(this page is a duplicate of my original Shambattle pages at )

- or -
How To Play With Toy Soldiers Anno 1929

Many wargamers think that after the publication of Little Wars by H.G.Wells in 1912, not much else happened on the wargaming front until the publications in the sixties of the book Wargames by Donald Featherstone. This is, of course, quite untrue!

One of the more entertaining books published is ShamBattle, by Harry G. Dowdall and Joseph H. Gleason, in 1929. In December 2000, I acquired a copy of this book and that's when I started building this page.

These pages explain the rules of the wargame described in the book, and show some photographs of a game I tried to play in the Spring of 2001.


Inside Title Page

Table of Contents

On these pages, I only give a description of the rules of the General's game. Apart from rules, there are more sections in the book, dealing with tactics and strategy, how to award medals to your soldiers etc. But the meat is definitely in the rules ... so bring them on!


Compared to current wargaming rules, the rules of ShamBattle are awfully simple. Bear in mind, that ShamBattle is a game for boys ages 8-12, and therefore things are presented more as a game than as a simulation of war.

There are 3 games in the book: the Lieutenant's game (ages 8+), the Captain's game (ages 10+), and the General's game (ages 12+). Every game is a straightforward extension of the previous level, and merely adds some rules to it. On this webpage, only an overview of the General's game is given.

The Map
One needs a map for the game, which is drawn using colored crayons on a 3x5 feet piece of paper. The example map in the book is divided in 2 countries, Bluvia and Redina, which are seperated by a river. Each country has 3 cities, connected by various roads. There are two hills, two forests, and 2 marshes. Also, there are 3 bridges where the roads cross the river. The book encourages players to draw their own maps, and actually requires that you do so before you move up a level

Placing The Troops
All the available toy soldiers are divided evenly over the two armies, such that both armies are equal in infantry and cavalry. The composition of an army is as follows:
  • at least 40 soldiers (infantry and cavalry)
  • 6 medical corps men
  • 1 cannon
  • 2 machine guns
  • 3 hospitals (of which 2 are field hospitals). The hospitals measure 1.5" by 3".
The deployment of the troops is bound by the following rules:
  • At least half of the soldiers need to be deployed in cities, and of this half, a third in each city.
  • The permanent hospital needs to be deployed at a fixed spot, but not the field hospitals.
  • Each player chooses a soldier to represent himself.
  • Each player secretly picks a soldier in the enemy's camp as his spy. The identity of the spy is written on a piece of paper, which is placed in one of the border towns.
Each general has 10 minutes to complete his setup. If the set-up is not finished, the opposing player may place any remaining troops anywhere in the country.

The game is played in alternate turns. Only 5 minutes are allowed per turn. During his turn, a player may move all of his troops. After movement, all combat is resolved.  The complete turn order is as follows:
  • Movement of troops
  • Bayonet combats (melee)
  • Machine guns fire
  • Cannon fires
Movement is regulated by the movement marker. For each soldier to move, place the marker at the footend of the soldier, and move the soldier forward the desired distance, as shown in the picture on the right. Cavalry can move faster, because their base-length is usually larger than that of infantry.

 The following maximum moves need to be respected:
  • Full Move (6"): troops on a road in the open
  • Part Move (4"): troops in the open, or on a road in the hills.
  • Half Move (3"): troops in the forest or on hills.
  • Short Move (2"): troops in the forests on hills.
 Soldiers move at the slowest speed of all terrain they cross. The cannon may be moved at the same speed of troops if two soldiers accompany it during movement. A machine gun may be moved when one soldier is next to it. Two medical men may move a field hospital until it is finally deployed.

If a general has one of his soldiers touching an enemy soldier after all movement has been finished, he can call for a bayonet combat if it is his turn. Two or more soldiers may be touching a single enemy soldier, and then multiple combats may be called for. For each combat, both players roll a die simultaneously, and the outcome is determined as follows:
  • 1-2: the player's soldier is a casualty (killed and removed from the map)
  • 3-4: the player's soldier is a partial casualty (wounded and laid down)
  • 5-6: the player's soldier is uninjured
If soldiers are still touching after all combats, the opposing general, during his turn, can continue combat or move the troops away. Soldiers cannot enter combat with medical corps men.
Partial casualties cannot move, and cannot engage in any combat until treated in a hospital.

