Wednesday, August 4, 2021

From Single to Mass Battle


Welcome!  Here for you I have a long post to say something simple.  

But first remember back when you used to watch The Muppet Show and the announcer would say in a big voice "Piiiiigs... In.....Spaaaaaace!"  Got that in your head?  Good, now read the title..

AAAdventures in Baaaaaasing

See, that was fun.

Now let's talk about evolving basing needs and half solutions and failed experiments.  Especially when it comes to my dark ages collection.  The collection started out small, then grew as all collections seem to, and basing and storage needs changed as it increased.   It's one of my oldest collections and it's mutations over time demonstrates me going from a novice gamer to the excellent-blogging-all-knowing-war-god you know today.  

At First, There was Singles

I started getting into Dark Ages gaming when SAGA came out.  It's a skirmish game so naturally all the miniatures where based in singles.  The warbands were sold in boxes of  Gripping Beast Miniatures with the Renedra plastic bases all included so it was one stop shopping and soooo convenient.  

Now when the entire collection could fit in a shoe box, storage really wasn't an issue but as the collection grew to include lots of Saxons, Vikings, and then Normans it started to get messy.  Especially if I transported said shoe box.  As I drove to the destination with the shoe box on the passenger seat next me I would hear the miniatures sliding all around and colliding into each other.  Didn't help that I have a habit of driving fast and stropping quick while rocking out to Brittney Spears.   

The guy in the front with his arms wide open is yelling
"Everybody wait!  I dropped my helmet!"

Then I feel in Love with Magnets

Because I never liked battlefoam type storage.  It has it's uses for big miniatures like ring Wraiths on fellbeasts but mostly battlefoam is only good for lining the floor of some small caged animal. 
Magnetized storage however, is awesome and sexy.  And secure.  But it takes some practice to get right.

The plan: Put some metal on the bottom of the bases so that they can be stored and safely transported in plastic storage container lined with a magnet.  When you have too many miniatures for the tub, just get a bigger one. 

A small tub that used to hold Normans.
Now being used to hold civilians, scatter terrain, and other fun stuff

Normans in their new home: the Big tub.
Most of them anyway.

For infantry, I discovered that fender washers are magnetic and roughly the same size as the 25mm base.  So I started gluing washers to the bases of all the infantry.  Worked like a treat!  I continued the practice for all new recruits into the Dark Ages Collection.  

Fender Washers on the bottom of miniatures.
(This Viking Miniature has been ready for priming for years)

And Then There was Trouble

(If you have children; the phrase 'and then there was trouble' will instantly trigger flashbacks to watching endless Thomas the Train episodes.  I should of included a trigger warning, but hey, reading blogs is a dangerous pastime.)

As the collection went from 1vs1 skirmish (2 player games), to 2vs2 (4 player games) to Large Skirmish, to mass battle and now reaching multiple player mass battle (that progression is called the "collection evolution" by the way),  it became time to invest in some movement trays to create elements.  While trying out several different rulesets I came to prefer those that use static elements versus those that remove figures as casualties.  

First stop: Sabot trays from Litko

6 man Tray.  I think these were used for Dux Britanniarum by TFL,
Which after some plays I decided was not a good game.

I had two issues with these: one minor and one major.
Minor Issue: I didn't like the look of it.  It's tooooo neat with the dark ages warriors lined up in orderly ranks like they are soldiers in a horse and musket battle.  I know NOW you can buy these in all manner of configurations, but back then there wasn't as much abundance of choice and I didn't see any I really liked.  And then I had the Major Issue.

Major Issue: Fender Washers are actually just a touch BIGGER than 25mm, which means they didn't fit in the movement tray well.  Or at all. 

So in order to get the miniatuers inside the tray I had to take a dremel and sand out the inside of the hole to  enlarge it by about a millimeter or so.  This process was 1) Hard (because I am clumsy) 2) Messy 3) imprecise; so some holes ended up being much bigger than needed and 4) A Pain in the Ass; so I stopped about a quarter of the way through.  There had to be a better way.

A Better Way (Kinda Sorta, More like an Adequate Way)

The solution I came up with was to purchase different movement trays: and because I can rock out with my cock out I went with METAL. 

A metal movement Tray.
While I did eventually paint them all brown I never did get around
to putting flock on the sides.

These metal movement trays I purchased from Shogun Miniatures.  Great company, I still buy my magnet bases from them.  It's a steel tray with a sheet magnet on the inside to hold the miniatures. 

I settled on a unit size of 5x3 inches, with around 12 miniatures arranged in various ways.  I liked it because I could avoid neat orderly ranks and just have masses of men.  I used these for a couple of years.

Pics from a game of Sword and Spear.
Vikings versus Saxons

A Hail Caesar game.
More Vikings versus Saxons (will those two never get along...) 

