Monday, 6 April 2020

Seb's Soldiers: Maybe a learning opportunity locked down with your children?

The present unfortunate situation most of us face around the world means that many wargamers, or parents of children who like military toys, are stuck at home, possibly for weeks or months looking for new ways to amuse and educate their kids.  I created this project last year inspired by my 6 year old grandson, Sebastian, who likes playing with my soldiers. This blog post will tell the story of how I made the armies from "classic" 1970s 25mm figures, wrote and tested some rules and laid on the first game of "Seb's Soldiers - Napoleonic" for some of the family. I hope it will be of interest to my more experienced readers who like the classic toys many of us started with, and to those who have children to amuse. There will be links to the rules and resources to help give some stimulus. Talking if which there is even a Russian Hussarette along the way!

Seb and his Dad, Scott, deploy their army at The Battle of Ashton Keynes
Rossen and Lucy provide the opposition
The Origin
About 18 months or so ago I went to a party (you remember those gatherings where people get close and chat?) and over the drinks and nibbles found myself talking to a nice chap named Phil. A glass or two of wine had loosened my usual reticence and I admitted I played with model soldiers as a hobby. "Oh," said Phil "I used to do that when I was young, I've got a box of soldiers somewhere in the loft I haven't used for 30 years, you can have them". I gave him my contact details and thought little more of it till several months later when I got a call and arranged for Phil to bring them round.  I was amazed by his generosity as the box contained about 150 classic 25mm Miniature Figurines Napoleonic British and Russians and about 200 Waterloo style Minifig Waterloo troops in 15mm.  The latter proved a gift to my friend Richard to join his 15mm Peninsular War armies and I had to ponder what to do with the 25mm ones........

British Grenadier Guards was one of the first units to be completed
One day that week I found myself on granddad duty with Seb, and the classic figures were looking rather dusty and untouched after 30 years absence from the field of combat so I asked Seb if he'd like to help me clean them up. We got a bowl of warm water and some soft brushes and paper towels and began the job of dusting, washing and drying them one by one. The little chap proved surprisingly adept at matching uniforms of the painted ones and the poses of the unpainted ones so that after a couple of hours we had long lines of figures looking a bit like regiments. When he went home I said in an openly questioning way "What did you think of the model soldiers Seb?", "They were so cool!" was the reply, and he gave an affirmative response to my suggestion to paint and organise them for his birthday which was still about 6 months away.

One of several smart Russian Grenadier regiments
The Concept
Gosh, what had I let myself in for? About half the figures were painted, competently but not quite as well as I would have liked - they needed tidying up, and all the bases were wasting away so they would need a coherent approach to presentation. Also Russian v. British was a bit strange, but hey, why not Napoleonic style Imagi-Nation armies where anything goes but in a broadly Late 18th Century/Napoleonic/Regency period way? Create some rules that were straightforward enough for beginners to pick up quickly, give some ideas for setting up games, and even maybe a campaign setting, some basic colourful terrain.......

The Rules
Seb and I had already played some rudimentary wargames with his "Green Army Men" but I thought I could introduce him to the cut and thrust of "Horse and Musket" wargames now.  I showed him my DVD of the movie "Waterloo" as a taster, quickly explaining my way through while skipping the talky bits. He had a great attention span for that.  I wanted to keep things simple and basic but also with challenging elements, so Command and Control was kept to 12 numbered cardboard "chits" allocated at random to units, or Generals commanding one or more units. The 6 sided die (D6) was all we needed for more randomness and most things were in multiples of 6 (Well it was to be his 6th Birthday present!). I did not want any issues of inches or centimetres (BREXIT was looming.......) so settled for measurement in "Basewidths"(BW) which I know is not original but it is practical and means the rules can be adapted for anything. I found most of the base widths I had already used to mount figures was 4.5 to 5 cm so the BW for the game became 5cm and I standardised on 3 Line Infantry per base close together, 2 Light Infantry in skirmish order, or 2 cavalry more or less boot to boot. The amount of figures per base is irrelevant really as all casualties and morale are worked out on bases lost. Small arms Firing is limited to 6 BW and a D6 used to match, with minimal addition and subtractions. The same applies to Melee.  Movement is by BW, and artillery uses the distance of 18 BW for maximum range. So a couple of measuring sticks are advisable and you can see two in the photo above.  Morale gets steadily harder to stand the more bases lost and units can slide through Shaken, Retreat and Rout or Surrender. I played around with these ideas on a flat tabletop first of all and they seemed to work so I now had to find some guinea pigs willing testers. But first I had to make bigger and smarter armies in a classic 1970s style - simple but neat paintwork and slightly glossy finish.

