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"Starting NW Frontier, Any suggestions on "Musts"?" Topic

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Personal logo PaulCollins Supporting Member of TMP15 Jan 2017 12:10 p.m. PST

For my 1/72 NWF I've just finished painting up a doctor, nurse, a couple of medical corpsmen, and some wounded on stretchers. I don't have specific ideas for these yet, but I figure that I can always use them as objectives or simply as scenery.

Gone Fishing15 Jan 2017 12:50 p.m. PST

Hi Catherine,
It is at the back (front?) of TSATF, but do be sure to watch Gunga Din if you haven't already. If that doesn't get your blood pumping nothing will. Speaking of which, hopefully heaping doses of Kipling will be part of your reading as well: Wee Willie Winkie and all the Soldiers Three stories are quite smashing and will provide much inspiration, as will many of the poems.

Best of luck with your project, and be sure to keep us posted!


ChrisBrantley15 Jan 2017 12:51 p.m. PST

I'm also starting up for NW Frontier colonial skirmish gaming, circa 1878-1880 (2d Afghan War period). Any recommendations I might offer on figures, etc. would depend what period you intend to cover, since the British military history on the frontier runs approximately 1849 to 1947, and features differences in troops, weapons and equipment over time. For me, 1880s was the sweet spot since you can draw on British figures/equipment from the fairly contemporaneous Madhist and Zulu War ranges offered by various manufacturers. Its also contemporaneous to the writings of Rudyard Kipling and inspirational movies like Gunga Din.

For rules, I'm looking at Daniel Mersey's The Men Who Would Be Kings, which is actually a small unit game with a strong skirmish feel. My figures will be individually based, so I can easily try other rules, such as The Sword and The Flame.

For figures, my Pathan tribesmen are Blue Moon (15mm), along with my Indians and Sikhs. The Brits are a combination of Blue Moon, Stone Mountain, and Essex. All packed up and ready to mail to the painter.

For terrain, I have plenty of old Crescent Root Studios 15mm middle eastern buildings, now sold by Art of Wargaming (15mm Series 1), plus scratch-built rough, hills, etc. At some point, I'll put my mind toward scratchbuilding a frontier fortification and mountain(s) designed to accommodate hordes of Pathan riflemen, but to start, I'm going to keep it simple with scenarios like ambush of the supply train, defense of the telegraph station, etc.

If I want to add something new to the mix, I can add Royal Afghan troops, Ghurkas, and even some hypothetical Russians.

Although set in the 1930s, well after my intended gaming period…another great source of inspirational reading is Robert E. Howard's El Borak and Other Desert Adventures.

daler240D15 Jan 2017 1:32 p.m. PST

Sounds like a great, well thought out project. Best of luck with it and please keep us posted. Please don't forget to order, if you don't have, George Macdonald Fraser's "Flashman".

Wackmole915 Jan 2017 1:38 p.m. PST


You sir must go to the greatest NW frontier web site in the world!!. Everything you would ever want on this era.

He has the coolest way of making Mountains and lots of great pictures.


Mad Guru is the master

Andoreth15 Jan 2017 1:39 p.m. PST

I remember some old Victorian Military History Society games where the large hills/buffs were made of upturned plastic garden ponds. They had the advantages of having shelves moulded into them and are very light.

daler240D15 Jan 2017 1:40 p.m. PST

oops sorry about the Flashman recommendation, Just re-read and saw you are doing later period. Enjoy!

Hafen von Schlockenberg15 Jan 2017 2:02 p.m. PST

Read Flashman anyway. I also recommend Michael Barthorp's book:


foxweasel15 Jan 2017 2:34 p.m. PST

It's a later period, but I recommend The Drum as a film to watch.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP15 Jan 2017 3:12 p.m. PST

Inspiration. Kipling, as you mentioned. Try Robert E. Howard's "People of the Black Circle" for atmosphere. Second the endorsement of his "El Borak" stories. Good skirmish material. There is also Stirling's "Peshawar Lancers" and, of course, Talbot Mundy.

Gone Fishing15 Jan 2017 3:41 p.m. PST

Wackmole is correct. As someone who has been lucky enough to play with Mad Guru several times, I'll second that he is indeed The Master.

I've e-mailed him regarding this thread, so hopefully he'll be along shortly.

