The History of Wargaming Project

The project aims to make the largest possible collection of wargaming books and rules available to the modern reader. Ranging from second editions of wargaming classics, to professional wargaming rules used by the military and innovations in current wargaming.

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Reviews of Wargaming Books/ Wargaming Rules

Jon Peterson (2012) Playing at the World

Wargaming 19th Century Europe 1815-1878

Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls: Naval Wargame Rules for the Age of Sail

Review of Philip Sabin Simulating war, studying conflict through simulation games

Review of Blood and Guts, Wargaming World War Two

Review of Grand Battery Napoleonic

Jon Peterson (2012) Playing at the World

ISBN 9780615642048 698 pages. paperback.

As the editor of wargaming books (some mentioned in the bibliography), I was asked by the author to do a review of this new book.

The book is Jon Peterson’s magnum opus (great work) about the development of roleplaying up to the 1980s when the roleplaying games started to spread onto various computer platforms. The chapters explore the detailed chronology of wargaming events prior to the publication of Dungeons and Dragons (D+D), the development of the medieval fantasy game genre, the origin of the D+D rules and what happened in roleplaying after D+D was published.

The source of much of the material is various archives of fanzines held in American, publically and in private collections. The list of games and magazines alone covers nine pages in the bibliography. The intellectual effort to pull together this vast plethora of material was a staggering undertaking.

 

 The result is a substantial book at 698 pages, with the section on the development of wargaming rules and their influence in the development of roleplaying games having approximately 100 pages. Due to the length and depth of the book, it is no easy read. Some of the ins and outs of development are covered in great detail, for example the material shedding light and investigating the D+D clerics is eight pages. Saying that, the material is fascinating to anyone interested in the murky origins of roleplaying games.

The book delves into such mysteries as the issues of copyright and intellectual property for the creation of D+D (a most curious tale), the development of the magic user, dungeon settings and role of thieves in the game. It was new to me that Tony Bath, the UK wargamer who started ancient and medieval wargames and was well known for his Hyborian campaign, was given credit by Gary Gygax for the inspiration for his Chainmail rules.

The book also has a most interesting section on early wargames of Hellwig, Venturini, Reiswitz, etc, based on translations of the some of their pioneering work. Some of this work has never, to my knowledge, been available in English before.

With a book of this length, it is not surprising that I have some different interpretations in a few areas, particularly in the discussion about the history of wargaming. Donald Featherstone, one of the dozen or so people who made wargaming a popular past-time, is rightly given credit, but his main job was a physiotherapist. Perhaps I would have included more about the advent of live-roleplaying, where people borrowed the idea from historical re-enactors and started to play out D+D adventures in full costume and padded weapons, but exploring the origin of that subject would have added more pages to this book.

I can say with some certainty that no-one else is likely to write a book about the development of roleplaying that will ever match the scope and depth of this book. Whilst the book is targeted at a specialist audience, if a wargamer is interested in the origins of the D+D genre, this is the book. There is no other to compare.


Wargaming Nineteenth Century Europe 1815-1878

ISBN 978-1848846296 208 pages. hardback.

As the editor of many of wargaming books (some mentioned in the bibliography), I was asked by the publisher to do a review of this new book.

The book is set out in a fairly standard format for such wargaming books as first devised by Featherstone in his writings. A chapter outlining political and military developments, a chapter explaining the rationale of the rules, a set of simple rules, examples of types of battle (e.g. meeting engagement, flanking attack), some army lists and nine historical battles.

For me, one of the most interesting chapters is the one of Nineteenth- Century Wargaming. This aims to outline the reasoning behind the rules in the next chapter. It does this well, but like all wargamers, I always contest the writings of others on wargaming. For example the idea that, ‘A more serious problem with a system of simultaneous turns, is its lack of realism’, is clearly not defensible from the military perspective (otherwise there would be never be any ‘meeting engagements’ in the history of warfare). There are however, very sensible reasons to design wargames with alternative movement systems, such as to prevent disputes. The writer’s apparent views on leadership systems in wargaming as unnecessary could also be an area for discussion.

