It was asked a few weeks ago how much the scale models of our wargames mattered, or if they detracted from the model which is the wargame itself. A good question, I think, and one to which I’ll try to give some sort of answer.
Firstly, we need to distinguish the models which are in a wargame.
Firstly, there are the toy soldiers and their equipment. As I’ve said before, these are scale models, and they look like an original, be that a Prussian Grenadier, a Roman legionary or a Sherman tank. Of course these scale models are something of an idealisation. For example, all our toy soldiers are the same height, and most of them are in pristine parade ground order. We should also note that the scale model is static here. These soldiers do not march or shoot by themselves, but stay put, doing nothing.
At the other end of the model set we have are the rules and wargamers. This is a dynamic model and a conceptual one to boot. On the face of it the model is just a few sentences printed on a page, but it is the dynamics of the concepts contained therein which cause, in the wargamer’s minds and intentional actions, a wargame to be fought.
Looked at from this point of view, the scale models are simply tokens, markers for location, type and potential of the wargame rule concepts of ‘troops’. The specifics of the marker are largely irrelevant. You could, if you wanted to, use a stand of Ancient British warriors for a company of Tiger tanks, as long as the stand behaved as a Tiger tank marker according to the rules.
There has to be a point of sensible interaction for these two, largely unlinked models. While we could use tribal foot as tanks, we do not, usually, so there has to be some actual point at which the two models have some effect on each other. I suspect that the point of interaction is on a third model, the wargames table.
The wargame table models, in some sense, the battlefield. As such, it is something of a static model, a scale model, at least for a given battle. However, its scale is different from that of the toy soldiers scale models. We have a concept given by the rules of ‘ground scale’, and this determines the size of the features and so on. This is, note, a rules model concept, made static in its concrete instantiation, but upon which our toy soldiers move.
Now, the rules hold sway, here, over the scale of the soldiers, although it is true that the soldiers can be used in another rule set with a different ground scale without, themselves, changing. In this sense, the toy soldiers (and their basing scheme) are invariant across rule sets, while the rules impose differing ground scales upon them.
Now, this throws up an interesting question: why do we worry so much as wargamers in getting the figures ‘right’, while in fact they are just tokens?
I think the answer here lies in the place where the scale model and the dynamic model meet. This is the minds and, more precisely, I think, the imaginations of the wargamers. Wargaming is not simply the setting up of models and letting them evolve using set rules and a bit of a randomising factor. A wargame involves the imaginations of those who play it.
The reason, I think, that these scale model tokens are important is because they aid the imagination. A stand of Ancient Britons cannot stand for a company of Tiger tanks because that causes our imagination (not to mention our logical faculties) significant difficulty. It might be OK for a play test of something (I seem to recall that Polemos ECW was originally developed using stands of ACW soldiers), but as a general rule, it simply does not work.
It would seem, then, that our imaginations need toy soldiers to work properly, at least for those of us who are miniature gamers. Board gaming is, I suspect, as such a different strategic level, and the level of abstraction is significantly higher, that the imagination does not really work that well. Can you imagine a divisional attack on a ten mile frontage? No, nor can I.
So, the original question was ‘do these tokens affect the game we play?’ or words to that effect. My original answer was that good figures cannot make a bad game good, and nor can bad figures make a good game bad, but I do think that the level of accuracy of our tokens as scale models aids our imagination and, as such, good figures enhance our enjoyment of the game.
I suppose the next question is ‘what makes for a good token (or, for that matter, a bad one)?’ Here, I suspect, a fair degree of agreement could be found. A good token is one which is appropriate to the troop type represented, has enough detail to show clearly that it is such a troop type, is not so fragile as to have bits broken off it is touched in normal wargame play, is nicely painted and based, and so on.
The first point, a figure that is appropriate to the troop type represented, is probably the most important. As mentioned above, this helps the imagination, stimulating appropriate responses to the difference in capability between say, a 20th Century rifleman and a medieval archer. That these two are different is indisputable, but it does help to have a little confirmation from the figure itself.
Overall, then, we have two, possibly three, interacting models: the scale models of the figures, the dynamic model of the wargame rules, and (possibly) the wargames table. All of these come together in the imagination of the player, and make for a decent wargame.