If you're going to do Gurkhas, Bugles and a Tiger by John Masters is indispensable; his experience comes later than your chosen period (he was posted on the Frontier in 1933), but much of what he writes about hadn't changed in the intervening decades. It's a superb read and well worth a look.

Winston Smith15 Jan 2017 3:42 p.m. PST

Highlanders, preferably the Gordons, and Gurkhas.

Personal logo PaulCollins Supporting Member of TMP15 Jan 2017 3:58 p.m. PST

Langley Models has 54mm Medical Corps figures. Not nearly as inexpensive as plastics, but purchased unpainted and in the small quantities usually needed for specialty type figures I don't think they're too bad. YMMV.

nnascati Supporting Member of TMP15 Jan 2017 8:03 p.m. PST

I think it is still possible to find the long gone but not forgotten Major General Tremordan Redeherring's Page. There was a great idea there for doing profile mountains.

fullerena16 Jan 2017 3:03 a.m. PST

That'd be these, I think: link

Front page: link

Sydney Gamer16 Jan 2017 3:39 a.m. PST

To get more of a sense of the towering mountains which loom over everything you might want to drop down smaller than 54mm scale figures.

Mad Guru16 Jan 2017 4:25 a.m. PST


Congrats on making a great choice for gaming!

My very sincere thanks to Wackmole9 and Gone Fishing for their very kind words on my humble behalf! I'm happy to say you have already got lots of great advice above, and sounds like you already have a pretty strong and focused idea of how you plan to go about gaming the North-West Frontier in the 1880s to 1890s, and/or the Second Afghan War (of 1878-1880).

If you are up for a somewhat labour-intensive approach to building model rocky hills and mountains, you could visit this particular page of my blog, detailing the first such wood-chip hill I built, back in 2012:


I use 28mm figures, but my hills would work with larger scales, such as your 54mm. That being said, the Major General's "profile" mountains would be a much faster and easier way to go, and while stylized, still look very cool, especially if you are using armies finished in the "toy soldier" style, which you mention above.

Regarding specific troop types, Winston already mentioned Gurkhas and Highlanders, specifically Gordons. I would add the 72nd "Duke of Albany's Own Highlanders" as well, who wore trews in "Prince Charles Edward Stewart" tartan, which IMHO make for a fantastic uniform.

One of my favorite things about the c.1880 period on the Frontier in general and the Second Afghan War in particular, is the "transition" period of British uniforms, with different British and Indian regiments mixing full dress and khaki uniforms together in various ways.

Back to specific troop types, if you haven't done so yet you should definitely order an Indian mountain gun and crew, and a Royal Artillery Gatling gun, and maybe a Royal Artillery or RHA field gun as well. Not being a 54mm gamer I have no idea if any of those are available for sale, but hopefully they are, or else can be converted without too much trouble, maybe from ACW or WWI artillery crews.

Re: books, you may want to add Osprey's "British Army on Campaign 3: 1856-1881" by Michael Barthorp, which covers uniforms, equipment, and weapons for various NWF campaigns as well as the Second Afghan War in some detail, along with period illustrations and photos and some excellent colour plates.

Another Osprey book that might be worth picking up would be "Queen Victoria's Enemies (3): India" by Ian Knight.

In addition to Bengal Lancers, you might perhaps want a unit of sword-armed Corps of Guides Cavalry, the Guides being a combined force of elite Infantry and Cavalry, whose exploits on the frontier were very much the "stuff of legend."

Re: Afghan regular army troops… I don't know but I doubt any are available in 54mm, but as second-rate European style infantry, cavalry and artillery (in fact, the artillery arm was the elite of the Afghan regular army) they can make for some interesting games, so if you're up for conversion work and really want to I think you could convert them rather easily from ACW figures. Here's a link to a page of my blog featuring an article on the 19th Century Afghan Regular Army, written by Ian Heath, together with a set of excellent colour plates depicting Afghan regular troops, also by him -- all posted with his permission, I hasten to add:


Another thing to mention is the HELIOGRAPH -- the reflecting lense communications tool used to excellent effect by the British on the Frontier and during the Second Afghan War, one or two of which can provide great elements for scenarios. Not sure if these are available for sale in 54mm, but probably for some Victorian campaign, and if not, they would be pretty easy to scratch-build.

