THE MYTH OF THE 28MM VISION
I've just got fed up with yet another snide comment on the internet!
As a designer, manufacturer and salesmen of 6mm scale miniatures I have
been peddling my wares since the mid-1990s. Right from the start I found
that my little pride and joys were the targets of a lot of sniping and
ridicule from those who chose to use the traditional 15mm and 25/28mm
figures. It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I didn't
take such comments lying down and, and gave as good as, (and often far,
far better), than I got.
The internet and its various bulletin boards and newsgroups has been a
major forum in what has turned out to a continuing debate, and many of
you reading this may have seen various skirmishes and continuing threads
with me defending the status and the use of God's Own Wargaming Scale.
My proactive approach to promoting the scale and pointing out its many
positive features has often drawn disagreement from those
taking the misguidedly opposite view. No problems there I enjoy
a good debate, and there have been some classic exchanges to enjoy.
However, a few people have contacted me directly suggesting that my approach
is just too strident. All that I am doing is winding up and alienating
those who have already made the financial and emotional step of building
up large 28mm and 15mm armies. The approach suggested is that I only emphasise
all the good things about 6mm scale and leave out unravelling the 28mm
myth. A softly spoken, reasoned and non-threatening strategy, they say,
will yield better results. In other words all my arguments should emphasise
the positive features of 6mm and not actually give any grief to the more
widely used alternatives. Well, I have done just this right up until now.
Let me demonstrate exactly what this sort of approach leads to. All the
following quotes have been gleaned from postings to the internet in the
course of the last few months
- '6mm stuff, it's like a degenerative disease disfiguring the tabletop.'
- 'Most people can find more entertaining ways of going blind.'
- 'I have no doubt that 6mm, as untraditional as they are, would attract
people to their qualities. ...
- They will be emigres from boardgaming.'
- 'The desire to accurately portray historical uniforms ends at 15mm.'
- 'To say that a 6mm. is more than a marker, a minimalist representation
is pushing it.'
So taking this lot at its face value, if you are a user of 6mm figures,
- Not at all interested in the aesthetics of miniature gaming.
- Going blind through painting impossible detail.
- An ex-boardgamer with an interest only in gaming with cardboard counters.
- Completely uninterested in uniforms or the appearance of your miniature
- Using crude and functional game counters, rather than models and miniatures.
Recognise yourself? No, neither do I, but unless these snobbish ramblings
and utterings are challenged and this rubbish given short shrift then
THAT is the image that will hold sway. What makes it all worse it that
such opinions are invariably offered by people who have never painted,
used or even looked at a 6mm figure!
All of these seem to be severe attacks of 28mm it-is (biggus
figurus pompus gittus). A fairly common condition in which the sufferers
feel the that they have a Deity-given right to criticise and belittle
because they are the followers of the One True Vision. A major problem
with this affliction is that said Deity often omits to give them the wit,
wisdom or brain cells with which to discharge their duty.
I feel that it is time to set the record straight. Unlike those who set
out to give me a hard time, I actually know quite a deal about the pros
and cons of the scale that I set out to critique. I painted, collected
and played with 15mm and 25mm figures for nearly two decades before moving
to 6mm, and as a trader I see the new stuff and talk to the people involved.
Now it is time to show that a little such knowledge can be a dangerous
'28mm' - WHAT IS IT, AND HOW COME PEOPLE USE IT?
I shall start by providing my own personal, (and therefore completely
truthful and unbiased), account of the rise and rule of the cult of the
Back in the 1970's, the 25mm Wargaming figure reigned supreme and unchallenged.
As this was the time when many of the hobbys stalwarts got involved
it became ingrained in their very souls that this was how proper
Wargaming was done. By the mid-1970's 15mms began to make their mark and
by the 1980s the two scales co-existed nicely. The balance began
to shift on the 1990s with the rise of DBX family of rules, all
of which favoured 15mm in their approach. With 25mms being squeezed out
of the huge Ancients market, some began to predict the ultimate demise
of the 25mm army.
Meanwhile, a company who I shall call by the initials GW,
had moved from its original base of selling imported fantasy RPG games
towards producing and distributing their own brand of products.. An important
part of GW was a division that manufactured 25mm fantasy figures. The
problem that they faced was that RPGs were very undemanding in terms of
figures. The makers of miniatures needed to sell whole armies, not little
dungeon exploration parties. As a result a mass fantasy set of rules were
produced by GW, figures designed to match them, and rest is well known.
The important points to pick from this section is that the emphasis on
small numbers of individual figures that was the RPG heritage
spilled over into this new form of fantasy wargaming. They represented
the very best on design quality and great care was to be spent in painting
each and every one of them. On the down side they also carried forward
the price premium traditionally associated with fantasy figures. However,
there was relatively little interaction between this form of the hobby
and the historical version that we all know and love.
