Operational Terrain 7 – What size Hex/Square Grid to use?

Cards on the table, I should have started with this experiment first. It might be too late, because I’ve been doing a lot of Experimenting on a 4 Inch Hex Grid, but I thought I’d see how my 15mm figures fit into the hex grids (4″ and 5.5″) and square grid (4″) that I’ve already got. The answer … not very well. This is, of course, for my as yet unwritten rules for operational level wargames called Deep Battle.

4 Inch Hex Grid

Not surprisingly – given all the previous experiments – I tried some 15mm tanks and figures on my 4 inch hex grid from Hotz Mats. The 30mm x 30mm infantry stands were fine. At a crunch eight infantry stands can squeeze into a 4 inch hex.

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

The problem are the 15mm tanks. These are considerably bigger than the infantry stands. I was using medium sized models – Pz IV and T-34/85 – so it could be much, much worse. Really two 15mm tank models pretty much fill a 4 inch hex. One tank and a couple of infantry stands also fill a 4 inch hex.

Grid Size 5 - 4 Inch Hexes
Grid Size 5 – 4 Inch Hexes

4 Inch Square Grid

Next up was a 4 inch square grid (also from Hotz Mats). These are roomier than the 4 inch hexes. Up to nine infantry stands (30mm x 30mm) can fit into a single 4 inch square.

Grid Size 2 - 4 Inch Squares
Grid Size 2 – 4 Inch Squares

There is also more space for armour. A couple of tanks and a half track fit within a 4 inch square. And a single tank plus a couple of infantry stands fit with room to spare.

Grid Size 3 - 4 Inch Squares
Grid Size 3 – 4 Inch Squares

5.5 Inch Hex Grid

Lastly I tried a bigger hex grid. This, slightly odd, hex grid is from Tiny Wargames UK Battlemats. I asked for a 4 inch grid and got a grid with 5.5 inch hexes from flat edge to flat edge. Sigh. Anyway, despite the fact I don’t have a particular use for a 5.5 inch hex grid, for this experiment it was useful to have a grid that was bigger than 4 inches. So I plonked some troops down. Very roomy.

Nine infantry stands fit easily into a single 5.5 inch hex. If I packed them in I could probably get 12 to 15 in there.

Grid Size 7 - 5.5 Inche Hexes
Grid Size 7 – 5.5 Inche Hexes

The armour also has a lot of space. Three vehicles fit very easily and I figure that six will fit at a squeeze.

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


The simple bit: To paraphrase Goldilocks …

  • 4 inch hexes are too small.
  • 5.5 inch hexes are too big.
  • 4 inch squares are just right.

Now the complicated bit. Where do I start … well, it ain’t so simple.

For Deep Battle I’m thinking of allowing enemy to co-locate within a hex/square. So having a few units of each side in a single hex/square is distinctly possible. That potentially makes the situation even worse than suggested by the photos above.

Perhaps bigger is the answer. 5.5 inch is a funny size and I don’t really like the design of the Tiny Wargames mat I’ve got anyway. So I’d get something else and if I went bigger I’d got for 6 inches. Nice round number and all that. 6 inch squares and/or 6 inch hexes. Unfortunately, Hotz Mats don’t do 6 inch hexes and only do a small mat (4′ x 4′) of 6 inch squares. So, for the moment, 6 inch hex/squares are off the agenda.

Can I make 4 inch hex/squares work?

I was keen on hexes. That is why I went to the trouble of designing river templates for 4 inch hexes and then having the MDF rivers made commercially. So I’m definitely invested – in terms of time and money – in 4 inch hexes. The trouble is they are quite cramped with 15mm figures. It is never too late to pivot in another direction, but a bit of a waste.

I’m not sure about squares because of the 90 degree limitations. Actually I’m not sure about hexes either – all those weird 60 degree angles.

But lets assume I stick with hexes and/or squares … can I play with the 4 inch grids that I’ve got? Probably. Certainly the 4 inch squares seem to have just enough space for a typical force concentrations. I can imagine having four tanks in a single 4 inch square. Two German and two Soviet. Squashed but not impossible.

Perhaps, with play testing I might also find that 4 inch hexes also have enough space for typical force concentrations. How often would, for example two Soviet Tank Divisions be facing off against two German Panzer Divisions. It happened, for sure, but not super often. Perhaps I’m worrying about nothing. And if we are talking about infantry, even the 4 inch hexes are big enough.

