Sunday, April 26, 2020

My Sudan Toy Soldier Project

Egyptian infantry and British artillery fend off a Dervish charge.
All figures show are plastic figures from Armies In Plastic.

I have been posting hints about some sort of grand Sudan project that uses 54mm toy soldiers. So today, I am going to present the details of the project and provide some background into the project's origins.
A rather formidable collection of Dervish warriors.

The Background To The Madness

I have been collecting 54mm toy soldiers for the Sudan campaigns (1882 to 1898) going back as far as the early 1980s. I made frequent business trips to London in those days and happened to come across a little store called Under Two Flags. There was a window display of Seaforth Highlanders, in square, fending off the charge of a mass of Dervish warriors. To make a long story short, I bought the whole window display.

Over the next decade I acquired more figures from dealers in the UK and the USA, focusing on the figures produced by a company called Trophy Miniatures of Wales. However, collecting ground to a halt when I got married in 1995. My interests and time changed, as you might infer, so the toy soldiers where packed away, not seeing the light of day until 2016.

In the Spring of 2016 I was reorganizing my game room and found several boxes of the toy soldier collection. I posted pictures on this blog and it wasn't too long before Major General Pettygree contacted me and threw out the wafer-thin mint idea of playing a wargame with the toy soldiers. Capital idea, thought I, much to my detriment, for it started me on this long road into the black hole of 19th Century British Colonial war gaming.

Egyptian and Sudanese allies - Trophy Miniatures.

The Charge of the 21st Lancers at Omdurman

Let the Madness Begin

We played our first of many Sudan toy soldier games in May of 2016. I was able to set up a 15ft long by 6ft wide game table and had parallel side tables measuring 2.5ft by 15ft. The game was a big hit. Major General Pettygree's brigade of Royal Marines and Gordon Highlanders got wiped out to a man. I pulled out a Sharpie pen and marked a large "X" on the spot where Pettygree's brigade perished. It lies there to this very day.

The Camel Corps sees action.
Britain's War Along the Nile figures.

The game provided the momentum for a new Sudan Project that was based on the large toy soldier figures. The Major General and I gradually built up forces of Dervish and British troops using an assortment of figures from Britain's War Along the Nile range, John Jenkins Designs for the battle of Tamai, scads of old Britain's Arabs and some very sturdy Alymer toy soldiers from Spain. I put most of the Trophy figures back on the display shelves and used the other figures for our games.

The Madness Gains Momentum and Purpose

And now fast forward a little bit into 2020. I wanted to host a showcase quality Sudan Toy Soldier game at the Little Wars Convention in April 2020. I felt that we should really have a 3:1 ratio of Dervish to Imperial soldiers. MG Pettygree and I had a collective Imperial force of about 200 infantry figures so this means that we would or should have around 600 Dervish in order to keep a balanced game.

As things go with any wargame or toy soldier project, I wanted more and I wanted it now.

My thought was that I could build up the Dervish mass by using the economical Armies In Plastic  ("AIP") figures. One collectors' metal figure can purchase about three boxes of AIP plasic Dervish figures. As I began to paint the plastic figures, I began to think about replacing a lot of my metal figures with plastic figures for my wargaming at public venues and conventions. I also wanted to have enough of my own figures so as not to rely on the good Major General's figures all of the time. We can use all or some of Major General Pettygree's soldiers when he comes to my house, or we can use all of his soldiers at his house, augmented by some of my figures. This makes the transportation of figures a little easier for both of us.

I estimated that I owned approximately 125 to 150 British/ Egyptian foot and 56 cavalry, so let's say around 200 Imperial figures, doing a little bit of rounding. 

The British and Allies Forces

My current roster of British Colonial soldiers include the following:

British Army;
Camel Corps Infantry (Wm. Brititains)  -- 50 infantry and 2 Gatling Guns
Black Watch Highlanders (Britains)       -- 25 infantry
Lancs. & Yorks. Regiment (Britains)     -- 50 infantry

21st Lancers   (Britains)                         -- 20 mounted lancers

Egyptian Allies:
Egyptian Lancers (Britains)                    -- 36 mounted lancers

Egyptian soldiers (Britains)                    -- 10 infantry
Egyptian artillery (Britains)                    --   2 Krupp cannon each with 4 crew
Egyptian infantry (Plastic)                      --   54 figures

That adds up to about 190 infantry and 56 cavalry. The artillery component has 2 cannon, 2 Gatling Guns and 16 artilery crew men.

Expected Plastic Additions:

Egyptian Infantry                                    32 infantry
Camel Corps camels                               16 camels (building up to 48 over time)
Royal Artillery supports                         12 infantry (building up to 24 over time)

As you can see from the table above, my Imperial Army of British and Egyptian forces is largely completed. I would like to add enough mounted Camel Corps figures so that that I can have a mounted figure for each of my Camel Corps foot figures.

My mounted Camel Corps so far: 6 painted, 10 unpainted, 2 unpainted pack camels, and 2 unpainted mountain screw gun camels. These are all Armies In Plastic figures.

The Mahdi's Forces

This afternoon I did an inventory of my Dervish army:

Britain's W.A.N figures --- 50
John Jenkins Beja         --- 50

Old Britain's Arabs        --- 100
Alymer                           --- 71
Marlborough                  --- 15
Old Trophy figures        --- 39

Total Metal Figures       --- 325 figures

Plastic figures                --- 110 figures

Total Foot Figures         --- 435 figures

Cavalry & Camelry        --- 75 mounted figures

Total Dervish Army       --- 510 figures

M.G. Pettygree's forces   --- 125

Grand Total Dervish        --- 635 figures

This gives the Dervish an advantage of  2x the number of British forces in my establishment. If we add in the Major General's Dervish army, then the Dervish total of 635 figures. Adding his British forces, I am estimating at 80 figures, yields a total of around 326 Imperials. This gives the Dervish an advantage of about 2x as well.

