Category Archives: Wargaming

Collecting Britains Deetail Plastic Figures – Part II

Collecting Britains Deetail Figures and Accessories – Part II

Tips for purchasing, wargaming, and display

In Part I of this post, which is adapted from an article which appeared in a 2011 issue of Toy Soldier and Model Figure magazine (copyright James Delson), I gave an overview of William Britain’s Deetail plastic toy soldiers and accessories. In Part II, I offer advice on how to acquire retired Britains Deetail figures, wargaming ideas, and display tips.

Britain’s Deetail First Version 7th Cavalry

If you choose to begin collecting older sets, all of which are long out of production, you’re unlikely to find them in toy stores. For retired sets there are, basically, four routes to follow. First, there’s eBay, the on-line international market place for all things to all people. Second, you can buy from dealers of vintage plastics, on line or from catalogs (yes, I run The Toy Soldier Company, and am a dealer of vintage plastic toy soldiers). Third is to buy at toy soldier shows. Fourth, you can buy from auction houses.

Let the Buyer Beware: Educate, Watch and Wait

In order to buy using eBay, from an on-line dealer or from a traditional auction house (Vectis Auctions Ltd, in England, offers regular sales of toy soldiers), you need access to a computer, common sense and careful attention. The trick is to know what you’re looking for and to decide in advance what you are willing to pay. This may require months of research to see how much figures actually sell for, depending on condition, rarity and the completeness of the set(s) you are seeking.

As an example, Britains originally made two sets of World War II Germans. The version in the photo above was produced in 1976 and remained in production through the mid-90s. The second set, shown below, was released in 1977 and also remained in production through the mid-90s.

The difficulty for a collector is that the models in both sets wear the same uniforms, are painted in the same style, and have the same helmet decals. One can only differentiate between the sets by knowing the poses, as most dealers and auction sites sell them in mixed lots, rather than in their proper groupings.

My best advice is to visit eBay and auction sites often, keeping a written record of the items you are watching. For the first few months, write down the sets you are following, their condition and the final prices achieved. You will begin to see a pattern of which sets are most popular (and which may thus achieve higher prices), which sets are listed less frequently and which sets are shown mint-in-box if that’s your choice.

One thing you will find when buying old Deetail figures through any of the routes listed here is that very few sets, except the boxed ones, are ever offered in complete form. Few dealers or auction house employees can accurately identify  what Britains Deetail figures they are selling in terms of production year, set number and whether the figures they have grouped together were actually made in the same year, much less in the same set. In the photo above I have assembled a mismatched set. This shot contains (reading from left) 1 fully painted figure from the 1st version dismounted Mexicans (1977), 2 more traditional “Deetail-style” painted Mexicans from the 2nd version (1978), and then 1 mounted Cowboy and 1 dismounted Cowboy from the 1st version of their respective series’ (1972). When buying from dealers and auction houses do your research unless you don’t mind buying mixed lots.

With few exceptions, Deetail figures made in any given year share the same style of paint job. Thus one can tell an early cowboy, WWII Japanese or WWII British infantryman made in 1971, from a later version because it is fully painted, while later versions were not. But some paint jobs of the same figures in a set of six also changed dramatically from year to year.   Further, ALL Deetail rectangular bases are dated 1971. This is NOT the year the sets you are looking at were probably made (as many dealers and auction houses incorrectly attest), but just the copyright on the base. If you are serious about collecting, it’s up to you to determine the authenticity of a set before buying it.

 Buying at shows

Although the selection is decidedly hit and miss at shows, there are often dealers who bring a selection of Deetail figures and boxed sets to set out on their tables. The danger here is more for the uninitiated than the experienced collector, as many dealers have no idea what determines a complete set, which versions they are offering, whether the weapons are correct, if the figures have been repainted and, most of all, what they are worth. But the virtue of being able to actually examine the goods before making the purchase, and for some, the joy of haggling, are worth the price of admission. The key, as always, is to know what you are looking for, and have some idea of what the merchandise is worth, before going to the show.

Display Strategies

There are definite advantages to displaying plastics that you don’t get with metals. Because they’re far less breakable, they can be displayed in areas that would be considered unsafe with metal figures. Because they’re generally painted with more durable paints, if they get dusty they can be washed in hot soapy water. And, because the accessories which go with them are so easily obtainable, you can generally find a selection of items to add to a setup such as buildings, vehicles, entrenchments and artillery. In the Napoleonic diorama shown above, one could arrange the modular Classic Toy Soldier’s Hougoumont farmhouse building as shown, or in a more elongated manner on a bookshelf.

