Scales in Wargaming

This document serves as a quick reference for scale in miniature gaming. While I attempted to be as accurate as possible while describing these scales, the information contained below is not the be all and end all of information on this extremely vast and complex subject. There is a lot of history behind tabletop scales and I hope to present the most up to date and quality information possible so that even the most casual tabletop player can decide which scale(s) they prefer and how they can get the most out of their gaming at that specific scale. 

If you would like to suggest changes to this document please reach out to me using any of the methods available in the header and footer of this site or email me at ryan at anthemsofwar dot com.

 

Millimeter Scale vs Ratio Scale

Most ‘person sized’ wargames, meaning those games where characters on foot can be seen and easily recognized on the battlefield, follow a millimeter measurement, with one of the most common scales in this area being 28mm. Some games will follow a 1/XXXX or 1:XXXX style ratio format for their scales instead. These measurements are often used in games where an inch long miniature may represent an entire naval vessel, aircraft or spaceship.

 

Millimeter Scales

Most tabletop games use a millimeter scale, written as XXmm, to denote the size of miniatures to be used. In the early days of tabletop gaming, historical miniature sculptors needed to come up with a way to keep all of their miniatures the same size but with the variety of helmet and hat styles measuring from the bottom of the miniature’s foot to the top of their head meant that some soldiers appeared shorter or taller than their counterparts on the battlefield purely based on what they were wearing on their heads. Instead, the scale was measured from the bottom of the foot to the eyes of a miniature standing in a natural upright position. The height of an average soldier between the 14th and 20th century was around 68 inches, meaning their eye level was approximately 5 foot 6 inches from the ground. This would mean that a 28mm miniature without a helmet measures roughly 30mm tall. There is still some flex in this scale, as sculptors use different measurements for their ‘average’ person, so miniatures from many ranges may be slightly out of scale from each other even if they are all marketed at the same scale. In most cases these miniatures will still work together on the battlefield and there are even some situations where you could use different scaled miniatures in your armies. For example, using a 28mm miniature in a 15mm scale game to represent a giant or large robot, or using a 32mm miniature in a 28mm game to represent a leader or bigger than average character.

 

Using miniature scales elsewhere on the tabletop

For some tabletop gamers it is important to be able to match other items, like terrain, to the scale they use on the battlefield. Therefore a bit of math is usually required to get accurate measurements. I happen to be one of those people, so I will give you my rough formula.

28mm / 5.5 (5 foot 6) = 5.09. I like to round this number down to make it an even 5. This means that one foot is roughly 5mm, so a 6 foot tall miniature stands at around 30mm give or take depending on the sculpt and a standard 6’8” door sits around the 33.3mm mark

If you prefer to work in metric only the math is very similar. 28/ 1.67 = 16.77 meaning 1 meter is 16.77mm at 28mm scale. When I am dealing with fractions of a millimeter I will often round to the closest whole number and use that value. Working with whole numbers will make your life MUCH easier and even if the items you measure are slightly out of scale as long as you are using the same math between your miniatures and your scenery it should all look ‘right’. When making miniature scenery it is common to keep a mini of the scale you are working in nearby when crafting for quick scale spot checks. This mini should be in a neutral pose to better get a sense of their scale. In most cases, it is not important for gaming scenery to be completely to scale. Perfectly scaled terrain can cause playability issues when it comes to fitting bases through doorways or allowing characters to traverse narrow corridors and stairs.

 

Heroic Scale

Sometimes, miniature companies will list their minis as ‘heroic’ scale, for example, heroic 28mm. Miniatures in this scale usually have bigger proportions and are easier to paint. They look a little bulkier on the battlefield and are typically a little taller than their ‘regular’ counterparts. Sometimes, heroic scale models will be sold alongside regular models of the same scale with those heroic scale models acting as leaders and special characters.

 

Scale Creep

A phenomenon that is hard to notice over short periods of time but has become more apparent as time goes on. Scale creep happens over months, years, and decades where new releases by a company will be slightly larger than previous releases. There are multiple reasons why this can happen from changes in sculptors, manufacturing processes or just as an upgrade to the previous style of minis. Scale creep happens at almost every scale. A prime example of this is the scale creep in 28mm miniatures. Some miniatures in that scale have slowly increased in size over the years, meaning most 28mm miniatures are closer to 30mm now. Further still, scale creep in 28mm miniatures also spawned the popularity of the 32mm scale.

A short list of common wargaming scales

Below is a list of common wargaming scales. This is not a comprehensive list but is instead one that represents the majority of tabletop gamers. As size decreases the number of miniatures on the battlefield often increases. Terrain at 6mm is much easier to store than 28mm terrain and individual miniatures may cost less based on their size. Some games are limited to specific scales while others are more freeform. These are all important points to keep in mind while choosing what scales you prefer to work in.

