The hobby of playing reasonably realistic games simulating battles by the use of miniature models of soldiers, vehicles, etc. could be said to be as old as the game of Chess. But Chess, and similar games, are highly abstract and rigid. The use of more realistic and detailed rules which can be used with any reasonable combination of forces, terrain and placement (historical or hypothetical) is far more recent. In England it dates back, at least, to the turn of the century and H. G. Wells’ book, LITTLE WARS. And probably it has been around almost as long in America as well. But it began to really grow, both here and abroad, in the 1950s and 1960s, so that today it is beginning to approach the status, as a hobby, already attained by model railroading and model airplanes.
The appeal of the hobby probably springs from the way that any reader of military history sometimes feels that he could have been a better general than the ones described in his books — given the advantages of hindsight, and provided that fighting battles were no bloodier than reading about them! Wargaming allows you to give it a try and see if you’re right. As a hobby, wargaming is meant to be fun, but it is more than just the “playing with toy soldiers” of small children. That is, a set of rules is used to simulate realistically the abilities and effects of various weapons, tactics, etc. The object of such rules is not to make the game more dull, but to make it more interesting to people who are genuinely interested in military history. There is, however, a limit to how detailed such realism can be without making the play of the game too complicated to be fun. We hope we have come close to striking the proper balance with these rules.
Just about every historical period known to modern man (plus some imaginary ones) is fit subject for wargaming with miniatures — and is being recreated on the tabletop somewhere by someone. Some of the most popular periods these days are: the Ancient Period (before the fall of Rome), World War II, Medieval, Fantasy, the American Civil War and the Napoleonic Wars. The latter is probably the most widely played period. This seems odd, because most American’s education usually virtually ignores the history of Europe after Columbus discovered America and before the AEF shipped off to France in WWI. Probably the main reason is that this period is very popular in England, where most of the miniatures for wargaming come from. Also the period has much to recommend itself: the pageantry of the colorful uniforms and flags, the variety of types of units (Highlanders, Hussars, heavy cavalry, Grenadiers, Rifles, Jagers, light infantry…) and many nationalities; and it was a period with a good balance between the powers and uses of infantry, cavalry and artillery. The American Civil War is certainly a much more familiar subject to most Americans, and while it lacks some of the assets mentioned above, the period itself abounds with color and mystique. And while the “Stonewall” and ‘Iron” Brigades in miniature might riot have the flashy colors of Napoleon’s Old Guard or the British “thin red line” it can still bring a lump to the throat of a Civil War buff to see those famous black hats under the Stars ‘n’ Stripes, or the crossed red battle flags over the butternut ranks.
The miniatures used for wargaming were originally the ordinary children’s toy soldiers or especially nice collectors models, usually in a scale of about 1:32 (3/8″ = 1′) — commonly referred to as 54mm scale (the figure of a standing man is 54mm tall). These were definitely too large to allow very many figures on a reasonably-sized playing area, and so the special 30mm scale wargaming figures were evolved. And, in general, the trend has been toward smaller figures ever since. Lately the standard wargaming scale has become 25mm, with a sizable minority using 20mm figures. In the early 1970s Jack Scruby, a major American producer of lead soldiers, brought out his 9mm line (really about 13mm), and Miniature Figurines, Ltd., the largest British producer (who also have a U.S. affiliate), brought out a line in 15mm scale, and also some 5mm castings of entire platoons or companies in line of 2 or 3 ranks.
These rules are designed specifically for the 9mm/15mm figures, which allow the use of far more figures than older, larger scales. Controlling all these figures and simulating much larger battles than was previously possible present special problems and opportunities that older rules were not designed to handle. With 30, 25 or 2Omm figures and conventional rules a brigade or two per side will completely cover a 4’x8′ or 5’x9′ table to the point where the only possible tactic is to charge straight ahead. The flanks are securely anchored at the edges of the board, and there is little room to maneuver, because the troops keep getting in each other’s way. This bears little resemblance to the great battles of Napoleon and Lee. Whereas, with these rules and the smaller figures, 3 or 4 divisions per side — .at least — still have plenty of room for maneuver. I’ve played in Napoleonic games on a 5’x9′ table having 30-35 infantry battalions per side, plus cavalry and artillery in proportion, and still had all kinds of space to move around in. Thus, at last, the wargamer can recreate battles approaching the size of the major conflicts of the Napoleonic and Civil Wars. There were many points of difference between the military methods of Napoleon’s time and those of our Civil War, but we have found that these are differences that can easily be handled by modifications to a common set of basic rules. For their similarities are also many, one of the major ones being the use of much larger armies than was common in the wars of the 18th century.
These rules trace their origins back to the rules designed for Napoleonics by Pete Bennett which were published in PANZERFAUST magazine; Issue #61, under the title “Aux Armes!” Constant modifications over the course of a year and a half resulted from many enthusiastic games and skull sessions by the old Down East Wargamers Association. The “translation” of those rules for the American Civil War was first undertaken by me and these also underwent constant revision, over the course of about a year, by the same process, and by extensive overhaul by Pete Rice. By the summer of 1974, as our collections of figures expanded, we began to develop simpler rules for handling more formations, which ultimately resulted in the present “Fire Effect” system.
Except for the version printed in PANZERFAUST, these rules existed only as a collection of charts and as ideas in the heads of those who had created them and others who had played them. Everybody in our group had his own ideas on how to interpret the unwritten rules, his own pet modification to introduce and, no doubt, grave misgivings about somebody else’s proposed modifications. The task of choosing between competing interpretations and modifications and of putting all down on paper fell primarily to me. But we, the authors, must thank our fellow members of the old Down East Wargamers for playing, testing, commenting, griping, experimenting and generally participating in the evolution of these rules. Specifically these are: Tom Wham, Richard Hamblen, Kerry Hanscom, (who now works for Jack Scruby), Ed Eaton, Jeff Ellis and Tom and Steve Peaco. And special thanks are due to Jack Scruby, whose 9mm figures started it all and provided the D.E.W.A. with countless hours of great pleasure. But most of all we must thank Pete Bennett, who baked this cake we’ve been so busily icing.
Don Lowry, 19 February 1975, Fallbrook, California