Playing with toy soldiers is apparently as ancient a hobby as playing with ones self (well … almost). Ancient Egyptians did it, the Romans did it, Indians did it and the Chinese must have surely entertained the thought.
Playing with toy soldiers in a modern context, on the other hand, is -as expected- a rather more recent development, and as such a more cruel one too. The whole thing, you see, didn’t start as playing per se, but more of as a way to train Prussian military officers in the subtleties (?) of war (Kriegspiel they called it, and it used dice to simulate random battlefield events). The concept didn’t actually evolve into something less blood thirsty till H.G. Wells decided that a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books would be a nifty idea.
A game that would be the first modern miniature wargame not intended for being used in slaughtering actual people in particularly gruesome ways. A game Mr. Wells would cunningly name Little Wars. Also a game (published in the most traditional of book formats) lovingly preserved by the good people of Project Gutenberg and thankfully available in full and for free right here. Go on. Read the thing. It’s brilliant and you’ll get to feel all 1913 too. Seems pretty playable, mind you.