At which stage we arrive at the mid 1990s and the emergence on to
the historical wargames scene of a new company destined to have a huge
impact on the hobby.
Wargames Foundry had come to the party. Originally founded as an outlet
for the GW designers to have a break from sculpting goblins and dwarves,
this company set out to change the face of the historical gaming scene.
It began to offer figures that were far superior to anything else available
on the historical market and used the pages of the glossy magazines, especially
Wargames Illustrated to promote their product and Their Vision.
And a Vision it was! There was to be a new standard and a new culture.
We were all to aspire to be able to amass collections such as those featured
in the colour photos in the magazine. People talked less of wargames figures
and more of miniature works of art. Figures could no longer
be painted, they must be shaded, highlighted, inked, washed, terrained,
varnished and flocked to precision. We were to look on the games depicted
not as, well, 'games', but as 'Inspirational' and even 'Aspirational'
examples of what could be done by all of us IF we just tried hard enough
and bought the right kind of miniatures.
The 28mm Renaissance was in full spate and the Colossus trampled all before
it! The Gods of the Foundry looked on all Their Works and saw that they
Anything, and I mean Anything, that did not fit into The Vision was to
be regarded as 'inferior'.
And yes, there have been positive results resulting from The Vision. However,
army sizes have fallen, completed projects have diminished, intolerance
has increased, and breadth of thinking, creativity and originality across
the hobby have all been stifled. These failings have been ignored and
hidden but the followers of the The Vision and treated as if they do not
In short, we have a real case of the 'Emperors New Clothes' in the
28mm Wargaming Order of today.
Okay. At this point, the thousands of you subscribers to the WF Vision
are pushing their mouse pointer towards that little red box with the X
in it at the top right, certain of the fact that I have lost my marbles.
Lets face it, the hobby has never had it so good.
- The range of figures is huge and new suppliers are cropping up all over
- The modern quality of design is unsurpassed.
- Painting and modelling standards are increasingly high.
- The photographs, in magazines, especially in WI point the way to us
- Let's face it, we are in a Golden Age!
there is inevitably an however
I beg to differ with all of this and would suggest that it might be a
time to take off the rose-tinted glasses for a while.
28mm CULTURE JACCUSE!
So how is it possible for me to even begin attacking Perfection? Well,
let's just have a go and see where it leads...
RANGE & QUALITY
Okay, you have got lots and lots of sculptors and figures all doing superb
work. But at what cost?
Well, there is the Cost for a start. I dont mind paying for
quality, has become the mantra that I hear so, so often. Now to
me it sounds awfully like the sound of someones self-justification
for having just paid out an awful lot of money for a very small number
of figures. If he can convince others to imitate him then he gets allies
all with a self-interest to maintain the myth. As someone said to me,
'Misery loves company!'. It also appears to me as being the noise that
a person makes when he can publicly show off that he has got the wherewithal
for conspicuous consumption.
Then there is the ever-expanding-figure. To those have not realised it
yet, the term 28mm has as much relationship to the size of
a figure as the epithet Unsinkable had to the Titanic. It
sounds good, but when put to the test it is meaningless. '28mm' was originally
invented by GW to describe their oversize 30mm miniatures. When WF started
their expansion, they adopted both the figure scale and the description.
Others then just followed suit.
One thing that WF did start was an increasing demand for high quality
of design standards. The only way to achieve much of this has been to
increase the size of the figure thereby giving the sculptor more surface
area on which to work. This has meant a steady increase in dimensions
of some ranges, to the point that the term 28mm can only be
a vague concept and not an accurate description.
This process has knock-on effects. Some new generation 28mms
are so large that they can longer fit on base sizes defined by wargames
rules. DBA and its progeny gets criticised for allowing only
15mm per close order infantryman, yet when they were written, there was
no problem with achieving this. It is interesting that very rarely is
the criticism aimed back at the miniatures for being too designed too
big for the bases!
As an example, in the recent flurry of activity surrounding the release
of Forlorn Hope and WECW a number of new ECW 28mm figures ranges appeared.
Now both sets use 20mm square base for 28mm Foot troops. As this is a
GW standard, this should surely be large enough to hold a 28mm figure.
there are new ECW figures out there that are so
overblown they can only be accommodated on 25mm square bases!
The end logic of this process will see the dominance of 28mm figures all
standing 40mm tall
...and since I first penned this last line in 2003, lo and behold we
have seen the rise of the 40mm figure as the next 'big thing'. As wargames
scale it really is a non-starter for anything by skirmish games. What
we are seeing here is the aspiration of many people to become 'Miltary
Modellers' and figures painters rather then producers of wargames armies.
If anyone can remember that far back, in the 1970s the letters pages of
'Military Modelling' magazine regularly carried letters from the modellers
regularly condemning wargamers and those who painted wargames armies.
