Basing and Base Sizes

I am sure I am not alone when I cry out in wailing consternation and a great gnashing of teeth over the ordeal of basing and organizing wargaming armies.  Every game system tends to use different standards for basing, and trying to stay 'generic' is challenging to say the least.  If you don't pontification about wargaming minutiae, it is best to leave now.  I am an over-educated physics major.  That means literature is not my forte, but weird details are....

When I first started wargaming, I was a big proponent of base removal.  Over time, however, I found this unit attrition model less appealing.  Conceptually, the idea does not adequately reflect the realities of warfare above the skirmish level.  Most unit simply did not remain effective long enough for the level of attrition we are modeling.  In the horse and musket era we see evidence of units pouring volley's toward each other with very little effect.  (Grossman's book "On Killing"  addresses this issue quite closely)  Most casualties seem to occur during the route and pursuit phase, after a unit has broken from combat.

For another example, according to the Field Artillery (FM 6-71: Fire Support Planning), we define the affects of fire on a target in terms of Neutralization, Suppression and Destruction.  Neutralization means "damage of 10% or more to a target" and Destruction  "equates to 30 percent casualties"  The consideration then is that 30% casualties makes it very unlikely that a unit can further influence the fight.

So what is all this high-minded fluff on about?  Basically, I struggle with finding the right "look" for my wargame armies.  I have done individual bases, multi stand units and single unit stands over the years.

Years ago, a friend re-based his Napoleonic units from 4 figs  per 3/4" x 1" stand to 6 figs per 1.5" square.  I thought the units look much better, less crowded and were easier to move on the table.  (Others seemed to respond with grumbling something about  anatomy, nails, tree stumps and pushing...)   I decided to copy his idea for all of my Samurai figures.  The four stand unit seemed ideal as it allowed me to still reflect different formations, while reducing the clumsiness of moving units.

Coming back into wargaming a few years ago, I found the Polemos' rules concept of 1 Base = 1 Regiment much more appealing.  Units were much more compact, and remained on the table until essentially rendered ineffective.  Visiting the same friend last year, I found he had taken the same route with with his 10mm and 15mm armies.  Feeling thus vindicated, I began reorganizing my ACW and War of 1812 models to boot.

The only problem now is the visual loss of appeal in the games.  I like the look of columns, attack columns and squares in the game.  I was tempted to base some of my 6mm Napoleonic French in attack columns rather than line, but thought it would cause confusion on the game board.  So how to address this problem?  As mentioned previously I can go to two stands per unit.

This allows me to reflect columns versus line, and square (if I turn one around).  There is, however the nagging annoyance of the colors (or colours for my British Regiments) being off-center.

So what to do?  My latest idea is to split the difference and base units on three stands each:  1 square and 2 rectangles like this:

This give the depth appearance for most movement, but also the ability to expand the line:

Form Column

Or even form square

This seems to be the best approach to meet my needs, until I come up with a different approach.....

As I rant about bases two other issues that have annoyed me over the years:

1.  Base Size.  Unless you collect and paint both sides for any era, you have to consider base size.  I still remember with some disgust a WFB player who based all of his minis on 20mm bases rather than 25mm bases so he could argue that he had more figures in base contact than his opponent in games.  (If you are reading this, you know who you are, and to summarize "...and the horse you rode in on.")  I have never come to a workable solution on this one, so I decided to just collect both sides for any engagement above Skirmish level.

2.  Figures per base.  I am a big proponent of "That looks right"  Figure density is based on my desire to paint figs, and what looks big enough to reflect the unit without being too crowded.  There are some rules where it really matters (Johnny Reb III immediately comes to mind), but I figure reasonable players can come to an agreement on how to represent this without resorting to forcing re-basing.  (In this case I define 'reasonable' as someone I am willing to play that game with.)  I have played games against people who abused this rule to pull an advantage and my response is "...and the horse the base size guy rode in on."


  1. Amen, Brother! One note I'll make regarding

    1 base = 1 regiment

    is that the frontage of a one stand regiment (let's say of two battalions) is nearly indistinguishable in line, attack column, and square. The frontage would be nearly the same in all three.

    In line, the two battalions could be deployed either adjacent or in tandem (depending upon base vs ground scale). Those same two battalions in attack column would fit into that same footprint with two columns at deployment distance of each other. With square, consider two battalions in square with a gap between the two equal to deployment distance. Of course, depth is not an issue because base depth has always been exaggerated beyond scale.

    Note: I am in neither of the camps described by rants (1) and (2)!

    1. I agree completely on frontage issue. I am speaking solely on the issue of appearance. I am not so concerned about representing formations Mechanically as I just like the look of the different formations. Purely eye candy....

      As for the rants I haven't seen guy #1 since 1996 and #2 since 1998. They are why I prefer historical games and avoid tournaments.

  2. My own basing scheme for (25mm) Napoleonics is in part an artifact of the very first figures I purchased way back in the late 1960's... having no artistic talent, my first armies were pre-painted flats from Kiel, West Germany... I still know the address b y heart, as well as the cost per box (DM 10,20 or a little under $3 at that time). Each box had 20 Infantry figures (one a mounted colonel), 10 Cavalry, or 2 guns and crew. Thus my units were made up with 6 bases of three for Infantry, four bases of 2 for cavalry, and 2 bases each of a gun and 3-5 crew for artillery. This had the happy coincidence of a stand = 1 company (for Infantry) or = 1 squadron (for cavalry) for mid wars French Napoleonic organization. After a period of re-basing for "Historical" organizations, I abandoned that folly, and returned to may earlier scheme, increasing the frontage just slightly from 1.5 to 1.75 inches.

    Ancients/Medieval?Renaissance were easier - used WRG "element" bases 60mm frontage starting back in 1974, four stands per unit. Done! Never changed, never will.

    Fortunately, most new rules sets are relatively basing independent. Bottom line - do what looks best to you!

    PS - Physics majors rock! took two years of it in college for fun; would have my second choice after Chemistry.

    1. Chemistry is just a specialized area in Physics. My greatest challenge is de-programming my Physics students after the Chemistry teacher gets a hold of them....

  3. For some reason I came back to this post 4+ years ago. Given that Chemistry is best summarized in one thought as the study of matter, and the relationship between matter an energy, I suppose your thesis is correct, but it a very specialized subset, LOL.
    One of the physics majors on our floor had a sign in his room reading "And the Lord said E = hc/λ, and there was Light".

    Having to defend the foundations of my own discipline, I responded with "And the Lord said [Schrodinger Wave Equation for Hydrogen, too complex to fit into a comment box], and it was good}. My nerdiness is a nearly congenital condition, LOL!

    1. My physics texts defines physical science as "The study of the interaction between matter and energy." By that definition I assume I am clear to teach anything I want to. Reality is after all comprised of matter, energy and nothing. (and nothing dominates)

  4. Basing depends on the game for me. As a general rule I use 6cm by 2/3/4 cm bases. It gives nice mass, display and story telling opportunity.
    What scale and models are those pike armed peasants at the top of the post? I've been looking for 6mm peasants for a long time.

    1. The peasants at the top are from the Baccus War of the Roses range: WOR08 Levy Spearmen


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