In the run up to Christmas, gaming always has to take a back seat, so I’m not playing much at the moment. I can still hatch plots, though, and currently I’m looking at the time- and space-saving properties of hexmaps.

I’d love to have proper wargames scenery, but I have no-where to store it. That led me to the idea of battlemats, which fold flat. Experience from the solo gaming threads has shown that I’m spending about 25% of my actual gaming time generating and setting up terrain, and I want to reduce that; which leads me to the idea of a few standard terrain layouts, one of which can be selected and deployed in a few seconds and stored flat when not in use.

There’s a fair amount of this about – go to RPGNow and search by product type for “2D Buildings/Terrain” under “RPG Accessories” – but due to the dominance of D&D, it is almost all set on a 1″ square grid. This has two problems; firstly, diagonal moves give a figure an advantage; and secondly, the grid is a little small for 28mm miniatures – their arms bump into each other. To give them some room to manoeuvre they need about a 35mm grid. There’s also an annoyance, in that most of them are 6″ square terrain pieces that print out on A4 or Letter size paper, wasting over half of it.

However, some sort of grid is useful, because I find it faster and easier to count spaces than measure with a tape measure.

Grognards will see where this is going. I need some standard maps with a hex grid, such as those used in SPI or Avalon Hill games of the 1970s and 1980s.

I’ve already selected 28mm figures as my scale of choice, so I need maps with 35mm hexes. That eats up table space, but I can declare one hex to count as 2″, which will mean my table will behave as a somewhat larger one. Sadly, such maps are hard to come by; most hex wargames use a 15-20mm hex and small card counters, and even they are much less common than they used to be.

A rummage through the Wargames Graveyard under my bed, where old games go to die, reveals that I have some flimsy paper battlemats with a 1″ hexgrid from the days of GURPS, and a set of maps for the board/miniatures hybrid wargame Daemonworld, which are actually pretty good, but now out of print. The picture below shows a party of adventurers facing off against a couple of warforged on those maps.

Encounter on the Daemonworld map
Encounter on the Daemonworld map

The maps I like best, though, are those from Cry Havoc, sadly out of print these 20 years, but available electronically and (sometimes) in hard copy from Cry Havoc Fan. These maps have a 20mm grid, but by printing an enlarged scan, I can get one Cry Havoc map to fit my table almost exactly, with 35mm hexes. So those, and the Daemonworld map, will become standard in my battle reports going forwards.

And the lesson learned? If you see something you think you might want for your hobby, don’t hang about, get it as soon as you can afford it. If you wait for a later time, it will be out of production when you come back for it.

Zoom In

This technique saves both space and time in actual play, and in preparation for it. I use it mostly for dungeon crawls, either solo or in small groups face to face.

The picture below has come out unusually blurry even for me, but you can still see enough to get the idea; there are three maps at different scales, which saves space on the tabletop.

Zooming in
Zooming in: The party’s location in the dungeon at three different scales.

Working from left to right, we have:

[Left] The overall dungeon map; actually, a map of the London Underground. The green pawn represents the party’s location. Stations marked on the map represent room complexes; I stole an idea from Neil Gaiman and have the station name indicate the main features or inhabitants of the complex – Blackfriars, for example, is an evil temple. Each line represents a different level, with stairs between levels occurring in stations where several lines meet. Lines between stations (which I describe as wide corridors) are of indeterminate length, and scale is largely irrelevant on this map. I don’t usually share this map with the players, and for smaller dungeons it isn’t necessary at all, you can work with just the room complex map (centre) and battlemap (right).

[Centre] A room complex map. Each 18mm square represents 10′. This is used between encounters as the party moves about a particular room complex; once you roll or draw for initiative, the action shifts to the battlemap. The green pawn represents the party, and the red pawn their opponents, who have just come in sight as the party round a corner. At this scale, the party generally fits inside one square. This is one of the maps from GDW’s Asteroid, scanned and printed at a larger scale; the “London Underground Dungeon” is highly modular and reuses the Asteroid maps repeatedly, although the contents of the rooms do vary.

The major time-saver here is that the party can see the room complex map, so I don’t have to describe the layout or lay it out in dungeon tiles, and they don’t have to draw it. If playing solo, I don’t have to generate the dungeon either. While this gives the players information about the layout that the characters don’t have, since they still don’t know what is in each room, I find it doesn’t affect game balance much.

[Right] The battlemap. A small area of 1″ squares, each representing 5′. This map is used in encounters, where you move into detailed combat time. I draw the walls and doors in erasable marker on the map, although I used a thin marker today and it doesn’t show up well in the picture. You can see the square grid, the party, and their opponents. Because the battlemap is relatively small, it has to be redrawn more often, which offsets some of the time saved; you can minimise this impact by printing out a pile of the small battlemaps, or by shifting from 28mm figures to 15mm or 10mm. If I used a graphics programme to print out the room complex map split over four or more sheets, the squares would be about 1″ across and I could use it directly as a battlemat, albeit one with lots of 5′ corridors; but that starts to degrade the space advantage.

Dead Time

If you’re serious about keeping gaming in your schedule, you need to be alert to dead time. Those little 10 or 15 minute chunks of time that you can use to set things up for later.

Your daily commute is a good example. If you’re not controlling the vehicle (say it’s a train), you can use it for reading (dead tree or PDF editions) and maybe writing, depending on how crowded and bumpy it is, and how much you care what other people think about your hobby. If you’re (say) driving the car, you can still listen to podcasts – I learned a lot about D&D 4E from the podcasts on the WotC site, burned to CD and played while driving to work.

