Gabe came over the other night, and we had a round at wargaming with 54mm plastic toy soldiers. The period was the Seven Years War (1756–1763) and arrayed the French army of Louis XV against an allied army of Hanover, Hesse, Brunswick, and Great Britain.
Both armies were assembled and painted by yours truly and consisted almost entirely of "BMC" brand American Revolution playset figures, sometimes customized a bit with Milliput-brand polyclay, but mostly just painted in rough approximation to actual historical units present at the Battle of Minden in 1759 in western Germany (although the game played was not a recreation of Minden). The sole exception was the cavalry, which is HaT Industrie Napoleonic French dragoons with their helmets cut off and replaced with Milliput tricornes. In all there were about 110 figures in play.
The buildings, river, and stone walls are cardboard and paper and paint. The trees are cheapo model railroad O-scale trees and based in a lump of air dry clay. The hills were cut from packaging styrofoam. And of course, who can resist the ubiquitous olive green felt for the main playing surface? Those in the know can probably detect the influence of the photos from H.G. Wells' Little Wars (1913) at work in the flavour of the terrain and the glossy finish on the figures. Also at work is the influence of 1970s wargaming authors such as Charles Grant who favored stylized terrain and buildings, as well as the stylish and stylized warfare of the 1700s.
For rules we used All the Kings Men by Ken Cliffe, a free-set designed with 54mm figures specifically in mind. My favorite feature is the use of a pack of playing cards to determine whose turn it is - one side is red cards and the other black. One side may thus be forced to agonize as the other player receives a series of six or seven turns in a row. Of course, probability being what it is, such a streak will inevitably reverse, and, as they say, payback can be a bitch. The feature is really quite brilliant, as I believe it simply captures the ebb-and-flow of horse-and-musket period battles, as well as the fog of war element which many systems usually address with more complicated solutions.
The card-based activation system resulted a rather slow and cautious initial phase as both sides jockeyed to position themselves. This was then followed by several rounds of nail biting as each side sat through streaks and dry spells of card-drawing. The allied right flank (commanded by yours truly) almost completely collapsed under a French cavalry charge, only undone at the last minute by a rash of cards in my favor which saw the French cavalry blown to bits by Hanoverian artillery.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, with actual gameplay only lasting about an hour and a half, and set-up prior to play only taking about 30 minutes.*
I drank two pints of porter.
* The major improvement to be made before another game is that I need to get additional cavalry units painted up. Both sides were comprised of 4 units infantry, 2 artillery units, and 1 cavalry. The "menace" factor of cavalry was found to be relatively low in these proportions and combat value in the game almost negligible.