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.