Garden Wargames # 1

Not quite got (permission for) this John Ruddle setup in my family garden – yet.

A large part of my childhood was spent on my knees.

No, this is not as pious or religious as it would have sounded in Victorian times. I spent a lot of time crawling around on the floor, lawn and flowerbeds in epic battles with tiny men.

When I first saw John Boorman’s WW2 childhood autobiography film Hope and Glory, I immediately identified with the opening scene when war is declared over the radio on that first Sunday of the war. The young boy / Boorman is at lawn and flowerbed level, playing with a tiny Britain’s style metal knight and an odd wizard figure (a filmic nod to Boorman’s Excalibur movie?) as the Sunday lawn mowers stop and the radios are switched on for Chamberlain’s speech. It’s that playing with real plants and pretend characters, the play with scales, which says something about the make-believe between acting, film making and playing with colourful toy soldiers (which remains the heart of our hobby).

From tiny Airfix HO/OO  (or 1:72/76) which were really too tiny for outdoor use (many of them went ‘missing in action’ and perished  in the pile of builder’s sand in the garden that passed for our sandpit or sand table) to the much more practical 54mm plastic figures (or 1:32) that could stay out at night, throughout the week and resume action next weekend or the next spare teatime or evening.

I can recall parts of my childhood garden in tiny texture and colour detail inch by inch. More than I can the house, my schooldays or many people.

I can still recall in great detail these childhood  flowerbed jungles, open grassland airstrips, rocky cliff steps to the right and useful path (airstrip, road, town). A pond (river / lake) lurked amongst the top flowerbed area. (Photo:Man of TIN)

If I obeyed the rules, Knights, Soldiers, Cowboys were welcome.

Simple rules: Keep them clear from blocking paths, not left out on any lawn that was to be mown (death by flymow didn’t just happen to tortoises in the 1970s) and above all, not to damage any plants.

Other than this,  I pretty much had free rein to invade the flowerbeds, rockeries and wilder more overgrown areas of our thin uphill sloping  back garden.

Rocks, twigs and stones, collected but not broken off, were all useful for making tiny camps and fortifications.

Flowerbeds were forests and jungles. Lawns were seas  between flowerbeds and rockery cliffs. Or open fields, airstrips … Whatever game life your current figures and imagination breathed into them.

Oddly it’s a habit that has never gone away. Following my late dad’s playful instructions, you should always  post a three man patrol out in the garden equipped with a radio (radioman were often scarce plastic figures) or signalman, depending on the period. I still do.

Three Man Garden patrol from pound store plastic warriors (pirates of BMC figures?) – officer, radioman and heavy firepower.

The radio or signalman is so that they can contact back to base and summon up air strikes, rescue and reinforcements depending on period. Ideally you should have another patrol elsewhere within flag, beacon or radio range either indoor or outdoor to pick up this intelligence and reconnaissance info.

Don’t forget to change patrols over regularly otherwise they get sleepy and inefficient. Rest in billets required!

Alongside the radio man, ideally you should have some kind of patrol leader or officer with binoculars. They can then observe all possible troop and wildlife movements, hostile natives, cats, snails etc. This was probably a tiny toy soldier precursor of today’s BBC Spring Watch or the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch?

My portable three man patrol and their travelling box.

When I am away travelling, I still have a tiny wooden box with a three man garden patrol  that often goes with me, just to keep me in touch with the (tiniest) folks at home.

One on the left: “I cannot tell a lie. It was him over there”. A sort of travelling bunker for the three man patrol …

What is it about garden wargames?

Is is it the texture and smell of real mud and wet that makes this garden patrol and Yarden / garden gaming thing an attractive memory and occasional current pastime?

Is it the heady effects of the free burst of Vitamin D from the sun on your skin?

Is it the not quite having to grow up and have a ‘sensible’ garden?

Is that the same attraction of the more complicated process of running a garden railway or creating a model village with its dwarf plants, deadly ponds and the interplay with scale and reality?

Is it that Borrowers tiny people thing who are really alive and tweeting when you are not looking?

Who knows, but despite the older I get and the creakier the knees (maybe knee pads would convince people I really was sensibly gardening), the attraction and the wonder still lurks out there – under a bush, behind a stone – playing at toy soldiers down at ground level in the mud.

Cowboy Ambush! Schleich, Bullyland, Safari and Papo prepainted 60+mm figures aren’t cheap at £5 a pop but they are fantastic for  Garden Games  There are plenty of cheaper versions out there, big enough not to lose on the beach or in the garden. More on these in another blog post …

Garden or Yarden Rules 

You can pretty much use any game rules in the garden, scaled up to your figure size. I use scaled up period versions of my Close Little Wars rules (my version of Donald Featherstone’s Close Wars appendix to his 1962 War Games):

H.G. Wells’ Little Wars are another choice, recently republished by John Curry or available scanned online:

Track down the Funny Little Wars rules and forums or Tim Gow’s Little Cold Wars rules (below).

