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"Calculating ground and time scales in rules" Topic

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Warspite180708 Jan 2016 10:59 p.m. PST

Many (most) rules for the Ancient and Medieval wargame periods don't state the ground and time scales, and how these are related to the figure scales. Usually they just give base sizes, movement distances in cm, in. or 'units', and unspecified duration 'turns'. The scale of figures, as opposed to size, is also not mentioned, so there is no inkling as to how the figure scale distorts the ground scale. This is perhaps not important for most games, but if a historical battle is being played, and some terrain features are critical to the original commenters' decisions, reproducing them on the tabletop accurately becomes a distinct issue.

Not wanting to 'reinvent the wheel', I wonder if anyone had previously put together a method for identifying true ground and time scales in various sets of rules?

I had done so for one set, with the 'jump off' being the composite bow range in cm, which is a readily known measure in real life.

Thank you for all feedback.

(Will also post to the Middle Aged forum)

evilgong08 Jan 2016 11:49 p.m. PST

Bow range is the best starter tool, KH Rantz (sp) did this for a number of rules sets in a Slingshot a while back.

He showed that despite what(some) authors think their rules do have a ground scale, (or perhaps not the one they thought they have) and you can compute other scale from there.

You can sometimes work from the known frontages per man in ancient works to deduce a ground / troop scale.

Time scale is trickier without knowing the author's views on command inertia and scope of the game.


David F Brown

AussieAndy Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2016 12:04 a.m. PST

I qualify for the Middle Aged forum.

I have always found it annoying when rules don't give at least the ground scale. Even more annoying are scenario books that are advertised as suitable for all rule sets, but don't provide a ground scale.

In some cases, you may be able to ask the author directly or try the forum for a particular set of rules. If the rules come with historical scenarios, you can try measuring the distance between known points to try and approximate the ground scale, but that isn't going to work for many ancient and medieval battles, due to a lack of information on actual battlefield locations.

As to time scales, in most cases, they seem to be whatever you want them to be.

kodiakblair09 Jan 2016 12:16 a.m. PST

I game using 2mm and after much thought and many changes
settled on using the Cohort and Goldsworthy's idea of spacing.

Using 60mm wide x 15mm deep bases with 12 blocks of 20 gave 4.5ft x 7.5ft per man. I've kept those sizes as much as possible throughout different troop types,looser formation requires many more bases for equal numbers.

This way a 1.8m wide table top is 1 mile wide and a gap say 200m between forests can be a movement challenge. Ground scale,figure scale and figure ratio are all one.Haven't given much thought to time scale though,glaring error on my part.

It's not 100% accurate by any means but easier to my eye than over-sized figures navigating tiny terrain features.

Timmo uk09 Jan 2016 6:14 a.m. PST

I take the known factors like the frontage per man allowing for intervals if the units had them. Also by considering effective ranges you can usually work something that's reasonably accurate.

In doing this for H&M/Black Powder era games I generally find that the effective range of the smoothbore musket is far, far too long relative to the unit frontages used in the game. For example, a Napoleonic line battalion would typically hold it's fire until the enemy were closer than half the firing battalion's frontage away. If the rules have a flexible figure to man ratio then it follows that the ranges have to be variable as well.

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2016 7:25 a.m. PST

I personally don't care. When using the word "wargame", I place the emphasis on the "game". I'm not looking for hype-accurate historical simulations. I prefer a game with smooth-flowing rules, lovely terrain and minis, and good company. In short, I want the "feel" and "look"of the period, not an historical simulation/recreation.

But that's just me.

AussieAndy Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2016 8:14 a.m. PST

TKindred, I don't think that anyone was talking about hyper-accurate historical simulations. If, however, you are going to set up a table for an historical battle, then I think that it makes sense to have some idea of the ground scale. Each to their own, I guess.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP09 Jan 2016 8:22 a.m. PST

The problem you get when trying to nail down these scales is that they don't agree with each other. For example, let's say you calculate your ground scale is 1" = 50 yards and your turn is 10 minutes. At that scale a mounted unit should be easily able to move 75" in one turn.

nazrat09 Jan 2016 8:37 a.m. PST

Ground/time scales are nice to have but really completely unnecessary for me to enjoy a game system. I don't understand the "need" for them at all.

Timmo uk09 Jan 2016 9:34 a.m. PST

I think the ground scale/unit frontage/weapon range relationship needs to be right otherwise you have situations of guys armed with smooth bore muskets achieving hits at 300 yards or something equally silly. Then the game really is a game with no relationship to the period since the limited abilities or the fire control of those weapons isn't being modelled.

