Another writer famously inspired by toys was Robert Louis Stevenson. In turn, early wargamer Stevenson’s works like Treasure Island will surely have inspired many pirate games.
“The Land Of Counterpane” from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885) is a poem I have enjoyed since I was a small child, because it chimed with my own happy memories and experiences of bedtime and playing with toy soldiers.
It reads as if this poem child, this I Of the poem, really was Stevenson who lived and then relived this Land of Counterpane situation through verse, as he was at times a sickly bed-bound child; A Child’s Garden of Verses is dedicated to his nurse or nanny Alison Cunningham.
Something to save for another blogpost but several other verses in his classic book of poems are about toy soldiers (‘The Dumb Soldier’ and ‘Historical Associations’, both precursors of garden Wargames) or ‘Block City’, which seems an early wooden precursor of Minecraft.
Some of his lead toy soldiers appear to have survived in this RLS museum collection in America and are pictured by Nancy Horan on Pinterest:
Just tracking the many illustrations of this poem online is an interesting web browsing activity, easy to do on picture sites like Pinterest.
When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.
And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;
And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.
I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.
In this book of poems, there are some interesting ideas of scale, scenarios and temporary miniature worlds that are explored playfully and humorously as proper ‘Art’ and ‘Photography’ by artists today such as Slinkachu. http://www.slinkachu.com
Lots of ideas to explore or return to over the coming months and years!
On Pinterest you can find several illustrated versions of The Land of Counterpane poem by different illustrators including the famous one by Jessie Willcox Smith in the USA.
A patterned bedspread or counterpane is obviously an early version of a grid square or grid hex wargame, or any early improvised version of what today we would call or buy as an wargames terrain mat.
Hexscapism and War Gaming in Bed
Donald Featherstone in his Solo Wargames book mentioned in a chapter on “Wargaming In Bed” exploring the apparent possibilities of lying in bed as wargames terrain
“At first glance beds , with their blanket-covered hummocks, hills and valleys, might seem pretty reasonable places upon which to fight a wargame, but experiment soon proves that this is not so. In the first place, the figures will not stand up and even the most judicious positioning of the legs under the bedclothes so as to make the hills less steep will eventually be defeated by cramp if nothing else …”
This excerpt is from Chapter 20, “Wargaming in Bed” in Solo Wargamingby Donald Featherstone (1973 /2009 reprint p. 139), an excellent chapter full of suitably simple rules for skirmishes with jousting knights or duellists.
After all, the easiest wargames terrain is a cloth draped over hills made of books, again if only you can manage to get your figures to stand up on it.
Using Hex boards it should be possible to recreate the 3D terrain of legs, knees and bumps(adaisies) to recreate those Counterpane type battles.
When I get sufficient spare Heroscape hexes and cover these with offcuts of patterned fabric, I hope to build a ‘Land of Counterpane’ type terrain with those suitable tiny German wooden toy buildings and trees, beloved of ‘old school’ and grid wargamers.
On this patchwork grid or ‘counterpane’ terrain I should be able to play out further Toysian / Wellsian adventures using my version of Donald Featherstone’s Close Wars simple two page appendix rules, a bash about mash up of rule versions I have called Close Little Wars.
On a vintage gaming site recently was a clever reprint of an article on how to convert your bed into the footings of a wargames table (and still sort of sleep in it). Brilliant – but I can’t find the link at the moment.
Redesigning the Counterpane bed for more gaming value
Alternatively, bed manufacturers could embrace the wooden shapes of the bed into suitable features for imaginative play for the child and young at heart! Imaginative Counterpane redesigns include:
More interesting blogposts from the web on Robert Louis Stevenson and toy soldiers:
I noticed today a reference to these 1963 simple rules in Stuart Asquith’s interesting article in Lone Warrior’s free download articles. It has the wonderful article title of Comfortable Wargaming (now there’s a book I would buy if it had a title like that!):
It’s his Hook’s Farm / Little Wars style adaptation of Donald Featherstone’s 1963 Horse and Musket rules, adapted and made freely available with Featherstone’s permission. Well worth downloading and like the article, back to basics, simple stuff. Delightful!
As Asquith concludes, “If you want to shell out around £30 for a set of rules, then feel free, but you know, you really don’t have to – don’t worry about phases or factors, go back to simple enjoyment.”
Stephen Briddon, one of my blog readers, asked about an ‘elementary ‘ set of Donald Featherstone simple WW2 or Moderns rules that I had mentioned. These were first published in a chapter in his 1963 book, Tackle Model Soldiers This Way.
They prove an interesting comparison with his War Games published the year before in 1962. He keeps to the same periods, Ancients, Horse and Musket and WW2 Modern.
