Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Do’s & Don’ts

Life is hard. I recently blogged about the Little Wars TV-review methodology, and pointed to apparent mistakes in their rating system. Although I praised the show, I really love their intelligent chat, a few commenters on facebook tore me to pieces. I was writing bullshit. How dare I? Clickbait! Etc. Well – that’s Facebook dynamics.

But I made a promise in my blog: to devise a review system and write one or more reviews that are logical, sharp, honest (objective is not the word) and informative. Here are my first thoughts, after consulting BGG and other sources.

Do’s and don’ts

1) The review should make comparisons. Why is Chain of Command better or worse than Bolt Action? A reviewer must play several games before reviewing – I set the bar at five at least. Too many reviewers just open the box and write how they like their new toys . They are very happy to share their positive opinion of a new system they bought, or give a general impression after just one game.

2) The review should be totally independent. Several bloggers that I follow receive a game for free from the publisher. They are fair and disclose that. However, those reviews still risk being subconsciously too positive (after all, it’s a gift), focusing on first impressions and whats-in-the-box-articles. Often these blogs lack price and system comparisons. I will pay for games myself, with my own hard-earned money. Or borrow the rules and test them thoroughly.

3) The reviewer should play and review the market leader. In SF for example, the market leader is 40K. That’s a truth that I hold self evident. Thus, not all SF games are created equal. 40K is in many aspects the benchmark of the SF-genre. Is any other scifi-game that I want to review in comparison faster to learn than 40K? How is the art compared to GW art? What’s the price of the model? Game mechanics?

Ditto with Flames of War – Flames of War might be good, or bad, but only in comparison with lesser known games like Spearhead, and not “because I read in many blogs about the car park rules and that Germans always win”.

4) Don’t review only the games that you like. Reviews are personal opinions. I might not like game X because it’s simple IGOUGO. I might like game Y because it isn’t. Readers of the review should know my taste, the anchors that I use. The games that I review negatively are such anchors. A good review contains links to similar (own) reviews.

5) A review should be well-researched. Not only my own opinion matters, but also the opinion of others. A quality review links and mentions how blogger X and Y rated the game, and why, and why I think the same or different.

6) Mechanics, in particular dice mechanics, should be discussed in the blog. I don’t mean to say that all reviews should contain a ‘full chapter’ about boring dice statistics. But if a certain mechanic results in a lot of dice rolling without much effect, then that should be mentioned.

For example: the popular Black Powder series has a Command Value test with two dice. Researching dice statistics with two dice, I discovered that the outcomes are not equally spread. So the question rises: is this procedure, played this way, a ‘good’ procedure?

7) The reviewer should bear in mind what the goal of the design/ designer is. The GW games were from the moment of creation a marketing tool to sell more fantasy miniatures to hobbyists. 40K and WHFB/AoS are collectible miniature games: every month more miniatures with more special powers are added that you need to collect to remain competitive in the miniature tournament scene. Same with X-Wing. Same with Warmachine. Same with the Collectible Card Game Magic the Gathering. Every few years the rules need a reboot to counter minmaxing and to clean up the mess with all the special rules and powers created for the earlier miniature waves.

Many reviewers blame companies for this policy, but that’s how capitalism works. So don’t review Age of Sigmar badly solely because it replaced the WHFB universe. Check if it attains it’s desired goal, simple fastplay in a fantasy world where there is only war. Don’t blame Warmaster/Black Powder-influenced rulesets for not being able to move your wing. The designers believe that this mechanic reflects friction and miscommunication in battles. Does this design exaggerates historicial friction? That’s the only relevant question when reviewing. Same with target group: if a game is designed for advanced wargamers, the more snobbish ones, then don’t blame the rules for not being fastplay.

8) The reviewer should abstain from simple rating systems, 1-10, three or five stars etc. Commercial games are often average to good, but maybe not my taste. I think all rating systems simplify the small difference between average, above average and ‘quite good’ too much. The LWTV-vlogs with their ratings clearly suffer that problem. Besides, I believe that thorough rule reviews should be written, not vod- or podcasted, that’s superficial chat – always. Video is about pictures, not about depth.

9) A thorough review should be balanced and based on many aspects of the game, not on a few defining ones. Often a game is rated as ‘good’ by bloggers/vloggers because it’s a boxed set with beautiful figures, or the rules are reviewed positively because reviewer regards them as innovative. I have doubts about that approach.

Try to compare, for example, David Ensteness’ Et Sans Resultat! and Sam Mustafa’s Blücher, both corps level Napoleonic games. I play Blücher and it’s an excellent game, concise, not too expensive. ESR (that I will try at some point) is said to be slower and more expensive, but – author Ensteness is playing in a different league. Mustafa joyfully writes a new ruleset every two years, sold as cheap PDFs. Ensteness is Flames of Warring Napoleonics: one period, and he’s marketing a full package including 10mm figures, battlepacks, relatively expensive but well-researched illustrated supplements, and scenery.

So what is better? Mustafa sells a relatively complete ruleset with rules for pick-up campaigns and pick-up battles. Ensteness sells beautiful books with detailed historical orders of battle, uniform painting guides included.

