FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — No moving parts. No interchangeable weapons. No transforming. No bright colors. No battle damage chests. No remote controls.
Army men were just solid-stamped molded plastic. And that left the door open for so much creativity.
My family didn’t have much money when I was young, so shelling out $60 for an Optimus Prime or even $7 for a G.I. Joe was pretty much out of the question. But grabbing a 30-piece army men set off the grocery store rack for $2 every once in a while was well within the budget, and it was enough to keep a five-year-old amused for hours.
My army men waged thousands of campaigns. The sandbox became the desert theatre. The tall grass became the African front. The loamy dirt beneath the trees became home to jungle warfare.
The brave soldiers of Jason’s Army also lived and died to protect countless staircases, book shelves, and wooden block forts.
After some digging around, I discovered the toys I loved so much were the Vietnam-era M-16 Infantry line made by Tim Mee. They were actually the last run before the company cut production.
Mine had all the classic members of the corps: Crouched machine-gunner, pistol-wielding commander, flame-thrower, bazooka-guy, radio guy, minesweeper, crawling soldier, the soldier swinging his bayonet overhead, the soldier waving his troops forward with machine gun in hand, the mortar launcher.
Once in a while, the army men would come bundled with half-tracks, tanks, jeeps, and emplacements.
Some folks have since created a papercraft world and a tabletop game around those little plastic dudes. Combat Storm looks incredibly interesting, not to mention visually appealing:
If you want to be cheap, though, you could always take the tack my little brother and I once did: Use army men as chess pieces. Bayonet guys make great pawns. Bazooka guys make excellent rooks. Flamethrowers work just fine as bishops.
Mortars make sense as knights. Machine-gunners are the logical queens, and the pistol-wielding commander is the only choice for king that makes sense.