I have, several times, mentioned that our toy soldiers are models (obviously), in fact, scale models of the real thing. Thus we expect our scaled down fusiliers to be carrying fusils, our grenadiers to be wearing something that, at least, bears a passing resemblance to grenadier uniform, an so on.
Usually, I have left it at that and moved on to something else. For example, I have considered before the implications of the mismatch between the scale of the scale models and the terrain and ground scale of the wargame itself. However, I think it might just be worth considering, even briefly, the implications of our scale models.
Now, obviously, there is a one to one match between a given scale model and a historical precedent. For example, a English Civil War musketeers is a representative of the genre, of which there were thousands wandering around Britain in the 1640’s. But can we push this a little further? Can we, for example, use our musketeers as a musketeer of the Thirty Years War?
In general, the answer is yes, we can and many do. European fashions of the seventeenth century were fairly standard. A jacket of some sort, breeches, a wide brimmed hat and so on were found pretty well everywhere from England to Bohemia, and so our musketeers finds himself being quite a versatile chap.
How far, though, can we push this? Could our musketeer represent a similarly armed man from 1550? Possibly, yes, although the fashions were a bit different. How about a musketeer from 1700? Probably not, as the tricorn hat was de rigeur by then.
However, I have also said that troops in a wargame are, in fact, tokens. They are tokens not as scale models of a specific troop type, but as troops in general. They do not, in fact, have the powers that the rules grant them by their own existence as, say, musketeers and pike men, but by the meanings which we, as wargamers, attribute to them as a consequence of those rules.
This seems to mean, then, that we could, for example, deploy a legion of Romans onto the table top and assign to them the properties of English Civil War musketeers. They are, after all, tokens. They would have the same properties as the ‘correct’ scale models, under the rules, and occupy the correct space for the functioning of the game. But we do not do this. In fact, there may even be out there some eyebrows twitching at the mere suggestion of it.
Therefore, while it is possible to wargame with simple tokens, mostly, as wargamers, we do not do so. And I suppose a question that arises from that is “why not?”
I confess, I do not have any terribly good or convincing answers to the question. As English Civil War musketeers and my legionaries as pikemen, I would probably get confused and have the pikemen firing volleys and the musketeers fending cavalry. But that seems to be something of a trivial reason for expending all this effort in sourcing figures, painting them and ensuring a degree of historical accuracy.
There is also another issue creeping in here, which is about exactly how transferrable our figures are. I imagine that everyone likes to have the right figure for the right job. Some troop types, like my musketeer, are more flexible than others, but how far can we push this? This has been raised on the Baccus forum. How many obscure troop types, or troops with very limited deployment does a manufacturer need to make before a range is deeded to be complete?
For the manufacturer, of course, there are cost implications. Why should they have to go to the expense and trouble a creating a new figure if, for example, only one company of the troops was ever deployed? They are unlikely ever to recoup the costs of creation by selling the troop code sufficiently widely.
This then loops back to questions of tokens and transferability. Some obscure troop types can be created by the wargamer by using a different paint job. The unforms are more or less the same, it is just that the specific troops wore shocking pink jackets, or something of that ilk. I doubt if most of us would quibble at that.
Then we can push a little further. How about those for whom the basic uniform is the same, but which need a little modification, such as a different hat? I seem to recall that Don Featherstone advocated making new hats out of plasticine and hardening them with nail varnish. Leaving aside any worries about acquiring nail varnish, would most of us accept such a model to be its historical prototype?
A lot here, it seems to me, depends on the confidence of the modeller. For example, I remember seeing, in wargames magazines, lances decorated with stripes rotating up the shaft. Is this historically accurate? I really have no idea, but it did look rather nice and, being on the front cover of the magazine, was being portrayed confidently as being historical.
But I do have my doubts. Such things may have been for the tournament, but as the lance was, pretty well, a one shot weapon on the battlefield, I do have doubts as to whether such fancy implements were used that often in real action. I might well be wrong, or simply too much of a modern utilitarian to understand, but I do have doubts here.
So, we can accept simple paint job conversions, and even minor adjustments to the gear of a scale model to model a different prototype. But how far can we go? How far before we say ‘this is wrong’? I am not sure that I know, of define it. To be sure, there is some effect of the confidence of the modeller, but what if we really cannot source a scale model, nor find something to convert into it? Do we simply give up on that unit, or use something else on the basis that they are all tokens anyway?