Saturday, 30 November 2013

Early Wargaming Rules

Following the discovery of Colonel Oliver Keef’s collection of lead soldiers and wargaming campaign diary from around 1882, there has been some interest in early wargaming with model soldiers.

Many people think HG Well’s was the first with his classic book Little Wars in 1913. Some know about the classic article about Robert Louis Stevenson’s toy soldier game from an article in the Scribiner dated 1898. My book on Early Wargames volume 1 has some further details about the Stevenson Game. It is possible that the actual Stevenson rules may yet reach the public domain. Both The Great War Game (1908) and The Game for Boy Scouts (1910) predated Well’s game.  (See Early Wargames Volume 1 link
Volume 2 of the Early Wargames series has the Captain Baring’s simplified version of the German Kriegspiel  (1872). Also included in the same book is the semi-legendary game of Polemos, This was first published in 1883, although I have reproduced the rules from a slightly later edition. Polemos is probably the earliest current contender for a wargame with model soldiers. It has the distinction of being a hobby game and realistic enough to be played at the RUSI the Royal United Services Institute in 1885.

There are other early wargames such as the game of war (1858) which uses counters on something like graph paper to arbitrate movement and the Invasion of Britain Wargame 1888 with its draughts like movement. The invasion of Britiain game was the first I have found with its clear political messages of do not build a channel tunnel and Britain is vulnerable to invasion.
Polemos may not keep the title of the earliest model soldier game. 19th Century Europe also had model soldiers and wargames. So perhaps the ‘New War Game of the War in Italy’ from 1860 with its 30mm semi-flats made by Allgeyer, might yet prove to the earliest wargame. I have not yet found a copy, so I reserve judgment at the moment.

I have several other early wargames from the 19th century and in the new year I will strive to get them into print.


  1. John - Have you read JG Garratt's Encyclopaedia of Model Soldiers (I don't have mine at the moment), I'm sure he covers a lot of this ground. he mentions all sorts of dignitaries and potentates having armies made for them by European artisans, pretty much from the French Revolution and while some were for toy-play or display, I distinctly remember some being for tactical (and/or Strategic) 'gaming' play or planning.

    I was trying to point out that there's nothing 'new' about the date that has been 'discovered' following the Antique's Road Show programme and some of the excitement it produced on a blog the other day, but one ends up with the feeling that people don't like to hear what they don't want to hear!

    I also hate the way the 'Courier' website would have us all believe the yanks invented war-gaming in the 60's following an accidental reading of Wells' book!!!

  2. Thanks for letting me know about the book. I have just ordered it. Good point about the Col Keef's lead soldier collection. There were a number of earlier wargames in the 19th century that have been largely unrecorded. I am trying to trace more of them and get them to print at a sensible price as part of the History of Wargaming Project. A number of other people are helping me with this.

    As my book Early Wargames showed, there were a number of wargames around after Well's and before Featherstone. The early wargamers of the 1950's 1960's were aware of most of these games and built on them as foundations. The dominance of British innovators in model soldier games in the 1960's onwards is clear and undisputed; partly due to the contribution of Featherstone and his inspired editorship of the Wargames Newsletter.