Via the ever-awesome Play This Thing: H.G. Wells designed an influential miniatures war game, Little Wars – a turn-based game played with tin soldiers and toy cannon, suitable for adults and children over twelve. Though simple, it’s an obvious ancestor of modern table-top wargames. The full text, published 1913, is available free via Gutenberg.
Reading the rules, two things struck me. The first is that Wells, compared to your average gaming manual, is a joy to read. He’s aware of, and amused by, the inherent ridiculousness of middle-aged men seriously conducting tin-soldier battles on the floor, and revels in it.
The second thing is that the battles described are highly Napoleonic; the game is dominated by artillery, with hand-to-hand combat taking a secondary role. There are lots of cavalry. Rifles only feature in a hypothetical advanced variant suitable for military wargames; Wells goes so far as to rebalance the game to prevent all the troops cowering behind cover. Wells, like the French and British generals will soon be doing, is fighting the last war, not the next one. But at least he has an inkling about this.
“My game is just as good as their game,” he says of real battles, “and saner by reason of its size.”
I have never yet met in little battle any military gentleman, any captain, major, colonel, general, or eminent commander, who did not presently get into difficulties and confusions among even the elementary rules of the Battle. You have only to play at Little Wars three or four times to realise just what a blundering thing Great War must be.