Downsizing: A table-top primer for converting 15/18mm figures to 10mm

By Bill Gray 31 Oct 2018 1

Well, I’m back, wargamer.com’s token pewter pusher. And today the subject is downsizing, specifically what to expect if you finally decide to move from larger scale miniatures to a smaller, say 15/18 mm (or whatever it is this week) down to 10 mm product line. Advantages, disadvantages, difficult, easy and is it worth it? Well color me tartan, because I just took the plunge and my sage ruminations follow.

Quartermaster’s Annex

While there are many reasons historical miniature wargamers choose lesser scales (6/10/12 mm, etc), one of the biggest is the ability to fight larger battles as the figures are smaller and thus more can fit on the tabletop. Related to this is the fact smaller figures are easier to paint because there is simply not as much area to cover, and the reduced size means that some detail normally decorated is invariably missing. The figures generally are in more realistic proportion to the terrain, both in terms of size and the quantity of troops per unit and then there is the matter of cost. 10 mm, for example, simply costs less than 15/18 mm, and are a downright steal when compared to 28 mm.

Authors Figures Completed

I would be remiss, however, by not mentioning a couple of more 'unique to me' reasons. First, I simply wanted to give 10 mm a shot, as building armies in traditional 15/18 mm scale was fast becoming tedious. The second, more important, consideration concerned the armies I wanted to build. These were the insurgent Hungarian army (called the Honved) and their Austro-Russian adversaries from the 1848 Hungarian Revolution, specifically the 3rd battle of Komorn in 1849. This was a big battle, so creating this in 15 mm or larger was going to really whack my checking account. That is, if you could find the proper figures to begin with. This is not a widely gamed conflict, so supporting figures in smaller scales are rare. One of the few companies producing the proper armies is Honved 15 mm Miniatures from Germany, but buying that many figures in bulk and getting them quickly from a small independent firm overseas seemed problematic to me, and with my luck there might be a tariff rearing its ugly head soon.

10 mm seemed a better alternative, specifically the American made the Old Glory 10 mm Grand Scale product line and Napoleonic Austrians in particular. At this diminutive size the uniforms and equipment are close enough to 1848 than you can simply fake it with little chance anyone will notice... unless they read this article, of course. Also, unique to Old Glory, their 10 mm non-light (line, grenadier and so forth) infantry figures actually come based on a single strip, five figures per in a very close order, elbow to elbow formation. Nice.

Blue Moon 15 or 18 mm Austrian Grenadiers

Then of course there was cost. Or at least it should have been, but in the first of many surprises this was not as big a factor as I thought it was going to be. I forgot that one of the positive visual aspects of 10 mm was the ability to put more troops on a stand, so while the cost per figure was less, the overall cost per stand was not quite as less. Certainly, the greatest disparity was with the Honved figures. Their models weigh in at $20.86 US (18.30 Euros) for a package of 30 figures, while $17.00 US will get you 100 Old Glory figures, 20 strips of five 10 mm soldiers each (assuming my math is correct: never a certainty). In the scale that I use, three or four 15 mm or ten 10 mm will fit on a base, so this means I’ll get seven and a half bases out of a Honved pack, or 10 out of a Grand Scale package. Cost per stand is $2.78 per for the Honved figures, or $1.70 for the Old Glory’s. There is a closer to home option, using Old Glory’s Blue Moon 15/18 mm Napoleonic line (no, they don’t make Hungarian Revolution), and this was the surprise. A stand using Blue Moon was only $2.13 US. This is still more expensive than the 10 mm, but the disparity was less than I imagined. Nevertheless, given the anticipated ease of painting strips vice individual figures, I took the King’s shilling for a long term 10 mm enlistment.

Drill Annex

Thus, armed I continued, hoping the figures would be easier and faster to paint, allowing me to build two big armies in a short amount of time. I was right, but in surprise number two, I soon found I had to learn how to paint again. The small size, sculpting and mounting configuration meant that I could not paint the figures the same way as I did my 15/18s. While this revelation was pretty much across the board, it was most noticeable when painting those line infantry strips, I mentioned above. The solution was relearning what to paint, what not to paint and treating a stand of ten 10 mm figures as if it were a single figure. Until I broke this code, it was actually taking me a little longer to paint my new armies than it did my previous formations with larger models.

