Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Weekly Update for Sunday, May 4th, 2014 - Tables and Decisions, or, Boring Ruminations on Philosopy

The new table top,  awash in retro glory.
(IKEA, this isn't.)
Howard Fielding, he of The Tekumel Project, has got Swamp Folk available; hop on over to his web site, and have a look, please!!! (Link in the left-hand column for you, too.) I am delighted with these figures - I have been waiting for Swamp Folk for over thirty years, and these are worth the wait. Hurrah for Howard!!!


Reading through Mike Mornard's very entertaining account of his trip to Gary Con, and playing miniatures on a sandtable, has wafted me back down memory lane this week; back in Ye Olden Dayes,  all right-thinking miniatures players aspired to play on and / or own a sandtable - that big, shallow box with fine sand in it that one could sculpt into truly glorious wargame terrain. Real Men - none of your mangy D & D types here! - played Free Kriegspiel with miniature figures - Scrubys or Greenwood & Ball, thank you! - on sandtables in the basement.

You had to have the thing in the basement because all that sad and lumber posed a serious threat to any floor joists; the things, if done with stock and standard four foot by eight foot plywood sheets, were dang heavy. And having cats in the house was a real danger to the proceedings - trust me on this.

Be that as it may, gaming on a sandtable could be truly magical - in those far-off days of yesteryear, gaming was a social activity as much as it was a 'game session'. We often played at somebody's home, on their table, usually with their figures, and we would come and stay the day for a pleasant Saturday afternoon of fun and games, pushing lead around. The host would have usually spent all week dreaming up a truly fiendish scenario to challenge us with, and then worked like a manic to build the scene on the table. There'd be dinner, either via the local eateries or the hosts long-suffering spouse, and then we'd have at it again. All very social, and lots of fun.

This pattern of gaming also held for the meetings of the University of Minnesota 'Conflict Simulation' club; we gamed on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and we'd fill up our cars with stuff to bring for big games and small in the rooms we'd booked. Hobby shops would be pillaged for their stocks of 'Life-Like' trees and lichen, we'd build models of obscure vehicles and units with which to baffle and puzzle our friends, and in general we'd have some pretty good laughs.

I've had a lovely week, running lumber through the table saw, and the new tabletop is now sitting in the game room on supports whilst the clear coat of wood finishing varnish (Thank you, Ambereen! - she donated the can to the cause a while back) dries. The trays around the edges are all done and finished in walnut stain, and the central playing area, 48" x 48", has a coat of a nice greenish/tanish color for those game days when I can't get to the tubs of terrain tiles through the snow in the back yard.

As you can see from the photo, the 60" x 60" table occupies a good bit of the floor space in the game room; normally, I set up two of our 30" x 60" folding tables in a side-by-side formation to do this, but you do get a nasty seam down the middle of the game area. There is room for four players in very nice comfort, when I set the room this way, and I can get five to six in there very well if I need to. (When I set the room for RPG sessions, I can seat ten in decent comfort, and fourteen if they are good friends.) I prefer a comfortable game room - I think all those years in Phil's crowded game room brought me to that conclusion.

I've been asked about "Table size? Does it matter?"

Well, yes, it does. Normally-built and -sized people can only reach so far into the center of a table; about two feet is the normal limit. Any table larger in that one dimension will have a lot of 'dead space' that simply doesn't get used in a game - if you can't reach in there, you can't move figures in there. Movement rates are also important - if you have short moves, you will never get into action as you'll spend all game trying to march across the vast expanse of table. Smaller tables, like this new table top, make for faster games as your forces can get into contact and into combat a lot faster then on a large table.

This, to some extent, is a factor in may of the current miniatures games; smaller tables, longer moves per turn, and small forces - 'warbands', 'factions', 'gangs', etc. - make for faster and more dynamic games. Now, I do like the old style of 'big-table' games; the problem with those, in today's game environment / culture, is that people just don't seem to have the time for them. My last big Braunstein, (back in June of 2013) took a little over five hours to play out, and I did get a few comments about how long that was. Shorter games are more popular, and I'm working on making sure that I can run games that people will have time to play.

Logistics are also very important; the size of the table is not the big factor in miniatures games, but the sheer work it takes to pack up and move the miniatures, scenery, terrain, and stuff is. If I have nowhere to store the gear in between game sessions, or I can't get the van unloaded and loaded easily, I'm not likely to want to game in that venue. The old joke "Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics" applies just as much to our 'Little Wars' as they to to real-life 'Big Wars'.

So, the new tabletop is going into service; I have some decisions to make, at this point...

Option 1: Do I simply put the new table top on the existing folding tables, and go with that?

This option costs nothing; I have a whole $20 in this thing, as it's made from limber I had around the house. I'd put a couple of nylon skid buttons on the sides to make it easier to move on edge, as well as store it that way.

Option 2: Do I make a set of dedicated legs for this table top, and leave it up all the time?

This option also costs nothing; I have plenty of spare lumber. I'd also make sure to put casters on the bottoms of the box-girder legs, so I could move the table around for cleaning. I also would make the legs removable - I use screws on everything, not nails - 'just in case'. The downside is the size of the thing - it does fill up the room.

Option 3: Do I buy two sets of folding table legs for this table top, so I can set it up anywhere?

This would cost about $50, and combines the virtues of both previous options. However, the 60" table does not fit through the 52" back doors of the cargo van, so I would be highly unlikely to be moving this table anywhere besides to a big tent in the back yard. And I've got folding tables for that, after all.

Comments? Thoughts?


  1. I'd go with option 2. If you're unlikely to move the table anywhere then that would the way I'd go. That said if you're concerned that you might need to store the table away at times - like when the family is all in town - then I would go with option 3. Storing ease is big down here, but then I live in an apartment . . .

    1. Agreed; the table is not going anywhere. Nor do I need to really store it; it can stay up, unless we get a big crowd for an RPG session. Don't have a family issue - they've all moved out - so that's not at issue.

      I'm not big on the folding legs; I'd need two sets for stability, and simply putting the top on the existing folding tables would do the same for me...


  2. I'll second the call for option 2. Option 1 might not have the aesthetic that you might want, and option 3 is right out as the size, as already noted, is prohibitive for long-range maneuvers, and even if it seems light in weight, after a long day at a show it would be a lot more heavy.

    1. I think so, too. The table isn't going anywhere; I am not expecting to have to do any conventions or shows, and if I did, it would be to promote my book - and I have a 'trade show booth' all ready for that.

      The only aesthetic I think I'm big on would be throwing a table cloth over the folding tables, as much as to protect their tops as to provide a 'drape' around the edge of the table; the downside with that is somebody catching the table cloth and pulling the whole works over... :0

      I could, of course, whip up a short drape that went down a foot or two... :)

      - chirine

  3. Option 2 sounded like the best idea to me as well, but I guess option 3 comes in if space is of an issue.

    1. Agreed; space doesn't seem to be an issue, unless we get a really full house for an RPG session. Otherwise, we've been doing smaller 'skirmish' games a lot, which is what this table is really set up for...

      - chirine