I have just acquired (temporarily) a copy of Wesencraft's 1974 book, courtesy of my local library. This really is a genuine classic, with a set of well worked out but basically simple rules covering a number of periods, along with some great photos and some rather nostalgic stuff on terrain from the days when making one's own was often a real necessity. I have not had this book in my hands for many years (perhaps as many as 20), and I had forgotten how influential on my own gaming it has been.
I could hardly better this quote from the introduction as summing up my present philosophy of miniatures wargaming:
'I have always thought that a game played with easily understood rules that gave a result, played within a broad outline of a particular period, that gave enjoyment to both the winner and his unfortunate opponent, was to be preferred...' (p.8).
Of particular interest is that phrase 'that gave a result'. I particularly like rules that have the winning/losing conditions built in, rather than just suggesting that the result will usually be obvious after a few moves, or that you should spend half the evening totting up points to decide a winner. Built-in victory conditions commonly involves games based around a series of set scenarios, or an army morale system which results in one side clearly collapsing after a reasonable number of moves. Even simpler is the basic rule that when you have lost (say) half your units, you have lost the game. Such rules produce games with a beginning, middle and an end (like chess). First there is a jockeying for position, then the main fight commences, then as casualties mount careful decisions have to made about risk versus conserving one's forces, as each side (or one side) approaches its breaking point. How often have you had games that just petered out in an inconclusive draw, or resulted in some vague discussion about what might have happened if only a couple more hours were available?
The one major blind spot in the book is it's refusal to consider 'modern' (basically 20th century) wargames. Wesencraft's remarks here are rather inexplicable, especially considering that WW2 games were a common feature of gaming from the start. One need only consider the example of the Lionel Tarr rules and the famous 'Tank and Infantry Action on the St. James Road' from the book Wargames. But Wesencraft is insistent:
'With the coming of modern warfare, millions of men are involved and all scale is lost. Either one figure represents thousands of men, one tank dozens of squadrons, or one is forced to go back almost to square one and fight tiny local actions at company strength [...] personally, I do not believe it is possible to scale down on to a table 4 x 8 ft a modern battle...' (p. 15)
It seems the author's considerable ingenuity and inventiveness deserted him when it came to the end of the 19th century.
Revisiting these old wargames books (buying when I can afford to, borrowing when I can't) has a been a particular pleasure over this last year. My only problem is that at some stage the supply of old classics will dry up!