I stayed in the shade of the trees surrounding our garden during the very hot and sunny Father’s Day weekend. We raided several starter Heroscape packs for hex tile and figures for a knockabout duelling game in the garden using versions of the Lunge, Cut and Stop Thrust duelling rules.
Even the garden table cloth or white spotty oilcloth wanted to join in as a sort of hex sea between the hex islands.
I’m not what many would call a fantasy gamer, despite my historical Imagi-Nations and the occasional 54mm Space based garden game. These Heroscape figures came prepainted with the very useful Heroscape plastic Hex tile ‘make your own 3D gameboard’ terrain system. So it seemed a shame not to use them occasionally.
Heroscape games system
If you’re not familiar with the Heroscape game and figures by MB / Hasbro, available secondhand online, visit the following sites
The starter or master sets I had bought second-hand provided several interesting warrior groups:
Mech type robots – Zettian Guards (not shown in photographs)
Samurai type figures – Izumi Samurai
Elite Airborne figures
Government type agents – Krav Maga agents
Viking type fantasy Ancient warriors
Marro scary aliens
Very soon as I and other family members chose Heroscape warrior squads to take each other on in individual duelling or melee bouts, we switched from the slower cards (Parry and Lunge, Stop-Thrust and Cut system) to the quicker d6 version suggested by Kaptain Kobold.
The games proved short and brutal, mostly involving fast melee, using the Kaptain Kobold modification or d6 dice version of Gerard De Gre’s Lunge Cut and Stop Thrust rules for melee or duelling.
1-2 Hit on Attacker (lose one point)
3 – Both Hit (lose one point each)
4 – Both Miss
5-6 Hit on Defender (lose one point)
To simplify the rules, speed and even things up between the different Heroscape tribes or clans, we declared all figures or weapons equal in melee and no ranged weapons. In that way a Mech Robot could be defeated by a Samurai or Viking.
Each character had 5 life or combat points (recorded on a dice next to them during combat) and could also only move 2 hexes, halved if moving uphill or through water.
The surviving or winning duellist gained an extra life or combat point when the other rival character was killed off. It quickly got fast, fatal and furious!
My FBI X-Files team didn’t last long against the grim-faced Alien Marro figures. Warrior Mech Zettian Guards fought Izumi Samurai and fantasy Vikings, then Elite Airborne figures.
This was also the first outing for some new aquarium ornament resin scenery picked up in a handy 3 for 2 ornaments sale at Pets at Home. A battered rope bridge, a jungle temple, two Ewok style tree houses with lush jungle foliage, a Greek or Roman ruined temple and a Chinese or Japanese fishing boat. All variously suitable for 15 to 40mm size figures.
I didn’t tell the checkout lady the truth when she asked about my non-existent fish and tank, that these weren’t destined or bought for underwater fish usage but for the gaming table or out in the garden / yarden for gaming! More on these in a future post.
This proved a short fast knockabout game of the islands suitable for both young and old in the family.
The recent nearly but not quite named ‘Storm Doris’ did minor damage in my garden overnight a day or two ago, flipping off the tied on and weighted-down lid of my improvised “sand table”.
This ‘sand table’ was flooded with rainwater and a topped with a thin sheet of ice this morning.
Quite surreal, as this was how it was otherwise left at the end of a game.
The sculpted sand terrain had smoothed away underwater. Eerily many of the troops were standing or lying still where they had last fought.
In reality the ‘sand table’ is a bright blue plastic family sand pit filled with fine play sand but it does service for garden games for all ages of family.
Revealed frozen underwater was the end of a last summer ‘pound store plastic warriors’ sand pit game, literally frozen in time.
I had forgotten to put this game away months ago, just tied the lid on and weighted it with stones. The weather has not been great in the UK for outdoor garden gaming over the last few winter months.
Unpainted, these simple pound store troops about 25-30 mm high in three different ‘national colours’ looked surprisingly good underwater, especially this silver cluster.
