Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Best Troops for Shambattle

Shambattle: How to Play with Toy Soldiers was written in 1929. Judging by the illustrations in the book, the author used three types of soldiers. Some were from the Theodore Hahn company of Jersey City. Several illustrations of officers and mounted men look as if they were inspired by Hahn figures. The rest apparently came from traditional toy soldier companies such as Britains, Johillco and others. I can assume that a few figures used were dimestore West Point cadets.
Today, Britains figures can be pricey. Johillco and other traditional toymakers have long since folded their tents. Theodore Hahn’s last year of production was 1929. What modern troops would suffice for a Shambattle army?
Let’s be practical. the main consideration for an army is its color: red, blue, green, yellow, etc Judging by the book, Shambattle armies represent fictional nations, each of which is based on a singular color. The book cities two fictional nations and their attendant colors. Red for Redina and Blue for Bluvia. People can add other colors to make other countries.
Shambattle is a stylized type of warfare. There is no musketry, no use of cover and traditional combat techniques. The resolution of battle is mostly through close combat. The roles of machine guns and artillery are minimal. Many combat poses might be out of place here.
Plastic figures are suitable, as are painted metal soldiers. Here are a few suggestions:

Napoleonic Figures and War of 1812 Troops

Most of the plastic Napoleonic figures have a big advantage because they are molded in color: Red for British, Blue for French and Americans, Green for Russians, and so on. The poses also tend to be more easily organized: marching, kneeling and standing shooters and such. Metal figures are painted in the same colors. For aesthetic purposes, small cannons can replace the machine guns, though they would fire the same way in the game.

Revolutionary War figures:

The majority of plastic Revolutionary War troops are Red for British, Blue for Americans, White for French and Green for Royalists. One brand even had Hessians in black.  As with Napoleonics, small cannons replace machine guns.

Civil War

Most sets of plastic and metal Civil War soldiers have good poses for use in Shambattle. Most Plastic Civil War figures are molded in blue and gray. Some makers also offer them in butternut tan and rifleman green. Zouaves in red plastic are also available. Gatling guns can be used as machine guns..
Note that troops from the Spanish-American war also look good in these games.

World War I Troops

The soldiers that come to mind are the Beton troops in pre-War Brodie helmets. They look pretty good and would make an interesting Shambattle army. Opt for the various standing, marching and advancing riflemen. Beton made one type of mounted World War I soldier. Most of the Betons are molded in tan or olive drab. There are other makes of World War I figures today, so you have more from which to choose. Those made in plastic come in colors related to the various armies and units. For games, exclude crawling and most kneeling figures.


Traditional guard type troops are perfect for Shambattle. West Point cadets and various British and French Guardsmen can be employed. What with the color variations in guards’ uniforms, you can have a very colorful army, indeed! You may use machine guns or Gatlings.

Colonial Troops

Colonial Troops are often colorful and distinctive. Among these are Indian troops during the British “Raj”, American Troops in the Philippines and China, French troops in North Africa and British troops from the Zulu, Sudan and Egyptian campaigns.  Few armies are as colorful and varied as the Indian troops from 1850 to the 1920s. Colonial natives can also make interesting armies. One of the best I’ve seen is an Egyptian army in white with red fezes. You can also make attractive armies such as the Chinese boxers, Sudanese Dervishes and Tuaregs.  Mitrailleuse, Gatlings and machine guns fit the bill here.

The salient fact is that today, there are even more options when it comes to armies for Shambattle. You can have it fast and cheap with colored plastic troops, or go for the more expensive, painted plastic and metal figures. You might even make your own! More than a few folks like to cast their own soldiers the old fashioned way.

You can obtain a reprint of the original Shambattle: How to Play with Toy Soldiers and the other Shambattle rules here:


There is a Shambattle and OMOG toy soldier games discussion on Facebook at


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Shambattle: Classic Toy Soldiers Game


H.G. Wells’ book “Little Wars” is considered the cornerstone from which wargaming developed. I first came across a reprint of it in the early 1970s. Wells’ game is simple and rational in design. He obviously wrote it for the toy soldiers of his day. The game is based on classic warfare from the late 19th Century. “Little Wars” requires firing spring-loaded cannons at the troops.

In 1929, an Army Lieutenant named Harry G. Dowdall was stationed on Governor’s Island in New York Harbor. Dowdall concocted a game of his own for toy soldiers. The game eliminated the actual firing of guns. In collaboration with a fellow named John H. Gleason, Lt. Dowdall published the rules in a book entitled Shambattle: How to Play with Toy Soldiers.

