Basing is one of those subjects that really gets us wargamers agitated, not so much
the actual mechanics of the cardboard glue etc. but the whole question of base sizes
and the distribution of figures thereon are points of much anguish. One of the things
I hear most is ' I’d love to use those rules but the base sizes are different and
I don't want to rebase my whole army'. The question is does it matter if they are?
Does the man/figure ratio really matter? Unless you examine what basing is intended
to address at the fundamental level these questions are going to remain unanswered.
This little article is intended to examine the whole subject and I hope to answer
a few fundamental questions.
Firstly and obviously we base the figures in order to enable us to move the figures
around on the tabletop in groups and units rather than as single figures.
Secondly we base the figures to establish a relationship between the real life unit
frontages and the chosen ground scale.
Thirdly base sizes and the number of figures are used to represent the units and
their formations that we are imitating.
So the first thing that has to be said is that it doesn't matter a dam if the base
sizes your using differ from those in a particular set of rules or that you use a
different number of figures to represent a unit. As you know what the differences
are ( i.e. your bases are 10% bigger or you have 20 figures to a unit when the rules
say you should have 10 ) you know how to compensate. So don't get tied into a particular
set of rules just because of basing. In the smaller scales in particular where the
firing calculations are done in units rather than by counting figures these matters
are even less important.
However lets return to the reasons why we base the figures. Lets start from basics.
I n the Napoleon period each infantryman was allotted a frontage of 21” ( cm), yep
really that tight! So a three rank company ( 120 men) would be approximately 25 yards
wide by 3 yards deep. On the common ground scale of 1mm=2 yards ( meter's) this would
give us a base size of 12.5 mm by 1.5 mm. At 20:1 ratio we would have to try fitting
6 figures onto this!
Obviously this isn't feasible if we are going to use a reasonable man to figure ratio
like 20;1 ( more on this subject later ) so we are going to have to make some allowance
for the figures. As in so many things in wargaming we have to ‘cartoon ‘ things a
little. Enlarging the base to make 6 figures fit we end up with a base 18mm wide
by 12 mm deep. Thus we end up with a base that is 45% bigger than strict adherence
to the ground scale would suggest. ( Try doing these calculations with your current
bases should yield some interesting results!)
Now if you base a battalion up like this and compare it with contemporary pictures
you can see that it represents reality rather well. It also reflects that units need
a certain amount of ‘space’ around them for them to maneuver effectively so when
we put units base to base in fact we are leaving them ( according to the ground scale)
This brings us to the vexed question of figure ratio’s. In the above example I’ve
assumed a 20:1 ratio why you might well ask? Simply to me its a matter of if things
look right they are more likely to play right. Higher ratio’s are always tempting,
makes armies quicker and easier to paint enabling you to refight Borodino on a 2’x4’
table in half an hour Esc but in my view what you save on one hand you lose with
Compare a French Battalion of 36 figures say with one of 12 figures. Which looks
more like the real thing? Which gives you the ability to detach elite companies or
adopt line or column and square? Surely the main reasons we use figures is the ‘look’
and also to get as close as possible to the ‘feel’ of the reality. Otherwise we might
as well just use counters!
Its certainly true that there is a difference between playing a Napoleonic game and
trying to learn about the period and tactics involved at a more involved level just
don't fall for the oft peddled line that a high man to figure ratio solves all your
problems. The further the unit scales, basing and figure ratio’s depart from reality,
the more abstract it becomes the more problems you will encounter. Afterall think
of the visual aspect That's why we use figures in the end.
In the end the choice of base size and figure ratios comes down to what you are comfortable
with and what you intend to achieve. Whatever those choices maybe, enjoy!