EXCERPT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Quest for the Universal Soldier

Turns out it was never really about bases after all.

About 10 years ago, I decided to set out on a quest for a grail,  the " Universal Toy Soldier". This is my term for the antidote to madness that Lawford & Young espoused in Charge!.  One set of soldiers and one set of rules that can be used for everything from a skirmish between a few companies to big battles with hundreds or even thousands of  toy soldiers fighting out battles inspired from all the ages of man. My choice was 54mm figures and my period was 1855 to 1865, British vs all comers. An odd decision for one who's motto is "strength through diversity". So not surprising that my main scale is now 40mm and that I am still gaming with 20mm, 25mm, & 54mm armies in multiple periods, but that one size fits all theory is apparently still haunting me.

Once upon a time, when I built a wargames "army" it's size and shape was largely determined by rules, a point value, an army list or even just a scenario setup instruction. I still like the concept of a large unified collection but when I look at my table, my love of various periods and the shelves of soldiers, each agitating for an outing, I'm not so sure. Assuming that I'm not building my collection primarily for other people to play with at convetions, then the games need to fit comfortably on my table, my newly smaller table, and I need to arrange things so that I get to play with most of my toys at least once every 2 years and preferably more often. If refighting major historical battles is a priority for me, then I need to either go back to smaller figures for the big battles or  keeping pushing the level of abstraction.  But are the big battles what I really want to play?

 Looking back over old battle reports from the last 15 years, the majority of the most enjoyable games have been the low level or semi-skirmish games set in small wars. Fictional Colonial games, War of 1812 and so on. Not very good simulations perhaps but entertaining games. So much for the Universal Soldier and me. Time to focus the collection on the kind of games I seem to enjoy most and make the other things special projects to keep the diversity alive. This has the benefit of having my 20mm ACW troops not echo the 40mm ones quite so closely. Two horse and musket armies, two scales, two styles of gaming.

Now, in theory, I can play those small games with elements and Hearts of Tin but I could also revive MacDuff and fix it once again, integrating some ideas from HofT. HofT itself, would remain my primarily rules et for my 20mm games.

There only one place where the answer to such choices can be found.

On Hants Island, the pirates (singly based for MacDuff) have made their lair in Belmont Bay. Ship's guns have been landed to form batteries to keep any nosy Royal Navy steam cutters at bay. 

Over the hills from Windsor comes a column of Her Majesty's finest. (based for HofT)

The battle of the rules is about to begin again.


  1. One set of soldiers and one set of rules that can be used for everything from a skirmish between a few companies to big battles with hundreds or even thousands of toy soldiers fighting out battles inspired from all the ages of man...if you can find that then you will be rich and famous. It´s a problem that bugs us all from time to time.

  2. In the mean time, one can always play Charge! :)

  3. Ross,

    I think that for me at least the big difference lies not so much in period as in style.

    When I've been immersed for a while in one style of games, I find that what refreshes me most is a change in style . . . from a "formation" heavy game format to a "fluid" style of game (or vice versa).

    This may account for my taking a break from my 18th century gaming to focus this year on Colonials (using TSATF rules). Going from linear warfare to skirmish gaming . . . while both are very enjoyable, the "feeling" of them is quite different and, I guess, the feed different aspects of my gaming desires.

    -- Jeff

  4. Makes sense to me Jeff. The level of the game makes a difference to me in terms of feel as well. The Raid of Sacket's Harbour vs Waterloo, Maiwand or Tel el Kebir vs a company level skirmish.

    Variety is the spice of life.