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Battles Lost and Won

Posted March 3rd, 2011 at 12:21 PM by chas

“God, I wish I could be there! The madcap games at your place will be one of the highlights of my wargaming as long as I live. Good luck with it, Charley—and to anyone who lives in New York and isn’t going along—you don’t know what you will be missing, believe me.”
--Mike Blake, well known British game master and hobby magazine reviewer

“L’ audace, toujours l’audace!”
--Frederick the Great

I continued my interest in history after graduate school with my wargaming hobby, which gives me a project by project framework to study about a period and battle, often including learning about the larger concerns of the time. Both strictly historical and hypothetical tabletop battles with 54mm (1/32 scale or 2 ½” high) toy soldiers has been the result. Not only have I played hundreds of games run by fellow gamers, but I have researched, designed, and run over 100 battles listed below from historical periods from the Medieval Age to The Korean War. (There is also an Appendix about where to find toy soldier gaming information, for those who may be interested).

Each game easily took the equivalent effort of writing the kind of long historical article published in scholarly journals. For every one I did historical research, designed gaming rules, painted toy figures and organized them into units, and designed scenarios meant to showcase what I analyzed as the most important elements of the battle, as well as some fun anecdotes salted here and here in my pre-game orientation and team planning sessions, or popping up during the proceedings, during a ‘seminar’ or play session lasting a good six hours, with between two and six guest players, or occasionally more. I drew up maps, provided gaming equipment, and did a post-game analysis for each with the participants. This required an intense preparation, sometimes of many hours, and I often had trouble sleeping the night before a ‘game day.’

I own perhaps a hundred complex board games on military and mythological subjects, and have played thousands. I’ve also spent hours role playing. But my toy soldier collection is the centerpiece of my hobby activities, comprising perhaps 20,000 painted toy figures. These are organized in numerous entire scale historical period armies. The collection also features the terrain, buildings, vehicles, and other equipment used to create such a production, from scale sailing or steamer ships and airplanes to tanks and wagons, and even the occasional steam punk robot or company of walking skeletons. Much like a model railroader, I build dioramas. But they are moving dioramas, where the positions of the principals change constantly during the game as they maneuver realistically, casualties are removed, and reinforcements arrive. It’s a game, it’s a historical or mythical demonstration, and its intellectual fun!

I’m not a warmonger; just the opposite. If you put your name on a label underneath a single figure and pretend its you, you’ll soon find out how low your individual chances of surviving one of these affairs is! Our Founder, the British pacifist author H. G. Wells, suggested in his book Little Wars letting all the generals of real armies loose in a Palace of Wargaming filled with toy soldiers, and leaving the rest of us out of it. This was in 1913, just before mass warfare sent European civilization right down to a Hell from which it is still trying to recover. Perhaps we gamers are in our own way, helping to work out the trauma on the tabletop.

National gaming conventions are held all over the U.S.A. and around the world, where hundreds come together to play and learn together. Scholars have begun to accept and even value the experiences of both live military period re-enactors, who can bear witness to the actual physical experiences of military life, and gamers whose simulated experiences of managerial crisis management can supplement the sometimes dry narration of such subjects. Wargaming is enjoyable, from the learning through the arts and crafts activities, to the comradeship of gaming. Actual war is nightmarish. I remember a Christian poster showing the sins of mankind; the ranks of soldiers stood lowest down the progression, right outside the Gates to Hades!

Pretend war, on the tabletop, where no one gets hurt, is a different animal. Each ‘production’ is its own little drama, with the particulars drawn either from a specific historical background, or a hypothetical one typical of the situations faced by generals of the period, or envisioned for a fantasy setting. Many different stories are played out by the participants. Will the besieged be rescued against all odds? Will the correct application of period tactics be crowned by decent fortune when the dice are rolled? Can clever moves produce consternation in the minds of the enemy leaders? Will the players despair in the face of adversity, or bear down and perform admirably, or even reverse their situation? Will sudden changes in fortune or new events change the situation, to the consternation of or challenge to the players? Will we come away with a new understanding of what the historical people had to contend with in their time?

In the opening briefing I give the particulars needed to play well: rules, an intelligence report (limited to what a particular side will know and not know), and a bit of historical background, along with the mission to be performed that afternoon. Then each team meets and makes their plans, based on what they’ve been told and their own ideas. Finally the dance between the sides begins with the opening moves decided upon, and each side begins to try to figure out what the other is up to. As events develop, I answer questions and give a hint or two, but let them work it out themselves. As usual, no plans survive contact with the enemy, and I am often surprised by the result, even if playing a position myself! Who would have expected…that to happen? Egad! There is not one correct answer to every problem, only varying degrees of success, working themselves out in the process of dialoge between the two sides and among the actual playing personalities.

Afterwards, often over dinner, we discuss what happened and compare it to the historical outcome, or what we had expected to happen. We discuss further historical details, the wider issues of the day and their implications, and possibly what we might have done differently. A day or so later I’ll email the casualty lists and sometimes a battle report to interested parties, with comments on how things went.