I have never built a proper sand table Donald Featherstone style, having heard or read of several near disasters with the weight of sand indoors and the sand’s ability to get everywhere – “can be rather messy, as sand does not always keep its proper place on the table” as Donald Featherstone points out.
Gaming in the sand pit was always a good garden standby in childhood, mostly using a rough pile of builders sand in the garden / yard left over from an extension. Growing up with dogs, the sand pit did not thankfully become a litter tray for the neighbourhood cats.
Figures occasionally vanished, sometimes to resurface during later completely different period games. Some were never seen again. By now the entombed 1970s Airfix plastic will have crumbled to dust if that childhood sand pile is still there.
The Sheil website has ‘sand pit’ rules for those who want to try this in an undrowned sand pit (with well attached roof).
Planet: Yarden / Location: in a galaxy far afar away (but strangely, just round the corner of my house)
Scenario: A captured red hat enemy staff officer of the Imperious Forces (usually the bad guys) has revealed the whereabouts of the secret Imperious Space Base on Planet Yarden.
He is interrogated with mind control by tiny General Yodel.
Rebellious or Revolutionary Commando Troops from many nations and planets led by the tiny General Yodel and feisty Princess Layla are heading there to destroy this base.
Its giant super laser cannon is capable of destroying entire planets / space ships / etc, yardeh yardeh yardeh …
Any similarity to the characters and plots of well known space films by George Lucas and Disney are entirely coincidental or in your own mind.
Meanwhile on Planet Yarden, the Rebellious or Revolutionary Troops head towards the Imperious base with their star crawler packed with Space TNT.
The secret Imperious base is protected by watchtowers and a smaller guard base.
Luckily the Rebellious or Revolutionary troops have a secret weapon, a heavy space ballista mounted on a space ship.
In Turn 1, whilst most of the figures are out of weapons range, the Rebellious troops land a direct hit with a space rock on several of the (Cylonic looking) Imperious Troops behind rocky barricades, guarding the smaller space cannon.
In Turn 2, Captain Lush and several of his Rebellious laser sword warriors are killed in a melee with Imperious Troopers.
Turn 3 – The giant space cannon of Imperious Trooper Base lands a direct hit on the Rebellious Space Freighter and destroys the space Ballista and its crew. A dice throw sorts out if it is repairable; it isn’t, cutting off the Rebellious chances on escape by ship.
Fortunately in Turn 3, the crew of the Rebellious Space Crawler packed with Space TNT roll the right d6 number: 4,5,6 to blow up on this move. The smaller guard base is breached, killing several Imperious troopers. The Rebellious crew bale out and head towards the larger base.
Turn 4 – A desperate fight takes place on the entrance ladders and drawbridge of the larger Imperious Space Base.
Turn 5 – Meanwhile some Imperial troopers threaten to capture General Yodel and Space Princess Layla and free the Imperious Staff Officer. However Layla grabs a space blaster rifle and Yodel uses his Mind Force (two d6 compared to 1d6 in the melee) to fight off the Imperious Troopers.
Turn 6 – A dice is thrown for when Rebellious troops might continue to attack and take over the base or withdraw into the forests.
Similarly the Imperious Base Commander dices to see when the base goes into lockdown.
The main Imperious base being in lockdown, its smaller base destroyed by the exploding Rebellious half-truck , their own Rebellious space freighter ship irreparably damaged – it’s time for General Yodel and Layla to escape into the forests and undergrowth of Yarden. Time to fight another day …
Figures, Vehicles and Buildings
The 54mm / 1:32 scale figures were a real mix, cobbled quickly together for this game, so many are unpainted. If I had waited to paint figures and vehicles or scratch build a space base etc, the weather may well have turned and I would not have got this solo outdoor game in.
Sterne the Imperious Base Commander and Staff Officer prisoner are Lone Star Afrika Korps. Colourful 1960s spacemen man the smaller space cannon.
Pound store figures in khaki form the bulk of the Imperious troops, commanded by Imperial Empire Star Wars officers. Airfix 1981 Space Warriors and Star Wars Command figures (from Pound stores / Wilko) form the rest of the Rebellious troops, led by a zoo ranger as Princess Layla. Pound store police formed some dark blue space marines.
