Saturday, 31 July 2010

2mm Napoleonics: Some Musings

I've been thinking for a while now about doing another 'large' scale project using 2mm miniatures, and in particular, with the bi-centenary of the Hundred Days campaign just a few years away, having a plunge into Napoleonics.
This is an era I have so far avoided, mainly due to the complexity and sheer scale of most combat, which would necessarily need a cast of thousands to do it justice.
Of course this should be a shoe-in playing to the greatest strengths of 1/900th, but for a number of reasons, which will I will be going into in this and future posts, I'm having some difficulties in pinning down a satisfactory balance between figure ratio, historical formations and numbers, and how to present them in a visually pleasing and meaningful way on the table top.

To start with, let's put down some context.
I am going to concentrate, I think, on the battle of Quatre Bras, rather than its more well known neighbour, firstly because I feel that the size of Waterloo itself is just too monstrous to take on, and also because I enjoy researching the underdog, shall we say, rather than the more well-known historical headliners.
I want to have generic brigade-sized formation bases, or at least ones that will depict multiple battalions (For the British-read regiments), very much in the spirit of rule sets like General de Brigade or, say, Polemos. No better illustration can be currently found on this, than in the work done over at Mike's Leadpile in 6mm, looking at the battle of Borodino:

I think what has been achieved there shows just how well a brigade base can be depicted, and of course not being able to replicate such quality work in the larger scales (not that my bank balance would stand it either), I've chosen to do a similar thing in 2mm.

I've been toying around with a number of possible base sizes, as well as how this would affect figure ratios, and this will be the first look at some of these ruminations.

First up, then, would be two battalions of a French regiment in their classic columns of attack, here side-by side on a 40x40mm base template:

Now using three of Irregular Miniatures' BG2, 24 men in three ranks, gives a fair visual representation of the typical formation, with a single strip of BG3 skirmishers out front as Voltigeurs, and a single BG12/13 command at the rear. If we are counting, then, that is 81 'figures' depicted on these blocks, with 162 on the whole base.
If we compare that to the First Brigade of Bachelu's Division at Quatre Bras, then this neatly fits with the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 3eme regiment de Ligne under Husson, which most sources place as historically having 1,196 men at the start of the campaign.
So we might be looking at a figure to man ratio of about 1:7 ish, but this is where the problems begin!
Unfortunately those real-world regiments have the annoying habit of fielding vastly varying numbers, and if we wish to be as accurate as possible in making a recreation of QB (as I shall call it from now on), then within the limitations of the base size, it becomes difficult to get a balanced formation - you could go really large on the size, and have plenty of room for bigger units, but then be left with acres of space on others, and moreover, how would this relate to possible gameplay, or a ground scale on the table top?

An illustration of this would be the 2eme Legere in Baduin's Brigade, which fielded four Battalions with a total of 2,377 - if employing the 40x40mm base standard above, you end up with a greater number of bases for ostensibly the same sized gaming formation.

This factor is compounded when you look at the orders of battle on the Allied side, where you can go from a formation size of over a thousand men for a Battalion in the British Guards' Brigades, down to as low as 482 in the Belgian 5eme Milice.
The 2/1st Guards under Maitland would need 140-odd figures, and therefore potentially multiple bases, whilst a similar 'Battalion' would only require 66.

This is where, and being such a fan of 2mm figures, I say this with a heavy heart, the limitations of Irregular's cast together blocks become apparent - adding varying numbers is difficult as you are operating within the boundaries of the 52, 26, 20, 16 man and so on blocks, and disparate blocks on a base looks a bit of mess, plus goes against the idea of hopefully showing a resemblance to the actual battlefield formations.

So, as we all know, an element of regretful compromise has to creep in (Calm down, Steel, this is Toy soldiers we're talking about!), and a move towards a generic 'shape' rather than ratioed 'size', begins to appear.

Perhaps the 2/1st Guards might appear like this on a 40x40mm base, albeit just a single Battalion, rather than the two of the French base above:

A nicely 'thin red line' BG33 fifty two man block is at the front, and this is backed by two BG14 twenty six man ones, and topped of by a command block as usual.
You would of course need two of these bases to represent Maitlands 1st Brigade, so it would be at odds with the French Brigade of, for instance, Baduin, that as a whole fielded 4,229 men in seven battalions against Maitland's 2087 in two; four bases versus half that number.
Of course, this is only right and proper, in that a larger formation would necessarily take up more ground and have more 'oomph' in reality, but this means for me that the idea of a generic 'Brigade' gets all out of whack in gaming terms.

