Sunday 19 February 2012

Joe Morschauser, Wargames Pioneer

Wargames purchases are going to be rare for me in the foreseeable future - money is tight and the hobby is on the back burner. However, I did have a book token left over from Christmas, and I decided to further my interest in the old school pioneers of wargaming by buying a copy of How To Play War Games In Miniature, by Joseph Morschauser. War games was always 2 separate words to these early authors!

Being a minor collecter of old wargames (or should that be war games) books my preference would normally have been for a copy of the original publication, which came out in the same year as Featherstone's War Games. However, the History of Wargaming Project had their own reprint available, and by ordering through a local bookshop I could use my book token. A second hand copy of the original book can be had online for around £20 including p+p; but no book tokens allowed! The attraction of the reprint was enhanced by additional articles on Morschauser's gridded wargames, taken from old wargaming magazines and newsletters.

Image courtesy John Curry

So for £11.95 you get a faithful reproduction of the original book plus about 30 extra pages of old Morschauser articles and a bit of biographical detail. This results in a fairly slim volume of just over 120 pages which nevertheless represents good value for money. There are a number of original photos which are very nostalgic, supplemented by some modern (black and white) photos of John Curry and Bob Corderey resurrecting Morschauser's ideas in recent games. Below we see some gamers having a go at a Morshauser gridded wargame at the Conference of Wargamers a few years ago.

Image courtesy John Curry

Negatives? Well, it's not the original book so the heft is missing (and the smell: ah, the smell of old books!). The photos lose a bit of quality, and there is the odd typo which I assume is a result of glitches in the text recognition software (or whatever it's called) used by Lulu. But once again John is to be congratulated on bringing this old classic to the attention of present day wargamers.

The book itself follows a familiar pattern - introductory remarks about wargaming, chapters on soldier type and scale, setting up a battlefield and the basic principals of wargaming rules. Then 3 sets of rules for ancient (called 'Shock'), horse and musket and modern periods. The rules could hardly be more simple, which is the great attraction of the book for me. Here is an object lesson in how wargames rules can be pared down to bare essentials if you want to try a basic wargame, with all the advantages of quick and easy play. In addition, Morschauser's ideas on wargaming were distinct from those of Featherstone and H.G. Wells: he pioneered the concept of multiple figure bases, and the off-table recording of casualties whilst the units on table remained intact until removed. He can therefore be seen as rather ahead of his time, and the rules will be easy to use with modern collections. One odd omission (at least to modern eyes) is that the rules give no advantage for cover of any kind, which is probably taking simplicity a bit too far. Adding in a consideration for cover can easily be done in one of the usual ways. It should be noted that the gridded wargame was a later idea of Morschauser's: the main rules in the book are not for gridded war games. I was interested to read about these wargames on squared terrain, but I found that the concept is not one that really appeals to me.

It was the modern rules which immediately caught my eye, as being a set of rules which I could easily play with my collection based for Blitzkrieg Commander. I will definitely give them a go, probably as a solo try-out, and I hope this might be the subject of a future post. Interested parties will find a bit more on Joe Morschauser on the Vintage Wargaming  site.