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    • Abstract: LITTLE WARS(A Game for Boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort ofgirl who likes boys’ games and books)With an Appendix on KriegspielByH. G. WellsA Penn State Electronic Classics Series Publication

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(A Game for Boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of
girl who likes boys’ games and books)
With an Appendix on Kriegspiel
H. G. Wells
A Penn State Electronic Classics Series Publication
Little Wars by H. G. Wells is a publication of the Pennsylvania State University. This Por-
table Document file is furnished free and without any charge of any kind. Any person using
this document file, for any purpose, and in any way does so at his or her own risk. Neither
the Pennsylvania State University nor Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, nor anyone associated
with the Pennsylvania State University assumes any responsibility for the material con-
tained within the document or for the file as an electronic transmission, in any way.
Little Wars by H. G. Wells, the Pennsylvania State University, Electronic Classics Series,
Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, Hazleton, PA 18202 is a Portable Document File produced as
part of an ongoing student publication project to bring classical works of literature, in En-
glish, to free and easy access of those wishing to make use of them.
Cover Design: Jim Manis
Copyright © 2004 The Pennsylvania State University
The Pennsylvania State University is an equal opportunity university.
H G Wells
Little Wars limbs remain sufficiently supple—by girls of the better sort,
and by a few rare and gifted women. This is to be a full
History of Little Wars from its recorded and authenticated
beginning until the present time, an account of how to make
(A Game for Boys from twelve years of age to one hundred
little warfare, and hints of the most priceless sort for the
and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes
recumbent strategist ….
boys’ games and books)
But first let it be noted in passing that there were prehis-
toric “Little Wars.” This is no new thing, no crude novelty;
With an Appendix on Kriegspiel
but a thing tested by time, ancient and ripe in its essentials
for all its perennial freshness—like spring. There was a Some-
By one who fought Little Wars in the days of Queen Anne; a
garden Napoleon. His game was inaccurately observed and
H. G. Wells insufficiently recorded by Laurence Sterne. It is clear that
Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim were playing Little Wars on
I a scale and with an elaboration exceeding even the richness
and beauty of the contemporary game. But the curtain is
OF THE LEGENDARY PAST drawn back only to tantalise us. It is scarcely conceivable
that anywhere now on earth the Shandean Rules remain on
“LITTLE WARS” is the game of kings—for players in an infe- record. Perhaps they were never committed to paper ….
rior social position. It can be played by boys of every age And in all ages a certain barbaric warfare has been waged
from twelve to one hundred and fifty—and even later if the with soldiers of tin and lead and wood, with the weapons of
Little Wars
the wild, with the catapult, the elastic circular garter, the II
peashooter, the rubber ball, and such-like appliances—a mere
setting up and knocking down of men. Tin murder. The LITTLE
advance of civilisation has swept such rude contests altogether ARFARE
from the playroom. We know them no more ….
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 to-
wards 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 depres-
sion. It is an altogether elegant weapon.
It was with one of these guns that the beginning of our
war game was made. It was at Sandgate—in England.
The present writer had been lunching with a friend—let
me veil his identity under the initials J. K. J.—in a room
H G Wells
littered with the irrepressible debris of a small boy’s plea- have rather a good game, a kind of kriegspiel.”…
sures. On a table near our own stood four or five soldiers Primitive attempts to realise the dream were interrupted
and one of these guns. Mr J. K. J., his more urgent needs by a great rustle and chattering of lady visitors. They regarded
satisfied and the coffee imminent, drew a chair to this little the objects upon the floor with the empty disdain of their
table, sat down, examined the gun discreetly, loaded it warily, sex for all imaginative things.