The space freighter ship is a lucky ‘handmade’ wooden ship find from the 1960s, topped by another junk shop find of a plastic ballista (Timpo?) This had to be strapped on to fire properly.
The smaller laser cannon is really a spring loaded metal cannon from the 1920s, it had a good range of about 2 feet of more firing cotton buds / Q tips.
The buildings are an Airfix Strongpoint Bridge watchtower (off show in photos) and a small roofless ‘pet house’ to hold the Imperious Staff Officer prisoner.
The main space and guard bases are the black plastic delivery bases of those PC / computer server boxes, obtained spare as packaging from a local workplace. The plastic space domes are seed incubator tops from the garden centre. The deadly large space gun is a Tiger.com £1 periscope.
Rules and Playtesting
The Close Little Star Wars version of Close Wars were scaled up for the Yarden / Garden and 54mm figures.
Buildings such as the bases seemed too impregnable, without firing the Q Tip weapons.
Any umpire type command decisions (playing solo) were solved by creating special d6 dice throws such as Is the freighter reparable? Will the Rebellious troops withdraw? Will the Imperious base and big gun withdraw into lockdown? When will the TNT in the half track blow up the Guard base?
Many of the troops only had close quarter weapons such as laser pistols or laser swords, meaning they could only be used up close or in melee phase.
The Airfix space Warriors with the disc / boomerang thing were used as Laser Space Grenadiers. Range of 12″, throw 4 to 6 to hit home. Throw d6 to see how many troops are hit.
Luckiest Shot? The Space Ballista worked well firing in trials at first chunky dice (too heavy) and second, pea gravel. This took out several of the ‘Battlestar Galactica’ type Cylon figures from the Airfix Space Warriors set who were safely behind barriers serving with the Imperious forces. Ironic to be using plastic figure pound store rocky outcrops outdoors in the Yarden.
I hope H.G. Wells would approve of this stellar mash-up …
Great fun, possibly the last garden game maybe of the year as it gets colder and wetter going into autumn.
To try to separate the joy of ‘Pound Store Plastic Warriors’ from the other gaming content on the Man of Tin blog, I set up in early September a sister blog site for this material in future, subtitled “Little Wars on a Budget“:
One of mine is this Airfix 1:32 54mm Australian WW2 officer – or as I often used him in childhood, as a garden jungle adventurer?
He made a passable Indiana Jones (yet produced several years before the film!)
This was a great figure also available in the tinier OO/HO 1:72 – 1:76 20mm scale.
This one figure creates ideas for lots of scenarios.
Generally the Airfix Australian and Ghurka figures in 1:32 or 1:72 scale prove great adaptable ‘jungle adventure’ explorers or troops, even if you exclude the ‘modern’ machine guns etc. to add a more 19th century / early 20th century feel.
In the smaller scale, add some of the adventurer and natives figures from the tiny Airfix Tarzan set (reissued by Hat c.2001/3 as Jungle Adventure). Throw in repainted Airfix Indians as ‘Jungle Warriors’ and you have the figures for an excellent jungle Close Little Wars scenario. Poundstore cowboys and natives can also be used in the larger figure scales.
To me, gaming since childhood, many rule sets look frighteningly both expensive and offputtingly complex what with ‘combat factors’ and worse still, lots of unfamiliar dice (always a bad sign that there’ll be advanced maths involved).
Airfix have recently launched or franchised a new battle game ‘system’ by Modiphius Games. It looks beautifully produced. You can use your old or new Airfix figures. It uses classic and familiar Airfix box artwork for illustrations. But is it more hidden maths? Is this likely to be as complicated to me as many of those dungeons and dragons rules that I could never understand as a child? (They also had lots of strange dice, another giveaway).
My Bish Bash Am-Bush ‘Close Wars’ rules
I currently use my adapted version of the simple two page appendix rules for ‘Close Wars’ out of the back of Donald Featherstone’s War Games 1962 book.