“It should not be thought that the only types of war games are those for which elementary rules are given here, that is for battles in the ancient oeriod, horse and musket period and the modern game. There are many war-gamers throughly enjoying games which involve redskins and settlers, naval wargames …”
“The easiest and cheapest method of fighting modern combat seems to be by using Airfix figures (these come in British and German infantry, plus British 8th Army and German Afrika Korps). By using a combination of these figures it is possible to end up with adequate machine-gun teams, anti-tank guns, whilst mortars are not too difficult to fabricate.”
Simple times and irresistible enthusiasm …
There are some interesting differences and simplifications in these simple WW2 rules. Here moderntroops are based in threes and rifles fire in threes for example, rather than firing in a volley of five men as Featherstone usually does in his ‘horse and musket rules’ here and elsewhere in his WW2 rules.
Order of firing is an interesting idea here as well, useful for solo games.
In short, a lovely short inspirational chapter full of enthusiasm for the hobby. Hopefully it created lots of converts for the hobby!
It is a good short summary of his earlier book War Games, designed to create a cross market from one hobby / readership of toy of model soldier collectors to another of wargaming.
I know that Donald Featherstone’s 1962 War Games has been recently reprinted or available as an ebook for a new generation of gamers by John Curry. I’m not sure if John Curry has reprinted these 1963 simple rules elsewhere in his Featherstone reprints.
My portable game board is a real ‘hex-scape’ in a busy working week and a busy household. I can pick it up, ponder a few turns of a solo game and then pop it safely away on a shelf with figures in situ.
In chatting by email / through the comments page of this blog to John Patriquin from “The Wargames Hermit” blog in the USA (a fellow hexboard / Peter Laing / old school game enthusiast and long established blogger), I said I would write more about how my current game board came about and what’s working well or not with it.
Chess boards are something that I have not yet used but it’s an approach to gaming that Wargames Miscellany blogger Bob Cordery has written extensively about on his Portable Wargames website and is now writing a book on the subject. Quite often I’ve seen wargaming described by Donald Featherstone as “Chess with a thousand pieces” (and pieces with some very variable moves, attack value and morale!)
Putting a portable games board back on the shelf and picking up the game again sometimes days later doesn’t work well without notes. A few “End of Turn” notes scribbled help greatly the next time I come back to it and help me when I want to write up a Games / Battle report, reflect on rules play testing etc.
My current portable games board is created from a hinge-damaged wooden storage box lid, as I have few carpentry skills, few tools and currently no workshop.
Like many gamers, I look at household, work or pound store scrap and think, “What could I turn that into?”
The other half of the wooden storage box is still in use, with favourite war games books and notebooks stashed under the bed.
This nomadic wargames board is usually moved if the dining table is needed or it gets too late, not having a dedicated gaming space or workshop at the moment in our busy family home, just popping the board atop my desk. Nothing has changed since childhood where the dining table was cleared as wanted when everything stopped for tea, dinner, whatever!
Finding the right box
If you have no useful wooden storage lids sitting around, you have to go box hunting. The original box was bought about a decade ago in a UK Focus Do It All / B&Q / Homebase type store.
Equally a deep sided lidded plastic box lid such as the Really Useful Box company might work, but a wooden lid has some stability and shock absorbing properties that stop figures, hexes and terrain pinging around or falling over when you move the board.
I wonder if one of those TV dinners trays with bean bag base for putting on your knees would work as well? Too tippy?
I often reread the very amusing chapter by Donld Featherstone on “Wargaming in Bed” in his 1973 Solo Wargaming book (available in reprint from John Curry). Featherstone writes amusingly (from real life or fantasises?) about a stricken gamer in hospital bribing a wife or nursing staff to pop out to the local toy shop to buy 54mm Swoppet armoured Knights toy soldiers (unlikely in a busy British hospital today). This is his aid to recovery:
“gathering bodily strength while marshalling his physical resources in manoeuvring a mere handful of figures around a lone tree perched on one of those tables that wheel over the bed.”
If you fancy a lid / board with a plastic dust cover, you might find one of the right size amongst the propagation trays from the local garden centre. The plastic garden tray itself if you use it might be too flexible and flimsy, so might need stiffening with board as a base or inset.
The same hinge break has recently happened to a slightly larger box lid, so a larger board or an extension to the original is now possible!
Redesigning or rejoining the board edges, I have changed how the grid is set out down the side. The grid numbers / letters are used for planning staggered entry of reinforcements and random deployment of troops and terrain features.
At present one short axis / side of the rectangular board has six letters A to F, the other longer axis was 1 to 8. I have now changed this to be 6 zones on both sides, so easier to determine by d6 dice.
This makes it possible to allocate simple grid references in scenario set ups and call in indirect of random programmed fire like the Suvla bay and trench scenario / games mechanism in Stuart Asquith’s Solo Wargames book.
Grid references also allow you to map out your game board on photocopied template / paper if keeping a record of what happened.