Here's a link to a great online resource for the Second Afghan War, really the "web-site of record" so to speak -- Garen Ewing's historical site:


Amongst the treasure trove of written and illustrated information is a page featuring a list of every British and Indian regiment that fought in the war, along with their respective battle honors earned during the campaign. While I'm at it, here's a LINK to that specific "Regiments" page:


Another possible "special unit" to build would be Bengal or Bombay or Madras "Sappers and Miners" -- elite Indian combat engineers deployed in company sized units often attached to brigades. They can be useful as "special" small unit in a larger game or as the central unit of a smaller skirmish game.

Don't know if any exist for commercial sale in 54mm, but you might want to consider scratch-building a Dhoolie or two -- which were litters for transporting wounded, carried by a pair of Indian bearers. They make for a very distinctive presence that kind of screams, "Colonial India" to anyone/everyone participating in or watching a game.

Here's a not very good picture of a couple of mine in action during a game:


No doubt that's already more than enough, so I promise this is my last suggestion: you may want to consider allowing your Tribal and Afghan armies to include some GHAZIS. They were Muslim religious fanatics intent on sacrificing themselves for their faith and taking as many infidels with them as possible, and could appear in small numbers during frontier campaigns, and more significant numbers during a few battle of the Second Afghan War, such as Maiwand. You can give them bonuses for morale and melee, and perhaps have them armed only with swords and shields, no ranged weapons, so they don't become "supermen."

Mad Guru16 Jan 2017 11:33 a.m. PST

Remembered another title to add to your list, which should be easy to find as it's always in print:

The Story of the Malakand Field Force, by Winston Churchill. Churchill' first published book, detailing his first ever campaign in 1897 on the NWF.

One more terrain idea: "sangars" were fortified fighting positions built by frontier tribesmen from rocks. They could be small enough to protect just a couple of men or large enough to cover a small band of shooters as they fired away at targets. They can easily be made in any scale from a thin piece of wood, MDF, plastic card, etc., or half of a CD; then build up an arc of pebbles glued together in a suitably rough & haphazard manner, piled just high enough for the muzzle of a kneeling shooter's rifle to clear. In TSATF we rate troops using them as cover as Class IV targets same as inside buildings or behind fortress walls.


Here's a link to an excellent little book of sketches featuring lots of frontier terrain and some combat, written and drawn by Major Hobday of the Royal Artillery, while serving I believe in that same 1897 Malakand campaign:


Speaking of "Sangars," here's a link to a post I did a few years ago on building some -- I will add that if you want to go fast and easy you could make pretty nice sangars using carboard bases cut to size and broken bits of inexpensive styrofoam, secured with a hot-glue gun:


Another common piece of terrain on the Frontier was rocks. Here's a LINK to a post about building decent looking rocky terrain relatively easily, using garden wood bark chips, which again I think should work for 54mm figures as well as 28mm:


…and here's a couple of sample pics:



Last but not least, as Gone Fishing alerted me to this thread, so I will now alert fellow TMPer Nick Stern, who combines NWF/Afghan War gaming expertise with an obsession for 54mm gaming. He may be able to point you to some more specific resources for appropriate large scale figures.

Nick Stern Supporting Member of TMP16 Jan 2017 1:55 p.m. PST

I don't know how I missed this post, but thanks to my buddy, Mad Guru, for bringing it to my attention! Queen Catherine, you are a gamer after my own heart. As Mad Guru said, colonial gaming and 54mm are my twin obsessions. If you join the "A Gentleman's War" Yahoo group, you can see my first attempt at a large scale colonial game, complete with the AIP hill fort and elephants. You'll also see how I built my hills/mountains from two inch foam pieces. At the moment my terrain is a hybrid of stylized "toy soldier" (the hills) and more realistic multi-scale pieces I found on eBay. I will most likely go in one direction or the other for future projects. BTW, the rules offered in "A Gentleman's War" are free and worth reading. And a colonial version is promised in the future. My advice is to start small and build as you go. I think I put too many figures and terrain pieces on the table for my first game. You can read and see photos of what I judge to be a perfectly sized NWF game on this TMP thread: TMP link They use The Sword and the Flame which, although written for 54mm works perfectly well for the larger scales without adjustments. Good luck and, if you find some plastic Goorkhas in 54mm, let us know.

Ragbones16 Jan 2017 8:14 p.m. PST

Check out the ready made terrain for 54mm figures at Paragon-Scenics. I've got quite a few pieces and they're fantastic.

