What is a Bathtub Campaign in Wargaming?

I’m not a fan of the Bathtub approach in wargaming. Bathtubbing is a mechanism to use smaller scale rules to fight larger scale battles or operations.

The original Bathtub Campaign: Barbarossa 25

The term was originated by Frank Chadwick, the author of Command Decisions (and other rules). Apparently:

The first game where the reduction in scale took place was Frank Chadwick’s reduced-scale Barbarossa campaign. Frank boiled the Soviet navy down to a handful of vessels, and created models of them which were . . . shall we say . . . lacking in certain details.

John Harshman saw the models, and remarked that they looked like something suitable for sailing in a bathtub. Frank loved the notion, and the campaign was henceforth called “Bathtub Barbarossa”.

Source: What is bathtubbing?

So that is how it started. Now I’ll look at a better definition of Bathtub Campaigns and how the concept is applied to Campaigns, Scenarios and Rules.

Definition of Bathtub Campaign

A Bathtub campaign is when the forces, areas, distances etc, for the historical campaign are scaled down to match those of the wargaming rules used. A Bathtub campaign is a way to give historical flavour to your wargaming campaigns, whilst still using your existing forces that you recruited based on rules that simulate a much smaller scale of conflict.

For example, your preferred rules might have squads organised into companies, however, you might find an account of a interesting battle involving a brigade a side. To bathtub this incident you would represent the original brigade with a company, battalions would become platoons, and companies become squads. Then you’d fight out the incident using squads, platoons and companies.

Bathtubbing is different to the figure-to-men scale. Three figures on a Crossfire stand represents a squad. In the rules this stand represents a squad and acts like a squad. In a bathtub, the squad acts like a squad but represents a larger formation, perhaps, for example, a company, battalion or regiment.

Example of Bathtub Campaign: Barbarossa 25

The first campaign labeled a Bathtub Campaign was the Command Decision module for 1941 Eastern Front.

Chadwick, F. (1988 or 1999). Barbarossa 25: Command Decision Campaign Module. GDW.

I don’t have the Barbarossa 25 module but I understand it ‘bathtubs’ by 25, hence the name. Every aspect of the campaign is reduced by a factor of 25 in order to bring the vast scale of the campaign in the Soviet Union down to manageable proportions.

Element Command Decision Barbarossa 251
Ground scale 1:1,800 (1 inch = 50 yards) 1:45,000 (1 inch = 1,250 yards)
1 Turn 15 minutes2 ~6 hours
1 Infantry stand 1 platoon 1 Regiment3
1 model vehicle or towed weapon 4-6 real vehicles or towed weapons 100-150 real vehicles or towed weapons
Player forces ~Battalion ~Corps3

(1) I’ve taken the “x25” Buthtub factor literally. I believe this is correct, but don’t have to module to check.
(2) I understand that in later versions of Command Decision the turn duration changed to 30 minutes. Which would make a Barbarossa 25 turn about 12 hours.
(3) With a “x25” factor I assume the order of battle goes up three levels of military hierarchy; assuming triangular formations this is 3 x 3 x 3 = 27, which is close enough to x25 target. What that means is a stand starts by representing a Platoon, which becomes a Company, then a Battalion, then a Regiment. The player’s forces start at (approximately) a Battalion then a Regiment, Division, and finally a Corps. This might not be correct. Kelly Armstrong, in a comment in Why are they called ‘Bathtub’ campaigns?, mentions that that Barbarossa 25 “turning an Army into a division, for example, 1st Panzer Army becomes a panzer division.” So it is possible the orbat might only move two levels of hierarchy.

Example of Bathtub Scenario: Eye of the Tiger

My own Eye of the Tiger Crossfire Scenario is heavily Bathtubbed. As I say in the notes:

The forces are representational and so are scaled down enormously. For example, the Soviets lost 48 tanks on the day but only get four in this scenario. Historically SS Panzer Brigade Gross consisted of two weak tank companies made up of old PzIII and IV tanks, the 103rd Heavy Tank Battalion (Tiger tanks) with Panzergrenadier support plus the ad hoc 1 SS Armoured Recon battalion. As was common practice in the Waffen-SS, this emergency unit was named after its commander, SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Martin Gross. The 103rd Heavy Tank Battalion only gets one Tiger on table.

