Saturday 7 October 2017

Bias and Scale Prejudice

I am, as most of you that read the blog will be aware, a 6 mm wargamer, on the whole. I do have a whole stack of 28 (or so) mm figures, bought at various times with various projects in mind, but mostly they remain even more unpainted than my 6 mm figures. This idea of a skirmish game sometimes appeals, and I also have a few figures suitable for ‘Flashing Blades’ should I ever decide to revive my solo role playing game career.

On occasion I also go to wargame shows. There, I sometimes stand behind the Baccus 6 mm stand and watch the punters. Some, perhaps most, do come in and look at the wares and are engaged in conversation by Mr. Berry, who usually manages to sell them something (he is very good at it). Nevertheless I do also stand there by the painted figures stand and listen to passing wargamers sneer or laugh at the 6 mm figures on display.

It has often puzzled me as to why this should be. I dare say that I have written about it before here. There are issues of ‘othering’ going on, for example. Non-conformists often land up the butt of ignorant sneering and, sadly, that is what seems to happen sometimes. There is, in wargaming as in everything else, a group think of conformity. Thirty-odd millimetre figures are the norm, that is where wargamers, perhaps, feel safe, and so on.

You might wonder what has provoked these comments. Mr Berry has an interesting post on the News section of the Baccus web site (Google for it like I had to) entitled ‘Historical Gaming – the Times They are a Changin’. It is not a rant about how unfair the 32 mm wargame world is to the rest of the hobby (although that might be a legitimate grumble) but a wonder as to why this should be the case. Hence this post, by way of a ‘good question, glad you asked…’ comment.

Now there are the normal comments about painting and unit recognition. They can easily be dismissed, of course. Anyone, of whatever eyesight, who can paint a 34 mm figure can paint 6 mm. It really is not difficult. Similarly, if you can identify a unit of any scale from 3 feet away, you can identify a base of 6 mm figures. There is an inherent bias, I think, that small figures must be difficult to paint. It just happens to be untrue.

Mr Berry identifies a further problem, in that the magazines show mostly 33 mm figures painted to the level that would not disgrace an art exhibition. This, it seems to be the case, is part of the prejudice which can build up in the hobby. 29 mm figures are the gold standard, the norm. It is compounded by the fact that they are relatively easy to photograph. 6 mm figures, at least on their own, are not that easy to take pictures of. Further, pictures can show up imperfections in painting that the eye does not see. So most articles are illustrated with 31 mm figures, whatever the original scale was suggested.

There have been some thoughtful replies from members of the editorial teams of various wargame magazines on the Baccus forum. These essentially make the arguments noted above. The magazines can, after all, only work with articles people send them and with pictures they can generate. It is a lot easier to create another picture with a few stock gendarmes in 30 mm than it is to photograph a 6 mm army from scratch. Further, I would submit that most articles submitted to a magazine is in a generic scale. Over the years the stuff I have submitted was worked out and play tested in 6 mm, and illustrated in the article in 35 mm. It is just the way it is.

Mr Berry wonders about the effect of all this on historical wargaming. The hobby, or this aspect of it, seems to be being reduced to skirmish games. This seems to be happening in two ways, in my view. Firstly, big battles (whatever they may be) are reduced in a historical wargame refight, to something that looks like a skirmish. Thus, as, I think, Peter Gilder commented many moons ago, Naseby can be refought with 100 figures on one side and 50 on the other. It just does not look like a big battle. But when the aspiration is to paint 29 mm figures to work of art standard, 150 figures is a fair old target and the temptation is to cut the numbers.

Secondly, there is much more focus on ‘real’ skirmishes. Campaigns are created around a few figures and their adventures. I have no problem with that, except that this is not the only way of wargaming. Big battles do have a different dynamic to skirmishes. But to create a big battle in 26 mm figures, and to make it look like a bit battle, is a very expensive and time consuming process. Thus imagined historically set skirmishes seem to be becoming another norm.

Now, I am not about to start bemoaning the terrible state of the world, the end of wargaming as we know it or any of these things. Everyone develops, over time, the wargaming that they are comfortable with, I imagine. If that is done with thought and care, who am I to sneer or ‘other’ them? It is not as though 6 mm figures are the only ones to be looked down upon by the 27 mm devotees – 42 mm, 54 mm and 15 mm also come in for some distain. But maybe those of us who do carry the flame for 32 mm figures might like to ponder exactly what form of wargaming they are advocating.