During some Napoleonic actions the ranges at which the first volley was fired was very close 20 40 yards and even less in some instances. Clearly if your unit occupies an 8 inch frontage for 600 men but the unit is allowed to fire 12" (as it looks about right with 28mm miniatures) then the whole relationship/game bears no reality to history. That's fine if that's what you want to do/play but then you can't claim the rule system or the game is Waterloo or any other historical battle since you have imported super weapons into it that never existed at the time. I know it's not the OP's period I've used as an example but the same is true for pre-gunpowder where weapon ranges are generally known, understood and broadly accepted. The principle is the same: you surely wouldn't fight Agincourt with long-bows firing effectively at say 2,000 yards.

Time and specific actions relative to elapsed time generally have to be considered elastic in a big battle game. I tend to feel games with limited unit activation model this better than straight forward IGOUGO systems in which everything moves in every turn.

PJ ONeill09 Jan 2016 9:47 a.m. PST

+1 Timmo

I agree that you don't need precise scales to have a good ruleset or enjoy a game, but when there are NO scales stated, it makes me think that the designer did not do his (her) homework.

Ivan DBA09 Jan 2016 10:26 a.m. PST

There is no need for an exact ground scale. It's a distraction in game design that adds nothing to a game. Sure, if you are refighting a specific historical battle, you do want your terrain to be in rough proportion to the units's frontage. But there's still no need to be exacting about. Real like terrain features, and their effects, are rarely as precisely defined in real life as in a game.

On top of that, historical refights are very much the exception in Ancients, not the rule.

MajorB09 Jan 2016 10:56 a.m. PST

On top of that, historical refights are very much the exception in Ancients, not the rule.

They are? Most of the ancients games I play are historical refights.

Hafen von Schlockenberg Inactive Member09 Jan 2016 11:58 a.m. PST

Much too lazy to dig it out for exact citation, but Pat Condray discussed the frontage/range problem in the Courier,back in the 80s,I think it was.

As an extreme example,he cited TSATF,where,if one man in open order occupies about one yard say an inch or so on the table, then the 24-inch range means a Martini Henry fires effectively 24 yards. Pat conceded that Larry Brom was "utterly indifferent" to such thinking.

Larry accepted the "compliment" in the next issue.

Personal logo Saber6 Supporting Member of TMP Fezian09 Jan 2016 12:00 p.m. PST

Ground and time scales also help in scenario design. Time allows you to figure when additional forces can arrive, distance lets you work the terrain. Unless you are doing man to man skirmish (house clearing) ground and figure scale will probably never match.

MajorB09 Jan 2016 1:34 p.m. PST

As an extreme example,he cited TSATF,where,if one man in open order occupies about one yard say an inch or so on the table, then the 24-inch range means a Martini Henry fires effectively 24 yards.

But one figure does not represent one man in TSATF.

Hafen von Schlockenberg Inactive Member09 Jan 2016 2:21 p.m. PST

It does in my copy--20 figures form a "platoon" sounds like 1 to 1 to me, anyway,though many,including me,often think in terms of companies. TSATF is flexible enough for either interpretation,which I think is the point--it really doesn't matter.

BTW,I'm having trouble finding the Middle Aged board. Sounds homey--I like to visit before I no longer qualify.

Or maybe there could be a "Crazy Old Coot" board?

MajorB09 Jan 2016 3:42 p.m. PST

It does in my copy--20 figures form a "platoon" sounds like 1 to 1 to me,

Since when did a platoon in the 19th century have only 20 men?

Hafen von Schlockenberg Inactive Member09 Jan 2016 4:23 p.m. PST

So one to two ? One to three? So a Martini Henry has a 150 yard range?

As I said TSATF is "flexible".

Marcus Brutus09 Jan 2016 4:33 p.m. PST

One of the problems with ground scale in the said periods is that the size of the armies varied considerably. Some battles had 50000+ per side, others 5000 or less per side. One could argue for period specific rules but even then, the scaling of a particular period could vary be an order of 2 or 3.

Even in more modern periods scaling is difficult to account for. For instance, I have found no Napoleonic rules set that can really represent Borodino and the concentration of manpower.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in tabletop gaming is depth. Frontages can be reasonably represented but depth is always grossly distorted.

Personally I have become more comfortable with what one might call the "feel" of the game as it represents units, distance and firepower. As long as the overall feel is good I can go with it.

Martin Rapier10 Jan 2016 2:48 a.m. PST

Phil Sabin addresses issues of army size, ground scale and terrain representation for Ancients in Lost Battles. Some of these things are not linear relationships, and of course in many cases we have only the sketchiest idea of the actual layout of Ancient battlefields.