Completed edition of the "Seb's soldiers" rules and Quick Reference Sheet

The Armies
Bigger armies? Yes, I'm a wargamer, can one ever have enough? Besides if I wanted Seb and others to get a feel for a Napoleonic force there had to be a hard corps of close order infantry, some light infantry, about 25% cavalry and two kinds of artillery. Oh, of course there had to be scope for Guards and Militia types too, especially with Imagi-nation armies. While the figures were mostly MiniFigs they were somewhat of an ill-matched assortment of different numbers that didn't always amount to a proper regiment so I began to look at EBay to make up the difference. I soon realised there is a big market out there for the "25mm" soldier and you have to be a bit careful. Mostly Hinchliffe figures were too big or ugly but the occasional Hinton Hunt, and especially Les Higgins, figures were fine. I was glad I had practiced recognising these in the 1960s and 70s when my brain was young and nimble as the Ebay advertisers often did not know what they were selling. Anyway, although this purchasing element took on a feeling of megalomania I rarely bought "finished" figures and never paid huge money. I lost quite a few deals because I refused to bid into silly money. I'd say most cost about 50p for an infantry figure and up to a £1 for cavalry. No doubt real collectors would be prepared to pay more.  I purchased a couple of hundred more over several months and got some cute small mountain guns with mule teams from one of my art clients at Cotswold Wargaming Day!

The "Russian" and "British" armies (more on them later) ended up totalling about 300 finished figures with a mixture of accurate historical units, approximations to historical accuracy, "mercenaries" from other nations, and a few just made up. Photos of the armies available for his birthday in November below; I did add some more cavalry at Christmas.

The "British" army - excuse the French gunners, they just look "cool"
The "Russian" army with some fictitious mercenaries

Test Game One - The Battle of St Misha's Crossroads

The first willing tester turned out to be my old mate Kevin East from Bristol and by chance he could offer a 6 year old boy to help! Kevin was having friends of his Russian wife to stay for a while and was happy to find such an interesting distraction for a boy who had already shown interest in Kevin's own fantastic Napoleonic collection (see for example this Guest page and many of my Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte blog posts from 2015-16). So Kevin brought Misha, and his Mum, Geniia, to the Cotswolds for a few hours of military-related fun, which included dressing up as pseudo Napoleonic/18th century characters using my art props. See these example photos:

But, enough of that frivolity, on to the game!

My plan was to produce a nice looking battlefield with decent sized forces at the point of engagement thus ensuring action from the start. A small mixed rearguard of British troops was deployed across the crossroads named after St Misha's Chapel. I operated the British while my guests took the much larger Russian attacking force. I had reinforcements trying to cross a single bridge to come out of the town at my rear. Misha and I had to have a dice roll contest for each Move - he won the first one thus keeping me back. My right flank is covered by a very extensive patch of bad going forest in order to focus our attention on closer action in the open. The Russian objective was to control the crossroads and drive all the British away. This picture gives a good idea of the overall situation at the start:

Russians left and British right

And this one as we proceeded to instruct Misha

Now here is a twist. Misha could speak a little more English than my Russian, which is limited to "Thank you" and "cheers". Geniia knew some English and Kevin some Russian, but neither confidently, so the two adults had both downloaded Google Translate audio to their phones and we spoke in our own language into a phone and then listened to Google's idea of the translation. Sometimes the results were hilarious but Kevin and Geniia managed to smooth over the inaccuracies and it took us an hour to do one action-packed move. My 5 units and the reserves each had one of my 6 Initiative tokens while the Russians used individual units and small brigades with 3 generals to take up their 6 tokens. After one move I think the "linguists' and the 6 year old were a  bit exhausted so we lightened up with the dressing up games before they went home. Genia had proved a charming, intelligent and funny female wargamer, and Misha very politely declared it was a great game which he had really enjoyed.

