Close Wars Simplified

Jen’s Normandy 75th Anniversary Game in her library. (Image: Jen B.)

I wish my local Library had looked a bit more like this photo by Jen when I was a child. (What was going on in the inside of my head looked like this!) My lovely local library was a busy but quiet place, a great free source of classic wargames titles, uniform references and history books but not a relaxed place to try out games or crafts.

American gaming librarian Jen B has been literally playing around with the very simple Featherstone Close Wars rules that I often use.

These were first printed as a two page appendix to Donald Featherstone’s War Games, 1962.

Jen has been experimenting with them for a range of historical periods, encouraging young gamers into (historical) figure gaming in her library workplace.

Classic 54mm Airborne versus Panzer Grenadiers? The figures pictured are those much pirated or cloned (therefore easily affordable) Matchbox American Infantry and a mix of Airfix and Matchbox Germans often found for sale in Pound Store, dollar store or bargain buckets. Perfect pocket money stuff!

Simplicity of terrain and affordable budget store figures are important in trying to welcome more youngsters, male and female, into the fantasy and historical sides of figure gaming. This affordable point is explored amongst others blog sites on my own Pound Store Plastic Warriors Blog, the Cheap Fantasy Minis Blog or the Wargaming Pastor’s DeathZap website

The original Featherstone Close Wars Rules posts can be found here:

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/09/close-little-wars-featherstones-simplest-rules/

And reposted on an interesting free war games rules site:

https://freewargamesrules.fandom.com/wiki/Close_Little_Wars:_Featherstone’s_simplest_rules

Jen doesn’t have a blog of her own (yet) but left this comment on one of my blog posts: “I ran another WWII skirmish at work today, this time with rules influenced by Close Wars, with simpler measuring.”

Movement: One pencil length.

Firing: (Range/shots)
– Pistol: One pencil length/one shot.
– SMG: 1/3
– Rifle: 2/1
– MG: 3/3, but may not move and fire.
Shots hit on 5+, 6 if target is in cover.

Close Combat (CC): Figures roll off. If tied, both figures retreat one pencil length.

Each side rolls once at end of turn – on a 6 a reinforcement figure appears.

Jen wrote “It worked surprisingly well, and the players were cheering every die roll.”

Cheering? In a library? Not what I remember from the enforced hush of my childhood libraries. This is a great reaction to hear about though, clearly the children were highly engaged and the rules are simplicity itself in materials, terrain, figures, a pencil or two and some ordinary d6 dice. Good entry level stuff!

You could easily go home with a photo copy of these rules and create this yourself as a child or family with available figures.

Featherstone envisaged these simple Close Wars rules as solving the challenge of natives versus troops in small scale skirmish gaming in cluttered terrain such as Colonial era or the French Indian Wars.

It would be easy enough to adapt these rules for drop-in library gaming use to simple Wild West skirmish gunfights, French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary and the Civil War, all with suitably affordable or dollar store figures.

Can’t find cheap historical figs? Try my ManofTIN Imagi-Nations conversions!

As my Pound Store Plastic Warriors strapline or motto says: Little Wars on a Budget

I hope that Jen gets to run more of these games and I’m sure every gamer wishes this venture well.

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, regular library user and 70s Airfix child, 14 June 2019

Really this Blog post could have or should have gone on my Pound Store Plastic Warriors Blog in view of its affordable plastic figure theme, so I will crosspost a link on that site.

Can you ever repeat enough pictures like these of classic plastic figures?

Blog Post Script

Mannie Gentile’s Toy Soldiers Forever blogposts on the Civil War often have the laudable focus of encouraging children to explore Civil War history and battlefields through affordable figure gaming. A website well worth a visit. http://toysoldiersforever.blogspot.com/2019/06/a-new-civil-war-enthusiast.html

Blog Update 4th July 2019

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Here is Jen’s latest American War Of Independence game in the library – muskets took the place of Rifles – the spirit of 1776, except the British Redcoats won this Skirmish. See more at https://ibb.co/album/kGodmF

18 thoughts on “Close Wars Simplified”

  1. I think what Jen is doing is fantastic in the her library. I would be interested to read more of her games and the reactions of participants/ bystanders. History comes alive and perhaps a lifelong interest is sparked or a passing enjoyable experience for others. I ran a lunchtime Wargames club some years ago in the school l was in for those who played Middle Earth based games from GW. It went well and l have a friend who ran board games clubs very successfully in their school. I have not tried historical based gaming there. Once l tried a duelling game with pirate figures using man of tins card system which was really enjoyed. Management l know was not too keen.I find that the majority of my colleagues stop the children if they use sticks or bats as guns. They also discourage the use of construction materials to make tanks or spaceships if combat ensues. This attitude seems a shame to me and counterproductive.

