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Army Men
Household Combat for Father and Son with Belligerent Toys
© 2019 James LaFond
I played with army men extensively as a boy, with an older boy named Chris, who had many cool historical fighting men Vikings and Knights, Cowboys and Indians, Boot Camp, Fort Apache, even WWI German, British and French infantrymen.
When my oldest son began collecting actions figures and such we played by applying some very basic rules:
You go first, son, then I go.
Each time we go one figure can either move or shoot or charge into a superhero or pro wrestling type of contact struggle.
My youngest son had learned to shoot rubber bands to kill house flies, so we added that skill to the field of play, along with the ruler to regulate movement like with table top miniatures and dice and coins to serve as drop zone markers, and bombs and to determine random matters—like, will my Africa Corp detachment break and run the first time they get attacked by a T-Rex.
Introducing this type of play to the two boys I’ve been staying with took their imaginations by storm and they immediately began more organized play on their own. Toys are often largely wasted beyond setting them up and posing them. But by using an interactive method of combat between toy armies, a father can set his son on course to learn about teamwork through the increased effectiveness of toy soldiers when they work together rather than one at a time.
  • army men
  • vehicles
  • monsters
  • dice
  • rubber bands
  • rulers
  • a quarter for determining paratroop drop zones
Basic Play
Start out with a battle between a handful of army men each.
Set up your opposing armies.
Let your son go first.
Each man can move a foot or shoot a rubber band or throw die.
Whichever men get knocked over by a rubber band or die, or end up within a radius of inches equal to the number face up on a nearby dice, are removed. Lying down men who are hit and slide or flip over are also removed.
Command Play
Officers, men with a pistol and binoculars, or Japanese troops with swords, and other obvious troop bosses, can be activated and then they can have all of the men within a foot of them of their same type move or shoot.
Likewise, flags on stands that typically come with toy soldier sets may serve as command centers and move along with the men.
Smaller groups of men, less than 10 individual soldiers, of the same type, may act as a team so long as they form a chain of men no more than 3 inches apart from the next man, moving and shooting together.
Forts and bunkers may also be regarded as having a static command structure, with the player able to activate the fort and have all the men and equipment in it take action.
Unit Play
You may wish to create named units, in zip-lock baggies, with index card identities and a unit rating for determining if they can be activated 2 turns in a row and if they can force march.
Units of 6 men or less can have a 5 action rating.
Units of 7-10 a 4 rating.
Units of 11 or more have a 3 rating.
Every time you want to push a unit, by making them move an extra foot, or use them 2 turns in a row, roll a die. If you roll lower than the unit rating they lose the number of men indicated by the die difference and take the command. If the roll is equal to or higher, the unit stalls out.
Unit play is very cool, as unit histories can be built up, replacements brought in from the force pool, which would be the bag the men get returned to, and could be brought back into service with a cadre roll, which would be a command roll, in which you want to roll low and the unit gets to bring as many men back into service as the die difference indicates, in that many turns. My youngest son and I did two years of unit play in which we used pins with unit flags on a map of Maryland, and when two units met we’d set up a battle in a room that fit the location. We once had Rommel’s Africa Corps fighting a massive ChiCom army in Baltimore County…
Jeeps, trucks and other vehicles may move 3 feet and then the men in them my shoot, or the men might shoot and then the vehicle move.
The scale of vehicles is generally off, so treat all men standing within 3 inches of a vehicle as part of the vehicle unit.
Tanks can move three feet, shoot 3 bands or toss 3 bombs. The best thing to do is let a tank shoot three fat rubber bands tied together and nock over trucks and scatter men everywhere.
Tanks blow up on a roll of a 7. This means if they are shot with 2 bands tied together, or 3 tied together, or a dice rolls up against one within an inch, then either the dice result showing or the number of bands hitting the tank are added to a die roll and an adjusted result of 7 blows it up, or destroys its treads if it got hit in the treads. A single rubber ban can’t hurt a tank.
Special Soldiers
-Engineers are the guys with minesweeping gear who can lay bridges [use toy boats for these] fix tanks and trucks and set up blocks and books and other barriers.
-Mortar men can move 6 inches or toss 2 dice.
-Bazooka men can move 1 foot or shoot 2 rubber bands strung together
-Machine gunners can move 6 inches or shoot two rubber bands
-Bayonet men roll two dice in hand to hand combat. Normally in hand-to-hand each soldier rolls a die and the lowest roller is removed. The bayonet man can take out two enemy soldiers.
