Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Building a 15mm Army Part 1 - Where To Begin

The end of February is upon us, which means those Ground Zero Games Christmas Vouchers are about to expire. 

While trying to figure out my order, I started to realize just how disorganized my 15mm collection has become. So I took a few moments to think about how I organize my forces. Then I thought it might be fun to share this process - especially since the scale has expanded far quicker than our abilities to buy, paint, and play with everything that's out there.  Here is my attempt at a common-sense approach to building a 15mm science fiction army. 

Core Concepts

In the past, I had divided up my forces by game setting. For example, the Blue Moon Orion Republic would be used for my Dominion Invasion world, the Micropanzer SAS would be a megacorp security force in my Conquest System universe, and so forth. But I've realized how absurd it is to pigeonhole figure and vehicles to a specific set of opponents, objectives, and background - especially when I don't use any of the "official" universes from rulebooks or manufacturer websites. 

Now I'm working from a more basic system - pick the models, pick the color scheme, and get to the game table. The fine tuning and world-building can wait - especially if I have an assortment of completed forces to choose from. This approach also gives me a reason to expand some of these beyond their original scope

The goal is for each of my core forces (not every force in my collection - just a set number) to have these types of units available: 
  • Infantry. Since I play small solo games, an enhanced platoon is really all I ever need.
  • Vehicles. I like having the option of mechanizing most infantry. And what's the point of wargaming without tanks?
  • Power Armor Infantry (or other equivalent). In addition to my standard infantry, I want my forces to have some kind of elite heavy-hitting unit for special operations.
  • Mecha. What can I say? Robotech was a huge influence on my childhood. And there are more than enough mecha available in our scale to include in any sizable army.
This template is flexible enough to select the exact units I want - whether it's a 5-figure skirmish, a mechanized platoon slugfest, or anything between.

So... what does that look like?

The best example I have so far is my "Black and Red" army. Here are the models in that force:

  • A Laserburn Imperial Commander figure
  • 40 Rebel Minis Titan Marines (individually based, generally played in fireteams of 4)
  • 6 Kremlin Miniatures Red Banner MANITOU (individually based)
  • 3 Old Crow Outrider Grav Scouts (gun mini-turrets)
  • 5 Old Crow Gladius Grav Tanks (1 missile, 1 dual rotary, 3 standard turrets)
  • 3 Old Crow Glaive Grav APCs (missile box mini-turrets)
  • 3 Rebel Minis Earthforce HAMR Suits with Titan HAMR Arms 
  • And the centerpiece - 1 Ravenstar Studios Thunderfoot Mech
What can I do with this army? Pretty much anything! Some games I've played in the last couple months: 
  • A FUBAR game with a Glaive-mechanized infantry platoon, augmented by sniper teams mounted in Outriders, and fire support from a Gladius. 
  • A small skirmish with In The Emperor's Name using just my commander and a handful of troopers.
  • Power Armor troopers deploying from two Glaives, supported by a HAMR suit, cleaning out a Space Demon-infested spaceport in a game of Forge Of War
  • All four Mecha supported by missile-armed infantry teams in an urban warfare USE ME game.
All of these games were played using models from the "Black and Red" force. If I could bring, say, three more armies up to this standard (more or less), it would really add some versatility to my 15mm game nights.

What about the rest of you? How do you decide which scraps of bare pewter and resin will combine to make your 15mm armies?



  1. Most of my HOTT armies are 15mm. In some cases I just buy random figures, and armies grow organically out of them. In other cases I'll decide I want to build a particular army and buy figures as appropriate. Ideally if I can get them from one company that's great (I've done a few just from Peter Pig's ranges, for example), but sometimes they are a slow process of assembling things from different companies over time - my Narnian army took over a year of odd purchases and acquisitions before I was ready to start painting it.

    1. Yep - sometimes it's worth playing the long game to make sure you get what really works best. My Rebel Droptroopers army is an example of that right now. None of the vehicles I looked at seemed to work for their style and organization. Then JBR did that custom rendering of an upcoming Titan Marine vehicle for me, and I can't picture them with anything else.

      So even if it's a year before those new Rebel vehicles are out - I won't use any other vehicles with those Droptroopers. :)

  2. I am new to 15mm. I have some Rebel Minis Shalur Mercs in the post somewhere over the Atlantic,and I have supported the ZAS Kickstarter. That should get me the core of two forces that I can use to encourage others at my local club to play. Though I intend to use my own rules that I have in development.

    1. You picked two great choices for your first armies. What's popular with the local club? I only asked because you probably chose (in my opinion) the two 15mm armies closest to Infinity figures.

