Opinion: thoughts on ‘The Three Foot Rule’

The Three Foot Rule is a commonly-used, but not always clearly defined, miniature wargaming concept. At its most basic, the concept involves balancing the level of effort exerted in creating terrain or painting miniature wargaming figures against the expected level of visual scrutiny the terrain or figures are likely to be under during a game. For many wargamers, terrain or figures are rarely observed at distances closer than three feet, so the three foot rule implies that a given detail should be represented on a figure, vehicle, or piece of terrain if someone observing the model from three feet away would expect to see it. Any additional details beyond that level would cost unnecessary time and effort, as it is unlikely that any player would notice them.

It is possible to render incredible levels of detail and realism in miniature, as military miniature dioramas and model railroad layouts attest. Many Old School wargamers view painting their figures and scratch-building terrain as part of their hobby, and excellence in painting and attention to detail is, to them, as noble a goal as superior generalship.

The question for the wargamer, then, is how much effort to exert in order to have an immersive game, without spending weeks or months preparing it. Some view the Three Foot Rule as a middle ground, a compromise between detail and playability.

For Army Men Wargaming, we are using unpainted, poorly-sculpted plastic toy soldiers as miniatures. While some players may feel nostalgic using the figures out of the canister, the esthetic appearance of the tabletop is less important than historical accuracy or having pupils painted on the eyes of each soldier. Those soldiers set the tone for the rest of the tabletop. The level of quality we seek would enable players to look at a piece of terrain and, know, for example, that a building is made of brick, that there are windows on the first and second floors, and that there are doors in two adjacent sides. Apart from that basic functionality, we don’t much care what it looks like.

How about you? What level of detail do you represent in your games? Please consider sharing your thoughts in a comment ot this post.