One of the challenges in miniature wargames (or really in any game) is how to record the game state. A game is in essence a manipulation of a lot of resources (tokens, cards, points, money, ...), and the state of the game at any given point should be unambiguously clear for the player who needs to access that information.
In a miniature wargame, we often play with units represented by a number of miniatures. The position of the unit on the battlefield is one part of the gamestate, and that is often recorded or made clear by putting the unit on its intended location. Another important aspect is the complete status (combat strength, morale, attributes, ...) of the unit, and this needs to be recorded as well.
In this post, I will not focus on the innate characteristics of a unit, but rather on its changing status during the course of the game as a result of being involved in combat and taking damage. How do we keep track of the unit's changing status, and are there elegant and less elegant ways to do it?
The oldest procedure of recording casualties as a result of combat is simply to remove the figures. This works well when you use individually-based figures. The number of figures in the unit indicates its strength, and when a unit takes a "hit", one figure is removed.
The advantage of figure removal is that it's immediately visually obvious how "strong" a unit still is, or how much damage it can still sustain. On the other hand, the "footprint" of the unit (the actual area the unit occupies on the table) is gradually reduced. Sometimes this is a desired effect in the rules, sometimes it is not. Another disadvantage is that figures are removed from the table, which is a bit strange since we have spent so much time and money in painting and buying those figures.
Figure removal also requires a "holding space" next to the table so casualties can be put away. Depending on your table setup, this might or might not be very practical.
Grouping figures in stands (with a unit being multiple stands), and removing stands, is a variant of figure removal.
Recording hits and losses
Another method - also very old - is simply to record the losses on a piece of paper. Once a certain amount of losses is reached, the unit loses some abilities or is destroyed. Although this might seem trivial, it actually is a method with far-ranging consequences, since it decouples the visual representation of the unit with its current status, therefore allowing for more flexibility in combat resolution procedures.
In older wargaming books (e.g. How to Play with Toy Soldiers, Joe Morschauser) this system is sometimes referred to as the "roster system", the roster being a series of boxes that are ticked off as the unit takes hits. The recording can also be in numerical format, of course.
|The original roster system described, in "How to Play with Toy Soldiers", by Joe Morschauser.|
An advantage is that the entire unit can be kept on the table (visually very attractive), a disadvantage is that we have introduced a separate gaming procedure, and some bookkeeping. Depending on the level of detail, such bookkeeping can become cumbersome.
There are other numbers as well that needs to be tracked besides casualties or hits, such as morale, or other status indicators. Either we can record this on paper, or use some sort of markers
Markers come in all sorts of variants and sizes: markers containing text, numbers (or replace them with dice), dials, coloured beads, etc ...
In the figure below you see a number of markers I use for my own games. The exact type used in any particular game is dependent on the period and the visuals of the figures and terrain, since I feel that markers should not dominate the battlefield.
|A selection of markers I use in my own games, often plundered from boardgames. Coloured glass beads are useful, as are dials. For some reason, the dials show an ugly gluemark in this photo, barely visible in reality ...|
|Useful markers: Coloured pawns and playpieces, and wooden chips.|
A less well-known method is to use the poses of figures as an indication of various stats of the unit. In the photograph below the number of officers (2) indicate command rating, the number of men firing (4) indicate fire power, the number of men walking (5) indicate a movement characteristic, and the number of men advancing indicating morale (3). These figures are adjusted in numbers to reflect the changing status of the unit, and filler figures (men kneeling) are used to keep the total number of figures of the unit a constant.
|A unit of the French Foreign Legion (Woodens flats).|
The drawback is obvious: too much fiddling with figures, and a need for duplicate figures. Also, the number of figures needs to be linked directly to rule mechanisms, e.g. to roll a D6 vs a target number given by the numbers of figures in a certain pose.
On the other hand, the status of a unit can be read visually from the figures.
A more feasible variant is to use the pose of a figure in skirmish games. When an individual soldiers changes status, the figure is changed as well. I used this mechanic in our Marche ou Crève convention game, with the sequence of various status updates for a single figure shown below. Figures on the left got a "+1" on die rolls, the middle ones "+0" and if an individual found himself in the rightmost pose, he would get a "-1".
Figures can also be placed in various positions relative to the unit to indicate a change in status. In the photographs below, a banner or flag is placed either at the left, middle, or right position of the unit. The flag can also be placed in the front rank or 2nd rank, such that 6 different statuses can be indicated. Multiple flags can make this system more versatile, but again, practicality should be weighted against usefulness.
- How to Play with Toy Soldiers, Joe Morschauser, 1962
- Visual Display Units, James Oliver, Wargames Illustrated 74 (November 1993)
- Flagging spirits, Arthur Harman, MiniatureWargames w Battlegames, 385 (May 2015)