But of course it was not much of a game in just one Move so I finished it off with 5 more Moves soon after they had gone.  You can enjoy all the photos I took of that on Google Photos here but here are a few samples:

The Royal Scots Greys engage Russian Hussars and Dragoons
The 18 BW long artillery stick in action.
A lucky shot set the chapel on fire (a 6 needed if a hit scored)
British reinforcements cross the bridge
Russian Hussars chase the remnants of a British infantry regiment into the river!
As the successful Russian army advances they bring up the artillery. A much depleted (command stand only) Grenadier battalion flees past. Note the artillery ammunition markers
Those 5 more Moves gave me a very good idea of how the rules mechanics were working and moved me on to Version 2.  Artillery could be very bloody so I reduced their effect slightly. I made Morale 1 point more difficult to stand hoping more units would retreat before being destroyed, and I introduced a charge to contact distance to give attackers more chance to get in without too much fire on them. I found the Initiative chits worked a treat and gave an exciting tension to the game but, despite the occasional "big win" produced by a lucky draw, balanced out the more Moves you had. Thank you Kevin, Misha and Geniia for your help.

Test Game Two
And so on to the second test game which was a couple of weeks later and I allocated a full day with pub lunch (remember Pubs?) for this with another old friend, Mike Tovey. I wanted to try the rules with the full sized armies (around 12 units each) and my 8 x 4 foot table. The terrain was a combination of my usual hills and buildings plus the roads and rivers I had refurbished for Seb from a very cheap Ebay buy. I think it looks quite pretty and still has a classic feel. Here is a photo of the initial set up:
A small British Advanced Guard defends a hilltop church and village trying to cover two river crossings and awaiting the Main Force. A Russian force of a small infantry brigade and a cavalry brigade is pinning them in place.
I tried to think up a scenario which would balance the armies and terrain across the whole table, so, inspired by some of Frederick The Great's outflanking moves, I contrived to fix a British Advanced guard in a good defensive position which would be pinned by Russian opposition and then the Russian main Force would arrive in their rear to head for the river crossings. But they would be met by the British Main Force in a kind of unequal race to secure the bridges.  Mike was to command the British and have some choice over allocation of his Main force brigades to roads. For the Russians I divided up my baselines into segments and rolled dice to determine where the brigades would come on or deploy. That would give me a challenge and avoid an unbalancing concentration of force. Some photos (below) with captions might help but here is a link to the full set if you want to see them.

In brief the order of battles were:
 - Advanced Guard of one each of Lt Inf, Lt artillery, Cavalry and large Line infantry
 - Main Force of 2 Infantry brigades and one Cavalry brigade
- Advanced Guard of one each of Lt Inf, Lt artillery, large Line infantry and a brigade of two cavalry regiments
- Main force of two Infantry brigades plus one more regiment each of Lt Inf and cavalry

For those who want the detail, here is a link to the full order of battle as a downloadable PDF

Russian Main Force begins to arrive and head for the Manor house
Mike's Main Force makes quick progress on the roads and
 he occupies the Manor with riflemen
My right flank cavalry began to engage the new arrivals near their bridge
Light infantry contest Church Hill and the British Light Dragoons boldly attack
a large Russian Grenadier regiment supported by Light artillery. This became a
 hard fight with my infantry being the first to fail Morale leaving the artillery
 to be crushed by Mike's cavalry.
More British cavalry join the bridge melee, outflanking my dragoons and I could
 tell it would end badly.........
Mike had set up an artillery death trap between the bridges and
 I could not make headway there. (The red 'E's denote Elite units
and the green numbers are bases lost)
So I launched a powerful attack on the Manor and drove out the
 Rifles, but that did not get my infantry to the bridge in time
These few pictures are just a snapshot of a 3-4 hour game that was full of incident and decision making and I thoroughly enjoyed it; I hope Mike did too. He certainly caught on quickly to the things that mattered, and despite some of my local successes such as taking the Manor hamlet, he had denied me the bridges and Church Hill and the village by the time we had to call time, and my army was very badly mauled.