Luckily many of them seem to have been fought on completely flat plains:)

If I'm not sure about ground scales, I'll set the units up in their historical deployments and adjust the terrain to suit (if both are known).

kodiakblair10 Jan 2016 4:26 a.m. PST

Ivan DBA

" Real like terrain features, and their effects, are rarely as precisely defined in real life as in a game. "

that reminds me of Phil Barker telling me " Most wargamers only think of rivers as a piece of blue cardboard on the table ! "

Dexter Ward10 Jan 2016 9:52 a.m. PST

It matters for historical refights. Bowshot should be about the same as unit frontage. If it is much more (e.g. Warhammer Ancients), then you are playing a skirmish, not a battle.

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP10 Jan 2016 10:38 a.m. PST

I want weapon ranges to "fit in" with the scale of the minis I am using. In other words, I want it to "look" right on the table.

If weapon and terrain and time scales are that important to you, then I'd suggest using counters instead of minis. I want to be able to play with my toy soldiers. grin

Hafen von Schlockenberg Inactive Member10 Jan 2016 1:37 p.m. PST

"Crazy Old Coot" board:
Sorry, Ageist Slur!

How about "Utter Dribble"?

williamb10 Jan 2016 4:55 p.m. PST

Bowshot and unit frontages are not the same for most ancient units. A 480 man Roman cohort 8 ranks deep would occupy about 60 yards while bows are usually noted as having an effective range of 240 paces (200 yards) Aimed fire for bows is a lot less, but aimed fire is not being used for massed archery fire at a distance. Field of Glory has bow ranges of 6 inches which converts to about 300 yards based on the number of men per close order infantry base cited in the rules.

While individuals can walk at 2 to 3 miles per hour formed bodies of infantry will move at a slower pace in order to keep formation. George Jeffries (a rules author from the 70's once calculated that Napoleonic infantry in line would move at about 25 yards per minute based on some tests he conducted. The walking pace for a horse is about 4 mph. While this works out to just over 100 yards per minute the actual movement rate for a formation might be less. Possibly as slow as 40 yards per minute if the same ratio for infantry movement is applied.

While rules don't need to specify ground and time scales for a good game, they do have an impact if a historical battle is being recreated with units representing the actual number of troops involved instead of a scaled down representation. At the Field of Glory scale Raphia would fit on a 12 foot table, but for the bow range of 24 inches in the early editions of WRG ancient rules a 48 foot wide table would be needed.

Who asked this joker11 Jan 2016 11:36 a.m. PST

I think it is far more important to balance range of the various weapons, movement and time all within the context of the game. For example, effective musket range is usually about 1/4 that of effective cannon range. There should be enough time for the unit to get off at least 1 shot against infantry and probably 2 or 3. Cavalry, being much faster might be able to dance outside effective range and move to contact giving infantry at most a single shot.

Stuff like that. Time is only relevant to provide a frame of reference. Like TKindred above, I am a gamer first and don't care too much about scale.

4th Cuirassier12 Jan 2016 8:33 a.m. PST

Marcus Brutus wrote:

Perhaps the biggest challenge in tabletop gaming is depth. Frontages can be reasonably represented but depth is always grossly distorted.

I've been pondering this for a long time with Napoleonics. I think the frontage versus depth issue is kinda soluble, although not in a way that's practical for that era.

The shallowest commonly-seen Napoleonic infantry formation was three ranks deep. Some Napoleonic armies formed in two ranks, and some who formed three-deep peeled the rearmost rank away for sharpshooting purposes, but it's a place to start. Now if one looks at most Napoleonic miniature figures, they are typically moulded onto a square base. If you wanted to represent accurately the relative depth of the shallowest unit formation commonly seen, it follows that the depth of the base must correspond, at most, to the depth occupied by three men. Which, given that the base is as noted commonly square, implies that the figure is also at most three men wide; because it's as wide as it's deep, and it's three men deep, ab initio.

So if you went with this, you have each figure representing nine men, formed three ranks wide and three deep. Right away, this is a very low man-to-figure ratio for a Napoleonic army. You'd need at least 50 and up to 120 figures per battalion, where most rules (and wallets) call for 12 to 30.

I don't know how a (say) Roman cohort formed for battle, but if it was 480 men six ranks deep, then at 9 men = 1 figure you could depict it as 52 figures, in two ranks of 26. This gives you 468 men, and a unit that is 78 men wide by 6 deep. The depth would be proportionately correct, although not the appearance; it's two figures deep, standing in for six men deep.