Same with Ancients. DBA was back in the nineties a very innovative system. What is better: fastplay tournament DBA in formal English with very simple illustrations, or the nicely illustrated and well-written hardcover Hail Caesar book made by and published for beer-and-pretzel-gamers?

10) A thorough reviewer compares games with the help of a topic list and standard situations., like, but not limited to, attacking a hill, defending against superior numbers, crossing difficult terrain while charging, attack from behind, etc. The Heretical Gaming blogger played the same Mons Graupius battle with three different rulesets. That’s what’s I call quality.

I still have to devise the topic list. Clarity of the rules of course, but also the consistency of the dice mechanics.

I know it sounds ambitious. I’m a lawyer IRL, and some of my concepts are derived from my law background – what’s the goal of the law, what do other lawyers think, is it an effective rule? I might be forced to compare a few more rulebooks than my usual range and play many more games than just two if I follow my own review rules. Well, Brutus says I am ambitious – and Brutus is an honourable man.

I just hope that I will live long and prosper!

Earlier thoughts in my ongoing review project: Part I here, part II here, part III here, part IV here.

I Finished A Self Portrait!

I visited Paris during my summer holiday and found a 30mm 9-euro bust that could have been a mirror image of my masculine facial features.

Incredible. Everywhere. How did France know that I would visit Paris? They even had a big tomb for me, already! I hope they will not mistake me for that mediocre Corsican general who lost the sole battle he had to win.

Anyway, couldn’t resist speedpainting the souvenir – they tell me I’m a wargamer. A nice trophy for a club event or tournament.

I was even portrayed with my horse! Which will be a next project.

What LittleWarsTV is doing WRONG

I love the new vlog Little Wars TV. Compared to many other vlogs they’re doing most things right. They’re – apparently – independent; experienced; entertaining; and interested in history. Beasts Of War, now On TableTop, is totally the opposite: a marketing channel for kickstarters and the games industry, all reviews are positive, all vlogs are advertorials. However LWTV’s reviews are wrong.

Again, most aspects of LWTV reviews are quite right. The games they have reviewed are peer reviewed; they play a wargame more than once, with different players; they use a weighted rating system; and they give arguments for their opinions. Still their reviews lack structure and comparison. ‘Just being better’ than others is not good enough, not good enough is not right, not right is wrong. Sorry, my friends.

More precisely, they have broad categories, presentation, playability, mechanics, historical flavour and support, that they rate 1-10. Check their methodology, here

  • presentation is: is it looking good? – 10%
  • playability is: is it easy to learn, how few miniatures do you need, can you play it within 2-3 hours, are the rules clear? – 30%
  • mechanics is: are the mechanics innovative and not (too) random – 30%
  • historical flavour: are the tactics in line with the period: does it play as you expect: are the tactics well-researched? – 20%
  • is the rulesystem supported by a community and/or by the authors/company? Is the support free? – 10%

LWTV reviewed Chain of Command, Force on Force, Combat Patrol and Disposable Heroes II, all platoon level modern games. I wondered.

  • Why is the special command & control system of CoC and the randomized movement worse than the IGOUGO system and reaction system of FoF?
  • Why does FoF get very high marks for the hard-cover book, while the hard-cover is out of print? Why on the other hand is the presentation score of Disposable Heroes negatively influenced because of the fact that one of the reviewers just doesn’t like hardcover?
  • The reviewers complained that for FoF they had to consult a lot of rules over and over again, that the game lasted quite long and that some rules are very granular. Why is it playable?
  • Why is Combat Patrol Steves most favorite WW2 game, while he is jus as positive about FoF? And why is DH2 also his most favorite WW2 game?
  • Is the FoF system with different dice (beat a value with d4-d6-d8-d10-d12) superior to CoC D6-system with modifiers or Combat Patrols card drawing system? Is Combat Patrol innovative or just WW2-Magic the Gathering?
  • How often did the club play FoF? The vlodcast says twice a year, how many games did the reviewers play?
  • If innovation is influencing playability and mechanics, shouldn’t it be a separate category?
  • historical flavour is sometimes tactics, sometimes a ‘feel’, sometimes ‘the (limited) ability to coordinate your troops and sometimes a special mechanic. But then it should be a sub-part of mechanics, isn’t it?
  • Why is the Combat Patrol’s very mediocre website rated as good? Because the designer is a friendly guy trying hard?

In the end, the aggregated scores for the 4 games are:

  • CoC 69 (give it a try)
  • Disposable Heroes (written by one of the club members) 74 (highly recommended)
  • Force on Force 77 (highly recommended)
  • Combat Patron (70, highly recommended)

But the deviation is quite high. CoC is reviewed by 6 gamers and scores between 44 and 100. Disposable Heroes 2 is reviewed by just 3 gamers, scores 69, 70 and 84. The high 77 rating is too much influenced by reviewer Josh.