While many plastic collectors seem content to keep their figures piled in a shoebox, only to take them out after dinner and set them up on the dining table for a couple of hours, others are more interested getting down on the floor and playing – either by themselves, with friends or with their children or grandkids.

Some of the most popular ranges Britains produced were their farm, wildlife and equine lines. Most of the figures and accessories in these lines strictly qualify as Herald models, having made their debuts before the advent of Deetail. But they remained in production through 2003. Shown above are setups featuring these charming ranges.

Gaming with Deetail Figures

When Britains released their Medieval Deetail range in 1973, I was excited to find they had created opponents for their knights. As the years sped by they added more sets to this era until it became the broadest of all Deetail ranges, offering figures, castles, siege equipment, jousting lists, tents and other period-specific toys. In my war games I have always used large numbers of Deetail Medieval models for Saracen regiments, European knightly entourages and other Medieval levies. In addition, by repainting and/or converting Deetail figures I have produced hundreds of additional poses for added realism and excitement on the battlefield.

In the photo above, showing the climax of the battle of Agincourt, I have combined several different versions of Deetail knights. At left is the king from the 1st version Knights (#7740, 1973) and 3rd version archers (also #7740, but made in 1993). On the right are foot Knights from 3 different ranges (7740, 3rd version Knights 1993; 7770g current fully painted Super Deetail 5th version; and #7805  Champion Knights, 1993). Mounted knights on the right are, likewise, from 3 ranges (7744, 3rd version Knights, 1993; 7772g current fully painted Super Deetail 5th version Mounted Knights; #7806 Mounted Champion Knights, 1993). Also included in the game setup are foot and mounted knights, plus accessories, from Forces of Valor’s “Historical Legends” range.

Where to Start?

My final photo, shown above, features a carefully-selected group of figures and accessories combined to create a massive Civil War setup. It includes 3rd version Deetail Civil War Union and Confederate infantry and cavalry, 1993, Deetail Union and Confederate Gatling guns (#7570 and #7470, 1977), Britains farm fence, stone walls, small hay bales, round hay bales and small accessories, plus buildings by BMC, trees, dead trees, rocks and hills by Marx and cannon by Dulcop.

The reason I was able to create such a massive, yet cohesive, image, is that I assembled the setup from carefully chosen elements of my collection. And this, I believe, is because I approached the building of this collection with an organized and well-thought-out plan. I knew I would be playing games with my figures, so I always sought a balance between what I just WANTED and what I felt I really needed to play large-scale games. Instead of purchasing figures on a whim, and ending up with a bunch of guys who are mis-matched and don’t really look like they belong together on the shelf, ask yourself what sets you really want.

The Port Diversion on El Quattar’s Mother’s Town – Part One

While the main attack was going in against the landward wall of the town, a smaller force was assigned the task of making a diversion against the town’s harbor. 120 small and medium ship’s boats took part, carrying 3 regiments of British, American and British East India Company Marines and about 100 heroes. 840 sailors from the fleet were at the oars. Their job was to ferry the troops to shore, then return to the fleet.

John Monteith, Armand van Ingen, David Dougherty, Charlie Elsden and I played a map game of the approach of the boats to shore. Using a collection of boats from the Milton Bradley “Broadsides” game, we laid out a formation of 30 cutters (each holding 12 sailors, 24 Marines and a hero),  60 jolly boats (each holding 6 sailors, 12 Marines and a hero) and 30 small gigs (each holding 4 sailors, 4 Marines and a hero) on 2 large tables. As the flotilla moved towards shore, Charlie, playing the defenders, rolled dice to determine hits against the boats. He did remarkably well against the small craft, sinking all but one of the cutters and about a third of the others, but his marksmanship was unlucky on the followup shots to determine casualties. Though over half of the assaulting force was left swimming in the harbor, barely 5% were removed as dead or hors de combat.

The photos accompanying this narrative show several views of our force touching shore and beginning to fight our way to the top of the outward-facing sea wall and the city’s harbor defenses. More will follow as we fight our way into the town.

