H.G. Wells’ Little Wars

Little Wars

Rules-Downloadable PDF

Introduction and Explanation

Little Wars is the grandfather of modern wargames like Warhammer. People have played with toy soldiers ever since toy soldiers became a Thing, but it took Mr. H.G. Wells to systematize the game and write down rules for play. He seems to have been an avid player himself, and his book Little Wars contains battle reports, dramatically cataloguing some of his engagements.


I am an enthusiastic wargamer myself, and I love Little Wars. It is easy to play, and also there are LIVE CANNON (in this case, Playmobil Cannon) that you actually fire at your opponent’s army. For me, that’s a big deal. I mean, with Warhammer and Warmachine and the like, the idea of knocking your minis down is kind of Not On. You’ve spent hours painting your army. You are not likely to want them to get messed up.

Little Wars is different. You officially Do Not Care about messing the soldiers up. You are going to shoot them with cannon. It is going to be glorious.

On May 4, 5, and 6, Alec (my boyfriend) and I will be running three sessions of Little Wars at the C.O.G.S. Expo in Piscataway, New Jersey (which is, by the way, a Totally Free event; you can just show up and walk in. For more information about the event, visit the C.O.G.S. Expo site). We will provide players with cheap plastic soldiers and Playmobil cannon. We will also provide players with the rules, both in printed form and on this site, in this post. We will also explain the rules and be available to clarify when questions arise.


A Request

Players! Bring your phones with you! That is, if your phone has a stopwatch feature (as I believe most phones do). We will need stopwatches!!!!! If you have actual stopwatches, bring those, too!


Two Player or Mega-Battle?

We intend to be flexible on that point. We’d like to do a Mega-Battle, with four players per side, because we feel that that will Maximize Fun. However, if the numbers do not work out, or if players wish to play two-player battles, we are willing to do two-player battles instead. That will also be lots of fun.



(as condensed and interpreted by me)

Note: these rules are for the two-player version. The Mega-Battle version only requires a few little alterations, all of which you will find under Mega-Battles, later on in this post.




Before you start playing, a Win Condition should be decided upon (See Win Conditions, near the bottom of this post).


Setting Up The Field


  • One player arranges the terrain
  • The other player selects what side s/he will set up on


Setting Up The Armies


  • The players toss a coin for first move
  • The player who won the toss sets his/her men up along his/her back line (or table edge). NOTE: the player needn’t actually line up his troops in a single line along the table edge. That would look a bit silly. HOWEVER, when it comes to moving the troops, each soldier must be moved as if they were lined up at the table edge (DIAGRAM HERE)
  • The second player sets up his troops along his back line (or table edge)


This phase of the battle is not subject to any time limits. Players may take as long as they like setting up.







After set-up, each turn is timed. The timing varies according to the size of the army in question. To determine the time limit for a player’s turn:

Every 30 men: +1 minute (rounding up; see example below if that is unclear)

Every gun: +1 minute


Example: Suppose Robinson has 35 men and one gun. He therefore is allowed 3 minutes for his turn, or:

30 men= 1 minute

5 men, rounded up= 1 minute

1 gun= 1 minute


On Robinson’s turn, he must stand about a yard away from his back line until the time-keeper calls “TIME!” and begins the stop-watch (we suggest using your smartphone for this, if you possess one; if you do not, we will have something for you to use. We also suggest that players be time-keepers for one another). When the time-keeper calls “TIME!” the player whose turn it is may begin.



On the first turn, no guns may be fired. By a “Turn,” I mean a complete round.



The players will be provided with two pieces of string. One is a foot long; the other, two feet long. The foot-long string is the distance that an infantry soldier may move; the two-foot long string is the movement allowed for cavalry. Movement does not have to be in a straight line. This is why you get a string and not a ruler.

On the FIRST TURN, movement is a little odd. You may set your figures up anywhere within a foot from your back line; HOWEVER, you will move each figure as if it is along the back line. Here is a Helpful Diagram:




Each player’s turn has several phases. They happen in the following order:

1) Shooting Phase

2) Movement Phase

3) Melee Phase


The first two phases are TIMED; the third phase is not.


Beginning at the start of the second turn, the players may fire their artillery. Each gun may be fired up to 4 times per turn. The guns are fired BEFORE any movement.  A gun may only be fired if there are at least 4 men of its own side within 6 inches of it.  A gun may not move on a turn in which it has fired.

Any soldier who is knocked over, or who is leaning such that it would fall over if not supported, is killed, and should be removed as a casualty.  If the projectile hits a soldier but does not knock any models over, the first soldier hit (but only the first) is removed as a casualty. If several soldiers are hit and none are knocked down, only the first one hit is removed.

As the guns are fired, the opposing player removes his casualties. It is also recommended that s/he remove the projectiles from the field, retaining them for their own use next turn.



The soldiers are moved. Infantrymen move 1 foot; cavalry move 2 feet. Guns may be moved (if they have not been fired) 1 foot if there are 4 infantrymen within 6 inches of it, and 2 feet if there are four cavalry within 6 inches of it.  4 infantrymen or 4 cavalry must move with the gun (start and end movement within 6 inches of the gun).


This is the end of the timed phase of the player turn. Melee takes place in an untimed part of the turn.