A smaller Allied battalion might appear like this, but again would be taking up a whole 'regiment' base opposite the first French one in the pic at the top of the post, having only 580-odd troops to the French 1200:

If we were to completely even out the depiction of the Allied units, and rigidly enforce a two-Battalions to a base, perhaps two bases to a Brigade rule, we might end up with something like this:

Doesn't look too bad, but would completely ignore the accurate balance of forces on the day. I guess I am torn between the practical and the historical approach, much more so than in many other projects that I have attempted.

Light troops really begin to screw things around - here we might have the 340 men of the Feld Jager Corps in Kielmansegge's 1st Hanoverian Brigade:

Of course, their deployed nature might see fewer men occupying the same space of a larger unit of formed men, but then how would these balance with the historical 589 men of the 95th rifles, or the 672 of a Brunswick Avant-Garde Battalion?
Accurate means more bases, perhaps some with very few figure blocks or strips on, whilst generic would mean we have a spread of 3-600 figures shown by the same thing?

Artillery fares a little better in both possible ways, a quick and arbitrary "two guns equals one table top model" gives us a Foot Artillery battery of eight coming out thus, for instance, probably allowing a reasonable attempt at the best of both worlds:

Cavalry is also a simpler proposition, particularly if not worrying too much about fudging the numbers. The three Squadrons of the 8eme Cuirassiers in Guiton's Brigade would occupy an extended horse base of 60x30mm thusly:

Irregular's BG5 Close Order Cavalry strips give us fifty figures to represent the 427 men on the day, not so far off being pretty close to the 1:7 ratio mentioned above, whilst having the right look for a generic regiment of cavalry, I think.

Light cavalry however, begins to complicate things again, here squeezing the four Squadrons of the 6eme Chasseurs a Cheval in Huber's Brigade onto the same base size:

Again fifty figures, although we are wandering in terms of ratios, as we have a historical number of 560.....

So, I am currently tying myself up in knots at this very early stage of just thinking about how to form the historical units, let alone actually calculating the blocks required, and ordering and painting them!
Thankfully I have around five years to sort it all out in order to meet he centenary......

Lots to think about as to which way I might go with all of this, and the next post on this subject will see me looking at how larger base sizes might allow a more coherent depiction in putting on QB.

I should just say that the troop numbers quoted above are pulled from a number of sources, and are necessarily not sacrosanct; a fantastic online resource for the battle is the work done at the Waterloo Campaign in miniature Blog, which is a creative tour de force examining all aspects of working on this in miniature, with some amazingly useful uniform and OOB charts, well worth a look through in its entirety:

(Look for the Archive drop-down menu in the right hand column of the page, and start at the beginning)

TMP also has some useful (although sometimes rather heated) discussions available as well, principal amongst which is this one:


  1. I've just started with the same project. What I've done is put a 56 man block on a base for line, a square formation for square and 6 ranks for column. It's not realistic but it looks fine, is easy to determine what formation infantry are in and is a lot cheaper than putting several mismatched blocks on the same base. Granted it's not going to please people looking for absolute realism but if you just want to do a bit of square bashing it works well.

  2. Hi there, thanks for the comment - I'm definitely leaning in your direction - trying to chase all over the place to find the 'accurate' is probably a fool's errand - I think some form of generic combination of blocks will probably be best.

    I'm thinking about for large units starting with a pair of the BG33, and then for smaller ones, counting down from there, two 26 men, two 20 men, two 16 etc, but as you say, keeping the same blocks together on a base.

  3. Ain't basing grand? I'm with Diceheadgaming though, for my 18th C projects a unit will be a unit, with strength determined on the OOB not the table. Unit types will be shown by the Irregular bases chosen, but all of my units are expected to do multiple duties, so it may be a 300-man battalion in one battle and a 600-man battalion in another.

    The only other way to do it, which only works with some rules, is to have companies as the basic stand and the bigger it is the more companies it gets (I do this with a later 19th C project).

  4. @ CJR, you can say that again - it starts off as an interesting thought process as part of initial research, goes through varying stages of frustration, and if you're really unlucky, ends up with a result you are never quite satisfied with.....oh well!

    You make some good points there, though - I hadn't really factored in the idea of 'double duty', but it's a good thing - I'm definitely leaning towards the generic now, I think.

