Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

Crafting Special Units

ID Tags

Many historical wargamers are so concentrated on the combat troops, and getting their forces to a sufficient size for the next game, that they seldom look beyond adding to the most effective units for their rulesets, and their forces quickly become very similar to every other wargame army in any period that they are now gaming. Everyone has the Imperial Guard, or British Rifles in Napoleonic armies, Panther Tanks in WWII, or, in the AWI ,the minutemen, and buckskin-clothed riflemen. Other than the quality of the painting, and styles of base terraining, there is a certain sameness that one spots upon roaming the game tables at conventions. (This is even more true of sci-fi / fantasy, but that’s another article!)

ll too often in war-games of the horse and musket era, one is lucky to see more than one flag on an infantry unit, and the cavalry often goes into combat without their colors. The guns are evidently self-propelled, because limbers are few, and, even when rarely used, the limber does not seem to have any physical connection to its team of horses. Any indication of logistics, or support weaponry is usually nonexistent.

This is a shame!

There are many ways to make the game presentation for the gamers, any onlookers, and, especially for the owner, a more effective and colorful production. Foremost among them is some attention to table-top terrain as mentioned in my earlier blog articles on that subject (July 2013), but attention to certain details beyond just the uniforms is an all-too-frequently overlooked aspect.

This can be the introduction of seldom modeled support units, or dioramic scenes to the table top. It can also be adding details that are often ignored, or omitted from regular units and take very little extra effort to add. The addition of these ideas to the wargame can also be creatively included in the gameplay or improve it, so they are not just decorative additions.

The addition of logistics and support units can add a lot of period color, and in the early to mid Horse and musket period were, in one form or another, very near the battle field. It is a lot of fun and not too much of a stretch to make them one of the game objectives. Certainly in the period starting with the early 1700s, to even as late as the Napoleonic Wars, their looting or capture was not uncommon. They make a great diorama effect positioned well behind the army’s lines.

This is an area for a little humor as well, using character figures, modeling odd impedimenta. In my WSS period games, I created Louis the XIV’s Wine Wagon based on tales of these wagons (if not specifically for Louis! ). I went out and bought a good bottle of French Rhone Wine that I keep in my wine rack. If the wagon is ever captured, the Allies each get a glass of the wine to drink and the French side will be given glasses of water!


They can be unique custom units that you can create yourself that will make your army stand out. I scratch-built the Wine Wagon from an S gauge model railroad water wagon kit, adding doll house barrels, and then painted a very royal red! My siege train was made from a GW Imperial Army artillery barrel and frame, but with Front Rank heavy duty wheels replacing the plastic ones from the kit, and some details added on the elevation wedge, and limber Hitch. The limber is Front Rank as is the oxen team, but I modeled the harnessing and hitch arrangement from balsa and .10 wire, using historical art and photos as a guide.


My pontoon wagon is a modified Hinchliffe 30mm wagon, to which is added a Reiver Draft Horse, two Front rank civilian figures, some balsa bridging planks, and some fine chain link from the local hobby shop.

Min Harness
Note that even on this model, a harness lead is provided

The addition of detail to units of all types adds to their attractiveness and adds a sense of real historicity to the units. As I noted above, the addition of harnessing is a big get for little effort. Use .10 flat wire, superglues and leather paint, and you add a LOT to the model. I also used chain on my Siege model connecting the Oxen to the Limber, the Gun to the limber. Deployed artillery may have powder barrels, Shot wheelbarrows, chests, etc added to their stands.

Max Harness
Maximum Harness!

But above all, flags and finials on the flag staff are absolutely necessary! If your armies carried flags then add them! They add a lot of color and history to the unit. You can do them yourself, but I use the wonderful flags done by the Flag Dude for most of my units, supplemented by Maverick and Flags of War out of England for units the Dude does not do.

Bavarian F

Barry Hilton on the League of Augsberg site has a recent posting on doing command stands as mini-dioramas, that I heartily recommend. See: http://leagueofaugsburg.blogspot.com/2013/11/i-wanna-tell-you-story-tales-with-toy.html One should always be on the look out for a unique “personality figure” to add to a command stand or unit. I also suggest you use a mix of manufacturers to widen the range of poses both between units and within them for greater visual variety. The days of a rigid line of identically posed figures is over, except for a few die-hard “Old School” types.

