Little wars and great wars

The sci-fi author and pacifist H. G. Wells invented one of the first miniature war games.

Little Wars
Samuel Begg (1854–1919)[1]. / Public domain
Playing with miniature toy soldiers has been around for a long time – toys date back as far as Ancient Egypt and Greece, and tin soldiers were first mass-produced in Germany in 1775. Likewise, structured games to simulate war have been around for a long time: the modern wargame was invented in Prussia in 1780 and grew in popularity through the 18th and 19th centuries. The idea of putting the two together, though, came from two modern authors: Robert Louis Stevenson and H. G. Wells.

Robert Louis Stevenson apparently played complex war games involving miniatures with his son in the 1880s, but he never published the rules so it’s difficult for the rest of us to play along. Instead, early sci-fi author H. G. Wells designed and published the rules to the first miniature war game.

In 1893 a British toy company called W. Britain discovered a method for cheaply casting lead toy soldiers, and H. G. Wells used those “Britains” of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. He also used some toy cannons and whatever terrain could be improvised at home out of blocks and toy buildings. The result: Little Wars, published in 1913. It was the first modern miniature war game.

Ironically, H. G. Wells was a pacifist. He hoped his game would teach people about the futility of “Great War” – i.e. real war. Wells wrote the following:

My game is just as good as their game, and saner by reason of its size. […] You have only to play at Little Wars three or four times to realise just what a blundering thing Great War must be.

Great War is at present, I am convinced, not only the most expensive game in the universe, but it is a game out of all proportion. Not only are the masses of men and material and suffering and inconvenience too monstrously big for reason, but – the available heads we have for it, are too small. That, I think, is the most pacific realisation conceivable, and Little War brings you to it as nothing else but Great War can do.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s