Monday, 24 April 2017

The original Travel Battle

There's been some buzz recently about the latest product from the Perry twins. This is a wargame-in-a-box that enables you to play figure wargames anywhere, like on a train, beside the pool on holiday, down the pub or anywhere else you are away from your own table and toys. This isn't a new idea. In the last few years Bob Cordery has been writing about his own portable gridded game called "The Portable Wargame", which has garnered some reasonable press and has a good following.

The idea of being able to take your wargame with you dates back even further. There's something in an early Don Featherstone book that talks of maps and talc and sticky units and chinagraphs to enable you to play solo when out and about. Anyway, although I haven't got my hands on a Perry Travel Battle set yet I'll share my thoughts with you at the end of this blog.

Personally I think that the most successful attempt at doing this sort of thing, - by which I mean a travel wargame that I actually made up and took places and played on a train with another real live person - dates back to the 1970s.

A Retiuarius and a Samnite face up to each other
I am talking here of Hugh Walter's Paragon Wargames Club's Gladiator Combat Rules. These first came to my attention through a short article in "Military Modelling" called something like "First Take a Biscuit Tin".

The idea was that as arenas were often circular you could turn a biscuit tin lined with brick paper into a suitable venue for gladiatorial combat.

This idea was intriguing, and when my mate Derek & I went to the big military show at Aldershot (?) one summer in the very early 70s we headed for the Military Modelling tent to see what what it was all about.

The MM tent was a big deal in those days, and was the major show venue in the south, matching Northern Militaire at the time. We found the Paragon boys running the Gladiator game just outside the tent and sat down and played most of the afternoon. Frankly, I think, they got sick of us and eventually introduced the full rules so we got killed and then were encouraged to leave.

Undaunted we went and bought a copy of the A5 Gestetnered rules between us, and also split a pack of Garrison Gladiators in 25mm, which were the only ones available at the time.

We then went home and both made ourselves an arena (that's mine, in the picture above) and our local group of friends played it a lot. Massed combats with all of us in the arena at the same time, chucking nets, feinting this way and that and generally having a great time of it. Soon Minifigs had their gladiator range out so we acquired those, plus other assorted figures suitable for combat, from Lamming, Warrior and anyone else we came across.

The beauty of it all was that it was genuinely portable and it was lots of fun. The rules, copied out meticulously, fitted comfortably in the lid. All my figures, lovingly wrapped in toilet paper, fitted neatly into two old tobacco tins (my Dad was a pipe smoker). One summer Derek and I bought RailRover tickets for the Midlands region and we went all over the place, mainly visiting model and wargames shops. We took the biscuit tin and whiled away the long slow train journey into Birmingham from Rugby stabbing at each other.

I even took my version into school, where me and a small group of friends would disappear at lunchtime to the far end of the playing fields, next to the cricket nets, and happily play a few games. I remember it so well, along with the lovable rogues who threw a spare net over me and roughed me up, damaging my watch, and upending the whole ensemble into a ditch. Happy days.

So there it all sits up on a shelf in the study, still usable after over 40 years. I bought a copy of the 1977 rules reprint a few years ago, but now I want it I have no idea of where it has gone. Typical. No worries, still got all the original handwritten rules in the lid. Derek kept the Gestetner rule book, even tho' he moved on to Ian Beck's "Rudis" (a much more detailed and realistic portrayal of arena combat, but alas missing some of the charm of the Paragon game).

So, what of the Perry game? First off I can say that I won't be buying it. It fits no niche that I have. I can't think of where I would play it, and I'm not turned on by Napoleonics at the moment. On the other hand, I think that some of the press and comment on the subject has missed the point. Remarks that we can't judge it until we see the rules I think are wide of the mark. It's a full terrain board, marked up in squares 10 x 20 in size, with some reasonable sized Napoleonic armies. Although as the figures are 8mm, so you could probably paint or use them for any European conflict up to the 1880s, depending on how fussy you are about shakos. If you want this type of portable product and the rules are rubbish, scan the internet for some that work or write your own. There's loads of square based systems out there. And if you want to widen your horizons then the boards would work with 6mm or 10mm figures for other periods in modern Europe.

