Design a site like this with
Get started

Imagi-nations from Ancient to Science Fiction

The joy of Imagi-nations is that you hold both supreme political and military authority. Subject to morale roles and random events, you can control everything. Not only can you decide the political issues, you can dictate grand strategy, manoeuvre the armies and even decide on the colour of turnbacks and the quantity and quality of lace adorning the uniforms.

This explains why the 18th century wars between Lorraine and the Vereingte Freie Städte are such a joy. It is almost the perfect period for the wargamer who wants to invent Imagi-nations, as that states could be small enough for an absolute hereditary head of state to control them, but large enough to field reasonably sized armies for a wargamer. I first came across them in ‘The War Game’ by Charles Grant, and like many others who read the book, I was hooked on the idea.

Unfortunately what I wasn’t hooked on was the 18th century. I didn’t have anybody locally who was into that particular period and I’ve always rather shunned the 18th century and the Napoleonic wars. It’s not that I won’t play the games if somebody else turns up with the figures, it’s more I recognised my limits as a painter many years ago. The one lot of 28mm Napoleonic figures I have is a couple of dozen Royal Marines and twice that number of seamen with an assortment of cutlasses and firearms.

But other periods are available, and I discovered them when I picked up a copy of Tony Bath, Setting up a Wargames Campaign. This is now available from

It’s now part of Tony Bath’s Ancient Wargaming, and as I had worn out my original version I ended up having to buy another copy. The modern edition contains not only the wargames campaigning stuff, (which is the reason to buy it) but a set of Ancient rules and more importantly an account of the celebrated Hyborian campaign. If that isn’t inspirational I don’t know what is. Tony Bath’s rules give the details needed for running an ancient/medieval campaign, covering everything from the economic background; recruiting, arming, and equipping your soldiers, and even showing how to detail the personalities of the officers who lead them. Much can be used for latter periods and other periods do get a mention.

Also I’ve just acquired Early Wargaming Rules Volume 5, edited by John Curry.

This work includes three books: John Tunstill’s Discovering Wargames- published by Shire Books, Arthur Taylor’s Rules for Wargaming – also published by Shire Books; and last but by no means least, Bill Lamming’s tremendously popular Medieval Campaign and Battle Rules.

I confess I’ve had all three of these in the past. John Tunstill’s book is a good guide for anybody looking at doing their own rules. It explains time, space, and wargames figures. I wore out my copy of Arthur Taylor’s rules with solo play back in the 1970s, they’re interesting in that he didn’t use dice, feeling that random chance had no real place in the game. But the gem of the collection (for me) is Bill Lammings rules, especially the campaign rules. With these the players build a force which they transport of an island which they attempt to settle, ideally conquering it from the others. So you have production and reproduction rules that doesn’t need a computer programme to work. At one point there was an article, perhaps two or three, about one of the campaigns fought on this island, detailing the trials and tribulations of the combatants. It was these articles which inspired me to first buy the rules, I just wish I could now find the articles.

But so far I’ve covered ancient through to medieval and then on to the 18th century. Not quite all human life is here, but a fair chunk of it is. So what happens when we move forward in history? Here we run into the problem that political entities grow larger, and armies grow larger. The last time a British head of state commanded an army was George II at the Battle of Dettingen on the 27 June 1743. So the 18th century starts looking like the final perfect century for the lover of the Imagi-nation. So what about later?

Well I’ve tried to push things further forward in time, and it is possible. There are two simple ways of achieving this. You have to limit the size of both the ‘nation’ and also of its armed forces.’ One method is to create an area detached from the centre of power. For example during the period of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, if the Government in London wanted to suggest a policy to a senior figure in India, it could take six months for their suggestion to arrive. It would take a further six months for his explanation as to why the suggestion was impossible to implement to arrive back in London. Similarly if the Government declared war on France, it was vitally important to send the news by a fast ship. After all, if the French got the news first, they could take advantage of our vulnerability, as opposed to us being able to take advantage of theirs. Similarly wars could continue for months in the colonies before local commanders finally allowed themselves to be convinced that the war was over.

From the wargamers point of view, a distant colony where British and French factions fight and bicker with each other holds out a lot of possibilities. Just roll a d10 every three months for news from home.

  1. War is declared between France and Britain. (Or if there is a war, peace breaks out.
  2. The British naval forces are augmented by two ships of the line and two frigates.
  3. The French naval forces are augmented by two frigates
  4. The French receive a frigate plus an ambassador who is empowered to negotiate treaties with local states. He brings gifts and drill instructors
  5. The British forces are augmented by an infantry battalion.
  6. The British force are augmented by an expeditionary force of four ships of the line and four frigates, plus three marine battalions, an infantry battalion, plus two six pounder batteries. You are expected to supply a further two battalions and they will sail off to do gallant things elsewhere. Roll a d6 every month for this expedition. 1,2, it has been a success, you get your two battalions back plus a frigate. 3,4 It has all been complicated. The battered force returns to your ports, you have to repair the ships and your battalions need rebuilding. 5.6 The expedition was a failure. Two ships of the line in poor repair are abandoned with you, and you get your now understrength battalions back but also get the battered remnants of two marine battalions who need carefully nurturing back to health.
  7. News from France. The government has fallen and your officers and administrators are all considered enemies of the people, as you were promoted by the ‘last lot’. There will be no more help from France until this is rolled again, when that government falls and the new government smiles beneficently upon you.
  8. The British forces are augmented by an infantry battalion.
  9. French forces are augmented by two infantry battalions.
  10. Both British and French players get a positive answer to a request they made to London (or Paris). Roll at random to see which request made at least a year ago this is in response to.

