Man of TIN Blogvent Calendar Day 24: Alfred Lubran’s “Peckitin” matchbox target game

When I was a child, I used to supplement my pocket money in various ways – catching cabbage white butterflies in summer to protect the family allotment (price one penny each) or mostly gutter-sniping.

Gutter sniping? This is an urban form of mudlarking on the River Thames or beach-combing.

guttersnipe (n.)

also gutter-snipe, 1857, from gutter (n.) + snipe (n.); originally Wall Street slang for “streetcorner broker,” attested later (1869) as “street urchin,” also “one who gathers rags and paper from gutters.” As a name for the common snipe, it dates from 1874 but is perhaps earlier.

Many interesting things were dropped and discarded in the street in preplastic days from coins to matchboxes and matchbooks,  before disposable plastic lighters became a staple of marine plastic waste on our beaches.

Picking these matchboxes  out of the gutter, you would look to see if it was a special Matchbox label in good enough condition to trade or sell on to collector friends, who were like stamp collectors. Added bonus – If they only wanted the label, once carefully removed, the wooden matchbox sides were good for figure basing.

Some Donald Featherstone books used sets of matchboxes for campaigns, surprise or Solo Games movement options.

Nowadays with few matchboxes around with less smokers, more vaping, less matchboxes, if you want enough matchsticks or matchboxes  for crafting, you can buy matchsticks or blank non-striker card ones in craft stores online.

I still have this gutter-sniping habit even today.

So what has my 1970s / 1980s gutter-sniping got to do with wargaming and handmade toys for a wartime Christmas? The answer – Alfred Lubran.


Following up the interest there was about Action (a kind of DIY gridded wartime chess) in my last Alfred Lubran post back in 2016 about his book Let’s Make A Game,

Several of Alfred Lubran’s friends or connections have contacted me since 2016 about this remarkable man.


I was reminded of another of Lubran’s six DIY games called “Peckitin” whilst looking at a post by Scottish Wargames blogger Jim Duncan about comic Naval Wargames encounters, his 2012 Cotton Wool Ball Battle:

Recently  many Old School / Little Wars inspired gamers have been using every missile from the old matchstick firing guns, lawn darts to party poppers  and the like onto targets to simulate missile fire and party popper ‘flak’.  It seems to work equally well for solo or group games, exhibition or convention participation games.

Jim Duncan uses cotton wool balls onto a ship template to see if a broadside hits and where damage occurs. Having problems with the first smaller target, he quickly redrew a larger target ship on cardboard.

In the lively comments section which ensued, Wargames bloggers such as Bob Cordery suggested simulating torpedoes using cotton buds, fired from matchstick cannons etc. Inventive and ingenious!

All this throwing adds some skill or randomness as an alternative to dice, once the target is in range. Range firing can be simulated by throwing the missiles from closer of further away.

Landing cotton wool ball so onto a fact 2D ship outline  takes some skill.

I wonder what would happen to the skill level if the cardboard target was made with some matchbox sections, like Alfred Lubran’s Peckitin DIY matchbox target game?

Second page of Lubran’s Peckitin games instructions

Lubran uses any available tiddlywinks or buttons in his wartime DIY scrap game, rather than cotton wool balls.

As ever, levels of complexity or alternatives are built into Lubran’s games to increase the challenge level.

The idea of tilting the cardboard structure or raising the target off the table adds to this, whilst adding deflection barriers at a certain points level could also be adapted. These could be tank armour plating or spaceship deflected shields.

It would take a little time and gunnery practice to get the tilt level of the target right for the cotton wool ball or button missiles to remain in the matchboxes. A book rest, IPad or cookery book stand or pyramid of books would all help here or some angled cardboard.



I foresee several adaptations of Lubran’s target game, mashed together with Jim Duncan’s target outline and cotton wool ball missiles.  A generic modern war ship target from the side  is by far  the simplest. Merchant ship versions could also be drawn.

Designs could include a wooden ship of the line with compartments for gun decks etc, masts etc.

A generic tank outline of matchboxes would need front / back / left and right sides templates for its 3D nature. That’s a lot of matchboxes!

A genetic starship  outline is another possibility, hit by laser guided cotton wool balls or cotton wool asteroids.

Deflection shields’ could be placed in front of tanks or spacecraft, building on a suggestion by Lubran of matchbox screens to be fitted in front of or onto the matchbox targets. This adds some difficulty.

Even a castle outline with matchboxes would be suitably blocky for siege games. Sometimes my past childhood experience throwing cotton wool balls at an Airfix coastal defence fortress and beach invasion scenario  was an equally satisfying and 3D way of simulating off table naval gunfire, especially when it falls short as friendly fire! Better still, none of the figures got damaged, just flattened if using unbased or lightly based plastic figures.

All together, a mad fairground game requiring lots of big or small matchboxes or some clever woodwork!

Q. Now where do I get lots of matchboxes, and what can I build with all the surplus matches? A. Craft shops

B.P.S. Blog Post Script

Inspiration for this blog post came from Alfred Lubran, and many thanks to :

Jim Duncan

Shandy and Vauban

Megablitz and more ‘s inventive party popper flak

And many other garden gamers.

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN, (Guttersnipe, third class), only one more sleep till Christmas 24 January 2019.