Monday, 14 December 2020

The Spartan Wargamer!

 

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No .... not a rufty tufty old bruiser with a sharp pointy stick thing! Rather, this post is all about cramming a wargame world into a single small box. “Impossible” you shout, “I’ve done it once before” I cry.


But of course that was then and this is now! So a harder task for sure, but this is a post that tickles the fancy of this blog’s roots of ‘wargaming in small spaces’, a gaming sentiment that I know interests a goodly section of the audience, who are either currently practising the dark art of gaming in small spaces or knowing that they soon might be, with plans of down sizing.


So if you are interested in a concept of down sizing to a single case / box, please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.



A mix of modern life and the ground work needed for getting a game to the table can often be a barrier to actually getting to the heart of the matter ....... gaming. Then we have storage and gaming area restrictions, plus other impact factors. At the moment, my constant companion - a bad back, is giving me grief and the only gaming I can do this week is being seated at the table with the game right under my nose and no stretching! So we can certainly add mobility to the list of practical obstacles to ‘bigger table fun’.


Boardgames very obviously fit the bill for me at the moment,  but what of the delights of a figures game? 


A few days ago, my mind was transported back in time (I promise this is not a nostalgia story) to my mid teens. Money wise, times were fairly tight for most families that I knew, so there wasn’t a lot of cash about for us to indulge to anything like the degree that almost seems the norm now if our magazines and blogs tell it right.


That actually left us fairly content with what we had or at least at ease with the reality that that was the situation, a case of ‘this is how it is, so get on with it’ and so consequently collections of anything were typically small and treasured.


I had a ‘few bits and bobs’ for my wargaming, so much so that pretty much the entirety of it could sit in a fairly small tatty old fashioned suitcase that my Grandfather had given me. In fact, to rather prove a point, in those days, I wouldn’t think ‘tatty’, it was just a personal space to me, which perhaps is just another indicator of how our mindset between then and now has changed. We don’t want to do tatty now!


Anyway, the point is that all of my wargame world at that time lived in the case, but that still gave gaming that was powerful enough for it to become the cornerstone to a life-long gaming passion.


So what was in the case of mystery? Well, other than some Grant / Featherstone books that I had on the bedroom bookshelf, I had just two working sets of rules in the case, these being Wargame Research Group Ancients 6th edition and Micro Tank Warfare (WWII) rules from Leicester Models - the latter needed teenage eyes just to read the gun penetration graphs!


The WWII forces consisted of a small tray of 1/300 micro tanks and infantry, bought locally as singles on a pocket money basis, with some small batches also ordered direct from Heroics & Ros, when a teenanger without a bank account could get a Postal Order from the Post Office. The ancient armies used Airfix Romans and Ancient Britons.


For terrain there were a few trees made from matchsticks with cotton wool glued to them and dyed green with watercolour poster paint and a hill made from stiff cushion foam, cut into decreasing circles and stitched together. A bag of fine railway modellers ballast was used to make roads and collected up again after the battle and that was it really.


There was a green cloth for the battlefield, but I suspect that sat on the suitcase, rather than in it. Anyway, there you go, enough stuff to see many battles and pass many happy hours at the table. 


So with the scene set for the wargame in a suitcase and with me wanting to get a bit of gaming done at the table, I have had a lot of fun over the past few days re-creating the wargamer’s suitcase, using a similar sized box and so here we go.





The rather snazzy cardboard box has an interior of 17” X 11½” and a depth of 5” and so is a fair representation of the small suitcase.





First in are two hefty rule books. The rather weighty Black Powder II and its ACW supplement ‘Glory Hallelujah’. For the small game, I will cut measurements down, converting inches to centimetres.


I should say that these battles will take place on my textured large pinboard, which is 34” x 22”, so just under a 2’ x 3’, so the forces can be used in this space and still have a little room to breathe.





Next up, a small hill (S&A Scenics), some latex fields (TimeCast) and a resin field (The Baggage Train), MDF fences (Battle 4Ground) and some home made hedges.





Then some latex river sections (TimeCast), a set of 10 trees (S&A Scenics) and a small MDF bridge.





These are the thinnest roads I have (Fat Frank on e-bay) and they scale nicely on a pinboard area.





Three buildings will be more than enough on a small board. These are resin wood plank buildings (Pendraken) that come as pre-paints.





