Forgotten Wars: A Guide to Obscure Table-Top Conflicts [Part 1]

By Bill Gray 07 Jun 2017 0

Referring to the post World War I land grabs by dozens of newly formed nations and the Polish-Bolshevik conflict, Winston Churchill said, “The war of giants is over, the wars of pygmies begin.” I remembered that as I was finishing up my newest rules expansion module, this time covering the 1877 Russo-Turkish and 1904 Russo-Japanese Wars. I was looking up some figure companies to list in support of this endeavour and the search wasn’t going well. Churchill had a point (sigh). In historical miniature (tabletop) gaming you got wars about giants which are very popular, and wars about pygmies not so much.

Seriously, the big three in the tabletop world remains World War II, Napoleonics and the American Civil War, not to mention Ancients because that category encompasses such a long period of history. Smaller conflicts like the English Civil War hang tough in the running because the UK is still tabletop central and Roundheads cleaving Royalists (and vice versa) remains a seminal part of British history. But what about the Spanish American War? You rarely see it played, but one sitting of the Tom Berenger better-than-Zulu film Rough Riders shows a fascinating tussle fully worthy of tabletop play. But even if you take the plunge, where do you find the figures?

So with that in mind and starting with the two hyphenated Russian wars noted above, indulge yourself in the first of an occasional series where yours truly takes a look at what’s out there in pewter land for some of the quite interesting, yet so often overlooked, wars and conflicts. I’ll cover scale, sculpting style, price as well as a few other items. And yes, the Spanish American War is on my list.

Outpost Turkish 1877 Closeup

The Russo-Turkish War (1877 – 1878)

This war in the Balkans included the siege of Plevna where Musir Osman Pasha’s brutal defense put the Russo-Romanian army on its heels and allowed the Porte another 45 years of life.

  • 25/28 mm Eureka. FiguresAustralian made, though there is a US distributor. The line is detailed and superior cast, a good 9 on a 1 to 10 scale. However the line is incomplete. The Russian army includes only four infantry figures, an officer, a drummer, a bugler and a standard bearer. The Turkish horde is little better with eight infantry variant poses, an officer, a bugler and a standard bearer. There are no generals, cavalry or artillery listed, though Franco-Prussian Krupp guns are an easy substitute. Price is AU $ 2.95 per figure.
  • 25/28 Outpost Wargames Service. Figures British made and evidently partially funded on commission by a customer. This seems to be the go-to company for this war in 25/28 mm. Sculpting is as good as Eureka but the range is unbelievably complete with differing poses in each set. Russians and Turks are not only done, but also Bulgarians, Romanians with Serbians on the way. There are 51 different sets in this range to include such niceties like Romanian Dorobantzi Militia and a special figure for the hard charging Russian General Skobolev (the White Pasha) on foot. Cost is generally £1.00 per foot figure (double for cavalry), but a package of 24 is £ 23.00. Excellent.

Outpost Romanian Command

  • 15 mm Lancanshire. Figures British made, this is an older range but one that is reasonably complete. However, while this is a listing for the Russian army and one for the Turkish army, Romanians are not produced. Sculpting and detail is moderate, about a 5 out of 10, and there is only one pose in each set. Infantry, cavalry, artillery crews and generals are available. Oddly enough, cannons are not available. Given the Turks used Krupps and the Russians their own home grown variant the Obukov, I thought the solution might be under Lancanshire’s 1870 Prussian line, but nope, not there either. Price is a pretty standard £ 2.60 per set of 10 infantry, 4 cavalry, 3 generals and so on.
  • 15 mm Rank & File. Figures American made, this company is owned by 19th Century Miniatures and was originally founded to cover European conflict of the latter 19th Century. Thus, the line is pretty complete, lacking only Turkish generals. The Russian listing indicates 13 sets, infantry, artillery and cavalry, while the Turkish army falls in with 9 sets. There is even a Romanian listing with five sets from which to choose. Sculpting and detail is variable. The older sets used a common pose – such as firing - across all armies with only minor changes for each nation, such as backpack or headgear. However, much of the line has been re-sculpted with greater detail, more animation and variable poses. If the Turks are any indication, there is a mixture here. The infantry, for example, include the older firing pose, but artillery crews are much better with an outstanding figure of a gunner shoving a round into the rear breach of a Krupp. Unlike overseas firms, the infantry come with command sets which cannot be purchased separately, while crews and guns also come packaged together. There is no cavalry command however. US packaging is big and so here $ 20.00 will get you 50 infantry with command, 16 cavalry or 6 guns with crew.
  • 10 mm Pendraken. Figures British made, this unique line is small but reasonably complete although there are no Romanians, cavalry command, generals or Turkish artillery. The reason is that figures from other eras are recommended as proxies. As would be expected with such a small scale, the sculpting and detail won’t match larger models. Oddly enough many who play this scale often use 15 mm mounting but simply deploy more figures per stand for a serried ranks of bayonets look. The Website listing includes six sets of Turks and six of Russians to include an army pack for each that costs £ 25.83. Otherwise, £ 4.13 will buy you 30 infantry, 15 cavalry or 3 guns with crew.

Tsuba Japanese Diorama

The Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905)

  • 25/28 mm Redoubt. Figures British made, this excellent range of pewter is well sculpted and animated with exceptional detail. Infantry, cavalry, artillery and machine guns for both sides are available, but not generals. Redoubt makes up for this however, by offering both a set or Russian and a set of Japanese sailors, the only firm I’ve found to do so. While artillery and machineguns come in sets of a single weapon plus crew  (£ 9.00 and £ 7.00 respectively), everything is per figure so you can purchase 10 officers but 18 buglers, only one type of infantry, five cavalry troopers with sword forward, one with sword shouldered; you get the picture. Horses are sold separately, with a standing and galloping pose for each side. Price is £ 1.40 for humans and £ 1.50 for horses.
  • 25/28 mm Tsuba Miniatures. Figures German made (I think) and sold by Empress Miniatures or via the owner’s blog site. Designed by Paul Hicks, these figures are the crème de la crème for this war. Instead of superlatives, let’s just say that Wargames Illustrated magazine use these guys A LOT. The range is still expanding, with Russian cavalry and Japanese artillery to soon be added, but what is on the books now is a cut above. Yes, there are the usual suspects such as infantry charging, but would you like that with or without slung bedroll. There is a Japanese ammo bearer set with pack mule and even a special “Humanity Trimphant” set showing Russian and Japanese soldiers taking care of each other’s wounded. There is also a Russian foraging party set and two sets of Russian Putilov artillery and crew. One set has the troops operating the gun, another picking up and prolonging the gun forward. Price seems to be € 7.50/£ 8.50 for a set of four humans or horses, with artillery going for £ 15.00. Rate these guys 11 out of 10.

Tsuba Russian Diorama

  • 15 mm Irregular Miniatures. Figures British made and while the line is pitifully small, the owners wisely list the figures from their other ranges will serve as acceptable proxies. Don’t think this is punting the proverbial (American) football. Many Colonial figure listings include the Boxer Rebellion where the Japanese are near identical to the lads who fought the Russians in 1904 and 1905. Alas, a bigger issue is that the model design is old and have only minimal detail and rudimentary sculpting making these products a tough sell. Prices vary, but the miniatures are sold on a per figure basis with 30p per foot figure, 60p for mounted and so on.
  • 15 mm Old Glory. Figures American made, OG 15s are also owned by 19th Century Miniatures and not Old Glory, having been sold to the present owners several years hence. The line is short but complete except for machineguns, with nine sets total. For both sides there are the required infantry, artillery and even mounted generals. As with all the older Old Glory’s, expect a rough, more pronounced and animated sculpting style with a variety of poses in each pack. Infantry packs are produced with command while pricing and packaging is the same as the Rank & File figures above.

Irregular 15 RJW Russian Artillery2

  • 10 mm Pendraken. Figures British made, but this is one of the company’s very small lines, only five sets. There are one set each of Russian infantry and artillery, as well as one set each for the Japanese plus one additional set for Japanese Hotchkiss machineguns. However, figures from some of the firm’s other lines (World War I, etc) can be used as acceptable proxies. Specifics are the same for pricing and so on as before. Nevertheless, don’t discount a line like Pendraken for big (and I mean REALLY big) battles. The decisive battle for this war was Mukden (20 February – 10 March 1905, no kidding, 19 days long) which saw 624,000 troops and 1300 guns pound the Hell out of each other. Assuming you really want to do something like this and aren’t adverse to prescription drugs, 10 mm Pendraken is the only way to go such a game that retains even a modicum of detail.

Bottom line? No matter how esoteric your tabletop interest might be, someone, somewhere makes figures for it. In fact, I’ll wager the product lines above aren’t even the only ones out there (apologies to those I missed). So take the plunge, get painting and I’ll be back in a few with another round of Pygmy Wars, Tom Berenger and all.

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