The Land of Counterpane

 

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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.

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Jessie Willcox Smith’s famous illustration of the Land Of Counterpane (Image source: Wikipedia / Wikipedia)

“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:

http://stevensonmuseum.org/the-museum/collections/personal-objects/

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.

RLS

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.

Another favourite illustration of the Land Of Counterpane is a 1966 version by Britain’s house painter and illustrator Brian Wildsmith, who recently died aged 86 in August 2016, again with the usual Wellsian red versus blue troops. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Wildsmith

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Detail of the red and blue troops in Brian Wildsmith’s illustration of Land of Counterpane ( Child’s Garden of Verses, 1966 version)

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 Wargaming by 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.

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Rough sketch of the ‘terrain’.

Using  Hex boards it should be possible to recreate the 3D terrain of legs, knees and bumps(adaisies) to recreate those Counterpane type battles.

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Twin Peaks, Foot Hills – The Counterpane terrain transformed into hexscape terrain in my notebook (Man of TIN)

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.

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My  sketches of Jessie Willcox Smith’s troop types (Man of TIN notebooks)

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.

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/09/close-little-wars-featherstones-simplest-rules/

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:

 

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Delusional sketches of how to turn that childhood bed in the Land of Counterpane into something with even more gaming or  play value.
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More delusional sketching on how to turn that Counterpane childhood bed into a more attractive gaming feature.
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Reimagining that Land of Counterpane child’s bed with a more Dambusters / Barnes Wallis theme …

More interesting blogposts from the web on Robert Louis Stevenson and toy soldiers:

http://georland.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/robert-louis-stevenson-voyage-to-winward.html

http://georland.blogspot.co.uk/2013_12_01_archive.html

http://georland.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/robert-louis-stevenson-intimate.html

Pages from Stevenson’s wargames journal the Yallobally Record, in an article Stevenson at Play,  was recently reprinted on the ever interesting Vintage Wargaming blog:

http://vintagewargaming.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/robert-louis-stevenson.html

Stevenson’s ideal home has a Wargames loft (much like Donald Featherstone!)

http://vintagewargaming.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/robert-louis-stevensons-ideal-house.html

A reprint of  Project Gutenberg Child’s  Garden of Verses including this simple illustration below –

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/25617/25617-h/25617-h.htm#Page_33

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Posted by Mark, Man of TIN blog, December 2016.

 

 

 

My Portable Hex Games Board

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Portable hex games board with Turn notes in progress; Vintage Airfix desert warriors versus 1960s Airfix 8th Army (first version)  fight over Heroscape sand  and rock hexes.  White aquarium gravel and tufts of artificial grass set the arid scene (Board / photo: Man of TIN)
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‘Aerial’ photo of the two box lid,  recording where figures were  during a break of play in my Peter Laing WW2 skirmish game. End of Turn 2 (shown by the dice)

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.

John uses both hex and chess boards (with cool movement arrows for the photos).

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.

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My current portable game board with Peter Laing redcoat figures versus assembled Laing natives – watch out for the plastic crocodile lurking in the river, in case you think of fording it!

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!

Improvements to my wooden portable game board 

I have now found a second similar sized wooden box lid so can put the two together as I did for a recent American Civil War and World War Two Skirmish. https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/peter-laing-american-civil-war-skirmish/

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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.

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The visual barrier of the two box lid edges can be seen here ahead of those Peter Laing Confederates  … Just carry on and pretend it isn’t here. 

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.

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Dice generated starting positions recorded on a Grid map of my box lids for a recent Peter Laing 15mm Hicksville Valley American Civil War skirmish game – see previous blog posts. 

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!

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Little tufts or clusters of artificial grass fill in the gaps between hexes and the side. A square or rectangular board also works well with railway scenery papers from PECO. Vintage Airfix figures in action. Photo: Man of TIN

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.

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Flocked hex tile and Peter Laing WW2 British infantry awaiting flock bases.

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  …

http://pijlieblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/dystopian-indoor-garden-battle.html

Posted by Mark Man of TIN, September 2016