Saturday 6 June 2009

Size does matter … when it comes to your wargames table!

Last February – the 3rd to be exact – I did some thinking about the sort of wargaming that I enjoy, and I wrote the following list on my blog:
  • I like to play large-scale, all-day, operational-level wargames – preferably World War II – with a group of friends
  • I like to play (and design) small face-to-face or solo wargames that can be fought to a conclusion in a couple of hours
  • I like to fight campaigns
  • I like to use gridded playing surfaces
  • I like to use card-driven turn sequences
  • I like to use simple combat resolution systems
  • I like to find out about early wargames designers and – if possible – try out their rules.
Recently I have been concentrating on developing a set of operational-level wargames rules. The resulting rules seem to work well and – in my opinion – have potential for further development into an effective method of fighting large-scale battles within a reasonable time frame. This concentration on operational-level wargaming has meant that I have tended to ignore smaller-scale face-to-face and solo wargames, and over recent days my thoughts have returned to that style of wargaming.

The reason for this change of direction is due in no small part to several related stimuli:
  • The first is the realisation that the size of my wargames room and wargames ‘table’ actually militates against me fighting large wargames at home.
  • The second is the publication of the latest edition of HORDES IN THE TRENCHS (HITT) by Matt Kirkhart on the WHEN TECHNOLOGY MEETS TRADITION group on YAHOO! GROUPS.


Paul Farrow’s MRFARROW2U (+JACK & AMYS!!!) DBA 1500 ONWARDS PAGE blog
Most of my wargaming is solo, and as a result the size of the wargames that I fight is not governed by any considerations other than those that I set myself. That said, the size of my wargames room, the storage space available in it, and the size of the tables I can use all place some restraint on what I can or cannot do.

My wargames room
The room is approximately 13 feet long and 10 feet wide, with a large window across one end. Other than a door in the corner of one of the long sides, the other walls are taken up with bookcases and storage cupboards. The centre of the room is occupied by my tables, which are both 3 feet x 2 feet unextended – which is how they are usually set up – and 3 feet x 4 feet when extended. This gives me a total table area that can be either 6 feet x 4 feet or 8 feet x 3 feet. When the tables are extended there is just enough room to get around them to fight a wargame, but it is almost impossible to get terrain and figures out of the storage system.

Here lies the rub; I can set up largish wargames on the extended tables, but they can be difficult and time consuming to set up (and take down) or I can set up smaller wargames (e.g. using the TABLE TOP BATTLES rules) which I can put on at almost no notice and little inconvenience. Since I started this blog I have tended to fight smaller wargames much more frequently than I did before, and I have enjoyed the experience.

As I stated above, I like to fight campaigns because a series of linked battles seems to more satisfying than ‘one off’ battles. Paul Farrow’s blog has reports of the Sudan and Boxer Rebellion colonial campaigns he has fought using a variant of DBA. I liked the look of what he has achieved and feel that it is something that I could and should emulate.

I have now begun to realise that although I like fighting large wargames, the space I have available makes it impractical to do so on a regular basis. I am therefore drawn to the conclusion that it would be far better for me to concentrate my efforts on smaller wargames that I can fight regularly. It means that I can then build up lots of small armies – which I will use – and I will not lose heart or interest before a project is complete. It will also be much easier to fight campaigns where one battle leads on to the next rather than ‘one-off’ battles, which is what my larger wargames tend to be. I will still be able to prepare for large wargames, but these can be special occasions rather than the norm.


  1. Bob,

    As I recall, most of the games described on the Major General's site were on a table about the size of yours . . . now they weren't solo games but they should give you an idea of what can be achieved.

    -- Jeff

  2. Jeff,

    You are quire right ... the majority of the Major General’s games were on tables smaller than what seems be the wargaming norm (i.e. 6 feet x 8 feet).

    What I did not mention on my blog was the fact that having designed a set of operational-level wargames rules, I discovered that I could only model a small part of what I wanted to represent on the tabletop (i.e. a couple of divisions with some support rather than an entire army group). This was quite disheartening, even though the process of designing the rules was interesting.

    Coupled with a lot of pressure at work, I began to feel that my desire to wargame – rather than preparing for wargaming – was being swamped by other things; hence the need to fight some wargames that had some sort of purpose – for example, as part of a short campaign – rather than planning for a big wargame that might take place at some as yet unspecified time in the future.

    What appeals about DBA and HOTT – and their derivatives – is the basic simplicity of the rules as well as their flexibility. They are by no means perfect, but they are quick to learn, quick to use, and can be used on a small tabletop. As is probably very obvious from my blog, I prefer TABLE TOP BATTLES as a system (although it is similar to DBA/HOTT) because of its use of a grid. Developing these rules to meet my specific needs would seem to be the most obvious course for me to take over the next few weeks.


  3. Hi Bob

    I think your experience is probably shared by many of us UK-based wargamers.

    The largest table I can manage at home is 8 x 4 feet, but I generally only set up 6 x 4 as this allows space for the necessary wargaming paraphernalia such as dice, rules and measures to be at hand without cluttering the playing area.

    The realities of family life mean that at home games lasting 1-2 hours are most practical (3 hours at a push)and the same is the case for games at the local club, as these have to be set-up, played and packed down between 7 and 11pm.

    I also crave variety, and have armies for many periods and in many scales. This also necessitates scenery to match, so I have trees for 6mm, 15mm and 25/28mm games - possibly not the way I would have planned things!

    Keep up the good work. Size may matter, but small can be beautiful and good things can come in small packages, as they say :-)


  4. Steve,

    I must admit that talking to my friends who are also wargamers bears out what you say. None of use seems to have the space or the time to fight large wargames unless we are members of clubs that have the right sort of facilities … and even then pressure of time on club nights often means that wargames have to be cut short or left unfinished.

    Most of my stuff is either 20mm (World War II) or 15mm (Colonial), although I do have some 25mm Napoleonics that I keep getting out of their storage boxes and looking at.

    I am becoming more and more certain that I need to concentrate on smaller games that use 15mm figures and a tabletop that is no more than 4 feet by 3 feet. I have just bought a folding table that is the same height as my wargames tables, and the intention is to use it for all the paraphernalia – such as the dice and rules – that I need during a wargame. It will also serve as a painting table if need be.

    All the best,


  5. Hello Bob,

    Thanks for the nice comments on our blog. I'm glad you like what we do & any inspiration our games give is great.

    Time is a premium for us and we want 'fun' 'fast' games. DBA/DBA 1500-1900 and now HITT fit the bill, we know the rules aren't perfect. Any problem we come across we try to resolve straight away (usually roll a d6 - highest wins the argument!). Plus both Jack & Amy understand what's going on & have FUN learning a bit of history.

    Well done on a smashing blog yourself & I'll be dropping by on a regular basis to see how you get on.

    All the Best
    Paul F

  6. Paul F,

    It was your Boxer War, Sudan War, and World War I DBA/HOTT/HITT games and armies that started me thinking about 'going small' ... so a big 'thank you' is due to you.

    No rules are every perfect; as long as they are fun and give enjoyment (and don't need a massive investment in time and money) they are good enough.

    All the best,


  7. I have the same problem with space I am limited to an area of 9 feet x 10 feet. Since I will start a miniature club here I am thinking of using a 3 3/4 feet by 6 feet table for Warhammer 40k and Fantasy. The problem is the chairs and the computers consume more space.

  8. Capt. Camper,

    There was a time when the size of the wargames table being used was seen as a measure of how good (or bad) the game was; now people seem to be more concerned with having a good time fighting their battles, and lots of space is less important. To my way of thinking, this has to be a positive development.

    All the best,



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