Table Top Wargaming in the 1970s

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

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

A miniture figurine  regiment of Scots Guards advances. Brits to the left of them, cavalry to the right
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 and other villains. But many wargamers still stick to the traditional idea of attempting to refight historic campaigns with forces more or less representing those of the (human) past.

Prussian infantry advances. Metal figurines.
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- and Middle Earth and several alternative universes. 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 was also hopeless at drawing anything else. Mum worked out where her best nail scissors had got to and retrieved them, a set-back which slowed my recruitment drive.

Maori, French Foreign Legion, Zouaves, French African Auxillaries
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.

Household Cavalry moves out as the infantry hold the line
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 away amiably. You need agreement on how to deal with movement, missile discharges, melees, 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 table top wargamers also in the USA.

Published 1969, bought by me in 1971 and still looking good. Defended here by Brits, Highlanders and Household Cavalry
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 of us on other eras. Between us we enjoyed many hours of table top play along with the requisite amiable bickering.  But eventually we wanted something more challenging. I then discovered the Rules that for a long time dominated the small but growing 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.

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