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

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Uncovering the history of places that never were

Imaginary countries and settings have a long association with wargaming. Actually, fictional wargames seem to predate historical wargaming by about a century at least. There are various ways to tackle fictional armies from thinly disguised historical armies or a random selection of figures that catch the gamer's fancy to incredibly detailed fictional lands with their own histories, geography, politics and personalities, not to mention their own armies and uniforms.  As usual, I fall between several stools. I'm too lazy and unimaginative to do all of the detailed work  but I see no point in thinly disguising historical armies, I'd rather just invent a fictional campaign between historical armies. I have also been chary of inventing uniforms since it seem to threaten to leave me stuck with an expensive load of unsaleable trash if I were to drop the project or change scales. (Who, me?)

Having a purely fictional setting does offer some real concrete advantages to me though, what ever uniforms are worn. I have chosen to fit myself into the space that I have, and have decided that I want my troops visible, not stored away in boxes (as far as possible, at the moment my 1/72nd troops still live in the cupboard like their 15mm predecessors,). A fictional setting that allows me to play every kind of Horse & Musket / Colonial type wargame that I can picture, using a reduced number of armies, is a huge  advantage.
So, I figured it was time to rethink last year's plan. This called for a mix of 4 theaters of war involving  up to 10 armies including various rebels etc, with some overlap. These were:
  • North Eastern US-Canada Border covering from the war of 1812 up to the Rebellions with support from US Patriot Hunters.
  • California/Mexico/Oregon with an Anglo-Mexican force facing the Americans, both regulars and Texan like rebels, with a possibility of Russian intervention.
  • India:  An Anglo-Indian army facing a fictional Rajah inspired by the Mahrattas, Gwalior, Scinde and  the Sikhs with both European trained regulars and irregulars including Pathan like hill tribes.
  • South Africa With the British facing both Boers and various African tribes, real or imagined. I was tempted to add an arab/turkish element but felt that I had covered that sufficiently for now.    .
When I first started looking for a fictional setting for my Colonial wargames and wanted to expand it, (12 years ago), I had decided that I wanted to be able to game the following situations, after reviewing it, the list has not changed :
  • 2 opposing "European" armies facing each other
  • a "European" army facing "European" rebels
  • a "European" army facing a less effective "Native" army partially converted to European methods
  • a "European" army facing spear armed natives on their home ground
  • a "Eurpoean" army fighting a geurilla campaign against either/both mountain tribesmen snipers or mounted riflemen. 
  • battles in a Canadian looking setting,  green fields, mixed forests, stone and wooden rail fences, stone or clapboard houses etc
  • battles in an exotic location with palm trees, adobe houses, jungles and dusty plains.
My first, 54mm try at this saw the Nku-Khu and Emir's Lair come to life on the table covering the various Native options (see the early issues of the New Durban Times) as well as the first incarnation of Oberhilse and Faraway with Danes and Fenians facing off against the British. I wanted to include India but this kept getting put away due to the effort involved and the ;lack of anything that couldn't already be covered by the Emir.  

Having decided to resurrect Oberhilse and Faraway, I was tempted to just bolt a piece of India on below the mountains that mark the southern edge of known territory.  Somehow, it just didn't seem to fit but bolting on the old Nkhukhuland and Wadi  Foulyam on just south of the mountains seemed feasible. That is old territory though and one side was clearly British. Thinking about what would allow me to make the most of what troops were already raised or planned, I started wondering if Mexico could provide inspiration for all the non-European bits. What if the French or Dutch and not the Spanish had claimed Mexico or South America? What if instead of eradicating the Aztecs and Incas, they had opened trade with them as was done in India? What would a mid-19thC, unconquered Aztec or Inca army have looked like after 300 years of European contact?

It was at this point that it finally occurred to me that since I am relying largely on homecasting and home sculpting, backed by a few obscure, more or less OOP  commercial figures, all done in an old fashioned, lean look without exaggerated detail and painted in glossy toy soldier style, that there is no significant resale value for these armies and in any case, I can always melt down the figures and start over if I don't like where it goes. Not to mention that the evidence is good that this project will carry me 10-15 years at least and by then it'll be too late to bother starting over anyway.

