Table top wargaming

Fifty years ago when this world was young, your correspondent’s hobby was War Gaming.

I don’t mean shootups on a screen at implausible digitalised foes. There were no screens; we’re talking about the dark ages here, the 1970s. No, this was War Gaming was played out with regiments of miniature figurines on a table covered in green paint or cloth and set up with ‘terrain’ cobbled together from home made paper mache hills and railway-modeller trees and buildings.

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Highlanders advance

These days there are  entire shops in shopping centres that sell excellent figurines. These are mostly figures of imaginary hordes loosely modelled on Tolkein’s orcs and various Star-Wars-y type villains. But many wargamers stick to the traditonal idea of attempting to refight historic campaigns with forces more or less representing those of the (human) past.

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Prussians advance according to plan

All War Gamers, whether they prefer Orcs or Elves, Persians or Prussians, Incas or Ghurkas, take pride in their labour of sourcing (recruiting), painting and marshalling their formations. The range of figurines available today, metal and plastic, covers every concievable era. But in the aforementioned dawn of time when I were a lad, none of this was so.

My first ‘troops’ were cardboard ‘flats’; soldiers that I carefully copied from books, re-scaled, drew, and patiently cut out. My focus and patience on this activity amazed my parents because I was utterly clumsy at everything else I attempted. Mum also worked out where her best nail scissors had got to.

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Maori, French Foreign Legion, Zouaves, French African Auxillaries

Then I chanced upon a packet of metal figures, some of which you see in these photos*. They represented forces from the 19th Century: British, Highlanders, Maori, Zouaves, Italians, Foreign Legion, Prussians and Austrians. Beautifully moulded and painted, they were sold in groups of five. They were expensive! I sank all my earnings from lawn mowing into this collection, recruiting soldiers five at a time until I had something of a force to manoeuvre. At that time the floor was my battleground and the furniture formed the terrain.

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Household Cavalry moves out as Brits hold the line

In my teens, I discovered the plastic figures put out by ‘Airfix’. These were far cheaper and came in twenties. Box by box I recruited and handpainted my Romans, Ancient Britons, medievals, American Civil War troops and my ‘moderns’. (I am one of the few table top wargamers to have not bothered with the Napoleonic era.) Eventually, I could field mighty armies of a sort with up to 200 figures a side.

But in the early days, the only figurines I had were these few, hard-earned, difficult-to-source metal figures shown in the photos. Though I never used them after the age of 13, I have carried them about ever since from flat to flat, house to house. Today they are helping to show off to you my well preserved very first book of wargaming rules,

Wargaming requires rules, preferably a playable set with which contenders can set up their forces, clash, and come to a conclusion within two or three hours, all the while bickering way amiably. You need agreement on how to deal with movment, missile discharges, melee’s, morale, and casualties. Clubs of wargamers formed in the sixties especially in England. They created makeshift sets of rules, all different. This was no use to me in Australia nor to any other gamer, and there turned out to be many also in the USA.

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Published 1969, bought by me in 1971 and still looking good. Defended here by Brits, Highlanders and Household Cavalry

Terence Wise’s 170 page heavily illustrated “Introduction to Battle Gaming” book changed this. His simple set of suggestions was indeed highly playable. With this book in hand, I was able to form a group of my own among my school mates. One of us focused on Napoleonics, one on Moderns, and two on other eras. Between us we could enjoy many hours of table top play along with the requisite amiable bickering.  But we eventually wanted something more challenging. I then discovered the Rules that for a long time dominated the barmy, nerdy and quite wide spreadspread wargaming people -those that were by published by the Wargames Research Group. I put Mr Wise’s book away. But clearly I have treasured it.  His was the publication that properly began the hobby for me, and for many others.

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Troops: Prussians in grey, then clockwise,  Scots, some Brits, Italians along the top flanked by Zouaves, then Austrian Cavalry

Where to Find Introduction to Battle Gaming by Terence Wise, published 1969 by Model and Alliled Publications Ltd, Argus Press Ltd: When I searched the Net to see where you might find this books, I was surprised to discover that other wargamers of the 1970’s vintage must still be about because several copies of this revered tome still exist, mainly through  Abebooks.com. There is also an updated version, apparently.

*I have forgotten the brand name of these soldiers and could perhaps make a miniature fortune on EBay if only I could remember it.

**Because the range even of the plastic figures was then limited, I would alter figures to resemble other troops eg by adding tiny spears and shields to certain Medievals to create Persians. I am amazed now that I ever did anything so finicky. All gamers then did such things. We researched our eras, and we were all possibly a bit barmy. They were good days. Good days.

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You are at Baffled Bear Books. Here writes Mark, guardian of Mawson Bear. Mawson is a Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears.  He is the writer bear of It’s A Bright World To Feel Lost In . Mawson has many qualitites but he is not a drop bear.

4 thoughts on “Table top wargaming

  1. Far from being nerdy, this was using something called your ‘imagination’, something that children and teens no longer have the capacity to do, sitting as they do in isolation, their thumbs doing all the work. At 4 years of age, my mother taught me to knit and I’d unravel jumpers and cardigans bought at jumble sales (before the days of charity shops) and use the wool to knit things for my dolls. I couldn’t read a knitting pattern, but I’d make up the pattern and everything I made for them, seemed to look alright! They were the heady days where you made things yourself; your imagination ran wild and childhood was an altogether experience.

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