Saturday, 7 November 2009

Shambattle - How to Play with Toy Soldiers

by Lt. Harry G. Dowdall US Army , & Joseph R Gleason

reviewed by Bill Newburn, in The Courier Vol III No 5, 1971

This little book, 135 pages, was published in 1929, by Alfred Knopf, to the complete indifference of almost everyone. During the intervening 42 years it has remained unknown and unmentioned by war-gamers.

The book is divided into sections, first starting with the Lieutenant's game, which introduces the drawing of a map of the contested area, a few basic terms, and the use of a die or spinner. It also introduces a curtain drawn between the opposing armies whilst setting up the game. Also the basic move. 6" and rules for movement and combat and artillery fire. The section also gives an account of a simple game followed by a critique.

The next section progresses to a Captain's game and adds further symbols to the map, introduces part moves and refines the rules for combat and movement, expands rules for artillery fire, and adds such extraneous details as capturing prisoners and the awarding of medals, and then goes into the sample battle and review. The book then continues to a General's game with further complications like hills, contour lines and swamps added to the map and further complications and refinements to the movement and combat rules, finishing with the usual format.

The stilted and patronizing tone of the book would turn-off any young modern wargamer, but back in the less sophisticated days of 1929, it provided a needed spark for my group of 9 and 10 year olds and gave some direction and inspiration to playing with toy soldiers.

The authors must have drawn heavily on H.G. Wells, for many of their rules seem to be modifications of his, even the marginal drawings are reminiscent of "Little Wars." Today, the book would be totally useless to any but the most embryonic of wargamers. but it does have a kind of antique charm and deserves a place in the hagiographia of the hobby.

Please take time to check the comments below for further links to the Shambattle page which includes the rules and a battle report, and to the Milhistriot page which has the original book and various other Shambattle publications available. Thanks to those posting comments.


Ogrefencer said...

You are still able to get this - and some variants to boot - check out

Peter said...


Seems the game was played this century...
I have these links for you. First one should give you the rules, second link a battle report.



Mad Carew said...

Amazing!! I've heard of the book but never seen it before - thanks for the links gentlemen. Pjotr, the .be site is superb!

Ph.D. said...

Glad you found my old Shambattle site. I have an original copy from 1929, it still sits proudly on my bookshelf next to originals of Little Wars and Floor Games ;-)