Funny Little Wars
A Review for the Better Sort of Chap!
If there's one truth I have discovered in my indulgence of wargaming, it is simply that the old adage 'If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it!' applies to a great many rules systems. The problem is, the majority of wargames rules have at least one or two things that appear to need re-gluing.
To many, it may be somewhat akin to re-writing the Old Testament, but the fact is, even the Grandaddy (or at least, Great Aunt,) of all rulesets, H.G. Wells' Little Wars is, in a good many places, in need of a little fixer-upping. Funny Little Wars by Padre Paul Wright makes a brave (and often humorous) attempt to make Wells' original 1913 work into a more modern system, whilst retaining something of the original's Edwardian charm.
Wells' original Little Wars came as a great revelation to me, when I discovered it a few years ago. Having begun my wargaming adventures as a small, squeeky-voiced mass of spots setting up Airfix Old Guard Grenadiers on my model railway layout, (and then pondering what to do with them, aside from knocking them over,) I graduated to Battletech and other boardgames, before being led down the Dark Path of Unnecessary Complexity into the evil realms of Tercio and WRG Ancients. (shudder).
I was impressed by Little Wars for two reasons: Wells innately grasped that a wargame is exactly that; a game about war. Although over-simplistic in places, Little Wars is rather good fun, and does not require constant reference to the rules, cheat-sheets, lawyers, etc. Also, many of the standard concepts used in almost all wargames today were first set down in this little volume - the technique for setting up the scenery, and choosing table sides, for example.
So, when I purchased my copy of Funny Little Wars from The (Virtual) Armchair General, the question I had to ask was - will these rules possess the same qualities as their inspiration?
The simple answer is - Yes and No.
Choosing to accentuate the positive, let's look first at the plusses of Funny Little Wars...
Without any doubt, Padre Wright is a genuine and engaging enthusiast. His love for toy soldiers (toy soldiers, mark you! Clear those silly 15mm and 25/28/32mm tiny tots off the field, these are real men's 54mm toys!) shines through the whole of Funny Little Wars.
The Padre is also a writer of some capability; his style is mostly easy to read, often inflicts broad grins to the face of the reader, and he manages to recapture something of the pre- Great War period in which Funny Little Wars is set.
But perhaps the greatest achievement of Funny Little Wars is the number of women involved! Without doubt, the most charming part of the entire book is the description by Georgina Wright of a dinner she prepares for the conclusion of a Funny Little Wars outing - in the grounds of Dover Castle, no less! I heartily applaud the Wrights, and their enthusiasm for encouraging wargamers to involve their better 'arf in their hobby, if only with such events as group painting sessions.
Of course, one of the advantages of toy soldiers, as opposed to their smaller, more detailed wargaming brethren, is that a certain amount of casualness in the painting style is part of their character. Big, solid blocks of colour, rendered in gloss enamel are the order of the day. And just as well, too; I mean, how quickly will you be heading for the divorce court if you start complaining about your spouse's shading and blending technique?
It is the rules themselves that are the no-man's land in this work - there are places where they are superb in their elegant solutions to tactical problems, but there are also regions of complication that lead one immediately to thoughts of 'can I make this optional'?
A nice touch of the rules is that there are a couple of places where the Padre and his Funny Little Warriors have come upon two solutions to a game mechanic - small arms fire, for example - and, rather than land us with only one answer, we are presented with both, and invited to choose that which we prefer for our own games. Oh, if only Battlefront and their ilk wrote with such joyful disregard for rules lawyers and the tournament scene!
There is nothing in Funny Little Wars that breaks new ground in the field of wargame design, but that is not its intention. These rules are well within the capacity of any historical wargamer, armed with the usual collection of dice, (six-sided only in these rules, Praise be to God,) tape measure, and the desire to conquer Belgium.
Where the rules cross into the murky, mud-filled wasteland occupied by multi-chaptered systems which begin with the letter 'E' is when the tables come out! There are complexities here that seem most uncharacteristic for a system intended to provide us with an afternoon's entertainment with toy soldiers.
By way of example, the movement table separates the troop types into: Skirmishers / Snipers; Light Infantry; Line Infantry / Field Artillery; Heavy / Siege Artillery; Heavy Cavalry; Light Cavalry / Horse Artillery; Mounted Infantry; Motor Cars and Cycles; Motor Transport, and finally Horse / Mule transport and Bicycles!
But wait! There's more! Then you have the formations - Close or Open order Line or Column, Skirmish (why then are Skirmishers a separate troop type?) and Charge.
The rules are cratered with these complicating tables, as certain to slow the game as any barbed-wire entanglement.
However, Padre Wright does include a very comprehensive assortment of characterful elements that can be added to the game, and the rules for them - early aircraft and balloons (for observing the enemy only - gentleman aviators don't engage in vulgarities like dropping bombs!), heliographs, carrier pigeons and bomb-throwing assassins all have their place in Funny Little Wars.
Unfortunately, they don't all have rules - In spite of a paragraph about the morale-improving effects of musical bands and chaplains, these colourful additions don't actually have any rules to govern their abilities...
Unlike the regulations regarding the use of Field Hospitals and their treatment of casualties; I agree wholeheartedly with Wright, Wells would, had he advanced his creation beyond 1916, when he packed the soldiers away forever, added rules for the treatment of the wounded. However, one would hope he might have come up with something more elegant than those included in Funny Little Wars, which are so detailed and time-consuming that it is recommended that a separate player performs the role of Medical Officer!
Well, if you have a spare player or two handy, it might be a spot of fun for them; but still, the rules for Field Hospitals consume five and a half pages, while those for artillery fire are complete in four less! I do think a re-write is in order.
I'm not familiar with the brew the Germans on the back cover of Funny Little Wars are drinking, but I think I need some at my next game...
Patrick R. Wilson is the publisher of Funny Little Wars, and doubles (triples?) into the roles of editor and designer, also. So, the following criticisms are to be laid firmly at his door! (Although, having done so, I might just press the doorbell and run away - he's bigger than me..)
Funny Little Wars has a rather amateurish feel to it, made apparent by the use of multiple typefaces (fonts) both on the cover and on some pages, and the rather garish colour scheme on said cover. The text is not set in columns, but runs the full width of each page, which I thought an odd choice, whilst the size of the type is rather large. Mind you, given that we are dealing with 54mm gamers, one should remember not all have the eyesight of 15mm painters, so the choice of type size should perhaps be applauded!
Let Mr. Wilson be heralded further for one simple but joyful fact - the man can spell! Or at least, he knows how to run a spellcheck function over a document, and may he be praised for that. Too often have I been merrily reading a recently published wargaming periodical or publication, only to run jarringly into a mis-spelling, or grammatical dead-end. Funny Little Wars is nearly faultless in this regard.
I think it is fair to say that Funny Little Wars is a solid set of rules, but that some more robust playtesting and designing than are apparent were in order. That said, I find myself going back to them for the sheer inspiration and sense of fun they encourage. Padre Wright and Patrick R. Wilson are to be applauded for their efforts, for their enthusiasm and boyish delight in all things toy soldier shines through the pages of Funny Little Wars.
In conclusion - While I cannot recommend the complex tables, and I will be simplifying them for my games, I am happy to suggest Funny Little Wars to any wargamer - as long as he's the better sort of chap!