Friday, 10 June 2011

Building a 15mm Sci Fi Army – where do you start?

Unlike some parts of the wargaming world, when you build a 15mm sci fi army you have a lot of freedom. Historical periods have set uniforms and force composition. Science Fiction, on the other hand, offers a great deal of freedom varying from the codex-based armies of the 40k universe to the more loosely envisioned worlds of GZG’s Tuffley-verse. With no predominant 15mm science fiction manufacturer (or vision of the future!) there is no pressure to buy from just one manufacturer and, if anything, different manufacturer’s 15mm ranges actually complement each other!

With 15mm sci fi you start with a blank slate. So where do you begin?
  • Buying figures – I’m sure most of us have done it; we’ve seen some figures we think look really cool, decided we have to have them, and then wondered what to do with them when they arrive! I wonder what proportion of armies that start this way actually get painted? One of the great things about 15mm is that the chances of actually finishing an army rise drastically when you can paint an entire squad in an evening!
  • Reading rules – Some people take a more methodical approach (I confess I’m not one of them), they read a rule set and decide they want to build an army for it. The shine can occasionally often wear off if your army doesn’t perform quite as expected, but this planned approach is great because it allows you to think about army composition and (hopefully) save some money by only buying what you need.
  • Books, TV and films – Others take inspiration from a book they have read or from a film or TV show they have watched and build an army based on that background. Books like Starship Troopers, The Forever War and Hammer’s Slammers provide a wealth of inspiration; as do films like Aliens, Avatar and the Star Wars franchise and TV shows such as Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica. The wide (and growing) range of 15mm sci fi figures available means that it’s becoming increasingly easy to find suitable ‘proxies’ for your chosen universe.
  • Other people’s armies – Now that there is a healthy and active interest in 15mm sci fi, a common source in inspiration is seeing pictures of other people’s 15mm sci fi armies. Who has not viewed a blog or online photo gallery and thought: “I want an army like that”? Even if you start by emulating someone else's army, as you build and paint your own force it will quickly take on an identity of its own, so don’t set the bar too high, the key is to get gaming!
  • Your friends talked you into it – 15mm sci fi may only make up a very small percentage of the wargame hobby at the moment, but I’m guessing there are a few people out there who aren’t still trying to talk their buddies out of buying hugely overpriced 28mm science fiction miniatures! 
Wherever you get your inspiration, 15mm is a liberating scale! You can build interesting and diverse armies that don’t take an age to paint, you can paint them how you like and you won’t have to mortgage your home to fund your obsession, or build an extension in order to house it!



  1. Well Put. I have a ton of 15mm minis, and am working them up into armies as of late, and this post brings my thought to light. The one drawback to 15mm is the openness to armies. For me that means I have to spend a long time thinking about my armies. By that I mean, how many men in a squad, how should the army structure be laid out, how many vehicles should there be. So I have now changed my thinking and will start at the top working down.

    Current army in the works Praetorian Rifle, to fight my Orc horde.

    Great article!!!!


  2. I cannot read this article in Google Reader as it has white text, which shows up as white on white in Google Reader.

    I enjoy reading Dropship Horizon and I know it has gone through a few changes recently, but please change the text to something other than white so us folk who read the blog in an RSS reader (rather than on the blog site itself) can actually see it!

    I'd hate to end up unsubscribing just because you changed the font colour.

  3. Came to mention that I cannot read it in Google Reader and saw Iron beat me to it. I tolerated the other funky font colors on a white background from the previous owner, but I cannot read 'invisible' text. LOL! BTW I also use GR on my mobi.

    Keep up the good work...but stick to traditional font colors.

  4. Like Noel, I'm somewhat paralyzed by choice simply because you do have a wide open world full of infinite options.

    I think the biggest issue that should be addressed is basing, which is my number one hang-up in deciding what to do 15mm sci-fi-wise.

    How do you base them? It matters a great deal when it comes to rules, matching other players' collections, and the like.

  5. Great article, specially because I'm just starting with 15mm scifi.
    I'm a long time 28mm miniature game collector and things like Infinity, Mercs and 40k are very enjoyable to collect but the philosophy behind these games and ranges is quite different from 15mm.

