Perennial basing/unit size question

Moderators: Laffe, Vis Bellica

Posts: 17
Joined: Fri Apr 03, 2020 10:14 pm

Perennial basing/unit size question

Post by Traffic »

I am "new" to napoleonic despite having a model collection for over 20 years. It was based for a game system I never played but one that was suggested to me. I have moved to GdA, again, because that is what my opponent is considering moving to.

What I cannot reconcile as a "newish" player is the concept of the relationship between the game ground scale (1mm=1metre), number of bases (at players discretion) and figure ratio (unimportant, but a range of common options are given).

I asked a question regarding Cavalry units and received a range of answers/options. This just sent me off to research as some of the premises about unit size were at odds with what I expected to see on the table. For example losses in cavalry units appears to be universally handled by reducing the number of squadrons, not reducing the size of the squadron. This is backed up in a number of sources (Rods excellent site being the most digestible).

So I am back to what I want my models to represent on the table. Regardless of figure ratio the rules have a fixed ground scale. National regulations dictate how much space my figures occupy (be it in inches, paces or the metric system) which is at odds with ratios.


With that in mind the table above is based on French figures, and assuming that unit strength figures are "bayonets/sabres". This is the mismatch that I face. I want units that look good on the table and, behave reasonably closely to their historical counterpart. I have done some rounding up here and there and 24/25mm differentiation is probably cancelled out by the degree of accuracy of our bases and cutting mats.

Expressing unit sizes in number of bases isn't helping when it probably should be expressed in frontages. Standard units somewhere between 100mm and 150mm (unless British and I can't reconcile that at all). Large units 150mm - 200mm. Cavalry squadrons (and I have used the "average" campaign strengths of 100-120 men so 50-60mm and then the number of squadrons reflect unit size.

Not arguing, and as this will be my opponent and I working things out we will probably conform to the rough frontages because we both have collections which aren't based the same/similar but need to come up with a workable solution which doesn't involve copious modelling of sabot bases. But that might be the end solution.

Posts: 5261
Joined: Tue Sep 03, 2013 11:49 pm
Location: Linlithgow, West Lothian, UK

Re: Perennial basing/unit size question

Post by Archdukek »

There was a time when all Napoleonic Wargames rules had an obsession with exact unit frontages and setting precise measurements for each figure’s base drawing on the official regulations such as you’ve illustrated here. Most of the time these calculations were based on full size units with little or no regards to the often substantive variation in actual unit sizes visible in any OOB. The result was that we fielded units which we thought were achieving greater accuracy in our representations in recreating Napoleonic battles.

In reality what we were doing was acting the part of a regimental adjutant assisted by the sergeant major In drawing up theoretically perfect units, rather than playing the role of the Division or Corps commander trying to win a battle. At that level of command all they were concerned with was whether the Brigade could hold its place in the battle line and carry out the tasks assigned to it. Divisional Commanders didn’t concern themselves with whether an individual unit commander was forced to draw his men up on a slightly wider spacing than in the regulations or even resort to 2 ranks to cover the allotted frontage.

Fortunately more recent rules like General D’Armee have moved away from that straitjacket and instead focus on the the core issue as to how effective a unit is in combat, not precisely how many men it has in its frontage since numbers is not the only determinant of success. So the rules recognise that units may well vary in size within broad parameters but still function more or less the same depending on other elements like motivation and leadership. Smaller units can punch above their weight if well motivated, slightly larger units may be anxious or less well led. How they both perform will be determined during the game, not by a comparison of frontages.

In GDA a standard unit can represent between 475-750 men, quite a potential variation in frontage. Some allowance however is made for units significantly above or below this size of average unit, hence we have Large and small units whose performance can vary from the norm. Giving players the freedom to determine how to base their own figures and what constitutes a standard, large or small unit enables them to represent units as they which from their collections without the trauma of rebasing to some arbitrary standard. As long as both sides are broadly consistent it doesn’t matter In the game.

That’s a somewhat rambling way to say don’t worry over the maths on the exact frontage of an individual battalion. That might make sense if we were focussed on command at the battalion level, but we are not. At Division and Corps level all you need concern yourself with is whether your brigades are doing their job. How precisely they are deployed can be left to the battalion commanders and needn’t concern you.