Your lunch hour is another, if your job still allows you that luxury; same comments apply. Due to my job, lunch now generally consists of a short period with a phone in one ear, typing one-handed while taking occasional bites from a sandwich – but I wrote about half of GURPS Traveller Alien Races 2 on a Psion 3c during my train journey to work and lunch hours, a few years ago. Be warned; you will need somewhere to hide and concentrate, otherwise you will be dragged out of your reverie to work on today’s crisis.

If your work takes you away from home overnight, you probably have some time available in the evening, or before breakfast, depending on your timetable. About 20% of my Warhammer 40,000 army was painted in hotels while staying overnight on business, and this is also good for solo games or Play By Email (PBEM). (Personally, I find playing on a forum relies too much on my having regular, predictable slots of free time, and internet access during those slots, so it doesn’t work for me. Your Mileage May Vary.)

Much of this blog is actually written the same way; except for game write-ups, I tend to write each post in chunks a few minutes long, edit it, email it to the blog, and then log in to set up categories and so forth. So what you read in a few minutes can be the result of several days’ work in short chunks of dead time.

Now, I was going on to talk about PDF games and laptops specifically, but I think they deserve their own post. More of this later.

Painted Figures

This is the first and most obvious target for gaming on the run; I suspect most wargamers spend a lot more time painting their figures than playing with them. I used to paint when fellow gamers were not available, but now that this doesn’t happen anyway, I’ve decided I may as well use the time for solo gaming. Thus, the painting has got to go; but unpainted figures lack visual appeal.

I’ve already decided that I will game in 15mm, 25mm or 28mm, as they fit the available space and my skirmish gaming bent. My lady wife draws the line at the idea of my paying someone to paint figures for me, and much as I love gaming, I love her more, so I shall respect her wishes. Besides, it’s awfully cold in the garden shed at this time of year.

This leads me to look at what is easily available in the pre-painted arena. Other factors in consideration are that soft plastic stands up well under abuse from small, excited fingers; it would be nice to mix and match across ranges; and I like to choose what I’m getting rather than take pot luck with random booster packs. As previously stated, it turns out cost is not an issue, due to the small numbers of figures I actually need. (I’m also toying with the idea of using card counters for RPG mooks, minions or extras, to give a quick visual cue on how tough foes are, and reduce the amount of space and money allocated to figures. However, counters are a separate topic for another post.)

Half an hour of surfing reveals I can basically forget any scale outside of 25-35mm, and narrows the available choices to those below.

Any paint job that looks right from arm’s length is good enough for my purposes, and for 28mm figures is equivalent to viewing a real person at 40 yards or so away, at which range a lot of detail starts to become invisible.

em4 Miniatures: Cover a wide range of genres, metal, about 28-30mm high, better painted than I can do myself, £12 for 5 so about £2.40 each. Easy to see which figures you are buying.

Rackham: Confrontation (fantasy) and AT-43 (SF). Hard plastic, 35mm high on a 30mm base, very nicely painted. £16-£20 or so for 6 basic troopers, so about £3 each. Very pretty, but the 30mm bases would be a problem for storage and for use on a 1″ = 5′ grid, which I often use; so reluctantly ruled out.

Reaper: Legendary Encounters fantasy range, soft plastic, billed as 25mm but probably 30mm to match D&D miniatures, nicely painted. I have yet to find anyone who sells them in the UK, though judging by the US prices they would be in the region of £2 to £3 each.

WotC: D&D fantasy, Star Wars SF, Heroscape many genres. Soft plastic. Height varies quite a bit – looking at the D&D 3.5 basic set I bought a few years ago, Regdar is nearly 35mm tall even crouching; Aramil is 28mm fully erect. I can paint better than the early ones, though I hear the quality is improving. Cost varies between £1 and £2 per figure if you use all of them, I reckon I use half or less so effectively about £3 per miniature.

World of Warcraft Miniatures: Fantasy, billed as 40mm high (so my guess is at least 45mm in reality), probably plastic, paint jobs look reasonable, work out at about £2.50 per figure if you use all of them, with my usual “only use half” CMG rule of thumb that’s about £5 per figure. These are ruled out on size grounds as they will be too big both for my figure case and for the 1″ grid.

So, it looks like a mixture of em4 and WotC is the way to go for painted figures. One quick raid on the piggybank later…

The Usual Suspects

Left to right:

  • D&D 3.5 mini “Regdar”. I reckon this fellow would be 40mm if he stood up straight, which makes him 8’4″ in 28mm scale and 7′ 8″ in 30mm. Come on fellas, I know he’s a big lad, but really…
  • D&D 3.5 mini “Aramil”. 30mm tall, 6′ 2″ in 28mm scale and 5′ 9″ in 30mm.
  • eM4 generic pawn. 30mm tall again. I keep wanting to draw smiley faces on these.
  • eM4 wizard from Elfsera set 1. 30mm tall so the same height as Aramil.
  • Games Workshop “Boromir” from their Lord of the Rings range. About 32mm, or 6′ 7″ in 28mm, 6′ 2″ in 30mm. (Prepainted but from eBay, which is also a valid source of prepainted figures, though the price is very variable depending on bids.)

The average real-world human male is about 5′ 9″ for comparison. So we conclude that either 28mm is really 30mm, or all the manufacturers are measuring to eye level not the top of the head. We also conclude that they would all peacefully coexist on my gaming table without looking weird. Finally, we conclude that I have to use a better camera than the one on my mobile phone for these shots.