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What is Miniatures (Tabletop) War Gaming?

Miniature wargaming is a form of wargaming that incorporates miniature figures and modeled terrain as the main components of play. Like other types of wargames, they can be generally considered to be a type of simulation game, generally about tactical combat, as opposed to computer and board wargames which have greater variety in scale.

While such games can be played with counters on a table with colored paper to denote terrain types, part of the attraction is the spectacle of painted miniatures moving around on a table with model trees, hills and other scenery. These are available in different scales, and many sets of rules are written with the assumption that a particular scale is being used.

The hobby got its start around the beginning of the 20th Century, with the publication Jane's naval war rules and H. G. Wells' Little Wars. Commercial products just for miniatures wargamers and awareness as a single community of people with similar interests date back to the 1950s with the efforts of Jack Scruby; major developments in the field since then include the rise in the 1960s and 1970s of fantasy and science fiction wargames as an alternative to games based on historical conflicts, and the emergence of Games Workshop in the 1980s and 1990s as the dominant publisher of non-historical wargames.

General overview
Miniature wargaming is a recreational hobby where players simulate a battle, which is played out using small figurines to represent the land, sea and/or air units involved. Many miniatures games are played on a floor or tabletop, with terrain represented by miniature scenery (hills, forests, roads, fences, etc.). Movement of the miniatures is regulated using a tape measure. However, like boardgames, miniature games can also be played using gridded terrain (demarcated into squares or hexagons) or even gameboards.

One of the main reasons for playing miniature wargames, in both these respects, is because it offers players more freedom of play and a more aesthetically pleasing tactical element over traditional games or computer games. Additionally, many hobbyists enjoy the challenge of painting miniatures and constructing scenery. In many ways, miniature wargaming may be seen as combining many of the aesthetics of tabletop train modeling with an open strategy game predominantly, though not exclusively, with a military theme. There is also a large social component to wargames as very often games are played with several participants on a side.

The miniatures and scenery used vary greatly in scale, from 2mm figures up to 32mm or larger. The miniature figures are typically plastic or metal and are often sold unpainted. Scenery is often home-made, and figures are painted by the players, who will sometimes even "convert" shop-bought figures to better represent the units they are trying to depict.

There are any number of sets of miniature wargaming rules, some of which are available without charge on the Internet. Scenarios may depict actual historical situations and battles, or they may be hypothetical "what if?" situations. There are also fantasy and science fiction games with attendant wizards, spacecraft and other genres. Rules also vary in the scale they depict: one figure to one soldier is the most common for fantasy and some historical rules, but many historical systems presume that one figure represents a platoon, regiment or even larger formations on the tabletop.

Generally, these games are turn based strategy, like chess.

Scale is generally expressed as the approximate height of a humanoid figure from base of foot to eyeline (though some count to top of head - hence the possible confusion) in millimeters, this is sometimes referred to as the Barret Scale, as opposed to the ratio values used in scale modeling.

Popular sizes and roughly equivalent scale ratios

mm 54 45 28 25 20 15 10 6
scale 1:32 1:35 1:64 1:72 1:76 1:100 1:200 1:300

"O" (1:48), "HO" (1:87), and "N" (1:160) scale are popular among model railroad hobbyists. Some model railroad scales are close enough to the smaller-scale figures to provide usable structures and/or vehicles, possibly requiring some modification. Some wargamers use card model structures because of their economy and the ease of scaling them to appropriate sizes, and many wargamers scratchbuild their structures.

Part of the reason for the profusion of miniature sizes is the need for manufacturers to differentiate themselves in what is a niche market. This results in what has been termed 'scale creep' where miniatures listed in a catalogue may be identified by a measurement, but in reality may vary significantly from that advertised size. This is to encourage the purchaser into brand loyalty based on the aesthetic desire to maintain a look of uniformity on the tabletop.

Over the years the size of new miniatures has tended to increase. For example, 25 mm figures from the 70s are visibly smaller than the 25 mm figures today. Some can even be used alongside modern 20 mm figures. Currently most manufacturers and gamers refer to 25 mm figures as 28 mm figures, since they are so much bigger than the earlier 25 mm figures. Some figures are still being called 25 mm, even if by the foot to eyeline ratio they should be 30 mm or bigger.

A players choice of which scale to use is a direct reflection of the scope of the game to be played. For historical games, 15 mm seems to be the most popular scale, because it is small enough to allow for large battles. Smaller scaled miniatures are typically mounted in groups and moved as groups. This creates the visual effect of a large mass of combatants, allowing games simulating platoon, company, battalion, and even corps level actions. In these cases, the miniatures are often mounted on trays, or bases, for ease of mass movement.

Larger scaled figures (primarily 25 mm and up) tend to be used in skirmish games where the single miniature represents a single man/animal/vehicle. This is because, although scales in this region provide greater detail that is easier to paint, their higher cost and larger size limits the size of battles that might be recreated. Games of this scale that are not mounted on trays (and thus not locked in block formation) tend to offer greater flexibility of movement.

The perceived and agreed ratios of representative models to represented 'real world' objects are generally explicitly stated. This is particularly true of rules systems that claim some form of historical authority, whereas a minority of rules sets do not state any representative scale.
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