This first shot shows a view of the town looking south, as if one were standing on the sea wall looking back towards the center of the fortified harbor complex. The buildings which I used to create the town are by Barzso, Classic Toy Soldiers, Hobby Bunker, King and Country, Steve Weston, The Toy Soldier Company, Conte and a few assorted bird houses which I have acquired over the years. I used the Barzso buildings from his Shores of Tripoli Playset as painting samples, and decorated most of the rest of the structures to look like they came from the same time and place. (Click on the photo to enlarge it)

This is a view of the town looking north, over the sea wall and out towards the Mediterranean. The fountain is a 1/6th 21st Century Toys item. The building with the awning and the striped mosque tower are by King and Country. The wall, including the gatehouse in the foreground, is a home-made fortress which I traded for 30 years ago, and which has been used in many of our games. Figures used for El Quattar’s army include Starlux Renaissance figures and Pirates, Britains repainted Saracens, Reamsa Arabs, Hat Zouaves, Barzso Robin Hood Merry Men, Armies in Plastic Boxers, Charbens Pirates, Ideal Pirates, Cherilea Zulus and Nubians, Preiser Arabs and others. (Click on the photo to enlarge it)

Four Harold’s Rangers were able to insinuate themselves into the town when we first began this campaign, posing as merchants. Knowing the diversion was coming, they took shelter in the Weston “Magnificent Seven” church tower. You can see Sharpe (in green), Barry Lyndon (blue uniform and tricorn hat), Zetta (in tan) and Lola Montes in the striped skirt. They are biding their time, waiting to see what help they can offer the attackers.(Click on the photo to enlarge it)

The attacking force split in two during the final approach towards the harbor. Most of the boats went to our right, to attack the long sea wall. The smaller number rowed toward the left side of the harbor mouth. There, several boatloads of troops stormed the water-level gun positions which had sunk so many boats. The rest raised ladders (not shown here) to take the walls. The dock and gun battery are made of Playmobil Bridge and Trestle sets, a King and Country Wharf, CTS Palisade Wall, Hobby Bunker Defensive Wall, Barzso Tripoli Defense Works and a Britains World War One Artillery Redoubt. The Walls are Barzso Tripoli fortifications, Barzso Spanish Fort pieces, Hobby Bunker Adobe Buildings, Birdhouses and our TSC Wooden Tower. Boats by Moby Dick (real wood), Barzso 7-man Indian War Canoes, Playmobil Wrecked Ship and a beautiful home-made pirate ship by John Monteith (Monty). (Click on the photo to enlarge it)

This shot is of our boats just touching ashore below the town’s sea wall (the home-made fort). British, American and British East India Company Marines by Barzso, Accurate, Replicants, Armies in Plastic, Hat, Timpo and others. Many hand-animated Marines and Harold’s Rangers characters.

We raised pre-fabricated ladders and assaulted the walls. The fighting was tough, and we took casualties as the defenders were shooting down at us and throwing numerous grenades. But a lucky shot by one of the Rangers hit one of the enemy grenadiers in the hand. He dropped his grenade, killing himself and several others. One of the others was another grenadier, who dropped his grenade, killing himself and several of his comrades. As luck would have it, one of them was also throwing a grenade, so he, too dropped his, blowing himself and others up. This ripple effect, which had never happened in one of our games before (in over 40 years of playing Harold’s Rangers) cleared the whole western corner of the wall, allowing the attackers to climb up and use this position as a staging area for the next wave of the attack.

When fighting giant snakes

Rangers vs snakes. Clockwise, from lower left, Auda Abu Tayi (back to camera), Rio, Sun Tzu, Colonel Chiba, James Brooke (with flag), Jacques Buffault.

Harold’s Rangers generally face off against human opponents. In our adventures we tend to steer clear of monsters, supernatural creatures and magic-casting villains. But occasionally we encounter super-sized creatures. This is totally due to happenstance, such as when one of our gaming group visits a toy store where giant snakes, over sized elephants, monstrous squids and such are found in plain sight on a shelf or counter top. The temptation is too much. Although the new creature may be kept in a dark closet by its owner, it will eventually be placed upon the gaming table to threaten bodily harm against our characters. Sure, there are always complaints against the use of such death dealers, but usually (not always) the battle is fought and the survivors celebrate their victory.