Lion in the Stars18 Jan 2017 4:51 p.m. PST

And another gamer succumbs to the madness of the NWF! evil grin

I found that Churchill's Malakand Field Force did the best job of describing the terrain (at least to make pictures in my head).

But don't forget that there has been modern conflict in that whole area for the last 15 years, most of it quite well-photographed (and with satellite photos available). So you can find lots of images of the area, ranging from clips on youtube to Google Earth. Though I'm pretty sure Lone Survivor wasn't actually filmed on-location…

Early morning writer20 Jan 2017 8:47 a.m. PST

FYI, Lone Survivor was filmed in California's Sierra Nevada range of mountains – and I suspect much more lush with greenery than most if not all of Afghanistan. Not that there aren't trees there, just not like the Sierra Nevadas from any of the photos I've seen – or the moive shot by father and son reporters who embedeed, it's called Hornet's Nest with actual footage for sure.

And, yes, Mad Guru is awesome – follow his lead and if you only get half as good it will be great. And Nick Stern is also a good source, great guy.

Nick Stern Supporting Member of TMP20 Jan 2017 11:12 a.m. PST

For buildings, check out adobe buildings by Toy Soldiers of San Diego and FormTech (available from Michigan Toy Soldiers and sometimes on eBay) Conte did a beautiful Afghan building, but it's rare and pricey. Also, Barzso made a Mexican village and you can still get some of the pieces.

Nick Pasha20 Jan 2017 11:26 a.m. PST

Don't forget to get the figure set from the movie Gunga Din. It includes Gunga and the 3 Sergeants.

Lion in the Stars20 Jan 2017 2:58 p.m. PST

Frontier Ablaze is also good.

The footage of Afghanistan makes it look more like the Owyhee mountains of Idaho: Green valley bottoms, bare hills.

Early morning writer21 Jan 2017 9:39 p.m. PST

Aargh! Have to correct myself – Lone Survivor was filmed in New Mexico, not California (at least according to Wikipedia). Though I swear I saw a news report stating it was filmed in the Sierra Nevada range. Oh, well. Still a good movie.

Major William Martin RM21 Jan 2017 10:16 p.m. PST

My Dear Queen Katherine;

Given the period that you have chosen, and assuming that you might wish to add some "special" figures, or even units otherwise unavailable in miniature (at least at a reasonable cost), may I take the liberty of recommending the following to you?

There is a Gentleman from the UK, known to many here, by the name of Mike "Botch" Blake. Mike was one of the illustrious three Gentlemen who founded the Skirmish Wargames Group in the UK back in the golden days, around the early 70's. The group published one of the first commercially successful Colonial Skirmish rule books as well as one of the first Western Gunfight rule books. The members of the Group are still very active, along with many other members (world-wide), and do some of the absolute best 54 to 60mm conversions ever seen.

Mike still posts here on TMP under the moniker "Botch B" and has a blog at Many of his conversions are shown on the blog, including some outstanding Turcomen that he did, with matching mounted and dismounted. Mike also has an amazing Photobucket album, which he provides links to, that show many of his conversions covering a wide range of periods. If you do an author search here on TMP for "Botch B" you will also find many old posts featuring his work and AAR's on some of the Group's games.

By the way, the Group also publishes a sporadic newsletter which is delivered electronically, you simply have to ask Mike to add your name to the list. Back issues may be available if you ask nicely.

Much luck and success with your endeavor, and don't be afraid of diving into conversions. Even the ones that don't turn out "right" can usually be fixed at a later time or can donate parts to another conversion.

Your humble servant;

Mad Guru23 Jan 2017 1:15 p.m. PST

More great stuff above -- and very happy to learn about "Botch," who I didn't know before!

One note: Gunga Din was filmed in the "Alabama Hills" of Lone Pine California, 200+ miles North of Los Angeles. If you visit the area you can explore the spots used as the "Battle Pass" for the big finale, and tour the Western Movie museum in town (dozens unto hundreds of Westerns were filmed in the same area from the Twenties through the Fifties), which includes a small exhibit on the handful of Colonial Indian films made there, including Gunga Din.

