Playing with Toys

A toy ankylosaurus, with a 3D printed cave girl mahout, equipped with machine guns and armored casements.

When I was a child, I played with toys. When I was an adult without kids, I collected toys, and that wasn’t as fun. When I became a father, I got to play with toys again and I could even make my kids pick up the mess afterward; double the fun! And I returned to wargaming in earnest because, really, it’s still just “playing with toys,” but you get to do it in a way that makes normie adults say “wow” and tell you how creative you are. But playing with toys is playing with toys.

Kids get this intuitively, which is why my son gets annoyed at me when I admonish him when we play HeroQuest or Gaslands. “No, you must roll the dice first. No knocking over the cardboard furniture!”

To him, these are needless impediments to playing with toys. He’s not yet ‘mature’ enough to fool himself into thinking that adding arcane ‘rules’ changes it from play to a contest. He is correct.

As teens and adults, we start to recognize a difference between play that knows no rules but our unfettered imaginations, where we (or our preferred characters) always win, and a kind of play whose rules are constrained by outside forces, allowing us to simulate what might happen when we are not tiny gods settling all accounts. We are looking for a challenge in our play. So we are also correct. Nevertheless, the knowledge of adulthood when tempered by the simplicity of childhood produces the wisdom of old age, and so I repeat: it’s all just playing with toys.

Using cheapo plastic army men, dollar store Chinasaurs, and action figures as your play pieces is an excellent bridge to wargaming. March some He-Man figures across a home made cardboard ‘dungeon’ decorated to look like Castle Greyskull where, whenever a Stinkor or a Beastman is encountered, a dice is thrown to see who gets the first blow in. Is there much difference between that and HeroQuest? Or march a squad of GI Joes into the backyard and throw down some playing cards to see if they can outshoot the Cobra Vipers laying in ambush between the petunias. Is this much less sophisticated than something like One Page Rules?

A few months ago, I read a charming article in either Miniature Wargames or Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy (I can’t remember which, and now I can’t find the issue in question. Oh well!) from a father who plays simplified adventure games with his children using Playmobil and Calico Critters. And really, why shouldn’t you?

But there’s more to the ‘playing with toys’ idea than simply using them as an introduction to the kiddies. Old, broken bits make excellent additions to custom terrain. Those cheap plastic dinosaurs (as above) often make a good platform for 28mm (or smaller!) scale weapons platforms in Lost World or Weird War games. And speaking of Weird War, what’s a better way to augment your WW2 era armies than with a King Kong or a Godzilla?

A bit of painting and a decal here or there does wonder to even cheap toys. Here’s a selection of forces from my German Pellucidar army. Two of the three vehicles are toys and one is a miniature model kit. Can you tell which is which?

A miniature Panzer IV, a Maschinen Krieger Gladiator walker, and a German war dinosaur, for miniature wargmes
R to L: Warlord Panzer IV Ausf. H model, Ma.K. Gladiator toy, converted Chinasaur

Here’s an old metal Centurion Mk 3 that I found in a bag of old 54mm soldiers. It used to be my dad’s when he was a kid in the ’70s, and I played with it in the ’80s and ’90s. It just so happens to be almost perfectly sized for 28mm Bolt Action. It hardly needs a paint job, unless you want to replace the British flag with a Sabaton ‘S’.


If you find yourself sneering at the idea and need permission form Big Wargame, look no farther than Games Workshop, who liked to convert GI Joe Armadillo tankettes into superheavies for their Rogue Trader era Space Marines:

Now go out and play with toys.


5 responses to “Playing with Toys”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *