Tchaikovsky meets Morschauser: A Battle Game for Balletomanes

01 December 2021
We check out the archives for this (nut)cracker

Arthur Harman presents the battle in The Nutcracker between the Toy Soldiers and the Kitchen Mice, inspired by the works of ETA Hoffman, Bob Cordery and late, great American wargamer Joseph Morschauser.


When my daughter started ballet lessons, she naturally developed an interest in the stories of the classic ballets, and I read her many a bedtime story version of them from illustrated children’s books. The Nutcracker was my favourite, of course, because of the prominent role played by the Toy Soldiers who defended Clara from being abducted by the Kitchen Mice, and I was inspired to create a scenario and rules for a simple game of toy soldiers that she might enjoy.

Alas, Charlotte proved to be a member of the ‘awkward squad’ in her ballet class, made little progress and soon abandoned the barre for much greater success with the violin and saxophone, so my cunning plan to make a wargamer of her was thwarted! I therefore offer this game in the hope it may entertain readers and their families – perhaps after watching a performance of The Nutcracker?

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Dramatis Personae


  • Clara Schonbaum: a young girl who fell asleep under the tree on Christmas Eve, after stealing downstairs in the middle of the night to secretly open her present, she has now awoken to find herself reduced by magic to the size of a small doll or one of her brother’s Toy Soldiers!
  • The Prince: a handsome Toy Soldier officer, armed with a sabre, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Clara’s Christmas present, a wooden nutcracker carved in the shape of a soldier…
  • Frederick the (Cheese) Grater, the Mouse King: an evil, one-eyed, rodent with delusions of military genius and regal grandeur, armed with a sword or scimitar, known to his troops as Der Graue Fritz.


  • The Toy Soldiers: a boxful of twenty traditional tin soldiers, in colourful Napoleonic or early nineteenth century infantry uniforms, armed with muskets with fixed bayonets, and a projectile-firing toy cannon.
  • The Kitchen Mice: a horde of twenty five repulsive rodents, carrying a variety of hand weapons for close combat – pikes, halberds, swords or scimitars and clubs.

The Scene 

The battlefield is a flat surface, divided into squares to control movement and toy cannon-fire, representing the floor of the salon of Clara’s home. Each square should be able to hold at least four figures or three Toy Soldiers and their toy cannon. On one side of the gameboard is a large pot, in which a Christmas tree (not necessarily portrayed) is planted, and around which are assorted, randomly placed, garishly wrapped small boxes to portray the Schonbaum family’s Christmas presents, including a big rectangular box containing the Toy Soldiers and their toy cannon. On the opposite side of the board is marked the important opening of the door to the Kitchen, through which the Kitchen Mice must enter.

Curtain Up: Let Battle Commence!

Clara and the Prince start beside the Christmas tree. The Toy Soldiers and their toy cannon start inside their box, under the tree. The Mouse King and the Kitchen Mice start off the board, behind the Kitchen door. The Prince may not order the Toy Soldiers to march out of their box until at least three Kitchen Mice (which may include the Mouse King) have entered.

Sequence of Play

Players may choose from the following options:

1.    Classic IGO-UGO with the Kitchen Mice going first.

2.    IGO-UGO but dicing to see which side goes first each time.

3.    Create five cards, labelled Clara, The Prince, Toy Soldiers, The Mouse King and Kitchen Mice, and shuffle them before each game turn. Draw a card to discover who goes next; the character(s) named thereon performs all permitted actions before another card is drawn.

4.    A rigid turn sequence in which the permitted actions for each side or character must be performed in the order below:

i.    Clara, the Prince and the Mouse King move.

ii.    Clara and the Prince may help any Toy Soldiers knocked down last turn regain their feet; the Mouse King kicks and curses any Kitchen Mice stunned last turn back into action, or rallies any fleeing Kitchen Mice.

iii.    The Prince and the Mouse King give orders.

iv.    The Toy Soldiers and Kitchen Mice move.

v.    The toy cannon shoots; the effects of its fire are resolved immediately.

vi.    Close combat between the Prince and the Mouse King, and between the Toy Soldiers and the Kitchen Mice; the results of combat are applied immediately.


•    Clara, the Prince and the Mouse King may move up to two squares, orthogonally or diagonally.

•    Toy Soldiers and Kitchen Mice may only move one square, orthogonally or diagonally.

•    Three Toy Soldiers are required to move the cannon one square in one turn; or they may load, aim – by turning the cannon up to ninety degrees – and fire in one turn.

•    The Kitchen Mice may capture the toy cannon by driving away its Toy Soldier crew so that at least four Kitchen Mice remain in the same square without engaging in close combat for one turn. They may then attempt to drag it away into the Kitchen, at one square per turn, provided that at least four Kitchen Mice remain with the toy cannon and that they are not engaged in close combat during that turn, but are not clever enough to work out how to load and fire the toy cannon themselves.

•    The Kitchen Mice may also capture Clara if at least four Kitchen Mice, or two Kitchen Mice and the Mouse King, surround her by entering the same square and knocking down any Toy Soldiers that were guarding her. They may then attempt to drag Clara away into the Kitchen, at one square per turn, provided that at least four Kitchen Mice, or two Kitchen Mice and the Mouse King, remain with her and that they are not defeated in close combat and driven off during that turn.

•    Should two or more of the Kitchen Mice, or the Mouse King himself, be defeated, Clara will break free and run back towards the Prince at two squares per turn.

Toy Cannon Fire

•    The toy cannon shoots projectiles consisting of small pieces of hard cheese, represented by pieces of yellow modelling clay. Three Toy Soldiers must be in the same square to work the cannon, which can be loaded, aimed and fired – but not moved out of its square - in the same turn.