LWTV accentuates”innovation” but doesn’t say a word about the dice statistics and how they influence the game. Or the scale conversion. In many WW2 games the ranges are skewed to adjust them to the standard 6×4 table. Historically that’s nonsense. Is skewing a plus to playability? Or is it negative in the historical flavour category?

As I see it, the ‘methodology’ is more a topic list with talking points in a logical order. I like the intelligent chat in the LWTV-vodcast about historical wargames and after each review I have a short impression of the game.

For a vodcast, the show is doing fine. I like how they are promoting the lesser known, original games and how this vodcast promotes the fun of the historical miniatures hobby. Oldfashioned roll to hit, roll to wound, roll for morale-games might however be more playable and better just because they follow the standard dice mechanics of wargaming..

So for serious reviews I think I prefer written blogs, like for example Deltavector that does a very good job. I’m exploring how to write an informative, professional wargame review, The LWTV-list is not bad but I hope to do it better myself, some day.

“I’m new in miniature wargaming; which ruleset/scale should I buy?”

A Wargamer’s Newbie Survival Guide

O no. Not again.

The problem is not that you’re a newbie, the problem is that when you start a facebook thread asking “I’m new in miniature wargaming, which ruleset/scale should I buy?” helpful veteran wargamers overwhelm you with suggestions. Try Black Powder! No, try Blücher! DBA in 15mm is FAN-TAS-TIC! And do you know quickplay Kings of War?

Soon, you cannot see the wood for the trees. So, here’s my simple step-by-step guide. A survival guide in reaction to the x-tiest Facebook or TMP-forum thread going nowhere.

1) It’s all about fun, not rules

First: welcome! Welcome in the miniature wargame scene! Wargaming is big fun, partly because of the hobby thing, the zen of painting small toy soldiers, partly because you have fun with other guys, with gaming, beer and banter. That automatically means that the ruleset you play is less important. The scale is unimportant, too. This is (to quote founding father Donald Featherstone) “a pastime – a hobby for played for enjoyment and amusement with a little leavening of brainpower as in chess, perhaps”. Not a pseudo-science with ‘best’ rules, or ‘best scales’.

It’s just like other games. Is bridge better than poker or chess? Difficult to say. Is computer bridge or solo poker or computer chess bigger fun than a game against real players in a local pub? (if you answer ‘yes’, on that last question, stop reading. Go back playing Total War. Grow up).

So, visit a club or a store. Find friends who you like to play with. Let others introduce you in the hobby. Start a school club or university club. Just buying rules and lot of lead is not rewarding. Social interaction with others, that’s what will reward you.

2) Ask yourself: which era do I like?

For some reason I like Napoleonics. Heroism, colourful uniforms, big battles. However, it’s not the only consideration. If my opponents would only play WW2, I would consider WW2 wargaming, and if they play ancients, an Ancient army would be my choice. Again, having an opponent is more important than having lots of lead in boxes in a shed in your backyard.

3) Think about Games Workshop games

Many ‘veteran’ gamers are ‘against’ Games Workshop because they blatantly ‘exploit’ the hobby and are incredibly expensive. Well… that’s sort of… true. GW is a company with chain of toy stores that commercially publishes rule books and promotes gaming to make you buy their own brand of SF- and fantasy miniatures and paints. Their goal is to make money. But they have a well thought-out concept. The shop crew will introduce you in the hobby, they have in-store gaming tables, good internet support, rules are simple, shop assistants will teach you these rules to make you an accomplice and possible opponents hang around in the store.

I’m too old to play with Space Marines or Orks against a 14-year old lad or a 20-year old 40K Win At All Costs-tournament player, but that’s more a generation thing than a GW antipathy. O, yes, I dislike most space and fantasy wargaming these days but I did a lot of fantasy role play with like-minded friends when I was 20. Good fun it was.

4) Think about X-Wing

I played it only once or twice, but for newbies, the game is great.

  • it’s a simple game, fastplay rules
  • it’s a miniature game with prepainted miniatures that you can play against 1 opponent on your kitchen table or a pub in less than an hour. Just like chess you will quickly find opponents
  • the Star Wars movie theme is nice, and for many game-minded people more inspiring than the real life battles of Alesia, Waterloo or The Bulge. Buy a box online and start playing.

5) Think about a board game with miniatures

In particular: dungeon crawlers. Dungeon crawlers have simple rules, standard scenario’s and unpainted miniatures. Try, for example, Star Wars Imperial Assault, Dungeon Saga, Descent or Conan. Excellent for a night with friends and beer and pretzels. In the meantime you can try out painting 28mm mini’s. See if you like it. Or hate it.

Other options: Command & Colours, a board wargame with wooden blocks (which can be replaced by miniatures): Memoir ’44, a WW2 quickplay battlefield board game with miniatures, Axis & Allies, a ‘light’ board wargame with miniatures, 2 or more players, much better than Risk.

