The early days

Back in the day, my first “experience” of wargaming was back in the 1970s with those bendy and flexible Airfix and Matchbox model soldiers and often using Britain’s matchstick firing weapons.

One of my favourite toys and probably the thing that got me into gaming more than anything else was the 1:32nd Matchbox Counter Attack Playset.

Matchbox Counter Attack

In the set you got a set of American infantry with an M8 Greyhound. Their job was to attack the enemy.

On the German side, you got German infantry, a watchtower and they took refuge in a ruined cafe or restaurant. Watching Saving Private Ryan decades later I was reminded of the building as I watched the defence of the ruined village.

In the box you had two air pump weapons, a machine gun and a rocket launcher. The building was designed that you could knock down and put back together. Pieces fell off it as it was hit by the weapons.

It was an incredible toy that I really loved playing with. I think I was always a little disappointed that they never did more sets in this range.

You could certainly add more infantry, even tanks and trucks, but there was no more scenery or buildings to be had.

It was this game that got me into gaming, and where did I got next, well 25mm Napoleonics.

M40 Gun Motor Carriage (Self Propelled Gun)

M40 Gun Motor Carriage (Self Propelled Gun)

American WW2 and Korean war tracked self-propelled gun, crew of 2 plus gun crew of 6, powered by Continental 9-cylinder radial air-cooled petrol engine, armed with 155mm gun. Used by US forces in very small numbers in 1945 during the advance into Germany. It was used in much larger numbers during the Korean War, where it also equipped two British artillery regiments.

This vehicle reminded me when I built the Matchbox version of the SPG.

Matchbox M40

I was quite impressed with the model I made. The base provided in the kit was a little disappointing, as it was quite small, just a bit of ploughed field. Of course the size of the diorama scene base in these kits was very dependent on the size of the model. Smaller tanks and armoured cars had bigger and more scenic bases. Bigger vehicles like the M40 GMC came with small bases. I was always disappointed that the Airfix kits of the time didn’t come with bases.

Char B1

The Char B1 was a French heavy tank manufactured before the Second World War. It was a specialised heavy break-through vehicle, originally conceived as a self-propelled gun with a 75 mm howitzer in the hull; later a 47 mm gun in a turret was added, to allow it to function also as a Char de Bataille, a “battle tank” fighting enemy armour, equipping the armoured divisions of the Infantry Arm.

This Char B1 was on display at Bovington.

Char B1

Among the most powerfully armed and armoured tanks of its day, the type was very effective in direct confrontations with German armour in 1940 during the Battle of France, but a slow speed and high fuel consumption made it ill-adapted to the war of movement then fought. After the defeat of France captured Char B1 (bis) would be used by Germany, some rebuilt as flamethrowers or mechanised artillery.

Char B1

It is a big tank, but only for 1940, by the end of the war heavy tanks were huge in comparison.

Char B1

It is one of my favourite tanks, probably down to the Matchbox kit I got when I was younger.

Matchbox Char B1 and Renault FT17

Though I did eventually convert mine into a German SPG using the armour from a Matchbox Wespe kit. What I didn’t realise at the time was that there was in fact a similarl real version of this, the 10.5cm leFH 18/3 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen B2(f).

Alas I don’t have a photo of my model.

I do though have a 28mm Char B1 for Bolt Action which recently made its way onto the workbench to be made up as a FFI version used in 1944 and 1945.

Bolt Action Char B1 bis

There are some 15mm versions for Flames of War too.

Preparing for Gaslands

Gaslands Logo

Last month I tweeted the following about creating some 1/64th scale models for Car Wars and also Gaslands, using toy cars as the base model and then converting them.

Since then I have purchased the new edition of Gaslands Refuelled which I think is an improvement on the existing set of rules, and I like the hardback format as well. Some great photographs in there too.

Gaslands Refulled

I also re-discovered Car Wars and found that the rules were freely available online, and I have been enjoying reading the rules that I used for many autodials back in the 1980s.

Car Wars Rules

I also saw that Steve Jackson Games were going to “release” a revised sixth edition of Car Wars, using 1/64th scale models though Kickstarter. However this won’t be available or launched until the end of 2020 (or for international people like me, early 2012).

I went out and got some toy cars to convert for games in the meantime. My local branch of the Entertainer had some interesting cars from Matchbox and Hot Wheels on sale. So I got five cars for less than five pounds!

I got a couple of Jurassic World branded vehicles that I thought would work in the world of Car Wars, with appropriate modifications.

This is a Mercedes Benz G Wagon, which is used by the military in some countries, but I think it would make a good truck.

This Jurassic World vehicle is already armoured and almost ready for Car Wars or Gaslands. Just need to add some vehicular weaponry.

I am intending to purchase the Gaslands plastic sprue for additional weapons and defensive bits. I am also thinking of using some of the spare parts I have from my Flames of War models.

From the Hot Wheels range I got a 1978 Dodge pick-up truck, as for Car Wars, you really need to have a pick-up truck.

