“I can trace my Wargaming origins, as I suspect many of my generation can, back to the days of plastic toy soldiers and cannons that could fire matchsticks being sprawled out in full battle array across the living room floor. The days when Confederates and Germans (both being grey) took to the field against anything in green!”
So begins Brian Carrick in his article on “Big Wars: Nostalgic Wargaming”. He then went on to summarise H. G. Wells’ Little Wars rules, useful at a time when reprints were hard to come by and then outline the current erratic state of figure availability.
I was intrigued by photos of Brian Carrick’s village of Airfix Jungle Houses, Britain’s Deetail British Infantry Attack Boats and a scratch built gunboat with Britain’s Lifeboat sailors.
I found this article in the Battle for Wargamers Military Modelling Extra Wargames Manual really inspiring at the time it came out (1983) as I had not come across any serious adult gamers who used 54mm figures or the garden.
Gunboat envy and ‘whole village of Airfix jungle houses’ envy ensued.
Donald Featherstone’s Skirmish Wargaming, borrowed from the local branch library, was too much of a mathematical rules puzzle of charts to me but I loved the illustrations, scenarios and photographs. They featured Airfix and other plastic figures that I had. I could one day sort of be like these giant gamers and gaming authors.
Little did I realise at the time that one day 35 years later that I would be chatting on blog comment sections about garden games with the article author Brian Carrick through his fabulous Collecting Plastic Soldiers blog and the 54mm forum Little Wars Revisited.
Blog? Websites? Internet? Surprisingly this 1983 Wargames Manual did mention the word “Computer” on the cover and listed “machine gaming” amongst the articles.
For me then, (war) gaming in many books and magazines was unattainable, glossy, expensive and for grownup wallets, a far cry from playing with the bashed-up Airfix at my disposal. A lot like the eye-candy front cover of this interesting manual / magazine extra.
Today there are a good range of 54mm plastic figures in many historical periods and still affordable buckets of Green Army Men. Despite the disappearing number of toy shops, there are in pound stores or online lots of ‘pirate’ or pound store figures (soldiers, cowboys, Indians, knights etc) at entry level cost for youngsters.
An impressive author’s list for this 1983 special edition edited by Stuart Asquith:
At least there was a free Cut out Saxon Army – too precious to cut out at the time – and one lacking any opposition without buying more card warriors from Standard Games (a range now vanished?) One day I will scan and make these Saxons. Paper soldiers have returned recently with Peter Dennis and Andy Callan’s attractive colourful card soldier series for Helion books.
Inside were tempting adverts, the lure of grown up metal. I had already made my first forays into Peter Laing 15mm figures, a few English Civil War figures with my pocket money each month. I went for a historical range that Airfix sadly did not do. Peter Laing kindly did not mind such small orders but I later bundled up several months pocket money worth of orders to save postage.
Unattainable in price at the time were the home cast Prince August Moulds – “send £3.95 … for an 8 days trial …” These had to wait another 30 plus years until I stumbled over them again in a craft shop. Their range of “mould your own 54mm traditional toy soldiers” that I eventually fell for was not yet mentioned here.
A fan of the Fighting Fantasy books from the library (“to take the left hand door to uncertain death, turn to page 37”), there was also the lure of Dungeons and Dragons. I was bought a D and D boxed set which I never understood. Interesting to see the introduction to Fantasy Wargaming article by a young John Treadaway, now Editor of Miniature Wargames.
This is a lifelong hobby, or one that you can return to throughout life. Although I have still to obtain the desirable games room and hex table shown here:
Here to conclude is the whole article by Brian Carrick, reprinted with his permission:
Brian’s comments on erratic or faltering plastic 54mm figure availability were sadly true for many years until quite recently. “The decline of Airfix … the demise of Timpo … Britain’s once famous range of guns now badly depleted.”
