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"What does skirmish mean to you?" Topic

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Personal logo Ed the Two Hour Wargames guy Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 11:34 a.m. PST

What does skirmish mean to you?

1 figure one man?
If so how many figures make it a skirmish game?
What's the maximum?
What about units?
Two, three?
Is there a maximum?
Or is it something all together different?

MajorB12 Sep 2017 11:41 a.m. PST

1 figure one man

If so how many figures make it a skirmish game?
As many as the game system can handle

What's the maximum?
Depends on the rules, but I've seen skirmish games with as many as 100 figures per side

What about units?
What about them?

Personal logo Private Matter Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 11:43 a.m. PST

That's like asking "How long is a piece of string?" The easiest answer is one figure equals one man with the maximum being what can be controlled by a player in a single game. I've played what I would call a large skirmish with 250 figures on each side. It was a game of Sharp Practice. I've also played skirmish games with as few as one player controlled figure. All Things Zombie is the game that comes to mind on that one.

The only thing that I would say is a constant, at least in my book, to make something a skirmish game is that each figure represents on person. Everything else is up for debate.

Joes Shop Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 11:55 a.m. PST

PM: +1

Frothers Did It And Ran Away12 Sep 2017 12:08 p.m. PST

I usually take it to be one figure is one man, and each figure activates individually. Games where figures are single based but activate in groups I tend to refer to as 'big' skirmish for clarity's sake.

Dynaman878912 Sep 2017 12:26 p.m. PST

I usually like to have about 10-30 discreet units per side in a game between two players.

Rich Bliss12 Sep 2017 12:56 p.m. PST

1 figure equals one man. A player can only run 10-20 figures. Generally is "Whatmyounsee is what you have" in terms of weapons.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 12:57 p.m. PST

What Private Matter said…

DungeonDelver12 Sep 2017 1:19 p.m. PST

One fig = one person, preferably with a ground scale equal to or at least close to the figure scale

John Secker Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 2:06 p.m. PST

Yes, one figure equals one man, with individual activation. You could model companies 1:1 in 3mm and mount them on platoon bases, and it wouldn't be a skirmish game in my book. Skirmish isn't just a figure ratio, it is also about the size of the battle and the level of control.

Generalstoner4912 Sep 2017 2:31 p.m. PST

1 to 1 scale and less than 50 models a side.

coopman12 Sep 2017 2:46 p.m. PST

The complexity of the rules can really limit what size of force one person can run and keep track of. TSATF is relatively easy, for example, as individuals do not tend to have RPG'ish traits that you have to remember and look up the stats for. A game where the characters have stamina, wounds, melee strength, firepower strength, etc., can get kind of overwhelming IMO. Skirmish level to me is def. 1 figure = one man. Units being 6-12 figures each. I like the kind of game that Lion Rampant and such offer.

Tony S12 Sep 2017 3:02 p.m. PST

I'll echo everyone's opinion and agree that skirmish is 1:1 man to figure scale in my book.

As for units…in WW2, by and large, soldiers did not act as individuals; they acted as units, under the command of a leader. That's why recruits learn to march in close order. It's not a terribly useful formation for modern combat, but it trains the young men to operate as a unit, and to subsume their individuality and to obey their leader. I personally like skirmish games that model that.

Depending on the level of the skirmish game (ie a squad game versus a platoon) sometimes individual soldiers might have differing attributes, and perhaps react differently to the stresses of combat, or whether to obey their leader, but again – they are part of a unit, not berserker warriors.

Being in a WW2 army is like being on a football team, not being in the boxing ring.

Sobieski12 Sep 2017 5:45 p.m. PST

A substitute for a tactical wargame.

Lion in the Stars12 Sep 2017 6:27 p.m. PST

WW2 histories will talk about a company skirmish, but I really call a skirmish a game with not more than about a platoon per side.

If we're talking 1:1 fig:man ratios, well, Forward March Studios is doing that in 3mm Napoleonics, and I have enough Americans to put an entire Airmobile battalion (9 platoons) on the table in Vietnam. But those are both multibased, not one figure per base (FMS is doing one or two companies per base, and my 'Murricans are 2-4 per base, move as platoons).

The game I play most is Infinity, where you have 10-20 models per side and they all activate individually (or could activate individually).

I'm willing to consider 'fireteam' games where you have teams/squads as the basic unit of action as still being a skirmish (like Force on Force or small games of Battlegroup), but once you get to multiple platoons per side I have a hard time calling that a skirmish.

But then I like the small, special forces type games.

