Monday 25 July 2011

Building Armies from "Incomplete" Lines

Dropship Horizon editor Eli has started some very lively discussions at TMP recently. Two topics in particular have been inspirational to me - sample alien infantry packs and "complete" lines of minis. In the latter, Eli suggests that armies of the future (especially alien armies) simply may not fight in squads of riflemen with heavy weapon support - and that we need to break away from the model of 20th-21st century forces in our sci-fi games.

These topics have been discussed before here on Dropship Horizon (SAW Debate and Fire Teams). So here is my take on this topic, building somewhat on what Eli and Mark have discussed.

A complaint heard from 15mm gamers is that there are many good minis, but they won't be playable until the lines are "complete." I'll look at two example product lines, both from Critical Mass Games.
The Protolene Khanates range represents what most gamers would view as a "complete" line. You can purchase command, rifle infantry, support weapons like heavy guns and snipers, and even some close combat troops for gamers who like a little melee in their sci-fi games. If I was to sit down and create a FUBAR army from this range, it would look something like this:
  • Command Squad - 2x leader from Hunters Command pack (one converted with a comms antenna or with some kind of medical markings), 1x Hunters with Rifles, 1x Hunter with Particle Cannon
  • 3x Hunter Squads - each with 1x leader from Hunters Command Pack, 5x Hunters with Rifles, 2x Hunters with heavy weapons
  • 2x Predator Squads - just use two packs of Predators as-is
Pretty straightforward, right? 44 infantry - great for a platoon-size engagement. Add vehicles to taste and you have an army - suitable for anything from Traveller Striker to Alien Squad Leader to 5150 to Tomorrow's War. Exactly what the majority of 15mm sci-fi gamers seem to be looking for - the definition of a "complete" product range.

But hey - before we check out, let's see what else is on this particular website. What about that little section labeled Mercenaries? Say, what do we have here?

Well check those out. Neat sculpts, cool looking weapons. But there are no other packs? Where are the heavy weapons? The commanders? The close combat specialists? The vehicles? I can't possibly buy these and be expected to create a complete army out of them, can I?

Why not?

Let's take a close look at these troopers. Their armor and weaponry wouldn't be out of place in any military space-opera setting. You could easily see these fighting against Imperial Clone Troopers, or even against the Centauri Republic from Babylon 5. They are carrying energy weapons that could be far more advanced than an opponent - even the pistols might have a 24-30" range on the tabletop. The second and fourth weapons could easily be heavier weapons - one anti-personnel, one anti-tank. Or maybe one is a short range weapon capable of placing many shots, while the other is a long-range sniper rifle that is equally suited for tanks as it is troops? And command - you have a figure with an enclosed helmet. It's easy to imagine that each squad leader has one of these helmets to communicate with other squads, vehicles, or the battlefield commanders. And the army commander himself? Could be on a starship in high orbit, could be sealed in an IFV, or his army could be so well trained and equipped that designating a "commander" on the battlefield doesn't amount to any change in stats or usage.

Six packs of these would yield thirty high-tech infantry - easily a match for the more conventional Protolene Khanates mentioned above. But what about vehicles? My first instinct would be some of the goodies in the Kaamados section, but those are still a bit more conventional than I'd prefer. Let's find something advanced and intimidating to match our high-tech infantry. Two options come to me for this. The first is the Alien AFV/APC set from Old Crow Products.


Since these aliens are a bit smaller in stature, I'm going to go with the GZG stuff to match them. Though the Old Crow vehicles are also pretty great in this role - I may later match them with a Critical Mass Astagar (snake-men) army. But the GZG stuff looks like a good match to the Ygs. Just a few of the light tanks are probably all you'd need on the battlefield (especially since you can make two variants with the different gun barrels). Or if you want to mechanize these guys, the light APC might be big enough for five of these diminutive aliens. Or the heavy APC could carry two teams at once.

So there it is - two complete armies. One is made from a conventionally-minded "complete" infantry range, and the other is made from a simple one-off pack of aliens. Folks, do you really want to just keep playing World War 2 in space? This is sci-fi - your imaginations are probably far more limiting to you than the actual selection of infantry and vehicle models. In fact, the pose limitations might force you to be even more creative in finding ways to get an army to the tabletop. So my challenge to you - pick a "limited" range of infantry (human or alien), and tell us (in the comments) how you can use them in a complete army.