aimed, and hit his man. Thereupon he boasted of the deed, But the writer had in those days a very dear friend, a man
and issued challenges that were accepted with avidity. . . . too ill for long excursions or vigorous sports (he has been
He fired that day a shot that still echoes round the world. dead now these six years), of a very sweet companionable
An affair—let us parallel the Cannonade of Valmy and call it disposition, a hearty jester and full of the spirit of play. To
the Cannonade of Sandgate—occurred, a shooting between him the idea was broached more fruitfully. We got two forces
opposed ranks of soldiers, a shooting not very different in of toy soldiers, set out a lumpish Encyclopaedic land upon
spirit—but how different in results!—from the prehistoric the carpet, and began to play. We arranged to move in alter-
warfare of catapult and garter. “But suppose,” said his an- nate moves: first one moved all his force and then the other;
tagonists; “suppose somehow one could move the men!” and an infantry-man could move one foot at each move, a cav-
therewith opened a new world of belligerence. alry-man two, a gun two, and it might fire six shots; and if a
The matter went no further with Mr J. K. J. The seed lay man was moved up to touch another man, then we tossed
for a time gathering strength, and then began to germinate up and decided which man was dead. So we made a game,
with another friend, Mr W. To Mr W. was broached the idea: which was not a good game, but which was very amusing
“I believe that if one set up a few obstacles on the floor, once or twice. The men were packed under the lee of fat
volumes of the British Encyclopedia and so forth, to make a volumes, while the guns, animated by a spirit of their own,
Country, and moved these soldiers and guns about, one could banged away at any exposed head, or prowled about in search
Little Wars
of a shot. Occasionally men came into contact, with remark- pet (the natural terrain of toy soldiers), a large box of bricks—
able results. Rash is the man who trusts his life to the spin of such as I have described in Floor Games—and certain large
a coin. One impossible paladin slew in succession nine men inch-thick boards.
and turned defeat to victory, to the extreme exasperation of It was an easy task for the head of the household to evict
the strategist who had led those victims to their doom. This his offspring, annex these advantages, and set about plan-
inordinate factor of chance eliminated play; the individual ning a more realistic country. (I forget what became of the
freedom of guns turned battles into scandals of crouching children.) The thick boards were piled up one upon another
concealment; there was too much cover afforded by the books to form hills; holes were bored in them, into which twigs of
and vast intervals of waiting while the players took aim. And various shrubs were stuck to represent trees; houses and sheds
yet there was something about it …. It was a game crying (solid and compact piles of from three to six or seven inches
aloud for improvement. high, and broad in proportion) and walls were made with
Improvement came almost simultaneously in several di- the bricks; ponds and swamps and rivers, with fords and so
rections. First there was the development of the Country. forth indicated, were chalked out on the floor, garden stones
The soldiers did not stand well on an ordinary carpet, the were brought in to represent great rocks, and the “Country”
Encyclopedia made clumsy cliff-like “cover”, and more par- at least of our perfected war game was in existence. We dis-
ticularly the room in which the game had its beginnings was covered it was easy to cut out and bend and gum together
subject to the invasion of callers, alien souls, trampling skirt- paper and cardboard walls, into which our toy bricks could
swishers, chatterers, creatures unfavourably impressed by the be packed, and on which we could paint doors and win-
spectacle of two middle-aged men playing with “toy soldiers” dows, creepers and rain-water pipes, and so forth, to repre-
on the floor, and very heated and excited about it. Overhead sent houses, castles, and churches in a more realistic manner,
was the day nursery, with a wide extent of smooth cork car- and, growing skilful, we made various bridges and so forth
H G Wells
of card. Every boy who has ever put together model villages and sheds must be made of solid lumps of bricks, and not
knows how to do these things, and the attentive reader will hollow so that soldiers can be put inside them, because oth-
find them edifyingly represented in our photographic illus- erwise muddled situations arise. And it was clearly necessary
trations. to provide for the replacement of disturbed objects by chalk-
There has been little development since that time in the ing out the outlines of boards and houses upon the floor or
Country. Our illustrations show the methods of arrangement, boards upon which they stood.
and the reader will see how easily and readily the utmost And while we thus perfected the Country, we were also
variety of battlefields can be made. (It is merely to be re- eliminating all sorts of tediums, disputable possibilities, and
marked that a too crowded Country makes the guns ineffec- deadlocks from the game. We decided that every man should
tive and leads to a mere tree to tree and house to house be as brave and skilful as every other man, and that when
scramble, and that large open spaces along the middle, or two men of opposite sides came into contact they would
rivers without frequent fords and bridges, lead to ineffective inevitably kill each other. This restored strategy to its pre-
cannonades, because of the danger of any advance. On the dominance over chance.
