Old Science Fiction? Try Tarzan!

By Rob Morgan

In my youth, I taught Science Fiction, and I know that the four interesting books in the ‘Janissaries’ series do indeed provide some opportunities for wargaming, and solo wargaming at that. Book two is probably the best in terms of scenarios, but as they were published between the late 1970s and 1996, this is hardly ‘old’ Science Fiction!

I found myself pondering on the term ‘old,’ and perhaps the great era of SF, and its multitude of books and short stories on themes from Alien invasion to alternative histories might be worth a little more comment. More of that later.

Science Fiction has few boundaries, and as I’ve said before, quoting Ben Bova, ‘if the science is right , the fiction’s right.’ My thoughts then took me not into the far-off galaxies, but to something a little, well, ‘older’ and firmly, planetary based.


Of course, there’s an ideal 20/25mm set of Tarzan figures still around, from Airfix. There are one or two copied sets too. So those are a starting point.

I devoured these books as a teenager, and there are more than two dozen Tarzan titles, written by Burroughs and published between 1912 and his death in 1950; a couple of titles emerged after this, together with a few spin-offs. Five or six of the books have definite value as far as wargaming and certainly solo play are concerned. At least three of them would make a decent long-play campaign with a lot of potential.

I recommend taking a look at:

  1. ‘Tarzan and the Ant-Men.’ From 1924! This is an active little book in which our hero finds himself in a far-off country called Minui, which has a number of city states at war with each other. The populace are dwarves, a quarter of Tarzan’s size, and he becomes involved in their wars. This gives the gamer the opportunity to use different scales, with perhaps 10mm troops from Irregular with the Airfix Tarzan? In some ways the overall scenario is a bit ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ but you can wargame that adventure as well! Think outside the box here.
  2. ‘Tarzan Lord of the Jungle,’ published 1927. Tarzan enters a ‘forbidden valley,’ and discovers a society of European Crusaders, living as though in Outremer, and divided into two warring factions. Somehow they got lost in Africa en route to Acre, and set down roots. Tarzan’s accompanied by his loyal Waziri warriors, led by his great friend the chief Muviro. Easy enough to find two distinctly identifiable groups and some ‘civilians’ from for instance, the Caesar set H086 Dismounted Crusaders and Strelets M012 Military order warriors. A few civilians could come from the Airfix Robin Hood set perhaps? The Waziri warriors, well, the Tarzan set has a couple of decent warrior figures, but you’d need a few more! To my mind the best anywhere are the two Hat Zulu sets, 8316 and 8191, without the rifle-armed figures naturally, and there’s a very good chieftain in the set, too.
  3. ‘Tarzan and the Lost Empire.’ From 1928 (he really pushed these books out did Edgar!) While searching for a lost climber, our hero comes upon a last remnant of the Roman Empire, a kind of lost world. Again they’re split into two factions, like the ‘Blue’ and ‘Green’ bands of Early Byzantium. In this tale, Tarzan becomes a gladiator! So, I favour the 20/25mm sets of Revell’s Praetorian Guards, and Strelets Spartacus (there are four of these sets, a couple with civilians). Although some readers in the 21st century might regard this tale as a little trite, I think it has some great potential on the table top — solo!
  4. ‘Tarzan at the Earth’s Core.’ From 1929, this one. Now this makes for an interesting solo campaign game, map and table top. Almost ‘steam-punk’ in parts. It has an airship, polar exploration and the route to the inner world, where Tarzan, his Waziri mates and a band of gallant explorers take on prehistoric creatures, awkward tribes and a host of problems to emerge victorious (or not, if you’re playing a game). For the ‘explorers’ there’s a decent figure in the Tarzan set, and one or two from Airfix Cowboys or Wagon Train would do.
  5. ‘Tarzan the Invincible,” published in1931. It wouldn’t be contemporary if there wasn’t a ‘Bolshevik menace’ in Edgar’s books. Here it is, as Tarzan battles to save the ‘Lost City of Opar’ from a band of red marauders. This will be a motley bunch so try figures from any of the ‘revolutionary’ sets, such as Strelets M045 Red Army- Summer Dress, or BUM’s 5004, Spanish Civil War Militia, and 5100 Rif War 1920-27. They’ll suit. This book reads remarkably like an Indiana Jones film, by the way!

There are two other Tarzan titles which have clear potential by the way. ‘Tarzan and the Leopard Men,’ in which he and his loyal Waziris take on a sort of animated group of assassins, an African secret society of warriors. Then ‘Tarzan and the Foreign Legion,’ in which our hero reverts to his British stiff upper lip role and parachutes into Sumatra to take on and destroy the Japanese invaders. I haven’t in any way given you the detailed plots of these splendid, and barely dated in any way, works from almost a century ago, just a hint or two into how they might, if you use your imagination and let Tarzan be himself, become a decent solo wargame.

Of course, you’ll have to read the books. They are in print.

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3 Responses to Old Science Fiction? Try Tarzan!

  1. The Airfix Tarzan set was rerealased by HAT as Jungle Adventure about ten to fifteen years ago so that modern copies in good plastic are still around. My original late 60s Airfix Tarzan figures have all crumbled.

  2. JAird says:

    If you want to save some reading time there’s all you need for Tarzan & The Lost Empire (including some battle scenarios) in Miniature Wargames Issue 123, should you happen to have a copy!

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