Friday, November 21, 2014

Honey, I shrank my hobby!

So, if you've been looking around, you've noticed that there's a large movement in Wargaming these days away from the "standard" of 28mm (heroic) figures.  While some are getting larger and going into 32mm pieces, there's a growing hardcore support for smaller scales- 10mm and 15mm are becoming the rage.  Let's look at some of the reasons why.

So, first things first, 26/28/28 Heroic wasn't always the gold standard it's been for the past ten years or so.  There's always been games being played in smaller scales- and in fact some of the older armor games on the market have been at those scales for twenty or thirty years.  However, for many of us, the good ol' 28's were the norm we grew up with.  However, the past few years there's a lot of positive movement in the smaller scales:  Robotech, Dropzone Commander, Flames of War, Martian Front, and many others (arguable with FoW quietly leading the Renaissance back to smaller scales).  I've been putting a lot of thought into this one recently, and I've come up with some solid answers as to why.

Quality is a Quality all it's own
Sure, the 28mm and larger folk are sharper and crisper than ever before.  But advances don't stop there.  Twenty years ago most of your 10mm infantry looked like shapeless blobs, more crayola than collectible.  Advances in machining and mold process have made it possible for today's 10mm figures to have nearly as much detail as the 28mm "leaddies" I was buying back in the 80's. 

Quantity is a Quality all it's own, too
Many gamers (Belgarath97 among them) like to play massive games with multitudes of models.  The smaller the scale, the more manageable an eighty model game becomes. 

Space, the final Obstacle

Big games obviously take up big space.  You need models, model storage, terrain, and tables.  By shrinking the scale down, you go from a game that you might not be able to store in your shoebox of an apartment, to one where you can hide table and all in the bottom of a closet. 

Ranged vs Deranged
Game balance is based upon limited ranges.  Everybody knows this.  However, most gamers never stop to consider how ridiculous a lot of weapon ranges are at 28mm.  12" range with a pistol means that super-science high tech .45ACP you've got has a maximum range of about half a city block. Assault rifles maybe a whole block.  Sniper rifles usually a block and a half. Um...that doesn't really make sense.  If you think about it, the only thing on an average 28mm table that should be written next to a sniper rifle's range is "yes." These things exist for game balance, but when examined outside of the rules bubble, they don't make much sense.  10mm and 15mm games, having much more table to play with, have the opportunity to be more realistic (although not all are). 

Robots are cool
Much more than bow ties. A lot of your games in these scales involve walkers, mecha, and strange vehicles- all of which have been pervading pop culture more and more in the past few years.  It might be hard to get a non-gamer interested in a game where he controls a half dozen skirmishing people at 28mm, but if they're a Transformers or Pacific Rim fan, you might hook them on big stompy walkers in 10mm. 

Price Control
There's not as large a margin in making models as hobbyist's (myself included) generally think. Molds and model production has unseen costs, regardless of materials used.  Just like everything else, those costs per piece shrink as the scale goes down.  This means more upstart companies can try to break into the industry with smaller scales. More  new ideas leads to more interest, which leads to even more companies thinking they have a shot in... I think we're just seeing the start of this crest personally, and you're going to see a lot more coming in these scales in 2015/16.

Under the Micro/macroscope
The culmination of all the above comes together in this one:  starting smaller makes it possible to make "ginormous by comparison to people" models a lot easier.  Take a loot at some of the biggest pieces in Dropzone Commander and you'll see what I mean.  Those things are fifty feet tall or more in scale.  Trying to do that in 32mm would result in really hard to produce, hard to store, hard to transport models.  By creating them in a smaller scale, you have much more opportunity to go big. 

RIP 28mm, We Hardly Knew Ye
So, is 28mm dead?  No, certainly not.  It will be the industry driver for quite a long time to come, don't you worry.  You'll also see more 32mm coming I'd expect.  However,  such a wide range of scales is a good thing for the industry- if not for your wallet.  It means more games and more models from more manufacturers.  It means more fresh ideas, and more opportunity to tailor your hobby to want you want from it.  Case in point:  our own Merek hates to paint. In fact, hate may be to soft a word.  I might have seen plans to blow up a brush factory fall out of his case once.  However, he's a huge fan of classic armor, and knows more about WWII fighting armor than most people will ever be exposed to.  It's a real struggle for him to paint 28mm infantry figures, and I always give him credit for the time he spends doing it (normally, I'm sure, painting with one hand and punching holes inthe wall with the other).  However, he got a 1,500 point for of Dropzone Commander and had them painted up ot a solid tabletop standard in under two weeks.  And, dare we say it, enjoyed it. Why?  Because he found what he wanted in his hobby- vehicles.  He actually found an army he wanted to paint.  And you know what, as his friend and club-mate, that's worth me spending a hundred dollars or so to put a force down on the table to play against him.  

So, any of these points on target or totally off?  Have any I missed?  Want to tell people why you love your favorite small-scale game?  Drop it all in the comments below, we love to hear them. 

I'll see you on the other side of the table.
The Second Class Elitist.


  1. Spot on. I've moved away from 28's to 15's and agree with you completely. The only 28's I still want to paint are my Bloodbowl teams and with the Portaball kickstarter running at the moment I may even move away from 28's for that. Smaller scales are cheaper, take less time/effort to paint, have an ever-expanding range of minis and getting better quality wise all the time.

  2. I think you are totally correct. I also moved to 15mm (Gruntz, Tomorrow's war) and 12mm (Heavy Gear).
    Most 15mm allow a lot of freedom when it comes to army building, just pick what you like and make up a reason to use it.
    Some of the points you mention above also explain the rise in skirmish games lately.
    Small scales for which I still like to use 28mm and 54mm miniatures.

  3. firstly i would challenge the assertion that Robotech has been "positive movement" in any sense. If you've been keeping up with the kickstarter after the actual pledging finished, it's been heaping upon heaping of lies, broken promises and mismanagement. On top of that, there have been serious criticism over both the rules and the models, from those who have actually got to see them. Palladium should not be held up as anything other than a bad example.

    I also feel that you've completely overlooked the 6mm scale, which continues to grow and expand, and provides all the benefits covered in this article only moreso.