Some unprepossessing modern pound store plastic ‘penny’ figures (£1 for a tub of 100 or more recently 80 figures from Poundland) have proved great conversion potential for my skirmish games, at the slightly odd size of roughly 36mm.
Over the last few months I have been busy creating small skirmish forces of 25 to 30 figures a side for my portable hex game boards.
Strange modern Rambo-ish machine gunner figures become a set of Desert Warrior Spearman, to join my previous Desert Warrior riflemen shown here:
Some kilted Colonial Highlanders conversions to join my Redcoats, straight out of my favourite Carry On film, Carry On Up The Khyber with Private Jimmy Widdle of the 3rd Foot and Mouth, the ‘Devils in Skirts’ no less!
Trying to find interesting 54mm civilian figures is always a challenge. Apart from an unusual set ordered online from China, it usually involves looking out for figures with playsets or vehicles.
An expensive way to acquire a few figures!
Parading Through The Zoo
It was always frustrating as a child to have a zoo or farm or a parade set out but no visitors to watch; it usually resulted in lots of troops endlessly parading with their bands through the model zoo (H.G. Wells Floor Games style) along with assorted military staff feeding the animals, selling tickets etc.
Zoo animals were an important and long running part of any lead or plastic figure series, from Britain’s onwards.
To be fair, military bands and other forms of entertainment and display from balloon rides and fetes to fireworks to lifeboat launches were not unknown in the Victorian zoo such as Bristol Zoo. A bandstand was an everyday part of parks, seaside promenades, botanic gardens and often zoos.
This carried right through at Manchester’s Belle Vue Zoo from Victorian times into the 1950s, they staged elaborate military and historical tableaux through both world wars with a local cast of hundreds. Their theatrical stock of obsolete muskets were borrowed by the early Home Guard units locally in 1940.
Today, Edinburgh Zoo has a penguin called Nils Olaf “commissioned” into the Norwegian Royal Guard and occasionally visited and paraded by his fellow (human) comrades in their magnificent full dress uniform.
The Zoo and Wartime Morale
I have 1939 ‘propaganda’ press pictures of servicemen enjoying elephant rides at Belle Vue Zoo Manchester. This was sort of true of many British Zoos in wartime – there were special rates for servicemen (and lady friends) in uniform, entertainments in WW1 for injured servicemen.
In the first few weeks of being closed to the public on ARP grounds in September 1939, London Zoo made arrangements for servicemen to walk round for the animals to look at. ‘The Zoo’ also made their canteen over to the RAF as the big houses around became RAF Regent’s Park full of training aircrew.
Britain’s and other lead toy soldier manufacturers made plenty of civilians and farm workers in the more pacifist aftermath of WW1. Plastic manufacturers haven’t widely followed suit and painted railway figures in this 54mm /1:32 scale are often quite expensive.
Failing the mounting of a full scale military parade through your zoo, Wild West town etc. all day and everyday, some normal civilians are useful for floor games, sandpit games or wargames.
F.E. Perry in his quirky First Book of War Games and Second Book of War Games often featured civilian or town settings alongside his wargames scenario / photographs.
These feature sets came from a zoo gift shop with two zebra striped jeeps handy for conversion, some brilliant wooden watch towers and rope ways (of which more anon), a couple of odd sized animals and these interesting modern civilians. Similar figures are made for dinosaur playsets.
Something similar to the girl child in the photos has recently been repainted and reused in a Slinkachu type way on the front cover of an art photography book about the recent group of artists / photographers playing with scale for satiric, unsettling or comic effect.
Microworlds contains some slightly disturbing dystopian or to some tasteless items from a range of photographers.
More plastics including civilians are featured on my Pound Store Plastic Warriors sister blogsite –
Police and firefighters are now available sometimes in pound store tubes, suitable for conversion.
Back in the 1980s there were Britain’s Deetail nurses, doctors and construction workers, not forgetting the Britain’s farm workers ranging from lead to Herald plastic and a modern farm worker range still around in toy shops or online today.
In future blogposts I will feature more civilian figures to be used for game scenarios from the Chinese made sets available online to the useful USA manufactured Toob “heritage” plastic figures roughly in 54mm, also purchased online.
Steve Weston’s Plastic Warrior website also feature an excellent set of Mexican Wild West civilians or peasants.
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.
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“:
Great uniforms amongst enemy troops, but as a child I couldn’t work out why the Police in Tintin for example of what I took to be a supposedly British / English setting for Captain Haddock of Marlinspike Hall looked so odd.
Had Herge (I wondered as a child) never been to Britain? Slowly as I got older I realised that Herge was drawing mostly European / Belgian settings and that the books are translated all over the world.
This ‘Glocal’ World (both Global and Local) of Herge in translation has strange villains and fake euro Imagi-Nations such as Borduria in the Calculus Affair and the regime of the villainous Kurvi-Tasch with his strangely fascist moustache logo on his very Nazi looking generals, troops and 1950s looking tanks.
Even though Tintin goes back to the 1940s, to me his books are the ‘Funny Little Cold Wars’ of the 1950s and 1960s in graphic novel / comic strip version, akin in style and feel to the early 1960s James Bond movies with the suave and stylish Sean Connery and his menacing enemies.
A range of plastic Tintin figures / key ring figures is available online in various sizes.
Great inspiration for some enemy troops as shown with generic enemy “red troops” or “red guards” in my Back to Basics DIY figure making blogpost:
Making up your own enemies, uniforms and all isn’t that far from the truth.
The Milihistriot Website (c/o Sheil family USA website) has an interesting section with coloured plates of threat, enemy or “aggressor” troops with adapted uniforms from military exercises:
Green crested helmet enemy troops as just one example of some colourful training enemies from a 1964 MIlihistriot article soldiers of Never-Never Land by James Glazer, based on US troop manuals. These are archived at: http://www.thortrains.com/online/aggressor1.htm
Examples of 30-101 / these US troop manuals can be seen at:
These manuals have obviously inspired many of the imaginative paint finishes and uniforms on the Sheil range of vintage home cast Toy Soldier Art figures. More have been created on the same principle at their Spy Troops page: http://www.thortrains.com/online/spytroopies.htm
The Tintin / Calculus Affair Kurvi-Tasch troops also have a look of the strange Atlantic modern troop figures that occasionally and erratically appeared in shops in the 1980s, featuring an odd sort of Euro army appearance. They looked strangely foreign, even futuristic on occasion (not quite American, not British and not German). Only later did I discover that they are meant to be Italian / Euro troop types. Atlantic figures and their strange box art are well covered in the Airfix’s Competitors chapter of my much-thumbed copy of Airfix’s Little Soldiers by Jean Christophe Carbonel (Histoire & Collections publishers, 2009). Some of the Atlantic figures were recently reissued by NEXUS.