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. No, this 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 paper-mache hills and railway-modeller trees and buildings.

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Highlanders advance

These days there are now 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. This focussed 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 paper rounds and lawn mowing into this collection, recruiting soldiers five at a time until I had something of a force to manourver about. At that time the floor was the 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 Cival War troops and ‘moderns’. (I am one of the few table top wargamers to have not bothered with the Napoleonic era.) Eventually, I could field mighty armies, sort of, with up to 200 figures a side.

But in the early days it was just these few, hard-earned, difficult-to-source metal figures. Though I never used them after the age of 13, I have carried them about ever since. Today they are helping to show off my well preserved 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 amiably. You need agreement on how to deal with movment, missile discharges, melee’s, morale, and casualties. Clubs of wargamers formed in the sixties created makeshift sets of rules, all different, but these were in far off UK. This was no use to me in Australia nor to any other gamer, and there turned out to be many 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 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, and so between us we could enjoy many hours of table top play along with the requisite 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 set -those by published by the Wargames Research Group. I put Mr Wise’s book away. But his was the publication that properly began the hobby for me, and for many others. And as you see. I have kept it for .. (wonders whether to confess this.. Oh well, why not) .. for forty eight years.

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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: To my surprise, other decrepit wargamers of the 1970’s vintage must still exist because several copies of this verenated tome exist, mainly through There is also an updated version, apparently.

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

**Because the range then even of the plastic figures was limited, I would alter figures to resemble other troops eg 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, to be plain, nerdy and barmy. Good days.

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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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