Secondly, there's fuss over the price. It's £50. Too expensive? It's a box with terrain boards and two chunky sized armies in it that is in a robust box so you can carry it about. No, it isn't too expensive. I've just ordered 20 packs of 15mm figures from Lancashire games and not got much change out of £50. And that's just one army, no terrain, no box. Get real folks. How much would it cost you to put this together yourself? Or, another way of looking at it, the Black Powder rule book will cost you over £25, and it isn't even complete. Okay, it is toppy compared to some board games, but seriously, Command and Colours is over £50 and isn't portable. The bottom line is that if you reckon you'll play this a lot, then the price point is reasonable. If it's going to sit on your shelf gathering dust, then it's not worth it.

So, if you want a game you can carry around, then it's worth it. If you don't then it isn't. But there are other options if this is an itch you must scratch, as I think I've shown.

Update: Bob Cordery has posted a proper review here: link

16 comments:

  1. Gladiatorial combat is perfect as a travel game. Small gaming area and limited number of playing pieces. A genre in which even a casual gamer might be interested.

    Remember TAHGC's Gladiator? Perfect for rendering in 3D miniature. Oh, the number of campaigns that have been fought using that game. Still gets pulled down from the shelf on occasion. Circus Maximus was another good casual game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. Perfect for all the reasons you say. Never played "Gladiator", nor most of the others.

      Delete
  2. Thanks for the memory, now I will have to go and find my own biscuit tin and see if its still useable

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It'll be fine! Canned goods have a long shelf life. It's not like mice will be able to chew their way into it.

      Delete
  3. Paragon Gladiator Games, I remember them well, I'm sure I still have a copy or two of them stashed away somewhere.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, yes, yes!! Now is the time for a revival. all of us, up and down the country, out in the open air with our biscuit tins!!

      Delete
  4. "On some nights, they say, the ghost of Oliver Reed visits, rattling the tin and roaring for a pint..."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. Perfect for the pub as well.

      Delete
    2. But we play in the pub anyhow - no specialist pub wargame needed.

      Delete
    3. Awesome! I think if I was to try and play in the bar of the local pub with my usual set up I might have issues (although when I ran Brixcon we used to play in the "back room" on the Friday night).

      Thinking about this further DBA is pretty portable. When MNG'r Will was in hospital a few years back we fitted in a couple of games on his bed table.

      Delete
  5. I'd forgotten the biscuit tine arena- though I have the mil - mod article somewhere.
    But my problem with the whole travelling wargame thing is why the hell anyone would want to. Back in the day before Game- Boy and similar when you were 12 possibly
    The Peery thing is aimed- as so much these days- at "wargaming - lite" or "convenience wargames" and is another contribution to the narrowing of the hobby - at least as far as the mainstream is concerned.
    The rukes as you say are not to the point as there are plenty about BUT it is interesting that the buzz has been just as much about the rules as the plastikrap bits and the nasty little men and two legged horses. It will sell largely because it is by God's Anointed Perrys ...
    No I won't be buying one and yes I'd rather have a biscuit tin.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...and in addition to what Andy says, it's gridded.. pah... just a short step away from hexes...

      PS. £50 is expensive... :o)

      Delete
    2. I remember the biscuit tin arena! I must make one to show when I next demonstrate my gladiator game at my daughter's old school.
      Whilst I'm inclined to agree with Big Andy about this Perry game, I do think a truly portable wargame for use on holidays, business travel &c. is not an unreasonable idea. I don't have a GameBoy or phone that can play games, and would enjoy playing a solo game with figures when staying with relatives or on holiday.
      I just feel I could create something similar from old RISK figures and gameboards much more cheaply...

      Delete
    3. Steve - I like squares and grids, so not a problem for me. And if you look again at what I said £50 is not an unreasonable price point for what you are getting if you are going to use it. Of course, if you don't really want it or have only a mild interest then £50 is a lot to shell out for it to sit on a shelf.

      Delete
    4. Arthur - Yes. Make a biscuit tin. Let's start a revival. When we travel Mrs T and I take quite a few portable games, of the non-wargaming variety (Fluxx & Gugs are favourites) but I don't think I would want to go on holiday and play a solo wargame.

      Delete