Little Wars/III



HERE, then, are the rules of the perfect battle-game as we play it in an ordinary room.


(1) The Country must be arranged by one player, who, failing any other agreement, shall be selected by the toss of a coin.

(2) The other player shall then choose which side of the field he will fight from.

(3) The Country must be disturbed as little as possible in each move. Nothing in the Country shall be moved or set aside deliberately to facilitate the firing of guns. A player must not lie across the Country so as to crush or disturb the Country if his opponent objects. Whatever is moved by accident shall be replaced after the end of the move.


(1) After the Country is made and the sides chosen, then (and not until then) the players shall toss for the first move.

(2) If there is no curtain, the player winning the toss, hereafter called the First Player, shall next arrange his men along his back line, as he chooses. Any men he may place behind or in front of his back line shall count in the subsequent move as if they touched the back line at its nearest point. The Second Player shall then do the same. But if a curtain is available both first and second player may put down their men at the same time. Both players may take unlimited time for the putting down of their men; if there is a curtain it is drawn back when they are ready, and the game then begins.

(3) The subsequent moves after the putting down are timed. The length of time given for each move is determined by the size of the forces engaged. About a minute should be allowed for moving 30 men and a minute for each gun. Thus for a force of 110 men and 3 guns, moved by one player, seven minutes is an ample allowance. As the battle progresses and the men are killed off, the allowance is reduced as the players may agree. The player about to move stands at attention a yard behind his back line until the timekeeper says "Go." He then proceeds to make his move until time is up. He must instantly stop at the cry of "Time." Warning should be given by the timekeeper two minutes, one minute, and thirty seconds before time is up. There will be an interval before the next move, during which any disturbance of the Country can be rearranged and men accidentally overturned replaced in a proper attitude. This interval must not exceed five or four minutes, as may be agreed upon.

(4) Guns must not be fired before the second move of the first player-- not counting the "putting down" as a move. Thus the first player puts down, then the second player, the first player moves, then the second player, and the two forces are then supposed to come into effective range of each other and the first player may open fire if he wishes to do so.

(5) In making his move a player must move or fire his guns if he wants to do so, before moving his men. To this rule of "Guns First" there is to be no exception.

(6) Every soldier may be moved and every gun moved or fired at each move, subject to the following rules:


(Each player must be provided with two pieces of string, one two feet in length and the other six inches.)

(I) An infantry-man may be moved a foot or any less distance at each move.

(II) A cavalry-man may be moved two feet or any less distance at each move.

(III) A gun is in action if there are at least four men of its own side within six inches of it. If there are not at least four men within that distance, it can neither be moved nor fired.

(IV) If a gun is in action it can either be moved or fired at each move, but not both. If it is fired, it may fire as many as four shots in each move. It may be swung round on its axis (the middle point of its wheel axle) to take aim, provided the Country about it permits; it may be elevated or depressed, and the soldiers about it may, at the discretion of the firer, be made to lie down in their places to facilitate its handling. Moreover, soldiers who have got in front of the fire of their own guns may lie down while the guns fire over them. At the end of the move the gun must be left without altering its elevation and pointing in the direction of the last shot. And after firing, two men must be placed exactly at the end of the trail of the gun, one on either side in a line directly behind the wheels. So much for firing. If the gun is moved and not fired, then at least four men who are with the gun must move up with it to its new position, and be placed within six inches of it in its new position. The gun itself must be placed trail forward and the muzzle pointing back in the direction from which it came, and so it must remain until it is swung round on its axis to fire. Obviously the distance which a gun can move will be determined by the men it is with; if there are at least four cavalry-men with it, they can take the gun two feet, but if there are fewer cavalry-men than four and the rest infantry, or no cavalry and all infantry, the gun will be movable only one foot.

(V) Every man must be placed fairly clear of hills, buildings, trees, guns, etc. He must not be jammed into interstices, and either player may insist upon a clear distance between any man and any gun or other object of at least one-sixteenth of an inch. Nor must men be packed in contact with men. A space of one-sixteenth of an inch should be kept between them.

(VI) When men are knocked over by a shot they are dead, and as many men are dead as a shot knocks over or causes to fall or to lean so that they would fall if unsupported. But if a shot strikes a man but does not knock him over, he is dead, provided the shot has not already killed a man. But a shot cannot kill more than one man without knocking him over, and if it touches several without oversetting them, only the first touched is dead and the others are not incapacitated. A shot that rebounds from or glances off any object and touches a man, kills him; it kills him even if it simply rolls to his feet, subject to what has been said in the previous sentence.


(1) A man or a body of men which has less than half its own number of men on its own side within a move of it, is said to be isolated. But if there is at least half its number of men of its own side within a move of it, it is not isolated; it is supported.

(2) Men may be moved up into virtual contact (one-eighth of an inch or closer) with men of the opposite side. They must then be left until the end of the move.

(3) At the end of the move, if there are men of the side that has just moved in contact with any men of the other side, they constitute a melee. All the men in contact, and any other men within six inches of the men in contact, measuring from any point of their persons, weapons, or horses, are supposed to take part in the melee. At the end of the move the two players examine the melee and dispose of the men concerned according to the following rules:--

Either the numbers taking part in the melee on each side are equal or unequal.

(a) If they are equal, all the men on both sides are killed.

(b) If they are unequal, then the inferior force is either isolated or (measuring from the points of contact) not isolated.

(i) If it is isolated (see (1) above), then as many men become prisoners as the inferior force is less in numbers than the superior force, and the rest kill each a man and are killed. Thus nine against eleven have two taken prisoners, and each side seven men dead. Four of the eleven remain with two prisoners. One may put this in another way by saying that the two forces kill each other off, man for man, until one force is double the other, which is then taken prisoner. Seven men kill seven men, and then four are left with two.

(ii) But if the inferior force is not isolated (see (1) above), then each man of the inferior force kills a man of the superior force and is himself killed.

And the player who has just completed the move, the one who has charged, decides, when there is any choice, which men in the melee, both of his own and of his antagonist, shall die and which shall be prisoners or captors.

All these arrangements are made after the move is over, in the interval between the moves, and the time taken for the adjustment does not count as part of the usual interval for consideration. It is extra time.

The player next moving may, if he has taken prisoners, move these prisoners. Prisoners may be sent under escort to the rear or wherever the capturer directs, and one man within six inches of any number of prisoners up to seven can escort these prisoners and go with them. Prisoners are liberated by the death of any escort there may be within six inches of them, but they may not be moved by the player of their own side until the move following that in which the escort is killed. Directly prisoners are taken they are supposed to be disarmed, and if they are liberated they cannot fight until they are rearmed. In order to be rearmed they must return to the back line of their own side. An escort having conducted prisoners to the back line, and so beyond the reach of liberation, may then return into the fighting line.

Prisoners once made cannot fight until they have returned to their back line. It follows, therefore, that if after the adjudication of a melee a player moves up more men into touch with the survivors of this first melee, and so constitutes a second melee, any prisoners made in the first melee will not count as combatants in the second melee. Thus if A moves up nineteen men into a melee with thirteen of B's--B having only five in support--A makes six prisoners, kills seven men, and has seven of his own killed. If, now, B can move up fourteen men into melee with A's victorious survivors, which he may be able to do by bringing the five into contact, and getting nine others within six inches of them, no count is made of the six of B's men who are prisoners in the hands of A. They are disarmed. B, therefore, has fourteen men in the second melee and A twelve, B makes two prisoners, kills ten of A's men, and has ten of his own killed. But now the six prisoners originally made by A are left without an escort, and are therefore recaptured by B. But they must go to B's back line and return before they can fight again. So, as the outcome of these two melees, there are six of B's men going as released prisoners to his back line whence they may return into the battle, two of A's men prisoners in the hands of B, one of B's staying with them as escort, and three of B's men still actively free for action. A, at a cost of nineteen men, has disposed of seventeen of B's men for good, and of six or seven, according to whether B keeps his prisoners in his fighting line or not, temporarily.

(4) Any isolated body may hoist the white flag and surrender at any time.

(5) A gun is captured when there is no man whatever of its original side within six inches of it, and when at least four men of the antagonist side have moved up to it and have passed its wheel axis going in the direction of their attack. This latter point is important. An antagonist's gun may be out of action, and you may have a score of men coming up to it and within six inches of it, but it is not yet captured; and you may have brought up a dozen men all round the hostile gun, but if there is still one enemy just out of their reach and within six inches of the end of the trail of the gun, that gun is not captured: it is still in dispute and out of action, and you may not fire it or move it at the next move. But once a gun is fully captured, it follows all the rules of your own guns.


You may play various types of game.

(1) One is the Fight to the Finish. You move in from any points you like on the back line and try to kill, capture, or drive over his back line the whole of the enemy's force. You play the game for points; you score 100 for the victory, and 10 for every gun you hold or are in a position to take, 1-1/2 for every cavalry-man, 1 for every infantry-man still alive and uncaptured, 1/2 for every man of yours prisoner in the hands of the enemy, and 1/2 for every prisoner you have taken. If the battle is still undecided when both forces are reduced below fifteen men, the battle is drawn and the 100 points for victory are divided.

Note--This game can be fought with any sized force, but if it is fought with less than 50 a side, the minimum must be 10 a side.

(2) The Blow at the Rear game is decided when at least three men of one force reach any point in the back line of their antagonist. He is then supposed to have suffered a strategic defeat, and he must retreat his entire force over the back line in six moves, i.e. six of his moves. Anything left on the field after six moves capitulates to the victor. Points count as in the preceding game, but this lasts a shorter time and is better adapted to a cramped country with a short back line. With a long rear line the game is simply a rush at some weak point in the first player's line by the entire cavalry brigade of the second player. Instead of making the whole back line available for the Blow at the Rear, the middle or either half may be taken.

(3) In the Defensive Game, a force, the defenders, two-thirds as strong as its antagonist, tries to prevent the latter arriving, while still a quarter of its original strength, upon the defender's back line. The Country must be made by one or both of the players before it is determined which shall be defender. The players then toss for choice of sides, and the winner of the toss becomes the defender. He puts out his force over the field on his own side, anywhere up to the distance of one move off the middle line--that is to say, he must not put any man within one move of the middle line, but he may do so anywhere on his own side of that limit--and then the loser of the toss becomes first player, and sets out his men a move from his back line. The defender may open fire forthwith; he need not wait until after the second move of the first player, as the second player has to do.


Except in the above cases, or when otherwise agreed upon, the forces engaged shall be equal in number and similar in composition. The methods of handicapping are obvious. A slight inequality (chances of war) may be arranged between equal players by leaving out 12 men on each side and tossing with a pair of dice to see how many each player shall take of these. The best arrangement and proportion of the forces is in small bodies of about 20 to 25 infantry-men and 12 to 15 cavalry to a gun. Such a force can maneuver comfortably on a front of 4 or 5 feet. Most of our games have been played with about 80 infantry, 50 cavalry, 3 or 4 naval guns, and a field gun on either side, or with smaller proportional forces. We have played excellent games on an eighteen-foot battlefield with over two hundred men and six guns a side. A player may, of course, rearrange his forces to suit his own convenience; brigade all or most of his cavalry into a powerful striking force, or what not. But more guns proportionally lead to their being put out of action too early for want of men; a larger proportion of infantry makes the game sluggish, and more cavalry--because of the difficulty of keeping large bodies of this force under cover--leads simply to early heavy losses by gunfire and violent and disastrous charging. The composition of a force may, of course, be varied considerably. One good Fight to a Finish game we tried as follows: We made the Country, tossed for choice, and then drew curtains across the middle of the field. Each player then selected his force from the available soldiers in this way: he counted infantry as 1 each, cavalry as 1-1/2, and a gun as 10, and, taking whatever he liked in whatever position he liked, he made up a total of 150. He could, for instance, choose 100 infantry and 5 guns, or 100 cavalry and no guns, or 60 infantry, 40 cavalry, and 3 guns. In the result, a Boer-like cavalry force of 80 with 3 guns suffered defeat at the hands of 110 infantry with 4.


The soldiers used should be all of one size. The best British makers have standardised sizes, and sell infantry and cavalry in exactly proportioned dimensions; the infantry being nearly two inches tall. There is a lighter, cheaper make of perhaps an inch and a half high that is also available. Foreign-made soldiers are of variable sizes.