My intuition tells me that the Dervish need a 3:1 advantage over the Imperials to be successful in our rules. However, that would entail having 978 Dervish, requiring an additional 343 Dervish figures! That's not going to happen... yet.

One way to get around this little problem is to cap the number of Colonials on the table to some number that gives the Dervish an advantage of 3:1. The math tells us that we could only field  208 Imperials to maintain the 3:1 edge, assuming that we did not add any more figures to our collective armies.

It would seem that 635 Dervish and 208 Imperials are more than enough 54mm figures to use on my 12ft by 6ft table - in fact this might be too many figures. On the otherhand, the Major General has a game table twice the size of mine, and it is on his wonderful table that these army plans are made.

Plastic Figures Are the Ansar

It was then that I hit upon the idea of building out the Dervish army using AIP plastic figures. I had previouly painted some AIP Egyptian infantry (48) and some Ansar (54) figures, that are included in the rosters indicated above. For the price of one collectors' metal figure, I can buy 3 or 4 boxes of plastic figures.

When building an army mass, plastic is definitely the way to go. I was skeptical about using plastic figures at first. My biggest concern is that the paint would chip off of the figures during use. However, I was soon persuaded that this was not a problem by Major General Pettygree, who had painted 100+ plastic Beja warriors. We used his Beja in several of our toy soldier games. They not only looked good, but they also proved to be sturdy and withstand paint chipping (i.e. the paint did not chip off of the figures).

I purchased a couple of boxes of Ansar Dervish from Armies In Plastic and gave them a go on my painting table. I found the figures to be nicely sculpted and animated, and very easy to paint. A heavy coating of gloss spray seems to protect the figures and the paint nicely. I plan to affix the figures to 40mm round bases and move them around the table on movement trays.

Dervish (Ansar) Warriors (Armies In Plastic)   -- 54 figures
Dervish Riflemen (AIP)                                     -- 20 figures

After finishing the above lot, I decided to double them up and I ordered enough boxes of AIP figures to build another 54 figure unit of Ansar and another 20 Riflemen. On a whim, I also ordered three boxes of Beja (Fuzzie Wuzzies according to Kipling, but we will be politically correct and not use this name for the mighty Beja and Haddendowa tribesmen).

The Project Begins To Take Shape

In searching for a theme to this pudding, I decided that I needed some Raison d'ĂȘtre to organize and paint so many figures. In other words, there had to be a reason to have a Sudan 54mm Toy Soldier Project.

I settled on the idea of hosting a toy soldier game as this year's Big Battalions Game, held annually at Kieth L.'s man cave. Kieth has three 6ft by 30ft game tables, running parallel  with each other. This provides a considerable amount of width and depth for running a game with large toy soldiers. There is plenty of room for maneuvering and siting an assortment of towns, villages and forts with plenty of distance between them all. We can even put a section of the Nile River on one of the tables and make use of the two 54mm Nile River gunboats that I own.

I am imagining that each player will command a force of approximately 100 figures. It follows then that there will be six Dervish players and 2-3 Imperial players in the game.

So, Bucko, how many more figures do you need to paint or buy in order to carry the project home?


The problem with declaring that the building of the armies is complete is that it violates one of the prime directives ("PD") of wargaming: thou must plan on needing more figures than what thou has for there to be a true game experience.

And one of the corollaries to the prime directive is that thou must finish the painting and basing of the new figures at least two days prior to the date of the war game.

We are ever hopeful that the PD will be violated.

The plastic contingent of my Dervish army will increase from 110 figures to about 200 figures. The Major General makes plans to add 30 reinforcements in time for the game. On the Imperial side of the coin there are those darn camel mounted troops to do. I have 6 of the 48 figures painted and I have another 10 unpainted figures. Trying to be sensible, I swear that I will not purchase any more camels until the next ten figures are painted.

A column of 48 camels, 4 abreast, will be a sight to behold.

There Is One Little Problem

Well Cosmo, you might think that Fritz and the Major General have everything buttoned down and ready to go for the Big Game. You would be wrong, of course, for there is that little matter of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing. We have no idea when the virus will pass and when we can congregate in any size group. If all goes well and the world is lucky, then we hope to have the game played in July, August or September.

Meanwhile, just think about those 48 Camel Corps camels in column, four abreast.


  1. A delightful post to read, and a wonderfully assembled tabletop force! Both worthy of appearing in an early issue of Miniature Wargames way back when or, perhaps, one of the first dozen issues or so of Wargames Illustrated.

    Best Regards,


  2. A superb collection, nice to find out your plans for gaming.

    I have my 54mm Romans & Gauls, still need to add more Gauls to the collection to get the right ratio for bigger games.

  3. Greetings,

    Your project is truly inspirational!

    I recently bought some 1/72 plastic British and Dervish figures; some Dervish samples are being painted up. I'm going to try to paint these guys simply and attractively, yet quickly (might not be an easy task.)

    May I ask what rules you use? If you're enjoying fun games, I'd like to know what you're using. I'm seeking a good set of British Colonial rules myself, even though a friend is mailing me a copy of "Battles for Empire."

    Thanks for sharing!


  4. I am using the 19th Century variant of Bill Protz's Batailles de l'Ancien Regime ( or B.A.R.) rules.

  5. I am always impressed with your projects.

    Reading about the miniature adventures of yourself and your friend General Pettygree is a most enjoyable experiance.


    1. Thank you very much. The Major General is a most excellent coproducer of our many adventures.

  6. Well-written and eye-appealing story Jim.