Mike Mayes Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2017 6:32 p.m. PST

To me, skirmish means 1 model = 1 figure, ground scale is. close to figure scale, (all as mentioned previously) and figure removal for casualties plus heroics are possible. It also means not bathtubing a battle.


Green Tiger13 Sep 2017 1:11 a.m. PST

I believe that a skirmish wargame should equate to battlefield skirmishing. So whatever the figure scale you are using should feature no more than a couple of units per side. Units should be platoons or companies at most.

VVV reply13 Sep 2017 2:45 a.m. PST

Where each soldier has a name.

WillieB Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2017 3:25 a.m. PST

Blood Eagle and Tribal are skirmish in my mind. One figure is one man and the ground scale is as near to figure scale as possible.

'Big' skirmish or small battle is for example Dux Britanniarum or Sharp Practice ( both favourites of mine) with about 10 small units a side and individual 'heroes' or leaders.

Personal logo optional field Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2017 9:28 a.m. PST

1 figure one man?

Generally, yes but I can accept small squads acting as units as part of skirmish game; All the more so if there are rules for individual characters/heros/&c.

If so how many figures make it a skirmish game?

There is no minimum for it to qualify as a skirmish game, in my opinion at least.

What's the maximum?

As a rough guide, I would say under 20 per side, but that could vary.

What about units?

It can vary, but I would say not more than 20 per side. I can also accept very few units per side (e.g. I can easily see a single machine gun nest with crew, and a tank destroyer facing a platoon of infantry as a skirmish game).

Two, three? Is there a maximum? Or is it something all together different?<

The number of units is not the most important thing as far as I am concerned; As long as it plays quickly, I can view it as a skirmish. I can accept knowing that 4 models per side with each model being an individual unit and a great deal of detail as a skirmish(e.g. Sergeant Smith is a lightly built man with outstanding morale, who carries a M1903 bolt-action rifle with a match grade barrel in addition to 1 potato masher grenade and 2 Mills Bombs, and has a sprained ankle). I can also accept 40 models per side as a skirmish, but not with the same level of detail (e.g. this squad consists of 10 Soviet soldiers armed with PPSH submachine guns, they fire & move as a unit, and they are either out-of-game or fully functional). I can also accept those two levels of detail co-existing in the game, (e.g. as many 2 Hour Wargames rules systems often do by creating "big men").

Winston Smith13 Sep 2017 11:38 a.m. PST

Does it matter how you define it?
I played Gloire for a while. In published scenarios, it featured 4 figures per side. I ran a "Rescue Roddy McCorley" game that had about 80 figures on each side. Worked marvelously.
Ditto with Fire and Steel. Each "faction" should have had at most 8 figures. I regularly ran games with over 100.

TSATF uses individual figures, and the book scenario uses a half platoon of 10 British figures.
Games with 200 figures on a side are not uncommon. I've played with 800.

MacDuff15 Sep 2017 4:05 p.m. PST

I'm afraid my opinion is at variance with 99% of the hobby and as such pretty irrelevant but if you look in memoirs and histories and engagement smaller than a pitched battle which was fought for limited or no strategic purpose and often involved forces totalling hundreds of men, sometimes more than a thousand. Not really 1 1:1 game for most of it.

However, since "skirmish games" have become reserved for patrol actions and battles are understood to be bigger, I am at a loss to describe the of so common in between military engagements that form the bulk of my wargames other than as "small engagements".

Carry on skirmishing folks!

Personal logo Ed the Two Hour Wargames guy Sponsoring Member of TMP15 Sep 2017 4:11 p.m. PST

All good stuff except one comment. Nah, just kidding. Thanks again for all the comments, much appreciated.

CATenWolde16 Sep 2017 4:19 a.m. PST

Contra to the above to a certain extent, I would say that there are two separate but widely recognized scales of "skirmish" gaming.

The first is 1:1 scale gaming, often with a more detailed (and rpg like) treatment of individual equipment and actions.

The second is small unit skirmishes, which I think is typified by The Sword and the Flame, but Lion Rampant is a very recent successor. These games involve a small number of units engaging in low level encounters – raids and patrols and the like – with figures usually individually based but actions taken by the unit.

For 1:1 scale games, depending on the complexity of the rules one player could control from 1 (GURPS hybrid characters level of detail) to 8-12 (Basic D&D Fighters level of detail) figures. For small unit skirmishes, each player could control say 1-4 fairly complex (British combined arms) or double that number fairly straightforward unit types (Zulus).

If you double those numbers, or have more than 2-3 players per side controlling those numbers of units, things can *really* slow down.

