Little Wars, a set of miniatures rules by H. G. Wells,
was first published in 1913 - just before World War I. (It has been
reprinted periodically since then - I have a Dover edition from 1977,
Little Wars is an interesting book. Most of the book
tells about how he came to write the game, the evolution of the rules,
some of his various battles, and essays on how playing with toy
soldiers is so much better than the real thing. The actual rules take
up a very small part of the book, and are very simple by today's
standards. The game actually works, though - I've played a modern
version of it at the Havoc Miniatures Convention in
Massachusetts, and it was a blast.
The game differs the most from modern miniatures games in its choice
of randomizer: no dice are used, nor cards, nor spinner, etc.
Instead, Little Wars uses toy cannons to knock over the
toy soldiers, thus deciding who lives and who dies! In addition,
there are melee rules, which are very bloody - appropriate, with WWI
lurking in the wings.
The miniatures Wells recommends are about two inches tall, though
he also says you can use some about an inch-and-a-half tall with
acceptable results. There are only three types of units: infantry,
cavalry, and artillery. All pieces are individually based, though
they may be moved together as a unit. The toy cannons were finely
made, quite accurate, actually fired soft pellets, and their like
would be hard to find and very expensive today. The game I played
at Havoc used small toy guns that fired little disks. We had
cannons on the floor, but they didn't really fire. When it came
time to fire, we put the butt of the toy pistol on the floor next
to the cannon, aimed at the foe, and fired away. Quite a fun game,
though the toy pistol wasn't very accurate, I must confess. Didn't
seem to matter much - the enemy's weapons were no better.
The rules state that one side shall set up the terrain, and the
other choose which side to start on - sensible beginning. Either
place a curtain across the table, so both players can set up
simultaneously, or flip a coin to see who sets up first. Set up
is along the back row of your starting edge. There is no firing
until each side has had at least one move.
Movement is simple: infantry can move one foot, cavalry two feet,
and guns can either move or shoot in their turn, but not both. A
gun requires at least four men to move it. If all four are cavalry,
it moves at cavalry rate; otherwise, at the infantry rate. Playing
on a floor with one-foot square tiles makes movement very easy!
The turns are timed. Wells recommends one minute per gun and one
minute per 30 men. (More on army composition later.) A very simple
rule is "Guns first." That is, you must first decide whether to
move or fire your guns, and take care of them before moving the
rest of your army. If you fire, you are allowed four shots per
gun - but when your time is up, you must stop moving/shooting, so
don't take too much time aligning your sights. He has rules for
pieces that are hit but don't fall over, as well as multiple
casualties for a single shot.
Melees are very bloody, and use an interesting "support" rule. If
a body of troops is within six inches of a troop of its own men,
at least half the size of the advance force, it is said to be
supported. If not, it is isolated. In a melee, if both forces
are even, all are destroyed - remove them from the board. If one
side has more than the other, check to see if the inferior force
is supported. If so, remove the entire inferior force, and an
equal number of the larger force. If the inferior force is isolated,
however, remove an equal number of soldiers of both sides until
the larger force is twice as large as the inferior force. (Note
that this may mean removing no soldiers at all!) At that point,
all of the remaining men of the inferior force are captured.
Captured units may be escorted to your rear - if you get them off
your edge of the board, they're out of the game. One soldier can
escort up to seven prisoners. If the enemy kills an escort, the
prisoners may return to their own side, but must return to the back
board edge before being able to fight again.
Various victory conditions are given, including point costs: Fight
to the Finish, Blow to the Rear, and the Defensive Game. As for
composition of forces, Wells writes that he usually plays with a
force of 80 infantry, 50 cavalry, and 4-5 guns. (Given his rules
for timed turns, he would then start out with 9-10 minutes per
turn, gradually dropping as casualties are taken.) He offers advice
on force composition, and even a point system: each infantry is
worth one point; a cavalry 1.5 points, and a gun 10 points. Each
team takes 150 points (or agreed-on sum) as it wishes.
That's basically the game as Wells played it. In a note, he tells
how he originally flipped a coin to determine melees. But after
one soldier felled over 15 opponents without losing a coin toss,
he changed to the system described above!
The last chapter is extremely interesting: Wells was an active
pacifist, yet invented the twentieth century's first wargame. He
discusses this since he was apparently questioned on it quite a
bit. His answer, when asked if playing at war made him less of a
pacifist, was that it made him more of a pacifist. This is
because he played with many army officers of his day, and found
them to be buffoons at the game: they lost many, many soldiers and
most battles through simple tactical errors. Had it been the real
war, Wells said, he would fear for his country. Given the millions
of Britons that died shortly after this book was published, that
fear was realized, alas.
Little Wars as written isn't played much today, but
can be fun if you get in the right mind-set. It is very
good reading, and should be in your library if you have any interest
in the history of the miniatures hobby, whether you play it or not.
Read the Little
Wars rules online!
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