There are times, of course, when caution prevails. In one game we played, I, acting as dungeon master, lured a group of heroes near a cave in the American Wilderness with promises of untold riches within. Then I growled once or twice to warn them that something other than gold awaited them. They politely refused to enter and walked away. The risk was not worth the payoff to them. Thus was born a new philosophy: don’t give your friends an option. Just throw them into the action and let them take care of themselves.

And so it was, on an adventure we played in 2005 against a cartel of Borneo pirates, that the encounter with a pair of giant snakes occurred. We had been fighting battles on land (more on that in a subsequent post) and at sea (ditto) when the opportunity of capturing the lead villain was offered.

A group of 6 heroes crept aboard the pirate flagship: Rio (Marlon Brando from”One Eyed Jacks”), James Brooke (the White Rajah of Sarawak. pirate hunter extraordinaire), Sun Tzu (the famed Chinese philosopher, author of “The Art of War,” and the only one of our heroes capable of catching an arrow in his teeth), Jacques Buffault (French mountaineer), Auda Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn from “Lawrence of Arabia”) and Colonel Chiba (Japanese officer, played by Juzu Itami in “55 Days at Peking.”) First the Rangers cleared the gun deck, which was lightly guarded. Then they went below in search of the pirate chieftain. Outside his cabin, however, they stumbled upon his pet snakes, each 25 feet long and sleeping across his doorway.

Three of the Rangers faced off against each snake. Dice were rolled. Auda went down with a bite to the arm. Swords flashed in the candle light. The snakes struck out with fang and swinging tails. But 5 swords bit deep and they were vanquished. The pirate lord attempted an escape but was captured. Snake stew served many Rangers that night.

Wargaming on a Grand Scale – Overview

Plastic toy soldiers in large scale battleIntroduction

(Note: throughout this article, if you click on any photo, it will enlarge to fill the whole screen in a separate window. To go back to the article, click the green arrow on the upper left of the screen)

Playing toy soldier war games on a grand scale has been one of the great pleasures of collecting for me. Every step in the gaming process has its own rewards, from the creation of the opposing armies to setting them up in a realistic environment over a wide expanse of floor, table or lawn, from maneuvering a wide array of infantry, cavalry and artillery units through the final goal of fighting the ensuing battles according to strictly regulated rule sets.

5 plastic toy soldiers animated for game

Although most gamers use one figure to represent 30 or more soldiers, I have always preferred a one-to-one ratio. Starting in the mid 1960s, I created a rule set called “Harold’s Rangers.” These rules, which cover most playable eras from the Ancient World through the middle of the 19th century, have been updated and polished over the past 40 years, but have always had the same goal – to offer the player the feel and excitement of all levels of battle from skirmish warfare to grand-scale combat.

My friends and I have played countless war games, using between 30 and 15,000 figures at a time in battles which took place in every period of history. This article will attempt to explain how a large scale war game is created and played out, covering every step in the process.

Creating a Battle

The first step in any game is to choose the battle you’re going to create or recreate. While it’s fun deciding on the period in which you’re going to play, and which troops to use, a more practical choice is selecting the scale of the battle. The scale issue encompasses knowing you have the space to set up AND maneuver the units involved. To a great degree the available playing space dictates game size. You can always maneuver a few figures in a big space, but packing in too many figures on a table, floor or lawn area without room to maneuver is to be avoided.

Next, you should employ a map, or series of maps, to allow movement of the armies to be involved before they reach the point of contact. (See footnote 1) As most of our games are not recreations, but fictionalized battles, my friends and I generally draw our own maps, showing the terrain on which the conflict will be fought. In the case of a game which begins at some distance from the battle site, a large scale map might also be drawn to show the approach road net, then other maps  can be utilized to “zoom in” to the actual site. In any case, once you have your maps, the initial game creation stage is complete. For this article I am using a battle from a campaign played against the Barbary Pirates. It’s an assault in the year 1805 on a fortified North African city which serves as a pirate base.

Recruiting the Armies

Here’s where the real fun begins. Which armies have you chosen for your game? For this game, the opposing armies are a defensive force of 2,000 Barbary Pirates, North African mercenaries and a European freebooters,  piitted against an assault force of 6,000 British Infantry, Highlanders and Riflemen, reinforced by American, British and Bombay Marines, and a mixed lot of 1,000 characters who have seen long service in Harold’s Rangers.