  1. I think the only problem I would have with your Ygs army would be the lack of variation. Certainly, it would work on a practical level, but I like my armies to look "varied". Beyond the paint job...

    I would probably try to convert as many as possibly. That would probably be easier with the Astagar mercenaries, as the Ygs don't offer much room for simple conversion.

  2. I was reading those posts just the other day which inspired me to create theis race of dinosaurs that time forgot.\
    y.jpg basically I was thinking along the lines of an ancient long lost race of
    dinosaurs that have evolved mentally and physically over the millennia and
    formed their own civilization. There are more miniatures to this range including
    dino shock troops with jump packs and a dino seated behind a tripod mounted twin
    rotary auto canon herd support weapon, these 25mm Hydrissian are produced by
    Mega Miniatures over in the States they are 25mm so
    they would be big minis for 15mm games but they are a lost race of dinosaurs
    after all and so i would expect them to move slowly and be quite cumbersome, but because of their size and very think hides I would treat them more like individual armored vehicles as they can shake off damage caused by small arms fire quite easily…

  3. Hmmmm both links didnt work so your have to copy n paste them to check out these cool minis.

  4. I agree with Ironmammoth. First, let me say there are some packs that work well as a stand alone pack. The Ygs for instance, I dont expect them to be grunts. As an alien trading party or alien cops I think they're great.

    It needs to be stated that the Mercs range are just that and were never touted as anything more than a single pack.

    However my admittedly cynical view of "Its ok, we can work round it" is that It's counter productive and the message being sent out by the consumer or at least being reinforced in the sculptors/manufacturers mind is that it's ok to just produce one pack with a minumum number of variants.

    To my mind, one of the reasons that 15mm Sci Fi spent so long in the wilderness is too many folk saying "15mm Sci Fi? It's Ok, just paint 15mm Moderns or WW2 figs in different camo schemes"


  5. To my mind, a line has to be able to build what you derisively call a "WWII" platoon to be viable as a choice for me. Sure, I may choose to say that all guns have a secondary fire option, and thus there are no heavy weapons, or that they do not use medics or something, but I should not be forced into that by figure limitations.

    "working around" is great and all, but the more work that the buyer has to do, the less desirable the product is to most people. So sure, you can make a platoon out of five figures, but it begins to look a bit boring pretty quickly without conversions.

  6. Well I'm really a noob in this 15mm world but the idea I got was that yo buy some minis and choose some lose rules to go with them... like fubar? So I have no idea of the points of minis or even what a "complete army" is?
    My idea was that I will just make some minis and play with them regardless of the idea of full completed armies...
    As for small ranges I always imagined alien alliances like star wars so small races interaction is ok for my sci fi setting.

  7. Chris, I think the idea is sound. But let me give you an example. I really like the Naga from Critical Mass but the initial range is just 4 types with rifles and then 4 others with pistols/close combat stuff - which I always hate in Sci Fi - who would be able to close in for close quarter work as a preferred combat type? (don't get me started on swords and chain saws...). There is not enough depth to make an interesting platoon - let alone an army. Having said that, I will buy 8-20 figures from a range and just have them as a combat team, mercenary unit etc no problem. There must be some depth!

  8. I really like a lot of the packs that CMG sells in their mercenary range... the Ygs, Astagar, and Vorg'la packs are all great! But they all seem to be command packs. I would like to see them put out at least one additional pack that just has regular foot soldiers. All the packs have a leader and nco type fig which only leaves three regular guys to fill out the squad. If I was building a platoon I don't want to buy five or six packs of something when I know I'm going to have all these wasted command figures!

  9. I love the mix and match that you can do with all the ranges of 15mm out there. It gives me a choice, and opens a hole world of possibilities. I am working on a Guard army, and I am using any thing I can find, from historical miniatures to different scales.

    Just have fun.