Cannon and Machine Guns
Each cannon and machine gun can be fired only once per turn.

In order to fire a cannon, two men need to touch it. The cannon can shoot anywhere on the map. An artillery square (measuring 3" by 3", and cut out of wood, using a larger 5" by 5" square) is placed at the desired location, and then a die is thrown. All soldiers completely or partly covered by the artillery square are destroyed on a roll of 1 if they are in the open, and are a partial casualty if they are in the forest or in a city. Any other result means the soldiers are unharmed.

Machine guns are used in a similar way, but now a triangular template is used. The size of the triangle is 1.5" for the base, and 2" for its height. In order to fire a machine gun, one men need to touch it. The gun can be turned in any direction. Place the apex of the triangle at the gun, and any soldiers covered by the triangle are hit. Troops in the open are killed, but troops in cities or in a forest are only partial casualties.

Cannon and machine guns cannot be targeted at medical corps men or hospitals. Cannon and machine guns can be captured if you are touching it with your soldiers, and no enemy soldiers are touching it. You can then use the gun or cannon as one of your own.

Each army has 6 medical corps men and 3 hospitals. The main hospital has to be deployed at the beginning of the game, but the field hospitals can be moved until deployed.It takes 2 medical corps men to move a field hospital. Once a hospital is deployed, a medical corps men must be in the hospital at all times. The three other medical corps men can be used to bring partial casualties to the hospitals.

 A medical corps men can move a partial casualty just as he would move a machine gun. Once brought to the hospital, the casualty is placed in the hospital, and can be moved again next turn. A hospital can only treat 2 casualties each turn.

At the beginning of the game, every player picks a spy in the opposite camp (an easily recognizable soldier), and writes his identity on a sheet of paper. This sheet is then placed in one of the border towns.

The spy papers can be moved by a soldier in the same way as a cannon or machine gun is moved. If the enemy captures the spy papers, he knows the identity of the spy.
At any time during his turn, a player can reveal the identity of his spy. The soldier then acts as a soldier for that army during the remainder of the game.

The Game as Played in 2001

Shambattle, since it was published in 1929, assumes that traditional toy soldiers are used (54 mm). I decided to use my collection of wooden wargaming figures figures from the excellent Woodens range, produced by Windcatcher Graphics. Since these are somewhat smaller than traditional 54 mm soldiers, I decided to reduce all measurements by a factor of 2/3.

The initial map was drawn on brown packing paper with colored crayons. The result was rather unattractive ...
For the map, I used a sheet of brown packing paper, and used colored crayons to reproduce the map as given in the book. The map looked rather flat and unattractive this way, so I decided to add some visual elements. I made some wooden contours to serve as hills, and used a wooden block toy set for buildings in the two main cities. For trees I used the palm trees as produced by Windcatcher Graphics as part of their Woodens range. The impassable marches were filled up with lichen. The gaming surface looks more attractive, without losing the quintessential look-and-feel of a collection of toys used for playing a wargame.

The final "3-dimensional" playing field, using wooden hills, a wooden block set, and lichen.
The artillery and machine guns templates were cut from a sheet of balsa wood, and I colored them in to give them a bit more of a lively appearance. Woodens has some cannon in their ACW range, but I didn't have models for them. I looked for a drawn picture of a cannon on the web, and printed and mounted it on a scale suitable for the figures.

Armies and Forces
We decided to field two armies, based on the French Foreign Legion and Arabs range. Although ShamBattle says we should use armies which are equal in numbers for cavalry and infantry, we didn't really follow this rule, mostly because of a lack of mounted troops for the FFL. We decided on the following troop composition:
French Foreign Legion
  • 3 machine guns
  • 1 cannon
  • 5 Spahis (mounted)
  • 45 legionnaires
  • 3 hospitals with 2 medics each
  • 1 commanding officer
  • 1 cannon
  • 18 horsemen
  • 30 camelmen
  • 20 infantry
  • 1 commanding officer
The Arabs have the majority, but no hospitals. So they cannot recover their wounded from the field. This also meant that their partial casualties would be full casualties. The FFL has machine guns, so they should be able to put up a good defense

Also, I decided to make the river between the marsh at Redville and Red City/Blueburg fordable. Otherwise, the 3 bridges would form narrow chole points, and the battle would not be very interesting. Troops move up to the river, the next turn they move to the opposite bank, and after that they again can move as normal.