As I already had numerous painted bodies of troops to use for the British and their allies, as well as the North African mercenaries and Freebooters who served in the pirate army, my aim in this game was to create and paint most of the Barbary Pirates. The challenge was to try and amass about 600 painted soldiers who would look like they belonged together. I chose Ron Barzso’s Barbary Pirates as the ideal “look” for the regiment-sized force I was assembling.

Plastic toy soldiers painted as Barbary PiratesAs he has only made one set of 13 figures in 7 poses, however, the first step was to choose similar sets which could be altered by creative painting to mix with the Barszo soldiers into a cohesive group. I was looking for baggy trousers, headgear which might be appropriate and weapons of the period.

Plastic toy soldiers painted in Barzso styleI chose (left to right, top row above) Hing Fat Pirates, Armies in Plastic Arabs, Barzso Pirates, HAT Zouaves and Armies in Plastic Indian Infantry (second row, left to right) Barzso Robin Hood Merry Men, Armies in Plastic Egyptian Infantry, more Armies in Plastic Indian Infantry, Jecsan Huns and more Hat Zouaves. In addition I used numerous boxes of Italeri’s Mamelukes, and added Britains, Jecsan and Reamsa Moors, pirates by Ideal, Marx and Charbens, and, just because they looks so appropriate for the period, a contingent of Italeri and Hat Napoleonic French Infantry (shown below)Plastic toy soldiers by Hat and Italeri painted as pirate army These were a reach, but I figured that when Napoleon’s army was evacuated from Egypt, their stores, including thousands of uniforms from the many casualties suffered throughout the campaign, were on sale in souks across the length of North Africa).

Building the Battlefield and Gathering Intelligence

I have long been fascinated by the concept of the escalade, a sudden assault on a walled town or citadel accomplished with the use of scaling ladders. Wellington (then Wellsley) used this method in India in his attack on Ahmednuggur in 1803, and, later in his Peninsula Campaign against Badajoz in 1812. For our game, I posited an escalade attack by the combined Anglo/Indian/American force against the pirate-controlled city.

With this escalade in mind I built the set for the game. Using thousands of pieces from the Playmobil castle system, I spent 30 hours building a 20-foot wide, 2-foot high and 2-foot deep city wall.

Playmobil castle sets with plastic toy soldiers(Sorry this is out of focus)

Playmobil city wall detail with plastic toy soldiers

This wall featured projecting towers to provide flanking fire against ladder parties, numerous ground-level hidden doors to allow sorties by the defenders, and a strongly-defended gateway.

Playmobil castle with plastic toy soldiers

The wall features dozens of rooms, stairways, cul-de-sacs and defendable fallback positions built within the massive structure to allow all sorts of different smaller skirmishes when and if the assault force gained the top of the walls.

As an escalade attack is such a challenge, I opted for giving the players who were running the allies a fair amount of intelligence in helping to plan their assault.

Map for game which uses plastic toy soldiersI drew a map of the entire city. This allowed us to play a one-day game in which the participants moved markers representing characters from Harold’s Rangers within the city as a means of gathering information for the forthcoming battle. I was running the game (as umpire/ storyteller/dungeon master) so I took the part of the pirates. We all talked through a series of imaginary adventures, exploring the city’s gates, defenses, marketplaces, palaces, harbor approaches, dens of vice and corruption and other sights. The allied team used the information to establish a plan of attack, and arranged some “inside help” by rolling dice to have several of the Rangers enlist as mercenaries in the service of the pirates to help protect the walls.

Laying Out the Armies

Once the map moves were completed and the gaming table was set up, the work of putting out the opposing armies began. The first step in this process was to be sure that the overwhelming number of the 9,000 figures to be used in the game was based. This is an essential step in grand-scale wargaming. Imagine having to set up 9,000 figures one at a time, then having to move each one as the game turns progress. It would take days for each turn. But, using movement boards, almost every figure used in our 17th/18th/19th century games is based.

British Plastic toy soldiersThe first method is glueless, and is best-suited for regular infantry units. I have a lumber yard cut 12-inch lengths of wooden battens. These are about 1/8 inch in thick and an inch wide. Then I screw the “eyes” from hook and eye sets into the ends and middle of each stick. I can place 12 figures on each stick, holding them in place by running a 12-inch dowel through the eyes.