Finally, the armies. I am keeping these within the limits of what I have previously described as ‘Pocket Armies’, so the Confederates have 8 infantry regiments (each with an 80mm frontage), 1 cavalry regiment and 2 guns, plus 3 command stands. The Union mirror that. These are Kallistra 12mm figures. There is enough room left in the tray for the trees to be given a safe space.





And this is what the box looks like when packed. There is a bit of space left for some dice, the tape measure and a small bag of lichen (Woodland Scenics).


Well, that’s me, all posh, dressed up and ready to go. Does this in any part resemble my teenage suitcase? yes and more. Even in 2020 there is enough in there to give an admirable sentiment of proper wargaming with a fit that is friendly to both gaming / storage space and budget. And who knows, even something like this as a gift to the right person might be the lift up that they need.


I think if I was to add another item, it would be the One Hour Wargames book by Neil Thomas, just for those 30 scenarios that are designed for a small space and 4 - 6 units per side.


Now to get some of this to the table. I feel the Action at Snake Pass Creek beckoning!


45 comments:

  1. Great post! Boy did that bring back memories.

    FWIW, I managed to get together the scenery and soldiers to run a Chain of Command game. It was fun. But...even in 15mm, the stuff takes up so much space. It's put me off doing anything full size. Now this post has made me think again. Maybe I need to go small.

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    1. Hi Ellis, I think it is a post that will strike a chord with many gamers.

      Going smaller for CoC has the advantage that buildings and vehicles have an obvious smaller footprint and terrain can be in a shallower box, but the infantry are less distinct as individuals.

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  2. A good post Norm that brings back many memories and echoes many of my current thoughts. I've realised that over the years I've bought far too much stuff, much of it as retail therapy whilst stressed at work. Of late I've figured that I don't need 3/4 of it in all honesty and my Norman knights can be heavy cavalry for any age I want, rather in the manner of Featherstone et al and in the same way we played as kids. Then we were happy to play Ancients with the Airfix Romans and Britons, the simplicity of which I'm hoping to go back to.

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  3. Thanks Steve, there is a serious side to the post and for me it serves as a reminder of the difference between need and want. My single box would be too restrictive for me, unless I simply had to do it, but it is food for thought.

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  4. Norm what a great post. I love the idea of the more minimalist approach, although I doubt I'll ever get there. The idea of everything, self contained in a single box is incredibly attractive. The first game of DBA I ever played was with a fellow who had everything for the game including felt terrain, lichen, and minis in an actual cigar box! This looks great sir.

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    1. Thanks Steve, there is something hugely attractive about the idea, though practically, there is probably a halfway house between the single box and the over-crowded spaces that we cherish!

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  5. Is this a challenge? It seems like it may be! 17"x11"x5". Hmmm. Not sure I have anything that size but I bet I could stuff a Commands & Colors board, two 6mm Ancients' armies, cards, dice, terrain, rules, and scenarios into that size of a package. There may be even a little space to spare.

    This is a fun exercise, Norm but I am not ready to downsize just yet. I am still in the painting and acquisition stage.

    Now, another good exercise might be "if you could only have one collection and one set of accompanying rules which would you keep?"

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    1. Sorry to read that you back is acting up again. Hang in there!

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    2. Hi Jonathan, if I could only have one, it would be WWII tactical, napoleonic and Wars of the Roses :-)

      I liked that doing this plugged me directly back to a simpler time and I mean simpler by lack of distraction rather than technical simplicity of rules. My current favourite is wars of the Roses with the Billhooks rules, but based on what has been the mainstay for many years, I would probably be obliged to choose WWII and if I could only have one set of rules, i might like to try a return to WRG 1925 - 50, before discounting them and taking something more modern.

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    3. "if I could only have one, it would be WWII tactical, napoleonic and Wars of the Roses"

      I like the way you think!

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    4. Thanks Jonathan, the back is loosening up today, so upwards and onwards! I'm just going to have to stop doing those cartwheels and back flips!

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  6. Nicely done! My equivalent army is 10mm ACW on 20mm square bases for playing On To Richmond at 1cm=1"(rules) or 1mm=5 yards (ground scale.) But it's a travel army: I'm not that hard pressed at home.

    Still, trying to find homes for most of my toys.