6) Or think about a wargame with cards

Heroes of Normandie for example is a 1hr-WW2 boardgame with large card counters, and simple game mechanics that are very wargamish. If you like HoN you might like a miniature wargame as well. Besides, you can play HoN against your uncle, a good friend or bring it to a local boardgame club. And if you like the game and want to try miniature painting: the game can be played with 15mm miniatures on the cards as well

Blücher is a traditional Napoleonic wargame with the stats printed on playing cards. Order the cards and try the game on a green table cloth. If you like the gameplay and found an opponent, THEN buy miniatures. Check this blog.

7) How many miniatures do you want to paint? How much time do you have?

I truly enjoy large scale battles, but these battles are played with 300-600 15mm miniatures, or 1600 or more in 6mm. Quite an investment in time and money. I like painting more than watching television, so I have the time. If I had less time, I would consider the popular skirmish miniature games that you play with 30-50 28mm models and a few buildings on a table. The larger your battles are, the smaller the miniatures you buy. At least that’s how I see it. I play Renaissance and Ancients in 15mm, but Napoleonics and WW2 armored battles in 6mm. The large armies cost months to finish. I also painted a few 28mm WW2 platoons for skirmish games, a few evenings speedpainting and I was ready.

I never buy/paint just one side. Buy Orcs AND Dwarfs, Greeks AND Persians, French AND British, German AND Allied troops. Thus you can always invite anybody to play a game against you and test rules. Otherwise you’re dependent on that one and only single opponent.

8) Large or small scale? Single piece or multi-part? Boxed set or different vendors?

28mm is virtually the standard, so if you want opponents, a good choice of models and a simple paint job then buy 28mm. 28mm is more expensive than 20mm (1/72) plastics) but hardly anybody plays wargames with the soft plastic 1/72 Airfix models anymore.

Often 28mm hard plastic models are multi part: that involves glueing arms and heads or helmets to upper bodies and upper bodies to legs. Not too difficult. However, I would hate multi-part if I were a total newbie. I recommend the more expensive one piece white metal soldiers for skirmish games.

Also popular and good to start with is 15mm. I love 6mm, but I wouldn’t recommend it to a newbie who is just discovering a new pastime.

A boxed set can be a good investment. You get the rules, two opposing armies and scenery. If you don’t like it you sell the box for half the price.

9) What is your budget?

An important question which is somehow less important for the wargamers that I know. Anyway:

  • Every basic set (rules & two opposing armies), regardless of range, scale, era will cost you 75-100 pound/euro/dollar
  • Wargaming is never ‘cheap’. However, when you have the basic set, you can often buy extra models via kickstarters, ebay, bargains etc. 50-75ct per model is (anno 2018/2019) a very reasonable price
  • The bigger companies regularly update their rules and models to push you to buy more/other updated miniatures. Other rulesets are a short hype and are then followed by a new wargamer fashion. Next!
  • 1/72 (20mm) is cheap and has a good range, but is out of fashion

6mm is cheaper but you glue more on a base. For example a Baccus 6mm 4-fig strip is 36 eurocent. I glue 4 strips on a base = 1,14 . In fact about the same price as a single plastic 28mm model. 28mm cavalry and armor is much more expensive than their 6mm counterparts, but I game with many more bases in 6mm. So in the end it evens out.

10) Which miniature ruleset should I buy?

It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all.

But because you’re asking, I’ll give you an overview of the classics and some recommendable sets for newbies, not because I like them but with a rationale. Feel free to disagree.

  • in general: I was impressed by the 1hr wargames-book. Generic rules for all historic eras. Quickplay. Cheap. Generic scenarios included. For every possible scale, you can use 1/72 soft plastic or even use cards. Good start. Also playable as solo wargame (though less fun).
  • Ancients, medieval: sadly, good old DBA lost popularity, but the rules are as good and simple as chess. Fastplay. Army listst included in the book. Free scenario’s online. Many 15mm lead soldier companies sell boxed DBA-armies. About 50, one-piece, quick-to-paint 15mm miniatures per army (but good in other scales as well)
  • Medieval, 28mm: Lion Rampant is a very playable, light ruleset for 28mm skirmish (and other rulesets), 10 standard scenario’s included.
  • Renaissance: I can think of free rules. ‘For Parliament, King & Glory‘ or ‘Victory Without Quarter‘ – both free and quickplay. However, commercially available is The Pikeman’s Lament, a P&S adaptation of Lion Rampant, above, only 11 pound, simple skirmish, not too many miniatures, nice layout, excellent if you’re new to this hobby and this specific era.
  • Napoleonics: Sharp Practice, 28mm/15mm skirmish game, 40-60 miniatures per side. Large battles: Blücher, complete ruleset with army lists and campaigns. No need for miniatures. For different scales.
  • WW2: Bolt Action, skirmish, buy a starter set (be prepared to glue legs to bodies however): or a Flames of War 15mm starter set if you like larger battles. Both games have a large community of players and good support. Tank games: What A Tanker is a fastfun beer&pretzels game that can be played with 4-6 players and any tank on any scale. Good starter for those with old 1/72 tanks and some railway scenery in a box.
  • Fantasy and SF combat: although I value 15mm Hordes of the Things higher than Age of Sigmar and 40K, AoS and 40K have the unbeatable support of market leader GW. Recommendable other fun skirmish games: Dragon Rampant, Frostgrave, Songs of Blade and Heroes, Dropzone Commander.
  • Space Combat: X-Wing