The initial set-up was given by the rules: at least half of the force must be in the cities, and of that half, a third must be in each city. Both forces chose one of the artillery crew figures as the spy, but both armies also tried to counter that by placing more than 2 crew figures next to the artillery pieces.

The French Foreign Legion setup
The plan of the FFL was to storm the right-most bridge, through the marches, into Redville. Meanwhile, they would defend the other bridges and the river. Their permanent hospital was located in the capital, and they had 4 cannon crewmembers, just in case a spy might turn up.

The initial FFL positions.
The Arab set-up
The Arabs had numerical superiority, so they wanted to attack! A strong force of camelriders would attack through the marshes, and a force of horsemen and infantry would cross the river. The Arabs also put some decent reserves in the capital

The initial Arab positions.

The initial Arab attack
The Arab force immediatly started crossing the middle bridge, in an attempt to eliminate the French machinegun guarding the passage. This failed, but meanwhile, the Arab infantry was moving closer to the river, ready to cross

Arab Horsemen are crossing the bridge
The opposition at the other side of the river, a strong force of French rifle troops, was targeted by the Arab cannon. However, the die didn't produce a 1, so no damage was done.

The cannon template in action
The French counterattack
The French started to charge across the bridge leading to Redville, and eliminated the camelriders that came charging across. The gallant officer leading the charge was partially wounded though, and was now in need of a medic to escort him from the battlefield!

The French officer is lying down, to indicate he's partially wounded. A hospital with two medics is nearby.
The first French cannon shot was aimed at the Arab cavalry trying to cross the river, but apparantly the crew was still sleeping, since they failed to hit anything.

Arab horsemen are targeted by French artillery.

In the next turn, bot armies activated their spies. Predictably, these turned out to be crewmembers. The Arab spy was quickly elimnated by a number of legionnaires, but the French spy managed to kill 2 crewmembers before being killed himself. One of the camelriders had to leave his camel behind and man the gun ...

An Arab spy turns up next to the French cannon.
A French spy turns up in the Arab capital and tries to capture the gun.
Reinforcments and a good shot!
The French Spahi detachment now starting moving out of the capital towards the river, because reinforcements were needed!

When the Arab gun could shoot again, they were succesful! The French troops near Redville were almost completely eliminated!!!

A succesful shot from the Arab artillery.
Machineguns ...
At this point, the French discovered the use of machine guns. They started mowing down Arab cavalry, and soon, nothing much remained of the fierce Arab attacks.

French machinegun in action
... and another machinegun in action against the cavalry.
The Situation so far
The French are holding the line, and through the clever use of machine guns, are actually inflicting much more casualties.
The French are holding the line; Arab attacks are failing ...
Finally, they achieve a breakthrough. A detachment crosses the bridge in Blueburg. The way to the Arab capital is wide open!

French troops cross the bridge in Blueburg.
The Arabs flee
It was decided at this point that the Arabs would flee the battlefield: The FFL had broken through one bridge, and the Arab offense on the other fronts was not succeeding and was meeting heavy resistance. A clear French victory!

The final stage of the ShamBattle


Shambattle is of course not a simulation, it is a simple game for boys. In order to turn it into a 'real' wargame, where tactics are a bit more important than sheer luck, several things have to be modified:
  • Cannons are too unpredictable: they only hit on a 1, but then destroy all troops under the template. Machine guns are better than cannons, they don't miss. I think it would be better to give a high probablity to every type of weapon, but provide a limited amount of ammunition. Then, players will have to think a little bit about when to use their heavy weapons.
  • Melee is perfectly symmetric (cavalry = infantry, no elite troops). Die modifiers for different troops would be very easy to implement.
  • Hospitals were not really useful, maybe if the battle is longer, recovering your wounded troops might pay off.
  • The map with the 3 bridges is not very good -- the bridges act as choke points, and result in a die-rolling fest. An open ground battlefield probably would give a better game.
  • There is no ranged fire - although it could easily be implemented, using the same simple mechanisms for casualty determination.
Overall, ShamBattle is a lot of fun. My only aim was to 'experience wargaming' as it was played by boys in 1929. Nothing more, nothing less. I doubt I will ever play it again, since its scope is very limited for the more 'serious' wargamer. I think it could serve as a fun game at conventions, or even a good intro game for your 8-year old son, exactly as the original authors of ShamBattle intended!!!