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What are Miniature Wargames?

We can all recall the joy of playing with toy soldiers as children, using a crude set of rules to determine the outcome. It is those childhood memories that have drawn many of us to historical miniature gaming. That, and the sheer satisfaction of turning out a nicely painted unit, historical miniatures gaming have never been more popular.

We don’t know the origin of the first miniature wargames, chess included. It is known that many ancient kings, as children, had sets of toy soldiers for play. Even Egyptian tombs contained miniature soldiers! It is not known not can it be verified if toy soldiers were used for a more serious purpose, like wargaming.

The origin of modern wargames is the Kriegspiel (German for "Wargame") by a Prussian named von Reisswitz, which was played on a map using wooden blocks to represent units and dice to regulate the combat results. The game was eventually adopted by the Prussian Army and used as part of their officers’ training.

The famous science fiction writer and historian, H.G. Wells, who, in 1913, wrote The Wargame, was probably responsible for the modern historical miniatures wargame. This combined the general principles of Kriegspiel and the availability of cheaper 54mm "Britains" miniatures (yes - the famous toy soldier company) to result in an exciting system of play. Wooden shells fired from miniature tubes flew fast and furious across the battlefields of that era. Up through the 1950s kids of all ages continued in their own fashion to play games with inexpensive painted hollow-cast metal figures which were sold in boxed sets produced by Britains.

The times, however, were changing, and so were toy soldiers and historical miniatures gaming, developing into the modern historical miniatures wargame.

Miniatures wargames in the 1950s were driven by unpainted figures that were purchased individually, rather than in painted, boxed sets, thus it became necessary for the gamer to also become a painter and an historian in order to correctly recreate the uniforms. The figures grew progressively smaller with the advent of the modern miniature wargaming era in the 1950s, from 54mm (2'4 inch high) to 30mm (116 inch high) to 25mm (1 inch high), enabling miniature gamers to play on a table rather than on the floor. Many sets of rules began to dictate the size and type of figures required as these scales allowed for a more accurate representation of units and their formations on a wargame table. "Regiments" of 10 figures in 54mm became 24 to 36 figures in 25mm.

25mm (1/84), 15mm (1/110), and 5mm (1/300) are the most popular scales in historical miniatures wargaming today. Larger figures allow for the colorfulness of the uniforms from that era, while the smaller and more numerous figures give the gamer a better and more realistic "look" for the overall battlefield.

Rules too have progressed. Prior to the 1950s, there were no morale and miniature armies heroically died to a man. Today there are numerous sets of sophisticated rules which take into consideration not only morale, but also command control and other historical details. As modern society has become more complicated, so have miniature wargame rules. Detailed studies have been made of what went into a battle, and the results have been modem rules sets which concentrate more on morale and command control than on dying to the last figure. Along with this sophistication has come complexity. Many gamers now spend a great deal of time researching not only the uniforms but also their individual unit's performance.

At no time in history have so many persons played miniatures war-games, and at no time in history have there been so many manufacturers producing such a wide variety of figures. Today, there are dozens of different sets of miniatures rules or modifications of miniatures rules played throughout the world. There is hardly an era in which a miniatures wargamer can become interested where lines of figures in two or three different scales are not available. As for accessories there are dozens of manufacturers of paints, brushes, books, and terrain which is readily available to the wargamer. There are even magazines devoted exclusively to the hobby of miniature wargaming. Where will it lead? Who knows, but currently the future looks bright. The guess is that as people earn more money and have more leisure time, historical miniatures gaming will continue to grow in popularity.

Today, there are literally thousands upon thousands of historical miniature wargame clubs throughout the world, virtually in every country and practically in every big city, all playing various periods and in different scales.

If you wish to find out more about miniature wargaming, or clubs in your area, contact the following bodies:

  • In the US, the Historical Miniature Gaming Society (HMGS) is an organization with chapters throughout the United States that promotes the hobby of historical miniature gaming through a series of conventions every year. For further information contact:
    Historical Miniature Gaming Society (HMGS)
    P.O. Box 222
    Annapolis, MD 21401
  • In Great Britain, the British Historical Gaming Society (BHGS) can be contacted at:
    The British Historical Games Society (BHGS)
    8 West Hill Avenue
    Surrey, UK.
    KT19 8LE.
  • In South Africa, you can contact Mind Sports South Africa (MSSA) at:
    Mind Sports South Africa
    P O Box 19275
  • Internationally, you can contact The International Wargames Federation (IWF) at:

If you want to add your organisation or club to this list, please send me the particulars.


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