The second method uses glue and is more appropriate for skirmishers, irregulars, troops in column and command units. I glue pairs of skirmishers British Riflemen are shown) on 3 inch x 3 inch squares of 1/8th inch-thick masonite. Regular infantry on the march are placed in groups of 4 (2 rows of 2) on 3 x 3 squares.

Painted plastic toy soldiersFor groups of 9 (3 rows of 3) I use 4 x 4 squares. Trained infantry are in ordered rows. Mobs and untrained groups are more haphazardly placed.

Plastic toy soldiers on 12 inch boards

I place the finished battens and/or masonite squares on larger 12 x 12 inch masonite squares. These 12 x 12’s can also be grouped together on 24 x 24 inch squares, the largest size of board that can be easily moved. A 12-inch square of 12 battens holds 144 troops, a 12-inch square of 16 3 x 3’s holds 64 and a 12-inch square of 9 4 x 4’s holds 81. The most a 24 x 24 inch square can hold is 576 figures, which is a large regiment on campaign.

6000 plastic toy soldiersBrigades are formed by combining several regiments, and divisions by combining several brigades. That’s 6,000 toy soldiers shown above. Now we’re looking at grand scale wargaming. (see Footnote 2)

I retain numerous figures which are not placed on or glued down to bases. For while one can always take glued figures off their movement boards, loose figures are used to “make change” when removing casualties and to fight out little skirmishes in the confines of a house, on a castle wall, or wherever boards are out of place or too big to fit.

Beginning the Game

Finally, the set is built, the armies are based, the players have gathered their intelligence and formed a plan of attack. It’s time to play. In some games the armies enter the playing area using a timetable, with some units starting in the playing area while others arrive on the playing field according to a schedule. For this game, we used cardboard markers on the map to show the location of each unit when the game started.

As the attackers had decided on a surprise assault just before dawn, they had the advantage of knowing that the defending army was scattered around the city, in barracks and on guard duty. The pirates had only one full regiment assigned to duty at the wall, and (determined by die rolls) only 20% of them were actually on guard while the rest were asleep in guard rooms within the wall’s built-in quarters.

6,000 plastic toy soldiers

The attackers, however, were concentrated beyond sight and sound of the defenders. The city was overlooked by a sandy bluff, behind which the attackers had formed into their attack columns.

The first move of a game is usually determined by a dice role to see who gets the initiative, but as this was a surprise attack the initiative automatically went to the attacking army.

The Attack Begins: Turn 1

First, a word about time scales. In a war game, time can pass very quickly. This might be the case when an army is on the march across country, where game-spanning days can pass in a moment, as both players agree that no surprise attacks are planned, and no encounters will take place. But when troops come into contact, time slows. Thus, throughout the game in progress, even when we were talking through the exploration of the town, time passed as quickly as we talked, measuring in hours and days in a few moments. As soon as the attack commenced, however, we spoke in terms of phases. In “Harold’s Rangers,” the smallest measurement of time is a phase, which equals 5 seconds of real time.

As the attackers approached the wall, they moved in columns, at the quick march, carrying ladders. They were moving in semi-darkness, as the attack was going in at 5 am, and they were traveling across broken ground. Using the “Harold’s Rangers” movement tables, this meant the attack columns were moving at 4 inches per phase (1 inch equals 1 yard in game scale). As their starting position was 120 inches way from the wall, this meant that if they made the approach unimpeded, it would take 32 phases (32 turns = 12.5 minutes of game time) to reach the point at which they could raise their ladders and begin climbing.

Plastic toy soldiers approaching the wallDuring the first few phases of this 12.5 minutes of game time, the lookouts on the walls saw the attacking columns. They sounded the alarm, waking the rest of the regiment stationed to guard the wall. The sleeping troops armed themselves and rushed to their assigned posts. Further alarms were raised throughout the city, where regiments began to mobilize to reinforce the defenders.

Platic toy soldiers with Playmobil castle setsThe attacking columns come into range of the bow-armed defenders as soon as they crested the rise of the bluff behind which they had been sheltering. The defenders who were armed with bows began firing upon them. This was a tough shot, as the attackers were moving and the pre-dawn light cut down the chance of a hit by 20%. Nevertheless, as the attackers presented such a big target, they started taking casualties.