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    1. I think Jen’s simple approach providing variety amongst a diversity of gaming is fine.
      This war toys argument is a tricky one. On this basis – Ban chess club and its abstract violence! Ban fencing as an Olympic sport and its abstracted duelling violence! Ban boxing. Ban reading about or watching gory murder fiction on television as violence as entertainment!
      I think many gaming librarians and teachers who try to run figure gaming sessions have this challenge of other’s attitudes in authority, mostly concerned with primary age children.
      Yet Heritage sites are full of “history comes alive” castle knight jousting, pirate school, home guard drill and gun fire marketed as family entertainment or edutainment.
      As they get older (and the content of films and video games changes? ) this attitude probably changes. Schools and libraries have run GW / 40K related activities to encourage literacy. Maybe magic violence and space lasers used against nonhumans are seen as more abstractly violent than bayonets?
      I don’t think historical figure gaming has made me any more violent a person than if I had taken up another hobby or has it made more tolerant or supportive of war. Instead I’m rather better informed of its wastefulness and its unpleasant reality, aware of its human cost, possibly even more sadly accepting of its often futile nature and lazy inevitableness.

      The primary school position is probably based on ideas that physical violence should not be used to solve arguments, at playground and international levels, hence the eventual withdrawal of corporal punishment in schools (my state school was one of the last).

      In the V & A ‘War Games’ travelling exhibition on toy soldiers which I saw a few years ago, the toy guns section also featured stick guns of wood chosen as they look like pistols or toy guns made of Lego. Interesting …

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  2. I am glad that simple wargaming on a budget is alive and well in the world. It warms my heart. I look forward to any further content you share on the subject, and wish Jen and the library kids a happy tabletop gaming future!

    I would also like to chime in and let you know Close Little Wars is alive and well in my part of the woods, though I pretty much play solo at the moment due to scheduling issues with my gaming buddies. I have not revisited my take on the Close Little Wars rules since I wrote about it on my wargaming blog in May. The revisions I made might be of interest to you? With your permission, I could link it here for you, or you can trace back to my blog fairly easily and find it therein.

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  3. Thank you! An honor to be featured. I haven’t got photos of the second game yet (a colleague took pics with her phone). It used a smaller number of figures, a smaller table and books for terrain.

    I post regularly on Quora, though mostly on roleplaying Dungeons & Dragons type games in the library. There aren’t many questions about generic tabletop wargaming, though there are plenty about Warhammer. Maybe I SHOULD do a blog!

    And thank you all for your comments and thoughts. I have had varying reactions, from my immediate supervisor’s suggestion that I should run fantasy games instead (he should see how violent DnD and Warhammer Fantasy can get!) to the adult tutor of the kids who were playing. He was a veteran, and thought it could be a good way to get kids into history. War toys are a particular concern where I live in South Florida because there was a school shooting last year. But these same kids are playing first-person-shooters online on our computers, and tabletop gaming is a way to get them around a table with friends instead of staring at a screen.

    The figures are from a large bucket I picked up at a hobby shop for fifteen dollars. There are about fifty soldiers each of German, British (8th Army), American, and Japanese, with enough different types to accurately build entire platoons and run any number of skirmishes.

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    1. Books for Terrain is pure HG Wells Little Wars and even more appropriate for a library!
      I can understand the reservations of people about ‘glorifying violence’ esp. in the wake of school shootings (we get less of these in the UK).
      You are right to put gaming in a library into a social context, rather than the more alienating one person isolated video shoot em up. Children I know who play video games like Fortnite (shoot em ups) seem to be doing playground and wide games indoors but with the chat, the cooperation and the communication.
      I wonder if the ‘violence’ of Warhammer and games workshop make children more likely to pick up swords, clubs and magic spell books to solve a problem? If so Game of Thrones and Tolkien should be banned from cinemas and television too.
      I know the soldier bucket you mention, we have these in the UK, a cheaper way to buy figures no longer widely made.

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    2. A blog is a good space to put up pictures and play reports of your games. Reading other people’s blogs is my entertainment during the week when I don’t have the time to sit down for my own wargames. Good way to pick up ideas for game scenarios, terrain design, and such as well.

      Just on the violence note, in a video game or a movie, people bleed when they’re shot, and all sorts of worse things can be depicted. Those depictions have gotten more and more graphic as time has gone on. At the wargaming table units fall down, or get little tokens attached to represent damage. There is no blood or graphic violence.. I tried to be pretty particular in my writing to say that when a man is hurt “he is injured and cannot continue fighting”. Nobody needs to “die”.