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    1. Thanks Robert, that is a good ACW solution.

      My storage is most tested when I come home from a wargame show, go through the bags and just wonder where it will all go ...... and a few hours later it is at least out of sight :-)

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  7. Very nice Norm, I must have a box but don’t remember it ? What I do have vivid memories of is my first table which was a piece of hardboard 2 feet by perhaps 4 feet strengthened with a piece of wood down both edges. I remember having painted simple fields onto the board, with brown roads. Brillo pad hedges and some other terrain from my farm set. Figures were all airfix.......happy memories. Now like Jonathan I’m not ready to down size just at the moment !

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    1. Thanks Matt, the thing is, our original sets must have pressed all of the right buttons for us to be still here doing it. Brillo Pad hedges sound exactly right for moment we are talking about and I must admit to smiling as I read that.

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    2. Some of us STILL use Brillo pad hedges!

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  8. Good Lord, you brought back some memories. I've gone for smaller scale figures as the years passed. Although I do now have a dedicated room for gaming/model making, I still find the need to reduce, reduce, reduce.

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  9. Thanks, I think this post is going connect with memories and similar experiences, that though feel individualistic, are in fact shared.

    'Reduce', ooh, the complexities of such a simple word :-)

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  10. Brilliant Norm! When I got some 2 mm figures some years back I thought that it would be great, not to mention intriguing to other passengers, to play a wargame on the seat-back tray in an aeroplane. I did not ever get there and it would never get through modern airport security! This idea of yours takes that up a notch or two in both scale, grandeur and completeness. Beaut stuff.
    Regards, James

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    1. Thanks James, I once did the whole of Quatre Bras on an 18" x 18" board in 2mm, with loads of room to manoeuvre. Lovely idea to get the other passengers involved.

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  11. Really interesting post Norm and it shows once again that we are in a broad church, it's clearly primarily about the game for you, board games, games you design, breaking down the mechanics of other games in your reviews, for me its primarily about the figures, hence 28mm and the odd game is a kind of side benefit, sorry about the back,hope there's an improvement soon!
    Best Iain

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    1. Thanks Iain, the back is improving. Yes, broad church indeed and from a world audience perspective, budget is quite possibly the ultimate prime driver in collection size (mixed of course with years of doing it :-) ).

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  12. This is not a box, this is a treasure chest!

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    1. Nicely put Phil, a treasure chest with a hint of nostalgia.

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  13. A fascinating post to read about what was originally in the old case, and what is in the future case. I do like your pocket army ideas.

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  14. Thanks Peter, The Neil Thomas stuff is essentially Pocket Armies based, so that forms a good base for a wider audience to see the principle in practice.

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  15. Hmmmmmm, very interesting Norm. Reading recent posts by people using 6mm Baccus or similar, I must admit to being tempted in that direction, however, I doubt any of my regular opponents would be interested in this scale, so it may never happen for me!

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  16. Hi Keith, my original case was using Heroics and Ros 6mm, so there is much to commend that scale for such a project, though my own thoughts are that I would likely use the same base size for 6 - 15mm, so from a footprint point of view, there would be little in it, it would be the personal perspective of the aesthetic that would decide it. Even if the the box went a bit bigger, it is all in the same ball park.

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  17. Thanks for the post! I am not downsizing right away either, but the same idea also serves as something you can take along to a club night in case there are more players than games, or to a convention for pick-up games and have it fit under the airline seat in front of you. The dimensions are very close to the 12-liter Really Useful Box. I’d be inclined to see what I could fit in 1/72 plastics, since I haven’t painted anything smaller in 10+ years, and your mention of Romans and Britons sent me down an eBay rabbit hole to see if I could obtain a few sets. Looks like they haven’t been reissued recently, so, perhaps not. I’ve got lots of Airfix Robin Hood and Sheriff of Nottingham figures, though, so perhaps medievals for the nostalgia project...

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  18. Hi Rob, I think HaT do Carthage and Rome in plastic 1/72. The soft plastics would be a great idea as their lightness and indestructible character makes them ideal for moving around.

    My two heavy rulebooks and the lead figures did make my stash heavier than I think a cardboard box appreciates! So the Really Useful Box range sounds the better prospect.

