Miniature scale

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (and in other places, such as Farcebook), I have, of late, been painting several individual models simply as one-offs (or, at least, as part of only a loosely-connected group of models) rather than as part of any kind of army or gang for a particular game. So far, they’ve all been from Steve Buddle’s Spyglass miniatures (although generally they’ve been resin re-issues of old Spyglass sculpts from Spyglass’s successor Eolith rather than Spyglass originals), but I’ve got an order from Hasslefree Miniatures on the way as well. And I’ve really been enjoying it. Normally, when painting models for an army, you have to make compromises. Sure, that extra layer of highlights might seem like a good idea on this model, but if you do it for this one, you’ll have to do it for fifty other models, and then you’ll never finish the buggers. But with individuals, you can just keep going until you’re satisfied with the model, since the next figure you do will be different anyway.

Aside from these one-off figures, I’ve mostly been painting 6mm figures for Epic. And I’ve been having far more success painting up my Epic armies than I’ve ever had at painting any kind of army or other large force for gaming before.

And these two factors got me thinking about miniature scales. The more I think about it, the more I wonder whether 28mm isn’t the wrong scale for miniatures in general.

For armies, it’s arguably too big. Painting a 28mm figure well takes a few hours. Scale that up to fifty miniatures, and there’s a lot of effort involved. A lot of those fifty models are going to be fairly similar rank-and-file infantry, and while the first two or three of them may be exciting to paint, by the last few, they’re really getting tedious. To have any hope of getting a decent number of models painted, you have to compromise with a simplified paint-scheme. And fifty soldiers is barely an army anyway. That’s, what, two platoons? By contrast, in 6 or even 10mm, it’s easy to paint a batch of forty soldiers in a few hours. In a couple of months you can build up a real army. For wargames, 28mm is just too big to put together a reasonable sized force.

“Ah, but 6mm models are tiny,” I hear you cry. “There’s no satisfaction in painting a tiny little infantryman: I want my models to be works of art!” But once again, 28mm isn’t ideal.

Sure, there are lots of nice models at this scale. But if you’re just looking for models to paint to look nice, why not go for something bigger still? At 40mm, or the more popular 54mm, there’s so much more room for detail, so much less need to over-enlarge features to make them show up. More scope to add freehand details. More room for sculptors to get features right. Sure, you can get some great sculpts at 28mm, and do some lovely paint-jobs. But in every way that 28mm models are better than 6mm, so 54mm models are better still.

28mm is ultimately something of a compromise. But I’m beginning to wonder whether they don’t represent the worst of both worlds. Are they a happy medium between the demands of painter and gamer? Or are they just too big for gaming, but too small for display?


  1. I suspect the compromise has more to do with what’s appropriate for the game they’re meant for. Any larger size for warhammer and they wouldn’t fit decent size armies on any sort of table – the Epic scale is based on 40K shrunk so as to give the titans a reference point.

    But if we’re just talking about miniatures outside of existing game context, from a painting perspective the best kind of game is probably one with 5-20 models a size at the much larger scales – perhaps some of the mecha style wargames could accomplish this

    • 28mm is too large a scale for Warhammer, really. The way regiments move about in blocks makes no sense at all when you’re only dealing with units of about 15-30 soldiers. I know some games (mostly historical ones rather than SF/Fantasy) deal with this by explicitly saying that one model represents several soldiers, but that doesn’t work for a game like Warhammer where characters have as much impact as they do. But at 15mm or smaller, you could certainly get a lot closer to the number of men that the rules imply.

      I guess what 28mm does work well for is skirmish/gang warfare games like Necromunda or Mordheim (or Blood Bowl), where you don’t need a whole army of models, but you do want more than four or five.

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