Updated: Oct 2
According to wargames lore, 6mm figures emerged in the 1970s as an alternative to 15mm figures – but never really took off.
6mm figures are considerably cheaper (£3 for 50 Heroics and Ros Napoleonic infantry); they look great ‘en masse’ (the main selling point, of course); they are quicker and in many respects easier to paint; and they work very well if you have a limited space in which to wargame (I live in a loft conversion).
However, they have not displaced either 15mm or 25/28mm figures as the scale most commonly collected or gamed with. Does this matter?
In this brief post I will be sharing some of my own thoughts on the scale.
A Matter of Perspective
I began painting 6mm in the mid-1990s, with Napoleonic British figures. I was a teenager and had little money, so it was the obvious scale to collect. Since then my 6mm collection has grown to encompass large Napoleonic armies (French, British, Austrian, Russian, Prussian, Polish, etc.) I have also collected 6mm ACW, and plan to do the Seven Years War, the 30 Years War, and possibly Marlburians and Ancients in the scale, too.
Are they cheaper? Yes and no. Since large scale battles are the main appeal of 6mm figures, you may eventually need lots and lots of them. If you end up with 50+ battalions a side, this would certainly be a massive saving say on the same number of units in 15mm or 28mm figures, but it is not cost-free. But you certainly can put on a sizeable game after about 3 months of painting and £100-150 of initial outlay.
A few manufacturers stand out. Baccus is probably the most popular now – they have a good website and considerable online ‘community’ (but their 6mm horses can look like Labradors). Adler do slightly larger but nicely stylised ‘gnome-like’ Napoleonics. 6mm Irregular Miniatures are not very detailed, but at least come based. Heroics and Ros are my preferred models – properly proportioned and good value; they are also ‘true’ 6mm (6mm infantry from foot to brim of hat) – Baccus and Adler are larger. H&R have huge WWII and Moderns ranges, but their figures for earlier eras are great, too.
Pluses and Minuses
The pluses are certainly cost, ease of painting, time-saving, and impressive appearance en masse. I would add that 6mm are satisfying to paint and you can add very many units to your collection in a short space of time. Terrain is also cheap and easy to find.
The minuses are that few people at the club do this scale. That’s ok as long as you have the motivation, vision, and discipline to paint up two or more opposing forces. Will your figures be noticed and praised by fellow wargamers? To some extent. But that’s not necessarily the best reason to dive into a scale or period. Your motivation and belief has to come from within to a large extent. Yet 6mm figures are less daunting to paint than 28mm, and where would we be if everyone had exactly the same tastes and approach?
Well painted 6mm are worth doing. You will feel satisfaction from putting large armies together, even if some wargamers will struggle to ‘see’ (appreciate) the figures – over against 15mm or 28mm figures. Generally we are an open-minded club, so collecting 6mm should be an opportunity rather than a risk.
Painting 6mm figures
6mm are easier and quicker to paint than larger scales – with some practice. Clear vision and a steady hand are needed, however. I always paint about 500 figures in one batch now. It takes about 3 weeks (I work full-time so paint in my spare time), but is more rewarding than painting fewer.
Having done thousands myself, I recommend a black primer to provide an undercoat and a base coat and/or shadow for the lighter colours that follow. After the base coat, I always start with the trousers, followed by the main uniform colour on the tunic. Brown for the musket, then a suitable colour for headgear, then usually black for the equipment and grey for blanket rolls. After painting bayonets, faces and hands come last. For cavalry I begin with the horses – I like a bit of variation in colours and details – then the riders as per infantry. I paint my flags by hand. Final touches may include shako tufts, gold epaulettes, drum skins, etc. I gloss varnish all my figures.
The key to painting is the ‘factory method’ of many figures at once. I attach mine to old paint pots with blue-tac. Also, decide how much detail you want to add. I sometimes add cuffs, turnbacks, and cross-belts for Napoleonics, but not for ACW figures, for example. In general, keep consistent and basic: few will notice the absence of lace on your Seven Years War Prussian grenadiers!
There seem to be two main schools of thought. Polemos-rules’ style ‘large’ basing, with one or more units on a base. This can look visually spectacular. Alternatively, I favour the use of small sub-unit bases. This means an infantry unit will have between one and three (or more) bases, each base of 12 figures. This is more flexible than the ‘big base’ approach, allowing battles with units of different sizes for different occasions, and visually better in that a ‘column’ or ‘line’ formation can be represented on the tabletop (the ‘Polemos’ approach means you can’t physically move a unit into the necessary formation).
For basing, I superglue models to the base, then glue sand on top. I paint my bases in a mixture of green, yellow, browns, and white as a highlight. Static grass is not really suitable for 6mm bases, since it makes the bases very ‘busy’.
6mm WWII and moderns (I think Trevor has some) are another painting challenge. In 6mm scale, not much detail is apparent. This makes camouflage and basing an issue, as figures tend to ‘disappear’. Less fussy and simple bases, in high contrast compared to the figures, may be the answer to this issue.
I think this is a question of basing and organisation. Base too few figures on a base to make them ‘go further’ and you’ll end up with a fiddly gaming experience. Base too many figures on a base and you may struggle to paint up enough units. My infantry are based 12 to a 3cm by 1.5cm card base – two ranks of six. Cavalry are 4 to the same size base. One gun and crew occupy the same size base, too. Standard base sizes (whatever looks best) means you can organise your units into movement trays or higher formations easily. It also makes storage easier. By altering the number of bases in each formation or unit you can depict different levels of warfare. Thus for one battle, two bases of 12 infantry make up a battalion. For another game, however, you may want to use 3, 4, 5, 6, or more bases, for the same battalion.
Good manufacturers for 6mm terrain include: Hovels (who sell painted buildings); Irregular Miniatures (a wide range of 6mm stuff); and Northumbrian Painting Services (they often attend shows such as Salute and sell cheap pre-painted terrain such as houses and walls). K&M model trees are good (they can be used in larger copses). While I now find painting any terrain a chore, 6mm terrain is a hell of a lot quicker and easier to paint than larger scales’.
Most rules these days allow for different scales, so this shouldn’t be a problem. 6mm rules have to compromise on complexity to take account of the larger number of units usually in play. I like to make up my own rules, using a jackdaw approach and with 6mm particularly in mind. 6mm rules in my view require simple mechanisms, since on a club night of 3 hours play max, where dozens or even hundreds of 6mm units are in play with 6+ players, there is a definite time pressure. Thus I have written fastplay rules for simple Napoleonic and ACW games, which I hope are at least playable if not sophisticated. The advantage of this approach is that you can make rules for the figures and historical scenarios you have in mind, rather than slavishly adhering to rules ‘considered good’ by others. I am also open to receiving any constructive criticism and tweaking my rules for future games. Still, I believe that ‘figures come first’: with a good 6mm collection ready, any rules can be used, reused, or discarded. The figures are the main thing.
6mm Games at Heston and Ealing Wargamers
So painting and basing done, rules acquired or invented, you have a game ready for the tabletop. I have put on 6mm Napoleonic refights of Bautzen and Dresden at the club, and will be doing Borodino in May and an ACW encounter in June 2018. I have also gamed Waterloo with friends at my house, among other Napoleonic and ACW battles. The key to the 6mm wargame? I would say: clear and simple rules to ensure that the battle can reach a conclusion in the time available; a 2-sided playsheet with all rules on it; visual aids such as ‘1 base = skirmishers; 2 bases = 1 battalion; 3 bases = veteran battalion’ to assist the more optically challenged; and decent terrain which can be obtained online or at shows (terrain is important for 6mm, since a bare table is really noticeable with small-scale figures).
Can you see it yet?
So there we are, my take on 6mm wargaming. It may not be the most popular scale (as a wargaming individualist I consider popularity way down my list), but it has definite advantages over rival scales. In the end it is both manageable and satisfying to paint up 6mm armies. I also collect and game with other scales; the point is not that 6mm is better than others, but that it can be as good at making your wargames vision a reality as any other scale, given a bit of thought, inspiration, good planning and perseverance.