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Picking a Figure Scale

For a new wargamer starting from scratch, DBA (like many games) requires a number of decisions that have to be made before you can get down to the business of actually gaming. One of these decisions is what scale miniatures you will use to create your DBA army(ies). There is no right or wrong answer, of course, but you may find that a certain scale best meets your own preferences with respect to appearance, price, gameability, etc. The following essay outlines various considerations that may influence your choice.

First, a definition is in order. Figure scale is an expression of the size of the miniature used to create your DBA armies. Typically, figure scale is measured in millimeters (mm) and represents a measurement from the top of the figure base (i.e. the bottom of the figure's foot) to the crown of the head, sans puffed up hair or headdress. Some prefer to measure from the tops of the feet to the eyes. Either of these methods will be accurate within a millimeter or two.

There are numerous scales used in wargaming in general, ranging from 2mm, 6mm, 10mm, 15mm, 20mm, 25mm, 28mm, and then up to 54mm and larger. DBA specifically provides basing instructions for four scales: 2mm, 6mm, 15mm and 25mm. It is easy, however, to adapt the DBA basing instructions to other scales, so no figure scale is precluded from use.

One thing to note about scales is that they often vary even within their advertised specifications. For example, miniatures sold as 15mm scale may range from 14mm to 18mm in scale depending on the supplier. Variations may even occur within a single range or supplier's stock, since not all figures within a range or by a miniature company are from the same miniature designer/carver. This may not be an issue. Some gamers prefer a degree of variation. After all, not everyone is the exact same height or weight in real life. Too much variation within an element of 3-4 miniatures, however, doesn't look right to the eye. Therefore you will want to compare miniatures from various suppliers before mixing them to make sure they satisfy your requirements.

What's the best figure scale for you? Here are some things you might take into consideration as you ponder this question.

  • How much do I want to spend per figure for a DBA army?
  • How important is having highly detailed figures?
  • What scales do the other local gamers (and my likely opponents) use?
  • How important is ease of transport?

Some general rules of thumb: The smaller the scale, the cheaper the miniature but also the less detailed it will be. A surprizing amount of detail, however, can be packed into a 15mm, 10mm or even 6mm miniature. As scales get smaller, however, the visual reward of detailing becomes less obvious in comparision to the time required to detail. Larger figures are heavier and more onerous to transport than smaller figures in volume.

It is not uncommon for a gamer to have a collection of several armies in various scales. You may prefer friendly games in 15mm scale, but like to compete in tournaments at 25mm scale. Or you may just want to experiment with a densely-based 6mm army just to see what it looks like. One of the advantages of DBA is that it is relatively cheap to add a new army to your collection regardless of scale. When collecting armies outside of the most popular scales (i.e., 15mm and 25mm), however, it may be useful to go ahead and procure a matched pair (e.g. Romans vs. Carthaginians) so that you are not dependent on your opponent to provide an army of the same scale.

Here are some notes on the individual scales beginning with the most popular, 15mm.

15mm Scale

By and away the most popular scale among DBA Resource Page regulars (88% in an October 1998 survey), 15mm scale is also probably the most widely used scale in wargaming today (regardless of period). It became popular in the 1970s as a reasonably detailed but cheaper alternative to 25mm miniatures. It has retained its popularity because it still provides both detail and value. Although smaller scales are available with surprizingly good detail (e.g., 10mm and 6mm), many feel that 15mm strikes the perfect compromise, being about as small as you can justify painting detail to obtain the visual affect on the gaming table. 15mm ancient and medieval miniatures are available from a large number of suppliers in a wide variety of ranges.

25mm and 28mm Scale

Long ago the preferred scale before the mass introduction of 15mm, 25mm is still a popular scale and is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. There are several reasons for this. One is that there are a large number of suppliers and most of the popular historical armies can be represented. Another is that 25mm figures afford lots of opportunity for detail and therefore are a perfect canvas for gamers who place a premium on well-painted miniatures. Some would suggest that as gamers age and/or depending on their eyesight, they tend toward 25mm because the minatures are easier to see and paint. 25mm figures are certainly larger and easier to handle on the gaming table. The size also gives them more of an individual "personality," which also explains in part why 25mm figures are popular in skirmish gaming. The downside with 25mm is the cost. More metal means more expensive, typically 100-200% more than 15mm scale.