Then roll a d6 for which month in the quarter it happens.

As you can see, news from home is not necessarily good, not necessarily bad, and their plans bear no relation to yours.

Another way of creating space for you Imagi-nation campaign is to create chaos. One example might be in ‘A Very British Civil War’

As you can see there is plenty of scope for your own ideas within this sort of background. A simple campaign could be centred on your own county (It’s amazing how often old O/S maps turn up in second hand bookshops) and you can create your own factions which might be loosely allied to those operating on a more national scale. Players then try and build up their own fiefdoms within the area, with the outside world reduced to a randomly determined events (much like I did with the British and French in India above).

Later in the twentieth century, if you want a counter-insurgency campaign, we once set up our own banana republic. Our club was, at one time, very fond of the board game Junta.

We then used the board game for the campaign politics. But there are the following ‘martial’ roles. There are the generals of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd armies, the Chief of the Air Force who controls airstrikes and paratroopers and the Admiral of the Navy who controls naval bombardment and marines. The President also controls a palace guard force. 

We gave the generals provinces to control, and players controlled insurgents in other player’s provinces. We soon had a brisk counter-insurgency war going on, but at the same time those in charge were squirrelling money away in Swiss bank accounts for the time when they had to make a run for it.

Also the ‘armies’ consisted of a battalion (because the rules we used at the time meant that you weren’t going to get much more than a supported company on the wargames table), but these battalions were kept understrength and ill-equipped because of the general’s habit of syphoning the military budget off into their Swiss bank accounts. So this background both gave us a small, coherent, political theatre, as well as limited military forces we could hope to deploy on the battlefield.

Finally, science fiction.

When you stop to think about it, once you move away from ‘near future’, Sci Fi is a whole universe of Imagi-nations. Admittedly some of them are a bit big, so for example, if you want to use the entire 40k universe then it’s a serious project. But if you love the background (which has a lot going for it) then even within the 40k universe you could restrict yourself to one world, with the rest of the universe reduced to an appropriately infuriating table and a d10. (Other dice are available).

Even then, a world is a pretty big place and many of them have populations numbered in billions. But design your world properly and you can have anything you want, savage scavengers living in an ash waste, hunting preserves gone feral, small frontier worlds with a minimal population struggling to survive, all these things are possible and incidentally save you having to deploy armies of millions.

Stepping out of the 40k universe, there are a myriad other futures, some mapped out, some drawn from your own imagination.

Figures, Scale, and what have you.

The classic Imagi-nation tended to use 28mm or 30mm figures. But some are having great fun with a 54mm or 40mm toy soldier style figure. If you are on a budget, what this chap achieves with 20mm plastic has to be seen to be believed.

But what about 6mm or smaller scales?

Obviously with figure scale, it really boils down to what you like, what you’ve got, and what your opponents prefer. But assuming a ‘clean sheet’, if, like me, you’re not a wonderful figure painter, I’d give 6mm or smaller some serious thought. After all, if nothing else you can field more and bigger battalions. Also it’s easier to find suitable figures. Suddenly you don’t need to find figures with exactly the right number of parallel froggings and loops across the front of their jackets.

But to go with small scale you really need a different scale of rules to cope with them. I produced Hellfire because I wanted to fight Sci-Fi battles where players could lead forces equivalent to battalions with their supporting forces. I then produced Hell in Microcosm because wargamer’s megalomania insisted that if three or four battalions was good, fifteen had to be better. So now I’ve got a set of rules where I can finally have Imagi-nations whose forces are measured in divisions!
Madness is catching and Ali at Iliada Game Studio has caught it. He has come up with the world of Mikrocosmos and is producing the figures to go with it.

Now you can have land, naval, air and space forces working together.


In case you’ve never come across Hell in Microcosm, it’s available from Wargame Vault in pdf for £4

It’s also available from Amazon at £4 on Kindle or £9.50 in paperback

4 thoughts on “Imagi-nations from Ancient to Science Fiction

  1. Thanks Jim, very thought provoking. Pleased at the mention of Tunstall / Taylor from shire books, they were my introduction (together with a Featherstone title) to wargaming.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this post Jim. I’m getting ready to run a solo early XX century imagi-nation and your advice on how to deal with the sizes of countries and armies is much appreciated. I already had some ideas how to deal with it, but will incorporate some of your ideas too for an even better experience.

    I also got the Ancient Wargaming book after reading through your post and will get the other book once I’m done with this one. Will also read up on ‘A Very British Civil War’ as my campaign is not that dissimilar – old powers/countries breaking down into smaller groups all over the place after an catastrophic event. Too bad they don’t sell pdfs, because the shipping of their books to US would probably be quite costly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the Tony Bath book is on Kindle and you can download the kindle app free. But yes, given the price of postage, it makes sense to produce pdfs of pretty much everything because for some people they’re just more affordable


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: