Wells, H. G. Little Wars. Springfield, VA: Skirmisher, [1913] 2004. ISBN 0-9722511-5-4.
I have been looking for a copy of this book for more than twenty-five years. In this 1913 classic, H. G. Wells essentially single-handedly invented the modern pastime of miniature wargaming, providing a (tin soldier) battle-tested set of rules which makes for exciting, well-balanced, and unpredictable games which can be played by two or more people in an afternoon and part of an evening. Interestingly, he avoids much of the baggage that burdens contemporary games such as icosahedral dice and indirect fire calculations, and strictly minimises the rôle of chance, using nothing fancier than a coin toss, and that only in rare circumstances.

The original edition couldn't have appeared at a less auspicious time: published just a year before the outbreak of the horrific Great War (a term Wells uses, prophetically, to speak of actual military conflict in this book). The work is, of course, long out of copyright and text editions are available on the Internet, including this one at Project Gutenberg, but they are unsatisfying because the text makes frequent reference to the nineteen photographs by Wells's second wife, Amy Catherine Wells, which are not included in the on-line editions but reproduced in this volume. Even if you aren't interested in the details, just seeing grown men in suits scrunching down on the ground playing with toy soldiers is worth the price of admission. The original edition included almost 150 delightful humorous line drawings by J. R. Sinclair; sadly, only about half are reproduced here, but that's better than none at all. This edition includes a new foreword by Gary Gygax, inventor of Dungeons and Dragons. Radical feminists of the dour and scornful persuasion should be sure to take their medication before reading the subtitle or the last paragraph on page 6 (lines 162–166 of the Gutenberg edition).

September 2006 Permalink

Wells, H. G. Floor Games. Springfield, VA: Skirmisher, [1911] 2006. ISBN 0-9722511-7-0.
Two years before he penned the classic work on wargaming, Little Wars (September 2006), H. G. Wells drew on his experience and that of his colleagues “F.R.W.” and “G.P.W.” (his sons Frank Richard and George Philip, then aged eight and ten respectively) to describe the proper equipment, starting with a sufficiently large and out-of-the-traffic floor, which imaginative children should have at their disposal to construct the worlds of adventure conjured by their fertile minds. He finds much to deplore in the offerings of contemporary toy shops, and shows how wooden bricks, sturdy paper, plasticine clay, twigs and sprigs from the garden, books from the library, and odds and ends rescued from the trash bin can be assembled into fantasy worlds, “the floor, the boards, the bricks, the soldiers, and the railway system—that pentagram for exorcising the evil spirit of dulness from the lives of little boys and girls” (p. 65).

The entire book is just 71 pages with large type and wide margins filled with delightful line drawings; eight photographs by the author illustrate what can be made of such simple components. The text is, of course, in the public domain, and is available in a free Project Gutenberg edition, but without the illustrations and photos. This edition includes a foreword by legendary wargame designer James F. Dunnigan.

While toys have changed enormously since this book was written, young humans haven't. A parent who provides their kids these simple stimuli to imagination and ingenuity is probably doing them an invaluable service compared to the present-day default of planting them in front of a television program or video game. Besides, if the collectivist morons in Seattle who banned Lego blocks launch the next educationalism fad, it'll be up to parents to preserve imagination and individuality in their children's play.

April 2007 Permalink