This title has just been published, and retails for £14.99. Probably the most straightforward thing to say about the book is that it does exactly what it says on the tin - it provides a guide to designing and writing rules for wargames using miniatures, although it should be emphasised that naval wargaming hardly features and air wargaming is not mentioned at all. The fact that it is authored by Rick Priestley pretty much guarantees a good and informative read - if (like me) the name John Lambshead means nothing to you, he is a pretty prolific current rules author himself, working for Osprey and Warlord Games on many well-known sets.
There is plenty of solid information here - data on probability and how to calculate it, some basic technical concepts around rules design, a discussion on scales, and sound advice about the process of writing and layout. Self-opinionated waffle is largely absent. Even if you don't really want to write rules in any serious way, this book represents a sound guide to the factors influencing the rules you buy and use, and will give you some objective guidance for telling a good set from a bad set. It will also shed some light on the reasons why you might like one ruleset and not another. The book is a well-produced softback with colour photos of various wargames figures for those who don't like stories without pictures.
I found only one section I disagreed with (strongly and with considerable justification, as you will see), when the chapter on dice and probability summarily dismissed average dice as 'pretty well obsolete'. Pah! To add insult to injury, the text continues 'no doubt somewhere there is an extant rule set utilising them but offhand we can't think of one'. Yeah, and screw you too, guys. For a final twist of the knife, the 'Warhammer' series is presented as an example of the 'more elegant' solution of rolling more D6s to 'smooth potential outcomes'. I myself had the misfortune of playing several games of Warhammer 40K before my 2 sons grew out of it (around the age of 12), and I found the rules clunky and old-fashioned. If 40K is more elegant a rule system than Honours of War, then I'm a Dutchman. Nevertheless, I feel I should set aside my feelings of bitter personal antagonism. Enough!
I read this book with considerable pleasure, and it was quickly apparent that it will come in very handy for any future rule writing ventures. One of the best wargaming books of recent years.
Following a fairly substantial, but admittedly rather dated, introduction covering the various wargames concepts involved in re-creating historical battles, the book examines 15 well chosen and interesting actions from ancient times to the Korean war. Each has worthwhile analytic sections on such subjects as rating of commanders and terrain, and has both an historical and wargaming map. I thought the content stood up very well for a book that is over 40 years old, and the book remains a useful source of historical wargaming scenarios and ideas for bringing them to the tabletop.
Certainly, for this price, a no-brainer.
Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy Magazine, Issue 86 (Karwansaray Publishing, 82 pages)
With Miniature Wargames apparently destined to become a sci-fi/fantasy/steampunk magazine with the sad departure of Henry Hyde, WSS will definitely be a magazine to keep your eye on. I bought this one because my recent reading of War and Peace, and my subsequent interest in Napoleonic wargaming, made the theme of Napoleon's campaign in Russia a tempting one. And I almost always find the columnists have something interesting to say, which is hardly surprising considering they include Rick Priestley and Richard Clarke.
As for the themed content, it was fine, although as so often in WSS the articles on historical battles were let down by poor maps, which featured some muddy graphic design, insufficient detail and were often presented in a ridiculously small size. But my main reason for writing about this issue was the column from Colin Philips.
He was rebutting a column from a previous issue which had apparently claimed historical wargaming was inherently superior to sci-fi/fantasy/steam punk. Now, although privately and personally I agree completely with this conclusion, it has little justification outside the world of personal prejudice. Colin accordingly produced a well written, polite, and sensible article demonstrating the untenable nature of the previous opinion. However, a few of his statements caught my attention as things I was uncomfortable with.
First off, he writes, "all those little metal miniatures represent men who have died, but we use metal miniatures and rules to provide a level of abstraction to make it a game [...]. We are, in effect, playing toy soldiers." Well Colin, I reckon we aren't 'in effect' playing toy soldiers; we are just simply 'playing toy soldiers'. Playing toy soldiers is what we do and that's it and all about it. Anything else and we are just weird blood-thirsty warmongers. I should say here I reject the view that we are likely to learn anything about warfare from playing wargames, apart of course from when the hobby makes us read proper history.
Colin develops his point by noting games he has played with his grandfathers, both war veterans, and also noting that the occasionally expressed distaste for fighting wars that are still on-going or very recent doesn't seem to be shared by those involved. He mentions Afghanistan veterans with whom he has played his own Skirmish Sangin game. All I want to say here is that, at a personal level, I find this a little odd. Why anyone who has actually experienced war would want to take part in a game about it beats me, especially a game about a war they had actually been involved in. But of course, such a person was Donald Featherstone. This is just a conundrum I am going to have to live with, I reckon. It is an interesting point that Colin is right to bring forward.
However, Colin does succeed in conclusively shooting himself in the foot towards the end of his article, unwittingly giving ammunition to those who favour historical wargaming. Arguing that the the previous writer "has the cart before the horse", he goes on to say, regarding historical gaming, "I'd argue people don't need to know about the history when they play a game, but it'll spark an interest which generally makes them learn more about the period. History is not the requisite to having fun playing a game, but it will fire the imagination and enhance your enjoyment".
I reckon it's pretty obvious that Colin is the guy with the horse and cart the wrong way round. Playing a game in an historical period of which you have no knowledge must ultimately be pretty pointless - you cannot really understand what is going on and why, and furthermore you can have no idea as to whether the rules you are playing are any good or not. History does indeed 'fire the imagination and and enhance your enjoyment' when playing historical games, which is why you need to do your research first. Knowing the period must precede buying rules and figures, and not bothering with the history is one of the reasons old buggers like me decry the 'spoonfeeding' approach of the more developed commercial companies, with their one-stop shops of figures and rules. You cannot get history from a rulebook. Hence it might be possible to argue that historical wargamers occupy the higher intellectual ground, as other gamers have no history to refer to. However, this I do not actually believe.
Thanks for a fine and thought-provoking column Colin.
Having got that off my chest I'll conclude by wishing WSS the very best. The fate of Henry Hyde, as well as that of my new found friend Stuart Asquith and his experience with Practical Wargaming back in the 90s, has confirmed for me what a cut-throat and heartless business the world of magazine publishing can be, even in the supposedly gentlemanly world of wargaming. I don't envy Guy Bowers in the slightest, but he produces a pretty good magazine.
Thanks for reading. 'Till the next time!