I've had an interesting exchange of emails with Hedley, who lives in New Zealand, about my use of casualty markers, or loss markers, or whatever you may choose to call them (I am a bit inconsistent myself).
It is evident from photos of my wargames that the look of the thing is rather compromised by the presence of bright red tiddlywinks, which Hedley thought was not necessarily an enhancement. I have written here about this topic before, but Hedley thinks it's interesting, so maybe there is some mileage in setting out my thoughts (my current thoughts, that is - they will doubtless evolve further) on ways of keeping track of the state of our wargame units.
This is one of those areas where it becomes evident that everyone likes what he likes - that we play our games in ways that suit us, and that one man's no-brainer of a solution is another man's pet hate. If I say something here that you disagree with, by the way, that's not a problem - please do not feel the need to write and tell me what a cretin I am. Recently I have been on the receiving end of some silly invective concerning my fondness for the Accursed Hexagon; it seems only fair if I respond by saying that I also have developed a very strong dislike of a few things - order sheets and roster cards are high on the list. They do not work for me - they create mess and they distract attention away from the action on the tabletop. They are simply methods of recording more information, and I understand why they are used, but I find them a mighty turn-off. If I read a set of rules and become aware of an expectation that I am going to write down orders for each unit, each turn, then I shall put the rule book back where I found it. Similarly, I find that unit cards (such as in the Perfect Captain rules, which otherwise seem very satisfactory) are a fussy sort of add-on, to solve game problems that could be handled in other ways.
Let us not get into any boardgames vs miniatures debate - these discussions invariably become religious - but it would be silly to disregard one of the obvious differences. The miniatures player has an advantage in that a lot of the information needed is apparent from the models themselves - we can recognise the type of unit from the uniform and weaponry, and it is convenient to use the size of the unit - the number of figures remaining, if you approach the matter in that way - as an indication of effectiveness. This is a very flexible variant of those numbers in the corners of your boardgame counters; with some thought, the unit on the tabletop can record enough information to allow the game to be fought without off-line devices - yes, that's right - we've all been doing this for years.
Many years ago, I started basing my units up as per the Wesencraft model - normally figures were based in multiples of three, with one of the threes split onto a two and a one, to allow "change" of odd casualties. As time passed, I moved toward larger groups - these days my infantry battalions mostly comprise 4 bases of 6 figures (in two rows). I found it much more convenient to abandon the "small change" idea - I either calculate casualties to the nearer whole base or else use a miniature die to record the odd losses. It's a trade-off. Certainly, I have used 6-man bases for a good few years now, and have never considered changing back, so I guess that - for me - it works.
Having reduced the labour required to remove casualties, the next step was to abandon the removal of casualties altogether, and - once again - I have no immediate intention to change back again. I now use markers to denote losses - I could use rather more subtle markers, but my current cheap-and-cheerful red tiddlywinks do the job, and are visible from across the table. These, I think, are the arguments that brought me to stop removing casualties:
(1) Handling - many of my figures are old and fragile (Les Higgins and Garrison - this mostly means you); on the other hand, some are new and even more fragile (Falcata, Art Miniaturen, NapoleoN, Hagen - this means you). As my eyesight becomes less precise, as my fingers gradually turn into horses' hooves and as my anxious nature seeks new and more obscure things to worry about, I find that the fear of damaging my soldiers has become a serious issue. They are now handled almost exclusively by their bases, and for the less tactically-detailed rulesets they are attached by magnets to rigid sabots. This may seem neurotic, but it is important to me. The less handling the better.
(2) Efficiency (and mess) - Casualties during a miniatures battle, whether removed singly or in large clumps, will gradually take over all the horizontal surfaces in the room (two separate rooms, in my case). Sorting the figures back into organised units before storing them away is a massive contributor to put-away time, and provides extra exposure to the Handling hazard (see (1) above), particularly if the hour is late and the wine is finished.
(3) Proportionality, and the Nature of Casualties [what?] - my take on this is that if a unit is worth (say) 4 to start with (bases, Combat Points, potatoes...) and loses 1 then it does not follow that 25% of the men present just got shot. What it does mean is that the unit is now only about 75% as effective as it was initially - whether the difference is explained by actual physical casualties, or fatigue, or plain old loss of interest is almost immaterial from the general's viewpoint. This came home to me most forcibly when I started working with rules for the English Civil War, which was my first exposure to non-homogeneous regiments. In a unit which consists of 3 bases - say 2 of muskets and 1 of pikes - if you lose a base, which one is it? Further to the point, if the unit has become 2/3 of what it was, what is it now? Well, I reckoned the easiest way to do this was to leave all the original bases in play (so you can see what it was, what mix of subunits it had, how big it was) and just place the red markers to show losses. That gives you a more complete picture. It's also very difficult to represent different formations when you only have 1 base left!
That's about it. That's what prompted me to move in this direction, and thus far - apart from the appearance thing - I have no reason at all to believe I made a mistake. I have a background project somewhere to develop an assorted stock of flat (MDF?) painted casualty markers - which might be interesting, but it would take some work to get this operational, they would probably not be as visible as the red plastic, and there is a slightly undignified whiff of the floating chalk outline scene from Naked Gun.
For the time being, the tiddlywinks have it.