Long Journey Into Night (with toy soldiers)

Way back in the distant past, in the very early 1970s, when I first started wargaming with actual rules (rather than just playing with my toy soldiers and knocking them down with a remarkably lethal spring-loaded Britains howitzer), we used Airfix plastic figures and model tanks. Mostly tanks, to be honest, because those little HO/OO scale figures were fiddly and tended to fall over a lot. Basing infantry was, as yet, in the future. Also, to our foetal brains, tanks just seemed so much cooler.

Since pretty much all of our research into WWII came from Commando comics, our games tended not to lean very far in the way of historical verisimilitude. In fact, they had a lot more in common with World of Tanks, with vehicles from all nationalities and eras banged together in a mish-mash.

We had a lot of fun.

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Advertisement from the Feb. 1979 issue.
Note that the price of the models had
already risen to 13p each, and they
got more expensive fast.
A bit later on, when I was at high school, I discovered from my Military Modeling magazines, that I could get tanks and things in 1/300 scale from Heroics & Ros in the UK.

They were cheap — from memory, one tank cost 6p, which was about 15 cents in New Zealandish money — but ordering stuff from overseas at the time was something of a trial. I had to go to a bank and apply for an international money order, send off my order to the UK, and then wait anywhere up to six months for it to arrive by sea freight. Six months is a long time to wait, especially for a 13 year old boy.

Infantry in 1/300 were even less manageable than before, so again we concentrated entirely on tanks and guns. I forget which rules we used, and the little typewritten A5 booklet has long since gone the way of all flesh, but the author clearly agreed with us on that point, since I don't recall infantry even being mentioned in the rules at all. I suppose they might have been; if they were, we ignored them.

I built up quite a substantial collection of 1/300 models, but eventually, when I left home and started having to pay my own living expenses, they got sold off to pay the rent. I hope they went to a good home.

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The 1st Edition of Flames of War
As time went on, and I got a bit more disposable income, I started rebuilding my micro-scale collection, but at some time — about the turn of the Millenium, I think — Flames of War came on to the scene, and 15mm WWII gaming became enormously popular, almost overnight it seemed.

It interested me for two reasons:

  1. Because it was the first WWII rule set I'd encountered that appeared to make a real effort to reflect the actual tactics and doctrines of the various combatants, and to make those tactics gameable, and
  2. Because 1:100/15mm scale seemed like an ideal tabletop scale, large enough to be worth spending time modelling, but compact enough to store easily and to look reasonably "right" on the wargames table.

It was soon published in its 2nd edition, and though some distinct improvements were made, it introduced other issues that seemed to me to move it away from a "play the period" game to more of an "exploit the rules loopholes" sort of exercise. At least, that's how it seemed locally; I don't know about gaming groups anywhere else. People started indulging in the GW "super-army" syndrome, and it became no fun at all to play, for me at least.

At the same time, the company (Battlefront) shifted their operations from Auckland to Malaysia, and pretty much forgot all about their New Zealand market. They don't even offer a $NZ currency option on their online store (or at least, they didn't when last I looked). They've become increasingly problematic to deal with, and I just don't bother with them any more.

It's now, as of writing, Flames of War is up to its 4th edition, and it seems to have continued its downward slide into a WWII-flavoured game, rather than any kind of WWII simulation.

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Right now, my WWII wargaming systems of choice are Chain of Command for small platoon-level infantry actions, and Battlegroup for larger combined-arms games up to about battalion level. I don't have a great deal of interest in regimental or army-sized games as tabletop wargames; I think they're better suited to board games like those from SPI. But if I did, Spearhead and Fist Full of TOWs seem like worthwhile candidates. (FFoT can also be played as a 1:1 tactical game very successfully).

I still have a large collection of 6mm models, but my eyesight isn't that great these days, so I seldom use them. I should probably sell them off, but whenever I've sold off model collections in the past, I've always regretted it. Now I think I'll just leave them to be somebody else's problem after I'm dead.

My 15mm WWII and Interwar vehicle collection has expanded quite a bit since I got a 3d printer, though regrettably it's not really capable of creating decent 15mm infantry. Also, it's busted right at this moment, which is very frustrating.

If, for some reason, I had to start all over again, from scratch, I think my scale of choice would be 1:200. It has the benefit of being large enough to easily see detail and to distinguish different vehicles and guns from each other, but small enough that a reasonable army could be stored in a shoe-box. It's also small enough that it can be played on quite a small table, just by converting all inch measurements into centimetres. It has, in the past, suffered from a lack of model availability, and what was available seemed to me to be rather over-priced, but now that I could create my own models on the 3d printer, those issues are no longer relevant.

We're still having a lot of fun.


  1. I too enjoy CoC immensely. Never was into FoW as when I first heard of it it was already sliding down the route of "competetivness".

  2. Great write up! I also drifted away from FoW and into CoC, then Battlegroup, which has become my go-to game.