Friday, 20 April 2018

My Wargaming History

I find it fascinating to hear how wargamers got into the hobby and how their interest developed over the years. The profile section of the blog is limited, so to give readers an idea of my wargaming background I provide this history of my hobby.

I can probably trace the start of my wargaming to the mid 1960's when, as a 7 or 8 year old, my pocket money was just enough to buy a box of Airfix figures. My friends did likewise and we had some rather violent battles in the garden rockery or in sandcastles made in our sandpit. This normally consisted of us throwing stuff at them. As technology improved we introduced a rather more sedate rolling of marbles. This was followed by the discovery of cannon that fired matchsticks in our local toy shop. Life could not get any better!  

Then for Christmas 1970 my Grandparents bought me Introduction to Battle Gaming by the late Terry Wise. This was a revelation to me. I read the book in its entirety several times marvelling at the games Terry was playing and the rules he used.

This kickstarted my 'serious' wargaming. No more subjecting my figures to various missiles. It was dice and tape measures from now on. My early games attempted to emulate those in the book and using Terry's rules. And those periods in the book, Ancients (Romans and Carthaginians), ACW and WW2 have been a constant for me ever since.

I had an 8' x 4' board in a draughty cold garage which was fine for me. I was young and immune to sub-zero temperatures! Here my WW2 is mostly Airfix with some Minitanks thrown in. I had Centurions and Leopard tanks standing in for anything British or German in good old Hollywood style. 

ACW featured heavily in my games. In these early days I played solo as well as with friends. I quickly found that using your imagination can be just as much fun playing solo, and this is one such game. I believe it was my poor depiction of First Bull Run. Hardly any of the figures were painted. The grey and blue plastic was sufficient for me. A few yellow and brown figures from the Airfix Cowboys and High Chaparral boxes provided an irregular look to my Confederates.

With the film 'Waterloo' coming out in 1970 I became hooked on Napoleonics. Here Airfix Napoleonics in battle on the floor. I regularly used playing cards to lay out the road system!

In the early 70's I was involved with my friends in forming a club in Hemel Hempstead, Herts. We met at a local school and it quickly took off. Adults took over the reins in running the club and one of our more prominent members was Ted Herbert. The author of a set of Colonial Wars skirmish rules which was quite prominent at the time. I bumped into him at Salute 3 or 4 years ago and he was still playing the same rules!

More books followed, the most notable being 'Battle Practical Wargaming' by Charles Grant and 'Sea Battle Games' by P Dunn. Both heavily influenced me at the time with the latter introducing me to Naval gaming.

There was little around in the way of commercially produced 1/1200 waterline models so I and one of my friends built them out of balsa wood and pins for barrels. We actually did pretty good helped by a couple of books I had with 1/1200 scale profile plans of WW2 ships. This is part of my fleet in harbour consisting of spare pieces of balsa wood on the carpet floor. An Arfix plane flies menacingly overhead. Not sure what the two feet represents!

The rules used were Mr Dunn's taken from his book. They were card based and damn good fun!

In 1971 I joined an ECW re-enactment group, The Sealed Knot. I was a pikeman in the Parliamentarian Sir William Waller's Regiment of Foote. This brought an interest in wargaming the ECW. No Airfix figures for this period! I therefore, turned to Minifigs and Hinchliffe in 25mm. A local toy and model shop stocked wargame figures on the 1st floor alongside model railways. I can clearly remember staring longingly at the shiny metal figures ranked up in glass cabinets. You literally bought them off the shelf, or in this case out of the cabinet, using as much of the minimal money I had to buy a handful of figures at a time.

The first rules I used by a Mike Wall. They are pretty basic but I found them to be fun to play. No hardbacked tomes of colour in those days! 

In the back are advertisements for Minifigs, Hinton Hunt Figures, Les Higgins Miniatures and Hinchliffe Models. 

My early collection of mainly Minifigs and some Hinchliffe ECW 25mm figures in my front room. By now it was 1973 or 74 and I was about to leave school. 

Although I continued wargaming, it was very sporadic. I joined the Merchant Navy as a Deck Cadet in 1975 which meant being away from home for much of the time. A 2nd Mate on one of my ships was also a wargamer and I can recall him lining up his 25mm Greeks for painting in his cabin.

When I was home on leave I spent most of my time in a drunken state out with my mates! I was still in Sir William Waller's Regt which was now part of the breakaway English Civil War Society having risen to the lofty heights of Lieutenant. Sadly I was also in a drunken state for many of the battle re-enactments!

On leaving the Merchant Navy in 1977 it enabled me to spend more time on wargaming graduating to WRG 6th Edition and WRG 2nd Edition Renaissance rules.

My Ancients collection was still Airfix at this time with just a small number of Minifigs 25mm Greeks and Persians. 

In the early 1980's my interest in Napoleonics was in the ascendancy using the WRG rules 1685 - 1845. It was at this stage that I intended to refight Waterloo using 6mm figures. Or in this case 5mm from Heroics and Ros. 

The figure scale was going to be 1:25 rather than the 1:50 in the rule book. Throughout the early to mid 80's I continued to build this collection and fought many battles solo or with friends. 