The wargaming rules are at unit level, with infantry units having four bases, are straightforward and contained within just 8 pages. Morale is tested when a unit loses a base from firing, is a charging cavalry unit under fire or it has lost a melee. A D6 is rolled against the unit class or the unit loses a base e.g. an average unit needs 4, 5 or 6 on a D6 to avoid losing a base.

The wargame scenario chapter has some interesting rules to add flavour to the type of battle. E.g. in the rearguard scenario, the attacker rolls 3-6 on a D6 per turn for the next attacker unit to arrive.

 The rest of the book consists of synopsis of various battles, with suggestions how to turn them into wargaming actions.

The book is a good read for a wargamer. I enjoyed the sections on the design decisions for the rules and have used the chapters on the various battles. I tried out the rules in several solo games and found they were straightforward and produce a fun game suitable for an evening’s entertainment. The book is worth getting.

John Curry, Editor of the History of Wargaming Project.


Blood, Bilge and Iron Balls: Naval Wargame Rules for the Age of Sail

ISBN 978-1-84884-534-3 144 pages. hardback.

This is another book from the growing range of wargame related books by the well known military publishers, Pen and Sword. The author of the rules, Alan Abby, is clearly a Napoleonic naval wargamer who has taken the opportunity to get his own rules into print in book format.

The book is 144 pages consisting of the main rules, some optional rules, scenarios and campaign rules. The rules are of medium complexity, allowing quite large fleet actions to be played out. Each ship being represented by an individual ship card showing crew, command, gunners, marines, cannon, masts etc... I tried a solo game of two ships aside and I was happily moving and firing within 30 minutes of picking up the book and moving to my wargames table.

The campaign game is very good and very disappointing. It is a hypothetical campaign, with some interesting rules to help create meaningful naval battles. It includes an abstract map of trade routes, renue sheets, revenue to the crown, fleet reconnaissance, damage repair, etc... However, my own preference is for naval campaigns set solidly in the history of the Napoleonic Wars. Despite this I can see no problem in someone modifying the campaign game to set it in the Atlantic or some other geographical reality. The choice between a historically based campaign and a hypothetical one has always been a subject of debate in wargaming. Featherstone clearly likes historical, so did Fletcher Pratt, but Fred Jane and Phil Dunn created their own hypothetical arenas to test naval strategy.

The bibliography is a bit disappointing, as it only lists work by Pen and Sword. What naval wargaming book cannot list Donald Featherstones Naval Wargames or Phil Dunn’s Sea Battles as sources of inspiration?

 Overall, the book is a set of rules in book form. Initial play testing indicates they work and are fun. I can see these rules being used by clubs who want an entertaining game doing something different.

John Curry, Editor of the History of Wargaming Project.


Philip Sabin Simulating war, studying conflict through simulation games

ISBN 978-1-4411-8558-7. 363 pages. hardback.

As someone who has edited and written more wargaming books than most, I am always pleased when a new book says something original about wargaming. This book has a message. The message is micro board wargames are good for education and training. This book argues the case that wargames, in particular manual board games, are an invaluable tool for examining tactical and operational military history. The best of these games are worthy of inclusion of any study of military history.

The first part of the book is a summary of the academic potential of wargaming techniques. The value of games to education and training is indisputable in the academic and business world. Phil takes that view and argues that wargaming can be used as tool to understand military history, supporting this with some academic evidence and his own experiences of using games as part of his teaching of military history at Kings College London.

The second part of the book is a straightforward guide to building simple ‘micro-board games’. These are games that are smaller than even the smallest of commercial ‘folio’ type board games. Small and simple enough to be used as part of a two hour teaching session. Building on the work of Peter Perla’s Art of Wargaming and James Dunnigan’s The Complete Wagames Handbook, the book offers a recipe for analysing historical conflicts and distilling them into a board game format.

