Amongst the proliferation of so many plastic gaming figures today , I sometimes wonder what would have happened if the gaming clock was a reset to 1962, the year of first publication of Donald Featherstone’s War Games book.
Imagine, Groundhog Day style, that all you had available (going back in an “it’s 1962 again” time loop) were conversions of these figures:
Airfix S1 Guards band 1959
Airfix S2 Guards Colour party 1959
Airfix S3 Combat Infantry Group 1960
Airfix S4 Farm Stock 1960
Airfix S5 WW2 German Infantry 1960
Airfix S6 Civilians 1960
Airfix S7 Cowboys 1961
Airfix S8 Indians 1961
Donald Featherstone in his WW2 example game used Airfix figures and tank kits, featuring Set S3 Combat Infantry and Set S5 WW2 German Infantry. These gave me much pleasure as a gaming child as they were the same as figures that I recognised and had in our family collection.
By 1962 when Donald Featherstone’s War Games went to press and was published, the following lovely Airfix sets were issued, expanding the conversion possibilities:
Airfix S9 8th Army 1962
Airfix S10 Foreign Legion 1962
Airfix S11 Afrika Korps 1962
Airfix S12 American Civil War Union Infantry 1962
Airfix S13 American Civil War Confederate Infantry 1962
Airfix S14 American Civil War Artillery 1962
Airfix S15 Wagon Train 1962
So circa 1960-62, what were the paint and conversion possibilities available to gamers then or vintage gamers today?
From sketch book to first draft painting or repaint, I’m happy with the results so far with these Victorian British redcoat paint conversions of Airfix 1960 Infantry Combat Group:
Still a few final details to add to these figures, along with some natives or opposition.
The opposition could be these blue coated Danish style guardsmen, still unfinished in fine detailing.
I hope the late Donald Featherstone would have liked these simple redcoat figures c. Airfix 1960/2.
Several years later, many of the conversion ideas of his and others featured in his book Military Modelling were made easier by production of WW1 figures, the American War of Independence figures and the Waterloo range.
Colonial redcoats could by 1966 be made from Airfix WW1 German Infantry:
These are part-painted, first draft Victorian Redcoats formed from some spare Airfix WW1 German Infantry, a suggestion made in books at the time.
And if these redcoats on land required any naval back up, Airfix Cowboys could make a passable Royal Naval landing party …
turning these Cowboys (top right) from American Civil War infantry conversions into Victorian sailors something like these Fimo cake mould conversions sailors.
More paint conversions and retro / vintage Airfix c. 1962 to share with you in future blogposts.
Back, back, back into the past in our Airfix time machine …
Plastic toy soldier figures (from Airfix to pound store figures) made in soft slightly flexible polythene frequently arrive still covered in traces of a chemical mould releasing agent that stops the plastic sticking to the mould. It also unfortunately stops paint sticking easily to plastic.
So before you start undercoating with paint (usually black, white or the base / core colour) picking out even simple details in flesh, silver or black, a quick wash is required.
Looing back ( I never noticed or did this as a child) even vintage Airfix from its earliest blue box days advised that “to ensure a clean painting surface, it is advisable to wash with detergent before painting.”
So a washing of the spears and rifles, of warriors and their weapons is required.
First a quick squirt of washing up liquid into a washing up bowl of warm water to degrease your figures, followed by a gentle soapy scrub of handfuls of figures with a soft washing up brush.
2. I usually use a kitchen drying rack to pile up and drain figures. Check that no escapees can go down the plug hole.
3. Pop the still slightly soapy figures into fresh cold water, then use a kitchen sieve or strainer to scoop the figures out.
4. Again a drying rack will help then pop them onto a tea towel spread them around and leave them to dry slowly for several hours.
A bit of a surreal swimming lesson or amphibious landing to look at.
Oddly some colours of the same figures (like the mini red ones here) float whilst the same figures in green or silver don’t.
This amounts to pampering and spa treatment of tiny plastic soldiers!
Raking through and spreading out the figures has a lovely almost shellfish sound, indeed the whole process feels like a bizarre cooking lesson.
You now have shiny, smart and clean figures ready for painting, ready to attack and defend and express your imagination and character.
The range of Poundland smaller figures can be seen on this previous blogpost:
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.