Sunday, May 31, 2020

It's About Playing Army Men

I don't know why, but I've always liked "playing army men", as my Mom called it.  I started by the time I was four years old, with Marx plastic soldiers.  Warfare and soldiering always seemed to have a presence in my life with family members and friends talking about having served in WWII, and I was always fascinated by the pictures of tanks from my Dad's time at Fort Knox and in the Korean War, and then there was Vietnam on the news every evening around dinner time.

Playing army men initially involved Marx plastic army men/knights and Vikings/Cowboys and Indians , which lead to the old 12 inch GI Joes, Marx Brave Knights, armies built of Legos, 1/72 scale models, etc.  There was also live action army playing with toy guns.  As I got older, the realism, scope, and detail increased.  Then at some point, I wanted "rules" to play army, something that would impose more "realism", retaining randomness with respect to the results, but removing the impossible and utterly arbitrary.

The transition from free play to rules took a few years, and I eventually discovered that I was not the only person that didn't want to give up playing with army men.  My first experience with published rules was with Heritage's Panzertroops, which were both wonderful and terrible.  WWII of course, played on terrain created by arranging paperback books to create the terrain, with a couple model railroad trees, and played with 1/72 scale models as they were more accessible than the game's 15mm models.

Later this year, I plan to play some 15mm World War II games using Panzertroops for the first time in 38 years.

Now, the rules are home-brew, the ongoing product of a few decades of observation, study, and research, on relatively detailed modular scale terrain, and with soldiers ranging from 6mm to 28mm in height.  The battles are fought on the table top, rather than the ground, but the play, or manner in which I play, is much the same as it was, when I was a child.

After considering it, that last sentence is the thing that maybe makes much of my hobby a little different than the mainstream of "wargaming, or at least different than "classic wargaming".  I find that what most people appear to do, or appear to look for in their games, feels different than what I am looking for in my games.  Then again, maybe we are all, more or less, this way, or feel this way.  I've never discussed that consideration before.

In my case, I've come to realize that I still just want to play army men.  I have always needed to be able to "believe" in the playing process, thus I have always tried to make my games "realistic".  And, as I've become more educated, and my understanding of the world around me has grown, adding detail to my playing process, allows me to continue to believe the "story" that plays out during my play.

Basically, I want to move toy soldiers and equipment around, have them imitate the actions of real world counterparts to some degree (as I believe them to be), and have them defeat their enemy in the process.  I want to "operate" the individual soldiers, officers, vehicles, aircraft, etc., of each army. I want to "experience" their actions on an individual level.  I also want to experience the actions of their formations to the limits of size that can be represented on my table top (ranging from fire teams to regiments).   I expect to operate an "army" of tens, hundreds, or thousands, by operating every individual soldier and weapon as a piece of the larger element, and resolving both individual and formation issues at their respective levels, but never losing either at the expense of the other.

I've repeatedly been told that this cannot be done, is too complex to do, is too tedious to be fun, and that it is not the proper way to play with toy soldiers. Okay.

Every feature on "my" battlefield  represents exactly what it appears to be, more or less,  in scale size and shape, offering cover, blocking line of site, and otherwise representing every individual aspect required of what it models in or near the scale of the models around it.

As a child, I played with individual toy soldiers in a miniature world, it was all very believable to me then.  As a much older child, I look for the same experience, while playing with my army men.  The only change, is that in order maintain the "believability", I need some sort of rules to affix realistic parameters to the soldiers, their weapons, and their formations.

These rules need to limit the playing pieces in a manner similar to their real world counterparts as individual elements bound by time, space, physics, physiology, training, psychology, etc.  The rules need not take away any elements of the "play".

Most important, and a huge part of the fun in play, is to experience the adventure.  I find that many aspects of traditional rules for wargames violate this most important thing, abstracting away too many elements of the adventure. 

Thus, I do not want abstractions removing and/or over-simplifying movement, fire resolution, orders, or reducing of the "individual-ness" of the toy soldiers and equipment.  I don't want to focus only on the experience of command at a division or corps level, nor solely on the experiences of the individual soldier or squad leader.  Multiple toy soldiers cannot be mounted to a single base, nor can terrain features and constructs on the battlefield represent other than their actual size and shape.  For me, the rules must not change how I play, they simply maintain and magnify the believability experienced during play.

Curiously, though I do play some periods and scales completely in scale with the toys, I have always been okay with range/distance compression relative to the scale of the toys.  This might seem hypocritical, but don't worry, I assure you that it is not.

Also, in 6mm, I'm okay with mounting up to three figures on one base, this may seem to contradict my comment above about individually mounting the toys, but trust me,  it doesn't.

It took me a surprisingly long time to recognize all of this.  This shouldn't surprise you.  Afterall, I still play with toy soldiers.

Also, sometime ago I came realize that the game has always really been about experiencing the adventure; winning or losing doesn't really matter that much.  Well, except maybe to the winners and losers, but I do it for the adventure.

I simply play army men, as I always have, in the way I most enjoy.


  1. "I simply play army men, as I always have, in the way I most enjoy."

    And it comes through in all your 'battle reports', always a pleasure to read!

  2. Amen, brother!

    And your way is not my way, and vice versa, but that's the beauty of it, we can each play with toy soldiers however we want.

    So I know things are rough right now, but pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and play some toy soldiers! Then type your batreps up for us to read ;)


  3. I like your way. It may not be exactly the way I play, but it looks like fun, and fun is what playing with toy soldiers is all about.

  4. Thanks for the thoughts. This came out of an e-mail where the author expressed that he liked the appearance of my games, but shared that I seem to miss the point of gaming.

    The hobby just feeds us in different ways.