As Brian Carrick concludes his article, Big Wars:
“… I should point out that there will be as many differing views as to the value of such games and how they should be played as there are 54mm gamers. I imagine this is largely because there is no representational body that I know of to develop this section of the hobby by the exchange of participants’ views.
I hope that this article will have provided the spark to kindle some interest in potential recruits to the ranks of 54mm Wargamers and perhaps provoke some comment from existing enthusiasts who, in the past, have had little voice in the hobby media.”
Big Wars PostScript:
When I contacted Brian to ask if he was happy for me to reprint his photos and article, he replied: “Gosh is it really 35 years since I wrote that! the pics weren’t very good I’m afraid …” but they made a big difference to a young gamer like me. They stopped me throwing out many of my childhood 54mm figures and chasing proper small scale shiny fashionable metal as I got older, even when I stopped gaming for a few years (college, first jobs etc – usual story).
Thanks Brian for all you have done for 54mm gaming for many years past and for many years to come.
Blogposted with gratitude and reprinted with permission by Mark, Man of TIN, June 30 2017
One of my recent boycraft or mancraft projects has been creating some kind of toy soldier style fortified tower out of this old Christmas clementines box, suitable for a range of scales of figures and scenarios.
The box had a wooden jointing that reminded me of recent mdf wargaming or fantasy gaming building.
Its wooden lid is used for something else, but where it slotted into the box corners made these interesting Alamo type firing slits.
and you have the germ of an interesting gaming building or terrain idea.
Putting the tower together with the clementine box desert fort was something coincidentally suggested by Brian Carrick of the Collecting Toy Soldiers blog.
“Good idea for the Tesco clementines box, I still have one of those saved from Christmas, it seemed too useful to just throw away! It would work well with your new tower in the middle, like a North West Frontier hill fort.”
Trying this out, it was a tight squeeze to rebuild the balsa walkways around the tower base but it struck me that this could be some kind of defendable lighthouse, watchtower or semaphore station.
Having researched what semaphore stations would look like in the late 18th and early 19th century, I set about making a working semaphore using available wood and tools.
I don’t have a workshop, so balsa wood, coffee stirrers and craft knives are the extent of my woodworking tools.
Everything was roughed out and moved around in a ‘dry run’ before paint, wood stain and wood glue was used to finish off and fix things in place.
I wanted to make it suitable for a range of sizes from 30mm pound store plastic figures to 40mm homecast metal figures, even 54mm to soldiers at a push.
It proved quite difficult to photograph, being quite tall!
The 54mm figures are a little on the big side but I wanted to make this in the toylike spirit of a simple toy fort such as I had as a child.
Despite the toylike simplicity, I also wanted it to have some kind of logic and extensive play possibilities. It needed to work as a design that could be worked and defended.
The central tower needed to be self sufficient, so has a well or water supply inside the tower (with lid).
Coffee stirrers stuck with UHU or superglue were cut and trimmed with craft knife and sharp scissors, roughly shaded then shaded or painted with a very thin coat of Ronseal light oak wood stain.
A small hatch on the roof allows the defenders or signal crew to reach the roof to repair the semaphore.
Shutters mean that the lighthouse tower can be secured against enemy fire or the weather. They are (non-opening) shutters made from coffee stirrers, stained with light oak wood stain. One set of shutters is not glued to the wall, so that a LED battery tea candle light can be added into the top tower to develop the signal light or lighthouse scenario.
The chimneys let out heat from the lighthouse or signal light tower and lower living parts of the tower (toy soldiers need to cook and keep warm). The chimneys were found in my spare parts box, originally kept to make thatched huts for 1/300 figures, are snap-off screw bits from fixing a couple of new toilet seats at home!
Smoke signals are another possibility using these signal fire chimneys.
I wanted the signal tower to have different scenarios or functions, such as a coastal signal tower or one in the North West Frontier mountains, Wild West borders or French Foreign Legion desert.
I also wanted the tower to pass for anything between late 18th Century throughout 19th century and beyond and even into a future steampunk, VSF sci-fi scenario. This could then work with a range of periods, nationalities, scales of figures and Imagi-Nations.