Playing solo as I usually do, I can also sit the other side of the board, turning the board gently without dislodging figures and see what the other side sees, check line of sight etc (with or without a reversed Lionel Tarr type periscope).
At the moment I use a sheet of felt below the board on a table top, so the board slides smoothly around as needed without jolting. You could alternatively use one of those Scrabble game board turners, a plant pot wheely base or recycled old Microwave oven plastic circular runners found under the revolving glass tray (possibly sourced from your old microwave / friends / the household recycling centre / tip).
I also now more clearly mark compass points, so that you can assign entry and exit points etc. for different groups at North / South etc. rather than just left / right / top / bottom.
Squeezing hexes into a square lid creates some gaps at the edges which have to be filled somehow. I use thin strips of AstroTurf or model hedging to fill these gaps.
You could mark out squares or hexes on the wooden base if preferred. Bob Cordery at Wargaming Miscellany and blogger friends have been looking at portable hex or square boards using Chess boards etc, following up Morschauser’s grid ideas. However you would probably need to build / enhance a chess board with built up wooden edges if you wish to move the board around with figures on, pop it away and also use some non-slip figure basing.
Having two matching box lids means that I could repair the hinges and join them together to make a box that closes up for travelling. Truly portable. However the top lid hexes would fall off upside down unless stuck down to the box lid base.
I like the option of one lid or two lids that can both be stored on separate shelves without damaging or disturbing what is on each. A simple tea towel over the top of each keeps the dust off!
The Joy of Hex!
The Heroscape hex tile clusters fit in reasonably well to the women lid / game board but leave some edge gaps however you combine them. I fill the gaps with clump scraps of AstroTurf/ artificial grass, cut down from the offcut tiny trimmings from an outdoor seating area project at my workplace. These would otherwise have been tidied and thrown away.
The basic MB Games Heroscape starter sets are easily available from online auctions, and some gamers like John the “Wargames Hermit” blogger in the USA and others have painted them all uniform colours as a great basic game board.
Alternatively you could sand / grass flock or scenic them appropriately, as long as they still stack.
An interesting idea I have yet to try from Iain Dickie’s useful book Wargames on a Budget in his Wargames terrain boards section is to paint the base blue or swamp green, whatever you may want showing beneath any blank hexes to show a stream / river / coast edge. I have tried this with out dark blue paper and it does work well.
A tray lining of blue felt or blue card as this base would work equally well, with hexes then built up for each game on top. I find the flat blue water Heroscape hexes are quite fiddly, thin, brittle and break easier than the standard chunky hexes. However without being squeezed into the box lid frames, hexes shift around a bit.
Hex clusters also make great islands in the middle of a blue felt tabletop or floor sea, inspired by Pijlie’s blog but that’s for another day …
As a further insult to Donald Featherstone’s Close Wars appendix rules to his 1962 book War Games, I have scaled these up to 54mm and taken them outside to a bigger outer space and another planet, the far off galaxies or planets of Yarden. How will they work out?
Previously on Man of Tin blog we have featured my hexed up version of these Close Wars rules:
Rainy day? Crowded alien planets work quite well on your tabletop (if forced inside by British wet weather) using different borrowed pieces of your Yarden (Yard / Garden). Fake plastic or real plants, rocks, stones etc create a sense of a cluttered planet / terrain etc.
As a child growing up in the 1970s, life changed around about 1977/78 when Star Wars came out as a rival to Airfix, Weebles, Cowboys, toy cars, Knights, Busybodies Etc.
This is primarily a ground troops / infantry based space game without much in the way of space vehicles or larger laser cannons, otherwise the ranges become toooooo big!
Create your own big laser cannon range and dice hit rules as needed.
Imperial (Earth) measurements and Earth GMT time will be used throughout (with Metric for those as likes)
Space Laser blaster pistol – 12″ or 30cms
Space Laser blaster rifle – 24″ or 60 cms
Space laser bow – 12″ or 30 cms
Space Laser swords – melee weapons only.
Space Laser spears – 6″ or 15 cms
Natives / Aliens / Savages – 18″ or 45cms
Space Infantry (<4) – 18″ or 45 cms
Space Infantry (groups of 4+) – 12″ or 30cms
Astromech droids 6″ or 15 cms.
Humanoid Robots – 9″ to 12″ 22 to 30cms
Hover Infantry on Space Bikes – 36″ or 90cms
Star Crawler vehicles, lunar buggies – 24″ or 60cms
Usual Melee Rules. Usual hit d6 Dice throws. Featherstone savings throws if you like them.
Add other rules, weapons and characters as you see fit.
Mark up a garden cane with 6″ intervals or use a metal retractable ruler as needed.
Find some knee pads or a garden kneeler if playing outside.
Before you play, some essential research for your Close Little Star Wars:
a) watch movies and TV, from Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica to Flash Gordon (Black and white 1930s) or the colour movie 1980, choose your favourite. Flash, ah-ah!