I wonder if history will repeat itself...
The widespread use of 28mm figures has resulted in a huge increase in
Remember that the pictures in WI do not show real wargames.
The display games at wargames shows do not show real wargames.
Im sorry, but you can have as many nicely sculpted models as you
like, the worlds cheesiest Painting Systems and glossy
pictures galore, but there is a natural distribution of painting talent
and there can only be a top few percent who can achieve the very highest
standards. Most of us, (myself included), will never get better than competent,
and in The Vision, mere competence is never good enough....
But the human soul is nothing but full of hope. We are persuaded to think
that by practice we can get to the Right Standard. We spend more and more
time on each figure chasing that elusive effect of shade and light. We
try the latest tip to get the highlight in the pupil that will make the
eyes on our figures look like 'windows on the souls', not blue-yoked fried
eggs. (And people tell me that you go blind trying to paint detail on
Net result? Unfinished projects by the bucket load. It takes weeks to
finish one unit never mind an army. So you move on to another project
that just might offer the right combination of model and colour to let
you move up a notch.
What am I talking about! If you want visual impact you use Big, Man-sized,
Impressive and Macho 28mms. These give you visual impact. 6mm just look
like a spiky fungal infection by comparison!
The problem with this logic is that the comparison drawn by those who
believe this is that they can only ever think in their own terms, and
they find it impossible to consider alternatives. 28mm usage stunts the
The example that I would like to use for this is a rerun of a little exchange
that I had on the internet a while ago. The chap on 'the other side',
is intelligent, articulate and a perfect champion for the supremacy of
the 28mms. Unfortunately it was also obvious that he had never looked
at 6mm figures or talked to those who used them. I got drawn into the
debate by a typically off-hand comment from him. He stated that a 28mm
unit looks more impressive than its 6mm equivalent because the individual
figures are, well, bigger. In his terms, 'smaller' means,' inferior'.
The visual impact of any given number of 28mms is far superior to the
same given number of 6mms. As he put it;
One measure is to present a well painted 25mm unit of twelve figures
to a person new to the hobby, or especially an outsider, and place it
alongside a clump of 6s-No contest! One impresses the other merely leads
to squinty-eyed quizzical looks.
Putting that the test with some Macedonian Pikemen, we get this result...
Yup. Round one to Powers of Smugness! My little men are definitely outgunned.
No argument from me on this one.
But of course that is the playing the game to his rules. Single figure
vs. single figure comparison is not and never was my argument. Wargamers
use UNITS consisting of a number of models. Lets take the same pikemen
and put them into some sort of context.
In a standard DBA army there are 6 elements of pikemen. In 28mm this translates
to 24 figures.
Now, using the same Ground Scale and therefore base sizes with 6mm, each
element contains 48 figures and the six elements muster 288 miniatures!
Now we are viewing the two versions of the Might of Macedon in a the way
you would see them on the wargames table. One looks like a couple of rows
of men waving sticks, and the other actually looks like it may do some
damage. One tries to represent an historically deep formation by doubling
to a whole two ranks, while the other is actually an historically accurate
eight ranks deep!
At this stage the usual feeble criticisms get rolled out;
- 'I can't paint anything so small!'
Pathetic excuse! This usually masks the fact that they have never actually
tried to paint 6mms so its easier to hide behind an untested theory.
If you can paint a 28mm then you have the basic competences to paint 6mm.
- 'Think how long it would take to paint that lot!'
A non-starter. One of those pike elements takes me 50 minutes to complete,
a total of five hours in all. I painted the 28mm equivalents and these
took me 20 minutes per figure 1 hour and 20 minutes per element,
and I know that many would regard this is as speed painting! So the six
elements in 6mm took me two and a half hours to paint. The six elements
of 28mms took me over eight hours.
- 'By the time you've put THAT many 6mms on a base they cost more than
Well, not at all.. One element of 48 6mm figures will cost you £2.40.
A total of £14.40 for the lot. Costing one 28mm at a conservative
£0.80 per figure works out at a total of £3.20 per element,
a total of £19.20
Okay, Ive played the mass-effect card for the 6mms. You could rightly
argue that the 'true majesty' of 28mm would come not from a weedy 6 elements,
but a trebling of that number 72 pikemen stretched across the board!
Looks good eh!
But what is sauce for the goose
...is sauce for the gander!
And lets just look at the numbers:
- 28mm = 72 figures = £57.60 and 24 hours painting time
- 6mm =864 figures = £43.20 and 15 hours painting time.
So in a head to head, 6mm are cheaper, quicker to paint and have Visual
Impact in spades looking like an army and not a skirmish line.
Lets move the debate on.
WHAT ARE MINIATURES ACTUALLY MEANT TO REPRESENT?
