The Game’s Afoot! (1)

I’m imagining that some Sherlock Holmes fans have spotted this post and gone away disillusioned! This post has nothing to do with that great Victorian detective (although I’m a big fan of his) and instead refers to the Great Game! The Great Game is not a reference to football, or even wargaming, but instead refers to (according to Wikipedia) the “political and diplomatic confrontation that existed for most of the 19th century” between Great Britain and Russia over spheres of influence in Asia. As Russia extended her control over territory to her south east, including Afghanistan, Britain was concerned about encroachment towards, and the security of, British India.

Britain’s concerns for the security of her empire led to the two wars with Afghanistan in the 19th Century, both started by Great Britain and both accompanied by military setbacks for her (and in one instance, “setback” meant “disaster”). In my previous post I outlined how I’d started painting some Afghan forces in the late 1990s for the Second Afghan War that I subsequently gave up on but have now come back to! This post outlines the progress I made back then and where I think I’ll be going with this and my intention is to add posts as I feel like I’ve made progress, which doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll have painted much!

20mm wargaming has always tended to be a less popular scale except for the WW2 and modern periods, so back in the ’90s it was more difficult to get the figures I needed for this project compared to nowadays. By the outbreak of the Second Afghan War in 1878 the Afghan army contained regular uniformed infantry, cavalry and artillery units, backed up by irregular/tribal militias. It was easier to get irregular troops as ESCI produced a plastic 1/72 scale “Muslim Warriors” set and Raventhorpe Miniatures made a small range of North West Frontier tribesmen, a mixture of which I got painted (see below).

These were painted back in the ’90s and I’ll use them as they are (if I remember correctly three of them are Italian colonial infantry as well but they fit in well enough). Regular troops were more of an issue and had to be converted from what was available (see below).

Regular infantry in Turcoman fur caps (three left-hand figures in each row plus the officer in the centre – the back three are shaded but not yet layered) were converted from B & B Miniatures Russian Civil War infantry by adding hats from Milliput. Artillery crewmen (right-hand three figures in the rear row) were just Qualiticast Zulu War British gunners painted as Afghan regulars. The remaining five figures in “kilts” are Afghan Highland Guard and are shown in more detail below.

These were ESCI Zulu War British infantry upper bodies stuck onto some very old Airfix Waterloo Highland infantry lower bodies with some of their pouches moved to suit. I seem to remember the Airfix figures being on the brittle side so I mounted them on square card bases for lightness. There is a lot of uncertainty over the uniforms, but I opted to follow Ian Heath’s description of them in Wargames Illustrated and go with green jackets, although these are usually shown with black felt hats being worn. The “kilt” has also been described as more like a tablecloth and I think these figures look about right.

So I’ve dug out some old magazines and Men-At-Arms books and added a couple of Afghan Wars books for good measure (shown below). The magazines have quite a bit of detail in them so overall I’m quite well off for info.

So what’s to do next? Well I’ve planned out the units I want to do and bought the figures from Newline Designs. This will not be a big army and I’ve already got my old figures as a good starting point. I’m planning to have:

A two-man HQ

Three 10-man regular infantry battalions (seven figures already painted)

One 10-man Highland Guard battalion (five figures already painted). I reckon I can convert the remaining figures from Newline Designs Sudan War Scottish Highlanders.

One six-man regular cavalry regiment

One regular artillery battery (three figures already painted)

One regular camel gun unit (not sure if they were still in use in 1878 but couldn’t resist it – my armies are short on camels!)

Four five-man irregular skirmishing units (15 figures already painted)

I’ll probably add another cavalry unit as well, either regular or irregular, although I think my aversion to painting cavalry is well publicised!

At some point someone is going to ask the question “what about their opposition then?” and that’s where I come unstuck! My plan is to use my Boxer Rebellion British Empire troops against the Afghans in a historical context. Khaki uniforms had been introduced by the British to some degree before the Second Afghan War, so my later period Empire troops don’t look out of place (and I’m not too bothered about that). Otherwise, in another timeline, the Afghan army can fight off Martian invaders!


  1. Good that you have found a way to return to this project John, and great that you don’t have to do too many models to finish it off ( shame about the horses, as we all know how much you love painting them ! LOL). Good idea on the opposing forces, especially like the idea of them fighting the aliens ! LOL

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    • Thanks Dave! 🙂 I’m pleased I can make this more of a mini project, since that way it’s got a better chance of making progress! More than likely all of my 19th Century armies will get steamtech at some point, either to repel those devilish Squid invaders or carry the fight to Mars!