I’m sharing my game list below, so you can understand the breadth of my experience over the years and perhaps the scope of its related historical inquiry. In each of these periods and wars, I’ve learned the era’s politics, economics, social structures, costuming, life styles and cultures influencing the military campaigns and battles to some degree. It’s always fun to discuss them with a fellow aficionado. I have walked some of the battlefields myself on my travels. Others are so unusual or obscure that you may never have heard of them.

This list does not begin to represent the list of games I have participated in as a player, or read about, which is far wider and deeper, but only those where I made the primarily creative effort myself to create and run an exercise. In addition, today a thriving board game hobby allows the simulation of larger strategic situations that cannot be represented with actual figures. But the collection and preparation of a new unit of infantry, cavalry, artillery, or tanks is a labor of love that far outstrips pushing little markers around on a tiny board. Surrounded by uniform guide books, my grandfathers old dental probes, exacto knives, and other tools, plus paints and brushes, I take the new figures I’ve purchased and turn them from simple hunks of plastic to realistic appearing troops who will follow our commands—at least when the morale dice decree they are in the mood to do so!

(H) = Hypothetical
(C) = Convention Game
(T) = Special Appearance by Terry and the Pirates comic strip characters (copyright King Features Syndicate)
This list represents over 100 games that I have run with 54mm toy soldiers using my own wargame rules, starting in high school circa 1968.
Storybook Medieval: The Sheriff of Nottingham Assaults Castle Greystoke (H)
Small Skirmish: Two Nobles and A Boundary (H)
Swords Against the Skraelings: The Vikings In North American (H, C)
Kullikovo: Mongols Against Russians 1380 A.D.

Hansando 1592: The Japanese Invasion of Korea

ECW: Twittington Manor (H)
ECW: Edgehill I: Rupert vs. Ramsey On The Royalist Right
ECW: Edgehill II: Parliament Counter Attacks
ECW: Windsor (H)
ECW: Cheriton

Leuthen I: The Kirchberg
Leuthen II: The Churchyard

Turtle Creek (Braddock’s Defeat)
Ticonderoga (Fort Carillon)
Landing At Louisbourg

The Battle of Brooklyn
Yorktown Breakout (H)

Assaye (Wellington In India I)
Argaum (Wellington In India II)
The Peninsula (H)
Hougomont (Waterloo)
Leipzig I: The First Battle of Wachau
Leipzig II: Mockern
The British Navy vs. Pirates (H)

WAR OF 1812
Bladensburg (Washington) played twice
New Orleans (Chalmette)

The First Carlist War In Spain: Alegria: 1834
The First Carlist War In Spain: Oriamendi: 1837

Fannin At The Alamo (H)
San Antonio de Behar (H)

Molino Del Rey

Filibuster Expedition: William Walker In Nicaragua

Attack of the Confederate Second Brigade (H; 196
Artillery Road (H) played twice
Benjamin, NC (H)
Fort Facuppee, Florida (With British Intervention) (H)
Bull Run: Blackburn’s Ford
Bull Run: Matthew’s Hill
Bull Run: Henry House Hill
Maryland Heights: The Garabaldi Guards
Antietam: The Cornfield and The Sunken Road
Antietam: Crack In The Cornfield (The 14th Brooklyn and PA Bucktails vs. The Texas Brigade)
The Streets of Fredericksburg
Brandy Station
Gettysburg: Lookout Tower, The First Day (H)
Olustee, FL
Fort Sumter 1863

Pea Ridge
Glorietta Pass
The Great Galveston Raid

Zulu War: Fort Durban: Natal (H)
Zulu War: The Kraal (H)
The Indian Mutiny: Treachery At Chinhut
The Northwest Frontier: India (H)
Gunga Din (H)
The Egyptian Campaign: The Camp (H)
The Sudan: The Train (H)
The Boer War: South Africa (H)

The French Adventure In Mexico: Santa Poco (H)
The French Foreign Legion: North Africa--Hold The Fort! (H)
The French Foreign Legion: North Africa--The Advance Column (H)
The French Foreign Legion: Syria—Fort Zindertrois (H)
The French Foreign Legion and The Gunboat Navy in Indochina: Up The River!