Many manufacturers of ancient and medieval figures, such as the Foundry, carve slightly larger 28mm figures, which they are careful to distinquish from 25mm miniatures, presumeably to emphasize the greater detail afforded by a larger figure and to avoid annoying customers who want to mix their product with other 25mm figures. Other manufacters are not as careful as Foundry in identifying their exact scale, and therefore you will often see references to "small 25s" as opposed to "large 25s."

One quirk about 25mm scale in DBA is that 25mm armies fight on a larger board (4 feet by 4 feet). Note that the board width is doubled from 15mm to 25mm scale (i.e. from 2 feet to 4 feet). However, the recommended element frontage only increases 50 percent (i.e., from 40mm to 60mm). That means that a 25mm DBA army occupies a smaller percentage of the game board and that there will be more room to maneuver on the flanks, which can change the character of play especially for highly maneuverable Light Horse armies.

20mm Scale

20mm scale migrated into wargaming from the world of railroad modeling and is equivalent to HO or 1/72 scale figures. 20mm figures were originally available widely from Airfix in plastic and represented a good, cheap introduction to the wargaming hobby. Plastic 20mm miniatures are still available from a variety of suppliers (HAT, ESCI, etc.) and are suitable for ancient/medieval gaming (See Nick Grant's DBx Wargaming with 20mm Soft Plastic Figures).

20mm metal miniatures are also used in miniature wargaming, most commonly in the World War II-era skirmish stye games, but also in ancient and medieval gaming. The number of suppliers of metal 20mm figures is limited and includes Irregular and Newline Design.

10mm Scale

10mm scale represents a compromise between the detail afforded by 15mm and the economy of 6mm figures and has grown in popular particularly in wargaming periods (American Civil War, Franco-Prussian War, etc.) where large tactical units (e.g. regiments) are fielded. Depending on your attitude toward such things, it is either the best (or the worst) of both worlds. The number of suppliers is limited and includes AIM, Conflict Miniatures (UK) and Irregular.

6mm Scale

6mm scale is often referred to as heroic scale; I'm not quite sure why but it may have to do with the ability to recreate large battles with 6mm figures in a relatively small gaming area. That is not necessarily relevant in DBA, where the sizes of the army and gameboard are fixed. However, 6mm figures do provide you the option of increasing the number of miniatures per base. A warband or pike element with 8-12 figures instead of the typical 3-4 has a certain visual appeal. The number of ancient and medieval ranges available in 6mm is fairly broad. The number of suppliers, however, is somewhat limited and includes Heroics & Ros, Bacchus and Irregular. At 6mm scale, slight variations in size can make figures all but incompatable and you'll find that figures from these suppliers range in quality from excellent to acceptable and don't necessarily mix well from one supplier to another.

2mm Scale

2mm miniatures are typically moulded as blocks comprised of several miniatures on a common base or strip. At 2mm scale, it is possible to discern infantry from cavalry, elephants from chariots, pikeman from legionaries, etc. More subtle distinctions are generally not possible. The attractions of 2mm scale apart from its economy is that you can cram hordes of miniatures on a base to create a "dense" unit, painting is a breeze, and the battlefield becomes greatly simplified (i.e., a clump of lichen becomes a forest). A 2mm army is certainly lightweight and easy to transport. Finding sources of 2mm figures can be quite a challenge however.

54mm Scale

Popularized by military modellers for displays and diaramas, 54mm figures are now increasingly being used in wargaming, especially in skirmish scale gaming where one figure equals one man. Use of 54mm scale in DBA or similar games, however, is still extremely rare (if indeed it occurs at all).


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Last Updated: May 30, 1999

Comments, suggested additions, and/or critiques welcome. Direct them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.