So just agree with your opponent on what constitutes a Standard, Large or Small unit and how you intend to represent those in an aesthetically pleasing way, then take it from there is my advice for what it’s worth :D


Posts: 74
Joined: Tue Sep 03, 2013 9:20 pm

Re: Perennial basing/unit size question

Post by baxterj »

Well explained John

Posts: 41
Joined: Mon Jun 26, 2017 11:21 am

Re: Perennial basing/unit size question

Post by Maturin »

It niggles with me when wargamers ignore scale. I really do get it that GdeA, and the concepts that Dave and John extol in this thread and others are putting forward works better when you remove the need for precise scaling. GdeA has a huge amount of hidden complexity to it and it genuinely excels in getting the ‘overall’ effect right. I understand to do that and make the game flow, scale can really get in the way……...but………
The idea that I can look at the map of a battle, zoom into it on Google Earth or explore it on foot and then represent its geography on my gaming table gives me a buzz. The height of a ridge, the distance across the valley or between chateaux and farm, the position of a hidden road or size of a wood, the number of units that we KNOW occupied a feature in line or marched across in column or hid on a reverse slope; they all add aspects that help fool me into thinking I am re-creating history, adds to my pleasure when playing and sets the game above playing a complicated game of chess in which you are required to trust to luck before you can successfully accomplish anything.
Playing with lovely pretty figures means you MUST compromise though and this degree increases with their scale. My eyesight is too poor for anything less than 15mm and 28mm, although beautiful, take up so much space I will have to either rent a hall or amalgamate units to get even the smallest combat onto my table. AB’s are my thing and I am very happy with that. So a while ago I had to find a compromise I could live with. I needed to decide for me what was important and what not? Of course there were some things I was never going to deal with (depth of columns for example) so there you go - already flawed, but I wanted to include some if I could and in some way do this as accurately as possible.
My rationale went like this. Most important distance/scale for me was being able to get enough units on my table to accurately represent enough of any one combat/battle to make it worth doing AND represent a firing range that was representative of the age and the terrain. So unit frontage AND musket range were my starting points.
Average musket range 120yds (at most) represented in 15mm as 15-20cm gives you 1 cm = 6-8m which if you scale up to try and get in a battle is much too small so I went for 1cm = 12m. My table is 12’ x 6’ and this gives me about 2.2 x 1.1miles of playing surface. Enough for small campos like Albuera or Vimiero and even parts of Waterloo….so OK so far… now to try and fit in the units. I use 6 fig bases for infantry and 2 for cavalry 30mm x 27mm for each. Applying my scale this gives me a 2 base infantry column width of 72m: pretty good if you look at the literature. I tried differentiating between two and three rank systems and got into a total mess so now I stick with 2 ½ ranks instead with an average of 18:1man ratio. 4 bases (24 fig unit representing around 350 men) with 144m frontage in line to 7 bases (42 fig unit representing around 800 men) with 252m frontage in line, and all the variations in between. All squadrons are 6 figs wide which gives me a cavalry frontage of 108m and allows me to vary frontages to get them across bridges etc.
I personally think that the three sizes of units are a bit restrictive. They accommodate units with both 480 men and 800 men for example giving them an identical frontage, firepower and effective resilience in the field. To spread this out a bit my house rules retain the three basic categories but offer a sliding scale with added unit sizes adding small alterations in their second level of resilience and dispersal points. I find this works for me. The units have enough figures to look good, I attach a small label tag to each unit to mark strengths, cross off casualties and indicate when modifiers should be applied. They are varied in shape and ‘appear’ on the table top to give a pretty accurate representation of the actual zone of influence (in one plane at least) that they probably had on the day. Maybe a tweak too far for many gamers but works for me anyway. (sorry about the formatting! and some editing :roll: )
Category: Strength(on paper): Bases: cas limits [dispersal]: Figs: Grade
Small: <375: 4: 4+/7+ [10]: 24: Recruit
Small: <375: 4: 4+/8+ [10]: 24: Line
Small: <375: 4: 4+/9+ [10]: 24: Guard
Small: 375-475: 5: 4+/8+ [10]: 30: Recruit
Small: 375-475: 5: 4+/9+ [10]: 30: Line
Small: 375-475: 5: 4+/10+[11]: 30: Guard