Early British Semaphore stations often had two watchers with telescopes, one looking in each direction to look towards the next beacon or semaphore / signal tower. Other staff would take down the codes or change the semaphore indicator boards with ropes and cables (not modelled).
A defendable coastal signal tower would have its main door facing away from the sea, to make it more easily supplied and defended from the landward side. Beware foreign navies, marines, smugglers and pirates!
I roughed out this tower as a coastal setting with the wall side showing, the slit window (originally a handle) shuttered against the sea, wind and attack from the sea edge.
Apart from some further white painting of certain areas inside the box, a few storage locker doors to complement the corner squares, this is almost complete for the time being.
I also need a flagpost or two.
I enjoyed making this so much, I might make another one to create a small chain of them across the garden for summer games as needed. I will then be able to pass messages very slowly one letter or number at a time across the back garden wilderness or planet.
In fact I could make and remake lots of versions of this, camouflaged lighthouse or radio stations, brassy steampunk versions, Roman lighthouses … but time, lack of clementines boxes and space will not at present permit this.
I also have to work out a suitable toy soldier Popham type code book for my design of double semaphore indicator boards, using either letter or number combinations linked to key words in the code book.
Popham code books? Indicator boards? The next blog post to immediately follow is all about the semaphore and heliograph that I have researched to make this coastal or desert signal tower.
One of my favourite simple ideas chapters in Solo Wargaming by Don Featherstone is called “Wargaming In Bed”.
Transposed to the garden wargame, maybe this should be called “Wargaming in the Flower Bed”?
Here in this chapter, there are simple, mostly skirmish ideas, mostly for a few 54mm figures. There is an interesting short section on the “Lunge, Cut and Stop Thrust” duelling game invented by Gerard Du Gre of the MGC (Model General’s Club) in America.
(Lunge, Cut and Stop Thrust does sound like an odd bunch of solicitors or estate agents.)
What I like about this card system is that it can be played solo or two handed.
It is almost a card version of “scissors paper stone”, a gaming system used for thousands of years and harnessed for a great caveman / tribal game many years ago in Miniature Wargames. Must look this one out for my Homecast Prince August cavemen!
A set of cards is prepared with one of the following actions on each.
Cut to Head
Parry and Lunge
I prepare a set of three cards for my hand, then a set of about thirty cards for my ‘opponent’ solo games.
Once you gave decided if you are attacker or defender (toss a coin for this), you can turn up the top card for your non-existent opponent’s choice of action at random. Return card to bottom of pile.
Alternatively, you can split the pack in half and play each figure as ‘random’, taking the top card blind from each pack for each figure.
Lunge, Cut and Stop Thrust – Combat Points
For each successful hit, remove 1 point / counter from the number given.
Featherstone / Du Gre gives 2 Combat Power points to light foot.
I usually give 5 points to each of these unarmoured swordsman to prolong the game.
Featherstone / Du Gre gives 2 Combat Power points to light foot. You can choose your own points table.
Light Foot – 2 points
Heavy Foot – 3 points
Mounted Knights 3 points plus 1 point for horse
Light Mounted (unarmoured) 2 points plus 1 point for horse.
In the case of Mounted men, the first hit is against their horse. When their horse is killed, the rider continues to fight on foot.
When all points have gone, this opponent is dead.
The winner can be given an additional point / counter.
If you both choose or draw the same card, consult the separate hit deck. The cards either say Both Hit or Both Missed.
To further randomise the opponents cards, I added in a couple of ducks and slips (either being hit or missed) as chance cards.
This is the closest I think I will get to card activation.
Points are kept by scoring pointers – pebbles on the beach, sweets, coins or in the sandpit example, some spare Tiger store flamingo cocktail sticks in homage to the other Don Featherstone.
Duelling in Angria and the Bronte books?