This was my second experience of wargaming in the micro scale having played WW2 using Heroics & Ros and a small number of GHQ tanks in the 70's. 

I unfortunately took very few photos of my 5mm Naps but here is a rather blurred picture of a game I played in 1983 against a friend who was collecting the Prussian army at the time.

The early 80's also saw the last outing for my 25mm ECW figures before I stupidly sold them! Here I fought the Battle of Newbury solo. As you can see I had no pride and fielded plenty of unpainted figures.

From 1988 to 1991 I took a break from wargaming replacing it with model railways. This brief flirtation with another hobby ended when I realised which one I preferred. It also coincided with the introduction of DBA and then DBM. DBM in particular had me hooked. Throughout the 90's most of my wargaming involved DBM Ancients and it included some competition play. I bought my then young sons Warhammer Fantasy and 40k figures but found that I could not get into that universe myself, although I did enjoy playing Heroquest.

This is an Early Imperial Roman army (Minifigs) that I used in my early competitions.

I later built Carthaginian (Essex), Polybian Roman (Donnington) and Wars of the Roses armies (mix of manufacturers) for competitions. The last army was to be a competition killer Neo Assyrian which I still have but never completed painting.

During this period I was fairly heavily involved in club games.

In the late 90's I grew tired of DBM and began exploring other periods again. This consisted of 15mm ACW Fire & Fury, 15mm WW2 Rapid Fire, 28mm Darkest Africa and various other odds and sods.

In the late 90's I sold all my Heroics & Ros Napoleonics to buy a computer! However, I restarted this period using the fantastic AB Figures 15mm (18mm) with the new General de Brigade rules. Throughout most of the following decade my wargaming was dominated by ACW, Napoleonics and WW2 all in 15mm. I also dabbled with Warhammer Ancients, ECW, Wild West and Pirates.

I attended Historicon in 2004 which coincided with an upsurge in interest in Colonial. I had acquired some 28mm figures to be used with The Sword and the Flame rules. By Historicon I had downsized to 15mm. I went bonkers in the trade hall and bought half a ton of 15mm Colonial lead, 3 Sudan steamers and various other craft and terrain. My son bought a guitar while we were in the colonies and I still cannot work out how we managed to fly home! That lead pile and river craft are still sat in boxes unpainted.

ACW using the original Fire & Fury Brigade level rules featured in a good deal of the few games I was able to play during this decade, mainly due to my job taking up so much of my time. My house at the time had an integral garage which I crudely converted into a wargames room.

A Napoleonic campaign with my son and a friend of his using General de Brigade rules and the Warplan 5/5 system proved to be a forerunner of the current Napoleonic campaign I am running in 6mm. This campaign was never completed but it did provide for some fun games.

A couple of WW2 projects began this decade including Op Market Garden from the Rapid Fire scenario book. Figures and vehicles were mainly from the Peter Pig and Battlefront ranges. This is a photo from the XXX Corps Breakout scenario using Rapid Fire rules. This is now the basis of a new project but in 6mm using Blitzkrieg Commander rules.

By now I was increasingly playing solo apart from the odd game with my sons.

Another project that has technically not finished is Op Nostalgia which featured in a couple of Miniature Wargames magazines in 1994. It is a fictional allied invasion of Greek Islands in the Aegean and includes air, naval and land wargames. Whether I continue this or start afresh in 6mm remains to be seen.

The photo is from an invasion of Rhodes game.

Towards the end of the decade I finally launched a fictional Colonial Wars campaign in 15mm loosely based on a map of Sudan and using The Sword and the Flame rules. I have yet to decide whether to continue this campaign or start afresh.

A house move in 2009 also heralded a change in direction for my wargaming. Refighting Waterloo was back on the cards when I discovered Baccus 6mm figures. In September of that year I began painting my first Napoleonic 6mm figures for my Waterloo project. Running in tandem would be a Peninsular War project and a fictional Napoleonic campaign.

My first campaign with one of my sons used Grande Armee rules by Sam Mustafa with figures on 60mm x 30mm bases. We had great fun but for me something was missing. I have always felt that element based rules were too much like boardgames. I like single figure casualties with units reducing in size due to attrition and the use of formations. Additionally, although the bases looked great, they tended to sit on top of terrain rather than within it which took something away from the appearance of the game.

I went through the laborious process of rebasing all my Napoleonics to small bases to be used predominantly with GdB rules. A new Napoleonic campaign was started which is detailed elsewhere in the blog.

My ACW and WW2 followed the route to 6mm. ACW figures were based similarly to my Napoleonics for use with Fire and Fury rules. A few games later I settled on GdB's stablemate, Guns at Gettysburg for ACW. I have yet to settle on a Campaign for ACW so presently all games tend to be scenarios based on historical battles.

Most of my WW2 had been using Rapid Fire rules which are themselves inspired by those earlier rules by the likes of Terry Wise. However, for 6mm I have gone with Blitzkrieg Commander 2. Although these are element based I can live with it for now as I find the rules themselves highly enjoyable.