  10. Okay, so from the comments I'm getting here - most of you don't necessarily need conventional-style of "lots of infantry, with a few command and heavy weapon troopers" as much as you just want a wide variety of poses to make a dynamic-looking army.

    So did Blue Moon do it the right way? Their ten-packs feature six or seven "basic infantrymen," with an average of 1-2 command and 1-2 heavy weapons. Ten different poses - is that enough to make the types of platoons that you want to see?

  11. GZG led the way with squads. Khurasan has done a fantastic job of providing some basic alien types you can create forces with. But I dont get the idea that because they are aliens they will not have a basic warrior type with a weapon who will need a bigger, nastier weapon to support that basic warrior. In reality, advanced warfare would surely be between AI and so fast it would be over before you drew breath - so no place for bio's to be. So no need to get too over the top about the nature of warfare as us humans experience it. Basic shooter plus support plus commander!

  12. I have been gaming 15mm SiFi since 2004 and over the last few years it has really exploded with cool minis and by comparison to some other scales spoilt for choice.
    But where some companies like GZG have added to there original lines others are slower to produce but still have great minis.
    But you have companies like CMG has only been around for a year and a half and look at what they have brought out in that time! Its astounding amount of models of great quality.
    Now everyone has there own way of gaming and what they want there own forces to be or represent which is half the fun of mix and matching between lines with a bit of Kit bashing and the like.
    But some gamers just want to say right, I want X with all the bolt on's and when you look at a lot of ranges out there it really does start to fall short! But only if that is the way you game! Otherwise all is well.
    Cheers Matt

  13. Well what does an army mean? I play pretty much small unit skirmish style games, so complete is 10 to 20 guys at most.

    Critical massed Mercs are wonderful.

    My biggest issue is often I have to buy two or threes packs (squads) to the variety of poses i want is a smallist units.

    So while "complete" lines are less of an intrest to me than a larger variety of poses...

    So with that I am a huge fan of Character sets.

  14. Maybe I'm just a recent convert from 28mm, but something I think people have forgotten the modeling aspect of his hobby. Lets use those Ygs figures as an example... you want a sniper? Drill a hole in the barrel and put in a piece of wire so it has a extended barrel! Instant Sniper variant! You want a squad support cannon? Do the same, then just build up the barrel a bit with some green stuff and run a little tube from the butt of the gun to a little backpack or something to make it look like it has an external power source! Hell, if you want a missile launcher, simply convert the guy with the lowered pistol so it looks like he has one on standby! Just roll out a tube, stick it along the length of his arm, and carve a little detail into it or just take a piece from another line and modify both to fit! Don't think of it as an incomplete line... think of it as a chance to convert something cool and unique!

  15. there are good points made all along here.

    I really think it is safe to assume that no company, currently producing 15mm can afford to accomplish a full range of figures in a single splat release.

    We have two choices really A)We stay reluctant and jaded and by doing so garantee that lines will fail, or B)We accept the realities of the industry until such a day as it changes and do our best to support those making an effort to supply the SORTS of things we like.


  16. 'Quote'So did Blue Moon do it the right way? Their ten-packs feature six or seven "basic infantrymen," with an average of 1-2 command and 1-2 heavy weapons. Ten different poses - is that enough to make the types of platoons that you want to see?

    Yes I would say that Blue Moon have got it right i was thinking about this just yesterday after reading a few of the posts hear and the day before on TMP. A 10x miniature pack with 1x leader, 1x sub leader,1or2x heavy weapons, 6or7x infantry all in different poses, this leaves you with plenty of scope in building up what ever size force you want to game with and as stated with a few minor conversions you can make your own specialty figures (comms specialist or medic...)out of the infantry miniatures quite easily.

  17. I agree with Ironmammoth and Lasgunpacker.
    I dislike repeating poses within platoon. In my 20 mm WW2 Germany battalion every figure is different, so in 15 mm I want at least variable platoon.
    [quote]So did Blue Moon do it the right way? Their ten-packs feature six or seven "basic infantrymen," with an average of 1-2 command and 1-2 heavy weapons. Ten different poses - is that enough to make the types of platoons that you want to see?[/quote]
    No. I love some Blue Moon sculpts, esp ALN-111 and ALN-117, have some, but I would never invest my money to build whole (company) force because of lack of variety in figures. Sorry, I am just such. The more sets, the more probably player will buy them as big force. Single set push customer into single buy. I would bet that it is logarithm relation: 1 set-1 bought/customer, 3 sets - 9 bought/customer. F.ex. I bough platoon of CMG Naga, but I still wait for more Nagas before I paint them and expand them into company. I am sure that sell of Astagar and Ygs would skyrocket if they would be expanded with two more sets.