The third part of the book gives a number of worked examples of such micro-board games. It includes games from the ancient world and World War II. There are also two tactical games; one about a battalion attack in WWII and the other about a company level assault on a built up area. The latter is still relevant to modern conflict. Although one could cut up the colour plates in the book to play the games, most people will download the game components from the book’s web site and print them themselves or use play them on the computer using the free Cyberbox software.

The book may not appeal to all parts of the disparate hobby of wargaming. Some miniature (figure) gamers are sometimes overly keen with their mental model of wargaming that is based around a game with realistic terrain features using miniature figures to represent every battle. Such miniature wargamers may ‘scratch their heads’ about the large number of references to classic board games within this book.

 Board gamers have often spent years developing their skills on a variety of complex simulation and so they may look upon the games within the book as too simple for their own tastes. Personally, I would hope they will be inspired by the book to take their wargaming to the next level and start to develop their own board games. The act of creating one’s own game is a very interesting learning experience and one that Donald Featherstone, and the other early pioneers, would all thoroughly approve of.

Professional wargaming, practised by the military, is largely insular and inward looking. Many of these professional wargamers are in apparent ignorance of the wider developments of the commercial and hobby wargaming, so some of these professionals will see little relevance to any book giving examples that are not from the immediate past, current operations or probable immediate future. However, attitudes can change. The British Army has recently started doing study tours of the 1944 Battle for Normandy and the American military has a long tradition of scholarship about military history that is often the envy of other nations. The American armed forces have long placed great value on studying military history as an essential part of the education for their potential senior commanders. Many of the books by recent American commanders make reference to historical strategies which demonstrates they have at least a passing knowledge of military history.

The book is clearly a work of scholarship, but what will the wider academic community make of the book? Phil’s writes in a lively accessible way, using many anecdotes from his own experience. This is in contrast to the many academic text books that are written in a style as ‘dry as dust’. A purely academic book would have had more on games theory (and less on practical examples) and would have included some quantitative studies of the impact of using board games for studying military history compared with traditional teaching methods (supported with statistics and graphs). I have used such games in my own teaching and I have no doubt they encourage ‘active’ and ‘deep’ learning. Many teachers struggle with using games in their teaching. Games are outside their comfort zone, games (especially ones created by the teacher) may apparently ‘fail’ or descend into lively chaos. My own experience is that such failures do not matter, the students always find the games interesting and rewarding, even if the game does not actually work that well. However, this book is aimed at the wider world of wargaming rather than just the tiny world of academic wargames.

I can whole heartedly recommend this new book to anyone who is looking to develop their understanding of wargaming. Developing wargames is great fun and this book will help get started on that path.

John Curry, Editor of the History of Wargaming Project.


Blood and Guts, Rules, Tactics and Scenarios for Wargaming World War Two

by David Hall

ISBN 978-1-4620-2556-5. 354 pages. Softcover. Also available in hard back

Book Review of Blood and Guts (2011) by John Curry and Donald Featherstone December 2011

One of the perks of the History of Wargaming is receiving books and rules to review. Opening a new wargaming book by an author just arrived on the publishing scene is always exciting. This book is written by David Hall and is subtitled Rules, Tactics and Scenarios for Wargaming World War Two. The book contains a set of rules, descriptions on tactics, sample scenarios and a detailed explanation of the reasoning behind the rules.

The book portrays unit level warfare, including infantry, tanks, armour and airpower. The rules use section level bases (Morschauser style) rather than the individual figure method used by many currently popular wargaming rules (Featherstone style). An interesting feature is the rolling for initiative in each movement phase and then rolling separately for who fires first (a method first used by Lionel Tarr, in his classic Tarr Rules). This can lead to a very dynamic game, particularly suitable for a solo wargamer (as Lionel Tarr was). The rules use D6, D8, D10, D12 and D20 which could be seen as an unnecessary complication, but the different dice have their purpose in the game. The rules have some standard features, such as rolls to hit and saving rolls, but they do have some interesting twists.