whole, too much cover is better than too little.) We decided We then began to humanise that wild and fearful fowl, the
that one player should plan and lay out the Country, and the gun. We decided that a gun could not be fired if there were
other player choose from which side he would come. And not six—afterwards we reduced the number to four—men
to-day we play over such landscapes in a cork-carpeted school- within six inches of it. And we ruled that a gun could not
room, from which the proper occupants are no longer evicted both fire and move in the same general move: it could either
but remain to take an increasingly responsible and less and be fired or moved (or left alone). If there were less than six
less audible and distressing share in the operations. men within six inches of a gun, then we tried letting it fire as
We found it necessary to make certain general rules. Houses many shots as there were men, and we permitted a single
Little Wars
man to move a gun, and move with it as far as he could go by helpfully—to quicken it. Manifestly the guns had to be re-
the rules—a foot, that is, if he was an infantry-man, and two duced to manageable terms. We cut down the number of
feet if he was a cavalry-man. We abolished altogether that shots per move to four, and we required that four men should
magical freedom of an unassisted gun to move two feet. And be within six inches of a gun for it to be in action at all.
on such rules as these we fought a number of battles. They Without four men it could neither fire nor move—it was
were interesting, but not entirely satisfactory. We took no out of action; and if it moved, the four men had to go with
prisoners—a feature at once barbaric and unconvincing. The it. Moreover, to put an end to that little resistant body of
battles lingered on a long time, because we shot with extreme men behind a house, we required that after a gun had been
care and deliberation, and they were hard to bring to a deci- fired it should remain, without alteration of the elevation,
sive finish. The guns were altogether too predominant. They pointing in the direction of its last shot, and have two men
prevented attacks getting home, and they made it possible for placed one on either side of the end of its trail. This secured
a timid player to put all his soldiers out of sight behind hills a certain exposure on the part of concealed and sheltered
and houses, and bang away if his opponent showed as much gunners. It was no longer possible to go on shooting out of a
as the tip of a bayonet. Monsieur Bloch seemed vindicated, perfect security for ever. All this favoured the attack and led
and Little War had become impossible. And there was some- to a livelier game.
thing a little absurd, too, in the spectacle of a solitary drum- Our next step was to abolish the tedium due to the elabo-
mer-boy, for example, marching off with a gun. rate aiming of the guns, by fixing a time limit for every move.
But as there was nevertheless much that seemed to us ex- We made this an outside limit at first, ten minutes, but af-
tremely pretty and picturesque about the game, we set to terwards we discovered that it made the game much more
work—and here a certain Mr M. with his brother, Captain warlike to cut the time down to a length that would barely
M., hot from the Great War in South Africa, came in most permit a slow-moving player to fire all his guns and move all
H G Wells
his men. This led to small bodies of men lagging and “get- every minute and discharge an alarm note at the end of the
ting left,” to careless exposures, to rapid, less accurate shoot- move. That would abolish the rather boring strain of time-
ing, and just that eventfulness one would expect in the hurry keeping. One could just watch the fighting.
and passion of real fighting. It also made the game brisker. Moreover, in our desire to bring the game to a climax, we
We have since also made a limit, sometimes of four minutes, decided that instead of a fight to a finish we would fight to
sometimes of five minutes, to the interval for adjustment some determined point, and we found very good sport in
and deliberation after one move is finished and before the supposing that the arrival of three men of one force upon
next move begins. This further removes the game from the the back line of the opponent’s side of the country was of
chess category, and approximates it to the likeness of active such strategic importance as to determine the battle. But this
service. Most of a general’s decisions, once a fight has begun, form of battle we have since largely abandoned in favour of
must be made in such brief intervals of time. (But we leave the old fight to a finish again. We found it led to one type of
unlimited time at the outset for the planning.) battle only, a massed rush at the antagonist’s line, and that
As to our time-keeping, we catch a visitor with a stop- our arrangements of time-limits and capture and so forth
watch if we can, and if we cannot, we use a fair-sized clock had eliminated most of the concluding drag upon the game.