Another Hail Caesar game: Saxons versus Normans

Though metal also had it's drawbacks.  Over time I started to dislike the empty / bare spots of the tray where miniatures weren't standing.  But the biggest drawback was that the metal trays were actually hard to handle during a game.  They're hard to pick up and move around, they are very heavy, and there's not a good place to get purchase with my weak slender fingers while other gamer's fat fingers couldn't grip the thin sides.  One often had to use two hands to move the tray.
But as I didn't know of a good alternative and I had already invested so much energy and money into the metal trays I stuck with it like a bad marriage.   Either that or rebase everything.  

Saved by the British

One day long ago,  I was playing a dark ages game and I forgot my metal trays, so the guy I was playing offered to use his movement trays and picked up a miniature to place in his sabot tray.  I was in the process of making a dirty joke about my 'base having too much girth for his small hole'...

when it fit perfectly.
I was... shocked and surprised.  
I squinted my eyes and asked "wheeeeerrree did you get that movement tray please?"  Because even while shocked and surprised I still remember my manners.  
"These are from the UK."  he replied.   "From the UK says you; good to know says I," I said suddenly talking like a pirate for no reason. 

Fast forward 5 or 6 years while I got distracted by the ACW, the Age of Sail, and having too many children.  Here we are in the present day and I'm thinking about movement trays again.  After some internet research I have learned a critical piece of information:

That a Fender Washer is the same size as a 2p coin from the UK (26mm).
I'm assuming the P stands for Pence but could mean Polliwog for all I know.  I've never been to the UK.

I can buy movement trays from the UK and not have to rebase my dark ages collection.  HA-HA! TAKE THAT SUCKERS!  (I'm not sure who the suckers would be in this case).

Tray from Charlie Foxtrot Models.
I asked for magnet holes and got them, 
so glued in some 2x5mm Rare Earth magnets.

As an experiment**  I ordered some 'Loose Order' movement trays from Charlie Foxtrot Models (and got excellent customer service by the way) because I liked the look of them and he actually gives the measurement of the hole as 26.3mm so I knew my miniatures would fit.

knocked one together and got this:

I really like the look of it.

Looks like the magnets work as well.
(Who IS that handsome fella)

Liking it so far I was motivated to put together a few more:

A Saxon lord leading a small contingent of 4 bases.

Veeeeeery niiiiice.  I am pleased.  Exactly what I was looking for and I feel a new life coming on for mass battles in the dark ages.  I can make out the ranks on the trays but the ranks are not neat and orderly and the 'mass of men' effect is present.  The ground cover works well to blend in the miniatures.  But most important of all is that the trays are easy to pick up and handle.  

** It's great it worked out because I lied earlier.  I didn't experiment but GAMBLED.  An experiment sounds like I ordered just a few trays to see how they would turn out, but what I actually did was order 48 of them and hoped that I would love them.  I imagine I felt very similar to when men order mail order brides.  

When all is completed, it will give me enough for 2 armies of 24 elements each and that ought to do it.  

Here We Are,  At the End

That was long post to say a simple thing of "I ordered some movement trays and I like them." 
But where else but a blog can you get the exciting backstory and context?  And wasn't it exciting. 
I tried to make it an interesting story.  
Thanks for reading it.  Or skimming it.  Or just looking at the pictures.  
Thanks more for leaving a comment.  I really appreciate it.  


  1. If we just looked at the pictures would we see your thanks?

    Anyway, those 2p trays are very nice. The randomness adds to the dark age look, and they have enough surface area to give you some room for tufts and the like.

    For my warhammer armies, I based with magnets, and then you can just make a tray out of sheet steel... or rather I would if the figures did anything besides sit in a drawer.

    And for shame... you should know it is Thomas the Tank Engine...

    1. Well, Tank Engine is his FORMAL name but we’re so well acquainted that I feel I can be common. πŸ˜€

      Thanks! The slightly random placement is the look I was going for. I have never been able to try WaB bc I can never find a rule book. But these days I know I prefer elements to removing casualties. πŸ˜€

  2. Good result, especially not having to rebase the actual figure in the traditional sense. The bases having four slots to the front looks good, with three and three behind. This is the way that I have been basing my wars of the Roses stuff, with 10 heavy infantry to a base. Your table shot with the river in looks most excellent.

    1. Thanks Norm. I really like your WoTR elements and if I ever start an army I would copy your approach.

      That HC game is a fun scenario I made up but it needs some tweaking. I ran it twice and both times the Norman Knights just ran over the Saxon shieldwalls. πŸ˜€

  3. Fun to see your thinking and implementation evolve. You know, you could have cut out most of this exercise by going straight to Impetvs or "To the Strongest!" basing using 120mmx60mm stands.

    1. Lol JF. My metal trays were 125x75 so the means was there. If I were to start another medieval period (WoTR or 100 years war are tempting sometimes) I would just go with elements from the start I think.
      Now I’ll have to wait for my tray upgrade to be complete before I try them. πŸ˜€

  4. I think that your whole problem comes from listening to Britney Spears........

    1. Hey! In those day Brittany was in her PRIME.

      Now I’m more of an audio book guy. I guess we all get older. πŸ˜€

  5. Umm...aren't the holes for the magnets in the CF trays in the middle, which is where the holes for the fender washers are? (Not an issue with 2p coins-no hole in the middle).