What Not To Buy – As Newbie

  • Hail Caesar, Pike & Shotte, Black Powder 28mm. Too many models, a very large table needed. Not for newbies/starters
  • Kings of War Fantasy. Probably as good as Age of Sigmar, cheaper and more towards big battles. Starter boxes available. However, only buy this game if you have KoW-opponents and no GW shop nearby.
  • 9th Age. A fan version of 8th ed. Warhammer Fantasy Battles. Free. Tried and tested. Tournament/points rules. However, this fan community will probably whither away. Besides, very much a tournament game for veterans with a lot of models already.
  • Gates of Antares. Excellent game, Bolt Action in Space, but WH40K remains the market leader. Recommended if you want a diversion from Bolt Action or a more casual SF-game outside the grimdark GW scene. No problem to play it with GW models, btw.
  • Kings of War Historical. Fastplay fun mass battle rules. More ‘fantasy history’ than ‘historical wargaming’. Generic system with relatively big random factor. Good. Intended for bigger battles, and I regard that as a disadvantage for newbies. Try DBA in 15 or 28mm if you want a smaller, faster game, try Hail Caesar if you want something a little bit more specific, try Lion Rampant if you want a 28mm fun skirmish game.
  • A Rapid Fire Boxed set (although with pain in my heart). The boxed set is a great deal! The rules are simple and effective and I’m a big fan of their scenario books. However their hardplastic 20mm is incompatible with 1/72 AND incompatible with 25/28mm. FoW 15mm is then a better investment, try to buy the RF rules second hand however.

The Good, Bad And The Ugly: A Painting Guide For Mech and Starship Wargamers

What are the correct Martian, Rebel, or X’thingion uniform and spaceship colours in the 25th century? The bad answer: we don’t know. The only right answer: if you research movies and the internet, good suggestions will pop up. SF colour guides follow strict codes and conventions. Below 1) a summary of familiar colour palettes combined with 2) an updated colour wheel 3) practical painting tips. With links to inspirational pictures.

It’s a generic painting guide for 6-15mm, although I wrote it as preparation for my own Dropzone Commander project. I will soon publish a Dropzone Painting Guide as follow-up.

Rule 1: Remember, SF follows archetypes

Yes, all spaceships and 3000 AD-tanks, including the form and the colour, are of course fantasy. The whole idea of explosions, sound and fire in empty space, 270 degrees below zero, no oxygen, is nonsense, (check this great video about the physics of space battles). And why would a spaceship need wings and an afterburner?

However, 50 years of comics and Hollywood movies have dictated the appearance of the archetypical SF cruiser, jet, tank, mech and walker. SF colours and patterns communicate: for example that a model is hi-tec or lo-tec; ‘human’ or ‘alien’; ‘good’ or ‘evil’; regular or pirate. Think. Why do the evil Tie-Fighters have big black shields while rebel fighters are represented as light grey, almost white, space jets with red lining – like medieval white knights? Why does black robed Darth Vader wear a WW2-German Stahlhelm? Your painted model will not convince if it doesn’t copy an archetype.

A catalog of 75 inspiring spaceship concept art can be found here.

Rule 2: silver, grey or black metallic are dominant

In the 1950’s the common image was the silver/ metallic flying saucer. Star Trek brought us space battleships in battleship grey, styled as flying saucers with delta wings and red lining. Star Wars was inspired by WW2 dogfight movies, thus featured jets with afterburners and wings (the Death Star trench run is a remake of the final scenes of WW2 movie ‘Dambusters’).

‘Evil’ hi-tec is often black metallic. Compare the Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the TIE-fighter and the black lined Cylon Raider from Battlestar Galactica. below.

Silver and black metallic radiate hi-tec, check the colours of your computer, phone, television and CD-player. Grey is a battleship colour common for space (battle)ships. White is NASA. Light grey with red lining is Star Trek and Star Wars. Often SF ground troops follow the same colour conventions.

Rule 3: Bright Colours For Manga, Transformers, 40K, Mech; Not For Classic SF

Bright blue, red and yellow are popular for GW toys and manga-inspired cyborgs. It’s fantasy, toyish, medieval knights in futuristic armour.

For the ‘classic SF’ like Dropzone Commander models I dislike this style, at least for human UCM and PHR. It might be excellent for large 15mm-28mm 40k models and Battletech mechs. If it looks like a transformer, walks like a transformer and talks like a transformer, paint it like a transformer! But if not…

UCM in red, found in cyberspace. How ugly. Sorry. The owner must have been influenced by Epic Armageddon, from GW, (below) which is definitely more cartoonishly sculpted than Dropzone Commander.

There is one exception to the rule and that is ‘rogues’. ‘Classic’ rogue and pirate battleships are often metallic with colourful parts, as a signal that they’re not ‘mainstream’ and not ‘uniform’, but ‘irregular’.

Resistance fleet

Rule 4: WW2 Camo Looks Fine, But…

Standard camo – olive drab or sand yellow basecoat or grey with a camo pattern – is a common painting choice in SF.

A Brigade Models 15mm SF Grav tank

It’s a perfect and very safe choice for semi-realistic ‘classic SF’ models. I’m not overenthousiastic, however. Standard camo may remove the futuristic look of a model, is difficult without airbrush and decreases the beautiful hard contours of a SF miniature, even more on small scales. If you go for it, try as a more creative, more contrasting, more ‘alien’ camouflage.

Brigade Models, 15mm. A nice two-tone contrasting camouflage pattern
Green Stuff Industries blog

Interesting variation: some hobbyists paint futuristic rectangular and square camouflage instead of standard cloudy stripes.

6inchmove blog

Notice how all painters above have accentuated the black lines between the panels of the models.

Rule 5: Superhero Colours Can Typecast Your SF Vehicles.

I’m a big fan of what I call the ‘superhero colour combinations’. When in doubt, I check this superhero colour theory link.

  • Strong heroes wear red and blue (Superman)
  • dazzling, energetic heroes red and yellow (Iron Man)
  • distant wise heroes / police types blue and yellow (Batman):
  • evil geniuses wear green/purple (Green Goblin);
  • dark clowny heroes purple/orange ;
  • true evil characters purple/orange/green/cold white – yes, The Joker, and Kingpin.

Grey and black give heroes and villains a darker, more gothic effect – compare classic Batman with modern Dark Knight-Batman. Earlier, I successfully used the superhero/villain palette for my Zombicide survivors and zombies.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor klingon spaceships
A Klingon spaceship. Orange, green, grey and purple

I also used it for my Scourge army. The Scourge are alien hi-tec bloodsuckers. Evil. My base colour for the dropships and vehicles is brown gold metallic – orange. I combined it with green – aha, evil. They didn’t look evil enough, so I added purple and white. Classic supervillain Joker/Kingpin. See below.

Scourge Dropship: almost a Klingon fighter, but upside down. Orange, green, white, purple.

Rule 5: Analogous Is Best For Mass Armies

I hadn’t painted fantasy / SF miniatures for a very long time so I needed to rediscover the painting style. I stumbled upon a helpful colour wheel from Sandwyrm. It’s helpful because it connects the colour wheel with Citadel colours.

I recommend to read his 3-part pictorial essay, with examples and comments. Summary:

  • Analogous colors are hues which are close together on the colour wheel. Miniatures painted in analogous colours often look fine. Analogous is the best way to communicate an intense feeling or unify a large number of elements like miniatures
  • Complementary colours occupy opposite positions on the color wheel. This is the best way of showing contrast, particularly if you paint most of your image or miniature with one color and some important detail with the other.
  • Besides a straight-up complement, artists will also contrast an analogous range of colors with a complement to that range.
  • If you highlight, add white. Because if you highlight analogous (purple with light blue as highlight, or orange with yellow as highlight, the result is less natural.
Here you see blue and cyan, two analogous colours, combined with complimentary red.
This Space Marine has the same colour palette as the Incredibles picture above: blue, cyan and red.

So, how many contrasting colours should you use for SF armies?

Not many Few. Try (mainly) metallics with analogous colours, maybe small parts in a contrasting (complementary) colour. I tried three-tone-palettes (orange/green/with too much purple for Scourge, blue-grey-red for UCM, but that was ugly. Somehow, too many or too bright colours on a small model are distracting. In SF-movies hi-tec planes and tanks never look like an African T-shirt. In the end, I limited the use of a (third) complimentary contrast colour to small parts of the model.

Paneling and analogous colours: a step-by-step-example

2002 Golden Demon winner Joe Wiedeman from Cincinatti published back in 2008 a spaceship tutorial instructable that I uncovered on TMP. The style was not suitable for my Dropzone dropships, but might be perfect for big space cruisers and battleships.

I noticed btw that in this example he is using analogous colours in the green spectrum, he accentuates panels and geometrical shapes. Thus, the spaceship has a ‘typical’ futuristic appearance and doesn’t resemble a mere WW2-in-space-plane. Thumbs up for his painting.

His step-by-step-pics below, from basecoat to finish:

Rule 6: Ink, Don’t Paint

I don’t believe in hypes so I don’t believe in GW Contrast Paint. Not as such. GW traditionally promoted painting on a black undercoat and sold their customers pigmented, opaque acrylic paint. They also sold inks. In 2019 they revived an old modelers technique known as ‘stain painting’, (diluted paint over a white undercoat) and introduced a new range of improved inks, the so-called Contrast Paints.

That said, I think that the fine lined 6-15mm models need very thin layers of paint. Thick paint eliminates the fine lines between the panels that are IMHO essential for the SF appearance. Even more with Dropzone, the models have very fine details. Thus I recommend to apply a thin light undercoat and a coloured wash – Contrast Paint.

