Friday, February 3, 2012

On creating a truly portable wargame

Last year (2011), Bob Cordery spent considerable effort developing his rules for The Portable Wargame. The genesis of these rules was the desire to create a set of figures, terrain and rules that would let him bring an entertaining game along wherever he went.

In the course of my job, I have reason to travel now and then. Not much, but occasionally. And, I have three children whom I love dearly, and who are the focus on my time and attention, but who leave me little spare time to set up a game and play it out. So, when Bob starting working through various designs, I paid close attention with an eye toward leveraging those rare evenings in a hotel room.

Bob's work has created a set of rules that are flexible, deliver a fun game, and are malleable to suite one's own tastes and preferred time period. Ross MacFarlane has spent a great deal of virtual ink writing about his experiments and modifications to these rules. Within the list of labels on his blog, click on "portable game" to find yourself several evenings' worth of entertaining rules experimentation. Bob's own blog has his own thoughts on the development of the rules, of course. I've tried these rules out on paper, using printed maps and "counters" made from cut up Post-It notes. But even without a proper tabletop test or two, I'm convinced that these rules will work quite nicely for games on the road.

So, there remain the questions of terrain and toy soldiers. Miniatures would seem to be problematic. They can be heavy and, of course, are prone to damage. My solution won't be for everyone.

For some time, I've been collecting and occasionally designing paper miniatures. Most often these are two-dimensional "figures" consisting of two printed images (front and back) glued together. Sometimes these are mirror images of each other, showing a figure from the side.

Patrick Crusiau has a wonderful collection of paper miniatures, useful primarily for skirmish wargames and role playing games. He also makes 15mm Napoleonic paper soldiers geared toward mass battles. I've taken his images, which are available for free from his web site, and some derived from these by others, then modified them to create units of Napoleonic infantry, cavalry and artillery. These units are very durable. Throw them loose into a plastic, lidded storage box and you can carry them on board your plane or put them in your checked luggage without worry.

These are, as I've said, Napoleonic figures. But I like the look of these massed units well enough to try my hand at creating Baden-Hunsheim and Formulgala armies. Sometime soon, perhaps. If I do, I'll find a way to post the files here, in case you're interested in using them yourself. Meanwhile, if I travel before finding time to create those more appropriate armies, don't be surprised to find my British and French Napoleonics proxied for the noble armies of my two imagi-nations.

As for terrain, Ross has played a few games on Hotz game mats, printed with 3" hexes. These look quite good, and can be folded and tucked into a suitcase easily. I rather like the look of Ross' own painted game boards, onto which he's marked the vertices of hexes. I imagine I could make my own game mat using suitable fabric, spray paint, and a paint pen or something. Either will work well for a travel game.

I plan to denote woods by filling hexes with 2.5D paper model trees. Built-up areas will be marked with paper model buildings. Or, these hexes may be surrounded with flat profiles of buildings (like these), allowing the units to be placed inside. This is attractive, as these profile pieces can be folded flat for storage. Representing elevation is tricky, and a problem I haven't solved yet. I could create elevation by bunching up bedding or placing books beneath the game mat, or I could find a way to create portable "hills" to bring with me. Any suggestions you might have would be very welcome.

So, with a few dice, a folded game mat, a plastic storage box full of paper miniature units and terrain, a copy of The Portable Wargame and a scenario from Charles Grant's "Scenarios for Wargames," "Programmed War Games Scenarios" or his Table Top Teasers in my suitcase, I should be able to get a game set up, played and torn down between checkin and bed time.

I'll keep you posted.


  1. You have taken my ideas and really developed them far more than I have managed to do ... and I am so pleased that the results are even better than I had hoped would be the outcome when I started out to develop THE PORTABLE WARGAME.

    I like the paper figures you have made, and the concept of using them with PW is a great idea. They will make the game both portable and light, something that I had not managed to do.

    Good luck with your future developments.

    All the best,


  2. Will,

    You might want to check out these CHESSEX vinyl mats . . . you can draw terrain on them with overhead projector pens (that then wipe off with a damp cloth).

    They come in squares and/or hexes and in a variety of sizes . . . and perhaps colors too since the ones I got 25 or 30 years ago (and still use) are a mottled beige color. Anyway here is the link:

    -- Jeff

  3. Bob, thanks for the kind words, the terrific rules, and the inspiration for the project.

    Jeff, I'll have a look at those for sure. I seem to remember using a square-gridded Chessex mat for RPGs many, many years ago. I wonder if I still have that mat...

  4. Have you seen Junior General? LOTS of paper soldiers there, in both 1/72 and 15mm.