I also got this muscle car with super-charger.

And this sports car, well one should have a Mustang on the table at some point. One of the reasons I chose these two models, was they were white, so hopefully a little easier to paint.

What I don’t know yet is if I should strip the models first, or just undercoat them and then paint them.

Full circle

My first “experience” of wargaming was back in the 1970s with those bendy and flexible Airfix and Matchbox model soldiers and using Britain’s matchstick firing weapons.

One of my favourite toys and probably the thing that got me into gaming was the 1:32nd Matchbox Counter Attack Playset.

Matchbox Counter Attack

Combining Americans and Germans, with an M8 Greyhound, air pump weapons and an incredible building that you could knock down and put back together. It was an incredible toy that I really loved playing with.

There were of course other models you could buy and I remember having some, but aspired to buy some of those Airfix plastic 1:32 models, such as the Cromwell as well as other Matchbox figures like these Commandos.

Matchbox Commandos

I did move onto more “serious” gaming using Airfix Napoleonics. Then I started to paint them, but like a lot of gamers back then, realised the flexibility of the plastic meant that the paint would come off quite easily during games. The magazines of the time (we didn’t have the web back then) had articles about painting the bare plastic with PVA (white glue) and after painting use a range of varnishing techniques (heavy gloss varnish followed by a matt varnish) to protect the paintwork even further. The reality was that I remember discussing with friends what we really wanted were plastic soldiers made out of hard plastic., like that was ever going to happen…

Lets fast forward to last week…

I usually quite enjoy the weekly updates on the Flames of War website. Never quite sure why they feel the need to save all their updates for Thursday, why can’t they post them as and when they’re done. The main result of this is I go the website once a week rather than more regularly.

So what’s the connection?

Battlefront announced they were, having moved from metal to hard plastic, were going to move now to flexible plastic. I had to check twice, was Battlefront really going to release flexible plastic toy soldiers.

Battlefront announced they were, having moved from metal to hard plastic, were going to move now to flexible plastic.


The articles talks about the advantages of this *new* material compared to metal, resin and hard plastic.

The new figures are made of a flexible ABS plastic, and combine most of the good points of the other materials.

Like with hard plastic, the casting process involves injecting the plastic into a rigid mould. The moulds themselves are not machined in the same way, but cast – it’s faster and cheaper. Unlike the hard plastic, the material itself is slightly flexible after it cures, so small undercuts are possible – not as much as with metal or resin in a soft mould, but more than with hard plastic.

They also make the point…

The tough new plastic is almost unbreakable – you could drop a rulebook on them and they will bounce straight back.

Guessing dropping rulebooks on them wouldn’t do much for the paintwork. However that would be the same for any model regardless of what material it was made from.

There must be very good reasons why Battlefront are going down this road and these are outlined in the article.

The biggest benefit is the cost – we can produce flexible plastic figures almost 40% cheaper than metal equivalent, and this will be reflected in the price, which is surely good news for everyone!

Cheaper models are always nice, but cost is just one factor amongst many when it comes to choosing models to wargame with. Personally I think it’s a backward retro step, time to ensure I have enough metal models in the cupboard. I don’t mind paying the extra.

Back to the 1970s here we come….

The Matchbox and Airfix Influence

When I was young, before I started this wargaming lark, I use to make up plastic kits. In the main these were the pocket money kits I could buy from my local model shop and these were manufactured by Airfix and Matchbox. I recall preferring the Matchbox kits as they came with a piece of scenery.

As I paint more Flames of War models, and read the FoW sourcebooks, read books on World War Two, use the internet, I have started to realise how much my knowledge of World War Two vehicles and armour has been skewed by making those plastic kits all those years ago. They have also influenced what models I am buying and which ones I like.

So for example I am building an Early War French force for Flames of War. I am adamant that I have some Char B1 bis and the Renault FT-17. Less concerned about the Somau S-35 or the Hotchkiss tanks.

Similarily when looking for trucks for my German forces, who wants an Opel Blitz when you can have the Krupp Kfz 70 which is very similar to the Matchbox Krupp Kfz 69.

I think the only reason I have Cromwells in my Late War British force is that I had those thirty years ago in my 6mm Heroics and Ros World War Two force. Of course this year Airfix will be releasing a 1:76th scale Cromwell.

I recently bought a three pack of Dingo scout cars and I am sure that the Monty’s Caravan kit was a big influence on this purchase. Question, can I get a 15mm Monty’s Caravan?

Looking back over the old Matchbox and Airfix ranges you see some classic tanks and armoured vehicles and other military vehicles. It is these that I look at when buying new models for Flames of War.

Who designed Matchbox figures?

BNF Models did…

When I was much younger I had a lot of plastic Matchbox infantry (both the 1/76th and 1/32nd version) which I thought were done very well.

I have now found out that the masters for these were done by Bill Farmer (BNF Models) who has a website.

This is something I like about the internet, you can find things out that would be really difficult or impossible by any other means.

It also means you can find out what other stuff he sculptured.