But you don’t need Contrast Paint to contrastpaint. Instead of buying an expensive new range I use my old GW inks, and I bought Vallejo thinning medium to dilute my standard Army Painter and Vallejo paints. AP sells coloured washes btw with the same effect as Contrast Paint. Vallejo Model Colour is more transparent and fluid than Vallejo Game Colour or Army Painter.

In short: Contrast Paint is a good choice. Other options are available. Anyway, make sure that you ink the model and/or use very transparent colours.

Expert tip: I bought Vallejo metal medium. If you mix it with wash/ink, it will give a metallic look: chrome red, silver grey, etc.

Rule 7: Paint Reflecting Cockpits

All serious spaceships have serious reflecting cockpits. Blogger Four Realms of Chaos published a good 6-minute instructable on YouTube.

Rule 8: Never Forget The Plasma Effect

You better return to WW2-wargaming if you hate plasma guns because they are dangerous for humanity, bad for the environment or if you’re not able to paint plasma guns. But maybe read this easy tutorial here, first.

Rule 9: Buy decals

Decals on wings and tanks enhance the look of the miniature, and when camouflaged, even more so. Magister Militum sells WW2 aircraft and tank decals you can use. I bought SF Hammers Slammer decals from Brigade Models. Piranha sells Battletech decals.

Rule 10: Panels! Panels! Panels!

SF is all about blingbling, panels and contours. Extra lining, extra highlighting and extra contouring is advisable according to all instructables on the web. All painters in the instructables reline the panels with a dark wash and all advise to highlight the panels, instructable here. Dropzone suggests a nifty trick btw, to scratch off a little paint from the corners.

A Word About Dropzone Commander

I like large land battles in small scales. I play Napoleonic and WW2 in 6mm so 6mm SF seemed a logical choice. The 10mm DZC miniatures however are very well sculpted and I think that 10 (and 15mm) does more justice to the individual beauty of SF than tiny 6mm. The 50-pound (now OOP) 2-player set with 2 armies and cardboard scenery was a bargain and the boxed armies and discounted scenery sets still are. Not only for DZC, but for many available SF games, like Quadrant 13, Gruntz, Dirtside, Future War Commander or Dark Horizon.

Useful links

We Always Have Paris

How a wargaming dad spends his summer vacation with the kids? Very much like other, non-wargaming dads, of course. In swimming pools and cycling through forests with non-wargaming mum. Last week I took the 2 kids to a quick midweek holiday to Paris, wife had to work (somebody has to pay the holiday:-). Again, we did a lot of things non-wargaming dads do with their kids. Eiffel Tower. Ferris wheel. Montmartre.

BUT I couldn’t resist to go to the Napoleon tomb AND the War Museum. Of course. I lectured them about Austerlitz and Waterloo. Actually, they liked it! (or pretended to, they know their dad) 🙂

And what did I find in one of the innumerable souvenir shops, while my daughter was looking for an ‘I Love Paris’-T-shirt? An excellent ‘Napoleon Crossing The Alps’-statuette, not meant to be painted, but I will paint it like I was David himself nevertheless.

Great holiday! As my other favorite hero, Rick in my favorite movie Casablanca said: “We always have Paris”…

Beauty Contest! Waterloo Again, In 6 Different Scales

What is the best scale for Napoleonic wargaming? Looking for perfection, I compared wargame pictures of one famous Napoleonic battle, yes, THAT one, to check what was the most ‘beautiful’, ‘realistic’ Napoleonic scale. 28-20-15-10-6-2mm (healthier men than me google for nude pics of Hollywood actresses. I search for model soldiers. I’m a sad man.)

I thought I would conclude that my beloved 6mm would finish first. Actually it’s not that simple. Check below.

Real Waterloo

(wikipedia)
(wikipedia)
From the 1970 Waterloo movie

28mm Waterloo

Edinburgh Wargames,

Waterloo in 20mm – 1/72 Airfix

Hougoumont diorama, Royal Green Jackets Musem
Willy Smout, with his 1/72 diorama (De Morgen), 10x4meter in his basement
Airfix Waterloo diorama at the Royal Green Jackets museum

15mm Waterloo

The Wargamorium

Avon Napoleonic Fellowship

10mm Napoleonic

War Artisan (not Waterloo, couldn’t find a picture, but it gives an impression)

6mm Waterloo

Grymauch’s blog, Waterloo
Grymauchs blog, Waterloo

2mm Waterloo & Leipzig

The Dying Gaul
Forward March 2mm Leipzig
Mark Hornsby, Waterloo

Command & Colours Hexed Waterloo Board with Irregular 6mm

wargamehistory blog

Final judgment after comparison

28mm

The 28mm battlefield is a stunning view. Pictures and miniatures are excellent. Look below.

Penarth Wargames

The 28mm miniatures above are impressive. However, this goes with the assumption that 16-30 line infantry figures and 2-4 skirmishers represent 500-1000 real soldiers. Most Waterloo grand battles looked unconvincing to me. I have the impression that too many 28mm Waterloo wargames are nothing more than large phalanx battles with victory points Haye Sainte, Hougoumont, the ridge and Plancenoit. Correct me if I’m wrong.