It had always been my intention to play AWI and about 10 years ago I flirted with 20mm plastics. Then I came across the magnificent 10mm AWI range by Pendraken. I sold my 20mm and have now painted a few hundred 10mm. Like many of my scenario based projects, they follow as much as possible a chronological order of battles. So far only Concord and Lexington has been played which will be added to the blog in due course. I had considered switching to 6mm to standardise my figures and terrain but I just cannot bring myself to sell my 10mm. I have resigned myself to having to buy a few 10mm buildings and using my existing 6mm and 15mm terrain whenever possible. The rules used are another of the GdB family, British Grenadier.

I also turned to 6mm for my Ancients with Early Imperial Roman and Ancient British armies constructed. I test played a number of rules including Hail Caesar, WAB, War & Conquest, Impetus, Command and Colors, and in the photo, Sword & Spear. Sad to say none did it for me. I even considered a return to WRG 6th Edition or DBA and DBM. They all had their merits and I can understand why gamers enjoy them. Just not for me.

My ancients were rebased following the convention of my Napoleonics and ACW. So far I have given up on the commercial sets of rules. I am currently creating my own using the GdB engine as the basis. A couple of test games so far have proved to be highly enjoyable and more in tune with my taste.

This is very much a work in progress and the rules will be used in the new Kingmaker campaign that has been started.

This brings me up to date. I will update this as my history progresses.


  1. Interesting reflection on your wargaming roots, Jon. I wager most of us in our age group have similar provenance to our wargaming upbringing and maturity.

    1. Thanks Jonathan. Yep, definitely the Airfix generation.

  2. Excellent reflection on your wargaming life. It's uncanny, I know and indeed have the majority of the books and rules you referred to during the early years of your wargaming. WW2 wargaming proper, as opposed to firing matchsticks out of that huge green field gun, I can still see it altho for the life of me I cannot remember who made it, corgi, lesney..... was really kickstarted for me by Operation Warboard by the late Gavin Lyall, indeed I made up all the grids in perspex which I have to this day. Brilliant days when every new publication by those giants of wargaming were eagerly anticipated. Great write up and journey down memory lane.

    1. Thanks Karl. I think it could have been a Lesney. Came with little shells which soon got lost. Not too worried about Health 'n Safety in those days! I know we tend to look back on those days with rose-tinted glasses, but despite the scarcity of figures and terrain compared to now, it always felt a little special to me.

  3. Good and enjoyable post, reflecting parallels with some of my own journey, something that I think many who read the post will also feel. Nice to see that you still have photographs of the early stuff and I smiled when you said you laid cards down for a road, that is exactly the sort of improvised battlefield that many of us grew up with and thought nothing less of it for that.

    Looking forward to your 'projects and plans' post.

    1. I have found it fascinating when listening to Meeples and Miniatures podcast, the new contributors recounting how they got into the hobby. I can recall thinking when Warhammer was all the rage in the 90's that it would only be a matter of time before that generation discovered historical wargaming. A number of those are now figure and terrain manufacturers as well as rule writers!

  4. Very interesting Jon and I always enjoy reading about how other Wargamers got into the hobby and how their passion for the hobby has evolved.

  5. Great read. I too moved forward with the Terry Wise book. I had the pleasure of meeting him in 1986 at Athena Books in Doncaster.

    1. I envy you Mark. I would have dearly liked to have met him and the icing on the cake would be seeing one of his early Airfix battles in full flow. It's probably Terry's style of wargaming that gave me an allergy to element based rules!

  6. It was fun reading about your journey through time via warg ames. I (and others) can readily share some of your experiences. Interesting how each of us got to the present.

  7. I too enjoyed your narrative. Considering that I began my own involvement in the hobby circa 1967, it is actually interesting how *little* overlap there is in the rules and figures we each have used. WRG Renaissance and Minifigs ECW figures (I still have mine) are one of the few areas of commonality... aside from Warplan 5/5, that is! We would have crossed oaths at Historicon 2004, BTW!

    My own narrative (wuich needs updating for the past 20 - 25 years!) is, in reverse chronological order, at:

    1. Your wargaming past Peter is a thoroughly enjoyable read. I like the catapults idea although a Humbrol tin lid fired at my minis would cause wholesale destruction! Lol. Like you say we have had few areas of commonality but I wonder if that is more to do with the way in which wargaming has evolved in the USA compared to here. I notice that Jack Scruby's early games had multi-figure bases whereas it was not really until WRG 7th Edition ancients followed by DBA and DBM that this style was adopted here. I appreciate there may have been exceptions along the way but all the main rules had single figure casualties up to that point.

      I had a great time at Historicon and made to feel very welcome. We participated in 2 ACW (Fire & Fury and Johnny Reb), a Napoleonic, Colonial, Ancients and WW2 Market Garden games. Excellent stuff. We also took the opportunity of visiting Gettysburg. A memorable experience.

  8. Interesting reading, Introduction to Battlegaming was my first wargaming book too. My Airfix models were quickly recruited into new games with rules that did not involve the throwing of missiles at them.

    1. Ahh your Airfix figures clearly have not experienced the heat of battle Lol. Some of mine still had to scars of battle long after I turned 'serious'.