  5. Yeah, I'm still somewhat vaguely uneasy with my 18th C projects being scaled down by half from the rules, so what were 30mm bases are now 15mm (perfect for a single 2mm base). It saves a ton of table space, allows for really huge battles, is cost efficient (one army pack from Irregular provides infantry for 24 regiments), is time efficient, and works across a couple rulesets. But I still think it'd look better with 30mm basewidths!

    I have a ECW/TYW project on paper (and in an Excel spreadsheet) trying to come up with a basing system that would work with a couple of rulesets and still allow some 2mm economy. I have the Excel file set for 1mm grids that I then try to draw the Irregular bases on in something approximating real formations, with some different strength classes (e.g. varying pike to shot ratios). I messed up the first take and haven't been able to get re-started on it.

  6. I often think the 'paper work' part of the hobby can see us tying ourselves up in knots, particularly if you are working on your own, outside of an existing Rules set and its conventions; that said, this is also something that gives you an excuse to indulge in the Hobby, even when away from your painting or gaming table: "What's that Boss?......Yeah, just working on those Excel spreadsheets." (Just don't tell him it's the basing calculations...... :-)

    As to ECW/TYW, I found combining the stand-alone Pike blocks with various others as shot gave a lot of flexibility, with varying ratios possible.

  7. being a long time wargamer I've always wanted to do a big battle that looks like a big battle so using 2mm I think is the way ahead.

    I'd be interested in finding out what rules you would use, I was thinking of using the Impetus Napoleonic mod as it concentrates on the unit as a whole and not the formation it's in

    But any other ideas you have I would gladly look into



  8. Hi Mike, yes, that's certainly the greatest strength of 2mm: armies that look like armies!

    I'm a great one for simple rulesets; for 2mm, I mostly use some modified versions of Horse, Foot and Guns or 2x2 Napoleonics, about which much can be found on the 2mm Yahoo Group, but I'm leaning in the direction of something a bit grander and more detailed for the future; I had been looking at Polemos - I've enjoyed Basic Impetus for 6mm Ancients, so I'll have to have a look at the Napoleonic version - thanks for the tip.

  9. Hi

    I am modelling the Battle of Waterloo with Irregular Miniatures models and my unit sizes are:
    KGL, British, and Hanoverian Infantry = 10 x BG39 20 Infantry in 2 ranks, 1 x BG13 Cavalry Brigade Command, 1 x BG37 Foot Command Group with Flag.
    Dutch-Belgian, French Light and Line Infantry = 6 x BG40 24 Infantry in 3 ranks, 1 x BG13 Cavalry Brigade Command, 1 x BG37 Foot Command Group with Flag.
    Prussian, Brunswick, Nassau and French Guard Infantry = 4 x BG42 30 Infantry in 3 ranks, 1 x BG13 Cavalry Brigade Command, 1 x BG37 Foot Command Group with Flag.
    Skirmishers = 2 BG3 per Line and Guard Infantry Battalions, 12 per Light and Jager Battalions.
    Artillery = 3 x BG6 Single Trail Artillery Gun and Limber, 3 x BG22 Ammunition Caisson for Horse Artillery but increase these quantities to 4 for Foot Artillery and for the British Horse Artillery I include 4 x BG8 Horses and Holders as some of the crew rode on horses.
    For all the nations Cavalry I have used 2 bases of cavalry per troop, 4 per squadron
    Light Dragoons, Hussars, Chasseurs, etc, = BG11 6 Loose Order Cavalry, 2 x BG12 Brigade Command with Guidon.
    Lancers, Chevaux-Legeres, Uhlans, = BG10 6 Lancers, 2 x BG12 Brigade Command with Guidon.
    All Heavy Cavalry, Curassiers, Dragoons, Empress Dragoons, Carabiniers, Scots Greys, Household Cavalry, Horse Grenadiers, Dragoon Guards etc = BG5 8 Close Order Cavalry, 2 x BG12 Brigade Command with Guidon.
    Supply Wagons = 3 per Division and one extra per Corps on all Nations, = BG9 Wagons x 1 per Division and 1 x extra for Corps.
    For Command Fifigures I have used a mixture of BG13 Cavalry Brigade Command and BG7 Divisional/Corps Command Group and I have used these to make up the exact amount of Officers and Aides as were at the battle.

    Hope this helps a little but I have found it does work and typically it works out to about 4 men per model man and artillery units are just halved.