At the end of the movement phase, if any soldiers are within 1/8th of an inch of an enemy soldier or soldiers (this is defined as being “in contact”), there is a melee! The men in contact with enemy soldiers are in the melee, as are any men within 6 inches of them.


Resolving Melee

Count how many men on each side are involved in the melee (see above). If the two numbers are equal, all combatants on both sides are killed and removed as casualties.

If the two numbers are unequal:

Determine whether the smaller group is isolated or supported.  To do this, look to see how many friendly soldiers (friendly to the smaller group) are within a move of the melee (measuring from points of contact). If the number of friendly soldiers within a move of the melee is less than half of the number of men in the group, the group is considered isolated. Otherwise, your group is considered supported.



If the smaller group is isolated:

  • Subtract the number of men in the smaller group from the number of men in the larger group. The resulting number is how many men of the smaller group are taken prisoner.

Example: Cuthbert has 7 men in the melee; Verity has 10. Verity takes 3 of Cuthbert’s men prisoner.

  • The rest of the men in the smaller group kill and are killed.

Example: Cuthbert’s remaining 4 men kill 4 of Verity’s men, and are killed themselves. Verity therefore has 6 men left, and 3 prisoners; Cuthbert has no men left.

The player who charged (that is, the player who moved this turn) decides who is killed and who is captured.


If the smaller group is supported:

Each man in the smaller group kills a man in the larger group and is himself killed.


Helpful Melee-Related Diagrams:



-Prisoners are considered to be disarmed immediately, and are not able to fight again until and unless they make it to their own friendly back line (starting table edge). If they do this, it is considered that they are re-armed, and they may fight again.

-The movement of prisoners is controlled by the player who has captured them as long as the prisoners have an escort or escorts. If the escort is killed, control of movement of prisoners reverts to the player who originally controlled those men, but the prisoners cannot fight until they reach their own back line.

-One soldier can escort up to 7 prisoners. To escort prisoners, the soldier must stay within 6 inches of them.

-Once prisoners are taken back to the enemy back line, they are removed from the game. At this point, their escort may leave them and go back to the fighting.

-Prisoners are never considered combatants in melee. They do not count as support for a melee either.

-If a group of men is isolated, they may surrender at any time, and willingly become prisoners.


Capturing Enemy Guns

 To capture an enemy gun, the following conditions must be met:

  • The gun must have no friendly soldiers within 6 inches of it
  • At least four enemy soldiers must be within 6 inches of it, and must have moved past the gun’s wheel axis

Once these conditions are met, control of the gun changes hands, and the gun may be fired by its new controller.





There are several different possible win conditions. Which sort of game you are playing should be agreed between the players before they begin to play. If no win condition was selected, it is a Fight To The Finish.


One player must always accept the other’s concession, though one is permitted to make reassuring noises at the other player, such as, “oh, but Madam! You have not, I think, lost this encounter yet! Will you not assay another turn?” Or “Come, Sir! This is mere defeatism! My position may be stronger, but my victory is by no means assured!” If these noises do not work, however, concession must be accepted.


If at any point the game must end with no clear victor, or if a scenario calls for any calculation of victory points, use the point values below.


You Score:

100 points for a victory (NOTE: this point value is not always relevant; it is to be assigned in the Blow at the Rear scenario)

10 Points for every gun; your own and captured guns both count

1 ½ points for every friendly cavalryman still in action (not dead or taken prisoner)

1 point for every friendly infantryman still in action

½ point for every man of yours who is a prisoner in the hands of the enemy

½ point for every prisoner you have taken


Win Conditions/Scenarios

Fight To The Finish

It is a fight to the death. When every one of your hated enemy is driven off the field, killed, or captured, you win.


Blow at the Rear

Victory here is determined when at least three soldiers reach the enemy back line. If the defeated player chooses, he may then try to withdraw over his own back line. After six turns, anything left on the field is considered to be captured by the victor, and points are calculated according to the values on the previous page.


The Defensive Game

Here, the defending force must be only two thirds as strong as the attacking force. The defending force must prevent the attacking force from reaching the defending back line. The attacking force must try to reach the enemy back line, and must reach this line with at least 1/4th of its original strength.

Set Up for this scenario is a little different from the usual. The Country is set up as usual by one or both players before it is known who is the defender. Toss a coin; the winner is the defender. The defender sets up first. The defender may set up anywhere on her side of the table that is farther than one move from the center line. The attacker then sets up, and may place his troops anywhere within one move of his back line.

One further difference here is that, while the attacker must wait for his second turn to fire guns, the defender may fire her guns on her first turn.



Army Composition


If you are making up your own forces, use the point system listed in Winning to create balanced armies.






These rules are subject to further modification, but here’s how we see this working:


One team sets up the terrain

The other team decides which table edge they want for deployment


All players on the same side will set up at the same time and along the same table edge.


All players on the same side will have their turn simultaneously and within the same time limit. This will be mildly chaotic, but the chaos of the battlefield is an aspect of war that H.G. Wells was trying to build into his rules system, so chaos is good.


Players should not capture cannon from other players on their own side, but, if a player’s army is eliminated, friendly forces as well as hostile forces may take control of the cannon in the way described above.

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  1. That is intense.

    I have boxed, somewhere, my old Civil War plastic soldiers, with cannons like you described, and more. I should dig them out.

    Have big fun at the event.

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