Plastic toy soldiers against Playmobil castleAs the attack columns got closer, they came within musket range. Although muskets are notoriously inaccurate, when fired en masse they did take their toll. Thus, when the columns reached the environs of the wall they were somewhat thinned.

The Ladders go Up: Turn 33

Plastic toy soldiers attack Playmobil castleAs the attackers reached the wall they threw up their ladders and began to climb (see Footnote 3). The defending regiment, all of whom had now reached their posts, poured fire into them from front and flank positions. The darkness helped keep the casualties down, but with all that lead, arrow flights and grenades coming in from all sides the wounded count continued to rise.

While this was happening, troops from around the city were rushing to reinforce the wall. These troops were not yet on the table – the moves were being made with cardboard markers on the map – but there was a lot of tension as to whether they would arrive in time.

Allied Reinforcements top the Bluff: Turn 60


Plastic toy soldiers from Britains and Timpo and Airfix25 minutes of game time had passed. The moves until now had taken a full day of real time to play, considering the volume of fire being thrown out against the attackers, the number of die rolls required to simulate it, and the time it took to remove casualties and continue to move the attackers forward. The troops of the first wave who had crossed the open ground, thrown the ladders against the wall and climbed into action were taking heavy casualties. Then a second wave of allied troops crossed the bluff and moved at the charge to reinvigorate the attack.

Kaboom!: Turn 108


Plastic toy soldiers and Barzso wallWhile the assault continued, a section of wall was blown up by a unit of Royal Engineers who set kegs of gunpowder against a weak spot in the outer wall. This was when their friends inside (remember the Rangers who had joined the defenders as mercenaries?) acted as well, lighting the fuse on a similar charge inside a lower storeroom which they had placed on the day before the attack. The result: a breach!

First into the Breach: Turn 120


Harold's Rangers plastic toy soldiersA picked group of Harold’s Rangers and 78th Highlanders had been standing by for just this moment. Forming a Forlorn Hope, they rushed into the breach to gain a toe hold in the defenses.

Harold's Rangers and Timpo highlanders plastic toy soldiersThe Rangers and the 78th broke through the breach, attacking the defenders to begin clearing them from the walls.

Harold's Rangers and Timpo highlanders plastic toy soldiersHarold in the breach.

Turning the Flanks: Turn 150


Timpo highlanders and Sharpe and Harper plastic toy soldiersFresh troops of the 78th Highland flooded through the breach.

Harold's Rangers and Timpo Highlanders plastic toy soldiers

Joining the Forleorn Hope survivors, the 78th Highlanders spread out to the right and left, clearing the walls. Meanwhile, outside the city, the weary troops of the first wave, who had been fighting their way up the ladders, were reinvigorated and renewed their assault.

Pirate Reinforcements In a Second Defense Line: Turn 215


Italeri and Hat and Barzso plastic toy soldiersAll was not lost for the pirates, however. Reinforcements who had been coming up to reinforce the walls saw the breakthrough and fell back to prepare a second line of hasty defenses in the town square.

Barzso and Weston foam building partsPirates approach the town square to strengthen the second defense line.

Plastic toy soldiers and Barzso Form Tech buildingsPiling up furniture, wagons, household goods and anything else that might stop a bullet or hold back the allied bayonets, the pirates built a hasty defense in the town square.

Plastic toy soldiers and Barzso Form Tech buildingsMeanwhile, the Allies, having secured the town wall, reformed their regiments. The less weary and barely depleted units of the second wave advances to assault this second line.

Hand to hand: Turn 235


Plastic toy soldiersRegiments of British and Yanks, Indian and Scotsman stormed the second line. Despite a gallant charge by the Pirate King’s Horse Guards, the inexorable Allied line contiued to advance. After a brutal hand-to-hand struggle, the defenders fled into the night while the city fell to the victors.



This was just one example of one of our large scale gaming experiences. We’ve played many games, and you can read about them and see lots of game photos, by looking elsewhere on this Harold’s Rangers blog.

