Deep Battle Design Notes 7 – Ground Scale

I do a lot of my game design in my head. Wrestling with how things will work / play / look. But with some things it helps to write down the challenges I’m facing. Here is my latest design quandary. With my Musing on Free Form and Area Movement and my subsequent thinking about big base sabots, I’m back to thinking about ground scale in Deep Battle, my draft rules for Operational level wargaming. Should I go for a tight fit, regular or loose? WARNING: This is a very abstract discussion; do not read if ground scales either terrify or bore you.

Game resolution

You might have forgotten my Musing on Operational Game Resolution. As a bit of a refresher Deep Battle offers two Game Resolutions: Front Operations and Strategic Operations. Front operation involves one or more Soviet armies against one or more German corps, with the units being divisions and Soviet corps. Strategic operation is bigger including one or more Soviet fronts against one or more German armies, and corps and Soviet armies as the units.

Ground scale and fit

A bigger ground scale is a good thing because it means the rules can deal with larger operations. But to get that big ground scale, the models start to get congested on table and that is a bad thing.

I’m considering three options for fit in Deep Battle: Tight, Regular and Loose. Each corresponds to a ground scale, summarised in the following table. A tight fit has the biggest ground scale and loose the smallest.

The table below shows the ground scale associated of each style of map / movement that I’m considering – Hex, Area, Free Form. In each case I look at tight, regular and loose options for “fit”. For example, a loose fit would be using 15 cm hexes.

Fit Game Resolution Style of map / movement
Front operation Strategic operation Hex Area Free Form
Tight 32 cm = 80 km (1:250,000) 32 cm = 160 km (1:500,000) 8cm Hex 8cm Area 20km Base Width
Regular 30 cm = 60 km (1:200,000) 30 cm = 120 km (1:400,000) 10cm Hex 10cm Area 16km Base Width
Semi-Loose 30 cm = 90 km (1:150,000) 30 cm = 180 km (1:300,000) 15cm Hex 15cm Area 10km Base Width
Loose 30 cm = 40 km (1:133,333) 30 cm = 40 km (1:266,667) 15cm Hex 15cm Area 10km Base Width

The diagram shows the variations for a Front Operation.


Hex grid, fit, and ground scale

The tables are is 20km hex/squares for Front Operations and 40km hex/squares for the Strategic Operations. So the smaller the hex the bigger the ground scale. A bigger ground scale is a good thing because it means the rules can deal with larger operations. Previously I looked at What size Hex/Square Grid to use?. Not surprisingly the bigger the hex (or square), the more units fit into the hex.

A regular fit would be a hex/square of 4″ (10cm) from flat edge to flat edge. This gives a ground scale of 1:200,000 for Front Operations and 1:400,000 for Strategic Operations. I can fit nine infantry stands into a 4″ hex and three vehicles – in 15mm scale.

Grid Size 4 - 4 Inch Hexes
Grid Size 4 – 4 Inch Hexes

I mocked up a table for a Front Operation – the Korsun-Shevchenkovsky Operation (25 Jan – 17 Feb 1944) – in my musing on Operational Terrain 9 – Stands of smaller scale trees. This has 20 km hexes.

Tree-243 Table for Korsun-Shevchenkovsky Operation, 25 Jan – 17 Feb 1944
Tree-243 Table for Korsun-Shevchenkovsky Operation, 25 Jan – 17 Feb 1944

I also did a 20km hex map for Kharkov 1942, but in hindsight that should not be a Front Operation. It should be a Strategic Operation with 40km hexes.

A tight fit would use a smaller grid. Going down to a 3″ (8cm) hex/square would give Front Operations a ground scale of 1:250,000 and Strategic Operations a ground scale of 1:500,000. A 3″ (8cm) hex/square would be a squash and squeeze to get any number of models into; at most two tanks and four infantry stands. That is okay for troops of a single nationality, but the early drafts of Deep Battle had opposing stands in the same hex/square; and that just won’t work with a 3″ (8cm) hex.

A loose fit would use a bigger grid. A 6″ (15cm) hex/square would give 1:133,333 ground scale for a Front Operation and 1:266,667 for a Strategic Operation. I have a 6″ square grid and a 5.5″ hex grid, either is very comfortable for fitting masses of models, including having opposing troops in the same hex.

Grid Size 8 - 5.5 Inch Hexes
Grid Size 8 – 5.5 Inch Hexes

Area map, fit, and ground scale

This is really a replay of the hex conversation but with roughly circular blobs replacing hexes. As I mentioned in my How big are Crossfire Terrain features, the smallest area terrain feature I use is 4″ (10cm) across. So that is the baseline for the ground scale. This comes out so the same ground scale as 4″ (10cm) hexes for both Front Operations (1:200,000) and Strategic Operations (1:400,000). No real surprise there.

