Micro Armour: Getting Started

GHQlogo

After years of wargaming World War II with Flames of War, I’ve been looking for a change of pace for the period. I’ve recently caught up on the vast majority of my modelling projects, including fairly extensive American, British and German Late War forces as well as a bunch of terrain. I’ve also been interested in playing larger battles, something that becomes a bit unwieldy with FOW. In looking for a way to expand my WWII gaming experience, I’ve been weighing factors of scale, cost, storage and time. After a lot of thought, I’m going small and getting started with WWII in micro scale.

The standard in micro scale gaming is GHQ. Founded in the late 1960s and based just outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, GHQ manufactures an extensive line of pewter miniatures for WWII, Modern, Napoleonic, American Civil War and various naval eras. In the early 1990s, GHQ also began offering N and HO scale vehicles targeting model railroading enthusiasts. Along with their gaming models, the company has developed a number of rulesets and terrain-building supplies appropriate for various eras of combat at the micro scale level. For over 40 years GHQ’s models have been held in high regard by wargamers as well as the US military which uses the company’s products for training and planning excercises.

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World War II miniatures scale comparisons (from www.historicalwargames.net)

The 1/285th (6mm) scale of GHQ’s WWII models offers a number of differences and potential advantages to larger scales, such as 1/100th (15mm) FOW miniatures and 1/56 (28mm) models from the expanding Bolt Action game line from Warlord Games.

  • Scale: In 6mm micro scale, an entire infantry platoon can be represented with approximately 3-5 figures mounted to a small square or round base. An inch on the table approximates 100 yards on the battlefield. This allows for larger multi-company or battalion level games compared to smaller single company and platoon skirmish games at a 15mm or 28mm scales.
  • Cost: Wargaming at any scale is an investment, but micro scale allows for the depiction of large battles for a fraction of the cost of larger scales. The starter sets from GHQ provide around twenty tanks for $40, making individual armour models just a couple bucks each compared to the 15mm scale where tanks can run easily to triple that cost. Fielding an entire 6mm infantry and armor company might run just $10-20 while that same company at 15mm could run hundreds of dollars. And, since each micro scale tank represents a platoon and a platoon in FOW may run to maybe six tank models (or more), the game scales cheap and fast into grand scale engagements.
  • Storage: As the website says, I live in Brooklyn, NY, so storage is always an issue for my board games, cards games, miniatures, terrain and hobby supplies. I keep a lot of my miniatures at my local club, Metropolitan Wargamers, but I like having stuff around the apartment for when the gaming mood hits. At the micro scale level, dozens of tanks, infantry and vehicles can be carried in a shoulder bag or kept in a drawer. Compared to my FOW collection which sprawls over multiple bags and boxes, micro scale makes for some quick and easy game deployment just about anywhere.
  • Time: Painting micro scale takes a fraction of time compared to larger scales. A quick spray of white primer followed by a thinned color basecoat, a couple dots of detail, a wash and maybe a tiny decal is all that’s needed to get forces on the table and ready to game.

IMG_3211GHQ’s US Shermans vs. German Panzer IVs box set

IMG_3210GHQ’s US Armoured Infantry Command 1944 box set

To get started at the micro scale, I ordered two sets from GHQ. The Shermans vs. Panzer IVs Battle Box comes with ten tanks per side, a storage case and a set of rules — everything needed to get a game started. To this, I added the US Armoured Infantry Command 1944 set with additional tanks, half-tracks, jeeps, armoured cars and a bunch of infantry. To get some Germans into action, I think I’ll be going for the German Kampfgruppe 1944 for a nice mix of infantry, transport, Marders and even some horse and wagon teams.

IMG_3214Assembly of my first GHQ micro armour sets

In well under less than an hour’s initial work, my first sets of micro armour glued up fast with some careful organization of parts and assembly with superglue and tweezers. Already I’m loving getting so many models ready for paint and then on to the table in no time at all. The saying is “go big or go home” but my new micro armour project looks like its already going to be a massive amount of fun in a very small package.

Gaming The Rails

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I’ve been a railfan for as long as I’ve been a gamer. I grew up taking daily school bus rides past the rail yards of the short line Genesee & Wyoming Railroad. As a kid, my brothers, father and I built an enormous HO scale model railroad in our basement, complete with mountains, tunnels, trestles, lamp-lit streets and a working waterfall. After graduate school, I found myself living in Western Pennsylvania surrounded by and visiting railroad landmarks like the Gallitzin Tunnels, Horseshoe Curve National Landmark and East Broad Top Railroad. To this day, I rarely walk by a magazine rack without leafing through the latest issue of Model Railroader Magazine. There’s just something about trains.

For dual fans of railroading and gaming like me, there are a lot of options. Railroads lend themselves to gaming with their familiar cultural history coupled with thematic economic and mission/route-completion mechanics. Real-world competition among railroad companies, investors and promoters also contributes easily to any game presented within a railroading context.