Alternatively, head for the Sheil’s Sandpit Rules for pound store figures in many period variations beginning at:

Interesting garden wargame links:

More inspiring pictures of John Ruddle’s garden wargame here:

Some interesting modern games out in the garden:

Tim Gow and his Little Cold Wars garden games

The lovely Shandyesque garden siege game:

The Wargames Hermit John Patriquin’s blog:

The Playmobil version:

The extraordinary Peter’s War setup:

Notice the very practical ground or base lawn spike seen here on Orun’s blog:

and overall I blame H.G. Wells for starting it all.

Lots more garden gaming riches out there to find!

Happy gaming outside in the garden / Yarden (when the British or wherever weather allows!)

Posted by Man of TIN, 1 September 2016.




Author: 26soldiersoftin

Hello I'm Mark Mr MIN, Man of TIN. Based in S.W. Britain, I'm a lifelong collector of "tiny men" and old toy soldiers, whether tin, lead or childhood vintage 1960s and 1970s plastic figures. I randomly collect all scales and periods and "imagi-nations" as well as lead civilians, farm and zoo animals. I enjoy the paint possibilities of cheap poundstore plastic figures as much as the patina of vintage metal figures. Befuddled by the maths of complex boardgames and wargames, I prefer the small scale skirmish simplicity of very early Donald Featherstone rules. To relax, I usually play solo games, often using hex boards. Gaming takes second place to making or convert my own gaming figures from polymer clay (Fimo), home-cast metal figures of many scales or plastic paint conversions. I also collect and game with vintage Peter Laing 15mm metal figures, wishing like many others that I had bought more in the 1980s ...

6 thoughts on “Garden Wargames # 1”

    1. Many thanks Chris – glad you liked the blogs / posts – garden war games are great fun but a bit of a rarity for me at the moment, so I look forward to getting some pound store plastics back out there soon!
      Mark (Mr MIN Man of TIN)


    1. Hello Brian
      Lovely to hear from you – I recognise your name (and have enjoyed your blog including the beautiful Maratha conversions) from reading many many times the Battle for Wargames WArgames Manual c.1983 which was a boyhood present and particularly liked your Big Wars article and your garden Wargames pics and 54mm figures – maybe you should repost this article on your blog?

      The first book of Wargamingy FE Perry is in the post to me at moment – never seen it before, I only had as a child FE Perry’s book two (which is puzzling on its own). Loved the clunky photos and vintage figures though.

      Time is running out and evenings drawing in for more than a brief garden skirmish this year.

      I am amazed how little there is on the web about garden gaming generally, like you say the British weather and our collectively ageing knees have much to answer for!

      Mark (Mr MIN Man of TIN blog)


  1. Lots of memories here! In college I often had a handful of action figures guarding my bookshelves and today have a LOT of action figures (and vehicles) guarding my bookshelves. Not so much the backyard, my parents never got me GI Joes but I did have plenty of green army men which I occasionally brought on camping trips. The leaving of a small patrol in the back yard is hilarious. Reminds me a bit of the 1980’s GI Joe “Pocket Patrol” – a box to hold three Joes and their equipment with a belt clip to carry it around. A lot of their catalogs and literature had tips and suggestions for play, and even conversions. I have a couple modern facsimiles of the original ’60s 12-inch figures, and they have their own “army manuals” with guides to the various accessories but also instructions on how to properly dig foxholes and shelters in the backyard for your figures.


  2. Good memories to have.
    Pretty much everything Harry Pearson says about Action Man (the UK version of GI Joe) is true in Achtung Schweinhund!, his funny gaming memoir or autobiography. I had them. Every boy and some girls I knew had them in their family. I still have some of them (packed away). They were always losing small bits of equipment in the garden. They were too big, too expensive (especially the vehicles) but the accessories and some of the outfits like my favourite, the Foreign Legion, were often amazing.
    Great to see the Action Man / GI Joe packaging and accessories again etc on Pinterest.

    Airfix, random plastic figures and Britain’s Deetail (metal based) figures more than made up for these Action Man / GI Joe shortcomings, as did Star Wars Action figures. Again these Action figure tiny loose guns were hopeless outdoors, the vehicles too expensive … again, still have these packed away safe.

    Thankfully I am not OCD about the three man backyard patrols, they are just a very funny everyday reminder of childhood games with my Dad. I should change them over more often.


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