söndag 19 januari 2014

"Army Building"

I've been thinking a bit about "Army Building", by which I mean putting together a suitable force of miniatures for your favourite miniatures game. This may sound easy but may be rather complicated. Especially if you are changing from one game to another, but more about that later.

My first pet peeve is calling it an "army". Unless you are playing high-level divisional game where you maneuver around on a map of a continent, your force is not an army. I'm betting it's not even a company, although that one is more possible.

At the Swedish Warhammer scene another odd habit has crept up -- most tournament players are calling their force a "team" like they were playing soccer. Or Bloodbowl. What do they think war is, a game??? Well... um, ok then.
An ork "Battleforce" from Games Workshop -- more like a recon platoon in my book. 
Now that I have gotten that out of my system, let's take a look at some of the problems.

So Games Workshop is obviously the big elephant in the room here, with all the plethora of Army Books and Codexes (Codici?) detailing exactly what and how many figures you can have in your force. But historical games are also guilty of this. One serious offender is the venerable Rapid Fire -- a popular ruleset that has been out for more then 20 years now. RF transmogrifies the forces downwards with a factor of between 5 and 8. So a platoon of 40 men becomes eight, a platoon of five tanks becomes one model and so on. In this way they claim larger battles can be fought on the tabletop. It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that the rules treat the models as single men and vehicles, and a platoon consists of a leader figure, five riflemen and a machine gun team. That's not a platoon, that's a rifle squad!

A platoon of Adeptus Sororitas, judging by the power swords.
Other historical games feature bases of multiple models where a lot of information about the unit is represented in the size of the base and the number of figures on the base. No wonder historical players are talking about the dreaded "re-basing" like it was going to the dentist. And suddenly you are dependant on a rulebook telling you how to organise your miniatures.

But it doesn't have to be complicated. Just follow historical examples. Even if you are playing a fantasy game you can draw inspiration from history. Take Warhammer 40k for example. People often ask "what should I buy for my Ludicrous Chapter Awesome Marines(tm)". What they mean is "What are the best models or combination of models I can take." But sod that. What do you want to represent with your marines? A recon company? Support Company? Assault company? Then build that, leaning on historical examples. So an assault company would probably have armoured transports, not so heavy tanks, squads with hand-held AT weaponry and predominantly short-ranged automatic weapons. A bit like the soviet Tank Desant of WW2. Then designate one squad to be the AT squad, and so on.

Sure, you need to check the rulebook that your force is tournament legal and calculate the points cost if that's your bag. But for friendly games and deciding what miniatures to put in your army? No, the army book comes last. (I agree it's a bit harder for Tyranids, but hey, why not take a look at ants.)

Totally not codex approved paint job! And it's a wasp.
While on the subject of points I need to mention this. I heard from fellow blogger Benito that he saw a question by a player at a spanish gaming forum: "Can I use my 1000 point Bolt Action army for Chain of Command?" This may sound like a stupid question, but it really isn't. The problem with a lot of games -- and I'm looking at you Games Workshop -- is that they try to rope the players in to their system, their army lists. Each game has their own quirks and gimmicks. What the poor chap actually was wondering was if Chain of Command's army lists worked on a similar level and bases as Bolt Action. Both are "platoon level" games, but if you think about Rapid Fire then a platoon can be eight figures! Also some games might want to use large bases with multiple figures or odd sized bases. Games Workshop even specifies that you need round bases for Warhammer 40k and rectangular for Warhammer Fantasy, forcing Chaos Daemon players who wants to play both games to buy two copies of each model. But hey, GW includes both types of bases with their models, how kind of them.

Square bases...
...or round? They are the same models but GW doesn't want you to realise that.

A short answer to the question above is a resounding "Yes". But there's a caveat: Bolt Action's army lists are very loose, allowing players to more or less tailor their force to whatever strategy they think will work best in a tournament environment. (I've heard that since LMG's are not cost-effective most Bolt Action tournament "armies" feature more flame-throwers than machine guns!) To be honest the Bolt Action army lists let you build a historical force too, but they don't tell you how it's done. Chain of Command on the other hand gives you a basic platoon, mandatory, and then lets you choose the final support options. Like going for another light mortar or maybe an armoured car as support. Mike Whitaker at Trouble at T'Mill described it as "picking the last 500 points in a 2500 point army ... where the core army is already decided for you".