I also have 6″ (15cm) terrain features for Crossfire. The matches the similar sized hexes with 1:133,333 ground scale for a Front Operation and 1:266,667 for a Strategic Operation.

I don’t have smaller 3″ (8cm) terrain features, and I probably never will. But the ground scale would match the tight hex option: 1:250,000 for Front Operations and 1:500,000 for Strategic Operations.

Free form movement, fit and ground scale

The discussion above has been about attributes of the table – either the size of the hex grid or the size of the terrain features. With Free Form movement the discussion moves to the size of the base for the manoeuvre unit. The latest draft of Deep Battle is using my 8cm wide Big Bases. So ground scale is tied to a base width.

The “fit” for a game with free form movement is not about base width, it is about the gaps between manoeuvre units. And this analysis is only relevant to the part of the table where the armies are actually deployed. More specifically, do the rules encourage a line of units to cluster tightly, loosely, or something in between.

A congested style of game would have the manoeuvre units bumping into each other all the time. The DBx games are like this iwth stands forming solid blocks. I initially thought about doing this for Deep Battle, but upon reflection realised I don’t like that kind of game. Too fiddly, too fussy. My game Twilight of the Sun King is one of those, tight and congested with arthritic movement.

I now prefer something more flowing, more easy, hence Tilly’s Very Bad Day. TVBD is probably a regular fit by my definition. The support rules encourage units to say close together. Not necessarily touching, but close.

Crossfire is a loose game. The manoeuvre units – squads – are widely dispersed reflecting company level tactics in modern warfare.

So what about an Operational level table top wargame? Tight, regular or loose fit?

What I’m thinking is that for a Front Operation, an 8 cm base width is of 20km with a tight fit (all stands bunched together), 15km for a regular fit (some gaps), and 10km for a loose fit (larger gaps are expected in the game). That corresponds to a ground scale of 1:250,000, 1:187,500 and 1:125,000 respectively. 1:187,500 is an ugly number so I calculated something for a ground scale of 1:200,000 and an 8 cm base width would be 16km, still a regular fit.

Strategic operations double that. So an 8cm based width would 40km (1:500,000) for tight, 30km (1:375,000) or 32km (1:400,000) for regular, or 20km (1:250,000) for loose.


Well, I have been obsessing about 4″ hexes, so I’m naturally drawn to a regular fit. If I go with a regular fit and free form movement, the movement rates for Deep Battle are comparable to those for Tilly’s Very Bad Day.

With a tight fit, the ground scale increases, which is a good thing. But the troops start getting congested, which is a bad thing. I’m not keen.

A loose fit has the opposite problem. Lots of space for troops, but the ground scale makes playing larger operations impossible.

7 thoughts on “Deep Battle Design Notes 7 – Ground Scale”

  1. Steven,
    Having followed your progress in developing these operational rules, I cannot help but think you have saddled yourself with concepts and ideas that hinder rather than help; tail wagging the dog as it were.

    I cannot but help think one of these is the concept of how many models fit in a hex.
    The contrast between the two pictures shows this well; the second looks good, the first too crowded. Only the larger grid allows units to enter enemy hexes convincingly.

    While I understand your driving force is the aesthetics, I think it’s hindering rather than helping.

    Variable ground scale is fine. However, rather than have a fixed unit size which fits in different sized hexes, I’d suggest the footprint of the unit determines the ground scale.

    One of the revelatory moments in wargaming for me was realising that rather than determining the base size from the size of the miniatures, and determining the ground scale from how many figures at what man to figure ratio was decided, that it was the footprint of the unit base that mattered.

    Once you get over all the baggage from all the wargames you have played and all the concepts you absorbed while playing them, you realise that once you set the base size, how many figures and of what size, is a matter of personal aesthetics. The larger the figure size, the fewer the miniatures physically fit. If you want lots of miniatures, use those of a smaller size.

    This determines the ground scale. To increase this on the same sized standard table, reduce the size of the unit base. VnB shows all of this very well.

    So many rules start by working out how many 28mm figures fit on a certain size base and determining the figure / man ratio from how many figures they want in a unit. Hence, all those 24-36 figure games with bases of 4-6 miniatures. They then cram two corps worth of miniatures on their 6×4 or 8×5 table, complain there’s no room to manouvre and decide they need a bigger table….

    Here, I’d suggest you tie in the hex size determined ground scale to the area that can be occupied by a “unit”. That area becomes in essence the unit base. This may mean however using fewer models / figure stands to fit the dimension of the hex.

