A Guide to Making Wargames Markers

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This is a guide to making markers for use in wargames. I have illustrated the article with painted 1/72 plastic American Civil War figures that I use with the Fire & Fury rule system. These rules pay particular attention to markers and try to eliminate any non-scenic pieces. However I hope the guide may also be of use to those interested in other historical periods, who use other rules and different types of figures. My interest is both personal and professional. I paint and wargame with figures such as these and I also sell both painted and unpainted figures in my eBay store: Drum & Flag . Last updated: 26/10/08

Markers are used in Fire & Fury (and it's Napoleonic variant Age of Eagles) to indicate the status of a unit as it progresses through the battle. Whilst painting and creating these markers can add some additional time to preparing your wargames armies I find it one of the most enjoyable parts of the exercise. This is probably because you have more licence to convert figures and use your imagination to create pieces that sometimes are almost mini-dioramas.

Guide writers are allowed ten pictures so I will fit my commentary around those ten pictures:

Wargames Markers

1. Disorder. These markers indicate that a unit has been shaken up by factors such as enemy fire, receiving or delivering a charge resulting in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy or seeing other friendly units rout nearby. I like to use standing casualty figures, mounted on UK one pence coins, to represent this state of play. Many plastic sets include such figures and there are also many opportunities for conversions by removing weapons and/or bending limbs. In fact, so I don't repeat myself, this last sentence is true of most of the markers covered in this guide.

2. Ammunition. If a unit, be it infantry, dismounted cavalry or artillery expends too much ammunition too quickly it's performance will suffer accordingly. Troops in reloading poses make good 'low on ammo' markers. For artillery piles of cannon balls or ammo crates serve the same purpose. I also like to give each higher level unit an ammo wagon which they have to be able to trace a measured and unblocked path to for replenishment to occur. These wagons are moveable and can also be captured and destroyed so it gives you something else to consider as a table-top general. Losing one makes it more difficult to replace your ammo as another unit's quartermaster may be tardy in supplying you.

3. Breakthrough Charge. Winning a melee descisively, which is usually a good thing, enables you to carry on for more action that turn. An officer waving a sword depicts units that are eligible to do this. Revell's Union Artillery set has one of the very best figures for this - shown below as a Confederate (fig 2) and as a Union officer (#4 & #5 - the former converted into an Iron Brigade officer).

4. Spent & Worn / Damaged Battery. Although not covered in the Fire & Fury rules I like to use markers to indicate the status of my units on the field as well as on the paper or spreadsheet roster. (nb - If using Excel the conditioning format tool is excellent as your screen will slowly go from green to amber to red as a battle wears on and your units suffer attrition). A unit usually starts a scenario Fresh. As it receives fire and loses troops through morale and combat factors it will eventually become Worn and then Spent. The better the class of the unit the longer it takes to wear. This is reflected by stands or bases of troops being removed from the game as the rules dictate. Worn units are less effective at everything than Fresh ones and Spent units are less effective than Worn ones. I also like to mark higher command formations with these markers (ie Division, Corp, Army) so that you can suddenly get to a tipping point where morale goes and the army is defeated and quits the field.

One cotton wool marker indicates Worn and two Spent. For damaged artillery batteries I use one of these markers instead of a wrecked limber which I use to indicate something else. So as your battle wears on you will end up with a lot of smoke which I would think is how it was in reality. To make these get a UK one pence coin (or US one cent coin) and stick on with super glue some cotton wool and allow to dry. Then paint the base and the bottom of the cotton wool black with a bit of black dry brushed higher up. Again allow to dry. Then using shades of red, orange and yellow add in your flames. Once dried tease out the cotton wool into realistic smoke or explosions. This may also require you to pull out any surplus cotton wool so be generous to start with.

5. Quits the Field / Destroyed. These are similar but different to the markers used to indicate disorder. Instead of standing these guys are prone and for infantry are mounted on UK two pence coins. Cavalry horses will need bigger bases as will damaged cannons - plastic building card does the job well although generally speaking round bases are better as markers to differentiate them from your square or rectangular troop stands. The purpose of these pieces is to mark the spot where an infantry brigade or cavalry unit or artillery battery either routed off the playing table or was removed from play as it ran out of bases. Again as with the cotton wool markers discussed earlier as your battle progresses you will steadily see fewer large untouched units and start to witness more smoke, ruined equipment and unfortunate troopers.

6. Horse Holders. In the American Civil War cavalry often dismounted to fight and this needs to be reflected in the game mechanics. So you need a set of mounted cavalry and an accompanying set of dismounted cavalry. However not all dismounted men could join the firing line as someone had to hold the horses so you also need horse holder markers. Depending on the unit this was usually one man in every three to five. The picture below shows these markers together with a cavalry breakthough marker (mounted officer waving sword) and a cavalry disorder marker (upright casualty figure).

7. "Hold".  Occassionally scenarios will dictate that whilst some units are on the table top they are unable to move until a given time or set of circumstances arise. For example McClellan at Antietam did not unleash his numerically superior army as a whole but sent in one Corps after another piecemeal enabling Robert E. Lee to weather the Union storm. I used stacked muskets on UK one pence coin bases for this. The Revell Napoleonic British Foot Artillery set contains these pieces - yet another reason why it's a brilliant set.

8. "Panic". Seeing soldiers from friendly units flee will make it more likely that other units will also turn tail and run creating a domino effect. To indicate which units may be panicked I use poses of soldiers looking like they are running away. On some I remove their muskets to add to the effect. A unit could arrive at it's move turn - in Fire & Fury morale is factored in at this point - with several of these markers making it more likely they too will rout.

9. Flagbearers - Union. The command stands are always the last to be removed and if you are down to two stands and suffer a further hit it's game over for that unit. I make my command stands* up of single flagbearer figures based on 20mm plastic card and give each a national and a state flag. If the unit is either destroyed or quits the field in battle the flags are handed over to the opponent as trophies for the duration of the battle and for victory points at the end. Below are examples of flags ranging from the Fire Zouaves, Maine Heavy Artillery, State Flag, National Flag and Irish Brigade. Plastic figures can easily be converted into flagbearers by carefully cutting away the musket and inserting a brass rod instead.

* I make all my stands up of single figures and move them about on bespoke movement trays. As always it's a matter of personal choice and multi-figure bases are most popular.

10. Flagbearers - Confederate. An assortment of CS flags are shown below including a cavalry pennant. Cavalry units and divisional/corp/army commanders require flags as well as infantry units. Good flags make your tabletop battlefield come alive and will also help you identify your units. (Which is primarily done by placing a label under the national flag stand).

Materials wise coins make good bases for your marker figures or pieces, paint the coins brown or green and then add static or flock and maybe the odd rock or long grass and you are done.

Well that's about it. Hope it was of some interest. The same principals for markers apply just as easily to Napoleonics, Ancient and Fantasy gaming etc...

26/10/08 Update - The pioneers from the Revell / Accurate set make good "making breastworks" markers especially the figures with the pick axes.

Additional Information

* I have written several other eBay hobby guides covering collecting, painting and wargaming. Click here to view full list: flagbearer101 Guides List .

* Happy to answer any questions. You can contact me via eBay messages. User ID flagbearer:101.

* To visit my eBay toy soldier shop which stocks over 1000 different products click here: Drum & Flag .



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