Thursday 13 August 2020

Thinking about basing and rebasing

When I first started playing Chain of Command I settled on a convention where most of my figures were based individually. I then devised a few simple conventions to help differentiate unit types, in particular leaders and weapon crews. Regular soldiers were based individually on a round 20mm MDF base.

Junior leaders were given a 25mm round base while senior leaders went onto larger 20x40mm rectangular bases.

Weapon crews had their figures grouped in twos or threes around their weapon on a 40x40mm square. I like the idea of having a slightly larger base to make it easy to distinguish a LMG gunner from a regular rifleman, but on the other hand I don't want to put a full three or four man LMG team on a single base as that makes it difficult to remove casualties as they occur. I think two figures on a base, comprising the gunner and the loader, is a suitable compromise.

This worked well for most of my figures, but over time a few practical issues have arisen. On the tabletop the larger 40x40 bases have a big footprint for only two figures (effectively taking up the same area as four figures on 20mm round bases). That's created issues when the space in a particular piece of terrain is tight.

In the picture below we have a senior leader, a wounded junior leader, a jump-off-point and LMG crew crowded into the upper level of a building. Throw in a few markers for shock and wounds and it has become a very cluttered space.

Naturally this is less of an issue when the terrain is more open.

Although even then it doesn't take much to overcrowd a particular location (and note how it's not the number of figures in the space, it's the size of the bases).

The other issue has been aesthetic. While a large base can make for an attractive diorama type setting for a light mortar or LMG crew, the actual base itself can be chunky and intrusive. At normal viewing distances this is something you don't really notice, but given I take a lot of close-up photographs for the AARs on the blog it's something that has been starting to bug me.

I've also been guilty of trying to shoehorn figures onto bases that are not well suited to the figure's pose - all in the name of sticking to the basing convention. To be honest I was approaching that whole basing convention with far too much rigidity, for no real purpose other than a slightly irrational desire for some sense of order. After all, I'm the one playing with the figures and while I want to help a new player differentiate between unit types there's no need to be so absolutely rigid.

Nothing brought this home to me more than dealing with prone figures. In this urge to keep everything based in the same manner I'd ended up with figures that were starting to look faintly ridiculous, with legs and arms hanging over the edges. With these British tropical figures below I'd felt I had pushed this to the very edge of an acceptable limit and I was never totally happy.

Recently, when I came to painting some Volksgrenadiers with StG44 assault rifles, there was simply no way the prone figures could be made to fit on a 20mm base. So I decided to break with convention and place them on the 20x40mm rectangles that I used for senior leaders. To avoid confusing these figures with senior leaders I sanded the rectangles into more irregular shapes and bevelled the edges. It was immediately apparent that the larger footprint doesn't come so much from the size of the base as it does from the size of the actual figure. A bigger base doesn't create a bigger footprint, but it certainly makes the prone figures look considerably better on the tabletop.

I really like the way this worked and decided I should go back and rebase all my other prone figures in a similar manner. This then led me to thinking about the footprint each based figure or weapon crew created on the tabletop. As mentioned earlier, I've often found the 40x40mm square bases that I would use for say the gunner and loader of an LMG crew impractical when playing in crowded terrain like buildings or jungle. Which then begged the question, did I really need to have such big bases and could I not achieve the same object of a small diorama but on a base with a smaller footprint?

Rather than experiment buying different sized bases I decided to make use of the many offcuts I have left over from MDF kits. That way I could trial a number of base shapes to find what best suited my needs.

For the two man crews I found a 30x40mm size worked well and oddly enough, having the figures in a more compact area seemed to give them a certain dynamism that they lacked before. In some cases two 20mm scale figures on a 40x40mm base could look a little lost. The German LMG crew below is a good example.

A 30mm base width meant the frontage for those crews became less than two individual figures side by side on 20mm bases, which further reduced the footprint for the team or squad. This in turn led me to question the practicality of senior leaders on a 20x40 base - talk about going down a rabbit hole! If I reduced that size to 20x30 they would still be on rectangular bases to differentiate them from a junior leader but with a smaller footprint.

"In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again".

An added bonus was that while making these I could address the aesthetic issue I had with the chunky look of the bases. That could be addressed easily enough by using the same method of sanding and bevelling as I had done for the prone Volksgrenadier. Having settled on the dimensions the MDF pieces were cut to size.

The sanding was done with a Dremel rotary tool. This makes it quick and easy (if a little dusty - best done outside).

The end result was a more natural looking base.

Although the area of each base was smaller I felt they still worked well for the two man crews, like this Japanese LMG gunner and loader.

The base is 25% smaller in area and while that might not seem like a substantial difference I could already see how much more practical this will be on the table. I also think the more naturalistic shape tends to draw attention away from the base and towards the figures.

Having removed figures from their larger bases they were then glued to the new bases.

Their metal bases were blended into the MDF base using Milliput.

They were then textured, painted and flocked in my usual basing style. Below are various Japanese LMG and grenade discharger crews with a couple of senior leaders.

Here are some of my early war British for the Far East, in this case four Bren gun crews and a couple of senior leaders.

The senior leaders work just as well on these smaller bases and are much more practical than the larger bases.

While the weapons crews are made more practical on the smaller bases the most fundamental improvement in appearance can be seen in the prone figures. I don't believe their footprint has increased at all but they look so much better on these larger bases.

The bases are only marginally wider than the 20mm rounds but the overall improvement in appearance is a worthwhile trade off.

I particularly like the way they can work with a prone LMG crew as the third member of the team.

There was one other consideration that came into play and that was I wanted the bases to work with my platoon boards. Going smaller was never going to be an issue for the senior leaders or for the two man teams.

I wasn't thinking about how the prone figures would work but I think this compromise will have to do.

So, the next job is to start applying this to all the other platoons. One could easily imagine I have nothing else to unpainted figures in the lead pile, no unmade models......

This is a pleasing result and I'm looking forward to getting these on the table and seeing what difference they make.