Viability of OO Scale Buildings in 28mm Gaming

Maxxon


It's not called battle of this and that farm for nothing. Buildings are an integral part of battle landscape. Battles are fought for the control of towns and castles. Important traffic junctions naturally attract human activity and consequently buildings and with growing population, it's actually getting hard to find worthwhile place without even a humble shack or hovel in sight.

I bought these as a sample. They are pastic model buildings actually intended for model railroads, but could be workable for figures. And astonishingly for railroad stuff, they're quite cheap. Scratch building houses is fun, but making many of them is a time consuming enterprise. There are ofcourse kits available, but even with the advent of the new MDF kits, these tend to be on the expensive side.

Model railroaders are another group of hobbyists who share an interest in model buildings. Even though usually model railroad stuff is very expensive, there are some inexpensive kits available and I'm not talking about cardboard either (don't get me started on that subject). So I got a few OO scale kits from Dapol to see how they measure up. That's about 1:76 scale for those of us who are not intimately familiar with model railroad terminology.

There's a separate review for the kits as kits. But let's consider the scale issues as well.

Scale Considerations

Some new houses I built. These are actually HO-scale railway models. We've talked about figure scale in the article about cars. But the problem with buildings is more profound. That's because almost every game out there actually has two scales in use: figure scale and terrain scale.

It is very rare for these two scales to match. For a number of reasons the selection of game genres where equal figure and terrain scales can really work is pretty limited: wild west shootouts at high noon and gladiators battling in the arena are the most common examples.

But it only takes a musket, with an effective range of maybe 100 yards, to show the necessity of compressing the ground scale. With equal scale your table quickly becomes unmanageably large.

There are a couple of other approaches too, including ignoring scale altogether (aka: "everything you buy from us is in correct scale") and ignoring long range firefights (aka: "everything is always in range"). But no matter how much you wave your hands, at the end of the day it has to look good or it won't be much fun.

With abstract terrain features like hills and forests, scaling is pretty simple. Even though I've never seen a wargaming forest with enough trees to even remotely suggest a real forest, they do manage to create a reasonable illusion of a wooded area as long as the trees are not totally wrong scale (in which case there's usually still a good shot at an illusion of an area of shrubbery).

Buildings can be more difficult, depending on how the game handles them. There are a few basic ways to handle buildings on the table: Gogg lurks in a ruined building.

Buildings as Area Terrain
Ah, the classic BUA. This is very common in larger scale games where units represent much larger forces than their literal figure count would suggest. Buildings or even groups of buildings represent an abstract area of buildings. Troops are inside a city like they would be inside a forest. You don't care for the individual trees and you don't care for the individual buildings. With games like this, you can get away with buildings very close to the terrain scale. Consequently, this case is not what we're really interested in.
Buildings as Obstacles
Buildings are impassable terrain that generally blocks LOS. This is simple, anything that doesn't look totally stupid works, though the realism can sometimes be questioned: "I'm wearing power armor, can punch holes in tanks and I'm armed with a hypersonic frombotzer, yet I can't get this rickety barn door open?" This is obviously easy from modeling standpoint, as you can use solid resin buildings and don't have to worry about removable roofs or interior detail. As a slight variation buildings might be treated as man-made hills: troops can stand on top of them, but can't enter them.
Buildings as Enclosures
Man down, man down!
Buildings can be entered, but they have very little or no interior detail. Troops may be inside a building, but their exact position there doesn't really matter. This requires buildings with removable roofs and they have to be large enough to accommodate at least a single base of troops, but the representation is still somewhat abstract.
Buildings as They Are
Buildings are treated exactly as they appear. Troops may enter them and move within them. There is interior detail like different rooms, floors, doors even furniture. Obviously the most fun from the modeling point of view, but also the most troublesome. To give models room to actually move within the buildings, they have to be at or very close to figure scale.

The Test Cases

The Buildings

We start by taking the three sample buildings an taking their measurements. Real size is calculated simply from the stated scale (1:76). We'll just use that as a rough indication how large the building is supposed to be.

Building Model size (l x w x h) Real size (l x w x h) Picture
Country Inn 114mm x 65mm x 60mm 8.6m x 4.9m x 4.5m I just hate painting these semi-timbered buildings.
Ticketing Hall 126mm x 51mm x 37mm 9.6m x 3.9m x 2.8m Train station. Looks like the marque needs a little cleanup.
Petrol Station 129mm x 65mm x 32mm 9.8m x 4.9m x 2.4m I need to make a sign for this shabby little garage

The Men

I picked the sample figures simple because they happened to be handy. It should be noted that while none of them are actually on slottabases, the cop has a very thick integral base roughly equal to a slottabase.