      At worst a miniature might get damaged, stepped on, lose a limb or break in half. But they’re toys. Next game they stand right back up, and even the worst of injuries can usually be healed with some good glue and a steady hand. There’s also as you have said, benefits to getting kids (and adults) away from their screens and around a table socializing. Plenty in the hobby as a solo activity as well that can be beneficial. Painting, building terrain, reading history. All of which are quite nonviolent activities.

      Regardless, good luck with your group and do keep sharing pictures and stories!

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      1. Stealth
        I thought it interesting in your Close Wars write up that the objective is to “slay” the enemy, another ancient-ism or fantasy linguistic clue to your D and D background?

        Nowadays we ‘degrade’ the enemy’s capabilities and other euphemisms.

        Some of the battle reports in Shakespeare’s Macbeth “unseamed him from the nave to the chops” (Shakespeare and Macbeth – allowed in classrooms and libraries at a young age) give a grimmer view of hand to hand combat. https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/macbeth-reported-valiant-soldier-act-line-till-he-692706

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  4. Really this reminds me of the (very) simple games I played when I was a boy. I would use the same proportion of hits, although I used the boxes of soldiers as was. Grenades killed 3, and flamethrowers killed 4! No ranges or dice. Needless to say some boxes did better than others (Matchbox sets had piles of powerful weapons). I would even play Naps and WW1 versus other periods. It kept me amused, and shows that even the simplest rules can give satisfaction compared to more complex systems.

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    1. Huzzah! From a ‘game’ point of view, this works well. Powerful weapons have greater effect.
      However A lucky rifleman can still take out a man with a flamethrower etc.

      You work with the toy soldiers you have.

      Listening to Rick Priestly talking on Henry Hyde’s Battle Chats / Battle Games interviews, he talks about Featherstone rules as clearly ‘Games’ rather than funny dice complex simulations. (Don’t get me wrong: Simulations have their part in opening up history and exploring possible futures.) Featherstone and some of his ilk had been soldiers and did not need to justify their engrossing ‘hobby’ of ‘playing with toy soldiers’ with overly complex rules to avoid this awkward ‘childish’ activity (in the view of others.) How to recapture this satisfaction?
      Up until WW1 and even into large parts of WW2 a man and his rifle were the basics of most infantry actions.

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      1. Rick Priestly? Really? Which ep is he on, sounds like something I’d like to listen to.

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  5. I sometimes wonder about revisiting those days by taking the raw ingredients (toys) and applying my adult mind and experience to the games. Is there a magic key to our childhood? We keep looking.

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    1. Toy Collectors would also understand this possibility that these toys are a bit of a magic portal key to our imaginative childhood. I get great and quiet joy from having some surviving toy figures and vehicles from my childhood games, just as I do in restoring bashed old toy soldiers who are the battered remnants of several generations of someone else’s childhood. Part of the Key of any good toy still is its tactile feel in the hand which toy soldiers have in bucketload. Many of these classic big 54mm figures you could probably recognise and ID blindfold.

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  6. Here’s an album of an AWI game I ran yesterday to celebrate the Fourth of July. Similar rules to the WWII but only muskets for the weapons, as no one picked officer figures. A coworker surprised me with hastily mocked-up flags for the occasion. I may try a “Capture the Flag/King of the Hill” scenario next!

    https://ibb.co/album/kGodmF

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    1. Great that someone made you some Spirit of 76 flags! I hope the British or the English side had better luck against the Americans than they did in the Women’s World Cup. 2-1 with a goal disallowed and a missed penalty.
      PS. Tick – That’s my sport conversation done for the next decade!

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      1. The Brits kicked arse. Had all eight figures on the board at the end, against only three Americans. Granted, the Brits had lost one but successfully rolled for a reinforcement figure.

        Me, I know very little, but I always root for Scotland in sports. Ever since I read GM Fraser’s classic McAuslan stories about the Gordon Highlanders, which frequently involve football… Was up in Dumbarton Castle outside Glasgow once and could see footballers practicing on the nearby field, I suspect the national team since they were in blue. Locals told me it’s a fine spot to observe games with binoculars.

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      2. That previous comment was my sport conversation used up for the next decade. I can add no more sport comment other than puzzling out Alex Morgan the US goal scorer’s strange tea drinking hand gestures. https://www.latimes.com/sports/soccer/la-sp-alex-morgan-tea-celebration-pinkie-uswnt-england-20190703-story.html

        I liked it as a child when the Know The Game series had Wargaming by Phil Barker along side other titles in the series such as the rules of football, rugby and other sports. It made it feel a little more energetic as a hobby.

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