UshCha24 Sep 2017 5:24 a.m. PST

Skirmish to me is typified by the Hollywood cowboy shoot out in a western. Few figures doing there own. A platoon in single figures is rather a lot 35 figures. That's a lot to move individually. My experience is that regardless of how good rules are 50 "things" to move is a practical upper limit for one person and then only some folk can deal with that number in a timely manner. Those things are bases so matters not if it's single figures or 10 on a base.

uglyfatbloke30 Sep 2017 9:16 a.m. PST

+1 for Ushcha. BA is often described as a 'skirmish' game because of the 1:1 figure ratio, but it's mostly about squads/sections. We generally play company actions and I would n't call them skirmishes. There's a different tactical dimension to consider however…if a company is deployed over a wide front with orders to delay an enemy advance, but not become heavily engaged, then the whole company is skirmishing is it not?

UshCha01 Oct 2017 1:20 p.m. PST

Uglyfatbloke a company even acting on a wide front would really be acting as a minimum as sections, some in front and some in reserve, so still not my definition of skirmish. To be honest fighting in detail a napolionic skirmish line would not be much fun to most, but it would be a skirmish by definition but unhelpful in this context.

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART01 Oct 2017 1:30 p.m. PST

1 figure apiece and a LOT fewer than you think you can handle. Everybody over does it.

FlyXwire12 Oct 2017 5:51 a.m. PST

Along with this figure discussion, perhaps the terrain board is nearly as important to this answer? I mean, reflecting the complexities of an encounter's terrain (at the skirmish level) is what has attracted me to this level of gaming anyway. So for my use, the game mechanics of a skirmish set of rules must enable the figures, units, elements to interface with more in-depth terrain builds. A further thought – "skirmish" rules designed for this terrain interfacing can usually be engineered upwards in unit scale, but it's much more work to reverse-engineer other rule system originally written for larger scale battling downwards. So again, questioning about the ratio of figures to bodies for "skirmish scale", while important, should also be considering the ratio of bodies to the terrain [scale]…..because this is the scale where the selected skirmish action will be occurring at.
Rules used to specify figure [to ground] scale, but of course there's been much relaxation of doing this in recent years, and specially for "free-form" gaming.
No doubt these variations in viewpoints – because so many skirmish rules never have, or their designer's never cared to put their scaling [facts] on paper.

14Bore20 Oct 2017 4:41 p.m. PST

1 figure per man.been pondering to do this with odd figures I have.

Guthroth21 Oct 2017 6:37 a.m. PST

I am going to be a bit contrary and say that Saga is a 'skirmish' game. A decent starter army has 25 figures (1 leader, 8 tough guys and 16 Warriors) and they can function in groups of 4-8. This size of 'army' is a pretty good representation of the low level raiding-type warfare of the period.

Great War Ace23 Oct 2017 7:12 a.m. PST

Even my full battle rules play like a monumental skirmish game because combat is resolved one on one with single based figures. So the game works for all combat from one man against one man, all the way up to entire units or battles hammering on each other. A guy steps into an alley and gets ambushed by a pair of footpads, or he advances with a couple of dozen figures into a melee. The combat works the same in either situation.

I love skirmish gaming.

FlyXwire23 Oct 2017 5:38 p.m. PST

Great War Ace, do you roll dice in your rules based on figure counts?
Btw, I have a theory based on years of observing gamer gripes about rules – if there's lots of dice to roll for each combat result, players tend to blame themselves when they crap out, but when combat is factored down to a few dice rolls per result, and players don't score well…..they want to blame the rules……

I love skirmish gaming (systems).

huron72504 Nov 2017 12:28 p.m. PST


Small engagements generally under 10 per side.

Lion in the Stars04 Nov 2017 11:25 p.m. PST

1 figure apiece and a LOT fewer than you think you can handle. Everybody over does it.

This is so true. Span of control is 3-7 actual humans, you can stretch that to about 12 miniatures if you're really good.

christot07 Nov 2017 5:15 a.m. PST

Historically a "skirmish" might have a few thousand men involved…
Even in modern terms a company or battalion action with several hundred men is really a skirmish
wargamers tend to think in terms of figures and see things differently, but generally, I'd settle for 1 to 1 being skirmish gaming, which is why its so popular.
The trouble with most (not all) skirmish gaming is that its largely identical irrespective of period, with figures running around the table doing their own (ok, the players) thing, with only lip service being paid to how armies, or in this case, individual soldiers, actually function. Chuck in a bit of period chrome in terms of weaponary and off you go.
The majority of skirmish games are Hollywood inspired rather than History inspired, nothing wrong with that, a games a game, and long may it continue.