Footnote 1:

Finding Maps: I’ve had success using the Google search engine on my computer. As an example, type in a reference, such as “Gettysburg Battlefield Maps” and hit the enter key. You will be presented with a wide array of maps which can be downloaded and printed. You can then use cardboard markers representing elements of your army to move across country to the battle site. By choosing maps in different scales, you can have the game progress across an entire country, a county, into a town and right up to a specific site. For example start with the state map of Pennsylvania, then go to a map of Adams county, then to a general map of the Gettysburg area, then, if this is your goal, to a map of Little Round Top and its environs. This is a free service.

Footnote 2:

On basing your armies: I purchase the boards for basing at any lumber yard. The yard will supply the masonite in 8 x 4 foot sheets, then cut the sheets to size for a fee. One sheet cut into 3 x 3 inch squares yields 512 squares. One sheet cut into 4 x 4 inch squares yields 288 squares. One sheet yields 32 12 x 12 inch squares. For the larger 24 x 24 inch pieces, which are used to transport hundreds of figures, I use either ¼ inch masonite or plywood. I glue the figures to the boards with a small dot of hot glue, which allows them to remain in place indefinitely, or permits easy removal with a pen knife by prying them up. The lumber yard will also cut 12 inch lengths of wooden battens. These are about 1/8 inch in thick and an inch wide. If the yard doesn’t supply the “eyes” from hook and eye sets, you can purchase these at a hardware store. I use an awl to punch a small indentation into the batten to create a starting hole for the insertion of the eye.

Footnote 3:

As the walls used in this game are so tall, I had to make my own ladders. I fabricated several dozen ladders using 12-inch wooden skewers for rails and kitchen matches for rungs. I had to glue two finished ladders together end-to end to make them tall enough to reach the top of the wall.

Note: This is the original, longer version of the article of the same name which appeared in the April 2011 issue of Toy Soldier and Model Figure Magazine.  It contains all the photos which appeared in the magazine, as well as several others for which there was insufficient room. All rights to this extended article and attached photographs are copyright 2011 by James Delson and may not be reproduced without the author’s express permission.

Video of recent wargame

Here’s a video Jamie shot of the setup for a Harold’s Rangers game in November 2010:


Welcome to the Harold’s Rangers blog. I’m Jamie Delson, a life-long toy soldier collector and wargamer. My brother, Eric, introduced me to Avalon Hill board games, such as “Tactics II” and “Gettysburg”, when I was in grade school back in the 1950s. Up to that time I had been satisfied with setting up huge battles with 54mm toy soldiers on my floor. But playing the board games with Eric influenced me to stop throwing golf balls, darts and pencils at my soldiers in favor of trying to find a set of rules which would allow me to use soldiers, instead of cardboard counters, to play out games with my toys.

Over the next two decades I tried out rule sets by H.G. Wells, Donald Featherstone, Joseph Morschauser and the team of Brigadier Peter Young and Lt. Col. J.P. Lawford. Influenced by their works, I wrote my own set of rules for 54mm figures, which continued to be developed as they were played and replayed through high school, college and adulthood. But it wasn’t until the 1980s, when I met Armand van Ingen and John Monteith, that the  full rules of “Harold’s Rangers” were developed.

Since then, I, along with Monteith, van Ingen and David Dougherty, plus scores of fellow hobbyists,  have been playing an ongoing series of games. I titled the game “Harold’s Rangers” after the ill-fated English King, Harold Godwinson, who is the leader of my own forces. He, and many other characters in the game, such as John Nicholson, are real historical figures, but our armies also include fictional characters such as Richard Sharpe, Sergeant Harper and Suzie the Samurai.

This blog offers me a chance to share the saga of our 30-year gaming history. “Harold’s Rangers” is as much a series of stories, or movies, as a game. Each time we play we add a new chapter which can be viewed and re-viewed in the many photos we have taken of every game, and I and my friends hope to recount our adventures for your enjoyment. By wandering the site, you will also find articles I have written about the hobby, practical advice and how-to documents on painting, animating and collecting, and much more.

My day job is running The Toy Soldier Company with my wife, Jenny. We sell plastic and metal toy soldiers, in scales from HO to 70mm, through our website and print catalogs. My aim is keep the focus of this blog on fun, not work, but as the two are inextricably linked in my life I will apologize if commerce rears its ugly head from time to time.

I have been a professional writer, of screenplays and newspaper and magazine articles, for 40 years. But this format is new to me,  so please bear with me as I feel my way through this new adventure. I welcome your comments and look forward to sharing my passion for this hobby with you.