    15mm are not closed collections and games, and you have total freedom to compose your army with different companies minis and choose rules the way you want to and this is quite a new experience to me and sometimes I feel a bit lost with so many options to choose from... But it all boils down to which minis are cooler and then I start from there.

  6. The greatest thing about starting a 15mm army is that it's so damn easy. Three or four packs of troops (at most) from most manufacturers and you have a platoon. Buy four vehicles and you have an armoured or mechanised platoon.
    An entire army for most 15mm skirmish games for less than fifty quid. Buy a second army for any pick up games when friends come round without their army and your still looking at less than a hundred pounds.
    Can't say better than that.

  7. @Ironmammoth - The text color hasn't changed. I wonder why Google Reader suddenly isn't converting... I'll check into that.

  8. @ Ironmammoth and CPBelt: I've corrected the text formatting.

  9. My 15mm armies fall into 3 categories depending on how I want to use them. My Merc Companies are approx 15-20 vehicles and 40-60 inf and form the basis of most games. Examples for me are: Hammers Slammers, a High tech HALO force, a medium tech space marine force and a low tech lizard force.

    To complement this I have the smaller forces of 4-8 vehicles or 20-30 inf to represent the authorities, colonial forces or smaller role specific Merc forces (Terran Starmarines, Texian Rangers, Japanese Urban specialists etc.) Added to this I have similar sized alien forces to provide scenario flavour and bughunt lazer fodder such as a Kursan shark based force, vespulids, standard Ripley aliens etc.

    The last category is a collection of very small, very varied and often odd forces representing scavengers, adventurers, starship crews, civilians, Cuthulu cultists, Crusties, etc.

    I'll always start with a small force and if I enjoy painting it and it seems to hang together on the tabletop grow it into a bigger force. With time the dull ones stay small but the fun ones often grow their own Codex and with the passage of time grow into a full Merc Company. Only with Hammers Slammers did I start a Company from scratch.


  10. @Ironmammoth and CPBelt: it should be corrected now. Thanks for letting us know!

  11. @Mik There will be some future article or articles on basing. It's an interesting subject indeed. :)

  12. I, too, am just getting into 15mm Scifi. Something of a trend, it seems. Currently in the 'buying cool figures I like' stage. Next up is whipping them into a coherent and cohesive army.

  13. Several buddies and I base our figs uniquely, I think. Small metal washers that can be grouped onto a bigger metal magnetic base for differing games. ACP,we sell our figs for our game with bases,but I still use my method. To me the draw to 15mm sic-fi is the creativity of so eons NOT telling "what groups " of figs I have to buy. A cool group of figs here and there,some nice vehicles and Bang a new army. And painting only takes an evening or so. So right to playing a game,def worth it to me.

  14. I started collecting 15mm sci fi cause of the cool figs and the total destruction that Mark wreaked upon my wallet by having this website and all of its eye candy.

    Now I have full armies for about 5 factions in various states of completeness, human and alien. So now its just as big and unfinished a project as all my others. But at least I see completion rather quickly of a group or army once they are concentrated on.

  15. Even though many of us started out in 15mm buying a bit of this and that and follow the "Ooo shiny" directive, I think that many of us can also agree that this is a good way to end up with a whole lot of nothing in some cases.

    I know that, in my case, I have fragements of forces here and there and really no ability to fight anything over a couple of platoons a side.

    The real plus side of a series on building forces is that it might a) give some guidance to those less zealous in their expenditures, and b) help those who are stuck in analysis hell to make sense of the mass of mixed lead they have.


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  17. That reminds me of a conversation I had with my wife last night. I'm in the process of selling off piles of 40k stuff that I've never touched. Last night I put together lots from four different armies... none of which I ever started assembling, let alone made it to the game table. I had more 40k armies than the number of games I played in an average year.

    In 15mm I currently have eight or nine small forces with "core units" finished. Every single one of these armies has made it to my gaming table in the last three months. The combination of painting ease and game system flexibility makes 15mm a huge winner in my book

  18. I’ve been wargameing for many years now but only been gaming 15mm Sci-fi for about two year’s which all came about then a few friends wanted to play a few games of Battletech’s Citytech, we all had some of the old 1/72 scale plastic Robotech models that everyone has owned at some stage in their wargaming lives so we just needed to get some 10-15mm generic troops and we were off. The reason for up scaling from 6mm to 15mm is that Citytech concentrates on urban troop combat and we thought that 15mm figures would just be a better choice of scale to game with and since then I’ve personally not looked back. I have always enjoyed creating my own table top forces which have normally been loosely based from my Favorite Sci-fi films, TV services or books much the same as everyone else I suspect, but so far I have not collected anything more than a Company sized contingent as I tend to stick with the faster paced rules which are ideal for skirmish sized game play, so about twenty or so troops with two or three armored vehicles maybe tanks and a couple of mecha usually rounds out one of my forces.

