Saturday, 26 August 2017

How Big is Your Army?

Alas and alack, for I am the most unfortunate of wargamers. Actually, I suspect that is entirely untrue; the experience I am going to recount is probably familiar to many wargamers of some years standing, at least. It may even be a salutary lesson for us all. You never can tell.

Anyway, as those of you who have read recent bits of the blog may be aware, I have been considering a ‘late Tudor’ army. Indeed, I have done more than consider such an army. I have dug out some old figures and have started to rebase them in my ‘new’ basing scheme. By new I mean a scheme which I have been using for only just over twelve years. It is still new to me.

Those of you with really long and very obscure memories might recall the old ‘DBM-list’, which was run, if I recall correctly, from an email server in Stanford. It was quite a high volume list, and discussed the minutiae of DBM, like how to line up your troop bases to cause maximum disruption to the opposition and cause any recoils to become losses. I was never that interested in those sorts of tactics, but there was a lot of other interesting stuff as well.

In a rush of youthful enthusiasm I copied a map of Europe, digitised it (not easy in those days) and invited members of the DBM list to participate in an online, run by email campaign, entitled ‘1618-Something’. It was very, very simple with area movement and armies could ‘support’ each other. Each army was a one hundred point DBR army (newly, I think, released then). The first support army contributed an extra fifty points, the next twenty five and so on. There was also a possibility for a ‘train’, artillery, and a ‘siege train’, big guns for sieges. You will also realise now where the renaissance naval rules I posted a few weeks ago in a much ignored post came from. I had navies.

It was, of course, an excuse to generate battles and, as such, it worked quite nicely. There were a few issues. Some single area states were very vulnerable to being knocked out. I also came under pressure to extend the map eastwards to India, China and Japan. Fortunately it all fell apart before Africa and the Americas appeared. It became hard to get orders from people – some had life, some lost interest and so on. It lasted about 1 game year and 2 real life years.

There were some fun bits along the way, of course. Various South East European nations banded together in an anti-Russian alliance and continually lost to them. A battle in India had to be declared a draw because both commanders were killed by rocket fire in the same bound. A French fleet landed up isolated in the Baltic. A Russian battle was, I was assured, fought out on a table set up for a refight of Stalingrad. And so on.

Now, I am ambling towards a point here. As inventor, creator and umpire of the whole thing I decided I needed to have the correct armies to fight out any given battle that might arise. Thus I spent a considerable amount of time painting and basing any conceivable army from the DBR lists, including the obscure ones like North Africans and Vietnamese. Having done that, with a rush of blood to the head and more enthusiasm than either sense of than I can muster today, I proceeded to create armies for the whole of the DBR ‘period’, to a value of one hundred army points. If I recall correctly this was the DBR answer to DBA – Western European armies came out to be around 10 – 15 bases.

It is to this load of figures that I have turned to find some Tudors. Rest assured, I have located them and they are currently being based. But then enthusiasm crept in and I started to look at what I had found. Burmese elephants for example. Tibetans. Samurai. Manchu. And so on, and so on.

Now this has some problems. I do not recall what some of the troops are. I can recognise the most obvious, of course, but some of the, for example, Vietnamese, elude me. I am sure I knew what they were when I last used them. The second problem is that they are a bit jumbled up. I found bases of Swiss halberdiers in with Spanish jinites. My artillery seems to be distributed over a vast number of boxes, to the extent that I am still unsure how many falconets there are. But these are minor, compared to the big problem:

I want to rebase the lot.

Not only that, but I want to use them. I have a smaller table now, and I was never too comfortable with DBR as a rule set (I don’t know if version 2 is any better). There are, without putting too fine a point on it, huge numbers of, for example, Inca. Simply moving them is probably beyond my patience now (it remains to be seen whether rebasing them is beyond it, of course).