-Flame thrower men move a foot or shoot a blast that travels 2 feet and removes anything that the ruler touches.
-Radio men can call in air strikes. See airplanes for this. Also, a radio man can radio another radio man who is with a mortar man and call in artillery, in which case the dice are thrown from the forward radioman’s vantage.
-Grenade men can move 2 feet or throw two grenades or shoot 1 band.
-Swordsmen, ninjas, Indians, Vikings and knights are all treated like bayonet men.
-Men mounted on horses move 3.
-Canons have to be crewed by 3 men and may fire 3 bands, only 1 or 2 if the crew is shorthanded. Canons can also toss bombs of the same number.
-Firemen and fire engines can tow away and repair vehicles.
-Policemen shoot small rubber bands.
Air Power
Ten men or less can be dropped from strategic air assets by dropping a quarter from shoulder height where you want them—which gives little players better landing zones.
If the quarter lands heads up than all the men land within a foot of the quarter.
If the quarter lands tails up, then the men scatter by rolling two dice for each and sending each man 2 feet from the quarter to the direction of the clock the 2 dice indicate, being anything from 2 O’clock to 12 O’clock.
10 or less men could be landed by glider, by throwing a paper airplane. If the plane crashes on its back or gets hung up somehow roll a dice to see how many men are lost.
Jets and choppers are not to scale. Permit the chopper to pick up and drop off men. However, it has to stay down for one turn while loading and unloading, which is the chance to shoot at it. Choppers can drop bombs and shoot rubber bands [3 or 3] any time they are not transporting troops and can only shoot or drop 1 when transporting. Choppers can move one room at a time.
Radio men can call in jets to strafe or bomb. Nothing on the ground can really hit these things. You better take out the radio man.
Keep your jets back at base and walk them through as many rooms as you want but only dropping bombs in the radio man’s room. Jets droop a handful of five dice from waist high, favoring little players.
Giant Robots and Monsters
Large out of scale army men and ninjas can be had for 4 to the dollar at some dollar stores. Treat these as powered armor troopers, space marines, robotic infantry drones, etc. The ninjas can each para-drop as a unit. Give each such large action figure 4 points to shoot, or move, or roll dice in close combat. Any man they step on or nock over while dragging their stand is toast. To be killed they have to be knocked over with a rubber band or lose 4 D of close combat. Regular men cannot hurt them in close combat unless they have flame throwers or bazookas and then they only roll 1 d where the bot rolls 4 D. If two bots are locked in close combat they both roll 4 dice, with each bot taking 1 point of damage for every 6 rolled against him. A good sniper, machine gunner or tanker can take one of these out. Dice bombs can take them out like tanks, with the bot blowing from any dice that comes to rest on his stand or against his leg. Really, you want to knock these guys over.
T-Rex’s, King Kongs and other such beasts should be assigned superior abilities. For research watch Godzilla and King Kong movies.
Wrath of Mom Rules
To avoid government shutdown of your war, don’t set up in Mom’s vanity, the kitchen, the washroom, etc., as she’ll crush your men under foot or even through them out. Any men slaughtered by pets and nonbelligerent parents as they witlessly go about their day oblivious of the war waged about their ankles are removed from play.
However, men accidently knocked down by you or your opponent should be set back up. My youngest son and I kept a ten division game going in a row house for three years. You have to treat Mom like the IMF or the UN, let her have her feel good space, and war can continue at its own pace.
Rubber Band Discipline
Shoot from the forefinger or middle finger, not the thumb, which will cause the band to go high.
Little guys might need a rubber band gun or stick of some short to make up for their small fingers and less than prominent nails.
Advantage over predatory adult rubber band hands can be had by demanding that Dad’s release point be at the army man’s height! Wear his old knees out, kid!
Dart guns, nurf guns and disc guns are all good for shooting army men. But for knocking down monsters and sending grapeshot down range, you want two or three fat rubber bands knotted together and sailing at high velocity across the floor.
For summer play, bee bee guns and airsoft guns are great for firing on actual trench lines dug in the dirt. Dice work fine outside but get lost. Try darts for mortars and air strikes, using a ruler to measure the blast radius. Also, for B-52 strikes and J-Dams, there is nothing like reel steel horseshoes to ruin a bunker complex.
Above all, have fun and customize the rules to fit available toys and locations.
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Ruben Chandler     Apr 1, 2019

Genius, I have a rug rat hanging around that I've bought a few kits for that just doesn't get them. I will try these great ideas. I'll add in the barbecue torch
James     Apr 2, 2019

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