    • Neil

      Actually, my driving force is game design, not aesthetics. Aesthetics is a side effect of the game design. My concern is ground scale and fit. Think of it as stand density. Different game systems assume different stand density. Crossfire has fixed base widths but is a loose game system. DBA has fixed base width but is a tight game system. V&B and my own Tilly’s Very Bad Day are regular fit with fixed base width. So I see this as a design issue, which is why I explore scale and fit for hex grids, area terrain, and free form movement.

      At the operational level, there is no historical evidence a unit did not have a fixed footprint. Of course, there were recommended frontages and hence typical frontages. But the actual frontage of units expanded and contracted as operational demands dictated. So a Soviet infantry regiment might have to defend 40 km, unsupported. Or there might be several Soviet or German divisions compressed into a 20 km pocket. My rules need to support the recommended density, typical density, and the extremes. Hexes, area terrain and big bases with free form movement all provide solutions.

      Like you, I view a base as a base. I moved to stands as the basis of gaming many years ago. Hence the Big Bases I use for all wargaming before the 20th Century. I like 15mm figures on 8cm wide bases, but I like and write rules that let other players make different figures scales and base sizes. They can make their own aesthetic decisions, which will probably be different to mine. I don’t care and I ensure my rules don’t care.

      My inclination for Big Bases is exactly what I was exploring for Deep Battle in my previous post on Free Form and Area Movement. Free form movement, with Big Bases, does work for Deep Battle. And it even helps addresses the variable unit frontage problem (mentioned above). But I found this approach made the draft Deep Battle rules much longer because it adds complexity compared to a grid.



  2. Phil Sabin reflects on this stuff in his Korsun Pocket game (which uses 20km hexes and German Divisions vs Soviet Corps). Personally I prefer grids for operational games, precisely because you can easily model varying unit densities. You CAN do it without a grid, but players invariably end up shoving alll their stands together in Napoleonic columns, unless you have lots of rules to discourage it. That was why I moved from rulers to grids with Panzergruppe. As I’ve invested heavily in Hexon, 4″ hexes is what I use. My games are bit lower level, brigade bases and five to ten km per hex, although I do go up to Divisions for the Russians.

    I really wouldn’t bother with in hex combat at this level, it is all a bit DBA. Corps X attacks hex Y, if they push the defenders out, they advance, otherwise they fall back to their start line. More of the British Army success/fail concept.

  3. So, if I understand it correctly there are two questions here:

    1. How many hexes should be on the table (the more the better)
    2. How many units should fit into a hex (the more the better)

    Now these are contradicting tendencies:

    More hexes on table = smaller hexes = fewer units in a hex
    More units in a hex = bigger hexes = fewer hexes on table

    You seem to be going from how many square kilometers should the table represent to hex sizes and then how many units would fit in a single hex (with base sizes of units fixed). I would take the opposite approach.

    Your main goal, as I understand it, is to be able to model situations with thinly held lines vs. concentrated force/pocket. Which is tied to units sharing same hex, not the overall size of battle. So, I would first think of a desired number of units in a hex (taking into account whether hostile units should be able to share the same hex) and then think how large area that hex should be – how many square kilometers would say six divisions occupy. Not in terms of unit “footprint”, which is flexible, but how much of a concentration of attacking force or pocket would you like to simulate.

    And from that you can extrapolate how many hexes should be on table. And only then I would start thinking about what size should the hexes and unit bases be. You can even make it the same way as with TVBD and define it in relation to each other and not with precise number of centimetres.

  4. I am interested in ground scales, representation of units and representation of terrain because I think that many wargames now have become so abstracted as to be a long way from reality and often driven by factors such as using nice looking large scale figures. My own gaming in the C17th and C18th has led me back to using original period maps (earliest topographic survey was of Belgium in 1770) and 2mm figure blocks so that historic battles can be fought at the correct figure/ground scale using 1:2,500 1:5,000 or 1:10,000 maps with trees, hills and buildings added on top

    Having said that I recently walked a group of MA students through a simple Soviet offensive at University of Wolverhampton. This was the Vitebsk Offensive of 1 Baltic Front on 23 June 1944 and was half of the effort to take the town. It involved 2 Combined-arms Armies backed up by a Tank Corps with another two armies holding the rest of the Front’s frontage. The aim of the exercise was to show the effect of the Soviet concept of echeloning and how this concentrated forces on a narrow front. In this case the breakthrough area was 7 km wide and the attack frontage 28km wide, fairly typical for a Front offensive at this period and the objective was 150 km away.

    So on the one hand the first three days of fighting will be in an area 28km and through defences around 30km deep, so quite detailed and if we use the Rifle Division as our basic unit broken down into 3km wide units or a Rifle Corps 5km wide units.

    After that the pursuit pahse widens into area 150km deep and probably as wide.

    To show the breakthrough area I used a map with a scale of 1cm = 1 km (1:100,000) and to show the complete operation a map of 1:500,000.


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