Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Ship models for figure wargames

The model ships that I used in my recent play-test seemed to generate quite a bit of interest. The inspiration for them came from 'Major General Tremorden Rederring's Colonial-era Wargames Page' which is currently unavailable, although there is a link to an archived version of the website here. This website was the brainchild (and product) of David Helber, who was – along with Eric Knowles – the main inspiration for my interest in Colonial wargaming.

Here is an example of the sort of ship model that David used in his wargames:


In the section about ship and boat models David wrote the following statement about ship size and scale:
Real ships and boats are much larger than most people think. The ironclad model above is roughly patterned on the 1873 turretship HMS Devastation; it would be nearly four feet long, if modeled in accurate scale for 25mm figures. Clearly we can't even approach literal realism within the confines of a 4x8 foot gaming table. The model is simply a symbolic placeholder for the ship, in a game with a tremendously compressed ground scale.

Since we cannot make it realistic, we have to settle for making it visually appealing and useful as a game element. We can do the first by exaggerating the vertical dimension and turning the model (toy, actually) into a cartoon representation of a generalized 19th century warship, and the second by keeping it as small as possible without seeming totally ridiculous. In fact, the model is only 9" long and 2.75" wide; each turret can barely contain three figures, let alone two naval guns and their crews. Yet it can happily steam back and forth on a 6" strip of blue paper along the edge of the gaming table, provide artillery support, land marines, look roughly proportional to the scale of the battle, and add to the Victorian visual effect. If it were much larger, say even 12 or 14 inches long, it would require nearly a quarter of the table for water, severely lack maneuverability, and visually dwarf the land action (which is, after all, the main subject of the game).

Moral: be ruthless with your ship sizes. The ironclad is 9", the dhows are a bit large at 8+", the gunboat is 7.5" and the launches are 6." We know a steam launch is not 2/3 the size of an ironclad, but we live with the discrepancy in order to get a reasonable number of figures in the launch, and also keep the ironclad playable.
This is an excellent guide for anyone attempting to build model ships and boats to go with their figure wargames.

Here are some further examples of the ships and boats David made and used:






Inspirational, aren't they?

N.B. The photographs featured above are © David Helber. They have been used without his express permission as I have not been able to contact him. I feel sure, however, that he would not object too strongly to my use of them for the purpose of spreading his excellent ideas.

12 comments:

  1. Sadly the Major General's site remains down except for the "wayback machine's" archives . . . for it was the single most influential website for Colonial inspiration for a great many of us.


    -- Jeff

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  2. Bluebear Jeff,

    I totally agree with you. I only wish is was still currently available so that new enthusiasts for Colonial wargaming could have easy access to it.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  3. Hi Bob,

    Very interesting and inspiring and needless to say such vessels will feature for the Fezian and Rusland forces in due course (probably not made from Fimo though!).

    All the best,

    DC

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  4. Superb stuff Bob. Backs up your comments about scale in your last post. They look good, they do the job...do they really need to be the right size?

    We were doing Tarawa in 6mm (1/300) last year and used a 1/600 scale destroyer (as a 1/300 would have been too big). It looked great and the difference in scale didn't matter a jot.

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  5. Marvelous pictures and memories. Thanks for that Bob. The Maj General was the major inspiration for MacDuff on the Web.

    His ideas still hold water and I try to keep them in mind when making scenery and "props' (with apologies to all those naval, railway and other enthusiasts) and designing a table layout for a game.

    -Ross

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  6. The Major General got me into Colonial wargaming. A brilliant inspirational site.

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  7. David Crook,

    I hope to write a 'How to ...' article about building ship models from plasticard in the very near future that you might find useful.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  8. Phil B,

    Many thanks for your kind comments.

    The old adage 'if it looks right, it is right' obviously came into play when you used 1/600th-scale ship models with 1/300th-scale figures. I have used 1/144th-scale aircraft with 1/72nd-scale figures and vehicles and that looked right as well.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  9. Ross Mac,

    There are quite a lot of us who owe David Helber a great debt of gratitude for all the work he did. I also try to keep his modelling guidelines in mind when making my models and terrain ... and I have yet to be dissatisfied with any of the results I have achieved.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  10. Pat G,

    He was an inspiration to a lot of us, and I wish that his website was easily accessible today as it was just a few years ago.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  11. Just echoing the previous comments about the Major-General's site and the great source of inspiration it was to me as well. The sense of fun, the ideas on small footprints for things like buildings and ships, etc., all had some impact on my approach to gaming with miniatures in general.

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  12. Fitz-Badger,

    The Major General showed the way ... and I - like a lot of other people - have tried to follow on as best I can.

    David Helber's website is often cited as being the best wargaming website created so far ... and that is a sentiment with which I am in absolute agreement.

    All the best,

    Bob

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