15 or 18 mm Honved Hungarian Infantry

I never knew how much a creature of habit I had become in this hobby. I mount my figures on their movement stands prior to painting, spray a black undercoat then paint in an assembly line fashion by unit. In other words, if I am painting a unit of 12 figures, first I paint all the large areas, for example the trousers, on all 12, then go back and paint all the tunics and so on, with small details last. I’ve done this so often over the past 41 years that by instinct and without even thinking about it, I know how to hold the stand, how to twist the stand in my hand, or twist the brush to use only an angled tip, to carefully pick out even the smallest detail I want to show. Nope, nada, nyet, nein, had to learn how to do this all over again.

I also use a technique I call “shadowcasting,” which consists of two hard and fast rules:

  • Firstly, a modification of the two-foot rule for 15/18 mm figures: if you can’t see the detail on the figure at two feet, don’t paint it. With 10 mm I think you can drop that distance to 18 or even 12 inches.
  • Secondly, leaving in black undercoat visible for those areas which would be darkened by shadows created by natural sunlight. This won’t occur by default as the figures are too small to block bright room lights themselves.

Instead you have to paint parts of the figures to simulate the shadow effect. This includes areas like the inside of gun carriages, the area between wheel spokes, underneath legs or arms, horse or man, particularly if holding a firearm or similar. This was pronounced on the Old Glory 10 mm strips, in part because I mounted two strips one behind the other to put 10 models per stand. The strips themselves are sculpted with individual models so close together that entire arms can be left in black. When placing the ranks touching one behind the other, the area in between can be left in black as well.

10 mm v 15 or 18 mm 02

As an example, on an infantry stand of two five figure strips of Austrian Infantry in two ranks, here is what I painted or did not paint. I painted the backs of the entire second rank and the fronts of the entire first rank. However, I painted both front and back of the two end figures in each strip only. All other areas in between were left black save the tops of the blanket rolls for the three center figures of the front strip. Indeed, I only needed to paint the outside arm of the two end figures of each strip, and only had to detail the outside trouser leg as well. Here I am talking about things like that narrow yellow stripe that adorned Austrian infantry’s mid-blue trousers. Yes, said strip is likelytoo narrow to actually show up on a 10 mm figure, but like other things in other armies, this is an expected look for the Kaiserlicks in 1848, so some exaggeration is permitted, and it just doesn’t look Austrian otherwise.

Did it work? Well speed wise it sure did. Normally I can knock out 12 figures of the 15/18 mm variety in about an hour and 15 minutes. That’s three stands the way I base my armies, and given MR GAJO (the late George Johnson, whose shop bought and resold painted miniature armies) rates my stuff as a 7+ to an 8 out of 10 for quality, I’m happy. In 10 mm I was able to knock out 10 stands or 100 figures in about two hours 15 minutes. That means I could paint a full stand of 10 mm figs in just over 13 minutes, or a 15/18 mm stand in about 25 minutes. And as a bonus, with molded flags and a stubby set of lances and bayonets, these guys seem pretty sturdy, and this means nothing to repair after the game.

All total it took me 48 days to produce the armies for both sides of this battle, and the final body count was as follows – 2170 infantry figures, 102 light infantry figures, 318 cavalry figures, 47 mounted generals and 107 artillery batteries, each with a limber stand of two horses to support them. If Lenin was right when he said, “quantity has a quality all its own,” the wargaming Gods are happy right now.

Mission Complete

Nevertheless, quality is important. The big raison d’etre of miniature wargaming is to produce tabletop visuals that look like real combat taking place. For some periods of history when pageantry and color was also part of the mix, such eye candy can be stunning. Seriously, beauty is not simply skin deep in this type of gaming.

10 mm Honved Deployed BIS Front

So, did my 10 mm project measure up? Yes, I think it did. When gaming at smaller scales such as 10 or 15 mm, it is the collective mass of troops in a formation that provides the visual impact, not each individual model. In this regard I have to admit with more figures per stand, the 10 mm scale really outshines 15/18 mm as regards that serried ranks of bayonets look. And while my painting style will not be for everyone given it reduces color saturation, based on paintings, photos and movie stills, it is closer to what the naked eye would see at a battle reenactment or during the actual contest. I’ll likely have an article coming up where I can feature these doughty lads in action at Komorn, so you can judge for yourself to see if 10 mm really does the job.

Assuming these models are 10 mm to begin with. Funny thing, when finishing up I found myself four Austrian artillery limbers short. Fortunately, I have several boxes (because remember, if you have but one pack of unpainted lead in your closet, you can’t die) of the old Heritage Napoleonette 15 mm line, and I was hopeful this included a set of afore mentioned limbers and that the size wouldn’t be too off. In surprise number three, the 10 mm limbers where larger that the 15 mm limbers.

Can you spell “scale creep?” I betcha can.

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