Having read Fletcher Pratt’s Naval Wargame I set out to slake my immediate enthusiasm for the game by finding some miniatures and trying a version of the game on my basement wargaming table. I wanted to simulate one of the smaller naval battles I’ve read about, the Battle of the River Plate (though the pursuit of the Bismark and the various stages of the Battle of Leyte Gulf intrigue me, too). This seemed ideal for trying Pratt’s game given the relatively few ships involved (one German pocket battleship and three British cruisers), the lack of air support (a complicating factor in the game), and the fact that Pratt’s group actually simulated a similar battle several months before the actual engagement, a game that accurately predicted the historical outcome.
Sources for Naval Miniatures
Pratt’s rules and variants discussed in the book mention several scales ranging from 1:1200 (what was originally used) to a more manageable 1:2400 requiring less floor space; distances in these scales were modified anyway so one didn’t need a football field to accurately simulate battles (a concession, no doubt, many miniature wargames make at these scales). My quest for naval miniatures to use in this particular scenario led me to explore several sources:
Pratt’s Appedix 6: The History of Wargaming Project edition of Pratt’s rules includes an appendix by series editor John Curry discussing where gamers might acquire naval miniatures in the proper scales. While he offers a sample of a do-it-yourself cardstock model using a ship’s deck plans and elevational profile (conveniently enough for the Graf Spee, the German ship in the Battle of the River Plate), he also includes the names of several manufacturers with ships to scale. I ignored the ones overseas and the one that included links to other manufacturers (some of which I already knew). That left Panzerschiffe.com, which offers 1:2400 scale models made in “durable epoxy castings” in battleship gray (though ostensibly one could give them a wash and paint their own details). The four ships needed to fight the Battle of the River Plate would cost $18 (plus $6 shipping). Not bad, though I was a little leery of the smaller of the recommended scales. The small images of the ships didn’t impress me, but the price seemed reasonable for a three-dimensional, fairly detailed nautical miniature.
Axis & Allies Miniatures: War at Sea: I have a nice yet extremely random handful of pre-painted plastic miniatures for this game, in a 1:1800 scale conveniently hovering between the two recommended for the Pratt game. When it first released I bought into the game, though I quickly grew frustrated as with all such games at the “blind” buy in for boosters, shelling out $15 for several completely random ships, some of which I might already have. That might be fine for Magic: The Gathering cards at $4.99 for a booster pack and a huge stable of cards from which to draw random packs, but not for a miniatures wargame, even one with nicely sculpted and fully painted minis. As with many such games, a large secondary market exists online for miniatures; yet purchasing a specific miniature, or just a similar one, for a particular scenario remains unreasonable in terms of the time, money, and effort expended. I’ve even found them at convention flea markets with collector prices (assuming sellers are willing to part with singles instead of entire collections). The models are generally nice with decent paint jobs – I can’t complain because I love pre-painted miniatures that don’t require my not-so-delicate touch with a paint brush – but the plastic sometime warps along the length of a ship so it won’t even sit upright on the game table (yes, I know about the boiling water trick, but I have little patience for it with product of this level of quality). I’ve enjoyed gaming with what Axis & Allies miniatures I own, but acquiring ones for a specific scenario remains a prohibitive option.
GHQ: GHQ has long set the standard for “micro” scale miniatures, whether 6mm tanks or 1:2400 scale warships. Their models are gorgeous, though they proved the most expensive of my options and would still require assembly, painting, and mounting on a stable base. The four ships necessary to simulate the battle would have cost almost $50 before the $6.95 shipping. They’re gorgeous models – I own, have painted, and enjoy using their 6mm tanks – but a bit on the pricey end of the scale for my little jaunt into naval wargaming.
|Axis & Allies Ajax on top,|
Topside Minis Ajax on bottom.
My Topside Minis Experience
At first I was skeptical of this approach. Surely these seemed more like glorified, top-down game counters than actual serviceable miniatures. I looked over the website and was impressed with the wonderful color and detail the ships displayed. I read about the stickers being tear- and water-resistant. A page discussed and illustrated the steps in trimming the stickers and mounting them on the appropriately sized wooden tiles included with your purchase. It seemed like a novel, economical idea; maybe not one a die-hard wargamer would settle on, but one suitable for someone like me who mostly dabbles in naval wargames.
|The free promo unit I received.|
|"River Plate Battle Set" plus a few more|
German ships as received.
|Trimming the ship stickers.|
Topside Miniatures offers a full line of naval ships and aircraft for all the World War II theaters. Ships are conveniently arranged in battle sets by theater and engagement (including ones for such famous clashes as the Coral Sea, Midway, and Taranto) or by nationality; one can also peruse the ships by nationality and type and order single ships. The company also offers similar ships for World War I naval engagements. Topside Minis continues designing new ships to expand its product line and support additional battles.
|Flat compared with miniatures, but a durable,|
beautiful, easy-to-store option for naval minis.
Want to share your opinion? Start a civilized discussion? Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.