 

32mm

Often interchangeable with 28mm this scale came about as an alternative to 28mm as mentioned above. Often placed on the same size bases as 28mm, 32mm miniatures tend to have slightly more detail and sometimes have bigger details making them easier to paint.
This scale has also been embraced by the 3D printing community, with many releases meant for resin printing being in this scale.

32mm is great for tabletop RPGs and skirmish games but can occasionally be seen in mass battle games as well.

 

28mm

The most popular scale in wargaming. Often, when miniatures are referenced without a specific scale they are in this category. 28mm miniatures provide excellent detail for their size. Because of its popularity there are hundreds of companies, from one person shops all the way up to large corporations, that produce 28mm miniatures. In this category you will find almost every genre and time period represented and if you can not find a specific miniature in this scale there is a chance it just simply doesn’t exist in any other scale as well.

28mm is perfect for almost every type of tabletop gaming.

 

15mm

Often regarded as 2nd place in the miniature scale world but with the increase in popularity of games like Battletech (6mm scale) and with 32mm being adopted by more and more by 28mm players this scale has seen its popularity wane. With new releases coming out monthly this is still a popular scale but it has seen a bit of a slump in recent years. 15mm miniatures often have the same scale creep issues that 28mm miniatures do with most modern 15mm miniatures being closer to a 16-18mm scale. You can find historical, fantasy and scifi miniatures in this scale.

On first glance 15mm miniatures may seem small and too hard to paint, but these miniatures often have exaggerated detail with nothing smaller than the details on your typical 28mm miniature. This means that 15mm miniatures are often easier to batch paint with an average painter able to finish 4-5 15mm paint jobs in the same time it would take them to paint a single 32mm or 28mm miniature.

15mm miniatures are often the smallest you will see in skirmish style games and RPGs. They lend themselves very well to mass battle games and are a budget and space friendly alternative to bigger scales with terrain in this scale taking up roughly half the space. 15mm miniatures are often sold in packs of between 4 and 8 miniatures for roughly the same price as a single larger miniature.

 

10mm

A lesser known scale used in some games. This scale has seen a slow increase in popularity as a middle ground between 6 and 15mm gaming. They combine the detail of 15mm miniatures with the mass battle appeal of 6mm. This scale is popular with some historical and scifi rulesets. This is another scale that has received more attention due to the adoption of resin 3D printers.

 

6mm

This is another scale that has seen a rise in popularity both from the 3D printing community and from indie and large scale companies alike. A versatile scale meant to represent historical rank and file combat, mass battles, armored engagements and fights between giant robots.

 

2mm

An alternative to 6mm, this scale is popular for historical gaming with an emphasis on large scale pitched battles. This scale is nowhere near as common in modern gaming but still has a place in niche rulesets.

 

Ratio Scale Miniatures

Miniature games that use a ratio scale instead of a millimeter scale are often games where an average human miniature would be near impossible to see. These include Age of Sail, modern and historical naval games, and science fiction space battle games. These are not the only games that use a ratio scale but they are by far the most common.

Model Train Scales

Model train scales are often more exact, with their measurements being clearly set out and followed across multiple manufacturers in a region with different regions having slightly different measurements. Even with these slight differences, model train scales tend to be much more consistent. Each scale lists both a millimeter to the foot value, a ratio, and the distance between rails at that scale. For the purpose of tabletop gaming there are a few model train scales that are useful to be aware of.

 

O scale

O scale was the most popular railroad scale until the 1960s and remains popular to this day. This scale measures 7mm to the foot with rails placed 31.75mm apart, although this standard varies depending on if you purchase kits in the UK, Europe or North America. This scale sits at around 35mm in the millimeter scale, making building kits and man-made scenery a little too big for 28mm and 32mm wargaming but natural products like trees, bushes and hedges, rocks and ground cover still work well when incorporated into tabletop terrain.

 

HO scale

Arguably the most popular model train scale at the moment, HO scale, or Half O, is exactly as described. This scale measures half the size of O scale at 3.5mm to the foot with rails spaced 16.5mm apart. This scale is the closest to 15mm and sits between 18.5 and 19mm depending on manufacturer, meaning that oversized and heroic 15mm minis will look close to scale near HO scenery and kits. This is a very versatile scale and with its size a large layout can be created in a much smaller space.

 

N scale

N scale is another of the popular scales in model trains. This scale goes by the 1/160 ratio with rails spaced 9mm apart. This works out to roughly 1.9mm to the foot, giving it a tabletop millimeter scale of around 10mm. Trees, rocks, ground cover and the like work well when combined with 6mm miniatures and sometimes with 15mm miniatures. When combined with Z scale (roughly 7mm) building kits, really nice scenery can be built using bits from this scale.

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