There are lots of examples of the pistols or swords and six paces sort of thing in the Bronte juvenilia Imagi-Nations I have been following up on my Man of TIN blog. Most officer figures with many toy soldier sets had suitable swords.
This duelling card system an also be used to sort out Melee in an interesting way in Solo games and otherwise. Once troops are engaged, time stops whilst an individual skirmish is played out. Morale, Retreat or disengage cards could be added for variety.
Fantasy Gladiator type skirmishes are possible.
The addition of life or hit points means that you can give a combat / defence / life points value to anything from a dinosaur to a mounted knight. Or even in the Heroscape box, a Mounted knight on a dinosaur …
Quick Samurai version?
I am slightly jealous of the attractive cherry blossom in the new Samurai Game Test of Honour featured in Tony’s Tin Soldiering On blog,
although i think its mainly the cherry blossom and not the rules system. I remembered I had some ‘free’ Samurai swordsmen in the couple of Heroscape starter sets which I bought for the hex tiles.
This works equally well in the garden with appropriate Japanese plants like this lovely Acer (Japanese Maple).
And the equivalent of Featherstone’s swoppet knights that as a convalescing invalid he hopes to “Bribe a nurse or browbeat your wife into bringing to your bedside a couple of those plastic 54mm Swoppet armoured knights and position them at either end of the Bed table.”
Maybe suitable figures can be found in their modern equivalent Lego mini figures or Wilko bootleggo mini figures, or pound store bags of knights or pirates.
Interchangeable weapons, heads , legs – Lego type minifigures are the modern version of Britain’s / Herald or Timpo type Swoppets.
I even found Lego minifigure fencing figures and do by chance or blind bag luck own two fencers, but could only find one for the photograph.
Somewhere I have Lego Star Wars and also metal figures of duelling Jedi figures with their lightsaber laser swords – these rules would also work well for this!
Featherstone mentions that “Minor actions can be fought: half a dozen Airfix men can try to capture a Bellona pillbox manned by a German machine gun team”. Well, having seen handmade trench raid weapons in museums and visited trenches like Dixmuide the Trench of Death on the Yser in Belgium, I can see that a World War trench raid is about as close to medieval foot combat as you can get, especially in the dark.
Not sure, having researched my village war memorial, if a trench raid is a bit too close historically to have the gloss or romance of history and fiction that makes pirate sword fighting or duelling an enjoyable card activated game though …
Airfix OO/HO sets like Robin Hodd / Sheriff also feature lots of swordsmen or men with quarterstaffs suitable for the Lunge Cut and Stop Thrust card game.
Pound store or seaside store pirates have useful duelling 54mm pirate swords men. These proved good fun to try out these rules in a recent family visit to the beach, though the cards get as soggy at the edges as you can see in the sandpit. Sandcastles have to be built and defended!
More elaborate and attractive laminated /sticky back plastic game cards could be made that would last longer in the garden or on the beach.
Jousting rules are also included in this chapter “Wargaming In Bed” in Solo Wargaming by Donald Featherstone but that’s one for another blogpost.
And finally … who was Gerard De Gre of the Model Generals Club who invented these Lunge Cut and Stop Thrust rules?
O I do like a gift shop by the seaside … Outside this gift shop were the usual wire baskets full of plastic tat and seaside flim-flam.
£1 per pack of average 19 soldiers, a free plastic castle tower and bizarre flag choice. What more could you want?
The figures are manufactured in China, imported or packed by PMS.
Although these are supposed to be modern American infantry, their slightly distorted moulding gives them a space marine 1930s/1950s look, suitable for paint conversion.
They are remarkably spindly, very thin pressings or mouldings, a bit of flash to clean up, almost semi-round or semi flat but fun all the same. The usual minimal basing to save plastic …
What attracted my eye amongst the seaside plastic gifts were the echoes of my other favourite pound store figures of different scales seen here, 54mm ish versus these smaller 30 to 40mm-ish figures, currently available in Poundland bags or buckets (£1 per 100!)