If frontage was a metre per man (I have no idea), to allow room to swing a sword, heft a pilum or whatever, then we also know the ground scale. Whatever table space 26 figures abreast occupy is 78 metres of real ground. I use Elite Miniatures 28mm Napoleonics, three of which I can squeeze onto a 40mm base. That's 13.3mm per figure, so 26 of them would occupy a frontage of 34.6cm. The ground scale is then 78m = 34cm or 1cm = 2.25 metres. Or, more simply, one inch = 6 yards (near enough). This is then the problem because it means a 2.5 by 1.5 metre wargames table (which is quite big by most standards) represents a space only 600 yards by 350.

It is this, in a nutshell, that stuffs any attempt to sort out unit depth in 28mm at least. The only way to preserve it accurately produces a ground scale that means a unit can cross your table in three minutes, and can shoot most of the way across it sooner than that.

The problem is ameliorated by using physically smaller figures. I don't own any 15 or 10mm figures but if they're half the width of 28mm then they double the ground scale, though still not enough.

So for Napoleonics, where thin lines were important, the depth problem isn't really soluble. As I say, I don't know how a Roman or other ancient formation lined up for battle. But if the shallowest formation used were 6 rather than 3 ranks deep, then one need not model formations as shallow as three ranks deep at all. One can deem a figure to be not 3 ranks of 3 files = 9, but 6 of 6 = 36 men. At 36:1, a cohort is then 13 figures wide (but only 1 figure deep), and if each 15mm figure is 7mm wide rather than 13.3, then the 78 metres' frontage those men occupy is 91mm on the table. We are then at a much more usable ground scale of 1mm = more or less 1 yard; and the 36:1 figure ratio preserves proportionately accurate unit depths (though not visually), while making a legion a manageable size of about 140 figures for the legionary infantry component.

Of course it then probably doesn't work for formations such as your triplex acies, where I guess units such as velites, or other skirmishing infantry, would form in fewer than 6 ranks.

Hafen von Schlockenberg Inactive Member12 Jan 2016 9:51 a.m. PST

And you haven't got to the cavalry yet!

Warspite180719 Jan 2016 1:21 p.m. PST

4th Cuirassier, yes, you are right, and I hit the same realisation some 25 years ago, because although I wanted fun from my wargames, I was attracted to wargaming by reading about wars, and also, working at the time in the IT industry it sruck me that I was not getting WYSIWYG on the table.

Subsequently I went with 5mm sized 1:300 figures, and my Napoleonic battalions/cav regiments are about 260 figure units. This means I do not get to refight anything larger than an infantry division, but I do fairly well understand what it takes to command an infantry division supported by other arms.

This also means that I game in the ground scale to figure scale ratio of 1:1 when I can, and 3:1 usually, i.e. 900:300.

Based on my calculations most rules offer a 10-15:1 ratio in these scales. This vastly distrots the time scale, i.e. how long it takes for troops to do anything. Most time scales are entirely arbitrary, being simple 'turn' periods that when calculated based on the speed of cavalry, calculate to anything from just under a minute to nearly 30 minutes duration.

What this means is that the wargamers using these rules are being cheated into self-belief that they are in any way gaming war, because in reality it is still Chess.

The problem for me is that based on my reading, different armies in different periods had different rank and file systems, and most had none. Moreover, different densities applied, as well as different conceptions of moving on the battlefield. Applying a 'common denominator' approach does not produce the right answer.

So in the first instance I'd appreciate the artice from Slingshot by K.H. Rantz that evilgong mentioned, if anyone has access (I don't have membership).

I'm using 5mm (actual scale is ~350:1) figures, hopefully in the 3:1 figure ratio since I don't intend refighting 50,000 troop battles.

Henry Martini Inactive Member19 Jan 2016 2:52 p.m. PST

WAB is essentially a skirmish game, Dexter: many functions are performed by or determined from the individual figure rather than the unit, and characters and leaders have a hugely disproportionate influence if you're putatively trying to represent big battles. The author even hints at the low level of representation in his introduction, where he emphasises the historical importance and frequency of small actions in the ancient and medieval eras.

MichaelCollinsHimself20 Jan 2016 3:11 a.m. PST

I think that making rules for wargames necessarily involves some compromise.

If you`re not using individual figures in an exact figure-height to ground-scale ratio, and moving each of those figures from close order, to open and extended orders… and you want to fight the larger historical battles, then one is obliged to use a common denominator of a base or element of figures and declare that elements will have a standard frontage and size.
But then you can always increase or decrease the number of bases per unit.

I don`t agree that gamers are being cheated (unless the label on the product is misleading of course) and I believe that most gamers do realise the limitations of figures that are based in elements.
Loosening files is something that can be represented (or fudged a little perhaps) by moving elements apart. This makes for no exacting, literal simulation perhaps but it is something that may represent tactical methods on the battlefield.

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