This game had proved to me that the rules were satisfying and challenging to experienced wargamers without being unnecessarily bogged down with detail. In particular the 12 Initiative tokens works with any number of actual units if you allocate them to Generals commanding discrete groups of units, or particularly critical individual units. The artillery still proved too dominating so I halved the allocation of hit dice to gunners. When you read the rules this might strike you as unduly complex, for which I  apologise, but it's really pretty simple in practise. And so I was then on Version 3.

The Birthday Game
Seb's birthday was fast approaching and I was content that I had a workable set of rules, complete, balanced armies, and some terrain to get him started. It happened that the day before his Birthday The Duchess and I were on Granddad duty for him and his sister and we had a couple of hours spare before a planned cinema outing. So I set up a battlefield with what I had made for him which was a 4 foot by 2 foot board covered in a Javis grass railway mat and a few contoured hills to match, plus the roads and river and a bridge seen in Game Two, and a wood. He likes building Lego so I suggested, as storage space is a problem at home, he could make his own buildings. Here are some photos and there are a couple more near the top of this post .

Given the short time we had, and that it was his first game I invited him to choose the 5 units he liked the best from the British Army and then I roughly matched them with 5 Russian units. Suffice to say I gave him advice and guidance but he did comprehensively beat me in only 3 Moves! This took about an hour which seemed to match his attention span and of course he was involved all that time due to the random nature of the Initiative chit system. He enjoyed it and we packed it all up for him to take home that day.

The Rules
If you've got this far I hope you might be interested in having a look at the rules. I have produced them in a large font to a make it easier for youngsters to read, the text also explains in simplistic terms the various types of troops used in battles of this period of warfare, so complete beginners can pick it up straight away. There are some photos of games in action too as featured in this blog post. Here is a link to the Downloads sidebar for you to get a copy for free
And for ease of play once you have read the rules - a 2 sided Quick Reference Sheet
I recommend you make your own game counters but if you don't want to here is the sheet I prepared for us in a rather rough state showing Shaken, Rout and ammunition markers
You will also need a set of robust numbers 1 - 12 with one side blank, to pick them blind at random, for the Initiative order of play. You will need some method of keeping track of the number of bases lost per unit.
PLEASE NOTE - All the resources from this Blog are Copyright to me as the creator
Permission is given to download and print or copy them for personal use, and I hope you will, but if you want to use anything for commercial purposes you must seek permission from me first. If you pass this on, share or use anything on social media etc,  please give me credit by name and a link to this blog, thank you.


Wider use of Seb's Soldiers
I was driven by circumstances towards the classic style 25mm figures as stated but I reckon you could use the Seb's Soldiers rules with practically any period or scale. For example in Ancients swap muskets for bows, make slings and javelins just a 3BW range, give pikes or cataphracts a significant plus in melee, a better saving roll for more armour, chariots/elephants can have a single D6 as a weapons platform and a plus 1 in combat, elephants a minus 1 on Morale if within 3BW of cavalry etc, etc.  Make up your own rules to suit. Or how about Space, Science Fiction or Fantasy? Get out those Warhammer 40K Space Marines and mount two or three to a strong cardboard base and form them into units. The different weapons could have varying BW ranges and add or subtract for effect, or if hit by certain blasters - no saving throw and just fry! Same for the longer range weapons. Eldar jet riders can be your what you need with the rules they are as broad as your imagination.

Talking of which, although I've created a Napoleonic style Imagi-nation, if you don't mind a bloody battle and can overlook the time scale issues, I reckon you could use the rules more or less as they stand for historical battles that are of small scale with battalions as the main unit  (e.g. Vimiero, Corunna, most American Revolution battles etc). If you set your sights higher then imagine doing Waterloo - 1 x 25/28mm figure would represent 100 real men with the basic units as brigades, and you limit muskets to 2 or 3 BW range, Rifles to 4 BW, Light artillery to 12 BW. Introduce heavy cavalry with a plus 1 in Melee, Initiative chits are given to Corps or Divisional commanders, maybe not enough to go round each Move!......... For this your ground scale becomes something like 10 BW is 500 metres if you are translating from a historical map.