The reason for this bathtubbing is that I borrowed the scenario from ASL – see Eye of the Tiger – How I Converted an ASL scenario to Crossfire. I didn’t try to change the scenario. I just tried to recreate it in Crossfire.

Barrie Lovell went for a more historical version of the scenario without Bathtubbing – see Big Eye of the Tiger – A Crossfire Scenario with Barrie Lovell.

Example of BathTub Rules: Flames of War

I my opinion Flames of War are Bathtub rules. Of course, the figure-to-men scale is 1:1, so nothing Bathtubby there. However, these rules play loosely with the distance scale to get artillery on the table with infantry.

Steven’s view on Bathtub Campaigns etc

I don’t like Bathtub campaigns, scenarios, or rules. They break my simulation goals. It is easiest to explain using an example. If I use Crossfire as the tactical rules in a the Barbarossa 25 Campaign, then a stand represents a regiment but still behaves like a squad. In real warfare a regiment behaves nothing like a squad. Wargaming with stands as regiments requires an Operational Level Wargames Rules. Much as I love them, Crossfire are not operational. The same problem applies to Command Decision and Barbarossa 25. In Barbarossa 25 using CD a stand behaves like a platoon but represents a regiment. I don’t know CD but I understand it is very tactical in nature.

The other problem, for me, is that distance and area cannot be scaled at the same proportion. If you scale forces by 1/25th (ie 1 tank model representing of 25 real ones) then you have to choose whether to scale down distance or area and both options create a troop density problem:

  • Distance: If you scale down the distances on the map by the same amount (1/25th), the area becomes tiny being 1/25th * 1/25th = 1/625th. The troop density for linear frontage is correct, but the troop density for area is too cramped. Much too cramped.
  • Area: If you scale down the area of the map by the same amount (1/25th) the distances are only reduced by the square root, in this case i.e. 1/5th, i.e. square root of 1/25th. The troop density for area is correct, but the frontage of the unit is now much wider. The unit has to cover a frontage 5 times wider than it did before.

9 thoughts on “What is a Bathtub Campaign in Wargaming?”

  1. I agree with all you say here – I don’t like bathtubbing for the reasons you mention, most importantly the fact that a battalion acts nothing like a squad, say – and most importantly, its interaction with another battalion is nothing like the interaction of two opposing squads.
    What you say about FoW is interesting. I think you are right, and I think that a lot of other rule sets are effectively bathtubbed, especially when you are using larger scale miniatures. There you have four figures on a base (representing a company, or some such) but they look like a fire team. And there facing them across six inches of flat table is an enemy company/fire team. It is hard to remember that in fact you have two groups of a hundred or more men, probably gone to ground in a substantial area of terrain, and the flat table represents several hundred metres of countryside which, unless you are fighting in Kansas, will actually have hollows, ridges, ditches, bushes and long grass.

    • John
      regarding your point that “There you have four figures on a base (representing a company, or some such) but they look like a fire team” … you are referring to the “figure to men ratio”. All wargaming rules have a figure to men ratio. It can be 1:1 (for a pure skirmish game) or 1:10,000 (for a high level operational game), but all rules have a ratio.

      But I don’t see the figure to men ratio as an aspect of bath tubbing. For me, bath tubbing is about behaviour not aesthetics. In your example, the key question is does the base with four figures behave like a company or a fire team under the rules. If the base behaves like a company (even if represented by four figures) then no bath tubbing is in effect. If the base behaves like a fire team, although nominally representing a company, then we have bath tubbing.



      • In CD, individual stands are grouped into nominal companies, but the game is not concerned with whether each stand acts just as would a platoon.