For skirmish games like Sharp Practice 28mm is unbeatably beautiful, IMHO.

Amsterdam6shooters Sharp Practice game

20mm (1/72)

20mm/1/72 niniatures have better proportions. Compare the elegant cavalry below with the überfat bulky miniatures above.

Saddles & Sabres 1/72 blog
History in 1/72 Prussians at Waterloo diorama

The scale is popular for diorama’s. These are fantastic, btw, see above. The grand scale diorama’s are the best miniature porn I have ever seen.

I have doubts about the Waterloo wargame, though. Many 1/72 wargamers tend to use the same basing conventions as 28mm wargamers. So the unit size is the same. Often, gamers adjust movement and shooting ranges or place a few more miniatures on a base. I doubt if the 1/72 wargame battles with 16-24 figures look more convincing than 28mm battles with the same unit size. But 20mm with adjusted rates gives you more maneuvering space on the tabletop.

15mm

R Mark Davies

The 15mm games are really beautiful, I don’t know why you would play 28mm while 15mm is just as nice, good detail, easier painting… According to my sources on the internet 15mm gamers promote more miniatures per unit compared to 28mm and shorter ranges/distances, so you have more maneuvering space and more a mass battle feeling.

10mm

General de Brigade in 10mm

I started with 6mm when I was given a Baccus army as a present and never looked back. On second thought I must admit that 10mm is a splendid scale to represent a large battle while you still can see details. It might be even the best scale if you like a tactical Waterloo game with formation changes, squares, attack columns etc. Difficult to choose between 10 and 15mm.

Michael Cannon, 10mm

My beloved 6mm

Grymauchs blog again
Grymauch

A well-prepared 6mm tabletop, like above, gives me the proper mass battle feeling that Waterloo should have. Grymauch does a neat trick, he paid a lot of attention to his terrain. That’s the main lesson, the smaller the scale, the better the terrain should be. Compare his pictures with the dead view of a 6mm battle on a too empty board, below.

(Sorry Meeples & Miniatures, you did nothing wrong but others do it better)

Grymauch used 5-6 15x15mm bases per battalion = 30-36 cramped on 30x45mm. So visually, you have dense blocks on a small space and lots of room to maneuver on the tabletop.

And many bases and a lot of units to manage. As a consequence, Grymauch’s turns lasted relatively long IMHO, he wrote:

” I never actually timed how long each move phase took but I would guess on average it would be around 15-20 mins. When the Prussians had arrived it took longer but I doubt it ever exceeded 30 mins and that would have been moving a significant number. “

He was solo gaming. I played a 4-player Over the Hill yesterday against opponents, 6 bases per unit, and I grew impatient sometimes because 20-30 minutes waiting is slow.

So my personal conclusion is that very large 6mm battles like Waterloo should be played with dense blocks of units on relatively small unit bases and with an abundance of terrain. And preferably with ‘strategic’ or grand tactical rules instead of purely tactical rules with formation changes, because you otherwise lose track and lose gaming time managing the game/the grand battle. If your opponents have plenty of time, no problem. But I wouldn’t like it.

This looks fine, Meeples & Miniatures! Polemos units. I prefer even denser blocks, but that’s a matter of taste

So that’s my second lesson learned, the larger the battle, the quicker the rules should be. I would probably buy 15mm or 10mm if I preferred more tactical games and more detailed painting, but 6mm-players like me should stick to grand tactical rules like Blücher, Polemos and Volley and Bayonet.

2mm games

La Haye Sainte. Mark Hornsby

Hornsby describes the units in the picture as: “The troops you see are the (from left to right) 6 companies 1/95th Rifles (front), 6 companies 27th Dutch Jagers (rear), 6 companies 5th Dutch Militia, 6 companies 7th Belgian Line Infantry.”

I beg to differ, though. The miniatures are too small in my opinion, the bases look very similar. I don’t recognize te 1/95th Rifles. I see green pinheads. 2mm wargaming is landscaping, not miniature painting. Sorry.

Movement scales might be correct. Grand scale strategy, like pincher movements and central position, make a difference. In these aspects 2mm is superior.

Command & Colours

The C&C hex and blockgame gives us excellent game mechanics. With small miniatures it’s just slightly more imaginative than the block game. Here I miss the landscape. As a game it’s one of the best but it looks unattractive, it still looks like a board game.

So?

In the end love is in the eye of the beholder.

  • 28mm looks fine but subconciously gamers make great compromises if they play. Try a skirmish instead.
  • 1/72, 15mm and 10mm give a more convincing big battle look
  • 10 mm might be the best allround scale. You can zoom in to Plancenoit and play a tactical battle, or zoom out to the battlefield and play a corps game like Blücher. Just don’t bigbase them.
  • Densely packed 6mm units are best for grand tactical games (but let me immediately add that I had perfect 1/72 Blücher games)
  • 2mm and hexed board games represent the connection between strategy and tactics and don’t lopside ranges. Napoleon marched to Waterloo executing his favorite central position strategy, and lost because he split his army and had lost track of the Prussians. Capturing Hougoumont or not is just a footnote.