Standard: 476-600: 5: 4+/8+ [10]: 30: Recruit
Standard: 476-600: 5: 4+/8+ [12]: 30: Line
Standard: 476-600:5: 4+/10+ [12]: 30: Guard
Standard: 601-800: 6: 4+/9+ [10]: 36: Recruit
Standard: 601-800: 6: 4+/9+ [12]: 36: Line
Standard: 601-800: 6: 4+/10+ [12]: 36: Guard

Large: >800: 7: 4+/8+ [12]: 42: Recruit
Large: >800: 7: 4+/10+ [15]: 42: Line
Large: >800: 7: 4+/11+ [15]: 42: Guard

Small: <275: 6: 4+/7+[9]: 12: Recruit
Small: <275: 6: 4+/8+[10]: 12: Line
Small: <275: 6: 4+/9+[10]: 12: Guard

Standard: 275-385: 9: 4+/7+ [10]: 18: Recruit
Standard: 275-385: 9: 4+/7+ [12]: 18: Line
Standard: 275-385: 9: 4+/9+ [12]:18: Guard
Standard: 385-500: 12: 4+/8+[10]: 24: Recruit
Standard: 385-500: 12: 4+/8+ [12]: 24: Line
Standard: 385-500: 12: 4+/10+ [12]: 24: Guard

Large: >500: 15: 4+/9+[10]: 30: Recruit
Large: >500: 15: 4+/10+ [15]: 30: Line
Large: >500: 15: 4+/10+ [15]: 30: Guard

Last edited by Maturin on Thu Jun 18, 2020 10:12 am, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
john de terre neuve
Posts: 1876
Joined: Tue Sep 03, 2013 11:37 pm
Location: Massachusetts

Re: Perennial basing/unit size question

Post by john de terre neuve »

...............I think I would prefer just to play the game!

Thanks for your excellent summary John (Archdukek).

Posts: 5261
Joined: Tue Sep 03, 2013 11:49 pm
Location: Linlithgow, West Lothian, UK

Re: Perennial basing/unit size question

Post by Archdukek »

Hi Maturin,
That’s a dedicated bit of work you’ve done creating all those subdivisions of the unit size categories in GDA. I confess I did raise an eyebrow when I saw the breadth of the standard categories initially, but I don’t think I could cope with that many variations albeit not all may be on the table at any one time. Personally I think I would ignore the subdivisions for the large and small categories and just use the two variants of standard size.

I entirely take your point about trying to reflect the proper deployment of troops when recreating historical battles and I’m not advocating ignoring scale altogether. However, I do think compromises are inevitable and strict adherence to unit frontages and numbers sometimes has to give way a bit to create a playable scenario.

When I’ve wrestled with the problem over the years I have been faced with either fielding individual battalions with few figures, which I don’t like aesthetically, or accepting that a merger of the individual battalions into a larger unit/regiment becomes necessary in many cases. I find that I generally prefer the latter approach and if you maintain the relative balance between both sides you can still create a reasonable reproduction of the historic events.

However, it’s very much horses for courses and what works for you. Your suggestion might prove a neat solution for Traffic to ease his concerns and avoid him disappearing into a mathematical black hole. 😊


Posts: 17
Joined: Fri Apr 03, 2020 10:14 pm

Re: Perennial basing/unit size question

Post by Traffic »

Archdukes post is excellent as is Maturin's and the theme between both of them is that "what works for you". I have read all 24 pages on the posts of this forum regarding unit size/basing and ground scale and the most common statement from new players is around the lack of the explanation that Archduke and Maturin make. The rules themselves allude to the need to consider something when looking at Artillery basing in relation to Infantry battalions and I think that is the crux of my observation, Cavalry Regiment and Infantry Brigades should occupy roughly the same real estate. The small margins can then be catered for but if you are wildly off to start with then you run the risk of an unsatisfactory experience.
john de terre neuve wrote:
Thu Jun 18, 2020 9:55 am
...............I think I would prefer just to play the game!
And that is my aim too. I am coming into this with a limited collection so don't have the benefit of existing units that have gone through the mill of various campaigns and rule sets, eight weeks ago I had about 72 infantry painted. I am painting up units and adding squadrons on a daily basis but I could only go so far on "guidelines".