An Imagi-Nations Campaign
As you can see from the above the rules can give exciting and varied sized one-off games for all ages but I wanted it to have the potential as a learning experience for Seb as he likes making up stories and writing them in his own way too. So I created a little world that was on his doorstep (he lives near Cricklade over the Wiltshire border from me) but set around 1806 with less roads, no railways, but when the Thames and Severn canal was a new addition to the local economy. Here is the map I drew and laminated for him to draw on if necessary.

I messed around a bit with History where England is in turmoil due to the madness of King George and discontent with the Prince Regent. The "baddie" is Earl Bathurst of Cirencester who has appointed himself Duke of Gloucester. He has a private army which takes its inspiration from the contemporary Russian Army with the odd mercenary or local militia units as well.  The young Duke Sebastian of Purton is our hero and is so loyal to the Crown that his tiny army has been augmented considerably by regular British army units, including Guards, The Scots Greys and Riflemen.

I created a PDF which starts with this story expanded somewhat and gives a suggestion of how the map can be used as the scene for multiple small wargames. It also contains a visual record of the units currently in Seb's armies - names, strength in bases and quality. Obviously this is unique to his eclectic mix of units but it could give an idea for your own version.  Here is the link to the Downloads sidebar
Seb's Wars - A campaign background and order of battle
and a link to the map if you prefer it to the one above
Glos/Wilts campaign map about 1806

A wargame for the family
I put this into practice for the family Christmas wargame (a couple of pics at the top of the blog) and tried a different approach.

I selected an area on the "border" round Ashton Keynes, where Seb goes
to school and allocated 2 or 3 Victory Points to crossroads, bridges and villages
The entire armies were set out behind the playing area edges and the players invited to chose 6 units at their complete discretion. I knew of old that both Scott and Rossen had studied some military history and had good ideas to bring to bear.
But neither of them was familiar with these armies and did not deliberately take troop quality into account
Scott and Seb chose "British" cavalry, heavy and light artillery, 2 line infantry and one light infantry and spread them across the entire baseline to maximise their options in respect of the objectives. I allowed a 6BW start line so we got action quickly
Rossen and Lucy had a different idea for the "Russian" army based on the German schwerpunkt or American "get there firstest with the mostest" philosophy!  Three artillery batteries more or less centrally and two Elite infantry regiments to go for Ashton Keynes village. A cavalry regiment was assigned to thwart any enemy flanking move on the right

Seb's riflemen on his far right were totally unopposed and his other two units only engaging at long range. The good news was that he took three objectives without any loss, the bad news was that he wasn't getting much of a game this time and began to lose interest about the time we realised the Worzul Gummage Christmas special was coming on TV, so we lost him and his Auntie Lucy. The two big boys, however, were relishing the opportunity to use the full force of their chosen units to fulfil their plan. All credit to both for taking it down to the wire and gave me a thoroughly enjoyable second hour helping see what would happen. In a sense both won. Rossen's concentration, especially with artillery, made any hope Scott had to win Ashton Keynes completely untenable, but that village was only worth 3 points and 2 for the road junction. Despite having lost more points in troops/units Scott, with Duke Sebastian's force, had a road junction, two bridges and the village of South Cerney so I declared him the winner.
After his TV programme I told Seb of the outcome "Aagh, they got my school!!!" he declared.

If you still haven't had enough classic wargame figure eye candy you can see all the photos of this game here.

