Playing in 28mm scale makes vehicles look great. A tank, truck or jeep on the table becomes a great focus point for both the eye and the game action. The problem is that in this scale they are hideously powerful. The weapon range on even the most pathetic machine is easily enough to dominate even the most ambitious table. I recall a game that Alan had set up with a WWII theme. The ranges looked huge and we were calculating short, medium and long effects. He then pulled out a tape measure and did a few calcs and concluded that absolutely anywhere would be considered short or point blank range for MG34 placed in a tower. If we were to try to reflect reality, in other words, we would need a lot more men to assault that position.
But almost no one, except for the military who are trying to actually ‘simulate’, play in real scale. Warhammer 40k is notorious (but not alone) in having outrageously contracted scales. This is just a compromise to get models on the table to interact with each other in a fun way. I get that, but sometimes it looks screwy.
When trying to design a near future science fiction, as I am in the process of doing, problems of scale seem to loom even larger. If your models are armed with ‘laser rifles’ then you might automatically mentally allow that the scale has been squeezed up by an enormous factor. But if your models are armed with simply modernised M4s then you know in your bones that 50 yards is short range that that 6″ on the table looks ridiculous.
This problem grows proportionately if you put a tank on the table. You know that such a beast could cream the surrounding landscape out to the scale distance of the hall you are playing in. But you want to have it there because it looks cool, and you want to be able to interact with it in some way. Incoming and outgoing fire are just two aspects. But what about movement? If set with the same movement scale as your 28mm men this tank would zip over the table at a fair clip.
The answer must be compromise in same way in the range and effectiveness of all of these elements, and this is a pretty simple calculation to make depending on your preference for the feel. What is far more difficult to compromise on is the inevitable integrated intelligence capabilities of troops, but more importantly vehicles. Modern weapons systems with advanced optics and guidance assisted by remote surveillance drones and self guiding munitions already make the battlefield a genuinely lethal place. My father transferred out of tanks to the infantry because he judged them to be death traps. How would he view them today? All very well if you have the ‘most advanced’ tank, but that privilege only lasts a few years before being overtaken and leaving you stuck in the sitting duck.
This, it seems to me, is the real challenge to game designers when dealing with science fiction. Ranges and speeds can be artistically waived away, but the change in the actual decision making environment need to be modelled. Most science fiction games simply resemble WWII games with different clothes. This makes sense, of course, because we can model what we know but find it hard to anticipate what comes next. But that’s the challenge.