My original post indicates that :
small unit frontage is probably less that 100m
Standard Unit frontage, somewhere between 100m and 150m.
Large Units frontage between 150m and 200m.
Cavalry Squadrons 50m - 60m

so a personal choice is that my Cavalry on 30mm bases regardless of number of figures can stay as they are and all the new figures can go that way as well. And just add more squadrons up to the recommended limit (treating large companies as squadrons where they appear).
Infantry wise I have gone for 20mm frontage bases and can either match a friends 40mm based collection (2:1) and use 4/6/8 bases for Sm/Std/Lge or depending on the paint progress add additional bases here and there for the really large battalions if he goes larger.
Artillery wise, I am on 30mm wide and therefore will be making up slot in bases to go in between the existing guns (for example with additional crew figures of detrius) if he goes larger.

Thank you for the inputs


Posts: 5261
Joined: Tue Sep 03, 2013 11:49 pm
Location: Linlithgow, West Lothian, UK

Re: Perennial basing/unit size question

Post by Archdukek »

Hi Si,
I’m glad the discussion helped.

My own 28mm collection are largely based as 4 figures in 2 ranks on a 40x40mm base with 5 bases per standard battalion. The 6th base of Voltigeurs/light company is detached to the Brigade skirmish screen. That gives me a standard battalion on a 200mm frontage. Since my artillery are based on a 60mm wide base I use 2 per battery and have added another plain terrained 60mm base as a spacer to give the battery an 180mm frontage. I find it works fine.


User avatar
Posts: 10
Joined: Wed Jun 10, 2020 2:23 am

Re: Perennial basing/unit size question

Post by Legere »

This has been interesting. We have been playing (and will still play) Black Powder for 7YW in 15mm and it's me that's convinced the group to expand to Napoleonics, again 15mm. The basing sizes that we settled on are:

Infantry: 4 x 25mm x 25mm bases, 4 figures on each. Skirmishers 2 to a base 50mm x 15mm. As we are at the moment, small units will be 3 and large units 5 bases. Will give a 100mm frontage but we may well expand the units to be 5 or 6 base standard battalions in time. At 6 bases the frontage will be 150mm.

Cavalry: 4 x 30mm x 30mm bases. 2 figures on each. 120mm frontage and again, expandable to 5 or 6 base standard units. At 6 bases the frontage will be 180mm.

Artillery Battery: 2 x 40mm x 40mm bases, 1 gun on each base. 80mm frontage. If the infantry and cavalry are expanded to 6 base units we can add a 3rd gun (howitzer) to the batteries giving them a 120mm frontage.

Think it will all work out OK and gives roughly the right proportional sizes at both the 4 and 6 bases to a unit. I think I will move to 6 base units in time as it allows formations to be represented more easily but starting off at 4 to speed up getting units to the table! It'll sure be quicker than it was 15 years ago when I was doing 36 figure battalions for General de Bridage, kick myself every day for not keeping the damn figures though!! :x

Posts: 7
Joined: Mon Mar 17, 2014 12:58 pm

Re: Perennial basing/unit size question

Post by jean1951 »


I am looking at GdA basing. There is quite a bit of discussion on the subject. I am looking at making all units at full strength being interested in the frontage covered. Unit strength would be divide by 20. I would round up or down a company strength to achieve the 20 multipliers (ex. 192 men = 200 divided by 20.). The frontage would be 10mm per figure. So a French battalion having 720 men in 6 companies would be based on 30mm frontage by 30mm depth. An Austrian battalion would be 200 men in 6 companies giving 1200. The base frontage would be 50mm by 30mm.
So the frontage for the French would be 180 mm. The frontage for Austrians would be 300mm for 6 companies. If I go to the reforms of 4 companies I would keep the company frontage and drop 2 companies leaving 800 men on a frontage of 200mm.

Does this make any sense or are there better suggestions out there?

Best regards,


Post Reply