Wednesday, 19 December 2018

First Fantasy wargaming figures ever?

Over the years, I have become more and more interested in the history of our hobby. Part of that is an interest in old figures, whether proper wargaming figures or toy soldiers.

A recent post on the Playing at the World blog led me to buy the "first fantasy wargaming figures ever" from Historifigs. They have the old Jack Scruby moulds, and the figures are still for sale. So I ordered a set of each one of this old set fantasy figures. As you can see, the figures are rather crude by today's standards, but for me, they have a lot of character.

Jack Scruby fantasy figures.
There is of course a philosophical question here. These figures are newly cast, but based on old moulds. So are these new figures or old figures? Does it matter for the collector? Or is a vintage figure only vintage when it was actually produced back in the day? Etc.

I was curious whether these figures really are the first fantasy figures. They probably are, being produced during the early seventies, along with the fantasy range from Minifigs. But was there anything earlier in the range of toy soldiers - i.e. in toy ranges not marketed as "wargaming figures"?

I started looking in one of my reference books on toy soldiers, Norman Joplin's "The Great Book of Hollow-Cast Figures", always a good source for tracking down old ranges of toy soldiers. Since (classic) toy soldiers and wargaming were very connected hobbies till the sixties, it seemed to me that if there was an interest in fantasy gaming before the seventies, it should be visible in toy soldier ranges.

Browsing through the pages, there weren't that many "fantasy" figures to be found in ranges that were available up to the fifties. There were however, many medieval and antiquity types of all sorts (and which could be used for fantasy gaming -- see also Tony Bath's Hyboria campaign), but not real fantasy as we know it today. The closest were figures based on fairy tales, children's books (Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh), Disney characters, or figures based on pulp stories (e.g. Tarzan). There is however a significant range of space figures, e.g. Flash Gordon. A few examples are shown below.

In hindsight, this is perhaps not surprising. The "fantasy genre" as we know it today really only gained popularity after the publication of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, especially "high fantasy" set in complete imaginative worlds (see history of fantasy literature). And since toys tend to follow popular trends (and for wargaming, we need a setting with empires, battles and so on), it is perhaps not surprising that proper high fantasy figures only saw the light of day during the early seventies.


  1. Hi Phil,

    I rather like those fantasy figures and would happily use them today. I will take a look at the website for some more details but they have given me an idea....

    All the best,


    1. The people at Historigs are very nice to deal with. The figures as shown did cost me 20 US$ + 20US$ for P&P to Europe. Quite acceptable.

  2. Interesting questions. I'm not sure if this is on topic, but I believe that I read somewhere that during the development of "Chainmail" Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson used toy dinosaurs for dragons and other beasties along with their medievals.

    1. Yep, quite true. The new book "D&D Art and Arcana" has a nice photograph of a plastic dragon attacking a toy castle in one of Dave Arneson's games ...

    2. There were a number of creatures based off of cheap plastic "prehistoric creatures" from Hong Kong.