  3. Having stated in the late 70s doing WWII and Cold War I went with something called Series 78.

    The S-78 units where made for WW II gamers
    and were composed of either of I/72nd scale
    or Roco Mini Tank vehicles. These units were for sale as complete formations, the one
    thing that they all had in common was the
    reduction in the size of the units and in battalion or larger there are always
    the appropriate support units. The lack of support units (THE ASH AND TRASH) has always been a pet peeve of mine, left to his own devices a gamer will bring as many guns
    to bear as his point system will allow
    (IMO mind you!).

    The beauty of a standardized MTO&E is the
    gamer can be required to think in broader
    terms i.e. resupply and recovery. In a
    campaign game in particular these factors
    can be of great importance and where
    possession of the battlefield (with your recovery assets) can be down right lucrative!
    (I would allow the winning player to paint
    up an opposing force vehicle in his colors
    and use it in the next game for example)

    The main thing with these MTO&Es is that
    all units fight as they would under the
    rules used i.e. a tank although representing
    a platoon under these T.O.s is in fact just
    a tank that moves shoots and fights as it
    would normally.

    I still use this system to purchase and play my miniatures, I'm possibly a little obsessed with
    MTOs but in my defense after 20 years in the army I tend to see the needs and
    connections of standard units. Also being a Campaign gamer at heart, sustainment in the field is never far away in my thinking.

    So that's how I go about it.

    1. That seems like a perfect way to organize anything from historicals to near-future. I spent six years in an infantry brigade headquarters... pored through the MTOEs for hours at a time making sure I had an SOI entry for every single section in every battalion.

      And I think it hurt me more than it helped when it comes to science fiction. My lack of imagination would give me a bunch of armies that are essentially the same - different figures and vehicles, but filling the same positions on the MTOE. That's why I've loosened up the approach. :)

      Now you have me thinking more about campaigns and sustainment/CSS operations. I'll have to read through some of your posts again and see if I can come up with better ways to link my own games. :)

    2. Like you say the risk is very similar force structures with regional/national equipment!
      But for standard (human) forces that's not so bad, a tank is a tank tracked/hover/grav, it's mission is the same-kill people and brake things...)Where the fun comes in is
      non-standard units and of course Aliens!

      One campaign we did years ago using the Old Starguard rules was two opposing units marooned on a planet well outside the space lanes with a small colony already there that they were fighting over. We started the game
      ten years after these two light infantry forces were cut off with no resupply for their fancy stuff and no vehicles per say other that what the colonists had, it got very Mad Max like, and was allot of fun.

    3. So... post-apoc within an existing future setting? That does sound fun. :)

      Maybe the subtle differences (wheeled vs grav, light personal armor vs hardsuit) would be enough to distinguish forces on the same TOE. So far I've tried for larger changes than that... 4-man fire teams in one army and 5-man teams in the next, with large full-squad transports in one and individual fireteam transports in the other.

      Maybe that's a major drawback to solo gaming. Two forces with nearly identical TOEs would be better in social gaming, where individual strategy will make the differences much clearer.

  4. I'm seriously contemplating getting back into 15mm SF after the better part of a decade doing other stuff, and enjoying discovering new figure and terrain companies all over the place!

    Thinking of a "mechanized infantry" platoon/short company with a twist - a core of the Darkest Star GitS-inspired drive-armour mechs, supported by an absolute horde of drones for fire support and recon. Little grav drones up ahead, gun drones of various flavours as support, even indirect-fire and anti-tank heavy drones.

    No idea which system I'd use, I don't know that my old standby of Stargrunt II would handle a force like this terribly gracefully...

    1. That sounds like a fun army to build!

      But it does sound about out of Stargrunt's scope. Tomorrow's War and Beamstrike both have some cool ideas when it comes to robotic units. Alien Squad Leader did too, but its future seems to be in limbo. :(

    2. Hello Chris,

      Excellent Article! Great idea for discussion.

      I have my own ways of choosing forces but its been years since I did it from scratch without miniatures.

      As for Alien Squad Leader it is currently out of print but demand is growing for another run. Those interested should email directly or perhaps something on DSH blog would push me onto an expanded re-print.


  5. I'm building a force for Tomorrow's war. But as me and my opponent are going to try out a multitude of systems, I try to make them flexible. With Gruntz in mind I picked 6 man fireteams for example. A lot of thought has gone in this project of mine. So I'm having a lot of wheeled apc's and scout tanks. Some battlesuits as well. The idea is that they are a guerillia hit and run army.
    My problem is that I have to many unrelated figures as well. I now plan to play 15mm AE bounty so I can start using a few of them.
    You seem to have a decent force. It only seems a shame that you have to play solo.

    1. I do like your battlesuit conversions. :) And I look forward to reading about your AE Bounty games - that's a game I've been wondering about.