I am sure I have mentioned before a very nice 26 mm game I saw at a show. It looked like a lovely skirmish game was being conducted. It was a bit of a shock to discover that it was supposed to be the Battle of Lutzen (1632). It did not look like it is all I can really say.

Anyway, I don’t want anyone to get upset, call me a heretic or hurl any teddies out of their pram over this, but it is a bit of a conundrum to me. I wonder if anyone can throw any more light on the matter.


  1. I don't dispute any of the things you have written here.

    When I went from 15mm to 54mm in the 90's (without dropping down to "skirmish" sic games) I had to develop a rather thick skin, even when a small group of us staged convention games with several hundred 54mm figures to play small, historical, War of 1812 and AWI battles. (figure scale varying from 1:10 TO 1:20 iir) A larger but completely non-historical "Colonial" game drew even less negative comment.

    This topic may illustrate another reason that many wargame magazines are struggling though.

    I do know a few people sold on and enjoying the menu of small games with 28+8/4"s Heroically chubby figures on a dining room table as an evening's entertainment, and I can understand the pull towards small games in small spaces. These days I often go towards small games myself though in a different way (ie more abstraction and 'usually 'little' vintage 60's style 40mm figures, or plastic 1/72 ) . But I also know even more people doing games with many more figures for more traditional "battle" games both at home and at US conventions. Some 28mm, others in OS 25mm, 6,10,15, 20,40mm, semiflat homecast 40mm etc. Sometimes with howegrown rules though that seems to be more of a "grognard" thing.

    This sort of thing does not seem to get much glossy print attention though. Perhaps the biggest advertisers don't like it?

    Three sample blog battle reports in the UK & North America giving examples of people not following the "New Way" (no 6/10mm battles not through prejudice but one can only waste so much time on the web and none were on my reading list today)

    westerhope wargames Roman vs Celts game

    A Napoleonic game in New England
    Napoleonic game

    15mm Napoleonic in Nova Scotia (not my game but some of my old 15's are in there)

    1. I think that there are a number of issues with respect to magazines - readers, advertisers, equipment necessary to photograph different scales, availability of figures and terrain and so on. Each is a valid reason, it just starts to look like a conspiracy, I guess.

      I am sure that a 28-ish mm game skirmish or not, can be and usually is valid, although the idea of painting even 30 such figures appals me. I suppose further that there is the issue of what wargamers already have. My old 15's retired years ago and were replaced by 6 mm figures even before Baccus got going. That was due to lack of space, time and money (some things don't change). May gamers will already have invested heavily in 28 mm figures, terrain and things.

      It doesn't excuse ignorance and sneering, but there must be some inertia. But you do see a wide variety of games on blogs around, and not all of them are 28's. Thank you for the links.

  2. Interesting. Is it a real prejudice though, or is it perceived? All wargaming is a matter of perception, and if you are used to playing Waterloo with 2500 6mm figures, the scale you use will look right to you. If you are used to playing Waterloo with 150 28mm figures, that will look right to you. If you are used to 10,000 figures in 2mm, that will look best. If you were Napoleon, you would scoff at all of them!

    1. I suppose the issue I have is why anyone should sneer at what I do (or vice versa - I'm not above a bit of sneering). Pushing 6 mm figures around is wargaming, so is pushing 54 mm figures. I think it is the 'othering' that baffles me somewhat. why bother?

  3. I think what you are seeing is systemic privilege at work; 28mm privilege, if you will. The larger figures are internalised as normal by most people, so anything else will be judged based on how it compares to 28mm figures, and sneered at for not measuring up to those standards. The painting comments assume that one must paint 6mm figures in the same manner as 28mm figures, and so on. Perhaps 15mm figures have been sufficiently mainstream for long enough that they are no longer othered, while good quality 6mm figures are a comparatively recent phenomenon, and thus are still having to work harder to prove themselves than other sizes do.

    1. I'm old enough to remember 15 mm figures being accused of the same sorts of things that 6 mm are now.

      I think 'internalisation' is a good way of putting it. There are expectations and norms, and anyone who breaks them is fair game. I guess it happens in most walks of life - I vaguely support a very non-mainstream football (soccer) club and recall the sneers I got as a child / teenager.

    2. As someone who spent his early years attending Meadowbank Thistle games, I feel your pain.

  4. Over at 'Glorious Little Soldiers', Big Andy says that for a recent show he only took his 15mm ranges, 'because they outsell 25/28mm by two to one'. And yet the magazines show almost exclusively 28mm figures. It is indeed curious.

    1. A sort of difference between the public and private faces of wargaming?