Great War Ace07 Nov 2017 9:21 p.m. PST

Great War Ace, do you roll dice in your rules based on figure counts?

No. Each figure, individually based, has a combat value determined by "man count" (base frontage) and armor class. The melee results are rolled by cross referencing combat value comparison and 2D6. Missile fire is range cross referenced to armor class, and the correlating number is the minimum 2D6 throw required to get a "hit".

Here's the game play sheet: PDF link

Qui Peccavit06 Apr 2018 2:45 p.m. PST

Someone above said «where every soldier has a name», which summarises the condition of 1 figure per man AND each of them having their own stats, wound counter and actions, etc. This automatically limits what is reasonably feasible with a given rule set, i.e. the number of models that can still be handled without having to watch movies each time it's the opponent's turn. :-)

Rabelais08 Apr 2018 12:48 p.m. PST

There's no hard and fast rule really. But I'm with the WSS podcast people, anything with 12 figures a side or less is a scuffle, not a skirmish :)

GReg BRad09 Apr 2018 1:43 a.m. PST

Too me its 1 figure one man, one vehicle is one vehicle and forces not greater than a platoon per side.

Mark 109 Apr 2018 12:32 p.m. PST

Well, the OP asks "What does skirmish mean to YOU?" (my emphasis), so I reject the notion that anyone's comments could be "a bit contrary", unless you are disagreeing with yourself.

(How was that for a contrarian starting point?)

What it means to me is very much what some others here have suggested … the "Hollywood" cinematic storyline retold on the gaming table. Individual figures, based and tracked separately.

I would not reject rules that activate by squad (or fire team, or whatever) from the category of "skirmish" games.

I too read histories describing "company skirmishes", but when I read them I see in them very much the story of individuals and squads in a variety of mostly isolated actions. We may say that is true of any battle (and from the standpoint of the individual soldier it is very much true), but in fact once you get companies and battalions into action, while the actions of the soldiers in total are vital, the differing experiences of each and every individual soldier is no longer a determining factor in the course of the battle.

In my view the history that says there was a company skirmish are actually describing squad level actions taking place in several places at once.

In the games I have played over the years, the best skirmish games were squads, up to perhaps platoon level.

I try to hold myself to a general guideline of each gamer controlling about 15-25 game pieces. Seems to keep the game flowing better. If I were setting up a game I would try to keep to that general guideline whether it was grand-tactical, tactical or skirmish. Today's "skirmish" rules are far more developed than when I played, so it may well be that multiple platoons can now play effectively in a skirmish game. But still, I wonder if the game would loose too much of the flavor of the individuals if I were trying to keep track of / move / shoot with 35 or more pieces.

Once you get a company working on the board, I am looking for tactical rules, not skirmish rules. At that point I don't want to know what every individual figure is doing or representing. I want to know the scheme of maneuver, the fire plan, who's held in reserve, etc. Yes, my game may come to a pivot point where one MG, one squad, or one tank makes the difference by being in the right place, at the right time, and making the right role. But I am more interested in my game giving me the challenge of putting the right unit in the right place at the right time, and I don't much care if the gunner's No.2 carried a 9mm semi-auto or a .38 revolver. So once I have multiple platoons on the board, I'm more interested in abstracting individuals into squads and crews.

Just my take.

(aka: Mk 1)

zoneofcontrol09 Apr 2018 6:01 p.m. PST

For me:
1 figure = 1 man and 1vehicle = 1 vehicle

Two or three squads (8 to 12 men each) up to Platoon Strength to Platoon with a support element or two per side. Plus one or two vehicles per side.

Activate by half-squad/weapon team or full squad but figs don't have to all make same action depending on ability and weapon.

Lucky Forward21 Apr 2018 3:02 p.m. PST

One figure represents one man, one vehicle or horse the same.
I like the weapons the figures carry to represent the weapon they are firing in the game.
The units represented are best for me in small teams.
How many is too many is dependent on the rules and number of players.
I can't define a number but I know it when I see it.
There is enough detail that the terrain on the board defines the available cover and concealment.
Combat Patrol "TM" is my preferred skirmish rule set.
Skirmish is my preferred scale.
Well thought out topic with insightful answers. By all.

Old Contemptibles Supporting Member of TMP07 May 2018 8:04 a.m. PST

One figure equals one to five men or vehicles. They are all individually based. One figure on one base.

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