Keep that rambling thought in mind, dear readers, while I tell you about a project I’ve wanted to work on for some time. I’ve always been very interested in the Thirty Years War between 1618-1648. It’s a turbulent, violent, battle-strewn period of European history with some memorable and dramatic commanders. Some of the key engagements are huge, iconic battles which rattle like a drum roll through the 17th Century – Lützen, Brietenfeld, Rocroi, Lutter am Bamberg, Jankau and Nordlingen.
It’s also a fascinating period of military transition, both tactically and strategically. We have fascinating tactical differences between the opposing forces – the different battle-drills of the Swedish, German and Dutch Schools; caracoling pistol-armed reiters against looser, more aggressive cavalry formations; the decline of deeper ranked Spanish Tercios against smaller, more manoeuvrable French and Swedish battalions. The commanders include some of the Great Captains of history: Tilly, Gustavus Adophus, Turenne, Wallenstein, the Cardinal Infante, Pappenheim, the Great Condé, often with characteristics which are dramatic, colourful, occasionally terrifying and often mercurial.
And for those interested in how armies were raised and sustained, this is the age of the military enterpriser in all his guises - looter, mercenary, entrepreneur, proto-capitalist, and (infrequently) loyal subject.
It’s a fantastically rich, vivid period. Perfect for wargaming. Which leads back to my question – where to get started?
I’m enjoying 25/28mm wargaming at present – gaming when I can (sadly not often), and painting when possible (a bit more frequently than last year). As some of you might know, I've been doing quite a bit of 28mm painting since New Year as part of Curt's Sixth Painting Challenge. This has just finished (thanks again, Curt!) and while I want to keep painting my late seventeenth century armies, I really don’t want to start another period in 28mm. The time it would take me collect armies for the Thirty Years War would mean that I’d risk losing interest before I finally have enough troops for a game.
I did think seriously about 10mm for a while. There are some amazing 10mm pike & shot armies out there, painted by hands far more skilful and patient than mine. Although I love the Pendraken figures for the period, my brushwork on 10mm figures seems to take me almost as long as painting 15mm figures does. And to have the kind of scale I’m looking for, I would have to do a great deal of painting in 10mm (which, being honest, I would prefer to spend on painting 25mm figures).
That leaves me with 6mm – or with 2mm. I am sure that 6mm would work well for what I have in mind, although there is one problem. I like to see pike-blocks with straight wire pikes. And my experiences with many 6mm pikemen is that their cast-on pikes can bend, sometimes looking a little spaghetti-like. It’s simple enough to drill out a dozen of the pikes and replace with wire, but try doing that with hundreds….? Not very appealing. So, I’m left with 2mm.
And the more I’ve thought about the 2mm-scale for the Thirty Years War, the more I’ve wondered if this actually might be a perfect scale for the period. Here’s some of the thoughts I had when deciding to give this most micro of scales a try for the period:
- I want to capture the “look” of a Thirty Years War battlefield. My target in this respect is the wonderful “battle paintings” of Sebastian Vrancx and his pupil, Pieter Snayers. In these painting, which were very much in vogue in the 1630s and 1640s, the battlefield is laid out before the viewer. Units are clearly seen, and their formations, but individual details are often sketched in. The impression is of the formations in the field, not of individual soldiers. This is definitely the image I want to create for a tabletop game.
- I also love the black and white prints of battles in books such as Theatrum Europaenum. These are works of art in themselves, depicting the actions fought, and stylising the combatants on the field.
- I want to be able to collect armies quickly. I’d like an alternative to spending 30 minutes or more on a single figure, and I would welcome the feel of painting a full unit at a time. The scale and affordability of 2mm armies make this aim a real possibility.
- I’d also like to see what I can do with the tiny 2mm blocks. Ian Kay and the great team at Irregular Miniatures have been producing these miniatures for decades, but I’ve not often seen them on the table at a wargames club. Is that because they’re too small? Or have they been overshadowed (literally, and metaphorically) by their larger (and equally lovely) 6mm cousins? I’d like to try and give the 2mm fellows a chance on my wargaming table to find out.
- For a long time I’ve wanted to create a dedicated winter terrain landscape, complete with frosted snowy fields, frozen rivers, snow-bound towns, and silent winter woods. The painting below by Pieter Snayers is very much the scene I’d like to try and create. I’ve seen a few such tables around the shows, and I want to try and create one myself. 2mm terrain seems as good a place to start and do this on a grand scale. When I painted up a few test figures last year on verdant grassy bases, the details of the 2mm figures were a little lost. With a plain light grey, frosted, snow covered base for 2mm figures, I’m hoping the details of the 2mm figures might “pop” a little more (or at least as far as a 2mm unit can “pop”).
- Like so many of you, part of the joy of the hobby comes from recreating historical tactics in miniature. Creating 2mm armies gives me the chance to test out Spanish tercios against Swedish brigades, allows me to add commanded musketeers into the line, and lets me deploy multiple lines of infantry and horse on each side (as at Lützen, Rocroi and many other battles). I’d like to focus on tactical contrasts, and far less on company formations. If I was to try building armies on this scale in 28mm, I’d never finish all the troop types, and even if I did the table would need to be huge and the game would last days. In 2mm, I can create a couple of armies, and test out the tactics on a table of manageable size.
- Finally, “always stand in the shoes of Giants”. It’s a great motto, and it works for wargaming as well as any other activity. In 2mm, there are already two great pioneers of the scale for all kinds of super-campaigns. If you don’t already know Kieran (from “Do You Have a Flag”) and Ed (from “Colonel Scipio’s Paladian Guard”), you should do. Ed and Kieran have staged many wonderful Super-Campaigns, one of which was set in the English Civil War. Ed has also been incredibly generous in providing me with a host of great information on 2mm campaigning, showing the way forward and inspiring me.
So, with these thoughts in mind, I’ve invested in some Irregular Miniature armies, some 2mm MDF bases and I’ve already started on basing and painting the Imperialists. Here’s the first results, with hopefully more to following over the Easter break.
I’m hoping you’ll join me for a short series of blog posts about how I get on, from painting to terrain making, from rules development to the actual games themselves.
And, if anyone has walked the dusty, or ice-bound, 2mm roads of Thirty Years War Germany themselves, be sure to let me know in the comments or by email. I’d love to hear your stories.