This book pictured below is a very old favourite: it’s the original copy from my childhood local branch library, withdrawn from lending and sold to me many years later. Still by my bedside and frequently reread.
Simple as Featherstone’s rules are in War Games, these two pages have always been a delight. They make up the core of my own fast quick simple small number of figures game that I can quickly and easily set up and play solo.
“It must be confessed that the question of how to fight a successful action with natives against disciplined troops has yet to be completely solved by the writer.”
This is a gaming problem that Donald Featherstone mentions with several brief solutions on page 58 of his “How to Start a War Game” chapter in War Games (1962). He solves it pretty well in my view in his Close Wars appendix (page 149-150).
A keen Colonial gamer, Featherstone was focussed here on “the type of fighting that happens between small numbers of men in forests, such as in the French and Indian Wars of the late eighteenth century in America” (page 149). Close Wars has many applications to other periods as brutal fighting in forests between organised troops and natives has not changed much since Ancient times.
Look out for future Close Little Wars scenarios and inspirations blogposts.
What do I like most about the Close Wars rules ?
“Small numbers of men in forests”, possibly large figure sizes
I’ve always liked these simple fast Bish Bash Am-Bush rules using about 20 to 25 odd figures each side. If rules have figures representing more than 1 figure: 1 man I get brain freeze and lose interest …
With such small numbers, you can also have Close Little Wars games set in many periods with only needing a few figures each side. Alternatively as I usually play Bronte style “imagi-nations”, I often mix the periods up if suitable figures aren’t around; this is not far from the plot of the 1969 Dr. Who ‘The War Game’ episodes (still available in book, audiobook or DVD form). https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_Games
2. “The terrain must be crowded with material”
“To play chess one needs a chessboard”, Featherstone writes as his opening to chapter 3, “How to Lay Out a Battlefield”.
After years of raiding and returning natural materials to the garden and yard for Close Wars terrain, I tried not very successfully making my own interlocking paper hexes (a bit like those “endless landscape” cards from Tobar / Hawkin’s Bazaar). Fiddly and unfulfilling. Much more happily, I then found on Ebay several damaged starter boxes of plastic MB ‘Heroscape’ sets, bought mostly to acquire the interlocking plastic hex tiles of rock, water, mud (and whatever else you paint them as ).
The starter sets include some useful fantastic / fantasy figures, dragons and usual (to me) incomprehensible rules. I think this game system bombed in the US and UK, apart from a very very niche cult following, hence the cheap starter sets around. I bought Heroscape partly so that I can build quick 3D landscapes for these Close Wars scenarios.
Heroscape is almost a 3D kind of early Minecraft but also combines well with natural materials. You can use the hexes as they come already coloured. Alternatively you can flock them, gravel them with railway ballast or fine beach sand / stones or paint them.
Piled up with garden or hard sourced twig logs, stones, lichen and moss bushes and other impassable features, these Heroscape hexes work really well with even just a small tray or table for a short skirmish. Being hexes, with adapted rules, there is no need for rulers and measuring inches.
“Fill any bare spaces with pieces of twig to represent fallen logs and trees …” Donald Featherstone.
Using natural materials to enhance the hex boards feels a little like the joy of Garden Wargames but with the comfort of indoors! A little less fuss about wet weather and creaky knees but still retaining some of the childhood fun of “fight them on the beaches” (sandpit), the “landing grounds” (lawn), the “jungles and forests” (shrubbery and flower beds) of childhood. A bit of dirt, some fresh air and sunshine, all that the childhood gurus want for modern children held prisoner indoors by tiny screens. Maybe Heroscape hexes are the indoor Terrarium or Bottle Garden version of garden wargaming, but it’s not far off the improvised spirit of H.G. Wells’ Floor Games and Little Wars use of real sprigs of bush and hedge trimmings.
I have also rediscovered on Project Gutenberg the original HG Wells Little Wars rules that I read once as a child in reprint and could never borrow again from my local branch library. It’s charmingly illustrated with line drawings in a suitably childish toy soldier way. Floor Gamesby Wells is also available on Project Gutenberg.