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  2. Love this project. I’ve read “The Great Game” by Peter Hopkirk some years ago, which is a great overview of the intrigues and pressures on the country at the time. Your figures are wonderful, I can’t believe there are many Afghan Highland Guard figures out there! I remember seeing an Afghan helmet in the Royal Norfolk regimental museum. Presumably it’s the same worn by your artillerymen? The helmet looked like a traditional European brass dragoon helmet but the manufacture was not good with the badge being askew and off-centre!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Marvin! 🙂 Everything but a great game in practice! Wargames Foundry do some nice Afghan troops, including Highland Guard. I have a feeling some Afghan regular cavalry also wore helmets, although the figures I’ve bought have the more common beehive hat!


  3. This was a fun read as always, John! I like the kilts quite a bit and I think you painted them nicely. Its always cool to see variety in color in a fighting force and you’ve got that in spades here as well. I’m with Dave in that I’d love to see a battle against aliens too 🙂

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  4. Great looking group so far. One of the pleasures of getting back into blogging (outside of getting to connect with so many great fellow hobbyists) has been to learn about the wide range of mini companies out there. There really are so many options for hobbyists these days.

    Excited to see this progress, John!

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    • Thanks Dave! 🙂 When I originally planned this project back in the ’90s I was going to also paint British Empire forces to fight the Afghans. In the intervening years I’ve probably got enough British Empire forces for the Boxer Rebellion to let them stand in for the Second Afghan War, so I’ll use them without worrying about it! In theory, there would be more colour mixed in with the khaki uniforms. I’ve got enough spare Scottish Highlanders unpainted to paint a proper unit up and Newline Designs make Ghurkas – I think the latter were still wearing dark green uniforms in 1880 so I might think about getting some at some point. That inevitable mission creep!

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  5. Sounds like a plan, (and a rather good one too),Looks really good so far, and nice conversion on the highlanders, and you those kilts do look a bit like tablecloths 😀.

    I like the Martian invasion as opposition idea a lot, you’ll have to battrep that one at some point. 😁

    Cheers Roger.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Roger! 🙂 The tablecloths comment was a contemporary one but quite an apt description I think! In theory, there’s likely to be three aspects to Martian invaders (i.e. my Squid army) – Earth is invaded and her nations and armies fight back as best they can; Earth develops steamtech and adds that and captured invader tech to her armed forces in the fight to eventually repel the invaders; the nations of Earth invade Mars and find there are more than just Squids there to oppose them! I’m hoping to tackle all of this to some extent so that should keep me busy alongside all the other stuff I should really be doing!

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      • We planned three linked WW2 “Rapid fire” 20mm scenarios way back in the day called “Today Europe tomorrow the world (the Galaxy by the weekend)”. the first of which was British 8th and Afrika Korps racing each other in the desert to capture a downed saucer. Then British marines attacking a secret testing bunker in occupied France to either retrieve or destroy plans for a German saucer, and finally a German invasion of Mars in 1946 (the last might have been in 6mm but we never got that far).

        As they say “Wargaming is like sex, you spend more time thinking about it than doing it!”😁

        Cheers Roger.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Now that sounded like a really good idea for linked scenarios! 🙂 Have to agree with your last comment as well! I had thought that as well as having Earth invaded in the 1880s, I could do the same for 1917 or 1944, all letting me use alternative tech with my existing historical armies! I must admit I quire like the idea of WW1 troops fighting my Squids and maybe getting some Plan 1919 tanks and stuff into action!

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  6. Great painting on the figures, John, especially as they’re so small! As someone who prefers sci-fi/horror/fantasy stuff, it’s always interesting to see historical minis from eras that aren’t as well represented as, say, WW2 or Vietnam.

    As for the Martian invaders idea, I think it’s top notch and I’d love to see that battle report 🙂

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    • Thanks Lord Commander! 🙂 Not sure I’m looking forward to painting the camels – there are four to paint, two walking with their riders and two kneeling with the guns being fired from their backs! I think I’ve only painted three camels before so I’ll have to dig them out and see how I did them.

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    • Thanks Ann! 🙂 To be honest, back then being short-sighted was a real bonus as far as painting figures were concerned, which is why those guys also have their eyes painted. As I’ve got older and transitioned to being near-sighted I need to use reading glasses when I paint now and I’ve given up with eyes (although I can now see the TV without specs)!


  7. It always good to find some figures one has previously painted, it happened to me the other week when I was looking for the last of the Zvezda mini sets I came upon some WWII Japanese I did back in Melbourne, a big bonus as that filled out that side of the battle. I still have a heap more US marines to go.
    Great work on the conversions mate, I still have a few Airfix Scots but they wouldn’t be able to survive the operation,a bit old and brittle, they may look a bit like table cloths but you still had to paint all those stripes!! Well done, not something I would like to take on with my old shaky hands!!

    Liked by 1 person

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