Miniatures Scale 101

Wargaming 101 for Designers and Enthusiasts

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Whiterook
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Miniatures Scale 101

Postby Whiterook » Sun Mar 20, 2011 3:48 pm

Well, for all those folks out there wondering, what on earth are they talking about with all these fractions, ratios, and whatever else they're babbling about, here's the beginner's guide to figuring out miniatures scales!


Miniature Wargaming Scales

The size of a miniature translates directly back to what the actual size is of the original it is replicating, and is known as the scale of the miniature. As life just wouldn’t be fun without annoying variations, manufacturers have not let us down in this regard; as three different systems are used, for no particularly defined reason, to rate scale:

  • Ratio Scale – is the system employed to rate scale written as a ratio (i.e., 1:300 or 1.300), or as a fraction (i.e., 1/300). This translates as: The number denoted on the left of the pair equaling one unit on the replica (English Units or Metric Units; i.e., inches or millimeters), being equivalent to this number of units on the original, denoted on the right of the pair (in order: replica/original). An example on how to read this would be: in 1/300 scale, a 1” long miniature tank would equal 300” in length on the original real-life tank. Maybe the easiest way to comprehend this scale method is to look at the simplest example of 1-inch = 1-foot, which translates to 1/12 scale.

  • Height (or, Barret) Scale – is the system employed to rate scale written equivalent to the actual height of the humanoid miniature figure itself, in millimeters (i.e., 15mm; meaning the Infantry figure is 15 millimeters in actual height). This is typically measured from base of foot to eyeline; though other manufactures confuse the issue by measuring up to the top of the head, which can lead to inconsistencies when you’re dealing with an Infantry figure who in real life wore a WWI British helmet versus a foot and a half tall shako in the Guards of old!

  • Model Railroading Scale - is the system employed to rate scale written equivalent to specific model railroading train gauges, such as the popular O (1:48), HO (1:87), or N (1:160) gauge locomotives and rolling stock.
My interpretation of this (and this is my opinion) is that understanding the three for what they are, and taking into account that the conversion formula described later are but a tool (if not always accurate ones) to finding one’s way through the maze of each individual manufacturer’s scale indications, will assist you in ball-parking what you’re looking for, in relation to your wargaming needs.


For historical WWII wargames, 15mm seems to be the predominant scale preferred, which are small enough to allow for large squad-level battles. Whereas, smaller scales would obviously work better for en masse epic Platoon, Company, Battalion, or even Corps-level gaming.

When talking about popular WWII armor miniatures out there on the market, 15mm is the scale for most wargamers. Where a gray area exists on available literature out there is, just how does this 15mm scale work exactly, in conjunction with the vehicles themselves that is? The 15mm scale in a game such as Axis & Allies Miniatures generally relate to the Infantry figures, meaning the soldiers are 15mm tall. Now when looking at the armor in this game system, for instance, I would argue that they are certainly a lot bigger than 15mm in length (in fact, they’re all over the place, given that tanks came in different sizes based on what Expansion Set you bought from Wizards of the Coast!), and I would wage in height as well. What I conclude is the vehicle size is meant to represent what a 15mm tall Infantry figure (tank crew, to be specifically) would comfortably fit in. In side-by-side actual comparisons, I’ll let you be the judge (I’m not going to touch that with a 10-foot pole!



Ratio to Height Conversion Formula

To convert a ratio scale to a height scale, divide 1610 by the scale (the actual variable).

For example, 1/285 figures are equivalent to 5.65 mm (1610/285 = 5.65); and the reverse shows true in that 1610/5.65 = 284.95, which rounds up to 285.

Now in latter part of the previous example, finding an Infantry miniature at 5.65mm would prove daunting, if not impossible; however, 6mm figures can be found, and its equivalence ratio of 1/268 scales it pretty darned close to 1/285 in the grand (or rather, micro) scheme of things!

So where did this magic number 1610 come from? It translates to what was thought the average height of a man, 5’ 3” tall. With this height measure being on the low side in todays comparative averages, it still nevertheless the factor used still.

Well, there you have it! Simple as mud, right?
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