Man Make and Model Height with base Height w/o base Picture
The Reporter The Assault Group 34mm 32mm The jaw seems misshapen because it is. The casting was flawed and I didn't get it fixed well enough. This was done entirely in Foundry/Dallimore 3-color, the first such I've done in years. Turned out amazingly well, all things considered.
The Soldier The Assault Group 33mm 31mm Haven't done this in a while. Pretty fun, actually.
The Cop Warm Acre Games 37mm 32mm I did a rather quick job on these.

The Measurements

Outside Measurements

Let's place the men beside the buildings and see how it all looks.

Sarge, I don't think I'm going to fit through that door! Brock Kentman reporting from the station. The dynamic duo has come to investigate the rundown garage.

Results

As the above pictures demonstrate, the closer the figures are to the building the more apparent the scale disparity becomes. But it takes only a little bit of distance to fool the eye and blend everything in. This is probably because without anything locking down the distance between the figures and the building, we subconsciously use the relative sizes as a measure of distance. Thus the house does not seem small, it just seems a little farther away. This sort of thing is called forced perspective and if it's good enough for Peter Jackson, it's good enough for me.

As long as the majority of the action does not happen right next to the buildings, they fool the viewer quite well.

Inside Measurements

Getting Through The Door

28mm figures? Well, maybe to the eye if you ignore the base. What's the point of having a house if you can't get in it? As discussed above, you might very well want to place troops inside the buildings. They might even want to move from room to room and take cover behind the sofa (something I used to practice a lot when there was something too scary on the telly).

I had intended to measure the shoulder width of the figures and so on but at the end of the day it al boils down to this one measurement:

Door size (w x h): 13mm x 27mm

Interestingly, the door size is very well standardized in these kits, all the single doors are the same size. And it is painfully obvious that even discounting the base, the only way any of these figures are going to fit through the door is maybe somehow diving through head first.

In Hollywood they built sets with tiny doors to make certain actors appear taller, but this is bordering on ridiculous.

Living Space

I base almost everything on 25mm round bases. All of the sample buildings have roughly similar footprint, and can house 8-10 models. Provided there is nothing else in the building and without leaving the models any real room to move about. With slightly smaller bases you may be able to squeeze in a few more models, but the overall result is pretty much the same.

And as these pictures show, adding any interior detail like furniture very quickly eats up the available space and allows only a couple of models to actually occupy the building. It is perhaps best to limit the interior decoration to rugs, paintings on the wall and similar two-dimensional things.

Looks like they don't have a whole lot to sell. Good, otherwise we couldn't fit in. The suspect walked through this door when he hit his head. Honey, I don't think grandma's rocker fits in. We need a bigger house!

All the buildings are tall enough to house the sample models even with the roof on (barely, but still), but you can forget about actually building a dividing floor for the supposedly two-storey inn.

Results

Space is tight, but you can actually place usable amounts of figures inside the buildings, making them a viable choice at least for enclosure type representation of buildings.

The doors are too small, so you will have to waive any "must physically fit through the opening" sort of rules.

House To House Fighting

But there are real 28mm scale buildings on the market! What if you're like me and have gathered buildings from various sources? Will the OO scale buildings fit well with larger buildings? I picked up a couple of Warbases MDF buildings I happened to have handy. These are purposely-built gaming buildings meant for 28mm figures. Rather than bore you with more measurements, I will let these pictures speak for themselves.

A quick comparison of house sizes. These are all supposed to be two-story houses. On the left there is a Warbases modular house, in the middle Warbases mansard roof house and on the right Dapol's OO scale country inn. Single story comparison. Dapol's OO scale garage and ticket hall bracket the Warbases modular building. The garage is noticeably smaller. And the ticketing hall does not fare much better.

And even the Warbases buildings are a bit on the small side, if you consider them as scale models of real buildings. Decked out with interior walls and furniture they are awful cramped living...

The Conclusion

And the loo is right around the corner. OO scale model buildings do offer a viable low-cost alternative to adding buildings to your gaming table with a few caveats.

P.S. If you liked this, you might like my earlier piece on Viability of 1:43 Toy Cars in 28mm Gaming.


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