with a second-hand: the player not moving says “Go,” and Our game was now very much in its present form. We
warns at the last two minutes, last minute, and last thirty considered at various times the possibility of introducing some
seconds. But I think it would not be difficult to procure a complication due to the bringing up of ammunition or sup-
cheap clock—because, of course, no one wants a very accu- plies generally, and we decided that it would add little to the
rate agreement with Greenwich as to the length of a sec- interest or reality of the game. Our battles are little brisk
ond—that would have minutes instead of hours and sec- fights in which one may suppose that all the ammunition
onds instead of minutes, and that would ping at the end of and food needed are carried by the men themselves.
Little Wars
But our latest development has been in the direction of ering how best to prevent such inhuman heroisms, we were
killing hand to hand or taking prisoners. We found it neces- reminded of another frequent incident in our battles that
sary to distinguish between an isolated force and a force that also erred towards the incredible and vitiated our strategy.
was merely a projecting part of a larger force. We made a That was the charging of one or two isolated horse-men at a
definition of isolation. After a considerable amount of trials gun in order to disable it. Let me illustrate this by an inci-
we decided that a man or a detachment shall be considered dent. A force consisting of ten infantry and five cavalry with
to be isolated when there is less than half its number of its a gun are retreating across an exposed space, and a gun with
own side within a move of it. Now, in actual civilised war- thirty men, cavalry and infantry, in support comes out upon
fare small detached bodies do not sell their lives dearly; a a crest into a position to fire within two feet of the retreating
considerably larger force is able to make them prisoners with- cavalry. The attacking player puts eight men within six inches
out difficulty. Accordingly we decided that if a blue force, of his gun and pushes the rest of his men a little forward to
for example, has one or more men isolated, and a red force the right or left in pursuit of his enemy. In the real thing, the
of at least double the strength of this isolated detachment retreating horsemen would go off to cover with the gun, “hell
moves up to contact with it, the blue men will be considered for leather,” while the infantry would open out and retreat,
to be prisoners. firing. But see what happened in our imperfect form of Little
That seemed fair; but so desperate is the courage and de- War! The move of the retreating player began. Instead of
votion of lead soldiers, that it came to this, that any small retreating his whole force, he charged home with his mounted
force that got or seemed likely to get isolated and caught by desperadoes, killed five of the eight men about the gun, and
a superior force instead of waiting to be taken prisoners, so by the rule silenced it, enabling the rest of his little body
dashed at its possible captors and slew them man for man. It to get clean away to cover at the leisurely pace of one foot a
was manifestly unreasonable to permit this. And in consid- move. This was not like any sort of warfare. In real life cav-
H G Wells
alry cannot pick out and kill its equivalent in cavalry while up half a dozen men within six inches. To whom did the gun
that equivalent is closely supported by other cavalry or in- belong? By the original wording of our rule, it might be sup-
fantry; a handful of troopers cannot gallop past well and posed to belong to the attack which had never really touched
abundantly manned guns in action, cut down the gunners the gun yet, and they could claim to turn it upon its original
and interrupt the fire. And yet for a time we found it a little side. We had to meet a number of such cases. We met them by
difficult to frame simple rules to meet these two bad cases requiring the capturing force—or, to be precise, four men of
and prevent such scandalous possibilities. We did at last con- it—actually to pass the axle of the gun before it could be taken.
trive to do so; we invented what we call the melee, and our All sorts of odd little difficulties arose too, connected with
revised rules in the event of a melee will be found set out the use of the guns as a shelter from fire, and very exact rules
upon a later page. They do really permit something like an had to be made to avoid tilting the nose and raising the breech
actual result to hand-to-hand encounters. They abolish of a gun in order to use it as cover ….