    Methinks this is all a lie (I can do sorta-pirate too).

    1. Avast you scurvy rat!

      Anyway no trick photography except for me making a goofy face. The magnets are really strong and the metal close enough. πŸ˜€

  6. Your long posts are the best Stew! Always entertaining. Like you I have a stack of single based dark ages figures from WAB and Saga days so this looks very interesting indeed. Thanks got the heads up mateπŸ˜‰

    1. Thanks Carlo! I’m glad you found it amusing and informative. πŸ˜€

  7. An interesting an Pe amusing read Stew. It's also beneficial that this method has retained the ability to use the individual figures in skirmish level games, should the urge ever take you. As for Normans riding over Saxon shield walls.....well, what do you expect? That's why we have the English language and Magna Carta....if the Saxons had been hard enough to resist the Normans, the world would be dominated by Germanic culture.....

    1. Thanks Kieth. I do like the versatility of going from individual bases to elements though at this point I have *plenty* of individual bases for any skirmish set.

      And I don’t mind Normans winning but in one game the Norman infantry just sat around and watched the cav stomp the saxons. I probably made the cav units a little too powerful. πŸ˜†

    2. Did the Normans even HAVE infantry??! Our mate Nick has the cousins of your Norman knights - they are the 11th century equivalent of King Tigers on Angel Dust and generally sweep all before them.....

    3. Ah, the pitfalls of scenario design. πŸ˜€
      I’ve heard it on good authority that the Normans did indeed have infantry but they certainly have an easy time on my table. πŸ˜€

  8. Well done you, they look great. You’ll notice with time my dark age collection has evolved. In a similar way but I have ended in a different place, firstly skirmish saga etc so the older figures are individual and I use sabot bases, when I then reached the point that a 50 pt saga army was possible I realised that fixed multi bases made better sense and looked better. The only trick was getting bases that match in size , which they do in frontage but have narrower depth which works fine.

    1. Thanks Matt. I also got to the point where I could of switched over to elements as I had enough individual bases but decided to stick with the singles just to keep the basing consistent. πŸ˜€

  9. > The guy in the front with his arms wide open is yelling "Everybody wait! I dropped my helmet!"

    More like "I lost my contact lens!"

    1. That works too.

      Though mine was better. πŸ˜€

  10. The Pigs in Space reference landed with me anyway :) I'm not so sure that in the picture you aren't proving that the COVID vaccine hasn't made you magnetic yet though :D To be a bit more serious, mini storage can be a really issue. I have the foam storage case from GW and while it does some things really well, I find other minis that it doesn't work for at all. Once I get enough stuff situated in the new place, I plan on figuring out a new storage setup. I may have to reference this wonderfully written article when that time comes! :)

    1. I’ve always had a magnetic personality.
      I’m fortunate that I have the room for storage; there’s a whole corner of the garage dedicated just to miniatures and terrain. πŸ˜€

  11. The Fat Controller approves of this post.

    Fun read mate and I like the new bases. Those metal ones were indeed tricky to shove about the table.

    Now you have me wondering if I should buy multi stand bases too for my own Jomsvikings and Saxons?

    O and Charlie Foxtrot made the winter East Front buildings I own. I think they are my fav mdf kit makers - the owner is a really nice bloke too.

    1. Yeah, the metal trays weren’t super ideal. Who would of known that pretty MDF trays would be so much better; besides everyone I mean. πŸ˜€
      Charlie Foxtrot does make some nice stuff.

  12. I would make a comment on your basing saga, but I'm still recovering from the trauma of Henry being bricked into a tunnel.

    1. Well he deserved it for not being really useful and causing confusion and delay. πŸ˜€

  13. I'm with you, all my dark ages,WOTR and some of my Napoleonic figures are single based on 1pence pieces, so 20mm diameter sabot based onto 120mm wide bases for hail Caesar/ impetus/ TtS, whatever. Your new sabots are excellent! 1p and 2p are new pence following decimilisation in the 1970s so that £1 would have 100new pence, previously in old money £1 had 240 pence and of course shillings but the archaic roman system ( pound ,shillings and pence) were swept away in the name of modernisation, no more bobs and tanners, a terrible loss of wealth!
    Best Iain

    1. Thanks Iain! I bet you can fit more miniatures on a tray using the 20mm base versus my 26mm.
      In truth the tray is not hard to do. More like painting terrain, which is good because I have a whole lot of them to do. πŸ˜€

  14. Fun post Stew! The only question I had was already asked by StuRat. Those little button mags are that herky, wow.
    All the best,

    1. Sorry for the late reply Vol. the next post will explain. But yes, the rare eart mags really do pack some magnesium in the small size. πŸ˜€

  15. I was about to write something brilliant but Britney Spears? Really?

    1. Sorry fir the late reply Mike but I shall repeat myself; in those days BS was in her PRIME. and I like the feel good music. I still have an album somewhere….πŸ˜€