Thursday, 17 July 2014

Big Bases -

When I left New Zealand for a "short" stint of work in Japan - this is back in early 2000, you will understand, I started work on a homebrew set of ancients rules, which I call TEXNH TAKTIKH: The Art of Tactics, or AoT for short.  I've been working on them on and off ever since... I will get them finished; I just have to quit my current job and its associated time demands first!  

15 mm Naismith xystophoroi in wedge formation.
The rules use a square 80 mm basing system, regardless of scale.  Actually, the size of the base isn't actually that important either, so long as both sides use the same size - and it is square.  But 80 mm bases are good compromise between being big enough to get a decent amount of "big unit" feel without being too big to be manageable in terms of physically making them.  I use 2 mm thick cardboard - usually sourced as artists' mounting board or similar, which is sufficiently thick it won't warp.  

One reason for using big bases like this is for the aesthetics - you can depict "formations" on a single base even with figures as large as 15 mm; of course, the opportunities are even greater with 6 mm figures.  In terms of game mechanics, big bases are a reaction against DBM-style elements.  They cut down on fiddly micromanoeuvring.  When elements were introduced back in WRG 7th Edition they didn't serve much actual purpose in the game, but that all changed with DBA.  DBA only used a few such unit-elements, which worked fine given the delightfully simple limitations of the game, but when DBM came about, the limitations of such small elements became more noticeable.  Too many "units" for a general to command basically (my Modern Spearhead gaming suffers from the same problem).

Eumenid battle line in 15 mm. 
When I think of what the sources say about ancient pitched battles, the only one that readily comes to mind mentioning any sort of "small" unit is Diodoros, when detailing Eumenes' deployment of three small groups of young household cavalry trainees (often misunderstood as grooms or similar) in front of one of his cavalry wings, each said to be composed of 50 men.  And since they are not mentioned again in the actual battle narrative, despite the importance of the cavalry action on the wing, these micro units can't have had a huge influence on the subsequent fighting...  

Some of my Naismith 15 mm Macedonian pikemen.
Not that I was ever happy with the old 6th Edition-style units with their single figures, mind you.  Phil Barker was absolutely right when he said figure casualty removal was a bizarre mechanism for non-skirmish ancients games when you thought about it - "units" (by which I mean any collection of combatants, not just those in formal regiments) don't physically shrink as they lose a few men here and their due to enemy action.  In 7th Edition you still had units, but they no longer lost figures, bases, or elements as they suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune - and this was definitely a good thing.

Another xystophoroi wedge, with some Tarantines behind them,
However, the legacy of 7th Edition and its element-based successors has meant that "rebasing" is something every ancients rules designer has to seriously think about.  My 80 mm square bases are also big enough so that new players can just plop down their troops based for example, DBM, onto an AoT base and have a go.  Four 15 mm-sized WRG elements arranged 2 by 2 will fit onto an AoT base no problem to give the right sort of figure density to look right for most units.  

Of course one great advantage of any set of rules that uses "bases" as opposed to "figures" as its basic building block is that you don't actually need to use figures at all: a base with a printed out picture of the troops in question stuck on top will do the job of providing a nice visual feel. There are after all, many superb illustrations of troops on the net that can be used.  I've always thought that photos of figures would make a very cheap stand-in for the figures themselves for young gamers who can't possibly afford to actually buy their own lead mountains...

Who can pass up a picture of a jumbo?!
Of course, having rebased my Hellenistic troops on non-WRG bases, I've cut myself of from gaming with them using DBX rules (except DBA can still be done, with some simple work arounds), but that's not a huge issue.  I've still got more than a few other armies on WRG-style bases, after all!  Some are even still in New Zealand, where I've not touched them for over a decade...  Although now I think about it, one has probably gone AWOL, given I lent it to my club as a sort of "lend-out" force for people to borrow.  I suspect it has been mishandled severely in the meantime...  Anybody seen my Nikephorians?


  1. I've been wanting to put my Marian / Caesarian Romans onto 80x30 bases at 16 figs a pop, but if you want to show a veteran legion (for LB purposes) you need to make the average units larger, which would mean an extra 16 bases! Will probably go for 16 of the big bases, 16 80x15 standard and 32 standard Dbx style which will allow RCW battles and enough figures for both sides.

    1. It's certainly tricky trying to accommodate different rules sets... Why stick with multiples of 15 mm though? Purely to keep the DBX elements the same depth?

  2. I've done more or less the same thing with 6mm on 100x60 bases (with the back 10mm being used for an unobtrusive label) and they look so much better than the smaller bases. The only restriction I've found is if you want to show a formation change. Personally I don't think thats a major issue for ancients but it could be for Napoleonics - a lot will depend on rules design I would of thought.

    Like you I wish there was a way to use this style of big basing for WWII/Moderns but have yet to come up with a workable solution.


    1. The reason for having square bases in my AoT set is that formation changes are taken care of "at the unit level" - so not something the general has to be concerned about; the bases is thus modelling a lot of "charge reach" and "missile range" within the base as well as space the troops take up.

      Before I left NZ I made a homebrew large-scale moderns set that used hexagonal bases that worked quite well I thought. In fact the hexagons you can just see under the pikemen above are battalion-sized hexes for that game. I had half-sized bases for independent companies, as well. A big base typically had three vehicles on it, usually representing a notional company a piece, and depending on how you arranged them on the base, you could show the unit was in attack or defensive mode, etc. Extra vehicles could be added to show attached AA support, etc. With moderns the frontage a unit is expected to occupy varies so much whether on the offence or defence, so it is certainly tricky. I think the best way is to have a notional distance "around" the base the unit it "actually" occupying, the base really represents the "centre of mass" of the formation, esp the HQ elements. So

  3. I like the look however it creates a depth that is is way out of scale with the unit frontage. I also like the thought of being able to model different unit frontages - say by thinning out to one base to represent the thin formation at Marathon.

    1. Depth is always going to be a problem whenever you use figures. The only way around it as far as I can see is therefore to have your figure footprint incorporate things other than actual physical space of the men, such as charge room, missile reach, etc.

      As for thin formations, that's simply not something that was changed mid-battle, so doesn't need to be represented in-game. You should be fixing that at deployment time - i.e. at the start of the game. Now I will grant you there were some occasions when formation depths were actually changed, but they were either at the very start of the battle, such as at the start of Kynoskephalai, or in situations where it is clear the troop *density* didn't change (important). E.g when a phalanx is ordered to move into locked-shields formation, with each man taking up half the normal frontage, the frontage of the *unit* remains exactly the same, because the formation change is achieved by halving the depth of the formation by inserting the rear half of each file beside the front half of the file. So troop frontage is halved, but so is the troop depth, meaning exactly the same number of men occupy any given unit frontage.

      So "thin" formations are modelled by having the base contain less men in total, and not just by each man occupying a greater frontage.

  4. Most impressive troops, love your work on the bases!

  5. Really impressive. Looks great. So your base sizes are 80mm x 80mm square? How do you find they work in other systems?


    1. Not so well for "Too the Strongest!" since it requires shallow bases rather than square ones. For DBA it works quite well (assuming you are using "big" elements composed of 4 normal DBx bases); recoiling depths can be an issue, but it is not hard to recoil the "proper" distance instead of what the base actually is. And for systems that don't care what the base depth is, obviously, it's not really an issue.

      One of the biggest drawbacks I have found is that the square bases mean (especially for light troops) that your troops take up more storage space in your transport boxes, etc. So an army that used to fit in a couple of boxes might now take 3, or even four.