By Rob Morgan
In the UK, there exists a plethora of charity shops, which sell everything under the sun — second-hand or unwanted stuff mostly, and especially books and toys. Ever since the late 1970s, when I unearthed a 1/1200th-scale fleet of pre-war metal warships in an Oxfam shop in Cardiff, I’ve been unable to pass one of these shops by. A thoroughly recommended place to find suitable games and toys, as well as sundry objets d’art useful in the wargames world. My old companion-in-arms Brian once bought a small forest in OO/HO scale for a fiver, after which we wargamed the Finnish War of 1939, and the defeat of Varus’ legions in AD 9, for months!
It’s boxed board games that seem to provide the best material for wargaming purposes. The boards themselves are always useful. I played a great game of World War II house-fighting in 54mm with a Cluedo board once — Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with a Sten. Very lively it was too. The games to look out for are the ones with plenty of playing pieces. Many years ago, when, frankly, wargaming was pretty basic, I used the 20 hollow ship markers from Waddingtons’ game Buccaneer and the board, if I recall, for an 18th-century naval encounter. It wouldn’t pass muster nowadays though.
But this game would: It’s Thunderbirds, and I picked it up for only £2 sterling, because one of the two hard plastic game pieces and the rules were missing.
The game comes with 16 spaceships. Besides the two types shown which are incidentally about 1 1/2 inches long, there’s a bulkier vessel, beetle-like and ideal as a transport or exploration ship. The fourth type of playing piece is a single-seat fighter that doesn’t fit in with the these two, but will — when I get time to think about it — make for a decent interceptor game. It’s very nearly a 1/300th scale.
I’ve made up two simple squadrons of star fighter here. Scale? Well, it could be anything really. They don’t come with proper stands. The spaceships shown are mounted on the clear perspex Games Workshop stands (which come at around 20 a pack) and have been simply undercoated with red and silver paint. This is needed because the pieces in the game are red, yellow, green and blue — rather gaudy. I haven’t decided how to finish the paint jobs yet. Maybe a simple gun metal or black around the engine outlets and a different nose cone or tail colour for each unit, a pair or trio of ships. I won’t change the base colour though. You need a strong colour in spaceships. White or grey simply won’t do — it looks wrong. Be bold!
Nor have I added anything to the basic game pieces as they came out of the box. No pylons or probes or antennae. But of course you could if you wished. The other thing I did was to borrow a few round hard plastic beads, about 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch diameter from my daughter and mount them on similar stands, making either space stations or, if you can find very small beads, space mine fields. There’s always a hole at the top as well as the bottom obviously, so an antenna or a small cupola or radar-type dish can be stuck on there. You can be colourful with these but be warned — I did once see a board filled with camouflaged starships, and wondered why!
Rules? Keep it simple. I don’t see space battles as three-day events.