3. Flexible scales and figure sizes
My version of Donald Featherstone’s Close Wars rules and these interconnecting Heroscape hexes work really well with my original childhood 15mm Peter Laing English Civil War figures. I have been buying up some EBay oddments of Peter Laing figures, becoming more collectable now that Peter Laing has retired and the moulds vanished. (More on collecting Peter Laing in future blogposts.)
The rules and hexes work equally well with Airfix OO/HO or 1:72 figures.
As I scale up to DIY made ‘cakes of death’ figures (round about an inch high) or 30 to 40mm Prince August and Schneider home cast figures, I shall have to rethink the original Close Wars inches or my hexed up Bish Bash Am-Bush movement and shooting ranges.
Keeping the same inch / hex move and fire ranges for different scale figures presents some problems. Presumably the bigger the figure, the shorter the time period each hex move represents (if you simplistically keep to the same hex movement ranges) ? This doesn’t solve the firing range problem though.
There are some interesting thoughts on scaling up and down ranges and distances on the Sheil’s USA simple ‘sandpit’ rules for using plastic pound store figures on the Sheil family’s lovely USA Toy Army Men section of their Thor Trains website, adaptable to the garden, beach, sandpit or floor (though even these rapidly become a little complex for me).
“You decide what the basic range is. All others are multiples of that range.”
The Sheil family “Jersey Shore Battle Games: The Basics”
More on ranges and scales and Sheil family rules etc on a future blogpost The Sheil Sandpit rules seem to be in the spirit of H.G. Wells’ original rules.
And finally …
Close Little Wars, Bish Bash Bush! or Bish Bash Am-Bush!
Rules adapted from ‘Close Wars’ the 2 page Appendix of Donald Featherstone’s War Games (1962) in respectful tribute to Donald Featherstone (1918-2013)
Fast, simple and often fatal rules for small troop action versus ‘natives’ in cluttered bush terrain on a small scale table or hex grid for 15mm and 20mm troops or even outdoors with 54 mm troops in the garden, yard or sand pit.
Suits Cowboys, Indians, Bandits, Pirates, French-Indian wars, Natives and others … Whatever you have …
Especially suitable for solo play.
Donald Featherstone sets out simple aims or what would now be called Victory Conditions:
The aim of each force unless otherwise described is:
1. to seek out and destroy their enemy.
2. Alternatively, to get at least 50% of your troops to the opposite enemy baseline
However for each game, you can set your own scenario end or Victory Conditions. This usually involves fighting to the last man, but occasionally involves rescuing or escorting to safety the Governor General’s Daughter (always the same handy Airfix Wagon Train girl or lady civilian) or the secret plans.
Natives on foot move 9 inches per move or 3 hex / squares.
Troops in groups of 3 or less also move 9 inches or 3 hex / squares.
Uphill moves count as 2 hex / squares or half a move e.g. 4.5 inches.
Troops in groups of 4 or more move only 6 inches per move or 2 hex / squares. (Uphill moves of 1 hex square).
If deemed passable, Fording streams take 3 inches or 1 hex to cross. Fording places or bridges can be marked out.
Bogs and marshes (if deemed passable) at half speed eg 1 or 2 hex squares.
Moves on clear paths or roads (if they exist) have 3 inch extra or 1 hex extra BONUS.
Firing (if range of fire clear)
Range of rifles and longbows or crossbows (slingshots?) – 12 inches or 4 hexes
Pistols and spears half range – 6 inches or 2 hexes.
Throw one d6 dice per firing man: 6 scores a hit.
If firer is under cover or in buildings, 5 or 6 scores a hit on enemy.
For each man hit, throw a casualty saving throw.
If fired on, each casualty has a d6 thrown for him. 4,5,6 wounded and carry on. If 123, casualty is deaded.
If casualty under cover, 3,4,5,6 wounded and carry on. 123 deaded.
To check line of sight / range of fire, the Lionel Tarr reversed periscope can be used for fun to get you down to table top toy soldier eye level.
