Dumb Soldiers: The Past and Future of Garden Wargames?

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My Garden War (Games) Correspondent – great 80mm Prepainted Papo ranger figure (with aquarium castle in distance) 2016 

Knee pads out, the summer is on its way. The sun is shining. I can look back towards the garden games of last year and plan those for this year.

https://poundstoreplasticwarriors.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/garden-wargames-1/

I have just bought a new set of “Moss Green”  Kneelo knee pads from garden suppliers  Burgon and Ball. At £15,  these really are the business (or the bees knees?)

https://www.burgonandball.com/shop/scripts/prodList.asp?idcategory=156

I tested these out today in the sunshine on a duel game in my ground level sand table (also known as the sandpit) using Gerard Du Gre’s Duelling rules Lunge, Cut and Stop Thrust  reproduced in ‘Wargaming in Bed’ –  my favourite simple ideas chapter of Donald Featherstone’s Solo Wargaming (recently reprinted by John Curry). More about these duelling games in another post.

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80mm Pirates of The Caribbean female action figure  (£1 bag charity shop bag find)  versus Papo peg-leg pirate duelling in the sand pit – more in a future blogpost. Flamingo score points markers and palm trees – £1 bag Tiger.com stores cocktail sticks 

I was delighted to see an article on Garden Wargaming by Conrad Kinch in the most recent edition of Miniature Wargames 408, April 2017 Issue. It was enough to persuade me to buy the magazine.

The lack of coverage of Garden Wargaming is one thing I have been thinking about over the past year, especially  as it turns again towards warmer weather.

Lovely to hear from fellow blogger Alan the ‘Tradgardmastre’ on my comments page about a recent Garden Wargames post https://poundstoreplasticwarriors.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/garden-wargames-1/

I really enjoyed the garden wargames in the last post (14 September 2016)

Many a plastic fellow was lost in the trenches of my garden in the 1960s,many of whom had come free in Kellogg’s packets.

We had two tiers to our back garden separated by steep steps flanked on each side by a rockery. The bottom tier was where the trenches lay. The plastic soldiers would sometimes ascend the rockery and get lost amongst the summer snow ( white cascading plant) covering much of the rockery.

Comment from Alan, Tradgardmastre blog 

Alan wins my “Best Garden Wargames Pun 2017” award for registering a blog page name for future posts about Garden Wargames called  “By the Sward Divided“.

In keeping with the pound store plastic theme, this award medal for Alan should be shiny gold plastic and inscribed “Made in China”.

If you don’t instantly get the pun, there was a colourful but clunky BBC TV drama produced in Britain in the 1980s  called “By The Sword Divided” about the English Civil War. This was around the time (and possibly the reason why) I started collecting Peter Laing’s 15mm  English Civil War figures.

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One of my  outdoor three man patrols – Pirated BMC seaside pound store 54mm US marines

We must all have those early memories of ‘Lost Legions’ in the garden rockery and sandpit.

You must also be of a certain age to remember the free plastic figures in cereal packets that Alan mentions. Most of my cereal box figures handed down by family members were red guards and bandsmen, still in use in my 54mm games.

Alan’s comments about trenches and lost figures also remind me of an interesting poem in The Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the Yallobelly Times (described in Stevenson At Play) and other gaming inspired bits of writing.

The Dumb Soldier Lost and Found 

I was reminded of the lost and found figure on Tony’s Tin Soldiering On blogpost, a homecast lead figure http://tonystoysoldiers.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/lost-and-found.html

I have in my collection a equally battered and soil stained WW2 figure of this type found and sold by someone in the Bristol area.

One of RLS Robert Louis Stevenson’ poems is about a lost soldier (or a one man version of my three man patrol thing), a poem called The Dumb Soldier

http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/stevenson/dumb_soldier.html

The Dumb Soldier

When the grass was closely mown,
Walking on the lawn alone,
In the turf a hole I found
And hid a soldier underground.

Spring and daisies came apace;
Grasses hide my hiding place;
Grasses run like a green sea
O’er the lawn up to my knee.

Under grass alone he lies,
Looking up with leaden eyes,
Scarlet coat and pointed gun,
To the stars and to the sun.

When the grass is ripe like grain,
When the scythe is stoned again,
When the lawn is shaven clear,
Then my hole shall reappear.

I shall find him, never fear,
I shall find my grenadier;
But for all that’s gone and come,
I shall find my soldier dumb.

He has lived, a little thing,
In the grassy woods of spring;
Done, if he could tell me true,
Just as I should like to do.

He has seen the starry hours
And the springing of the flowers;
And the fairy things that pass
In the forests of the grass.

In the silence he has heard
Talking bee and ladybird,
And the butterfly has flown
O’er him as he lay alone.

Not a word will he disclose,
Not a word of all he knows.
I must lay him on the shelf,
And make up the tale myself.

RLS Robert Louis Stevenson, from A Child’s Garden of Verses

Maybe these figures were lost during childhood games or  maybe this RLS poem encouraged children to try this hide and seek mission. From which deep cover they never returned until recently …

I have only ever been lucky enough to  find modern plastic figures on the beach:

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/lost-legions-1-fighting-on-the-beaches/

Why So Little Garden War Games Coverage?