•    To determine the effect of shooting the toy cannon, I suggest borrowing the artillery system from Bob Cordery’s Portable Wargame, by throwing two dice: the score of the first die determines where the shot lands, as shown in the explanatory diagram; the score of the second, divided by two and the answer rounded down, is the number of Kitchen Mice in that square that are knocked over. The Mouse King, however, can never be knocked down by cheese projectiles shot from the toy cannon, nor will he be distracted by them.

•    A Kitchen Mouse hit by a piece of cheese will be knocked down and stunned until either the Mouse King rouses it by kicks and curses, or two other Kitchen Mice drag it back to the safety of the Kitchen door, where it will be revived.

•    Any Kitchen Mice in a square adjacent to that where a cheese projectile lands will stop and spend a number of turns equal to the score on a normal die divided by the number of Kitchen Mice in the square (rounded up) to devour it, or until the Mouse King enters the same square and drives them back to the attack the next turn.

Pas De Deux: Close Combat 

•    The Prince, the Toy Soldiers and the Kitchen Mice engage in close combat when they enter either the same, or orthogonally adjacent, squares.

•     The Mouse King considers it beneath his dignity to engage in paw to hand combat with anyone other than the Prince! If they engage each other, the combat is resolved by playing three rounds of Cut, Parry, Thrust – the traditional Rock, Paper, Scissors game, but with the words changed for greater period atmosphere – in which a THRUST defeats a CUT, which defeats a PARRY, which blocks a THRUST.

•    Should the Mouse King be defeated, all the Kitchen Mice panic and flee to the Kitchen and the battle is over; should the Prince lose, he falls to the floor, stunned, at the Mouse King’s mercy and will surely die – unless some Toy Soldiers who are unengaged in the same or an adjacent square can advance and drive the Mouse King off, or Clara can throw her shoe, provided she is not more than two squares away, and stun the Mouse King by throwing 6 on a normal die.

•    Combat between the Prince and the Toy Soldiers and the Kitchen Mice may be resolved by playing Cut, Parry, Thrust as described above; the loser falling over if a Toy Soldier, or fleeing back to the Kitchen door before returning to the fray if a Kitchen Mouse.

•    Alternatively, if one wishes to introduce young children to wargame systems, one could throw a normal die for each combatant:

  • The Prince: 3, 4, 5 & 6, unscathed; 2, retires one square; 1, falls to the floor, stunned.
  • Toy Soldiers: 4, 5 & 6, unscathed; 3, retire one square; 2 & 1, fall over.
  • The Mouse King: 4, 5 & 6, unscathed; 3, retires one square; 2 & 1, panics and flees to Kitchen.
  • Kitchen Mice: 5 & 6, unscathed; 4, fall to the floor, stunned; 3, retire one square towards the Kitchen; 2 &1, panic and flee to Kitchen.
  • Toy Soldiers attacked by the Mouse King, and Kitchen Mice attacked by the Prince, subtract 1 from their die.
  •  A character must throw a normal die for each enemy that is attacking him, subtracting 1 for each additional enemy after the first, and apply the worst result.
  • The results of combat are applied immediately.

Encore: Rallying

•    Toy Soldiers that are defeated in close combat are knocked over and must be laid down in the square where they were fighting. A Toy Soldier that has been knocked over can neither work the toy cannon nor engage in close combat. Clara and/or the Prince may help a fallen Toy Soldier back onto his feet by entering the same square and remaining with him for that turn, or during the Rally phase of the turn, and not engaging in close combat.

•    A Kitchen Mouse that is defeated in close combat will either be stunned as if by toy cannon fire (see above) if the die shows 4 or will panic and flee towards the Kitchen if the die score is 3, 2 or 1. The Mouse King can try to rally all the fleeing Kitchen Mice in the same square that he enters, provided he is not engaged in close combat at the same time, by throwing a die; the score, halved and rounded up, is the number of Kitchen Mice he has rallied and may order forward again the following turn.

The Final Curtain: Victory Conditions


The malevolent Mouse King and his Kitchen Mice minions win if they capture Clara and carry her off to their lair – there to suffer every torment the villainous vermin can devise in revenge for all the cats, traps and poison Humanity has inflicted upon Mousekind through the centuries – through the Kitchen door.


The noble Prince and his steadfast Toy Soldiers win by preventing Clara from being captured, and driving all the Kitchen Mice off the board through the Kitchen door; or by the Prince defeating the Mouse King in close combat, in which event all the Kitchen Mice will flee back to the Kitchen.


Production Notes

The game may be staged using figures of whatever size the players can muster. Clara may be portrayed by a female figure in early nineteenth century costume, or one in a simple, plain long dress that can be painted to resemble a nightgown. The Prince, his detachment of Toy Soldiers and their cannon may be represented by a suitably dashing Napoleonic infantry officer and troops of any nationality, but Eureka Miniatures do produce a wonderful range of 28mm Toy Town Soldiers that would be absolutely perfect for a game in that scale. Eureka also produce a range of 28mm Warrior Mice, which includes a chieftain and mice with swords and spears; alternatively, one could use appropriate models from Games Workshop’s Skaven range, or the ratmen produced by other manufacturers in a variety of scales. A small plastic flowerpot will suffice for the pot of the Christmas tree, or one could use one of the small artificial trees that appear in shops during the festive season or any good representation of a fir tree. Small boxes, such as matchboxes, stock cube boxes and so on, covered in offcuts of Christmas wrapping paper can represent the family’s presents; a large toothpaste carton will make a good box for the Toy Soldiers. The rules have been adapted, with his kind permission, from those for Bob Cordery’s Portable Wargame (mentioned by Conrad Kinch in MWBG issue 385 – see here). 

This article originally appeared in issue 386 of Miniature Wargames. You can pick up your issue of the magazine here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.


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