Horatius Cocles. We still found it difficult to introduce any imitation into
We also found difficulties about the capturing of guns. At our game of either retreat or the surrender of men not actu-
first we had merely provided that a gun was captured when ally taken prisoners in a melee. Both things were possible by
it was out of action and four men of the opposite force were the rules, but nobody did them because there was no in-
within six inches of it, but we found a number of cases for ducement to do them. Games were apt to end obstinately
which this rule was too vague. A gun, for example, would be with the death or capture of the last man. An inducement
disabled and left with only three men within six inches; the was needed. This we contrived by playing not for the game
enemy would then come up eight or ten strong within six but for points, scoring the result of each game and counting
inches on the other side, but not really reaching the gun. At the points towards the decision of a campaign. Our cam-
the next move the original possessor of the gun would bring paign was to our single game what a rubber is to a game of
Little Wars
whist. We made the end of a war 200, 300, or 400 or more fore his opponent set down his men.
points up, according to the number of games we wanted to And at last our rules have reached stability, and we regard
play, and we scored a hundred for each battle won, and in them now with the virtuous pride of men who have per-
addition 1 for each infantry-man, 1-1/2 for each cavalry- sisted in a great undertaking and arrived at precision after
man, 10 for each gun, 1/2 for each man held prisoner by the much tribulation. There is not a piece of constructive leg-
enemy, and 1/2 for each prisoner held at the end of the game, islation in the world, not a solitary attempt to meet a com-
subtracting what the antagonist scored by the same scale. plicated problem, that we do not now regard the more chari-
Thus, when he felt the battle was hopelessly lost, he had a tably for our efforts to get a right result from this appar-
direct inducement to retreat any guns he could still save and ently easy and puerile business of fighting with tin soldiers
surrender any men who were under the fire of the victors’ on the floor.
guns and likely to be slaughtered, in order to minimise the And so our laws all made, battles have been fought, the
score against him. And an interest was given to a skilful re- mere beginnings, we feel, of vast campaigns. The game has
treat, in which the loser not only saved points for himself become in a dozen aspects extraordinarily like a small real
but inflicted losses upon the pursuing enemy. battle. The plans are made, the Country hastily surveyed,
At first we played the game from the outset, with each and then the curtains are closed, and the antagonists make
player’s force within sight of his antagonist; then we found it their opening dispositions. Then the curtains are drawn back
possible to hang a double curtain of casement cloth from a and the hostile forces come within sight of each other; the
string stretched across the middle of the field, and we drew little companies and squadrons and batteries appear hurry-
this back only after both sides had set out their men. With- ing to their positions, the infantry deploying into long open
out these curtains we found the first player was at a heavy lines, the cavalry sheltering in reserve, or galloping with the
disadvantage, because he displayed all his dispositions be- guns to favourable advance positions.
H G Wells
In two or three moves the guns are flickering into action, a III
cavalry melee may be in progress, the plans of the attack are
more or less apparent, here are men pouring out from the RULES
shelter of a wood to secure some point of vantage, and here
are troops massing among farm buildings for a vigorous at- HERE, THEN, are the rules of the perfect battle-game as we
tack. The combat grows hot round some vital point. Move play it in an ordinary room.
follows move in swift succession. One realises with a sicken-
ing sense of error that one is outnumbered and hard pressed COUNTRY
here and uselessly cut off there, that one’s guns are ill-placed,
that one’s wings are spread too widely, and that help can (1) The Country must be arranged by one player, who, failing
come only over some deadly zone of fire. any other agreement, shall be selected by the toss of a coin.
So the fight wears on. Guns are lost or won, hills or vil-
lages stormed or held; suddenly it grows clear that the scales (2) The other player shall then choose which side of the field
are tilting beyond recovery, and the loser has nothing left he will fight from.
but to contrive how he may get to the back line and safety
with the vestiges of his command …. (3) The Country must be disturbed as little as possible in
But let me, before I go on to tell of actual battles and cam- each move. Nothing in the Country shall be moved or set
paigns, give here a summary of our essential rules. aside deliberately to facilitate the firing of guns. A player
must not lie across the Country so as to crush or disturb the
Country if his opponent objects. Whatever is moved by ac-
cident shall be replaced after the end of the move.