The Spanish American War In Cuba: Kettle and San Juan Hills
The Spanish American War In Puerto Rico: Coamo
The Spanish American War In The Philippines: Second Manilla

The Italians in Abyssinia: Adowa 1896 (The Center Brigades)
Adowa II: Dabormida’s Brigade

The Ever Victorious Army in the Tai Ping Rebellion, OR “Freddy and the Pirates” (H)
The Tai Ping Rebellion: Saving Princess Ayah (H)
The Boxer Rebellion: The Hsiku Arsenal

The Mexican Revolution 1916: Brisco County and Pancho Villa (H)
(Also with Tom Mix, Lt. George S. Patton, Ambrose Bierce, and Baby Anthony Quinn)

Tannenberg 1914
Fort Marcel: German Assault At Verdun 1916 (H)
Capture the Command Post 1918: US vs. Germans (played twice) (H)
The Big Push 1918 (H)

China: The Warlords, 1924 (H): Multifaction
The Russian Civil War: A Treasure Hunt (H) 1920s
The Spanish Civil War: University City, Madrid 1936


The Singapore Campaign (H) (series)
Operation Burma Road: British vs. Japanese
Operation River Slim: The Japanese attack the British at Singapore
Commando Mission To Huaquing Hot Springs, China (H, T)
The Temple Out of Time, China (H): The Nationalists, Communists, Japanese, archaeologists, temple ogres, and the dragon! played twice
Operation Dundee: Japan invades Australia! (H)

Operation Desert Pirates: The Germans attack the British in Libya (H)
Operation Algerian Maginot: (Operation Torch) US vs. French (H)
Thala, Tunesia: The British At the Kasserine Pass
Operation Patton’s Punch: North Africa (H)

Operation Monte Olympus: Italians Attack Greece (H)
Operation Fjord: The British In Norway (H)
Operation Sword of Victory: (H) Germany invades Britain (Operation Sealion)
Operation Allies Three: The US, British, and French in France (H)
Clash of Armor: Germans and Americans (C, H)
Operation Drop On Rome (H) The US doesn’t turn back!
Battle of the Bulge: Defense of Charleville (H)
Operation Dutch Canal: The British attack the Germans (H)
A Canal Too Far: The Allies In Holland (C, H) Five plays!
The Wiesmar Escape (Save the Scientists) The Baltic Coast 1945: British, Russians, and Germans (H)

Operation Luftwaffe Sector: Russian Paradrop on reinforcing German armored column (H)
Operation Karlsgrad Bridge: Stalingrad (H) (played twice)
Operation Prussian Crossroads: German attack and Russian counterattack (H)
Kursk Skirmish: July 1843 (H)

Chosin Reservoir 1950 (T)

Star Wars: Rescuing R2D2 on Tatooine
Victoria and Alexander On Mars: 19th Century Steampunk British and Russians vs. John Carter, Warlord of Mars
Medieval Fantasy: (Tolkien) Forest Encounter (H) Men, Elves, Dwarves and Amazons vs. Orcs, Skeletons, and an Ogre


For those interested in playing with toy soldiers the adult way, here are a few places to get started on the internet and elsewhere:

www.hmgs.org The Historical Miniatures Wargaming Society, East Chapter
This is the East Coast USA branch of a national organization, running annual gaming conventions with large vendor halls and flea markets

www.littlewars@yahoogroups.com A 54mm discussion group where you can ask questions about collecting, painting, organizing, playing, historical and uniform detail, etc.

www.magweb.com if still active, Wargaming Magazines on the Web, including MWAN, home of my former column Those Fightin’ Fifty Fours!

www.theminiaturespage.com General site on collecting toy soldiers.

Metropolitan Wargamers: The Brooklyn, NY club.

New York Wargamers Association: The Manhattan, NY club.

Figure Vendors: Armies In Plastic, The Toy Soldier Company, Michigan Toy Soldiers, San Diego Toy Soldiers.

Hobby Books From the Author’s Collection:

Little Wars by H. G. Wells, 1913. Our Pacifist Founder! Also its companion: Floor Games.

How To Play War Games In Miniature by Joseph Morschauser, 1962.

Charge! Or How To Play Wargames by Brigadier P. Young and Lieutenant Colonel J. P. Lawford, 1967

Discovering Wargames by John Tunstill, 1969.

Battles With Model Soldiers by Donald Featherstone, 1970. And many other books by ‘the father of English Wargaming’ such as Solo Wargaming, Skirmish Wargaming, Military Modeling, and the Wargames Though the Ages series.

Battle: Practical Wargaming by Charles Grant, 1970.

Discovering Model Soldiers by Arthur Taylor, 1970.
Rules for Wargaming by Arthur Taylor, 1971.

A First Book of Wargaming by F. E. Perry, 1977.
The Second Book of Wargaming by F. E. Perry, 1978.

Wargaming World War Two by Stuart Asquith, 1989.

The Art of Wargaming by Peter Perla, 1990. The actual history of professional military and hobby wargaming!

The A to Z of Timpo by Michael Maughan, 1995. A catalogue of their beautiful 54mm figures.

Wargame Campaigns by C.S. Grant, 1995.

Scenarios For All Ages by C. S. Grant and S. A. Asquith, 1996.

Suspended Animation: An Unauthorized History of Herald and Britains Plastic Figures by Peter Cole, 1997. A catalogue and commentary on the most important lines of 54mm toy soldiers ever made before the 21st Century.

Related subjects: The many other volumes available of use include historical works, uniform guides, wargames rules systems, re-enactor photo collections, etc.

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