops to get into gear and under orders. Napoleonic infantry in uniform but with weapons off could take up to five minutes to collect their various belts, weapons and shakos and another five if they also have to collect cartridges, which was very likely. If they have to get dressed from sleeping you could add fifteen to twenty minutes to get all the fiddly buttons done up. No surprise then that they would go for weeks without getting undressed.
Remember also that, outside any but the most temporary fort, a traders’ camp will spring up to provide those little extra necessities and comforts us chaps look for when away from home. Being in an established base also means the garrison will also have access to illumination which will allow them to do things faster and more efficiently but also highlight them as a target. In the age before electricity there was also an increased risk of accidental fire breaking out. This could well be one of those scenarios that would benefit from an umpire. This is not necessarily a tiresome duty but an opportunity to create the atmosphere and administer chaos to the players like some unpleasant medicine.


Making your own lead figures
The lead dolly has been pressed into the Plasticene within the Lego wall. The level of the Plasticene has been built up behind the figure’s raised right forearm to avoid an undercut and below the figure’s base to form a pouring funnel. Brass rod has been added from the right hand and the head to the edge of mould to form blow holes through which trapped air may escape. The four conical depressions will locate the two halves of the mould.


The six-drawer cabinet designed for 15mm figures. The timber was bought new; a half-sheet of 5mm ply, 7 metres of 32 x 8 mm of PAR (planed as requires) deal (ordinary building wood), and 4 metres 10 x 10 of hardwood for the drawer runners. The acrylic sheet was broken in the store and cost just £0.50 and the handles were made from wine corks cut in half. Each drawer will hold a reasonably-sized 15mm army, though you will need larger drawers for DBM or FOG armies.

Author Spotlight with Iain dickie.
Wargaming can be a very expensive hobby, but it needn't be. Iain Dickie shares some hints and tips on how to cut the cost of your gaming and get 'more bang for your buck'.

Iain Dickie, author of Wargaming on a Budget.

Where did your interest in wargaming originate from?
When I was about 13 years old my older brother started buying 1/32nd scale Revell plastic kits of Military Vehicles. I didn't have as much pocket money as him so I bought Airfix 1/72nd scale AVFs and figures. Inspired by a display in the toy shop window, of ACW figures fighting around a train, I spoke to the owner who suggested I bought Don Featherstone's book Wargames Wargames. I was reluctant at first because of the price, it was more than one week’s pocket money. I set up games with my younger brother and eventually joined the Society of Ancients at the age of 16 and through their journal met other gamers in Bournemouth and have now been gaming for nearly fifty years.
How did you find yourself writing a book about wargaming?
Pen and Sword commissioning editor, Philip Sidnell, e-mailed me about writing a book. We had a telephone conversation and he had this idea of wargaming on a budget. So, that was the brief and it stuck to the project as the title.
What are your top tips for wargaming on a budget?
• Get the table structure right. You need space to move around it and it needs to be stable.
• Match the figure scale and numbers of figures to your table size to make the games challenging.
• Contact other gamers for opponents and to borrow figures and share terrain and transport.
• Never use professionally-made figures, or parts of figures, as the basis of your own. This is pirating. Many manufacturers have secret ways of identifying their own work and will prosecute anyone found breaching their copyright.
Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
My current on-going project is running a Zulu War campaign for the local club. Like all these things it is growing like topsy and threatening to run into the Boer War.

Further Reading

Wargaming on a Budget
(Paperback - 176 pages)
ISBN: 9781848841154

by Iain Dickie
Only £14.99

Wargaming can be a very expensive hobby, but it needn't be. Iain Dickie, one of the best-known names in the hobby shares dozens of hints and tips on how to cut the cost of your gaming and get 'more bang for your buck'. He offers sound practical advice on buying and building your armies (should you opt for metal, plastic, or even card, and in which scale?), gaming tables, terrain, buildings and even storage solutions. As well as purely financial constraints, Iain Dickie also recognizes the fact that available space…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

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