      Solo gaming is just the way it works out for me these days. My two regular gaming opponents moved out of town, and having young ones in the house have made me get a bit creative when it comes to finding hobby time.

      I'm playing far more games now than I did when I was playing 40K against regular opponents. So I'll keep playing solo even when I find time for more sociable gaming. :)

  6. I'm primarily interested in small scale skirmish games with a few squads on each side and some power armor and drones thrown in for variety. While this means I don't use many (often times, any) vehicles, it also means that I get to collect a wide variety of infantry which provides for a large amount of aesthetic difference for a small cash output (a.k.a the bang for your buck method ;)) in the forces I field.

    If I like the look of a range, and it contains basic rifle or carbine armed troops, some squad support weapons, and a few man packed heavy weapons (e.g. tripod mounted machine guns, rocket launchers, mortars) I'll nearly always pick up enough to put together a small all infantry army's worth.

    1. That's where I began too. I usually play on 2' x 2' tables, so vehicles weren't really a priority when I started 15mm sci fi. And I'm definitely better at painting infantry than painting vehicles.

      Even now, my vehicles are more for the sake of collecting than playing. But if I decide to build a 6' or 8' table in the future, those forces will be ready to play.

    2. Got two 4'x8' tables longways side by side to give me an 8'x8' playing are with walking space between so we can reach everything...)

  7. I am trying to be reasonably structured in my approach. (My primary ruleset is Tomorrow's War).

    I planned out a standard rifle platoon- fire teams with inherent light support weapons. Then mechanized them- with one APC per section.

    Then I added things I thought would add a bit of flavour: a squadron of tanks, a section of SF in hard suits, a recon sniper team and then mortars (also mechanized).

    I was a bit staggered when I pulled out all the models from the shipping box.

    Looking at the orbatts of various units around the world (google images- bless you!) helped me get an idea of the structure I wanted.

    The downside- it's a lot of models and I'm depriving myself of other equally cool stuff that doesn't quite fit thematically with my army.

    1. Very good approach. And I think most of us feel a bit overwhelmed by a large pile of unbuilt and unpainted miniatures.

      Maybe that would be a good follow-up discussion - ideas to systematically prep, build, and paint a larger 15mm army?

  8. First off, try an never build an army to a rule set! I have done this and ended up scrapping hole armies when I have changed rules. As an example, I have played ChipCo Fantasy rules, and base all of my 4 armies for this game, now all the rules sets are based different.

    All ways build and army based on what you like, and if the rule set is a good one it will allow for any troop type, or the ability to make any mini fit the rules. So The next question is how will they be based? Single, or multi-based? As I only play single based Scifi a good old pile of pennies. And for Fantasy I have around 4 to 6 figures per base.

    So when I start an army I pick the type first, then try and find who makes the minis (never stick with one maker). Once I have found the minis I try and come up with a small core, to start. Three to six squads, with HW, and leaders. About 8 minis for each squad. Next I see if the army needs rides, and give have squads a ride, Then support. Last spring I picked up some ones Khurasan small army, as they were selling it off. I got a great deal from a great guy James. This was what I would call a big core army. It had 6 squads, 1 power armor squad, two walkers, 4 APC, 4 AFV.

    I first started with 3 squads, two APCs, one walker, the power armored, and two AFV, as my core army. I had this painted in just a few weeks, and was ready to play with it. I have it stated up for USE ME, and Gruntz. So this is a great start, and I can add the rest as I need them.

    So to some up my style of army building I like to start with a core and build from there. Now if you have seen some of my armies I never stop building them. My Space Orcs are some 200 + strong, and my Praetorian guard, and well over 120 miniatures.

    Oh one more thing to not for get to make the gun noises while building the army, it helps keep you young at hart.

    1. I've been following your Space Orcs since you first started. Both armies are very impressive! Don't think I would have the attention span to get through over 200 figures in one army.

      Have you ever considered setting up at a local convention, or even a store on a busy gaming night? I bet 40K players would switch over by the dozens when they see how much more open the 15mm table looks... not to mention the price difference.

    2. and not to mention that the weapon ranges don't look like your using thrown spears
      that only look like lasers etc...)

  9. Nice timing! All wargaming experience I have is in 28mm. A little while back I was looking for realistic sci-fi flyers to use as count as and I stumbled on Khurasan Miniatures. Too bad the models weren't in the right scale, but they were awsome enough to get me to start looking around for information on 15mm sci-fi.

    Problem is I'm kind of overwhelmed by all the choice. Especially when it comes to rulesets. I'm looking for something with an emphasis on tanks/flyers/mecha. Do you know a good starting point for that?

    1. I just got this one.....I'm a Tank Crazy person
      that like something more than skirmish:Quadrant 13, company level for 15mm.
      Where you get the PDF:
      Quadrant 13 After Action Reports :