"500 pts British Army" Army? It's not even a full platoon!

But let's do an example. A 1000 point British army in Bolt Action could consist of the following:
  • Inexperienced 2nd lieutenant (35 pts)
  • Artillery FO (free)
  • A medic (30 pts)
  • Two inexperienced infantry sections, each 1 NCO and 4 riflemen. (2 x 35 pts).
  • A regular Sherman Firefly (305 pts)
  • A regular 17 pounder gun (40 pts)
  • A regular Flamethrower team (50pts)
  • A regular Medium Mortar team (50pts)
  • A regular PIAT team (40 pts)
  • A regular Machine Gun team (50pts)
  • A regular Sniper Team (50pts)
  • A regular Staghound Armoured Car (135 pts)
  • Two regular Vickers MMG carriers (2 x 70 pts)
That's not an army, but it isn't a platoon either. I don't know what it is, but it is tournament legal. What Bolt Action is trying to do is to cater an army list that lets you create what force you want, so the infantry sections can be bought at half strength to represent teams, because historically sections were broken down into teams. It can also represent platoons which has sustained some casualties since combat platoons seldom is at full strength. I get that. But a too open list is also open to abuse.

Chain of Command on the other hand forces you to take a basic, full strength platoon as the bulk of your "army". So lets see what that would be in Bolt Action terms. 
  • Regular 2nd lieutenant (50pts)
  • Regular platoon sergeant (10 pts): Note, in BA he is just an ordinary figure with no special rules.
  • A regular PIAT team (40 pts)
  • A regular Light Mortar team (35pts)
  • 3 regular infantry sections, each 1 NCO, 1 Bren Gun, 8 riflemen (3 x 120 pts)

As you can see, the proper historical platoon leaves 285 pts for other fun stuff you can have in your little army. So there is no good reason why you shouldn't build a historical platoon as the basis of your force, even in Bolt Action. And what's more important, if you do that you can use the same force in any other ruleset that uses historical force lists, getting twice the fun out of your figures. And this goes for any game, not just Bolt Action. In fact, building a historically correct force, ensures the maximum reusability of your miniatures regardless of the game scale. 

My old 20mm British desert rat platoon.
Case in point: In the picture above is a platoon of british 8th army "desert rats". I painted the figures over ten years ago for I ain't been shot mum, before I realised 20mm was not the best scale for this game. While my basing has evolved a little bit I could take this platoon out of it's box and use it straight away in either Chain of Command or Bolt Action, because it follows the historical make-up of four eight man squads. I might need one extra figure for the platoon sergeant, but that's it. It can also be reconfigured as a platoon of three ten man sections by dividing the fourth section riflemen among the first three sections. As an added bonus a the NCO could be used as the platoon sergeant, leaving only a lonely bren gunner unused.

But how do you know what a historical platoon looks like if your game of choice doesn't offer any advice? Simple. Go read some books, or just google it. The information is out there, readily available. The fun starts when you want to do a special unit that didn't fit the mold. 

So what are your thoughts on army building?

4 kommentarer:

  1. A good read, Though I cant add much as I dont play any of the games mentioned, I believe a lot of rules that have figure tie ins are made this way to simply sell more figures, and as war gamers we have a habit of abstracting numbers to make things work for our own games.

  2. Good post. I'm trying to get to grips with an accurate representation of the NZ 2nd Division in Italy from late '43 for Spearhead - their organization was quite different than the English, especially concerning their integration of armour. The research has been quite interesting.

  3. I agree completely on trying to build a basic force before adding in "the goodies". This is one of the reasons I have not gotten into 15mm scifi, as I would want to build the basic company first, before getting battalion/regimental/brigade/divisional support elements.

  4. I agree I find some 'armies' barely that - more like a skirmish force... it also irks me a bit when a single model is referred to as a "unit" as I often hear in reference to LOTR SBG 'armies'


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