Wells’ Little Wars

Today it’s easy to find science fiction writers who are game creators, too. What may come as a surprise is to hear that H. G. Wells, so important in founding the sf genre, had just as great an impact on the creation of hobby war gaming.

Wells’ Floor Games (1911) and Little Wars (1913) established rules for fighting battles with toy soldiers – with an emphasis on action. A BBC article notes:

Wells was not bothered by casualties to his soldiers. He fired inch-long wooden dowels from his favourite toy cannons, models of 4.7in (120mm) naval guns, and they could take the head off a fragile hollow-cast lead soldier.

The author’s sons’ nurse Mathilde Meyer once wrote: “Hopelessly damaged soldiers were melted down in an iron spoon on the schoolroom floor, and others had a new head fixed on by means of a match and liquid lead.”

Wells stressed in his rules that combat “should be by actual gun and rifle fire and not by computation. Things should happen and not be decided” – a contrast with cerebral predecessors like the Prussian General Staff’s Kriegsspiel (from the early 1800s) or Fred T. Jane’s “The Naval Game” (1898).

Wells’ rules for Little Wars, available through Project Gutenberg, make clear that in his own way he agreed with Napoleon that artillery is the queen of battle.

THE beginning of the game of Little War, as we know it, became possible with the invention of the spring breechloader gun. This priceless gift to boyhood appeared somewhen towards the end of the last century, a gun capable of hitting a toy soldier nine times out of ten at a distance of nine yards. It has completely superseded all the spiral-spring and other makes of gun hitherto used in playroom warfare. These spring breechloaders are made in various sizes and patterns, but the one used in our game is that known in England as the four-point-seven gun. It fires a wooden cylinder about an inch long, and has a screw adjustment for elevation and depression. It is an altogether elegant weapon.

His rulebook makes entertaining reading for anyone with an interest in these games.

I’ll close by mentioning another sf writer who gained fame as a wargame developer —Fletcher Pratt. Best known within the genre for The Incompleat Enchanter, co-authored with L. Sprague De Camp, and widely known outside it for his naval histories, he was also the creator of Fletcher Pratt’s Naval War Game, published in 1940. It was played on the floor with numerous wooden ships. Game enthusiasts organized clubs around the U.S., and on one occasion ran the game in a ballroom with over 60 participants on each side.

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