AARailBaronAvalon Hill’s Rail Baron from 1977 is widely considered the grandfather of railroad games. Based on a 1974 board game called Box Cars, Rail Baron presents players with a map of the US with 28 historic railway routes. Players compete, as did the railroad moguls of the past, to complete routes, upgrade to faster trains and collect more cash to pour back into their empire. Rail Baron became one of AH’s all-time best-selling games, and most modern railroad board games owe more than a little to this classic.

Ticket

A longtime favorite at my house is Ticket To Ride, the award-winning 2004 game from Days Of Wonder. TTR is a pretty straightforward game where players complete routes between US cities, scoring points based on the length of the rail line and connections made along the way. Players balance holding cards in their hands attempting to build more longer valuable routes with the risk of their opponents building the highly-prized lines before them. The game is great for kids since play is fairly straightforward with little-to-no reading required, and various expansions have added to the replay of the game over the years.

steam box

A couple weeks ago I had occasion for a first play through Steam at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. Steam, released by Mayfair Games in 2008, is similar to many train games in that it has a a route-completion component. The basic game comes with a two-side board featuring the US Northeast and the European Rhine/Ruhr region on the flipside. Aside from building routes, players transport goods between cities and upgrade towns to become new hubs. The game is competitive, but players can also balance sharing the wealth over some lines as tracks are strategically completed. Various map expansions add geographic possibilities in Europe, Africa, Asia and the West Coast of the US. Steam Barons expands the game further with a heavier economic mechanic of investing in the stock of multiple railways.

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In my first play through Steam I really enjoyed the Eurogame feel with choices made each round in various focuses of upgrading trains, building track, establishing new stations and moving goods. Bidding for turn placement also becomes increasingly important throughout the game as the board becomes crowded with competing routes and available goods begin to dwindle. Access to capital also shifts during the game, as access to lots of money becomes less important late in the game after a focused growth mode early on. Having played through the game, I’m anxious to give it another ride soon with the Steam Barons expansion’s added stock market elements.

RussianRR

The latest favorite rail game hitting the table at the club in Brooklyn is last year’s Russian Railroads from Z-Man Games. In classic Eurogame style, Russian Railroads is driven by worker placement mechanics as players push to develop increasingly technological superior trains ahead of the competition. While I haven’t had a chance to play the game yet, it did make a lot of people’s top games of the year, so I’m certain to jump into a game in the very near future.

Like myself, I’ve found a lot of gamers who are passionate about trains. Maybe it’s the competition inherent in railroad history that make them appealing. It could also just be the boyish thrill big trains never cease to bring. Regardless, like a passenger waiting at some rural depot with ticket in-hand, we’re all waiting for the next train to arrive with the possibility of adventure and fortune somewhere down the tracks.

Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: Dover Cut & Assemble Books

dover greenfield

I had a whole host of hobbies as a kid. There were plastic model kits from Airfix and Revell. I had a huge HO-scale train layout in my basement. Model rockets from Estes regularly launched from my back yard. Roleplaying and historical miniatures gaming finally came along, allowing me to incorporate a lot of my passion for models  into the terrain, buildings and countless metal figures I’d need for my dungeon crawls or fields of battle.

dover fort

One of my fondest early memories of scale-modelling was with the Dover Publications “Cut & Assemble” or “Easy-To-Make” books. I recall a steady flow of these books in my house with my mother picking them up with some frequency off the book racks at five-and-dimes, toy shops and book stores. There were so many of these and other activity books piled in my room as a kid, and it seemed like nearly every time we went shopping there was a new one to add to the collection.

dover village

These books offered models from many periods including ancient castles, Viking outposts, European villages, Old West towns, Victorian mansions, seaside settlements and even some modern structures. Along with the main buildings, many of the books included details like fences and walls, wells, animals, vehicles and people. These made each book a playset of its own but also allowed for a few different books to be used together. My western town might be settled right outside the fronteir fort, and civil soldier cut-outs would fight among the buildings included in the New England-themed village sets. The HO scale of the models also lent them for use with my plastic soldiers and livestock , and I’d often throw in some lichen bushes or custom-made roads to the set-up.

dover western

Assembly of the models in the Dover books did take a fair amount of time, and the details on things like porches, roofs, stairways and chimneys often involved tiny multiple folds. The hours I spent cutting and gluing together the buildings, often with minimal instructions, certainly gave me plenty of practice in a small scale. The heavy cardstock made the buildings fairly sturdy once built, making them easy to throw in a box when done playing with them.

dover soldiers

The rise of at-home printing has created a resurgence in papercraft modelling no longer constrained to books like those from Dover and Usborne Books. A lot of miniatures gamers swear by the relatively-inexpensive and quickly-accessible papercraft terrain made specifically for gamers by companies such as Paper Terrain or uploaded for free on a number of gaming sites and forums.

Despite my time paper modelling as a kid in the 70s and 80s, I’ve moved on from it with my gaming today. That said, I have been spending a fair amount of time with my youngest son who has developed an interest as of late in searching, printing and assembling Minecraft papercraft models. With his new passion for papercrafting I’m thinking that revisting the Dover books of my past with my son may be a great way to nurture a newly-seeded hobby to last another lifetime.

Collector’s Note: While some of the Dover “Cut & Assemble” or “Easy-To-Make” books are now out of print, many are still available online both new and used starting at under $10 each.