I am quite puzzled why there are so few “garden wargames” blogs or blogposts out there and posted a thread about this on Mike Lewis’  Little Wars Revisited 54mm figure gaming forum http://littlewarsrevisited.boards.net

http://littlewarsrevisited.boards.net/thread/28/little-outdoor-garden-wargames-coverage

The various responses suggested it may be because of:

1. the indifferent and unpredicatable weather

2. the lack of garden space or being overlooked. Would I crawl round at ground level where the neighbours can see? Or less overlooked in the back garden?

3. What Elvis McGonagall called  “He fights them on the beaches / He fights them on the seas / He fights them on the carpet / Despite his creaky knees” in his Soldiering On poem. https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/soldiering-on-wargames-poem-by-elvis-mcgonagall-2007/

4. 54mm is a marginal scale in gaming anyway, therefore less coverage.

5. Cat poo.

5. Gaming  in the local park has its associated problems.

The rebirth of H.G. Wells type gaming was celebrated or covered in a recent Miniature Wargames magazine  article “Little Wars Commemorated” (Issue 402)

I wonder if Garden Railroaders or Garden Railway enthusiasts would get the same reaction? They even have their own magazines including Garden Rail published by the same group as Miniature Wargames.

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John Ruddles’ wargamers garden – image taken courtesy from Wargaming Miscellany / Vintage Wargaming blogs.

The Future Solution? 🙂

We are currently redesigning our small garden for all the family and the local wildlife, not forgetting garden games. For now it will be knee pads on.

Maybe as we all get older and our collective wargamer’s knee problems develop with age, we can adapt the idea of those “raised bed gardens” for the aged or disabled gardener into chair height islands.

Boats and planes could be mounted on stands to travel amongst the ‘islands’.

Could this be the future for Garden Wargames and ageing garden wargamers?

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The perfect way to build in a John Ruddle style Wargames garden at accessible height?

https://poundstoreplasticwarriors.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/garden-wargames-1/

Tell your neighbours, if you must, that it’s a disabled accessible model village. That covers the “shame or chutzpah?” issue of being overlooked or literally looked down on by the neighbours, raised in the garden wargames questions and answers on the 54mm forum Little Wars Revisited.

Plenty of ideas on how to make your own raised beds in your garden / yarden: http://www.livinggreenandfrugally.com/18-easy-to-make-diy-raised-garden-beds/

http://www.livinggreenandfrugally.com/easy-access-raised-garden-bed/

http://www.carryongardening.org.uk/files/documents/how%20to%20build%20raised%20beds%20final_nov08.pdf

http://gardeningfordisabledtrust.org.uk/the-garden-club/picture-galleries/gallery-raised-beds-and-borders/

The alternative: mess tables and Astroturf. The Australian Colliectors of Toy  Soldiers (ACOTS) seem to do this mess table thing outside well for the impressive games shown on Quantrills Toy Soldiers blogsite: http://quantrillstoysoldiers.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/acots-2017.html

More from the (garden) war (games) correspondent over the next few months till rain and cold stop play again.

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN blog, 23 April 2017. Happy St George’s Day!

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Ambush at Bottom Step … Papo 80mm prepainted cowboys. This bandy leg pose also helps them sit on horses. 
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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 ...

9 thoughts on “Dumb Soldiers: The Past and Future of Garden Wargames?”

  1. Thanks for the mention Mark! The best thing about garden wargames is that cavalry have a traditional role for scouting, raiding and outflanking. Many of the ACOTS members, due to age, are not great outdoor gamers anymore – at least not on the ground but I always ensure I have a couple of such games each year. It is also a great advert for the Funny Little Wars group.

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    1. James After an hour on my knees, knee pads or no knee pads, I can understand why your ACOTS players prefer the mess tables! . I always think cavalry in larger scales are constrained on the traditional gaming table, which is why I rarely use them.
      Mark, Man of TIN blog

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  2. The addition of a Spaniel dog has made garden wargaming difficult in my case – he runs off with the figures ! , Tony

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    1. Tony – I think this was the case raised regarding many of the “park is a big garden for gaming” attempts as well. Anyway a spaniel is some excellent exercise to offset all the sitting down of the hobby! Mark, Man of TIN blog

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  3. Outdoor wargaming is sublime. Growing up, me and the kids next door shared a large sandbox/playground between our two yards and over the years built kingdoms and cities, fortresses, extensive bunkers and trench lines, and mountains and forests and battled it out with our toy soldiers (mainly Timmee type ‘army men’ but also cheap knights from the dollar store and BMC revolutionary war troops). One of my life goals is to be able to do what Peter of ‘Peter’s War’ does and have grand campaigns over acres and acres of land somewhere in the country.

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    1. JM
      Thanks for your backyard stories, sounds pretty much like mine (but with bashed up Airfix). I agree that Peter’s War is amazing – now I would be not so keen on the armour and the air power, I would rather have cavalry and infantry, but to have made and left behind and nibbled by wildlife so many clay figures – Amazing. Making my quite a few FIMO polymer Clay Sculpey figures in cake Dec mounds seems weak in comparison!
      Mark, Man of TIN blog

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    1. Philip
      Superb and stylish these Patio games and on a ready made (but very large) grid squares.
      Maybe we should christen them all collectively Yarden Games?

      Thanks for sharing – I recognise also from your website / blog the excellent Marche ou Creve Legionnaire rules from Miniature Wargames. Another great game if you had a big enough sandpit!
      Mark, Manof TIN blog

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