An Alternative to Miniatures

There are many reasons people like to play miniature wargames and to play them with miniatures. There are also many reasons for people to prefer boardgames with counters or blocks like Command and Colors. When it comes to the individual, no reason is more valid than the other, no reason invalid by itself. Wargaming is a hobby and as such, do what you want to do to have fun with it within the constraints you are working with.

This becomes more complex when interacting with other people. Then the hobby of wargaming becomes a compromise between different reasons and arguments, often regulated by the rules within our rulebooks. For example: Age of Eagles suggest this basing scheme, we all like to play the game, so we keep to the basing scheme.

But this post is ultimately about me and my choices. I do not have to conform to other people’s reasoning as a solo gamer. If you, the reader, are a solo gamer or play with very like-minded people, please do not make the mistake to get influenced by strong minded people in forums or beauty shots in magazines, unless you want to.

What intrigues me most about wargaming is the simulation, the strategy and tactics of a situation that leads to a battle and resolves it. Therefore collecting miniatures, assembling and painting them and taking shots of beautifully arrayed armies is not my focus. I have beautifully painted miniatures and it is fun to make nice shots and see the table full of them but – for me, I have to stress – less so than thinking about interesting situations on the field or be a horrified bystander as II Corps feeds itself into a meatgrinder by virtue of a stupid buffoon of a commander.

With a very small table available (that is what I meant with constraints above) and a tendency to play big battles I grew more and more dissatisfied by my collection. Not enough lead but also not enough table or storage space.

I began wargaming with counters and still like them, but they have two weaknesses. They are too lightweight, shifting around too much and they are flat (duh!). Using flat counters with terrain for 6mm figures looks odd.

I also used the blocks that come with Command and Colors games and they work nicely. For the most part… They too have the problem of limited supply. It is expensive to get the quantities to field hundreds of them. The unit names they are labeled with are also do not conforming to certain rule sets or the quantity you need them in. If you like to play in smaller scale, like Divisions or up to a Corps per side at most, they are a good alternative, though. The Command and Colors game adds its value to the package.

My first contact with Napoleonics was this game back on the old Amiga which recently inspired my experiments towards blocks.

Waterloo | Mirrorsoft Games
Waterloo (available at Steam btw.)

More than 20 years ago, even computer games needed to use blocks and somehow I still really like the look of it. So without further ado here is my current block experiment:

Examples from my Spanish Napoleonic army

Here I modeled two different unit sizes with either 4 or 6 blocks each. That is the reason I went for squares instead of long blocks. You have a lot of options to model size of units and formations.

Due to my space constraints I decided to go small with 1cm blocks fitting my existing 6mm terrain. These blocks and bigger ones are readily available at Amazon. If you want to avoid fiddlyness and have more space I suggest 2cm blocks. The blocks are then painted or coated with the basic color of their nation and a secondary color is used for classification:
French: Dark Blue with white
Russian: Green with with white or yellow
Spanish: Yellow with black or red
British: Red with white
Prussian: Grey with black or white
Austrian: White with black or grey

Of course more intricate paint schemes might be necessary if you want to add more nations and allies. With 2cm blocks you also have the space to print out beautiful flags and stick them on top of the leader/commander blocks.

Within a week I whipped out several armies of 200 blocks strength each. They can be used with wargaming terrain, flat terrain and Kriegsspiel style maps. Overall their appearance is more akin to Kriegsspiel than to miniature wargaming but that is what I like. As an avid rules collector instead of an enthusiast hobbyist I now have the tools to play all the rules of my collection. I can increase or decrease the types of units and their size easily. I can also simply paint over blocks if I’m not happy with a symbol used easily as only a fraction of the blocks in my scheme actually use symbols. I could for example, decide to differentiate cavalry types by different colors or symbols.

With this approach one has to take care not to remove too much flavor. After all, a painted miniature looks much more like a historical soldier than a colored block. If I am about to venture into other periods like WW II or modern I would therefore build new block armies with different shapes, sizes, color and symbolism to keep the armies distinct. With periods using linear tactics up to WW I it is also possible to paint these blocks in broad strokes like 2mm miniatures or the screenshot from the Waterloo game above.

As you can see, the possibilities are abundant to add flavor into miniature alternatives. As I implied above, do what you like and I hope you have fun!

4 thoughts on “An Alternative to Miniatures”

  1. Amazing! I play solo myself, and even though I have an army of paper soldiers, partly downloaded from Junior General, and partly drawn by myself (and they are not as pixelated, and it seems to me, more beautiful, because I draw in an Illustrator)… I mostly use Sylvester’s delightful book (one might say the Old Testament of a Solo Wargamer), but lately I’ve been using photoshop or Illustrator’s workspace instead of the playing field… Fortunately, the battlefield can be created there is huge, and no storage space for soldiers or blocks is required at all))))


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