Scale Matters
Model Vehicles for Combat Zone

by Robin Hill

How big is big? Scale is expressed as to a fraction of the size of a real object. That's the problem.

Modern metal wargame miniatures are referred to as “28mm” scale, though in actual fact they are available in a wide variety of sizes, from “traditional” 25mm to 30mm and above. Model railways are 1/160th (“N” guage). 1/76 (OO) or 1/87th (“HO”), and plastic aircraft kits are 1/72nd (one inch = six feet) or 1/48th (one inch = 4 feet) and so on.

Assuming a 28mm tall miniature represents a 6-foot tall human, this represents a scale of 1/65th (close enough to the standard model scale of 1/64th). Unfortunately, putting model vehicles of this scale on the gaming table makes the figures look much too big. Why should this be so? Well, for one thing, the models are usually put on bases, which can be upwards of 25mm in diameter and anything from two to 5mm thick. This increases the model’s height to something closer to 35mm. Our calculations now make our “28mm” model closer to 1/50th scale.

Cozo minis beside those of an unknown manufacturer

The bases cause another, less obvious, problem. When several troops huddle together behind cover, they can stand shoulder-to-shoulder. Six or more SWAT personnel can take cover with reasonable comfort behind one saloon car. These 25mm diameter bases prevent our metal soldiers doing anything even remotely resembling a huddle. In fact, anything smaller than a main battle tank gives precious little cover to even the smallest of hit squads.

My solution to this is simply forget the confines of 1/64th scale and go straight to 1/43rd, a common scale used in collectable die-cast models cars.

This for several reasons:

1/43rd is a popular scale. There are a lot of relatively inexpensive models of current makes of vehicles, produced by manufacturers such as Burago. Dinky and Corgi also produce the occasional die-cast in this scale. It is also a popular scale in America, and taxis, trucks, police vehicles and military trucks can also be had over the Internet.

1/64 on the left, 1/43 on the right:
Which looks better?

The models are large enough to provide realistic cover for based figures. Flatbeds and cargo areas are also large enough for figures to stand on.

They look impressive on a battlefield. The better models are well-detailed, the cheaper ones can be easily modified and repainted. There’s also plenty of good internal detail, and many miniatures have features such as opening doors to give additional cover.

Treated as terrain, Bigger is almost always Better. A street can be given plenty of character by adding parked cars or wrecks. Vehicles can also be used as movable barricades and improvised cover.

Accessory sets also have such items as road signs, traffic cones, dumpsters and all sorts of other street furniture to make the battlefield look more interesting. Several of the major resin wargame scenery manufacturers also make vehicles and accessories at or close to this scale, making for greater compatibility and flexibility.

I already have a large collection of (mainly inexpensive) 1/43rd vehicles. I can fill a city street or an underground park with cars, vans and small utility vehicles. I also have several Humvees for my SWAT teams, including an ambulance and a command-and-control unit.

Vehicles provide either “hard” or “semi-hard” cover. Heavy weapon fire easily penetrates cars and light vans, Hummers with armour kits stop heavier weapons up to M-60 machine guns.

Vehicles are most likely to be just immobile cover, but there’s nothing to stop players agreeing on vehicle movement rules (see Robin Dear’s vehicle rules in Combat Zone Chronicles Issue 2).

One last point. 1/43rd scale vehicles also work very well with Heroclix combat games, especially if you treat all automobiles as Heavy objects and let the Incredible Hulk, with his Throw Object skill, loose on the battlefield!

If you do a lot of 'urban' combat games, you might consider using 20mm rather than 25mm bases. More figures will fit in smaller spaces, hallways, etc.

3/4 in. washers and pennies work well and are inexpensive. (I buy boxes of 1000 and they are less than 2p each.)

You can also buy 20mm slotted bases.