Monday 27 June 2022

Gangsters' Paradise in the Roaring 20's

2017 was an eventful for me, a good one certainly, but I got out of the way of wargaming and modelmaking for a time. Seeking to get back into it with something fun, I had a go at skirmish gaming the Prohibition era in 1920's America. 

Constitutionally prohibiting the sale of alcohol from 1920 onwards achieved little other than a massive increase in disorder and corruption, whereby the intoxicants were supplied by ultra-violent criminals, and in more dangerous circumstances and quality. So just like the "war on drugs" of the last 50 years in many ways. However, in 1933 fact-based reasoning was more widely persuasive in the American political system than nowadays, so prohibition was ended in 1933 to near-universal relief. 

But anyway, it's a fascinating period to game and we are well-served with figures, terrain and rules. I always liked Mark Copplestone's gangster sculpts, and the Pulp Figures range mixes in nicely. Great Escape games offer some buildings that are as nice as laser-cut MDF can be, even if relatively pricey. For rules, look no further than Howard Whitehouse's Mad Dogs with Guns, which are fun, workable and packed with atmospheric anecdotes. For a time I researched the period, learned all about the history, the buildings, the fashions, the vehicles and the characters, but the butterfly thing got me and I moved back to proper wargames periods, like the Franco-Prussian War.

So here we are, livin in gangsta's paradise, so to speak, and something bad is about to go down outside the tyre store, a Great Escape Games building, although repainted and dolled up somewhat by me. Copplestone figures. The die-cast car is by Solido or someone. I got a few vehicles but didn't get as far as improving them significantly.

I made the tarmac road system myself, something we'll  come back to another time.

Here are some honest-looking US citizens exercising their constitutional right to bear arms. No doubt they will only be used against King George or any other tyrants seeking to repress their freedoms! This building is one I scratch-built, although using some bits from ancient US model railway kits. The brick walling is from the Wills sheets.

There's definitely a story in this vignette. "Bad day at the office; I couldn't even get the dough out of Mrs O'Hanrahan, and then a cop showed up!" At any rate, here's the other side of the above structure. The movie poster dates it firmly to 1927, so right in the middle of our period. 

I did make a second building, better and bigger, but didn't quite finish painting it when the realisation dawned on me that I could make a dozen such structures and I still wouldn't exactly have Chicago, so I had to look for a more realistic approach. What I found was the Mean Streets range by The Virtual Armchair General. You buy PDF's online, which you print off on thin card, or else on paper and stick them to foamcard, as I did. The result is slightly brash but tolerable blocks of American city buildings for the era, each about 10-12 inches square. With these you can build up a useable cityscape, which I duly did. I haven't photographed them, as they are someone else's work really, but you can see them on TVAG's website Mean Streets Main Page ( They also do an interesting set of rules "We Only Kill Each Other", for anyone sufficiently interested to try something more detailed and somewhat RPG-like.


  1. Although a bit less personally creative than most of your work John, these are still very nice pieces of scenery. Where do you store them all?! I already have more home made buildings than I have room for, and I woukd dearly like to make quite a lot more!

    1. Thanks as ever, rross. It's funny you should ask where I store everything, because the Mean Streets buildings couldn't hope to squeeze into my normal storage and had to go into black bin bags and be chucked up into the loft. During which I suspect there was a certain amount of damage, so I couldn't face getting them out to set up a scene for this post in case the damage was too depressing!

      I do have a system for storage because this is quite a small house and I have to use the space to the max. I keep all my scenery and building materials in "fruit trays", which are the very sturdy corrugated cardboard trays used by supermarkets to transport fruit and veg. Tesco at least used to give the empties away. They come in different depths, between about 3" to 6" deep, perfect for buildings and trees. Tall buildings lay flat, and I make a point of not building trees too tall to fit in the 6" boxes. When I moved here in 2014 I built shelving across the whole of both ends of the bedroom that was to be my wargames room, and the shelves are designed to fit fruit trays about three deep on each shelf.

    2. Always interesting to hear how others approach the wargamer's never ending dilemma of storage!

  2. Lovely work there John and I like the attention to period detail, such as the posters etc. Not a period or setting I have any interest in at all, but always good to see what you've made, how you went about it etc.

  3. Lovely buildings and figures with a great amount of detailing!
    Best Iain

  4. Brilliant - I love the Copplestone figures and the buildings look great - but I haven't ever really been tempted by Gangsters or Cowboys or similar - even though I love looking at other's people's projects for these genres. Maybe Necromunda/Mordheim was always enough for me with these gang based skirmish games. Anyway - love your work!