Wargames figures, no matter what their scale, are really just nicely-coloured
counters. What is important is the base to which they are affixed as this
represents the scale ground area occupied by the miniatures.
An important move in recent years has been the shift to element
based games. The DBA units pictured above are examples of this. The problem
with this for 28mm figures is that they were originally designed for an
earlier generation of wargames rules that concentrated on the individual
figures themselves rather than what they actually represented.
In those days, units consisted of 16, 24, 36 or 48 models. Elements today
tend to consist of 2, 3 or 4 figures.
The end result of this is laughable! To take on example, a French Line
Brigade under Polemos, Grande Armee or Volley and Bayonet rules occupies
a base measuring three inches square. This will comfortably hold a 12
man unit in 28mm.
And here we see one of the most uncomfortable series of compromises possible
made manifest on one group of miniatures. Remember that this base is supposed
to represent a formation of 1500 to 2000 men.
- Of the 12 figures, fully one third are taken up with the command
group of officer, drummer and eagle bearer.
- The proud owner has now decided to represent the grenadier and voltigeur
companies by using two figures for each.
- The remaining five figures have different coloured pompoms painted on
their shakos in a vain attempt to reflect the company organisation.
- The whole grouping looks like a square formation when an original divisional
column should be rectangular .
Let's have a look at something like the 'real thing' to see what I mean....
Those poor, lonely 28mms are patently attempting to do a job that they
are just not equipped to do. They deserve your pity not your contempt.
(Just joking! Contempt is a permissible reaction.)
Now here is how it is done in 6mm.
I am able to show two deployed battalions in formations that reflect the
originals. The command elements are reduced to a manageable level. Skirmishers
can be shown as deployed and the appearance of the base can create a willing
suspension of belief so as to call it a brigade without smirking.
And for the statistically minded amongst you. The 28mm figures will cost
you £9.60 and take you at least 4 hours to paint. The 6mm base contains
100 figures took 1 hour 40 minutes to paint and costs just £5.00
AN INTELLECTUAL DEAD END?
And if I wasn't being controversial enough, I would put to you that the
dominance of 28mm is leading to a lack of creativity in the hobby.
The fact that small units of 28mms look quite ridiculous means that they
are deployed in large formations. I have seen games with 60- strong infantry
regiments. The sheer size of 28mm units means that they take up a lot
of room on an average wargames table. The quality and success of a game
becomes measured by the sheer volume of figures deployed. The end results
of this are:
- Fewer but larger units used.
- A very large percentage of the available ground area of the table covered
- Armies being deployed edge to edge across the table, with no flanks,
no reserves and no room for manoeuvre.
- A tendency for games to look the same no matter what period or armies
The trend over the last couple of years at wargames conventions seems
to be that participation games are giving way to demonstration games.
Demonstration games themselves are increasingly being done in 28mm. At
a recent major UK show that I attended, I counted eight demo games done
in 28mm from various historical periods. There was one very large game
played on a 24 foot long table, the rest being on 8 foot widths - and
EVERY one looked the same! Wall to wall 28mm figures in two lines, no
flanks, no reserves and no interest. With every best intention all of
the people involved had spent a lot of time, money and effort had acted
on the logic that Better=Bigger=More Figures in a small area. But, what
made the Thirty Years War battles different from the Napoleonics from
the Ancients? Nothing at all it would seem.
There were a couple of honourable exceptions, and I must mention a FIW
spectacular that was a effectively a large skirmish and showed the use
of the 28mm scale off to best advantage. A game and a demo that married
the scale and concept perfectly. Unfortunately they were the exception.
The problem is that The Vision has blinded people to other options. The
use of 6mm could offer the demo games all sorts of possibilities:
- Siege games conducted at proper scale distances
- Very large scale battles with thousands of figures but still allowing
large scale manoeuvre
- Company sized actions conducted at 1 figure = 1 man
- Spectacular Chariot Wars games
and the list could go on. But while ever 6mm is viewed as the poor cousin
that we don't like to think about, we are faced with the fact that the
art of demonstration games is heading for stagnation very quickly indeed.
So where does this leave us?
Well, I suspect that if you're already a 6mm gamer then I have reinforced
what you already knew and practiced. Those fanatical followers of The
Vision who have found their way to this page will even now be cursing
me and my logic and getting back to spending a few more hours on completing
the figure that they are working on.
I hope however that those of you who are in the middle of these viewpoints
may at least have enjoyed having an alternative point of view put to you.
I trust that much of what I have said will also ring true.
If you want to take me to task, agree with me, start a conversation with,
'Yes, but...' or just engage in friendly debate, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to drag the argument out into the public, I am quite prepared
to debate on any of the fora out there on the web, but if you do, just
remember that YOU started it!
I really do look forward to hearing from you.