Both reviewers noted the +1 on the mortar/ artillery rolls for each turn they fire at the same target. Thus reflecting the historical effect of fire as it is adjusted on to the target. The flame thrower rules include hits which destroy the tanks in 1 to 2 turns. This is correct as it can take time for the flames to disable a tank rather than the instant hit/ no hit in most low level rules. Tanks can be assaulted by infantry sections, discouraging individual tanks from moving to far away from their supporting infantry. It is also necessary for units to spot the enemy who have not yet fired on them, the rules make it historically hard for tanks to observe dug in anti-tank guns and infantry. The fire combat is pretty bloody and infantry in the open will be massacred if facing machine guns. Section level bases allow for national characteristics to be portrayed in the game; such as Italian units are weak, Japanese units are more willing to close assault tanks etc.

 There are many very well done sets of very glossy rules out there, what makes this book interesting? The rules are comprehensive, section level bases and give a fast game in many ways more realistic than some of the popular commercial rules out there. However, both of us agreed that what was most interesting was the rules reflected the experience of a veteran. David Hall served in the Marine Corps.

The book is a good read, particularly for the sort of wargamer who likes to write their own rules or think about the reasoning behind wargaming rules.

The book is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble (Online.)

John Curry is the Editor of the History of Wargaming Project www.wargaming.co

Donald Featherstone is one of the founding of modern wargaming with over 65 books on wargaming and military history.


Grand Battery a guide & rules for Napoleonic Wargames

by Jon Sutherland and Diane Canwell ISBN 978 1 84415 943 9. 130 pages approx, £20, hardback.

I was a little surprised to be asked to review the first of a new range of wargaming books by Pen and Sword Books, perhaps I should not have been.

The authors are husband and wife team, who have written a number of military history books; they also run a residential wargaming centre in Norfolk. The hardback book is produced to a good standard, as one would expect from Pen and Sword books, full of images, packed full of information and including a new set of wargaming rules Grand Battery.

The book has an introduction to European warfare 1792 to 1815 and discusses the armies. It was good to see that the weapons and tactics chapter covered more than the usual British/ French focus of many books covering the period. My stereotype is that standard Napoleonic books have pages devoted to British and French tactics and then a paragraph at the end saying the Austrians, Russians etc. had similar tactics. This work is much better balanced between the armies of the protagonists.

The Grand Battery Wargaming Rules are designed for the divisional level Napoleonic battle, though they will work for army games. They use a card driven activation system for corps, with each corps having a card in a shuffled pack. Their sequence of activation, movement and firing is determined by the drawing of the cards. The authors implementation of the card activation system has an interesting twist, the other player can challenge once a turn based on their leadership rating. This represents a commander attempting to seize the initiative back.

The rules aim to portray the battle from the divisional commander’s perspective, with emphasise on commander’s ratings, unit training and experience, giving orders, defenders resolve and morale. The rules are detailed, but are well explained and are supported by playing aids and play sheets. I have tried the rules and they work fine.

Like all academic reviewers, I realise the need to be pedantic to demonstrate whatever academic reviewers are trying to do by being pedantic. The contents page has two of the chapters in the wrong order. The excellent photographs lack captions to explain what they show. The Bibliography omits the key work on Napoleonic Wargaming Paddy Griffith’s Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun (but perhaps as the editor of the latter work, I was bound to say that). I could ramble on for several pages saying my whim would be add another paragraph here, or subtract a paragraph there, but there is no need. The book is a good piece of scholarship, with an interesting set of rules for representing the divisional level Napoleonic battle. I like it and have no hesitation in recommending it to my fellow enthusiasts.

The book is available from link

John Curry, Editor of the History of Wargaming Project April 2011

 

 

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