    Also, no line of alien specie is truly complete without civilians (diplomat, leader, traders, technicians, workers, women, children), because only civilian aliens allow me for playing all kind of scenarios (including sci-fi Ambush Alley). It is strange that there is no dedicated (suitable to military) civilians pack, as such packs would sell well without big variety. One figure could be repeated many times with different painting (as civilians may differ with colours of cloth), and people tend to use many civilians (if they have such possibility at all).

    Unfortunately I still will have to wait years for civilian Khurasan Felids and CMG Naga. :(

  18. It all depends on the games system you prefer to use which will determine the amount of miniatures you need in your force, personally I very rarely need more than 25ish figures as I always back up my forces with some sort of mechanized vehicles for transportation and or extra fire power if and when it’s needed. So a standard force in any game that I participate in usually consists of 20-30 soldiers 2-3 IFV’s and possibly a Walker, I don’t like playing large games that take several hours to finish I much prefer smaller games or even skirmish style games that can be played in just a couple of hours at the most as I find after that threshold a game slows pace and starts to get dull. So for me 3x packs of figures with ten different poses is an ample amount, and with a few specialty conversions and a few vehicles you have a good size force to play in most game systems.

  19. It may also be interesting to mention that when I sat in on the CMG demo game run by Craig at Falkirk a couple of months back he dropped a few big hints that some of the mercenary races are actually going to be turned into full armies.

    I think that CMG are actually using the Mercenary packs as ways of testing out new race designs...

  20. Any race, or sub-division can hire small gangs of mercs.

    My take is a bit different. I use my Ixx as a hunting force, an old, very advanced race using ancient (but very effective)weapons. As part of the great hunt they use other races, either clients or "found" as beaters. Gives me a good excuse to buy these odd packs.

    Don't forget Brigades bios!

  21. The Ygs are great. I bought a couple packs to use as an outpost police force: I'm imagining an interstellar shipping hub, lots of potential for small skirmish gaming, and need some local law enforcement to run as 'npc' troops against both players on a reaction table. Though they'd make great mercs for any faction.

    As for advanced weaponry that doesn't fit the visual cues we're used to expecting, why not? Great idea.

    My personal favorite was from Dan Simmon's Hyperion novels: the captain of the spaceship that was in orbit, who could control the ship's weapons and shields by means of his 'god glove' ... talk about massive firepower & utility with no need of a weapon in the mini's hand at all!

  22. I do enjoy reading these comments, rest easy in that CMG are perhaps one step ahead of you, but that conception, creation, and manufacture all take time. Our release schedule is pretty full till December but I think some of you will be pleased in the new year.

    Craig @Critical Mass Games

  23. For me, I define "completeness" with 3 questions:

    1) Do they have command figures, including Leader, Medic(human or robotic), 2nd in command, comms...etc..

    2) Do the squad packs have 1 or 2 leaders(i.e. unique poses)? Or is there a separate squad leader pack available?

    3) Do the squads have any support weapons, could be crew served or single man operated weapons...SAW, HMG, Rocket launcher, flame thrower, heavy particle plasma whatchamajig...etc...

    I personally don't have a lot of time for conversions, I prefer to use minis right out of the box.

    Also, for me, it depends on my rules. If I have a set that has background fluff and TO&Es provided, I WANT to be able to fill out those TO&Es(in all likelihood, that's why I purchased them in the first place), if I use a set of rules that is free-form with no established TO&Es..well, it's no big deal, I'll use what I have. So I think rule sets dictate a lot of this...just my opinion though.


  24. [quote]but I think some of you will be pleased in the new year.[/quote]
    I would kiss You to get know which of us will be pleased and why... :)