Apprised of the book, I decided to obtain a copy. It is expensive on the second-hand market. However, I found a copy relatively cheap, mainly because it was missing a couple of pages. No problem. A fellow hobbyists sent me copies of the missing pages.

Shambattle was presented in three levels: Lieutenant, Captain and General. They depict the game in increasing levels of complexity. The rules use a 3 by 5 foot area with towns, a river, bridges and other terrain. Movement is simple, too. The games uses a 6-inch long movement stick. Rules include medics and fire from a cannon and machine guns. Combat can be resolved by the flip of a penny, roll of the dice or a spinner.

Shambattle is played on a map.

Scenery is drawn. One does not need special scenery. Towns, rivers, woods and swamps are simple drawings on which the soldiers maneuver.

Shambattle is quaint. Its major flaw is that the roll of the dice decided everything. Victory was more luck than strategy. The book itself is ponderous to read.

.Shambattle was written when most armies still had horse cavalry. There are no concessions made to armored vehicles. Everything is at the speed of horses and men. It is a game of infantry and cavalry. Judging by pictures in the book, it was meant for the traditional toy soldiers that were popular at the time.

The basic system of movement and terrain is good for games in limited space. Resolving combat left a few things to be desired in the original game. Nonetheless, Shambattle is a good game for budding wargamers. Children can easily learn the basics of toy battles in a format that is relatively simple and lots of fun.

Unlike Little Wars, you can play Shambattle without worrying about damaging your favorite figures!

I saw the potential of the game and decided to write an version that was easier to understand. I also added an optional rule that changes the game from random dice rolls to strategy. Another improvement was a better way to use the movement stick. This newer work is entitled Shambattle: A Game for Old Fashioned Toy Soldiers.

The game also had potential for other toy figures. I devised two other versions based on Shambattle: Knightly Fightly for medieval figures, and Wild West Shambattle for Cowboys & Indians.

The movement and terrain system of Shambattle was a good start. A little innovation and adaptation make it useful for modern skirmish games. With a little effort, it was refined and improved for the OMOG series of skirmish games. Shambattle was also the basis for two “Spy Agent” games made about ten years ago.

There is a Shambattle and OMOG toy soldier games discussion on Facebook at 


Please Share!

You can obtain a reprint of the original Shambattle: How to Play with Toy Soldiers and the other Shambattle rules here:


You can download free copies of OMOG and other games. OMOG games use a movement system inspired by Shambattle




You can find free Shambattle paper soldiers here:



Anomalous Soldiers

Most of the toy soldier illustrations in the original Shambattle depict figures common to makers like Britains, Johillco and Lone Star. One particular illustration baffled me. At that time, none of the English makers produced a figure quite like the fellow in tin helmet charging with bayonet. I figured it was just some artistic license on the part of the illustrator. 


I came across these tin fellows who were almost exactly posed like the illustration. They were made by Theodore Hahn, a company that had a small range of soldiers produced between 1921 and 1927. They operated out of 16-18 Hopkins Ave in Jersey City. The building is still there.

Along with common doughboys, Hahn made a few figures with swivel arms like Britains as well as mounted soldiers. The doughboys were painted as shown ,or with red pants and either blue or green jackets and helmets..Blue soldiers were supposed to represent French troops. Green ones were just an uncertain “foreign” army. 

One anomaly: bases are often marked "France." It is assumed that the molds may have been acquired from France.

Here are some pictures:

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Best Set of Vikings

I have always had an interest in Vikings and the Norsemen of old. There were not many toy Vikings back in the old days. One could finds other soldiers by the bag: army men, cowboys & Indians, Space men, knights, Civil War guys and French Foreign Legion & Arabs. Vikings were rare. Unless your local toy store carried the Marx playset with the tin-litho castle, knights and green Vikings, well, no Vikings for you. Frankly, I do not even know if the Marx company had made their green 54mm Vikings in 1963.

The Louis Marx Company had several innovative lines of toys in the early 1960s. Several catered to the junior collector. For example, Marx’s Golden Guns were miniature historical weapons that came in their own unique plastic cases. A footlocker for the M1 rifle, a simulated-wood box for the Derringer, and so on. Television commercial encouraged boys to “...collect them all!”About the same time, Marx offered its “Warriors of the World” figurines. These are hard plastic soldiers in the 54 to 75mm range. Part of the description was ‘hand painted by artisans.”

Many of the Warriors of the World were a recycling of some older sets that had originally been made in soft plastic. The sets had about 8 figures and came in a small, colorful box. Each figure was accompanied by a card with its picture, a name. and a fictitious history for that character. The sets included Cowboys, Indians, Civil War soldiers from both sides, Revolutionary War figures, World War II troops, World War I troops, Pirates, Romans and some others.

