Tuesday, January 04, 2022

New Player Advice: Play :: Both sides :: GO DEEP

I have found myself answering a number of inquiries about getting into the hobby of miniatures and Napoleonic miniatures specifically.

The best advice I ever got was about 30 years ago:

The short version:

PLAY (lots of others games) before you choose your own to collect.

build BOTH SIDES of a smaller battle (that way you never have to find a partner - for at least that one battle)


Play in other peoples games, as much as possible and sample all sorts of scales (minis and battles) and rules systems BEFORE settling on what you want to do.

  I had not had this advice when I started out with Warhammer Fantasy Battles in the late 1980s.  I have none of these left in my collection.  I drifted about in fantasy stuff and some Star Wars Miniatures Battles in the 1990s (I still have much of that collection and have used the rules most recently in an ECW setting: Stoke Lane) It was in the later 90s that I got the advice and applied it while doing some games with the Trumpeter game club in Burnaby, along with basements from North Vancouver to Coquitlam.  I discovered much more about the games and the history of the groups and players during this time. 
   Along with 'play' I would advise to pay attention to the other parts needed for so many game systems, the terrain, the storage space and related costs and needs that these have.  For some this is why 6mm scale is so popular, you can get so many variations of buildings and other parts, plus the storage needs are very small.
   For me, it was during the play (with others minis and systems) time that I discovered that I did not want to collect WWII, it was popular, it had much support, I also had Squad Leader series of games and played the Panzer Blitz and Leader from Avalon Hill.  So I already knew that I did not want to collect more of these models in any scale - the cardboard chits were already enough and I had difficulty finding players for it (only needed 20 mins to get into a game) and the minis take hours to get ready and I never finished a game - even with many players in the game they always came to a conclusion far faster than anticipated or would be a draw no matter what anyone did.  I have this past year sold my entire Squad Leader game collection (many with unpunched counters) because there's a number of cyberboard systems I can use to play if I wanted to.  Still not easy to find any players.

The whole Squad Leader collection as sold in 2021

   My Star Wars minis also started to spend more time in the box than out.
the Star Wars collection found new life as chess sets

  I had found historical minis.  At first it was 15mm Rise of Rome, for De Bellis Antiquitatis, then some 7 Years War and finally Napoleonic.  I was a grognard.
some of my early 15mm efforts

Put together BOTH SIDES of at least one small battle for your game system.
Okay so now you have chosen an era, be it WWII, 7 Years War, Star Wars or Napoleonic.  Next is to pick a scale.  There are loads of them, from tiny little 2mm and 6mm (which work very much like cardboard counters or wooden blocks from a Kriegspiel) to the more common 15mm, (there are plastics that have come out in a strange 13.4mm - which do not work with either the 10mm or the 15mm) and the very common 25/28mm - on to the 32mm or 38mm (heroic scale) and still larger ones in things like 42mm or 78mm (I have a few of the larger ones of characters like Bonaparte, Blucher, and Poinatowski). 
  Scale?!?  Yes, good idea to pick one to start with.  The choice could be influenced by factors such as your budget (for the minis and terrain and storage) or your preference (of what you want to command) or by the first rules-set you want to use for your games.  Just too many factors to list really, so I'll keep it to my own factors and when you are 'playing' in those games with the others minis, ask lots of questions, keep notes.

  My principle factor which settled me on the 25/28mm scale was 'could I get a mold of this'?  Yes I cast most of my own toy soldiers, so if I could get a mold of most of the troop types that I could cast in white metal (lead, tin & antimony alloys) then I had a winner.  I found Prince August Molds, then on eBay I found an entire set of molds, a melter and metal.  Boom, done.  I was hooked.  The 25/28mm scale is also filled with loads of options, meaning I could start cutting apart other models and make my own masters for making my own molds.
  The bonus of this scale is that it is also fairly popular with collectors, so I have been able to sell off some of my models, fully painted, to pay for the hobby.  Essentially - from a funds perspective - I have not spent anything I did not first earn from sales.  The time is still put in.  The raw materials I have to find (metal & RTV rubber).  The money to get them and the materials, have come from the hobby itself.  Indeed the rent has been paid on occasion during a rough patch.

Current collection Austrians - replaced in 2014
after the earlier collection sale in 2010

    For me the other factor was the rules set, SHAKO (1st edition), which had systems for 15mm or 25mm ready to go.  I also liked Napoleon's Battles, which was mainly for 15mm, yet that system needed so many more minis to get into a battle that it was just not likely a starting point for me.  Besides, I knew of many players with more-or-less complete collections (HA! so I thought at the time) where I could go an get in a game or two of Napoleon's Battles.

   Okay, so BOTH SIDES, why?   I have always advocated this as the challenge of finding a game player willing to partner with you and 'do the other side' of a battle has always been a near impossible task.  Better to have a small(ish) battle and have all the parts needed to put it on the tabletop than to only have 1/2 of it and always be looking to find a new partner - wait 'new'?  Yes new.  Far too often a project would be started (I did Saxons for 7 Years War) and the minis got on the tabletop 3 times in a two year period.  Then the others moved on to WWII stuff and the 7YW project was dropped.  There I was was four battalions and a horse squadron, nothing else from the period or scale.  Nope. Never doing that again.  Either I do a full battle worth or not at all. 

   Now this little battle can be a sword duel (so you need two (2) minis!) or it could be a ship-to-ship encounter (so you need two ships (and crews like my pirates!)).  Any way to look at it - the main deal is keep it small to start with and build on what you have.

  So for SHAKO, to start with, this was a force of French (most of which I still have) of 4 battalions, a gun and crew and a squadron of horse.  Then I did some Russians.  Then I started playing.

   Then I was introduced to the blogging activity and most of the rest can be found in the pages here, starting back in 2006.
Dive deep! Go for whole campaigns, or set up scale of battles like 1:3 (where one mini = three men) and run something like the farmhouse at Waterloo (some guys did this 5 years ago) while I chose starting in 2003 to follow the 200th anniversary of the Napoleonic battles, with stand out performances in Eylau (2007) and Maloyaroslavets (2012); only missed 2009 in Essling and Wagram due to lack of players.

  Other 'dive deep' I have done, almost from the start, was the metal base stands and magnets I use for my miniatures.  I discovered, during my 'play days', that many gamers re-base their mini collections from time to time, depending on the rules systems that are popular or being used at the time.  It took months to re-do all that work, yet for these players it 'seemed' to be worth it.  They would complain (grognards and all) and still they would do the work.  I had no plans to ever have to do that.  Moreover I wanted my collection to work on game systems that I had not even encountered (nor had they been even written) yet!

   For now my dive deep is going to switch to details of the battlefield, new forests and hedgerows are planned and a new set of covers for my metal base stands (no more paper ones - only furry cloth).

   The blogging world also helped with some deep dives, in the Campaign of Nations, and recent Campaign of Hundred Days games. 

start map for Campaign of Nations from 2013

Okay all you grognards (you know who you are), what advice would you give someone newly starting out on this journey with the Grand ole Dame of Wargaming: Napoleonic Wargames?