Added custom additions can also add clarity to game play and easier identification of the units involved in the game. I have long used base shapes as an identifier of unit types-especially in smaller scales such as 10mm and 6mm. My 10mm FPW army was the first that used this system. In all cases, and scales, I use Litko 3mm thick plywood bases. They are indestructible, take paint and terraining well without any warping, and give enough traction for all but the most fumble-fingered war gamers to grip the unit without grabbing the figures.

I assigned infantry 2x1” rectangles, Horse 2x2” squares, artillery hexagons (1” for 10mm, 3” for 28s), and command circles (again 1” for 10mm, and 3” for 28s). 2X1” ovals were militia and untrained infantry. Even at a distance, the troops were easier to ID in 10mm, and I liked the system so much that I kept a variant of it for my WSS 28s.

But my most recent detail addition occupied my last week of modeling.

We have been playing WSS at my house for over a year now-using DF rules. I had hoped that my good wargame buddies would soon start identifying the various units-especially the French- by learning the flags. I was too optimistic! It reached a crescendo last week when one gamer thought he was advancing with the English Foot Guards, when it turned out to be a lower rated Seymour’s 4th foot! Talk about the fog of war!

To be fair, I am VERY into the period and I own the figures, bought them, either painted or had them painted, and selected each one for a specific reason of history, color, or reputation. I know every unit as if it were family The guys come over and are intent on having some fun, our games are fairly social (food and drink flow freely) and they really aren’t deep into the weeds on the banks of the Rhine. It wasn’t exactly fair of me to demand that they share my interest down to the most arcane details of vexillology!

So I decided to solve the problem by making the identity of every unit as clear as a bell. by adding labels. This posed a small problem since the label additions would be after the troops had been mounted and terrained - which I didn’t want to do all over again. I also wanted to add information beyond a simple name. It had to be aesthetically pleasing and not ruin the diorama effect of the battles. They had to be classy. I also wanted to not spend a fortune on this change. Several challenges to resolve!

After some thought , I designed a label base made from typical modeler balsa strips and shapes, costing very little but looking, if I may say so,damn good. I own a handy device called The Chopper that jus available at many model railroad hobby stores that is one of the handiest tools I’ve ever owned for precision cutting. I began cutting strips of .5”wide strip, 2” in length and similar pieces of 3/16th strip. and 3/8ths wedge strips into a three piece construct that was glued together into a perfect fit for the edge of my 2” wide 3mm Litko stands. Once painted and sealed with gloss varnish, and then glued onto the command stand of every unit, they provided the perfect base for a label! Only the command stand was necessary since the four company stands were always with it.



The labels themselves were done using the Table function in Word to fit the base perfectly. I used the Word ability to color the background and text of each cell so that I could by color clearly designate the nationality of a unit ( and the officer of the same color that was allowed to send orders to that unit). In addition to the name, I added the type description of the unit in DF (line infantry, guard, dragoon, etc). This meant that a gamer knew the unit’s name, its nationality, and its game type at a glance. They were printed on 4X6 photo paper which gives a great hard, gloss finish, and vivid colors with distinct lettering.


Bavarian Back

Gen FrGen BK
Side view

I designed the label to lie at a 45 degree angle, which made it readable from both a standing or sitting position at my table. Its low profile, and similar coloration to the base, almost made it invisible from the front or side making it less obtrusive to the diorama of the game. The additions to the infantry and cavalry were done in a day.

The artillery and officers posed different problems. The artillery bases, being hexes, and crowded with gun and crew, required a shorter, and smaller, label. They were done separately.


The officers were a more difficult problem since they were mounted on a round stand, my answer was to combine a duplicate round Litko stand, with a section cut out of a chord that was exactly 2” and a fit for a standard 1X2” Litko ply stand, these were glued together, and a similar wedge and strip balsa piece was glued directly to it.


Once terrained and labeled they looked great! The artillery stand labels list a battery’s ID, weight of gun, and, by color, nationality. The officer labels list the title of the officer, his full name, and, by color, nationality.


All of the above projects are fun to create, and very easy and quick additions to armies in many periods. They provide a nice relief and alternative to painting rows of identical figures, and they make your army stand out from the crowd. Try it! I guarantee you’ll like how you look!