Should I find that 15mm tanks really are a problem. I could break my cardinal rule (15mm only; the one true way) and collect some forces in 5-6mm. I’ve been experimenting with Monopoly houses (more on this another time) which are about 5-6mm, and also with other 5-6mm terrain. Maybe I just get the forces to match.

Much to think about.

21 thoughts on “Operational Terrain 7 – What size Hex/Square Grid to use?”

  1. Go 3mm. Cheap, quick and will look better at this level. Tailor the base sizes to your exact requirements. It effectively frees you from physical restraints.


  2. It seems as if you can get 8-9 stands into one 4″ hex (or square). If each stand is a regiment that should be comfortable for two infantry divisions.
    Couple of questions
    – Are you planning to use Deep Battle only on the Eastern Front? The force density is much lower and the forces are much less mechanised. On the Western Front you would routinely have to fit five or six divisions into a single hex, and even the infantry divisions tend to have lots of tanks (at least, the allied ones do…)
    – what benefit do you see from having both sides’ troops in the same hex? That seems like it will cause lots of problems
    – what about transport and logistics? Given that this is an operational game you will want to represent a lot of trucks and supply dumps (and horse-drawn transport on the Eastern Front). There are also hospitals and what have you which are really critical at this scale because they are less mobile than the fighting troops so they control the practicable speed of advance/retreat.

    • Andrew, yup, 8-9 infantry stands into one 4″ hex (or square); with less armoured models possible in 15mm (but same number in 3, 5, 6 mm).

      A stand = a regiment would be far too small for operational warfare on the Eastern Front. As I mentioned in my Musing on Operational Game Resolution for a Front operation stands are divisions or Soviet Corps with 20 km hex/squares. For the larger resolution Strategic Operations stands are corps or Soviet armies with 40 km hex/squares.

      I’m not intending to limit unit density (number of units in a hex/square) as I want to capture the possibility of over crowded forces inside a pocket. Even for a normal prepared offensive the attacking side would likely mass a bunch of units at the breakthrough point. So having a handful of attack units in the same hex/square is quite likely.

      Yes, I’m only thinking of using Deep Battle on the Eastern Front. It should be applicable to other theatres, but this is not my initial focus.

      I’m interested in your statement that “the force density is much lower [on the Eastern Front] and the forces are much less mechanised”. I can’t challenge this but I’m interested in what data you’re using for force density in various theatres.

      My interest is less about how many tanks are inside a division and more about how the unit behaves at the operational level, however, the two are related. For branch of service I’m assuming a limited set: infantry, mechanised, cavalry, tank, airborne. Branch of service in the game is not necessarily what the official designation was e.g. a Panzer division with no tanks could be infantry or mechanised depending transport capabilities.

      With hex/squares there are two choices:
      – allow enemy forces to be in the same hex/square. So there is a bunch of rules around whether a hex/square is contested or not.
      – don’t allow enemy forces to be in the same hex/square. So there are a bunch of rules around zones of control.

      Effectively allowing enemy in the same hex/square means the zone of control is the hex/square. This approach is no more or less complicated than the convention in board games of disallowing this and introducing zones of control to cater for this. My final decision is probably related to the size of the hex/square rather than anything else.

      I agree that horse cards, trucks and supply dumps are important. This is why I’ve done a lot of Musing on Logistics and Supply Rules

      I haven’t considered hospitals explicitly as these are too low level for the game resolution I have in mind. If I model them at all I’d include them in a general HQ capability.

      • If each stand is (the fighting elements of) a division, seems to me you will rarely want more than a couple in each hex/square except where forces are massed for breakthrough, and even then probably not more than 4-5. Seems like you would want some kind of marker for the rear elements of the division though – I’m not sure about the Russians but in a British infantry division only about 25% of the manpower is front-line infantrymen, and the depth of the divisional area is much greater than the width.

        In terms of force density, compare Operation Bagration to the fighting in Normandy. German Army Group Centre has four armies, each with a frontage of about 100 miles, so a corps frontage is over 30 miles. German corps fronts in Normandy at much the same time are a third of that. Army Group Centre has about 120 tanks in total – Army Group B has about 2000. To pick another example, for Operation Veritable the allies deployed nine divisions on a front of about 20 miles, and fought against eight German divisions. So I don’t have a bunch of statistics to hand, but I think the issue is pretty clear.

        I agree you don’t need to model individual hospitals, but I think you do need to represent the mass of not-very-mobile support services of which hospitals are an example. Fighting in mobile operations doesn’t tend to be continuous, it tends to be episodic, and this has a lot to do with the cycle of moving those base elements, as well as supply-dumping programmes.

  3. In the interest of continuing in my habit of not-helpful advice, why not draw out a group of 7 hexes, one in the center, etc and go to a printer and have them enlarged to several various sizes to try them out? or #2 change the scale of what each vehicle represents? If larger forces are needed in a hex, make one tank count for 2 with a marker on them.

    • I figure I’ve done enough experimenting with hex/square sizes. My open question is what to do about it. Like your suggestion of “make one tank count for 2 with a marker on them”

  4. Steve,
    I am with Mgluteus here as far as force representations go. At this level a tank is really only a marker as is an infantry base. When Hex overcrowding becomes a problem make a small adjustment. I own mostly 15mm Miniatures but have about 30 Shermans in 6mm. When I was trying to make my operational game with 4 inch hexes using 15’s force density became a problem.

    Here was my solution. I used one 15mm tank or infantry stand and then put a 6mm stand beside it with a number on it. This represented over crowding. Off table I had a Geo-hex where I placed by number all the forces actually in the square, It was still visual. involved no paperwork and was easy to keep track of combat as when it was time to move or fight from that hex I simply placed the Geo-hex on table where it didn’t knock things over and went from there.

    I hope this can help or maybe stir and idea for you.

    • Nice idea Andrew. I was thinking of an on-table / off-table combination for over crowded forces. Your 6mm model as a marker suggestion keeps it more visual.

  5. Any thoughts of trying offset squares to simulate the effect of a hexagon-grid? Either the “best of both worlds” or “worst of both worlds” depending…

  6. A couple of additional considerations.

    1. Do you want sufficient space in your square/hex to suggest formations. for example Spearhead units and units in support.

    2. Do you want to avoid the “Tank Parking Lot” look?

    Bigger spaces or smaller scale toys assist with both of these.

    • Stephen

      Yes, well, tank parking lot. I know of a certain game system that encourages that. It is not my aspiration. Say no more.

      I actually favour 6″ hex/squares for my 15mm kit because of the additional space. But my favoured supplier (Hotz Mats) won’t do 6″ hexes. Mutter, mutter.

      If there were sufficient space in a hex/square then there is definitely merit in using that space to show responsibilities (spearhead v support). My draft rules do have these kind of responsibilities, although the names differ.

  7. If you aren’t going to have any stacking limits you will potentially hit a physical space ceiling however small your bases or however large your hexes/squares.

    Other people adopting your rules will have models of different scales with varying base sizes and no doubt a variety of different grids, so I think it’s best to be flexible. I think 4” hexes are quite handy and I personally own a lot of Hexon. In fact, my investment in and attachment to this scenery outweighs the importance of my collection of Eastern Front 15mm figures, so I’d be quite happy to buy new 6mm (or 3mm) armies to play this game.

    As has been suggested, I think the obvious and only flexible solution is to be prepared to shift the content of overcrowded hexes off-table when and where necessary. A number of games do this in order to resolve combats. But

    • Richard, we are 100% aligned

      1. Flexibility is best; I’m puzzled why some modern rules still dictate things like base sizes and figure scales. It isn’t necessary.

      2. An off-table solution to overcrowding appears to be the way forward. I like Andrew Franke’s suggestion of using smaller scale models for the off table markers.

      3. Like you I’d consider changing scales (from 15mm to, say, 5mm) for this scale of game. But my preference is to avoid that. I guess it is one of my design goals for Deep Battle that folk can use whatever WW2 kit they already have, myself included.

      • Steven

        Obvioiusly you will have to set a ground scale for what the hexes represent and scenarios will have to specify width and depth in hexes, but beyond that I can’t see anything needs to be fixed. People could play on 1″ hexes with counters or hire a ballroom and use traditional toy soldiers…


        • Yup.

          I do specify the ground scale and hence basic unit size. As I mentioned in my Musing on Operational Game Resolution there are two scales:

          1. Front operation: stands are divisions or Soviet Corps with 20 km hex/squares.
          2. Strategic Operations: stands are corps or Soviet armies with 40 km hex/squares.


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