There’s the very odd Britain’s 1980s metal based Star Guards range with vehicles and aliens. There are more recent 54mm Star Wars Command plastic figures that were cheaply available c. £4 a box in branches of Wilko (2016). Some good deals on the eBay / Amazon / internet too!
Pound store fire fighters and their equipment make good space stuff.
Alternatively you could upscale the rules to use old or new 10″ Star Wars play figures (buy bundles of the more battered ones on EBay) but the fiddly weapons tend to get lost in gardens. The Playskool Heroes Star Wars series for younger children have weapons moulded on.
Hopefully H.G. Wells, father of modern science fiction, would approve of this futuristic version of Little Wars.
Let play commence in a galaxy / planet / garden “far far away …” in my next blog post.
I am always surprised by how rich in ideas Donald Featherstone’s original 1962 War Games book proves to be.
Reading through it as I often do, as its my ‘Desert Island Discs’ sort of book, I came across this interesting paragraph on page 46:
On the other hand, a completely mythical campaign is often conducted, using fancifully uniformed troops of imaginary countries and with highly coloured reasons for fighting the war.
It’s what we would now call Imagi-Nations gaming:
This can be fascinating, as ruling houses, petty dukedoms, jealous heirs and dashing princes provide excuses for one state declaring war on another adjacent dukedom, or fir those gaily coloured Hussars to be sent to the distant frontier where they will due gallantly fighting off the hordes of savage tribesmen threatening their country.
This seems almost Game of Thrones stuff!
Whatever the type of campaign, the first essential is a master map … (Page 46)
The only thing Donald Featherstone doesn’t quite describe in War Games is the 1970s rise in science fiction / space / fantasy style gaming. Or does he? Arguably his Ancients rules demonstration game the “Battle of Trimsos” based on Tony Bath’s Hyboria campaign is kind of fantasy wargaming there in embryo also.
Minus the orcs, of course …
This battle was fought in an undefined period of the chequered history of the mythical continent of Hyboria – a vast land mass dreamed up by Tony Bath of Southampton, which contains nations of almost every type of known warrior of our own world from its earliest times.
These countries fight each other on the slightest provocation, make pacts, break pacts, invade, repel and generally carry on much as did our own ancestors in the earliest recorded days of history… (Page 75)
And as Donald says in his opening chapter:
For the player who finds nothing of interest in this list [of wargames periods] there are imaginary campaigns that he may fight without limit. He can form his own imaginary world, with continents and countries each of which will make war on its neighbour on the slightest pretext.
The French find themselves involved in wars with America,the British take on the Russians in period 1900, and great wars take place between countries who, at the actual period in time when the campaign is deemed to be taking place, were the very best of friends in real life!
Therein lies one of the fascinations of war gaming – one can remake history to suit one’s ideas, can alter the complete trend of events by re fighting a major battle such as Waterloo and making the French win it …
Donald Featherstone’s books are always so enthusiastically written with assured knowledge that you will receive genuine pleasure and fulfilment in this solitary or shared hobby:
There is a great deal of satisfaction in making one’s own armies, either in entirety or by conversions …
It’s true what Don Featherstone says. Who could resist such conviction?
Who could resist that ‘Avuncular’ tone of a knowledgeable ‘Uncle’ Donald ?
My copy of War Games is the sold-off ex-library stock hardback copy that I used to borrow and read as a child. Thankfully War Games has been reprinted recently in paperback by John Curry.
I hope you have your own ‘desert island wargames book‘, the one you keep going back to and finding fresh ideas (despite the familiarity) for your own real world or imagi-nations gaming.
War Games is my ‘go (back) to’ book for ideas or just comfort reading. What’s yours?
Happy gaming! Leave comments, explore past blogposts or follow my blog.
More about Imagi-Nations on a previous ‘Tintin’ blogpost:
I’m preparing a series of solo skirmish games this winter once I’ve worked out the (confusing) imaginary kingdoms or Bronte 1820s/30s Imagi-nations of Gondal, Gaaldine, Angria and Glass Town, for which a Bronte sketch map exists!
This along with my ‘Generic-an forces’, from my fictional country of Generica, should prove to be an interesting winter’s gaming.
And the Title of the blog post? Imagi – Seven Nation Army?
Check out the fabulous and irresistible sultry ’30s New Orleans sleaze’ / Jazz rendition by singer Haley Reinhart and the U.S. band Postmodern Jukebox of this modern White Stripes number, available on I-Tunes but to view free on YouTube! Just type in Postmodern Jukebox on YouTube and enjoy the many musical styles they play with in their ‘musical time machine’ … Or visit http://postmodernjukebox.com
Happy Listening! Happy Gaming!
Blog posted by Mr MIN, Man of TIN, September 2016.