Little Wars
THE MOVE minutes is an ample allowance. As the battle progresses and
the men are killed off, the allowance is reduced as the players
(1) After the Country is made and the sides chosen, then may agree. The player about to move stands at attention a
(and not until then) the players shall toss for the first move. yard behind his back line until the timekeeper says “Go.”
He then proceeds to make his move until time is up. He
(2) If there is no curtain, the player winning the toss, hereaf- must instantly stop at the cry of “Time.” Warning should be
ter called the First Player, shall next arrange his men along given by the timekeeper two minutes, one minute, and thirty
his back line, as he chooses. Any men he may place behind seconds before time is up. There will be an interval before
or in front of his back line shall count in the subsequent the next move, during which any disturbance of the Coun-
move as if they touched the back line at its nearest point. try can be rearranged and men accidentally overturned re-
The Second Player shall then do the same. But if a curtain is placed in a proper attitude. This interval must not exceed
available both first and second player may put down their five or four minutes, as may be agreed upon.
men at the same time. Both players may take unlimited time
for the putting down of their men; if there is a curtain it is (4) Guns must not be fired before the second move of the
drawn back when they are ready, and the game then begins. first player—not counting the “putting down” as a move.
Thus the first player puts down, then the second player, the
(3) The subsequent moves after the putting down are timed. first player moves, then the second player, and the two forces
The length of time given for each move is determined by the are then supposed to come into effective range of each other
size of the forces engaged. About a minute should be allowed and the first player may open fire if he wishes to do so.
for moving 30 men and a minute for each gun. Thus for a
force of 110 men and 3 guns, moved by one player, seven (5) In making his move a player must move or fire his guns if
H G Wells
he wants to do so, before moving his men. To this rule of (IV) If a gun is in action it can either be moved or fired at
“Guns First” there is to be no exception. each move, but not both. If it is fired, it may fire as many as
four shots in each move. It may be swung round on its axis
(6) Every soldier may be moved and every gun moved or (the middle point of its wheel axle) to take aim, provided the
fired at each move, subject to the following rules: Country about it permits; it may be elevated or depressed,
and the soldiers about it may, at the discretion of the firer, be
MOBILITY made to lie down in their places to facilitate its handling.
Moreover, soldiers who have got in front of the fire of their
(Each player must be provided with two pieces of string, one own guns may lie down while the guns fire over them. At
two feet in length and the other six inches.) the end of the move the gun must be left without altering its
elevation and pointing in the direction of the last shot. And
(I) An infantry-man may be moved a foot or any less dis- after firing, two men must be placed exactly at the end of the
tance at each move. trail of the gun, one on either side in a line directly behind
the wheels. So much for firing. If the gun is moved and not
(II) A cavalry-man may be moved two feet or any less dis- fired, then at least four men who are with the gun must move
tance at each move. up with it to its new position, and be placed within six inches
of it in its new position. The gun itself must be placed trail
(III) A gun is in action if there are at least four men of its forward and the muzzle pointing back in the direction from
own side within six inches of it. If there are not at least four which it came, and so it must remain until it is swung round
men within that distance, it can neither be moved nor fired. on its axis to fire. Obviously the distance which a gun can
move will be determined by the men it is with; if there are at
Little Wars
least four cavalry-men with it, they can take the gun two shot that rebounds from or glances off any object and touches
feet, but if there are fewer cavalry-men than four and the rest a man, kills him; it kills him even if it simply rolls to his feet,
infantry, or no cavalry and all infantry, the gun will be mov- subject to what has been said in the previous sentence.
able only one foot.
(V) Every man must be placed fairly clear of hills, buildings, HAND-TO-HAND FIGHTING AND CAPTURING
trees, guns, etc. He must not be jammed into interstices,
and either player may insist upon a clear distance between (1) A man or a body of men which has less than half its own
any man and any gun or other object of at least one-six- number of men on its own side within a move of it, is said to
teenth of an inch. Nor must men be packed in contact with be isolated. But if there is at least half its number of men of
men. A space of one-sixteenth of an inch should be kept its own side within a move of it, it is not isolated; it is sup-
between them. ported.
(VI) When men are knocked over by a shot they are dead, (2) Men may be moved up into virtual

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