Here's a LINK to a post on my blog from 5 years ago, when I went camping with my son and his Boy Scout troop in nearby Inyo Forest, at the base of Mt. Whitney, and was able to visit the location in the hills, as well as the museum…


…and here's one of the pics:



Nick Pasha25 Jan 2017 1:38 p.m. PST

Queen Kate they are 28 mm. I have a set but I forget whose figures they are. I'll try to find the package and check.

Mad Guru25 Jan 2017 2:17 p.m. PST

Not many British troops on camels in India or Afghanistan. The only ones I know of were wounded troops who were sometimes carried on camel ambulances, two at a time. Castaway Arts in Australia makes a nice miniature version in 28mm. I don't know if anyone makes one in larger size but it wouldn't be that difficult to convert or scratchbuild. I'm away from my computer but will post a pic or two later.

Biggest difference between Zulu War and Egyptian and early Sudan campaign British uniforms and those for the NWF and Second Afghan War is the presence of so much khaki in India & Afghanistan. British Zulu War uniforms were all red or blue or green (for the 60th Rifles), with no khaki whatsoever, at least that I'm aware of. The only exception I know of is parts of the uniforms for one or two of the many locally raised volunteer cavalry units.

In the Sudan at least one British regiment came from its previous posting in India, so wore khaki, as did the Indian regiments, and as the campaign drew on its use spread.

Re: regimental badges & rank insignia, there's some on view in the Osprey "British Army on Campaign (3): 1856-1881, and volume (4) 1882-1902.

Mad Guru26 Jan 2017 12:35 a.m. PST

Here's a sketch of the real thing dating from the Second Afghan War:


Here's one of my Castaway Arts 28mm versions (which also includes a walking native camel handler):


Last but not least, here's a couple of pics of an illustration of a "Camel Gunner" from the Nizam of Hyderabad's Contingent, I believe from around the time of the First Afghan War (1839-1842). Obviously this is from an earlier period than yours, but still a cool image incorporating a military camel in India, and might be an inspiration for a later period Afghan or even Tribal figure or unit:



mrinku09 May 2017 5:12 p.m. PST

As far as film inspiration goes… I don't think anyone has actually mentioned "The Man Who Would Be King", surely as much a classic for this setting as Gunga Din, with added Caine and Connery goodness :)

As far as the locals go, Flashman should still serve as a decent colour resource. 1840's tribesmen match up to 1880's tribesmen pretty well. Flashman and the Great Game and Flashman and the Mountain of Light are pretty good for NWF as well, especially in placing some historical context. Older characters may well have been involved in the Sikh Wars or (especially) the Mutiny.

Durando23 Feb 2018 5:52 a.m. PST

Could consider some Persians

Pvt Snuffy26 Mar 2019 5:56 p.m. PST

this is a confusing post – why are so many posts deleted?

Lion in the Stars26 Mar 2019 8:38 p.m. PST

Dunno what happened, Snuffy.

But what you can make out is still pretty good advice.

I should really get off my butt and back into my 15mm NWF project.

Basha Felika01 Apr 2019 7:39 a.m. PST

NWF is one of the most interesting colonial periods to game. Most of my stuff is in 28mm but i'd be very tempted to go with Blue Moon 15mm if starting over, to give a greater sense of scale.

Looks like Queen Catherine got airbrushed out of history?

Lion in the Stars01 Apr 2019 10:38 a.m. PST

The trick to NWF is to find a good set of rules for regulars v tribes.

The Sword and the Flame is the classic set for this. I've actually used Ambush Alley rules, and then a modified version (splitting shooting quality and fighting quality).

sausagesca01 Apr 2019 10:47 a.m. PST

Definitely a superb campaign to collect armies and play. Diversity of troop types and landscapes, and the range of actions makes it a superb context for play with toy soldiers. Lots of suitable rules too that should suit larger models: MWWBK seems currently popular, but TSATF, BFE2, and countless others all work and cater to the campaign. Rule choice likely comes down to what kind of actions you prefer – skirmishes with few miniatures or larger actions.

I had developed large Zulu and Sudan collections and love them all, but recently my attention has been on the NWF/2nd Afghan War and I absolutely love it. I am developing a large collection of Afghan Regs which adds real interest.

Good luck with this project.

Personal logo PaulCollins Supporting Member of TMP07 Apr 2019 1:13 p.m. PST

My NWF is all 20mm/1:72. I use TSATF, but I also use and like Colonial Adventures by Two Hour Wargames which are particularly suited to solo and same side gaming.

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