        The actual concern is that the basic maneuvering unit made up of stands acts as would a battalion or regiment.

        The same approach was already current in horse and musket rules sets with a basic unit of regiment or brigade made up of a number of a stands (which might very roughly equate to half a battalion or a battalion each).

        For that period, even most battalion unit games did not insist that each stand exactly correspond to a company, troop or other ‘peloton’, so long as the formations adopted by the battalion as a whole adequately reflected the real dynamics.

        Chadwick cited a couple of WW2 rules sets as previously having gone to some degree in this higher-level direction, but his own were in my experience remarkably pioneering.

  2. Yes, I am well aware what the figure ratio means. My point, which I clearly didn’t explain well enough, was that the low figure ratio (four men as a company, say) encourages both the rules writers and the players to treat them as the smaller unit that they look like – in other words bathtubbing, albeit unintentional.

    • John, thanks for clarifying. I have seen the same thing but only for WW2 and more recent periods.

      I haven’t seen it for ancients, medieval, renaissance, or horse & musket. Nobody ever treats a hoplite stand with four figures as anything but a line of hoplites in a shield wall.

      For some reason, however, WW2 gamers seem to have a skirmish game mentality. To many players if it looks like a man then it must represent a man. It looks like a tank so it must be a single tank. Weirdly, I’ve seen the same players accept the abstraction (figure to men ratio) for ancients and deny the possibility of an abstraction for WW2.

      This struck home when a player looked at one of my Crossfire battalion commander stands, with four figures and a jeep, and assumed the guys could jump in the jeep and drive around. In the game system the stand does not behave like that. I use the jeep is just a clear visual indicator this stand is different to other stands. It conveys no magic jeep-ness capability to what is a foot slogging stand. This one player could not “get” that.

  3. I have the game. You don’t “bath rub” on the miniature field, but at the strategic level. So its more like playing a Corps level campaign, but using the map of Russia. The German order of battle is 3 Infantry division, one panzer division, the “Klein Deutschland Reg plus some Romanians and Hungarian Bn and other sundry units. Russians start with 12 Rifle Brigades and 4 armored brigades. Rules come with a map similar to “Fire in the East”. There is a strategic game of 2 day and one night turn.

    • Jim, thanks for the additional detail.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “You don’t ‘bath tub’ on the miniature field, but at the strategic level.” It seems to me that one leads to the other. If the entire German army on the Eastern Front is represented by a Corps (which is bath tubbing), then this must also transfer to the table top where a Command Decision table game, within the campaign, has a stand that plays like a Platoon but represents a regiment (also bath tubbing).

  4. I’m just saying that when you play the miniature game, the platoon act like a platoon. There are rules where the units on the game table are companies. Guess it’s just a matter of perspective. I think in the original Fire in the East a hex was 25 miles. In the bathtub version it 1 mile. The idea is to give you a campaign of the reasonable size with a well know frame of reference (Russian front). Probably not describing it well.
    If you’re looking for a Campaign for 1941 try “Race to Smolensk” You command a panzer division. You have several battle area. If you win one big you get to skip some. Idea is to get to Smolensk in 8 or 9 weeks and survive the Russian counterattack. found in Society of 20th Century Wargamers, THE JOURNAL Issue 78 – Winter 2012/13

  5. From the Barbarossa module: “The principle behind the Bathtub campaign concept is contained in the title of this product. Barbarossa/25 is the Barbarossa campaign scaled down 25 times. We began with the maps for GDW’s Europe game (Fire in the East) – which as 16-mile (or 25 kilometer) hexes – and used each hex to represent one kilometer instead. With ground scale reduced 25 times, we then scaled down the orders of battle by 25. The result was a good, proportional representation of the combatants which retains a nice feel for their capabilities but remains manageable for campaign purposes. Finally, time was scaled down by (roughly) 25, with each month reduced to a day, and the half-month game turns converted to morning and afternoon.”

    It is a great module, pick up a copy if you can find it reasonably priced.


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