The serious bit
All this happened by Christmas and I have been meaning to blog about it for ages. In the last couple of weeks I realised maybe it could be something of a public service to do it now. It is sad to reflect that Seb can't share "Seb's Soldiers" with his school friends as he is home. His Mum, a doctor, is at time of writing, about to face her first stint on the frontline making life and death decisions over a prolonged period of time. His Dad is having to spend time coping with a full load of home-schooling for him and his sister while still trying to look for meaningful work as a very skilful freelance graphic designer.  I imagine many of my readers, or people you know, may well be in a similar position. As a father of four children (now all grown up) I can well imagine how difficult it must be to keep them amused as well as keep up the learning while locked down and shut in. This applies throughout much of the world not just the UK. Anyone who has made a wargame army, or designed a military-based game, especially if researched from real history or even fictitious literature, knows what a lot of life skills wargaming and modelling can teach.
Decision making
Teamwork and cooperation
Reading and Drawing maps
Making models of terrain, buildings, equipment and vehicles
Painting model soldiers
Research and Analysis
Computer graphics for production of game aids
and probably many more I can't think of.

My own Dad knew all this. He was very keen on history but never wargamed though he and Mum gave over 4 or 5 rooms in their house every month for 10-15 spotty teenage boys to play historical battles. As I got older he told me what a great thing he thought it was that I ran a club to give so much benefit to growing minds.

So now we move towards a very uncertain future I hope some of you may be inspired by Seb and his Soldiers to try something similar while you are locked away and maybe with plenty more time to spare than you ever expected......

Remember all our friends and relations in the Medical and Caring services, many are risking their lives. STAY HOME: PROTECT THE NHS: SAVE LIVES
Thank you


  1. Chris I caught this as an update on my sidebar and quickly popped over just before a Skype call for work. I have only flicked through 20% of this and said to myself "Come back with a cup of tea and enjoy it later today after the teleconference". This looks just too good to rush mate!!

  2. A most interesting and inspiring post, well done to everyone!

  3. A terrific, and surprisingly moving, post. I love the whole thing and the idea of using it for a larger audience. My own son has been fortunate enough to grow up with toy soldiers and playing games. They have taught him social skills that he wouldn't have got elsewhere, especially useful as an autistic child. Right now he's taken to painting his own figures which is teaching him patience (something we've noticed is that he doesn't shout and swear when playing video games as a result since starting painting). A hobby like this is indeed a great way to learn a whole range of useful skills.

    1. Thanks Paul. You sound like you have a bigger problem than many but are finding our wonderful hobby brings some peace and happiness. Best wishes and thanks for all the support and inspiration you have given to me too.

  4. Chris, thank you for posting this. I'm sure many wargamers who are confined at home with young children (both of mine are now adults and have resisted all my attempts to interest them in military history &c.) will find your rules and ideas for a campaign inspiring and extremely useful.

  5. Thank you all for your support and comments so far. It was a great joy to do this project and it will be even better if it inspires a few to give wargaming with kids or newcomers a go. I've had one experienced wargamer in Sydney Australia already email with enthusiasm that he will try it with his own grandchildren.

  6. Everything sounds (and looks) wonderful! Love the map by the way.

    Healthy Regards,


    1. Thanks very much Stokes. I enjoyed creating the map, it is derived from two old County maps c.1840 and some of the names are a bit different now. At the time I was without Photoshop due to a computer fault so had to resort to time honoured pencil, paper, water colour and pens. I hope Seb one day appreciates his Chris Gregg original!

  7. Chris, Always nice to see youngsters having fun with our hobby. Keep up the encouragement...Bill

  8. Quite the best blog post i have read for a very long time, absolutely superb. Great to see youngsters, and not so young enjoying a good fun game and those old Minifigs look great!

  9. Thank you Bill and Donnie for your very kind comments

  10. Fabulous post Chris, what a great way to introduce your grandson into the hobby! Lots of people havecold minifig or hichcliffe armies collecting dust, a good way to repurpose old figures and bring some youngsters the hobby at the same time. Congratulations


    1. Thank you Matt, I daresay you are right. Everyone - have a look at Matt's lovely French wargame holidays website for somewhere to go when the world is back to normal

  11. Inspiring stuff Chris -Great to see your effort and thought -seeing this brings back memories of trying to get my kids interested when they were young. Happily my youngest now in his 30s was home recently, took away his old figures and stuff is now painting again and looking forward to a gem on his next visit

    1. That is extremely gratifying to hear. My son is 31 and once said "We all get like our parents eventually" but he has yet to resume painting figures since he was about day........