I can only remember the ones that our local stores carried, though I know they also made Rough Riders, Navy sailors, War of 1812 troops and Mexican-American War figures.

There were two types I wanted most: Army guys and Vikings. My brother was of a different temperament. He wanted a few Romans and the Cowboys & Indians. One store sold them to us for a dime each. My grandmother bought us a few, too.

The Vikings made a big hit with me. At the time, I had six poses: two standing spearmen, a charging spearman, Viking with war club, Viking with a mace, and a swordsman whose face reminded me of Captain Kangaroo. Somehow I missed the archer and axe-wielding warrior. Nonetheless, those six men were the core of my small Dark Ages army. At that time, one of our Cub Scout projects had been to make a toy Viking ship using a cheese box, a wad of clay, a stick and colored construction paper. The toy boat was the right size for my Vikings.

Times changed and all those old Vikings were lost. A few years ago, I managed to get a set of the same figures cast in soft plastic. And to my delight, I was soon able to acquire the eight original Warriors of the World figures and a few spares.

Let us acknowledge the obvious from the start. Vikings did not look like these fellows. Vikings did not have horns or wings on their helmets. They also did not wear long tunics that looked like a girl’s jumper. The fellow with the club was the most accurate of the bunch. Even then, the shields on the Marx figures were held by straps. Original Viking shields were held by a handle inside the boss.

Accurate or not, for me, this will always be the best set of Vikings.

The size of Warriors of the World Vikings matches well with the Elastolin Normans. Alongside the Knights in plate armor, they come up small. A person concerned with historical accuracy could easily convert them into Gauls. A bit more work would erase enough inaccuracies to make them realistic Vikings. Of course, when I was 8 years old., these were the most realistic Vikings I ever had.

Call it Nostalgia, but I prefer the Warrior of the World Vikings to Marx’s 54mm Vikings. The larger figures are more robust. Granted that the smaller Vikings have better detail and more animated poses. I still favor the 65mm figures.

Currently, the Vikings are made in Russia and cost a pretty penny. The molds ended up in a place called Donetsk. Some American companies carry them thus sparing you postage from the former USSR.

The Warriors of the World set of Vikings would do well in skirmish games such as OMOK (One Man, One Knight), They have a good assortment of weapons and equipment for Ancient and early Dark Ages fights. Fifteen of these fellows would be just right, be it Norsemen battling Saxons or ancient Germans straightening out the Romans.


The Word War II G.I.s were the old 60mm Marx Army Men, with several poses identical to the Lido figures. For the Warriors of the World Series, two poses were omitted (crawling and grenade thrower). Six figures were given bases. There was also a prone sniper and a sitting sniper who needed no base. Of course, I also acquired more than a full set of these troops! But then. they are a story for another day.

Friday, July 14, 2017

More #5681 Paratrooper Conversions

The troops I painted previously in the “chocolate chip” camouflage illustrate just how creative one can be with this set of figures. They were cast from the Rapaport /Castings / REB mold # 5681 “Air Commandos.”  My intention with this set was to paint them in the style of Vietnam-era US soldiers.

The trick to painting these figures is simple. Their uniforms and field gear are almost generic, insofar as soldiers from the 1940s to recent years. They wear a jacket similar in cut to a field jacket or tunic. Their boots are meant to be the British type worn with a cuff-like legging. These can easily be painted as a one-piece combat boot. The belts and shoulder straps are cut like many used by US, UK, German, and other armies. The most that might be necessary is a little filing on the back of the man with rifle and bayonet. Using thick paint can simulate a Y or H harness. Ther ammo pouches are of the British type. Scoring two grooves on each would make them similar to the German ammo pouch for the submachine gun. One can also file them shorter to resemble the ammo pouches used by the US Army from 1957 to the present.

Then again, one might not bother filing the pouches and still get a fine finished product.
One trick to develop is filing a bowl or M1 Hadfield helmet into other types. With many homecast GIs, it is possible to carefully file the helmet to resemble a stalhelm. One can also file them to replicate a Fallschirmjager helmet. For longer barrels on firearms, wire brads or very small finishing nails can be used. At this size, the head of a finishing nail looks like a flash suppressor.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Homecast Soldiers: A Little Paint Makes All the Difference

When I got back into homecasting back `05, I acquired molds in bits and pieces. My first acquisition were Guardsmen mods from a friend. The molds included Castings / REB and Prince August Molds. Soon after, I added other molds., One of the first was the old Rapaport /Castings / REB mold # 5681 “Air commandos.” The mold makes copies of the Lone Star / Harvey British paratroopers. These are an advancing rifleman with the British Bullpup rifle, a man with a submachine gun and an officer with pistol. The figures wear the familiar Dennison smock and British field gear with the long ammo pouches.

