In the early part of 1963, an eight year old boy was stunned by the trailers for a new ‘B’ movie and launched a ‘guerrilla campaign’ against his parents, pleading, cajoling and begging to be taken to see it. Already a devotee of all things Gerry Anderson, he was seriously impressed with the special effects of that pre-CGI genius, Ray Harryhausen – and no more so than the climactic battle with the skeletal ‘Children of the Hydra’. The film was, of course, “Jason & The Argonauts”....
Well, as we all know, lots of wargame projects often take a while to come to fruition, being ‘savoured’ like good wine (as we would have it), or another half-baked waste of money stuck in the cupboard (as evinced by everyone else). But I have to say that – speaking as that eight year-old – this one really takes the cake! It is therefore with immense fondness that the South London Warlords today celebrate the 50th anniversary of that classic film with a game representing the final battle. But before we go into the game, what about the legend?
The story is fairly well-known throughout the world today, with films, books and comics regularly giving their treatments (as budgets and fashion dictate). It was no less popular in the ancient world, which is why there are several versions of plot, principal players, and even outcome! Essentially, however, the story goes something like this:-
Would-be king Pelias usurped the Aeolian throne, but an oracle warned him that a descendant of the previous king would seek revenge. Pelias therefore tried to kill off all said threats. Unfortunately, this included one female family member who had called on the goddess Hera for help. It didn’t stop her murder, but the child ( either hers or some other relative) was raised in secret. Another oracle now warned Pelias to be on his guard against a man with one shoe. Whilst increasingly paranoid, good old King P was not sharp enough to spot the adult Jason who may have rescued him (losing a shoe in the process). He was still canny enough to set him a challenge, however, from which he assumed he wouldn’t be returning. Jason was accompanied by some 50-odd principal heroes of ancient Greece, and is often a ‘celebrity A-list’ of popular heroes, including Hercules. Their name comes from their ship, the Argo, named after its builder, Argus. "Argonauts", therefore, literally means "Argo sailors".
Some have suggested that the legend of the Golden Fleece was based on a practice of the Black Sea tribes who would place a lamb's fleece at the bottom of a stream to entrap gold dust being washed down from upstream. There are also very similar Hittite tales, so the story may well have been old when the Greeks took it to their hearts!
Many attempts have been made to film the legend, even providing the inspiration for the Dr Who episode “Underworld”. But by far the most memorable is the film released in 1963, due almost entirely to the ‘stop-motion’ special effects of Ray Harryhausen. Using this pre-CGI technique, the creatures are given life by laboriously taking a few frames, then moving the exquisitely-jointed models very slightly and taking some more. When the film is played at normal speed, the models ‘come to life’ and – following meticulous planning and exhaustive rehearsal – even appear to interact with the human actors. It has to be said that, given some of the cast, some of Ray’s creations are certainly more ‘animated’!
After a series of classic encounters with various special effects, Jason gets the rug, the girl and a fair wind home. However, this is not before confronting the King of Colchis and his small army of demonic skeleton warriors (grown from the now-deceased Hydra’s teeth). I know of no-one who does not recall this scene, and so it is this which forms the basis of our game today.
The game has three players per side. The Argonauts take one figure apiece, whilst the ‘skeleton crew’ dice for how many they may control each turn (to simulate the ‘disjointed’ nature of their tactics – no pun intended).
Each turn is split into three phases, and both order of movement and combat are determined by six ordinary playing cards – but the choice of what to play when is critical. The simple yet subtle system involves much thought and pure game-theory, as the sequence can be important to either escape, gain advantageous positioning, or the chance to kill-off an opponent. Unless they’re already, err, dead....
It is well known by now that, when it comes to display games, the Warlords don’t do things by halves (=are very slightly bonkers). Thus over the years Salute has seen fleets of 25mm Martian Cloudships, the odd Death Star trench, a 20mm Pork Chop Hill, the odd WW2 fjord, and even a 1/10th scale bridge of the starship Enterprise, complete with working view-screen and even web-enabled security cameras! The thing is, the skirmish in the film only involves ten figures - three Argonauts and seven skeletons. Now, on a big show table, ten 25mm figures would be lost, and some 54mm ones would hardly do better. Which is why today’s game features, perhaps for the first time, a selection of beautiful 1/6th scale models. Yes, that’s what I said – 30cm high, just like your old ‘Action Man’ (who appeared over here for the first time the year after the film).
I said we were bonkers!
As for the terrain, much of the ruins are carved ‘pink foam’, with the columns made out of soil pipe. The ‘bushes’ (by stalwart suppliers ‘The Last Valley’) are actually 28mm and 54mm trees! My thanks to Ivan Congreve and Kevin Dallimore for their enormous help in the preparations – as ever, the good bits are theirs, any mistakes are mine.
Greeks: “Ignite” 1/6 Spartan Warrior (series 2)
Skeletons: “Zolotronics” for “Go-Hero” - http://www.goheroshop.com/Shop_item.php?id=37&cat=16&sub=0#
“The Last valley” - http://stores.ebay.com/The-Last-Valley-Scenics/_i.html?_fsub=2276455010
Pink Foam from B&Q home insullation