Turns consist of four sections:
a) First side moves (possible melee)
b) Other side fires.
c) First side fires
d) Other side moves (possible melee)
Throw dice at start of each game turn for each side to see who moves first.
Variations on this include: 1st side Move, 2nd side Move, 1st side Fire, 2nd side Fire.
Melee / Messy Bish Bash Bush bit!
Assume each man has something to fight at close hand with (pistols, clubs, swords, rifles, bayonets, fists or boots, etc)
We are playing 1:1 scale each figure represents one man.
Melee is joined when one group of figures invades or faces the other square / hex.
You can add +1 to d6 throw for attacking side if you choose / can be bothered. This is what Featherstone calls impetus bonus.
Choose pairs (of attacker vs. defender) and throw 1 d6 for each man involved.
Attacker can have the + 1 added to their d6 dice throw (if you choose or can be bothered).
Highest score wins, loser throws casualty saving throw to see if killed 1-3 or only wounded / unharmed.
Continue until each man has been involved in melee.
“Usual dice saving throws for melee Casualties” – Donald Featherstone. Or not if you want to speed things up.
Melee Morale Test (if desired / wanted / can be bothered)
At end of melee session, throw d6 for each side to see who wins melee morale test and who retires 1 hex backwards.
Then d6 again for losers to see if routed:
Throw 1-3 in rout unable to fire or move further that round. Roll again next move to see if still routed and retreating. A suitable coloured marker can be added to remember this.
or throw 4-6 in good order, retreat only one pace / hex.
Not really got round to adding cavalry or cannons yet in this Last of the Mohicans / Robin Hood / Hollywood B Movie cowboy ambush bash up or mash up.
Featherstone also adds the final paragraph section about attacking troops in the flank or rear that you can choose to use or not. Keep it as simple as you like.
Ancient warriors rules
If using your Knights, ancients or partly armoured men, Featherstone (and Tony Bath?) Ancients rules from War Games (1962) had various protection/ survival elements modifying casualty saving throws after firing or melee. Use as you see fit:
If casualty unarmoured and without shield, throw 6 to live.
If casualty wearing armour or shield, 5 or 6 to live.
If armour and shield, 4,5 or 6 to live.
Unarmoured cavalry 5 or 6 to live (6 saves rider alone).
Armoured cavalry 4, 5 or 6 to live (4 saves rider alone).
Inevitably over time, new troops acquired will need new rules. What about cavalry, if they can operate in such Close Wars terrain? What about artillery? It might be a small forest outpost fort you are defending with your single gun … An artillery train would be near impossible in such cluttered terrain as the British fought over in America.
Close Wars has many possible small fort scenarios – awaiting the relieving column, escorting a supply wagon, sending out or rescuing a patrol.
Most important rule
If you’re ever not sure of the rules or what to do next, especially if playing solo: If in doubt about a decision or situation devise a suitable d6 dice throw e.g. Roll 1 to 3, group retreat to safety, roll 4 to 6 attack nearest enemies.
Another example of a rule that was needed on the spot when troops had some rescued civilians / the Governor General’s daughter with them and were surrounded in a building: If figures are holed up in a building, throw 6 for automatic risking breakout (unless group decide or are ordered to leave). But then do civilians always follow orders? Throw again: 1 to 3 non combatants stay, 4 to 6 non combatants or civilians leave with the troops.
Another example of a “made up dice throw rule” which emerged: Crossing bridges (or fordable rivers)
Throw d6 for each man, roll 1= Lose footing and lost in river, to be eaten by crocodiles and piranhas etc; you can use casualty saving throws or not as required.
Officer casualties: If needed to determine an officer casualty amongst group, throw a coloured dice (for officer) amongst X others for correct X number of men. Lowest score loses etc. To be fair, officers don’t have much of a magical morale rule or role anyway in this Close Little Wars scenario.
Add rules or make them up as needed, play as you go …
Misquoting Miley Cyrus, “This is our house , this is our rules …” and I’m sticking to them for now. Anyway I don’t tend to argue with myself, playing solo.