I cast a lot of figures from that mold. And I got creative. The uniform is like many of the era: field jacket, combat books, basic helmet and webbed gear. The faces are crude, but the figures have good, animated poses. The profile did not look much different from American troops circa 1944 - 1980. I tried painting the solders n various different schemes and they all looked great. A little filing of the helmet led to another type: fallschirmjager. A little effort makes a plausible set of German paratroopers for toy soldier gaming.

Let us be clear at this point. These are toy figures. They were never meant to be accurate military miniatures. The same can be said of our paint and file conversions. They look good enough, but are not accurate models of US troops or German paratroopers. The figures are passable. The advantage is that this mold can churn out small armies for games like OMOG Advanced.

The set illustrated here is my latest. They are painted to imitate the “chocolate chip” camouflage issued during Desert Storm. As I had already primed the figures before deciding on a color scheme, I was not able to file the helmet to resemble the modern US army helmet.

Here are links to some of the other soldiers I have made with this mold, a little paint and sometimes a little filing:





Monday, May 1, 2017

Review: Tim Mee Cyan Blue and Rust Brown soldiers

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, Tim Mee cast some of their “M16" soldiers in neon colors. There was neon pink, neon blue, neon yellow, neon green. I never understood why. By the time those soldiers came out, I was already into the smaller scale Airfix wargame figures, Tamiya kits and metal military miniatures.

Recently, Jeff Imel of Victorybuy has had these Tim Mee soldiers reissued. The first set was issued in green and tan. Since then, he has them done in grey, black, a dark blue, light green, dark green, red and yellow.  The latest sets are done in rust brown and cyan blue. In fact, the Blue ones are also included in the latest recast of the Tim Mee C130 gunship. I guess they are supposed to be Air Force guys.

I like the Tim Mee M16 guys. They are well-sculpted in action poses, are realistic enough, and have a good assortment of weapons and equipment. When I worked out the game of OMOG Advanced, they were one of the toy soldier sets I used as a reference. In fact, I worked to accommodate everything from a World War II era rifle squad to a modern one and anything in between. The Tim Mee M16 guys had a few things that made them ideal for this. Along with the set of poses and weapons, they are also the most common set of army men.  The Tim Mee figures have been cast, recast, reproduced, copied and cloned for almost 50 years. Figures from original molds are available, as are copies and clones from China and elsewhere. One figure has disappeared from the set: the marching guy. And the guy who used to be throwing a grenade is now waving the men onward. No problem. There is an officer with pistol, mortar man with crude 60mm mortar, flamethrower man, bazooka man (3.5" rocket launcher), radioman, minesweeper man, a light machine gunner and five riflemen. For OMOG, a squad can have its officer, riflemen, squad machine gun and choice of heavy weapons.

But Cyan? Rust? Or for that matter, Red, Yellow, Orange?

For toy soldier games, the different colors are useful. Camouflage is not a matter on small tabletop games, as both players can see each others troops. Different colors allows for different sides. A game with four armies on the table is easier to play if figures are distinguished by their color. That is, for people who are not going to paint their soldiers. Paint? All one needs do is get a bag and open them.

One could use the cyan troops as air force or a naval landing party. Dark blue sets could be SWAT teams.

The Tim Mee M16 guys are a great set for toy soldier games. You can easily put together a rifle squad plus supporting elements of your choice: mortar team, antitank squad, engineer section (flamethrower and minesweeper). The only missing thing from those times is a grenade launcher, either the old M79 or later M203 over-and-under. No problem, Either use one of the other poses as the grenade launcher or borrow the tear gas launcher man from the Tim Mee SWAT team / tactical troops.

As for collectors, Tim Mee reissues have sweetened the pot with a variety of different colors and reissues. Collect them all!