  19. I tend to go with three sources of inspiration, two that you have touched on here.

    First I decide which Tech level (Old Traveller hand here) the army will generally be . Next
    is from film/TV/books, lastly what I see out
    there from other people. Sci-fi gives you a free hand to build what ever strikes your
    fancy and in 15mm you can do it in enough
    numbers for a good sized fight.

  20. So what game sets/rules do most of you use? I too am finding it hard to ignore my craving for 15mm Sci-fi as there are just to many cool figs out there now. But I want to find a good system to use them with. Any suggestions??

  21. Absolutely the reason I started into 15 and 6mm. I am a WWII buff also, so when I saw FoW and the potential for custom tanks and the flexibility of 15mm to customize and play a ton of models...well, I became addictied! Not only did I get addictedm but I really pushed the genre at ArctiCon, a local gaming convention my best friend put on yearly. Let me tell you, Rebel, FoW, Brigade, PlasmaBlast, Dark Realm, and many others I cannot currently remember were very generous and donated tons of models to really help me get the ball rolling! 15mm and 6mm to a smaller extent is the future of Wargaming in my opinion and I am very excited to be part of the growing genre of 15mm!

  22. @Crushar,
    That's part of the beauty of 15mm. There are so many good choices for rules sets out there. I personally use Two Hour Wargames' 5150. It's based on their Chain Reaction system. It's easy to learn, plays rather smoothly, and you can get in a very satisfying game in two hours or less. If you like solitaire play, it's great for that, as your adversary can be run by the game's mechanics. In fact, because the adversary can be run by the mechanics, the rules allow for cooperative play for more than one player, against a common foe. If you want to get an idea of how the game plays, Two Hour Wargames has a free PDF of "Chain Reaction 3.0", which 5150 is based on. You can dowload it from their website-

    Spartan 117

  23. As far as rules go I use GZG Stargrunts as it was designed for both 25mm and 15mm game play, but I also really want to try out Sci-fi Use Me rules by as I’ve only heard good things about the game play and system, I am also watching the steady progress of Robin’s 15mm Gruntz which has support and backing from Ground Zero Games and Critical Mass games. Now that we have hit on the subject of rules I think it would be good idea if someone could compile a list of the 15mm rules that are still available to purchase and maybe rate their complexity and pace of game play.

  24. Eli - I couldn't agree more. I had the same issue, but knew it would happen so started buying just a little bigger so I could field real units.

    And I freely look for opportunities to mix manufacturers in an army. I am using Khurasan Karks, Lamphreys, and Orcans, as well as Blue Moon Aquans, and GZG equpment for a Water Planet force called the Aquans. Lots of variety. Its the beauty of 15mm.

  25. Hey,
    I'm a little late posting...

    I've recently bought into the 15mm SciFi gaming scene, probably a couple years ago, so I'm still relatively new at it.

    The only VERY MINOR issue I have is I would like to see more "special" weapon types...shotguns, grenade launchers, underslung grenade launchers...etc...most of this stems from scenarios I see posted that require these types of weapons for the TO&E...I realize 15mm is small and from a gaming distance you can't tell what the character is armed with, it's just my own "issue". This is also a holdover from my 28mm Sci Fi collection admittedly...

    Having said that, I to LOVE the fact that a squad can be painted in an evening and a platoon in a couple of days! I've had a blast building up my 15mm forces and hopefully, I will continue do do so!!


  26. @Sgt. Apone - one trick to distinguish command, special, and heavy weapons is on their bases. You can either paint the entire rim a different color, or just put a little colored stripe on the back of their base. Ambush Alley suggests this in their rulebooks, so it's common to see heavy and special weapon troops with bright red stripes on their bases.

    This lets you keep the models themselves painted to the same style and standard, and works great from "eye" distances.