And that brings me, slowly, to the point. How many bases on a given size of table, make an army? The DBR answer was simple: 100 points worth. Depending on the value of the bases that could be anything from 10 to quite a few. DBA’s answer is also simple: 12. I did have a very nice Aztec DBA campaign on our coffee table once.

I tried thinking about force to space ratios, and how many bases would fit on my table. Nothing, however, really clicked. Then I recalled reading, a long time ago, that 12 was the maximum number of subunits a commander could realistically deal with. And so the decision was made, arbitrary as it is. An army consists of twelve bases. Given that I have already rebased about 25 bases of Tudors, an Elizabethan Civil War battle seems to be beckoning.


  1. Given this, how do you deal with historical scenarios where the imbalance of forces is important? Increase the bigger army or decrease the smaller army.

    Even your SPQR and ECW rules seem to propose bigger forces than this. Your ECW rules in particular require *lots* of horse...

    1. Well, I tend to deal with the abstract in most cases like the campaigns.

      And yes, the Polemos rule sets I have perpetrated propose 20 base armies, although my observation is that they do work with smaller numbers. 20 was only ever set to be a guide.

      historical scenarios I then to handle using 'Grant's rule', where the aim is to get the ratios of forces right. So you aim for, say, 2:3 infantry ratio from one side to the other, and a 8:1 cavalry ratio on one side. You then reduce it to the nearest base and hope for the best. I don't think there really is another way of dealing with history, at least on my basis.

      The ECW rules do require lost of horse, because horse was the decisive arm in the ECW and we made a decision, early on in the design process, to halve the number of equivalent men on a cavalry base, thus doubling the number of horse bases required. Otherwise, we found, the battles became infantry slogs with the cavalry not doing much, which was not what we read in history.

    2. That's interesting, did you use two bases of horse were equivalent to one base of foot? I think the rules as published suggest four bases of horse as equivalent to one of foot.

    3. I'm not sure I can remember what the original (and to be honest, published) ratios were, but I certainly recall deciding to double the number of bases of horse otherwise they were fairly ineffective after only a few play tests.

      Four may well be right - most armies of the era (and, in fact, many eras) were about 1:10 ratio of horse to foot (in numbers). ECW armies, particularly Royalist ones, tended to become more horse heavy (for assorted reasons) as the war progressed. Mind you, so did TYW armies, although the reasons seem to have been different.

      I shall have ot go and have a look at the rules...

  2. My armies tend to grow until such time as I run out of money or enthusiasm. But with regard to orders of battle I'm pretty ruthless - using whatever I have to hand and following "Grants Rule". The regiments themselves are sort of a repertory company - I use Swiss regiments because I like them and my Peninsular British are a collection of every Irish unit that ever served in that theatre.

    You do have to fight the urge to pile every toy soldier on the board through.

    1. It is interesting how we fix upon certain troops or regiments. My ECW Royalists all have a green coated regiment of horse and one of foot, for the Earl of Northampton's. Not that they were particuolarly good or effective or anything, but because I like them.

      Mind you, some Parliamentarian armies have purple coats. Brooke's regiment was more or less destroyed by the end of 1642, and no-one else had (or, probably, could afford) purple coats...

      But I am still basing far too many soliders for the size of forces and size of table I have. Is there a therapy for this?

  3. Great post as always. Maybe the answer is in your question. "What is the best force to space ratio?"
    If you have a 24" square table, how many square inches of bases do you want to have?

    1. I'm not sure I can answer even that question. Maybe a quarter to a third? Does it depend on period? I can imagine far fewer in a modern period wargame than in Napoleonic.

  4. I should have said - great post. I wonder if Phil Barker had heard of that 12 subunits rule or if he chanced upon the same thing.

    In my dreams, I would like rules writers to really take on board this idea that having lots and lots of units really doesn't improve the game. Different games set at different levels of command would be much better.

    1. I have a similar dream, and Polemos: SPQR is a partial realisation of it, at army command level. i tried to be quite strict, but still think the wargamer has too much influence over units.

      I'll have another go sometime.