grew up with war games. From our early Avalon Hill games, from playing Jutland with my dad in a living room with all furniture removed, from summer games with my friends: Africa Corps, Midway, Panzerblitz. I owned probably a hundred games and played them all. But I fondly remember my father, before going on a nine-month cruise to Vietnam, purchasing two Napoleonic armies made of lead figures, one English (for me) and one French (for him). And during this time, we painted them up.
When all is said and done, we probable spent more prep time than play time on this – we probably only played a dozen or so games (I can still remember one our our last games where my infantry pressed him on his right, his cavalry attempted to cross along his front to relieve, and I slaughtered then with well-placed artillery (that also, on a bounce, removed one of this guns from play). (and perhaps, I suspect, that’s why it was the last game – I never beat the old man at much, but I did beat him here and once in Panzerblitz and we never played either again).
I also remember, as a kid, reading a Believe it or not column that said something like “H.G. Wells, famed writer, actually played with toy soldiers”. Even then I loved H.G. – War of the Worlds was one of my favorite books of all times. So what was that about?
I managed to find out sometime later when I found the remarkable Little Wars, a book that explains (in 1913) how to play wargames on a nursery room floor with toy soldiers and little rifled cannons. It seems that H.G. and his acquaintance found these articles and began playing. As the story proceeds, you can sense the games that take place, how the rules develop as they resolve unsatisfactory conclusions until, finally, they have a game worthy of play. H.G. is unabashedly boastful here, even transforming himself (humorously) from ink-stained writer to be-scarred warrior, to explain in detail the Battle of Hooks Farm (which, of course, he won handily). The original work even comes with photographs to follow the action as his opponent blunders and H.G. slaughters him on the slope below the hill.
Of course, I’ve long noted how fabulously H.G. wrote, and Little Wars was no exception. You could hear his enthusiasm for his creation, sense he and his fellows setting aside straw hats and laying across the floor to better sight a gun on a rival regiment. It’s nothing short of a pure delight. Well worth the read!
And in this case, I didn’t have to read it. During a slow eyeball-audit at work (just scanning long lines of columns) I listened to the Gutenberg version. It was a very enjoyable listen, produced by Mark Smith whose solid voice carried it quite capably across the finish line, He captured the cadence of the piece perfectly, nether mocking nor over-stating it, just reading with a small smile the lead-solder battles from a century ago.
Anyway, every enjoyable. You can get the audio version HERE, in a number of formats. And, for you folks who’d rather read it, you’ll find it HERE. Either way, its a short and very enjoyable look at a man and the hobby he develops.
Post-review note – I forgot to add this. It was interesting to follow Well’s account of some of their rules developments, how they found it unsatisfactory where solders could hide behind encyclopedias (which originally served as hills) and hide from fire, and how their battles would quickly become stalemates. Of course, I listened to this with a pang of sadness, knowing that what he despised in the game was about to begin (a year later) when the Great War erupted. They might as well have played this version of trench warfare with every man and gun secured behind redoubts of books, not a piece to be seen, and the calvary left in its box.
I wonder if they ever did play this scenario in later years. Just to see…