I'm not sure what my "civilized" native armies are going to look like yet, except that they will probably wear white uniforms with shakos and/or strawhats and be based in stone or adobe forts as well as in their walled cities. The uncivilized spear armed jungle/mountain tribes will be based on the Prince August Skraeling molds with some additions and conversions to follow. They will doubtless be used as auxilliaries by which ever native civilization rules the land South of the mountains.  (naming suggestions are invited). 

The natives north of the mountains have of course been in long contact with the 4 European colonies and indeed interbred with them according to the notes I made 5 years go, and  have long ago adopted firearms,  horses and elements of western dress. The Frontiersmen of Oberhilse are their mortal enemies which makes Faraway their sometimes friend.

So, sorry to disappoint those whom I led to expect Sikhs and Afghans but not this year or next after all. Eventually? Who knows. 


  1. More excited by 'What-if?' Mesoamericans than by 'historical' Sikhs and Afghans: with all the information now available, everybody and his brother can build 'perfectly historical' armies, but 'imagi-nary' ones are *unique*. As such, they are like endemic species, living only in a single location (here, their creator's brain, file and shelves) -and thus potentially endangered- and many are as yet unknown and still to be 'discovered' by the wargaming community. While historical armies are ubiquitous, present everywhere on the planet and proliferating...

  2. Ross,
    If you mash South Africa and India together you get South Indica. (or even Sativa) :)

    Sounds like a fun and exciting plan. I wanna be just like you when I grow up. Except I'm never going to grow up...

    I've given up the miniatures for a while or forever, who knows. Gone back to board wargames, mostly solo. But I still enjoy your blog immensely.

  3. Sounds like there are plenty of good times in the making. Enjoy your blog as usual. Thanks!

  4. I am vastly disappointed, Ross . . . well, that's an exaggeration . . . but I DO like the look of natives and or regulars in turbans . . . so I was hoping that you'd find space for them . . . *sigh* . . . at least it is only a very minor disappointment.

    Have fun!

    -- Jeff

  5. Hi Ross,

    I have to say that this post had really struck a chord with my own ideas and plans for the early 20th century. Like you I can see the merits from many differing perspectives and so decisions will need to be made as which route I eventually go down.

    The big problem as I see it is that I believe most gamers have had perhaps too much history and too little gaming.

    We all research our chosen period to within an inch of its life and then attempt to replicate this on the tabletop with varying degrees of success (or not, as the case may be).

    Perhaps Messrs. Wells, Grant, Lawford, Young and a host of others had the right idea - read the history and play a game based on it.

    I need to think about this further.

    All the best,


  6. Thank you everyone for the comments,

    Jeff, there would not have been any turbans in a Sikh war British & Sepoy army but I may fond a place for a few. Since the "native" will be fictional there is the possibility for an Islamic Arab/Turkish influence and after all, Larsen's Lancers will continue to operate.

    DC, I have found that the search for the perfect historical recreation can be paralyzing if one isn't careful. It can certainly lead to an insatiable need for new figures if the units are to be "just right" for each game.

  7. Boo hiss!

    *completes his pile of unpainted Sikhs*

    Further Boos! Further hisses!

  8. Remember, Ross, as I believe I've commented here some time ago, that Britain very nearly claimed California from Mexico in 1846 . . . it is just that the US beat them by a few days.

    Something similar could happen in your fictional terrain . . . and think of the fun if (as in California) gold is discovered? The British would certainly bring in Sepoys to protect the Queen's interests.

    In fact a "gold rush" is a very good excuse to bring LOTS of folks (as well as two-legged wolves) to your fictional terrain . . . why there might even be PIRATES! Which means a Navy (or navies) to guard things . . . which allows for naval shore parties too.

    Loads of fun, eh?

    -- Jeff

  9. Complete the pile? DONE!

    The 1st Sikh had yet to be sculpted let alone cast. Even the 1 poor 1880's Baluch that I coaxed out of a dying mold was converted and painted. Not a figure remains.


  10. Absolutely Jeff. Unfortunaetly I seem to have misplaced my most complete set of "historical" notes drawn up when I made the map in 2006 using Henry's article in Battlegames #3, but gold mines have figured sonce the late 1990's when I first "discovered" Faraway and Oberhilse. The pirates only showed up 2 years ago, I still haven't completely explained why or where exactly the base is that the redcoats attacked but I's sure it must relate to the undiscovered land below the mountains.