Here’s some toy soldier history for you:

Back in 1998, my friend’s nephew had some of the Tim Mee M16 guys. He called them “old-fashioned soldiers.” To my friend and I, they were modern troops. They are pretty much how we looked when we were in the Army.  Being called “old-fashioned”was a shock, but it was true. We looked very different from our counterparts in the 90s and beyond. That was what led to my making the Army Men Homepage. It started as a joke. And it evolved into a service for the toy soldier hobby.
Tim Mee soldier with experimental machine-gun

There are anomalies in the Tim Mee set. More common infantry antitank weapons of the time
were the M72 LAW and the 89mm Recoilless Rifle. Then there is that machine gun. The actual squad machine gun of the time was the M60, a belt-fed model based on the German MG42. The Tim Mee machine gun was an experimental type that the Army was considering for Jungle warfare. It looked like a contender, but was eventually rejected. Tim Mee jumped the gun on this one. Much the same happened to Herald, Timpo, Crescent and Lone Star of Britain when the British Army was considering a bullpup weapon in the 1950s. it looked like a sure thing, so the toymakers used it for their toy soldiers. They wanted to be modern and “state o the art.”  Unfortunately, the bullpup was rejected because of NATO compatibility issues. Too late! The molds were already made and the bullpup had remained ever since.
Herald Brand British Soldiers with "Bullpup" rifle

You can buy the Cyan Blue and Rust soldiers here:


You can download OMOG Advanced Skirmish Game Runes here:



Saturday, April 29, 2017

Review: BMC "Combat Soldiers 40 pieces 1950s plastic army men figures."

In case you did not know, Jeff Imel, who is behind the reissues of Tim Mee products, bought BMC. Work is currently in process to reissue some of the BMC classics. In the meantime, Jeff has reissued one of the cornerstones of plastic toy soldier collecting.

The Combat Soldiers are the old Lido American troops, cast from original molds. Even better, the molds have been restored. The current run of figures do not have the flash that some of the Tootsietoy reissues had. They are crisply molded, just like they were back in the old days. This set has ten different poses of World War II era American infantrymen.

We used to call these soldiers “flat foots”. Instead of having a base, their feet were flat enough to stand on a smooth surface. And for all the collectors’ talk of Marx figures, these flat-foots were the most common army men. They were in toy shops, general stores, and anywhere else small toys were sold. We had bushels of them! The only toy soldier set that has been more prolific is the Tim Mee M16 soldiers, which have been produced, copies and clones in greater abundance than any other plastic soldier. Even then, the Lido figures were more common well into the 1970s and had been reissued a few times since..

Plastic soldier collectors who want a good representative set of the Lido flat-foots would do well to acquire the BMC reissues. And with originals selling at a dollar apiece or more, the BMC recasts are a bargain.

One of the anomalies of this set is the four of the figures are identical to those in the old Marx 60mm infantry set. The main difference is that the Lido helmets have simulated netting molded on them while the Marx ones are plain. Apparently, both companies used the same sculptor.

The person who designed the flat-foots was on to something. As kids, we loved them. We could fit them in toy trucks and tanks, for instance. W could easily place them in the little foxholes were dug for them in the dirt. And for casualties, we just knocked them over. The Lido soldiers were perfect for indoors and outdoors.

As for Marx, I need to clarify things here. Marx was sold mainly in  toy stores and catalog sales (Sears, Monkey Wards, etc.). It was only later in the 60s that they appeared in some 5&10 stores like Kresges. Marx cost more. Lido and Tim Mee soldiers could be anywhere. They would be in general stores, corner candy stores, groceries and similar places. They were ubiquitous. Add that fact that many of our parents were Depression babies and looked for the cheapest things they could get. Bags of Lido, Tim Mee and Payton army men were cheap. In those days, a bag might cost anywhere from 19 cents to 29 cents. Two boys could pool their allowance, buy a bag an then “divvy them up.”  And we could get them tight in the neighborhood.  The nearest candy store or corner grocery was never more than two blocks away.

(Back then, corner stores often carried a few small toys and other things. Today we call them ‘impulse buys.”)

The Lido figure and the Tim Mee World War II soldiers had some great poses. The thing about Lido’s flat-foots was that the individual figures also had character. Along with dynamic poses. they had faces that were distinct. For instance, the officer waving his pistol looked like he was talking our the side of his mouth. (I tried that and got in trouble.) The bayonet guy looks like he is about to give a Japanese a dose of bayonet therapy. And the fellow with rifle overhead might be about to smash a latter day Hessian with a rifle butt, or cross a creek.

The BMC reissued Lido soldiers are a great asset for the plastic soldier collector. They look like they did 60+ years ago thanks to the restored mold. It is a good set to have. Likewise, those who enjoy painting toy soldiers can have a lot of fun with these guys. They are army men with character. Lido army men are essential to anyone who considers himself a collector of plastic soldiers

For more info about the original Lido soldiers, check here from the Army Men Homepage:

You can order the BMC reissued flat-foot army men here: