Believe it or not, I get a whole lot of questions about miniatures. It might be because I run a miniature blog, or because I spent several years of my life as a freelance miniature painter. It might be because I spend so much time nerding out about miniatures. I have no idea. But, being as how I absolutely love miniatures, I though a series of educational posts covering the full spectrum of the hobby might be handy.
First up, we’ll be covering SCALE.
Exactly what is scale? Really, it’s just a way to make sure that your toy soldiers don’t look too ridiculous when you have them going pew-pew at each other. By collecting miniatures in a similar scale, you can avoid the terrible shame showing up with Micro Machines when all anybody wants to play with is Matchbox cars.
That’s really the nuts and bolts of scale. Your six inch tall Star Wars: Black Series action figures are going to look a little funky if you’re facing off against normal three-and-three quarter inch figures. Scale is a just a handy way to make sure you’re in the right sandbox.
Most miniature games stick to a general range of scale between 28mm and 40mm. But even then, there is a massive amount of variation, even when the scales supposedly match!
Scale normally measures the height of an average (assumedly male from a production standpoint) miniature from the base of its foot to its eye level. Unfortunately, some companies measure from the base of the figure’s foot to the top of its scalp, which means two companies can say they produce 28mm miniatures that can still end up having a pretty sizable difference in height.
Once one of the most common scales produced in miniatures, 28mm standard miniatures tended towards smaller details in their sculpts, with heads and hands that were more realistically proportioned to their bodies.
You can see this example illustrated with the miniatures below. Both are considered 28mm figures, yet the Core Space mini is definitively smaller than the miniature from Corvus Belli‘s Infinity on the right.
There are still plenty of miniatures being produced in this scale, with some fantastic multi-part kits being produced by Osprey Games for the Frostgrave family of wargames.
Games Workshop has largely disrupted that over the last few decades, with the advent (and proliferation) of what is commonly referred to as “heroic scale”.
Supposedly, heroic scale figures are the same scale as 28mm standard, but their larger heads, hands, and feet make them look more like comic book characters (hence heroic). There has also been very little attention paid to keeping the scale of most 28mm heroic figures consistent, which has led to a fair amount of “scale creep” over the last 20 years or so. Just compare a Warhammer 40k Space Marine from 1999 to one produced in the last few years, and you can see a huge difference in their size.
And yes, I know Primaris Marines are bigger. I’m talking about your standard marine. And I have Imperial Guard from 20 years back that are a bit smaller than newer figs.
On the plus side, though, larger minis make for more possibilities for detail, which leads us right to what is becoming the industry standard for miniature scale.
Malifaux, Zombicide, Kings of War, Runewars, and a fare amount of independent sculptors have settled on the 32mm scale range for their miniatures, which has some definite perks; the larger size allows for crisper details, which can lead to more dynamic or expressive characters.
It’s also close enough to 28mm, especially Heroic 28mm, that most people won’t care much about the size difference.
There’s really very few games producing minis in 35mm, notably Wild West Exodus and other figures from Warcradle Studios. Everything that we said about larger size is even more apparent at this larger scale, but they’re also much larger than 28mm figures when presented on the same table!
Atomic Mass Games produces Marvel Crisis Protocol at 40mm, and at this point they’re one of the few miniature lines at this scale. The miniatures are so large that they are much easier to paint, which is nice, but forget putting your Iron Man on the table against someone’s Frostgrave minis. He’ll look like he’s attacking students from that school model in Zoolander.
Other Common Scales for Wargame Miniatures
Quite a few wargames rely on much smaller scales, and this is purely due to economics of space. If you’re going to re-create Waterloo, you’re going to need a lot of miniatures to pull that off!
That’s where 15mm comes in, which is the standard scale for historical wargames. The average figure is pretty small, which means that a whole lot more of them can fit on a table!
Gaslands has been taking off lately, which uses customized 1/72 scale Matchbox and Hot-Wheels cars. This works out to 20mm scale for miniatures, which there is not a lot produced for, but some enterprising sculptors on Etsy and Patreon have been filling that niche beautifully.
Another semi-common scale is used primarily for giant robot games, but it varies wildly between 3mm and 6mm. At this point, human sized characters are about the size of a Nerds candy, and the real stars of the game are the monsters or robots that the game focuses on.
Of course, there are even smaller scales for starship battles, but even those tend to exaggerate scale to produce evenly sized ships. Star Wars: Armada, I’m looking at you…
Why does any of this matter? That’s a pretty good point, and one that some people won’t even care about. Some folks are just fine facing off with any scale miniature that strikes their fancy, and there is absolutely fine!
There are others, myself included, who get caught up in the scale trap because of the immersive quality of a good miniature game. I like to bring a nicely painted group of figures to play on a table with nicely built and painted terrain, and I tend to get lost in the story that plays out in a game. Differences in scale can be a little jarring, but it’s not a deal breaker for me.
Mostly, this comes from the types of games I like to play. Most of the game systems I like are setting agnostic, which means they don’t have an established universe set up for them. So, you can bring whatever miniatures you want to the party. I have a ton of 28 and 32mm minis, so I tend to collect miniatures in that scale to use in the games I like to play.
If Marvel Crisis Protocol was the only game I played, or I wasn’t really keen on throwing Wolverine at a Genestealer, this wouldn’t be a problem at all!
I also tend to display my painted miniatures, and I like seeing minis that are similar scale displayed together. It might be a little fussy, but that’s my preference!
If you have questions about scale, or miniatures in general, drop a comment below!