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    1. Yes, I have a fair number of HaT Romans and Carthaginians (and several other 1/72 projects), so packing them into a Game in a Box set up would just be a matter of choosing them, and perhaps building a few cardstock Roman farm buildings to dress the battlefield. But, like you, I grew into the hobby with Airfix, so I have a special fondness for those particular figures.

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  19. When I was a teenager I used to take it in turns to run games with my pal David at each others houses, so my figures, terrain etc had to fit into something I could carry on my bike. My entire WW2 microarmour collection I managed to cram into a box 6"x6"x2.5" sandwiched in layers of foam, and my entire 6mm Napoleonic army fitted into a wooden cigar box. Bag of lichen for trees, a small box of homemade buildings and the trusty green cloth and job done.

    Even now, my entire collection of 6mm French, Prussian, Austrian and Italian armies for 1859-1870 fits in a single slimline A4 boxfile.

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    1. Hi Martin, the thing that I have enjoyed most about this post is the way that it has connected to other gamers early wargaming experiences.

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  20. Hi Norm and thanks for another thought provoking post, really enjoyed reading it. I reckon I could put together something like that for 12 point DBN games on the folding card table, or even better just include the cloth in the box. Perfect for taking along to a club night in the good old days.

    Funny enough it bothers me that shifting up to a 6 x 4 table has involved gathering a lot of extra 'stuff' that's cluttering up the place and spread about the house.

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    1. Hi Lee, yes a DBN set-up is perfect. I know exactly what you mean about sprawl!

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  21. Hi Norm, another great post bringing back memories!
    I have just gone a similar route. Heroics and Ros 6mm desert WW2 with two battle groups taken from the Rapid Fire books and using their Reloaded rules, which can work with the new infantry rules, Terrain cloth, a few buildings and felt wadis and rough going, Fat Frank tracks and cotton wool to go under the cloth for hills. All in a similar sized box.
    Cheap fun gaming!
    Get that back sorted!
    Cheers
    Dave

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    1. Hi Dave, that sounds spot on. Funnily enough, for this post, I came close to using East front 10mm 1943 armies instead and the new Rapid Reloaded rules ..... perhaps I need a second box :-)

      Perhaps selecting a single box at the outset of a new project might be the best way to govern it.

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  22. Fascinating read. I begin to wonder if that's what all grandfather's provided i.e. a small worn old case. Mine was of similar dimensions, but served a different hording purpose: first of all my small, but growing stamp collection, all the many cigarette card sets [or near complete sets] curtesy of my hard-smoking father, famous actors in TV westerns provided by the bubble-gum machine outside the local sweetshop, my collection of plastic WWII soldiers [gained one or two at a a time as a reward from Woolworths for being patient while my mother endlessly shopped!] and so on.

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  23. Thanks Mike, I wonder whether these case (leather I think) were so well made and robust, that they eventually became a ubiquitous 'gift' to another generation. Your case sounds like a personal chest of treasures.

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  24. Wonderful post! I have been downsizing all manner of hobby items lately and I love the idea of "games in a box". Even if I don't quite downsize to a single small box, it's a good mental exercise to determine if parts of the collection might be better off with someone else.

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  25. Thanks John, I am certainly going into 2021 with a determination to slim things down.

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  26. Interesting post to read and I hope your back feels better soon. I’m actually surprised how much you actually could fit in there. 😀

    When I was a young man everything I owned could fit inside my car. There was a certain sense of freedom in that.

    When I had to move several years ago, I did a big culling of wargaming stuff. There was a sense of freedom after that as well, bc things stopped hanging over me.

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  27. Thanks Stew, back improving and I can get into the car now.

    I think a bit more thought and some smaller and shallower boxes could, through better organisation, see a bit more added to the box, but even as it stands, a variety of situations could be gamed.

    I agree that there is a certain therapeutic value to clearing the decks every now and then.

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  28. Inspiring post...as usual, took me right back to “operation war board” the book that was my introduction to wargaming and some bendy plastic tiger tanks purchased from the local toy shop. The book is the only object I still possess from my teen years so it’s pretty special. Simpler times eh!

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  29. Thanks, you are lucky to have something still from your teen years. I have bought back into some titles, but its not quite the same as having ‘the one’ that you treasured.

    I can’t tell you how many times I read Operation Warboard as a young gamer. To think it was available from book shops in the high street, if only that were true now. Indeed simpler times.

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